Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth Do Not Indicate Eternal Torment

“There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth!”

If you already had in mind the idea that hell is a place of everlasting conscious punishment, then it is understandable that when you hear someone say hell involves “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” you would imagine that phrase referring to the terrible torments in this place of everlasting conscious punishment.1 Some translations say “wailing and gnashing of teeth,” but the difference is immaterial.

But if we want to look at what the Bible actually teaches about hell, we must not simply assume that that it teaches what we already believe. And when we look at it more closely, it becomes clear that the refrain that “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” does not so clearly mean what many initially think it means.2 See Matthew 8:12, 13:42, 13:50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30, Luke 13:28.3 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.

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1. Some translations say “wailing and gnashing of teeth,” but the difference is immaterial.
2. See Matthew 8:12, 13:42, 13:50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30, Luke 13:28.
3.  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.

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.


Continue reading “The Many and Varied Problems with the Modern, Metaphorical View of Eternal Conscious Hell”

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 Jude 7 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.1Recall in Part 1 that there is a conditionalist interpretation of “eternal fire” in Jude 7 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” (Deuteronomy 4:24, Hebrews 12:29).

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 Jude 7 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” (Deuteronomy 4:24, Hebrews 12:29).

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

Matthew 25:41 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.1Of 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.”

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.”

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, Mark 9:43-48, most notably verse 48, 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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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.

Daniel 12:2 Does Not Teach Eternal Torment

Daniel 12:2 and “Eternal Contempt”1Adapted From The Bible Teaches Annihilationism by Joseph Dear, Section XX.

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,2Psalm 37:2. or that call for them to melt away like slugs,3Psalm 58:8. 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 Daniel 12:2:

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. Psalm 37:2.
3. Psalm 58:8.

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.1This is true for both Protestant and Catholic Bibles, as typically arranged. 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 (Malachi 4.1-3, 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?2Portions of this article are adapted from The Bible Teaches Annihilationism by Joseph Dear, Section XXXIX.
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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.

Rethinking Hell Conference—Next Month in Auckland!

This year’s Rethinking Hell Conference is in Auckland, New Zealand, on July 15th. There’s only a few more weeks to go—we look forward to seeing you there!
As we explore our theme, “Conditional Immortality: The Unfinished Business of the Reformation,” we’ll hear from a number of exciting speakers, including Rethinking Hell‘s own Chris Date! Joining him will be our Australian and New Zealand speakers, including well-known philosopher-theologians Dr. Matthew Flannagan and Dr. Glenn Peoples. Matthew teaches philosophy and theology at St. Peter’s College, Auckland, and his areas of expertise include Philosophy of Religion, and the field of Old Testament Ethics, about which he has co-authored a number of popular books with others such as Paul Copan and William Lane Craig. Glenn’s areas of expertise include Christology, religion in the public square, ethics, and the doctrine of hell. His writings in these areas are available in various books and journals (including our own two books), and also, together with social commentary, at his website, Right Reason.
Rev. Ian Packer is a Baptist minister and lecturer in Theology and Ethics at Morling College in Sydney, Australia. Previously, he served as Director of Public Theology at the Australian Evangelical Alliance, Assistant Director of the EA’s Centre for Christianity and Society, and as part of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance. Ian will be speaking to us about hell and conditionalism through the lens of public theology and ethics, drawing on his knowledge of evangelicalism in the region and around the world.
We’re also very excited to hear from Rev. Dr. David Powys, a Bible Scholar and Anglican minister at St. John’s in Melbourne, Australia. David’s academic work on Hell has been recommended by J.I. Packer and others, and his monograph, “Hell: A Hard Look at a Hard Question: The Fate of the Unrighteous in New Testament Thought” is recommended reading for serious students of the topic.
 

Time is running out to grab your tickets!
You can grab them now from the conference website.

 

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. Continue reading “It’s Easy to Miss Something You’re Not Looking For (Including in the Bible)”