HELL AND DEATH OR ETERNAL LIFE (Guest Post by Author: Edward Fudge)

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).


"lol, "the deuce"??Archaic today?"

We’re not playing the race card; ..."
"I like this from Richard Rohr:https://uploads.disquscdn.c..."

Greg Boyd Gives 5 Bullet Points ..."
"There is something weird about a question concerning something on which we have no proof ..."

Greg Boyd Gives 5 Bullet Points ..."
"We’re not playing the race card; we’re analyzing the racialized deck.That's precisely what I'm going ..."

We’re not playing the race card; ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • This is a well-written post. And if I did not know that there was a biblical case for everyone going to heaven (http://wp.me/PNthc-i6), I would be inclinded to hope it were true.

    The foundational flaw in your reasoning is that you push off into the afterlife promises that God has made regarding this life. Thus hell is a reality in this life. Study the biblical use of Sheol (OT) and Hades (LXX and NT) and you will understand the Bible’s conception of afterlife. Hell is related to the Hebrew word Gehenna or Valley of Hinnom, which refers to God’s wrath in this life.

    Thus you are right that hell does consume its occupants. It’s just that it does so in this life.

  • Excellent article. Thank you for sharing!

  • I am wondering what you meant in your preface by “consistent with evangelicalism.” Who determines what “Evangelicalism” is and how to measure consistency with it?

  • Very interesting article! Thought provoking to say the least. How would you handle Jude 12-13, 1 Thessalonians 1:9 and Jude 7? All 3 seem pretty clearly to state that hell is eternal.

  • It’s taken me a long time to come around to essentially this view, although I’d further clarify that I don’t think Jesus ever spoke during his earthly ministry about the “hell” we imagine, but rather was referring to the terrible judgment to come on Jerusalem in 70 AD. We have ahead of us resurrection, judgment and New Heavens/New Earth. Immortality for those who are clothed with it through Christ.

  • Thanks for sharing this, Kurt, and way to go, Edward. I’ve come to a very similar conclusion myself. The contrast between “life” and “death” is about as plain a sense as any reading you can deliver for many of the texts throughout the New Testament.

  • I can appreciate the desire on the part of the author and many others to relieve God of the charge of being a sadistic monster who will vengefully torture “forever” those who failed to achieve “salvation” in one short lifetime. However, I believe he has made the classic mistake of oversimplification – trying to reduce all that the Biblical writers had to say about reward/life and condemnation/death to 2 or 3 Bible verses interpreted very simplistically.

    The author assumes that the meaning of “death” is “obvious” – he imagines it means simply to cease to exist. I doubt that meaning can be successfully defended in any instance. It certainly is not the meaning of “death” in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. God is reported to have said that Adam would “die” in the very day that he ate of the forbidden fruit. Satan said that was untrue. By the way the author would have us understand what “death” means, it would appear that Satan was correct. Adam and Eve did not cease to exist on the day they ate of the fruit; their bodies did not cease to function; and they definitely did not enter into the fiery torments of hell as pictured by literalists.

    But they did “die” spiritually on that very day: they lost the consciousness of God’s presence and favor, and were unable to “walk” with Him anymore. When they heard God’s “voice”, they fled. It is that spiritual death which is the “wages of sin”, and which all experience – even while physically living – until they are reconciled to God and restored to a living awareness of God’s favor and presence. It is my delight to say that the Biblical writers proclaimed the good news that it is the infallibly certain purpose of God to reconcile and restore all creation – and that corrective punishments involving “anger and wrath” and “distress and anguish” (Rom 2:8,9) are simply a part of the process whereby God will eventually reconcile everyone to Himself.

    Of course God alone has immortality! What the author said about that is certainly true for the most part. God is the One and Only Self-Existent One. All other “living things” derive their life from the Self-Existent. Those of us who believe in the “immortal soul” and reincarnation do not at all assert that this immortality is intrinsic to us apart from the gift of God – and it is simply an unworthy insult to suggest that we do (supposedly following the lie of the devil).

    What we do assert is that when the Creator, Cherisher, and Sustainer brought forth his creation, it was not an “experiment” which would be preserved if successful, and destroyed if it was a failure. God created nothing without purpose; and we are delighted to maintain that not one purpose or desire of the Almighty will fail to be realized! May God be forever praised. God does not “give up” on us if His purpose is not completed in one short earthly lifetime. May such an idea of a defeated God, who “gives up” if not “immediately successful” be forever stricken from our minds!

    There are people who know that we survive death of the body and reincarnate in other bodies from their own experience and memory. They are as certain that they lived previous lifetimes (from their own memories of them) as they are that they lived as children earlier in this present lifetime. Others of us have no recollection of such past lifetimes – but then we don’t remember our births or most of our early childhoods in this lifetime either. We accept the reality that we were born and lived prior to our earliest childhood memories nevertheless, because it simply doesn’t make any kind of sense to imagine that we just came into existence at the point of our earliest memory. And we are willing to accept the word of our parents and others who do have those memories. In the same way, I accept the word of others who do remember past lifetimes, even though I myself have no such memories. And it makes perfect sense to me that the one who Cherishes and Sustains me is gradually molding and forming me according to His purpose – through many lifetimes – just as I know He has been molding and developing me from childhood to adulthood in this particular lifetime. But I fully recognize that my life (in all that word means) is the gift of the Self-Existent One.

    The author of the article should get beyond “Sunday School” and do a bit more careful thought about the meaning of words like “death”, “perish”, and “destroy”. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul referred to a man who had committed adultery/fornication with his father’s wife. He said in verse 5 that this man should be turned over to Satan “for the destruction of the flesh”, in order that his spirit might be saved in the day of Jesus Christ. But in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, Paul said concerning this man that the punishment this man had received was sufficient, and that he should now be forgiven and comforted so that he would not be “swallowed up with too much sorrow.” Even though his flesh had been “destroyed” by Satan, he was still physically alive and could be restored to fellowship. The “works of the flesh” were destroyed, but the body itself remained intact. We should learn not to be too literally simplistic in interpretation. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul spoke of the judgment seat of Christ and the fiery judgment our works will undergo; but when the fire has done its work, the person himself will be saved. So in the judgment of God, the unrighteous works of body and soul will be destroyed by the “fire”; but the ultimate result is the salvation of the person who had done the works. Certainly the burning up of our unfruitful works (both the “works of our hands” and the thoughts of our hearts/souls) will not be pleasant, and is something to be feared and avoided (that is, we should avoid the unrighteous works so there will be none to be consumed by the fire); but it does not result either in “eternal tortures of the damned” or in “annihilation of the wicked”.

  • I have trouble reconciling the view that death (the end of this life in the flesh) is the final punishment for those who aren’t adopted into the Family of God through Jesus’ blood w/ Rev 20.

    Vs. 10 says that those thrown in the lake of fire will be tormented day & night forever & ever. Is the argument against this “forever & ever could mean an epoch”? If so, those who are dead are judged and thrown into the lake of fire in verse 14, so there would still seem to be some form of punishment post-death (see below).

    [10] and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

    Verses 12 & 13 say the dead are judged, so death doesn’t seem to be the final say.
    Verse 14 actually says that death itself is thrown into the lake of fire, so death seems like its out in regards to an option for the results of the judgement. It actually says the lake of fire IS the second death. So you’d have to say, “no it doesn’t say that” in order to say that the end of this life on earth is your final punishment when you die apart from the saving blood of Jesus.

    [11] Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. [12] And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. [13] And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. [14] Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. [15] And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
    (Revelation 20:10-15)

    I’m not looking to fight, but honestly discuss. The idea of conditional mortality is totally foreign to me and I’d like to try to understand how an argument can be made for it biblically.

  • Thanks for sharing this Kurt. It’s funny how we (myself included) can just assume something is in the Bible until someone says, “Hang on, did we get that from Scripture or from somewhere else?” Though it only dawned on me when reading this post, it makes a lot more sense to me to think of immortality as a gift from God than something inherent to humanity. That’s why he’s the Creator and we’re the created. And maybe that’s why Jesus says enteral life is something we have to “enter into” (as opposed to something everybody automatically gets). Good stuff.

  • War Hammer

    Mr. Fudge, your selective use of Scripture is interesting. Could you exegete Mt. 25:46 and explain how “eternal punishment” in the context of the passage (contrasted with eternal life) could possibly support your case. There are many other passages as well, but we have to start somewhere.

    I think that you have indeed fudged….

    • Please use more tact in your comments or I will feel the need to block you. Disagree in love or do not comment. thanks..

      PS – If you really want him to exegete that passage, read his book.

      • War Hammer

        Kurt, I can disagree in love when the disagreement is of minor importance. However, there are some folks who are perfectly fine with being married to their sins and think that ceasing to exist will be just fine. It appears that you think this is just an abstract theological disagreement. The apostle Paul didn’t deal with this level of error “in love”. Anyone who teaches that Jack the Ripper and Jack my unbelieving next door neighbor will suffer the same end is teaching that God is unjust. That is a lie, and can’t be supported exegetically from Scripture–at least not without employing some clever acrobatics….


          • I have not read the book, and due to financial difficulties I probably won’t be able to purchase it any time soon. However from the couple of videos I’ve seen of Rob talking about the book and his thoughts, it appears to me he did an admirable job of holding out the possibility of “universal reconciliation” without actually asserting it as a certainty. I personally do consider it a certainty, but I admire Rob’s cautiousness also.

            In one point I agree with War Hammer: to punish every sinner with the same punishment smacks of great injustice, and doesn’t seem to square up with some of the Biblical teachings. Luke 12:47, 48 for instance plainly says that there are some who will be punished with “few stripes” while others will be punished with “many stripes”. In neither case is the punishment literally “never ending” though.

            The objection to uniform punishment for all the “unsaved” applies equally to “eternal torment in hell”. Both “annihilation of the wicked” and “eternal torment” will have problems facing this objection.

            In one of my blog articles (“Everlasting Punishment?” – http://mystic444.wordpress.com/2009/10/29/everlasting-
            punishment/ ) I did some examination of the concept of “eternal”, “everlasting”, and “forever” in the Bible. Here’s a brief quote from that article: “Isaiah 32:14, 15 says: ‘Because the palaces will be forsaken, the bustling city will be deserted. The forts and towers will become lairs FOREVER [to the age], a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks – UNTIL the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is counted as a forest’. So here Isaiah directly states the ‘forever/until’ principle which can be seen throughout the Bible. It’s not literally ‘forever’, but for ‘an age’, until something else happens that brings the ‘age’ to an end and begins a new ‘age’.”

            Any understanding of “eternal punishment” which does not take into account both the “many stripes vs. few stripes” idea, and the “forever/until” principle, has (it seems to me) failed in doing full justice to all that the Bible has to say on this subject. I believe Rob attempts to take these things into account, without ever making a definite and dogmatic statement that everyone will eventually enter into God’s salvation. Perhaps he will eventually come down fully as a “universalist”; but for the moment he is content to say “the Judge of all the earth will do what is right” and leave it there.

          • It appears that the full link to my blog article did not get highlighted ( http://mystic444.wordpress.com/2009/10/29/everlasting-punishment/ ). You can copy the link and paste it into your search engine and it should work.

          • Oh well, I see it actually works as it stands, anyhow.

          • War Hammer

            Oh, I see. This is just a theological buffet table and you lay out the menu. You don’t need to defend putting this post on your blog, since you’re not saying it’s THE Biblical view.

            I’m not assuming the role of a prophet or an apostle, just a Christian who believes the Bible actually communicates important truth clearly. Some things more clearly than others, but hell is not something obscure in Scripture.

            I don’t need to read the book to disagree with the premise of it. I think Mr. Fudge has given me enough in his post to know that he doesn’t dig very deeply. Asserting what he does about Tertullian without the benefit of primary source material or footnotes is a good indicator of what I can expect.

            Would you care to elaborate on your position?


          • Do you believe the spiritual gifts are for today? Some Christians do, some dont. Do you believe in Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence? Some Christians do some dont. Christians are free to disagree in love. My belief for instance is the nonviolence is as clear or clearer than your belief in eternal punishment… am i free to question your orthodoxy because of that view?

            Also, this was a ‘popular based post’. His book is considered the best academic treatment of conditional immortality / annihilationalism that there is… based on this post you know you disagree? Thats pretty weak theological reflection. Disagree all you want, but if you were truly a person who cared about theology, you would engage other views rather than dismiss anything that doesn’t fit your very small box that you seem to hold your modernist bible captive in.

            PS – the book has many footnotes.

          • War Hammer

            Kurt, the eternal well being of person is not based on his view of nonviolence or spiritual gifts. I know enough about Scripture to disagree, if this post by Mr. Fudge was to induce strong theological reflection, I would say it fell on its face.

            I would be happy to engage other views, which is what I was trying to do before I got the beatdown about commenting “in love”. I never got a response defending Fudge, or arguing for his position. You’re welcome to do that now if you like.

            I don’t see a box around my Bible. I have it in a nice Bible cover, genuine leather as a matter of fact. However, that “box” comment is always tossed out there when actual arguments cannot be engaged. Yeah, it’s modernism. Nice and easy way to “dismiss” anything that doesn’t open up to let everything lay on the table.

            PS. I’m glad the book has many footnotes. That does allay one of my concerns.