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God, Thats Not Fair - The Search for Alternatives

We react against the thought of a God of love sending anyone to hell, and many
understandably would like to believe something different. No Christian would want to rejoice in
the prospect of men facing eternity without Christ, without hope. We naturally recoil from this
possibility, and as a result many have looked for some alternative understanding of the heathens
position before God (Preece 1979: 40). Hanegraaff echoes this sentiment: The horrors of hell are
such that they cause us instinctively to recoil in disbelief and doubt (2000: 77). But to what degree
is the current reaction in certain evangelical circles against the traditional concept of hell a sign of
moving with the times, the invasion of the Church by secular relativistic ideologies, rather than a
sincere attempt to weigh our thoughts against Scripture? Or worse still, as the German evangelist
Reinhard Bonnke suggests, is it rather that we can even devise interpretations of the Scriptures
themselves which let us off the hook and quiet our consciences about the lost (1989: 52)? Can
other views of the nature of hell not be seen instead as legitimate interpretations of Scripture that tie
in with our moral understanding of God, and in no way reduce our commitment to the universal
proclamation of the gospel? We must give some time to looking at these views.
Historically, there have been three major interpretations of the nature of hell which have
enjoyed various degrees of acceptance amongst Christians1: universalism, or the ultimate salvation
of all; unending conscious torment for the wicked; and annihilationism, or the final destruction of
the wicked2. As Bruce notes, there is no unanimity among evangelical Christians, going on to
suggest that it thus may be inferred that the biblical evidence is not unambiguous (Fudge 1982:
vii). This being the case, it is good to start our analysis calling for a healthy dose of charity when
dealing with those who do not hold to our own views. It may also be time to lay aside the assertion
that evangelicals must hold to one particular view in order to be deemed orthodox3.
On what grounds do Christian believers today reject the traditional doctrine of the nature of
hell? Firstly, on philosophical grounds. Is it just, for example, that God should punish 70 years of
sin with an eternity of suffering4? Is it right to conceive as God not being able to destroy creatures
he made5? Others look to moral reasons for choosing to embrace alternatives. What kind of God
would neither let men live nor die? The thought of contemplating the suffering of the wicked
throughout eternity is simply unacceptable to some, who would also draw attention to Gods own
suffering if this were the case6. An eternal hell would thus remove the final happiness from heaven7.
Finally, theological objections are also advanced. Belief in the immortality of the soul would appear
to be fundamental to acceptance of eternal punishment, but many maintain that this is a belief rooted
in Greek philosophy which cannot be proved from Scripture8. If this is removed, other alternatives
become more possible. Much debate thus centres round the exact interpretation of the various terms
for immortal, of other key words such as ai)wn& ioj (aionios) meaning eternal, the correct
interpretation of specific texts, specifically those on the lips of Jesus in the gospels, and the
symbolic weight that must be given to texts from the book of Revelation.
Universalism, sometimes known as the doctrine of a)pokata&stasij (apokatastasis), the
restitution of all things, was first clearly taught by Origen, who believed that God would
ultimately be all in all, a state somehow achieved through a change in the elemental substance of
the universe itself (De Principiis, I.vi.1-4). He even goes so far as to suggest that death itself would
be redeemed:
The destruction of the last enemy, indeed, is to be understood, not as if its substance, which was formed by God,
is to perish, but because its mind and hostile will, which came not from God, but from itself, are to be destroyed.
Its destruction, therefore, will not be its non-existence, but its ceasing to be an enemy, and (to be) death. For
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nothing is impossible to the Omnipotent, nor is anything incapable of restoration to its Creator. (De Principiis,
III.vi.5)9

Theologically, the salvation of all men and women is grounded in the all of texts such as Romans
5.18 and 11.32, or the cosmological restoration of all things (therefore including the salvation of
all) in 1 Corinthians 15.28 and Ephesians 1.9,10. Once condemned by Augustine, and formally
anathematised in 533, universalism has remained a marginal position, being virtually totally ignored
till after the Reformation, since when it has received some renewed attention. It is supported today
mainly by catholic theologians, who maintain that God, as sovereign, will eventually be able to
bring all things under his power10. I would concur with the conclusions of a recent evangelical
study that while rejecting universalism as a theological position, we would nevertheless emphasise
that Gods mercy might extend further than we can legitimately contemplate (ACUTE 2000: 34)11.
For those evangelicals rejecting belief in hell as conscious unending suffering then, the
alternative to universalism is annihilationism. Simply put, annihilationism teaches that the eternal
fate of those who have not attained salvation12 is one of total destruction, though there is little
agreement on the exact timing of this event13, nor the degree of punishment it may involve. Hell
exists, but as a furnace of destruction for those who refuse to live in Gods grace. This teaching is
inextricably linked to teaching on the mortality of the soul, and the claim that traditionalist
interpretations of Jesus words on hell are based on the acceptance of the Platonic doctrine of the
souls inherent immortality rather than on any explicit Biblical teaching on the subject. The
following pages give a brief overview of the most pertinent arguments 14.
The background of the majority of evangelical Christians presupposes the immortality of the
soul, and the Bible is read in this light. Upon closer analysis, however, most are surprised at the
total lack of explicit teaching of this nature in the Bible, and the weight of the evidence would
appear to teach something different. Neither the Hebrew term #$penE (nephesh) nor the Greek
yuxh& (psyche) demand inherent immortality, and specific texts do in fact say the opposite: the
soul that sins will die (Ezekiel 18.4,2015), and Jesus words about those not able to kill the soul,
whereas God can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matthew 10.28) come to mind. If we add to
this the fact that God alone is immortal (1 Timothy 6.16;1.17), that immortality was brought to
light by Jesus Christ through the gospel (2 Timothy 1.10), and that Paul states that God would
give eternal life to those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, we
begin to understand why conditional immortality is an apt term for this belief. Only God is
immortal, and part of our salvation is to share in his nature, including his immortality16. This is
nowhere promised to unbelievers, so perhaps it is better to think of their punishment as being
extinguished, rather than tormented, for eternity.
The Old Testament says little about the nature of life after death. lwO)#$; (sheol) and its
Septuagint counterpart a#dhj (hades) find no easy translation, expressing simply the shadowy
existence beyond the grave, but certainly must not be equated with our modern concept of hell.
The realm of the dead may be an adequate interpretative translation in the majority of instances17.
The nature of life after death was simply not of great interest to the Hebrew mind until Daniel and
later apocalyptic literature. The vague hope of resurrection that is present was developed in
intertestamental literature, which gradually grew to view a distinction between destinations for the
departed according to their lives here. Thus sheol was somehow divided into two, the bosom of
Abraham or paradise for the believer, and Gehenna for the wicked, or simply hades itself.
Basic concepts of theodicy, justice and retribution were developed during this time, in which it
became clear that some kind of punishment for Gods enemies must exist, and reward for his
people18. It must be stressed that there was no uniformity of views during this period, but this rich
variety must provide the background for our understanding of New Testament teaching19.
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The New Testament brings clarity onto the subject, mainly through the personal teaching of
the Lord Jesus Christ. Here, resurrection is presented as the peculiarly Christian hope, not
deliverance from hell to those who would survive the grave anyway. Jesus presents the fate of the
wicked in terms that would have been readily understood by his listeners, comparing their final
destiny with Gehenna, the valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem that was used as a site for all
purpose waste disposal, including the corpses of those that were denied burial20. It was a place that
was alive with maggots that fed on the decomposing matter, and was kept continually burning to
destroy its contents. Jesus draws on language from Isaiah 66 for the imagery he applies to Gehenna,
in a scene that represents quite simply the destruction of Gods enemies. It is important to note that
this chapter unequivocally talks of the dead bodies of Gods enemies, and is not describing any
conscious torment. Gehenna was a place where rubbish was destroyed, and Jesus words imply the
same fate for those that refuse Gods offer of salvation. The fire and the worm are unstoppable, not
because they are continually being refuelled by some miraculous process, but simply to show that
they will fully fulfil their role of destroyers, and nothing will nor can stop this process. Though
the fire and the worm continue, that which was thrown in ceases to exist. There is no hope for those
who find themselves here; total destruction is their only fate21. Just as we interpret Jesus words in
these passages about gouging out eyes or lopping off limbs as hyperbole, we would be unwise
to attempt to build too much doctrine on the continued existence of gnawing worms and unceasing
flames.
Other New Testament Scriptures add to the picture. Of particular importance to our
understanding of the fire of hell is Judes reference to Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of
those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. Sodom was destroyed in but a moment, and what
lingered on was not the suffering of its inhabitants, but smoke rising from the desolation of what no
longer existed - a mute testimony to what had been, but was no longer. Peter saw this burning to
ashes as an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly (2 Peter 2.6), and the parallel with
Jesus picture of Gehenna is clear: the punishment of the wicked is to be consumed in unquenchable
fire.
The example of Sodom and Gomorrah leads naturally to discussion of the question of the
eternal nature of the punishment of hell. Most Christian commentators have simply presumed that
the suffering of hell would be eternal in the same way that the bliss of heaven is and this
presumption has formed the basis of modern belief on the subject22. Conditionalists would maintain
that the fire that destroyed the city was in no way eternal, but that its effects were, and totally
irreversible. Fudge maintains that the Hebrew term Mlfw( (olam) and the corresponding Greek
term ai)wn& ioj (aionios) can be used to describe the results of a process, not just the process
itself23. Thus eternal life and eternal death refer in principle to the duration of the respective
reward or punishment, and in no way reflect on the need for that punishment to be conscious. The
unbeliever is destroyed for all eternity.
In looking at the subject, it is important to note not just the texts that speak of hell, but the
texts that do not! The subject is curiously absent from Pauls epistles, where we find but one
reference to everlasting destruction, and being shut out from the presence of the Lord,
expressions that can be made to harmonise with either interpretation, though the term destruction
perhaps favour annihilationism, as even Peterson admits (Fudge and Peterson 2000: 150). Neither
does the book of Acts attempt to reveal the nature of hell, simply speaking of the reality of Gods
judgement. We will note the significance of this fact later.
Finally, some comment must be given to the texts in the book of Revelation that speak in no
uncertain terms about the punishment the devil, the false prophet and the beast receive, with graphic
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images, in true apocalyptic style, of their being thrown into a lake of burning sulphur where they
would be tormented day and night for ever and ever (20.10). Later, when unredeemed sinners are
thrown into the lake of fire with them (20.14), the same conscious eternal torment is presumed to
apply. How are we to understand these texts if not at their simple face value? Firstly, it must be
said that we are dealing essentially with two texts, both in a highly symbolic book. Scholars do not
agree to the right interpretation of the majority of this book, and we would be unwise either to
force a literal application from such scant and symbolic material, or to superpose that literalist
interpretation over numerous clearer texts from books of a simpler didactic nature. Secondly, such
an evident oxymoron as the phrase lake of fire should alert us to its symbolic meaning. The book
of Revelation expresses the physically impossible in human terms, not in an attempt to describe
eternal realities, but to paint word pictures that communicate the essence of future life to us24.
Furthermore, when death itself and Hades (which by this time presumably is empty!) are thrown
into this lake of fire, its purpose simply as a place of final destruction becomes clear. We should
no more presume that sinners will in effect exist in this state for all eternity - at least not on the basis
of this text - than think that death itself will continue to exist for ever, when the Scriptures are clear
that the ultimate end of death is that it will simply be destroyed (see 1 Corinthians 15.26).
Before leaving the subject of alternatives to the traditional understanding of the nature of hell,
we must also draw attention to the fact that annihilationism is not in and of itself a purely modern
position, as is often thought. Whilst traditionalism has always been the majority position (this is
why it is known as traditionalism!), conditional immortality has always existed as a belief in the
Church, and has gained attention since 1960, during which time a number of respected theologians
have embraced this view25. It finds its Protestant roots in the 1660 Confession of the General
Baptists and other 17th century believers, then being accepted by other 19th century evangelical
groups and the Seventh Day Adventists.26 It is unfortunate that its identification with marginal
Christian groups or pseudo-Christian sects has led to its out-of-hand rejection by mainstream
evangelicalism27. Some traces can be found in early Christian writings, particularly the Apostolic
Fathers28, though it is fair to say that the majority of pre- and post-Nicene literature must be
interpreted as pointing to eternal conscious torment29. This would appear to be particularly due to
the acceptance of the Greek philosophical paradigm of the inherent immortality of the soul,
effectively adopted and fused with Christian belief through the early apologists such as Tertullian
and Augustine30.

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NOTES
1

Proponents of each of these interpretations would not always hold to the exact same beliefs on all points. Universalism,
for example, can today be divided into three basic positions: pluralistic universalism (the teaching that salvation is
available outside Christ in other religions); inclusivistic universalism (salvation comes unknowingly to those who have
not believed in Christ); and what may be termed hopeful universalism, as a belief that ultimately all will simply be
saved, God knows how! (See ACUTE 2000: 27,28 for further detail on these different approaches.) Annihilationists
would differ on belief in soul-sleep, the timing of final judgement, or the nature of the punishment that hell entails.
Those who believe in a hell of eternal conscious torment do not agree about the literalness of the fire or torment that it
supposes, whether the torment is physical and spiritual or merely spiritual, and even whether it is right to talk about
torment at all, as opposed to simply separation from God.
2

See Forster for a masterly extemporaneous sermon on the historic positions on hell, and Bromiley 1982: 677-679 for
the historic development of the doctrine of hell.
3

ACUTE affirms without reserve that one can hold to a conditionalist view of eternal punishment and still be classed as
an evangelical Christian. Having said this, it must be noted that universalism receives almost complete condemnation
amongst evangelical scholars. See ACUTE 2000: 32 for the arguments of some evangelicals who hold to this view,
though in slightly modified form. ACUTE sees this liberal Christianity as posing a potential threat for evangelical
theology in the future, and rejects universalists as evangelicals.
4

Some answer this objection making use of the same kind of philosophical argument to support eternal suffering, and
adopt the feudal concept of justice put forward by Anselm (1117) and developed by Thomas Aquinas (d.1274): The
penalty must be in proportion to the amount of guilt... ...Mans nature is finite. Gods nature is infinite. There can be,
therefore, no proportion in point of dignity of nature between the two... ...Now , if the penalty is in proportion to the
amount of guilt and the guilt of mans offence against God is in proportion to the superior dignity of Gods nature, and
between God and man there is no proportion in point of dignity of nature because God is infinite; then the penalty of sin
as a matter of right is infinite in the only direction in which it can be - that of duration (Munsey in Hutson: 156). It does
not however cease to be a mere philosophical argument, open to philosophical rebuttal, for which see Fudge and
Peterson 2000: 191-193.
5

P. Tillich sums up this reasoning: The creature as such is me-on, non being; for this reason the Christian must reject
the doctrine of natural immortality and affirm in its place the doctrine of eternal life given by God as the one who
possesses the power of being in himself (1971: 245).
6

Such thoughts of compassion towards fellow men are a modern phenomenon. In harmony with Old Testament texts on
the just contemplating the downfall of the wicked, some patristic literature appears to almost gloat in the suffering of
hell. Tertullian, for example, states: Yes, and there are other sights: that last day of judgement, with its everlasting
issues; that day unlooked for by the nations, the theme of their derision, when the world hoary with age, and all its many
products, shall be consumed in one great flame! How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my
admiration? what my derision? Which sight gives me joy? which rouses me to exultation?-as I see so many illustrious
monarchs, whose reception into the heavens was publicly announced, groaning now in the lowest darkness with great
Jove himself, and those, too, who bore witness of their exultation; governors of provinces, too, who persecuted the
Christian name, in fires more fierce than those with which in the days of their pride they raged against the followers of
Christ. What world's wise men besides, the very philosophers, in fact, who taught their followers that God had no
concern in ought that is sublunary, and were wont to assure them that either they had no souls, or that they would never
return to the bodies which at death they had left, now covered with shame before the poor deluded ones, as one fire
consumes them! Poets also, trembling not before the judgement-seat of Rhadamanthus or Minos, but of the unexpected
Christ! I shall have a better opportunity then of hearing the tragedians, louder-voiced in their own calamity; of viewing
the play-actors, much more "dissolute" in the dissolving flame; of looking upon the charioteer, all glowing in his chariot
of fire; of beholding the wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows; unless even then I shall not care
to attend to such ministers of sin, in my eager wish rather to fix a gaze insatiable on those whose fury vented itself
against the Lord (De Spectaculis, 30). This same idea is found in Thomas Aquinas, who goes so far as to suggest that
contemplation of the wicked will actually increase the blessedness of the saints, as God is glorified through contrasts:
And so, in order that the blessedness of the saints please them more, and that they give abundant thanks to God, they
are allowed to contemplate perfectly the pains of the wicked (Quoted in Torres Queiruga 1985: 46).
7

So Wenham who fails to see how God and the saints could be in perfect bliss with human beings hopelessly sinning
and suffering (1992: 189), and also the Protestant universalist theologian Ferr: if eternal hell is real, love is eternally
frustrated, and heaven is a place of mourning and concern for the lost. Such joy and grief cannot go together... heaven
can only be heaven when it has emptied hell, as surely as love is love and God is God (1951: 237).
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If the soul is immortal, then universalism or unending conscious torment would appear to be the only alternatives.
According to Pinnock and Brow, If souls are immortal and hell exists, it follows that the wicked will have to suffer
consciously forever in it. If the soul is naturally immortal, it has to spend eternity somewhere. If there is a Gehenna of
fire, hell has to be a condition of torment. The conclusion flows inexorably from the Greek premise (1994: 92).
However, as Fudge rightly points out (1982: 56), in the end the question of the nature of hell does not rest on the
immortality of the soul as some would maintain. All would agree that God could, if he so chose, destroy immortal souls
he had made, or give immortality to mortal souls! The fundamental question is thus not what he could or could not do,
what he might or might not do, but what the Bible in actual fact says that he will do.
9

Some interpreters think that in this text Origen is referring to the ultimate salvation of the devil, not of death itself.

10

See Torres Queiruga for an extended philosophical treatise leading to universalistic conclusions that typifies this
approach. Outside of Catholicism, universalism would appear to effectively dominate the scene in modern
Protestantism. According to Bloesch, Barth for example concludes that because Gods grace is ultimately invincible
and irresistible, the resistance to this grace can only be temporary, and this means that hell has no permanent ontological
status (1982: 223) Continuing to interpret Barth he goes on to affirm that even redemptive love is present in hell, but
not in the sense that the rejected are brought to redemption; nonetheless, they are ineluctably exposed to redemption
(1982: 225).
11

In his classical work Essentials of Evangelical Theology, Bloesch sees this mercy extending into the depths of
hell itself, and makes the remarkable observation that the metaphor that most nearly describes hell is not a
concentration camp presided over by the devil, but a sanatorium of sick souls who are ministered to by Jesus
Christ! Having stated that: Hell is exclusion from communion with God, but not exclusion from the presence of God,
he continues: the sufferings in hell are mitigated because Christ is present ... we do not preclude the possibility that
some in hell might finally be translated into heaven ... God will be present even in the depths of hell ... Hell will not be
seen as an evil, but as the place where those who reject Christ are still cared for by Christ - and not simply as Lord and
Judge but as Saviour and Healer (1982: 225-229). In The Great Divorce C. S. Lewis also offers an allegorical
approach, which, although not to be taken literally, does suggest a different concept of heaven and hell, and the
possibility of traffic between the two. I choose not to comment on these statements, but offer them as an illustration of
the variety of thought found within orthodox evangelicalism on the subject, and the extent that Gods mercy may very
well extend further than we can legitimately contemplate.
12

I also do not wish to get embroiled here in the fate of those who have not heard about Christ. See Dowsett for an easyto-read yet thorough exposition for belief in the irremediable lostness of those who have not heard the gospel. A rsum
of alternative positions can be found in Green 1976: 54-56 and Preece 1979: 45-46. See also ACUTE 2000: 93-95 for a
discussion of possible evangelical positions on the eternal future of the unevangelised, infants, the mentally ill, or Old
Testament saints.
13

Conditionalists are not agreed on the nature of the intermediate state between death and the resurrection for
judgement. Some would affirm simple extinction, with the soul having no existence independent of the body, and the
whole person being re-created at the resurrection; others prefer soul-sleep, known as the doctrine of psychopannychia;
still others see the soul existing independently of the body in some intermediate suffering. Personally, I think the whole
area is both unfathomable and effectively irrelevant! The Bible says so little on the subject, and even what is said is
couched in parable and symbol (Luke 16 and Revelation 6). Further to this, the notion of time - what happens between
death and the resurrection - is limited to our time-bound perspective, and loses relevance once we enter the new spacetime-free dimension of eternity. I particularly like Brunners perspective. Commenting on the apparent and very real
contradiction between the instantaneous aspect of Pauls desire to depart and be with Christ (Phil.1.23) and the wait
for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the fullness of his Kingdom (Phil.3.20,21) at the general resurrection,
Brunner speaks of: ... the difficulty we see, in that the time of our departing and being with Christ does not coincide
with the coming of the resurrection world. It is impossible for us to imagine both of these events as one and the same
happening, because to our temporal thought they are separated from one another, perhaps even by millenia. However,
we should not even be able to imagine this. It is rather enough to know that one is true just as much as the other is. For
we are standing here on the frontiers of the world of time. Human reasoning simply cannot overcome this contradiction.
Only the eternal God can abolish it. From his vantage point of faith, Paul clearly has set down precisely these thoughts
of the distance between the two events that exists in our conception with such a plain and simple matter-of-factness,
that is almost incomprehensible to us. However, this corresponds to that which results from the biblical concept of
eternity, and stands in contrast to temporal thought-in-distance. Perhaps temporal apartness is not separated from
eternity, but contemporaneous in the nunc aeternum. (1960: 439-440)

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14

I offer this introductory study for those who are unfamiliar with the relevant arguments or have never given serious
attention to its claims, but shall not attempt to make an extended analysis of this belief here, nor give full justification for
its acceptance. This goes beyond the scope of this study, and has been amply covered elsewhere. For those wishing to
explore the issues involved I would recommend Fudge and Peterson for evangelical presentations on both sides of the
debate - both ably stated and most convincing; the first to present his case seems right, until another comes forward and
questions him (Pr.18.17) applies here! ACUTE gives an excellent summary of evangelical views, particularly focusing
on the traditionalist-conditionalist debate, but not attempting to convince of either. It also has an excellent and
comprehensive bibliography. Hell: Traditionalist vs. Conditionalist Views also offers a concise but complete
comparison of views, and the major arguments offered by proponents. For a defence of conditionalism I would refer the
reader to Fudge as a classic, complete and well-documented work (1982 edition now out of print, but available as a
revised 1994 edition). See also the section by Clark Pinnock in Crockett for a similar defence and comparison with
literal, metaphorical and purgatorial interpretations of hell in Scripture. John Wenhams position is ably stated in
Cameron. Hughes - an Anglican scholar who believes in annihilationism - has chapters on the immortality of the soul
and conditional immortality in his masterly treatise on man created in the image of God. Finally see the references cited
and additional bibliography for further background material.
15

This quote is taken from AV. All other Scripture quotes are from NIV.

16

Immortality is sometimes seen as part of Gods image in man at creation. This rationale is not, however, applied to
other attributes of God such as his omniscience or omnipresence, and there is no Scriptural reason to single out
immortality as part of mans inherent nature. See Bromiley 1982: 809-811 for a comprehensive study on immortality in
Scripture, inter-testamental Judaism and Greek philosophical literature. Especially useful is the contrast drawn between
Plato and biblical teaching.

17

Fudge prefers gravedom (Fudge and Peterson 2000:23), which would seem to include the necessary concepts both
of state and place that are embodied in lwO)#$; (sheol).
18

Understanding the existence of these concepts does not necessarily force us to draw literal applications of the ways in
which they are expressed biblically. Vindication in Old Testament terms necessarily involves the summary destruction
of the wicked in terms we would not condone today. There are few who would now take the following blessing literally:
Happy ... is he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks (Psalm 137.8,9) As Torres Queiruga
observes something that is really inconceivable today may have been justified in its historical epoch (1995: 29).
19

See article by J. Lunde in Green 1992: 307-308 for a discussion of this background to New Testament teaching.
Fudge rightly points out that all the apocryphal books with the exception of Judith, and the majority of the
pseudepigrapha, hold to the view of the destruction of the wicked common to the Old Testament.
The Greek term gee&na (gehenna), derived via the Aramaic gehinnam from the Hebrew Mn%Ohi-yg' (G Hinnom),
refers simply to a valley south of Jerusalem which was used in the days of Ahaz and Manasseh for child sacrifices to
Molech. In time it came to be identified as the site for Gods eschatological judgement of the wicked, though the
torments of hell are not described. For years it served as the rubbish dump of the city, though now has been cleaned up
and is the site of a landscaped park - in Pawsons words an exegetical tragedy but an ecological triumph! (1992: 29) It
is a term used neither in the Septuagint nor other Greek literature, being peculiar to inter-testamental Judaism and the
New Testament (see Bietenhard 1976: 208).

20

21

Though there is debate over the actual meaning of a)po&llumi (apollumi) meaning to destroy, Jesus meaning in
Matthew 10.28 would appear to be clear: God is the one who destroys all of man in hell, not just renders him useless.

22

See Hanegraaff, for example: Are you absolutely certain that one day those who have died in Christ will be
resurrected to eternal life in heaven? If you are, then you can be just as certain that unbelievers will be resurrected to
eternal torment in hell (2000: 75,76). To have questioned this eternal nature of the torment of the unredeemed until
recently was to be dubbed heretical. I would suggest that this presumption is itself unfounded, and that the insistence on
this particular interpretation of the nature of hell is flawed.
23

See Fudge and Peterson 2000: 51,96-98. That this is true is evident in the expression eternal sin, and opens the
meaning of eternal to include, but not to limit it to, this aspect. Peterson is unimpressed and criticises Fudges lack of
linguistic evidence, but reads more into the argument than is ever intended.
24

It is well recognised that the dimensions given for the New Jerusalem in chapter 21 of Revelation defy the natural
laws of physics, in the same way that transparent gold does not exist. Just as we should not attempt to see the physical
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realities of heavenly existence reflected in these texts, so also it is wrong to ascribe this physical literalness to a lake of
fire or the nature of the second death. See Wilkins for a discussion of the symbolism of the book of Revelation and its
application to this theme.
25

See Nutu for an assessment of the belief of some modern scholars, such as Wenham, Travis, Stott, and Pinnock.

26

See Grenz.

27

The Christadelphians today, for example, hold to soul-sleep prior to resurrection, and the Seventh Day Adventists
along with Jehovahs Witnesses teach annihilation at death, with the person then ceasing to exist anywhere but in the
memory of God (see Roberts, and Grant 1895). It is worth noting that other doctrines - such as the verbal inspiration of
the Bible - are not rejected just because they happen to also be held by sectarian groups.
28

See Epistle of Barnabas 21.1, which states that the wicked will perish together with his works. Justin Martyr
(d.165), an early pre-Nicene father , wrote in his Dialogue with Trypho: The Soul is Not in Its Own Nature Immortal...
Thus some which have appeared worthy of God never die; but others are punished so long as God wills them to exist
and to be punished and The soul assuredly is or has life ... But if it lives, it lives not as being life, but as the partaker of
life ... Now the soul partakes of life, since God wills it to live. Thus, then, it will not even partake [of life] when God
does not will it to live. For to live is not its attribute, as it is God's; but as a man does not live always, and the soul is not
for ever conjoined with the body, since, whenever this harmony must be broken up, the soul leaves the body, and the
man exists no longer; even so, whenever the soul must cease to exist, the spirit of life is removed from it, and there is no
more soul, but it goes back to the place from whence it was taken. (chapters V and VI). Tatian (d.172), speaking of the
resurrection of the body in his Address to the Greeks appears to hold to annihilation at death and re-creation at the
resurrection: For just as, not existing before I was born, I knew not who I was, and only existed in the potentiality
(u0po/stasij) of fleshly matter, but being born, after a former state of nothingness, I have obtained through my birth a
certainty of my existence; in the same way, having been born, and through death existing no longer, and seen no longer,
I shall exist again, just as before I was not, but was afterwards born (chapter VI).
29

Patristic affirmation does not bestow immediate orthodoxy on any doctrine, nor indicate that this was what was
actually taught by Jesus or the apostles, but merely attests to the early Churchs interpretation of apostolic teaching. The
rapid acceptance of monarchical forms of government over the plural leadership more readily contemplated in the New
Testament is one example of instances where the patristic witness is clearly at odds with apostolic teaching and practice
- see the letters of Ignatius (early first century AD) Ign.Eph.4-6, Ign.Mag.3, for example, on submission to the bishop.
30

See discussion in Fudge 1982: 323-329, Fudge and Peterson 2000: 184-191. Peterson cannot accept that
traditionalism is based on Platonic principles rather than Scriptural interpretation (2000: 87-88, 118-120) but fails to
give due weight to the assertion not that traditionalists have consciously adopted pagan belief, but rather that they tend
to read the Scriptures through the paradigm of the immortality of the soul that is rooted in Greek philosophy, not the
Scriptures themselves.

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