“Hath God said?” A Response to Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, and T4G

“You just got a shout out from Al Mohler at T4G.” A friend posted the notice on my Facebook wall while I was at work, and as I could not immediately access the Together for the Gospel (T4G) live video feed, my mind raced until my next short break. What might Mohler have said? I had debated him three years earlier, and he had been kind and gracious, even telling me after the recording was over that he’d love to meet me if I ever find myself on the east coast. I listen to his podcast “The Briefing” almost daily, and share much of his very conservative and Calvinist worldview. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mohler, and the thought that he might have mentioned me in a positive light excited me.

Sadly, I had been naive. Mohler hadn’t mentioned me specifically; he had mentioned our recent Rethinking Hell Conference in Dallas–Fort Worth. And his comments were not at all positive, but were instead derisive and even mocking. With his brief words, he had misrepresented the conference, the ministry, and the broader conditionalist movement. While the derision and contempt hurt, it was Mohler’s unfair mischaracterizations that frustrated me most. I believe that he should know better.

I tried to contact Mohler, asking if he would be willing to discuss his comments with me, but I have not yet heard back from him. So, in this article I shall respond to his comments and those of his co-panelist Ligon Duncan. If you like, you can hear them in this video before reading on:

Continue reading ““Hath God said?” A Response to Al Mohler, Ligon Duncan, and T4G”

The Hermeneutics of Conditionalism: A Defense of the Interpretive Method of Edward Fudge

I was recently honored to be published in volume 89 of Evangelical Quarterly. Available for free at my Academia.edu profile, my article argues that, contrary to the claims of critics like Robert Peterson, “when one applies accepted principles of hermeneutics and interpretation in the task of exegeting Old and New Testament texts, one will conclude that they teach conditionalism, and not the traditional view of hell.”1Christopher M. Date, “The Hermeneutics of Conditionalism: A Defense of the Interpretive Method of Edward Fudge,” Evangelical Quarterly 89:1 (2018), 72–73. Here is the introduction, to give you a feel for what I go on to argue:

Continue reading “The Hermeneutics of Conditionalism: A Defense of the Interpretive Method of Edward Fudge”

1. Christopher M. Date, “The Hermeneutics of Conditionalism: A Defense of the Interpretive Method of Edward Fudge,” Evangelical Quarterly 89:1 (2018), 72–73.

The Righteous for the Unrighteous: Conditional Immortality and the Substitutionary Death of Jesus

I was recently honored to be published in volume 18 of McMaster Divinity School’s McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry. My article argues from the atoning work of Christ to conditional immortality and against eternal torment, and will be the basis of my plenary presentation at the upcoming Rethinking Hell Conference 2018 in Dallas–Fort Worth, March 9–10—for which tickets are still available! In the meantime, my article is available for free PDF download. Here are three of the opening paragraphs, to give you a feel for what I go on to argue:

Conditionalists have very often commended their view on the basis of biblical texts that describe hell and final punishment in terms of death and destruction, including those typically cited in support of the doctrine of eternal torment, and this article does not seek to reinvent the proverbial wheel. But in the eyes of some traditionalists, conditionalism is more objectionable on Christological grounds than on any other. Robert Peterson, for example, summarizes how the doctrine of substitutionary atonement should inform one’s understanding of hell: “The cross sheds light on the fate of the wicked,” he explains, “because on the cross the sinless Son of God suffered that fate.” Mistakenly understanding conditionalists to be saying Christ’s human nature ceased to exist on the cross, Peterson insists that the “systematic implications of holding that Jesus was annihilated when he died are enormous. Nothing less than orthodox Christology is at stake.” Such a view, he argues, entails a temporary separation of Jesus’ human and divine natures, thereby violating the Chalcedonian doctrine of the hypostatic union. Alternatively—and equally problematically—Peterson argues that if both of Christ’s natures “ceased to exist between his death and resurrection, then the Trinity only consisted of two persons during that period of time. The Trinity would have been reduced to a Binity.”

Conditionalists, on the other hand, often argue that the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is more consistent with their view of hell than that of their traditionalist critics. Agreeing with Peterson that “Jesus’ death somehow reveals the nature of final punishment,” Edward Fudge observes 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.” Glenn Peoples likewise writes, “the New Testament is replete with the language of Jesus dying for sin, for sinners, and for us. Whatever else this might mean, it at least means that in Christ’s passion and ultimately his death we see what comes of sin.” Peoples concludes, “in identifying with sinners and standing in their place, Jesus bore what they would have borne. Abandonment by God, yes. Suffering, yes. But crucially, death.”

Peterson and other critics of conditionalism are right to test it for consistency with an orthodox doctrine of the atonement. Despite their Christological objections, however, conditionalism passes that test quite well—while their own traditional view fares poorly—given the Bible’s teaching of the substitutionary death of Jesus. As the following essay sets out to demonstrate: (1) in the Old Testament, the lives of sacrificed animals substituted for the lives of those who deserved to die; (2) animal sacrifices prefigured Christ’s own atoning sacrifice, likewise described by New Testament authors as the giving of his life in place of those for whom he died; (3) his infinite worth as the God-man enabled him to bear the death penalty deserved by the millions for whom he bore it; (4) by applying his infinite worth to his torment, traditionalists risk unintentionally denying the substitutionary nature of his death, a denial conservative evangelicals are not typically willing to countenance; (5) because Jesus was to be raised, he did not wholly cease to be when he died, but since no resurrection will follow the second death, the bodies and souls of the unredeemed will be destroyed in hell; and (6) although Christians continue to suffer death and will until Christ returns, his substitutionary death shatters its power over the redeemed, guaranteeing their resurrection unto eternal life.

Links

“The Righteous for the Unrighteous: Conditional Immortality and the Substitutionary Death of Jesus,” article in the McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry by Chris Date
http://mcmaster.ca/mjtm/documents/Volume18/18.MJTM.69-92-Date.pdf
The current issue of the McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry, containing Chris’s article
http://mcmaster.ca/mjtm/volume18.htm
Chris Date’s Academia.edu profile, where his article can also be downloaded
https://fuller.academia.edu/ChristopherDate

Conditional Immortality and Angels, Part 2—The Immortality of Angels and Men (Luke 20:36)

In the first part of this series, guest contributor Cody Cook argued from Psalm 82’s condemnation of the divine council that both fallen angels and unsaved human beings will be finally punished with death, rather than with immortal life in everlasting torment. “The ultimate fate of these rebellious angels,” Cook writes, “is capital punishment—death. . . . Though these beings are divine in a general sense, and therefore not susceptible to the fragilities of human experience, they will nevertheless die just like human beings do.”1Cook, C., “Conditional Immortality and Angels, Part 1—The Mortality of Angels and Men (Psalm 82).” http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2018/01/conditionalism-and-angels-part-1-mortality-of-angels-and-men-psalm-82/ But while Cook contends for the mortality of fallen angels and men from Psalm 82, others occasionally argue for their immortality from another passage, one not often cited in the debate over the purpose, nature, and duration of hell. Continue reading “Conditional Immortality and Angels, Part 2—The Immortality of Angels and Men (Luke 20:36)”

1. Cook, C., “Conditional Immortality and Angels, Part 1—The Mortality of Angels and Men (Psalm 82).” http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2018/01/conditionalism-and-angels-part-1-mortality-of-angels-and-men-psalm-82/

Conditional Immortality and Angels, Part 1—The Mortality of Angels and Men (Psalm 82)

God has taken his place in the divine council;

in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:

“How long will you judge unjustly

and show partiality to the wicked?

. . . Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;

maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.

Rescue the weak and the needy;

deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

They have neither knowledge nor understanding,

they walk about in darkness;

all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

I said, “You are gods,

sons of the Most High, all of you;

nevertheless, like men you shall die,

and fall like any prince.”

Arise, O God, judge the earth;

for you shall inherit all the nations!

–Psalm 82, ESV

 

Traditionally this passage has been viewed by exegetes as referring to God condemning human leaders and judges for perverting justice. John Wesley, in his explanatory notes on this Psalm, argues that “judges and magistrates are called gods, because they have their commission from God, and act as his deputies.” When the Most High God tells these “gods” that they will die like men, Wesley reasons that he only means “like ordinary men,” though is silent on the verse’s parallel statement, “and fall like any prince.”1Psalm 82 Bible Commentary. (n.d.). Retrieved December 03, 2017, from https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=wes&b=19&c=82

Continue reading “Conditional Immortality and Angels, Part 1—The Mortality of Angels and Men (Psalm 82)”

1. Psalm 82 Bible Commentary. (n.d.). Retrieved December 03, 2017, from https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=wes&b=19&c=82

Gehenna: The History, Development and Usage of a Common Image for Hell

Of the four words that are often translated “hell,” Gehenna is the only term used in our Scriptures to describe the final fate of the wicked.1See also: OT Sheol (63x), NT Hades (11x) and Tartarus (1x). It is important to note that all men (wicked and righteous) go to Sheol and Hades upon death, but only the wicked are finally destroyed in Gehenna after the final Resurrection. It is used primarily by Jesus in the gospels, once by James and is entirely absent in the writings of Paul. The purpose of this paper is to examine the origin, history and development of Gehenna from the Old Testament (OT) to New Testament (NT), comparing the external evidence seen in the historical rabbinical ideas of Gehenna with the internal evidence seen in exclusively biblical development.

The following questions will be considered: Is there any biblical or historical warrant for accepting the popular idea of Gehenna as a “garbage dump” just south of Jerusalem, into which the city garbage, and dead bodies of animals and criminals, were thrown to be incinerated? Is Gehenna primarily a geographical term giving rise to eschatology cast in spatial language, or is there development that takes us beyond the basic geographical meaning? What this paper hopes to accomplish is to give clarity to the meaning of Gehenna in its historical context, which will help us discern its overall usage throughout the NT. Continue reading “Gehenna: The History, Development and Usage of a Common Image for Hell”

1. See also: OT Sheol (63x), NT Hades (11x) and Tartarus (1x). It is important to note that all men (wicked and righteous) go to Sheol and Hades upon death, but only the wicked are finally destroyed in Gehenna after the final Resurrection.

Three Biblical Arguments Against Universalism

Below are three biblical arguments against universalism (and an extra one for further reading!). While they offer more than simple proof texts, it would take a much longer article to develop them more fully. Even so, I trust that you will find them useful and persuasive. Let’s first look at some relevant context, and then dive into the arguments themselves.

Personal eschatology—the study of the final fate of human beings—should be embedded within cosmic eschatology, the study of the final state of God’s created order. God is redeeming the cosmos, and human beings within it (see Rom 8:18-25). Universalists and conditionalists both agree that God will redeem the cosmos as a whole. But universalists also claim that God will eventually redeem every human being that will have ever lived, while our claim as conditionalists is that God’s work of “new creation” purposefully excludes some human beings. Despite knowing enough about the immortal God and realizing that they ultimately deserve death, they still reject him (Rom 1:18-23; 32). They disobey the gospel (1 Pet 4:17; 2 Thess 1:8; Rom 10:16), and so fail to respond obediently in repentance and faith to the knowledge of God and his offer of salvation (Acts 6:7; Rom 1:5; 16:26). They love sin rather than goodness, themselves rather than God, and are “disqualified regarding the faith” (John 3:20; 2 Tim 3:2-8).

Continue reading “Three Biblical Arguments Against Universalism”

Warned of Sin’s Wages: A Concise Explanation of Death in Genesis 2:17 and Romans 6:23

In Genesis 2:17, God’s warning “you will certainly die” (מֹות תָּמֽוּת) refers to the penalty or consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin, should they disobey God’s command not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They had been given free access to the Tree of Life in order to “live forever” (Gen 3:22 cf. 16), but this ongoing privilege would be forfeited if they ate fruit from the other tree, which was “good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (Gen 3:6). They did succumb to this temptation, after believing the serpent’s lie that they would not surely die. This resulted in the introduction of human death into the world—death as normally and universally understood; sometimes called “physical death.”1I recommend against using qualifiers like “physical” and “biological” if they can be avoided, since they can imply an unhelpful dichotomy with a so-called “spiritual death.” They can also unduly provoke interest in mechanisms of bodies and souls that might attend death, but which don’t need to be qualified in the ordinary use of “death.” If qualification is needed, I suggest “ordinary death.” We should always think about death functionally, as the negation of life. So we should not think of “the second death” as categorically different from “the first death” (terminology the Bible never uses). On both occasions, death still brings life to an end, even if the second time around this may be complete and permanent (Matt 10:28). Romans 6:23 refers simply to “death” because the universal wages of sin is not first, second, physical, or spiritual: it’s just death, the ending of life.

. . . for in the day that you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen 2:17)

The most common objection to the above is that if ordinary human death is in view, Adam and Eve apparently did not die “in the day” that they ate (Gen 2:17). But this is to misunderstand the Hebrew idiom “in the day” and the special function of “certainly die,” which, along with attention to context, must inform our reading of the English (lest we misread the warning with modern assumptions). As Walter Kaiser explains:2Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Baruch, “Hard Sayings of the Bible” (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), p. 92, emphasis in original.

It is just as naive to insist that the phrase “in the day” means that on that very day death would occur. A little knowledge of the Hebrew idiom will relieve the tension here as well. For example, in 1 Kings 2:37 King Solomon warned a seditious Shimei, “The day you leave [Jerusalem] and cross the Kidron Valley [which is immediately outside the city walls on the east side of the city], you can be sure you will die.” Neither the 1 Kings nor the Genesis text implies immediacy of action on that very same day; instead they point to the certainty of the predicted consequence that would be set in motion by the act initiated on that day. Alternate wordings include at the time when, at that time, now when and the day [when] (see Gen. 5:1; Ex. 6:28; 10:28; 32:34).

In other words, “you will certainly die” became true instantly, as a kind of death sentence or curse. In the Hebrew, this phrase is a language construct known as an infinitive absolute.3The infinitive absolute here is paired with a finite verb of the same root, roughly as “dying-die,” for what Gotthelf Bergsträsser describes as “a peculiarly Hebrew hybrid of verbal noun and verbal interjection of imperative character.” The infinitive absolute is a verbal noun, referring not to the actual dying of Adam and Eve, but to dying itself in the abstract. Then the interjection of “die” carries a similar condemning sense to the sentiment, “Die! Die!,” only without such intensity and animus. Intensification is one function of the infinitive absolute, but in Genesis 2:17 the other main function is served: certification. Death is being certified, or made certain. Since in context the infinitive absolute emphasizes certainty, and lends this effect to the whole construction, it should be read nominally, i.e. functioning as a noun or label–not merely as a death that is incidentally certain, but as a thing called “dying-die” or “certainly-die,” that in turn carries that implication. Therefore we must conclude, even before we learn that this is indeed how it is used elsewhere, that the construct functions as a kind of sentence or curse. It has no exact equivalent in English, and should be read not as a statement about when death will occur, but rather to emphasize the certainty of death being incurred.

Not only is the language different to our own way of speaking, but the general concept is different to our own way of thinking, due to very different cultural contexts. When someone incurs the death penalty today, it happens well after the crime was committed, and is handed down in a courtroom after a formal process to convict. None of that was available or needed in Genesis, because God himself had declared what would happen. So it makes sense in this context to focus on God’s warning becoming true and certain the very moment the “crime” would occur. Simply put, the transgression would make certain the death. Beforehand, they were not going to die. But once they sinned, they were going to die. Even if this is a little unfamiliar to us, we can still see how it is simple and straightforward.

So the timing of the death event was never specified in God’s warning, which was about the logical immediacy of the outcome of death, not its temporal immediacy. Both logical and temporal immediacy may be discerned in the idiom “in the day,” but any temporal immediacy here pertains to death becoming certain, not to death itself. As Kaiser pointed out in the quote above, there is simply no “immediacy of action.”

To confirm that modern Hebrew scholars have correctly understood the ancient nuances behind “In the day you eat, you will certainly die,” we can consult the ancient Aramaic rendering of Genesis 2:17 in the Targum Jonathan. It reads, “in the day that thou eatest thou wilt be guilty of death.”4See J. W. Etheridge, “The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch,” 1862, 1865. This is clear and not prone to any misreading. But although our conventional translation is less clear and doesn’t preclude misreadings, it still adequately approximates the Hebrew. Misreadings can occur for different reasons, especially the intrusion of modern assumptions and expectations. For example, from a concordist desire to avoid any suggestion that human death never existed beforehand (based on one’s view of human origins). Or, as we often see at Rethinking Hell, based on the goal of defending eternal torment instead of death. Another reason is just the translation tradition for this well-known verse, which prefers formal-equivalence here since this is a solemn utterance of God with such far-reaching implications for humankind. Regardless, the way it is rendered in the Targum suffices to show that at the time of Jesus, people understood God’s warning to be about ordinary death.

Continue reading “Warned of Sin’s Wages: A Concise Explanation of Death in Genesis 2:17 and Romans 6:23”

1. I recommend against using qualifiers like “physical” and “biological” if they can be avoided, since they can imply an unhelpful dichotomy with a so-called “spiritual death.” They can also unduly provoke interest in mechanisms of bodies and souls that might attend death, but which don’t need to be qualified in the ordinary use of “death.” If qualification is needed, I suggest “ordinary death.” We should always think about death functionally, as the negation of life. So we should not think of “the second death” as categorically different from “the first death” (terminology the Bible never uses). On both occasions, death still brings life to an end, even if the second time around this may be complete and permanent (Matt 10:28). Romans 6:23 refers simply to “death” because the universal wages of sin is not first, second, physical, or spiritual: it’s just death, the ending of life.
2. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Baruch, “Hard Sayings of the Bible” (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), p. 92, emphasis in original.
3. The infinitive absolute here is paired with a finite verb of the same root, roughly as “dying-die,” for what Gotthelf Bergsträsser describes as “a peculiarly Hebrew hybrid of verbal noun and verbal interjection of imperative character.” The infinitive absolute is a verbal noun, referring not to the actual dying of Adam and Eve, but to dying itself in the abstract. Then the interjection of “die” carries a similar condemning sense to the sentiment, “Die! Die!,” only without such intensity and animus. Intensification is one function of the infinitive absolute, but in Genesis 2:17 the other main function is served: certification. Death is being certified, or made certain. Since in context the infinitive absolute emphasizes certainty, and lends this effect to the whole construction, it should be read nominally, i.e. functioning as a noun or label–not merely as a death that is incidentally certain, but as a thing called “dying-die” or “certainly-die,” that in turn carries that implication. Therefore we must conclude, even before we learn that this is indeed how it is used elsewhere, that the construct functions as a kind of sentence or curse.
4. See J. W. Etheridge, “The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch,” 1862, 1865.

For I Am Undone: Conditionalism, New Creation Theology, and the Annihilating Power of God’s Presence

It is often the case when discussing matters of eschatology that a variety of terms will be used to argue for one’s position. Subtle nuances drive the need for additional terms, and our position of conditional immortality (“conditionalism”) is no exception. The primary reason that we prefer that term over “annihilationism” is that the study of eschatology involves much more than a narrow focus on what happens to the risen lost. While it is certainly true that the majority of our effort is often spent arguing for the annihilation of the risen lost, that’s not the full scope of what conditional immortality is.

With that in mind, I would like to offer a biblical case for the compatibility of conditionalism and what is often called “new creation” (NC) theology. For my purposes here, I will define that as the belief that the new heavens and new earth mentioned in Isaiah, 2 Peter and Revelation refers not to some other plane of existence where we will dwell after this world is destroyed, but rather to this world fully redeemed (even if possibly recreated), in which risen humanity will dwell with God, enveloped by His glorious, manifest presence—the final realization of God’s purposes for creation.

Continue reading “For I Am Undone: Conditionalism, New Creation Theology, and the Annihilating Power of God’s Presence”

Hypocrisy, Not Hell: The Polemic Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man

The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19–31) is often one of the first to be mentioned as giving explicit details on the nature and geography of hell. Upon closer examination, these assumptions prove to be lacking and evidence pulls us in another direction. Jesus told this story as a condemnation against the Pharisees, after a prolonged controversy with them regarding the rich and poor. This will be shown by analyzing the context of the story within the gospel of Luke, as well as the cultural and sociological context. Also, the parabolic genre of this story will be considered against the background of extra-biblical parallels of Jesus’ time, which will further reveal its authorial intent.

Continue reading “Hypocrisy, Not Hell: The Polemic Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man”