Prolepsis and Hell: A Matter of Life and Death – Part 2

In Part 1, we went over prolepsis as a figure of speech, and how it plays out in few occasions within the Bible. Now, the question we must address is how this affects the Bible’s teachings on hell.

As far as the importance of prolepsis goes, it largely comes down, as it so often does, to what the Bible says about death and life. 1 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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References
1 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.

Introduction to Evangelical Conditionalism: Death and Life in the Bible (Part 3)

Part 3 will address one final issue that may come up here, as well as tie up loose ends and bring this look at “life” and “death” to a close. This final issue will likely receive fuller treatment in the future, but for now, I think we can understand what needs to be understood.

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Introduction to Evangelical Conditionalism: Death and Life in the Bible (Part 2)

At Rethinking Hell, we put great emphasis on the fact that conditionalism does not stand or fall on a specific view of the intermediate state, or a specific view of the human soul. We were all conceived as physical beings, we are born as physical beings, and one way or another, core to Christianity is the belief that however long we live after judgment, we live as physical beings into the age to come. Ultimately, the question of the soul and the intermediate state does directly affect the nature of hell.

That said, the intermediate state, the time between the death of the body and the resurrection (when it is usually believed that the soul is still alive – and I phrase it that way on purpose), does impact our discussion about how the Bible speaks of death and life. That will be the focus in Part 2.

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Prolepsis and Hell: A Matter of Life and Death – Part 1

Prolepsis. It’s not a word that the average person uses in day-to-day life, but it is an idea that we are all familiar with. 1 The following has been adapted from a blog post on my 3-Ring Binder blog on October 5, 2016 titled “Prolepsis and the Bible: When Future Events Are Spoken of As Current Reality.” Used with permission.

The idea behind prolepsis is quite simple. Merriam-Webster defines it primarily as “the representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished.”

There are times when future events are described as being present realities. This is true in life and in the scriptures. And this is especially important when evaluating any argument made that says because the Bible speaks of something in the present tense, it therefore is saying that whatever is being spoken of is in fact a present reality.

This common figure of speech applies to the many things in scripture, and hell is no exception. Most notably, language of death and life in the Bible follows this pattern. Missing this can cause one to impose onto the Bible strange and baseless definitions of terms like “life” and “death,” often while mistakenly believing that they are in fact the ones taking the language literally or in a straightforward manner.

Before we see how this plays out in the hell discussion, it is important to get a good grip of what prolepsis is and how it plays out, both in scripture and outside of it. This is because the relationship between prolepsis and the question of hell is largely an extension of its relationship to the rest of the Bible and the doctrines within it.
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References
1 The following has been adapted from a blog post on my 3-Ring Binder blog on October 5, 2016 titled “Prolepsis and the Bible: When Future Events Are Spoken of As Current Reality.” Used with permission.

Evangelical Conditionalism and Degrees of Punishment In Hell – Part 2

Having examined the underwhelming biblical case for eternal torment over evangelical conditionalism based on degrees of punishment in Part 1, a number of philosophical questions about God’s justice remain.

In Light of Eternity, Few Christians See Final Punishment As Truly Proportional

The traditionalist case is that final punishment is really only just if a worse sinner has a worse fate than a less wicked sinner, and that worse fate continues to be worse throughout eternity. Annihilation, of course, does not meet that standard.

However, this standard is not nearly as strong as it may sound at first. It is not a biblical view, so it does not have the firm, objective basis of scripture. Beyond that, eternal torment, within the framework of a Christian worldview, must concede more to the annihilationist view than many traditionalists realize. The effects of eternity and the concept of infinity take a lot of the force out of the traditionalist case here.
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Evangelical Conditionalism and Degrees of Punishment In Hell – Part 1

A common argument against evangelical conditionalism, part biblical and part philosophical, is that the Bible and basic justice teach that not all sinners will be punished with the exact same severity. 1Harry Buis, The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1957), 39. 2Robert Morey, Death and the Afterlife, (Bethany House, 1984), 154. 3John Walvoord, “The Literal View” in Four Views on Hell, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and William Crockett (Zondervan, 1996), 21.

From both the biblical and philosophical standpoints, I will say that the argument for eternal torment and against annihilationism, based on degrees of punishment, would have a lot more weight if:

  1. Evangelical conditionalism entailed that all the wicked were instantly annihilated at death without any conscious awareness of anything leading up to their final end, and:
  2. The traditional view did not, for the most part, entail the belief that even a single sin of any sort warrants infinite punishment and infinite pain and suffering. 4Regarding the view that a single sin only warrants finite punishment but the damned sin continually in hell, Part 2. 5 Portions adapted from Joseph Dear. The Bible Teaches Annihilationism (n.d.), Section XXIV, found at 3-Ring Binder, n.d., https://www.3ringbinder.org/uploads/1/9/1/0/1910989/the_bible_teaches_annihilationism__1st_edition_pdf_version__final.pdf (accessed on April 24, 2020).

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References
1 Harry Buis, The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1957), 39.
2 Robert Morey, Death and the Afterlife, (Bethany House, 1984), 154.
3 John Walvoord, “The Literal View” in Four Views on Hell, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and William Crockett (Zondervan, 1996), 21.
4 Regarding the view that a single sin only warrants finite punishment but the damned sin continually in hell, Part 2.
5 Portions adapted from Joseph Dear. The Bible Teaches Annihilationism (n.d.), Section XXIV, found at 3-Ring Binder, n.d., https://www.3ringbinder.org/uploads/1/9/1/0/1910989/the_bible_teaches_annihilationism__1st_edition_pdf_version__final.pdf (accessed on April 24, 2020).

Do Annihilationists Believe that People Cease to Exist? (It Depends – and That’s Okay)

Does annihilationism mean that people cease to exist?

The fact is, there are often two different meanings of existence and the ceasing thereof at play when this question arises. For that reason, it is important that we define our terms and not equivocate.

The First Definition

The first idea involves a sort of brute, cosmic obliteration that destroys even the atoms a person was made of. Annihilationism does not necessarily deny this sort of ceasing to exist per se, but at the very least, this sense of complete annihilation is not necessary for evangelical conditionalism or annihilationism to be true.

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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. These are 5 Flossing Mistakes You Didn’t Know About for your hygiene care.

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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References
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.

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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.

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References
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).