Scrutinizing a Straw Man: A Response to Eric Davis

In my plenary presentation at the 2015 Rethinking Hell conference, I lamented the fact that many “pastors, professors, apologists, authors, and radio show personalities feel comfortable writing, speaking, and teaching about the motives, errors, and dangerous teachings of conditionalists and universalists, all the while largely ignorant of what it is they actually think and argue.”1 A case in point is Eric Davis, Teaching Pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. In his recent article at The Cripplegate, repackaged as a slideshow by, Davis purports to be “analyzing annihilationism” and “demonstrating that it is biblically untenable.”2

A close look at his article reveals that, rather than analyzing annihilationism, Davis is scrutinizing a straw man. Meanwhile, his case for the doctrine of eternal torment and against annihilationism simply does not hold up when the burning eye of scrutiny is turned back upon it.

“For the wages of sin is death”

“The biblical teaching of unending punishment in hell,” Davis writes in the introduction to his article, “has often been under attack,” and as an example he offers what he understands to be annihilationism, a view we at Rethinking Hell think is better captured by the label conditional immortality, or conditionalism for short.3 Citing no sources, Davis alleges that according to our view, “those in hell . . . will not be punished forever, but for a length of time, culminating in their annihilation.” But as Edward Fudge explains in his seminal defense of conditionalism, we believe the punishment is death—ongoing privation of life—and not a finite period of torment culminating in death.

Jesus warns of everlasting punishment in the age to come, and he also explains the nature of that punishment, as do Paul and John among others. It is the second death, the wages of sin. It is everlasting destruction, at the hands of God who is able to destroy both soul and body. To undergo this punishment is to perish—eternally and entirely, fully and forever—and to forfeit eternal life, the gift of God that throughout the New Testament always stands as the blessed alternative to death, destruction and perishing.4

From the very beginning of his article, then, Davis sets up a straw man, one easily burned down. Of course, this may have been unintentional. Davis is a pastor seemingly specializing in counseling;5 perhaps his article’s lack of interaction with quotes from published conditionalists is an indication that he is only superficially familiar with conditionalism, and that he is responding to the view merely as characterized by curious congregants.

Take, for example, Davis’s insistence that “‘perish’ and ‘destruction’ do not always refer to cessation of existence,” as if that is what conditionalists maintain. Rather, conditionalists argue that such terms refer to cessation and subsequent lack of life, in stark contrast to the doctrine of eternal torment which holds that the damned will be brought back to life in resurrection and live forever in hell. While its contemporary defenders have rhetorically deemphasized this, it is nevertheless what their forebears believed, and what their view in fact entails.6 Conditionalists, on the other hand, observe that the Bible teaches “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Those who do not believe in Jesus will finally perish (John 3:16). After rising from their first death to be judged, they will be sentenced to the second death (Rev 20:14; emphasis added).

Davis argues that “in the case of John 3:16, the word translated ‘perish’ . . . frequently refers to loss, in the sense of no longer in one’s possession.” However, in so doing he commits the exegetical fallacy D. A. Carson calls “unwarranted adoption of an expanded semantic field,” which is to suppose that in any given context a word “may bring with it the word’s entire semantic range.”7 The Greek word ἀπόλλυμι does have a range of meanings, but the meaning of any given use of the word is determined by context. When used of human beings and in what linguists call the middle voice, as it is in John 3:16, the proper translation is “perish,” which means to die (Matt 8:25; 26:52; Mark 4:38; Luke 8:24; 11:51; 13:3, 5, 33; 15:17; Acts 5:37; 1 Cor 10:9, 10; 2 Pet 3:6; Jude 11).8 Moreover, in the verses immediately preceding this one, Jesus is compared to Moses’ bronze serpent which literally saved the lives of those who would have otherwise died by snakebite (John 3:14-15; cf. Num 21:9). The context of John 3:16 therefore prohibits us from understanding “perish” to mean that the wicked will be “lost” in hell. Rather, they will literally perish there, having failed to believe in the Son of God.

Besides, the word’s apparent meaning in the texts Davis cites are not at all inconsistent with being destroyed in the strong sense Davis thinks conditionalists take it to mean. In John 6:12, for example, ἀπόλλυμι means “to lose something which one already possesses.”9 Whether or not something lost continues to exist somewhere is irrelevant, because from the perspective of its former owner, it has disappeared. And in Matthew 9:17, ἀπόλλυμι describes wineskins which have “burst,” the Greek ῥήγνυμι meaning “to tear, rip, or burst.”10 The picture is not one of mere “damage,” as Davis suggests. As Craig Blomberg explains, “wine that has not yet fermented—bubbling, expanding, and emitting gas—[cannot be] put into old, brittle containers, or they will explode.”11 N. T. Wright likewise observes that “you can’t put new wine into old skins, or there will be an explosion.”12 The tattered fragments left behind after such an explosion hardly constitute a merely damaged wineskin.13

“The day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly”

Davis argues similarly that in Philippians 3:19, in which Paul says the end of Christ’s enemies is destruction, “the word translated ‘destruction’ . . . is used elsewhere to describe the idea of wasting something of value (Matt. 26:8).” This may be, but ἀπώλεια is also used elsewhere to refer to death, consistent with John 3:16‘s “perish.” Jesus contrasts it with “life” (Matt 7:13-14). Paul offers Pharaoh, who was killed while chasing the Israelites (Exod 14:30), as an example of “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (Rom 9:22). Peter compares the destruction of those who died in Noah’s flood with “the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Pet 3:6-7).

It is true, as Davis observes, that “the same word is also used in Revelation 17:8 to describe the punishment of the beast. Then, in Revelation 20:10, the beast is said to be ‘tormented day and night forever and ever.” However, Davis is confusing the contents of John’s vision with its interpretation, a distinction evident throughout the Bible’s record of such visions. One of the first, for example, is that of Pharaoh. In it, Pharaoh sees seven healthy cows emerge from the Nile, followed by seven gaunt cows that consume the healthy ones (Gen 41:1-4), and Joseph tells him that these symbolize seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine (vv. 26-31). Similarly, John sees a beast with seven heads emerge from the sea (Rev 13:1), and an angel tells John that its heads symbolize seven mountains and seven kings (17:9-10). It is in this interpretation of John’s vision that he is told the beast will “go to destruction” (vv. 8, 11). Destruction, then, is not synonymous with the beast’s torment in John’s vision, but is instead the real-life meaning symbolized by it. Consistent with that is the interpretation of the lake of fire offered by John and God himself, who say it symbolizes “the second death” (20:14; 21:8). The lost, having died a first time, will be raised back to life for judgment, and will literally die a second time.

Davis correctly notes that a different word is translated “destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9ὄλεθρος—a word he argues “has the idea of damage.” Actually, the word means “a state of utter ruin or destruction” and “suggests a type of ruin or destruction which is somewhat more violent and extensive” than other Greek words.14 Davis further notes that it is modified by the adjective translated “eternal,” and he argues that “if cessation of existence was meant . . . then the modifier, ‘eternal,’ would be useless. To paraphrase, the rendering would be ‘eternal ceasing to exist.’” But this argument simply misses the meaning of the word; an eternal state of destruction can follow a brief act of destroying. And this is exactly what this passage says: the wicked “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction . . . when he comes on that day” (vv. 9-10). The active suffering of the penalty happens “on that day,” elsewhere called the “day of wrath” (Rom 2:5), the result of which is an everlasting “state of utter ruin and destruction.”

Thus, as Peter Grice demonstrates, the Old Testament background to 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is “the direct encounters with God’s glory in the Old Testament (sometimes called the Shekinah glory),” many of which “involved God killing the unrighteous.” Eternal destruction “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).”15 Indeed, Paul’s combination of the terms “flames of fire” and “vengeance” appears elsewhere only in the LXX translation of Isaiah 66:15, and in this scene God’s enemies are slain by the sword (v. 16), their corpses consumed by fire and maggots (v. 24).

“And these will go away into eternal punishment”

“One of the biggest problems for annihilationism,” Davis continues, “is Matthew 25:46, which reads, ‘And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’” In fact, in its context, this text is better support for conditionalism than for eternal torment. After all, while the repeated use of the adjective αἰώνιος, translated “eternal,” suggests the two fates are equally everlasting in duration, the judicial context requires that they be mutually exclusive in nature: only the righteous will live forever. Consistent with the other texts examined thus far, Jesus must therefore be saying that the punishment awaiting the wicked is eternal capital punishment—death forever.

As with “destruction,” “punishment” can refer to the outcome of a process of punishing. And if the penal lifelessness resulting from being executed lasts forever, then even though the process of capitally punishing the damned is finite in duration, their punishment will be everlasting.16 This is why Jonathan Edwards, famously critical of conditionalism, nevertheless similarly admitted that the fate of annihilation “answers the scripture expressions [of eternal punishment] as well, to suppose that they shall be annihilated immediately, without any long pains, provided the annihilation be everlasting.”17 In calling annihilation everlasting, obviously Edwards had the outcome of annihilating in mind, not the process. And while he articulated other reasons for rejecting conditionalism, the phrase “eternal punishment” is not among them.18

Superficially aware of this explanation, Davis characterizes it as teaching that the word αἰώνιος means “having eternal consequences.” And he argues that this explanation will not do, because “if the damned ceased to exist, there would not be eternal consequences. . . . the consequences cease with their annihilation.” But this argument relies on a peculiar, idiomatic use of the word “consequences.” While a phrase like “pay (or face or suffer) the consequences” typically connotes some sort of subjective experience of a negative outcome, the word simply refers to the result, effect, or outcome of an action. The consequence or outcome of being killed and destroyed—lifelessness and destruction—can certainly be everlasting, even if the wicked no longer exist to experience it. And when those everlasting consequences are intended as punishment, as is the case here, they are not merely effects, but are in fact what the punishment consists in (i.e., the ongoing privation of life), thus making the punishment itself properly eternal.

Davis further argues, however, that “the parallel description of heaven and hell with the word ‘eternal’ invalidates the annihilationist position. . . . since heaven is unending, and described as such with αἰώνιος, hell must also be unending since αἰώνιος is also used.” Additionally, he writes, “it would not do to speak of the annihilation of hell’s occupants but the continuation of hell as a place.” Yet none of the examples he offers actually describe heaven or hell as eternal. Instead, they describe life as eternal, and punishment as eternal. Conditionalists wholeheartedly affirm this parallel use of the adjective: God will grant the gift of everlasting life only to the redeemed, while the everlasting punishment of the lost will be death forever.

Davis insists that, “considering the perspicuity of Scripture and the severe nature of the doctrine of hell, we can safely assume that NT writers would have used [παύω or καταπαύω], since they would clearly communicate annihilation.” In reality, these words would do no such thing; they are never used to refer to a cessation of life or being, or to destruction. They refer to a cessation of some specifically named activity: speaking (Luke 5:4; Acts 6:13; 1 Pet 3:10); raging (Luke 8:24); praying (Luke 11:1; Col 1:9); teaching and preaching (Acts 5:42); unrighteousness (Acts 13:10; 1 Pet 4:1); clamoring (Acts 20:1); admonishing (Acts 20:31); beating (Acts 21:32); tongues-speaking (1 Cor 13:8); giving thanks (Eph 1:16); sacrificing (Acts 14:18; Heb 10:2); working (Heb 4:4, 8, 10). Instead of these, biblical authors describe final punishment using words that frequently communicate the cessation of life.

“Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched”

At this point in his article, Davis argues that several additional passages “demonstrate the eternality of hell.”

Daniel 12:2

In Daniel 12:2, Daniel is told that “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Davis confidently asserts, “clearly, this second group experiences some sort of unending pain, for they must be conscious and existing in order to experience ‘shame’ and ‘contempt’ forever.” But in fact they are not said to experience anything forever. Only “contempt” is described as everlasting, the word דֵּרָאוֹן referring to “that which is abhorred” or the “object of abhorrence.”19 Thus contempt is not an emotion the wicked will experience forever, but is instead the emotion the memory of them will prompt in others after they are gone. After all, as in Matthew 25:46, only the righteous are here said to receive eternal life, so the fate of the impenitent must be everlasting death.

Matthew 18:8

Davis observes that in Matthew 18:8 “the same word translated ‘eternal’ in Matthew 25:46 is used here to describe the eternality of the fire.” This is true, but this does not preclude the wicked from being consumed by the fire. Indeed, Jesus’s contrast in both this verse and the following one is between partial and complete destruction; between the relatively less inconvenient loss of a hand, foot, or eye, and the devastating total loss of one’s whole being in hell. Thus in the close parallel in Matthew 5:29-30 the contrast is likewise between the loss of of one’s right eye or right hand and the loss of one’s “whole body” in hell.

Furthermore, Jesus sets up a parallel between “eternal fire” in verse 8 and “the hell of fire” in verse 9, “hell” translating the Greek γέεννα, or Gehenna. This is a shortened Greek transliteration of the Hebrew “Valley of the Son of Hinnom,” which the Old Testament prophesied would one day be called “the Valley of Slaughter,” where “the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away” (Jer 7:31-33). The picture is one of death and destruction, not life in fiery torment. Thus Jude likewise uses the phrase “eternal fire” to describe the fire that poured down from heaven upon the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and slew them, which he says exemplifies final punishment (Jude 7). In this passage’s parallel, Peter is even more explicit: “by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes [God] condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Pet 2:6).

Mark 9:47-48

Jesus says in Mark 9:48 that in hell “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” Davis correctly observes that the Greek word translated “quenched” “has the idea of extinguish or put out a fire.” That’s right: God’s fiery wrath will be inextinguishable and, like any fire does if unable to be put out, it will completely destroy his enemies (Ezek 20:47-48; Jer 17:27; Amos 5:6).20 Thus it will “burn up the chaff” (Matt 3:12, NASB), the Greek κατακαίω meaning “to destroy something by burning—‘to burn something down, to burn something up, to reduce to ashes.’”21 Unfazed, however, Davis argues, “that the worms do not die indicate an eternal existence. . . . the picture is of a miserable existence for eternity.” In fact, this phrase is used in Scripture, not to promise immortality, but rather to promise that one will not immediately die; that is, at a particular time, in a particular context. Joseph, for example, tells his brothers, “Bring your youngest brother to me, so your words may be verified, and you will not die” (Gen 42:20, emphasis added; cf. Exod 30:20; Jer 38:24). That the worm will not die, then, means that death will not prematurely interrupt its meal. They will not be prevented by death from fully consuming the corpses upon which they feed, as those scavengers about which we just read will not be prevented by fear from doing likewise.22

2 Thessalonians 1:9

Having failed earlier to rebut the conditionalist argument from this passage, Davis brings it up again here, arguing that “if those suffering ceased to exist, it would be unnecessary to mention that they will be located ‘away from the presence of the Lord.’” But as Ronnie Demler and William Tanksley explain, “the Greek most literally reads, ‘everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.’”23 And as they observe, in 1 Kings 13:34 the house of Jeroboam is destroyed from the face of the earth, meaning “the house of Jeroboam was removed from the face of the earth by being literally and utterly destroyed.”24 It was separated from the earth, as it were, by being wiped out. The LXX renders the original Hebrew using the same Greek words translated “destruction” and “from” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9. The wicked, then, will be removed forever from the presence of the Lord by being literally and utterly destroyed, like we English speakers might say a ship is “blown from the water.”

Alternatively, there is another way to read the Greek preposition ἀπό (apo). “Just like from,” Demler and Tanksley explain, “apo can signify separation (e.g. running from the wolf)”—or, as above, “blown from the water”—”source (e.g. raining from the clouds), or cause(e.g. weeping from joy), among other things.”25 And as they observe, while the ESV favors separation, it offers an alternative in a footnote in which the preposition signifies source: “Or destruction that comes from” (emphasis in original). Paul may have had intended such an understanding, possibly with texts like Isaiah 13:6 and Joel 1:15 in mind, both of which speak of “destruction from the Almighty.”26

Whatever Paul’s intended meaning in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, there simply is no reason to think he is saying the wicked will be relocated from one place and placed in another, there to exist forever.

Revelation 14:9-11

Of the smoke rising forever from the fiery torment of restless beast-worshipers in Revelation 14:9-11, Davis says, “the eternality of the rising smoke and inability to rest further describes those experiencing punishment.” In fact, the imagery symbolizes death and destruction, consistent with all the passages we have looked at thus far. The passage speaks of beast-worshipers drinking the strongest measure of God’s wrath, which in the Old Testament results in death (Obad 16; Jer 25:27). Smoke rises forever from the punishment inflicted by fire and sulfur, signifying obliteration as elsewhere in Scripture (Gen 19; Isa 34:10). The beast-worshipers’ torment, causing them unceasing restlessness, has no Old Testament precedent, but it is combined with the other elements of the picture elsewhere in Revelation, where collectively it communicates destruction: the harlot Mystery Babylon drinks the wine of God’s wrath in 16:19 and 18:6; she is tormented in fire in 18:7, 10, and 15; smoke rises from her forever in 19:3; but the interpreting angel tells John in 18:21 that this imagery symbolizes the total destruction of the city represented by the harlot.27

Matthew 3:12, Luke 16:26, Jude 7, Revelation 20:10-15

Davis concludes this section of his article writing, “Several other passages could be cited to support eternal punishment, such as Matthew 3:12, Luke 16:26, Jude 7, and Revelation 20:10-15.” But none of these texts actually serve as such support. As previously observed, the unquenchable fire of Matthew 3:12, being inextinguishable, will “burn up” chaff. The story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16 is set in Hades—the underworld, the so-called intermediate state—and says nothing about what awaits the lost upon being raised out of it.28 And again, “eternal fire” in Jude 7 is a reference to the fire that came down from heaven and slew the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, reducing them to ashes (cf. 2 Pet 2:6), and the lake of fire imagery of Revelation is interpreted by John and God himself as symbolizing “the second death” of the unsaved human beings thrown into it (Rev 20:10; 21:8).

I have said for several years now that with virtually no exception, every proof-text historically cited in support of the doctrine of eternal torment proves upon closer examination to be better support for conditional immortality. I trust the reader can now see why I believe this to be the case. With the lone exception of Luke 16, which tells us nothing about the nature and duration of final punishment, all of the texts Davis cites undermine his case for an eternal hell.

“Pierced for our transgressions”

Shifting from exegesis to theology, Davis argues that “nothing less than the death of the Creator-in-the-flesh; the God-man, was necessarily to eliminate a sinner’s punishment.” The atonement, therefore, “declares that the sinner’s punishment is eternal.” As we have seen, annihilation is an eternal punishment, and so it qualifies even if Davis is right. However, what he appears to overlook is the substitutionary nature of the atoning death of Christ: He died in our place, bearing the punishment we deserve in our stead. Whether Jesus did not die for the lost (as five-point Calvinists like me contend), or whether they voluntarily reject him and thereby fail to self-appropriate the saving benefits of his atoning death (as non-Calvinists believe), either way the fate he suffered must therefore be the fate awaiting them. Whereas believers in whose place he died will live forever, unbelievers must instead die, not likewise live forever (even if in hell).

Meanwhile, it seems the real Christological error is made by traditionalists who tend to locate the substitutionary work of Christ in his suffering, rather than in his death. Wayne Grudem, for example, writes, “When Jesus knew that he had paid the full penalty for our sin, he said, ‘It is finished‘ (John 19:30).”29 Grudem’s use of the perfect-tense “had paid” demonstrates that in his mind, Jesus completely bore the punishment of hell while alive on the cross, and then he died. It follows logically that Jesus’ death was not substitutionary, a conclusion ordinarily identified as heresy by conservative evangelicals.30 Such an identification is with good reason: To Paul, the substitutionary death of Christ is paramount in importance and definitional of the gospel itself (1 Cor 15:1-3), and one who preaches another gospel—say, one that denies the substitutionary death of Jesus—should be accursed (Gal 1:6-9).

Davis suggests that “the annihilationist position desecrates the glory of the Person and work of Jesus Christ by proposing a less than eternal punishment for sinners,” but nothing could be further from the truth. The doctrine of eternal torment logically entails denying the substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death, for whereas he died, we are told the risen lost will never die. Conditionalism, on the other hand, magnifies the glory of the substitutionary death of Christ. After all, we believe he bore the death penalty in our place, on our behalf, so that we will instead live, and that those who must receive their just desserts will instead die.31

“The one who states his case first seems right”

Much more could be said in response to Davis’s article, but as I am primarily concerned with exegesis and theology, I will merely direct the reader to articles here at Rethinking Hell which address Davis’s remaining philosophical and historical claims. He argues, for example, that “the debt of sin against an infinite Being can never be paid by finite, sinful beings,” but as Joseph Dear demonstrates, “the infinity argument has some merit to it, but cannot prove eternal torment.”32 Davis argues also that “annihilationism has an appeal to fallen man” for “the wicked want it to be true” (emphasis added), but in reality unbelievers both in Christ’s day and in ours are terrified at the prospect of annihilation, and some have even found it more terrifying than eternal torment.33 And while Davis is right that “the testimony from Church history leans heavily towards the eternality of hell,” Glenn Peoples demonstrates from the writings of Irenaeus, Ignatius of Antioch, Arnobius, and others, “that prior to the influence of Augustine of Hippo, the conditionalist view was clearly mainstream.”34

The old proverb says, “the one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Prov 18:17). Many readers of Davis’s article, no more familiar with conditionalism than he is, will no doubt find it persuasive. I suspect, however, that those of them who take the risk of hearing what the other side has to say are in for a shock. Whether they find that response here in this article at Rethinking Hell, or in Edward Fudge’s treatment of Davis’s proof-texts in The Fire That Consumes, or in private conversation with a conditionalist like me, they are likely to experience what Glenn Peoples describes in his open letter to his traditionalist friends:

From behind the barricades, you have become convinced that the biblical case against your view is insubstantial and can be blown down like a house of straw. I have met, either in person or online, countless people who initially told me that they had “looked at both sides of the issue,” by which they meant that they had read one or more of your works in which you—so they believed—laid out the merits of the biblical case for annihilationism and then destroyed it. When presented with just a few responses to these rebuttals as well as a few further considerations, it is as though their world has been turned upside down. They had no idea how compelling the arguments for annihilationism were, and as a result of our encounters many of them are now either undecided or they have embraced annihilationism. . . .

Evangelicals are finding this out. For years they have been reassured that the annihilationist position is one for those who don’t care for biblical authority, who doubt the seriousness of sin, who don’t have proper regard for God’s holiness, and who piece together a tenuous case based on the strained interpretation of a few texts of Scripture. . . . Evangelicals are most certainly finding out that it is not what many of you have made it out to be, and as they have been finding out, many of them have been given the opportunity to think about the matter for themselves and they are changing their minds.35

This was my experience, and since becoming convinced of conditionalism I have seen countless others share it. Of course, it is possible that it is our case for conditionalism that only seems right until sufficiently examined by the other side, but the people whose shock Glenn describes would never know it. Sadly, as I also explained in that 2015 plenary speech I mentioned in opening this article, “Many prominent advocates of a traditional hell are seemingly unwilling to dialogue,” and “have not undertaken the exhaustive, probing, penetrating cross-examination called for by the proverb. As a consequence [they] are not sufficiently familiar with what conditionalists believe, why they believe it, and the arguments they offer in its favor.”36

And so I’ll end this article with an invitation to Davis. Eric, if you are not familiar with my work on this topic, it may surprise you to learn that I wish I could once again believe in the doctrine of eternal torment. As a conservative, Reformed evangelical, it would make my life a lot easier, perhaps re-opening ministerial and educational doors that have closed to me since becoming a conditionalist. Moreover, if I am wrong, and if your view is in fact the biblical one, I want to know it so that I can repent and stop leading God’s people astray. But there is no hope of finding out that I am wrong if my would-be interlocutors will not dialogue with me. Will you consider doing so?

I hope to hear from you at Thanks.


*     *     *     *     *


  1. Chris Date, “A Seat at the Table: An Appeal for Dialogue and Fellowship,” [presentation] 2015 Rethinking Hell conference, Pasadena, CA, June 18, 2015, (accessed July 26, 2017). []
  2. Eric Davis, “Analyzing Annihilationism: Will Those in Hell Cease to Exist?” The Cripplegate [blog], posted June 22, 2017, (accessed July 26, 2017); repackaged as “9 Points That Argue the Eternality of Hell,”, (accessed July 26, 2017). []
  3. Peter Grice explains the appropriateness of the label in a three-part series beginning with “‘Conditional Immortality’—What it means and why it’s the best label (Part 1),” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted January 1, 2016, (accessed July 26, 2017). []
  4. Edward William Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, 3rd ed. (Cascade, 2011), 4. []
  5. “Cornerstone Leadership Team,” Cornerstone Church, (accessed July 26, 2017). []
  6. See Chris Date, “Obfuscating Traditionalism: No Eternal Life in Hell?” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted October 12, 2013, (accessed July 26, 2017). []
  7. D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Baker Books, 1996), 60–61. []
  8. For the word’s meaning when used in the active voice, see Glenn Peoples, “The meaning of ‘apollumi’ in the Synoptic Gospels,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted October 27, 2012, (accessed July 28, 2017). []
  9. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (United Bible Societies, 1996), 1:565. []
  10. Louw and Nida, 1:225. []
  11. Craig Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary (B&H, 1992), 158–9; emphasis added. []
  12. Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1–15, 2nd ed. (SPCK; Westminster John Knox, 2004), 101. []
  13. For further reading, see Joseph Dear, “Introduction to Evangelical Conditionalism: What Do We Mean by ‘Annihilation?’” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted August 5, 2013, (accessed July 28, 2017). []
  14. Louw and Nida, 1:231. []
  15. Peter Grice, “Annihilation in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (Part 1): Destroyed by the Glory of His Manifest Presence,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted November 14, 2016, (accessed July 26, 2017). []
  16. Chris Date, “‘Punishment’ and the Polysemy of Deverbal Nouns,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted June 19, 2012, (accessed July 27, 2017). []
  17. Jonathan Edwards, The Works of President Edwards: With a Memoir of His Life (G. & C. & H. Carvill, 1830), 401. []
  18. For further reading, see Joseph Dear, “Matthew 25:46 Does Not Prove Eternal Torment—Part 1,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted January 15, 2014, (accessed July 28, 2017); and Joseph Dear, “Matthew 25:46 Does Not Prove Eternal Torment—Part 2,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted February 10, 2014, ((accessed July 28, 2017). []
  19. Wilhelm Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, trans. Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (Samuel Baster and Sons, 1860), 206; Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, The Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Clarendon, 1977), 201. []
  20. Chris Date, “The Fire Is Not Quenched: Annihilation and Mark 9:48 (Part 2),” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted November 20, 2012, (accessed July 27, 2017). []
  21. Louw and Nida, 1:178. []
  22. Chris Date, “Their Worm Does Not Die: Annihilation and Mark 9:48,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted July 17, 2012, (accessed July 27,2017). []
  23. Ronnie Demler and William Tanksley Jr., “Annihilation in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (Part 2): Separation or Obliteration?—The Present Controversy,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted December 5, 2016, (accessed July 27, 2017); emphasis in original. []
  24. Ibid.; emphasis in original. []
  25. Ibid.; emphasis in original. []
  26. Though, the LXX uses different Greek words for “destruction” and “from.” []
  27. For further reading, see Joseph Dear, “A Primer on Revelation 14:9-11,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted April 5, 2017, (accessed July 28, 2017). Also, see William Tanksley Jr. and Chris Date, “A Conditionalist Reading of the Book of Revelation,” [presentation] 2015 Rethinking Hell conference, Pasadena, CA, June 18, 2015, (accessed July 28, 2017). []
  28. Chris Date, “Lazarus and the Rich Man: It’s Not About Final Punishment,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted June 23, 2012, (accessed July 27, 2017). See also Chris Loewen, “Hypocrisy, Not Hell: The Polemic Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted May 16, 2017, (accessed July 27, 2017). []
  29. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Inter-Varsity, 1994), 578; italics in original. []
  30. E.g., Bruce Ware, “The Gospel of Christ,” in Beyond the Bounds: Open Theism and the Undermining of Biblical Christianity, eds. John Piper, Justin Taylor, and Paul Kjoss Helseth (Crossway, 2003), 310; John Piper, “What Must Someone Believe in Order to Be Saved?” Desiring God, posted August 10, 2010, (accessed July 27, 2017); and Charles Colson and Ellen Vaughn, Being the Body: A New Call for the Church to Be Light in the Darkness (W Publishing Group, 2003), 204. []
  31. For more information on the atonement, see Chris Date, “Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted August 12, 2012, (accessed July 27, 2017); and Chris Date, “Cross Purposes: Atonement, Death and the Fate of the Wicked (Part 2),” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted August 4, 2016, (accessed July 27, 2017). []
  32. Joseph Dear, “What Are We To Make of Finite Sins Against an Infinite God?” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted May 28, 2016, (accessed July 27, 2017). []
  33. Chris Date, “Wind Out of the Sails: A Response to Greg Koukl,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted July 12, 2012, (accessed July 27, 2017). []
  34. Glenn Peoples, “Hell in the Times: Were the Early Church Fathers ‘Vague’ in Their Support of Conditional Immortality?” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted October 11, 2014, (accessed July 27, 2017). []
  35. Glenn Peoples,
    “An open letter to my traditionalist friends,” Right Reason [blog], posted June 19, 2011, (accessed July 28,
    2017). []
  36. Date, “A Seat at the Table: An Appeal for Dialogue and Fellowship.” []
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  • TheBoatMan

    This seems to me to be a very helpful statement of the case for the unsaved being judged and simply losing their lives. It’s helping me rethink what I’ve always understood – and struggled with – to be the nature of Hell – eternal conscious torment.

  • Adela New

    Excellent. The semantic and logical fuzziness surrounding the concepts of life and death for so many people always stuns me. These should be the most basic ideas that we can conceive. Thank you for explaining the “unwarranted adoption of an expanded semantic field” fallacy. Also, understanding the difference between content and symbolism is what is missing in so much discussion of Revelation and other prophetic and visionary passages in the Bible. The lack of this understanding skews one’s whole view of eschatology. Finally, to not view Jesus’ death as his atonement for us means that one has somehow not comprehended a foundational theological (and biblical) concept. This should stop Christians in their tracks–it needs very serious consideration, This is a great contribution that fits in nicely with revisiting John 3:16. Besides, I like today’s conditionalist pun–burning eye of scrutiny : ).

  • TLY

    You wrote, “Meanwhile, it seems the real Christological error is made by traditionalists who tend to locate the substitutionary work of Christ in his suffering, rather than in his death.”

    Exactly! There seems to be this idea that Jesus suffered my eternal torment due me before he died my death due me. The atonement is in his death, not suffering. And the atonement is neither made more complete by greater suffering nor even diminished if there had been no suffering.

    The OT symbolism for this is the death of the lamb at the alter of sacrifice. It’s not in part the presence of a sufficient amount of suffering before the death of the sacrificial lamb. There is no ritual of beating the lamb in order to symbolize that pain and suffering are a necessary part of a complete atonement.

    Your writing also reminded me that thoughts of Life vs. Death better help develop a more coherent theology of the “afterlife” over the convoluted and inconsistent theology of everlasting existence in Heaven vs. Hell.

    Chris, your words are delicious nuggets of truth beautifully seasoned in reason. Refreshing!

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