Hell for Eternity?
Is an Eternity in Hell Biblically Correct?
Greek vs Hebrew Thinking on Immortality
"Conditional Immortality" is the biblical belief that the "immortality" of the soul is not inherent (Greek philosophers thinking) but conditional (Biblical/Hebrew thinking) upon receiving the gift of everlasting life through faith in Jesus.
or click on Titles
Hell is not literally a fire
- Billy Graham
- John Calvin
- Charles Hodge
Hell as Self-Imposed Exile
- CS Lewis
- Pope John Paul II
- N.T. Wright
- Timothy Keller
Annihilationism (Extinctionism or Destructionism or Conditional Immortality)
- Ignatius of Antioch
- Irenaeus of Lyons
- Cyprian of Carthage
- Arnobius of Sicca
- Isaac Barrow
- Richard Francis Weymouth
- Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle, PhD
- John Wenham
- Clark Pinnock
- Ben Witherington
- Greg Boyd
- F. F. Bruce
- Edward Fudge
Purgatory or Universal Reconciliation
- Origen of Alexandri
- Gregory of Nazianzus
- Gregory of Nyssa
- Abraham Lincoln
- George MacDonald
- Paul Tillich
- Jurgen Moltmann
Biblical View of Immortality
1 Timothy 6:13-16
13 I charge you before God who gives life to all things and Christ Jesus who made his good confession before Pontius Pilate, 14 to obey this command without fault or failure until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ 15 —whose appearing the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, will reveal at the right time. 16 He [Christ / God] alone possesses immortality and lives in unapproachable light, whom no human has ever seen or is able to see. To him be honor and eternal power! Amen.
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed! 6 He will reward [/render to] each one according to his works: 7 eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality,
8 but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness. 9 There will be affliction and distress on everyone who does evil, on the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, for the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God. 12 For all who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous before God, but those who do the law will be declared righteous. 14 For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. 15 They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them, 16 on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.
[For the evil doer there is no mention of anything eternal - no eternal life or eternal conscious death or immortality - only wrath, anger, affliction, distress, a time of righteous judgment on God's judgement day and then they will perish.
Regarding the "Reward/Render to" in v6: - Something given to us which we did not already possess before the judgment? "Conditional Immortality"? Not according to Romans 10:9. Perhaps a believer's salvation is reaffirmed at the judgment but the evil person has the opportunity to repent and believe up until the point of the first death.]
The Irony of “Orthodoxy”
When you begin to study Church history you quickly realize that “orthodox Christianity” is an oxymoron. Merriam Webster defines orthodox as, “conforming to established doctrine, especially in religion.”[i] You might also hear it defined as “right doctrine.”
Orthodox suggests that there are certain truths and doctrines that have always been peacefully and consensually agreed upon, accepted by the majority of “people like us” throughout all the centuries. And as the story goes, various groups of “heretics” have attempted to tamper with this “right doctrine” throughout history, only to fail miserably as the truth remained undiluted over the centuries.
These are the assumptions many of us grew up believing. We were handed an absolute narrative, told that it has withstood the test of time, and invited nicely to never question it ever… or else. Mainstream Christianity wants us to think there has always been a harmonious consensus, and those who question are not simply disagreeing with their pastor… oh no! You are going against 2,000 years of what “those who follow the Spirit of God” have always believed and accepted as truth.
While tradition and orthodoxy have been instrumental in preserving certain truths — and indeed, there is a profound beauty to be found in sacramental liturgy — the reality is that for centuries, Christian Orthodoxy preserved itself through fear and control, opting to protect it’s doctrinal “truth” through the active suppression of opposing ideas.
What’s particularly ironic is that the modern Evangelical Church tries hard to distance itself from the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church while the core of it’s theology comes directly out of the councils, doctrines, and creeds established by the early Roman Catholic and Latin Church.
The truth is that since the very beginning, Church history has been rife with unrest, conflict, and even bloodshed — primarily over matters of establishing orthodoxy. And with today’s easy access to the annals of Church history, it’s time for us churchgoers to rethink the myth of orthodoxy, and begin re-evaluating what we’ve been taught.
For instance, many Christians insist that if you question hell, you are rejecting what has always been agreed upon by the Church, yet the doctrine of eternal torment was not a widely held view for the first five centuries after Christ, particularly in the early Eastern Church, the Church of the early apostles and Church fathers such as Paul, Clement of Alexandria, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, and others.
What we do see during this time is the expansion and proliferation of pagan myths about the afterlife, which were then repackaged as eternal, fiery torment in the Western (Catholic) Church, primarily by Latin theologians and Church leaders from Rome. It seems this was most likely motivated by political expediency. The idea of eternal torment was a prime tool for controlling the average churchgoer with fear and was congruent with secular mythologies of the time. Later, pop culture added fuel to the fire (pun intended) through imaginative works like Dante’s Inferno.
That Awkward Moment Eternity Slipped In
The invasion of Hell into Church doctrine ultimately starts with the invasion of “eternity”. As we discussed in Part 2 of our Hell Series, words like “eternity, eternal, everlasting, etc” don’t truly exist in scripture. Rather, these words are all derived from the root word Aión which means “an Age” or “Eon”.
Take a phrase like aionas ton aionon. This phrase shows up several times in the Greek New Testament (Romans 20:10, for example) and has been traditionally translated as “forever and ever”.
But here’s the problem. Aión means “Age”, not “forever”. And even worse, ton means “of”, NOT “and”. For example, Abraham was the father of (ton) Isaac. ALL THREE WORDS of this phrase are completely mistranslated. What it actually says is “Ages of the Ages”.
We see this root word Aión every time we see “eternal”, “eternity”, “forever”, “everlasting”, etc. All of these words revolve around the concept of Ages.
So why are we telling you this?
Because “Ages” played a crucial role in the way early Church fathers viewed life. It was a highly significant paradigm to how they viewed God, this life, the afterlife, etc.
Due to the history of the Biblical text and the numerous influences in its popular translations, we’ve been left with a very Plato-esque focus on this concept called eternity. But that was not the paradigm of the “orthodox” church until St. Augustine, a student of Plato, funneled Christian doctrine through Plato’s teachings of the “eternal soul”.
Plato made several philosophical arguments that have ironically come to define our mainstream Christian paradigms.
- First, Plato believed that the soul was separate from the body and that the soul was fundamentally pure but tends to become deformed through association with the body.
- Second, like his teacher Socrates, Plato believed that the soul itself was immortal, thus necessitating an eternal destination for the soul after the body dies.
- Third, Plato proposed that good actions result in a reward in this life, but more importantly, a greater reward after death. Similarly, bad actions result in consequences in this life, but even greater punishment after death.
Plato linked some of his ideas to prevailing Greek mythology, including the locations of Hades and Tartarus. In Greek mythology, Tartarus is the location deep below Hades where the Titans were enslaved and the wicked were tormented. According to Plato, this is where divine punishment was meted out.
It is of this philosopher that St. Augustine remarked,
“The utterance of Plato, the most pure and bright in all philosophy, scattering the clouds of error . . .”
These ideas proposed by Plato are not from the Bible. They are Greek philosophy. BUT we have spent centuries reading them into the Biblical text and even translating the Biblical text through their lens.
But if we go back before the time of Augustine, we find 5 centuries of Church fathers who never carried this lens.
(If you’d like a more in-depth look at how “Eternity” weaseled it’s way into scripture, we’ve made a 13,000 word study on the topic available for download at this spot in the article on our website)
How Hell Invaded Church Doctrine
The big point we are building up to here is that the early church fathers DID NOT believe in eternal torment. We aren’t talking about the first guy or two post-Paul. We are talking about the first 5 centuries after Christ.
Let me repeat that, just so we are clear.
Eternal torment was not a pillar of church doctrine for the first 5 centuries after Christ.
Dr. Ken Vincent, retired psychology professor from Houston Community College, and author of over one hundred books in the fields of psychology and religion, notes:
The first person to write about “eternal hell” was the Latin (West) North African Tertullian (160–220 A.D.), who is considered the Father of the Latin Church. As most people reason, hell is a place for people you don’t like! Tertullian fantasized that not only the wicked would be in hell but also every philosopher and theologian who ever argued with him! He envisioned a time when he would look down from heaven at those people in hell and laugh with glee! [ii]
Out of the six theological schools in Tertullian’s day and beyond (170–430 A.D.), the only school that taught the doctrine of eternal torment or hell to its students was the Latin (Roman) school in Carthage, Africa. Four of the other five taught that, through the death and resurrection of Christ, all people would be saved through restorative judgment and reconciliation in a plan of Ages.[iii] This teaching was called, “Universal Salvation” or “Universal Reconciliation.” Dr. Vincent says,
By far, the main person responsible for making hell eternal in the Western Church was St. Augustine (354–430 CE). Augustine…was made Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. He did not know Greek, had tried to study it, but stated that he hated it. Sadly, it is his misunderstanding of Greek that cemented the concept of eternal hell in the Western Church. Augustine not only said that hell was eternal for the wicked, but also for anyone who wasn’t a Christian. So complete was his concept of God’s exclusion of non-Christians that he considered un-baptized babies as damned. When these babies died, Augustine softened slightly to declare that they would be sent to the “upper level” of hell. Augustine is also the inventor of the concept of “hell Lite,” also known as Purgatory, which he developed to accommodate some of the universalist verses in the Bible. Augustine acknowledged the Universalists, whom he called “tender-hearted,” and included them among the “orthodox.”[iv]
Not only was Augustine somewhat the champion of the hell doctrine in the Western Church, he also had a major influence on the onset of religious bigotry and hate campaigns in the following centuries.
In the 1907 book, Lives of the Fathers: Sketches of Church History in Biography, written by Frederick D. Farrar, who was Chaplain in Ordinary to the Queen of England, we read about Augustine:
The advocacy of hell came primarily on the scene with Augustine: In no other respect did Augustine differ more widely from Origen and the Alexandrians [Eastern Church] than in his intolerant spirit. Even Tertullian conceded to all the right of opinion.
[Augustine] was the first in the long line of Christian persecutors, and illustrates the character of the theology that swayed him in the wicked spirit that impelled him to advocate the right to persecute Christians who differ from those in power. The dark pages that bear the record of subsequent centuries are a damning witness to the cruel spirit that actuated Christians, and the cruel theology that impelled it. Augustine was the first and ablest asserter of the principle which led to Albigensian crusades, Spanish armadas, Netherland’s butcheries, St. Bartholomew massacres, the accursed infamies of the Inquisition, the vile espionage, the hideous bale fires of Seville and Smithfield, the racks, the gibbets, the thumbscrews, and the subterranean torture-chambers used by churchly torturers.[v]
Samuel Dawson, author of, The Teaching of Jesus: From Mount Sinai to Gehenna a Faithful Rabbi Urgently Warns Rebellious Israel, says:
Most of what we believe about hell comes from Catholicism and ignorance of the Old Testament, not from the Bible. I now believe that hell is the invention of Roman Catholicism; and surprisingly, most, if not all, of our popular concepts of hell can be found in the writings of Roman Catholic writers like the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), author of Dante’s Inferno. The English poet John Milton (1608–1674), author of Paradise Lost, set forth the same concepts in a fashion highly acceptable to the Roman Catholic faith. Yet none of our concepts of hell can be found in the teaching of Jesus Christ![vi]
Following on the heels of Augustine, the greatest influence on today’s hell theology via most modern Bible translations came from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. Jerome translated this tainted version of the Scriptures from a very inferior Latin text in the late 4th century:
For over a thousand years (c. AD 400–1530), the Vulgate was the definitive edition of the most influential text in Western European society. Indeed, for most Western Christians, it was the only version of the Bible ever encountered. The Vulgate’s influence throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance into the Early Modern Period is even greater than that of the King James Version in English; for Christians during these times the phraseology and wording of the Vulgate permeated all areas of the culture.[vii]
What was the problem with Jerome’s Bible? It was heavily influenced by Latin hell-inventing theologians like Tertullian and Augustine.
When you realize that the hell doctrine was so late in being adopted by the Church (and hence, Scriptures), the poorly constructed walls of orthodoxy begin to crumble. It was several hundred years after Jesus and the apostles that men began formulating many of these new Church doctrines and creeds, many still a part of Evangelical Christian orthodoxy to this day.
Had our old English Bibles been translated directly out of the Greek instead of Latin, it’s very probable that the doctrine of eternal torment would never have found its way into our modern Bibles and theology at all. Many of these doctrines were strong-armed into the Church through major dissension and even bloodshed, with intolerant, oppressive Church leaders insisting that they were “led by the Spirit” on such matters.
The Afterlife According To Gregory
While we’ve been telling you a lot about what early fathers didn’t believe, I think it would be helpful for us to look at what some of them did believe.
We are going to look briefly at St. Gregory of Nyssa, who lived from 335 to 395 AD. In addition to being canonized, St. Gregory served as the Bishop of Nyssa and is known for his significant contributions to both the doctrine of the Trinity and the Nicene creed.
In other words, this guy is one of the founding fathers of church orthodoxy. If you aren’t aware, the Nicene creed serves to this day as the universal statement of faith for not only the Catholic church, but most anyone who would call themselves “Christians”.
St. Gregory DID NOT believe in eternal torment. But let’s not stop there. What he DID believe in was universal salvation — that all would ultimately be reconciled to God.
For it is evident that God will in truth be all in all when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with itself and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body.
St. Gregory, like many in his day, believed that we were on a progression through the ages, where at the end of the Age, those who had purged themselves of evil in this life would enter into the blessedness of the Age to Come, while those who hadn’t would be passed through cleansing fire, after which they would also enter into that same blessedness.
Whoever considers the divine power will plainly perceive that it is able at length to restore by means of the aionion purging and atoning sufferings, those who have gone even to this extremity of wickedness.
And in another quote:
Wherefore, that at the same time liberty of free-will should be left to nature and yet the evil be purged away, the wisdom of God discovered this plan; to suffer man to do what he would, that having tasted the evil which he desired, and learning by experience for what wretchedness he had bartered away the blessings he had, he might of his own will hasten back with desire to the first blessedness …either being purged in this life through prayer and discipline, or after his departure hence through the furnace of cleansing fire.
In other words, St. Gregory is saying that God gave us free will, so that in tasting evil, we would realize how wretched it is and hasten back into a righteous state of blessedness — or as we might say here at Brazen Church, hasten into the abundant life Jesus came to show us — and that this hastening to blessedness will come either in this life, through prayer and discipline, or in the life to come, by passing through cleansing fire.
This isn’t a renegade theologian firing shots at Christendom thousands of years into orthodoxy.
This is a FOUNDER of orthodoxy. This is a man responsible for forging the unifying statement of faith for all of Christianity. This is a man who attended the first ever council of the Church in Nicaea.
And THIS MAN, this founder of the faith, not only shows no traces of a belief in Hell — He actually believed ALL WOULD BE SAVED. And while not all of his contemporaries shared his belief that all would be saved, the opposing belief was that the wicked would be destroyed… NOT tormented forever.
It shocks me to hear people argue that the doctrine of Hell has been the definitive belief of Christendom since the days of the New Testament. Such a claim demonstrates a fundamental ignorance of Church history and is a testament to how extensively St. Augustine’s doctrine influenced the orthodox church.
The idea of eternal torment comes primarily from Greek thought — a merging of mythology and the ramification of belief in an immortal soul.
For 5 centuries, Christian doctrine remained unaffected by Hell until St. Augustine forcibly inserted it into orthodoxy, using a combination of power and violence to ensure it’s survival. Since that time, we’ve seen the gradual evolution of Christian doctrine in and around this concept, until today, the average believer has no idea that the concept of eternal torment isn’t even Biblical.
This doctrine of Hell has been used for centuries to control the masses with fear. Today, it prevents the world, both Christian and non-Christian alike, from seeing a loving Father.
A Christianity with Hell is a Christianity that must inherently be full of fear, and yet 1 John 4:18 tells us:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
A Christianity without Hell is a Christianity without fear, and that’s the Christianity I hope our series has freed you to enjoy… or at least freed you to consider
Conditional Immortality: Biblical proof of Annihilation in Hell
A growing number of well-known Christian leaders, such as Dr. David R. Reagan, John R. Stott, Greg Boyd, Roger Forster (co-founder of the March for Jesus events), Philip Hughes, Michael Green, Stephen Travis, and Clark Pinnock have declared support for part, or all, of the biblical doctrine of "conditional immortality." Even the British Bible translator, William Tyndale, also defended Conditional Immortality during his lifetime. Also, the very well respected scholar F.F. Bruce states, "Eternal conscious torment is incompatible with the revealed character of God" so he chose to write the forward to an excellent evangelical book on this topic called, "The Fire that Consumes" by Edward Fudge. While some call it annihilationism, simply stated, "Conditional Immortality" is the biblical belief that the "immortality" of the soul is not inherent (Greek philosophers thinking) but conditional (Biblical thinking) upon receiving the gift of everlasting life through faith in Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew). It is part and parcel of the gospel. God alone has immortality -- anyone else becomes immortal only as a result of God's gracious gift (1 Timothy 6:16, Romans 2:7). For centuries, church theologians have wrongly assumed the Greek doctrine of the immortality of all souls. Therefore, it is no wonder that the message of immortality has been completely dropped from modern preaching. I ask you, when have you ever heard a message offering "immortality" as part of the gospel presentation? It is almost never done, because today most people falsely assume the soul is already immortal. Yet, immortality through Jesus (Yeshua) alone is what the Jewish Apostle Paul preached: * (He/Jesus), has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:9b-10) Paul clearly links immortality to the gospel. Paul did not believe the Greek philosophy of his day which taught the immortality of all souls. Before the Messiah, Jesus, came, no one had a chance at immortality because of sin. If they did, then Paul's statement would make no sense. Why would immortality come through the gospel if all had it from birth? The gospel would not have brought about immortality - since all had it. But immortality is uniquely and only with believers...
Here is an actual comment (one of many) gotten after reading this scriptural argument:
Thank you so much for the wealth of solid biblical insight you have given. I grew up attending several different denominations of Christian churches, and I was taught the traditional view of hell. All the churches I have attended as an adult have taught the traditional view. I've always wondered why the word, "perish" didn't actually mean "perish" or "be destroyed". I was taught that it meant "be eternally tormented". I have always wondered why the Bible said eternal life was a gift if it was something we already were going to have no matter where we ended up. Now I know I was right to question these things. Paul never preached about eternal torment, only of the gift of eternal life one could receive by putting their faith in Jesus. How sad it is that so many people only hear of a God that will send them to hell where He will torment them eternally instead of the God who gives eternal life as a gift because of His great love. -- Heidi
So read this book to see how unbiblical the concept of the immortality of the unsaved soul is. Immortality is reserved only for those who put their faith in Jesus. All the rest are destroyed (not preserved) (see Matthew 10:28) after a period of time. They will suffer no more and no less than their sins deserve - then will be destroyed forever. God is just and Holy.... but not cruel.
Douglas Berry, "Conditional Immortality: Biblical proof of Annihilation in Hell", Amazon Books, https://www.amazon.com/Conditional-Immortality-Biblical-proof-Annihilation/dp/1482698056 [emphasis added by webmaster]
Questions and MAJOR Problems for Those Who Hold to the Eternal Torment Position.
Scripture says that God has put His standards in man's conscience and calls us to reason together with Him (Isaiah 1:18). So does the Traditional view of the lost, as eternal conscious torment, fit the bill? Does it pass the test of scripture? Assuredly it does not.
C.S. Lewis wrote, "There is no doctrine I would more willingly remove from Christianity than (hell), if it lay in my power," (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, London: Geoffrey Bles, 1940, p. 118). C.S. Lewis recognized the moral repulsion he faced when looking at the Traditional view. "We are told that it is a detestable doctrine and indeed, I too detest it from the bottom of my heart" (ibid. p. 118).
Why don't many more see it? Sadly, it seems like some authors will find heaven less pleasurable if they don't gain pleasure from watching the lost suffer. Here's a quote of Samuel Hopkins from The Works of Samuel Hopkins (p. 458) followed by William West's opinion of that quote:
"…their torment shall ascend up in the sight of the blessed forever and serve as a most clear glass always before their eyes to give them a constant, bright, and most affecting view...This display of the divine character and glory will be in favor of the redeemed, and most entertaining, and give the highest pleasure to those who love God, and raise their happiness to ineffable heights. Should this eternal punishment and this fire be extinguished, it would in a great measure obscure the light of heaven and put an end to a great part of the happiness and glory of the blessed."
What kind of sick man could get the highest pleasure from seeing a cruel God doing his cruel work on billions and even on many he knows and loves? He makes the saints in Heaven be deprived of qualities God has given to us, sympathy, pity, love for others, caring for others; and made them to be cruel monsters that delight in the pain of others, and loves to hear the groans of those they now love, and the groans of the countless millions of the lost.
(Quoting Samuel Hopkins, The works of Samuel Hopkins, p. 458 in The Resurrection and Immortality, William West, Xulon Press, 2006, p. 313)
Sadly, there is much, much more in Traditional theological literature which has ridiculous statements like those of Samuel Hoskins. They say we will get pleasure from seeing the wicked suffer, God says the exact opposite.
For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 18:32)
At least current popular Christian author Max Lucado rightfully and publicly states that if he is wrong about this issue (eternal torment for the lost), "I'll celebrate my misreading of his words," on the last day (3:16 Numbers of Hope, Max Lucado, Thomas Nelson Publishers, p. 96). His heart is in the right place but sadly he still believes in eternal torture. So I ask, why do some Christians seem so upset if the lost are not tortured forever?
But that is not the only problem with the eternal torment view. Consider the following...
How is this justice?
How can we read about a God who says over and over again in scripture that he is "Just" and wants fairness among his people; commands an "eye for an eye and tooth for tooth" and then Himself tortures these same people mercilessly for not ten's of years, not hundred's of years, not million's or years, not billion's of years, not trillion's of years, not eons, but eternity. A sinner on this earth living for a millisecond of time, (in comparison to eternity) being tortured for eons and eons of time is not justice.
God has been made so cruel, and this doctrine is so unthinkable that it has probably created more atheists, and caused more weak believers to fall away than any other false teaching. The dread of Hell has caused misery and mental anguish to countless millions and instead of the horror of hell turning many to God....many millions have been turned away from such an unjust God.
(The Resurrection and Immortality, William West, Xulon Press, 2006, p. 313, see www.robertwr.com for more information)
Clark H. Pinnock picks up on this theme as well:
Let me say at the outset that I consider the concept of hell as endless torment in body and mind an outrageous doctrine, a theological and moral enormity, a bad doctrine of the tradition which needs to be changed. How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon His creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the gospel itself. How can we possibly preach that God has so arranged things that a number of his creatures (perhaps a large number predestined to that fate) will undergo (in a state of complete consciousness) physical and mental agony through unending time? Is this not a most disturbing concept which needs some second thoughts? Surely the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is no fiend; torturing people without end is not what our God does. Does the one who told us to love our enemies intend to wreak vengeance on his own enemies for all eternity? As H. KŸng appropriately asks, "What would we think of a human being who satisfied his thirst for revenge so implacably and insatiably?"
(The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent by Clark H. Pinnock McMaster Divinity College Hamilton, Ontario, Canada)
Television evangelist, Dr. David Regan, of the Lamb & Lion Ministries (a former believer in eternal torment) also picks up on this theme on the pages of his Lamplighter magazine:
My first difficulty with the Traditional view is that it seems to impugn the character of God. I kept asking myself, "How could a God of grace, mercy and love torment the vast majority of humanity eternally?" It did not seem to me to be either loving or just. I realize He is a God of righteousness, holiness and justice, but is eternal suffering justice? The concept of eternal torment seems to convert the true God of justice into a cosmic sadist.
(The Reality of Hell, Dr. David R. Reagan, Lamplighter magazine, March 2006, Lamb & Lion Ministries, McKinney, TX)
If eternal torment is true, it really means abortion is ultimately a good thing.
There ultimately is no getting around this point. Sadly, untold millions have been aborted in recent history. Surely many babies underwent conscious pain as they were forcibly extracted and suctioned out of the womb. Those who are familiar with the pro-life movement are rightfully horrified by the pictures of aborted little children (yes, they are children). Most conservative theologians would rightfully place these little ones in heaven for eternity.
However consider the alternative. If millions of these aborted precious little ones were left to go to full term and then birth, ALL would grow up to be sinners and the majority would probably never accept Jesus as adults. Jesus Himself said most people would never find the way, "broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction and many there be which go in there at" (Matthew 7:13).
Therefore, the majority of these people (if left to full term) would be tormented forever. That means if there is a choice of momentary pain for them (abortion) or eternal torture facing them, then abortion would be best. This point needs to be repeated over and over again. Those who consider themselves "pro-life" really need to reconsider the logic of their positions if they believe in eternal torture.
Look what a curious person wrote to a web site on this issue:
What happens to aborted babies? I heard a preacher on the radio say that they go to heaven and grow to adulthood and become the person they should have been. If that is so, abortionists apparently have been responsible for the salvation of more people than most evangelists combined. Though they meant it for harm, it turned out for good. If most people go to hell, how can we complain if aborted babies bypass this life of carnal sinful flesh and go directly to heaven...? —Stan
If eternal torment is true, then he is correct, abortion is best. But if it's not true (and it's not)–then Pro-Life is best! (And Pro-Life is the best! God is pro-life!)
Why would God choose the words like "destroy, destruction, perish, death" to signify something other than their plain meaning?
- Psalm 92:7—"Shall be destroyed forever."
- Psalm 1:6—"Be the way of the ungodly shall perish."
- Matthew 10:28—"Rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
- John 3:16—"Whosoever believeth in him should not perish." (Greek: destroyed)
- Romans 6:23—"For the wages of sin is death."
- James 4:12—"There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy."
- Philippians 3:19—"Whose end is destruction."
- 2 Thessalonians 1:9—"Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction."
- Hebrews 10:39—"But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition (Greek: destruction); but of them that believe to the saving of the soul."
- Revelation 20:14—"This is the second death."
Is God trying to intentionally deceive us by using words that have a different meaning than what their plain meaning is? Isn't this a basic rule of hermeneutics? The literal meaning is the first meaning used unless context declares otherwise. Don't you have to redefine every single one of these words in order to get eternal torment as the final fate of the unsaved?
Again, William West summarizes this point beautifully when he states:
The present definitions of words must be destroyed and new definitions given. The new definitions end up being the opposite of the old definition, death is no longer death; it is eternal life in Hell. No other book in the world uses these words this way. Did God use words in a way that would be a deliberate misleading of mankind? They are not used with these meaning in our everyday language. When we say anything, a plaint, animal or person is dead, we do not mean that plaint, animal or person is alive and being tormented.
Death (and destruction) must be made to mean one thing when it is a plaint or animal that is dead and another when it is a person that is dead. I somehow missed the revelation by which they know this. Where is the book, chapter and verse for it? Is there any word God could have used that they would not say "it does not mean what it says"? No, not a one if it would conflict with their theology.
"My mind fails to conceive a grosser misinterpretation of language then when the five or six strongest words which the Greek tongue possesses, signifying "destroy," or "destruction," are explained to mean maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence. To translate black as white is nothing to this."
(R. F. Weymouth, Life In Christ, page 365, translator of The New Testament in Modern Speech)
Those who wrongly believe in immortality for all from birth must reinterpret the Bible to say:
1. Those who are destroyed are not destroyed. (James 4:12; 2 Peter 2:12; 2 Peter 3:7)
2. Those who perish do not perish. (1 Corinthians 1:8: John 3:16)
3. Those who die do not die. (Romans 6:23)
4. The end of the wicked is not really their end. (Philippians 3:19; Hebrews 6:8)
5. Those who are consumed are not consumed. (Hebrews 10:27)
6. Mortals are born immortal; (1 Timothy 6:16) therefore, how can there be any such thing as being mortal? There are no mortals and could never be a mortal if all men are created immortal.
7. The second death is not a death; it is eternal life with torment. (Revelation 21:8)
Are they really teaching the Bible when they corrupt it into saying the opposite of what it really says, or teaching what they want the Bible to say?
Source: The Resurrection and Immortality, William West, Xulon Press, 2006, various excerpts from chapter two. See www.robertwr.com for more information.
We gain "immortality" only from the gospel
There is a gift we get from believing the gospel; it is called "everlasting life" (John 3:16). Paul calls this gift (immortality) an integral part of the gospel message, "Who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10).
If all souls are born immortal, then why are we encouraged to seek it?
"To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:" (Romans 2:7)
Why would Jesus offer us an opportunity to "live forever," if we all live forever?
"If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever." (John 6:51)
The truth is, the abundant life Jesus (Yeshua) promises us is in eternity, it is immortal life, everlasting life.
"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (John 10:10)
Believers will live forever. How much more abundant can you get?
In 1 Timothy 6:15-16, Paul says that God alone possesses immortality. And 1 Corinthians 15:53 teaches that the Redeemed will not become immortal until the time of their resurrection.
If eternal torment is true, then where is this plain teaching in the Tenach (Old Testament)?
Isn't it hard to believe that such an important teaching as eternal torment has no clear verses stating this fate in the Old Testament? Virtually every important doctrine has its roots in the Old Testament and is taught in typology (or symbols) there. Where is this taught in symbols? Was the lamb of Exodus tortured forever? Were any of the sacrifices tortured forever? No, the sacrifices were eventually turned to ashes. "And they shall take away the ashes from the altar" (Numbers 4:13) If this was the fate of all the offerings (including the sin offerings), then why should the fate of the sinner be any different?
It would be unreasonable that God would give them such detail of what would happen to Israel (Deut 28:15) in this lifetime and then say nothing of the eternal torment facing them. And if it be as important as it is supposed to be now, it was equally important then. Yet no single indication of it is discoverable in the writings of Moses. How could God have warned Israel in detail about punishments in this life, droughts, plagues, and other punishments and not say one word about most important issue, eternal torment?
The New Testament writers used the Old Testament types to show how the destruction of sinners in the hands of an angry God happens. It was turning them into ashes, not tormenting them for long periods of time. Sodom and Gomorrah are a supreme type given by Peter and he says "And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample" (2 Peter 2:6). Notice, Peter says two things about the fate of the ungodly:
1. They are an example for us to see what awaits the ungodly.
2. They eventually became ashes–cremated! (see also Malachi 4:3) William West states this more of these thoughts most forcefully:
ADAM: God told Adam in the day he ate he would die. He was not told that after his death he would be subjected to endless torment.
CAIN: His sin was the first murder, which, by most, is believed to be the greatest of all sins. What was his punishment? His punishment was that he was to be a fugitive and a vagabond in his lifetime on the earth. Not one word about any punishment after his death. The punishment for anyone who killed Cain would be seven times greater than the punishment of Cain. How could anything be seven times greater than (eternal torture)?
THE DESTRUCTION OF SODOM AND GOMORRAH: Genesis 13 and 14: These cities were literally burnt up (Psalms 11:6; Isaiah 34:9), not still burning with the people walking around in torment. Peter states that they are an example (2 Peter 2:6) of what will happen to the unsaved.
ALL THE CURSES of the Law, if they did not keep it, were in this lifetime (Deuteronomy 28:18-19). Not one word was said about a curse after this lifetime.
It would be past comprehension that God would give them such detail of what would happen to them in this lifetime and say nothing of the unending pain He was going to forever heap on them.
Source: The Resurrection and Immortality, William West, Xulon Press, 2006, various excerpts from chapter seven–A strange and unexplainable silence.
See www.robertwr.com for more information.
Again, the same thing is said in another evangelical commentary:
There is no doctrine of hell (i.e. eternal torment) in the Old Testament. In Isaiah 66:24, at one time a much quoted verse, the reference is not to the continuing personality (nephesh) of the rebels, but to their corpses.
(The International Bible Commentary, second edition, Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan Publishing House, 1986, p.64 column 1)
If eternal torment is the fate of most of mankind, then why is no single indication of it is discoverable in the writings of Moses? If there was such a thing as eternal torment taught in the Tenach (Old Testament), then how could the Apostle Paul proclaim to the unsaved idol worshippers in Athens, "In the past God overlooked such ignorance" (Acts 17:30). How could this statement be true if God was planning to torture them eternally? Did God really overlook this then? Paul said the wicked would be destroyed, "Whose end is destruction" (Philippians 3:19) not eternally tormented. Moses said nothing of eternal torture. Jesus said the human soul would be destroyed–not preserved (Matthew 10:28).
Jesus (Yeshua) paid our debt, but the debt was death, not being eternally tormented
Edward Fudge beings up this excellent point.
For the New Testament is quite clear that Jesus not only died but that He died because of sin and in the place of sinners. More than that, the death He died was in some true and real sense the sinner's death–the death required by sin–the death we should have died... The Old Testament prophets spoke of "the sufferings of Christ" and the "glories that would follow" (1 Peter 1:11). Yet what is this suffering and glory if not the eschatological judgment of God....the cross of Christ was no mere example of divine judgment; it was God's judgment par excellence–the judgment withheld already for centuries from many to whom it was due (Romans 3:25, Hebrews 9:15,26-28).
Jesus not only died "for sin"; He died in the very place of sinners. That is what Peter meant in saying that Jesus "bare our sins in His own body." This is what is meant that Christ's death was vicarious...To use familiar language, Jesus suffered hell for His people–the very hell they would have suffered had He not taken their place. From the very first the wages of sin was death, and Jesus underwent the very same sentence pronounced in the primal Garden.
(Edward W. Fudge, The Fire That Consumes. A Biblical and Historical Study of the Final Punishment, Houston, 1982, Chapter 12, various pages excerpted)
Since Jesus was fully God, He was resurrected from the dead. Had He not been divine, His body would have remained dead. But certainly this is unthinkable for a sinless One. Therefore Paul states triumphantly, "And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name" (Philippians 2:8-9).
The point being, Jesus was sinless and therefore God raised Him from the dead. His body's death was not eternal. The sinners at the end of time will undergo their personal "crosses" and they will suffer in proportion to their sins and then die (cease to function) eternally in body and soul (Matthew 10:28). It is called the "second death" in scripture. (Revelation 2:11) The death of the body is called the first death. After the Resurrection, the death of the body and soul together is called the second death.
Again, Dr. David Regan (who changed to Conditional Immortality after studying it) correctly notes:
Finally, to me personally, the most convincing of all arguments against the Traditionalist viewpoint relates to what Jesus Himself suffered on the Cross. Our sins were placed upon Him. He took the punishment we deserve.
And what was that punishment? It was extreme suffering followed by death. If Jesus did not suffer the full penalty for our sins, then our debt has not been paid. But the Scriptures say that He paid the full debt, and it was not eternal torment, but death.
Source: Dr. David R. Reagan, Lamplighter Magazine, March 2006, Lamb & Lion Ministries, McKinney, TX
How can the word "perish" mean eternal torment? It doesn't, period.
John 3:16—"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."
This is the most quoted verse in the Bible and also one of the clearest accounts on the destruction of the wicked. "Whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life"? John didn't write that. "Whoever believes in Him shall not have everlasting life in torment." Remember, the wicked will not have immortality at all. Immortality is reserved only through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). The way most churches interpret John 3:16, they mentally replace the very clear word "perish" with something that means nearly the opposite"never perish." There is a clear word for "torment" in the Greekso why did John not use it? Because he was not teaching it at all. In John 3:16, the word "perish" in the Greek is "apollumi." It is correctly translated many other times as "destroy" throughout the New Testament. When something is "destroyed" it means something that no longer functions at all. That is the common usage of "apollumi" as "destroy" in the New Covenant writings. When Yeshua (Jesus) states in Matthew 10:28 that the soul will be destroyed (not preserved), He is telling us that the lost soul will no longer function. It will not be conscious. It will be destroyed. John 3:16 and Matthew 10:28 are in perfect harmony when you understand the truth of Conditional Immortality.
Even Joshua–who declared the burning of the sinner, slew them first–then burnt their bodies.
Joshua 7:15—"And it shall be, that he that is taken with the accursed thing shall be burnt with fire, he and all that he hath:"
Joshua 7:25—"And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones."
It is clear here. Joshua takes Achan, who had sinned and had been warned of burning, and first he has them stoned–then, after they are dead, he burns their carcasses. This is exactly what is said in the article above entitled "Why rarely cited Isaiah 66:24 is a key." Isaiah tells us that the lost are slain and their dead bodies are burned as well. Jesus, when speaking of Gehennah (hell) quotes this verse in Isaiah. Peter tells us the lost will become ashes (2 Peter 2:6). Malachi tells us the same (Malachi 4:3).
Why did Paul never proclaim this doctrine of eternal torture? Or did Paul correctly understand Yeshua (Jesus) in Matthew 10:28...that the souls of the unsaved will be destroyed.
Paul fully proclaimed the whole counsel of God by plainly declaring:
- That those who live a lifestyle of unrepentant sin "deserve death"–Romans 1:32
- That "all who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law"–Romans 2:12
- That sin "leads to death"–Romans 6:16
- That sin "results in death"–Romans 6:21
- That "the wages of sin is death"–Romans 6:23
- That those who live according to the sinful nature "will die"–Romans 8:13
- That the gospel is foolishness "to those who are perishing"–1 Corinthians 1:18
- That those who preach the gospel are "the smell of death" "to those who are perishing"–2 Corinthians 2:15-16
- That the Old Testament law "kills" and ultimately brings "death"–2 Corinthians 3:6-7
- That the gospel is "veiled to those who are perishing"–2 Corinthians 4:3
- That those who please the sinful nature "from that nature will reap destruction"–Galatians 6:8
- That "they will be destroyed"–Philippians 1:28
- That "their destiny is destruction"–Philippians 3:19
- That "they will be punished with everlasting destruction"–2 Thessalonians 1:9
- That they "are perishing"–2 Thessalonians 2:10
- That "they perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved"–2 Thessalonians 2:10
- That "Christ Jesus...has destroyed death"–2 Timothy 1:10
- That they are like worthless land that will "in the end...be burned"–Hebrews 6:8
- That sins are "acts that lead to death"–Hebrews 9:14
- That raging fire "will consume the enemies of God"–Hebrews 10:27
- That those who "shrink back" in unbelief will be "destroyed"–Hebrews 10:39
In various ways with various words Rabbi Paul was sure to repeatedly declare precisely what would happen to those who foolishly reject the gospel. He was sure to do this because God appointed him to fully proclaim the whole counsel of God. Paul didn't hide any aspect of the truth–including the awful truth that those who reject the Messiah will be utterly "destroyed" by the raging, consuming fire of the Lord. If words have any meaning at all then this is what we must conclude.
Allow me to add that if Jesus supposedly preached eternal torture, as many contend, then Paul would have certainly backed it up. Yet Paul taught no such thing because Jesus taught no such thing, not to mention the bible they taught from–the Old Testament–teaches no such thing.
Source: This entire section is taken from Hell Know–Dispelling the eternal torture myth, with special thanks to Dirk Waren, www.hellhadesafterlife.com.
Paul said he was innocent of "the blood of all men" (Acts 20:26)
This phrase is always used in scripture when people are in danger of facing death, not eternal torture. Paul declared he was "innocent of the blood of all men." Paul didn't hesitate to share the whole counsel of God, including the unfortunate news of what would ultimately happen to those who reject the gospel. The very fact that Paul says he's innocent of the blood of all people is a sure indication that people will actually die (not live–suffering in immortality) when they suffer the second death.
John says in Revelation that there will be "no more death."
If "death" really means "living eternally separated" from God (and it does not), then death really will exist forever. However, in Revelation 21:4–John specifically states that there will be "no more death." Think about that for a moment or two.
Jeremiah 7:30-33 speaks of this place called
the Valley of Hinnom (Gehennah)–not as a place of eternal torment.
In speaking of this place, Jeremiah said (actually God is speaking in this section of scripture) that it will be called the "Valley of Slaughter," not the "Valley of everlasting torment" as modern mainstream Christianity suggests.
Jesus (Yeshua) states of His betrayer, "It would have been better had he not been born." (Mark 14:21)
However, if most human beings are facing eternal torment, then how ridiculous of a statement is this? Should not the Messiah rather have said (if eternal torment was true) that it would be better if all unbelievers had never been born! If eternal torment is true, then clearly it would have been better for most everyone not to have been born (since the majority will not be saved) (Matthew 7:14). Yet Yeshua (Jesus) reserves this statement for only the most vile of sinners. This seems to indicate that even for the lost, (whom God would rather to have been saved), it is still better to have been born and then lost life than to never have been born. In other words, God is so good, that at least they got a chance to live a short period of time. Ruminate this argument in your mind over and over again and it will clearly show the goodness of God.
God's fire always consumes His enemies, not preserving them in torment.
According to Hebrews 10:26-27, notice clearly that, on judgment day, raging fire will utterly consume God’s enemies, not sadistically torture them without end, "and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." The Greek word translated as “consume” here literally means “to eat” (Strong 33) and is translated as “devour” in the King James Version. We can soundly conclude that raging fire will literally devour God’s enemies when they’re cast into the lake of fire– consuming them wholly.
The following excerpt is taken from the website www.hell-know.net on this topic:
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censors, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. (2) So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. (Leviticus 10:1-2)
We see here that Nadab and Abihu ignored God’s commands and attempted to approach Him on their own terms. As a result “fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.” Their disregard of the LORD’s will and attempt to approach Him on their own terms represents religion as opposed to Christianity. Religion is the human attempt to connect with God, whereas Christianity is God connecting with humanity through Christ. We can either do it our way or God’s way, it’s our choice.
The fiery consumption of Nadab and Abihu is a biblical example of what will happen on judgment day to people who disregard God’s Word and live their lives with little or no concern of their Creator; these proud rebels are only willing to approach God on their own terms. On judgment day such people can expect a fire to come out from the presence of the LORD and consume them. They will die before the LORD, just as assuredly as Nadab and Abihu did.
Here are a few more examples:
NUMBERS 16:35 - And fire came out from the LORD and consumed the 210 men (Korah’s followers) who were offering the incense.
2 KINGS 1:10 - "Elijah answered the captain, 'If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!' Then fire fell from heaven and consumed the captain and his men."
PSALM 97:2b-3 - "...righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him and consumes his foes on every side."
PSALM 106:18 - "Fire blazed among their followers (Dathan’s rebellious followers); a flame consumed the wicked."
EZEKIEL 22:31 - "So I will pour out my wrath on them (the sinful people of Judah) and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they
have done, declares the Sovereign LORD."
ZEPHANIAH 1:18 - "Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath. In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth."
REVELATION 18:8-9 - "Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her (“Babylon”): death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her. When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her."
As you can plainly see, the Biblical fact that God is going to destroy his human enemies by a consuming fire at the second death perfectly coincides with how God has dealt with his human enemies throughout history. This is testimony to the unchanging, consistent character of God (see Psalm 102:26-27; James 1:17 and Hebrews 13:8). After all, would it not be strange and totally inconsistent with God’s just, merciful character as revealed throughout history if, on judgment day, he sentenced his human enemies to never-ending conscious torment–a sadistic, unjust, merciless sentence diametrically opposed to his consistent, unchanging character? Of course it would.
Notice clearly in all the above texts that God does not sadistically torture these people perpetually with fire. No, the fire consumes them. No doubt there’s an amount of terror and conscious pain to this type of execution, but it’s not sadistically never-ending–it mercifully results in death.
Is this unjust on God’s part? Not at all. Notice Psalm 97:2-3 above: before stating that God will judge and destroy his enemies with consuming fire, it assuredly states that “righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.” You see, we can always be absolutely confident of the fact that God’s judgments are completely righteous and just; and God is not quick in making a judgment; he is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8); “He is patient… not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2Peter 3:9b). Yet, there’s a limit to God’s patience and mercy if a stubborn person continually chooses to resist and rebel against him; and when his patience and mercy end, his judgment begins. Yet even God’s judgments are balanced by his mercy and justice.
Source: This entire section is taken from Hell Know–Dispelling the eternal torture myth, with special thanks to Dirk Waren, www.hellhadesafterlife.com
In my previous post, I looked at every New Testament verse that refers to hell (or Gehenna) and showed that none of these verses mentions eternal torment. I also pointed out that Paul, James, and other biblical authors wrote that unrepentant sinners would die, life and death being the culmination of the two paths of humanity.
There is very little in the Bible that might be taken to imply that all unrepentant sinners will be punished with eternal conscious torment. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the verses which contain the ideas of “eternal” and “fire” in regards to the future judgement, verses typically used by Christians who believe in the eternal torment of the unredeemed.
Eternal Punishment and Destruction
Matthew 25:46 mentions “eternal punishment” for those who have not fed, clothed, and visited “the least of these.” This eternal punishment is contrasted with eternal life. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 mentions the disobedient who “pay the price (or suffer the punishment) of eternal destruction (olethros).” Both these passages could well be referring to death rather than some kind of continuing torment.
The devastating punishment of death (or the “second death” mentioned in Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8) means that the disobedient are eternally excluded from the everlasting life that Jesus offers to every human being on the planet (Matt. 25:46; John 3:16). Death or destruction is an irreversible, eternal punishment because, for all eternity, there is no escape or an opportunity for a second chance at life.
Some read the idea of eternal torment into Matthew 25:46 and 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 even though the text doesn’t plainly mention it. Other verses used to support the idea of eternal torment are equally tenuous and even less compelling.
Eternal and Unquenchable Fire
Several verses in the Bible refer to an eternal or unquenchable fire in regards to judgement (e.g., Matt. 3:12; Mark 9:43, 48; cf. John 15:6). In Matthew 25:41, Jesus tells a parable that includes this line:
Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
This verse seems to support a traditional understanding of hell as a place of eternal fire, and yet Jesus may be using “eternal fire” rhetorically here. We need to keep in mind that Jesus is telling a story, a parable. Jesus used parables to teach, illustrate, or highlight spiritual and moral principles, not to narrate actual or future events. Nevertheless, eternal torment is not mentioned here either.
Note especially that Jesus says the fire is for the devil and his angels. This may indicate that “hell-fire”, whether metaphorical or real, is for fallen angels and not for torturing people (cf. 2 Pet. 2:4).
Jude 1:7 is another verse that is used to support the idea of eternal torment, and yet again it is fire, not torment, that is described as eternal:
In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (NIV)
The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were punished by being killed. They did not suffer prolonged torment but were reduced to ash (2 Pet. 2:6). So if they do indeed serve as an example, then it seems the ungodly will be destroyed. They will die. Moreover, an “eternal fire” no longer burns in Sodom and Gomorrah, and a fire was not burning when Jude wrote his letter, indicating that “eternal fire” may be a metaphor rather than a reality.
Fire’s Ferocious Force
The imagery of fire is used in the Bible for God’s wrath and judgement because of fire’s spectacular, terrifying, and deadly power (e.g., Matt. 13:40-42; 2 Thess. 1:7b-8; 2 Pet. 3:7). Adjectives such as “eternal”, “unquenchable”, and “raging” have been used by some of the biblical authors to highlight and strengthen the imagery of fire’s ferocious force at the judgement.
Though I am using the word “imagery,” I do not discount the likelihood that a terrifying cataclysmic fire may be a feature of God’s final judgement. It could very well be that God uses fire to bring about the death and destruction of the unredeemed.
In the letter to the Hebrews, the fire of judgement is described plainly as “a raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Heb. 10:26-27 cf. Heb. 12:29). In Malachi 4:1 we are told the fire of judgement will set evildoers ablaze like flammable chaff. Thus, the fire of God’s judgement kills and consumes and reduces its victims to ash (cf. 2 Pet. 2:6).
Here’s another example of this image of fiery devastation:
. . . fury will be shown to his foes. See, the LORD is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the LORD> will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the LORD. Isaiah 66:14b-16 (Italics added)
Thankfully, the redeemed are spared God’s wrath and his judgement of death.
Mark 9:48 is another verse sometimes used to support the idea of eternal conscious torment for unrepentant sinners. This verse quotes from Isaiah 66:24 and mentions both unquenchable fire and worms that never die. Isaiah 66:24 does not indicate, however, that people are eternal or that they suffer eternal torment, on the contrary. In this verse, the worms are eating the dead bodies, the corpses, of people God has killed in judgement.
Both worms and fire are symbols of utter destruction. The death and destruction of the unredeemed will be horrific and complete.
At the final judgement there will be weeping (a display of sorrow and regret) and gnashing of teeth (a display of anger and indignation), but weeping and gnashing of teeth do not necessarily continue for all eternity. Nowhere does the Bible say that the people who have been judged and condemned are eternal. The consistent description of their fate is death and destruction.
As far as I can make out, there are only two passages in the Bible that explicitly mention eternal torment as a punishment. One of these passages concerns the torment of fallen angels. (Hell-fire, or the lake of fire mentioned in Revelation, can be thought of as a place reserved for fallen angels. See Matt. 25:41 and 2 Pet. 2:4). In Revelation 20 the devil and the demonic figures of the beast and the false prophet are thrown into “the lake of fire and brimstone” where “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). This verse clearly refers to eternal torment.
A few verses later, still in Revelation 20, the unredeemed are thrown into the lake of fire, but so are Death and Hades, marking the end of an era (Rev. 20:14-15). Torment is not mentioned here.
Revelation 14:9-11 is the only passage in the Bible that explicitly mentions people who are tormented and “have no rest day and night” as part of God’s judgement. These people are those who worship the beast and receive his mark.
I do not know precisely who these people are, or were, but it is unlikely that they represent the whole of unredeemed humanity.
It is important to acknowledge that the only two passages in the Bible that clearly mention eternal torment are found in Revelation. Revelation typically uses cryptic symbols, and not plain facts, to convey its message. We need to take care how we interpret these symbols and not presume to take their imagery and symbolism at face value.
Furthermore, it is unwise to suppose that one or two passages from Revelation satisfactorily upholds the notion of the eternal conscious torment of unredeemed humanity, when many more verses simply state that death is the consequence and punishment for disobeying God and rejecting Jesus as Saviour (e.g., Rom. 5:12; 6:16b, 23; 7:5; Jas 1:15).
The verses that speak about God’s judgement on unrepentant sinners are vivid and horrifying. They are written in such a way as to convey the devastating seriousness and lasting consequence of judgement. The scriptural support for eternal conscious torment, however, is meagre, tenuous, and ambiguous at best.
As Jeremiah wrote in a more immediate context, ‘This is what the LORD says: ‘See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.’” (Jer. 21:8). For many reasons, I’m choosing life—the gift of the wondrous new life in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17; 8:2; 2 Tim. 1:10; 1 John 3:14). My earnest hope is that you have accepted Jesus’ words and chosen life also:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (Italics added)
Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. John 5:24 (Italics added) 
 (This footnote is also included in part 1.) E. Earle Ellis has noted that nouns for the judgement of the unrighteous connote obliteration. They include annihilation (apōleia): Matt. 7:13; John 17:12; Acts 8:20; Rom. 9:22ff; Phil. 1:28; 3:19; 2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim 6:9; Heb. 10:39; 2 Pet. 2:1; destruction (olethros): 1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 1:9; 1 Tim. 6:9; death (thanatos): Rom 1:21; 6:21ff; 7:5; 8:6; 1 Cor. 15:21f; 15:56; 2 Cor. 2:16; 7:10; Jas 1:15; 5:20; 1 John 5:16; Rev. 2:11; 20:6; 20:14; 1 Pet. 4:17; end (telos): Rom. 6:21f; 2 Cor. 11:15; Phil. 3:19; 1 Pet. 4:17; and disintegration or corruption (phthora): Gal. 6:8; 2 Pet. 1:4; 2:12.
“The most important and frequent terms for the punishment of sin are death and destruction or annihilation and their corresponding verbs.” E. Earle Ellis, Christ and the Future in New Testament History (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 193 & 195.
 Matthew 25:46 says that the righteous enter eternal life while the cursed enter eternal punishment. This is another verse that gives the two options of life and death, though it is not stated as clearly here as in many other verses.
 The story of Lazarus and the rich man may be a parable. I have not discussed it in these posts because it is not about hell or the final judgement. The story mentions Hades, which is regarded as an intermediate state. Hades is equivalent to the Hebrew Sheol and refers to the grave, or possibly the “first death.” The Greek word “Hades” occurs 10 times in the New Testament.
 Only God is immortal and eternal (1 Tim. 6:16). We, on the other hand, are mortal and perishable (1 Cor. 15:53-54). Yet God has graciously bestowed immortality on believers, through Jesus Christ:
[God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:9-10.
 “Outer darkness” seems to be another metaphor for the death or annihilation of sinners. It is used in Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:13.
 The widely circulated early Christian text The Didache (c. AD 100) opens with: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death!” (Did. 1:1).
“Ignatius (c AD 35-110), Justin Martyr (c. AD 110-165), Arnobius (303-330) and Athanasius (c. AD 296-373) are prominent examples of [Patristic writers who believed in and wrote about] conditional immortality, that is, immortality given only to those in Christ, and of its corollary, a punishment that is everlasting in its effect, i.e. an extinction of being.”
E. Earle Ellis, Christ and the Future in New Testament History (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 179. See also pages 181-185 for quotations from these writers, and Irenaeus and Theophilus of Antioch, about conditional immortality. (Online source)
Some eminent 21st-century scholars who hold to the view of conditional immortality include John Stott, I. Howard Marshall, David Instone-Brewer, John Stackhouse, Richard Bauckham, and Michael Green.
 Like Paul (mentioned at the beginning of part 1), John, the Gospel author, and John, the author of the three letters that bear his name, never mention hell or anything like eternal torment. Life and death are given as the two options for humanity. John frequently spoke about “life.” In his Gospel he states his reason for writing: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31, italics added).
© Margaret Mowczko 2016
All Rights Reserved
Rightly understood, the annihilation view of hell says that there will be irreversible, horrific punishment for those who don’t believe in Christ. This punishment may last for a period of time, but ultimately it will end. The wicked will pass out of existence; they will not be tormented forever and ever.
This view is usually referred to as “conditional immortality” by its proponents, since immortality is a gift given to the righteous in Christ (see below). But as statement in my previous blog, I actually prefer the term “terminal punishment” instead of conditional immortality (which is still unfamiliar to many) or annihilation (which has too many negative connotations). To be clear, annihilation (hereafter “terminal punishment”) is not a product of Jehovah’s Witness theology. While it’s true that JW’s hold to this view, this doesn’t mean that they invented the doctrine nor does it mean that those who hold to terminal punishment are Jehovah’s Witness. I’m sorry to waste your time with this basic point, but I’ve actually heard people assume I’ve become Jehovah’s Witness because I see biblical support for terminal punishment. Yikes! Does that mean that I’m also Muslim because I believe in the sovereignty of God? Or Buddhist, since I believe in nonviolence? One of the more comical assumptions was from someone on Facebook who thought I might now be an atheist because they heard that I was “an Annihilationist.”
Come on, people! We must use our brains. And our Bibles. It’s a sad day in Evangelicalism when accusations and name-calling replace authentic study of God’s inspired word.
Plus, the duration of hell is not listed in the Apostle’s Creed nor the Nicene Creed—the basic standards of orthodox Christian doctrine. And while ECT [Eternal Conscious Torment] has been the dominant, though not universal, Christian view, terminal punishment has been the view of several prominent Evangelical theologians throughout history.
In any case, here are some of the strongest biblical arguments in favor of terminal punishment:
First, most of the passages in the NT that talk about the fate of the wicked use language that suggests finality. Here’s just a small sampling:
- “Destruction” or “perish” (Greek: apoleia or olethros Matt 7:13; John 3:16; 17:12; Acts 8:20; Rom 9:22-23; Phil 1:28; 3:19; 2 Thess 2:3; 1 Tim 6:9; Heb 10:39; 2 Pet 2:1; 1 Thess 5:3; 2 Thess 1:9; 1 Tim 6:9).
- “Death” (Greek: thanatos or apothnesko Rom 1:32; 6:21; 7:5; 8:6; 1 Cor 15:21-22; 15:56; 2 Cor 2:16; 7:10; James 1:15; 5:20; 1 John 5:16; Rev 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8)
- “End” (Greek: telos Rom 6:21-22; 2 Cor 11:15; Phil 3:19; 1 Pet 4:17)
- “Disintegration/corruption” (phthora) (Gal 6:8; 2 Pet 1:4; 2:12).
We could add to this list several other images that would also suggest the cessation of life for the wicked. Images such as:
- burned up chaff, trees, weeds, branches (Matt 3:12; 7:19; 13:40; John 15:6).
- a destroyed house, discarded fish, uprooted plant, chopped down tree (Matt 7:27; 13:48; 15:13; Luke 13:7)
- the Day of Judgment is compared to OT examples of the flood, destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife turned into salt (Luke 17:27, 29, 32).
- wicked compared to ground up powder or cut to pieces (Matt 21:41, 44; 24:51).
Let’s pause for a second. Look up some of these passages if you need to. Lay aside your assumptions as best you can and consider these points. These biblical points. I’m not saying you need to embrace this view—I haven’t embraced it yet. But any fair-minded, Bible-believing Christian should at least pause and say, “Huh, wow, a plain reading of those texts would suggest finality.”
In a recent debate between on the nature of hell between Al Mohler (ECT) and Chris Date (Terminal Punishment), Date kept giving exegetical argument after exegetical argument, and Mohler simply referred to Date’s arguments as “not the traditional reading” and clear evidence of “interpretive calisthenics.” Maybe I’m completely blinded, but is it “interpretive calisthenics” to say that destruction, death, perish, end, burned up chaff, and the destructive of Sodom and Gomorrah may actually suggest finality and not ongoing torment? Certainly, we’ll get to the counterarguments from the ECT [Eternal Conscious Torment] position. But when we hear of someone embracing terminal punishment in light of the Scriptures, we should at the very least stop mocking the arguments without actually refuting them. You can acknowledge that a particular view has some good biblical merit without actually embracing it.
Second, the Bible says that the gift of immortality is only given to believers who are in Christ (see (1 Cor 15:21-23, 50-54; 2 Tim 1:10). That is, immortality (i.e. living forever) is not inherent to humankind. The soul is not inherently immortal, so ECT [Eternal Conscious Torment] can only work if God miraculously gives a type of immortality to the wicked at their resurrection. But this is never clearly stated in Scripture. Immortality is only given to believers. And remember Genesis 2, where “living forever” was conditioned upon eating from the tree of life (which shows up again in Rev. 22).
What’s interesting is that Augustine, who was by far the most influential advocate for ECT, believed that the soul was immortal. (His view was carried over from his Platonic past.) For him, terminal punishment wasn’t even an option. The soul, which lives forever, must either live forever in heaven (or the new creation) or live forever in hell. ECT was the only real option for Augustine and his view was more or less embraced for the next 1,000 years.
Third, the language of “eternality” (aionios) doesn’t always (or usually?) convey the idea of never-ending time. Notice, for instance, some of the Septuagint uses of the Greek word aionios:
- LXX Ps 24:7 “Life up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O aionioi (eternal) doors!”
- LXX 1 Chron 15:2 “eternal priesthood”
So when we come to passages like 2 Thessalonians 1:9 where Paul talks about “eternal destruction,” this doesn’t have to mean “the ongoing, never ending act of destroying which is never final,” but it could very easily mean “a destruction characteristic of the ages.” Or even if aionios does signify never-ending time, when joined with olethron (“destruction”), it could mean that the destruction is final; that is, it will never end or be reversed.
And the same is true of Matthew 25:46. When Jesus says: “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life,” the “eternal punishment” doesn’t have to mean the “eternal act of punishing” but could mean the never-ending duration of the punishment—the results of the verdict.
The sum up this point, the word “eternal” (or better: “everlasting”) may refer to ECT, but it could also simply refer to the finality or completeness of the destruction or to its other worldly nature—it’s a “destruction of the ages,” or “not of this world.” Either way, it does not unambiguously refer to ECT.
I know, I know. Some of you will still say that this is interpretive calisthenics. But I disagree. This is simply the possibility of the Greek language. Again, to be clear, I’m not saying that terminal punishment is the only way, or even the best way, to interpret 2 Thessalonians 1:9 or Matthew 25:46. I do think, however, that it’s a perfectly legitimate way of understanding how the Greek adjectives and nouns can function. Only those who are conditioned to read ECT into these texts will say that they can only be interpreted to mean eternal conscious torment.
I’ve got some thoughts on the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” and “undying worm” images, but why don’t we stop here. There’s a lot to digest. But stay tuned, we’ll keep talking about hell, but I promise you: This series won’t last forever. It will terminate at some point in time.
by Preston Sprinkle https://theologyintheraw.com/blog/2015/02/biblical-support-for-annihilation/
Key New Testament Scriptures
John 6:51a (ESV)
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.
Romans 2:7 (ESV)
to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life
2 Timothy 1:9-10 (ESV)
...God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel
Matthew 10:28 (ESV)
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
James 4:12 (ESV)
There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy.
Philippians 3:19 (ESV)
Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
2 Thessalonians 1:9 (ESV)
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction [they will never become conscious again]
Hebrews 10:26-27 (ESV)
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of  judgment, and  a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
Hebrews 10:39 (ESV)
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
John 3:16 (ESV)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish ["apollumi" in Greek: be destroyed] but have eternal life [immortality].
2 Corinthians 2:15 (ESV)
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing
2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
1. the action or process of causing so much damage to something that it no longer exists or cannot be repaired.
2. the action or process of killing or being killed.
synonyms: annihilation, obliteration, elimination, eradication, liquidation
1. (especially of a fire) completely destroy
synonyms: destroy, demolish, lay waste, wipe out, annihilate, devastate
1. suffer complete ruin or destruction.
synonyms: come to an end, die (away), disappear, vanish, fade, dissolve, evaporate, melt away, wither
If man was already immortal why would he need to seek immortality and eat the bread from heaven to live forever? And why would Jesus Christ have to bring immortality to light through the gospel if all men are immortal already? Because immortality is conditional and God can destroy the soul (mind, emotions and will - our conscious self) along with the body thereby rendering the soul no longer immortal. Immortality is inextricably linked to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
- A Biblical Defense of "Conditional Immortality" https://www.truthaccordingtoscripture.com/documents/death/defense-conditional-immortality/Conditional%20Immortality.pdf
- Why I am an Annihilationist http://www.rightreason.org/article/theology/annihilationist.pdf
- Is there room for alternative views of hell? http://yuriystasyuk.com/what-christian-leaders-think-about-hell/
J. I. Packer on Why Annihilationism Is Wrong https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/j-i-packer-on-why-annihilationism-is-wrong/