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” (Romans 6:23; emphasis added). Those who do not believe in him will not have eternal life, and will instead perish (John 3:16). After rising from their first death to be judged, they will be sentenced to the second death (Revelation 20:14). 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.

Death, not eternal torment.

These words from the pen of traditionalist Robert Peterson reveal simultaneously the significant relevance of the cross when it comes to the debate over final punishment as well as the basis for our challenge to traditionalists: “The cross sheds light on the fate of the wicked, because on the cross the sinless Son of God suffered that fate.”7 Conditionalists agree, but we claim that this light shines squarely upon our view of final punishment. For example, David Reagan asks himself, “What do you consider to be the single most powerful argument against the traditional concept of eternal torment in Hell?” His answer:

The fact that the Bible says that Jesus paid the price for our sins (Isaiah 53:5, Galatians 1:4, Hebrews 1:3 and 1 Peter 2:24). What was that price? It was extreme suffering followed by death. It was not eternal torment. Unrepentant sinners will therefore experience what Jesus experienced: suffering and death (the “Second Death”).8

Edward Fudge concurs, putting the challenge even more strongly when he insists that it is traditionalists who “cannot allow the death of Jesus to teach anything about the nature of the punishment awaiting the lost.”9 Fudge argues that we conditionalists can allow the death of Jesus to do that:

The simple truth is that Jesus died; he was not tortured forever. Jesus’ death for sinners does provide a window into the final judgment awaiting the lost. But the view we see through that window is one of suffering that ends in death—not one of everlasting conscious torment. Jesus suffered and died because he was bearing the sin of others. Unlike sinners in hell, he rose again because his own life was perfectly pleasing to the Father. It was “impossible for death to keep its hold” on the perfectly obedient Son of God (Acts 2:24). The apostle Paul literally says that Jesus died “because of” our sin and that he rose again “because of” our justification (Rom 4:25 NASB).10

Traditionalists seemingly acknowledge that it was in his death that Christ served as the penal substitute that diverts the just wrath of God from his people. Wayne Grudem writes that “Christ’s death was ‘penal’ in that he bore a penalty when he died. His death was also a ‘substitution’ in that he was a substitute for us when he died … As our representative, he took the penalty that we deserve.”11 Robert Peterson explains that “Scripture presents Christ in his death as making a substitutionary atonement for his people (Rom 3:25-26; Gal 3:13; Col 2:13-14). This means he died in their place and bore the punishment that they deserved.”12 John Blanchard says, “In his death, Jesus took the place of sinners and became a proptiation on their behalf.”13

How can this be? How can Peterson, Grudem, Blanchard and other traditionalists affirm on the one hand that by his death Jesus suffered the fate deserved by his people, and on the other hand that what we deserve is an eternity of torment in bodies and souls which never die?

The equivalent of eternal punishment?

The traditionalist resolution to this seeming inconsistency is to appeal to the hypostatic union of Christ’s divine and human natures. Peterson explains,

He suffered the equivalent of eternal punishment … When Jesus endured the wrath due sinful humanity, it was as the incarnate God-man; when by virtue of his human nature he suffered separation from his Father’s love, it was as the eternal Son of God who had become human … because of the infinite dignity of Christ’s person, his sufferings, though finite in duration, were of infinite weight on the scales of divine justice (much as his righteousness, though displayed during his incarnation over a finite period, is of infinite weight). As God incarnate, Jesus was capable of suffering in six hours on the cross what we can suffer only over an infinite period of time.14

Grudem puts it this way:

Jesus was able to bear all the wrath of God against our sin and to bear it to the end. No mere man could ever have done this, but by virtue of the union of divine and human natures in himself, Jesus was able to bear all the wrath of God against sin and bear it to the end…when Christ’s sufferings at last came to an end on the cross, it showed that he had borne the full measure of God’s wrath against sin and there was no penalty left to pay.15

Larry Dixon sums it up, writing, “The Cross is God’s infinite response to man’s sin. Christ exhausts the punishment due to sinners because he himself was the infinite and eternal God.”16 According to many traditionalists, then, the finite duration of Jesus’ suffering and anguish is the equivalent of the eternity of agony awaiting unbelievers on account of His divine nature.

This demonstrates that, when many traditionalists say that Christ died in the place of sinners, what they really mean is that he suffered pain in their place. At best, they are simply unaware of the inconsistency. At worst, this is disingenuous doublespeak that doesn’t actually answer the conditionalist challenge. Either way, when used to defend the traditional view of final punishment, this reasoning renders the Lord’s death an afterthought at best.

Minimizing His death

In fact, I think this traditionalist reasoning skirts dangerously the border of heresy. Again, in their appeal to the dual natures of Christ, Peterson and Grudem identify his suffering leading up to his death as that which propitiates God’s wrath, and it is that suffering, finite in duration, which is the equivalent of the everlasting suffering awaiting the unsaved. Peterson explains in more detail:

The traditional understanding of the punishment of hell includes two elements: separation from God (poena damni, the punishment of the damned) and the positive infliction of torments in body and soul (poena sensus, the punishment of sense). Jesus suffered the punishment of hell for sinners. That he endured separation from the Father’s love is evidenced by his cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mat 27:46). On Calvary’s cross Jesus also endured God’s wrath. In Gethsemane Jesus was deeply grieved at the prospect of drinking the cup of God’s wrath (Jer 25:15). This is why he thrice asked the Father, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Mat 26:39; compare Mat 26:42, 44). On the cross, then, the Son of God suffered the pains of hell: separation from God and the positive infliction of torments in body and soul.17

We see, then, that according to the traditional view of hell, Jesus bore the punishment of hell—separation from God and infliction of suffering—completely on the cross up until his life left him. This flatly contradicts the biblical testimony which consistently identifies Christ’s death as primarily that which he bore on behalf of the elect. Paul tells the Romans that “at the right time Christ died for the ungodly,” and that “God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6, 8). Later he tells them, “Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15; compare with 1 Corinthians 8:11).

Furthermore, the death that redeems is particularly physical death, notably a sort of death traditionalists deny will be experienced by the unsaved in hell. Paul calls this the gospel “by which also you are saved” in his first letter to the Corinthians, writing, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). The language of burial and resurrection clearly indicates that the death of Jesus’ body is in view, language Paul also uses in his second letter to the Corinthians when he writes of “Him who died and rose again on their behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Peter likewise says, “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that he might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh” (1 Peter 3:18). The author of Hebrews writes, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

By focusing so heavily on Christ’s pain, then, traditionalists minimize the propitiatory importance of his death, which Scripture identifies as being of utmost importance. But the problem doesn’t end there. It seems to me that the traditional view doesn’t just minimize the importance of Christ’s death, it renders his death irrelevant. If the finite duration of Jesus’ suffering is the substitutionary equivalent to the eternity of suffering awaiting the risen, undying wicked, why did he go on to die? If in his suffering the Lord bore the full wrath of God, what penalty was left to pay with his death? This is why I dare to suggest that the traditional view of hell leads to a view of the atonement that skirts dangerously close to heresy: it ultimately reduces the salvific value of Christ’s death to zero, rendering it unnecessary and arbitrary.

By His stripes we are healed

But what about Peterson’s claim that the punishment of hell, which Jesus bore, consists (apparently exclusively) in separation from God and in pain and suffering? As to separation from God, Jesus did ask, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). As to pain and suffering, Isaiah says that “he was pierced for our transgression” and that “by his scourging we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). The author of Hebrews writes that “he learned obedience from the things which he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Peter says “Christ also suffered for you” and “while suffering, he uttered no threats” (1 Peter 2:21, 23). Jesus said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer” (Luke 24:46). Don’t these testify to the separation and suffering Jesus experienced on our behalf before he died?

To a certain extent, this is true, but this serves as no challenge to conditionalism. Read the words of conditionalists Reagan and Fudge again; both affirm that final punishment consists in suffering and death. Neither does this challenge the contention that the primary element of the atonement was Christ’s bodily death. We looked at texts from multiple authors to multiple audiences which consistently emphasize that Christ died for us, and did we not see Paul identifying the death of Jesus as being of first importance, going so far as to call it the gospel that saves us? Suffering, though an element of the atonement, is not the primary element.

But the reality is that even in those contexts in which we’re told of the suffering and separation from God experienced by Christ, that experience is an element of his death. They do not stand alone. Yes, he asked if his god had forsaken him, quoting a psalm whose author says, “You lay me in the dust of death” (Psalm 22:15). Yes, he was pierced and scourged for us, but he also “poured out himself to death” (Isaiah 53:12). Yes, he learned to be obedient by his suffering, “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Yes, he suffered for us, and while suffering did not utter threats, in the context of “having been put to death in the flesh” (1 Peter 3:18). Yes, it was written that the Christ would suffer, “and rise again from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:46).

The pain, anguish, suffering and separation experienced by the Lord on our behalf was not atoning in and of itself. His experience on the cross while alive did not stand alone from the death in which it culminated. Christ suffered, to be sure, but he suffered as part of the process of being executed; so, too, will the risen wicked suffer as part of the process of being executed. But it was primarily the result of Jesus’ execution that atoned for sin.

Put to death in the flesh

In the future we’ll look at the reverse challenge from traditionalists who insist that conditionalism must be false because either Christ wasn’t annihilated or because of conditionalism’s allegedly heretical Christological implications. In the meantime, the conditionalist challenge remains strong and unanswered. Traditionalists say that Jesus died for our sins, but what they mean is that he suffered pain leading up to his death, a finite amount of pain qualifying as an eternity of pain by virtue of the union of his natures. This contradicts the biblical testimony that he was “put to death in the flesh” on our behalf, and renders his bodily death an afterthought. Conditionalists, on the other hand, affirm that the wages of sin is death, that Christ died so that ultimately the elect will not, and that death actually does await unbelievers after rising to judgment.

In order to affirm the biblical view of the atonement, traditionalists must acknowledge that the death of Jesus was, at the very least, one element of the atonement, as Robert Morey does when he lists it as the third aspect to the punishment Jesus bore, following the separation and suffering He experienced.18 If they do so, however, they lose the ability to object to conditionalism on the grounds that the atonement didn’t consist in annihilation, for neither do they believe that the bodies of the risen wicked will die like Jesus’ did. In other words, they don’t believe the punishment Jesus bore matches the punishment awaiting unbelievers, so they can’t challenge us on that basis. And because traditionalists don’t believe the bodies of the risen wicked will ever die, their view of eternal punishment is at the very least considerably more unlike the substitutionary death of Christ than ours. I conclude with the words of Robert Taylor:

Scripture is explicit as to the penalty Jesus paid for the forgiveness of our sins. “When I see the blood, I will pass over you,” says the Lord (Ex. 12:13). Read the account of the Day of Atonement in Leviticus chapter 16, or that of the Passover in Exodus chapter 12, or the Good News of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. The story is the same; redemption is by blood. It is Christ’s sacrificial death and His death alone that paid for the sins of the world.19


*     *     *     *     *


Part 2 of this article is available here.

  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. []
  3. MacArthur, J. “The Answer to Life’s Greatest Question, Part 1.” []
  4. Koukl, G. (Host). (2011, June 5). “Christopher Morgan on Hell and Inclusivism.” Stand to Reason [radio]. 1:09:25. []
  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. []
  7. Peterson, R. Hell On Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1995), 216. []
  8. Reagan, D. Eternity: Heaven or Hell? (Lamb & Lion Ministries, 2010), 117. []
  9. Peterson, Robert A.; Fudge, Edward W. (2010-09-15). Two Views of Hell: A Biblical & Theological Dialogue (pp. 204-205). InterVarsity – Kindle Edition. []
  10. Ibid. []
  11. Grudem, W. Systematic Theology (InterVarsity, 1994), 579. []
  12. Peterson. Two Views. p. 175. []
  13. Blanchard, J. Whatever Happened to Hell? (Crossway Books, 1995), 110. []
  14. Peterson. Two Views. p. 175. []
  15. Grudem. Systematic Theology. p. 578. []
  16. Dixon, L. The Other Side of the Good News (Christian Focus Publications, 2003), 217. []
  17. Peterson. Two Views. pp. 174-175. []
  18. Morey, R. Death and the Afterlife (Bethany House, 1984), 89. []
  19. Taylor, R. Rescue from Death: John 3:16 Salvation (Outskirts Press, 2012). 134. []
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  • Disappointed…

    “This is why I dare to suggest that the traditional view of hell leads to
    a view of the atonement that skirts dangerously close to heresy: it
    ultimately reduces the salvific value of Christ’s death to zero,
    rendering it unnecessary and arbitrary. ”

    …and this is why I will continue looking for others to learn from who espouse the conditionalist point of view. I’m at best on the fence as I think through this issue, and by saying that the traditional view is close to heresy, it really turns me off from reading anymore, even if I agreed. When I first started reading your blog/posts and listening to the two podcasts, I was excited about learning more. But now, after reading this post, I’m finished with this website.

    If you’re going to go so far as to say what you’ve said, then what’s stopping you from actually calling the traditional view heresy? Uncertainty? Unconvinced of your own argument? Or maybe the fact that you are young and hopefully realize you have a lot to learn and that you’ll change back and forth on tertiary topics between now and when you are 80? Why don’t you go into full-time ministry with people who differ from you on these types of tertiary issues? You’ll have a lot more grace when you realize traditionalists are people and not a thing to be argued with.

    If you are fully convinced of your stance, then don’t use words like “dangerously close” since what you are actually saying is that the traditional view IS heresy. You rail on others for mincing words, but you yourself are not willing to come down on the side that your own argument leads you to. Either extend grace and stop using such divisive language, or ‘man up’ and call a spade a spade.

    • Chris Date

      Hi Disappointed. I’m sorry my article left you disappointed, and I’ll be saddened to see you leave. I can only hope you’ll continue to investigate the topic, even if at other websites.
      The reason I don’t call the traditional view of hell outright heresy is because I don’t think its advocates typically deny the salvific value of Christ’s death. A few do, and yes, I think they’re heretics, but most are just unaware of how this reasoning–that Christ’s suffering qualifies as an eternity of suffering–leads logically to the heresy of denying the salvific value of Christ’s death. Their unawareness of this logical conclusion, a conclusion they of course deny, makes them inconsistent; it doesn’t make them heretics.
      As for working with them in ministry, I’m not in full-time ministry, but I desperately desire to do so one day and would be happy to work hand-in-hand with traditionalists. I currently serve at a church whose official position on hell is the traditional view. I met with my pastor once and explained where I was coming from, and have not brought it up since. And I’ve had, and continue to have, guests on my show who vehemently disagree with me on hell. The point being, I’m happy to serve alongside traditionalists in ministry, so I’m not really sure where you get the impression that I’m not.
      So again, I’m sad to see you leave, but hope you’ll continue to investigate the issue, and hope you’ll reconsider staying tuned here. But I’ll understand if my explanation isn’t satisfying to you.

      • That’s a great point to make. Holding a view that implies heresy is not itself heresy – unless people realise that it implies heresy.

        • Peter Grice

          As well, Chris did not ‘mince words’ about the denial of Christ’s death being that which atones, in saying that this is heresy (that is the correct term, and traditionalists would concur wholeheartedly). Since traditionalists themselves would obviously not affirm this heresy, he shouldn’t, and didn’t, call traditionalism heretical, despite ‘Disappointed’ urging him to violate this important distinction.

          I personally find the justification disappointing. Nowhere was there an explanation of why Chris should have dispensed with that distinction. Instead, only a flurry of uncharitable personal slights: he is perhaps unconvinced of his view, he knows he’s got plenty of time to change his mind, he lacks experience mingling with those who differ, he lacks grace, he needs to realize that traditionalists are people, and he won’t ‘man up.’

          I didn’t think it was a virtue to ‘man up’ and call someone heretical when that isn’t what you believe. The call for hypocrisy makes no sense to me.

    • I would prefer to see you NOT leave, for any number of reasons but primarily because voices like yours can contribute valuable insight to the conversation we are attempting to have on this hotly contested issue. For example, the insight you provided just here regarding our need to show a lot more grace in how we interact with opposing points of view, a need we might not have been aware of but for your bringing it to our attention like this and giving us an opportunity to be more self-conscious and responsible about how we express ourselves. I personally value that insight and I would hate to lose your voice in this conversation, a voice of thoughtful rebuke where it is needed. I hope you reconsider and stick around, and I hope we as participants and contributors keep your rebuke in mind and grow from it.

    • Peter Grice

      The orthodox view of the substitutionary atonement is clear; Christ’s death, principally, atones for sin, and this is because He bore the punishments due to sinners. To deny this would be heresy.

      Chris has shown (I think persuasively, but I look forward to hearing any contrary argument) that if one believes that the punishment due to sinners is actually eternal conscious torment, one will have to locate this in the sufferings of Christ, and not His death per se.

      He eplained the force of this logic, and supplied quotes from traditionalists who do indeed take their theology to this conclusion. Final punishment simply must be related to substitutionary atonement, no matter what your view, and the traditional view of Hell is conscious suffering, not death. So, it “substitutes” there, in Christ’s sufferings.

      On traditionalism, how can Christ’s death be the penalty for our sin, if the penalty for our sin is not death after all, but an everlasting, tormenting conscious experience? Plugging Hell into Christ’s sufferings is a side-step.

      Clearly, a lack of satisfactory theological connection leaves one at the precipice of the heresy outlined above, which is itself noncontroversial. Clearly, traditionalists do affirm that the death of Christ is what atones, however Chris was interacting with the coherence of theology, not mere abstract affirmations and denials. To highlight the important difference, consider the example of someone who affirms the Trinity, while in the same breath affirms that the Son of God is a created being – this would create a tension in need of resolution.

      It may not be a pleasant term, but there have to be contexts in which “heresy” can be used, without it being seen as name-calling.

  • Peter G.

    This objection, taken to its logic conclusion, requires that no one will suffer in hell any longer or any shorter than Jesus suffered before he died. If unbelievers cannot suffer eternally because Jesus didn’t suffer eternally, then the same principle applies to however long he did suffer.

    If this is the best argument, then things are looking pretty bad for annihilationism.

    • Chris Date

      First and foremost, the point of the article is not about the duration of suffering; the point is, Jesus died, whereas traditionalists do not believe the risen wicked will. That alone lends the atonement to annihilationism, rather than traditionalism.
      Second, there’s nothing in the suffering of Christ as part of His execution that requires that the unsaved suffer for an equal duration of time. He suffered and died; so, too, will the risen wicked, according to conditionalists. Thus, the nature of the punishment bore in the atonement mirrors the punishment conditionalists believe awaits the risen wicked. Again, the atonement is better understood in a conditionalist paradigm.

      • Giles

        Here’s a problem I never see addressed. I have just noticed it myself. Jesus death paid for our sins as even traditionalists wish to claim. Yet Jesus, prior to dying, said “it is finished”. So what was finished if not the payment for sin?
        My guess, perhaps there are two perspectives in scripture. The one in Mathew 25:46 where punishment is equated both with active punishment, the pain of dying and with passive punishment, the exclusion from life. The other equating punishment with active punishment/suffering only, whilst viewing death simply as the logical consequence of choosing the path leading to destruction, rather than as judicial punishment.
        That second perspective could be in view when Jesus says “it is finished”. Likewise where we read God paid Jerusalem double for her sins. That seems a defeater for the claim that sin demands infinite punishment but it is also a challenge to the main model of conditionalism, as the Jerusalemites are still alive when God tells them they have paid their debt.
        Does anyone else have a solution to the problem of John 19:30? I guess one could say it just means “it’s nearly finished” but that strikes me as weak.

        • Mike

          One must clarify the difference between sin ans sins. As the lamb of God He bore away the “Sin” of the World. The wages of sin is death, therefore Jesus had to die for the “World” But in the three hours of darkness Jesus put away the “sins” of God’s elect (those who would exercise faith in God) Christ also had to die for their “Sin” The payment for the “Sins” of the elect had an end (finished) therefore is it not logical too assume that the payment for the sins of the damned will also have an end (finsihed) and that possibly after atime (known only to God) in the Lake of Fire there will be a merciful end to the punishment for sins. Also if eternal separation from God means for ever. Then how do we answer the fact that God’s presence is everywhere even in Hell.

    • Chris Date

      In other words (my first response is below), the challenge is not that Christ didn’t suffer eternally; the challenge is that He died.

    • Peter Grice

      Maybe I’m missing something Peter, but I don’t see the force of your objection here. Chris offered a perspective on that regarding Christ’s divine nature, which is agreeable to traditionalists. But putting that aside, who would defend the principle that the unsaved should receive categorically “more” of the penalty for sin, than Christ took upon himself?!

      If in the age to come, it is proper to reckon the same time-bound duration (I’m not sure it is), and if that renders as several hours of suffering, then so be it! Far better to keep the basics of the gospel message intact, wouldn’t you say? (Consider: “Christ suffered for your sins and paid your debt in full. If you die tonight without Jesus as your Savior, your debt will not be canceled, and you will pay it in full yourself in Hell.“) The penalty, or debt, should not be equivocated. What we should never say, is that Chris suffered some penalty in the place of sinners, many of whom will end up suffering some completely different penalty, arbitrary with respect to the substitutionary atonement.

      If you had a problem with this seemingly precluding degrees of punishment in Hell, I don’t think it does. In that case, perhaps we could say that Christ suffered (and died) for the worst of sinners, so that the penalty for the least is certainly included in that. Death is the great equalizer, but sufferings as a concept can accommodate variation. And the usual categories for variation in the debate are not only time-bound (duration), but also, intensity and quality.

      Now, I rather think that traditionalism has the real problem here, because if duration of suffering is everlasting, or basically infinite, no longer can we speak of degrees through intensity and quality of sufferings, because these collapse into the infinite. Are we really prepared to say that eternal silence and darkness would somehow be any worse than an eternity in a featureless but well-lit room, with a stool, a set of playing cards, and an unlimited supply of porridge? Does Ghandi get that, while Hitler gets the darkness? Ghandi might be a bit relieved during his first week, but something tells me that by the trillionth year he’d have exhausted all permutations of what you could do with those three items. If Hell is an eternal, conscious torment, so long as it is torment, what kind of torment it is seems to pale away.

      If this is the best argument, then things are looking pretty bad for annihilationism.

      Well, of course the best arguments derive straightforwardly from Scripture. Chris provided a sketch of some of those in his first post – and we are in the process of assembling various summary and introductory resources to appear on our website in the near future. We also have upcoming podcasts dedicated to outlining the positive case for Conditionalism, and dealing with objections.

      The above article explores issues of consistency in systematic theology, after establishing that Scripture plainly teaches an atoning death (which is affirmed by both camps). So let’s be fair – it doesn’t attempt to offer a decisive, knock-down argument. That said, I personally think it represents an important challenge to both camps, to ensure we keep Christ’s atoning death congruent with the just penalty for sinners.

      • Peter G.

        Christ and Peter, thanks to both of you for your responses. I am really happy that you both think that penal substitutionary atonement is a crucial piece of this debate. Too many ignore it. My surprise is that you think annhilationism makes such an atonement stronger. To me it looks much more like it destroys it. So your concern to show the opposite is very much appreciated!

        Let me try to clarify my objection. Perhaps I am misunderstanding the original argument. Chris’s original objection rests on a strict equation of Christ’s punishment and ours. Chris wants that punishment to be both suffering and death and he thinks traditionalists can’t logically affirm the “death” part of that combination. Am I right so far?

        If so, my point is simple. No one in this discussion thinks that there is an absolutely strict equation between what Christ suffered and what sinners deserve. No one. This is obvious in two ways. First, in your own scheme, the order of suffering and death is reversed between Christ and unrepentant sinners. It’s suffering then death for Christ but it’s death then suffering for sinners. So already, we’ve begun to move away from a truly strict equation. But second, unless you think that all unrepentant sinners will face exactly the same sufferings Jesus faced (a Roman cross, a spear in the side, thirstiness, i.e., whatever is included in your demarcation of Jesus’ “suffering”), then you too believe that Jesus endured an equivalent of our punishment, not the exact same punishment. No one thinks unrepentant sinners experience exactly what Jesus experienced. Thus, your logical objection to traditionalism is fine so far as it goes, it’s just that it applies to your own system as well (again, unless you think all unrepentant sinners will suffer EXACTLY what Jesus suffered). As the philosophers would say, you’re hoist with your own petard.

        As something of an actual response to your article (rather than a mere reductio), I don’t see any reason why a traditionalist can’t affirm that Jesus’ physical death was part and parcel of his redemptive suffering. Personally, I don’t know of any compelling reason to separate physical death from spiritual death. Distinguish them? Sure. But separate? No. I don’t see in any of your quotes where traditionalists deny that Jesus’ physical death was part of his suffering. Did I miss it?

        There seems to be some real misunderstanding of your opposition in this essay and I wonder if it isn’t due to the different definitions of “death” at play. At certain crucial points (like the bit about heresy) you seem to exclude suffering from “death” in a way that I’m not sure your opponents (let alone Scripture) would accept.

        Hope that clarifies some. Let me know if/where I’ve misunderstood you.


        • Peter G.

          And sorry for the typo(s). I thought I caught all the Christ/Chris mistakes. It would be so much better to be able to discuss this over coffee. But alas.

          • Chris Date

            I’d be up for coffee, if you live anywhere near Seattle :)

          • Peter Grice

            Peter, your irenic approach speaks volumes about you. Thank you. I make Christ/Chris mistakes all the time. I suppose you have heard that the anti-Chris is coming?

          • Peter G.

            Ha. I have not. But now I shall be on watch for this deceptive man!

        • Chris Date

          “Am I right so far?”

          More or less, though I never said the two had to be absolutely identical. In fact, I agree with what you go on to say, that neither side of the debate affirms complete identity between the punishment Christ bore and that which the risen wicked will face. As I concluded the article saying, annihilation is simply far more like the punishment Christ bore than the traditional view. Because no, you can’t affirm the death part of the equation, because as I made clear in the article, we’re talking specifically about Christ’s bodily death, not some vague sense of “death” as separation.

          “First, in your own scheme, the order of suffering and death is reversed between Christ and unrepentant sinners. It’s suffering then death for Christ but it’s death then suffering for sinners. So already, we’ve begun to move away from a truly strict equation.”

          False. We do not believe it’s death then suffering. We believe the wicked will rise to be judged, then suffer and die as Christ did.

          “Thus, your logical objection to traditionalism is fine so far as it goes, it’s just that it applies to your own system as well (again, unless you think all unrepentant sinners will suffer EXACTLY what Jesus suffered). As the philosophers would say, you’re hoist with your own petard.”

          False, because my argument was not that in our view the punishment Christ bore and that which awaits the wicked are identical. What I said was that in our view, the punishment awaiting the wicked is far more like that which Scripture says Christ bore on behalf of the saved: a painful death.

          “Personally, I don’t know of any compelling reason to separate physical death from spiritual death.”

          Well first of all, you don’t believe the risen wicked face a “spiritual death,” because the living (yet to die) wicked are already spiritually dead. This is one of the things that dawned on me after I became a conditionalist, that no traditionalist truly thinks of the second death as a second death. Being Reformed, I believed that we are born spiritually dead and separated from God; I still believe that. But in traditionalism, that’s what faces the risen wicked: continued spiritual death in living bodies, the state people are born into. So you don’t believe the risen wicked face spiritual death; you just think they’re return to the state in which they died, albeit one that is perhaps greater in degree.

          Second of all, there is a compelling reason to separate physical death from so-called spiritual death: the Scriptures testify, as I demonstrated in the article, that it was primarily the bodily death of Christ that atoned for sin. So it is significant that our view, in which the risen wicked will physically die, affirms that the punishment awaiting sinners is far more like the punishment Christ bore on behalf of those He saves.

          “Did I miss it?…At certain crucial points (like the bit about heresy) you seem to exclude suffering from “death” in a way that I’m not sure your opponents (let alone Scripture) would accept.”

          What I was demonstrating was that some traditionalists, even though they affirm that Jesus died for sinners, explain why Jesus’ suffering was finite in duration using an argument which, followed to its logical conclusion, places the penalty Christ bore entirely in His suffering. I wasn’t saying traditionalists deny that His death played a role; in fact, I specifically mentioned at the end that Robert Morey includes it. Rather, I was saying it’s a logical conclusion from the way some of them argue the finitude of His suffering.

          “Hope that clarifies some. Let me know if/where I’ve misunderstood you.”

          And I hope the above clarifies. To summarize, (a) traditionalism doesn’t affirm a second, spiritual death (about which I plan to write, so our exchange here will help me prepare for that), (b) traditionalists do affirm that Christ died for sins, but their explanation of why He suffered a finite amount of time leads logically to a denial of the penal value of His death, (c) traditionalists don’t believe the risen wicked will die a physical death, which is the sort of death the Bible emphasizes is the punishment Christ bore, and therefore (d) in our view the punishment awaiting the wicked is far, far more like that which Christ bore, than in traditionalism.

          • Peter G.

            Chris, if a traditionalist could consistently affirm that Christ’s physical death was part and parcel of his suffering, how would that affect your argument here?

            On your concluding points: (a) traditionalists may not affirm your definition of a spiritual death, but that’s hardly the same as denying such a belief; (b) I don’t see it. That Christ could suffer an infinite punishment in a finite period of time because of who he was (the God-man) does nothing to logically exclude his physical death as part of that punishment. Where is the logic that requires that this explanation necessarily excludes his physical death?; (c) I must be misunderstanding because I can’t make sense of this. What are the risen wicked raised from if not from physical death? Perhaps you’re assuming a certain definition of “death” here; (d) Does Jesus exist now? If so, how is his non-existence equivalent to the non-existence of the wicked which, I assume, will last forever?

            Lots of questions. Coffee would be nice, but Seattle’s just a bit too far ;)

          • Chris Date

            “Chris, if a traditionalist could consistently affirm that Christ’s physical death was part and parcel of his suffering, how would that affect your argument here?”

            Well first I want to say again that I fully recognize that traditionalists *do* affirm that, but how does that affect the argument? It doesn’t. Again, Christ bodily died; according to traditionalists, the risen wicked will not. It’s very simple.

            “On your concluding points: (a) traditionalists may not affirm your definition of a spiritual death, but that’s hardly the same as denying such a belief”

            Peter, think about it for a moment. We Christians acknowledge that the Bible teaches that we are born into a state typically called “spiritually dead.” So, we are walking around in living bodies, but spiritually dead (however we define that). At no point between conception and resurrection unto judgment are the unsaved raised to spiritual life (questions about the ability for Christians to lose their salvation aside). So the wicked are born spiritually dead, remain spiritually dead thorughout their lives, remain spiritually dead upon death, remain spiritually dead upon resurrection, remain spiritually dead upon damnation. Right? Hell, then, according to the traditional view of hell, is not spiritual death; it’s merely remaining spiritually dead in living bodies that never die. In fact, I don’t see how it’s possible to maintain that it is a second death, as it is called in Revelation.

            So I stand by my statement. It’s not a matter of us disagreeing as to what spiritual death means, it’s a matter of traditionalism affirming that what the Bible calls the second death is merely a continuation of the death into which people are born, which precedes the first death. Go figure.

            “(b) I don’t see it. That Christ could suffer an infinite punishment in a finite period of time because of who he was (the God-man) does nothing to logically exclude his physical death as part of that punishment. Where is the logic that requires that this explanation necessarily excludes his physical death?”

            Think about it. If infinite suffering in living bodies that never die, in which final punishment is alleged to consist, was paid for on behalf of the elect by Christ in His finite period of suffering while His body was alive, then what other penalty was paid for by His death?

            “(c) I must be misunderstanding because I can’t make sense of this. What are the risen wicked raised from if not from physical death? Perhaps you’re assuming a certain definition of “death” here”

            Right, my debate opponent (you can listen via the link at the bottom) made this dangerous mistake at the very end of the debate, suggesting that Christ bore the first death on the cross. He had to admit after recording that that was a mistake, because obviously Christ did not. After all, the saved suffer the first death, too. Therefore, Christ’s death must pay the penalty awaiting the wicked *after* they rise.

            “(d) Does Jesus exist now? If so, how is his non-existence equivalent to the non-existence of the wicked which, I assume, will last forever?”

            Conditionalists offer different answers. One I find compelling is that, as the Godman, the infinite duration of time during which the elect would have remained dead following judgment was paid for in the finite duration of time during which Christ remained dead.

            Now, one might suggest that I’m being inconsistent by using this reasoning, when I critiqued it in the article, but I never critiqued the reasoning. What I critiqued was its application to Christ’s suffering on the cross. I, on the other hand, apply the reasoning to that in which the Bible says the atonement consisted: His death.

          • Peter G.

            There still seem to be some fundamental misunderstandings here. Let me narrow the focus for sake of clarity. The risen wicked have, by definition, already died. So they don’t need to physically die again. It is appointed unto man to die once and then to face the judgment (Heb 9:27). For non-believers, physical death is part of the wages of sin. This is followed by the final judgment which is an eternal death in hell. For believers, physical death is not a punishment since the sting of death has been removed for them as Paul is at pains to explain in 1 Cor 15. No one dies physically more than once. Not Jesus. Not believers. Not unbelievers.

          • Peter Grice

            Since there is a resurrection of the wicked (as opposed to them being or staying disembodied souls), hasn’t their physical death been undone? If there is a “need” for their death on your view, it doesn’t seem to be grounded in the wrath of God meted out on Judgment Day. (I wouldn’t entertain that the need was pragmatic, to get them to be disembodied.) They remain dead in their sins, of course. There is a first (physical) death, but its transitionary nature accounts for why the Bible speaks of the Second Death. As you know, we maintain that Jesus was quite clear about this in Matt 10:28 (“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”) Death as the destruction of the whole person is ultimately what counts. But you have just asserted, ostensibly against that teaching, that “No one dies physically more than once.”

            “For believers, physical death is not a punishment since the sting of death has been removed for them as Paul is at pains to explain in 1 Cor 15.”

            Agreed, but that only makes sense to me on Conditionalism. On the traditional view, upon analysis, it is not actually death itself that has the sting and the victory, because death is not ultimately in effect. Sin-induced suffering is. Death has no power over the unsaved, on this view: it was just a fleeting moment prior to judgment.

            I would add that if “physical death is not a punishment,” yet Scripture is clear that “the wages of sin is death,” it follows that annihilation is true. We have to locate talk of a death penalty somewhere…

          • Peter G.

            From one Peter G. to another, thanks for these thoughts. I see where you’re going with them. One of the problems here (perhaps the main one) is a thickening obfuscation about the meaning of “death.” For example, asserting that “immortality” means “never facing death” is ambiguous because what we mean by “death” is ambiguous.

            So let me try to clarify. Being raised with a physical body that eternally endures the displeasure of God is not, on my reading of Scripture, a form of immortality. Being destroyed eternally (cf. 2 Thess 1:9) in both body and soul is an eternal mortality in that it is an eternal “death.” I simply don’t share the annhilationist’s belief that “death” must always be defined eschatalogically as an event and never as a state of tragic existence. To put it another way, unbelievers will not live forever. They will die forever. This eternal death is most certainly a sting, one that is gloriously removed for believers by Christ’s death and resurrection.
            Again, I don’t see any compelling reason to separate physical death and eternal death as concepts for the unbeliever. Distinguish? Yes. But separate? No. This is why Heb 9:27 is not some kind of bald assertion but has a strong (theo)logic at its root. As another example, this is why Christ’s resurrection is salvifically so important. Had Jesus physically died without physically being raised, it would have been clear that his death was a judgment of God upon his own sin. But his resurrection required a theological re-calibration on the apostles’ part. He couldn’t have died for his own sin if he was raised. So whose sin killed him? This kind of logic only works if physical death is part and parcel of God’s judgment on sin. Again, as I explained above, the physical death of believers is, then, the exception that proves the rule, if you will. Why else would Paul need to explain why believers die physically?

          • Being raised with a physical body that eternally endures the displeasure
            of God is not, on my reading of Scripture, a form of immortality

            To put it another way, unbelievers will not live forever. They will die

            This point of view is historically novel. Traditionalists of the past explicitly and frankly affirmed that unbelievers were immortal and that they would live forever. A few examples will make the point:

            …thou art a fallen creature, having only capacities to live here in sin, and to live forever in torment. (Charles Spurgeon, Sermon 167)

            The evil ones will be convicted by the witness of their own
            consciences, and shall be made immortal—but only to be tormented in the
            everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.(The Belgic Confession, Article 37: The Last Judgment)

            In fact, contemporary traditionalists will often speak like this:

            …every human soul is immortal. No soul, no inner person in any human
            being ever goes out of existence. Every human being ever born lives
            forever. Our bodies die, our souls go on eternally. We are created
            immortal. (John MacArthur, The Answer to Life’s Greatest Question, Part 1)

            Of course, none of this proves that your view is incorrect, but merely idiosyncratic. I must say though, the only time I ever hear Christians make the sort of claims that you’re making is when they are responding to conditionalist arguments. I can’t help but to find that curious.

          • Peter G.

            Why can I say? You conditionalists bring out the best in us, Ronnie! ;)
            Peter Gurry

            Web & Graphic Designer

          • You conditionalists bring out the best in us, Ronnie! ;)

            And how!

          • Chris Date

            The claim that Heb. 9:27 teaches that every human will die only once is a highly tenuous, strained one. It says man will die once and then face judgment; it tells us nothing about what will happen following that. Revelation, on the other hand, does: it tells us they will die a second death (which traditionalism identifies as basically a continuation of the death into which people are born, one which precedes the first death). And of course there are myriad other texts we believe clearly indicate that that’s what will happen.

            In any case, this attempt to respond to the challenge basically proposes that Christ bore the punishment of physical death and eternal suffering on behalf of the elect, a physical death that awaits the wicked who subsequently rise to eternal suffering. And yes, that would answer this challenge, and Jesus’ finite period of suffering could be argued to be equivalent to the eternity of suffering awaiting the wicked, and His death would not have been arbitrary, for it would have paid for the first death of the wicked. On the other hand, this raises its own serious issue, namely that those whose punishment He bore still die, and it’s just explained away by saying their death is not a punishment, like it is for the unsaved. I find that incredibly strained and ad hoc. But I’m glad I’m now aware of this response, so I can respond to it in writing after I’ve had some time to reflect upon its implications.
            By the way, I want to agree with the other Peter in thanking you for your irenic approach!

          • Peter G.

            Chris, there’s nothing ad hoc about it. Not only is it essential that you ask the question (why do believers die?), it’s essential to realize that Paul himself asks—and answers!—this very question. If you never ask this question, then your theology of death (“thanatology”?) is probably off track. Paul’s answer is crystal clear: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable…. the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality (1 Cor 15:50-53). Christ’s physical death in our place did not replace our current, perishable bodies with imperishable ones. His death most certainly did remove the sting of that death, however, and that sting is sin (1 Cor 15:55). Do both believers and unbelievers die physically? Yes. Do there deaths have the same meaning and significance? Hardly. This difference is only as arbitrary as the cross itself, which is to say, not at all.

            I still have yet to see any challenge for the traditional view stemming from penal substitution.

          • Chris Date

            Nowhere in the passages you’ve cited does Paul say that death for believers is necessary to put on the imperishable. Quite the contrary, “we will not all sleep [die, that is], but we will all be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51). “The dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:16-17). Clearly believers do not need to die in order to be clothed with the imperishable. Yet, we do die, because we have not yet been clothed with the imperishable. But then this means that the punishment Christ bore on our behalf did not include the first death, because we still suffer the first death along with unbelievers. It is, indeed, a strained, tenuous and ad hoc attempt to respond to this challenge by saying that the death of Christ finds its counterpart in the first death of the wicked, but that those for whom He died still suffer the first death.

            Alternatively, one might attempt an answer to the challenge by saying that although believers die the first death, that they are raised means the first death is reversed, indicating that Christ bore the first death on their behalf. Unfortunately for traditionalists, the obvious problem is that the first death is reversed for unbelievers, too, so apparently Christ bore that punishment for unbelievers as well.

            Furthermore, earlier you charged us with reversing the punishment Christ bore in the punishment awaiting the risen wicked. Strangely, you suggested that whereas Christ suffered then died, we believe the risen wicked die and will subsequently suffer. Ironically, that’s precisely what your attempted answer to the challenge does. You argue that Christ’s finite period of suffering *preceding* His death finds its counterpart in the eternal suffering that will *follow* the death of the wicked.

            The challenge remains, despite strained attempts by traditionalists to answer it: Christ suffered, then He died. Conditionalists believe the risen wicked will suffer, then die. Traditionalists believe, at best, that this punishment is reversed for the wicked, whose first death followed by eternal suffering finds its counterpart in the death of Christ following His suffering, despite the fact that those for whom He allegedly bore the first death still die the first death. It’s terribly convoluted, and the final punishment conditionalists propose is far more consistent with the atonement.

          • Peter G.

            I did reverse the order. But I never claimed it was a problem. I said it was a problem only IF you assert that Christ had to suffer 100% exactly rather than equivalently. There’s no irony and no convolution. Just a misunderstanding of your view on my part, as you pointed out earlier. Sorry for the confusion.

            Those who are chainged in the twinkling of an eye are pretty obviously the exception to the rule. If this means physical death is not strictly necessary for believers, that doesn’t affect at all the fact that Paul is compelled to explain to believers why their brothers and sisters are dying. Saying that we die because we haven’t yet been clothed with immortality does nothing to answer *why* we’re not yet clothed with immortality.

            Again, there is an inseparable connection between physical death and divine judgment for sin for unbelievers. Your assertion that
            Christ’s substitutionary penalty did not include our first death confirms my worst fears about your position, I’m sorry to say. I feared that this may have laid in the background of your original post and it is why I found your original argument so surprising. The Bible is fairly clear, in my mind, that physical death (regardless of debates about which one) is a penalty for sin. Just read Gen 5 in light of Gen 3 and you get the point. Death is never, ever natural, okay, or morally neutral apart from the redeeming death and resurrection of Christ. To say that Christ only died our second death requires that either (1) the first death has no relation to sin or (2) that Christ is not our full Savior since we are left to pay part of our penalty. I can’t accept either of these positions as stated. I hope you can’t either.

          • Chris Date

            No need to apologize, the fault for any confusion certainly cannot be placed entirely upon you :)

            I agree that those changed without dying are the exception. But none of the texts you’ve offered suggest that Paul says the reason *why* we’re not yet clothed with immortality from above is because we must die first. It’s quite the other way around; the reason *why* we die is because we haven’t yet been clothed with immortality. The reason why *that* hasn’t taken place yet is not because we must die first; that much is clear.
            Your misunderstanding of my argument notwithstanding, I absolutely do agree that physical death is divine judgment for sin. I absolutely agree that the reason people physically die is because “in Adam all sinned.” I absolutely believe Christ bore that punishment on our behalf, which is why we’re raised from the dead and never die again. But therein lies the problem with the answer you’ve proposed to my challenge: this punishment is reversed for unbelievers, too, who likewise never die that death. So the problem remains for your view.
            If the death of Christ finds its counterpart in the first death of the wicked, then Christ bore that for the elect who nevertheless likewise experience that death. The only possible way to reconcile that is to say that their resurrection and subsequent failure to ever physically die again is the permanent reversal of that divine judgment of physical death, but then traditionalism saws off the branch upon which it’s sitting for so, too, do the risen wicked fail to ever physically die again, the inevitable logical consequence being that Christ bore the punishment of physical death for them, too. Only conditionalists can be consistent, who say that whereas physical death is permanently reversed for the elect, the risen wicked will return to their divine judgment of physical death forever.
            The challenge as originally laid forth the in the article thus remains. Christ suffered, and He died. If that is the punishment that He bore on behalf of the elect, then the punishment awaiting the wicked is suffering, and death. If the resurrection reverses that divine judgment for the saved, then it does so for the risen wicked unless they return to the divine judgment of physical death forever.

          • Peter G.

            Chris, the solution is actually much simpler. I don’t assume that the physical death unbelievers experience is the same in significance as the physical death believers experience. And the same is true of their respective resurrections. This goes back to my point about not separating physical death from the judgment that follows. They are irreparably connected in their theological significance (again, see Heb 9:27). The meaning of the death one dies is irreducibly tied to the judgment that follows. They are connected and it’s their disconnection (in annihilationism) that I find objectionable both exegetically and theologically.

            In sum, it does not follow that because both die and both are resurrected that therefore the meaning and significance must be the same for both groups. Therein lies our disagreement. You have yet to show why it is that it does so follow.

            But, strange as it sounds, my wife is getting ready to have a baby so I’m going to have to end things here. Thanks for the discussion. I hope you see why the problem you find in the traditional view is just not there for some of us.

          • Chris Date

            Congratulations on the new baby! The birth of a child is a wonderful, amazing thing. Having three myself, I speak from a little bit of experience :) I completely understand your need to part ways (at this point, anyway), and will happily take the last word (for now).

            Annihilationism does not separate the first death of the wicked from the judgment that follows, so there’s nothing to object to. They die because, as we agree, the wages of sin is death. They are raised to be judged where they are declared guilty with all mankind as witnesses (see Joey Dear’s article on the resurrection of the wicked), and so punished with the just wages of sin: death.
            Traditionalism, on the other hand, *does* separate the two. It says the wicked suffer the divine judgment upon sin in physical death, a finite punishment that is reversed or undone or otherwise ends, and then the sentence given at their judgment is a second, different sentence, one of eternal conscious suffering in living bodies that never die. Two punishments: a finite-in-duration physical death which comes to an end, followed by a second infinite-in-duration period of suffering lin living bodies.
            The challenge remains.

          • Peter G.

            Chris, physical death *as a punishment* is not undone by resurrection. Why? Because it’s followed by a continuance of that punishment in hell. Difference in experience does not mean difference in meaning and significance. That’s your hang up.

          • Chris Date

            With due respect (and I mean that; many traditionalists are not as respectful in dialogue with us as you’re being) I believe it is disingenuous to say that in your view physical death is not reversed because “it’s followed by a continuance of that punishment in hell.” Physical death quite simply is not continued in hell; it’s reversed prior to it. In fact, very little, if anything at all, that took place at physical death continues in hell. The wicked were already spiritually dead and separated from God (as all people are) when they died; what changed was that the body died. That is undone in resurrection, and traditionalism says it never happens again.

          • Peter G.

            Chris, I said physical death *as a punishment* is not reversed. Restoring someone’s body does not entail rescinding their punishment, whatever that might mean.

            And I do not assume, as you suggest, that spiritual death now is the same thing as eternal spiritual death. The separation we are all born into is not the same as the separation from God’s blessings that the unrepentant will experience in hell. Far from it. You may reject such a distinction as meaningful, but then it’s not my view your objecting to but someone else’s.
            Happy to be cordial. No reason not to be. We ought to be able to discuss these issues seriously but respectfully.

          • Chris Date

            Either way, whether reversed or not, the punishment of physical death comes to an end in your view. It is a punishment experienced for a finite period of time. And so, in your view, the punishment of physical death is a finite punishment distinct from the eternal punishment of suffering eternally in living bodies which never die. Again, it is traditionalism which separates the two deaths, not conditionalism.

            In what way is the spiritual death and separation from God all men are born into different from the spiritual death and separation from God you believe the unsaved will experience for all eternity?

          • Chris Date

            Keeping in mind (continuing from my previous comment which unfortunately probably will show up below), that is, that the first spiritual death and separation from God is not reversed at any time between death, resurrection, judgment in hell. I need to see explained an eternal spiritual death and separation from God that is not simply an unbroken, albeit perhaps amplified and intensified, continuation of the death that precedes the first death. (At which point it still won’t be true, but it may escape the challenge.)

          • Peter G.

            Chris on a re-read, I can’t tell if you were stating your own position or what you think is the logical conclusion of mine when you said that “the punishment Christ bore on our behalf did not include the first death.” If this is not your position, then, obviously disregard my response to it.

          • Chris //
            Conditionalists offer different answers. One I find compelling is that, as the Godman, the infinite duration of time during which the elect would have remained dead following judgment was paid for in the finite duration of time during which Christ remained dead.
            Now, one might suggest that I’m being inconsistent by using this reasoning, when I critiqued it in the article, but I never critiqued the reasoning. What I critiqued was its application to Christ’s suffering on the cross. I, on the other hand, apply the reasoning to that in which the Bible says the atonement consisted: His death.//
            Thank you for saying this. I was going to ask this question in relation to Jesus’ death.
            It seems to me make complete sense.

        • Peter Grice

          “I don’t see in any of your quotes where traditionalists deny that Jesus’ physical death was part of his suffering.”

          But to locate death under suffering, as part of it, in the context of atonement (penal substitution with consideration of Hell), is to insist upon eternal suffering in Hell (and yet, not death).

          As the article insists, the Bible says that death is the locus of atonement, and suffering part of this (although not in the old covenant system, incidentally). The wrath of God and penalty of sin is death that involves suffering (my own view is that death theologically is not merely an event or moment, but an end-directed process. Death by stoning serves to illustrate, though in Eden it was a protracted “in the day that you sin… dying you shall die”).

          A point worth repeating from elsewhere: traditionalists do affirm that it is Christ’s death which atones, but the things we affirm should be coherent. Traditionalists also tend to say that the full measure of wrath was endured until the point where Christ said “It is finished”, which if taken literally that way, does seem to make Christ’s actual death an afterthought (“oh yeah, we affirm the atoning death – it’s part of the suffering, you see!”)

  • Jillxz

    All I have to say is I have always had a lot of respect and trust for david reagan. But I so disagree with this Conditioalist view. I see it has heretical. Other than this , I agree with David Reagan.

    • Chris Date

      Hi, Jillxz. We believers disagree, even strongly so, when it comes to a host of doctrines. I respect that your view of final punishment differs from that of Dr. Reagan and us here at Rethinking Hell (to the extent that our view lines up with his). I hope you feel comfortable sharing with us the reasons why you disagree. We enjoy and appreciate the dialogue.

      • Jillxz

        I deleted my post. Because I an just a lay person and am not a pro in debates , lol The view just does not make sense to me.

        • Chris Date

          You didn’t need to delete your post. You’re welcome to disagree with Dr. Reagan, and with us here at Rethinking Hell. And as for being a layperson, so am I :)

          Do you mind sharing what it is that doesn’t make sense to you? Take this article, for example, the one you commented on. In it I argue that Scripture says that the punishment Christ bore in our place was not an eternity of torment, but was instead death. We conditionalists believe that since the unsaved must bear their own punishment, when they rise from the dead their punishment will, like the one Christ bore in place of the saved, be death. This is in stark contrast to the traditional view in which the unsaved will rise from the dead with immortal bodies that live forever in torment.

          Now I’m not asking you to agree with us, but what about that doesn’t make sense to you?

          • Jillxz

            To me , if a man is only a mortal , then when he dies apart from Christ , he not only dies physically , but the soul also. He would no longer exist. he would die as the animals die. That would be the only way the conditionalist view would make any sense.

            I believe we are born immortal. When God blew the breath of life into man’s nostrils , He breathed his spirit into man and man became a living soul. That spirit was immortality. We are like our Creator in that sense. Now , I see immortal life different from eternal life. Because we are immortal , we exist forever. But only Christ gives eternal life. That is the life of God. That is the real life that only believers will have. I just can’t get my mind wrapped around this conditionlist view.

            I know it really hurts to think of someone , anyone , spending eternity in Hell. But that is “their” choice. they don’t have to. So , I pretty much look at the conditionalist view as putting another twist on Annhilism . I simply don’t believe it .

          • Chris Date

            We don’t believe in conditionalism because it hurts to think of someone suffering forever. We believe because it’s biblical. And it hurts to think of them being destroyed and never living again, too.
            Many Christians do, in fact, think that at the first death all people are fully dead, awaiting resurrection. As for those who don’t, like several we’ve interviewed, it’s interesting that Jesus says in Matt 10:28 that God will destroy both soul and body in hell. And that word destroy, when used in the active voice to describe what one person does to another, is used consistently in the synoptic gospels to mean slay or kill.
            In light of the numerous passages that say immortality is a gift only given to the saved, can you find any text that indicates otherwise? Any that say the unsaved are immortal, too?

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  • Bryan Patrick

    Perhaps I missed it, but could you please explain how you would reason Rev 14:9-11 into this? It appears pretty explicit in eternal suffering to me. Thanks.

    • Andrew

      Was reading this article, saw your unanswered question and thought I’d give it a response. Note, I’m not from rethinkinghell.

      Revelation is a tricky book, as you know. Revelation is not like a recording of the future being played back for John to see. John is given bizarre visions that are highly symbolic. Our job is to understand what that symbolism is trying to convey. Fortunately, there are plenty of clues to help us. But we must always remember that these are visions, or dreams. Whenever there is an interpretation of highly symbolic imagery in the Bible, the interpretation is straightforward and plain. For example when Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, the dreams were wild, and symbolic, and vivid, but the interpretations were in plain language and referring to everyday things. The images were representing things very different to them, such as a cow representing a year of time. So with that in mind, let’s have a look at Revelation.

      With regard to Revelation 14:10-11. Well we agree this is symbolic imagery (in the vision it’s actually a prophecy from an Angel, not an actual vision), so we need to ask what is being communicated here. Let’s look at the imagery of chapter 18 – the harlot mystery Babylon is tormented here, but the interpreting angel says the city the harlot represents is Babylon and it will be “thrown down with violence” and “will be found no more” and smoke rises from the harlot for ever and ever (cf 19:3). So smoke rising forever is interpreted for us as symbolising the destruction of the city. Note the reference to “Not be found” is a throwback from Ezekiel 26 in reference to Tyre, which will not found again. Smoke in Revelation 14+19 is also a throwback from Isa 34:8-10, which describes the destruction of Edom, where it says it will not be quenched night or day its smoke will go up forever. But Edom is not still burning, right? Clearly it indicates the permanency of the destruction. So, given the clues we have and the interpreting done in Revelations, smoke rising forever indicates the permanent destruction, not the eternal torment.

      Revelation 14 gets worse for ECT, After the Angel announces the forthcoming “wine of God’s fury” in verses 9-11, then read the rest of the chapter which describes what happens next, so pay particular attention to verse 18 and 19 where the angels harvest the people of the earth and put them in the winepress of God’s wrath where they were trampled and blood flowed out rising as high as a horse’s bridle, a gruesome picture of death. So again, this further enhances a CI view because after the prophecy in v10-11, John then sees a vision of people being trampled and their masses of blood flowing out indicating an obviously violent death.

      Other people also quote Revelation 20:10. So with regards to chapter 20, remember that “Death” and “Hades” are thrown into the lake of fire. It’s hard to imagine it as a literal place of eternal torment if abstract things like “death” are being tormented there – they are abstractions, not conscious, and unable to be tormented, so it’s hard to see that as a “pattern” that relates to concrete, conscious creatures. Instead it’s much clearer to understand it in terms of destruction of their dominion. Just like the dominion and power that the harlot represents is destroyed. Remember that the harlot, the devil, the false prophet, and the beast are not real people, I think they represent dominions and powers (More on this below with reference to Daniel’s visions). Death is done with, there is no more death, death’s power is killed and destroyed – Rev 21:4 confirms this, “There will be no more death, … the old order has passed away”. This fits with the description of the end in which death is no more, and that God will swallow up death (Isaiah 25:8). Revelations 20:14 and 21:8 even announces that the lake of fire is the second death. Whatever the second death is, it seems obvious that it’s not the eternal torment being interpreted because if it was just synonymous with the imagery, then it wouldn’t need interpreting. But it does need interpreting (as it’s interpreted twice for us) and called the second death, certainly and end, a finishing, of some sort.

      Much of the imagery used in Revelation is borrowed from Daniel and isn’t original here, so it’s worth examining that also. In Daniel 7 there are 4 beasts and even a cursory glance shows the similarities between them and Revelations entities – that is that they are kingdoms on earth, dominions, powers. In Daniel 7 15-28 the interpretation is given in 7:26 that they will be thrown into a furnace and be completely destroyed forever. If you interpret Revelation to mean “eternal torment”, but Daniel to mean “slain” or “destroyed”, then you have a contradiction. But if you interpret both to mean the destruction of the relevant domains of power then there is no contradiction, the imagery fits with the rest of the Bible and the interpretation is consistent. You only get inconsistency when you interpret Revelation as meaning eternal torment, so that’s another reason not to.

      Why then you might ask is there the words “tormented day and night forever”? Well firstly the description is symbolic of what happens to the beasts. Secondly nowhere else in the entirety of scripture is the supposed eternal torment of the beast or of these kingdoms pictured. This is literally the only place, and here it is using language that Revelation elsewhere uses to describe destruction (such as in Chapter 18). It is simply making clear the terrible destruction that awaits.

      Note also that Dan 7 itself borrows from Dan 2 where the dream of the statue of clay, gold etc is destroyed by the rock God sends representing his kingdom. The interpretation is given in Daniel 2:44-45. Read it and see what it is. It’s their end and their destruction.

      F. F. Bruce says in his commentary “Since the beast and the false prophet are figures for systems rather than individual persons, the permanent destruction of evil is evidently meant.” Clark Pinnock reiterates it “I take John’s primary point to be that everything that has rebelled against God will be overcome and come to an end.”

      I grant that it’s perhaps strange to use the language of torment to describe the demise or death of those in the lake of fire. But I think even so, given the interpretative clues provided by John, and the throwbacks to other passages relating to destruction, we really have no other choice. If it helps, remember that these are “visions” that John is seeing, John may very well be actually seeing Hades writhing in torment, but the point is that we need to interpret the meaning behind this imagery, and I think I have successfully shown that overall it supports CI far better than ECT. In summary, it does no good to appeal to Revelation to support a case for an ECT interpretation of the rest of scripture because Revelation itself supports CI.

  • Bryan Patrick

    Just an add on to my last question. I would also like to understand how you would reason in Isaiah 66:24, and in turn Mark 9:47-48 concerning the undying ‘worm’ of those punished for rebellion against God. Thanks again.

    • Andrew

      When you look at the whole of Isaiah 66, you realise what it’s talking about is people God has killed. It’s not a picture of people in torment, it’s one of dead bodies being consumed and destroyed by maggots and fire! They are already dead. The symbolism simply shows the finality and “utterness” of the destruction. The rest of the chapter talks about God slaying the wicked, coming with fire and his chariot like a whirlwind, rebuking with flames of fire etc, leaving their bodies to be seen by all. This has nothing to do with eternal conscious torment at all.

      Besides, if they were trying to convey torment, I can’t imagine a weirder way to describe that to say you’re going to be attacked by a worm. A worm! Have you ever been attacked by a worm, I can’t imagine a more pathetic thing than a worm attacking me. That’s about the least fearful thing I can think of. But back in these cultures where shame was a very big deal, the thought of not burying a corpse was extremely shameful. Leaving a corpse out to rot, to be eaten, or to be burned with fire was an extremely disgraceful thing. But it’s still a dead person, it’s just described like this to evoke revulsion, shame, and horror at the destruction of the wicked. But the point is that they are already dead. It clearly says so in Isaiah.

      Further to this. Remember it’s just a worm that will not die. It’s not a worm that keeps eating forever. It just simply means that the worm is not going to be prevented from completing its job of destruction. Same with the fire… It’s unquenchable, it literally means it can’t be stopped or put out. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s burning forever. But even if it did happen to burn forever, there is still nothing here to suggest that it’s burning alive people forever. Again, it’s clear that it’s corpses, it’s the dead bodies of the wicked that God has killed.

  • Jason Jones

    This is by far one of my favorite articles here. However, one objection troubles me. Coming from the reformed Calvinist perspective, they will say that Christ died for the elect and not the ones who will be in Hell forever. Therefore, Christ paid for the sins of those who he knew would be Christians, and non-Christians still have to pay for their own sin.
    Doesn’t this completely undo the argument Reagan and Fudge make?

    Keep up the good work!

    • Chris Date

      Hi, Jason. I myself come from a Reformed Calvinist perspective, and believe that Christ died for the elect and not for the reprobate. And so yes, non-Christians still must pay for their own sin. But that doesn’t challenge the position of Reagan, Fudge, and us at Rethinking Hell, it supports it! After all, if Christ bore the wages of sin on behalf of the elect and NOT for the lost, and if the punishment he bore was death, not eternal life in torment, then it follows that the punishment awaiting the resurrected lost is likewise death, not eternal life in torment.

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