Hell: Evangelicals and Universalists Share an Error

FireKurt Willems has followed up his interesting series Hell Yes. Hell No! Or Who the Hell Cares? by publishing a guest post by Dan Martin Burn-them-all vs. Universalism: A false choice. In this post Dan explains why he rejects both universalism, the teaching that no one goes to hell but all are saved, and what he calls the “Burn-them-all” position, that the great majority of human beings are sent to eternal punishment. He also calls the latter “the Evangelical position”, but I would prefer to call the conservative evangelical position, as by no means all who call themselves evangelicals would take this line. John Stott was well known as an evangelical who taught something very different.

To me the most interesting part of Dan’s post is in a parenthesis:

(Note, of course, that the error of universal immortality is one committed by those who espouse eternal conscious torment as well; it’s not just a universalist concept)

This follows his discussion of how universalists seem to assume that every human being, or at least every soul, is immortal, and the only alternative to eternal punishment is eternal bliss. The point of the parenthesis is that conservative evangelicals seem to make exactly the same assumption. But where does this assumption come from? The immortality of the soul is a fundamentally Greek concept, not a biblical one. Dan explains further:

It is quite possible that only God’s followers actually go to heaven–for that matter, that only these win immortality–and that the rest die or are annihilated …  Furthermore, this concept has some circumstantial biblical support…from Genesis 2 & 3 where man is only immortal when granted access to the tree of life, to John 3:16 which posits life-vs-death, not eternal-good-life vs. eternal-bad-life.

I would suggest that the biblical support for this is more than “circumstantial”, but is actually quite strong. It is a consistent theme in the New Testament that eternal life is the inheritance only of God’s holy people. The alternative seems to be destruction: there is remarkably little in Scripture to suggest that the wicked survive beyond the final judgment, when they are thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15), surely an image of annihilation rather than of torment.

Some will surely object by pointing to the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), where the rich man is said to be in torment in Hades. Now Hades or Sheol is where, according to the Old Testament, all the dead went, and indeed we see that righteous Lazarus is in the same place, although in a separate section of it. In the New Testament we learn that this stay in Hades is only temporary, until the general resurrection and the final judgment. It is at that point that, it seems, the wicked are destroyed in the lake of fire, also known as Gehenna or “hell”, and only the righteous are admitted into the fullness of God’s kingdom.

This is basically the annihilationist or conditional immortality position held for example by John Stott. As Kurt Willems notes in part 7 of his series, it was also the view of some of the church fathers. It is more biblical than the traditional evangelical one, which is strongly influenced by Greek ideas of the immortality of the soul, as well as by mediaeval images of torment in hell, which were introduced in a fruitless attempt to frighten people into correct behaviour. In Kurt’s words,

The idea that humans are innately immortal is foreign from biblical thought. Greek philosophy fuels this assumption.

This position also resolves the neatly the apparent contradiction involved in a God of love sending most people to eternal punishment. In Dan’s words:

The idea that immortality itself is a gift to the faithful and not the nature of all souls, actually fits the bill both for the reward of those who love God, and the exclusion/damnation of the rest, without making God into the torturing monster we read in (for example) the works of Jonathan Edwards.

Dan concludes his post as follows:

So…will all but a few burn in hell, or will everyone eventually be saved?  Biblically, probably neither.  But after all, “what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22, out of context!)


104 thoughts on “Hell: Evangelicals and Universalists Share an Error

  1. If I refused Jesus’ offer, I wouldn’t count on disappearing in a burst of flame.

    Rev. 14:11: And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, if any man worship the beast and his image, and receives his mark in his forehead, or in his hand,
    (10) the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation, and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.
    (11) And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever and they have no rest day nor night, wkho worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his nme.

  2. Wonderful to see someone else supporting Conditional Immortality again at last: immortality is indeed God’s gift in Christ, not intrinsic to humanity.

    I spent many long hours wrestling with this topic back in my student days at LST (or LBC as it was known then) – it was the topic of my BA Thesis – and afterwards in preliminary research towards a PhD which I never completed, comparing concepts of hell in the NT and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The reason I never completed was simple: I lost interest. I realised that God could be trusted to do what was right; and that the God I’d come to know in Jesus was not a monster but a God of grace.

    “In him we live and move and have our being” – now and for ever. The God who is, is all in all. There can, ultimately, be no separation from God for apart from God there is nothing whatsoever. The eternal destruction of the lost is precisely that: eternal. Destroyed, permanently and for ever erased from being. As the old hymnwriter expressed it, “Death of death and hell’s destruction”. A terrible tragedy indeed, but not the monstrous tragedy that traditional views of hell – Jonathan Edwards and his ilk – have turned it into.

    Thanks be to God for such immeasurable grace!

  3. If I refused Jesus’ offer, I wouldn’t count on disappearing in a burst of flame.

    Indeed, Galveston. See what I wrote a few days ago On Being Uncertain, which applies to what I wrote here. A full treatment would of course include a careful look at the passage you quote. Anyway, destruction by fire may be quick, but it is far from painless, as many martyrs no doubt experienced.

    Phil, thank you for that. I didn’t know you were something of an expert on this one. Your old hymnwriter was no doubt alluding to Revelation 20:14, where death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire.

  4. Really interesting stuff, Peter. I had always been taught (and very easily believed) that all ‘real Christians’ (whatever that meant) believed in a literal heaven and hell, and that heaven is where all Christians went for eternity, and hell was where all those who rejected Christ spent eternity.

    I knew of some people who I thought of as ‘fringe’ who believed that all Christians went to heaven, but all of those who rejected Christ were annihilated…but I just thought that those were wackos who didn’t want to believe the truth of God’s word. It turns out that *I* wasn’t so much believing the truth of God’s word, but rather the ‘truth’ of what others *told* me God’s word said. The more that I read the Bible myself…and study it myself…the more I’m not so sure about things.

    The idea though that all of those who accept Christ go to heaven in the end, and that those who reject Christ basically will eventually no longer exist is intriguing…and I think (not) actually possible, though it’s definitely one of those things that I’m not really sure about. I guess that the only thing that I can say for certain at this point is that your best bet is following Jesus to get the best outcome in the next life.

  5. … and bearing in mind that the ‘next’ life is a resurrected life, not some airy-fairy disembodied-spirit-floating-on-a-cloud lark, I’d say it’s the best bet for the best outcome in this life too.

    I’ve long felt that far too much of Christianity is focused on escaping the wrath to come in the hereafter rather than on establishing the kingdom come in the here and now…

  6. You already have my quotation above from Rev. ch 14. Now, turning to Rev. 19:20, we see that the beast and the false prophet are taken at the return of Jesus and cast alive into the lake of fire. Immediately after that,(ch 20) Satan is imprisoned for 1,000 years (Millennial Reign) and then is released for some period time while he makes his one last effort at defeating Christ. At his defeat and the destruction of his army Satan is then finally cast into the lake of fire an brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are.

    Even if you don’t think (as I do) that the beast is a man, I think it is clear that the false prophet is a man. They have both been in the lake of fire for more than 1,000 years, and are still there. If they did not burn up in 1,000 years, then it is reasonable to assume that they will never do so.

    It may be comforting to some to think that if they continue to ignore God, all that will happen is that they will suffer final death. What everyone needs to consider is that the basis for this is rebellion. That is what started this battle between God and Satan in the first place. Only rebels will be in the lake of fire.

  7. Gosh. Thank you for entering this one.

    I cannot say I have a firm view, other than the biblical incompatability of the typical universalist position. So I have looked at Dan’s post with interest. I must read again Rob Bell’s Love Wins and also David Pawson’s “Road to Hell”. He at least while taking the conservative evangelical view in that book, emphasises how Matthew at least is aimed heavily to the Disciples – namely Christians. Ok he is making points for Arminian and pre millenial eschatology as well as his belief in the reality eternal torment .

    My reading for the summer holiday will include Chan and Sprinkle’s “Erasing Hell”. This looks as if it will partly answer Bob Bell with traditional evangelicalism.

    Generally I see a lot of Scriptural sense in what you and Dan are saying. I do have to recall how Jesus did sometimes use the language of being cast out to wailing and gnashing of teeth. I would have thought the implication was that this was eternal, though I am happy to be shown otherwise.

    As to how many face punishment in whatever form. I have read a sermon from Spurgeon and even he, a very strong Calvinist, seemed to feel he would be delighted at how many would “make it”. More than just a few in other words.

    I have also incidentally found Tom Wright’s arguments in , say, “For All the Saints”, and “Surprised by Hope” for what happens to Christians between their earthly death and onwards to the Parousia very convincing. I wish I had found clear evidence of what he concluded about those who die without accepting Christ – to complete the picture.

    I look forward to more comments and will read on. And as Rhea says, best to follow Jesus.

  8. Rhea, I agree. Like you, I wouldn’t want to be too certain, or to let people think they can get off the hook by being annihilated. I would see the torment for the lost as being real but not everlasting.

    Phil, I agree with you too.

    Galveston, I presume you refer to Revelation 20:10, “the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown” (NIV). Now I accept that “had been thrown” is an interpretive addition in a sentence which has no verb in the Greek. KJV instead supplies “are”, in italics. But considering that the previous verb is “was thrown”, and “had been thrown” is known information from 19:20, it is likely that the author intended something like “had been thrown”, and much less likely that he intended “are”, at least in any strong sense implying their continued existence at this time. To put it another way, you are trying to build doctrine on an interpretive addition, marked as such, by the KJV translators.

    Colin, thank you. I too need to read some of these books. As for wailing and gnashing of teeth, I don’t see any clear indication of how long this will last, but please let me know if I have missed something. How many will be saved is really a separate issue – maybe many more than some conservative evangelicals would expect, possibly including *gasp* some who would never have identified themselves as Christians.

  9. I certainly want the annihilationist position to be true. But if we were to look at the scriptural evidence dispassionately, setting aside the horror of eternal conscious punishment, what would we conclude?

    Like many here, I don’t claim to know everything. However, I do know that we as humans tend to believe what we want to believe and that this tendency needs to be guarded against.

  10. Tyson, that’s a good question. But I would suggest that a dispassionate look at the Scriptural evidence would lead to the following conclusions: there is no single clear New Testament teaching on what happens after death, but the dominant picture is that the righteous or justified inherit eternal life, and the wicked who continue to reject God are punished in a painful but temporary way which leads to their destruction. I accept that there are individual passages which seem to conflict with this picture. But none of the teaching is completely clear. Perhaps the only safe thing to say is that we don’t know the details, but only that it won’t be pleasant after death for the wicked.

  11. Why oh why do people believe Universalists state that all will be saved! I would prefer the postion taken by many of the early church Fathers. Apkostais. = The Restoration of ALL things. Remembering Apo means away from. I feel that the desire/will/plan of God is to restore the whole of His creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. So one day IN AN AGE to COME ALL things (including all people) will be restored into a New heaven/earth whatever form that takes. Why should God destroy things he made with passion and love! Why would he banish his beloved creatures for ever and ever? Is he incapble of getting what He wants. He is God!! And he is absloute/uncondtional love! (And that doesn’t mean loosing justice!)

  12. Graham, I accept that it would be more fair to say that some, rather than all, universalists “state that all will be saved”. But this teaching seems to be a major part of Christian universalism at least as popularly understood. See for example the opening of the Wikipedia definition:

    Christian Universalism is a school of Christian theology which includes the belief in the doctrine of universal reconciliation, the view that all human beings or all fallen creatures will ultimately be restored to right relationship with God.

    This article continues to explain how the Christian Universalist Association has a statement of faith including the immortality of the soul and that “all will eventually be reconciled to God without exception”. But implicitly the material world is evil and will be destroyed whereas the only the soul is immortal, an idea from Greek philosophy rather than from Christianity.

    So I think what I wrote is fair to the teachings of at least that group of universalists. And I think it would also characterise the teaching of the groups that same article describes as Evangelical Universalists and Liberal Christian Universalists.

    Now I accept that for many universalists the emphasis is less on individual salvation and more on universal reconciliation. This seems to be what the Wikipedia article calls Charismatic Universalism.

    Graham, I’m not sure if this is the same position as the one you are describing. I can certainly understand why you are attracted by this teaching, especially with its basis in the continuing existence of the created world rather than in the immortality of the soul.

    But when I restore my house, as I am doing at the moment in a small way, I don’t restore every last part. Even the old decorations which I lovingly put up, if they have become damaged, I take away and destroy before replacing them. Similarly, if some of God’s lovingly made creatures become too damaged to repair, when God restores the world as his kingdom he may have to shut them out and destroy them, and replace them with something new and perfect. I accept that he will only do that when he has to, in extreme cases. But the biblical teaching is surely that sometimes he does have to do that.

  13. I have an inkling that the typelogy and symbology used in the NT to describe hell presupposses an ancient world mind-set that is hard for us to access.

    This is not to say that hell does not exist but what it actually meant to the writers as such, can be difficult for us to fully appreciate

  14. Phil, thanks for the recommendation.

    Iconoclast, that’s a good point. I would suggest that the mind-set presupposed is hard for ordinary people to understand, as they presuppose a quite different and more mediaeval idea of hell, whether or not the believe it exists. But this mind-set is, I would suggest, well understood by scholars, who know well the Greek and inter-testamental Jewish ideas which form the background of the New Testament teaching.

  15. Peter,

    I had in mind the passage of Lazarus and the rich man in (Luke 16:19-31). It seems to me that Jesus is supposing a mind set of the Jews concerning the afterlife which seems somewhat alien to us.

    The imagery he used was clearly understood by the Jews (as well what he meant), but I have to say that I always have the feeling I am not fully understanding these particular verses – at least from the point of view of those for whom they were written.

  16. Iconoclast, I’m not surprised you were thinking of that passage. Indeed it is a difficult one for us, because we jump to an immediate conclusion that Lazarus went to heaven and the rich man to hell. But that would not have been the original hearers’ and readers’ conception of what was happening. I’m not an expert on exactly what would have been that conception. But it may be significant that Jesus’ audience at this point is Pharisees (Luke 16:14) who believed in a final resurrection, but I think they would have seen this parable as about the intermediate state, in Sheol or Hades (16:23), before that resurrection.

  17. I offer some thoughts about the rich man and Lazarus.
    I believe that Jesus certainly knew what He was talking about.
    Before the time that Jesus provided our redemption by His sacrifice, wicked souls went to Hell and righteous souls went to Paradise (not Heaven). Even though OT saints were justified by faith in the future Redemption, they could not enter Heaven until that was accomplished.
    After the resurrection of Jesus, Paul informs us that for the believer, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Believers now go into the presence of the Lord immediately after physical death. Paradise is now empty; Jesus led captivity captive. Many OT saints were seen alive in Jerusalem, obviously making them part of the first resurrection, and no longer in Paradise.
    Those in Hell are still there. Hell and the Lake of Fire might be compared to the local jail and prison. Inmates of both are locked up, but prison is for serving the full sentence.
    Paradise is not Heaven, and Hell is not the Lake of Fire.

    To those who say that the story of Lazarus and the rich man is a parable, I would ask just what lesson would be learned different from the obvious literal one?

  18. Galveston, thank you for your speculation. But I don’t see this as aligning with either biblical teaching or the Jewish background thought of Jesus’ time. Where do you find support for your claim that “wicked souls went to Hell”?

  19. “Speculation”?
    Do you really believe Jesus would tell us something that is not true and accurate?
    How do we know the wicked go to Hell? Why do you think the rich man was there?
    Please give references where my speculation does not align with Bible teaching, and we can go from there.

  20. Galveston, read Luke 16:22, in Greek or in a good modern Bible version. The rich man was in Hades, which is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol – compare for example Acts 2:27 “Hades” with the quoted Psalm 16:10 “Sheol” – and note the clear implication in Peter’s teaching in Acts 2:29-31 that David did go to Hades = Sheol.

    I accept that Luke is not clear whether Lazarus was also in Hades, but he seems to have been close enough to the rich man that they could talk, so I would suggest that “Abraham’s bosom” where he was is best understood as a region of Hades.

  21. Peter,
    I believe that Strong’s Hebrew/Greek dictionary is considered accurate.

    The beggar was carried to Abraham’s kolpos which would most likely be “bay” in this instance. That makes sense as we see a separation from the place of torment while still in the same general location.
    The word “died” is apothnesko. This incidentally proves that death does not mean the cessation of being.

    I confess I don’t understand what you are getting at in Lu 16:22.

    In the following verse (vs 23), the word is haides, meaning the place or state of departed souls. Again, no extinction of being.

    In the OT. the word translated hell is sheowl, as you said. The world of the dead, not indicating whether pleasant or painful.

    In the NT I find 3 words translated hell.
    1. Geena (gheh’-en-nah). The local garbage dump where a fire was always burning. Jesus used it to illustrate the fate of rebels.
    2. Haides; the place (state) of departed souls.
    3. Tartaroo; (the deepest abyss of Hades) to incarcerate in eternal torment. Found only in reference to fallen angels. (2 Pet 2:4)

    As to the OP, no matter how you read it, the rich man was in the place of departed souls with memory and senses intact, was being tormented in flames, and belatedly became concerned with his brothers who would soon join him.

    Can you cite any Bible passage that teaches that the soul of man ever ceases to exist? I really can’t think of one.

    BTW, I don’t understand why we should be concerned with the mind-set of the Jews of Jesus’ day. He had to correct their thinking on numerous occasions.


  22. Galveston, I do not consider Strong’s dictionary accurate. It may have been very good when it was produced perhaps 150 years ago, and it may still be a valuable resource for those who have nothing better, but advances in scholarship since its time have rendered it obsolete.

    Sorry, “Hades” is in 16:23, but compare with 16:22.

    I don’t see how the kolpos of a person can be a “bay”. People don’t have bays, but they do have bosoms, or perhaps laps. I accept that the word has both meanings, in the New Testament, but the choice between them has to come from the context. But I don’t object to the suggestion that this was a region of Hades.

    My main grounds for rejecting your interpretation is that this passage is not about anyone’s ultimate fate but about the intermediate state before the final resurrection. There was clear common ground between Jesus’ adversaries here the Pharisees and the early Christians, that the dead would not remain for ever in Sheol/Hades but would be raised and then judged.

    I can cite for you several Bible passages stating that the lost will be destroyed. Start with John 3:16, where the verb usually translated “perish” is the passive form of a verb meaning “destroy”. Then see Matthew 10:28 which explicit speaks of God destroying (same verb) souls as well as bodies, and names the place of destruction, Gehenna.

    Meanwhile can you cite any Bible passage that teaches that no human soul ever ceases to exist? Not just surviving death, but also surviving “the second death” in the fires of Gehenna or the lake of fire? “I really can’t think of one.”

  23. Peter,
    It looks like you are asking me to prove a negative.
    I merely refer you back to the verses from Rev. that I posted earlier. They are very specific.

    If the Bible does not mean what it says, then we all have a big problem.

  24. There are none so blind as those who will not see…

    I shall say no more as I find that banging my head against brick walls causes headaches and dizziness 🙂

  25. Phil, I take your point, but I think there are still some issues here which need addressing.

    No, Galveston, I am asking you for positive biblical support for the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, which would go against the evidence I have given that the souls of the lost are destroyed. If Matthew 10:28 doesn’t mean what it says, we have a big problem.

    Of the verses in Revelation you mention, I have already shown that 20:10 is mistranslated in KJV. But I accept that 14:10-11 is difficult for my position. This seems to be a description of the same lake of sulphur as mentioned in 19:20 and 20:10. I could say that it doesn’t actually say that the torment lasts “for ever and ever”, but only that its smoke rises for that time. But I don’t think that is a good way to get round its teaching.

    Perhaps a more useful approach would be to consider what “for ever and ever”, literally “into ages of ages”, really means in that context. Surely in the context of Revelation even this lake of fire is part of “the old order of things” which will pass away when the new heaven and the new earth come (21:4). Indeed that verse explicitly states that there will be no more pain, which contradicts any teaching of eternal punishment.

    I’m not saying there are any easy answers here, or that I can prove my case with certainty. See my recent post On Being Uncertain, which applies here. But I think you should realise that your position is also far from certain, and that there is at least as much biblical teaching that seems to go against it as seems to support it.

  26. As with many other passages in the Bible understanding the mind set of those for whom it was written has to be an essential prerequisite for getting at the meaning of what particular verses mean.

    The so called ‘plain meaning of the text’ is far from plain if it is decontextualised from its setting and often leads to erroneous or even bizarre interpretations. The various narratives we read in the scripture were called forth from a particular perspective that may or may not be applicable to today.

    This is not saying they are not relevant now yet clearly, some verses in the Bible are no longer significant. It would be interesting for example to see an exegesis on Tim 4:13 and applied to modern life (although I guess there might be some who would attempt to uncover some hidden spiritual meaning in cloaks).

    To negotiate our way intelligently through difficult and obscure passages we must endeavour first to discover the original intent of the biblical text. This is the ‘plain meaning’.
    We cannot start with a contemporary understanding or bring what we think hell may be to the text, without first being sure what it meant to the Jews to whom Jesus was addressing.

    In the case of the rich man and Lazarus then I am far from appreciating its import to the Jews in the way Jesus meant for them, although the passage does tell me something about the nature of sin and judgment in a more general sense.

  27. Thank you, Iconoclast. I agree. Your points clearly apply to understanding Revelation as well as Luke. It would be interesting to find out the role of the lake of fire and sulphur in Jewish writings of the time, if it had any such role. Was it generally understood as a place of torment or of destruction? I don’t know. Nor does Wikipedia, but is its silence on this matter definitive? There is at least a destructive fire in Ezekiel 28:22 and 2 Esdras 13:10-11, but this is a breath or stream rather than a lake, compare also 2 Thessalonians 2:8.

    Note also that in Mark 9:43 Jesus identifies Gehenna as a place of fire, so probably to be identified at least symbolically with the lake of fire. Compare also the destruction, not eternal torment, of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and sulphur.

  28. No one thought of Gehenna — Jerusalem’s rubbish tip — as a place where trash was preserved; it was thrown there to be destroyed, for ever. The flames went up for ever because there was an endless supply of the stuff, not because the garbage was indestructible. Eternal destruction is precisely that: destruction that cannot be reversed. It is, quite literally, destroyed for ever.

  29. Phil, I agree with you. But that doesn’t actually solve the issue with Revelation 14:10-11, as presumably there is nothing more to be thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur once the new heaven and new earth arrive, so the fire can be expected to go out and the smoke to stop rising.

  30. One word, four syllables: hyperbole.

    In Revelation, as in other apocalyptic literature, everything is hyped up to the max, points intentionally overemphasised. To construct any sort of doctrine on the basis of such literary constructs is, at best, folly…

    In certain respects, Revelation mirrors Genesis: we begin Scripture with primordial myth; we end it with eschatalogical myth. A magnificent chiasm, pointing towards that which is at the centre … or rather, towards He Whom is at the centre: Jesus, the man who explodes into humanity, disrupts our concepts of God, destroys death, wrecks Satan’s ruination of the universe and presses the reset button: kaboom. It’s all blown apart and reassembled. In this matter of hell and humanity’s final destiny we need as much if not more quantum thinking than anywhere else. Eternal life is God’s gift in Christ; and those who spurn that gift shall not have it. End of story, beginning of eternity.

    How can this be? Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. Jesus remembers, even as he storms death’s doors and tears down the curtain in the Temple; and it is only those whom Jesus remembers who shall rise on the last day … who have risen already. Do not look around you and ask, where is he? The Kingdom of God is here, now, amongst us… and hell is harrowed, ploughed under, and nothing shall remain of that terrible legacy.

  31. Yes, Phil, very likely hyperbole.

    Actually I am warming to the view that the everlasting smoke in 14:11 is a symbol of the lasting effects and memory of the torment and destruction of the wicked. If the writer had wanted to say that the torment lasted for ever, there are more direct ways of saying that.

  32. Phil Groom hilights the division within what is called Christianity.

    The idea that Genesis and Revelation are just hyperbole is definitely not an evangelical concept. If that is so, then maybe all the rest is hyperbole too. All we have left is the leather cover.

    As an evangelical believer, among other Scripture, I accept the following:
    2 Peter 1:21. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

    Once you surrender the idea that the Bible is inspired by God Himself, you have nothing more than man’s ideas, both ancient and modern.

    How can Phil dismiss Genesis and Revelation as mere primordal myth and hyperbole and then assure us that he believes that the words attributed to Jesus are accruate?

    Maybe that is myth also.


  33. Galveston, I would call your position fundamentalist rather than historic mainstream evangelical. And yes, this discussion highlights the division between fundamentalists who try to read the Bible as if it were a 19th century text book and the historic tradition of the church which has always recognised the Bible for what it is, a collection of literature of different genres with different intentions, united in being inspired by God, and profitable not for detailed speculation about the past or the future, but for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

  34. *sigh* … why, oh why must conservative evangelicals always insist on throwing out the baby with the bathwater? I’ve lost track of the number of conversations I’ve had along these lines…

    Galveston, brother (or sister, as the case may be), I have not said that Genesis and Revelation are “just hyperbole” or “mere primordial myth” — rather, they contain these elements. Both works are literary constructs, polemical thrusts against the surrounding cultures: in the case of Genesis, offering alternatives to the other Ancient Near Eastern narratives; in the case of Revelation, against the Roman Empire.

    Recognising the genre of the literature we are dealing with does not imply any sort of dismissal of it.

    Granted, I am not an evangelical; but that does not imply that I take scripture any less seriously than you; but my faith is not constructed around any doctrine of biblical infallibility/inerrancy or whatever you may please to call it. God is revealed not so much in scripture as in our wrestling with scripture; but this is another topic entirely, and I won’t abuse Peter’s hospitality by going off on a tangent about the nature of the Bible, let alone its binding and what holds it all together.

    As to what accrues in the teaching of Jesus — indeed, a most interesting typo there…


  35. Actually, I am Pentecostal (in the generic sense).
    Ok, we will just have to agree to disagree and can do so without rancor.


  36. Revelation 14:11 and 20:10 do not pose significant problems for conditionalism. And it is interesting that the absolute best prooftexts for everlasting torment come from apocalyptic, symbolic visions in the book of Revelation, the one genre which we ought not take at face value. All of the simple, straightforward passages that describe final punishment do so using words such as death, die, perish, destroy, destruction, consume, abolish, etc.

    I’ll deal with Revelation 14:11 here because others have indicated that it’s problematic. If you want to hear my take on 20:10, we can do that after we’ve come to some agreement on 14:11.

    And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.

    This language is a direct allusion to the destruction of Edom predicted in the book of Isaiah (in fact, the key to properly interpreting Revelation in general is understanding all of the Old Testament allusions and references).

    Isaiah 34:9-10:

    And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into sulfur; her land shall become burning pitch. Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it forever and ever.

    No Christian that I’m aware of contends that Edom is still burning to this day, even though the text says that the smoke of its burning will go up forever. We recognize that this is simply apocalyptic, hyperbolic judgement imagery that is found throughout Scripture and that it is not intended to be taken literally.

    We see a repetition of this language later on in Revelation. In 19:3, regarding the great city Bablyon, the multitude cries out:

    Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.

    But we know that the fate of Babylon is complete and total destruction. In 18:21 were are told this explicitly:

    Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more.”

    And again, no Christian that I’m aware of believes that the great city will be on fire and give off smoke forever, even though the text says that its smoke will go up forever. Traditionalists, when they are not trying to defend their doctrine, instinctively see this language for what it is: apocalyptic, hyperbolic judgement language that we ought not take literally.

    Of course, some traditionalists will come up with contrived and ad hoc reasons for taking the language of Revelation 14:11 literally, while at the same time not taking the language of Isaiah 34:10 and Revelation 19:3 literally, but it’s pretty obvious that they are simply using an inconsistent hermeneutic in order to maintain their doctrinal precommitments instead of allowing the text to speak for itself.

  37. Ronnie, well said: thank you.

    Galveston: my apologies; Banana was my perverse sense of humour responding to your Maranatha. Bananas are slippery things, you see, like me; people trip up on their leavings…

  38. Phil, thank you. I don’t entirely agree with you, but I feel closer to you than to Galveston on this issue.

    Ronnie, thank you for your very helpful comment, and especially for the reference to Isaiah 34.

  39. This is a fascinating thread. I also appreciate Ronnie’s reference to Edom in Isaiah 34 as helping to shed light on the similar passage in Revelation.

    As I’ve said earlier, I’m on the fence but tending toward the traditional understanding because I distrust my own inclination to innovate in order to minimize the horror of everlasting punishment. That said, I would like to share a brief essay from Douglas Moo in which he addresses annihilationism starting on page 12: http://www.scribd.com/doc/51065259/Paul-on-Hell

    Looking only a Paul’s letters, Moo concludes: “The wicked, Paul suggests, do not simply cease to exist; they undergo “eternal ruin,” punishment, and exclusion from God’s presence as long as the new age shall last.”

  40. Thank you, Tyson. Moo’s article is interesting, and useful for this discussion in its treatment of the Jewish background. But I am not ultimately convinced by his arguments. I can agree with him that the words translated “destruction” etc do not necessarily imply complete annihilation. But neither do they rule it out. So the best conclusion we can come to from Paul’s teaching is that he doesn’t come down clearly on either side on this issue.

  41. I really need to finish writing my article on 2 Thessalonians 1:9, as it comes up over and over again in online discussions!

    For the time being, I’ll just assert that the preposition “from” (Greek apo) found in that verse is one of source/origin and not separation. The Greek literally reads, “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.” The older, more literal translations render it accurately. The ESV’s alternate rendering is perfect: “everlasting destruction that comes from the presence of the Lord.” Incidentally, I just recently spoke with a member of the ESV translation committee and he assured me that they would make this an agenda item for their next meeting.

    If I’m right about apo then Moo’s entire argument collapses. The NIV completely butchers the verse as “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord.” Not surprisingly, traditionalists (like Moo) will rely on this translation when arguing from 2 Thessalonians 1:9. The simple fact is that, setting this verse aside, Paul says nothing at all that even remotely sounds like everlasting torment in any of his letters.

    Moo actually helps the conditionalist case when he explains what the “destruction” words mean:

    In other words, these key terms appear to be used in general much like we use the word “destroy” in the sentence, “The tornado destroyed the house.” The component parts of that house did not cease to exist, but the entity “house,” a structure that provides shelter for human beings, ceased to exist.

    Precisely! No conditionalist (or “annihilationist”) is committed to the proposition that humans beings will just wink out of existence. They will be slain, slaughtered and consumed by fire. Yes, component “parts” such as corpses, ashes, or even atoms may still exist, but the entity “living human person” will cease to be.

    It’s outrageous, the gymnastics that Moo goes through in order to redefine a simple word like “destruction” to: “the end of any prospect of a meaningful relationship with God” (pg 106).

  42. While I have no interest in assuming any position here, I am however absolutely intrigued by some of the interpretative comments presented.

    So Phil Groom would have us believe that “Jerusalem’s rubbish tip” precludes any possibility that torment could be of any enduring nature.

    And Ronnie seems to want to prove a negative: The fact that nobody knows if Edom is actually burning or not today proves that it isn’t burning. And since nobody seems to believe that Babylon could be in a similar state of burning, then it can’t be. And he also seems to suggest that continual smoke is somehow mutually exclusive with complete and total destruction.

    Has anyone even bothered to notice that “trash” and physical stuff is neither mortal nor immortal?

    Phil, I could *sigh* as well, but I don’t think Jesus would approve.

  43. And Ronnie seems to want to prove a negative: The fact that nobody knows if Edom is actually burning or not today proves that it isn’t burning.

    That’s not my argument. Please read my comments with care and portray them charitably. Edom is, in fact, not burning today. Anyone can visit the land and observe for themselves.

    More to the point, however, was that traditionalists are embarrassingly inconsistent when it comes to interpreting some hyperbolic judgement passages literally but not others.

    And many negatives can absolutely be proven. Whoever told you that “one can never prove a negative” was wrong, and obviously so.

    And he also seems to suggest that continual smoke is somehow mutually exclusive with complete and total destruction.

    I actually said the opposite; that the perpetually rising smoke of Edom and Babylon are indicative of their complete destruction and not their continual burning.

  44. Thank you, Ronnie. But I don’t see Moo’s position on apo meaning separation as in any way going against annihilationism. Just as unclean bodies were burned outside the camp and garbage was burned in Gehenna outside Jerusalem, so surely the destruction of the wicked takes place away from the presence of God. That does not imply that they remain in that place for ever.

    Robert, I think Ronnie has already fully answered your points. Anyway, I don’t think Phil or I, not sure about Ronnie, claim that any argument “precludes any possibility that torment could be of any enduring nature”. My position is that these arguments imply that on the balance of probabilities annihilationism is more likely true than eternal destruction. I don’t think we can preclude any possibilities on matters like this until we see for ourselves on judgment day.

  45. I struggle with the term “annihilationism” … it tends to imply the destruction of something that might otherwise endure, and too easily lends support to the notion of an immortal soul, a concept that is foreign to scripture: God alone is immortal, declares Paul.

    We human beings are ephemeral, like dust: we pass through life like aeroplanes through the sky, making a huge amount of noise and leaving a vapour trail in our wake; and like those vapour trails, we are soon lost from sight, forgotten … unless someone comes along with a camera and captures the image. This, I think, is what God does for us in Christ; and those who are not captured by Christ cannot, in turn, be set free by him: their vapour trails fade, a distant memory, wiped from history.

    The biblical writers recognise and explore the concept of hell as a continuous abode of the wicked, but ultimately they reject it in favour of their complete destruction: in the age to come, within the absolute terms of eternity, evil is not merely subjugated, controlled or contained but eliminated by Christ, who becomes all in all. It does no good to speak in terms of hell as a place of separation from God; this is manifest nonsense, a mere word game: in God we live and move and have our being — “if I go down to the depths of Sheol, you are there also.”

    There is no empty space where the wicked dead can be contained: if the wicked dead continue to exist it is God who holds them in existence; it is God who actively chooses to maintain their state of being. Let us not pretend otherwise: if we say that we believe in the everlasting torments of the damned, then we are saying that we believe in a God who actively punishes temporal crimes with infinite penalties; and this flies in the face of God’s own law, which declares that punishment should fit the crime: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. This law was given intentionally, a polemical thrust against the surrounding culture of the Babylonians and others, where punishments that were out of all proportion to the crimes committed could be meted out. Not amongst you, declares God: amongst my people, there shall be no excess of punishment. This was one of the distinctive features of ancient Israel, one of the things that set them apart, that made theirs a fair and just society.

    Are we truly to believe that God sets his own scales of justice aside when the final judgement comes? Of course not. Our God is not a monster, and Jesus resets the scales of justice to yet an even higher standard when he instructs his disciples that an eye for eye is no longer acceptable: “But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer.”

    What? Is Jesus going to tell us this, then himself set up a realm where he resists evildoers for ever? Certainly not.

    God is love; and in love, no evil can abide. Know Christ, know life; no Christ, no life. This is the New Testament’s verdict: those apart from Christ shall not endure; and those in Christ shall have life, and have it abundantly.

  46. Thank you, Phil.

    Well, I could say that the basis for the New Testament teaching that we should not exercise vengeance is in God’s word “It is mine to avenge” (Romans 12:19). But that certainly doesn’t justify infinite punishment for finite sins.

    I agree with your critique of the term “annihilationism”. A better alternative which some use is “conditional immortality”.

  47. Peter, you said: “Ronnie, I think Robert has already fully answered your points.”

    Did you mean to say, “Robert, I think Ronnie has already fully answered your points”?

  48. Ronnie, thanks for clarifying your position. If there was any misunderstanding, it was unintentional. I did tread very carefully by saying what I thought you *seemed* to be saying, not what you intended to say.

    Nor did I claim that one can’t prove a negative, indeed I agree one can, but I would say it is highly unusual to do so in religious matters.

    However, you did claim that “the perpetually rising smoke of Edom and Babylon are indicative of their complete destruction and not their continual burning.” But this seems to be completely against scripture.

    Rev 18:9 And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning,

    Rev 18:18 And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!

    Indeed, where there is smoke there is fire. Regardless of our differences, I would still welcome your explanation of Rev 20:10, which I trust is more robust.

  49. But this seems to be completely against scripture.

    No, I’m just recognizing that symbolic, hyperbolic figures of speech ought not be taken literally. Every single exegete, commentator, and theologian that I’m aware of recognizes that the description of smoke rising forever in Isaiah 34 should not be taken literally. The land that was formerly called Edom is in modern-day Jordan. It is not on fire and it is inhabited by humans (contrary to the letter of the prophecy which states, “none shall pass through it forever and ever”).

    If you choose to believe that, despite appearances, Edom is in fact still uninhabited, burning, and giving off smoke, that’s your prerogative. But it seems to me a high price to pay for wanting to be able to claim Revelation 14:11 as a prooftext for everlasting torment.

    So, if you would, please answer yes or no: Is the land formerly called Edom still burning today? Has anyone passed through it since it was destroyed well over 2000 years ago? If you answer yes to these questions, then it means that you and I trade in parallel universes and it probably will not be profitable for us to continue. That said, I don’t believe for a second that you honestly believe the answer to either question is “yes.”

  50. Robert, have you considered and responded to my point about Revelation 20:10, namely that the only evidence for anyone’s continued existence in the lake of fire is a word in italics added by the KJV translators?

  51. Ronnie, my answer is “no”. But does it really matter? Would the theological perspective really change even if there happened to be a volcano on that very spot? Are we actually relying on accurate historical data to prove or disprove something that is mentioned in Revelation, or Isaiah for that matter?

    With all due respect, Ronnie, I still find it intriguing that such analysis is to be found in a discussion about mortality. And on the other hand, you seem to have no problem in accusing Moo of “gymnastics”.

  52. Ronnie, Are you certain that the destructiion fortold about Edom has already been fulfilled? There will be some literally earth-shaking events during the Great Tribulation. Ditto for the destruction of Babylon.

    As for duration of punishment in Hell. How long was the rich man there? He was there at least long enough to plead with Abraham. Was his sentence one hour? One year? Is he still there?

    Under those conditions, I expect anyone would think they had been there forever, regardless of the time expired.

    Quote from Peter:Galveston, I presume you refer to Revelation 20:10, “the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown” (NIV). Now I accept that “had been thrown” is an interpretive addition in a sentence which has no verb in the Greek. KJV instead supplies “are”, in italics. But considering that the previous verb is “was thrown”, and “had been thrown” is known information from 19:20, it is likely that the author intended something like “had been thrown”, and much less likely that he intended “are”, at least in any strong sense implying their continued existence at this time. To put it another way, you are trying to build doctrine on an interpretive addition, marked as such, by the KJV translators.

    Peter, it looks to me that “had been thrown” is just as much a matter in interpretation as the word “are” is. If the Beast and the False Prophet have been burned up for about 1,000 yeare, why bother to even mention them? After all, they do not define the Lake of Fire.

  53. Galveston, the rich man wasn’t in the place of final punishment, Gehenna/lake of fire, but in Hades/Sheol, the intermediate place before the general resurrection. So the time he was there has no bearing on the issue of how long the final punishment takes.

    Yes, “had been thrown” is an interpretive addition, but it is at least information that is already known from the context. The KJV addition “are”, at least if interpreted in the way you seem to as implying continued conscious existence, is new information not stated anywhere else. That makes the NIV addition a better translation choice. But the real point is that the text certainly does not say that the beast and the false prophet continued to exist in the lake of sulphur, still less that they were conscious. It simply means that this was the same lake of sulphur referred to in connection with the beast and the false prophet.

  54. my answer is “no”
    Great, so then you agree that the imagery of Isaiah 34 shouldn’t be taken literally. Now you need to explain why you inconsistently take the identical language found in Revelation 14 literally.

    Are we actually relying on accurate historical data to prove or disprove something that is mentioned in Revelation, or Isaiah for that matter?

    I’m merely pointing out the absurdity of taking such language literally. Nobody is “disproving” anything. I read hyperbolic judgment language and take it for what it is. You, on the other hand, read the same language and push to literal level that creates absurdities out of the text, or at least, you do so when you have a traditional doctrine that you want to defend.

    And on the other hand, you seem to have no problem in accusing Moo of “gymnastics”.

    But you just admitted that you agree with me about Isaiah 34. You see, the only difference between you and me is that I am consistent. You pick and choose when to take hyperbolic judgment language literally and when to take it figuratively. Why do you do that?

  55. Ronnie, Are you certain that the destructiion fortold about Edom has already been fulfilled?

    Yes. Edom as a nation no longer exists. This is universally acknowledged. The fact that you would question this strikes as desperate.

    So I ask you the same question that I asked Robert: Is the land formerly called Edom still burning today? Has anyone passed through it since it was destroyed well over 2000 years ago?

  56. Ronnie, I’m not agreeing with Moo either. I’m just saying that we all have our own perspectives of what other people say, whether they are right or wrong.

    You asked me a question and I have already answered it. But you failed to answer one of mine: Would your theological perspective really change even if there happened to be a volcano or sulphur pit in that very place?

  57. I don’t know what you mean by “theological perspective.” Isaiah 34 says nothing about a volcano, so that’s neither here nor there. But yes, if the land formerly called Edom was still burning, and if it remained uninhabited and
    unpassed-through to the present day, then—all else being equal—I would be much more likely to assume that the language of Revelation 14:11 will also have a literal fulfillment.

    So are we all now in agreement that hyperbolic, apocalyptic, judgement imagery as found in Isaiah 34 ought not be interpreted literally?

  58. Yes, agreed about Isaiah 34. However, any physical observation about this has little, if any, bearing on my reading of Revelation, and certainly no bearing on my understanding of mortality.

    Have you considered the implications, if any, for the original audience?

  59. In my first comment I made it very clear that I had no interest in assuming any position with respect to this topic. Nevertheless, I read the comments in this post just to check out some of the reasoning that people might use to support their views. This led me to ask the following question, which to this point nobody has acknowledged, let alone tried to challenge: Has anyone even bothered to notice that “trash” and physical stuff is neither mortal nor immortal? That’s the nub of the matter as far as I’m concerned. Why should I be expected to answer any more questions when my own is being dodged?

    Since Revelation appears to be a highly allegorical work, one may argue that you don’t need any reason whatsoever to see things figuratively. Personally, I don’t really care whether you hold to amillennialism, premillenialism or whatever. Nobody is going to successfully build a doctrine on Revelation, to the same extent that nobody can build a doctrine on a parable. Now, of course, I could be wrong. So if anyone wants to keep trying, please, go ahead.

  60. Robert, on my part – obviously I can’t speak for anyone else — it’s not a question of “dodging” your question as “So what?” … I fail to see any relevance to it, especially when we are (as you yourself point out) dealing in the language of hyperbole, metaphor and parable. If I tell a story about a lamppost, for instance, the fact that a lamppost is not a living creature is utterly irrelevant to the story’s validity.

  61. Exactly, Phil, so let’s not stretch the analogy. But unlike lamposts, it’s like trying to use the parable of the prodigal son to prove that the son never lost his salvation because he was still called a son. But that’s entirely irrelevant to this post.

  62. Robert, thank you for making that point. But, like Phil, I fail to see its relevance. A soul or human life is alive, and so must be either mortal or immortal – or intrinsically mortal unless and until granted immortality. Arguably a corpse, or for that matter the body of a living human, is simply material and so neither mortal nor immortal, but that is not really the point here.

  63. Why should I be expected to answer any more questions when my own is being dodged?

    Wait, what? I entered this thread specifically to answer challenges related to Revelation 14:11 and 20:10. You responded to my comments and apparently took exception with what I had to say about Revelation 14:11 and its obvious connection to Isaiah 34. So that’s what you and I have been discussing. I’m not sure why you would think I have any sort of obligation to answer your seemingly random question about whether or not trash is mortal.

    And no, that question is not the “nub” of the matter. I’ve read, or at least am familiar with, most of the contemporary literature on this topic and have not once heard that question brought up by anyone, on either side of the issue.

  64. Why should I be expected to answer any more questions when my own is being dodged?

    Robert, I could say the same about my specific question to you concerning Revelation 20:10, a verse you had earlier appealed to. Ronnie, you haven’t given your promised take on this verse either. Maybe you are convinced by my demolition of the argument that this implies continued existence in the lake of sulphur, but if so, please say so!

  65. I held off because I prefer to discuss one passage at a time. I should first comment on something a previous commenter said:

    Even if you don’t think (as I do) that the beast is a man, I think it is clear that the false prophet is a man.

    People who say things like this either haven’t actually read Revelation, or haven’t read it carefully. The beast and false prophet mentioned in Revelation 19 and 20 are described in Revelation 13. Here is the description of the beast (13:1-2):

    And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth.

    Here is the description of the false prophet (13:11):

    Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon.

    Clearly not humans. The response at this point is typically, “well, they represent individual human beings.” Great, so now we recognize that the beast and false prophet are symbols and not actual human beings.

    In fact, the beast and false prophet do not represent individual human beings at all. They are symbols which represent corporate entities. The beast, for instance, is commonly interpreted as the Roman Empire or ungodly kingdoms throughout history. The false prophet is often interpreted as the false religion of emperor worship under the Roman Empire, or false religion throughout history.

    Not surprisingly, the imagery of beasts which represent corporate entities is not original to Revelation. This language is taken directly from the book of Daniel. In chapter seven, Daniel describes a vision of various beasts coming out of the sea. Those beasts are later explicitly interpreted as representing kingdoms, with the horns representing individual kings. Interestingly, the first beast of Revelation 13 seems to be an amalgam of the first three beasts of Daniel 7.

    So in Revelation 20:10, John describes a vision of two beasts and a dragon being tormented in a lake of fire. Our interpretive task is to interpret the vision as a whole. It is completely illegitimate to say something like “oh, it means that the members of the kingdom will be tormented forever!” You can’t arbitrarily interpret one part of the vision (the torment) as being a literal description of the future. Consider again Daniel’s vision of the fourth beast (7:11):

    I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire.

    It would not be legitimate to conclude from this, “oh, that means that all the individual human members of the kingdom will be killed and burned with fire.” And in fact, we learn in 7:26 that the vision represents the destruction and end of the kingdom.

    Interestingly, most traditionalists acknowledge that the beasts are symbols and that the lake of fire is a symbol, but then they inexplicably demand that the part about torment be taken literally! They will then go one step further and apply the part about torment to the humans found in 20:15, even though John goes out of his way to explicitly interpret the lake of fire symbol whenever humans are mentioned (20:14, 21:8): The lake of fire is the second death.

    This follows the standard interpretation formula found in apocalyptic literature of [symbol] IS [reality]. For example:

    Dan 8:21: the goat is the king of Greece
    Zech 5:8: [the woman in the basket] is wickedness
    Rev 5:8: [the] golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
    Rev 19:8: the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints

    So what does being thrown into a lake of fire represent? The meaning of the lake of fire should be consistent and work for everything that is said to be thrown into it. Corporate entities and empires cannot be tormented. Death and Hades cannot be tormented. But demons, empires, religious systems, death, the intermediate state and human beings can all come to an end.

    That what the lake of fire is, an end.

  66. Thank you, Ronnie. I agree that the beast and the false prophet are symbolic, and in the general principles of your interpretation. I chose not to answer Galveston in this way, a long way back in this thread, because I thought it easier to prove that the verse says nothing about the continued existence of the beast and the prophet.

  67. Gentlemen, I would not take exception to this, but I would simply ask, how accurate do you believe this reading of mortality is, especially in view of the following:

    Mat 25:45 Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    Here we have Jesus’ allegory of the “sheep and goats”. In Matthew 13, we also find a similar parable, that of the “wheat and tares”. There, I don’t think we read anything specific about the mortality of the “tares” or the immortality of the “wheat”. The parable of the “wheat and tares” was not meant to convey anything about mortality. That’s what I meant by physical stuff being intrinsically neither mortal nor immortal. However, Jesus’ explanation of his own allegory in Matthew 25 appears to be very clear.

    Again, I still hold neither position. That is, I do have reservations about building a bulletproof doctrine on a highly allegorical book. But would anyone be inclined to judge my reading of Matthew 25:46 as naive, if I happen to take it literally?

  68. Robert, you write “I do have reservations about building a bulletproof doctrine on a highly allegorical book”. Agreed. But then you are trying to build your doctrine instead on a gospel passage which you yourself call “Jesus’ allegory”. Indeed “The parable of the “wheat and tares” was not meant to convey anything about mortality”. And I would say the same about the parable of the sheep and the goats.

    Yes, some go to “eternal punishment”. But what does that mean? No explanation in this verse, which is the only one in the Bible where the phrase is used. The closest parallel is “the punishment of eternal fire” in Jude 7, and Jesus also talks elsewhere about the lost being destroyed by fire and in Gehenna. In these passages, what seems to be eternal is not the torment of an individual but the existence of the destroying fire and the consequences of the punishment. At least, I would claim, this is a plausible explanation, if not a definitely provable one, of the relevant Bible verses.

  69. Peter, I would say that it’s an allegory, not a parable. The two are quite distinct. The symbols are clearly defined. And his final conclusion is very plain, if not plainly clear. But, yes, I agree with you, what does “eternal” mean? I am reluctant to derive this from a prophetic or highly symbolic book. And, by the way, I think a teaching does not have to occur more than once in order for it to be true.

  70. Thank you, Robert. My point about the teaching only appearing once was not that it is not true, but that there are no clear parallels to show more precisely what it means.

  71. Hi, Ronnie.

    So the false prophet is not a man? You quote Rev. 13:11 but did you miss those verses (vs. 12 – 16) that tell us what the false prophet will do? All those actions could only apply to a man. I give you vs. 13, but don’t want to type the others.

    Rev. 13:13
    And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men.

    As to the Beast. You are certainly correct that the beasts that Daniel saw represented kingdoms. But kingdoms have a man at the head, do they not? God told Nebuchadnezzar that he was the head of gold on that metal man, even though Babylon had been a kingdom long before he was born.

    Alexander was the man at the head of the he-goat, Greece.

    The Beast of Revelation is indeed a political entity, but the man heading it is also called the Beast, and the Man of Sin (2 Th 2:3), and quite possibly, The Assyrian.

    Of course, my original post was that these two men were still in torment at the end of 1,000 years. If they were burned to extinction, as you say, then why would the idea of continual smoke from their torment even be expressed in the first place?

    Robert gives a good reference (Mat 25:46).

    I happen to believe that God has given us the Bible so that we can understand what He promises, what is required of us, and what penalties there are for rebellion. If we can’t take the Bible as written, then whose ideas must we accept? Let’s not complicate simplicity.

  72. You quote Rev. 13:11 but did you miss those verses (vs. 12 – 16) that tell us what the false prophet will do? All those actions could only apply to a man.

    This shows a radical misunderstanding of how this type of symbolism works. It’s like saying, “the prostitute of Revelation 17 obviously isn’t a symbol representing a corporate entity (a city). She is said to commit fornication, and we know that cities can’t do that!”

    That’s the entire point. The corporate entity is symbolized by an individual. And that individual is, not surprisingly, depicted as acting like an individual.

    The false prophet is a symbol. It is an animal (“beast”) with two horns. Horns represent individual leaders or rulers of a corporate entity. It is symbol for a corporate entity.

    But kingdoms have a man at the head, do they not?

    Absolutely. But how does that impact my argument? The symbols still represent corporate entities.

    but the man heading it is also called the Beast

    Again, the men heading the Beast are represented by horns.

    Of course, my original post was that these two men were still in torment at the end of 1,000 years. If they were burned to extinction, as you say, then why would the idea of continual smoke from their torment even be expressed in the first place?

    It almost as if you haven’t read anything I’ve written. Very frustrating, and it makes me question the value in me continuing with you.

    If we can’t take the Bible as written, then whose ideas must we accept? Let’s not complicate simplicity.

    The book of Revelation is very complex. It is not simple and it is not easy to understand. That said, most descriptions of the fate which awaits unbelievers are very simple:

    For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

    For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Believers will live forever. Unbelievers will perish. Perish does not, cannot, and will never mean “be alive forever in torment.” Let’s not complicate simplicity.

  73. Regarding Matthew 25:46

    Conditionalists agree that the punishment is everlasting. We just don’t agree that the punishment consists of torment. The punishment is death. It will be an everlasting death (as opposed, for instance, to the first death which is undone at the resurrection).

    Matthew 25:46 only works as an argument against conditionalism is we go into it assuming that the punishment is pain or suffering of some sort.

  74. Peter, regarding your take on Revelation 20:10. The vast majority of English translations render the second part of the verse as, “and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Now I haven’t studied the Greek myself, but my hunch is that there is strong grammatical warrant for the plural pronoun, which would explain the consensus in translation. That said, I’m willing to look into it more. Are you aware of anyone else who makes this argument?

    Also, this argument would, at best, leave us with a partial conditionalism, which would still see demons as being tormented forever. I think that’s problematic for a number of reasons.

  75. Side note: “Cities can’t commit fornication”. Sure they can.
    The Greek word for “fornication” does not have to mean sexual intercourse. It can be used for idolatry. That is likely what it means with reference to Babylon the Great as it would make perfect sense.

  76. 1. Cities can’t commit idolatry. People commit idolatry.
    2. As far as the imagery is concerned, sex is undoubtedly what’s in view. The prostitute is said to have committed immortally with the kings of the earth:

    Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.”, Revelation 17:1-2

    That is what prostitutes do, after all.

  77. Ronnie, I had looked mainly at the earlier part of Revelation 20:10 because that was what Galveston quoted, much earlier. As for the last part, yes there is a “they” in the Greek, but it is unclear who it refers back to: the nations, as at the beginning of the verse, who have already been devoured by fire from heaven (v.9, literally “eaten up”), or the beast and the false prophet, plus perhaps the devil. But, as you say, these are most likely symbolic entities rather than real individual humans.

  78. Hmmm… the immortality of immorality … some typos are terribly telling, are they not? Immorality undoubtedly has immortal consequences … as in terminal, methinks… Maybe this is why in the life to come we shall “neither marry nor [be] given in marriage but shall be as the angels in heaven”? ’Twould save much grief and solve many problems…

  79. Phil, I was going to excuse my typo by saying I am too confused by simultaneously discussing immorality on one thread and immortality on another one. But I’m glad to see it wasn’t actually my typo.

  80. C’mon, Ronnie.

    Your credibility is suffering here.
    In both the OT and NT, adultry and fornication have spiritual applications. Read Eze. 23:1-21 where you will find in graphic detail the sins of Aholah and Aholibah. Now God was actually talking about Samaria and Jerusalem. So you see, cities can indeed commit fornication.

    The best interpreter of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, who is promised to the seeking, accepting, believer. If you want to understand what God is saying in any given passage, ask Him for understanding.

  81. Galveston, you’re just repeating the same error.

    Oholah and Oholibah are symbols which represent cities. Like the great prostitute, the symbols are portrayed as having sex with men. This represents the idolatry of the people of Samaria and Jerusalem. The cities weren’t actually having sex with men.

    Bringing up Ezekiel 23 only hurts your case. You are deeply confused and this is getting tiresome.

  82. Hurling insults around about your conversation partners’ credibility hardly does you any credit, Galveston. The fact is that attempts to read apocalyptic language in literalistic terms simply don’t work: never have, never will; and appealing to the Holy Spirit as if you have a superior connection to the Almighty is unlikely to win you many friends either…

  83. The best interpreter of Scripture is the Holy Spirit, who is promised to the seeking, accepting, believer. If you want to understand what God is saying in any given passage, ask Him for understanding.

    Galveston, as a general principle this is very true. But if you are directing this comment at any particular individual, and making any suggestion that they are not already doing this, then that is a very wrong ad hominem line of argument. None of us have the right to suggest that anyone else is not getting their understanding from God – unless of course they are blatantly going against biblical teaching. But if they are doing this, please argue about the issues, not the person.

  84. Ronnie!!

    I said that the fornication of Babylon the Great has to be idolatry.

    You say the fornication of Samaria and Jerusalem is idolatry.

    We are saying the same thing here!

  85. Galveston, you’re confusing the symbol with the symbol’s referent. We are not saying the same thing. Feel free to reread my original post and our ensuing exchange.

  86. Hi, Ronnie,
    Well, I have gone back and re-read your posts and mine.
    Let’s refer back to the prophecied destruction of Edom, because that is a critical part of your argument against perpetual punishment.
    You admit that modern Jordan is ancient Edom. (Iraq is Babylon with a different name. Iran is Persia).
    Have you considered that the literal prophecy against Edom has never happened, and can’t therefore be continuing?
    Isa. 34:8 “For it is the day of the Lord’s vengance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.”
    The prophecy of Babylon has never been literally fulfilled either.
    The “day of the Lord” is defined in Jer. 46:10 as a day of vengeance and bloodshed.
    Since God’s prophecies are accurate, and neither Edom or Babylon have suffered as foretold, then those events must be yet future. We should consider Zech. 14:12. This sounds somewhat like the effect of a thermo-nuclear blast. But it looks to me like it will not happen until the final battle after the end of the Millennium. It could be that those prophecies about Edom burning and Babylon being totally emptied of human inhabitants will continue perpetually.
    Anyway, I just wanted to point out that the absence of literal burning in relationship to Edom does not prove cessation of being in the context of our discussion.

  87. You admit that modern Jordan is ancient Edom. (Iraq is Babylon with a different name. Iran is Persia).

    I did not “admit” that “Jordan is Edom.” I said that the land that Edom once occupied is now in the country of Jordan. It is not correct to say that modern day Iraq “is” biblical Babylon or that modern day Iran “is” Persia. This sounds like dispensational premillennial eschatology which frankly, I don’t take seriously.

    And yes, the prophecy has been fulfilled. Edom as a nation no longer exists. In fact, Malachi 1:3 shows that the prophecy was fulfilled.

  88. Galveston, if you want to identify modern Jordan with any ancient nation, a much better choice would be Ammon. The ancient Edomite capital of Petra remains uninhabited, and the heartland of Edom is sparsely populated. But the ancient Ammonite capital Rabbah is the modern Jordanian capital Amman, which takes its name from the ancient people.

  89. There’s an ad hominem sentiment on both sides here. And while Galveston and Ronnie both admit to seeing “simplicity” external to Revelation, they still try to outdo each other on the basis of it.

    Ronnie, this is not a rebuttal of your position, but just a suggestion that someone could potentially challenge your proposition about Edom. Mal 1:4 indicates that this was intended to be an ongoing prophecy. Furthermore, these are “the people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever”. Perhaps “Edom” is still “smoking” and “burning” to this very day?

    Gentlemen, perhaps we should quit while we’re still ahead?

  90. Robert, I don’t see anything ad hominem in what Ronnie has written, except perhaps to point out accurately that Galveston is confused on some issues here. As owner of this blog and moderator of the discussion, I reserve the right to make ad hominem comments to keep the discussion on track.

    You are probably right that this discussion has run its course. The issue of Edom is not really relevant.

  91. Hell hath no fury like… er…

    It’s a question that will never be resolved until we get there, or not, as the case may be. As I concluded at the end of my studies two decades ago, we have a God who can be trusted to do the right thing, for all of us and for the entire created order. My understanding of that leads me towards the conditionalist point of view; others have other understandings: we must learn to live with the inevitable tensions that brings and, in the meantime, live out the Gospel to the best of our ability. Arguing amongst ourselves certainly won’t win over any unbelievers, methinks…

  92. I don’t know if I’ve been “ad homenemy” but I have been a bit crabby. Sorry about that!

    Good discussion though, and it gave me a number of ideas for some articles that I need to write for my woefully out of date blog.

  93. Qoute from Peter:
    “You are probably right that this discussion has run its course. The issue of Edom is not really relevant.”

    I do agree with that. It was only peripheral to the discussion at best, but I didn’t bring it up.

    My basic philosophy is to accept the Bible literally except in those cases where that is not possible.

    The fact that we disagree does not mean that I am confused. I feel that accusation to be a cheap shot.

  94. Thank you, Ronnie. I for one have requested to join the group.

    Galveston, I think the confusion was between the symbolic language, a person committing adultery, and the reality being symbolised, probably a nation becoming idolatrous, although possibly sexual immorality becoming widespread in a nation. The discussion was certainly confusing. But possibly the only one confused was myself.

  95. One last thing, in case anyone is interested:

    My basic philosophy is to accept the Bible literally except in those cases where that is not possible.

    This is precisely the appeal of conditionalism. It takes the vast majority of descriptions of final punishment at face value. I tried to show this in my opening of the debate I participated in last year:

    conditionalism.net/opening.mp3 (9.5 MB)

    It’s 20 minutes long. You can find the entire debate linked to at my site. Judge for yourself who takes the relevant passages more seriously.

  96. The truth of this whole matter, I believe, can only be found in the power of His resurrection, and in His statement from the cross, “It is accomplished.”

    -Whatever He was sent to do, surely we can agree, He did. He alone did.

    -Whatever wonders of His Love & far-reaching unmerited favor is extended to one and/or to all, is in His Lordship right, Lord of all. Lord of the heavens, of the earth, and all under the earth.

    While it may remain a tit for tat scriptural debate for now, I do believe that as the mighty power of His resurrection is displayed in this universe, that we all together, will finally proclaim, Jesus is Lord, and that with praise & love =true worship in spirit. Every knee will bow, every tongue will confess, Jesus Christ is Lord, to the GLORY of God the Father.

    In other words, a very happy time. 🙂 Peace to you.

  97. Laurie, thank you for your comment. My position would be that not all will survive until that final day, because all that is evil will first be burned up and destroyed. But when that day comes all who survive will joyfully proclaim and worship Jesus as Lord.

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