I cannot count the number of times I have witnessed critics of conditionalism point to Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man as a challenge to our view. I understand and respect one explanation offered by some of my fellow conditionalists, even if I don’t yet affirm it: They would say that the parable borrows from a then-contemporary Jewish folktale of sorts in order to teach a moral lesson having to do with social inequality and is not intended to communicate anything about the conscious suffering of people like the rich man in the story. Unfortunately, however, traditionalists who find this explanation dubious think their challenge stands. Because of this, when my view of final punishment is objected to on the basis of this parable, I stress a different point: It’s not about final punishment.
Conditionalists frequently respond to the traditionalist argument from Mark 9:48’s undying worm and unquenchable fire. What doesn’t appear to come up as often, however, are Jesus’ words which immediately follow verse 48: “For everyone will be salted with fire.” Occasionally this verse is pointed to in defense of the traditional view of hell. As John Gill writes,1Gill, J. (1999). “Commentary on Mark 9:49.” New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible.
that fire shall be to them, what salt is to flesh; as that keeps flesh from putrefaction and corruption, so the fire of hell, as it will burn, torture, and distress rebellious sinners, it will preserve them in their beings; they shall not be consumed by it, but continued in it: so that these words are a reason of the former, showing and proving, that the soul in torment shall never die, or lose any of its powers and faculties;
Leading up to my recent debate, when my opponent asked me how I understand this verse I did not yet have an answer. But with the help of some friends and fellow conditionalists I developed a confident response—and I’m glad I did because it came up briefly during cross-examination. Here I’ll explain in further detail the answer I gave.
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