I have posted many times about hell over the last few years but for some reason, my last post (which you can read by clicking here) which questioned the doctrine of eternal conscious torment was picked up on and spread like a wild-fire across the internet, racking up 11 000 views in the few days since I posted it already. I have had a hard time just trying to keep up and respond to all of the comments on the blog and in various Facebook threads. So I thought that I would attempt to answer all of the questions, clarify all of the misunderstandings and share a few reflections of my own on everything over here. Below are six areas which I would like to address.
Scriptural objections to my article
The three main scriptural objections that came up were Matthew 25:46, Revelation 14:11 and Revelation 20:10 which are the same three that I addressed in point 1 of my post which makes me wonder if people actually read the article or just experienced a knee jerk reaction to it. I am not going to repeat myself here so I will deal with 4 other verses that were mentioned instead, 3 below and 1 in a later point.
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. – Daniel 12:2
The above verse makes a contrast between those who receive the gift of eternal life and those who do not. The shame and contempt referred to however are directed toward those who do not receive immortality. Think of Hitler, the world remembers him with contempt and shame but he is very much dead. A similar understanding can be made for those who will experience the second death in the Lake of Fire.
"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. – Matthew 25:41.
Matthew 25:41 speaks of an eternal (Greek aionios) fire rather than of immortal souls residing in an eternal fire. The idea presented consistently throughout scripture is that the fire is unquenchable and will not be put out until it has consumed everything within it. Furthermore, the word aionios also literally means ‘age-during’ as it appears in the Youngs Literal Translation of the Bible. Aionios can indeed and usually does mean eternal but can also refer to a specific period of time defined by an age as well (depending on its context). For example, Romans 16:25-26 says “Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages (aionios) past but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith.” The obvious interpretation here is one of a specific age rather than eternity otherwise Paul’s statement in verse 26 could not be true. Similarly, Hebrews 9:26 says “Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages (aionios) to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Obviously, eternity has no end, the aionios here refers to the central point in history which is Christ’s time on earth and more specifically, His crucifixion and resurrection. So to recap, Matthew 25:41 does not mention eternal conscious suffering, only an age-during fire which consumes everything in it (Hebrews 10:27).
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. – Mark 9:43-44 (context up until verse 48).
There are two points to consider regarding this passage. The first is that nowhere does it refer to the duration of the persons existence in hell, that is something that gets read into the text based on our preconceived ideas. The second point is that Jesus was quoting directly from Isaiah 66:24 which says, regarding those living in the new heaven and earth, that they will “…look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me (God). For their worm does not die and their fire is not quenched”. In case you missed it, the worms were feeding on corpses. Is it not more plausible that the message in the warning is that the worms do not die and the fire cannot be quenched until they have done their job? Or are we to believe that the worms are immortal and the corpses as well?
Some of the feedback I received was based on a misunderstanding that I was trying to remove hell from the Bible. This was not my intention at all. Personally, I do believe that Gehenna should rather be translated as ‘Valley of Hinnom’ which is the actual English name for the place Jesus made reference to on multiple occasions. The word hell itself originated in the 8th century AD and probably should not be in our English Bibles at all, literal translations like Young’s prefer to leave the term untranslated as Gehenna which is probably for the better. Yet that in no way takes away from the amount of evidence in the Bible that a grim ending awaits those who reject Christ. A study on the word hell yields a handful of verses in our English Bibles but a study on the fate of the lost yields hundreds of verses that should not be taken lightly. So when I speak of conditional immortality, I do not endorse the idea that there is no torment or repercussions awaiting people in the afterlife, I am simply saying that eternal life is the reward and inheritance awaiting those in Christ alone.
After-death experiences and Luke 16
Someone sent my wife a testimony of a person who had claimed to have been to hell. A few other people also brought to my attention the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 as proof of eternal conscious torment. There is a lot that could be said on both of these points but I just want to make one observation about both stories. In chapter 20 of the book of Revelation it speaks of something known as the Great White Throne Judgment where the dead are raised from their graves and judged according to their works. Death and Hades are cast into the Lake of Fire along with anyone whose name is not written in the Book of Life. Herein lies my point, Luke 16 is a parable that mentions conscious torment of a man 2000 years ago, all the videos and books we see about people visiting hell are written in the present age. Even if they are real, they precede the Great White Throne Judgment and Lake of Fire which is the second death (20:14). So even if people were actually suffering in Hades right now, these stories have no bearing on what occurs in the Lake of Fire to which no one has as yet been cast into. This reasoning sounds to me as if when someone dies they go to get burnt but are kept alive in flames (Augustine used the example of a Salamander that can survive inside of a fire as his proof that the fire does not consume, I would not recommend testing his theory out), at a later stage, they go for judgment and then they go back to get burnt again in the same setting and in a similar, ongoing manner. I find this exegesis to be rather confusing.
I should have anticipated this but a few people took exception to me saying that I couldn’t see Jesus torturing people for eternity, stating that Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else. Now it is true that Jesus did warn about the consequences of rejecting Him many times but that is not necessarily an endorsement of eternal conscious torment, consider Matthew 10:28 which says:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
That sounds more like a warning of total destruction to me than it does eternal conscious torment. On a bit of a side note, you have probably heard people say before that Jesus spoke more about hell than He did about heaven. It is an often repeated assumption but its simply not true, about 3 percent (roughly 60 verses) of what Jesus said can be categorized as possible references to hell. In contrast, nearly 10 percent (192 verses) of what Jesus said was in reference to heaven, eternal life and the Kingdom of God.
This will lead to more sin
One of the comments I received a lot of is that if judgment consists of a measurable amount of punishment according to ones deeds and they are not granted eternal life but will ultimately perish then there is no consequences for sin and we might as well not follow Jesus and just live recklessly. I don’t even know how to respond to that honestly. Sin still has consequences and death is still punishment. Still others seemed concerned that the gospel would not be attractive enough without the threat of eternal conscious torment to influence a persons decision. But in Romans chapter 2 Paul says that it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance, perhaps that is why nowhere in the New Testament do we see the apostles using hell as a motivational tool in their proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I see a larger problem behind these questions though in that they reveal that we do not believe that Christ alone is sufficient to sanctify us and cleanse us from sin. We do not trust that the goodness of God can bring people into the Kingdom and so we adapt an insurance salesman strategy, relying on fear to 'seal the deal'.
Accusations against me
In the last week I have been called all sorts of things, here is a small sample of what has been written to me:
“As much as you claim to have researched the subjects in question, it's pretty clear that your research already has predetermined outcomes in mind, and selectively ignores the powerful truth that counters them.”
“fanciful twisting of scripture”
“You have been listening to doctrines of demons for too long. “
“You have a deep rebellion against authority. Shut down this blog and seek council.”
“Do you know how dangerous it is to spread these lies in a Christian forum as a "Christian" author?”
“You are denying Christ.”
“Please check the truth before posting opinions.”
“I offered you salvation through Jesus Christ, and how to get it. Please let me or one of us lead you to Christ if you don't understand.”
“The conclusions of a delusional millennial mind.”
“Burn this blog or.. woe to you from God on High!”
I have shared this because I want to make a few comments about these responses. I get that what I am saying is radically different than what most people have heard before. As one friend said to me, “hearing about annihilation for the first time…it’s initially quite fearful…almost as if a huge ‘pillar’ under-girding your faith is about to collapse…what is the gospel without hell? It is still the gospel”. So I get that the reactions can be quite harsh but let me say a few things in my defense. Firstly, no one likes been vilified and ostracized, I have not written these posts or reached these conclusions lightly. Day after day I hear of people who lose friends, are denied church membership or even employment opportunities because their studies led them to conclude that conditional immortality carried more biblical support than eternal conscious torment did. So no, my view is not the ‘easy choice’ some insinuate that it is. Secondly, I have provided a list of well over a hundred scriptures without commentary to show how the Bible consistently deals with the subject of the fate of those who do not know Christ. If it appears that I have twisted scripture then read that list by clicking over here free from the biases that I might be imposing on them. Thirdly, I do not believe that ones intellectual, eschatological persuasions are a salvation issue. Yes, they are certainly important as they depict a certain image of God in the world and we are called to 'not bear false witness' so let’s flesh this stuff out together and move toward a right understanding. But is Christ your Lord? Great! Let’s proclaim the love of God and the way to eternal life through Jesus side by side. Hopefully, we will figure out and agree on the finer details together along the way.