Salvation 2.0: Part 3.1A: The Early Church Fathers on Conditionalism

grace5Just came across this very thorough study of the writings of the Early Church Fathers relating to Conditionalism and Perpetual Conscious Torment: The Doctrine of Immortality in the Early Church, by Dr. John H. Roller (free download).

Roller goes through all the uninspired writings of the early church fathers to determine who was and wasn’t a Conditionalist or a believer that even the damned have immortal souls.

The Apostolic Fathers are the early church fathers early enough to have known the apostles (whether or not they actually met an apostle). Regarding their preserved writings, Roller concludes,

Furthermore, since we have now completed our study of the Apostolic Fathers, and found none of them to be Naturalists, I must agree with Dr. James K. Brandyberry’s conclusion that, “the teaching of innate immortality is absent from the Apostolic Fathers, those Christian writers who lived nearest to or whose lives partly paralleled the last of the apostles.”

Regarding the next oldest group of writers, which he calls the Sub-Apostolic Fathers — taking his study to nearly 200 AD, he concludes,

There is no question but that Irenaeus of Lyons was a “champion” of Conditionalism. We see, then, that the age of the Sub-Apostolic Fathers comes to its conclusion at a point in time prior to which only one Christian writer (Athenagoras) has espoused the doctrine of Natural Immortality, all the others (of whom we have studied a total of seventeen) having held, more or less demonstrably, to Conditionalism.

He later concludes that before Clement of Alexandria (end of 2nd/early 3rd Centuries), 18 authors were Conditionalists; only one was not. After Clement of Alexandria (that is, during the 3rd Century), the numbers flip to two Conditionalists and 8 not.

Obviously, something big happened around 200 AD to shift Christian thinking. Roller does not detail the history, but other sources suggest very credibly that it was the philosophy of Neo-Platonism, a school of thought that came to be the dominant worldview of the Roman Empire around this time. As a worldview, it was taken by most as so obviously true, that its merits weren’t even debated.

Origen and Augustine were Neo-Platonists, and very influential on Christian thinking. The central teaching of Neo-Platonists was the origin of all things in the One — which would easily be blended into Christianity. Neo-Platonists insisted, along with Plato, on the immortality of the soul — so that the damned must live forever, resulting in gehenna becoming Dante’s Inferno. In fact, in  a culture defined by this philosophy, it would be rare to even ask the question.

Just as it is today.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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26 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 3.1A: The Early Church Fathers on Conditionalism

  1. Austin Riley says:

    So what is your conclusion? It is definitely true that a lot of thinking in the church took an awkward flip after 200 A.D.

  2. Dustin says:

    St. Augustine was a Manichaean before becoming a Christian. They believed people were cast into hell enclosed with demons of darkness.

  3. Nathan says:

    The church has taken some additional awkward flips in more recent times (role of women, homosexuality, alcohol, etc.).

    On this subject, I’m glad there are at least precedents among the early church fathers. I’m much more comfortable accepting an idea that was accepted then over one that originated in the Enlightenment and beyond. I realize that we might get something right that has been wrong for ages, but I think the burden of proof should be on the one rejecting a long-held consensus.

    What are the implications for this doctrine? Do we have less motivation to reach the lost? Do we have less anxiety over being lost ourselves? I don’t know.

    While the God who does not punish eternally might be easier for the modern mind to accept, what about the God who ordered the killing of women and children? The God who killed Aachen’s family and animals for something that they didn’t do? The God who struck down Uzzah for steadying the ark of the covenant? Does God constantly fit our sense of justice? Might our sense of justice be a bit off?

  4. Larry Cheek says:

    Nathan.
    Your comments go along with mine. I was intending to site the same but my post was becoming too long.

  5. Richard constant says:

    Nathan:
    I don’t think it really has anything to do with the modern mind.
    I think it has everything to do with getting back to the truth, and ferreting out That which is not a woven tradition of Hellenistic philosophy.

  6. Richard constant says:

    You also might want to read Genesis 15 verse 16.
    When god kills people they deserve to be killed in his eyes they are reprobate.
    This verse is one of the turning points that I don’t really see too many people talking about when they look at God taking lives of the people in the land when they come out of Egypt.
    Maybe jaY comment on that.
    it has to do with righteous judgment and the creator of creation making those judgements based upon the behavior or the mind of the people that are living in his land and on his land.
    And and now his promise land.

  7. Nathan says:

    Richard,
    I think God defines justice, so when He determines that someone’s life should be terminated, it is just. His actions might make me feel uncomfortable at times, but I can’t deny they occurred. I can’t “tidy up” the Old Testament to make it more palatable to modern minds.

    Regarding Conditionalism, I’m still not completely convinced. I’ll continue investigating. I hope any conclusion we reach is as you say, one obtained from a desire for truth.

  8. Richard constant says:

    Just by way of Note, this has nothing to do with predestination, this has everything to do with the creator of creation knowing how evil works in the heart of men…

  9. Richard constant says:

    Nathan,
    like anything else you’ve got to be all in.
    and once you remove all doubt.
    In other words you convinced yourself.
    When you have relationship with God you can have relationship with others and you make other people think about that kind of a relationship not built on punishment but built on the relationship of one who is only good and wants only good and wants only a good creation and we’ll have it.

  10. Richard constant says:

    recipe s by all means keep hammering away at J he has great resources I need a good teacher

  11. Chris says:

    I agree Richard, our motivation to reach others springs forth from the love of God that dwells within us. As someone has noted earlier, if Christians truly believed that a loved one would “burn in hell forever,” wouldn’t that saved person spend every waking minute in a constant state of anxiety and agony over the fate of others?

    I’m not sure our minds could wrap around this without totally losing it. Perhaps thats why many numb themselves from the thought of it and engage their minds in other things.

    My heart can break at the thought of a loved one missing out on a relationship with Christ and all the blessings it brings and the thought of them eventually losing their soul and existence forever. That’s more than enough motivation for me to reach out.

    Someone once asked, how can a saved person enjoy heaven when they know that so many are being tortured in hell forever. I’m not convinced that our minds would be such in heaven that we wouldn’t know, or if we did, we’d be so busy enjoying heaven it wouldn’t matter any way (responses I’ve heard to this question). Just my thoughts.

  12. laymond says:

    Human beings are a judgmental creation, whether we believe in God or don’t believe in God we judge him. Whether we believe God is a being of unending grace and love, or unending torture and wrath, we judge him. As the bible says we will be judged by the word of God, and that is the only way we have of judging who God is. by the word Jesus brought. If we don’t believe in Jesus we can’t believe in God.

  13. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Austin,

    I think the early church taught that the damned are punished and then die forever — no perpetual conscious torment. The OT, NT, and early church fathers up until 200 AD are consistent. They also consistently taught that death is like sleep until the general resurrection.

    Everything changed around 200 AD due to Neo-Platonic thought and the influence of Origen and later Augustine, who were both highly influenced by Neo-Platonic thought. (This is not controversial among historians).

    NP thought also led to asceticism and even Gnosticism. It led to a low view of sex and of women. It did a lot of harm to the church — and did so invisibly because the church just absorbed the surrounding culture with little question.

    We have similar problems today. It’s hard to recognize your own worldview.

  14. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    PS — While I don’t want to restart the instrument music debate, even Everett Ferguson himself concedes that there are no anti-instrumental music writings among the church fathers until (are you ready?) Clement of Alexandria around 200 AD. And Clement wrote against music in banquets, not church. He was a pacifist and associated music with the military. (Ever hear that one preached?)

  15. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dustin,

    Thanks. As I understand it, Manichaeism is dualistic, similar to Gnosticism and so influenced by Neo-Platonic thought. Augustine gave up formal dualism for Christianity, but he never entirely left the NP worldview.

  16. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Nathan asked,

    What are the implications for this doctrine? Do we have less motivation to reach the lost? Do we have less anxiety over being lost ourselves? I don’t know.

    While the God who does not punish eternally might be easier for the modern mind to accept, what about the God who ordered the killing of women and children? The God who killed Aachen’s family and animals for something that they didn’t do? The God who struck down Uzzah for steadying the ark of the covenant? Does God constantly fit our sense of justice? Might our sense of justice be a bit off?

    To be brutally honest, our evangelism is at near-zero levels, both among conservative and progressive Churches of Christ. Baptists are struggling, too. We are not converting enough new members to even replace our own children who are leaving the church. Or put another way, we can’t even convert our own children.

    Progressives have a much higher retention rate among their own children in terms of remaining believers and church goers. But many progressive children leave the CoC to attend community churches. Among the more right wing churches, studies show that many of their children leave Christianity altogether.

    In short, it’s hard to imagine any teaching that could make things worse. Things are really, really bad when it comes to CoC evangelism.

    In today’s world, perpetual conscious torment is a serious barrier to conversion. If your evangelism starts with, “God is going to send you to hell and torture you forever,” well, you’ve already failed. So it’s easy to imagine Conditionalism offering a better approach.

    Add to that the the Saved For material earlier, especially the post quoting Mark Love’s explanation, the church becomes very appealing. It’s not just about the afterlife. It’s also about Kingdom work today. It’s about being part of God’s redemptive plan.

    The various seemingly unjust stories from the OT have to be dealt with one at a time. There’s been a lot of study on them lately — partly to help with apologetics. Way too much for the comments but maybe I’ll take them up in a series of posts if the readers are interested.

    PS — Uzzah is deeply misunderstood. He was the guy charged with taking care of the ark — not just a stranger standing by. And the Torah plainly prohibits carrying the ark of the covenant on a cart. The ark finally returned to the Jews and the guy in charge doesn’t bother to follow Torah as to its transport! He treated the holy as profane, and he was the one responsible.

    1. Son of Abinadab. With his brother, Ahio, Uzzah attended to the new cart which carried the ark of God when David attempted to bring it from Abinadab’s house in Baale-judah (Kireath-jearim) to the city of David (1 Sam 6:1–11 [= 1 Chr 13]). At the threshing floor of Nacon (Chidon in 1 Chr 13:9) God smote Uzzah when the oxen stumbled and he reached out to steady the ark (1 Sam 6:6–7 [= 1 Chr 13:9–10]). The place name, Perez-uzzah, recalls this “breach” in Uzzah’s family line (McCarter II Samuel AB, 161–70) or this “bursting forth” by Yahweh against Uzzah (Hertzberg Samuel OTL, 276, with LXX, Vg, Tg and most modern English versions). In view of Uzzah’s custodial role with the ark and the interchange attested between the name with Heb roots ʿzz and ʿzr, he should perhaps be identified with Eleazar, Abinadab’s son consecrated to such service (1 Sam 7:1).

    David L. Thompson, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 1992, 6, 776.

    It’s a much deeper topic than that, but it’s late. Remind me when we get to the end of Salvation 2.0 (which will be a while).

  17. Nathan says:

    To be clear, what is not controversial is that Origen and Augustine were influenced by Neo-Platonic thought. What is controversial is the extent to which the OT, NT, and early church fathers consistently held the Conditionalist position. The OT and NT are more easily interpreted the way that most Christians have interpreted them through church history. Early church fathers made some vague statements that can be interpreted as Conditionalist (especially if you’re looking for it), but it seems a stretch to say that they were unequivocally in favor of that position.

    Though we can speculate about all sorts of things, but I don’t think we can know much about the nature of the afterlife with any certainty. We can disagree without thinking one another evil or ignorant.

    We can have academic disputes, but they often have implications for the lives of ordinary people. I’m far more interested in that, and I’m still unclear what those implications would be if we all accepted this teaching.

  18. Nathan says:

    I apologize. I posted my last comment before seeing Jay’s new one.

  19. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Nathan,

    PPS — The OT prophets over and over refer to God as a God of “justice.” In his name, they order the king to bring “justice” to the people. The Torah frequently insists on justice.

    Either the word means something or it doesn’t. We can’t call injustice “justice” and then praise God for being so just. Rather, even though there are exceptional cases we struggle to accept, if you spend time in the Torah and the prophets, it’s clear that “justice” doesn’t mean “perpetual conscious torment.” For example, in Torah, the command given is “eye for an eye.” But this was understood by the Jews to mean that the punishment should fit the crime — by God’s decree. Justice must be proportional to the crime, according to YHWH himself, whereas most ancient law codes imposed punishments brutally severe — such as cutting off a hand for a beggar stealing bread.

  20. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Chris wrote,

    Someone once asked, how can a saved person enjoy heaven when they know that so many are being tortured in hell forever. I’m not convinced that our minds would be such in heaven that we wouldn’t know, or if we did, we’d be so busy enjoying heaven it wouldn’t matter any way (responses I’ve heard to this question). Just my thoughts.

    David Bentley Hart is an Orthodox theologian and philosopher of considerable reputation. I learned about him from Richard Beck. We’ll be considering one of his arguments in a few posts.

    One point where I find myself in agreement with him is that if we forget our friends and loved ones in the afterlife, we’ll cease to be who we were when we died. Humans are, in a sense, the sum of their memories. Our personalities, character, behavior is shaped by our memories — not entirely but a whole, whole lot.

    So if I forget my wife in heaven, does that mean I also forget the life lessons she’s taught me? Do I become a less Godly man?

    Hart’s solution is Universal Reconciliation (Universalism). I don’t buy it, but I do buy that God can’t remove but so much of us before we cease to be us.

    Conditionalism helps in that we won’t be miserable knowing that a child or parent is in hell in ceaseless torment — whether or not our fault. Of course, this assumes our sense of justice continues in heaven even though God evidently has a very different sense of justice. Perhaps God teaches us to be happy about the unending torture of the damned. Luther and Calvin both taught that — quite literally.

    But if God is truly just — as the prophets say and as Jesus insists — as “justice” is defined in the dictionary, then it’s easy to imagine our sense of justice being reconciled with God’s perfect sense of justice. And then, if God only punishes those who deserve it and he punishes them with justice, we have no cause to be miserable. After all, justice is just.

    Now, if we’re going to insist on painting God as someone who roasts middle schoolers over a spit for eternity, it’s hard to imagine enjoying heaven knowing such horrors are going on. But the reason we are repelled at such thoughts is not because we aren’t just/unjust like God, it’s because we’re made in his image, and it’s his image in us – the best part of us — that finds eternal torture repellent.

    The fact that God kills people in this life that we wouldn’t isn’t nearly the same theological problem as eternal torture. After all, God can turn death into a blessing. And God knows the larger, future, contingent outcome of his decisions. He knows what would have happened if someone did not die. He knows which choice provides the greater good. And he could, if he wants, save the person whose life he takes. Or absolve them from punishment. He has options we mortals do not.

  21. Nathan says:

    I think I’m about done with the conversation. You seem to hold to this position with more dogmatic certainty than I’ve seen with other issues you’ve addressed on this site. Moreover, you’ve resorted to a flippancy that I find troubling (e.g., “roasting middle schoolers over a spit”). It’s as if the majority of Christians in the history of the church are not only uncharitable, but stupid.

    Again, I’m not certain that Conditionalism is wrong. I am uncomfortable with some of the arguments being used, mainly because I’ve heard the same sort of arguments to justify all sorts of other things. What can make our evangelism more effective? Well, let’s tell them that hell doesn’t last forever. How can we get more people to attend worship services? Well, let’s have touchy-feely pathos-binges. Or maybe rock concerts. Let’s talk about the goodness of God, but let’s avoid any discussion of his severity. Maybe we should preach some version of the prosperity gospel.

    You say that “justice” either means something or it doesn’t. In school, a number of professors in my department made the same claim about “nature.” It either means something or it doesn’t. For them, it meant that there are universal rules that are unbreakable, even by God Himself. God cannot cause the sun to stand still because that means He is over nature, which would mean there is no such thing as “nature.” The same sort of argument could be applied to almost any of the miracles recorded in Scripture. Their commitment to their understanding of nature trumped their commitment to the God revealed in His Word.

    By no means am I suggesting that you are doing that here. After all, you have provided a great deal of evidence to support your argument. My point, again, is that I’m uncomfortable with some of the arguments. I’ve heard people say that a just God wouldn’t condemn a homosexual person for a relationship with the object of his/her affection. A just God wouldn’t truly mean that divorce and remarriage is adultery. Some go so far as saying that a just God wouldn’t permit pain and suffering. Therefore, there is no God, or He’s a vengeful autocrat unworthy of our love.

    I gave a list of “seemingly unjust” stories from the OT earlier. You mention that a lot of study is being conducted on them, primarily for apologetic purposes. I hope that study is fruitful. All too often, those studies seem to be weak attempts to rationalize God’s actions and fit them into our scheme. More in more in life, I tend to fall back on the verses Monty quoted in a related thread. God’s ways are not my ways, and His thoughts are not my thoughts. I don’t think there is anything wrong with asking questions, and some individuals clearly feel compelled to question more than others. At the end of the day, however, our task remains the same: trust and obey.

  22. Johnathon says:

    “Progressives have a much higher retention rate among their own children in terms of remaining believers and church goers. But many progressive children leave the CoC to attend community churches. Among the more right wing churches, studies show that many of their children leave Christianity altogether.”
    Jay,
    This may be true for the whole of progressive and conservative churches. I do not know. But it is not inevitably true about about individual progressive and conservative churches. I was raised in a progressive church ( I now attend an independent christian church) with a large youth group. A great many of the people raised in the church with me may no longer be christian. I think this was due in large part to our church’s refusal to teach, well, much of anything at all. To give one example, a young lady that grew up in the church with me no longer attends any church, lived for years with a man who was not her husband, and had children out of wedlock. Now of course this happens all the time with people raised in both conservative and progressive chuches. But, when she was asked by some of her family members, who attended churches more conservative than ours, why she was doing this, she replied she didn’t know she was doing anything wrong. I was later asked if what she said could be true. Did our church not teach that such behaviors were sinful? At first, I was I thought what she said was incredulous. But the more I thought about it the more I thought she might have been telling the truth. I have trouble recalling any sermon or bible study that would have taught what she was doing was sinful.

  23. Monty says:

    What is the threat of “everlasting” fire to the unbeliever? There seems to be a direct warning for it is mentioned quite often. Why is it mentioned so often in connection with judgment? If the judgment of the lost is temporary(and perhaps it is) why would one be worried about how long the fire last after they are destructed?

  24. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Johnathon wrote,

    This may be true for the whole of progressive and conservative churches. I do not know. But it is not inevitably true about about individual progressive and conservative churches.

    Doubtlessly true. Might stats come Why Did They Leave? published by the Gospel Advocate based on research done by Flavil Yeakley, who is quite conservative. But his numbers are denomination wide.

  25. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Monty,

    “Everlasting fire” is generally “unquenchable fire” which, in the NT, is always a reference to Isa 66 —

    (Matt. 3:12 NAS) “And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

    (Mk. 9:43 NAS) “And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire,

    (Lk. 3:17 NAS) “And His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

    These all refer back to —

    (Isa. 66:24 ESV) 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.”

    The fire will not be quenched means it cannot be put out until it completes its destructive work.

    Isaiah is clear that the damned are “dead bodies”. The NIV translates “corpses.” There is no thought of eternal torture — just very certain punishment and destruction.

    There is a verse that refers to fire that lasts “forever” — just one —

    (Rev. 20:9-10 ESV) 9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them,
    10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Rev. 20:9-10 ESV)

    And only the devil, the beast, and the false prophet are subject to being tormented day and night forever. That phrase is never applied to humans.

    I think I gave links last night to articles by Edward Fudge addressing the interpretation of this passage. He traces the language of “fire and sulfur” back to Sodom and Gomorrah and says the “forever” language is not used of eternity in the OT. It’s a testable hypothesis —

    We begin with —

    (Gen. 19:24-29 ESV) 24 Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven.
    25 And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.
    26 But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
    27 And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the LORD.
    28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.
    29 So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived.

    Here is the first and the seminal reference to “fire and sulfur” — and it refers to destruction and death only. But there is no “forever.”

    (Isa. 30:33 ESV) 33 For a burning place has long been prepared; indeed, for the king it is made ready, its pyre made deep and wide, with fire and wood in abundance; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of sulfur, kindles it.

    These is about the destruction of Assyria. Same as S&G.

    Next is Ezekiel’s difficult account of Gog and Magog —

    (Ezek. 38:21-23 ESV) 21 I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Lord GOD. Every man’s sword will be against his brother.
    22 With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him, and I will rain upon him and his hordes and the many peoples who are with him torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur.
    23 So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD.

    Same thing.

    (Lk. 17:28-30 ESV) 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot– they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building,
    29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all–
    30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

    Now, this is interesting. Jesus says that the fire that will come when he re-appears will be like the fire and sulfur of S&G — which was really bad but finite and deadly. It did not produce eternal torture.

    (Rev. 9:17-18 ESV) 17 And this is how I saw the horses in my vision and those who rode them: they wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulfur, and the heads of the horses were like lions’ heads, and fire and smoke and sulfur came out of their mouths.
    18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths.

    (Rev. 9:18 ESV) 18 By these three plagues a third of mankind was killed, by the fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths.

    However you interpret the Revelation, the fire and sulfur kill. They aren’t said to be tortured in perpetuity.

    (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.”

    Now, here we’re talking of people. And there’s torment, fire, and sulfur. The smoke goes us forever and ever — which sounds very much like —

    (Isa. 34:9-10 ESV) 9 And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into sulfur; her land shall become burning pitch.
    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.

    This language in Rev is a near exact copy of Isaiah’s language re the destruction Edom — which was about the death and destruction of a nation — not perpetual torture. The point of the smoke going up forever is that its destruction will always be visible — bringing perpetual SHAME in an honor/shame culture. And Rev borrows this language regarding damnation.

    (Rev. 19:19-21 ESV) make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army.
    20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.
    21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

    In this final battle, the beast and false prophet are thrown in the lake of fire and brimstone alive. The “rest” — the people — are “slain by the sword” and the “birds were gorged with their flesh.” They died. And their corpses are eaten by birds — that is, they aren’t buried. It’s a death of shame in an honor/shame culture.

    (Rev. 20:7-10 ESV) 7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison
    8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea.
    9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them,
    10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

    The Devil is throne in the lake of fire with beast and false prophet to burn “forever and ever” but everyone else is “consumed” by the fire from heaven. This is language from Torah that refers to dying from the fire. For example,

    (Lev. 10:2 ESV) 2 And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.

    So Revelation uses the language of death for humans.

    (Rev. 21:8 ESV) 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

    Of course, “fire and sulfur” refer to death throughout scripture. And it means dead — with the exception of Satan, the beast, and the false prophet of Revelation — and even then some conclude that the language does not mean that even Satan is tortured eternally — although I find the question uninteresting. The people all die.

  26. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Monty,

    I need to add the verses on “eternal fire”. They are —

    (Matt. 18:8 ESV) And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.

    (Matt. 25:41 ESV) “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.

    (Jude 1:7 ESV) just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

    Notice that Jude says that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered “eternal fire.” But the fire is not burning today and hasn’t burned for thousands of years. “Fire eternal” must mean finite fire with perpetual consequences — they died and will not be resurrected. It cannot mean “fire that burns forever.”

    Thus, Jesus threat of the “eternal fire” is the same. It doesn’t necessarily burn forever. It burns with forever effect — except it would seem for the demonic beings described in Revelation 19.

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