At the heart of the traditionalist argument for hell is the immortality of the soul, that is, that each person has a soul, that soul is essentially immortal, and therefore the wicked must exist eternally in a conscious state of punishment. In our last post I provided the very helpful graph of views, which I reproduce here again, but today we want to look at the first, major argument.
As questions: Does the Bible teach the soul has it has been framed in classic formulations, and is the soul essentially immortal?
In Glenn A. Peoples’ essay, “Introduction to Evangelical Conditionalism,” in Rethinking Hell (ed. C.M. Date et al), we find an exceptional sketch of both the traditionalist view of the immortal soul and how conditionalists frame it. To the traditionalists we go:
The Traditionalist is that humans are made of body and soul (or spirit) and the soul is immortal, the soul is both conscious and capable of suffering, therefore there can be eternal, conscious torment. Some today (he mentions Robert Peterson) do not affirm the immortality of the soul but do believe in eternal conscious torment, but the Westminster Confession of Faith requires it for the Reformed: “He created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls” (chp 4)… “but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence” (chp 23).
Both Clement of Alexandria and Augustine argued from the immortality of the soul to the necessary eternal suffering of the wicked. That fire does not destroy because the soul is undestroyable.
Numbers of theologians countered this logical argument, including Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Arnobius of Cicca and Athanasius. Their argument is this:
The immortality of the soul is more a Greek idea than a biblical idea; in fact, the Bible sees immortality as a gift and not an essential feature of the soul. One cannot question that in the OT the idea is that soul immortality is not a theme; it is only possible at Daniel 12:2, but the soul is not the issue there at all. What is also not debatable is that in the NT “immortality” is something given by God to believers and not something each human has essentially. Here are the texts:
Rom. 2:7 to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;
1Cor. 15:53 For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.
1Tim. 6:16 It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.
God is immortal; God grants immortality; immortality of the soul is not a biblical doctrine. Therefore, the logic that requires cannot make a case biblically.
Hence, two major conclusions: (1) immortality is conditional, that is it is conditional upon the gift of God to believers; (2) for eternal conscious punishment to exist one must believe God intentionally raises the wicked, punishes them or assigns them judgment, then grants them immortality only for the sake of punishment.
Here is the chart from Rethinkinghell.com: