The Clobber Text for ECT-ers

The Clobber Text for ECT-ers July 16, 2014

The clobber text for those who embrace eternal conscious torment is Revelation 14:11, with vv. 9-10 preceding it. Another way of saying this is that this is the defeater text for conditionalism; another way is to say this is the one text conditionalists have to use gymnastics to explain. Here it is:

If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand,  10 he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.

11 And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name.”

This text is scrutinized, not surprisingly, in Rethinking Hell, and there’s an entire chp on it by Ralph Bowles, a reprint of his essay from Evangelical Quarterly. Here is the essence of the conditionalist understanding of the text:

1. The language of “fire and sulphur” is a “cipher for total destruction” that emerges out of the historic judgment of God on Sodom and Gomorrah, and this judgment language lived on: Genesis 19:23, 28; Deuteronomy 29:23; Job 18:15-17; Isaiah 30:27-33; 34:9-11; Ezekiel 38:22 (texts cited below). This language then is of a “decisive destruction” (141).

2. The “smoke of their torment” is language of a memorial of accomplished destruction (cf. Genesis 19:28). It speaks of an accomplished judgment. Like Edom’s in Isaiah 34:10. It speaks of an irreversible devastation.

3. The critical move is this: the torment is at the judgment, before the throne of God, and not an eternal torment. What endures is the smoke as a memorial to their judgment. Thus, Rev 14 fits with Genesis 19 and Isaiah 34.

Knowles debates D.A. Carson’s defense of the ECT view of Revelation 14:11. He thinks Carson’s defense is strong. In short, v. 11 is the critical text for the ECT and against conditionalism.

Bowles finds a chiasm at work in these verses with v. 11’s no rest paralleling the wrath of God in v. 10, and I find his chiasm reasonable. Chiasm proves only so much: do we let v. 11 explain v. 10 or v. 10 explain v. 11? He prefers the latter: the no-rest language is another way of expressing God’s wrath in the experience of God’s judgment on wickedness. An intense day and night bombing of judgment.

Contextually: Rev 14:6-13 predicts what happens in 14:14-20, and in the latter — the actual judgment — there is no indication of eternal conscious suffering.  Here the enemies are obliterated. This is a reasonable argument. The Book of Revelation’s emphasis on judgment is not ECT but destruction.


Gen. 19:23     By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land.

Gen. 19:28 He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.

Deut. 29:23 The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur—nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in fierce anger.

Job 18:15 Fire resides in his tent;

burning sulfur is scattered over his dwelling.

16 His roots dry up below

and his branches wither above.

17 The memory of him perishes from the earth;

he has no name in the land.

Is. 30:27     See, the Name of the LORD comes from afar,

with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke;

his lips are full of wrath,

and his tongue is a consuming fire.

Is. 30:28     His breath is like a rushing torrent,

rising up to the neck.

He shakes the nations in the sieve of destruction;

he places in the jaws of the peoples

a bit that leads them astray.

Is. 30:29     And you will sing

as on the night you celebrate a holy festival;

your hearts will rejoice

as when people go up with flutes

to the mountain of the LORD,

to the Rock of Israel.

Is. 30:30     The LORD will cause men to hear his majestic voice

and will make them see his arm coming down

with raging anger and consuming fire,

with cloudburst, thunderstorm and hail.

Is. 30:31     The voice of the LORD will shatter Assyria;

with his scepter he will strike them down.

Is. 30:32     Every stroke the LORD lays on them

with his punishing rod

will be to the music of tambourines and harps,

as he fights them in battle with the blows of his arm.

Is. 30:33     Topheth has long been prepared;

it has been made ready for the king.

Its fire pit has been made deep and wide,

with an abundance of fire and wood;

the breath of the LORD,

like a stream of burning sulfur,

sets it ablaze.

Is. 34:9     Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch,

her dust into burning sulfur;

her land will become blazing pitch!

Is. 34:10     It will not be quenched night and day;

its smoke will rise forever.

From generation to generation it will lie desolate;

no one will ever pass through it again.

Is. 34:11     The desert owl and screech owl will possess it;

the great owl and the raven will nest there.

God will stretch out over Edom

the measuring line of chaos

and the plumb line of desolation.

Ezek. 38:22 I will execute judgment upon him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him.

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