The Jewish Context for What Jesus Said about Hell

For many people today what one believes about hell is a matter of fidelity to orthodoxy. Most don’t quite want to contend that if you don’t believe in eternal, conscious punishment you are a heretic though some get mighty close. In fact, for some the gospel itself is shaped to get people out of (a theory for) hell that is about eternal, conscious punishment. In other words, change hell you might change the whole gospel for these sorts. So, when Edward Fudge, in his many writings, including Hell: A Final Word, contends the Old Testament only teaches consuming fire and not an eternal conscious punishment, some stridently warn him of falling off the “faithful cliff.”

Yes, I detect a genuine pursuit of truth on the part of Ed Fudge, and so when he examines each of the four pillars for the traditional view, and what the OT says is the first one, I am interested to see what he sees. The second pillar is the Jewish context. The simple contentions are these: (1) there was one Jewish view and (2) that view was eternal conscious punishment. [For hermeneutics, remember this: anyone who says “the” Jewish view on something is probably either exaggerating and uninformed. Except in the obvious — murder, etc — there was plenty of diversity among Jews.]

How often do you hear “the” Jewish view when it comes to eternal punishment or hell? Why do you think “hell” is so inflammatory of an issue (no pun)?

From the days of Malachi to the time of Jesus was about 400 years, the equivalent of the publication of the King James Bible and the NIV 2011. We are talking then about the end of the Old Testament and the production of the apocrypha, the pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and then writings that we find after the New Testament that draw on a deep history that goes back into the time before Jesus, in literature like the Targums, the Mishnah, the Tosefta, and various other Jewish documents.

In general, Fudge contends the Apocrypha agrees with the “fire that consumes” conclusion of the Old Testament but he finds an eternal conscious punishment in Judith 16:17: “Woe to the nations… the Lord Almighty will take vengeance against them in the day of judgment, to put fire and worms in their flesh; and they will weep and feel their pain forever.” Isaiah’s dead corpses here are revolutionized into living torment. From a fire that consumes to a fire that torments.

Rabbis: diversity rules. Some saw a fire that torments forever, some that torments temporarily, some a fire that purifies, and others a fire that consumes. Some experts on Jewish theology even think the torments forever language is an image for total annihilation.

Dead Sea Scrolls: “consistently expected the wicked finally to be destroyed and gone forever” (85). Fudge sees the Scrolls in general depicting a fire that consumes. There is no fire that torments forever.

Pseudepigrapha: Variety. A fire that consumes is found in Psalms of Solomon 13:11: the wicked “will be taken away into destruction, and their memorial will be found no more.” A fire that torments in 2 Enoch 10:1-6, where we see [and I quote from Charlesworth’s edition] “a very frightful place; every kind of torture and torment is in that place, and darkness and gloom and there is no light there, but a black fire blazes up perpetually… places of detention and cruel angels and carriers of torture implements, tormenting without pity… for all these this place has been prepared as an eternal reward.” This is Dante-esque stuff.

Fudge: there is no such thing as the Jewish view at the time of Jesus, so we will look at Jesus’ view in the next post.

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  • Mark Edward

    Some years back I started doubting the traditional view (eternal conscious torment), because the more I began studying the Scriptures on various issues, the more I discovered the proof-texts for the traditional view were being taken drastically out of context. For example, Jesus’ reference to ‘unquenchable fire’ and ‘undying worms’ goes back to Isaiah 66, where it is /corpses/ being devoured by the fire and the worms.

    After devoting some time to studying the issue of ‘hell’ further, I came to a view that the wicked were not tormented consciously for eternity, but that they would be punished until they were dead (i.e. non-existent). Then I found Fudge’s book (The Fire That Consumes), read it, and it bolstered what I had already found. And the longer I held on to this view, the more it did make certain things in the Scriptures make more sense , and it did reshape my understanding of God (I now find that God is can be merciful even in his punishment of the wicked, an idea that I never considered when I had believed the traditional view).

    I greatly appreciate that you’ve devoted several posts to this subject, because as ‘scary’ as many people find it to talk about, the traditional view is not a doctrine that deserves the untouchable pedestal it has been sitting on for so long. At the very least, a diversity of opinions on the subject should be respected, but I hope the view Fudge advocates gains more recognition.

  • Indeed, it is not strong scriptural support that sustains the traditional view but, on the contrary, an unwillingness to examine the relevant scriptures. It is hard to attribute this fear to anything other than fear of the consequences of such study. We should never be afraid to seek the truth.

    Especially in these darkened times in which we live, seeking the truth is the only hope we have of light.

  • Mike M

    What do the modern Rabbis believe? And yes, there may be room for differnces.

  • Stephen W

    How can we know what point of view Jesus held? I guess that will be the point of your follow-up post, but it there were different understandings in Jewish culture at the time, what you believe he is saying will be determined by the point of view you think he had. Which as far as I can tell he doesn’t specify. It was probably obvious to his audience at the time, but without their context are we not making educated guesses?

  • Stephen W,

    While awaiting Scot’s next post, here is one thing you can know: Jesus did not use Gehenna (English: hell) interchangeably with Hades (Hebrew: Sheol). The more literal English translations and their exhaustive concordances reveal this. Understanding that there is a distinction to be made is a good starting point for establishing Jesus’ view of the subject.

  • Stephen W


    So far as I’m aware Jesus speaks of Hades once (in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man – correct me if I’m wrong) and the rest of the time he speaks of Gehenna. My issue is whether we can know if he is using Gehenna to refer to the afterlife/eternal punishment or not (which from Scot’s post would seem to be reliant on knowing what pov Jesus took!) And then of course Jesus also uses parables to talk about judgement in which he neither speaks of Hades nor Gehenna.

    This is compounded by the fact that the Gospels are written in Greek, Jesus presumably taught in Aramaic or Hebrew so we actually don’t know exactly what words he was using, only how the Gospel writers translated them. Which means we then need to know what the Gospel writers (and early church) understood Jesus to mean.

  • I was just reading Ed Fudge’s book last night and I’m almost finished with it. As far as the Jewish view, like many issues, there were/are differing viewpoints. One of the most compelling bits I thought was that the Parable of Lazarus and the rich man was actually borrowed by Jesus. He of course changed it up a bit to make his point. There are at least 7 different versions of that parable found in the Jewish literature of the time. And none of them, Jesus’ version included, are about the afterlife.

  • Joe Canner

    Mike M #3: Rachel Held Evans “interviewed” an Orthodox Jew in her “Ask A…” series and one of the questions was about the afterlife. See the response here: (fifth question or so). I don’t know how authoritative this is, but I was able to find other evidence elsewhere supporting something like this. Even if there are variations on this, it doesn’t seem like the Jews have ever held to anything close to ECT.

  • Stephen W (#6),

    The NASB shows Hades (Strong’s Greek # 86) occurring ten times in the NT. The ones with asterisks are attributed to Jesus.

    Matt 11:23*
    Matt 16:18*
    Luke 10:15*
    Luke 16:23*
    Acts 2:27
    Acts 2:31
    Rev 1:18*
    Rev 6:8
    Rev 20:13
    Rev 20:14

    As for Jesus’ use of Gehenna, He presents it as the alternative to the kingdom of God, or eternal life, or life. Therefore, a good way to begin an understanding of what He meant by Gehenna is to seek to understand what He meant by the alternative.

  • Jeff

    I read Fudge’s argument and it is very good. The only verse I believe is difficult for his view is that of the author of Revelation where apparently the lake of fire consumes those in it day and night forever, though I guess one could argue that should only apply to Satan, the beast, and the false prophet.

    I feel though there might be an alternative, do not know what it is yet. It is just that because I believe Hell is not a place where one is being flyed alive over and over again every day, but more of what C.S. Lewis describes, then that makes me think that annihilation is not that great either. It also seems unnecessarily harsh

  • Scot

    Have you ever engaged with the writings of Andrew Perriman? Specifically his work, The Coming of the Son of Man, or his newest one, Hell and Heaven in Narrative Perspective. The second is shorter. But he is a great advocate for the narrative-historical hermeneutic. A stronger proponent than yourself, NT Wright or Daniel Kirk.

  • NateW

    I grew up believing that conscious torment “forever” was the only possible view for a bible believing Christian to hold, so, having seen that the bible is not nearly as clear as I once thought, I certainly appreciate the efforts of others to educate and open doors for those who feel painted into a corner regarding the character of God. I think that discussion about this sis invaluable and thank Scot for continuing to present other viewpoints. It’s all been very helpful to me.

    To pitch in my $.02, I would just like to strongly warn against the idea that there is any one way of describing or conceiving hell that can fully encompass with physical, temporal language the reality of this very spiritual concept. Spiritually speaking, what we are talking about is the concept of the experiential negation God Himself. As linguistically undefinable as God is, hell is necessarily equally so. To claim to know in ones mind the limits of the darkness of hell is to also claim to know the limits of the light of God.

    Each description of hell, therefore, is an attempt to paint a picture of what it would be like to experience the complete absence of whatever Good the listener ascribes to God. As different cultures and peoples have differing ways of conceptualizing the same truths about God (i.e. we would be unlikely today to describe God as a shepherd) we should as be able to accept that the idea of the negation of God will be described diferently in different contexts.

    Ultimately the Truth isnt wrapped up in one of these literal descriptions , but is a deeper layer of Spiritual reality which is born witness to within (not AS) the conglomeration of ideas that span time and culture. The truth about hell is, like all Spiritual Truth, an experiential knowing; perhaps framed conceptually for each by his academic understanding, but never limited to it–only by it.

    For me, I understand hell to simply be the experiential absence of God in all that he is — Love, Joy, Peace, Rest, Acceptance, Community, Hope, etc… It will exist for each individual in every present moment that he/she feels the absence of or rejects these things. The good news for all is that nothing can separate us from God’s love and the call of the one who understands this is to separate himself from God in love for others that they might know the ever present love of Christ.

  • NateW

    Perhaps a better way of saying my last thought above would be that we who know the eternal love of God are called to step into a way of being, loving those who are cast-out, despised, and downtrodden above ourselves) that we know will bring us into the experience of God’s absence. In short, by the love of Christ, Hell becomes a place that his followers do not avoid, but step into with and for others.

  • Kenton

    So I grew up being taught that hell (ECT) was developed as an idea between Malachi and Matthew and a lot of it was during the times of the Maccabees. (In “Desire of the Everlasting Hills”, Thomas Cahill discusses how the Maccabean conflicts would easily lead to a “Sic ’em, God” theology.) So in the understanding I grew up with, ECT wasn’t in the OT, but it was a concept Jesus endorsed. (I’ve since rejected that understanding.)

    I believe it’s an inflammatory topic, because a lot of people in professional ministry believe (wrongly, IMO) that if we get rid of ECT, then there’s no need for a professional ministry class. Further, everything they’ve learned/trained in/spoken and passed on to others is somewhere in the spectrum between tragically void of meaning and abusive. No one in their right mind would ever want that on their conscious so they cling on to it with a tight fist and avoid/attack any reading of scripture that might be contrary to their view. Power of the Guild also plays a part in that: knowing how strong a grip the idea has on people, no one wants to be kicked out of the club like a Rob Bell whipping boy.

    (Disclaimer: I know I’m painting with an awfully broad brush there.)

  • akatona

    Anyone have any thoughts on the Orthodox Church’s view of Hell and how it could relate or not relate to Annihilationism? I believe (correct me if I am wrong) that the majority of teaching revolves around the concept of Hell and Heaven both being in the presence of God. The difference being the righteous are in paradise because of their acceptance of God’s salvation where as the wicked who are tormented by God’s presence because they have rejected salvation.

  • This is a really incomplete examination of the Jewish view of hell at the time of Jesus (says someone who has not read Fudge’s book!). One of the primary problems with the traditional reading for us is the fact that Jesus, when speaking of fires, uses the name Gehenna. Gehenna is of course the local garbage dump, but even more than that, it was the infamous Valley of Hinnom or Tophet where the Jewish people had sacrificed their children to Baal. The problem with reading these passages as being about hell is that there is no record of Gehenna ever being associated with the afterlife or hell in Jewish writings until the 6th century AD. ( So the idea that Jesus meant to warn his listeners about hell is beyond implausible.

    Much more likely was that Jesus was using Gehenna to call to mind the exile which 2nd temple Jews still viewed themselves as being under. In particular, it seems most likely that Jesus was deliberately using the language of Jeremiah in which Tophet plays a large role. In Jeremiah we also find other language which Jesus echos such as raising a shepard, breaking the yoke on the back of the people, the language of bridegroom and bride and so forth. But the fact remains that since Gehenna was not used to describe the afterlife at the time of Jesus and Jesus himself doesn’t tell his audience that he is using it to speak of the afterlife, it would have been understood by his audience as a reference to Israel’s sin and God’s judgement. And this being the case, that ought to be our judgment as well.

    Also, the use of the word raka ought to be placed in the context of Jewish ideas regarding hell. It was a pretty common teaching at the time of Jesus that there were 3 categories of people – the unrighteous predestined for hell, the sinner who needed to bring themselves up to snuff to avoid hell and the saints who are predestined for paradise. Raka is a Greek transliteration of rashim which is the word for those who are predestined to hell. And of course, Jesus had unpleasant words for anyone who would call another raka.

    The other issue which Fudge may address, but isn’t mentioned here is that it seems that the language used by Jesus differs from many of his contemporaries. For example, Jesus speaks of aionian kolasin while we have records from both the Essenes and some Pharisees which use the phrase adialeiptos timoria. There is controversy regarding the word Jesus’ uses – aionian – with ancient sources and common usage saying that it is simply an undefined amount of time – like an eon. However, after Greek fell out of common usage, the idea that aion and its derivitive mean eternal took hold. On the other hand, the word adialeiptos has no such controversy and clearly means everlasting. Even more tellingly, Jesus uses the word kolasin while others used timorian. It is well established and documented that kolasin means chastisement and is associated with correction and teaching a lesson. Timoria, on the other hand, means punishment, generally for the satisfaction of the one who has been wronged.

    At any rate, as you say, there was a variety of Jewish thought on the matter of hell and the afterlife at the time of Jesus – much more than is indicated here. But what is most interesting from my perspective is that Jesus’ teachings don’t fit with any of them.
    I did a series on the teaching of hell for those who might be interested:

  • Kenton

    akatona (#15)-

    I’ll bite.

    I’d say that’s not annihilationism. Depending on what “tormented” means it might be ECT or it might be Love Wins style universalism. (Rob Bell drew on the older brother in the Prodigal son story. He was “tormented” in that he was bitter didn’t want to join the party, but it was a torment of his own doing. The party was always there for him.)

    It also seems to alter the definiton of “salvation” in your comment. (At least the one I grew up with.) That what Jesus offers is not “salvation from God kicking @$$ and taking names”, but salvation from our own sorry existence in living just for ourselves. That follows nicely what Mike Gantt and Steven W’s were saying above, and makes passages like John 3 and Eph 2 make better sense.

  • Mark Edward

    Jeff (#10),

    Think over the five explicitly-named entities thrown in the lake of fire: the satan, the beast, the false prophet, death, and hades.

    Death and hades are not literal, tangible things that can burn in a fire or feel torment; they are personifications of concepts (lack of life). And while there is a wide range of thought on the beast and the false prophet, many many people believe they are personifications of corporate entities (e.g. the beast is the Roman Empire, the false prophet is the Imperial cult, which I will assume in the following). Again, they are not literal, tangible things that can burn or experience pain; they are personifications of an oppressive government and its pagan religious system.

    The concept of dying (death and hades) ceases to exist, and the Roman Empire (the beast) is overthrown along with its pagan state religion (the false prophet). For these four, being thrown into the lake of fire to suffer the torment of God’s wrath is a SYMBOL, while the literal reality is their permanent destruction. In that case, the same can be said for the satan and condemned humanity: torment in the lake of fire is the symbol, permanent destruction is the reality.

  • Dana Ames


    Kenton is correct in that the Orthodox understanding of “salvation” is more like “salvation from our own sorry existence in living just for ourselves.” In the words of C. Yannaras, one of the leading contemporary Orthodox theologians, salvation is “the attainment on the part of humankind of being safe and whole, without the deficiencies of corruption, death or unfulfilled desire.” Indeed, in Greek “salvation/soteria” connotes much more the aspect of health and wholeness (and deliverance) than the concept of merely escaping something, or being able to live morally. Our slavery to the fear of death (Heb 2.14-15), is what makes us sin – miss the mark of being truly human, able to live in self-giving love. Since the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ (most particularly the latter), we have been released from that fear. So “salvation” is not something we “accept,” but rather something into which we enter because of God, and keep pursuing because God made us able to do so. So yes, it’s synergy, but it’s still ultimately all about trusting God – no “works” involved except the struggle to truly live a life of love, now that we are ultimately free of corruption and death by virtue of being united to Christ through the Incarnation and through Baptism.

    As for “hell,” the Orthodox Church does not understand it or heaven as “places;” neither does whatever “torment” happens come from God. At the judgment we will know as we have been known; therefore, in the Presence of God we will confront the truth about ourselves, and seeing ourselves how we have missed the mark of becoming humans capable of self-giving love will be the source of torment. The future life is one of Christ ruling his people on an earth in a universe shot-through with his presence, not in some “place beyond the stars” called “Heaven.”

    There is also a very strong tradition within EOrthodoxy, though the “minority view,” that the Presence of God and the total honesty experienced will have the purifying effect of fire, and that eventually everyone will repent and turn to God as they experience his love in a very unmediated way. It’s not “universalism;” no one “gets off Scot-free” – I find it fun saying that on this blog! 🙂 Everyone has to confront the truth of their lives in the light of the Reality and Meaning of Jesus Christ, our Lord, God, Savior, King and The Truly Human Being, and everyone will see what about one’s life has been not in the image of Christ – unloving, fruitless, fit for the garbage dump (Gehenna).

    God is good and life is a good gift from God, which he does not “take back” – annihilationism is viewed as heresy, especially in light of the Incarnation. We are only “eternal beings” insofar as God sustains our lives, but EOrthodox believe it is God’s good will to sustain our lives and to be united with us – both as Humanity in general by means of the Incarnation, and as unique Persons by means of meeting us one-on-one in the sacramental life, most notably in the Eucharist.

    Contemplating and seeking the meaning of the Incarnation was one of the first, if not the very first, steps I took that led me away from non-liturgical Protestantism, where it gets short shrift, if not ignored entirely. The Incarnation is really, really, really big in EOrthodoxy. All the questions brought to what the EOrthodox consider the Ecumenical Councils had to do with wrestling with the ultimate question of who Jesus of Nazareth was, and what it meant for him to be both God and Man.

    A good readable source to find out “the Orthodox Church’s view” about everything important is here:

    yes, I’m EOrthodox 😉

  • Kenton

    Dana (#19)-

    Sign me up! Actually, what you say is *not* universalism is precisely what I and the other people I know who self-identify as universalists would say *is* what we believe about universalism. At that point, though, we’re into semantic hair-splitting.

    My thoughts on semantic hair-splitting:

  • Dana #19 – thanks so much for taking the time to write all that out. I’m not Eastern Orthodox, but I agree with everything you said there.

    I sometimes think of “original sin” as our inner sense of “lack”, an experiential idea of a deficiency that we long to fill. In studying the Hebrew word “olam” I learned that one sense of the idea behind it is the sense that there is something veiled just “beyond the horizon” that we long for but cannot grasp as the horizon ever receeds ahead of us. Hell then is the endless chase around the globe, the eternal pursuit of the horizon, a striving after the wind. The good news is not the message that we’ve been running the wrong way and must turn around, but that we are free to just be still.

  • Sherman Nobles

    I agree that someone who speaks of the “Jewish view” of punishment in the afterlife is misspeaking because there was no specific “Jewish view” concerning that and most issues. The Pharisees believed in life after death, the Sadducees didn’t. And there was significant diversity within the Pharisees’ doctrine concerning what happened to a person after death. Some believed most went straight to Paradise, Jew and Gentile alike. Others believed that most, Jew and Gentile alike, would suffer some form of punishment/testing in a type of purgatory. Some believed the especially wicked would suffer for a season only to be annihilated. Others believed that the especially wicked would suffer indefinitely long.

    Considering though Jesus’ denounciation of the doctrine of the Pharisees, I don’t think that Jesus’ warning concerning Hinnom Valley was meant to affirm their various doctrines on the punishment of the wicked in the afterlife, though after warning of being cast into Hinnom Valley, Jesus indicates that we shall all be seasoned with fire, Mark 9:49. In this passage is He affirming a purgatorial type ending/beginning for us all? I don’t know though I assume that the judgment purge us from evil. I also have great hope in the fact that the Lord will dry every tear because I imagine I’ll be crying buckets at the revelation of how bad I’ve missed it.

    I think though that the Historical perspective was more what Jesus intended to convey in warning of being cast into Hinnom Valley where the Jews not only errected an idol, but sacrificed their children to it. This was the straw that broke the back of God’s mercy and brought on the destruction of Jerusalem. So Jesus could be saying, “Get the sin out of your life, or you’ll be sacrificing your own children to the idols of your heart and bringing destruction on all that you love!”

    And of course, it is possible that Hinnom Valley was used as a trash dump with no shortage of maggots (worms that do not die) and an “eternal” flame. If this was so then Jesus could have been saying “Get the sin out of your life or you’ll wind up in the trash!”

    Jesus does not explain what He meant by His metaphorical use of Hinnom Valley; and I think He left it open ended so that the metaphor could speak to people where they are at emotionally, wanting to have a positive influence, concerned for their family, and concern for the nation, as well as concern about facing the Judge of all!

  • Sherman Nobles

    Why is “Hell” such and inflammatory issue? Becuase it is a foundational element of the traditional majority of Christianity. It is part of their world-view and understanding of God and salvation. And thus such illogical arguments/questions are raised when one affirms universal reconciliation like “Well if all are ultimately saved then why did Jesus die? Or why live good today? Or why evangelize or be a missionary?” If one takes away belief in Hell then one takes away a primary reason for their chosen life-style, the “sacrifices” they’ve made, their reason for following Jesus. It is always scary to have one’s world view shaken!

  • Claude

    What do you make of all the afterlife experiences that people of all creeds and beliefs, including christians went through, relating sojourning in hell? They do describe sufferings and horrors that their souls or spirits sensed to be eternal.
    Or do you believe like many agnostics that these are only chemical induced hallucinations that occur in the brain at the moment of death?

    Anyways, to try to make things straight, Jesus didn’t come to give us a ticket out of hell but to reconcile the world to Himself and bring Heaven down to us for a start and make us heirs of God. Everything God is and has, we are and we have.
    Hell is a bad idea and was not intended for man.

  • Jeff

    Mark (#18),

    Well it seems that John should have been more clear. I understand that Death, Hades, the beast, and the false prophet are not real persons, but why didn’t he say “the smoke rose up day and night forever”. That would have been more dramatic. Instead he said, “they will be tormented day and night forever”. It is just an odd phrase is all.

    Also the idea of annihilation is is not much different than eternity in Hell, either way its forever and there is no way going back

  • Mark Edward


    Not to pick on you particularly, but one of the easiest complaints to make is that the Biblical writers should have been ‘more clear’. This, of course, assumes a perspective of clarity according to our own time and culture. In the case of the Revelation, if we are to find any meaning in what John is talking about, we need to understand the OT sources behind his imagery (Daniel 7 and Isaiah 34, where this imagery is used for permanent destruction). When John goes out of his way to define the symbol of the lake of fire as the ‘second death’, and we know that for at least four of the entities thrown in it meant their destruction, I would say John was actually being quite clear with his symbolism (or at least his interpreting of it for the benefit of his readers).

    And while I agree with you that eternal conscious torment and annihilation are similar in that ‘its forever and there is no way going back’, they are still very different views, as the topic usually falls back on which is more ‘just’ and which is more ‘merciful’ and which is more compatible with a Biblical understanding of God’s character.

  • Jeff

    Mark #26,

    I don;t agree with your assessment of “clarity”. Peter found Paul difficult to understand. Could it have been the case that Paul could have stated things more clearly? Probably. But it is what it is.

    Listen, I agree with you about the use of symbolism, but symbolism also has to match reality in some way to make sense. So I am glad you broguht up Isaiah 34, because it says what Revelation 20 should have said if was trying to say the same thing – verse 10 of Isaiah 34 says, “Night and day it shall not be quenched, its SMOKE shall go up forever”. Is it a symbol? Yes.

    My point is, I don’t get the symbolism of “being tormented day and night forever and ever” if the idea is to express a total destruction, on the other hand, SMOKE rising up forever makes sense. It has nothing to do with modern versus ancient culture.

    Are you saying that annihilation is more just than eternal hell?

  • Mark Edward

    Valid point about Peter.

    “Are you saying that annihilation is more just than eternal hell?” — I’m saying that the differences between them is enough for people to debate if one or the other is more just / merciful than the other. But to answer your question directly, yes, I do believe that annihilation is simultaneously more just / merciful than eternal conscious torment is, but I tend to leave that out of the discussion because it rests on a more personal understanding of God.

  • Jeff

    Mark (#28),

    I am still working this out for myself, but if one does not simply think in two dimensions, where you have people on fire in one scenario, and people disinegrated in another then more headway into the topic would happen. If hell were a place like was portrayed in “Where Dreams may come” that Robin WIlliams film in combination with a C.S. Lewis twist then, yes it is forever but one is not literally on fire, and one chooses to be there like they chose when they were in the land of the living. Then it seems fairer because the person is choosing to stay. That could mean as C.S. Lewis suggested that there was a bus trip one could take to heaven every so often and decide to get off that stop, but my point is, if one could conjecture that possibility then eternity is not as unfair as it seems.

    I tend to lean toward something that Jesus hinted at, albeit he was talking about cities, but as an extension one could imagine this applicable to people as well. Jesus said that Sodom’s judgemnt will be more tolerable than Capernaum’s.

    This suggests possibly levels of punishment. Something that at least in our minds seems completely fair because of the way we have our present justice system operate on a similar basis. If immediate annihilation were what happens it seems unfair to those did not affect anyone else but themsleves in their own destruction while living. The same punishment for Hitler and Christopher Hitchens or Dr. Bart Ehrman. Seems unfair

  • Ole

    Reading through all of your comments above has been fascinating. I’m always learning new perspectives. In this case this is an “old” interest of mine and I’m quite opinionated, but I hope I won’t leave without capturing some of your ideas. I am a child of the annhilationist viewpoint so it is as deeply ingrained in me as the ECT view of hell is on those of us brought up in that environment. And still I learn.
    Years ago I purchased an early copy of Fudge’s book “The Fire That Consumes”. (Now I want to see the new film “Hell and Mr. Fudge”.) His study firmed up early learning.
    Since then I’ve found some satisfaction in an understanding of the aionios/eternal aspect of it all. If the fire that consumes is fundamentally the glorious radiance of God’s unveiled Presence (morally, visually, even temperature-wise), then it is in every sense of the meaning eternal, everlasting, without end, for it is of God. And God will never “go out”. Believing that only those who accept the gift of life from the Life-giver; believing only those who are willing to be transformed: “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet;… changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable …”; believing that to exist in God’s glorious presence, we, too must receive a new body “not made with hands, eternal in the heavens”, or as Jesus described it, one that will “shine forth as the sun” (Matt 13:43); believing all this, I end up with a simple formula: To those who have learned to love and trust Him, He will be “the sun of righteousness [who rises] with healing in its wings”. To those who “love death” (Prov 8:36), “behold, the day is coming, [when the Lord will appear in His glory] burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” (Mal. 4).
    God is unchanging, but we His creatures arrive changed or unchanged. If we have allowed Him to remove the heart of stone and replace it with the heart of flesh, we will see Him rising with healing in His wings. If we are satisfied with the heart of stone, we will end up as if we tried to witness Moses’ encounter with God on Mt. Sinai without being hid in the cleft of the Rock. “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Exo. 33:20)
    Those who can enjoy His eternal, glorious presence, will – for eternity.
    Those who say “to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come; and who is able to stand?'” (Rev 6:16, 17) will not survive. Will not live. For eternity.
    To them, living would be “Eternally Conscious Torment”. In the end, they will choose death rather than ECT in the presence of the Lord.