Response to D. A. Carson (Word Document).
Conditionalism, also known as Annihilationism, proposes that after the resurrection and judgment of all people, the unsaved will face a second, irreversible death, ceasing conscious existence forever. Only those who are saved through faith in Christ will receive the gift of immortality and eternal life.
The traditional belief in the eternal conscious torment of the unsaved, whether right or wrong, acts as a doctrinal grid that affects our interpretation of biblical texts. This grid forces texts about "death," "destruction," and "perishing" to be interpreted metaphorically to refer to separation from God, pain, or torment even though annihilation, extinction, or cessation of consciousness would appear be the obvious interpretation of these passages otherwise.
There are sufficient translational, exegetical, theological, and practical considerations to inspire humility and genuine reflection as one studies this weighty and important doctrine. Therefore, both sides must be careful to avoid reading presuppositions into the Bible or flippantly dismissing those who disagree. Proof-texting without regard for context or carefulness is irresponsible and unhelpful. A thorough examination of passages about the ultimate end of unbelievers is the only way we can reach clarity and certainty on the matter.
Mark Corbett, Heresy and Slander: Immune System Disorders in the Body of Christ, 2021: "Basically, I believe that unrighteous will be resurrected to face judgment. The judgment will be terrible for them. However, they will not suffer eternally. Instead, they will perish (John 3:16) as God destroys both their bodies and souls in hell (Matthew 10:28) and they are reduced to ashes (2 Peter 2:6). They will no longer exist as conscious people and will be gone forever."
Peter Grice, "Conditional Immortality"—What it Means and Why it's the Best Label, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Quotes ordered respectively: "Salvation, on our view, is salvation to everlasting life with God. Simultaneously, it is salvation from a permanent death (termination of life forever; final loss of being)." "More fully expressed, this would mean humans are mortal yet capable of immortality (after meeting qualifying conditions), or alternatively, immortal yet capable of mortality (after meeting disqualifying conditions)." "Our own view is that all people will be resurrected, but only some will receive a 'resurrection like his,' having 'died to sin' and been 'crucified with him,' in order that 'we will also live' and 'never die again,' for 'death has no dominion' over him, nor over those who are 'alive to God in Christ Jesus' (Rom 6:2-11)."
Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism: "Conditionalism is the view that life is the Creator’s provisional gift to all, which will ultimately be granted forever to the saved and revoked forever from the unsaved. Evangelical conditionalists believe that the saved in Christ will receive glory, honor and immortality, being raised with an incorruptible body to inherit eternal life (Romans 2:7). The unsaved will be raised in shame and dishonor, to face God and receive the just condemnation for their sins. When the penalty is carried out, they will be permanently excluded from eternal life by means of a final death, implicating the whole person in a destruction of human life and being (Matthew 10:28)."
I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. Scripture, being the very word of God, is both authoritative and accurate in all that it teaches. It is the standard of truth over and against all human traditions, philosophies, creeds, councils, and authorities. I don't have a set position for or against Annihilationism, I'm still studying the issue, but I do see it as a plausible view worth considering seriously after reexamining some of the biblical texts which appeared to me to teach the traditional view until I examined them critically.
I will present positive arguments for Annihilationism first and then challenge or defend them as I study and revise the article. I cite resources at the bottom of each section when relevant for further study and support. Not all the authors cited are Conditionalists, though the majority are.
What would cause someone to question a belief that seems so certain? One only needs to consider the time before the Reformation when the majority of the visible church was certain that justification was by faith and works. It was going back to the Word of God with an open mind to be conformed to its message that revealed that doctrinal error. So, it is certainly possible for many to be mistaken about what the Bible teaches, but what in Scripture would cause someone to question eternal torment?
Well to start with, the very meaning of the gospel suggests that death, not eternal torment, is the price for sin. Everyone is under "the law of sin and death" (Rom 8:2), for "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). "But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8), so that we have "an atoning sacrifice through faith in his blood" (Rom 3:25). He, "who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification" (Rom 4:25), took the penalty for our sins, that is death, on the cross for our justification.
Those whose sins are not covered by the cross will be held accountable on judgment day. They will have to suffer the consequences of sin with the most serious punishment, capital punishment. They will be cast into the lake of fire where they will undergo the second death (Rev 20:14). This permanent, final punishment, the second death, represents the ultimate consequence of sin. It entails eternal and complete destruction from God who will annihilate both soul and body in Gehenna (Mat 10:28).
This punishment is put in stark contrast to eternal life, which is consistently presented in the New Testament as the desirable alternative to death, destruction, and perishing. The Bible clearly states that the righteous will be resurrected and given immortality, but there is no suggestion in the Scriptures that the wicked will be granted immortality. They will not receive eternal life but perish (John 3:16). In contrast to this, the historic doctrine of eternal torment holds that unbelievers will also be granted eternal, embodied life just like believers, and the price for their sins is not death but torture.
Glenn Peoples, Why I am an Annihilationist: "Not only am I an annihilationist, but I think that all evangelical Christians should be annihilationists, because the biblical case for annihilationism is very strong, and I think the arguments against annihilationism are very weak in comparison."
Preston Sprinkle, Biblical Support For Annihilation, 2015: "In my previous post, I said that while I am not an 'Annihilationist,' I do see enough biblical support for this position to qualify it as an Evangelical option. I have not yet had the time to clear my desk to engage in prayerful, thorough, painstaking exegesis to have landed on this position. But from what I have seen, there’s a good deal of sound, biblical arguments for it."
— The Case For Conditionalism, 2016: "In reality, following in the footsteps of early Christians like Ignatius and Irenaeus is an increasing number of evangelicals who, as J. I. Packer said of 'honored fellow-evangelicals' John Stott and John Wenham, embrace conditional immortality and annihilationism 'for the right reason—not because it fitted into their comfort zone, though it did, but because they thought they found it in the Bible.'"
Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism: "Evangelical conditionalists hold to a view of hell that results from a firm commitment to the truthfulness and perennial relevance of the Bible, and not from a desire to have its message be more palatable to our own culture. We are not seeking to construct a more tolerable version of hell, as though primarily motivated by an emotional aversion to the idea of eternal torment. Neither do we assume, however, that the correct view of Hell must be whichever is perceived to be the harshest and most intolerable."
Chris Date, The Hermeneutics of Conditionalism: A Defense of the Interpretive Method of Edward Fudge: Chris points out that traditionalists only have a small number of texts to work with about the nature of hell, while "conditionalism’s sedes doctrinae—its seat of doctrine—can be likened to a stool with three legs, each representing a body of biblical texts collectively conveying one of these themes: life from death as the telos of the gospel; immortality as a gift granted only to the saved; and death and destruction as what happens in hell."
Edward Fudge, The Final End of the Wicked, JETS 27/3 (September 1984), 325-334: "The traditional doctrine rests on three arguments: (1) that the OT is, generally speaking, silent on the subject; (2) that the doctrine of conscious unending torment developed during the intertestamental years and came, by Jesus' time, to be "the commonly-accepted Jewish view" (it is said therefore that we ought to read Jesus and the NT writers with a presumption that they and their original hearers all held to the doctrine of unending conscious torment); (3) that the NT language on the subject requires us to conclude that God will make the wicked immortal for the purpose of torturing them alive forever without end."
Mark Corbett, What is Conditional Immortality?, 2016: "The doctrine of conditional immortality is an example of Biblical consistency. On the one hand, from Genesis to Revelation the Bible never says that all people are immortal. It never says that the unrighteous will live forever. On the other hand, the Bible consistently offers eternal life to those who put their faith in Christ."
The King James Version translated the words Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus as hell. This is inaccurate and confusing in modern English. The word hell has developed to refer to a place of eternal torment; however, it originally only meant a covered or hidden place (think of the word "helmet," a covering for your head). There are still many modern translations which translate these words inconsistently, but Gehenna is the only one that refers to the final fate of the wicked.
Joseph Dear, Do Evangelical Conditionalists Believe in Hell? That Depends on What you Mean By "Hell", 2022: "Conditionalists believe in hell in the sense that matters. When the Bible says people go to 'hell,' we agree. We just think it is, as Jesus put it in Matthew 10:28, where God destroys 'both body and soul.' We don’t believe in hell as a place of eternal torment because that’s not what the Bible means when it uses the underlying Greek and Hebrew terms translated as 'hell.'"
James Orr, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: "It means really the unseen world, the state or abode of the dead, and is the equivalent of the Greek Haides, by which word it is translated in Septuagint... The believer's hope for the future, so far as this had place, was not prolonged existence in Sheol, but deliverance from it and restoration to new life in God's presence (Job 14:13-15; Job 19:25-27 Psalm 16:10, 11; Psalm 17:15; Psalm 49:15; Psalm 73:24-26)."
Matthew Y. Emerson, What Is Sheol?: "For the dead, the hope was that, in order to participate in this anticipated return from exile, their Messiah would trample Sheol underfoot, and they would be raised from the dead by God’s Spirit.... The gates of Sheol will not prevail against Christ’s church because Jesus has already broken down its doors. All those united to Christ by faith and through the power of his Holy Spirit are no longer prisoners of death."
Words Translated As Hell: "The word Sheol is used in the Old Testament 65 times. The King James Version translates it as grave 31 times, hell 31 times, and pit 3 times. Can you imagine the same word being translated as both grave and hell?... By its usage we see that Sheol was considered the place or state of all the dead -- whether they were good or bad. When used figuratively it could mean the consequences of wickedness in the present world, likened to death."
Matthew Easton, Hell, Easton's Bible Dictionary: "The Greek word hades of the New Testament has the same scope of signification as sheol of the Old Testament. It is a prison (1 Peter 3:19), with gates and bars and locks (Matthew 16:18; Revelation 1:18), and it is downward (Matthew 11:23; Luke 10:15)."
Wayne Jackson, The Use of Hell in the New Testament: "Originally it simply denoted a deep place; it carries that significance in Job 40:13; 41:31 in the Septuagint. Homer, the Greek poet, spoke of 'dark Tartarus...the deepest pit' (Iliad, 8.13). Here [2 Peter 2:4], it is used of the abode of evil angels prior to their banishment to Gehenna, their ultimate destiny (cf. Mt. 25:41)."
Gehenna, the shortened name for the valley of Hinnom, became notorious during the reigns of Kings Ahaz and Manasseh as the location where children were sacrificed by fire to the god Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6). The valley, we are told in Jeremiah 7:29-34 and 19:1-15, would be called a place of slaughter where it was prophesied to be filled with the corpses of those who had turned away from God. This valley thus became synonymous with extreme divine punishment, where the dead bodies of the slain were left unburied and exposed to decay and scavengers, painting a vivid picture of desolation and wrath.
Gehenna in the New Testament represents not just physical destruction, but the culmination of divine judgment where the opportunity for salvation is irrevocably withdrawn, and the wicked face complete destruction by God. Jesus uses Gehenna eschatologically to illustrate the final death of the wicked (Matthew 5:22, 29-30, 18:9). This imagery resonates with Isaiah 66:24, a verse Jesus quotes when speaking of Gehenna, reinforcing the notion of Gehenna as a place of total annihilation. This is consistent with Paul who speaks of the ultimate fate of the wicked in terms of destruction (Philippians 1:28; 3:18-19; Romans 9:22-24; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
A common myth is that the Valley of Hinnom was a garbage dump that was always burning with fire, and therefore provided good imagery for eternal torment. However, this is a baseless claim first made by Rabbi David Kimhi around A.D. 1200. Although the garbage dump theory is commonly stated in study Bibles and commentaries to support the doctrine of eternal torment, there is no archeological or literary evidence to back it up. The reality is that the Old Testament provides the background for Gehenna as a place of slaughter, death, and destruction, a stark contrast to the idea of people being tormented and never dying.
Andrew Perriman, Was Gehenna a burning rubbish dump, and does it matter?: "There is no actual evidence for the commonplace belief that the city’s refuse was burnt in the Valley of Gehenna at the time of Jesus—apparently, the first recorded reference to fires in the Valley of Hinnom comes from a commentary on Psalm 27 by Rabbi David Kimhi, dating from around 1200 AD."
Chris Loewen, Gehenna: The History, Development and Usage of a Common Image for Hell: "Of the four words that are often translated 'hell,' Gehenna is the only term used in our Scriptures to describe the final fate of the wicked. It is used primarily by Jesus in the gospels, once by James and is entirely absent in the writings of Paul."
Don Stewart, What is Gehenna?: "Gehenna is derived from the Hebrew ge hinnom or the 'valley of Hinnom'... It was also called Tophet, or the valley of dead bones."
Encyclopedia of the Bible - Gehenna: "J. Jeremias stresses the sharp distinction in the NT (as in pre-NT Judaism) between Hades and Gehenna—Hades receiving the ungodly only for the intervening period between death and resurrection, Gehenna being their place of punishment after the last judgment."
Todd Bolen, The Myth of the Burning Garbage Dump of Gehenna, 2011: "I have long wanted to do a little work to debunk the endlessly repeated myth that the Hinnom Valley (Gehenna) was a perpetually burning trash dump. There simply is no evidence to support the idea, but because it seems a reasonable explanation for the origin of the Hinnom Valley as 'hell,' writers and preachers accept and propagate the story."
Annihilationists deny eternal punishment: This is a strawman. See the commentary on Matthew 25:46. Both sides affirm eternal punishment. The disagreement is over the nature of that punishment. The punishment is not ceasing to exist. Conditionalists don't believe Jesus ceased to exist. The punishment is death–being deprived of life. For the damned, this is an everlasting punishment.
Annihilationists redefine the word eternal: This misunderstands the position. Annihilationism is the view that the punishment for sin is death, though it does affirm that there is suffering leading up to and accompanying that death. Both positions affirm that the consequences of sin are indeed eternal. It is not the view that sinners receive the punishment of torment for a long time to pay the price of their sins before God ends their lives, and it does not teach that God instantly annihlates sinners so that they face no pain.
This view must be wrong because Jehovah's Witnesses believe it: This isn't even the genetic fallacy. Annihilationism has strong support in the early church until the time of Augustine and is becoming more common among conservative, Bible-believing Christians now. This is the guilt by association fallacy. Just because this position is held by a heretical group, doesn't mean that it is wrong or that others hold the position for the same reasons. The arguments given here are exegetical and based on accepted hermeneutical principles.
Conditionalists deny degrees of punishment: It is argued that Conditionalism must deny degrees of punishment since the wicked will all face the same fate of death in the end. This does not follow though. If you want to understand degrees of capital punishment, consider the differences between death by lethal injection, firing squad, burning at the stake, and crucifixion. In contrast, the traditional view is that one sin and a lifetime of sin both merit everlasting torment. Both views give an account for degrees of punishment, even though the latter view appears to give a much worse account.
Conditionalists argue that their view is more consistent with God's character of love and justice: This is a red herring. The focus should remain exegetical first and foremost. There is certainly room to discuss the justness of each view, but one's intuition about justice should not be treated as the primary argument or motivation for their view. Moreover, death, not eternal torment, is consistently said to be the price of sin, so it is not hard to understand the belief that capital punishment aligns with God's justice. Traditionalists also have explanations for why God would be just to inflict eternal torment. Ultimately, we must rely on the Bible more than intuition or emotion.
Conditionalists just want to believe in annihilation because the idea of people spending eternity in hell is awful, or they are just theological liberals: This is just poisoning the well when people begin with these kinds of accusations. The goal is not to psychoanalyze the other side but to examine arguments about the biblical view of hell. It may in fact be the traditionalists that are not taking the biblical language serious enough through constant allegorizing of life and death, perishing, destruction, fire, Gehenna, annihilation, and other corresponding language.
Biblical references to fire and destruction are understood as metaphors for annihilation: Trying to claim that this view interprets these descriptions non-literally or metaphorically is not only false, it is used rhetorically to discount consideration of the view. Destruction and annihilation are synonyms, and things that are set on fire are consumed and destroyed. Rather, construing these descriptions to mean eternal conscious torment, whether or not that is justified, is clearly the metaphorical interpretation of these passages.
Glenn Peoples, Fallacies in the Annihilationist Debate: A Critique of Robert Peterson and Other Traditionalist Scholarship, JETS 50/2 (June 2007), 329-47: "Annihilationists have noted that instead of speaking in terms of everlasting suffering, the Bible predominantly describes the fate of the lost in terms of destruction... John Stott has commented that 'it would seem strange, therefore, if people who are said to suffer destruction are in fact not destroyed.' He concurs with his partner in dialogue David Edwards (while they disagree on many other things) that it is 'difficult to imagine a perpetually inconclusive process of perishing.'"
The soul is not inherently immortal: Everything that is not God was created by God and depends on Him at every moment for its sustained existence. The Bible never states that the soul will necessarily live on forever. God "is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna." (Mat. 10:28).
Everyone might not spend eternity somewhere: The idea that everyone will experience eternal life, either in heaven or hell, is an assumption that must be examined biblically. 1 Corinthians 15 is almost the only text used to argue that all people will be raised with immortality and incorruptibility; however, in context, this chapter is only about those in Christ being raised and says nothing of unbelievers. Verses like John 3:16 indicate the opposite, that unbelievers are destined to perish.
Peter Grice, The Neglected Doctrines of Resurrection and Bodily Transformation, 2017: "This, in a nutshell, is conditional immortality, in which salvation is understood to be rescue from the mortal condition that results from sin... It explains why Christ’s resurrection is so unique and profound, and how if we are to receive eternal life and immortality, it is necessary for us to participate in 'a resurrection like his' (Rom 6:5). To a dying world, the fact that Jesus died and conquered death for us is very good news indeed."
Chris Date, Dismissive of Hell, Fearful of Death: Conditional Immortality and the Apologetic Challenge of Hell: "In today’s pluralistic culture, however, atheists and adherents to a variety of non-Christian religions often dismiss the doctrine of eternal torment as absurd... Meanwhile, Scripture and human experience testify to the reality that people deeply fear death, and the Bible’s offer of immortal life is naturally appealing to them... Consequently, evangelism done from a conditionalist perspective will fare just as successfully as evangelism based on escaping eternal torment, if not more so."
Mark Corbett, Burned Up: Annihilationism versus Eternal Conscious Punishment, 2016: "Some Christians have embraced theological liberalism/postmodernism and the many errors associated with that outlook in part as a reaction against the idea that God would torture people forever. A good example is Rob Bell in his book 'Love Wins'. There are many other examples. Far from being a step towards universalism or theological compromise of some kind, the Biblical truth of annihilationism is a strong defense against these errors."
— Why our beliefs about Hell and the Doctrine of Conditional Immortality are Important, 2021: "The doctrine of conditional immortality makes the threat of hell emotionally bearable without removing it as a motivation for evangelism and missions. The Christian most well known for defending annihilationism is perhaps the late John Stott. He noted the emotional strain that belief in eternal torment causes."
Terrance Tiessen, Does annihilationism diminish our motivation for evangelism?, 2016: "Stott admitted that he found the traditional concept of hell as eternal conscious torment 'intolerable'... But Stott was thoroughly evangelical, and he knew that his question must be 'not what does my heart tell me, but what does God’s Word say?'... In face of that stumbling block to the evangelistic work of traditionalists in the western world, might it not be, therefore, that an annihilationist understanding would be considerably less scandalous, and therefore that Christian annihilationists would find themselves more eager to share the good news of Jesus’ saving work, and less reluctant to describe the consequences of rejecting Christ?"
"but you shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die."
God warned Adam that he would surely die if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Natural, literal death is clearly intended here. Hence, in Genesis 3:19, God says, "you are dust, and you shall return to dust." Therefore, God kicked Adam out of the garden, "lest he reach out his hand, and also take of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" (Gen 3:22). Paul explains that "as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death passed to all men because all sinned." (Rom 5:12). Without the tree of life, all are destined to perish and die.
In Revelation, it is revealed that believers will get to partake of the tree of life and live forevermore: "On this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." (Rev 22:2). Paul explains that believers will be made unable to die: "The first man is of the earth, made of dust. The second man is the Lord from heaven... Now I say this, brothers, that flesh and blood can’t inherit God’s Kingdom; neither does the perishable inherit imperishable... For this perishable body must become imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality." (1 Cor 15:47, 50, 53).
It follows that some will not inherit the imperishable or receive immortality. They will be subject to everlasting death and won't obtain to the final age: "But those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. For they can’t die any more, for they are like the angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection." (Lk 20:35-36).
Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), pg. 172: "Here in 2:17 we have translated it as as surely as on the basis of its occasional use as an idiom meaning 'for certain,' as in 1 K. 2:37, 42, where Shimei is threatened with death 'on the day you go forth and cross the brook Kidron.' As the next few verses indicate, Shimei could not possibly have been executed 'on the day' he exited his house. The verse is underscoring the certainty of death, not its chronology."
Peter Grice, Warned of Sin's Wages: A Concise Explanation of Death in Genesis 2:17 and Romans 6:23, 2017: "In other words, 'you will certainly die' became true instantly, as a kind of death sentence or curse. In the Hebrew, this phrase is a language construct known as an infinitive absolute. It has no exact equivalent in English, and should be read not as a statement about when death will occur, but rather to emphasize the certainty of death being incurred."
"Yahweh will not pardon him, but then Yahweh’s anger and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and all the curse that is written in this book will fall on him, and Yahweh will blot out his name from under the sky."
"For Yahweh knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked shall perish" (Ps 1:6).
"I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and they opened books. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. The sea gave up the dead who were in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them. They were judged, each one according to his works. Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. If anyone was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire" (Rev 20:12-15).
"You have rebuked the nations. You have destroyed the wicked. You have blotted out their name forever and ever. The enemy is overtaken by endless ruin. The very memory of the cities which you have overthrown has perished."
"On the wicked he will rain blazing coals; fire, sulfur, and scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup."
"The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar. Then Yahweh rained on Sodom and on Gomorrah sulfur and fire from Yahweh out of the sky. He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew on the ground. But Lot’s wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt." (Gen 19:23-26).
Sodom and Gomorrah is a cited many times in the Old and New Testaments and is representative of what God's judgment is like.
"But the wicked shall perish. The enemies of Yahweh shall be like the beauty of the fields. They will vanish— vanish like smoke."
"As for transgressors, they shall be destroyed together. The future of the wicked shall be cut off."
"who will pay the penalty: eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes in that day to be glorified in his saints and to be admired among all those who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed" (2 Thess 1:9-10).
"then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms."
"though the wicked spring up as the grass, and all the evildoers flourish, they will be destroyed forever."
"The wicked will see it, and be grieved. He shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away. The desire of the wicked will perish."
"The wicked plots against the just, and gnashes at him with his teeth. The Lord will laugh at him, for he sees that his day is coming." (Ps 37:12-13).
The phrase gnashing of teeth indicates anger, annoyance, and being upset at the inability to stop something. Here it is used in conjunction with the wicked melting away and perishing. It does not suggest a perpetual process of suffering. Neither is gnashing of teeth ever said to last forever in the New Testament.
"When the whirlwind passes, the wicked is no more; but the righteous stand firm forever... The fear of Yahweh prolongs days, but the years of the wicked shall be shortened... The way of Yahweh is a stronghold to the upright, but it is a destruction to the workers of iniquity. The righteous will never be removed, but the wicked will not dwell in the land. The mouth of the righteous produces wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off."
"The nations were angry, and your wrath came, as did the time for the dead to be judged, and to give your bondservants the prophets, their reward, as well as to the saints and those who fear your name, to the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth" (Rev 11:18).
"Don’t fret yourself because of evildoers, neither be envious of the wicked; for there will be no reward to the evil man. The lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out."
"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in their hearts, yet so that man can’t find out the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end."
This verse does not teach the immortality of the soul. The Hebrew word "olam" is commonly translated as "darkness," "eternity," or "the future." This verse is about the insatiable longing for and awareness of something beyond this world that God has instilled in human hearts. Humans possess an inherent sense of something beyond the temporal world. Yet we are unable to fully understand God's workings or be ultimately satisfied in this world. This verse describes that existential reality.
"They are dead, they will not live; they are shades, they will not arise; to that end you have visited them with destruction and wiped out all remembrance of them... Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead."
Isaiah isn't denying a general future resurrection of all. He's denying that the wicked will get to participate in the resurrection life to come. They will come out "to the resurrection of judgment" while those saved by Jesus will come out "to the resurrection of life" (Jn 5:29). The wicked will face eternal destruction in the fires of Gehenna.
"You will conceive chaff. You will give birth to stubble. Your breath is a fire that will devour you. The peoples will be like the burning of lime, like thorns that are cut down and burned in the fire... The sinners in Zion are afraid. Trembling has seized the godless ones. Who among us can live with the devouring fire? Who among us can live with everlasting burning?"
Isaiah provides the background for many of the New Testament’s teachings about hell. Chaff being burned represents complete devouring and destruction (Mat 3:12). Trees (Mat 7:19), weeds (Mat 13:40), and thorns and thistles (Heb 6:8) likewise are cut down and burned up. The obvious answer to Isaiah's rhetorical question, who among us can live, is that they will not be able to continue living in the midst of everlasting, devouring fire (Mat 18:8). The fire does not turn them into a juggernaut that can take on endless fire. While it may be possible to withstand fire for 5 or 10 minutes, this imagery conveys an utterly destructive power that will obliterate the wicked.
"For, behold, Yahweh will come with fire, and his chariots will be like the whirlwind; to render his anger with fierceness, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For Yahweh will execute judgment by fire and by his sword on all flesh; and those slain by Yahweh will be many."
Jesus is the one who will execute judgment by a "flaming fire" (2 Thes 1:7). The sword of judgment will fall on the on the lawless one, "whom the Lord will kill with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the manifestation of his coming" (2 Thes 2:8). Thus, many will be slain and face the penalty of "eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (2 Thes 1:8).
"'For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me,' says Yahweh, 'so your offspring and your name shall remain. It shall happen that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh will come to worship before me,' says Yahweh. 'They will go out, and look at the dead bodies of the men who have transgressed against me; for their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.'"
Jesus uses this imagery of the worm not dying and the fire not being quenched in conjunction with Gehenna, a valley of dead bodies that serves as a picture of the final end for unbelievers. Notice that the context in both is about dead bodies in the new heavens and new earth. The worms will devour. The fire will completely consume. The unrighteous will forever be remembered with contempt. Though "unquenchable fire" strikes modern readers to mean eternal torment, the Old Testament background demonstrates that it refers to a consuming fire that cannot be extinguished.
"'Therefore behold, the days come', says Yahweh, 'that it will no more be called ‘Topheth’ or ‘The valley of the son of Hinnom’, but ‘The valley of Slaughter’; for they will bury in Topheth until there is no place to bury. The dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the sky, and for the animals of the earth. No one will frighten them away.'"
This is the background for Jesus' teaching about Gehenna (what is commonly translated hell, the final end for the unsaved). Gehenna will be called "The Valley of Slaughter." God will slay His enemies there. The worms, birds, and other scavengers will devour the dead bodies while fire burns and consumes them. This picture intensely portrays death, destruction, and annihilation, the exact opposite of eternal torment.
"'Behold, the days come,' says Yahweh, 'that the city will be built to Yahweh from the tower of Hananel to the gate of the corner. The measuring line will go out further straight onward to the hill Gareb, and will turn toward Goah. The whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields to the brook Kidron, to the corner of the horse gate toward the east, will be holy to Yahweh. It will not be plucked up or thrown down any more forever.'"
"Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."
"Many who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, and some to disgrace and eternal contempt." [CSB]
"And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to reproach and everlasting contempt." [LSB]
"And the multitude of those sleeping in the dust of the ground do awake, some to life age-during, and some to reproaches -- to abhorrence age-during." [YTL]
Contempt is the same word as loathsome in Isaiah 66:24, the only other occurance of that word in the Old Testament. Both verses speak of the comtempt of believers for the wicked.
D. Barry, Conditional Immortality: Daniel 12:2: "It is obvious that the unsaved have the shame emotion. And it is the righteous that have the contempt emotion towards the wicked. Notice that only one of those emotions lasts forever."
Joseph Dear, Daniel 12:2 Does Not Teach Eternal Torment, 2017: "Even an atheist who does not believe that Hitler exists in any form would still say that he is looked upon with contempt... Although it is true that the unsaved who awake to disgrace and everlasting contempt will not always be awake, the disgrace and contempt outlives them."
"But with an overflowing flood, he will make a full end of her place, and will pursue his enemies into darkness. What do you plot against Yahweh? He will make a full end. Affliction won’t rise up the second time. For entangled like thorns, and drunken as with their drink, they are consumed utterly like dry stubble."
Contrary to the traditional belief that God will keep His enemies alive forever to keep sinning, God will instead make a full end to evil. He will pursue His enemies into the depths of Sheol. They will all be completely consumed like straw. God will have complete victory over sin and death and evil.
"'For behold, the day comes, burning like a furnace, when all the proud and all who work wickedness will be stubble. The day that comes will burn them up,' says Yahweh of Armies, 'so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. You will go out and leap like calves of the stall. You shall tread down the wicked; for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I make,' says Yahweh of Armies."
"For it is a righteous thing with God to repay affliction to those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, punishing those who don’t know God, and to those who don’t obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus, who will pay the penalty: eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes in that day to be glorified in his saints and to be admired among all those who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed." (2 Thes 1:6-10).
God's destruction of the wicked will be complete. There will be no part left untouched by the burning furnace and no part left unconsumed. They will be like "natural animals to be taken and destroyed" and "will in their destroying surely be destroyed" (2 Pet 2:12). Only the righteous will arise to healing and life. All those who work wickedness will rise to judgment and be burned up with unquenchable fire so that only ashes remain.
"His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire."
"And an angel of the Lord appeared to him in flaming fire out of the bush, and he sees that the bush burns with fire, —but the bush was not consumed" (Ex 3:2). The LXX of Exodus 3:2 says that the bush burns (καίεται, kaiō), but was not consumed (κατεκαίετο, katakaió). However, unlike the bush, Matthew 3:12 indicates that the wicked will in fact be consumed (κατεκαίετο, katakaió) meaning to burn down utterly, incinerate, consume wholly.
"Your hand will find out all of your enemies. Your right hand will find out those who hate you. You will make them as a fiery furnace in the time of your anger. Yahweh will swallow them up in his wrath. The fire shall devour them. You will destroy their descendants from the earth, their posterity from among the children of men." (Ps 21:8-10).
"You will conceive chaff. You will give birth to stubble. Your breath is a fire that will devour you. The peoples will be like the burning of lime, like thorns that are cut down and burned in the fire" (Isa 33:11-12).
"'For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me,' says Yahweh, 'so your offspring and your name shall remain. It shall happen that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh will come to worship before me,' says Yahweh. 'They will go out, and look at the dead bodies of the men who have transgressed against me; for their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.'" (Isa 66:22-24).
"Tell the forest of the south, ‘Hear Yahweh’s word: The Lord Yahweh says, “Behold, I will kindle a fire in you, and it will devour every green tree in you, and every dry tree. The burning flame will not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north will be burned by it. All flesh will see that I, Yahweh, have kindled it. It will not be quenched.” ’" (Ezek 20:47-48).
"'For behold, the day comes, burning like a furnace, when all the proud and all who work wickedness will be stubble. The day that comes will burn them up,' says Yahweh of Armies, 'so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. You will go out and leap like calves of the stall. You shall tread down the wicked; for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I make,' says Yahweh of Armies" (Malachi 4:1-3).
"Seek Yahweh, and you will live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, and there be no one to quench it in Bethel" (Amos 5:6).
"For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which will devour the adversaries" (Heb 10:26-27).
"and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, having made them an example to those who would live in an ungodly way" (2 Pet 2:6).
"Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire." (Rev 20:14).
"But for the cowardly, unbelieving, sinners, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their part is in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." (Rev 21:8).
Darren J. Clark, When the Exception Proves the Rule: Yes, the Fire Does Not Consume... The Righteous!, 2022: "when we discuss Matthew 3:12 and 13:40, where the meaning of κατακαίω (katakaiō) is relevant, and given the fact that κατακαίω (katakaiō) really does mean 'to incinerate', then it is more than reasonable to think that Jesus meant to say that those who are thrown into the fire will burn up."
– Keep Carm and Carry On: Responding to Matt Slick and Carm.org (Part 2)–Matthew 3:12 and Luke 3:17, 2021: "the conditionalist argument is that the chaff is said to be burned up in the fire... While it is true that at times conditionalists do argue or state that the fire will eventually go out, that is not their main argument. The evidence in those Old Testament passages we offer shows what the fire will do to those thrown into it, without commenting on what happens to that fire after that."
Greg Boyd, The Case for Annihilationism: "Along the same lines, Scripture’s references to an 'unquenchable fire' and 'undying worm' refer to the finality of judgment, not its duration (Isa. 66:24, cf. 2 Kings 22:17; 1:31; 51:8; Jer. 4:4; 7:20; 21:12; Ezek. 20:47–48). If these passages are read in context, it becomes clear that the fire is unquenchable in the sense that it cannot be put out before it consumes those thrown into it."
Mark Corbett, Downburned and Ashified, The Annihilation of the Unrighteous, 2017: "Greek puts these words in the opposite order we would, and so katakaio could be over-literally translated as 'downburned'... The Bible teaches that the unrighteous will be burned up (katakaio-ed)."
"Enter in by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter in by it. How narrow is the gate and the way is restricted that leads to life!"
"But those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. For they can’t die any more, for they are like the angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection." (Lk 20:35-36).
"For Yahweh knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked shall perish" (Psalm 1:6). The LXX of Psalm 1:6 uses the corresponding verb for perish (ἀπώλειαν, apōleian) as the Greek word for destruction (απολείται, apōleia) in Matthew 7:13.
Throughout the synoptic Gospels, the the verb for kill, apollumi, is used: Herod wants to kill baby Jesus (Mat 2:13); the Pharisees hold counsel to kill Jesus (Mat 12:14; Mk 3:6); the vineyard owner kills the wicked tenants (Mat 21:41); elders and chief priests want Jesus killed (Mat 27:20); an evil spirit tries to kill a child (Mk 9:22); Jesus asks if it's it lawful to save life or to kill (Lk 6:9); the disciples thought they would be killed at sea (Lk 8:24).
Edward White, Life in Christ: A Study of the Scriptural Doctrine On the Nature of Man, the Object of the Divine Incarnation, and the Conditions of Human Immortality, 1875, pg. 365: "Unquestionably such a Greek would reply to any one who proposed to put the 'figurative' sense of endless misery upon them, somewhat as the head master of an English public school replied to a recent proposal of the same sort: 'My mind fails to conceive a grosser misinterpretation of language than when the five or six strongest words which the Greek tongue possesses, signifying ‘destroy,’ or ‘destruction,’ are explained to mean maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence. To translate black as white is nothing to this.'"
Mark Corbett, Words of Annihilation: Plato and Plutarch, Peter and Paul, 2019: "I hope you will see that the example sentences from Plato and Plutarch make it equally clear that when discussing the final fate of people apollumi, phthora, and olethros mean that the people they describe are permanently annihilated in such a way that no person remains who is capable of feeling or thinking anything."
Glenn Peoples, The Meaning of "Apollumi" in the Synoptic Gospels, 2012: "the term apollumi ['destroy'] – setting aside Matthew 10:28 – always refers to the literal killing of a person... Some claims in biblical interpretation are matters of opinion and open to question, but this is not one of them... However theologically inconvenient it may be for defenders of the traditional doctrine of the eternal torments of hell, this is an instance where the exegetical evidence is very heavily against them, and there is no apparent escape route via an appeal to semantics."
"Most certainly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city."
Notice that it is a day of judgment that is said to be worse. It does not say that they will experience an everlasting time of greater misery. Whatever way degrees of punishment are worked out for each person, God's justice demands that the ultimate end of the unsaved is death. Other than the duration, type, and amount suffering, part of the justice may be the way they are remembered. The wicked in general will be remembered with "everlasting contempt" (Dan 12:2) and "disgust" (Isa 66:24), but mass murders will be remembered with greater disdain than liars.
Jay F. Guin, Degrees of Punishment: Interpreting the Parable of Faithful and Unfaithful Slaves (Luke 12:41-48), Part 1, 2016: "Hence, I reject the traditional teaching of perpetual conscious torment as simply not taught in scripture and plainly unjust as, under the tradition interpretation, even very good people, with very few sins, suffer the same fate as the greatest sinners in history. The NT routinely describes the fate of the damned as 'death' or 'destruction,' which words are the very opposite of 'don’t die' and 'aren’t destroyed' — which is the traditional teaching."
"Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna."
"I tell you, my friends, don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom you should fear. Fear him who after he has killed, has power to cast into Gehenna. Yes, I tell you, fear him" (Lk 12:4-5).
Jesus teaches that it is better to enter life maimed than to permanently lose your life. The context in Matthew:
"But I tell you that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be in danger of the judgment. Whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ will be in danger of the council. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Gehenna" (Mat 5:22).
"If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna" (Mat 5:29).
"Enter in by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter in by it. How narrow is the gate and the way is restricted that leads to life! There are few who find it" (Mat 7:13-14).
Joseph Dear, Matthew 10:28 is About God, Not the Devil, 2022: "The context of Matthew 10:28 is one of the most key factors in interpreting it. This is not just generically speaking of destroying. Whereas John 10:10 just broadly says the enemy seeks to 'destroy,' Jesus’s words in Matthew get much more specific. Jesus is speaking of hell (Greek gehenna), the place of final punishment."
"If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into the eternal fire."
The very next verse says, "If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into the Gehenna of fire" (Mat 18:9). The parallel of "eternal fire" with "Gehenna of fire" indicates that they are referring to the same fate. The Gehenna of fire is where God's enemies go to die. Gehenna is The Valley of Slaughter. It's a picture of God's enemies being slain, and the dead bodies are utterly consumed by scavengers and fire. Jeremiah 19:6-11 says:
Therefore, behold, the days come,” says Yahweh, “that this place will no more be called ‘Topheth’, nor ‘The Valley of the son of Hinnom’, but ‘The valley of Slaughter’... I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of those who seek their life. I will give their dead bodies to be food for the birds of the sky and for the animals of the earth... Even so I will break this people and this city as one breaks a potter’s vessel, that can’t be made whole again. They will bury in Topheth until there is no place to bury.”
Jude tells us that Sodom and Gomorrah "are shown as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire" (Jude 1:7). The complete destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah functions typologically to show the outcome of the unrighteous. The eternal fire represents complete destruction:
"Then Yahweh rained on Sodom and on Gomorrah sulfur and fire from Yahweh out of the sky. He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew on the ground" (Gen 19:24-25).
"and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, having made them an example to those who would live in an ungodly way" (2 Pet 2:6).
"You will conceive chaff. You will give birth to stubble. Your breath is a fire that will devour you. The peoples will be like the burning of lime, like thorns that are cut down and burned in the fire... The sinners in Zion are afraid. Trembling has seized the godless ones. Who among us can live with the devouring fire? Who among us can live with everlasting burning?" (Isa 33:11-12, 14).
Eternal fire indicates total devestation from Lord, "for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:29).
Chris Date, 5 More Myths About Hell: A Response to Mark Jones and Crossway, 2020: "Throughout his gospel, he has warned that the wicked will be punished with death and destruction by the fires of Gehenna (e.g., 3:12; 7:13-14; 10:28; 13:24-30, 36-43; 18:8-9). Consistent with this message, Jesus here says only the righteous will be granted eternal life... language, then, of eternal punishment and eternal fire, is language warning the unrighteous of eschatological and everlasting death."
"His lord was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors until he should pay all that was due to him. So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds."
David Bishop, Eternity in Hell or Forever Dead? Part 2 (Traditionalism vs Conditionalism), 2015: "The third big problem with the traditional argument lies with the notion that the unjust man really can pay his debt to God. After all, the text says his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt. This was Origen’s argument, in fact, that those who are condemned at the last day will indeed one day repay their debt and at that day be released from their prison of torture."
Knox Chamblin, Matthew: A Mentor Commentary, Vol 2, (Christian Focus: Ross-Shire, 2010). Chamblin summarizes the teachings of the parables in Matthew 18:23-35 as follows: "disciples do not obey the law to merit God's forgiveness; rather they obey the law-including its command to forgive one's debtors-in grateful acknowledgment of and in response to the amazing grace of God's forgiveness" (pg. 909).
"Everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive one hundred times, and will inherit eternal life."
"They told him, 'He will miserably destroy those miserable men, and will lease out the vineyard to other farmers who will give him the fruit in its season.'"
"Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and throw him into the outer darkness. That is where the weeping and grinding of teeth will be.’"
"The wicked will see it, and be grieved. He shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away" (Ps 112:9).
"Let both grow together until the harvest, and in the harvest time I will tell the reapers, 'First, gather up the darnel weeds, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn'... The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. As therefore the darnel weeds are gathered up and burned with fire; so will it be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will gather out of his Kingdom all things that cause stumbling and those who do iniquity, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Mat 13:30, 39-42).
Joseph Dear, Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth Do Not Indicate Eternal Torment, 2018: "Weeping and gnashing of teeth need not indicate anything other than people’s emotional reactions to a situation.... The references to weeping and gnashing of teeth do not prove eternal torment because none of the references indicate that the weeping and gnashing of teeth will continue for eternity."
"These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
The scope of the punishment is everlasting, eternal, and never-ending. Punishment (κόλασιν, kolasin: from kolazo meaning penal infliction cf. 1 Jn 4:18) can be translated as correction, punishment, or penalty, and it does not denote a specific type of punishment. Nouns of action that are qualified as eternal can either indicate that the action continues forever or that the result of the action continues forever. The duration of the punishment is everlasting and the duration of the life is everlasting. There is a parallel in that they both last forever, but there is a contrast in that one is life and the other excludes life.
"Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan 12:2).
“For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me,” says Yahweh, “so your offspring and your name shall remain. It shall happen that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh will come to worship before me,” says Yahweh. “They will go out, and look at the dead bodies of the men who have transgressed against me; for their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind” (Isa 66:22-24).
Matthew, Isaiah, and Daniel indicate that life everlasting is reserved for the righteous only. Daniel tells us that the unrighteous will feel shame when they rise, but he doesn't say they will feel shame forever. Daniel and Isaiah both indicate that the unrighteous will be held in contempt forever by the righteous, and this does not require the unrighteous to be alive. The only punishment with an eternal duration that is consistent with these facts is death. Isaiah says that in the new heavens and new earth the unrighteous will be dead bodies that are fully eaten by worms and utterly consumed by fire. This confirms that death, the privation of life, is the punishment for the unrighteous.
"Yahweh preserves all those who love him, but he will destroy all the wicked." (Ps 145:20).
"They are dead, they will not live; they are shades, they will not arise; to that end you have visited them with destruction and wiped out all remembrance of them... Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead." (Isa 26:14, 19 ESV).
"'For behold, the day comes, burning like a furnace, when all the proud and all who work wickedness will be stubble. The day that comes will burn them up,' says Yahweh of Armies, 'so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings. You will go out and leap like calves of the stall. You shall tread down the wicked; for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I make,' says Yahweh of Armies" (Malachi 4:1-3).
Augustine, City of God, translated by Marcus Dods: "Cicero tells us that the laws recognize eight kinds of penalty,—damages, imprisonment, scourging, reparation, disgrace, exile, death, slavery. Is there any one of these which may be compressed into a brevity proportioned to the rapid commission of the offence, so that no longer time may be spent in its punishment than in its perpetration, unless, perhaps, reparation?... What shall we say of imprisonment? Must the criminal be confined only for so long a time as he spent on the offence for which he is committed?... And as to damages, disgrace, exile, slavery, which are commonly inflicted so as to admit of no relaxation or pardon, do not these resemble eternal punishments in so far as this short life allows a resemblance? For they are not eternal only because the life in which they are endured is not eternal; and yet the crimes which are punished with these most protracted sufferings are perpetrated in a very brief space of time..."
"Then as to the award of death for any great crime, do the laws reckon the punishment to consist in the brief moment in which death is inflicted, or in this, that the offender is eternally banished from the society of the living? And just as the punishment of the first death cuts men off from this present mortal city, so does the punishment of the second death cut men off from that future immortal city. For as the laws of this present city do not provide for the executed criminal’s return to it, so neither is he who is condemned to the second death recalled again to life everlasting."
"But if temporal sin is visited with eternal punishment, how, then, they say, is that true which your Christ says, 'With the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again?' and they do not observe that 'the same measure' refers, not to an equal space of time, but to the retribution of evil or, in other words, to the law by which he who has done evil suffers evil. Besides, these words could be appropriately understood as referring to the matter of which our Lord was speaking when He used them, viz., judgments and condemnation. Thus, if he who unjustly judges and condemns is himself justly judged and condemned, he receives 'with the same measure' though not the same thing as he gave. For judgment he gave, and judgment he receives, though the judgment he gave was unjust, the judgment he receives just."
Chris Date, Fallin "Into" Error: Grasping at Straws in Matthew 25:46, 2020: "when Jesus speaks of two mutually exclusive final destinies, one of them is 'eternal life.' The alternative, 'eternal punishment,' must therefore be the everlasting punishment of death forever, not embodied immortality and eternal life in hell, as the doctrine of eternal torment teaches."
Joseph Dear, Matthew 25:46 Does Not Prove Eternal Torment – Part 1, 2014: "In a nutshell, when other nouns of action are qualified as eternal, it is often the results of the act, and not the act itself, that lasts for eternity... Few traditionalists, if any, argue that this verse [Hebrews 6:2, '...eternal judgment'] teaches that God is continually judging for eternity, banging his gavel and repeatedly declaring saved or unsaved the same finite number of existent people."
— Matthew 25:46 Does Not Prove Eternal Torment – Part 2, 2014: "In no instance in the Bible does a noun of action from a transitive verb, when qualified as 'eternal,' necessarily refer to the ongoing act. The verb 'live,' however, is an intransitive verb (you live; you can’t live somebody). If 'life' and 'punishment' are not grammatically the same, so why would we assume that they must work out exactly the same?"
— What Does Aionios Mean in Matthew 25:46 and 2 Thessalonians 1:9? (part 1), 2017: "The definition of aionios I have explained here leads to the conclusion that based on Matthew 25:46 and 2 Thessalonians 1:9 those found to be unrighteous on judgment day will experience eternal punishment and specifically eternal destruction. Therefore, they will never enter God’s kingdom and Universalism is false."
Steve Kopp, The Case for Conditional Immortality from Matthew, 2021: "That Jesus is the source of 'eternal salvation' (Heb 5:9) does not mean he goes on saving forever, but that the salvation he offers is eternal... The same is true for 'eternal redemption,' Christ does not go on forever redeeming, but the result of his once for all act of redemption is eternal (Heb 9:12). When it comes to 'eternal punishment' (Matt 25:46) and 'eternal destruction' (2 Thess 1:9), where 'eternal' modifies an action, it seems plausible to suggest that the punishing and destruction do not go on forever, but that there is an act of punishment/destruction which leads to an eternal result."
"...cast into the Gehenna of fire, 'where their worm doesn’t die, and the fire is not quenched.'"
Gehenna, shorthand for "The valley of Hinnom," is a place filled with unburied corpses that are eaten by scavengers and burned by fire:
Jesus quotes Isaiah 66:24 where it clearly states that corpses are being consumed by fire and maggots, not living beings. The imagery of the worm and fire in Isaiah is not about eternal conscious torment but emphasizes the shame and complete destruction of the wicked:
The original Hebrew phrase "does not die" doesn't mean "will never die" in other biblical contexts (e.g., Genesis 42:20, Exodus 30:20, Jeremiah 38:24). It often means "will not die at a particular time or in a particular context." In Isaiah 66:24, it means that the worms will not die before completely devouring the corpses. That is especially true when it is connected to Gehenna.
Similarly, a fire that "is not quenched" does not imply a fire that burns forever. "Quench" primarily means "extinguish." The fire in Isaiah cannot be extinguished until it fully consumes its fuel. This imagery emphasizes the complete and irreversible nature of the consumption.
D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007), pg. 193. Commenting on Mk. 9:48, they explain the context of Isa. 66:24: "By way of invitation, they lay out two eternal destinies: participation in the expansive vision of all flesh coming to worship Yahweh (66:23; cf. 2:1-5) over against, not unlike Mal. 4:4-6, a final, chilling picture of the corpses of the rebels, 'whose worm will not die, and whose fire will not be quenched.'"
Joseph Dear, Introduction to Evangelical Conditionalism – Mark 9:48, 2018. Dear provides two arguments against the traditional interpretation: "1. The Old Testament background of the passage paints a very different picture from the idea of conscious, resurrected people alive in a place of fire and biting worms (or their symbolic equivalent) forever. 2. The terms used about worms not dying and fire not being quenched don’t even mean eternal duration in the first place. That part is read into the passage by people who already believe that hell is a place of eternal torment."
"The beggar died, and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus at his bosom."
Chris Loewen, Hypocrisy, Not Hell: The Polemic Parable of Lazaruz and the Rich Man, 2017: "the purpose of the parable clearly serves as a harsh polemic against the Pharisees for their hypocritical attitudes of their wealth and blatant ignorance of the poor in their midst... Complementary to the voices of the OT prophets, the parable reveals that the kingdom of God does not function as an exclusive club for the elite, but one that opens wide the doors to the outcasts, the poor, the orphaned and widowed. It shows us what a true child of Abraham looks like."
Joseph Dear, The Case for Luke 16:19-31 as a Parable (Even Though Annihilationism Doesn't Require it), 2023: "This story, whatever it is, depicts the intermediate state. Verse 23 tells us that the rich man was in hades, the place of the dead prior to resurrection and final judgment. It does not tell us what happens after judgment."
Roger Harper, A Place for Torment: Reading the Rich Man and Lazarus Literally, 2019: "when Jesus spoke of the Rich Man in Hades, he spoke of a literal place beyond death, a place in which the man was in conscious torment, able to feel and think and speak. The parable is seen therefore to give us information, albeit limited, about this place, which Jesus called Hades... conditionalist teaching about humans post-judgement is not affected by any teaching about humans prejudgement."
"Whoever seeks to save his life loses [apollumi] it, but whoever loses [apollumi] his life preserves it."
"They ate, they drank, they married, and they were given in marriage until the day that Noah entered into the ship, and the flood came and destroyed [apollumi] them all" (Lk 17:27).
"but in the day that Lot went out from Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from the sky and destroyed [apollumi] them all" (Lk 17:29).
"He who loves his life will lose it. He who hates his life in this world will keep it to eternal life" (Jn 12:25).
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only born Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life."
Darren J. Clark, Perish the Thought: How John 6 and 11 Challenge the Traditionalist Reading of John 3:16, 2019: "There is no exegetical warrant for the traditionalist argument that eternal life in John 3:16 refers only to the qualitative or spiritual life of being in relationship with Jesus... In every instance, Jesus uses the same language for normal death and life in this world to describe the eschatological life of the next age... every aspect of the language used by Jesus communicates that those believing in him have access to the source of life itself."
— Perish the Thought, Part 2: More Challenges to the Traditionalist Reading of John 3:16, 2019: "In conclusion, the value of undertaking the initial word study on ἀποθνήσκω was that I was able to verify that this verb lacks any range of meaning that could be used by John to express the idea of death in terms of being alive yet not in relationship with God."
Peter Grice, "Fixing John 3:16"—500 Years After the Reformation, 2017: "Perish means perish. And everlasting life means everlasting life. Still not seeing it? Well, there’s nothing strange or confusing going on. Everlasting life means that your life will be everlasting. And if that’s true, then clearly 'perish' can’t involve everlasting life as well—they are presented as two alternatives! Jesus says a similar thing in John 10:28. He says 'I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.'"
"One who believes in the Son has eternal life, but one who disobeys the Son won’t see life, but the wrath of God remains on him."
"This is the will of the one who sent me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
"Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, that anyone may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down out of heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. Yes, the bread which I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
"My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life, and they will never perish forever, and no one will seize them out of my hand." [LEB]
"My sheep my voice do hear, and I know them, and they follow me, and life age-during I give to them, and they shall not perish -- to the age, and no one shall pluck them out of my hand;" [YLT]
"Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die forever.'" [LEB]
"Jesus said to her, 'I am the rising again, and the life; he who is believing in me, even if he may die, shall live; and every one who is living and believing in me shall not die -- to the age;'" [YLT]
"This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and him whom you sent, Jesus Christ."
"The words that I speak to you are spirit, and are life" (Jn 6:63). That means that Jesus' words cause or produce life. "I know that his commandment is eternal life" (Jn 12:50). That means that the Father's commandment results in eternal life. Likewise, John 17:3 presents a cause rather than an algebra equation: Knowing God and Jesus causes eternal life. In other words, this is what causes eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and him whom you sent, Jesus Christ.
D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996), pg. 57: "Few words with broad semantic range cause more interpretative difficulties than the copula εἰμί (eimi, to be). Caird provides a useful list of what he calls the 'main types' of copula usage in Greek: a. Identity: 'Is the law sin?' (Rom. 7:7) b. Attribute: 'No one is good except God alone' (Mark 10:18) c. Cause: 'To be carnally minded is death' (Rom. 8:6) d. Resemblance: 'The tongue is a fire' (James 3:6)."
Joseph Dear, John 17:3 Does Not Change the Meaning of "Eternal Life", 2020: "At face value, the phrase 'eternal life' would mean life that lasts for eternity... It makes perfect sense to interpret what Jesus says in John 17:3 as a figure of speech to mean that knowing God is what causes eternal life... so much of this seems to be little more than a false narrative, built upon tradition, that tells us that life and death language just obviously is metaphorical and it would be downright outrageous to suggest that a straightforward, face value reading of such language actually could tell us what hell entails."
"there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust."
Believers and non-believers will be resurrected on the day of the Lord, but there will be a resurrection of the saved and a resurrection of the unsaved. This dual nature of the resurrection reflects the dual nature of the outcomes. Evil-doers will face "the resurrection of judgment" while the righteous will come out "to the resurrection of life" (Jn 5:29). The unrighteous will awake to "shame" while the righteous will rise to "everlasting life" (Dan 12:2). The consistent contrast of judgment with life reflects the fact that it will not include life. "Only one is the lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy" (Jam 4:12).
"They are dead, they will not live; they are shades, they will not arise; to that end you have visited them with destruction and wiped out all remembrance of them... Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead." (Isa 26:14, 19 ESV).
"Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, and said, 'It was necessary that God’s word should be spoken to you first. Since indeed you thrust it from yourselves, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles.'"
"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
"Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna." (Mat 10:28).
"For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, even so faith apart from works is dead." (Jam 2:26).
"This is the second death, the lake of fire. If anyone was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire." (Rev 20:14-15).
The first death refers to physical death. Man can physically kill you, but your spirit lives on. The second death refers to spiritual death, death of body and soul. Only God can finally put someone to death in that ultimate way.
"What if God, willing to show his wrath and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that he might make known the riches of his glory on vessels of mercy, which he prepared beforehand for glory"
"But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then those who are Christ’s at his coming. Then the end comes, when he will deliver up the Kingdom to God the Father, when he will have abolished all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death."
"whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who think about earthly things."
"who will pay the penalty: eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might"
"A senseless man doesn’t know, neither does a fool understand this: though the wicked spring up as the grass, and all the evildoers flourish, they will be destroyed forever. But you, Yahweh, are on high forever more. For behold, your enemies, Yahweh, for behold, your enemies shall perish." (Ps 92:6-9).
Verses 7-8 provide important context: "when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, punishing those who don’t know God." This is a clear reference to Isaiah 66:15: "For, behold, Yahweh will come with fire, and his chariots will be like the whirlwind; to render his anger with fierceness, and his rebuke with flames of fire." It goes on to say, "For Yahweh will execute judgment by fire and by his sword on all flesh; and those slain by Yahweh will be many." (Isa 66:16).
Eternal indicates that this desctruction will never be reversed. The unrighteous will be eternally destroyed. Whether this destruction arises directly from an act of the Lord, or whether it stems from a definitive and complete disconnection from God, the fountain of life, the outcome is the same. The result is that "Yahweh will execute judgment by fire and by his sword on all flesh; and those slain by Yahweh will be many... They will go out, and look at the dead bodies of the men who have transgressed against me; for their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind." (Isa 66:16, 24).
Peter Grice, Annihilation in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 - Part 1, 2016: "So what does 'eternal destruction' mean, in context? It means just what it means in everyday English (i.e. destruction with an eternal outcome), just as 'destruction' in English refers to something that is brought to an end (cf. 'bring to nothing' in 2 Thess 2:8)."
Ronnie Demler and William Tanksley Jr., Annihilation in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 - Part 2, 2016: "While the Greek most literally reads, 'everlasting destruction from [apo] the presence of the Lord,' the translators of many modern English versions take the apo to mean separation. They therefore insert the word 'away' to guide the reader to this alternate meaning."
"However, for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first, Jesus Christ might display all his patience for an example of those who were going to believe in him for eternal life."
"but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Good News."
"that being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life."
"For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which will devour the adversaries."
"Only one is the lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy."
"and didn’t spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah with seven others, a preacher of righteousness, when he brought a flood on the world of the ungodly,"
The flood which destroyed the whole world and killed everyone in it except Noah and his family is given as an example for the final judgment. God destroys sinners and annihilates their way of life. In the traditional view, God makes sinners immortal and allows them to sin for eternity. In the conditionalist view, sinners and all of their works of wickness will be destroyed and perish. God puts a full end to evil.
"and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, having made them an example to those who would live in an ungodly way,"
Mark Corbett, Downburned and Ashified, The Annihilation of the Unrighteous, 2017: "The Greek word tefroo is a verb derived from the noun that means 'ashes'. tefroo means to 'ashify', or to put it into more normal English, 'to turn something into ashes'... The use of the words katakaio, tefroo, and similar words is not at all consistent with believing in eternal conscious torment. Are the ashes being tormented?... They will be completely consumed by the fire and burned to ashes. Ashes, smoke, and dust may remain, but not people."
"But these, as unreasoning creatures, born natural animals to be taken and destroyed, speaking evil in matters about which they are ignorant, will in their destroying surely be destroyed, receiving the wages of unrighteousness; people who count it pleasure to revel in the daytime, spots and defects, reveling in their deceit while they feast with you;"
"Your hand will find out all of your enemies. Your right hand will find out those who hate you. You will make them as a fiery furnace in the time of your anger. Yahweh will swallow them up in his wrath. The fire shall devour them. You will destroy their descendants from the earth, their posterity from among the children of men." (Ps 21:8-10).
They will be destroyed in their destruction; they will perish in their perishing; they will die in their death; they will be burned up in their burning; they will be consumed in their consumption; they will be slain in their slaying; they will receive the wages of sin by losing their life in the judgment.
"Angels who didn’t keep their first domain, but deserted their own dwelling place, he has kept in everlasting bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day."
In the parallel passage, Peter uses the word Tartarus, the equivalent of the Greek Hades or Hebrew sheol. Angels are currently being held in Tartarus for the judgment day. This verse says nothing about the final judgment itself, and it isn't even about humans.
John Gill, Commentary on Jude: "He hath reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness; by these 'everlasting chains' may be meant the power and providence of God over them, which always abide upon them; or their sins, and the guilt of them upon their consciences, under which they are continually held; or the decrees and purposes of God concerning their final punishment and destruction, which are immutable and irreversible, and from which there is no freeing themselves."
The Pulpit Commentary: "The word by which the idea of the everlasting is expressed is a peculiarly strong one, occurring only once again in the New Testament, viz. in Romans 1:20, where it is applied to God's 'eternal power.' It designates these bonds as bonds from which there never can be escape."
"Even as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, having in the same way as these given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are shown as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire."
Darren J. Clark, Hey Jude, Don't be so Tense: A Note on the Grammar of Jude 7, 2022: "Imagine I said to you that Jesus serves as an example of suffering and therefore loving your enemies... What if someone argued that the use of the present tense 'loving' must mean that Jesus really is loving the enemies with him in heaven right now?... If traditionalists are responding to conditionalist exegesis of Jude 7 and all they have is an argument from the present tense, then the appropriate response is to ask them what else they have got to offer."
Joseph Dear, What the Bible Actually Say about "Eternal Fire" - Part 1, 2018: "Jude seems to be describing eternal fire as something that Sodom and Gomorrah experienced... The fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah was described as being eternal fire, yet those cities are not still burning... it is a fire that does not burn things for ever and ever, but rather burns them up completely."
— What the Bible Actually Say about "Eternal Fire" - Part 2, 2018: "the idea that Sodom and Gomorrah were already in 'eternal fire' goes against what most of us (of all sorts of eschatological beliefs) would take as a fairly clear and straightforward part of eschatology: no one is in their final state yet... Everyone knew what was in view whenever someone mentioned Sodom and Gomorrah – especially when vengeance and fire are mentioned as well."
Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 453: "This fire functions as an example because it is a type or anticipation of what is to come for all those who reject God. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is not merely a historical curiosity; it functions typologically as a prophecy of what is in store for the rebellious. The narrative stresses the devastation of the Lord raining fire and brimstone upon the cities (Gen 19:24–28)."
"[These are] wandering stars, for whom the blackness of darkness has been reserved forever."
The unrighteous are held in chains of darkness until the judgment (Jude 6). Judgment is described as the "eternal fire" which Sodom and Gomorrah underwent (Jude 7), and the "fire" is the final fate which the lost must be saved from (Jude 23).
The blackness of darkness is then the eternal fate of the wicked. Their eternal destruction deprives them of "life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25). This language of darkness doesn't have to refer to conscious existence. Jude and Peter make it clear that destruction is the end for the unrighteous. Job uses similar langauge of darkness when he wished he never existed:
“Let the day perish in which I was born, the night which said, ‘There is a boy conceived.’ Let that day be darkness. Don’t let God from above seek for it, neither let the light shine on it. Let darkness and the shadow of death claim it for their own. Let a cloud dwell on it. Let all that makes the day black terrify it. As for that night, let thick darkness seize on it. Let it not rejoice among the days of the year. Let it not come into the number of the months. Behold, let that night be barren. Let no joyful voice come therein. Let them curse it who curse the day, who are ready to rouse up leviathan. Let the stars of its twilight be dark. Let it look for light, but have none, neither let it see the eyelids of the morning, because it didn’t shut up the doors of my mother’s womb, nor did it hide trouble from my eyes.”
Many modern traditionalists argue that the fires of hell must be figurative because hell is described in contradictory ways as a place of darkness and a place of fire; however, looking at these passages in more detail reveals that these descriptions are not two different descriptions of hell. The unrighteous will be held until the great judgment, at which time they will be thrown into Gehenna, the lake of fire, where they will utterly perish. The contradictory imagery is a clear sign that these are not referring to the same reality.
Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism: "It is sometimes argued, because the 'utter darkness has been reserved forever' for these false teachers, that this suggests Hell is to be understood as an eternity spent separated from God in some metaphorical darkness (because fire produces light and so the fires and darkness of Hell cannot be taken literally). But this text follows shortly after verse 7 in which Jude says Sodom and Gomorrah suffered the punishment of eternal fire as an example of what awaits these false teachers. It comes after verse 10, too, which indicates along with its parallel in 2 Peter 2:12 that false teachers will be destroyed like animals are destroyed."
What about hell?: "The 2 verses mentioning 'the black darkness' (Strong’s G2217, σκότος - Strong’s G4655) in the New Testament: 2 Peter 2:17, Jude 1:13. The Outer/Black Darkness seems to be reserved for those who have an understanding of God yet backslide. It is a place characterized by weeping and gnashing of teeth."
"The world is passing away with its lusts, but he who does God’s will remains forever."
"The testimony is this: that God gave to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son."
"These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God."
Brian J. Tabb, All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone, vol. 48, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove: IVP, 2019), 8: "Like Jesus and the Old Testament prophets, Revelation presents its message in symbolic, pictorial language to unveil true spiritual realities compellingly to those with ears to hear... Jesus Christ ‘made known’ or ‘signified’ (sēmainō) the revelation to John by sending an angel (Rev. 1:1). Similarly, Daniel 2:30, 45 LXX says that the mystery of the king’s dream ‘was shown’ (sēmainō) to Daniel and ‘the great God has shown [sēmainō] the king what will be at the end of the days’ (NETS)."
Alan Bandy, The Hermeneutics of Symbolism: How to Interpret the Symbols of John’s Apocalypse SBJT 14/1 (Spring 2010) 46-58: "In other words, if Revelation is prophetic or apocalyptic, ascribing literalism to its numbers, proper nouns, and other images may prevent adjudicating John’s intended meaning— the literal sense. A more profitable hermeneutical approach is to reverse the interpretive order by placing the symbolic in the foreground while shifting the literal into the background."
Bruce Metzger, Breaking the Code: Understanding the Book of Revelation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999): "This book contains a series of word pictures, as though a number of slides were being shown upon a great screen. As we watch we allow ourselves to be carried along by impressions created by these pictures. Many of the details of the pictures are intended to contribute to the total impression, and are not to be isolated and interpreted with wooden literalism."
Bruce Metzger and David A. deSilva, Breaking the Code Revised Edition: Understanding the Book of Revelation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2019), 17-18: "Such accounts combine cognitive insight with emotional response... In reporting his visionary experiences, John frequently uses symbolic language. Sometimes he explains the meaning of the symbols... [I]n attempting to understand John’s symbolism, we must consider not only the book itself but also his use of the Old Testament... In any case, it is important to recognize that the descriptions are descriptions of symbols, not of the reality conveyed by the symbols."
Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), 4, 11, 13, 22: "Although, as we will see, applying the literal-where-possible maxim to prophetic literature is problematic, its inadequacy does not mean that Revelation is a wax nose, to be manipulated into any shape we choose... The literal meaning of symbolic language is the symbolic correspondence between the imagery of the language and the referent that it describes... We dare not tackle the symbolism of Revelation without immersing our minds in the rich imagery of the Old Testament... Revelation makes sense only in light of the Old Testament. Not only the visions of such prophets as Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah but also historical events such as creation, the fall, and the exodus provide the symbolic vocabulary for John’s visions."
G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 50-52, 56: "Rev. 1:1 introduces the book... with the word 'apocalypse'... a clear allusion to Dan. 2... The revelation is not abstract but pictorial... Dan. 2:28-30, 45 indicates that a symbolic vision and its interpretation is going to be part of the warp and woof of the means of communication throughout Revelation. This conclusion is based on the supposition that John uses OT references with significant degrees of awareness of OT context, for which I will argue later... [A] number of authors of both popular and scholarly commentaries contend that one should interpret literally except where one is forced to interpret symbolically by clear indications of context... But the results of the analysis above of 1:1 indicate that... the essence of the book is figurative ['1:12-20 and 4:1-22:5 at the least']... The OT and Judaism are the primary background against which to understand the images and ideas of the Apocalypse."
G. K. Beale, John's Use of the Old Testament in Revelation, (England: Sheffield, 1998), 23: "Bauckham observes that John uses the Old Testament in a careful and not haphazard way throughout, so that an understanding of these Old Testament texts is crucial to the interpretation of the Apocalypse at every point along the way and is necessary for understanding his literary strategy. Consequently, the Old Testament 'forms a body of literature which John expects his readers to know and explicitly to recall in detail while reading his own work'. Furthermore, a study of Jewish exegetical tradition of various Old Testament texts can also shed light on John's own understanding of the same texts."
Grant R. Osborn, Revelation: Baker Exegetical Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002): "John deliberately uses... made known ['the verb cognate of the noun “sign” in john’s Gospel']... in 1:1 because of its parallels with Dan. 2:28-30, 45, where God 'signifies' truths through pictorial or symbolic visions. Thus it means to 'communicate by symbols' and connotes the need to interpret the reality behind the symbol... Symbols are metaphorical utterances that are meant to be understood first pictorially and then referentially... The sources for interpreting them come from the OT, intertestamental literature, and the Greco-Roman world—in other words, in the common world of the original readers in the province of Asia."
Richard Bauckham, Climax of Prophecy, (Edinburgh: T&T, 1993), xi: "It is a book designed to be read in constant intertextual relationship with the Old Testament. John was writing what he understood to be a work of prophetic scripture, the climax of prophetic revelation, which gathered up the prophetic meaning of the Old Testament scriptures and disclosed the way in which it was being and was to be fulfilled in the last days. His work therefore, presupposes and conveys an extensive interpretation of large parts of Old Testament prophecy. Allusions are meant to recall the Old Testament context, which thereby becomes part of the meaning the Apocalypse conveys, and to build up, sometimes by a network of allusion to the same Old Testament passage in various parts of the Apocalypse, an interpretation of whole passages of Old Testament prophecy."
Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2000), 47: "Some people today come to Revelation with the recipe, 'Interpret everything literally, if possible.' That recipe misunderstands what kind of book Revelation is. Of course, John literally saw what he says he saw. But what he saw was a vision. It was filled with symbols, like the Beast of 13:1–8 and the seven blazing lamps in 4:5. It never intended to be a direct, nonsymbolical description of the future. People living in John’s own time understood this matter instinctively, because they recognized that John was writing in an 'apocalyptic' manner, a manner already as familiar to them as a political cartoon is to us today."
"The nations were angry, and your wrath came, as did the time for the dead to be judged, and to give your bondservants the prophets, their reward, as well as to the saints and those who fear your name, to the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth."
Richard Bauckham, Judgment in the Book Of Revelation, 2: "The correspondence of crime and punishment here depends on a wordplay, exploiting the double meaning of diaphtheirō, which can mean both “destroy,” in the sense of causing to perish, and “ruin,” in the sense of corrupting with evil. The destroyers of the earth are the powers of evil who are ruining God’s creation with their violence, oppression, and idolatrous religion (cf. 19:2). There is an allusion to the equivalent wordplay in the Genesis story of the flood (Gen 6:11–13, 17, where s-h-t has the same double meaning). In both cases God’s wholesale destruction of those who are ruining his creation is justified as necessary for the preservation of his creation and its salvation from the evil they are doing to it."
"Another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a great voice, 'If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed in the cup of his anger. He will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. They have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.'"
In the Old Testament, the cup of God's wrath is a potent symbol of divine judgment, sometimes temporary and recoverable, while at other times irreversible and destructive (Isa 51:22-52:2; Obad 16; Jer 25:27). Jesus, representing humanity, took upon himself the wrathful cup, enduring death (Matt 26:39, 42, 44). His death and resurrection mean that his followers no longer face this wrath, instead receiving a cup of blessing (Matt 26:27-29). Revelation portrays the cup as a judgment against "Babylon," the epitome of evil, leading to its inevitable destruction (Rev 16:19; 18:6, 7-9). It affects all those allied with the beast (Rev 17–19), and symbolizes a final, fatal judgment, leading to utter destruction characterized by torture, grief, famine, and fire.
The image of fire and brimstone is found in references to Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:23, 28; Deuteronomy 29:23; Job 18:15-17; Isaiah 30:27-33; 34:9-11; Ezekiel 38:22). It paints a picture of decisive annihilation and complete destruction, leaving nothing but ashes in its wake. This picture appears to be in stark contrast to excruciating, unending suffering.
Smoke rising forever symbolizes the permanent destruction of the wicked. This is the same fate of Edom in Isaiah 34:8-10. The city was destroyed by fire, and the smoke rising forever represents the everlasting nature of its destruction. The smoke, therefore, stands as a permanent reminder of God's final victory over evil.
John vividly depicts the plight of those who worship the beast, emphasizing that they find no respite "day or night." John consistently uses "day and night" in Revelation to describe continuous actions, unrelated to time of day, such as the living creatures' praise, the martyrs' service, Satan's accusations, and the torment of the unholy trinity. Similarly, Isaiah 34:10 uses "night and day" to describe Edom's unquenched fire, symbolizing complete destruction. While the fire burns continuously without ceasing, it will eventually consume completely.
G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), pg. 762: "In particular, 'day and night' (ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτός) in 14:11 can be taken as a qualitative genitive construction indicating not duration of time (like the accusative construction of the same phrase) but kind of time, that is, time of ceaseless activity... The lack of rest will continue uninterrupted as long as the period of suffering lasts, though there will be an end to the period. Therefore, the imagery of Rev 14:10-11 could indicate a great judgment that will be remembered forever, not one that leads to eternal suffering."
Joseph Dear, A Primer on Revelation 14:9-11, 2017: "Once the Old Testament background of the language and imagery of the passage is made clear, any reasonable observer should see why a conditionalist interpretation is at least reasonable... What the passage says, when taken literally, is that a group of people will be tormented in fire and sulfur, and that the smoke will rise for ever and ever."
Ralph G. Bowles, Does Revelation 14:11 Teach Eternal Torment? Examining a Proof-text on Hell, EQ 73:11 (2001), 21-36: "There appear to be a number of parallel descriptions of the final judgement of God upon his enemies (Rev. 6:12-17; 11:15-18; 14:6-20; 16:17-21; 17:1-19:5; 19:6-20:21)... Judgement is pictured repeatedly in the language of final, decisive destruction, not ongoing torment... If the picture in Revelation 18 and 19 is of a completed destruction, then surely the same is on view in the earlier depiction of the final judgement in Revelation 14:6-11."
"The ten horns which you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute, will make her desolate, will strip her naked, will eat her flesh, and will burn her utterly with fire."
Grant R. Osborn, Revelation: Baker Exegetical Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002): "The whole picture is built on Ezek. 23:25-29 (cf. also 16:37-41), in which the apostate city of Jerusalem is destroyed... To the gruesome images of Ezekiel, John adds 'devour her flesh,' a reference to the total annihilation of the harlot-city... All three elements—betrayal, plagues, parousia—are part of the same sovereign plan of God by which he will bring world history with all its depravity to an end... The irony is that there it is Babylon that does the destroying, while here Babylon is destroyed."
"Return to her just as she returned, and repay her double as she did, and according to her works. In the cup which she mixed, mix to her double... Therefore in one day her plagues will come: death, mourning, and famine; and she will be utterly burned with fire, for the Lord God who has judged her is strong.
The kings of the earth who committed sexual immorality and lived wantonly with her will weep and wail over her, when they look at the smoke of her burning, standing far away for the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For your judgment has come in one hour’... and [they] cried out as they looked at the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What is like the great city?’..."
"After these things I heard something like a loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, 'Hallelujah! Salvation, power, and glory belong to our God; for his judgments are true and righteous. For he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her sexual immorality, and he has avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.' A second said, 'Hallelujah! Her smoke goes up forever and ever.'"
Edward Fudge, The Fire That Consumes, Third Edition. (Eugene: Cascade, 2011), 242: "Although rising smoke tells us that the destruction is completed, the destructive process encompassed such conscious suffering as God saw fit to require. That was true of the temporal judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah. It was later true of God’s judgment against Rome. It will be true of the final judgment of the wicked in hell."
G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 929: "what is precisely underscored is the finality of Babylon’s judgment: 'her smoke ascends forever.' The wording comes from Isa. 34:9-10, where the portrayal of smoke continually ascending serves as a permanent memorial to God’s punishment of Edom for its sin. Rev. 14:11 also alludes to Isa. 34:9-10 to describe the never-ending effect of God’s judgment of the beast’s followers. Here Edom’s fall is taken as an anticipatory typological pattern for the fall of the world system, which will never rise again after God’s judgment."
"The devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are also. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever."
John interprets the "lake of fire" as the "the second death" (Rev 20:14; 21:8). John is not using symbolism to interpret his symbolism. The vision he sees represents death, not torment. This vision is a climatic recapitulation of judgment portrayed throughout Revelation (16:14, 16; 17:14; 19:11-21). Christ's enemies are destroyed. Death and the grave are no more. The first things have passed away, and righteousness will be forever more.
Andries Van Niekerk, The lake of fire is the second death (Rev 20:10) and is annihilation., 2021: "Sometimes, Revelation explains its own symbols. For example, the 'many waters' on which the harlot sits (Rev 17:1) are explained as 'peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues' (Rev 17:15). The lake of fire is also explicitly explained; not once but twice, namely as 'the second death:' [Rev 20:14 and 21:8]... the final and irreversible death."
Chris Date, Definitively Destroyed: The Bible’s Not-So-Mysterious Teaching on Hell, 2021: "John sees the harlot, Mystery Babylon, suffering unending torment with the same kind of imagery (compare 14:9–11 with 18:6, 9–10; and 19:3), but an angelic interpreter definitively tells him that the city she represents will in fact be destroyed (18:21)."
Daniel G. Sinclair, A Defense of Conditional Immortality: "To summarize the hermeneutical reasoning behind our approach to these two passages: (a) the scriptures in Revelation interpret the torment and forever-ascending smoke of 'Mystery Babylon' for us – they are destruction. (b) This same verbiage and imagery are borrowed from two major OT sources (Ezekiel and Isaiah), showing that this imagery is used to denote utter destruction, not an ongoing process. (c) The inanimate entities thrown into the lake of fire are later taken to be destroyed, and so (d) it is reasonable to assume the same end for the animate entities (Satan, the angels, the false prophet, and unbelievers) thrown in."
Edward Fudge, No Need to Waver in View of Evidence, 2013: "In these closing chapters of Revelation, even the word torment itself is sometimes a symbol for total destruction and death. The wicked city Babylon is pictured as a woman whose judgment in chapter 18 is 'torment and grief,' which turns out to be 'death, mourning, and famine,' and she is 'consumed by fire.' It is not unthinkable, therefore, to understand torment of the devil, beast, and false prophet as death and consumption by fire which are never reversed."
G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), pg. 1030. Beale comments on 20:10: "Strictly speaking, even the expression 'they will be tormented forever and ever' is figurative... at the least, the phrase figuratively connotes a very long time. The context here and in the whole Apocalypse must determine whether this is a limited time or an unending period... All unbelievers suffering the first death are held in the sphere of 'death and Hades,' which is a temporary, preconsummate holding tank to be finally replaced by the permanent, consummate 'lake of fire,' which is 'the second death' (see on 20:14)."
Jefferson Vann, Should We Modify Conditionalism? A response to Corey McLaughlin on Rev. 20:10, 2017: "If John wanted to convey the concept that the process of their being tormented would last forever, he could have used [different Greek expressions]... With all of these semantic options which clearly indicate an unending process, John chose a statement that expressed what he saw in the vision. He could not have seen an eternal, perpetual process. But he could have seen a process that clearly lasted for ages and ages. That is what he conveyed to his readers."
Joseph Dear, A Primer on Revelation 20:10, 2015: "The explanation I would give, which many other conditionalists would give (in varying forms), is itself simple: John sees a vision where three beings are thrown into a lake of fire to be tormented for ever and ever, but the vision itself symbolizes the destruction of the things the images represent in real life."
Patrick Navas, A Closer Look at Revelation 20:10, 2007: "It should be noted, however, that—contrary to the misleading impression given by some—the powerful, graphic and fear-inspiring image of the 'lake of fire' is clearly a symbolic reference, for both 'death and hades' are thrown into it (Rev. 20:14)... death itself (and the entire grave as a general concept) will ultimately be brought to nothing. In the end, in the new heavens and new earth where 'righteousness dwells,' death and the grave will no longer be."
Vern S. Poythress, The Returning King (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2000), pg. 179: "However, in view of the structure of the whole book, it makes more sense to see 20:1–15 as the seventh and last cycle of judgments, each of which leads up to the Second Coming... The final battle in 20:7–10 seems to be the same as the final battle in 16:14, 16; 17:14; 19:11–21... Most importantly, all of Christ’s enemies are destroyed in 19:11–21. If 20:1–6 describes events later than 19:11–21, there would be no one left for Satan to deceive in 20:3."
The Myth of Everlasting Torment, 2002, pg. 98, "Immediately after the judgment, Revelation 21:1-5 says the old things have passed away and everything is new. Since the lake of fire is the second death (Revelation 20:14), and there will be no more death (Revelation 21:4), it will be no more. Only those who cannot die (immortal) will remain."
"Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire."
Death is thrown into the lake of fire symbolizing the annihilation of death: "Death will be no more; neither will there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more. The first things have passed away" (Rev 21:4). Paul explains that the "last enemy that will be abolished (καταργεῖται, katargeitai) is death" meaning that all of God's other enemies will be destroyed and done away with so that there will be no more death ever again (1 Cor 15:26).
"He will destroy in this mountain the surface of the covering that covers all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He has swallowed up death forever! The Lord Yahweh will wipe away tears from off all faces. He will take the reproach of his people away from off all the earth, for Yahweh has spoken it" (Isa 25:7-8).
"I will ransom them from the power of Sheol. I will redeem them from death! Death, where are your plagues? Sheol, where is your destruction?" (Hos 13:14).
"But when this perishable body will have become imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then what is written will happen: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'Death, where is your sting? Hades, where is your victory?'" (1 Cor 15:54-55).
The "second death" is a phrase used in the targums to talk about a permanent dying in the world to come. Almost all pre-NT Jewish texts reflect a conditionalist belief in keeping with the Old Testament. After that time, some Jewish texts seem to reflect a belief in eternal concious torment, but they are the minority. 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch are examples, and these are later works. Nearly all of the Qumran literature clearly reflects belief in the eschatological annihilation of the wicked. The Psalms of Solomon and Wisdom of Solomon are examples.
Psalms of Solomon LXX: "The sinner stumbles and curses his life, the day of his birth, and mother's birth-pains. He adds sin upon sin in his life; and, because his fall is serious, he will not get up. The destruction of the sinner [is] forever, and he will not be remembered when [God] shows care for the righteous. This is the portion of sinners forever, but those who fear the Lord will rise up to eternal life and their life [will be] in the Lord's light and it will never cease." (3:9-12).
Wisdom of Solomon LXX: "For being mortal, he worketh a dead thing with wicked hands: for he himself is better than the things which he worshippeth: whereas he lived once, but they never... For thou hast power of life and death: thou leadest to the gates of hell, and bringest up again. A man indeed killeth through his malice: and the spirit, when it is gone forth, returneth not; neither the soul received up cometh again. But it is not possible to escape thine hand." (15:17; 16:13-15).
Sanhedrin: “Let Reuben live and not die, in that his men become few” [Deut 33:6]. This is interpreted: “Let Reuben live” in this world “and not die” in the World-to-Come. (92a.5); Targum Jerusalem: Let Reuben live in this world, nor die the second death which the wicked die in the world to come; and let his youths be with the men in number. (Deut 33.6); Targum Onkelos: May Reuvein live and let him not die, and may his constituency be counted. [May Reuvein live forever, and a second death he shall not die. His children will receive their inheritance according to their numbers.] (33.6); Targum Johnathan: Let Reuben live in this world, nor die the second death which the wicked die in the world to come; and let his youths be numbered with the young men of his brethren of Beth Israel. (33.6); cf. Deut 33:6: Let Ræ´ûvën live, and not die; and let [not] his men be few.
Targum Jonathan: But, behold, joy and gladness; they say, Let us slay oxen, and kill sheep, we will eat flesh, we will drink wine; let us eat, and drink, since we shall die, and not live. (Isa 22.13); cf. Isa 22.13: And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die.
Targum Isaiah: The prophet said, with mine ears I was hearing when this was decreed from before the Lord of hosts, namely, that this your iniquity shall not be forgiven you till you die the second death, said the Lord, the God, the God of hosts. (22.14); cf. Isa 22.14: The prophet said, "With my ears was I hearkening when this was decreed before Yaway of hosts, 'This sin shall not be forgiven you till you die the second death,' says Yaway of hosts.
Targum Isaiah: And ye shall leave your name for a curse to my chosen: for the Lord God shall slay you with the second death, and call His righteous servants by another name (Isa 65.15).
Targum Jeremiah: "I will bring upon them distress and they shall be like drunken men so that they may not be strong and they shall die the second death [תִניָנָא וִימֻותֻון מוֹתָא] and shall not live in the world to come." (Jer 51.39); cf. Jer 51:39: In their heat I will make their feasts, and I will make them drunken, that they may rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith Yähwè.
Targum Jeremiah: ...and they shall die the second death [וִימֻותֻון מוֹתָא תִניָנָא] and shall not come to the world to come. (Jer 51.57); cf. Jer 51:57: And I will make drunk her princes, and her wise [men], her captains, and her rulers, and her mighty men: and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name [is] Yähwè.
Chris Date, Traditionalism and the (Not So) Second Death: "Putting aside the rather awkward definition of death as torment, this line of reasoning suffers from still another problem. Those over whom John says the second death will have no power are those who come to life and reign with Christ (20:4-6). Those who are not thrown into the lake of fire—the second death—are first raised out of death and Hades (20:13-15). The first death, then, is something experienced by both believers and unbelievers alike; both are raised from it, and only the unsaved experience the second."
Mark Corbett, What is the Second Death? Part 1, Symbols and Meanings, 2017: "The traditional view reads this verse backwards as if John saw a vision of people dying a second time and was then told that 'the second death is the lake of fire'. Traditionalists then take this strange definition of death and apply it to other verses like Romans 6:23... They say that 'death' does not mean what we normally think of as 'death'. Indeed, the traditional view is that the unsaved NEVER actually die. Instead they live forever in the lake of fire. Hopefully by now you can see that this is backwards."
Second Death: "The second death, also known as eternal death, is an eschatological concept in Judaism... Harry Sysling, in his study (1996) of Teḥiyyat ha-metim (Hebrew; "the resurrection of the dead") in the Palestinian Targums, identifies a consistent usage of the term "second death" in texts of the Second Temple period and early rabbinical writings. In most cases, the "second death" is identical with the judgment, following the resurrection, in Gehinnom at the Last Day [indicating that the wicked will perish]."
"He who acts unjustly, let him act unjustly still. He who is filthy, let him be filthy still. He who is righteous, let him do righteousness still. He who is holy, let him be holy still... Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood."
Chris Date, No Penitent in Hell: A [Reformed] Response to D. A. Carson, 2012: "John didn’t see the wicked continuing to sin in the lake of fire... for they [Revelation 22:11, 15] contain the words spoken to John on behalf of Jesus after the vision had concluded. The apocalyptic vision of the future had ended in verse 5 with the description of the New Jerusalem’s river and tree of life and the presence of God amongst his saints there."
Christ is our lamb whose life was given in order to atone for our sins:
"For the life of the flesh is in the blood. I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement by reason of the life." (Lev 17:11).
"The next day, he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn 1:29).
"For indeed Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed in our place." (1 Cor 5:7).
"but with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish or spot, the blood of Christ" (1 Pet 1:19).
If Christ's substitutionary work, His taking our punishment on Himself, was death, then the punishment for sin is death. Christ's punishment is an indication either of what He suffered on our behalf or else what we will suffer without Him:
"even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mat 20:28).
"He died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for their sakes died and rose again." (2 Cor 5:15).
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (Jn 10:11).
"But God commends his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8).
"For God didn’t appoint us to wrath, but to the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him." (1 Thes 5:9-10).
"For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3-4).
"Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit" (1 Pet 3:18).
Chris Date, The Righteous for the Unrighteous: Conditional Immortality and the Substitutionary Death of Jesus, MJTM 18 (2016–2017) 69-92: "Meanwhile, whereas traditionalists charge conditionalism with being Christologically problematic, it seems the real danger to orthodox Christology lies in their own tendency to locate the substitutionary work of Christ in his suffering... if the finite duration of his suffering is the substitutionary equivalent to the eternity of suffering awaiting the risen, undying wicked, why did he go on to die? If 'he had paid the full penalty for our sin,' as Grudem says, what penalty was left to pay with his death?"
— Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked, Part 1 and Part 2. Quotes ordered respectively: "Conditionalists point out that Jesus was indeed executed, not eternally tormented. Traditionalists, however, point out Christ wasn’t annihilated, that he did not cease to exist." "Conditionalists see the death penalty—whether temporal or eternal—as the punitive privation of this psychosomatic life."
Peter Grice, Death or Eternal Suffering—Which One Reveals how much Jesus Loves You? (A Response to Timothy Keller), (2018): "the Bible presents Jesus’ death in our place as the precise measure of God’s love, not his eternal torment (or some softened form of this). Whenever Keller isn’t trying to explain hell, he would no doubt affirm the centrality of Jesus’ death. But his claim that Christ’s demonstration of love is only comprehended through the lens of eternal suffering ends up taking the focus off Christ’s death in our place."
Terrance Tiessen, What Did Jesus Suffer "For Us and For Our Salvation"?, (2016): "I think we can identify them as: (1) the things Jesus suffered with us, and (2) the things Jesus suffered in our place, or instead of us. If we blur this important distinction, we seriously muddy the waters in regard to our doctrine of the atonement and what that teaches us about God’s judgment of unrepentant sinners."
Chris Date, Deprived of Continuance: Irenaeus the Conditionalist, 2012: "Conditionalists today could hardly put it more clearly [than Irenaeus], that whereas 'continuance … [and] length of days for ever and ever' will be gifted to the redeemed of God, those who reject him will not receive 'continuance … [and] length of days for ever and ever.' The only alternative is that they will die, never to live again."
Christopher Date, Ron Highfield, and Stephen Travis, A Consuming Passion: Essays on Hell and Immortality in Honor of Edward Fudge (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2015): "Still, as a late patristic voice, Lactantius of Nicomedia in Asia Minor (c. 250–330) addressed the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, vividly maintaining conditionalism. And moving into the Nicene and post-Nicene periods, Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria (c. 297–373) and most prominent theologian of his generation, championed certain aspects of conditionalism."
Daniel Sinclair, The New York Times on the Rise of Conditionalism—Al Mohler Responds, 2014: "we Evangelical Conditionalists do not take to superficial criticisms, and are willing to joust on the field of exegetical battle as well as philosophical. Our case is strong. We love the lost and the church, and are distressed by the negative impact that an erroneous doctrine has had on both. You have only partly understood the rise of Conditionalism in our day. It’s not only found within liberal circles, but among conservative bibliophiles (for instance, those aligned with Rethinking Hell) who are willing to challenge orthodoxy with scripture."
Edward White, Life in Christ: A Study of the Scriptural Doctrine On the Nature of Man, the Object of the Divine Incarnation, and the Conditions of Human Immortality, 1875, pg. 379: "He 'is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna;' and the ability to destroy the soul, to kill it outright, will be exerted by that God who is a 'consuming Fire,' and whose threats are not vain. Christ here taught the doctrine which is found substantially in the Talmud. 'The body shall be consumed, and the soul burned up, and the wind shall scatter it under the feet of the just' (Roschasciana, ch. i. quoted, by S. Cox in Salvator Mundi, pp. 71-3, which see for further evidence of Jewish belief)."
Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition. (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 254, 259: "Constable and Froom claim that all the apostolic fathers support the views of conditional immortality: that immortality is God’s gift through the redemption of Jesus, only the saved will live forever, and the damned eventually will exist no more... [The apostolic fathers] nowhere indicate that the wicked will be immortal, and they strongly suggest in a number of places that they will not."
Glenn Peoples, Athanasius, Atonement and Annihilation : "When a person says 'Jesus died for me,' this confession of faith has consequences whether the confessor sees what those consequences are or not. I’m drawing on Athanasius here because he explained so much of the content of why Jesus came and what his death achieved... there is only one conclusion we can draw about the consequences of not having one’s sin atoned for by the Incarnate Christ... the reversal and undoing of creation, the dissolution of our being, and the sinking back into destruction, all of these will come to us without remedy."
Graham Keith, Patristic Views on Hell―Part 1, The Evangelical Quarterly 71, no. 3 (1999): "Indeed, a century or so after Constantine we have a surprising amount of evidence indicating widespread denial of eternal punishment [of torment] within the church."
Joseph Dear, The Bible Teaches Annihilationism, 2020, pg. 88-89: "It is wrong to assume that eternal torment has been universal in church, especially in the early church, and this takes a lot of the wind out of the traditional doctrine’s sails... Eternal torment may have been the majority view throughout much of history, but it was not even close to the only view of the early church, or of the body of Christ since, so don’t even give a moment’s thought to it whenever you hear it claimed that eternal torment must be right because the church has always believed it."
— Introduction to Evangelical Conditionalism: The Doctrine of Eternal Torment was not Universal in the Early Church, 2017: "Irenaeus of Lyons is one of the most well-known and influential of all the early church fathers, and so his inclusion on this list is especially noteworthy... Irenaeus very much goes out of his way to make the point that the unsaved will not consciously exist for eternity because God wills that they should not."
Justin Martyr and the Immortality of the Soul, 2009: "Given that Justin, along with most of the Fathers of the early Church, held that the souls of the dead were gathered to some subterranean locality, neither heaven nor hell, to await the resurrection and that they condemned the belief that the dead go immediately to Heaven or Hell, by what right do the so-called 'orthodox' of today condemn the Conditionalist for not believing in the traditional view of the church... Likewise, Justin’s testimony suggests that belief in conditional immortality (or at least belief in the natural mortality of the human soul) was wide spread among Christians in Justin’s day."
Statement on Evangelical Conditionalism: "Hell is a subject that the sixteenth-century Reformers did not reach to restudy. It is a topic still crying out for serious Bible study. The evangelical conversation on Hell has been too long coming, and now that it has started, it desperately needs to grow both deeper and broader."
Glenn Peoples, An Open Letter to My Traditionalist Friends: "Patience is a great virtue, but it looks to me at times that those defending the traditionalist cause simply lack this virtue when making their case. They know what the conclusion ought to be, and they are in a great hurry to get there, so at times the relevant pieces of exegetical data just become details that must be rushed through... This, my friends, is why we are not impressed, why we don’t seem to be reacting with any urgency to rectify our views, why the church is not moving in your direction, and why I do not think the case for annihilationism has anything to worry about."
— What I would Have to Deny in Order to Teach Eternal Torment: "But if we’re going to give up the biblical stance that the wages of sin is really death and eternal life is a gift, affirming eternal torment instead, then we have to simply junk the idea that Scripture is clear on this subject, because what Scripture clearly teaches is definitely not the doctrine of eternal torment."
Arnobius of Sicca (c. A.D. 255-300), Against the Heathen: "What is this passion, so bloodthirsty, to declare implacable war on one who did not deserve it from you; to want to tear Him limb from limb if you could, who not only brought evil to no man, but spoke with equal kindness to enemies concerning the salvation that was being brought to them from God the Ruler; concerning what had to be done so that they might escape death and receive an immortality unknown to them? And when the strangeness of these things and the unheard promises troubled the minds of those who heard them and caused them to hesitate to believe, the Lord of every power and the Destroyer of death itself, allowed His human form to be killed, so that from the results they might know that the hopes which they had long entertained about the salvation of the soul were safe and that in no other way could they avoid the danger of death." (1.65).
"For they are cast in, and being annihilated, pass away vainly in everlasting destruction. For theirs is an intermediate state, as has been learned from Christ's teaching; and they are such that they may on the one hand perish if they have not known God, and on the other be delivered from death if they have given heed to His threats and proffered favours. And to make manifest what is unknown, this is man's real death, this which leaves nothing behind. For that which is seen by the eyes is only a separation of soul from body, not the last end — annihilation: this, I say, is man's real death, when souls which know not God shall be consumed in long-protracted torment with raging fire, into which certain fiercely cruel beings shall cast them, who were unknown before Christ, and brought to light only by His wisdom." (2.14).
Athanasius of Alexandria (c. A.D. 296-373), On the Incarnation of the Word: "For if, out of a former normal state of non-existence, they were called into being by the Presence and loving-kindness of the Word, it followed naturally that when men were bereft of the knowledge of God and were turned back to what was not (for what is evil is not, but what is good is), they should, since they derive their being from God who IS, be everlastingly bereft even of being; in other words, that they should be disintegrated and abide in death and corruption. For man is by nature mortal, inasmuch as he is made out of what is not; but by reason of his likeness to Him that is (and if he still preserved this likeness by keeping Him in his knowledge) he would stay his natural corruption, and remain incorrupt" (4.5).
"For it were monstrous, firstly, that God, having spoken, should prove false — that, when once He had ordained that man, if he transgressed the commandment, should die the death, after the transgression man should not die, but God's word should be broken. For God would not be true, if, when He had said we should die, man died not. Again, it were unseemly that creatures once made rational, and having partaken of the Word, should go to ruin, and turn again toward non-existence by the way of corruption... It was, then, out of the question to leave men to the current of corruption; because this would be unseemly, and unworthy of God's goodness." (6.3-4, 10).
— Discourse 2 Against the Arians, 69: "Again, if the Son were a creature, man had remained mortal as before, not being joined to God; for a creature had not joined creatures to God, as seeking itself one to join it ; nor would a portion of the creation have been the creation's salvation, as needing salvation itself. To provide against this also, He sends His own Son, and He becomes Son of Man, by taking created flesh; that, since all were under sentence of death, He, being other than them all, might Himself for all offer to death His own body; and that henceforth, as if all had died through Him, the word of that sentence might be accomplished (for 'all died 2 Corinthians 5:14 ' in Christ), and all through Him might thereupon become free from sin and from the curse which came upon it, and might truly abide for ever, risen from the dead and clothed in immortality and incorruption."
Clement of Rome (c. A.D. 35-99), 1 Letter to the Corinthians, 35, 48: "How blessed and wonderful, beloved, are the gifts of God! Life in immortality, splendour in righteousness, truth in perfect confidence, faith in assurance, self-control in holiness... For [such conduct] is the gate of righteousness, which is set open for the attainment of life... Although, therefore, many gates have been set open, yet this gate of righteousness is that gate in Christ by which blessed are all they that have entered in..."
Didache (c. A.D. 50-120), 1, 16: "There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways... Watch for your life's sake. Let not your lamps be quenched, nor your loins unloosed; but be ready, for you know not the hour in which our Lord comes... Then shall the creation of men come into the fire of trial, and many shall be made to stumble and shall perish; but they that endure in their faith shall be saved from under the curse itself. And then shall appear the signs of the truth; first, the sign of an outspreading in heaven; then the sign of the sound of the trumpet; and the third, the resurrection of the dead; yet not of all, but as it is said: The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him. Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven."
Ignatius of Antioch (c. A.D. 50-110), Epistle to the Magnesians, 5, 10: "Seeing, then, all things have an end, these two things are simultaneously set before us — death and life; and every one shall go unto his own place... were He to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be."
— Epistle to the Smyrnaeans: "Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved. And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians]. And as they believe, so shall it happen unto them, when they shall be divested of their bodies..." (2).
"These persons neither have the prophets persuaded, nor the law of Moses, nor the Gospel even to this day, nor the sufferings we have individually endured. For they think also the same thing regarding us. For what does any one profit me, if he commends me, but blasphemes my Lord, not confessing that He was [truly] possessed of a body? But he who does not acknowledge this, has in fact altogether denied Him, being enveloped in death..." (5).
"Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again." (7).
Irenaeus of Lyons (c. A.D. 120-200), Against Heresies, 2.34.3: "For as the heaven which is above us, the firmament, the sun, the moon, the rest of the stars, and all their grandeur, although they had no previous existence, were called into being, and continue throughout a long course of time according to the will of God, so also any one who thinks thus respecting souls and spirits, and, in fact, respecting all created things, will not by any means go far astray, inasmuch as all things that have been made had a beginning when they were formed, but endure as long as God wills that they should have an existence and continuance... And again, He thus speaks respecting the salvation of man: He asked life of You, and You gave him length of days for ever and ever; indicating that it is the Father of all who imparts continuance for ever and ever on those who are saved."
"For life does not arise from us, nor from our own nature; but it is bestowed according to the grace of God. And therefore he who shall preserve the life bestowed upon him, and give thanks to Him who imparted it, shall receive also length of days for ever and ever. But he who shall reject it, and prove himself ungrateful to his Maker, inasmuch as he has been created, and has not recognised Him who bestowed [the gift upon him], deprives himself of [the privilege of] continuance for ever and ever. And, for this reason, the Lord declared to those who showed themselves ungrateful towards Him: If you have not been faithful in that which is little, who will give you that which is great? indicating that those who, in this brief temporal life, have shown themselves ungrateful to Him who bestowed it, shall justly not receive from Him length of days for ever and ever."
Joseph Dear, Evangelical Conditionalism and Degrees of Punishment in Hell, Part 1 and Part 2. Quotes ordered respectively: "The idea of a day of judgment also reconciles annihilationism with the idea of a greater condemnation. While the difference does not continue into eternity, at least not in terms of conscious experience, a more terrible experience on judgment day is a form of greater condemnation." "But the fact that the fire is not as hot or the weeping and gnashing of teeth out of regret are less intense is way less significant overall than the difference between having one sin held against you (unending misery and suffering) and having no sins held against you (unending love and joy and only good things)."
Mark Corbett, Does the Character of God Require Him to Subject the Unrighteous to Eternal Conscious Torment?, 2022: "Philosophical arguments and the views of other Christians can be either right or wrong, but they should never be used to overthrow the clear and direct teaching of the Bible. And the Bible clearly teaches that the final fate of the unrighteous is for God to destroy their bodies and souls in hell (Matthew 10:28), for them to perish (John 3:16), and for them to be turned to ashes (2 Peter 2:6)."
— Hell is Payback, 2017: "If unrighteous people really did deserve to be tortured for eternity then how does God ever fulfill His promise to repay sinners? If the unrighteous “owe” an eternity of suffering as payment for their sins, then even after a million trillion years of torment they would have repaid far less than 1/1000th of 1% of the debt they apparently owe. In this view justice is NEVER complete or fulfilled."
— Does Annihilationism Make the Threat of Hell Meaningless?, 2017: "The objection that the punishment is not severe just does not pass the reality test. Imagine you had a friend who you knew was about to be captured by North Korea, imprisoned and tortured for an unknown length of time, and then executed. Would you say, 'Oh, that’s no big deal!'? And yet the annihilation of the wicked is much more severe because it will last forever!"
A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith: 2nd Edition, 2020. In response to the chapter called "Eternal Punishment Construed as Annihilation," pgs. 1068-1081:
Reymond says in the beginning of this section that John gives us a "graphic representation of hell," but just after that, he quotes Revelation 14:9-11 and states that "eternal conscious torment is [here] said to be the punishment of those who have the mark of the beast." These two statements contradict. John is not giving straightforward, didactic teaching about hell. He's recording a pictorial representation of hell that he sees in a vision, not a vision of hell itself. The Old Testament background, parallel judgment passages, and John's own interpretation of the symbols are the keys to understanding what that imagery represents. Reymond completely disregards the context and takes his own interpretation for granted.
Even if we take the passage at face value without interpreting what each symbol represents, Reymond's interpretation of eternal conscious torment still does not follow. John only states that these people will be tormented in fire, won't have any rest for a time, and the smoke rising from this judgment will last forever. Traditionalist scholar G. K. Beale, quoted above, agrees that an annihilationist reading is possible because "Rev 14:10-11 could indicate a great judgment that will be remembered forever, not one that leads to eternal suffering." Furthermore, there are conditionalists that do believe that eternal conscious torment is being depicted here that symbolizes annihilation. Either way, Reymond has decided that eternal conscious torment is the correct view ahead of time and skips the necessary exegesis.
This demonstrates a common interpretive problem when it comes to this issue. Revelation may be the hardest book to interpret in the New Testament. It is full of symbolism and Old Testament allusions which are not readily understood by people in a context removed from the original audience. Sometimes there is no way to understand the symbols at all without being given an interpretation. Thus, taking a surface level reading of Revelation 14:9-11 or 20:10, concluding that it teaches eternal conscious torment, and then reading that view back into every other passage about hell is completely backwards and irresponsible hermeneutically.
After that short argument from Revelation, Reymond finishes his very first paragraph by concluding that "it is clear that the divine judgment awaiting evil-doers is certain, just, and eternal." Every conditionalist would agree wholeheartedly with this conclusion, except that Reymond clearly means eternal torment is certain. Not only is this misrepresenting conditionalism as if it denies eternal punishment before he has even explained the position, but it's also presenting that poor exegesis of Revelation as if it's decisive. Reymond has already precluded the possibility of conditionalism with absolutely no biblical support offered. The eisegesis that follows was inevitable from his starting position.
Reymond addresses very few Old Testament passages because of his presupposition of eternal conscious torment. The Old Testament has much to say about the final death and destruction of the wicked, and God putting a final end to evil. However, the few texts cited still provide a vivid picture of annihilation: the fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the destruction of Sihon killing every man, woman, and child, the principle of herem ("devotion") to the Lord for complete destruction, the fact that every evil deed will be judged, and the prophecy that the redeemed will go out in the new heavens and new earth to look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against God which are being eaten by worms and burned.
That last image comes from Isaiah 66:22-24. The only comment on this passage is a quote from a commentary. It affirms that this passage is indeed about the final state but explains away the obvious conditionalist implications by calling it a "monstrous and inconceivable" picture. Actually, it's very clear. The picture is of dead bodies that were slain, burned up, consumed, and looked on with contempt. It then cites Mark 9:48 as support that this is a picture of eternal torment, but that is a completely circular argument. Jesus quotes from this passage in Mark 9:48, not to make it mean the exact opposite of what it means in context, but because the wicked being slain, devoured by an inextinguishable fire, and consumed is an accurate picture of hell.
The New Testament section is hurt by the bad exegesis of the Old Testament and many of the objections are already answered above. Jesus uses the phrase "unquenchable fire" because the fire can't be put out, so that it completely consumes. Reymond acknowledges that the garbage dump theory of Gehenna comes "from late Jewish tradition (David Qimchi, c. A.D. 1200)" and has no support, but he nevertheless wrongly treats that as the primary background over and against the Old Testament. The Old Testament background of dead bodies being consumed by fire and eaten by maggots is diametrically opposed to the garbage dump myth.
Weeping primarily indicates sadness. Gnashing teeth primarily indicates anger. Weeping and gnashing are not said to last eternally, and are accurate descriptions of people on death row or being burned alive. He says that a "more bearable" (Mat 10:15) judgment day on an annihilationist view is difficult to comprehend because everyone ends up dead. Being killed by hanging versus being burned alive clearly represent two different degrees of capital punishment. On the contrary, it is very hard to comprehend how the traditional view accounts for different degrees of punishment when one sin merits the same punishment as a billion sins, eternal suffering.
Even if the intermediate state consists of torment, it does not follow that the eternal state consists of eternal torment. Just because the demons expect torment in the future (Mat 8:29), doesn't mean that they expect everlasting torment (and so what if they did?). Tartarus in 2 Peter 2:4 does not refer to hell. It is the holding place for angels until the judgment. That is just a factual error.
And for some reason, even though Reymond and Vos think the language of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is of annihilation, Vos thinks "that 'annihilation' is an extremely abstract idea, too philosophical, in fact." It's not that complicated. It just means their final death. He also argues that Paul couldn't have been thinking of annihilation because Jesus taught eternal torment in the gospels. This again shows the potential danger of arguing based on analogy of scripture when you don't want to accept what a verse teaches. It's better to carefully exegete the text before attempting to apply systematic theology to it.
This entire chapter illustrates how a bad starting place, misinterpreting a passage in Revelation, led to the entire Old and New Testaments being read incorrectly. It also illustrates that we can't be dogmatic about tradition. We must test all things by the Word of God. Reymond concludes the New Testament section without an in depth treatment of Revelation, but he assures us of his interpretation about the fires of Revelation by stating that "we should understand the realities these biblical passages seek to represent to be more—not less—horrible than their word depictions." However, having a more intolerable, dreadful, and harsh view of hell does not make it correct or more convincing.
Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2013). In response to the chapter called "Eternal Punishment of Unbelievers (Hell)," pgs. 1081-1083:
Though Frame admits that he is reluctant to write about the topic of hell, unpleasant as it is, he states, "I must teach only what the Bible teaches." This is certainly to be commended; however, the question still remains, what does the Bible teach about hell?
I certainly agree with Frame that all sinners are under the just condemnation of a holy God and in need of a savior. We are saved by faith in the Son of God who died on the cross for us. His death provides atonement for our sins, but the wrath of God remains on those who don't believe in the Son. Frame cites Exodus 15:6-7 to explain the wrath of God, but it also provides important background information about the consuming fire of God:
Your right hand, Yahweh, is glorious in power. Your right hand, Yahweh, dashes the enemy in pieces. In the greatness of your excellency, you overthrow those who rise up against you. You send out your wrath. It consumes them as stubble.
Frame states that the "OT descriptions of God's wrath mainly concern what happens in this life." The Old Testament speaks of God's enemies being slain, consumed by fire, and put to an end. He is beginning to try to create a contrast between Old and New Testament language of destruction because he believes that the New Testament teaches eternal conscious torment. A problem with this approach is that the New Testament uses Old Testament language to talk about eschatological judgment. If the Old Testament uses annihilation language, it provides strong support for conditionalism.
He then makes the philosophical argument that punishment in this life could never satisfy God's law and cites Hebrews 10:26-27:
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which will devour the adversaries.
This sounds awfully familiar to the outcome of God's enemies in the Old Testament. Eternal conscious torment doesn't teach that God's enemies will be devoured. Instead, it teaches that they will continue burning alive forever. Thus far, no support for the traditional doctrine can be found while much of the language cited provides support for conditionalism.
Conditionalists agree with Frame that the final "punishment is everlasting," but Romans 6:23 explains what the punishment for sin is: "the wages of sin is death." Frame cites Matthew 25:46 to support the eternal aspect of the final judgment:
These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
Notice that Jesus contrasts eternal punishment with eternal life. Whatever the final punishment is, it can't include eternal life. However, that is what traditionalists argue for. They argue that the punishment will be an embodied life of suffering in hell forever where the wicked are made immortal and never die. Conditionalists, on the other hand, argue that the punishment must not include eternal life, which must mean death, the very thing that the New Testament says is the punishment for sin many times.
Finally, Frame reveals the real impetus behind his belief in eternal conscious torment: Revelation 14:11 yet again! And continuing the pattern, there is no consideration given to the context, genre, or background of the verse. It's just cited as if it came out of a textbook, rather than an apocalyptic book full of Old Testament allusions and bizarre symbols.
Frame's only response to annihilationism is that "Scripture suggests the opposite, that not only does the fire continue forever, but the torment of the wicked continues forever as well (Rev. 14:11; 20:10)." Again, no explanation is given. If you remember that John's vision is of a representation of hell (it's symbolic), then you realize that Frame hasn't even started to give a biblical argument for eternal conscious torment because he hasn't tried to interpret any of the symbols. Both passages are describing the final judgment. John interprets the lake of fire in Revelation 20:10 in clear language two times. The lake of fire is the second death (Rev 20:14; 21:8). It means dying a second time, both body and soul (Mat 10:28).
He provides several references in parentheses for support which, when understood in context, provide vivid pictures of annihilation. Mark 9:43 and 48 contain a quote to Isaiah 66:24, a passage indicating that the fires will be inextinguishable, thus burning up the dead bodies completely. Luke 16:22-24 and 28 are about Hades, the intermediate state, further demonstrating the sloppiness of exegesis in support of the traditional view. Revelation 14:11 and 19:3 both indicate that smoke rises forever. Likewise, the smoke rises forever from Edom which was destroyed by unquenchable fire (Isa 34:8-10). The everlasting smoke symbolizes the permanent remembrance of a judgment which results in complete destruction.
Other verses in Scripture are very clear on this issue too. Paul speaks much of the destruction of the wicked. The language of perishing and dying is used all over the New Testament. The Old Testament is very clear about the fate of the wicked. All of that clear teaching can't be reinterpreted based on the non-exegesis of Revelation. Unfortunately, that's what most defenses of the traditional view amount to.
Death and the Afterlife (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1984). In response to Chapter 8: Annihilationism, pgs. 199-220:
Morey's arguments are much better suited to argue against Froom and Seventh-Day Adventists. Unfortunately, he doesn't address the kind of exegetical and theological points raised so far in this article.
A Brief History
Morey begins by attempting to give a brief history of conditional immortality. He claims that annihilationism "was first advanced by Arnobius" in the fourth century whom he calls a "Christian" in quotes. It would be convenient for Morey if Arnobius really were the first proponent of conditionalism several hundred years after the New Testament. And as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes:
There is no reason to doubt that Arnodius is a true Christian as Morey does, but more importantly, Arnobius is following in a tradition of conditionalists. It appears that all of the Apostolic Fathers and many early Christians were conditionalists, but one example suffices to refute the claim that Arnobius is the first. That Irenaeus is a conditionalist is very clear in multiple places and is widely recognized by traditionalist scholars. Irenaeus (c. A.D. 120-200) in Against Heresies writes:
Morey's historical argument thus falls flat. It was not a later, biblically illiterate Christian who first taught conditionalism (as Morey portrays it), but a stream of Christians from the earliest times after the New Testament.
Morey repeats the often made claim that the Second Council of Constantinople (A.D. 553) condemned conditionalism as heresy. He provides no quote but is most likely refering to anathematism IX which says, "If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema." However, this is clearly a condemnation against Origen's universalism, and says nothing contrary to conditionalism. On the annihilation view, the punishment is eternal.
I agree with Morey that the traditional view of hell is widespread after Augustine, but traditionalist Graham Keith notes that "a century or so after Constantine we have a surprising amount of evidence indicating widespread denial of eternal punishment [ECT] within the church" (Patristic Views on Hell―Part 1). Even at so late a date, ECT was still widely denied in the church.
I also agree with Morey that a theologian believing in soul sleep does not imply that they believe in annihilationism. He claims that many annihilationists argue that soul sleep implies annihilationism naming Froom as an example, but I've never heard that claim before. Annihilationism is about the final state and doesn't commit one to soul sleep which is about the intermediate state.
Although conditionalism is held by several cult groups today, Seventh-Day Adventists are an example of a Christian denomination that holds to conditionalism. Morey claims that the publishing of The Fire That Consumes by Edward Fudge was done with the hope to "introduce Adventist theology into evangelical circles" almost conspiratorially. But the question of conditional immortality is quite apart from other Seventh-Day Adventist doctrines. Even if that was the intention, conditionalism is held by many evangelicals across different denominations.
He ends the first section by claiming that annihilationism is on the rise because of liberalism and "is regrettably the result of a weak view of Scripture which has been developing in certain evangelical circles over the last 25 years." But that is incredibly uncharitable to those who are committed to biblical innerancy and believe the Bible teaches conditional immortality. He poisons the well by painting conditionalism as the liberal view before addressing any of their arguments. Just because tradition widely teaches a doctrine does not make it biblical!
A Theological Analysis
For some strange reason Morey equates conditional immortality with materialism. He claims that "both deny that man has an immaterial soul and that man’s soul or spirit survives the death of the body," but this is certainly false. As far as the first claim, some conditionalists are anthropological physicalists while others are dualists. Christian physicalism is not materialism because it affirms God and other spiritual realities. It just denies that man's soul is immaterial. For the second claim, while evangelical conditionalism teaches that God will "destroy both soul and body [of the wicked] in Gehenna" (Mat 10:28), it affirms that everyone's soul survives death until the resurrection and final judgment.
Morey continues to present annihilationism as a cultic view stating that "we must point out that it is generally in connection with cultic or neo-cultic organizations that this belief is found." If conditionalism is such a plainly unbiblical belief, we wouldn't need all the inaccurate historical and theological priming against it.
Contra Froom's introduction, conditionalism is attested early, is not a form of materialism, was not condemed as heretical by the Second Council of Constantinople, is not an inherently cultic or liberal belief, has no inherent connection to other Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs, and has strong biblical arguments for it that need to be addressed.
Morey raises and responds to twelve conditionalist arguments in the next section which primarily come from Froom's The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers (1965). I have not read that work, but I am not impressed by it based on Morey's relaying. Edward Fudge's The Fire that Consumes (1982) is barely addressed, but I think it is a much stronger presentation of evangelical conditionalism.
Morey responds to the claim that conditionalist arguments have been ignored, and adds the gripe that the label "traditionalism" implies that ECT is only held because of tradition and not the Bible. While not an argument for conditionalism, I am definitely inclined to agree with it.
Morey mentions "Bartlett, Boettner, Grant, A. Hodge, Hovey, Landis, Stuart, Martin, etc." as writers who have responded to conditionalism. I have not read all of them, but older writers such as Herman Bavinck are primarily responding to liberal and emotional arguments. Many modern traditionalists such as Morey or Robert L. Reymond continue to argue against many of the same bad arguments instead of addressing robust evangelical proponents of conditionalism such as Edward Fudge. Mischaracterizations and sloppiness abound in traditionalist works.
So while responses do exist, there are few serious responses. Even many traditionalists such as James White agree with that assessment and agree that most proponents of ECT are following it because of tradition and not because of a firm biblical understanding, though he does believe the Bible teaches it.
Arguments 2, 3, and 12
These responses are against soul sleep. I don't believe in soul sleep so I agree with Morey here, but it's irrelevant to the issue at hand. Morey has a common modern misunderstanding about the final state. Unbelievers do not go straight to hell when they die. They go to hades (the grave). This is known as the intermediate state. It is only after the general resurrection of all that they face the final judgment and are sent to hell.
Nearly all protestant confessions and historic theologians make that distinction and the Bible certainly does, so this argument is useless. He assumes (as does Froom it seems) that the intermediate state must be exactly like the eternal state, but that is a faulty assumption. The intermediate state is like a holding cell until the resurrection, judgment, and final damnation to hell. There is no reason to conflate the two when the Bible does not. The intermediate state may consist of the worst torment imaginable, but that would not change the fact that the wicked will face the second death on judgment day.
The conditionalist argument given is that Sheol and Hades both mean grave, so there is no intermediate state but instead immediate death. This is a really bad argument. Morey rightly rejects it, but for the wrong reason. Hades is the grave contrary to what Morey says, but at the end of the age, Hades (the grave) will give up the dead so that they can be judged: "Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them. They were judged, each one according to his works" (Rev 20:13).
The most common terms for the fate of the wicked are "destroyed," "consumed", "perish," etc., which must "mean that they pass into nonexistence." Annihilated does not mean nonexistent, but dead, destroyed, unalived, unconscience state. The given answer to this argument is that apollumi doesn't actually mean destroyed, but "ruin, loss... of well-being." There is a good reason most Bible translations don't translate that way. When people are "apollumi-ed," they are killed or destroyed. When objects are "apollumi-ed," they are ruined or lost. Check out Mark Corbett's video Apollumi: The Word that Tells Us What Happens to People in Hell (Annihilation or Eternal Torment?) to see every use of the word apollumi in the New Testament and uses outside the New Testament.
Eternal life means living forever. Only the righteous get eternal life. Therefore, only the righteous will live forever. This is a super simple and effective argument. His response is that eternal life actually means "a quality of divine life." It's obvious that he isn't taking the language in a natural way. Of course eternal life has a positive quality/connotation to it, but the phrase eternal life does mean living forever. Just as people looked up at the raised serpent to save their physical lives for a short time (Jn 3:14-15), we look to Jesus to save our physical and spiritual lives eternally (Jn 3:16). This isn't complicated or cryptic language.
1 Timothy 6:16 says that only God has immortality, so man is not immortal. I agree with Morey's response that this means that only God has absolute immortality. However, I disagree that the unrighteous will be granted immortality. Post-fall humans are mortal, and eternal life and immortality is a gift for the righteous at the resurrection as seen in 1 Corinthians 15 and John 3:16. The burden of proof is on Morey to show that the unrighteous will actually be granted eternal life and immortality too.
He presents the argument that Gehenna is a garbage dump whose fire and worms will go out after the trash is consumed. However, the first claim that Gehenna was a garbage dump comes from Rabbi David Kimhi around A.D. 1200. This mistake doesn't help his case though. The context for Gehenna in Jeremiah 7 indicates that the fire and worms will burn up and consume dead bodies. Gehenna is prophesied to be called the valley of slaughter because God is going to slay His enemies there. Even if a dump is the background, of course the garbage is burned up. But if against all common sense, the garbage, flames, and worms are made eternal, the garbage still represents dead corpses which can't feel torment.
I don't argue that olam, aion, and aionios mean something other than eternal, but eternal undeniably can refer to something either eternal in process or in result when refering to nouns. Examples: Eternal salvation means something is eternally saved. If something is eternally saved, it is either being saved forever or is forever saved. Eternal destruction means something is eternally destroyed. If something is eternally destroyed, it is either being destroyed forever or is forever destroyed. Eternal punishment means something is eternally punished. If something is eternally punished, it is either being punished forever or forever punished. This is not controversial and can be found in standard Greek lexicons and confirmed by linguistics.
It is very obvious from the biblical account that the soul is not preexistent. It is clear but less obvious that the soul is not necessarily immortal. The reason it is valid to claim that ECT is influened by Plato's philosophy is that one of the first proponents of ECT, Tertullian, literally cites Plato to support the immortality of the soul. Morey admits that "the orthodox have always viewed life in this world or in the next as a gift of God," which means that he believes God grants the gift immortality to sinners at the final judgment. A radical claim that is not supported in this section.
The conditionalist argument is that all Jewish and early patristic writings support conditionalism. I agree that this claim is overstated. While the vast majority of early Jewish writings support conditionalism, ECT is occasionally found in some later Jewish writings. And while all the Apostolic Fathers appear to support conditionalism, ECT would enter the church a little over a century later from Plato-influenced theologians in the late second century like Athenagoras of Athens (A.D. 133-190) and Tertullian (A.D. 160-240).
He believes to "have covered all the arguments for conditionalism and annihilationism that is to be found in the literature on this subject." One of the most obvious arguments is that Christ died for sins. He was our substitute on the cross bearing the punishment we deserve. The punishment Christ suffered was a painful death. Therefore, the punishment of those Christ doesn't save is a painful death. Support that with Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death." It is clear from a simple example like that Morey does not comprehensively respond to conditionalism.
Though there were problems with Morey's arguments, the main issue is that the arguments for conditionalism were just bad. They didn't even address scripture much at all. Responding to Edward Fudge would have been much more fruitful and exegetically focused. Also understanding that annihilationism is only about the final fate of the wicked would help further the discussion. Conditionalists hold different views on the anthropology of man, the intermediate state, and other issues, but these are distinct from the doctrine of hell.
The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2011). In response to Chapter 13: On Banishing the Lake of Fire, pgs. 515-536.
Carson focuses on conservative annihilationists which I appreciate. However, he still spends a lot of space addressing philosophical and emotional arguments rather than exegetical ones which is unfortunate.
Carson provides three reasons for why he's addressing annihilationism. The first is that evangelicalism is expanding to allow conditionalism to be seen as a valid viewpoint as the number of its evangelical adherents is rapidly increasing. This could be seen as proof that liberalism is on the rise, but it could also indicate that there's a strong biblical case that hasn't been suffiently answered. The second is the fact that some conditionalists really are theological liberals who primarily appeal to emotion and God's love instead of addressing the Bible. I strongly reject that along with Carson. The third is that there is a movement of conservatives for whom this issue is entirely hermeneutical, but who "are proving unwilling to be corrected by more careful exegesis." We will test that claim in the following analysis.
Carson does a good job of summarizing the conditionalist position. He notes that there are different views of anthropology, the intermediate state, and other doctrines among conditionalists, but the common beliefs that "the punishment is unending," the wicked "are finally destroyed," and the rejection ECT. He distinguishes between conditional immortality and annihilationism stating that their anthropology is different; however, these terms are used interchangeably by most people. Conditional immortality states that there is a condition that's required for eternal life, believing in Christ, while annihilationism (not non-existence, but death and destruction) describes the fate of those who don't meet that condition. It's a difference in emphasis rather than being two separate positions.
Carson gives a bibliography for treatments on hell, both historical and modern. He doesn't discuss them here, though he fears "these are largely unread by those who espouse annihilationism." I'm trying to find the best treatments of hell, so I'm happy to check some of these out.
Carson states that he is avoiding "idiosyncratic interpretations" in his treatment of conditionalism. He's not addressing the fate of people who don't hear the gospel. He's also not discussing side questions that may arise as a result his analysis of hell in this chapter.
B. The Case for Conditional Immortality
He briefly lays out seven arguments that are used to defend conditional immortality in this section:
1. Passages that say the wicked will be destroyed "suggests total destruction, i.e., cessation of existence." I'm not sure why traditionalists insist on characterizing annihilationists as saying that the wicked will "cease to exist." When a person dies, their body does not cease to exist. It's just dead. Likewise, the soul of a person may still exist after it is destroyed. The point is that the body and soul of the wicked will be killed and destroyed, i.e., they won't be alive or conscience ever again. Mark Corbett's video Apollumi: The Word that Tells Us What Happens to People in Hell (Annihilation or Eternal Torment?) thoroughly demonstrates that apollumi, the Greek word translated destruction, does indeed mean killing or slaying when refereeing to people (see Phil 3:19).
2. An unquenchable fire destroys that which it burns. Unquenchable means inextinguishable, which emphasizes the certainty of its devouring and consuming (see Mat 3:12 // Isa 66:24). The reason it destroys is because you can't put it out or stop it. All of the metaphors that explain the unquenchable fire such as chaff, trees, thorns, and thistles demonstrate that Jesus is talking about a consuming fire rather than a fire of torment. Carson does a good explaining this argument.
3. I agree with Carson that the words translated eternal and forever refer to an endless amount of time, so this point stands. Most conditionalists would agree with this as well. It's typically universalists that argue against that. There is a little nuance with the word because it relates to the concept of an age, but I will address that more later on. It still retains the connotation of eternal.
4. In Matthew 25:46, eternal is used to describe life and punishment. This is refereeing to everlasting life, and everlasting death which is properly called an eternal punishment. There is no justification for saying eternal punishment must refer to perpetually inflicted torment. I agree with the way he stated this argument, and it's solid. The argument still has to be made that death is the punishment for sin, but everything checks out grammatically and logically with calling everlasting death an eternal punishment.
5. This argument is based on the love of God. I'm not going to focus on this one. I'm just going to stick to the ones that focus on exegesis.
6. This argument is about the fairness of hell. The argument that ECT is unfair can definitely be made from the Bible. If a country has a law that says murders will face capital punishment but instead locks them up in a dungeon for torture, everyone would say that was unjust. Likewise, if God said that "the wages of sin is death" but instead keeps sinners alive to eternally torment them, that would be unjust. Of course that argument assumes "death" really means death and not seperation from God, which brings us back to asking, what did God declare the just punishment of sin to be, and how are we to understand that? He doesn't state this as a biblical argument but as an emotional one, so I won't focus on it.
7. The last argument is that ECT would would mar the new heavens and new earth. This argument can be bolstered. It is actually impossible for the traditional hell to exist in the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21:4). Traditionalist scholar G. K. Beale writes that "the reality underlying the figurative lake of the second death must exist somewhere else, perhaps in a different dimension from that of the new creation" (The Book of Revelation, 1061), but that is highly speculative. More likely, the traditional view of hell is just wrong. Moreover, God has "no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Eze 33:11). If death means ECT, then God would eternally be sustaining something that brings Him no pleasure. We will be made like God, so we will take no pleasure in the ECT of the wicked either. However, if death means they die, I trust that Jesus will perfectly comfort us, and we will fully be able to enjoy the presence of the Lord eternally. Again though, Carson doesn't raise this as a biblical argument. He leaves it philosophical, so I won't spend a lot of time on this one either.
C. Biblical and Theological Responses
Carson begins his response by addressing the terms Sheol and Hades. He is right that they "have roughly the same semantic range and overtones." Both refer to the grave or "the abode of the dead." He is also correct that there is a mention of torment in Hades (Lk 16:23).
I believe he goes off course though when he tries to conflate Hades with Gehenna, the final destination of the wicked. The reason he gives for this is that Revelation 20:10, 14 link Hades with the lake of fire. So now Carson conflates Gehenna, the lake of fire, and Hades. Gehenna is a real valley outside of Jerusalem where body and soul will be destroyed. The lake of fire is a symbolic picture in John's vision which corresponds to the second death (Rev 20:15; 21:8). Hades is the abode of the dead before they are raised and cast into Gehenna. Even the verses Carson cites maintain a clear distinction between Hades and the lake of fire. Hades releases its dead, so that they can be judged and thrown into the lake of fire. Subsequently, Hades is thrown into the lake of fire, demonstrating that they are two different places:
"Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them. They were judged, each one according to his works. Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire" (Rev 20:13-14).
Carson moves on to define Gehenna, the name of the place that actually refers to the final destination of the wicked. Carson repeats the myth that Gehenna was "the burning dump outside of Jerusalem." Traditionalist scholar Robert Reymond at least informs the reader that the garbage dump theory first comes "from late Jewish tradition (David Qimchi, c. A.D. 1200)" in his treatment, but Carson doesn't do that. He also doesn't inform the reader of Jeremiah 7 or 19, which prophesies about the future eschatological judgment of Gehenna (that might be important to know!):
"'Therefore behold, the days come', says Yahweh, 'that it will no more be called ‘Topheth’ or ‘The valley of the son of Hinnom’, but ‘The valley of Slaughter’; for they will bury in Topheth until there is no place to bury. The dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the sky, and for the animals of the earth. No one will frighten them away'" (Jer 7:32-33).
This is the background for Jesus' teaching about Gehenna. Gehenna will be called "The Valley of Slaughter." God will slay His enemies there. The worms, birds, and other scavengers will devour their dead bodies, and fire will burn up and consumes them. This picture intensely portrays death, destruction, and annihilation, not eternal torment. This refutes Carson's claim that Gehenna conveys "notions of suffering." That's only the case if you ignore the Old Testament background for late, unsupported Jewish tradition.
He then cites parallel passages in which Jesus warns of the destruction of body and soul which will take place in Gehenna. How can we expect anyone to live in Gehenna forever? Surely God casting his enemies into Gehenna, destroying them soul and body, and burning up their dead bodies which are consumed by scavengers does not permit an eternal torment reading:
"Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna." "But I will warn you whom you should fear. Fear him who after he has killed, has power to cast into Gehenna." (Mat 10:28 // Lk 12:5).
Carson proceeds to cite Romans 2:5-9, 11, 16 in favor of ECT, but no support can be found here. Rather than an eternity of wrath, Paul speaks of a "day of wrath" (2:5) when God "will pay back to everyone according to their works" (2:6). Paul writes that "now, being made free from sin" we have "the result of eternal life" (6:22), but "the wages of sin is death" (6:23). God is the "potter" and we are "clay" (9:21). The wicked are clay "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (9:23). While Paul doesn't mention Gehenna by name, he doesn't shy away from addressing the final fate which awaits unbelievers in Gehenna. Death and destruction.
Carson cites another passage from Paul, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, but he cites the NIV which renders the verse very inaccurately. The NIV: "everlasting destruction and shut out from." The ESV: "eternal destruction, away from." The NLT: "eternal destruction, forever separated from." However, the Greek literally reads "eternal destruction from [apo] the presence of the Lord." The phrases "and shut out," "away," and "forever separated" are not in the Greek, but are interpretive and misleading. Going with the alternative rendering in the footnote of the ESV, the verse reads:
"They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction that comes from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might."
They will be destroyed from an encounter with God's presence. No ECT here. Moreover, verses 7-8 provide important context because they give a clear reference to Isaiah 66:15: "For, behold, Yahweh will come with fire, and his chariots will be like the whirlwind; to render his anger with fierceness, and his rebuke with flames of fire." It goes on to say, "For Yahweh will execute judgment by fire and by his sword on all flesh; and those slain by Yahweh will be many." (Isa 66:16). And in the next chapter, Paul says that "the Lord will kill [the lawless one] with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the manifestation of his coming" (2 Thes 2:8) reinforcing that the destruction comes from the presence of the Lord.
The very next verse that Carson cites is another reference to Isaiah 66. Jesus connects Gehenna and Isaiah 66 with a direct quote, describing it as the place "where their worm doesn’t die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mk 9:48 // Isa 66:24). We just saw a few verses earlier in Isaiah that God's enemies were slain. In the part Jesus quotes from, it describes "the new heavens and the new earth" where believers "will go out, and look at the dead bodies of the men who have transgressed against me; for their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind" (Isa 66:22-24). In the final judgment, unbelievers will be slained and burned up. Believers will walk out and see their corpses. Isaiah says that explicitly, and both Jesus and Paul attest to that reality.
He points out that Gehenna is characterized by "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Mat 8:12), but the crying (weeping) and anger (gnashing of teeth) is never said to last eternally. Of course that is the reaction of people facing the judgment of God, but it is no support for ECT. That phrase is even used in conjunction with people perishing: "The wicked will see it, and be grieved. He shall gnash with his teeth, and melt away" (Ps 112:10).
Carson says that there "is no escape from hell: there is a great fixed chasm (Luke 16:26)." I don't know why he insists on conflating Hades (which is the actual word used in this verse) and Gehenna, but it doesn't help his argument. There is a time when everyone will be released from Hades to face judgment. Then many will be cast into Gehenna from which there is no return.
If we check the verses Carson cites about the "'everlasting chains' (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6)," we read that angels (not humans) are "kept in everlasting bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day" and that God "committed them to pits of darkness to be reserved for judgment." The chains hold angels for the judgment of the great day. It doesn't say that angels will have chains eternally, and it isn't about humans anyway.
If we check the verse that Carson cites to support the claim that the "lost 'suffer the punishment of eternal fire' (Jude 7)," we read that Sodom and Gomorrah "are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire" (NASB). The historical example of the complete destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah functions typologically to show what will happen to the wicked on judgment day. The eternal fire represents complete, everlasting destruction:
"Then Yahweh rained on Sodom and on Gomorrah sulfur and fire from Yahweh out of the sky. He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew on the ground. But Lot’s wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt. Abraham went up early in the morning to the place where he had stood before Yahweh. He looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and saw that the smoke of the land went up as the smoke of a furnace." (Gen 19:24-28).
Carson writes that they "suffer 'everlasting contempt' (Dan. 12:2)," but it is more accurate to say that they are remembered with everlasting contempt because they won't be alive to have contempt for God or believers any longer. Daniel 12:2 connects to Isaiah 66:24 by the words "contempt" and "loathsome" which are the only occurances of the same Hebrew word deraon. Isaiah writes that "they will be loathsome to all mankind." Just as contempt for Hitler outlives his life, contempt for unbelievers will outlive their lives.
I understand that Carson has limited space and can't explain every point in this section, but the rapid fire proof texting used in this section does not reflect the "more careful exegesis" that supposedly supports the traditionalist view. It was more of the same basic mistakes that characterize many traditionalist writings like mixing up Hades with Gehenna, getting the background for Gehenna wrong, using verses that are clearly translated inaccurately, citing passages about the intermediate state as if they were about Gehenna, and not addressing the passages that the NT authors keep quoting from like Isaiah 66 to understand the context. It is always better to explain a few passages carefully than many passages in this way.
Carson offers six reflections at this point:
1. He begins by addressing apollumi. I already cited an in-depth word study of apollumi in the first argument. A quote from Edward White's Life in Christ makes the point forcefully: "My mind fails to conceive a grosser misinterpretation of language than when the five or six strongest words which the Greek tongue possesses, signifying ‘destroy,’ or ‘destruction,’ are explained to mean maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence. To translate black as white is nothing to this" (365). Carson writes, "of course those who suffer destruction are destroyed. But it does not follow that those who suffer eternal destruction cease to exist." Torment is not destruction, and arguing that they don't "cease to exist" is just word games. They are as "natural animals to be taken and destroyed... [and] will in their destroying surely be destroyed" (2 Pet 2:12).
Next, Carson argues that eternal punishment cannot refer to the result of the punishment being eternal in Matthew 25:46, but must refer to an ongoing process of punishing. He cites several scholars that agree with him, but this is obviously wrong. In English and Greek, punishment is a generic word that can refer to different kinds of punishments, and eternal can refer to an everlasting state or process. I'll quote a few articles that explain it well and can provide more depth than I can here:
Chris Date writes, "Punishment, whether in English or in Greek, is polysemous. And it is context and the nature of the punishment that determine whether it carries a process or result reading. The modifier 'eternal' does not give it a process reading, anymore than it does 'salvation' and 'redemption' in the epistle to the Hebrews" (No Retreat on Nouns of Action: TurretinFan's Premature Celebration, 2013).
In another article, Christ Date notes that "many deverbal nouns are polysemous, ambiguous between a process or result meaning. For example, the phrase, 'The translation of the book took ten years,' means that the process of translating lasted ten years. The phrase, 'The translation has been published recently,' on the other hand, means that the translation that resulted from, or was the outcome of, the translating process was recently published" ("Punishment" and the Polysemy of Deverbal Nouns, 2012).
And building on the previous example, Joseph Dear writes, "The question is, what meaning of 'punishment' was intended? Was Jesus referring to the act of punishing (like 'the translation of the book took ten years'), or was he referring to the result of the act of punishing (like 'the translation has been published recently')? Either one would be 'punishment'" (Matthew 25:46 Does Not Prove Eternal Torment – Part 1, 2014).
2. Carson moves on to arguments about the descriptions of hell. The first one he addresses is that the fire is a consuming fire. Fire describes destruction, not torment:
Carson's initial response to this argument is that most "interpreters recognize that there is a substantial metaphorical element in the Bible's descriptions of hell." He tries to show that the Bible uses contradictory langauge to describe hell to substatiate this claim. However, he does this by mixing up symbolic depictions of the final judgment in Revelation, descriptions of Hades (the intermediate state), and scenes from parables with actual descriptions of hell, and he interprets the actual descriptions of hell in a wooden and silly way.
This attitude that the biblical language about hell is obviously metaphorical won't do. I don't accept that. A little work in the Old Testament background and context of these passages reveals a consistent, noncontraditory teaching that the wicked will finally perish in Gehenna. Only conditionalism is able to take the biblical descriptions of hell and the language of life, death, perishing, destruction, slaying, burning up, Gehenna, etc. in their natural meanings.
The traditional view relies fundamentally on the metaphorical interpretation of passages about the final fate of the wicked with an improper literal interpretation of Revelation, while the conditionalist view relies fundamentally on a literal, straightforward interpretation of passages about the final fate of the wicked with a proper metaphorical interpretation of Revelation. Refuting the claims here destroys a core assumption for the traditional view.
Carson uses three examples to support the allegorization of Gehenna and its descriptions, which I will state and then challenge:
(1) We don't normally "think of unquenchable fire and worms coexisting." We might not normally think of that, but there is nothing contraditory about Gehenna consisting of fire and maggots. Those are specific details about the way the dead bodies of the wicked are destroyed. The fire won't be able to be put out and the worms won't be able to be killed, so they will destroy the dead bodies of the wicked: "They will go out, and look at the dead bodies of the men who have transgressed against me; for their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind" (Isa 66:24).
(2) "It is hard to imagine how a lake of fire coexists with utter darkness." The lake of fire is a symbolic picture in Revelation which is interpreted as the second death, literally dying a second time in the age to come (Rev 21:8). Outer darkness is a parabolic way of describing refusal to the Kingdom of God such as when the servant is tied hand and foot and thrown out of the wedding feast into outer darkness by the King (Mat 22:1-14). It is also obvious that the servant, being bound hand and foot and thrown into the Judean wilderness, will surely die, not be tormented in the parable. Also angels are described as being held "under darkness" (Jude 6 // 2 Pet 2:4), but this is refereeing to the intermediate state before the judgment. Conditionalists affirm that the wicked will be refused entrance to the Kingdom of God, will face the second death, and that the angels are held under darkness for the judgment in the intermediate state, and none of those suggest that we need to allegorize Gehenna.
(3) If "one is cast into a lake of fire, what need of chains?" Again, the lake of fire is a graphic portrayal of the death of the wicked in John's vision. The final fate of the wicked is symbolically pictured as a lake of fire but directly interpreted to mean they will die a second, eternal death. And as previously mentioned, the chains hold angels for the judgment day (Jude 6 // 2 Pet 2:4). The chains are about the intermediate state for angels, not Gehenna. None of these are good reasons to metaphorically interpret passages about Gehenna.
Carson continues by asking, what sustains the worms (because they are said to not die) if they have already consumed the people? But nowhere are the worms said to be eternal worms. It doesn't say they will never die ever. That's like arguing that the statement, "Bob won't get off the video game" means that, "Bob won't get off the video game ever." Obviously there is a context in both situtations: Bob won't get off the video game until he finishes his match, and the worm won't die until it finishes consuming its meal.
Even if the language is interpreted woodenly to mean that the worms will never die ever, at most this says there are eternal worms. That's a weird way to understand it, but it doesn't support ECT. Carson says that his question was "ugly and silly, precisely because it is demanding a concrete and this-worldly answer to the use of language describing the realities of punishment in a future world still largely inconceivable." Instead, it appears that his question was "ugly and silly" because it relies on understanding the phrase "their worm does not die" out of context.
Carson points to several more reasons he believes the annihilationist reading is wrong:
(1) It is called "their worm" rather than "the worm" which "suggests that it is perpetually bound up with those who are suffering." This is a strange argument. It's "their worm" in the sense that it's refereeing to the worms consuming their bodies. It was not written "the worm" because it isn't a specific worm that won't die nor worms in general that won't die, but the worms consuming their bodies won't die. And as a reminder, the context is not worms eating "those who are suffering," but is about the "dead bodies of the men who have transgressed against me; for their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched" (Isa 66:24 // Mk 9:48).
(2) The logic of this argument is that "unquenchable fire" could be understood as a fire that cannot be extinguished so that it either burns up but does not last forever, or burns forever but does not burn up. He claims that the former interpretation has difficulties because "unquenchable fire" is paralleled with "eternal fire" (Mat 18:8). Carson's initial framing of this argument is a false dilemma. The fire could last forever but still burn up. Earlier in Matthew, it is explicitly stated that they "will burn up [katakaió] with unquenchable fire" like chaff (Mat 3:12). Katakaió means to burn down utterly, incinerate, consume wholly.
That still leaves the question of what eternal fire means in Matthew 18:8 and 25:41. Before these verses, Matthew indicates that the hell-fire will burn up (3:12; 7:19; 13:40, 42, 50), the wicked will be destroyed (7:13-14; 10:28), and will perish in Gehenna (5:22; 5:29; 10:28). The word aiōnios (eternal) can simply refer to an age. In these verses, it relates to the concept of two ages, this age which is passing away and the final, everlasting age that's coming. Because it refers to the fire/punishment of that final age, it carries both connotations of relating to the final age and being eternal.
With that ground work laid, what does the eternal fire and eternal punishment mean? It refers to that ultimate punishment of the age to come, which results in the loss of eternal life from the irreversible destruction of soul and body by hell-fire.
We can check our work by looking at Jude's use of the punishment of eternal fire. Jude 7 tells us that the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah functions typologically as an example of eternal fire. That means the final punishment of fire in store for the wicked which is called the "eternal fire" looks like the historical destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Because the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah underwent what Jude describes as "the punishment of eternal fire" and those cities are not still burning, we must conclude that it is not a fire that burns forever, but rather a fire that burns up completely and eternally.
The final objection Carson raises is that this view would deny degrees of punishment. He says, "must we not also infer that fire consumes everyone at more or less the same rate"? No, of course not. That inference is not from the text, and is clearly wrong. There are different degrees of fire, which consume people at different rates. It is conceivable that some could be instantly incinerated while others are slowly burned to death, so this objection fails. I will also clarify that everyone will not die by the fire even though everyone will be finally burned up and destroyed by it. "Yahweh will execute judgment by fire and by his sword on all flesh" (Isa 66:16), so some may die by the flame and others by the sword; however, all will be cast into Gehenna to be destroyed by unquenchable fire in the end.
After finishing that more in-depth section, Carson writes that the conditionalist interpretation appears to go astray "because illegitimate and arbitrary inferences are being drawn from the language, against the more natural readings, in order to support a theory that is being imposed on the text." However, I think this reveals an error that many traditionalists including Carson are making. They are confusing what feels like for modern readers are "the more natural readings" with what the text actually means.
For modern readers (myself included), the phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth" sounds like eternal torment; however, that anger and sadness is never said to last forever. An "unquenchable fire" sounds like a fire that's burning people perpetually, but "unquenchable" means "inextinguishable." If your house caught on fire with an "unquenchable fire," it would burn down completely because firefighters couldn't put it out. The word hell itself has the definition of a place of eternal torment in most peoples minds, but is actually a place name in the Greek, Gehenna, a valley outside of Jerusalem with an Old Testament background. Jude 7 says that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered "the punishment of eternal fire," which Genesis describes as "sulfur and fire from Yahweh out of the sky" (Gen 19:24). Understanding eternal (aiōnion) fire as that fire of the age to come which burns up completely and eternally may not be natural in English, but the Bible defines it that way clearly.
I could multiply examples, but the point is the idea of hell as a place of eternal torment is thoroughly ingrained in our culture and traditions. However, when we examine the Old Testament backgrounds, perform careful word studies, and are willing to conform our beliefs to the Word of God, all the evidence seems to point squarely towards annihilationism.
Next, Carson moves on to address the big three traditionalist proof texts. I call them the big three because they are the most commonly cited proof texts for ECT. They are typically not analyzed in detail and are assumed to unequivocally teach ECT. Without these three verses, ECT couldn't get off the ground, but with them, the entire Bible is reinterpreted to line up with ECT. These texts are Revelation 14:10-11, Revelation 20:10-15, and Matthew 25:46.
"he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed in the cup of his anger. He will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. They have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name."
The language of fire and sulfur is found in references to Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:23, 28; Deut 29:23; Job 18:15-17; Isa 30:27-33; 34:9-11; Ezek 38:22). It paints a picture of decisive annihilation and complete destruction, leaving nothing but ashes in its wake.
The smoke lasts forever, not the torment. The rising smoke symbolizes the permanent destruction of the wicked. This is the same fate of Edom in Isaiah 34:8-10:
"For Yahweh has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion. Its streams will be turned into pitch, its dust into sulfur, and its land will become burning pitch. It won’t be quenched night or day. Its smoke will go up forever. From generation to generation, it will lie waste. No one will pass through it forever and ever."
Isaiah says it won't stop "night or day" to describe Edom's unquenched fire. Like Isaiah, John is saying that the fire burns continuously without ceasing "day or night" during the period of torment. It is a ceaseless activity, and a restless time. Carson objects to this interpretation of "night and day" calling it "special pleading" because the order in Revelation is torment, fire, smoke, and then no rest, while in Isaiah the order is fire, no rest, and then smoke. But all of these are just descriptions of different aspects of the judgment with recognizable OT allusions. Carson says that "writers like Fudge constantly resort to serialization of these elements," but that is exactly what he is doing here.
Traditionalist scholar G. K. Beale acknowledges that this passage is not decisive for ECT: "In particular, 'day and night' (ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτός) in 14:11 can be taken as a qualitative genitive construction indicating not duration of time (like the accusative construction of the same phrase) but kind of time, that is, time of ceaseless activity... The lack of rest will continue uninterrupted as long as the period of suffering lasts, though there will be an end to the period. Therefore, the imagery of Rev 14:10-11 could indicate a great judgment that will be remembered forever, not one that leads to eternal suffering" (The Book of Revelation, 762).
Carson suspects that there must have been some suffering in Sodom and Gomorrah and Edom, so surely the suffering part was typological of the final judgment. However, there are no "sufferings of Edom in Isaiah 34" as in torment. He completely reads that into the text. The accounts of Sodom and Gomorrah and Edom are unequivocally about destruction.
Carson provides a quote from Harmon's The Case Against Conditionalism which objects to conditionalism because "destruction dominates while punishment and exclusion fall into the background. Indeed, the latter image is hardly discussed." Conditionalists believe the punishment is destruction, so that objection doesn't work. It is true that unbelievers will be excluded from the Kingdom of God, eternal life, and a part in the age to come, but that is precisely because they will perish, suffer destruction, and die a second death in the age to come. Exclusion and seperation from God are almost exclusively how traditionalists describe hell, but that is not how the Bible predominantly describes it. This very passage contradicts that. The judgment will take place "in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb."
"The devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet are also. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever. I saw a great white throne and him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. There was found no place for them. I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and they opened books. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. The sea gave up the dead who were in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them. They were judged, each one according to his works. Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. If anyone was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire."
G. K. Beale has helpful commentary on this passage as well: "Strictly speaking, even the expression 'they will be tormented forever and ever' is figurative... at the least, the phrase figuratively connotes a very long time. The context here and in the whole Apocalypse must determine whether this is a limited time or an unending period... All unbelievers suffering the first death are held in the sphere of 'death and Hades,' which is a temporary, preconsummate holding tank to be finally replaced by the permanent, consummate 'lake of fire,' which is 'the second death' (see on 20:14)" (The Book of Revelation, 1030).
Assuming that Carson is correct about the three figures in 20:10 rather than John Stott, John sees a vision in which three figures, the devil, the beast, and the false prophet, are tormented for a very long time. They appear to receive the harshest punishment. John interprets this vision of the "lake of fire" as "the second death" (Rev 20:14; 21:8). The vision he sees represents the second death which takes place in the age to come. Carson interprets the figures for us. The devil is Satan, and the beast and false prophet "are best thought of as recurring individuals, culminating in supreme manifestations of their type." Death and Hades are personified individuals in Revelation. They are thrown in and destroyed. Those whose names are not written in the book of life are all the enemies of Christ. They are likewise thrown in and destroyed.
Carson says that Satan "constitutes at least one sentient being who is clearly pictured as suffering conscious torment forever." Even if the language demanded that the picture is of Satan, the beast, and the false prophet suffering ECT, the authoritative interpretation given twice is that this is a picture of their death. The language doesn't demand that their suffering goes on forever in the vision though. John couldn't see an eternal process in a vision. However, he could clearly tell they were suffering for a very long time, and the language he uses clearly reflects that reality.
The last argument for this text Carson gives is that it is reasonable to assume that if Satan is going to suffer ECT in the lake of fire, the unrighteous will too. Again, it is not necessary to understand the picutre of the lake of fire as ECT, but the interpretation of the lake of fire is still "the second death," which Carson doesn't address. Finally, even if those issues were addressed, his argument still rests on a huge assumption which I do not grant.
"These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
If the fire leads to annihilation, the "eternal" aspect is in the finality and completeness of the destruction, not in a continuous experience of punishment. This verse specifically sets up a contrast between the eternal punishment of the unrighteous and the eternal life of the righteous, so how could the punishment include eternal life? While the righteous experience life that is eternal in duration (unending and ongoing), the unrighteous experience a punishment that is eternal in consequence (complete destruction with no reversal).
Carson responds that "annihilationists again introduce temporal serialization: first the fire that annihilates, then the eternal punishment which in fact constitutes the nonreversing of the annihilation." I don't quite understand this objection. The eternal fire constitutes eternal destruction which constitutes an eternal punishment. The three are interpreted in tandem. The fire is the agent of destruction. The destruction by fire is the punishment. This punishment is final, everlasting, complete, eternal and of the age to come.
He appeals to the lake of fire in Revelation 20 for support that the torment is eternal; however, the language in Revelation need only refer to a long time of torment, which makes sense in context because the lake of fire is a picture of the second death. Traditionalists deny that people in hell will die a second time, and instead believe they will be granted eternal, everlasting life in hell. Conditionalists believe that the unsaved will suffer a second, everlasting death in the age to come and not have everlasting life.
Carson says the "word 'punishment' is graphic, and at least suggests suffering." The word punishment is generic and can refer to all kinds of punishments including capital punishment. And just because annihilationists believe that the final punishment is capital punishment, doesn't mean that suffering won't be involved. Burning at the stake, crucifixion, and the electric chair are all forms of capital punishment with varying degrees of suffering.
The next argument has been a driving assumption for the continued belief in ECT. Carson writes that "Jesus could not have used such words as these without being understood to be in line with Pharisaic beliefs on the matter." The assumption for a long time was that ECT became the majority view during the intertestamental period. This meant that we should read the NT with the assumption of ECT. However, we now know that conditionalism was by far the majority view during the intertestamental period in keeping with the Old Testament.
The Pharisaic/rabbinic schools believed there would be three final destinies of people: heaven, an in-between group that could possibly go to hell temporarily, or hell. Jesus very clearly rejects this teaching of the Pharisees. He taught that there are only two fates, heaven and hell, that hell is eternal, there won't be an end to its punishment, and that even Jews could go to hell if they didn't repent and believe. References to "eternal punishment" in the first-century were understood by people to refer to a fate of torment that led to eternal destruction. All of the Apostolic Fathers reflect that same understanding. It wouldn't be until the middle and latter half of the second-century that the doctrine of ECT developed in the church, and the language became increasingly misunderstood after that.
Carson argues that annihilation cannot account for the "eternal sin" (Mk 3:29) which "will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come" (Mat 12:32), but this is another objection that doesn't really stick. If sinners had their sins forgiven, they would be able to enter life. But since people who commit this sin will not be forgiven, they will face the punishment of eternal destruction. God doesn't forgive them, but instead counts their sin against them.
Annihilationism is not a softening of hell. Even if it is more emotionally tolerable to some people, it is simply an attempt to understand the Bible more accurately. However, I would strongly argue that annihilationism is a harsher view of hell. Only one view teaches that God will finally rid the cosmos of sin forever, accomplish justice once and for all rather than having an eternally unfinished punishment, and will take everything good thing away from sinners including their very lives.
Never mind that many traditionalists are just as guilty of softening of the language about hell. Hell has been almost completely psychologized by traditionalists because physical torment appears more barbaric to modern people. Carson is "reluctant to say that none of this suffering is physical in some sense..." but this is very different from the Bible which describes a very physical punishment. The unjust will be raised physically to receive their punishment (Jn 5:28-29) which consists of torment, fire, and the sword. There is also a recent view among traditionalists that the wicked will eventually have some kind of sub-human existence while suffering ECT, but this is not based on the Bible. If those people altered their view slightly, they could affirm with the Bible that the wicked will be turned to ashes and perish.
The final vision of the cosmos for conditionalists is one where God has destroyed all of His enemies. Death was the final enemy to be annihilated. The old things have passed away, and all things are made new. Christ will reconcile all things to himself and everything will be subjected to the Father, so that God may be all in all. From the traditional view, Carson says, "hell's inmates are full of sin." Wickedness is rampant in hell for eternity. God will never finally stamp out evil, but will instead grant the impenitent everlasting life. Justice will never finally be accomplished because the wicked will never receive all of the punishment they deserve. In this view, it is hard to see how God has truly triumphed over evil when the rebels continue in their wickedness for all eternity. It sounds more like an eternal cosmological dualism than the Bible's description of God's final, decisive victory over sin, death, and evil.
D. Concluding Reflections
Carson writes that it "is getting harder and harder to be faithful to the 'hard' lines of Scripture." Like many other traditionalists, Carson feels like he is fighting against the liberals and compromisers in this debate over hell. I understand that feeling because ECT is a hard view emotionally for people, ECT is in many protestant confessions, has been the traditional view for a long time, and is often attacked by liberals and cults.
Notwithstanding all of those positive indicators, it appears that ECT simply does not stand up to biblical scrutiny. It misses the clear teaching that the gospel is a life and death issue, eternal life is only granted to believers, and unbelievers will finally perish in hell: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only born Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16).