Here is a guest article that will make you think. I am not endorsing this as the Biblical view (although it is quite compelling), but as one of many views of hell that is consistent with evangelicalism.
With all the fuss and furor flying around us about hell, I have some good news: Everything you need to know about hell, you learned in Sunday School. Let me explain it like this. If you grew up in Sunday School, chances are you memorized some key Bible verses. If so, it is almost certain that the list included Romans 6:23 and John 3:16.
Both texts speak about the destinies that finally await the redeemed and the damned. Romans 6:23 states the options as death (“the wages of sin” and eternal life (“the gift of God through Jesus Christ”). In John 3:16, the choice is either to perish or to enjoy eternal life. Nothing could be plainer. It is finally either life or death. When we think about who and what we are, that is really what we should expect.
According to the Bible, only God himself is inherently immortal (1 Tim. 6:16). Human beings are not naturally deathless (immortal). We are mortals, and we owe our existence every moment to God who made us (Gen. 2:7; Acts 17:25, 28). We cannot survive death by ourselves. Nothing about us is death-proof. Our immortality is conditional on God who gives it.
Despite this grim and humbling reality, humankind has from earliest history tried to discover a means of immortality apart from God. The Egyptians embalmed their dead. Hindus taught reincarnation. Greek philosophers theorized that every human possesses a mortal body that houses an immortal or deathless “soul.”
This notion did not come from Scripture or from God. It originated with the devil, and it was first foisted on humankind by the serpent that told them, “You shall not surely die,” directly contradicting the Creator’s warning that disobedience would lead to death.
During the second and third centuries after Jesus, Tertullian and other converted Greek philosophers brought a form of this pagan notion into the church. Based on the teaching of Plato, Tertullian and others assumed that the soul cannot die. (They were inconsistent on this point, because at one time or another, they all admitted that God can destroy even the soul if he chooses to do so.)
But despite his admission that the soul can die, when the crunch came on the subject as it related to hell, Tertullian followed his pagan logic instead of his precious Lord. In Matthew 10, Jesus sends the disciples out to preach in the villages of Israel. He warns of persecution, and perhaps even martyrdom. But he encourages them with this contrast: man can kill the body, for now, but that is all he can do. God, on the other hand, is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt.10:28).
What? Destroy the soul? Tertullian has a problem. His philosophy says that souls live forever and cannot be destroyed. However, Tertullian has admitted already that God can destroy the soul. Jesus here warns of that very thing. Which way will Tertullian go? Sadly, when the crunch came, Tertullian went with his pagan philosophy.
We must not think that God will destroy the soul, Tertullian urged, for we know that souls are immortal and cannot be destroyed. What Jesus really means, the old philosopher explained, is that the lost will live forever in unending conscious torment. But God does not keep people alive merely to torment them forever. That is a horrible doctrine. It contradicts the Scriptures (such as our two memory verses and scores more like them). It grieves the Holy Spirit. It creates atheists.
Scripture thus always ascribes immortality to the saved, never to the lost (Rom. 2:7; 1 Cor. 9:25; 15:52, 53, 54; 2 Tim. 1:10; 1 Pet. 1:4). In the resurrection, God will give the saved immortal bodies for eternal life. The lost are not raised immortal. They are raised to condemnation. They go to hell, where they experience the second death. They die. They perish. They are destroyed. It’s not hard to understand. In fact, you probably learned it in Sunday School. It is the simple Bible truth. It means just what it seems to say.
For many resources on this topic, including a very surprising multiple-choice quiz, go to www.EdwardFudge.com/written/fire.html.
I want to give a huge thanks to Edward Fudge for this wonderful guest article. He is the author of: Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment. A new edition of this book will be released this summer by Cascade Books. Edward’s website says this about the forthcoming release:
Revised and enlarged 3rd edition (Cascade Books/ Wipf & Stock), Foreword by Richard Bauckham of Cambridge.* Updates scholarship after 29 years.
* Includes interaction with 17 traditionalist authors.
* Emerging as the centrist view between extremes of unending conscious torment and universalism.
* More consistent with the revealed character of God seen in Jesus Christ.
* Mortals who throughout life intentionally refuse relationship with the Creator, and who intentionally reject his gift of eternal life, in the end are totally cut off from God and truly perish (cease to exist).
* Takes at face value familiar texts such as John 3:16 (eternal life or perish) and Romans 6:23 (eternal life or death).