The Age of Accountability: Conditional Immortality: Other Counter Arguments, Part 1

8/8/2010Anonymous and Alexander have weighed in with a series of verses to argue against the position I’ve argued for here.

I’ve spent more time on the conditional immortality argument than I meant to, but I’m not surprised — and I will be getting to the age of accountability issue. But I’ve enjoyed the exchange because since I first covered this position, I’ve learned a lot. My understanding of the topic is now much deeper than when I began — and much of that is due to comments from the readers.

Background material

Edward Fudge maintains a web page with extensive material in support of the conditional immortality viewpoint. He also includes a list of famous biblical scholars who agree with that viewpoint. I would add Patrick Mead and Al Maxey to the list.

Now, before someone fires off a comment about following the Bible rather than men (as though anyone here thinks otherwise), I should say that I reached my conclusion from Bible study — seeking to disprove Fudge. I made most of the same arguments I’m responding to here, and I learned that Fudge’s position fits the scriptures far better than the traditional view.

Now, nothing I teach rejects the reality of an actual hell. I don’t accept the view of N. T. Wright that hell is purely separation from God. It is separation from God, but it’s also an agonizing death. It’s the natural result of God’s purification of the heavens and the earth, which will be by fire. It will just be finite.

Matthew 25

(Mat 25:44-46 ESV)  44 “Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

“Eternal” does not mean everlasting. As shown in an earlier post, it refers to punishment in the next age. I’ll add some additional evidence for that claim here —

(Tit 1:1-2 ESV) Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,  2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began

“Before the ages began” translates “before time of eternities.” In our minds, “eternity” begins when Jesus returns, and there’s just one eternity. You won’t read of “eternities” in contemporary Christian literature.

But if we take “eternal” to be a reference to an age (aion in the Greek or aeon or eon in English), the translation becomes “before the time of the ages.” (The adjective is plural.) The Jews saw world history as a series of ages, with the final age being what we call eternity. Thus, “before the time of the ages” means before the Creation.

Thus, “eternal life” in the same verse must be taken as “life in the age,” with the implication being that the “age” is the next age. (The same expression, “before the ages began” is also in 2 Tim 1:9.)

(Rom 16:25-27 ESV)  25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith — 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

“For long ages” is literally “time of eternities.” Translate “eternities” as “of the ages” (the adjective is plural) and the ESV “long ages” is about right.

But the same word is translated “forevermore” in v. 27, although the Greek is “into the eternities,” that is, “into the ages.” Thus, the translation really ought to be “be glory throughout the ages …” to suit the parallel in v. 25.

“Eternal God” is “God of the ages” as well.

The English hides the parallels in the Greek emphasizing the continuity of the gospel throughout the ages — ages past, present, and future. God is the same God in all the ages, working one plan, that was once a mystery but is now revealed in Jesus — and so God should be glorified throughout the ages — even into the next age. But the English takes the same word — “eternal” — and translates “long ages,” “eternal,” and “forevermore,” concealing Paul’s thought.

Mark 9

(Mar 9:43-48 ESV)  43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.  44   45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.  46   47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell,  48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

“Hell” is gehenna, found only in the synoptic gospels and James because gehenna was the garbage dump outside the city of Jerusalem. The metaphor wouldn’t have made sense to the Greek world. Thus, other New Testament writers use “death,” “destruction,” “the lake of fire,” and such when they speak of the fate of the damned.

“Unquenchable” in v. 43 and “‘where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched'” are both references to Isaiah 66, and we must take Jesus to have known the words of Isaiah very well. He was explicitly referring to Isaiah’s description of hell, expecting his hearers — First Century Jews — to be familiar with the last chapter of Isaiah.

(Isa 66:22-1 ESV)  22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain.  23 From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD.

24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

We covered this very passage in a recent post. Suffice to say that Jesus meant what Isaiah meant, and Isaiah did not mean that those cast outside the city into darkness would suffer forever.

Revelation 14

(Rev 14:9-11 ESV) 9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,  10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  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.”

Yes, the damned will be tormented. I’ve said that several times already. I’ve not denied the Lake of Fire, gehenna, or God’s vengeance against the ungodly. Rather, my point is that the torment doesn’t last forever — not for mortal man.

“Forever” translates ?????? ?????? or aionas aionon, that is, “eternities of eternities,” or more correctly, “ages of ages.” What does that mean? Revelation is built on the prophecies of the Old Testament. It doesn’t just borrow the style and literary genre; it assumes the readers are familiar with the scriptures, that is, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, etc.

The primary parallel is —

(Isa 34:10 ESV)  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.

The Revelator replaces “generation to generation” with “ages of ages” because, well, there will be no generations in hell!

The parallels of Rev 14:9-11 to this passage are obvious, and yet this passage speaks of the destruction of the nation of Edom. Edom was in fact destroyed, and yet the smoke of its destruction burned out a very, very long time ago. Rather, the prophet’s language says that God’s wrath is unquenchable — cannot be put out by others — and the consequences of his destruction is forever. But the citizens were defeated and died. And the fires went out. The memory, however, lasts forever.

Also, consider —

(Isa 1:27-31 ESV) Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. 28 But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the LORD shall be consumed.  29 For they shall be ashamed of the oaks that you desired; and you shall blush for the gardens that you have chosen.  30 For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water.  31 And the strong shall become tinder, and his work a spark, and both of them shall burn together, with none to quench them.

In a very typical prophetic expression, the damned will “burn … with none to quench them.” The idea isn’t that they burn forever, but that the fire that burns them cannot be put out or resisted.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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14 Responses to The Age of Accountability: Conditional Immortality: Other Counter Arguments, Part 1

  1. Royce Ogle says:

    This is a topic that I have problems being objective about. I suppose the traditional view of hell and punishment is so ingrained into my brain that I am not able to be open to the possibility that I and so many great men have been wrong.

    I will say that Edward Fudge's book "The Fire that Consumes" did not come about quickly. Edward personally told me about how the book came to be, the length of time he studied the subject, etc. I have deep respect for Edward Fudge. I know of no person who is more devoted to finding and teaching the truth. His disciplined life and work ethic is a challenge to me to be better.

    I have read through the book but have not studied through it. I still am unconvinced at this point, but I would not be surprised if I agree with you and Edward if I take the time to study the subject.

    You are brave for taking on these difficult topics. Thanks for doing what you do.

    Royce

  2. konastephen says:

    Understanding that one cannot get out of hell once there, that the condition is irreversible, what difference does a temporary punishment topped off with annihilation make as compared to an eternal torment? Without hope of things getting better, why is eternal torment worse than a finite punishment—what possible standard could we measure bad from worse in such a state??

    Forgive me if I keep complaining about this view—it is just very difficult to throw the ideas received from a firm line of thinkers, from Ignatius to Chrysostom, Luther through to C.S. Lewis, into a metaphorical Gehenna. And I’ve yet to hear why this view is better if not worse than the orthodox view. My understanding of the historic view is that both the saved and the unsaved will know that their judgment is right in light of God’s infinite glory. Your view, however, seems to have us judging what a just punishment should look like. Your view seems like a way of cleaning heaven (a ‘Final Solution’ to make way for the ‘Lebensraum’ of the saved )—In this view I hear the saved saying: ‘I can’t enjoy heaven while my loved ones are in torment’, ‘Just (eu)thanize them already, so that I can enjoy my paradise!’ This all seems more about us, then about the damned…and if that’s not true, it certainly seems more about us than about God.

    Looking through the early church writings, it is in fact the overwhelming view that hell is eternal punishment—especially if we ignore the more allegorical and platonic teachers like Clement and Origen…! If the early church writers talked at all about hell, then it was always regarding eternal punishment.

    “Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. And if those that corrupt mere human families are condemned to death, how much more shall those suffer everlasting punishment who endeavor to corrupt the Church of Christ, for which the Lord Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, endured the cross, and submitted to death!” (THE EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS CHAP. XVI.–THE FATE OF FALSE TEACHERS – IGNATIUS (68~107AD))

    “But He also teaches us, that "He is rather to be feared, who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell," that is, the Lord alone; "not those which kill the body, but are not able to hurt the soul," that is to say, all bureau powers. Here, then, we have a recognition of the natural immortality of the soul, which cannot be killed by men; and of the mortality of the body, which may be killed: whence we learn that the resurrection of the dead is a resurrection of the flesh; for unless it were raised again, it would be impossible for the flesh to be "killed in hell." […] If, again, the body or corporeal nature of the soul is cast in my teeth. it will only be an idle subterfuge! For since both substances are set before us (in this passage, which affirms) that "body and soul" are destroyed in hell, a distinction is obviously made between the two; and we are left to understand the body to be that which is tangible to us, that is, the flesh, which, as it will be destroyed in hell–since it did not "rather fear" being destroyed by God–so also will it be restored to life eternal, since it preferred to be killed by human hands. If, therefore, any one shall violently suppose that the destruction of the soul and the flesh in hell amounts to a final annihilation of the two substances, and not to their penal treatment (as if they were to be consumed, not punished), let him recollect that the fire of hell is eternal–expressly announced as an everlasting penalty; and let him then admit that it is from this circumstance that this never-ending "killing" is more formidable than a merely human murder, which is only temporal. He will then come to the conclusion that substances must be eternal, when their penal "killing" is an eternal one.” (On the Resurrection of the Flesh – CHAP. XXXV.–EXPLANATION OF WHAT IS MEANT BY THE BODY, WHICH IS TO BE RAISED AGAIN. NOT THE CORPOREALITY OF THE SOUL. – Tertullian)

    “If any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble; each man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire shall prove each man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire.
    THIS is no small subject of enquiry which we propose, but rather about things which are of the first necessity and which all men enquire about; namely, whether hell fire have any end. For that it hath no end Christ indeed declared when he said, "Their fire shall not be quenched, and their worm shall not die. [Mark viii. 44, 46, 48.](3)” (HOMILY IX: 1 Cor. iii., 12–15. – John Chrysostom)

    In order to accept the view of ‘conditional immortality’ I need to understand how this perspective will help me see God’s glory better; how it will help me care about the unsaved better; how it will help me get past my own perspective better; how it will help me love God better. But as of now I don’t see any of this…

  3. guy says:

    i still don't see how conditional immortality is reconciled with the fire not being quenched and the worms not dying. If those in hell eventually go out of existence, then first, it wouldn't matter that the fire isn't quenched and the worm doesn't die. If everyone in hell eventually falls out of existence, then the fires don't need to be unquenchable and worms don't need to be everlasting. They only need to last just as long as the last occupant.

    Second, anyone in hell who found out their time there was limited would be able to contradict Jesus outright. Jesus said, "where the worm doesn't die and fire never goes out." And the man in hell says, "uh, yes they do; they die and go out as far as I'm concerned the moment i blink out of existence."

    Third, if the occupants of hell are there only for a finite time, then they all have hope. However bad it is there, it will all eventually be over anyway. They can ride it out and then enter dreamless sleep. Everyone there has something to look forward to.

    –guy

  4. Rebekah says:

    The more I read about this point of view, the more I agree with it. I just have one question and I don't think I've seen it addressed by any writer.

    In what body do the wicked experience this punishment? Are they resurrected with the righteous but in just their regular, mortal bodies, while the righteous are raised with immortal bodies?

  5. abasnar says:

    “Forever” translates ?????? ?????? or aionas aionon, that is, “eternities of eternities,” or more correctly, “ages of ages.” What does that mean? Revelation is built on the prophecies of the Old Testament. It doesn’t just borrow the style and literary genre; it assumes the readers are familiar with the scriptures, that is, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, etc.

    The primary parallel is –

    (Isa 34:10 ESV) 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.

    The Revelator replaces “generation to generation” with “ages of ages” because, well, there will be no generations in hell!

    Isaiah 34 is speaking of a quite huge thing: The judgment over Edom, but this judgment is meant to be a warning to all nations (Isa 34:1) because this what is happening to Edom will happen to all nations (Isa 34:2). In Isa 34:3 I see a striking parallel to Rev 19:17-21. The prophecy of Isa 34:4 is also found in Rev 6:14.

    At the same time, Isaiah is actually talking about Edom. So the destruction, described here is the destruction of only one nation as an example what will happen to all nations. In my understanding, these poroptheic texts about Edom, Babylon and other cities and countries are types of what is to come over all people in the last days.

    If we go back to Isa 34:10 and compare it with Rev 14:9-11 we similarities in th terminology, but also important differences:

    Isa 34:8 For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion.
    Isa 34:9 And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into sulfur; her land shall become burning pitch.
    Isa 34:10 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.
    Isa 34:11 But the hawk and the porcupine shall possess it, the owl and the raven shall dwell in it. He shall stretch the line of confusion over it, and the plumb line of emptiness.

    Isa 34:16 Seek and read from the book of the LORD: Not one of these shall be missing; none shall be without her mate. For the mouth of the LORD has commanded, and his Spirit has gathered them.
    Isa 34:17 He has cast the lot for them; his hand has portioned it out to them with the line; they shall possess it forever; from generation to generation they shall dwell in it.

    The nation of Edom will lay waste from generation to generation and owls and wild animals will possess it as well for generations and generations. So there are generations, and the idea is of everlasting judgment. Edom will never be rebuilt again.

    Now to Revelation:

    Rev 14:9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,
    Rev 14:10 he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.
    Rev 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."

    Here it is not about a nation or natuions, but this text is about people who have to choose between idolatry and worship of the true and living God. Yes, the wording is similar, but not identical:

    The differences:
    a) Isaiah is talking about a nation – Revelation about individuals with a choice
    b) Isaiah is talking about the smoke of destruction – Revelation is talking about the smoke of torment

    Both texts use words thy give us an idea of eternity. Edom was never rebuilt, was it? So this was a final and eternal punishment, but in the sense of destruction.

    The worshippers of the beast will face eternal punishment, too, but in the sense of torment. They will never be released from that place.

    The Greek for torment is ???????????. This word is found in Rev 9:5; Rev 14:11; Rev 18:7; Rev 18:10; Rev 18:15 … the verb to this is in Mat 8:6; Mat 8:29; Mat 14:24; Mark 5:7; Mark 6:48; Luke 8:28; 2Pe 2:8; Rev 9:5; Rev 11:10; Rev 12:2; Rev 14:10; Rev 20:10. The ones torturing others are mentioned in Mat 18:34.

    You can torture a person for several reasons:

    To receive money back (as in Mat 18:34) – in a way this is a limited procedure. As soon as the money is paid, the prisoner goes free (and may recover, if that is possible). The parable in Mat 18 however speaks of a debt of 10.000 Talents which is an enourmous amount of money. 1 Talent is the aequivalent of 6.000 Drachmae, each a day's wage for untrained workers – e.g. 40 USD.

    So let's say 1 Talent is worth 240.000 USD. How much are 10.000 Talents? 2,400.000.000 = 2.4 Billion USD. Now imagine a servant, being handed to the tormetors until his relatives payed his whole debt. How long will that take? You can easinly see, what the point is: He will never be freed again in his lifetime. That is "eternal punishment" in the words of this parable.

    To make people submit or die an agonizing death That's what dictators sometimes do.

    Depending on the goal that the tormentors want to achieve, people are tormented for a certain time or unto death.

    Now what is the reason, why God uses the phrase "the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night."?

    Is it torment unto destruction – so they will find "rest" after all? Or is it an everlasting punishment?

    Again: He is speaking of people (humans) who chose to worship the beast. He is not speaking of nations, that will be destroyed or of Babylon (he does that, too, but in other texts).

    Alexander

  6. abasnar says:

    Matthew 25

    (Mat 25:44-46 ESV) 44 “Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    “Eternal” does not mean everlasting. As shown in an earlier post, it refers to punishment in the next age. I’ll add some additional evidence for that claim here –

    Sorry, I can't follow you.
    We have the exact same words for eternal life and eternal punishment:

    Mat 25:46 ???? ?????????????? ????? ???? ???????? ?????????, ??? ??? ???????? ???? ????? ?????????.

    If eternal does not mean everlasting, but only the next age – which is possible – then we still have the life of the next age which is everlasting. I see no reason, why we shall not understand the punishment of the next age as everlasting as well – see, the wording is the same for both.

    And furthermore, just a few verses above:

    Mat 25:41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

    Here we have ???? ??? ????????? – and I vaguely remember that you agree that the devil and his angels will be tormented forever. But why on earth does our Lord put the unjust humans into the very same fire? For no other reason – in my opinion – than to share the same punishment.

    And this becomes evident, when we compare Rev 14:11 and Rev 20:10. We see that humans share the same punishment with the devil and his angels.

    So, Jay, it is not about possible meanings of words and phrases only. It is more about concepts, that we can only understand when taking all verses together that speak ofthe same subject. What you tend to do, is taking verses from different stopics with similar wordings in order to change the "traditional understanding" of otherwise quite clear passages (you did this e.g. with Isa 34 and Rev 14). Sometimes it is good and necessary to compare the use of phareses and words, but we must not misunderstand the different contexts and concepts when doing this.

    (Tit 1:1-2 ESV) Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began

    “Before the ages began” translates “before time of eternities.” In our minds, “eternity” begins when Jesus returns, and there’s just one eternity. You won’t read of “eternities” in contemporary Christian literature.

    Your analysis of the Greek is absolutely blameless. But the context is different. THe same word or phrase normally has different meanings depending on the context and concept. Whenever you open a Greek dictionary you see a wide range of meanings for a single word, and the context determines which meaning should be preferred.

    And the translators did exactly this: When talking about the eternal life (????? ?????????) they cose "eternal" when abou the eternal counsel of God, the chose "before the ages began" (???? ??????? ?????????,). This makes sense.

    But when you interpret the eternal life as (just) the life of the coming age, you miss the point and leave out the aspect of everlasting.

    What we in our minds think about eternity (singular or plural) is rather irrelevant – the Biblical way of speaking of "ages to come" or "from age to age" is mindboggling either way we try to read and comprehend it. In my German Bible we have the phrase of "ages" (Zeitalter), because it is a very literal translation. Still, it means eternity how immeasurbale ever it is.

    Do you understand how this way of reasoning leads actually away from the concept and in the end distorts the meaning of it? Step aside a bit and question the methodology you use. To me it does not look very sound.

    Alexander

    P.S.: I have no ambition to win this contest, Jay, and I think we can leave this thing in order to return to your main topic. This could go on and on and – in fact – it is very time consuming, without real profit (aside that of gaining insights on things we will understand fully only when we are there).

  7. konastephen says:

    What would I possibly gain by adopting the ‘conditional immortality’ perspective? Even if Fudge is right, it’s like being told that the traditional view of hell was all wrong—the flames there are blue, not red…

    So how will this make any difference? It seems like it would only make a difference to someone who first held an unbiblical tension between the wrath of God and the love of God. The modern reader, it seems, has great difficulty seeing both the wrath of God and the great love of God, so either we focus on the wrath (the stereotypical conservative) or we focus on the love (the stereotypical liberal). It seems like Fudge is trying to overcome this difficulty, not by addressing the actual problem (a lopsided view of God), but by altering hell so that the wrath part doesn’t seem so objectionable. Even in part, is this not the case?

    I’ll grant that one could read most of the biblical texts through the lens Fudge suggests, the supposedly first century Jewish lens—but I’m still scratching my head, what has this pyrrhic victory won us??

  8. Royce Ogle says:

    konastephen,

    As I stated earlier, I am not convinced of Edward Fudge's view. I also said I have not studied it. That being said it is not about one side having a victory, it is about searching for truth, a seemingly rare thing in some groups.

    Royce

  9. Jay Guin says:

    konastephen,

    Tomorrow's post will have a few quotations from the early church fathers, as well as responses to other scriptures from this weekend.

    Why does this matter? Well, for these reasons —

    1. Many people find the thought of everlasting punishment so abhorrent that they deny the goodness of God or else the inspiration of scriptures. It's a barrier to evangelism among many, especially those with no history in Christianity.

    I'll have more to say about evangelism in a future post, but it seems hardly necessary to believe that damnation means perpetual, unending torture for it to be worth saving people from. Indeed, it's easier to draw people to a just and fair God than away from a vengeful God. I think everlasting torture may well motivate many toward evangelism, but it's no longer an effective tool to convert the unchurched.

    2. Everlasting punishment makes a mess of the age of accountability question — and we'll be getting back to the original question shortly.

    3. Everlasting punishment makes a mess of substitutionary atonement. How could Jesus pay the price for our sins in only three days? The price is everlasting torture.

    4. Everlasting punishment creates an inconsistency between the New and Old Testaments. The Old Testament says nothing at all on the subject but does say a lot about God's wrath and the death of his enemies.

    5. Due to the difficulties of everlasting torture, many scholars seek alternatives through speculations not based on scripture. N. T. Wright would be a good example. It's not healthy for the church to pursue "solutions" to scriptural problems by creating alternatives outside the Bible.

    6. The traditional understanding of heaven and hell makes countless scriptures that should be plain obscure. It likely seems that what I teach actually makes things more confusing, but once you get the hang of the paradigm shift, the Bible becomes clearer. Revelation makes better sense, as do many other eschatological passages. The "original sin" passage in Rom 5 becomes fairly direct and simple (post to come).

    7. The Bible becomes more environmentally friendly when we accept that the world won't be destroyed but is being redeemed. When we see that the "consuming fire" of God's wrath purifies to transform the world rather than torturing forever, we learn to respect the Creation more.

    8. We understand God's mission better — and our role in it — when we see the world heading toward a return to Eden, with God's people restored to his image, with the unredeemed elements of the world destroyed.

    9. Most churches of all sorts no longer have much to say about hell. Many preachers no longer believe that hell can be as bad as they were taught as children or prefer to ignore hell in favor of the goodness of God — and they struggle to preach a gospel that convincingly teaches both. I think we need more preaching on hell — and a better understanding of the justness of God will help make that happen. I'm tired of preachers who teach a God without wrath — but I had my fill of hellfire and brimstone sermons, too — and well understand why they've gone out of fashion. But to teach the whole counsel of God, we have to teach hell.

    Ultimately, though, it's a doctrine taught in the Bible in many places and many ways. I figure God wouldn't teach it if he didn't think it was important.

  10. Jay Guin says:

    konastephen —

    PS — it makes better sense of the Millennium. (Post coming.) Given the emphasis modern churches place on the Millennium, I think anything that helps straighten up that doctrine is a good thing.

  11. abasnar says:

    PS — it makes better sense of the Millennium. (Post coming.) Given the emphasis modern churches place on the Millennium, I think anything that helps straighten up that doctrine is a good thing.

    That's right, it is tied to eschatology as well. From a premillenialist point of view Fudge's theory won't work at all – Postmillenialism might even require it. But Postmillenialism is one of the youngest models of eschatology unheard of during the first four centuries. I think it was promoted mainly by Calvin who needed this eschatology to back up his theocratic political system: We reign over this earth today (Christ being King in Heaven), and at the end of our eartly reign, Christ will return. This theology led to all sorts of violence and cruelty in church history – it is even more violent than a-millenialism. A-Millenialism treats the church only as CHriost's Kingdom, but Post-Millenialism somehow requires to subdue or conquer the earth in the name of Christ and take power in a political sense as well (Christian politics, theocratic models, …). I think this is not what Christ had in mind.

    As a convinced Permillenialist (NOT Dispensationalist, which is the main-line theology today [Left behind series], but different from historical premillenialism) I "naturally" come to a different understanding of eternity or the ages to come.

    Alexander

  12. guy says:

    Jay,

    Regarding (1) — that's not a good reason at all. Even if you're right, what other people will and won't accept as fair should never motivate us to change our views. People judging God as having done something wrong only proves that *we're* unfair, not God. Should people change the M/D/R views *because* their traditional view might be a barrier to evangelism? Should people change the necessity of baptism views *because* their view might be a barrier to evangelism?

    i'm mildly shocked you posted this one. Our human sense of fairness should not dictate what the Bible can or can't teach. If you go down this road, you've got to throw out quite a bit of the OT that frankly doesn't fare any better than an eternal hell in the eyes of modern man.

    Regarding (4) — i'm not sure i see why the OT would need to talk about it. Israel was an earthly nation with a civil law and political enemies. There's also quite a lack of information in it regarding eternal life or salvation from sin compared to the NT. That doesn't mean we should give up those ideas too.

    Regarding (7) — i don't see how a belief in an everlasting hell means a person cannot also maintain that the earth itself will be redeemed. There'd have to be assumptions you're not stating underlying that claim in order to substantiate it.

    Regarding (8) — again, how is it flatly contradictory to hold that world is going to be redeemed and restored while also maintaining there is an everlasting hell? You're saying that this is something the conditional immortality view buys you. But it can be had *without* accepting the conditional immortality view.

    –guy

  13. konastephen says:

    Jay,

    I agree with point 1, but I also think that there are better ways of addressing today's cultured despisers.

    I look forward to how you explicate point 2.

    I don’t follow you on point 3 — it seems like you're pushing to its limits just only one lens from which to view the cross and then pleading to rework the premises.

    I don’t quite get you on point 4. I mean there are some things where we can accept progressive revelation (e.g. the Trinity), so why not here with a view of hell…?

    With point 5 I agree–which is why we are probably not going to get much further than Peterson and Fudge – http://www.amazon.com/Two-Views-Hell-Biblical-The

    Point 6 is debatable, I think. But I look forward to the future post.

    Point 7 & 8 seem off topic. Again I agree with Wright's general account of Heaven in 'Surprised by Hope'…but we are here debating the eternal or the finite punishment of those in hell, and the consequences of both views.

    On point 9, again I agree with you; though as I’ve said elsewhere, I think Keller does a better job addressing the pastor/evangelistic concerns…
    (This on some sense is similar to the differences between Antiochian and Alexandrian hermeneutics: Fudge, like the Antiochians, tries to correct a perceived problem by attempting to be more biblically literal; while Keller, like the Alexandrians, who saw that the root of the problem was with their hearers, not with the word itself, uses analogy to convict their audience of their errors.)

    Regarding the millennium, (and here (I think) I agree with Alexander) while I agree with the general thrust of Wright’s eschatology (a bodily resurrection and a renewed earth—heaven coming down to earth), I’d still be considered more of a historic premillennialist. Really I don’t like these categories because they all seem wrong in some ways and right in others…I could perhaps be called a pessimistic amillennialist or an optimistic premillennialist…

  14. Pingback: Conditional Immortality Throughout History | My great WordPress blog

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