Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Hell, thoughts on the traditional view and a conclusion

… their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence…
… and all the dead shall be raised up with the selfsame bodies, and none other; although with different qualities, which shall be united again to their souls forever.
… the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast aside into everlasting torments … - 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith

I have saved the traditional view of hell for last, there really does not seem to be much need to describe it here as this view has been almost unquestioned for the last 1600 years. Just like universalism and annihilationism, it can be traced back to before Jesus' time to the intertestamental era. Below is just one example.

The totally wicked would burn there forever in torment (Judith xvi. 17).

Traditionalism as I will call it (sounds better than infernalism doesn't it?) became the dominant view in the Western church through Augustine’s influence and has enjoyed that status ever since. The only real discussions around it since have been over things like soul sleep (Luther) verses the immortal soul (Calvin) and whether the fires of hell are literal or not. Surprisingly Calvin and Luther both understood them to be non literal flames. Traditionalists and annihilationists agree on almost everything and generally get along with each other. Ultimately though, the main difference between the two is that traditionalists believe that everyone will inherit eternal life; most people just won’t enjoy the way that they end up spending it…

supporting texts

Daniel 12:2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
Some to everlasting life,Some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Mathew 18:8  “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire.

Mathew 25:41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:

Luke 16:19-31 (The rich man and Lazarus)

Revelation 14:10-11 he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

Revelation 20:10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day 

Of these verses three of them seem pretty clear in particular (Matt 25:41, Rev 14:11, 20:10). There are different interpretations of them out there but nothing that I would say dispels all doubt that the obvious translation is not valid. 


1 - Many Christians and non Christians alike question how a loving, gracious and fair God, could create a place like hell and torment people in it for all eternity, especially when their sins were finite. Luke 12:47-48 states that punishment will be proportionate to the sins committed in ones lifetime. Traditionalists respond that God has given us freedom to make our own choices but that those choices have eternal consequences and that God has done and is doing everything possible to save people (all or the elect but that's another story) outside of vacating their free will.

2 - There are issues regarding atonement as well. Traditionalism seems to imply that Christ never dies for sinners but rather suffered pain in their place. Traditionalists respond that the second death referred to in scripture refers to separation from God that occurs after ones physical death (separation from ones body). So the big issue here between the 2 camps boils down to the question, “is the human soul immortal?” In the blog on annihilationism, I covered the scriptures which imply that the soul is not immortal. 

3 - All the death/destruction/perish verses mentioned in the previous post.


If we are to simply seek a few verses from scripture to support one of the views on hell we are not going to get anywhere. Neither can we rely on the weight of proof texts supporting one view over another because that would result in us having to draw black lines through several verses, sometimes from the same books and authors who seemingly support our view on hell. I have not tried to prove one position over the others here but rather to highlight that it is not as straightforward as one may previously have assumed it to be.

Instead of writing a separate post to conclude this series, I am just going to throw a few points down here from my own personal conclusions.

1 – Hell is real.
2 – Whether it is eternal or temporary in nature, you definitely do not want to go there.
3 - Even if there is the slightest hope of a second chance after death, which I do not think there is, I wouldn't bet my life on chance.
4 – The people discussing these views are all Christ followers. While they cannot all be right, I do not think any of them are looking for a license to live loosely. There does come a time to distance oneself from others who are preaching a different gospel or they are living in unrepentant sin. This is not definitely one of those times.
5 – Hell matters. Our hellology (my word) affects the way we view God and so it is important to look at these things.

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