Providential Accidents

How someone decides to study something, and then that something becoming one of life’s consuming projects, is often a story worth telling. (Got any stories of what led to any of your major passions?) Ed Fudge, deeply submerged into the culture of the Restoration (Stone-Campbell) Movement as a Church of Christ family, got into trouble with some because he believed in the “grace-unity-fellowship heresy,” which essentially meant that he, though CofC, believed others are “in Christ” and worthy of fellowship in Christ, he lost his incomes at his local church (where he was the preacher) and at the publishing company (CofC0, wrote an essay on hell for Christianity Today, and then got “hired” by Robert Brinsmead (of Australia) to examine the ancient sources on what Jews believed about the afterlife, heaven and hell. Ed tells this story in his Hell: A Final Word.

Of these four, which do you think is accurate?

Brinsmead’s offer led Edward Fudge to study 40 hours a week for a long time and it led him to see four facets of the traditional view of eternal conscious torment/punishment.

1. The Old Testament says nothing about hell.
2. Between the Old and the New Testaments the traditional view became traditional — it was the “Jewish view.” Jesus fits into this scenario.
3. NT authors follow Jesus in this teaching.
4. The immortality of the soul requires eternal conscious torment unless one believes in forms of universalism.

“Either these pillars are true or they are not” (65).

On #1: Does the OT say nothing about hell?

If we look at the OT asking what it says about hell? Nothing. If we look at what it says about Gehenna, nothing. But if we look at the “end of the wicked” — what appears? He dips briefly into Psalm 37 to find these kinds of terms: wither and fade and perish and destroyed and “they will not be found.” Fudge finds more than seventy similes of what happens to the wicked … and he asks this: Do they depict a “fire that torments forever, a fire that purifies, or a fire that consumes?” (69).

The Pentateuch provides two major images of what happens to the wicked: the flood and Sodom’s destruction. Peter makes an analogy between the water that consumed in the Flood and the fire that consumes in the final judgment (2 Peter 3:5-7). He does more or less the same with the fire and brimstone of Sodom.

Some more images: smashed pottery (Psalm 2:7-9), corpses on a battlefield (Ps 110:5-6), unburied dead bodies (Is 66:24). He sums up Isa with this: “They are dead. They are unburied. They are disappearing. They are disgusting” (77).

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Percival

    No. 1 is accurate. The OT talks about Sheol and the Pit, but not Hell.
    No. 2 & 3 don’t have substantial support.
    No. 4 is reasonable given the character and purposes of God. Thus, the Platonic assumptions of many early Christians made un-conditional mortality seem reasonable. However, for those who believe that God has the ability to destroy body and soul, an eternal hell seems less plausible.

  • Jerry S

    Scot,
    Thanks for another great series and for suggesting another book that I don’t have time to read. I particularly appreciate Fudge’s personal story here. I long ago came to an annihilationist position but I tend to soft-sell it because we live in an age when one quickly gets called a “heretic.”

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    The traditional view of heaven or hell awaiting each human being at death cannot be found in the Old Testament. If Fudge is saying this, he is right. On the contrary, Sheol (Hades) was the destination of all who died. It is frankly stunning that among those who hold to the traditional view of heaven or hell, very few know this about the Old Testament.

    Because the OT is ignored on this crucial point, the New Testament is misunderstood.

    The true teaching of the Bible is that everyone goes to heaven now just as everyone used to go to Sheol (Hades).

  • Andrew K

    Specific statements on the trinity are “absent” from the OT, should that govern what the NT is able to communicate?

  • scotmcknight

    Andrew K, I think you may be missing his point. He’s not arguing that since “hell” isn’t used the idea/etc of hell didn’t exist. Instead, he’s saying what we need to look at is how the “end of the wicked” is depicted, whether hell is the term used or not. That context will set the stage for both Judaism and Jesus/NT teachings.

  • samuel

    @Mike Gantt – could you share what you believe is the ‘traditional’ view of heaven and hell? I’m curious because it seems you have made a broad assumption of the lack of clarity of those views in the OT.

    For example, what do you understand Daniel 12:2?

  • Sherman

    “1. The Old Testament says nothing about hell.”
    Agreed. The penalty of sin in the OT is death and destruction.

    “2. Between the Old and the New Testaments the traditional view became traditional — it was the “Jewish view.” Jesus fits into this scenario.”
    Disagree. The Pharisees taught punishment in the life to come (aionian). In short, some taught that only the very righteous went straight to Abraham’s bosom (Paradise) and everyone else suffered for a season in Sheol (like Jonah did) to be eventually purified and taken to Abraham’s bosom within 12 months. The very wicked might be purified, annihilated, or suffer longer than 12 months – non-specific. But considering Jesus’ denunciation of the doctrine of the Pharisees, I don’t think His warning of being cast into Hinnom Valley was meant to affirm the doctrine of the Pharisees on punishment in the afterlife. Rather, I think the historical perspective of Hinnom Valley is much more compelling, that of sin leading to sacrificing one’s own children to the idols of one’s heart which leads to destruction of all that one loves – individually and corporately.

    “3. NT authors follow Jesus in this teaching.”
    NT authors follow Jesus in teaching that sin leads to death and destruction. That’s why Paul does not once warn of Tartarus or even Hinnom Valley, but warns of destruction and death.

    “4. The immortality of the soul requires eternal conscious torment unless one believes in forms of universalism.”
    I do not believe in the immortality of the soul, but that without God raising us to life with Him we’d be annihilated. I believe that Jesus is truly the savior of all, that God reconciles all of creation to Himself, that through the cross Jesus ultimately draws all to Himself. I do agree that if one believes in the immortality of the soul that one must then believe either in ECT or in some form of universalism.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    @samuel,

    By “traditional view” I mean the view widely held today in which it is believed that at death a person either ascends to heaven or descends to hell.

    The Old Testament view is that at death every person descended to Sheol (Hades).

    Daniel 12:2 does not speak of death but rather of resurrection. Of course, resurrection implies a prior death and a prior descent. Therefore, if all descended it’s only appropriate that all would be raised.

  • Samuel

    @Mike, I agree on Sheol being the destination of all who die, as it is the realm of the dead. Fair enough on the resurrection motif of Daniel 12:2, but what is implied by everlasting contempt? There clearly is a distinction between the realm in which people are resurrected, no?

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    @Samuel,

    A distinction? Yes. One to heaven and the other to hell? That’s quite a stretch.

  • Samuel

    @Mike, you haven’t answered the question though. What do you understand everlasting contempt to mean in light of the context?

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    @Samuel,

    In the light of the immediate context, it hard to say much. It certainly indicates that resurrection is a time of putting things right, correcting injustice and reordering in a completely righteous way. Thus resurrection is a form of judgment, of final judgment. It reminds me of when Jesus said, “Many who are first shall be last, and many who are last shall be first.” The high and mighty will be brought down, and the lowly wll be lifted up.

    This was very encouraging for the downtrodden righteous who at the time were wondering if their suffering for God even mattered. Indeed it matters very much because in the resurrection, all things will be made right. After all, Jesus was raised to the highest place in heaven upon His resurrection because His earthly life earned Him that much honor. Each of us will similarly be raise to the level we deserve – a few to great heights, but most of us to much less glory – and some of us to none at all. That is, some of us will have earned only everlasting disgrace from our sojourn here.

  • Merv Olsen

    This whole topic is HUGE and needs much more thinking to be done on both sides of the arguments for and against the Traditional view.

    The following website has a large variety of links about both sides and is most helpful for those who want to study the issues more deeply.

    http://www.theopedia.com/Annihilationism


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