He dismisses the orthodox view of eternal, conscious torment but also dismisses the conditionalist (or annihilationalist) view that the lost are destroyed at the Eschaton in an agonizing process, preferring instead a theory of an eternal existence of worshiping the wrong thing.
Some years ago, I read Ed Fudge’s masterful The Fire that Consumes, which is the most comprehensive defense there is of the conditionalist view, which is that only God is immortal and he has promised immortality only to the saved. Hence, the lost are not immortal and they do not have an eternal existence.
When I take on these studies, I like to independently do my research. Rather than going back over Fudge’s book, I’ve decided to figure it out for myself. I might take a look at his book when I’m done, but I’d rather avoid being biased by reading just his point of view. (You have to watch those lawyers, you know!)
And the way I like to do this is by doing word studies. I check out every use of certain key words and see if they paint a consistent picture. This way, an author can’t slip something past me by only citing only the verses that support his view.
Therefore, this post will be the first of several word studies, looking to see just how the Biblical writers describe the fate of the damned.
The traditional view
To start, let’s just quickly review the orthodox view of where the dead are. As the theory goes, after we die and before Jesus returns, we go either to Paradise or Tartarus, both of which are a part of Hades. Then after the Judgment, those in Paradise go to heaven and those in Tartarus go to hell.
Now, there are obviously some problems with this theory —
* Why wait on Judgment if the souls are already sorted between lost and saved? No one is going to be surprised! And Matthew 25 predicts surprise.
* This theory is astonishingly similar to Greek mythology, which seems just too weird.
* Where’s the new heaven and new earth?
And so, we need to talk about “Hades.”
“Hades” is often translated in the English translations as “the grave” or “the depths,” but it has a more definite meaning. The Greeks used “Hades” to refer to the god of the underworld, where the dead live, both good and bad. They also referred to the underworld itself as Hades.
Hades contained such places as Tartarus, where evil people are tormented after they die, but also the Elysian Fields, where the righteous would live in perpetual bliss, which is much like the Jewish Paradise.
In the Septuagint, sheol is translated “Hades.” The NIV and KJV generally translate sheol as “the grave.” For example,
(Gen 42:38) But Jacob said, “My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.”
(Psa 16:9-10) Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.
In the New Testament, we find “Hades” where we might have found sheol in the Hebrew.
(Mat 11:23) And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.
The prophecy is thus, not for hell, but the death of the city (just as Sodom was destroyed). Just so,
(Mat 16:18) And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Jesus is not speaking of conquering hell so much as death — the grave. His church will launch an assault on and defeat death.
(Alternatively, I have to note that in Caesarea Philippi where Jesus was speaking, there was a place called the Gates of Hades, where Pan was worshiped. Jesus may have been referring to defeating idolatry rather than death.)
In Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man is said to be in Hades “where he was in torment” (Luke 16:23). And so, here we see a transition from the Jewish use of sheol/Hades to refer to the grave to a separate, conscious existence outside this world.
But in Acts 2:31, Peter preaches that Jesus went to Hades when he died, plainly meaning the grave, not hell.
In Revelation, Hades appears as immediately following Death —
(Rev 6:8) I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
The natural reading is “grave.”
(Rev 20:13-15) The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
The final mention of Hades is again in the company of Death, surely meaning the grave. John shows death and the grave cast into the lake of fire, not meaning that Death and the Grave are to be eternally tortured, but that they’re to be destroyed.
Now Tartarus makes but one appearance in the scriptures —
(2 Pet 2:4) For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell [Tartarus], putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment;
Nothing says that lost human souls wind up in Tartarus pending Judgment Day. This one passage speaks only of angels.
Therefore, while it’s easy enough to see where the orthodox view of Paradise and Tartarus comes from, the traditional theory is hardly proven. And if we accept that time is a created part of this universe, we don’t really need a two-story Hades to store souls in until Judgment Day.
We’ll be coming back to the rich man and Lazarus. For the rest of it, all we’re told about Hades is that people die and go to the grave and the lost suffer torment — but we haven’t yet been told for how long. Next, we have to talk about Gehenna.