Third Edition of The Fire That Consumes Now Available

In addition to an explosion of blog activity, recent months have seen a spate of hastily published books, written in response to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. For instance, here, here, and here—and who said evangelicals tend to overreact?

In the midst of all this hoopla, the long-awaited third edition of The Fire That Consumes by Dr. Edward Fudge has been released with little fanfare. Fully updated, revised and expanded, the third edition is a major rewrite forwarded by Richard Bauckham. Completely updated with current scholarship, this edition notably includes responses to 17 authors of 12 traditionalist books written in response to The Fire That Consumes since 1982.

Now available through the publisher’s website and Amazon.

Posted in conditionalism, Edward Fudge | 2 Comments

Jim Warner Wallace on Matthew 25:46

Jim Wallace, host of the Podcast, recently devoted a number of episodes to the doctrine of hell. Of special interest to me is his May 9 episode, particularly a lengthy portion (from around 28:00 to 54:00) where he discusses conditionalism (which he refers to as annihilationism).

Wallace’s basic argument for traditionalism, over and against annihilationism, is that while most of the biblical passages about future punishment can be interpreted either way, there is one verse that unequivocally teaches the traditional view. Not surprisingly, that one verse is Matthew 25:46 (And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life). “It doesn’t give us any wiggle,” he says. “That’s firm. I can’t bend that one; I cant find a way to bring that into the camp of annihilationists.”

There is so much that could be said about Wallace’s presentation, but I’ll restrict my commentary to his discussion of Matthew 25:46. The relevant portion starts at about 46:40, where he responds to the argument that Matthew 25:46 poses no threat to annihilationism because annihilation (permanent death) is a legitimate example of punishment that is everlasting. He raises three objections to this assertion.

Wallace’s first response is that the word translated “punishment” (kolasis) simply means torment, and therefore could not refer to death or annihilation: “You can’t be tormented if you’re annihilated. You might say that annihilation is punishment for something; you could say ‘well annihilation is a form of punishment,’ OK, is it a form of torment?”

He asserts that kolasis means “a kind of penal infliction that’s ongoing.” Twice he claims, without substantiation, that kolasis is “often” translated as torment. He can’t mean often in Scripture, because the word is found only twice in the New Testament, and in all modern translations is rendered as “punishment” in both instances.

I know of no translation that renders kolasis in Matthew 25:46 as “torment.” It is true that, in some older translations (notably the AV), kolasis, when used in 1 John 4:18 is erroneously translated as “torment,” but this has been corrected in every modern translation that I’m aware of. While kolasis may be used to refer to torment (in the same way that “punishment” might refer to torment in a certain context), it simply need not mean torment in every context. This is borne out in contemporary, scholarly lexicons, but I think can conclusively be demonstrated by the fact that 2 Maccabees 4:38 uses the word to describe a person being slain:

Inflamed with anger, he immediately stripped Andronicus of his purple robe, tore off his other garments, and had him led through the whole city to the very place where he had committed the outrage against Onias; and there he put the murderer to death. Thus the Lord rendered him the punishment [kolasis] he deserved.

The problem, I think, is that Wallace is relying exclusively on New Strong’s Concordance. While undoubtedly helpful for some applications, Strong’s is not a scholarly lexicon, and should not be used as one. It’s probably the case that Strong defined kolasis as “torment” simply because the AV translators rendered kolasis as “torment” in 1 John 4:18.

Wallace’s second objection is that if Matthew (or Jesus) believed that everlasting punishment would consist of death or annihilation, he would not have chosen a word like “punishment,” but rather would have used “death” or “destruction.” He avers, “It’s not as though Matthew is unfamiliar with the word.” Later he says, “Matthew could have used the word ‘death,’ but chose not to” and “Matthew has used that word before, he certainly could have used it here.”

Unfortunately for Wallace, this argument cuts with equal force against traditionalism: Matthew could have used the word “torment” (basanizo), but chose not to. After all, it is not as though Matthew was unfamiliar with the word; he used it in Matthew 8:29. Why is it that, for such a weighty issue, Scripture overwhelmingly uses expressions such as death, die, perish, slay, destroy, destruction, consume, burn up, pass away, fade away, be no more, and so forth to describe the fate of the unsaved? Why didn’t Paul, in Romans 6:23, just say that the wages of sin is eternal torment? Why didn’t John, in John 3:16, just say that whoever believes in him should not be tormented forever, but have everlasting life? Examples could be multiplied for pages. I really don’t think this is a game that any traditionalist wants to play.

Wallace’s final response is to say that the notion of eternal death is “nonsensical” (although he probably means something like “redundant”):

That is nonsensical; it’d be like saying “dark blackness.” You wouldn’t use the adjective “dark” in front of “blackness” because you know that blackness assumes darkness . . . there is no reason to put the word “eternal” in front of “death”; we all get that that is inherent in the idea of death—that it’s forever [laughs]. So that you would never use the adjective “eternal” in front of “death”.

This is simply false. The first century Jewish understanding of death was not that it was eternal, but rather temporary. Martha, in John 11:24 echoes the predominant Jewish view by affirming that her brother Lazarus would rise again at the resurrection.

So eternality is not inherent in the idea of death. Biblically, the first death is a temporary sleep that God will reverse at the resurrection. By contrast, the second death is an everlasting death that will never be reversed.

Matthew 25:46 is not the magic bullet verse that Wallace and others take it to be. Both traditionalists and conditionalists affirm what it teaches: that whatever form future punishment takes, it will certainly last forever (thus ruling out universalism). The nature of that everlasting punishment must then be ascertained from other passages. It fascinates me that Matthew 25:46 is so frequently touted as the strongest verse in support of everlasting torment, even though it doesn’t actually mention torment. In a strange way, however, I agree. Matthew 25:46 is one of the strongest passages used to support everlasting torment; that’s exactly why I’m not a traditionalist!

As an aside, I do appreciate the fact that Wallace recognizes that the “soul” spoken of in Matthew 10:28 does not refer to some immortal, immaterial “spirit”. There goes one of the most frequently cited proof-texts used in support of dualism!

Posted in annihilationism, bad arguments, conditionalism | 2 Comments

Good Friday

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

R.C. Sproul on Hell: Wrong Five Times in Just Four Paragraphs

I recently ran across a blog entry entitled R.C. Sproul on Hell. The post is just an excerpt from one of Sproul’s books, prefaced by a comment that the selection is “a great treatment on the doctrine of Hell.” While I’m accustomed to shoddy work in this area, I think Sproul has set the bar pretty low here, which is especially surprising considering the blog author’s glowing endorsement and the fact that Sproul is, in general, a pretty careful thinker.

Sproul is actually wrong more than five times. His last sentence, for example, assumes a faulty view of the intermediate state, but that’s a debatable issue that would require quite a bit of space to bear out. Below is the actual text under consideration. Bolding and brackets have been added to indicate the claims in dispute. [1] through [5] are easily shown, I think, to be in error. [A] and [B] are more speculative claims that I won’t say are necessarily false, but deserve comment nonetheless.

The doctrine of eternal punishment, though unpopular and frightening, is part of the confession of every branch of the historic Christian church. [1] Only in the last century, under the influence of liberalism, have some reinterpreted the doctrine. While some flatly deny hell’s existence, others understand it to be a temporary place of purging or punishment. Others advocate annihilationism, in which God ends the existence of the unrepentant soul. Such theologies seek to escape or mitigate the implications of eternal punishment.

[2] The fact is, however, that virtually every statement in the Bible concerning hell comes from the lips of Jesus Christ. We cannot take Jesus seriously without also taking seriously what he said regarding eternal punishment.

There is very little about hell in the Old Testament [3] and very little in the Epistles. [A] It is almost as if God decided that a teaching this frightening would not be received from any lesser authority than that of his own Son.

[4] Jesus chose the most dreadful images he could find to describe the reality of hell. One is the image of darkness, which emphasizes separation from God. Another is that of fire, [5] or a lake of fire. I believe that the lake of fire is a symbol and that the reality is far worse than the symbol. [B] The wicked who are now experiencing the wrath of God would do anything to jump into a mere lake of fire.

1. Even if we give Sproul the benefit of the doubt, and assume that by “the last century” he means the 19th century, he would still be wrong. Anyone who disputes this can read Al Mohler’s chapter in Hell Under Fire. There we have an evangelical, contributing to a book that seeks to defend the traditional view of hell, who acknowledges that a variety of views have been held prior to the 19th century.

2. This is simply false, unless Sproul means that virtually every biblical reference to Gehenna comes from the lips of Jesus. If by “hell” Sproul means the ultimate end of the unsaved then the entire Bible has much to say about it—it just doesn’t say what he expects it to say.

3. The claim about the Old Testament is the subject of heated debate, but I have honestly never heard a traditionalist say that the Epistles have very little to say about hell. Doug Moo rejects this notion outright in his oft-quoted contribution to Hell Under Fire:

On the basis of a concordance, one might expect an article on Paul’s teaching about hell to be very short. In most English versions, the word “hell” never appears in the letters of Paul. And for good reason: Paul never uses the Greek words usually translated “hell” (geenna and hadēs). But this book is not about the word “hell” but about the doctrine of hell. If that doctrine is defined as teaching about the ultimate destiny of the wicked, then Paul says much about it.

4. If Sproul thinks that darkness and fire are the most dreadful images that Jesus could find, then may I suggest that Sproul believes our savior to have a deficient imagination. A quick skim through Dante’s Inferno will show that one can easily conjure up images much more dreadful than mere darkness and fire.

5. Jesus never spoke of a lake of fire. This is imagery from the book of Revelation. I can’t understand how Sproul would get something like this wrong. If Sproul does know that this imagery is from Revelation, then that would nullify his speculation found in [A]. It would also mean that by “hell” Sproul does not just mean references to Gehenna.

A. This claim is somewhat speculative (“it’s almost as if . . . “), but it does seem to echo the sentiment (also found in [2] and extremely common in traditionalist literature) that the words of Jesus are somehow more true or more important than the rest of Scripture. On a hunch, I searched the website of Ligonier Ministries (Sproul’s organization) and found the following in a FAQ section regarding their Reformation Study Bible:

We have chosen not to use red-lettering in the RSB for a few reasons. Red-lettering is a fairly recent tradition used by some (but not all) Bible publishers. The original Greek texts of the New Testament did not use red-lettering or any other means to distinguish Christ’s words, and the use of red-lettering can sometimes unintentionally lead readers to the conclusion that Christ’s words are more important or more inspired than the rest of the Bible (emphasis mine).

Oops! 🙂

B. If anyone thought that the traditional view of hell couldn’t be more horrific, Sproul somehow finds a way to make it worse. One must wonder what place there could possibly be for degrees of punishment if everyone in hell will suffer a fate that is literally worse than burning in a lake of fire for eternity.

Far from being a “great treatment” on hell, this is one of the most sloppy, inaccurate, and just poorly thought out pieces that I’ve read recently.

Update: I just ran across a blog post on a different site that also merely quotes R.C. Sproul on hell. This excerpt is from a different publication, but it contains many of the same errors. Sadly, some people are evidently not interested in thinking through these issues carefully—it’s enough for them to uncritically cite a evangelical celebrity who happens to take their view.

Posted in history, sloppy scholarship | 7 Comments

A Brief Word on Terminology

A quick word on “conditionalism” vs “annihilationism”

On this blog I will be using the terms synonymously to refer to the view that the impenitent will one day be completely destroyed.  I prefer conditionalism over annihilationism, if you couldn’t tell already from the domain name. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Annihilationism is sometimes associated with a particular view that denies the resurrection of the lost. In other words, the unsaved are permanently and immediately destroyed at death.

2. Annihilate is not a biblical term. Scripture uses expressions such as perish or destroy to describe the fate of the lost. Most English translations use annihilate rarely, if at all. Now, while I do believe that the lost will one day cease to exist, I want to be able to avoid objections like, “perish doesn’t mean annihilate!” and focus on more substantive issues.

3. Annihilationism tends to open up my view to the caricature that the lost will simply “poof out of existence,” which seems to leave little room for penal suffering or degrees of punishment. This is possibly due to an association of the term with the view described above (in 1.) See, for instance, Alexander Pruss’s characterization of annihilationism here.

4. Conditional immortality (or, conditionalism) gets at the heart of what I think is the primary theological motivation behind the traditional view; mainly that all human beings are unconditionally immortal–either because immortality is an intrinsic attribute of the soul, or because God simply intends on sustaining all human beings forever.

None of this is to say that conditionalism is an ideal expression. If I could, I might coin my own term; “destructionism.” That, I think, would be an apt characterization of my view that could avoid a lot of the confusion caused by these other expressions.

[Edit: apparently, “destructionism” was a term that was in vogue in the 19th century 🙂 Nothing new under the sun..]

Posted in annihilationism, conditionalism, terminology | 3 Comments

Conditionalism and The Second Council of Constantinople

I can’t count the number of times I’ve read the claim that conditionalism was condemned as heresy at the Second Council of Constantinople. Most recently, I encountered the claim here. As usual, the assertion is not substantiated with an actual citation from the council.

To the best of my knowledge, the alleged condemnation comes from a section called The Anathematisms of the Emperor Justinian Against Origen. The relevant text comes exclusively from anathematism IX:

If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema.

A few obvious observations:

1. Origen was not a conditionalist. This alone should be a tip-off that this portion of the council is unrelated to conditionalism.
2. What is condemned here is clearly universal restoration.
3. Conditionalists affirm eternal punishment. To anyone who disputes this, I suggest you read Henry Constable’s classic treatment of the subject, The Duration and Nature of Future Punishment (1871). The first chapter is entitled “Future Punishment is Eternal”.

Christopher Morgan makes this claim on page 197 of Hell Under Fire, which is interesting because just a few chapters earlier, Albert Mohler quotes the ninth anathematism while clearly explaining that it was directed against Origen’s universalism (this isn’t the only instance that certain authors of the book seem to be unfamiliar with the contributions of the other authors, but I’ll write about that later).

Humorously, this traditionalist blogger quotes the anathematism but replaces the clause about restoration with ellipses! I can’t help but think that’s at least slightly dishonest.

If anyone is aware of another part of the Council that explicitly condemns conditionalism, I’d be happy to see it. As for the only section that I’ve ever seen quoted in the defense of the claim, Justinian did not condemn conditionalism; he condemned universalism.

Posted in conditionalism, history, sloppy scholarship | 14 Comments