Traditionalism and Annihilationism in Light of the "Face Value" Meaning of Scripture

Face Value?I once had a discussion with a traditionalist over the meaning of a few key scripture passages. One thing that kept coming up was how my interpretations didn’t take the key phrase in the main verse at “face value.” I argued that the context of the verse made it clear what was meant, but this was not satisfactory for the one I was discussing the passage with. They explained to me how in each case I wasn’t allowing the plain meaning of a phrase to interpret the whole verse (and, by extension, other verses that are interpreted in light of it).
So what of the “face value” meaning of scripture? How important is it that our interpretations are consistent with what the scripture seems to plainly and literally say? Like most things there is a measure of tension here and a balance needs to be maintained. Cultists have been known to run with the idea that not all passages are meant to be taken at face value and have therefore ignored what scripture does clearly teach on core doctrines. But is the right response to insist that we must always take everything plainly and at “face value?” Continue reading “Traditionalism and Annihilationism in Light of the "Face Value" Meaning of Scripture”

Worms and Fire: The Rabbis or Isaiah?

Imagine that you had never heard of “hell.” The eternal misery of the damned in dungeons of fire, Dante’s Inferno, Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” you hadn’t heard of any of it. And now imagine that you were about to open a book that tells us what the judgement of God on his enemies will be like. You read this:

The LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to pay back his anger in fury, and his rebuke in flames of fire.

For by fire will the LORD execute judgement, and by his sword, on all flesh; and those slain by the LORD will be many.

From new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the LORD.

And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.

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It’s pretty fearsome stuff, granted, but beyond that, what would you make of it? Endless suffering? Torment forever in the fires of hell? Not likely. Such ideas would never even occur to you when reading a passage like this. Anyone able to read the above passage can see what it describes: Death. Any claim that contains anything that would lend support to the doctrine of the eternal torments of the damned in hell is indefensible, even laughable. You cannot find a doctrine like that in this text on the basis of any standard methods of responsible exegesis. Continue reading “Worms and Fire: The Rabbis or Isaiah?”

15 “For behold, the Lord will come in fire,
and his chariots like the whirlwind,
to render his anger in fury,
and his rebuke with flames of fire.
16 For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment,
and by his sword, with all flesh;
and those slain by the Lord shall be many.

Isaiah 66:23-24

23 From new moon to new moon,
and from Sabbath to Sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
declares the Lord.

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

66:1 Thus says the Lord:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.

“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man;
he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck;
he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood;
he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol.
These have chosen their own ways,
and their soul delights in their abominations;
I also will choose harsh treatment for them
and bring their fears upon them,
because when I called, no one answered,
when I spoke, they did not listen;
but they did what was evil in my eyes
and chose that in which I did not delight.”

Hear the word of the Lord,
you who tremble at his word:
“Your brothers who hate you
and cast you out for my name’s sake
have said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified,
that we may see your joy’;
but it is they who shall be put to shame.

“The sound of an uproar from the city!
A sound from the temple!
The sound of the Lord,
rendering recompense to his enemies!

“Before she was in labor
she gave birth;
before her pain came upon her
she delivered a son.
Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?
Shall a land be born in one day?
Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?
For as soon as Zion was in labor
she brought forth her children.
Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?”
says the Lord;
“shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?”
says your God.

10 “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy,
all you who mourn over her;
11 that you may nurse and be satisfied
from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from her glorious abundance.”

12 For thus says the Lord:
“Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip,
and bounced upon her knees.
13 As one whom his mother comforts,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
14 You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
your bones shall flourish like the grass;
and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants,
and he shall show his indignation against his enemies.

15 “For behold, the Lord will come in fire,
and his chariots like the whirlwind,
to render his anger in fury,
and his rebuke with flames of fire.
16 For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment,
and by his sword, with all flesh;
and those slain by the Lord shall be many.

17 “Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one in the midst, eating pig’s flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, declares the Lord.

18 “For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, 19 and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. 20 And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. 21 And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord.

22 “For as the new heavens and the new earth
that I make
shall remain before me, says the Lord,
so shall your offspring and your name remain.
23 From new moon to new moon,
and from Sabbath to Sabbath,
all flesh shall come to worship before me,
declares the Lord.

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

Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked

Conditionalists believe that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (; emphasis added). Those who do not believe in him will not have eternal life, and will instead perish (). After rising from their first death to be judged, they will be sentenced to the second death (). Traditionalists, on the other hand, say the body that rises “dies not again,”1 confessing that “the evil ones … shall be made immortal” (emphasis added).2 Their language is unambiguous: “Every human being ever born lives forever;”3 “everybody lives forever;”4 the unsaved “will continue living in a state with a low quality of life.”5
Adherents to both views argue that the punishment Jesus Christ bore on the cross, in place of those who believe in him, poses a real challenge to their opponents’ doctrine. 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.
Leon Morris writes, “The atonement is the crucial doctrine of the faith. Unless we are right here it matters little, or so it seems to me, what we are like elsewhere.”6 If one’s view of final punishment logically leads to an unbiblical understanding of the atonement, it must be rejected. Contrary to the claims of traditionalists, it is often they, not conditionalists, whose eschatology clashes with what the Bible reveals about the cross. Continue reading “Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked”

  1. Gill, J. A Body of Doctrinal Divinity: Or a System of Evangelical Truths (The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., 2001), 679. []
  2. The Belgic Confession, Article 37. http://www.reformed.org/documents/BelgicConfession.html []
  3. MacArthur, J. “The Answer to Life’s Greatest Question, Part 1.” http://www.gty.org/resources/print/sermons/42-141 []
  4. Koukl, G. (Host). (2011, June 5). “Christopher Morgan on Hell and Inclusivism.” Stand to Reason [radio]. 1:09:25. http://www.strcast2.org/podcast/weekly/060511.mp3. []
  5. Habermas, G. and Moreland, J.P. Immortality: The Other Side of Death (Thomas Nelson, 1992), 173. []
  6. Morris, L. The Cross in the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1999), 5. []

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

Episode 2: A Final Word With Edward Fudge (Part 2)

Hell: A Final WordPart two of Chris Date’s discussion with Edward Fudge, author of The Fire That Consumes, who shares his story and talks about the recent movie that tells it, and about his latest and final book on the topic of final punishment, Hell: A Final Word. Also, we share the first installment of a segment telling the story of formerly convinced traditionalists who are now rethinking hell. Continue reading “Episode 2: A Final Word With Edward Fudge (Part 2)”