Clark Pinnock’s Thoughts on Hell

Clark Pinnock’s Thoughts on Hell October 13, 2011

When Rob Bell unleashed the fury of responses to his book Love Wins, many were caught off guard. Why? Because many did not know that this issue has been simmering among evangelicals for a generation. In some ways it began when John Stott confessed he was an annihilationist, which brought to the surface the fact that a number of UK theologians were also annihilationists (like John Wenham, RT France, et al).

That statement of Stott’s gave others courage to come forward, and it appears the late Clark Pinnock was one of them. Clark’s piece in Four Views on Hell is one of the finer brief sketches of the annihilationist view. I want to touch on a few of his ideas this morning.

To begin with, here is his sketch of the traditional view:

According to the larger picture, we are asked to believe that God endlessly tortures sinners by the million, sinners who perish because the Father has decided not to elect them to salvation, though he could have done so, and whose torments are supposed to gladden the hearts of believers in heaven. The problems with this doctrine are both extensive and profound (136).

Then he asks this question:

Would God who tells us to love our enemies be intending to wreak vengeance on his enemies for all eternity? (140)

Hell is proof of how seriously God takes human freedom (142).

Pinnock contends the Bible, when read properly in context, does not teach the traditional view; he also contends that the predominant images of hell in the Bible are about death, perishing, destruction, and corruption — not conscious torment. One of his major beefs is that the traditional view assumes the immortality of the soul, which is a Greek idea and not a biblical one, and that the traditional view therefore requires that God grant immortality to the wicked in order to push them eternally.

One of his major summary statements: “My point is that eternal torment serves no purpose at all and exhibits a vindictiveness totally out of keeping with the love of God revealed in the gospel” (153).


The real choice is between universalism and annihilationism, and of these two, annihilationism is surely the more biblical, because it retains the realism of some people finally saying No to God without turning the notion of hell into a mostrosity.

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  • Nick Jackson


    I suppose in some ways I am both a unilateralist and an annihilationist. I believe that there is a penalty to sin and a consequence to sin. Jesus took the penalty of the cross, for everyone. That means everyone is forgiven and no one will ever or has ever experience God’s penalty, except Jesus. If this wasn’t the case then by God penalizing sinner and Jesus for the sin, he is administering an undue penalty.

    Though everyone is saved from the penalty of sin, we still have to deal with the consequences. If you sin there will be negative consequences, whether you are forgiven or not. But through the practice of forgiveness God alters the natural consequence of sin. Those who accept that forgiveness and want to join God on the journey of restoration will be free to be in the Kingdom of God and the New Heavens and New Earth where there will be no sin and consequence and pain will cease. Those who do not want to join God in healing and restoration will experience the full consequence of sin, and ultimately sin leads to death. Life cannot be sustained apart from God due to the consequence of sin.

    But yeah, totally agree. Immortality of the soul is nowhere in the Bible.

  • And now, everyone ELSE’s thoughts on hell… right after mine, I suppose.

    I’m sympathetic to the annihilationist view, but I’m not betting the farm on it.

  • Scot, thanks for reminding of this chapter. It made a significant impression on me as well, particularly the two points you referenced regarding hell as destruction and the idea of the soul’s inherent immortality being a Greek concept. Ben Witherington recently had an extensive two-part post on the possibility of annihilationism as well.

  • One of his major beefs is that the traditional view assumes the immortality of the soul, which is a Greek idea and not a biblical one, and that the traditional view therefore requires that God grant immortality to the wicked in order to push them eternally.

    A Greek idea – a Greek idea?! At the bare minimum, a passing acquaintance with Josephus’ Antiquities (itself a not-too-subtle apologia for Judaism) should cement the immortality of the soul as a widely recognized, basic assumption within first-century Pharisaic Judaism. One can’t just dispose of all their least-favorite theological ideas by dubiously attributing them to Hellenism.

  • I’ve always struggled with the traditional view of hell. And, Rob Bell certainly shed some light on alternative views for me. I appreciate the Rob Bells, the Clark Pinnocks, the NT Wrights, and others who have the boldness to express these views. Just like I believe the Bible makes the case for both Arminianism and Calvinism, I believe the Bible also makes the case for annihilationism, separation, and eternal torment. But, I also believe it makes the case for other views as well, such as what Bell proposes in Love Wins… that hell is merely a figurative place and is what the person who rejects Christ makes it out to be by refusing to accept Christ. With words like “destruction” and “perish” it’s hard not accept the annihilist view. But, what do we do with words like “reconciliation” and “all men” and “every tongue” and “every knee” will bow and give praise to God? The case for universalism?

    Maybe it’s best we do what the Eastern Orthodox church does… chalk it off as a mystery of God and leave it be. Why try to figure out something that isn’t abundantly clear? After all, our main goal is not to save people from hell, but to help bring people into the kingdom of God by living in a relationship with Jesus.

  • Jerry

    Scot, is there a possible correlation here with the King Jesus Gospel? Is hell less about wrath against sin and more about about failure to bring all things subject to Messiah King Jesus?

    An annihilationist perspective might argue that those who reject the good news of King Jesus have placed themselves outside the kingdom and are damning themselves to destruction.

    A universalist perspective would hold the door open for all. But . . . at what point might that door close?

  • I still have people telling me that Stott wasn’t an annihalationist – despite his writings.

    I don’t think some people can cope with JS not thinking exactly like them

  • PSF


    But Josephus was a Hellenized first-century Jew. They had all kinds of things wrong concerning eschatology.

    I think the question of whether the OT sees immortality as inherent or conditional is a huge question. Joel Green, as an example of a recent biblical theologian, argues that immortality is not intrinsic to humanity but a gift from God. So, the question comes, would God continue to give this “gift” solely to punish (even torture) people eternally?

  • Rod

    I find the annihilationist position disgusting, and the tradition of hell as part of a middle way. I see, according to John’s Gospel that hell is part of the New Creation, that it is the wicked experiencing eternal judgment. Of course, this would mean for Christians to take texts like John 5 seriously since the wicked and the righteous will be resurrected.

  • Brian

    “The wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life.”

    Death means death; life means life.

    I know this may seem over-simplified, but it still speaks to the issue

  • sds

    Rod, what about both the wicked and the righteous being resurrected makes annihilationism untenable or ‘disgusting’?

  • Brian W

    Yes, Rod, I’m with you a little here. There is a resurrection of the just and unjust; some to everlasting life and some to everlasting shame and contempt (Dan 12:2). Are we to believe that everlasting life continues on and everlasting shame and contempt end?

    In addition, Paul also says that the resurrected body is imperishable. Certainly, Paul’s immediate context in 1 Cor. 15 is to help believers understand their ultimate destiny, but I don’t think that implications towards the resurrection of the unjust are completely unwarranted.

    We may say that an immortal soul is Hellenistic, I’m fine with that; an immortal, imperishable resurrected body seems entirely Judaic.

  • Amos Paul

    Agreed and Amen, though with the contention that there is still room for some mystery. As I’ve heard it said–we know that the option of Hell is there, but there’s no *guaruntee* that anyone’s going to ultimately end up taking it.

  • If hell and destruction are the same thing, then what is the purpose of the White Throne Judgment? Does God keep people alive after death just so they can hear their final doom and then kill them again? That would seem to be the only option for an annihilationist, or am I reading it wrong?

  • And where is the verse that specifically says anyone has an immortal soul? The only teaching I know of on immortal souls is 1 Corinthians where Paul shows that resurrected believers will be made immortal. They are not immortal before God makes them so. I know of no Bible teaching that shows any person, believer or non-believer has an immortal soul.

  • Rodney

    I agree with you Brian. Thanks for speaking truth.

    The Bible speaks of eternal damnation for those who do not accept Jesus Christ as Savior. That they will seperated from the presence of God, so where is there no TRUTH in that statement? The Word God is TRUE, Jesus said He was ‘the way, the TRUTH and the Life and that no one comes unto the Father’ except by Him.

    We are to read the Word as it is written and allow God to speak to our hearts, not just accept someone else’s opinion and what they think it says, how they think we should interpet it. The Holy Spirit will show us the TRUTH if we will only allow Him to do so. We are to study and show ourselves approved RIGHTLY dividing the Word of truth.

  • I agree with Pinnock in that the real choice is between annihilationism and universalism. Once one corrects the misinterpretations of Sheol and Hades (grave, realm of the dead), and Gehenna (Hinnom Valley)in scripture, not once is a place of ECT, Hell, specifically named in scripture for humans.

    And if not for the many precious promises in scripture concerning the salvation of all humanity and all creation being reconciled to God, I too, like Pinnock and Stott would be an annihilationist.

    Another reason I’ve come to have faith in Christ for the salvation of all humanity is because as I’ve studied the passages on judgment, chastizement, and punishment of sin, I’ve increasingly found such to be remedial in nature, for the destruction of our flesh so that our spirits might be saved, punishment meant to bring positive change in us if not in this age, surely in the age-to-come. Judgment comes to deliver us from evil, not to lock us in evil. In Judgment we face the unshaded truth concerning our lives, how we’ve lived, and well, the fire of truth burns the “hell” out of us!

  • I’d expect Pinnock’s view to be that God hasn’t yet decided what to do about hell… nyuck nyuck.

  • Mike – What is the purpose of the White Throne Judgment in the traditional view of hell? Does God keep people alive after death just so they can hear their final doom and then keep them alive for eternity endlessly torturing them? That IS the only option for the traditionalist.

  • Rod @9, where do you find a warning concerning Hell in John? John 5;28-29 does mention a ressurection of all people, those who have done good to life, and those who have done evil to condemnation. Of course, both poieo (do) and prasso (practice) are participles and thus this passage could be understood and translated as God rewarding us all for every good thing we do, and condemnation of all evil practices or habits. So God, like a good father, celebrates every good act, but also knows that he must deal with any bad habits.

    The judgment is related to how we actually live. We shall all be judged, especially those of us who have been blessed with faith! The more we’ve been given, the more we are accountable before God.

  • Ben

    Mike @ 12 and Rodney @ 16 — you seem to be laboring under the assumption that annihilation and eternal judgment are mutually exclusive. To me, this is a false dichotomy. When it comes to ECT (eternal conscious torment), it’s not the “E” that annihilationists question so much as the “C” and the “T.” As someone who’s studied the entire New Testament and concluded that annihilationism is a far more plausible interpretation of the judgment texts, I have no problem with the concept of “eternal judgment” in that annihilation is irreversible and therefore, in a sense, eternal.

    Besides, it’s time we all moved away from a gnostic insistence on the inherent immortality of the human soul and agreed with the apostle Paul, who maintained that God alone is immortal (1 Tim 6).

  • Jesus seems to say however long the faithful get enjoy heaven, the unfaithful will suffer: “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”(Matthew 25:46 ESV)

  • Pat

    Thanks for posting this, Scot. I have often seen Pinnock’s understanding of human freedom used to support the traditional view of Hell. Interesting to see what Pinnock actually said.

  • Craig@22, the key thing you stated was “seems to”. The word translated “eternal” is aionios, which Young translates as age-during. Aionios was used in the LXX to translate Olam which is often associated with the concept of the Messianic age-to-come. Aionios is used to modify both judgment which we shall all face and the fire that destroyed Sodom that lasted but hours. “Eternal” might be the best English word to translate “aionios” because Eternal has a wide variety of meanings. Well, in short, I believe that in this Mt. 25:46 aionios would be better understood to reference the age-to-come, thus “age-to-come life” and age-to-come punishment”. Also it’s helpful to note that “punishment” can be understood as remedial punishment. God punishes us for our good. Also note that in the simile related to this passage, note that the word traslated “sheep” is probaton which is a broad word meaning any small 4-legged animal (sheep, goats, or cattle). The word translated goats is eriphos which specifically means Kids as in baby-goats. The shepherd is separating out the Kids from his Flock, all of whom are valuable to Him and belong to Him. Because kids are so independant, they need training for them to function as members of the flock. This to me seems to flow with the focus of the passage being about whether or not we see and meet the needs of others around us, whether or not we are relationally mature or are we selfish.

  • Rick

    Sherman #24-

    “Well, in short, I believe that in this Mt. 25:46 aionios would be better understood to reference the age-to-come, thus “age-to-come life” and age-to-come punishment”.”

    “Aion” would be the term that potentially could mean “age-to-come”. “Aionion(s)” is better translated everlasting.

  • Percival

    ‘Everlasting punishment’ is analogous to ‘everlasting salvation’ It is the result that is lasting, not a matter of the process going on and on.
    To me “age to come punishment” is not only confusing, but it makes no sense in English.

  • It would be nice to see a a non-traditionalist present the traditional view at its strength for once. But then I’ve never seen Pinnock do that for the opposing view in any of his four/five-views contributions.

    Disagree with a position, by all means. But state the position as your opponent would first.

  • normbv

    The resurrection or raising of the so called “dead ones” along with the white throne judgment was a first century event and covenant change taking place. Those (Israel) under Adam’s covenant of works/law had the opportunity to join the new covenant of the Last Adam Christ or lose their place in the covenantal heritage.

    Resurrection is simply a covenantal change taking place in the twinkling of an eye as Paul states when all opportunity was given to the ancient people of God to embrace a renewal of what was lost through the first Adam. There is simply a new covenant declaration now in place and if one ascribes to its tenets as prescribed with grace through faith in Christ instead of works then one enters into the new covenant people of God. The gift of Eternal life is the blessing and the loss due to refusal was removal away from the presence of God that these former people had claimed. The NT is a story of a people having an opportunity and not taking advantage of it to their detriment. We face the same decisions by refusing Christ today of entering God’s established covenant called the Body of Christ. No longer the Body of Adam.
    Ecclesiastes gives a synopsis of the Jewish understanding of the plight of the Jews who are “sons of Adam” and the “beast” which is Jewish code for pagan man outside of God. Beast is a term that denotes many a Gentile in regards to their relationship with God thus the reason Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation utilize it heavily in describing God forsaken National leaders. Nebuchadnezzar specifically illustrates this implication where he took credit to himself instead of giving glory to God. He became like the “beast” until he came to his senses and finally acknowledged God. The Jews were not politically correct with their applications towards the “gentile sinners” as they liked to call them until Christ came and removed this distinguishing designation.

    Ecc 17 I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. 18 I said in my heart with regard to the sons of Adam that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. 19 For what happens to the sons of Adam and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and the Adam’s has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. 20 All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows whether the spirit of Adam goes upwards and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?

    Due to their being sons of the fallen Adam they were no better off eternally in their covenant than the “beast” (Gentile). Adam and his faith lineage after the fall was relegated back to the mortal “dust of the earth” just as the Gentile were and thus the writers lament concerning their predicament until “messiah” lifted the faithful out of this old dilemma. Would their spirits rise to be with God or would it be lost eternally into the mortal “dust of the ground”. Sounds like Annihilation is the ancient Jewish understanding and dismay.

  • Steph

    The four views are traditional, annihilationism, universalism and …. separation?

    I have some bones to pick with the quote from page 136. I don’t think believing in hell as ECT necessarily means also that you believe in strict predestination (“the Father has decided not to elect them to salvation”) and that the ECT of others will gladden the hearts of those in heaven. There are those who beliece in ECT who literally have nightmares about it (about not being able to rescue others from it) and who wonder about all the “happy, happy joy, joy” form of Christianity and how that can possibly be lived out when the ones you love most aren’t expected to be in heaven but are expected to burn forever…. How can we say the burden is light and the yoke is easy if we have to live every day (now and hereafter) knowing our loved ones and our friends will suffer so atrociously?

    I used to say (to myself) that I didn’t invent Christianity and if I had, I certainly would not have set up the belief system as it is (seemed to me) to be set up. I can’t help what it says kind of response, but I can choose my attitude towards others nonetheless….

    I am thrilled to see the alternatives presented and think they have much to recommend them … “biblically,” not just as “attractive” theories. What Five Dills (#5) wrote is a statement I agree with at this point in my thinking.

    But now, as opposed to my earlier, “Hey, I didn’t invent it. It’s not-always-very-attractive Truth and I just have to deal with it” attitude, I am wondering more about the implications of our beliefs about hell on the character of this God we say we serve. Who we believe God to be will have implications for how we approach … well, all the other humans around us. You can see, during the time when we were burning witches and heretics, etc., how easily we could let ourselves get away with that because we (I imagine) honestly just thought we were getting the burning started a little early. Love your enemies just got pushed aside. The image of God we have seems to have a bigger impact institutionally on how we act (not necessarily individually) than Christ’s teachings.

    So the bit that was thrown in there about forgiveness in Scot’s post/quote of Clark Pinnock really interests me. I’m reading so much that is questioning the way I was taught to think about hell and atonement, critiques of the “penal substitution” model, but I’m not always shown an alternative way of thinking. I’m just left with questions. In thinking about forgiveness the other day, I was left with this:

    – Would the God who tells us to forgive (where forgiveness seems like an absolute good in its own right) really only be capable of forgiving us if He gets to pour out his wrath on His only son? Without punishment (revenge?), we couldn’t be forgiven?
    – Well, why does God tell us to forgive anyway? Is it because vengeance is His? Do we only err when we get violent b/c that’s not our department, our prerogative, or is it because of something deeper? (To be clear, I really, really hope it’s because there is a problem with cruelty and violence plain and simple, and not just b/c vengeance isn’t ours to take.) Are we to forgive because we ourselves have been forgiven and so we shouldn’t be hypocrites? Or is it because God is Himself forgiving (without exacting punishment/revenge in a fire and brimstone fashion?)

    Who is God? What is our responsibility for our beliefs when we seek not to invent them but to follow a text? Can we separate beliefs and attitudes as I once thought?

    More deeply: Can I trust that God is good? Or do we just want him to be? (Obviously, I am holding on to “the God of the Bible” with the tiniest of threads … And yet I have always seen that thread to be more like an unbilical cord, that I don’t really want to cut…..)

    There were no questions posted with the above entry. I, uh, took a wide angle approach to the topic.

  • Jon G

    Sherman…when are you going to write a book on this stuff? You almost have me agreeing with you (I’m still an anihilationist)! 🙂

  • Steph, those are some great questions. With regard to personal vengeance, how could there be a deeper reason against it than the fact that we’re not God? What could be deeper than the very godness of God as a reason? Think back to the garden and ask what the primordial sin was there. Was it idolatry? If so, was that a sort of shallow sin?

    Good thoughts…

  • Rick @25, aion means age or eon, not age-to-come. aionios is aion used as an adjective, similar to heaven (noun) and heavenly (adjective) or bull and bullish. Aionios speaks of quality and source, not a specific quantity. But discussions over the meaning of this word are endless.

    The primary reasons I do not believe in ECT/Hell is because: 1) not one word in scripture used in reference to humans actually means Hell, not Sheol, Hades, or Gehenna.
    2) The Law does not once warn of ECT.
    3) Tartarus, the Greek word that meant ECT/Hell, is not once warned of in the NT. And the one time it was used in 2 Peter it speaks of where the sinning angels are now held in chains until judgment – not for humans and apparently only until judgment.

    I believe that if there was a Hell, it would have been named specifically and repeatedly warned of in scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, especially in the Law, but it’s not. Such would not hang on the meaning of one adjective (aionios) in a couple of passages that can be translated otherwise.

    Also, concerning aionios and age-to-come being interchangeable, it’s interesting that when Matthew quotes Jesus warning of blaspheming the Holy Spirit he says that such will not be forgiven in this age or the age to come. But Mark quotes Jesus saying that such will not be forgiven in this age, and he is in danger of aionion judgement. Thus not forgiveness but punishment in the “age-to-come” = “aionion judgment”. btw, even these statements concerning blaspheming the Holy Spirit do not affirm ECT, only that such a sin is not forgiven and thus must be punished or paid for. Debts that are not forgiven are nullified by them being paid back. In discipling children, reality discipline, making a child pay for his mistakes is often necessary for positive character development. Forgiveness and restitution are both means of reconciliation.

  • Jon @ 30, thanks, I’m actually working on one, though it is one for my young adult children explaining scripture as I understand it on this issue. It’s not written for accademia but for the average Christian. In other words, I’m not appealing a lot to the writings of others, quoting many different sources, but I’m writing more of a primer on the subject. And coming from a prima scriptura position, I’m focusing mainly on sharing my understanding (or misunderstanding) or scripture.

    And like I’ve shared before, if not for the many passages that I understand to affirm the salvation of all humanity, I too would be an annihilationist. The more I study scripture, the more I see how ECT/Hell is read, even translated, into it. The wages of sin is “death”, not ECT. The warning of eating the forbidden fruit was, “in the day you eat it you shall surely die”, NOT “you shall surely exist forever in endless torment”.

    When Adam and Eve sinned, we died, were cut off from the source of life and existance. Without being reconnected we eventually would cease to exist. I believe though that one day all who are in the grave shall hear the voice of the Lord and live, that one day every knee shall bow in worship and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord! I believe that Jesus is the savior of all humanity, especially (not only) we who believe. And He is the savior of all not only in title, but in deed. I believe that Jesus will ultimately draw all to Himself because he was lifted up. I believe Jesus saves all, even me!

  • pennerm

    @ Sean R. – josephus saying it does not make it a jewish idea, does it!? from the Jewish Encyclopedia: “The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical or theological speculation rather than of simple faith, and is accordingly nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture. As long as the soul was conceived to be merely a breath (“nefesh”; “neshamah”; comp. “anima”), and inseparably connected, if not identified, with the life-blood (Gen. ix. 4, comp. iv. 11; Lev. xvii. 11; see Soul), no real substance could be ascribed to it. As soon as the spirit or breath of God (“nishmat” or “ruaḥ ḥayyim”), which was believed to keep body and soul together, both in man and in beast (Gen. ii. 7, vi. 17, vii. 22; Job xxvii. 3), is taken away (Ps. cxlvi. 4) or returns to God (Eccl. xii. 7; Job xxxiv. 14), the soul goes down to Sheol or Hades, there to lead a shadowy existence without life and consciousness (Job xiv. 21; Ps. vi. 6 [A. V. 5], cxv. 17; Isa. xxxviii. 18; Eccl. ix. 5, 10). The belief in a continuous life of the soul, which underlies primitive Ancestor Worship and the rites of necromancy, practised also in ancient Israel (I Sam. xxviii. 13 et seq.; Isa. viii. 19; see Necromancy), was discouraged and suppressed by prophet and lawgiver as antagonistic to the belief in Yhwh, the God of life, the Ruler of heaven and earth, whose reign was not extended over Sheol until post-exilic times (Ps. xvi. 10, xlix. 16, cxxxix. 8).”

    i s’pose i’m less inclined to take pinnock’s word on jewish beliefs than the jewish encyclopedia’s anyway…

    Read more:

  • Jon G

    Well, if it gets published, I’ll fork over my money gladly. Peace, brother!

  • I wish Clark Pinnock was still alive during the Rob Bell hell extravaganza. He would have been a wonderful resource for reflection during that time, having been part similar controversy of the past. I really enjoyed his chapter in the 4 views book. I certainly lean that direction but still struggle with a couple of nuances… particularly that after death, God resurrects those who are already dead (non-Christians). Intuition tells me that this is odd… yet the Scriptures seem to indicate such. I wonder if it’s possible to hold to Conditionalism without believing that the unrepentant will be raised to life… only to be condemned and then annihilated by God??? Still thinking, but for now I am with Pinnock.

  • I think it was Wright who alludes to something like the following in Surprised by Hope: those who finally and fully reject Jesus will find themselves bereft of the imago Dei—whatever that looks like.

  • Kurt (36), God raises all men precisely because dead men cannot punished. God will raise the dead, judge them according to their deeds, then punish them accordingly. The punishment will culminate in death. There is no reason to think that the destructive process will be quick and painless; in fact, Scripture describes that destruction in violent terms.

  • Patrick

    I agree with his logic on “conscious torment”.

    However, I don’t think the dichotomy of universalism or annihilation is the lone Biblical option remaining.

    We already have an example of how God deals with humans who have locked in negative volition with no hope of changing.

    He simply allows us to worship whatever we want to, to live like we want to and to suffer for it. That’s how God handled the Babel generation( there’s more details than just Genesis 11 on this crowd).

    He neither tormented them, nor wished them ill and was prepared to receive them back any second they desired it so.

    Being in eternity, I doubt the “receive them back” idea is still possible, but, my view of hell is exactly this. Unbelievers get an eternal shot at what they chose in time.

    God doesn’t torment them, the gods they chose to worship will.

    Make the most of it, that’s what you wanted to worship.

    Then you have the view they could be received back even from eternity, but, I dismiss this as it seems to be contradicted by “eternal contempt” Daniel predicted for the unbelievers and various other types of verses.

  • Clark Pinnock publicly rejected traditionalism’s view of hell as a place of unending conscious torment in favor of hell as a place of total everlasting destruction long before his chapter appeared in Four Views of Hell (1992). He did so at least as early as 1982, in an endorsement on the jacket of my book The Fire That Consumes. His forthright article titled “Fire Then Nothing” appeared in the March 20, 1987 issue of Christianity Today. Both public statements by Pinnock appeared before John Stott’s 1989 self-disclosure as a conditionalist (in conversation with David L. Edwards in Essentials: An Evangelical-Liberal Dialogue.) This notwithstanding the fact that Stott had then held conditionalist views personally for fifty years, as reported in volume two of his biography written by Timothy Dudley-Smith (John Stott: The Later Years, p. 354).

  • Rick


    Thanks for the catch on my phrasing of aion, I should have cut it short. I still think you are off on the differences between aion and aionios, but that has already been discussed at this site in detail (during the Love Wins series).

    I appreciate your time and effort put into explaining your view, although I disagree with your conclusions.

    Have a great evening.

  • Craig Wright

    The word “aionion” is not used of the eternality of God (1 Tim. 1:17). To show that God is immortal the word is aphtharto,” but God is the king of the “ages” (aionon) plural. A further example to show that “aoinion” does not mean lasting forever is 2 Cor. 4:4, where Satan is the god of this “aionion” (age). In Rom. 1:20, God’s eternal power is “aiodios.” In Rom. 2:7, those who seek for immortality (aphtharsian) will get the life of the age (aionion).

    The point of all of this is that “aionion” does not mean lasting forever. The NT uses other Greek words for that, such as “aphtharto,” and “”aiodios.”

  • Craig Wright

    To Edward Fudge, the most frustrating thing in reading your book with Robert Peterson, is that he does not acknowledge that Rev. 14:11 “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” is an allusion to Is. 34:5-10 where Edom’s smoke goes up forever (obviously not literal). And he does not deal with the implications, in Rev. 20:14-18, where Hades is thrown into the Lake of Fire.

  • Atheists are becoming more correct by the day. We truly are creating God in our own image. (Psalm 50:21)

  • Mike #14
    It makes sense to raise people to life so they can here their fate. If they just died, period, they would never know the consequence of their decisions. Justice needs to be seen to be done. When they are raised and see Jesus they will realise their error. They will realise that God’s justice is fair. No one will be able to blame God for their treatment.

    “After the last judgment, a life in separate from God will not be possible. The new heavens and the new earth will be full of his presence and his holiness is so awesome and terrible that anyone who has not been spiritually renewed will not be able to bear to be in it. They will have to flee from God, because the pain of being in his presence will be too awful for a human being to bear. The problem is that there will be no place for them to go where God is not present. They will choose to go into the destruction of nothingness, because they cannot bear to be in the presence of God.

    Those who have rejected Jesus will not have to be sent away, but will choose to go. However, they will also know that they have been created for eternity. They will get a glimpse of eternity, yet knos that they cannot go there. To know that you were created for eternity, yet know that that you cannot go there, will be a terrible experience. That is why there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. The choice of nothingness over eternity will produce enormous, but brief, anguish” (

  • Rick

    Craig #42-
    “The point of all of this is that “aionion” does not mean lasting forever.”
    This issue was raised during the Love Wins discussion. Apart from just citing lexicons, let me quote Ben Witherington:
    “…the Greek term aion can refer to an age in time, and yes, Jesus and others talked about ‘this age and the age to come’ and the Gospel writers used that word to describe. However aionian and aion are not the same word, though they share the same root. Aionian would appear to refer to an age or something infinitely extended, or extended without limit—hence the translation ‘everlasting’.”
    Likewise, Scot wrote, during the Bell debate,
    “Rob somehow uses the word aion when the Greek word is aionion. The first means “age” with a beginning and an end, and he drives this idea hard. But the second one, the one Jesus uses, according to the standard specialist lexicon, means “pertaining to a period of unending duration, without end.” The Latin equivalent of aionion was perpetuus. Rule for writers: use the standard lexicons and if you differ from them you better have good evidence because you are disagreeing with some mighty good scholars who have for centuries pondered the evidence in the original languages.]”

  • normbv

    The age that the Apostles were living in was the Age of Adam, “the death” and “the Law”. The age to come was the Kingdom of Christ that was breaking in, replacing the “age” that was.

    Those who would be cast out into darkness where there would be gnashing of teeth are those apostate Jews of that “age” who would not get to sit at the table with Abraham. This polemic against wicked members of Israel is a constant theme of prophecy throughout the OT because of their unfaithfulness.

    This framework of being cast out of the presence of God goes back to the template established in Gen 4 with Cain when he was cast out of the covenant presence of God and “his pain was more than he could bear”. Therefore the gnashing of teeth is being separated covenantaly from God in the emerging “age” to come. The finality of this old age was illustrated with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple worship; putting Christ stamp upon his prophecies concerning the end of the “old age”. When reading about “age” one needs to keep this context in focus and not mix them together with the age to come which has now been established as the New Covenant.

    Notice the Hebrew writers’ comparison to the establishment of the Law at Mt. Sinai and the coming establishment of Christ Kingdom. The language is taken from the OT and ties directly to the prophetic coming of Messiah.

    Heb 12: 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” INDICATE THE REMOVING OF WHAT CAN BE SHAKEN—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
    28 Therefore, SINCE WE ARE RECEIVING A KINGDOM THAT CANNOT BE SHAKEN, LET US BE THANKFUL, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

  • Richard

    @ 46

    Repeating the same citation from those experts doesn’t actually contradict the points that have been raised by Craig and Sherman

    Bell’s reference is straight from William Barclay regarding duration of punishment and the nature of the punishment (the root of the word being pruning). He and others familiar with classical Greek texts were the ones that noted it did not mean, “forever and ever without end.” A good survey of this from a long time ago:

    I appreciate BW3 and Scot’s work but their main point there is that Bell wasn’t citing sources for his exegesis and the scholars they rely on don’t support him. That hardly rules out the possibility that Bell and others are correct in questioning the popular assertion of hell being without end based on the solid scholarship they’ve researched on their own.

  • Craig Wright

    Rick #46

    A reputable scholar, William Barclay, pointed out that “aionion” in Matt. 25:46 does not mean lasting forever.

  • It seems to me that something so important as the concept of Hell, ECT, would not hang on the meaning of one adjective, aionios, but would be specifically and repeatedly named in scripture if it were true. The Greeks certainly had a name for a place of ECT (Tartarus), and the writers of the NT were certainly not reticent to use the Greek language and concepts to convey their message. It would have been a very simple thing to at least once, if the believed in ECT, warn of people being cast into Tartarus. Or if Hinnom Valley (Gehenna) was meant to metaphorically convey the concept of ECT, then why not translate it as Tartarus instead of transliterating it. Even St. Jerome who was an advocate for the doctrine of ECT did not mis-translate Hinnom Valley as Tartarus, but transliterated it as Gehenna, and translated Sheol and Hades as infernum (lower regions, not implying ECT). It wasn’t until the English translations coming out of the Dark Ages that Sheol, Hades, and Hinnom Valley were mis-translated as Hell, specifically implying ECT.

    I agree with Pinnock that when one examines what scripture actually says concerning the punishment of sin, the real choice is between annihilationism and universalism. Of course, I disagree with him though in that I believe universalism is the more biblical because of the many passages that seem to me to affirm the salvation of all humanity. Also, concerning human autonomy, I believe that such is very limited and thus punishment for such would be limited. Some are given more choices than others in this life. I also recognize the sovereignty of God in matters personal and corporate. Personally speaking, God chooses our talents, gifts, apptitudes, when, where, and to whom we are born to, etc. etc. etc. In the scope of our lives we actually choose a very small percentage. We don’t even choose the revelation of God that we’ll receive. To rest one’s systematic theology on the principle of human autonomy seems very tenuous, shaky, to me. Only “some” are given choice in regards to salvation, knowing Jesus in this life; most are not. And even those who are given a choice are strongly influenced by culture and existing beliefs, not to mention evil influences from within and without, to not accept Christ. We are dead in our sins, slaves of unrighteousness; the dead and slaves have no autonomy. One must be alive and free before one has autonomy.

  • I think that the issue of human immortality really gets a conversation going. I got quite a few comments when I asked “Are All Humans Immortal?” [] back in August.

  • The other related question that, IMO, must be answered is whether time exists after we die. I question whether heaven could exist in a time bounded realm. If it did then it would seem that God might not exist there because time appears to be something he created. It seem more logical, even though it is unimaginable, to think that we will enter an existence where we are no longer bound by time and, unlike this world, will be in the very presence of God. More at

  • Rick

    Let me say that I am not taking a position on ECT, or annihilation (I do not hold to universalism). I am simply pointing out the uphill climb by some interpretations.

    As Scot pointed out during the Love Wins discussion, in regards to aionion:

    “Look at BAGD, the standard lexicon, and notice the dozens of references outside the NT. Dozens. It would be fair to say that one’s eschatology is at work, but the issue here is whether it is right or not. We do our best to check our ideas — if we care about the Bible — against the Bible, not read our ideas into the Bible. My point is this: BAGD is the result of more than a century of careful examination of words, careful checking of meanings and nuances, and studied by hundreds of scholars who care about such words … and what is set down there is the best of scholarship. To disagree with BAGD requires careful presentation of all the evidence.”

    I’ll leave it at that.

  • normbv

    @Sherman #50
    You stated… “I disagree with him though in that I believe universalism is the more biblical because of the many passages that seem to me to affirm the salvation of all humanity.”

    Sherman I really like your knowledge base and understanding but I would point out that when Paul and the Apostles are describing the “all of humanity” their default position is concerning “God fearers” whether faithful Jews or Gentiles. Their “all” is inclusive of those of faith and not of at large pagan idolatrous humanity. The context then is that only the faithful are under consideration in the inclusive “all”. I realize it may seem otherwise but once you grasp their inclusive understanding to be speaking of the faithful, everything starts to fall into place much more coherently. Otherwise Universalism goes against the greater idea and biblical theme of a called People of God.

  • When researching this issue a while back, I was introduced to a (or the?) Eastern Orthodox idea of Hell. I came across this quote: “Hell is a spiritual state of separation from God and inability to experience the love of God, while being conscious of the ultimate deprivation of it as punishment,” Father Theodore Stylianopolous.

    This idea of Hell is that EVERYONE does indeed stand in God’s presence but for those who refuse God’s love, that love is experienced as a painful reality.

  • Normbv @54,

    Thanks. I respect and appreciate you too. But passages like Rom.5.18 and Col.1.20 to me seem to clearly indicate that Paul is speaking of all humanity, not just those who believe. In Rom.5 Paul compares the scope and effect of the sacrifice of Christ with the scope and effect of the sin of Adam. Adam’s sin plunged all of humanity into sin and death, but the sacrifice of Christ brings all of humanity into life. In fact, the sacrifice of Christ is greater than the sin of Adam for Adam’s one sin caused sin and death for all, but the sacrifice of Christ overcomes not only the effect of Adam’s sin, but the effect of all subsequent sins.

    Concerning the elect, the people of God, God sovereignly elects some to reveal Himself to and through in this life. These are the people of God, though ultimately all people belong to God and are created in His image (familial term) for relationship with Him ultimately. That’s why Paul says that Jesus is the Savior of All, “especially” we who believe, not “only” we who believe (1 Tim.4.10). If one person is ultimately lost then Jesus is not Savior of All.

    I believe Paul’s default position when speaking of “all of humanity” is “all of humanity”. For example, when speaking of the sovereign election of Israel Paul says that God has bound all over to disobedience so that He might have mercy on all, even though He has sovereignly elected Isreal for a special revelation of God and did not elect other peoples for that revelation.

    My personal experience of God also confirms to me that God sovereignly elected me. He chose me; I didn’t choose Him. He revealed His love to me and I responded to that love because that’s what I was created for. A man dying of thirst will eventually drink once offered water; I was that man.

    I really do believe that one day every knee shall bow in worship and every tongue confess, joyfully proclaim allegiance, that Jesus is Lord. And the elect, the people of God are to be priests unto God and for the others to mediate the grace, mercy, and love of God. We are a chose priesthood, yes. But a priesthood is not a priesthood without those whom the serve. We have been chosen yes, but this is not so that others will be lost, but so that others will be saved! We are blessed yes, not so that others will be cursed, but so that we can bless others.

    I realize that God reconciling all to Himself, Jesus becoming all in all, is a radical departure from tradition, but it is one that I believe scripture loudly proclaims! The Good News is really Good News. The angels celebrated at Jesus’ birth and proclaimed joy to the world, not just joy to the elect. The Good News is not just Good News for the elect, but for everyone, especially the elect because we are graced with faith and believe it! We are privaledged to embrace aionian life now and not continue to live under bondage to the fear of death and the sense of separation from God. We have been delivered from this present evil age, reconciled to God, not as a sign that some will not be saved, but as a sign that all shall be saved, that Jesus really is Savior of All. We are the first fruits of the harvest, but not nearly all the harvest! And because we are the elect, we have a greater responsibility. To whom much is given, much is expected!

    Well, I could go on and on. As you can tell I can be a little, well, a lot wordy, but I’ll stop.

  • normbv


    I agree with some of your conclusions.

    Here is where I think we differ though: I look at the biblical template of humanity being set in the Genesis account of Adam as an Israel story first and foremost. The Nations are always included in the OT scheme of redemption but Adam is considered by the Jews as their first Priestly forebear (look at Gen 4:26 where his messianic seed lineage first begins to call on YHWH); we can see this examined in Second Temple literature such as Jubilees especially.

    Paul in Romans 5-8 is dealing specifically with the Law and its special “sin” implications and we should therefore be cognizant of the fact that this is primarily a Jewish problem first and not a Gentile one that he is addressing. We moderns tend to be a little more politically correct in our language, but the Jewish implication and heritage was that the Gentiles were historically second class citizens due to their being outside the scope of God’s people. Paul even states as much in Ephesians.

    Eph 2:12 that ye were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

    Paul also points out that redemption is through Israel, but it is explicitly through Christ the promised seed of Abraham, turning out not to be genealogical Israel but “spiritual Israel” (Rom 9:6-8). So his point in Rom 5-8 is a discussion centered on the Law; and so he takes his audience back to Adam in Rom 5:12 and essentially camps out around Adam as Israel for the next three chapters. Adam was considered the called Priest to the Nations just as Israel was supposed to be. However in the OT story Israel under the Law does not reach out to the Nations as a Priestly calling in the manner God desires so He establishes another Priest established from Heaven. See Ezekiel 34 and Hebrews 6 & 7. So yes the faithful are still under the mandate to reach out to those who still do not know God as revealed through faith in Christ.

    Again Paul’s point in Romans 5 is clarified where he continues his Law and it’s burden upon Israel in Chapter 7 as he speaks somewhat euphuistically as a member of the “body of Israel”, again taking the readers back to Adam. Keep in mind though this is not specifically about Gentiles because it pertains to the Law and its problem for Israel and so we cannot mix Gentiles into Paul’s discussion of the Law. Now this does not preclude that the Gentiles are not affected because Israel’s redemption was their hope and so yes “all” of humanity was under the curse as long as Israel is under Adam’s curse of the Law. The two go hand in hand.

    Rom 7:8-10 (8) But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. (9) I was once alive apart from the law (in the Garden before the fall), but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.

    We see Paul’s climatic point in Rom 7:24 where he asks the question; who will deliver me from this “body of death”. Contrary to common misunderstanding Paul is not talking about his physical body but is speaking of the collective or corporate “body” of Israel and their member’s bondage to Adam and the Law. Paul most often uses “body” as a corporate understanding in his writings and this throws many readers off unless it is applied to the “body of Christ” which we recognize as the collective church.

    Rom 7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this “body” of death?

    In Chapter 8 he comes back and illustrates that the Law cannot bring “life” as contrasted to Life through the Spirit established by Christ.

    Rom 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

    So again one must recognize the Israel under the bondage of Law discussion which is taking place in Paul’s Rom 5-8 examination. I realize that Paul is extremely difficult to follow because he moves in and out of concepts without notification to the reader which is why Rom 5-8 is such a difficult section for the typical reader to follow his flow. This is the primary reason that Universalism invariably sprouts it wings from a misunderstanding of Rom 5 where so many believe that the called people of God has been made inclusive of all humanity including even those who reject the God of the Bible. I believe Paul would be very concerned that we take his writings there and develop a theme that all of humanity exclusive of their faith in Christ or God is His Covenant faithful people. It is hard to believe that the Bible would change course in its concepts built upon a reading of “all” in just a very few locations which contextually are being misapplied IMO.

    Now concerning the idea that all of humanity is made in the Image of God. This idea is first presented in Gen 1 and one needs to understand that Gen 1 is an opening prologue or something of a Table of contents to the rest of the Genesis narrative. Being created in the Image of God is what is intended for Adam yet we know the sad story that unfolds in Gen 2 where the narrative begins to unfold when Adam received the Law/commandment and didn’t fully receive this Image until Christ came, which is made abundantly clear in the NT. All of humanity are considered as “dust of the earth” mortal until they encounter and embrace the Living God and are lifted out of the Dust into the Spiritual Life (see again Rom 8). Adam and his seed progeny did not receive fully the Image as demonstrated in Gen 5:1-3 and therefore were in need of redemption to lift them up out of this lesser likeness. See 1 Cor 15:

    1Co 15:47-49 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

    Col 3:10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

    Rom 8:29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

    For an excellent synopsis on the biblical concept of the Image of God I recommend N. T. Wrights speech on “Being Human”. One can simply Google this to find the video.

    I do believe that God through Christ has now reconciled Adam and Israel (faithful men) out of their bondage to law and its corrupt manner of walking with God. This is not something that is still off in the future but has been enabled for all humanity to now embrace freely. We as the faithful believers are to continue to share this way of knowing God just as it was intended for the first Adam and Israel. However our message is the Good News of Grace and not one of Bondage to Law. I believe that is the essence of the Biblical message for as long as man endures on this physical earth because God came to us in the fullness of time to make it so. We are now residing in the “Age to Come” and not in Adam’s “Age of Corruption”.

    Well I too am a bit wordy but maybe some concepts have come across.



  • Sherman Nobles

    Thanks for the reply Norm,

    Of course, I understand Romans and Adam in Romans differently. Paul was writing to the church in Rome, a good portion of whom were Gentiles, if not specifically to the Gentiles, 1:5-6. Adam thus speaks of the source of all humanity, not just Israel. And Paul continues to talk of the condition of all humanity, 1:18+. And when Paul speaks of judgment, which is based on how we actually live not just what we believe, he addresses both those under and without the Law, chap 2a. In 2b-3a he addresses the Jews specifically. But then in 3b he goes back to addressing the situation of all humanity as being unrighteous. And then in 3c-4 Paul shows that righteousness, reconciled relationship with God came through faith like with Abraham, long before the Law was ever given. And then in 5 shows how that the sacrifice of Christ counters the sin of Adam which effected all of humanity, not just the Jews. Because of the sin of Adam we’re all in a mess and thus all need a savior, even Israel, God’s elect. So interpreting Adam in Rom. 5 as only referring to Israel just doesn’t make sense to me.

    Well, that’s all I have time to share right now.
    your brother,