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.

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

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.
Continue reading “Daniel 12:2 Does Not Teach Eternal Torment”

  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)”

A Primer on Revelation 14:9-11


 
One of the most key passages used to defend the traditional view of hell is .

Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name. (NASB)

Although we have a number of articles on interpreting the book of Revelation and on related matters, and although the passage has been addressed in the Rethinking Hell podcast as well as in free resources outside of Rethinking Hell, a nice primer article addressing this passage was long past due.
Now, compared to , explaining how this passage is compatible with evangelical conditionalism (if not evidence in favor of the doctrine) will be fairly simple. Once the Old Testament background of the language and imagery of the passage is made clear, any reasonable observer should see why a conditionalist interpretation is at least reasonable. Continue reading “A Primer on Revelation 14:9-11”

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

6 Myths Christians Actually Need to Shatter About Hell (A Response to Lesli White and Beliefnet)


In a recent Beliefnet article titled “6 Myths Christians Need to Shatter about Hell,” author Lesli White makes a case for the doctrine of eternal torment by rebutting six myths about hell.1 Needless to say, we at Rethinking Hell disagree with White’s conclusion. The doctrine of eternal torment in hell, frequently called “traditionalism” or the “traditional view,” is not biblical. Rather, the Bible teaches that only those in Christ will have life in any sense of the word. The unsaved will die the second death and be destroyed forever, unable to know either joy or pain because they will be gone forever.
Below are six myths that we really do need to shatter. These all have some connection to the Beliefnet article, although some are more loosely connected than others. Continue reading “6 Myths Christians Actually Need to Shatter About Hell (A Response to Lesli White and Beliefnet)”

  1. The article is actually from a few months back, but I and others still see the Beliefnet page pop up on Facebook and so the conversation is apparently still going. []

Don't Be Afraid to Disagree with Great Theologians on Hell (Especially Since You Already Disagree with Them on Other Doctrines Anyway)

In discussions about hell, sometimes an appeal to personality and authority is made. After all, conditionalism is certainly a minority view, and so conditionalists find themselves disagreeing with many highly venerated theologians and leaders of the Christian faith throughout its history. To someone who isn’t really thinking about it, it can be rhetorically powerful to call out someone who would be so arrogant as to challenge great men of the faith on the topic of hell.1 It can also give some people pause to say that this or that theologian (or many of them) whom they highly respect was wrong on such an important matter of theology.
However, conditionalists don’t even have to make a good case that any given theologian or group of theologians was wrong in order to diffuse this argument. We just need to remind everyone that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Continue reading “Don't Be Afraid to Disagree with Great Theologians on Hell (Especially Since You Already Disagree with Them on Other Doctrines Anyway)”

  1. This is not the same are the simple numbers argument, the argument that surely the Holy Spirit wouldn’t allow so many Christians throughout time couldn’t be wrong about hell (the way he did with salvation by faith alone vs. works, according to Protestantism…). This numbers argument can be coupled with the authority argument (“surely this many great men throughout time couldn’t be wrong about hell!”), but the authority argument is in many ways its own element. []

The Not-So-Traditional View: Does Your Particular Belief About Hell Really Have Church History On Its Side? (Part 3)

It is evident now that traditionalists throughout most of church history generally held to the gruesome and lurid doctrine of hell that many traditionalists today try to disavow. But there do remain a few loose ends. The first is Martin Luther and his view on hell. The second is the Eastern Orthodox Church, and just how to fit them into the mix. Continue reading “The Not-So-Traditional View: Does Your Particular Belief About Hell Really Have Church History On Its Side? (Part 3)”

The Not-So-Traditional View: Does Your Particular Belief About Hell Really Have Church History On Its Side? (Part 2)

What Is The Historical View?12


Whether the view is right or wrong, one thing that is true about the tortureless, “darkness” form of hell described in part 1 is that it has not been historically common. That isn’t to say that it has never popped up ever. In part 3, we will look at some potential deviations and some blurring of the lines. And even beyond that, when you have 2,000 years and significant chunks of civilization holding to a set of beliefs (Christianity), you are bound to get someone believing something at some point. So I am not saying that no one ever held it in the history of the world until the 1900’s or anything that extreme. But when we think of great names in Chrisendom who also believed in eternal conscious punishment of the unsaved, one thing that you find across the board is a view of hell as a horrible, torturous place of vengeance and violence. Though not completely universal, this has been the predominant view in church history (among traditionalists).
In light of this fact, many traditionalists today who sneer at annihilationism because it departs from the more historical view may find that their own views fare no better.
Continue reading “The Not-So-Traditional View: Does Your Particular Belief About Hell Really Have Church History On Its Side? (Part 2)”

  1. I think it is also worth noting how many of these below use language that is contrary to scripture. The unsaved live, do not die, are not consumed etc. For more on this, see Episode 58.  See also Ronnie Demler, “Sic et Non: Traditionalism’s Scandal,” A Consuming Passion: Essays on Hell and Immortality Written in Honor of Edward Fudge (Pickwick, 2015), 255-276 []
  2. Of course, as has been pointed out here numerous times, we have good evidence to see some degree of conditionalism among the earliest church fathers (and even some who came later, such as Arnobious of Sicca). There has also been a considerable universalist presence historically. The aim here is to show what typically has been believed about hell specifically by those who believe that it entails eternal conscious suffering of some sort. []

The Not-So-Traditional View: Does Your Particular Belief About Hell Really Have Church History On Its Side? (Part 1)

If there is one area where traditionalism has an advantage, it is in church history. After all, there is a reason why this is called “traditionalism” and “the traditional view.”

That isn’t to say the view has always been held unanimously (although it is all too often treated as though it has been); resources here at Rethinking Hell address conditionalism among the earliest church fathers.12 Universalism also appears to have had a considerable following in the early church.3 The same can be said for the generic denial of “eternal punishment,” which at the very least precludes traditionalism.4 Nevertheless, the traditional view has been the predominant view in church history, and this is an advantage for traditionalists.
Well, it has been an advantage for traditionalists. Simply put, many traditionalists today, and quite possibly you who are reading this now, envision hell in ways that depart materially and substantially from what traditionalists throughout church history have taught about hell. And therefore, the strongest argument for the traditional view, that of church history, is lost for many traditionalists today.5
Continue reading “The Not-So-Traditional View: Does Your Particular Belief About Hell Really Have Church History On Its Side? (Part 1)”

  1. Glenn Peoples, “Church Fathers Who Were Conditionalists,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted July 22, 2013, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2013/07/church-fathers-who-were-conditionalists/ (accessed December 19, 2013). []
  2. Chris Date, “Deprived of Continuance: Irenaeus the Conditionalist,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted November 3, 2012, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/11/deprived-of-continuance-irenaeus-the-conditionalist/, (accessed on December 19, 2015). []
  3. Richard Baukham, “Universalism: A Historical Survey Richard Bauckham,” Themelios 4, no. 2 (September 1978): 48, reproduced at Theologicalstudies.org.uk, n.d., http://www.theologicalstudies.org.uk/article_universalism_bauckham.html, (accessed on March 21, 2016). []
  4. Augustine, Enchidrion: On Faith, Hope, and Love, Trans. Albert C. Cutler, (Southern Methodist University, 1955), , reproduced at Tertullian.org, n.d., http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/augustine_enchiridion_02_trans.htm, (accessed on March 21, 2016). []
  5. This point is hardly new with me. Fellow Rethinker Ronnie Demler made this very point in his talk given at our inaugural rethinking Hell conference in 2014, which was recorded and presented as Episode 58 of our podcast (see 51:11-53:07). Glenn Peoples also made this point in a talk given at, recorded in Episode 52 of his podcastSay Hello to my Little Friend (starting around 10:38 to about 15:00). I do, however, really want to drive the point home of how true this is, especially in part 2. []
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