The Many and Varied Problems with the Modern, Metaphorical View of Eternal Conscious Hell

One always unpleasant but ultimately necessary task that comes into play when discussing the nature of final punishment is digging into the specifics. Historically, Christian writers have not shied away from expounding on hell beyond just the basic question of whether hell is a place of eternal torment, annihilation, or temporary discipline that that leads to universal salvation. And this is the case today as much as ever, as more and more who hold the traditional view expound upon the specifics of it in a way that I argue makes it increasingly untenable (and less traditional).

Increasingly among evangelicals (though not only among evangelicals), hell is seen not as a place of eternal conscious burning, of the unsaved being tormented by fire and manifestations of God’s wrath, but as a place where the chief element of the suffering is sadness from being separated from God. The fire is seen as a metaphor. The torment is described as emotional and spiritual, not physical torture inflicted by God or his agents. An attempt is made to depart from the common pop culture trope of the eternal torture chamber.


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What the Bible Actually Says about “Eternal Fire” – Part 2

As you might imagine, traditionalists have given rebuttals to the general case put forth in Part 1. These rebuttals break down into two broader camps. The first camp is that should be translated differently from how it is presented in Part 1. Those in this camp would argue that the text does not really say that Sodom and Gomorrah themselves were burned with eternal fire in the first place.

Rebuttals of the second category do not challenge the translation of the NASB (which I used in Part 1). Instead, when Jude says they were burned with eternal fire, this does not challenge the standard interpretation that “eternal fire” is fire that burns for eternity.1

Given the scope of this article, I will touch upon some of the common objections to the aforementioned interpretation, though I encourage the curious reader to consult my free ebook, The Bible Teaches Annihilationism, Sections XVI and XVII, regarding relevant passages.
Continue reading “What the Bible Actually Says about “Eternal Fire” – Part 2”

  1. Recall in Part 1 that there is a conditionalist interpretation of “eternal fire” in that asserts the term does mean a fire that burns for eternity because it emanates from God, who is eternal and said to be a “consuming fire” (, ). []

just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

29 for our God is a consuming fire.

What the Bible Actually Says about “Eternal Fire” – Part 1

is often cited in support of the doctrine of eternal torment in hell, owing to its description of the unsaved being sent into “eternal fire.” The phrase is also used in Matthew 18:8 and Jude 7, which are commonly cited as well (although less frequently). The idea is relatively simple: if hell is eternal fire, then it would appear to mean that hell is a fire that burns for eternity. If hell is a fire that burns for eternity, it must have fuel to burn forever. And since that fuel is people, it follows that people will be burned in that fire for eternity.1

However, this argument for eternal torment fails when we look more deeply at what the Bible has to say on the matter. In fact, when we understand how it uses the phrase “eternal fire,” it can even be seen as evidence in support of evangelical conditionalism.
Continue reading “What the Bible Actually Says about “Eternal Fire” – Part 1”

  1. Of course, many traditionalists today do not believe that hell is actually fire in the first place, which presents a lot of problems for their view, as discussed in a previous article titled “Why the Modern Version of the Eternal Torment Doctrine Falls Short.” []

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Introduction to Evangelical Conditionalism – Mark 9:48

If someone spoke of hell as a fire that will not be quenched and worms that will not die, many believers would hear such language and think it was referring to worms and fire biting and burning and tormenting people forever. And that is fair, given the traditions and presuppositions many of us will bring to the table by default. For this reason, , most notably , is commonly believed to speak of eternal torment in hell.

But when we look at it just a little bit deeper, especially after taking into account the Old Testament background of the passage, this passage no longer makes a good case for eternal torment. If anything, in light of the passage’s Old Testament background, this passage serves as evidence for evangelical conditionalism and against the traditional view, not the other way around.

Their worm shall not die!

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43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

Does Matthew 8:29 Teach the Eternal Torment of Unclean Spirits?

Do the demons expect that one day, Jesus will torment them in hell for ever and ever? And is that what will ultimately happen to them?

The wording of a group of demons in one of the encounters Jesus had with a demon-possessed man is sometimes brought up as indicative of the eternal torment awaiting demons (according to the traditional view of hell):

And they [the demons] cried out, saying, ‘What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?’” ().1 

Some have taken this to mean that demons will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.234
Continue reading “Does Matthew 8:29 Teach the Eternal Torment of Unclean Spirits?”

  1. Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is quoted from the New American Standard Bible (NASB). Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. []
  2. Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Thomas Nelson, 1998), 1076. []
  3. Michael burgos, Jr., “Hell No: The Terrible Hermeneutics of Annihilationism,” Biblical Trinitarian [blog], posted on October 21, 2016, http://www.biblicaltrinitarian.com/2016/10/hell-no-terrible-hermeneutic-of.html (accessed August 11, 2018). []
  4. “Hell,” Let Us Reason Ministries, n.d., http://www.letusreason.org/doct12.htm (accessed August 11, 2018). []

29 And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?”

Introduction to Evangelical Conditionalism: The Doctrine of Eternal Torment Was Not Universal in the Early Church

Many people incorrectly believe that, save for a few nut jobs, cults, and liberals who don’t care about the Bible, Christians of all stripes have always believed that hell is a place of eternal torment. For this reason, many are wary to even consider any alternative ideas like evangelical conditionalism (also called annihilationism). The idea that no one will live forever in hell, but will instead be destroyed and fully killed, sounds like some new age nonsense. Many think that Christianity simply has always taught that hell is a place of eternal torment, and only recently does anyone deny this because people today are just too soft and too sentimental to handle the truth. However, this assessment is not correct.

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Daniel 12:2 Does Not Teach Eternal Torment

and “Eternal Contempt”1

Few passages from the Old Testament are cited as evidence that hell is a place of eternal torment. Given the Old Testament’s emphasis on death and destruction, this shouldn’t surprise us. If I believed that the unsaved live forever in torment, I wouldn’t run to passages about the wicked withering and dying like grass,2 or that call for them to melt away like slugs,3 or that describe them being burned to ashes and left without root or branch at the final judgment (like Malachi 4:1-3 does) either. But one passage stands out as an exception. One passage is a commonly cited as proof of eternal torment. That passage is :

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt (NASB).

Basically, this passage speaks of the resurrection of both the saved and the unsaved. But aside from the fact that this does not speak of inherent immortality, it doesn’t say anything about eternal conscious existence for the damned, period.
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  1. Adapted From The Bible Teaches Annihilationism by Joseph Dear, Section XX. []
  2. . []
  3. . []

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.

Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,
like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Malachi 4:1-3 and the Final Destruction of the Unrepentant


The book of Malachi is not only one of the last (if not the last) books of the Old Testament written, but it is also the last book most of see in our Old Testaments.1 Therefore, it is all the more appropriate that the final chapter speaks of the final end of history. As far as the fate of the finally unrepentant goes, Malachi’s God-breathed prediction leaves little to the imagination.

For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day (, NASB).

You can see why annihilationists might point to this passage. God will destroy the wicked. He will set them on fire like chaff, and no remnant of them will remain. Then He says that they will be like ashes under the feet of the wicked. Whether plain and literal or highly symbolic, how much clearer could the picture of final destruction (i.e. annihilation) possibly be?2
Continue reading “Malachi 4:1-3 and the Final Destruction of the Unrepentant”

  1. This is true for both Protestant and Catholic Bibles, as typically arranged. []
  2. Portions of this article are adapted from The Bible Teaches Annihilationism by Joseph Dear, Section XXXIX. []

4:1  “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.

It’s Easy to Miss Something You’re Not Looking For (Including in the Bible)

 

There was a popular awareness test video from when I was in college that I think can be very illustrative of an important point to remember when reading the scriptures. And this lesson is not only relevant when studying what the Bible says about final judgment. Rather, it is something believers should always remember.
Here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ahg6qcgoay4
I do definitely encourage you to watch the above video if the link is still active. It’s short and humorous and it helps get the point across. Continue reading “It’s Easy to Miss Something You’re Not Looking For (Including in the Bible)”