Sodom and Gomorrah in the Apocrypha: A Survey and Analysis

Literature regarding the Sodom and Gomorrah (S&G) narrative spans multiple testaments and bodies of ancient literature, receiving interpretation and narration in the Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, Josephus, and Philo, as well as the Old Testament. The purpose of this blog post is not to examine each reference in depth, but to provide a broad overview of the various references to the S&G narrative within Second Temple literature. Investigation of this topic in the Old Testament ought to be its own blog post (or even series). For our purposes, we will limit our analysis to the Apocrypha. Continue reading “Sodom and Gomorrah in the Apocrypha: A Survey and Analysis”

The New York Times on the Rise of Conditionalism—Al Mohler Responds

New York Times: Conditionalism Gains GroundHow do you know when your small movement is gaining momentum? Perhaps first, you get well-respected thought leaders or cultural icons to adopt and promote your cause. Perhaps next, you find recognition in a well known national or international publication. And finally, in terms of seeing an impact, you begin to receive increasing mention by thought leaders in the community you are trying to influence.
In the past couple of years, and especially in the past few months, that has happened with the theological movement of Conditionalism, and the ministry of Rethinking Hell.
Continue reading “The New York Times on the Rise of Conditionalism—Al Mohler Responds”

Obfuscating Traditionalism: No Eternal Life in Hell?

Historically, traditionalists have not shied away from affirming their belief that the lost will rise from the dead immortal in the sense that they will live forever in hell. While some contemporary traditionalists are comfortable speaking this way, others are not. They appeal on the one hand to the longstanding dominance of their view of hell within the Church as a reason to be skeptical of alternatives, but on the other hand they claim that their predecessors were using biblically imprecise language. Their claim, however, does not hold up under scrutiny. Whether intentional or not, it only obfuscates the truth that their view is one in which the lost will, in fact, live forever—biblically speaking—thus failing to truly rescue it from the answer to the biblical question of immortality. Continue reading “Obfuscating Traditionalism: No Eternal Life in Hell?”

Lessons You Learn as a Conditionalist (Part 1)

Hello everyone,
Having held to this minority Christian view on the doctrine of hell for some time now, I find that it has taught me a lot about things that go far beyond final punishment. I also find that I am not alone in these things. Therefore, I have decided to write some of them down. This is the first installment in what we hope to be an ongoing series here at RethinkingHell. After all, there is always more to learn.
The point of this article is not so much to give further evidence for the evangelical conditionalist view as much as it is to share lessons that can benefit believers of whatever view on hell. It is, of course, inevitable that some examples and statements will promote the conditionalist view; that’s just the nature of the beast. Nevertheless, as you shall see, these lessons are applicable to all kinds of spiritual matters, not just hell.
Continue reading “Lessons You Learn as a Conditionalist (Part 1)”

The Fire Is Not Quenched: Annihilation and Mark 9:48 (Part 2)

A few months ago we took a look at Mark 9:48, in which Jesus quotes Isaiah 66:24 and refers to gehenna as the place where “their worm does not die.” Critics of conditionalism often misquote or misunderstand the idiom as depicting a consuming maggot that eternally feeds upon but never fully consumes its host, and I had explained that quite the opposite is true. Similar to the scavengers of Deuteronomy 28:26 and Jeremiah 7:33 which will not be frightened away and prevented from fully consuming carrion, the worm “will not be prevented by death from fully consuming dead [bodies] … their shame is made permanent and everlasting by being fully consumed.”1
Continue reading “The Fire Is Not Quenched: Annihilation and Mark 9:48 (Part 2)”

  1. Date, C. (2012, July 17). “Their worm does not die: Annihilation and Mark 9:48.” Rethinking Hell [blog]. Retrieved 16 July 2012. []

The meaning of “apollumi” in the Synoptic Gospels

apollumi - the Greek word for "destroy"Does the Greek word for “destroy” – apollumi – really mean destroy in the strong sense that annihilationists think it does? Short answer: yes.
One of the key arguments for annihilationism is the fact that the biblical writers frequently claim that those who are not saved in the end will be destroyed. Why this appears to support annihilationism is fairly self-evident. It’s important to stress that this argument does not only rest on the fact that the word “destruction” or “destroy” is used. The biblical writers, like Jesus, sometimes describe destruction without using that specific word. Images of weeds burned up in a furnace or the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah being utterly consumed by fire also serve this purpose. But just now let’s look specifically at the term “destroy.”
Continue reading “The meaning of “apollumi” in the Synoptic Gospels”

Traditionalism and the (Not So) Second Death

In his apocalyptic vision recorded in the book of Revelation, John sees a lake of fire into which the risen wicked are thrown (20:15). There they join a seven-headed, ten-horned beast, a two-horned beast (the false prophet), and the devil, all three of whom are in eternal torment (20:10). This imagery is often appealed to by proponents of the traditional view of hell, typically treating it incorrectly as if it were a literal description of future events, or offering no justification for assuming that the proper interpretation is one in which the damned will suffer for eternity,1 despite the interpretation offered by “He who sits on the throne” (21:5) which is that the lake of fire is a symbol for “the second death” (21:8).
Conditionalists, recognizing this as the divine interpretation of the cryptic lake of fire imagery, take the interpretation in a quite straightforward way: those who die apart from Christ will rise and die a second time. Traditionalists offer an alternative explanation for the phrase, “the second death.” As the first death is a separation of body and soul, they often argue, so, too, is the second death a separation, one of the whole person from God for eternity (a claim which itself will be examined more closely in the future here at Rethinking Hell). And whereas the first death is physical, they tend to say that the second death is in some way a spiritual one. But in identifying the second death as spiritual death and separation from God, they demonstrate that they don’t really think it’s a “second” death at all.
Continue reading “Traditionalism and the (Not So) Second Death”

  1. For one of several reasons to interpret the imagery otherwise, see Date, C. [2012, July 12]). “Consistency in Preterism: Annihilation and Revelation 20:10Rethinking Hell [blog]. Retrieved 26 August, 2012. []

Worms and Fire: The Rabbis or Isaiah?

Imagine that you had never heard of “hell.” The eternal misery of the damned in dungeons of fire, Dante’s Inferno, Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” you hadn’t heard of any of it. And now imagine that you were about to open a book that tells us what the judgement of God on his enemies will be like. You read this:

The LORD will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to pay back his anger in fury, and his rebuke in flames of fire.

For by fire will the LORD execute judgement, and by his sword, on all flesh; and those slain by the LORD will be many.

From new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the LORD.

And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.

(Isaiah 66:15-16, 23-24)

It’s pretty fearsome stuff, granted, but beyond that, what would you make of it? Endless suffering? Torment forever in the fires of hell? Not likely. Such ideas would never even occur to you when reading a passage like this. Anyone able to read the above passage can see what it describes: Death. Any claim that Isaiah 66 contains anything that would lend support to the doctrine of the eternal torments of the damned in hell is indefensible, even laughable. You cannot find a doctrine like that in this text on the basis of any standard methods of responsible exegesis. Continue reading “Worms and Fire: The Rabbis or Isaiah?”

Their Worm Does Not Die: Annihilation and Mark 9:48

Phaenicia sericata larva ("maggot")
In my recent response to Matt Chandler’s otherwise praiseworthy The Explicit Gospel, I criticized what I believe to be several mistakes Chandler makes concerning final punishment. One of them, I argued, was that in citing Jesus’ words in Mark 9:48 Chandler fails to point out that the passage Jesus quotes “explicitly says that it is corpses whose ‘worm will not die’.”1 I made the claim that “The idiom communicates the shame of having one’s corpse unburied, and arguably the irresistible and complete consumption of those corpses by maggots.”
Many traditionalists, however, who do point out that the hosts of Isaiah’s undying worms were corpses, nevertheless insist that the imagery supports the traditional view of hell. Whether they believe maggots will literally feed upon the bodies of the wicked for eternity—albeit living, immortal bodies—or whether they believe the idiom symbolically points toward an eternity of conscious torment, either way it is argued that the text of Isaiah, quoted by Jesus, depicts ever-consuming worms which never die. The fire that isn’t quenched will be the subject of a future post here at Rethinking Hell; in the meantime, let us take a look at the gruesome idiom that is its parallel.
Continue reading “Their Worm Does Not Die: Annihilation and Mark 9:48”

  1. Date, C. (2012, July 15). “Explicit Mistakes: A Response to Matt Chandler.” Rethinking Hell [blog]. Retrieved 15 July 2012. []

Consistency in Preterism: Annihilation and Revelation 20:10

The nature of final punishment is a topic which falls under the theological category of eschatology, the study of last things. Also discussed as part of that category is the timing of the fulfillment of certain biblical prophecies, such as the coming of the Son of Man foretold by Jesus in his Olivet discourse, the nature and activity of the beast of Revelation, and so forth. Perhaps constituting the majority view of the church in America today, futurists believe that most of these prophecies will be fulfilled in our future; preterists like me, on the other hand, believe most of these prophecies—but not all of them1—were fulfilled in our past, specifically in the first century surrounding the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in A.D. 70.

As I mentioned in a previous article, there’s a strong argument to be made in favor of conditionalism from the apocalyptic imagery of death and Hades in Revelation chapter 20. This argument carries force regardless of one’s eschatological position concerning the timing of prophetic events, and I will make that argument in the future here at Rethinking Hell. In the meantime, however, because of my interest in this particular eschatological persuasion, I want to reach out to my fellow preterists and make a bold, provocative and controversial statement: You can’t be a consistent preterist unless you’re also a conditionalist.

Continue reading “Consistency in Preterism: Annihilation and Revelation 20:10”

  1. I’m referring to what was historically termed preterism, which has in recent years been unfortunately called “partial” preterism. I am not a hyper- or “full” preterist. For more information, listen to Episode 3 of my friend Dee Dee Warren’s podcast or read her article, “Perfuming the Hog.” []