Question of the Day: Is Hell a Necessary Christian Doctrine

It’s not the Old Testament, not really. Further, it seems to me that many of the early theologians believed that Christ descended into hell to harrow it out somehow. Some believe that it happened once for all. Of course, this may be about universalism, or not, but what say ye? Is the doctrine of hell really a necessary Christian doctrine?

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233 Replies to “Question of the Day: Is Hell a Necessary Christian Doctrine”

  1. Yes if you dont preach it people will not know about it and some may start to believe i can do what i want if you dont tell them if jesus preach about hell we should to because we all tryin gto be like him any way so yes the hell doctrine is necessary

      1. Joel– He’s obviously saying that if you don’t corroborate and perpetuate the fabricated social controls of generations past then the iron fist of Christianity will become as rightfully impotent as the lightning bolt of Zeus.

  2. My comment on your other post about “soul sleep” got no responses…though it might have been because it was a non-sequitur in some sense. Unwittingly, I have associated two different concepts that are related…1-is man immortal, possessing an imperishable “soul”?…and 2-if not…then what is “hell”?

    They are related because if man is not intrinsically immortal, then the concept of conscious eternal torment doesn’t work as a description of hell.

    The Old Testament concept of reward and punishment is firmly fixed within the here and now. Prosperity and physical blessings are a sign of God’s approval, and death, disease and misfortune are a sign of his judgment and displeasure…in general….there are always exceptions, as in the case of Joseph/Job..etc.

    The concept of “immortality” in the OT shows up more in the idea that God blesses one’s descendants and increases their influence in carrying on the family name…which is why so often we see God’s curses being played out as the end of certain families or lines, with the punishment being carried out in future generations, rather than being represented as being carried out in a nether world somewhere.

    To get back to your original question…is the doctrine of hell a necessary Christian doctrine?

    It really depends on how one views what “Christian” doctrine is. Hell fits neatly into a spiritualized version of life and death which has little focus on actual, physical life being the stage on which we play out our beliefs.

    Tell 100 conservative Christians that you don’t believe in Hell and about 99 of them will declare you a heretic….completely scandalized that one could think such a thing. You might as well say that you think Hitler and Jesus are good buddies and enjoy snorting cocaine together. It is that antithetical, at least in many people’s minds, to most forms of Christianity.

    But why?

    Why are we so attached to the idea that this loving God that we serve is OK with billions of people suffering for billions upon billions upon billions of years?

    Most people don’t want to lose the concept of reward and punishment…which is why there is such a push-back towards Universalism. If everybody makes it…then what is all of this about? If Hitler gets to sit next to Mother Teresa in the Heavenly choir….how is that comprehensible?

    The best solution, in my mind at least, is annihilation. The just are rewarded with immortality/eternal life and the wicked are wiped out of existence…not consciously suffering….but never to be seen or heard from again.

    I think it really fits better with an OT understanding of reward and punishment.

    1. Terri,

      Well said. I tend to think that those who are so heavily attached to the doctrine of hell as eternal punishment as to mandate it for orthodoxy are sadists.

      My question that I keep asking myself when I examine this goes something like this.

      Christ came to seek and save the lost. Christ saved us. Saved us from what if their is no punishment of sorts?

      Now, Universalism, at least some aspects of it, allow for an ‘age-long’ punishment at which the end would include another harrowing out.

      1. Hmmm … sounds a little (and I do mean a little as in not completely) like something we Catholics have … what’s it called again? … Oh yeah, purgatory – a place for temporal punishment of temporal crimes.

        1. Well, you know, except what I say is always biblical. 🙂

          The difference when the type of universalism which I mentioned and purgatory is that only those without Christ would go to hell and then be redeemed later while everyone with Christ ends up immediately in heaven.

          1. Joel,
            I think you misspelled “never” as “always.” At any rate, I think that the doctrine of purgatory is Biblical, at least implicitly. But, I have no time to deal with that here.

          2. It is possible… that I, the most wonderfulest spelter in the world would make a missteak, but doubtful.

      2. Early Judaism was a very materialistic, in the sense of physicality, religion. Death was the great enemy of Life. Even the Genesis story represents humanity as mortal, having lost out on immortality forever after being cast out of the Garden.

        If NT writings are read/interpreted with the idea that man is mortal and death obliterates us….then the term “eternal life” begins to take on an entirely different character. It doesn’t represent an immaterial existence in God’s presence in Heaven as much as it represents a real, physical life absent the troubles that plague humanity. It also gives a new cast to the use of the term “eternal destruction” as punishment.

        How can you “destroy” something immortal?

        So…Jesus comes to “save” us from our stained mortality and offer us purity and immortality. When Paul writes that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ our Lord”…he means it quite literally…..not as a metaphor for “spiritual death” and “spiritual life”…..a concept that isn’t really supported by Scripture. It’s also why Paul connects sin with the flesh….and not as a spiritual state of being. He looks forward to the new sinlessness that will be inherent in a resurrected body.

        The concept of Hell as a place of conscious eternal torment is largely absent in the NT…..the exception being Revelation and the lake of fired portrayed there.

        Paul, in all of his various letters and conversations about Heaven, Resurrection, and Eternal; Life…..never mentions Hell as we think of it in our modern context. Punishment is always referred to as “destruction”.

        AS far as the harrowing of hell….It’s hard to build a complete doctrine on ascant reference. But if “hell” is thought of as death and the grave….then Christ most certainly “harrowed hell” in dying and rising in triumph over death and destruction.

        In such a way “hell” is not a place with tormented souls….but a state of non-existence without hoping of re-existing.

        1. Terri, I think that you are on to something important here:

          The concept of Hell as a place of conscious eternal torment is largely absent in the NT…..the exception being Revelation and the lake of fired portrayed there.

          How often is eternal damnation spoke on in the parabolic or prophetic?

  3. It is a necessary doctrine for fire-and-brimstone preachers who want to keep their flock in line. 😉

    But seriously, when I was a Christian I was uncomfortable with the notion of eternal fiery torment, so I embraced non-standard views on hell and the afterlife, including “eternal separation from god”, annihilationism, and even universalism.

  4. Polycarp, I can’t back this up theologically, I wish I could, but there is something instincitive in me that says; “Yes, Christ did descend into hell / gehenna, whatever you want to call it.

    I just feel that this is where He took the “keys of death” or “Hades”, in a literal way. He defeated hell / death and rose in victory.

    If only someone could die and descend and then come back and tell us the truth! (Joke)

    Do I sound like an uneducated Christian fundie? Perhaps I am.

    Is it necessary to Christian doctrine? Yes in some ways it is important for me to know for sure that Christ has conquered death and removed its “sting”.

    Sorry if I sound like a berk, but I am happy to be “put right”. I’m going to post this, even though I feel a little vulnerable.

    1. No, Stuart, I understand completely. I do believe that we must teach that as a result of the Gospel’s actions that Christ has overcome and defeated death, hell, and the grave.

      But, now the question remains – what does that mean. Did Christ harrow hell? And if He cleaned it out once, what now?

      An ‘uneducated’ fundie is one who parrots line for line what he has been told. You, on the other hand, haven’t done that.

    1. The passage you mentioned in Luke is parabolic, meant to tell a larger truth, but is rarely fitting for doctrine, or so some might say. Further, in Matthew 5.29, the language is hyperbolic, or do you suggest self-mutilation?

    2. Jesus’ use of the word “hell” is actually Gehenna…a place where the dead bodies of criminals were dumped and burned….and presumably eaten by worms!(does that ref. seem familiar?)
      😉

      Death and decay of the physical human body is being represented here….Which is why the use of the term is connected to mutilation of the body. Better to have eternal life with no eyes, which presumably decayed and rotted away once they were plucked out, than to go into the grave with a fully intact, rotting body.

      This is an example of the materialism I mentioned before….the idea that a physical part of our bodies is responsible in some way for sin.

      Also…it’s funny that Christians think self-mutilation is merely hybperbole, but eternal torment isn’t. Isn’t that a little backwards?

      1. Terri, I think it is important to actually read the bible in the manner in which it was delivered. You are right – in the same verse, we have clearly hyperbolic language about cutting the hand off or gouging the eye out, but people take hell as a matter of strict literalism.

        1. Joel,

          I forgot to address my comment to Endsigns….I wasn’t disagreeing with you, necessarily….just pointing out the general tendency people have to excuse those scary suggestions from Jesus as being over the top, while not thinking eternal torment is over the top.

  5. Hi Polycarp,

    I have always thought that the descent of Christ into Hades to release the saints, was a doctrine held by all, yet after coming into contact with independent evangelicals and fundies, and being shouted down rather loudly, that I realised it wasn’t! :0)

    Apart from 1 Peter, and 1 Cor 15 (that is so cool) the 500 people rising from the graves in the city, also links to the release of the saints. Interestingly I don’t know a lot about Barth’s theology, but I know that he had real problems with Augustine, in particularly his no ‘second chance’. I am not a univeralist, but I do ask myself who will reject Christ when they see him face to face?

    1. I am no Augustinian 🙂

      Barth I believe became a universalist over time, perhaps in relation to his world.

      If given a second change, how could anyone come to reject Christ?

  6. If God’s Word teaches it, then it’s a true and necessary doctrine independent of what men think. If God’s Word doesn’t teach it, it’s false doctrine, and obviously harmful and unnecessary. So, does God’s Word teach it?

    God wants the best for everyone, and takes no pleasure in judgment – it is a sad last resort. But it should be done, it must be done, and He makes no apologies for it. God will not force people to reconcile with Him, since man is created in God’s image, with a genuinely independent will. This is the way God set things up from the beginning so there could be meaningful relationships among God and men, and it is immutable. The omniscient and sinless Creator is the only one who can judge men accurately, and He will indeed do so for everyone who has rejected God’s amazing grace through Christ, whether anyone likes it or not.

    In the Bible, Christ Jesus had more to say about hell than anyone and was very specific, because He knew it was imperative to clearly warn us not to go there. Hell is essentially a place for those who pridefully and selfishly want nothing to do with the one true Creator, Savior, and Lord, and who are not thankful for the good things He has given including basic life. For those who permanently don’t want anything to do with God, He will ultimately grant their request to be in a place where He and His grace never goes.

    The Lord said those who rejected the offer of the King’s wedding banquet and refused to wear the garment of Christ’s righteousness would be cast into outer darkness, where there would be weeping, anguish, and gnashing of teeth. In that outer darkness, there will be a lake of everlasting fire, possibly a remotely distant star, banished from the rest of God’s new creation, for those who choose to worship their own ‘god’, and want nothing of their Creator and Savior.

    Hell is a place prepared not for mankind, but for the Devil and his angels, whose primary abode appears to be interstellar space. However, man chose to follow Satan instead of God from the very beginning and many continue to follow his ways. Therefore, having given over their dominion over to the great enemy, unrepentant man will also share the Devil’s fate. Just as truly choosing Christ means following Him for eternity, when man resolutely chooses Satan, it is an unwitting choice to follow him to the very end, and reside with him for eternity. One must either reside in the New Jerusalem with Christ, or with Satan in Hell forever, and those who foolishly imagine they can avoid choosing are damnably deceived, since unregenerate man is already condemned. As always, there is no middle ground or third choice (Matt. 8:11-12, 22:1-14, 25:14-46, John 3:16-18).

    It is up to us whether we want to humbly receive God’s gift of grace sincerely and freely, or whether we consciously or otherwise choose perfect and specific justice on an absolute scale. I pray everyone heeds Christ’s solemn warnings and makes the only good and intelligent choice to humbly reconcile themselves to our loving and patient God through Christ. There is only one alternative, which is completely just punishment for our sins in hell for all eternity, forever separated from God and His lovingkindness. None of us know when physical death will come, and there will be no second chance for those who foolishly reject Christ in this life.

  7. “In the Bible, Christ Jesus had more to say about hell than anyone”

    Jesus talked very little about hell. He made reference to it in the verses we have already discussed about self-mutilation….and that term is not used to denote a place of eternal conscious torment.

    Now…that is not to say that Jesus didn’t talk about judgment…because he obviously did. The point I would make is that we read our modern concept of hell into those parables of judgment instead of thinking in terms of what judgment meant in Jesus’ time and place.

    Hell is a place prepared not for mankind, but for the Devil and his angels, whose primary abode appears to be interstellar space.

    In that outer darkness, there will be a lake of everlasting fire, possibly a remotely distant star, banished from the rest of God’s new creation, for those who choose to worship their own ‘god’, and want nothing of their Creator and Savior.

    This is a leap.

    If you want to say that “God’s Word” is our standard and what we should adhere to….then how do you defend this idea which is not in “God’s Word.” It might be an interpretation of certain Scriptures with a dash of highly imaginative fancy…but it is not a clear teaching by any stretch.

  8. Hi Terri,

    I didn’t say how much Christ talked about Hell, just that He talked about it more than anyone else, which is true. As God, He knows the reality firsthand and men don’t, so this would be expected.

    Regarding eternal conscious torment, note Rev. 14:11 and 20:10:

    “And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name”

    “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet [are], and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever

    That phrase “for ever and ever” (Gr. aion aion) is also used of God’s eternity in Gal. 1:5, Phl. 4:20, 1 Tim. 1:17, 2 Tim. 4:18, Heb. 1:8, Heb. 13:21, 1 Pet. 4:11, 1 Pet. 5:11, Rev. 1:6, Rev. 4:9-10, Rev. 5:13-14, Rev. 7:12, Rev. 10:6, Rev. 11:15, Rev. 15:7), for the eternal life and reign of the saved (Rev. 22:5), and also for the eternal, conscious unrest and torment of the lost (Rev. 14:11, 20:10).

    If ‘for ever and ever’ doesn’t refer to eternity for the lost, then there is no logical basis for using this phrase to apply to the eternity of God, or to the eternity of the saved. The established and only consistent meaning of this phrase in the Scriptures is eternity.

    Regarding my comments about space and stars, please notice I used the terms ‘appears’ and ‘possibly’, so am just presenting these ideas as possibilities for consideration, not as established facts. Regardless of where Hell is physically, the Biblical facts about its eternity remain, just as much as for the New Jerusalem or God Himself.

    Blessings,

    Rory

    1. Rory, I have to mention that all of those verses you mentioned except for Rev. 22.5 pertain to God who is eternal. It was a common ‘blessing’ applied to God during that time and has nothing to do with an age long punishment.

      Galatians 1:5 ᾧ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν.
      Philippians 4:20 τῷ δὲ θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ ἡμῶν ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν.
      1 Timothy 1:17 Τῷ δὲ βασιλεῖ τῶν αἰώνων, ἀφθάρτῳ ἀοράτῳ μόνῳ θεῷ, τιμὴ καὶ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν.
      2 Timothy 4:18 ῥύσεταί με ὁ κύριος ἀπὸ παντὸς ἔργου πονηροῦ καὶ σώσει εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν αὐτοῦ τὴν ἐπουράνιον· ᾧ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν.
      Hebrews 13:21 καταρτίσαι ὑμᾶς ἐν παντὶ ἀγαθῷ εἰς τὸ ποιῆσαι τὸ θέλημα αὐτοῦ, ποιῶν ἐν ἡμῖν τὸ εὐάρεστον ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ᾧ ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας [τῶν αἰώνων], ἀμήν.
      1 Peter 4:11 εἴ τις λαλεῖ, ὡς λόγια θεοῦ· εἴ τις διακονεῖ, ὡς ἐξ ἰσχύος ἧς χορηγεῖ ὁ θεός, ἵνα ἐν πᾶσιν δοξάζηται ὁ θεὸς διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, ᾧ ἐστιν ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ἀμήν.
      Revelation 1:6 καὶ ἐποίησεν ἡμᾶς βασιλείαν, ἱερεῖς τῷ θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ αὐτοῦ, αὐτῷ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας [τῶν αἰώνων]· ἀμήν.
      Revelation 1:18 καὶ ὁ ζῶν, καὶ ἐγενόμην νεκρὸς καὶ ἰδοὺ ζῶν εἰμι εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων καὶ ἔχω τὰς κλεῖς τοῦ θανάτου καὶ τοῦ ᾅδου.
      Revelation 4:9 Καὶ ὅταν δώσουσιν τὰ ζῷα δόξαν καὶ τιμὴν καὶ εὐχαριστίαν τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπὶ τῷ θρόνῳ τῷ ζῶντι εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων,
      Revelation 4:10 πεσοῦνται οἱ εἴκοσι τέσσαρες πρεσβύτεροι ἐνώπιον τοῦ καθημένου ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου καὶ προσκυνήσουσιν τῷ ζῶντι εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων καὶ βαλοῦσιν τοὺς στεφάνους αὐτῶν ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου λέγοντες·
      Revelation 5:13 καὶ πᾶν κτίσμα ὃ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς καὶ ὑποκάτω τῆς γῆς καὶ ἐπὶ τῆς θαλάσσης καὶ τὰ ἐν αὐτοῖς πάντα ἤκουσα λέγοντας· τῷ καθημένῳ ἐπὶ τῷ θρόνῳ καὶ τῷ ἀρνίῳ ἡ εὐλογία καὶ ἡ τιμὴ καὶ ἡ δόξα καὶ τὸ κράτος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων.
      Revelation 7:12 λέγοντες· ἀμήν, ἡ εὐλογία καὶ ἡ δόξα καὶ ἡ σοφία καὶ ἡ εὐχαριστία καὶ ἡ τιμὴ καὶ ἡ δύναμις καὶ ἡ ἰσχὺς τῷ θεῷ ἡμῶν εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων· ἀμήν.
      Revelation 10:6 καὶ ὤμοσεν ἐν τῷ ζῶντι εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, ὃς ἔκτισεν τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὰ ἐν αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν γῆν καὶ τὰ ἐν αὐτῇ καὶ τὴν θάλασσαν καὶ τὰ ἐν αὐτῇ, ὅτι χρόνος οὐκέτι ἔσται,
      Revelation 11:15 Καὶ ὁ ἕβδομος ἄγγελος ἐσάλπισεν· καὶ ἐγένοντο φωναὶ μεγάλαι ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ λέγοντες· ἐγένετο ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ κόσμου τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν καὶ τοῦ χριστοῦ αὐτοῦ, καὶ βασιλεύσει εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων.
      Revelation 15:7 καὶ ἓν ἐκ τῶν τεσσάρων ζῴων ἔδωκεν τοῖς ἑπτὰ ἀγγέλοις ἑπτὰ φιάλας χρυσᾶς γεμούσας τοῦ θυμοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων.
      Revelation 19:3 καὶ δεύτερον εἴρηκαν· ἁλληλουϊά· καὶ ὁ καπνὸς αὐτῆς ἀναβαίνει εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων.
      Revelation 20:10 καὶ ὁ διάβολος ὁ πλανῶν αὐτοὺς ἐβλήθη εἰς τὴν λίμνην τοῦ πυρὸς καὶ θείου ὅπου καὶ τὸ θηρίον καὶ ὁ ψευδοπροφήτης, καὶ βασανισθήσονται ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων.
      Revelation 22:5 καὶ νὺξ οὐκ ἔσται ἔτι καὶ οὐκ ἔχουσιν χρείαν φωτὸς λύχνου καὶ φωτὸς ἡλίου, ὅτι κύριος ὁ θεὸς φωτίσει ἐπ᾽ αὐτούς, καὶ βασιλεύσουσιν εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων.

      Regarding Rev 22.5, it is talking about an eternal paradise, which no one would disagree with, I believe.

      Rev. 20.10 speaks about the everlasting torment of the devil, the beast and the false prophet being punished forever and ever. It doesn’t mention those who were deceived being punished in the same way.

      Rev. 14.10 speaks about torment for ages ages, which possible does bespeak of an eternal torment. I wouldn’t mind an examination of these verse in the prophetic, however.

      BTW – while I hope for a measure of universalism, I will continue to live like hell is a real place and I don’t want to go.

      1. BTW – while I hope for a measure of universalism, I will continue to live like hell is a real place and I don’t want to go.

        I reiterate what I said a few days ago. you are one of the most important Christian thinkers of our generation.

      2. Hi Joel,

        Yes, most of the verses I quoted are about the eternity of God, which few if any Christians would question. My point was that if one applies the meaning of the words ‘for ever and ever’ (Gr. aion aion) consistently, then Hell and its inhabitants are also forever. Since the word aion is repeated, it is emphatic that this means eternity, so we don’t miss it!

        When one looks at the immediate context of Rev. 14:9-11, men are included there, and the phrases ‘torment for ever and ever’ and “no rest day or night” require consciousness to have any meaning, and Rev. 20:10 refers to the same place and ‘torment’. Although Satan is not a man, the beast and false prophet are men, and had already been in the ‘lake of fire’ for 1,000 years when Satan joins them. All who are not written in the Lamb’s book later join them, so share the same eternal abode (Rev. 20:15).

        I understand well why men struggle with this, but God’s Word says what it says whether we like it or understand it or not. Regarding universalism and who is going where for eternity, only God knows the full answer, and perhaps that is best considered as a related but separate topic.

        – Rory

        1. Rory,

          That’s the thing. For centuries, God’s Word has said this or that or this and that and is rarely questioned. Those who do, who seek to get back to the meaning, are often excluded as heretical. Finally, when many do, and many decide that it says something else, then that is what it says and has always said. I note that many early Christian writers were universalists of some stripe, so this is not new. They too knew what the word of God said, and it said something differently that what is required of fire and brimestone. During the early Christology debates, I note that many of them were universalists which never played into the discussions. Further, some of the NT apocrypha (Peter’s Apocalypse) espouse a certain tendency at that time. That book was used by many groups until hell become a mandated doctrine. My goal is not to rely upon what others have said, but to find out and dig out what the bible said to those who wrote it.

          I don’t think that phrase simply means ‘eternity’ as we find it in other writings of the Jews at that time. I think it starts with the premise of eternal, but finding it applied to God in relation to immortal souls (4th Maccabees – which is important given the doctrinal intentions of the Maccabean works) I think it is meant to showcase a transcendent and always present God. But, I haven’t fully developed my thought here.

          God’s eternalness is not doubted, only the eternal torments of hell. The phrase in question is applied only to God in all of Scripture except twice (I think). One of those times, it is directed only against the evil trinity of the End. Another time it is directed against unbelievers. Both of these times are found in Revelation, which is a prophetic book. Do we take prophecy as doctrine? I would say not because it is yet unrevealed and very much debatable.

          Rory, how do you understand the preaching of to the dead, the commonly called harrowing, in 1st Peter?

          There is also the fallacy of translating everything as ‘hell’ which is what the KJV did.

          1. Hi Joel,

            In this post I would just like to address your comment “Do we take prophecy as doctrine? I would say not because it is yet unrevealed and very much debatable.”

            A vast amount of Scripture was prophetic (~30%) when it was written, so if prophecy is not doctrine, then it follows that what is doctrine or not in the Scriptures has changed over time. This certainly doesn’t seem consistent with an omniscient God who inspired every word that is settled forever in Heaven, or His many other statements about His infallible Word.

            Whether men fully understand the Scriptures or not does not change the fact that it is all doctrine. If doctrine were dependent on men’s full understanding, then one could make a case for the certainty of nothing, since men debate everything including that which has already come to pass.

            Regarding Revelation alone, most Christians consider the vast majority of it prophetic after the initial chapters, and probably even more when it was first written. We cannot exclude the book of Revelation as doctrine, especially since it is the personal revelation of Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:1). When Christ speaks, it is doctrine! Also, the entire book of Revelation, and possibly the entire Bible is referred to as ‘prophecy’ in Rev. 22:18-19, so excluding prophecy from doctrine would create a wealth of inconsistencies.

            The Scriptural answer is that “all scripture [all writings] is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof [evidence], for correction [restoration], for instruction [training] in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect [complete], thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16).

          2. “My goal is not to rely upon what others have said, but to find out and dig out what the bible said to those who wrote it”

            Good comment Joel, I agree. I have learned much from writings of early church ‘fathers’, but it is only God’s Word that is infallible, not opinions of men about God’s Word. If we give men’s opinions priority over or equality with the Scriptures, as some do, we have it backwards, and will have an increased tendency to compound error.

            It is important to start with the Word of God and give it the unique reverence it and its divine Author deserves (Psa. 138:2), using the original languages for deeper understanding and especially to clarify difficult passages. Moreover, we must use Scripture to interpret Scripture, since none of it is of private interpretation, and trusting the Holy Spirit to transform us by the renewing of our minds (1 Cor. 2:13, 2 Tim. 1:20-21, Rom. 12:2).

            It is excellent to learn from other men such as ‘church fathers’, but all of God’s inspired and infallible words are the ‘bottom line’.

          3. No doubt, Rory, however, when we examine the earliest writers we run into the men who walked with the Apostles. Ignatius and Polycarp walked with John and Peter. Irenaeus walked with Polycarp. Surely, something was passed down. Reading the early believers, there is a wide variety of beliefs on the afterlife. Some believed in eternal punishment, some in an age-long, some in annihilation. Yet, all were considered orthodox in their belief. Between the years of 170 and 430, 6 theological schools were built and developed around Christendom. 4 of them were somewhat universalists. They took John 12.32 literally as a certain verse in 1st Timothy 4. It really wasn’t until Augustine that hell became a mandated doctrine, perhaps in relation to his idea of depravity and predestination.

            Considering the nature of the Scripture, it would not be wise of us to assume that we know everything about it by reading it. Paul said to study, to rightly divide. He called for scrolls and books. We have to examine his ‘dictionary’ as it were and when we do, we find certain things. I noted earlier that the doctrine of eternal torment is not found in the Old Testament. In our Lord’s time, there was a phrase used by His community for eternal punishment which found neither in the Gospels or the whole of the NT:

            For example, the Pharisees, according to Josephus, regarded the penalty of sin as torment without end, and they stated the doctrine in unambiguous terms. They called it eirgmos aidios (eternal imprisonment) and timorion adialeipton (endless torment), while our Lord called the punishment of sin aionion kolasin (age-long chastisement)…..

            Philo, who was contemporary with Christ, generally used aidion to denote endless, and aionion temporary duration. He uses the exact Philo’s Use phraseology of Matt, xxv: 46,

            Regarding Gehenna which is the only word in the NT properly translated as hell in the NT,

            So of the place of punishment (Gehenna) the Jews at the time of Christ never understood it to denote endless punishment. The reader of Farrar’s “Mercy and Judgment,” and “Eternal Hope,” and Windet’s ” De Vita functorum statu,” will find any number of statements from the Talmudic and other Jewish authorities, affirming in the most explicit language that Gehenna was understood by the people to whom our Lord addressed the word as a place or condition of temporary duration. They employed such terms as these: ” The wicked shall be judged in Gehenna until the righteous say concerning them, ‘We have seen enough.’ ” ” Gehenna is nothing but a day in which the impious will be burned.” “After the last judgment Gehenna exists no longer.” ” There will hereafter be no Gehenna.” These quotations might be multiplied indefinitely to demonstrate that the Jews to whom our Lord spoke regarded Gehenna as of limited duration, as did the Christian Fathers. Origen in his reply to Celsus (VI, xxv) gives an exposition of Gehenna, explaining its usage in his day. He says it is an analogue of the well known valley of the Son of Hinnom, and signifies the fire of purification. Now observe: Christ carefully avoided the words in which his auditors expressed endless punishment {aidios, timoria and adialeiptos), and used terms they did not use with that meaning (aionios kolasis), and employed the term which by universal consent among the Jews has no such meaning (Gehenna); and as his immediate followers and the earliest of the Fathers pursued exactly the same course, is it not demonstrated that they intended to be understood as he was understood?

            Further, considering that we are not the first generation of Christians, it is most helpful to read how others handled their struggles. No one here is replacing the Scriptures with Tradition, but Tradition does play a part in showing the modern Christian how doctrines were developed, how struggles were over come, where emphasis was placed or not placed, and the unity of the early Christian faith around the essentials, which was not hell, but Christ.

            I agree with the bottom line, but we have to understand the bottom line and not what has been developed over centuries. I saw we get back to the sources, to the very words of the Apostles of Jesus Christ and read it as they wrote it.

          4. Rory,

            The way I understand it, only a little of Scripture is actual prophecy – some of Daniel, small parts of the rest of the OT in dealing with Israel’s restoration and of course Revelation. Once prophecy is revealed and fulfilled then I would say that it does matter to doctrine. Further, as others translate it, Scripture is profitable for instruction, not setting forth doctrine:

            All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; (2Ti 3:16 NASB)

            My view on Old Testament ‘prophecy‘.

            I do not think that the entire bible is counted as prophecy because of Rev. 22.18-19 as it says ‘book’ meaning the individual book.

            We can gain little actual doctrine from Revelation – that Christ is coming back, that the Saints will persevere, but to base too much more on the words of John, especially since understanding of that book vary from person to person, time to time, that in one generation, we have no agreement on what it means.

          5. Is it bad that every time I read Rev. 22:18-19 that I can’t help thinking what a nice little bit of manipulation that might be on John’s part? 😉

            I can’t help but think of the disagreement about Revelation and its inclusion in the canon and wonder if it would have ever made it without that nice little warning at the end.

            I know, I know…that a little cynical of me!

          6. Hi Joel,

            Revelation is not just the words of John, but the personal revelation of Christ as testified by John:

            The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified [it] by his angel unto his servant John: Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. Blessed [is] he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time [is] at hand. John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace [be] unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, [who is] the faithful witness, [and] the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” (Rev. 1:1-5).

            Revelation contains very significant doctrine, especially since it provides the clearest view of eternity, including the eternal future of the saved and lost, of good and evil, and of the universe and new creation, based on the personal revelation of Jesus Christ. There is a a reason Revelation is the last book of the Bible, because to gain a reasonable understanding of it, one needs to have a good grasp of the other 65 books! After having studied it, I can’t imagine the great loss of doctrine if Christ hadn’t given His eyewitness revelation to us.

            I spent three years teaching an in-depth study on the book of Daniel, and ended up teaching most of Revelation as well, since so much of Revelation is based on Daniel. Revelation is often regarded as mysterious or unfathomable, but this isn’t true if one considers it in the context of the rest of the Scriptures, and allows God’s Word to speak for itself straightforwardly. Many times men don’t understand the Scriptures, not because they are difficult, but simply because we don’t want to believe what God’s Word plainly says, and men must rationalize their unbelief.

            II Tim. 3:16 says all Scripture is profitable for doctrine (Gr. didaskalia) so I don’t understand why you only consider Scripture that has already come to pass as doctrine and exclude Scripture that hasn’t yet been fulfilled. From God’s perspective, who inspired each Word (the writings, not just the ideas) it is all just as certain whether it has occurred yet or not, but in any case He says every God-breathed word is doctrine.

            I’m all for learning from others, including those in the early church (and indeed have learned much from them), but as you say, they often disagreed as well, so clearly their opinions are not sacred. Really, all I have provided here is very basic and established hermeneutics — the meaning of words used in the Bible according to established lexicons, and use of the words consistently within the Scriptures, comparing Scripture with Scripture to avoid private interpretations. The reason there is so much controversy in this case is because it is about ‘Hell’, and if it were about a topic of lesser import few would question the straightforward hermeneutics and reasoning.

          7. One other thought on hell and the Believer. For me, hell is secondary. What is primary is Jesus Christ, him crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected. We are called to imitate Him in His sufferings and overcome sin through Him.

            Hell and Heaven is secondary. I do not serve God our of fear of going to hell – my fear is being eternally separated from the love of Christ, nor do I serve Him because I want a heavenly reward.

            I serve Jesus Christ because while in my sins, He died for me.

            If I can live the life which He has called me to do, that is it’s own reward.

          8. Rory,

            I do not disagree that Revelation is revealed from Christ, however, much of it is still prophecy, and as Daniel said, prophecy is locked up until the end. Do we base doctrine – Scripture is profitable for instruction – on things which have been misunderstood and not presumed to be understood until the End, and more likely, after the things which are called for have already passed? I am reminded that Paul thought that Christ would come back shortly, and the generation after him and nearly every generation since then.

            I do not count Revelation – the parts dealing with prophecy – as the Doctrine of the Church, not until they have been fulfilled. Until then, it is profitable for instruction. I note that the same word used in 2nd Timothy 3.16 is used only a few times in this construct in the New Testament. An example:

            For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. (Rom 15:4 RSV)

            I would contend that in this case, it is talking about a teaching while in other constructs, it is talking about a code.

            The established lexicons are generally established for a reason – they fit into theological frameworks already established. Lexicons are great, but scholarship has come a long way in the last century so that we can come close to returning to the thought world, the narrative world, of the New Testament writers. Not only cultural contexts, but uses of the words have been added to our informational libraries. I wouldn’t use my dictionary in examining the bible. I would use the dictionary of the author’s themselves. The case with Gehenna is the prime example. How did the audience understand – the audience who first heard it? Again, since hell is not found in the OT, but in the NT, we should endeavor to listen to that which was first heard. Would the audience of 1st century Jerusalem understood Gehenna to mean an eternal torment? Frankly, no.

            Straightforwardness is often times defined by the deliverer. I believe that it is straightforward to assume that we cannot place the Scriptures within our culture and more importantly, our theology. Instead, we must place our theology inside of Scripture.

            If we use only Scripture to interpret Scripture – which is a fine place to start – we end up with only our thoughts and feelings instead. Instead, I believe that we must first test the doctrine not by our standards or the 16th century, but by the meaning which was first assigned. If Gehenna was understood by the Jews to be a punishment which would end, and it wasn’t until Augustine that it was codified (the doctrine of hell) than why should we not put ourselves in the seat of those who first heard the words, and not those who merely read them? This is not a private interpretation, but one which the Apostles would have understood as well.

            I note that Paul never used ‘hell’ or any in way referred to eternal torment. Instead, he said that they would face an age long destruction, loss or death.

            For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed– for our testimony to you was believed. (2Th 1:6-10 NAU)

            The only time he mentioned punishment by fire was in 1st Co. 3.13 in which the saint will be burned.

            Considering that for 2000 years, this topic has raged, no hermeneutic has yet solved it. Not because people find it difficult to accept, but because people have a hope and cannot see in a merciful God such an act. This is not about unbelief, but about understanding Scripture in the context in which it was first delivered and heard. Who are we to co-opt Scripture away from those who wrote it by imposing upon it our own understanding?

            I find it historically humorous that only now those who question the doctrine of hell are accused of unbelief – unbelief in what? – but for centuries it was a topic of discussion among believers who saw each other equally as such.

          9. For me, heaven and hell is secondary also. God is our Creator and loves us infinitely, and if we truly love Him, this is to be the primary basis for obeying Him each day, not future rewards or punishment. Christ was consumed with doing the Father’s will, even more than his necessary food in His human frame, and this should characterize us also.

          10. Hi Joel,

            It seems we agree on the Bible’s full inspiration and completely unique preeminence, but may disagree in how we should understand Scripture (hermeneutics, exegesis etc.)

            I well understand the limitations of translations and even lexicons, but there are also obvious shortcomings of conflicting historical views as well.

            The Bible makes clear its very words are inspired by God, and words must have consistent meaning for the ideas conveyed by them to also have consistent meaning. If words don’t have consistent meaning, we can forget about understanding anything, and this would obviously be inconsistent with God’s stated intent.

            God says His wisdom is straightforward (Prov. 8:7-9). He’s not trying to confuse us or limit understanding to a select few ‘gnostics’ with special super-knowledge, but to get His truth across to all mankind as clearly and effectively as possible, because God “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge [Gr. epignosis, precise and correct knowledge] of the truth” (I Tim. 2:4). We need to understand what the words mean, and trust that they are used consistently in the Scriptures since he says there are no private interpretations (2 Peter 1:20). God’s intent is to convey His truth to everyone and not confuse us.

            Do you believe the words used in the Scriptures have consistent meaning, or do you believe the meaning may vary based on non-Biblical sources (writings of the early church ‘fathers’, common phrases used outside the Scriptures, what is considered prophecy at a given time or not, etc.)?

            IF one believes the words in the Bible have consistent meaning as God’s unique revelation, then the most relevant question for the case at hand is simple:

            What do the words and phrase “for ever and ever” (Gr. aion aion) mean, in the context of the Scriptures?

            The word aion, from which we get the English word ‘eon’, most simply means an age, an indefinite long time. However, even aion alone can refer to eternity. John 6:58 indicates those who partake of Christ shall “live forever (eis aion)”, meaning they will always be alive and never die. I Peter 1:23 and and 1:25 say the Word of God “abideth for ever (eis aion)” and “endures for ever (eis aion)”. Heb. 13:8 states “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (eis aion)”, meaning the Son of God never changes. All Christian groups agree that these verses refer to eternity, time without end, and these verses cannot be excluded as merely common phrases, benedictions, sayings or mysterious prophecies.

            When a word is repeated in Greek it shows emphasis, such as the phrase “aion aion”, meaning age to age without end. “aion aion” consistently means eternity in the New Testament, and can be no exceptions since this precise term is applied to God (including His Word, life, glory, honor, power, blessing, reign, throne, and wisdom), the saved, and the lost. According to the Scriptures, the eternity of each angel and man is immutable, whether with God in unspeakable joy and blessing, or alienated and banished forever from Him and His blessings.

            According to Rev. 22:11-15, and after the final judgment and division is made, God forever allows the unrighteous to do unrighteousness still, the filthy to be made filthy still, the righteous to do righteousness still, and the holy to be made holy still (reflecting differences in Greek verb tenses). He will reward every person according to their work for eternity, and there will not be a static, stagnant condition for anyone. The unsaved will naturally continue to become more and more sinful into eternity, and similarly, the adopted child of God will continue to grow in righteousness and holiness forever! This is the final and most gripping picture of the gravity of our decisions and the resulting fate of mankind, more so than even the “Great White Throne” judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). I cannot imagine anything more horrifying on the one hand, or more glorious on the other.

          11. Rory, the consistent meaning is not supplied by our usage, but how they were first understood. We should endeavor to understand that, not how they are used now, or were used historically through the life of the Church. We know that Paul was a Pharisee, so we should start to understand his certain words and phrases through his community. By studying his thought world, shouldn’t we come closer to understanding what he meant rather than reading what was written centuries after him? Further, digging into the Gospels, shouldn’t we seek to understand them through the hears of those that heard Christ?

            I do not believe the meaning changes – although sometimes, application does to some extent. I believe that all Scripture is God-breathed and as such is unchangeable. The problem, however, is that the meaning is often shaded by the opinions of centuries of men who have tinkered with it.

            Proverbs 8 is speaking of Wisdom, a personified attribute of God, more often associated with Christ by Paul and other NT writers (including Christ). It was used to develop Wisdom Christology later on, and much to the chagrin of Arius, didn’t mean exactly what he thought it did. I do not believe that it applies to Scripture, but Wisdom’s words. As a matter of fact, the entire chapter details Wisdom’s works and authority.

            Concerning 2nd Peter concerns prophecy of Scripture – i.e. those things pertaining to Christ and His Church, Grace and the New Covenant. Taking the entire passage in view, we find that Peter was fighting against those who didn’t believe in Christ as historical, perhaps. I find it notable that both of these passages speak of ‘utterances’ from a heavenly source which Peter demands were understand by those who heard them.

            Are words used consistently in Scripture? Each author has a unique style. Paul uses certain words which are not found anywhere else in Scripture. Further, we know that they used the LXX and others writings as their source material. This is why we have to dig through the works of the time, their communities and theologies, and put ourselves in the sandals of those who would have heard it. This is not the same as a super secret gnostic understanding which was more often than not built on philosophical ideas and ‘revelation.’ What I speak of can be tested by history. In using the Fathers and early writers, I test by them, but I understand that they have been influenced by their own theologies as well and their own cultures, which is very important. When we read Clement and Origen and Justin, we can see them using Logos according to the Greek Philosophers, such as Plato. Did John use it this way? And should we use Justin or John’s word in determining what the Fourth writer meant in John 1?

            If we didn’t use ‘outside sources’ then we wouldn’t know what the Greek means. Lexicons use other sources as well. This is not a new practice. Can we rely on Scripture only if no one knows how to read Hebrew and Greek? This is why other sources are used in these lexicons. Further, as such things as the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and more documents from that time frame, a better understanding has developed about the original languages. Should we dispense with the original languages as well and those sources which guide us in translating them? Surely not.

            I agree with you completely on the meaning aoin and if we find it double, it means something greater.

            Look at the break in Revelation 22.9 and 22.10:

            But he said, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers the prophets, as well as all who obey what is written in this book. Worship only God!”

            And

            Then he instructed me, “Do not seal up the prophetic words in this book, for the time is near. (Rev 22:9-10 NLT)

            There is a break in which there is a warning that Christ is coming soon. He does speak about bringing a reward to all according to their deeds, but the phrase which means eternity is non-existent. I read this as a post-script, as a matter of fact, it is seems that starting at verse 8, it is no longer prophetic language, but post-script, wrap-up. Further, there is differentiated a city for the righteous, but only ‘without’ for the sinners.

          12. Hi Joel,

            I understand what you’re saying, and agree in terms of depth, but not in terms of creating inconsistencies with the Bible’s plain meaning. God says He wills all men to be saved, and to come to precise and correct knowledge of the truth.

            If it is required to understand extensive extrabiblical writings other than the meaning of the Bible’s language itself to gain a correct understanding of even vital doctrines (e.g. the eternity of God, the saved and the lost), how many people have understood and will possibly understand it? This would limit a correct understanding of God’s Word to an extremely small minority, which is inconsistent with God’s stated intent. If this is the approach you advocate (is it?), I don’t find this consistent with God’s character or stated will in His Word.

            If additional knowledge creates inconsistencies with a plain reading of established meaning of Hebrew and Greek words within the context of the Scriptures, we should carefully examine if we have lost sight of the forest for the trees.

            Contrasting the saved and the lost for the final time in the Scriptures, Rev. 22:14-15 says:

            “Blessed [are] they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. For without [are] dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.”

            If the lost were simply annihilated already, who are the people referred to in v.15, and why would the saved and lost be simply contrasted here if one group were alive and the other nonexistent? This wouldn’t make sense.

            Unless one is predisposed to invent extremely complex workarounds to avoid the obvious, the annihilation position just doesn’t work. If one is predisposed to not believe in the eternal nature of the lost and their residence in Hell, which is an increasing trend, then they may do so. Most pastors will no longer even talk on this topic today because so many people will not tolerate sound doctrine.

            One thing I have discovered, is there can never be enough evidence to convince someone who doesn’t want to believe something.

          13. Rory,

            Can anything that God wills not happen? If He willed that all men were saved, and if we take that as plain and as literal as Genesis 1, then that alone should prove universalism.

            First, I never said that it was required to understand extrabiblical writings. What I said was is that it is important to understand what the writers meant when they wrote it. Others want to use the 16th century understanding. Others a modern understanding. Me? I want to understand it how it was first written. Do you believe that the meanings have changed? If not, they where do you get your meanings?

            I find that often times those who reject ‘additional’ knowledge rather find inconsistency with their their theological understanding of Scripture, rather than Scripture being theological inconsistent.

            Regarding Rev. 22.14-15. I never said they were completely annihilated. I said that in the final passage, we find two groups of people. One in the city and one without. Scripture does not, however, assign a destination other than that, ‘without’ to those who are not in the city. I do not agree with annihilation.

            Rory, you seem to state that the difficulty with hell is a new thing, but since the beginning, honest and sincere believers have questioned each other regarding hell without questioning the faith of another. Hell is an established doctrine now, but it hasn’t always been. Not sure it is fair to say that because someone questions hell they do not tolerate sound doctrine as that simply wasn’t the case for centuries after Christ.

          14. Hi Joel,

            Regarding God’s will for all to be saved, this is completely true, but does not prove universalism, because independent will of angels and men are real and must be accounted for. We are not merely players in a cosmic puppet show, and those who believe everything is God’s will would logically have to include evil, which is a hideous lie. This is why James emphasizes that we are not to err and fall into this trap:

            “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:13-17).

            You are right that sometimes men reject additional knowledge because they simply are not open to changing their position, but it is also true that men often seek man’s ideas to avoid the clear teaching of the Bible, and want to rationalize and justify their unbelief. History is full of both, is it not?

            I know the difficulty with Hell is not new, far from it. From my own study, however, I find it is much more to do with man’s difficulty of trying to reconcile the idea of a God of pure love with eternal punishment (anthropocentric), rather than the words of the Scriptures which are uniquely inspired by God (theocentric). Little, finite man struggles to reconcile these ideas, sometimes by maligning the character of God, and sometimes by twisting, diluting, or ignoring the Scriptures, but man has no business doing either.

            It seems you agree Gr. aion aion means eternity, and therefore even that the ‘lake of fire’ is eternal (e.g. that the beast, false prophet, Satan, and those who worship the beast are there, since this is said explicitly), but the question is more about who else is going where (i.e. the ‘degree’ of universalism one believes in). However, the Bible also explicitly says “whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). So, who is written in the Lamb’s book of life and who isn’t? It’s one or the other. From the Bible’s language, there isn’t any question about the existence or eternal duration of Hell, but the more complex question is about who is ‘saved’ and who isn’t.

            As I mentioned before, and emphatically from the verb tenses therein, no one is ceasing to exist, even after the ‘lake of fire’ event:

            “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still” (Rev. 22:11).

            Hypothetically for the moment, let’s say ‘Hell’ is the abode of the conscious lost for eternity, which is what I believe the Bible’s words clearly teach. Many people imagine this would presents an intractable and irreconcilable problem, but the reality is that God’s character and wisdom are not called into question in such case, and ours is. Little, finite man is in no position to sit in judgment on our loving, omniscient and all-wise God and think that He is any less loving or merciful even if there is an place of conscious eternal torment for the lost. In such case, we are to trust His character, wisdom and judgment, as revealed in His Word and through Christ, and realize it is our character and judgment that is flawed if we would consider otherwise.

            Without being omniscient ourselves, it is ridiculous for any of us minuscule creations to imagine we have enough information to sit in judgment on the Creator in any regard. God will not stand accountable, on trial before man. When we question the integrity of God’s character and His right to do something, He always answers the bigger problem of our disrespect, rather than provide a direct answer to our questions. God always answers He is justified because He is our Creator. Similar to Romans 9, God never answered Job’s questions about why his great suffering happened, but God’s answer to Job was only to describe in majestic detail His role as Creator. When Job finally beheld the glory of God and the unworthiness of himself more clearly, he deeply repented of all his doubts about God’s character (Job 38-42:6). It is a safe assumption that none of us can hold a candle to the righteousness of Job, so we are in no position to question God either.

            When we question God’s motives, it is like a small child impugning the character of their parent by asking them an accusatory question, and the parent may respond only “because I’m your Father.” In our case, we should examine ourselves when such a question is asked by our children, to ensure our own motives are loving and wise, but in God’s case, this indirect slandering of His holy and perfect character is never justified. Until and unless our heart is humble before our Creator, He will not answer the deeper questions of His own heart, wisdom, and character as revealed in salvation and damnation.

            Thanks Joel, and more on universalism later, God willing …

          15. Rory,

            Trust me, I agree with the idea of ‘will of God’ but my point is, is that once you start taking the bible passages in context, we should take the entire bible in the contexts which it was delivered across the centuries.

            You study is seemingly based on your own presupposition, no offense, and is casting all of the people throughout the centuries who were never criticized for such beliefs into one lot. From the earliest days of Christianity, men have differed on this without aspersions about the intent of the other. I would hope that we can continue that tradition.

            Actually, there is a question on the duration of such things, considering that the Greek means ‘age-long.’ I note that often in the Greek Old Testament, this word was applied to the Law. Is the law still in effect? Of is that age over with?

            Yes, I agree that those not found in the book of life is cast into hell, yet, right before that, we find mentioned that everyone was judged after being delivered up from the grave(s) on their deeds. We have different things on here. We have the first judgment, the second death, the judgment after Gog and MaGog, the judgment of the people delivered up out from the sea and the grave and judged on their deeds, and finally, everyone no written in the book of life.

            Returning again to Rev. 22 – I am not saying that consciousness ceases, yet you seem to keep saying that I am. I said that they are without the City, but it doesn’t say hell. I note that the kings of the nations – which represent their people – bring their glory into the city of God. Further, this happens after everyone who is not found in the book of life is cast into the Lake of Fire (the only tangible notion of hell). So, after all that the judgment and the casting out and placing in, we still have sinners roaming around surrendering to God and the unredeemed ‘without.’

            No one is speaking about judging God; however, we can look at see patterns in the Old Testament. If the bones of Joseph is a sign of the resurrection, if the forbearance of God with Israel is a symbol of Grace, the fall of Israel the end of that long suffering, what then the restoration of Israel? Further, we know because God is righteous, He sent Christ to redeem us.

            Rory, while I appreciate this, I think that some of my points are going on answered.

          16. Hi Joel,

            Whether in the early church or today, I understand why people have struggled with reconciling God’s character, which is the very essence of love far beyond our understanding, with an eternal Hell. This is certainly worthy of deep consideration, but men’s limited understanding and judgment should not bias our views of God’s infallible Word whether mere men can reconcile these things or not.

            God hates evil because God is love. Since good and evil exist, one cannot truly love one without hating the other, because they are deadly, irreconcilable enemies. Those who love good must hate evil, and those who love evil must hate good.

            God’s love is so overwhelming, pure, holy, and victorious that it is far beyond human understanding. However, with such purity of goodness and indescribable power of holy love must come an equally indescribable and unimaginable abhorrence and hatred of evil, which must one day be purged from God’s universe to go to its own place. God’s love is far beyond human love, and his hatred of evil is far beyond human hate, not only in intensity, but also in objectivity and inscrutability. Human love and hate is often self-serving, capricious and unreasonable, but God’s never is.

            God loves even His enemies, and commands us to do so also, so we may be like our Heavenly Father. Even though God loves His enemies, however, He hates sin/evil, and commands us to do likewise. If we truly love the Lord and goodness, we are commanded to hate evil as He does, in the same way we are to love our enemies as He does!

            God, the source of all good, hates evil the most and will ultimately destroy it, completely and eternally separating it from good. The Lord also loves justice, but Satan, the original source of evil, hates good the most and wants to destroy it, including God and His redeemed servants (Deut. 16:18-20, Psa. 9:7-8, 11:5-7, 33:5, 45:6-7, 89:14, 97:2, 103:6, Prov. 21:15, 29:26, Isa. 1:17, 5:7, 11:4, 30:18, 33:5, 42:1-4, 51:4-5, 56:1, 61:8, Jer. 9:24, Zech. 7:9, Matt. 12:18-20, 23:23, Luke 11:42, Acts 17:31, Rom. 3:23-26, Rev. 19.11, Ex. 18:21, Deut. 12:31, 16:21-22, Psa. 5:4-6, 11:4-7, 45:6-7, 97:10, 119:104-105, Prov. 1:29-33, 6:16-19, 8:13, 35-36, 13:5, 29:10, Isa. 61:8, Jer. 44:4-5, Ezek. 35:6, Amos 5:15, Mic. 3:1-4, Zech. 8:16-17, Matt. 5:43-48 , John 3:19-21, 7:7, 15:24-25, Rom. 12:9, Heb. 1:9, James 4:5, I John 3:11-13).

            God takes no pleasure in evil or in destruction of the wicked, who cannot dwell in His presence. The Lord does not willingly afflict or grieve men, and their judgment is referred to as His strange work. God is not a sadist, pleased in creating the wicked for destruction from the beginning. Using man’s reasoning that our omnipotent God could stop evil if He wanted to, a number of Christian leaders refer to evil as the “conditional will” of God – although the Bible never does so! Rather than subtly slander God in this manner, the truth is that evil developed and persists within the creation completely of its own free will. God has no part in evil (Psa. 5:4, Lam 3:33).

            The judgment of God upon the whole earth is described as a strange, unrelated, foreign, and alien work of God. Although it is necessary because of sin, it is not, nor has it ever been God’s primary intention for any of His creation. He wants and even pleads for the wicked to repent, so they will not have to be destroyed (Isa. 28:16-22, Ezek. 18:23,31-32, 33:11).

          17. Rory,

            It does have a lot to do with reconciling God’s character with the idea of eternal torment for sinners – especially those as the Calvinists would have us believe, had no choice in the matter.

            It also is a matter of reconciling Scripture with Scripture. Of the times which Scripture mentions Gehenna, that word is found only in the Gospels. The audience of the Gospels would have looked outside of Jerusalem to the smoking trash heaps of Gehenna and heard what the other Rabbi’s were saying as well – Gehenna is a temporary torment of the wicked. How is it that we here Christ speak of an everlasting torment when His first audience didn’t? Further, of the times in which it was mentioned, the language is parabolic or hyperbolic.

            In Revelation, we find that an everlasting torment is assigned to the unholy trinity of Satan, the Beast and the False Prophet and only in Rev. 14.11 do we find the double emphasis of age-long used for those who take the mark of the beast. I note that it is for those who take the mark, but this punishment is not given to others throughout history. I note as well that in some readings and traditions on 1st Peter 3 and 4 a harrowing as already taken place.

            Also, I note that

            And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
            The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Rev 21:23-27 NAU)

            I note the phrase which is used of sinners in Revelation as one surrendering Glory to that city.

            Again, Revelation is filled with prophetic language.

          18. “There is also the fallacy of translating everything as ‘hell’ which is what the KJV did”

            I completely agree there, this causes a lot of unnecessary confusion.

            For example, those who equate ‘hades’ or ‘sheol’ with ‘Hell’ based on certain translations would have to be, er, very creative with verses such as Rev. 20:14a, “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.”

            However, I have learned never to doubt men’s ‘creativity’ in this regard.

        2. Oh, I neglected to respond to your point about ‘for ever and ever’ being a common blessing when applied to God. Even though ‘for ever and ever’ was used as a common blessing, not all the verses I mentioned about God fall into the ‘common blessing’ category (please take a look), and in any case do not negate the meaning of the words or their consistent applicability within the Scriptures.

          Even if one excludes all those verses from consideration though (which is not valid), it doesn’t change anything. The phrase is also used of saved men in Rev. 22:5, so must be consistently applied in any case. If saved men live and reign with Christ for ever and ever, then the lost are in Hell for ever and ever.

          1. Yep, I noted the differences, but when applied to God/Jesus Christ, it is a rather common phrase. The more so in Revelation, but that is to be expected.

            I am hesitant about assuming anything not expressly found in Scripture.

  9. Rory

    You say that Jesus “Christ Jesus had more to say about hell than anyone.” That may be, but he still said very little about it. he spoke about the fate of the saved more often than he spoke about the fate of the lost.

    It’s definitely false that Christ spoke more about hell than his contemporaries. First century Judaism had some wild nd crazy speculation about the afterlife. For Jesus it was much more simple: Life or death.

    1. Hi Glenn,

      Yes Christ spoke about the fate of the saved more than the lost. It is healthiest to be motivated by love of God rather than fear of punishment, although the presence of the latter is also necessary given our sin natures. I believe God’s primary intent is for all to be saved, and that not even a single person is foreordained to be lost. Christ said if we love Him to obey His commandments. Even with our own children, isn’t it much better and healthier for them to do what we ask them because they love us, instead of doing things to avoid negative consequences?

      Thanks for the needed clarification. I meant that Christ said more about Hell than anyone in the Bible, but I didn’t explicitly say that! You’re right about Christ that it was life or death, and He left no room for gray areas or middle ground.

      – Rory

  10. Polycarp’s post @ February 27, 2010 at 7:52 am

    Thank you so much for this such a knowledgeable and insightful post. Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge Joel. An absolute pleasure to read.

  11. I think: “which must one day be purged from God’s universe to go to its own place” should simply read “which must one day be purged.”

    All creation is God’s, and one day there will be no evil in it.

    1. Glenn, reading some of the early writings, I note that early Christian thinkers believed much the same thing.

    2. Hi Glenn,

      Yes, all creation is God’s as you say.

      The thought about “its own place” was from:

      “That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place” (Acts 1:25).

      … but I suppose this reference was less than obvious to say the least.

      Grace and Peace,

      Rory

      1. I was thinking more along the lines of this:

        For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. (Rom 8:19-23 NAU)

  12. im not saying preach it to scare people but if you dont how people going to no right from worng if you dont preach hell people going to think they can do what they want and still go to heaven

      1. Hi James,

        Funny, and unlike Joel’s I think some of my writing here is pretty messy including quite a few typos and formatting errors, but I’m glad it looks well edited, lol. I should really try to find a compatible editor also rather than just type in the blog box I suppose!

        Blessings,

        Rory

  13. I believe in what the Bible teaches,, Jesus taught more about hell than anyone else in the Word of God. Jesus described hell as an unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12), a place of eternal fire, (Matthew 25:41) eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46), and as a place of torment, fire, and agony (Luke 16:23-24). Jesus taught specifically about hell many times in His ministry (Matthew 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43-47; Luke 12:6; 16:23). Do you believe the Book, the Bible or not???

    1. Deb, Christ said that the fire would burn up the chaff, but this fire is connected to the Holy Spirit in Matthew 3.11

      In Matthew 25.41, this is part of the debate. First, Christ is speaking in a parable – which been misunderstood to mean that all it takes is good works to enter in. Further, we are still discussing ‘age-long.’

      Luke 16 is a parable. Further, the Rich Man wasn’t in hell, but in the Grave.

      In Matthew 5, Christ also said to cut off our hands if they offend us or gouge out our eyes. Do you believe this? Or do we take it as a language which is hyperbolic? Christ also said to hate our parents? Do we take this literally? We have read the bible as it is. When Christ is speaking in parables, do we take the words literally? No. So if people aren’t willing to cut their hands off or make themselves eunuchs, then do they believe the bible?

  14. Hi Joel,

    You have presented a considerable amount of information, including discussions about how to understand the Scriptures but less so about your own position until recent posts, so I am just beginning to understand that (I think). I’m not sure about other readers, but it helps me to know not only what process you follow, but what conclusions the process has led you to (about the topic of ‘Hell’ in this case). My apologies if I have misunderstood your position at times, I am trying the best I can to understand but have not always found it obvious.

    I agree that some of your points are going unanswered, but I also think some of my points have gone unanswered. For me this is ok in this kind of forum since there are seemingly an infinite number of things one could comment on, but if there are specific things you think are most important that I missed and you would like me to respond to please let me know.

    Regarding the verses you referred to in Rev. 21, let’s take a look in context. Referring to the city, new Jerusalem:

    “And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it. And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there. And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it. And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither [whatsoever] worketh abomination, or [maketh] a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:24-27).

    These ‘kings of the earth’ that enter the city must have been written in the Lamb’s book of life, and cannot be roaming sinners, because no one enters the city unless they are written in the Lamb’s book of life. This is consistent, since all those who were not in the Lamb’s book of life were cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).

    Blessings, Rory

    1. Rory, making mention that the ‘kings of the earth’ are written in the Book of Life is a far stretch considering that the kings of the earth mentioned in Psalms, Prophecy and Revelation are those who stand continually against Christ:

      NASB Psalm 2:2 The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
      NASB Psalm 76:12 He will cut off the spirit of princes; He is feared by the kings of the earth.
      NASB Psalm 89:27 “I also shall make him My firstborn, The highest of the kings of the earth.
      NASB Psalm 102:15 So the nations will fear the name of the LORD And all the kings of the earth Your glory.
      NASB Psalm 138:4 All the kings of the earth will give thanks to You, O LORD, When they have heard the words of Your mouth.
      NASB Psalm 148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples; Princes and all judges of the earth;
      NASB Isaiah 24:21 So it will happen in that day, That the LORD will punish the host of heaven on high, And the kings of the earth on earth.
      NASB Lamentations 4:12 The kings of the earth did not believe, Nor did any of the inhabitants of the world, That the adversary and the enemy Could enter the gates of Jerusalem.
      NASB Matthew 17:25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?”
      NASB Acts 4:26 ‘THE KINGS OF THE EARTH TOOK THEIR STAND, AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER AGAINST THE LORD AND AGAINST HIS CHRIST.’
      NASB Revelation 1:5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood–
      NASB Revelation 6:15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains;
      NASB Revelation 17:2 with whom the kings of the earth committed acts of immorality, and those who dwell on the earth were made drunk with the wine of her immorality.”
      NASB Revelation 17:18 “The woman whom you saw is the great city, which reigns over the kings of the earth.”
      NASB Revelation 18:3 “For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and
      NAU Revelation 18:9 “And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning,
      NASB Revelation 19:19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army.
      NASB Revelation 21:24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.

      Actually, my opinion is rather a traditional one, but I must explore, press, and dig to assure my self in my doctrine. I believe in a hell, but I don’t fear it. I feel like judgment is where my concern is. Further, I feel that universalism a hope, and a sincere hope of many. Do I ‘think’ that hell might be a temporary place? Well, based on the usage of Gehenna? Yes, I do.

      However, the very fact remains that the ‘Lake of Fire’ is given a place in Scripture unparalleled by other wrath and punishments. Yet, there are questions which remain, which give me hope, such as the fact that the same kings of the earth which warred against Christ and His Host surrender to Christ in the city.

      I am reforming and I hope, growing. If that is not the life of the Christian, then we should all return to 16th century Rome and burn the bones of Calvin.

      1. Indeed, the kings of this present evil world generally stand against Christ, but Rev. 21:24-27 occurs after the new heavens and new earth are created, and says the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it, and these kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. v. 26 clarifies that it is the glory and honor of these (saved) nations that will be brought in, just like the kings, and linking these two concepts together. Unlike most kings of this present corrupt world, these men are saved, and this is emphasized in the immediately following verse, which indicates no one is entering the city who is not written in the Lamb’s book of life.

        Rev. 22:19 confirms this again, saying:

        “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book”

        So, no one will enter the city who is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and those who are not written in the Book of Life are those who have no part in the holy city.

        1. Rory, the verse says,

          And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. (Rev 21:23-24 NASB)

          Since the only phrase ‘kings of the earth’ is very specific, and does not allow for a change, the same kings who have stood against Christ since Psalm 2 are the same ones who enter into the City to surrender their glory. Further, you are adding to what this passage is saying by adding the word ‘saved’. Scripture does not say this. We go from Rev. 19.19 where the kings of the earth are following the beast to stand against Christ. Further, it says that those with the beast were killed after the beast was seized by Christ:

          And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh. (Rev 19:19-21 NASB)

          Where then is the notion of repentance – especially since these would have taken the mark of the beast. In chapter 13 and 14, all those who are with Christ take the mark of the beast. These kings are not with Christ.

          So, again, we have after all the judgments, after the grave is ended, death is over, and more judgments, we have no mention of hell, only of the City and the Without. Further, we have the kings of the earth who fought against Christ, after having to had taken the mark of the beast, were slaughtered by Christ and now? At the very end, they enter the city with what I assume are the nations.

          I note that the city is revealed to John, the angel then reveals something further, something which heals the nations,

          Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. (Rev 22:1-4 NASB)

          Further, when we examine ‘nations’ in Revelation, we find much like the Kings of the Earth, this word is used as a collective concerning those who are against God. Only in relation to Christ do we find that ‘nations’ takes on a different spectrum. Only in relation to Christ are the nations saved.

          What is more,

          “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For ALL THE NATIONS WILL COME AND WORSHIP BEFORE YOU, FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUS ACTS HAVE BEEN REVEALED.” (Rev 15:4 NASB)

          Why is that when we read the word ‘all’ we have a problem with it?

          What are we to make of everything rushing head long into judgment? There are two types of people in Revelation. Those who take the mark and those who do not. The kings and the nations take the mark, the saints do not. Those who take the mark are cast into hell, but in the last chapter, we see the same people who have taken the mark become healed in the city. Do we interject what is not there? And if so, how?

          No where in Revelation do we find the possibility that the Kings were saved nor the nations. Both are destroyed and yet, both are healed.

          1. Hi Joel,

            I truly don’t understand why this is being made so complicated. Regarding the city, Rev. 21:27 says in a single phrase:

            “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither [whatsoever] worketh abomination, or [maketh] a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27).

            If anyone enters the city, then, what does that tell you about them?

          2. Rory, what is complicated is that before that, we find the same people who have slaughtered the saints and stood against Christ finally coming to the city and being healed. Of course, that might not be all that complicated.

            I’ll pick up on this on another post, as I think it deserves it.

          3. You said previously:

            “I note that the kings of the nations – which represent their people – bring their glory into the city of God. Further, this happens after everyone who is not found in the book of life is cast into the Lake of Fire (the only tangible notion of hell). So, after all that the judgment and the casting out and placing in, we still have sinners roaming around surrendering to God and the unredeemed ‘without.’”

            I can go to the other thread, but I just want to clarify your perspective on a few things based on your response about these Rev. 21:24-27 people (kings et. al.) who you believe stood against Christ but came to the city and were healed.

            Were they written in the Book of Life or not?
            Did they go in the ‘lake of fire’ or not?
            What do you mean by ‘healed’? Do you mean ‘saved’?
            When were they ‘saved’? Before or after the ‘lake of fire’ event?
            – If before, why do you say they are sinners when outside the city?
            – If after, how did they escape the ‘lake of fire’ judgment?
            Do they enter the city or not?

            You (or I) can copy this to the new thread if you prefer to continue the discussion there.

            thanks, rory

  15. A point for Joel:

    Could the kings of the earth who enter the city be the ruling saints? Revelation 20:4 mentions thrones during the millennium. Perhaps the saints are the kings of the earth, replacing the previous ones.

    A point for Rory:

    Language in the NT that describes hell—unquenchable fire, eternal fire, eternal—is used in the OT for punishment that is temporary. Israel either comes out of it and is restored, or a nation is destroyed. My post, http://jamesbradfordpate.blogspot.com/2008/07/me-on-universalism-forever.html, discusses this.

    1. James, while I understand what you are saying, it would seem unlikely that the author while using the same terminology would have a completely different meaning attached to it without some sort of explanation.

      I posted on the OT today. What say ye, James?

      1. Thanks for the link! Actually, your point on Isaiah 66 was interesting, because I was going to ask you about that passage. In the course of your discussion with Rory, you said something to the effect that the wicked outside of the New Jerusalem aren’t said to be in hell. I thought of Isaiah 66, which I remembered to say that they shall go out and see the wicked corpses, whose worm does not die. For some reason, I thought that meant going outside of the city. Some translations have “going out” and others have “going forth,” and I was looking at the latter, so I thought maybe I was wrong. But the Hebrew is yatsa—go out.

        But you yourself connect Isaiah 66 with the people outside of the city in Revelation. Are you saying now that those outside of the city are in hell?

        I’m about to take a look at your other posts today. Thanks for blogging on this topic!

        1. Note sure, really. If we look at all of Isaiah 66, it is talking about a restoration of Jerusalem, physically.

          If we take 66 as prophetically, and I tend to, then we look at verse 23 which says ‘all of humanity’ and only mentions the dead then in verse 24 it talks about only the dead bodies (not souls) lasting forever.

    2. Hi James,

      Good and interesting post, thanks. Say, you have quite a left column going there as well!

      As you said there, Gr. aion and Heb. olam do not imply eternity in every case. However, Gr. aion aion does mean eternity in every case.

      What do you think hm?

      – Rory

      1. You mean my links to other blogs, Rory? Yup, my left column’s pretty diverse.

        I have to admit that aion aion means eternity in a lot of cases, for it often occurs in the context of God having glory forever. But I’m not sure if it does in every case. Here are some verses where questions enter my mind:

        In Tobit 14:15, we read that, before Tobit died, he was thankful for the destruction of Nineveh, and he blessed the Lord God forever and ever. Odd verse. And it doesn’t explicitly mention an afterlife.

        In Revelation 19:3, we read that the smoke of fallen Babylon went up forever and ever. But this doesn’t seem to describe eternal torment, but rather the destruction and desolation of a city.

        The there are Psalms that talk about God giving the king length of days forever and ever, or the Psalmist praising God and keeping God’s commandments forever and ever. But the meaning of aion aion there may depend on if you believe the king is Christ not David, or if you think the Psalmist believes in an afterlife.

        1. Hi James,

          I also find the Rev. 19:3 verse provocative. I think ‘Mystery Babylon’ is probably more than just a physical city, but the smoke there seems to be physical smoke. From a visual standpoint, I wonder if this means something like ‘as far as the eye can see’ (i.e. that it appears to go up forever to the viewer). This is what I suspect, just my guess.

          Thanks,

          Rory

          1. Hi Rory. What’s interesting about your statement is that it reminds me of how some interpret the undying worm in Gehenna. For some, it’s not as if the worms are eternal. Rather, it was the case that, in Gehenna, there were always worms to eat up the body. Worms kept coming! You couldn’t get rid of them! Your statement reminded me of that because both say that the language is used based on what appears to the viewer.

          2. Hey James. Yes, very interesting, and good observation.

            I think Christ used the Valley of Hinnom and its seemingly eternal worms is a picture of the eternal lake of fire, but the picture doesn’t have to conform to the reality exactly to be useful so people can better understand and relate to it.

            Blessings, Rory

          3. Rory, that seems to be the rub. In the time of Christ, Gehenna is still seen as temporal and only centuries later did it become eternal.

          4. Hi Joel,

            Where’s the rub? Christ often used physical things currently around Him to bring home spiritual and prophetic truths to people, and the physical didn’t have to be an exact representation of the spiritual reality. Christ said He is the bread of life and we were to eat Him, but that doesn’t mean we are to be cannibals.

            There was no physical object Christ could point to on Earth that was truly eternal, since He will one day create a new heavens and Earth, but the Valley of Hinnom was judged by Him to be a useful picture. The obvious temporal existence of the Valley of Hinnom is no reason to assume the lake of fire or punishment of the lost is not eternal, as more directly indicated in Revelation.

          5. Rory,

            The rub is that it seems if we miss how the audience of Christ would have understood Gehenna – which is temporary – and instead impose later theological thought, we are doing an injustice to the text.

            Christ spoke of eternal life but where was the object He pointed at?

            I note that Christ only used Gehenna – and He is the only one to use it – in parables or hyperbolic language. Further, since He never corrected the usage, I do not believe He was using Gehenna as an eternal hell. There is a very real reason why to assume that when Christ used Gehenna He was referring to something temporal. First, nothing at the time spoke of an eternal hell. The Jews believed that Gehenna was temporary. He used it in language which was not to be taken literally – unless you believe we should gouge out our eyes or cut off our hands.

            And yes, you are most correct that about the bread of life. Christ also spoke hyperbolic about hating parents. Further, He said that when He was crucified, He would draw all men to Him and He used a term to denote a temporary place of torment for those who were cast out in His parables. So, yes, there is a real reason to assume that Christ did not mean an eternal torment for sinners.

  16. Obviously, Christ knew that the physical fires of the Valley of Hinnom would one day be quenched, but referring to the future punishment of the wicked, Christ said three times:

    ” … and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44b,46b,48b).

    How clear could Christ make this, and how many times did He have to say it? Christ’s words indicate He was referring to something eternal and obviously beyond the temporal example, and we should not spiritualize away the immediate meaning and context of His words. Even if one chooses not to believe this, it certainly can’t be used as a proof text that Hell and the punishment of inhabitants therein is temporary just because some men have believed so. That would truly be doing injustice to the immediate text of Christ’s Words, and giving undue deference to possible misunderstandings of men.

    I don’t believe we should gouge out our eyes and cut off our hands and feet, but that isn’t what Christ said. He indicated it would be better to do these things and enter into eternal life than to use them for sin and enter into Hell, which is quite literally true. Any temporal sacrifice would be better than an eternal Hell, so there is no conflict in Christ’s statements.

    Moreover, consider the close relationship of Christ’s words to the final verses of Isaiah, which Christ was seemingly expounding upon. The following verses obviously refer to the eternal realm also, and are similar to verses in Revelation:

    “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, [that] from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” (Isa. 66:22-24).

    I believe we should consider conflicting views of people in the early church as well as the church at other times through the modern day, but make our own direct evaluation also. I would not advocate constraining our view of Scripture to be refracted through the prism of the fallible and internally conflicting opinions of men in the early church, as if they were necessarily a more qualified or intended target audience of God’s eternal and infallible Word than men today.

    1. Rory, taking that portion of Scripture literal requires that if your eye causes you to sin, or hand, or foot, that we remove it from the body. Do you believe this? If your eye/foot/hand caused you to stumble, then you are required to cut it off in order to get to heaven. Would you suggest to someone who is lustful that they go blind? Where then is the grace of Christ in that? We are also told to hate our parents. Do you believe that as well?

      I completely agree – Isaiah is connected. Isaiah, however is speaking of bodies, not souls, and that all men will come before God. I note that in the OT, an after life of eternal punishment is not mentioned, only a punishment on earth to those who have warred against Israel. Here, God is speaking about the restoration of Jerusalem – the New Jerusalem I would believe, if looking through the lens of Christ.

      I believe we must make a direct evaluation, based on evidence and understanding, but keeping in mind that greater men have discussed this without assuming that the other is somehow not following Scripture.

      Considering that God does change, that His word doesn’t change, and that only men change, it behooves us to understand how it was first delivered.

      1. Rory, I also want to add that in Gospels, we only find Gehenna mentioned in parables and hyperbole, but we find eternal life in direct statements. Perhaps we can compare that?

      2. Hi Joel,

        I think you misunderstood what I said, so perhaps I did not express it adequately.

        I’m not claiming that Christ said we should remove our eyes and limbs, only that this would be better than being cast into hell fire. Christ is making a comparison between the two so we understand how horrible being cast into the unquenched fire is, not suggesting that we maim ourselves.

        I think the OT does not conclusively address the issue either way. The clearer view and evidence for this is in the NT as for many topics that were previously more of a ‘mystery’ (not as fully revealed). Most specifically, I think there’s a reason Revelation is called the Revelation of Jesus Christ, revealing many things that could not otherwise be known, including a much clearer view of distant events and eternity future.

        I am all for understanding how the Scriptures were first delivered, and not taking opinions of the church ‘fathers’ lightly (again, I am personally very thankful for their writings and insights). On the other hand, I don’t believe we should be constrained by their views since they are men as we are even though they may indeed be much greater men than we. Did they use Facebook?

        God changes? What? Was this a typo?

        1. Rory, I agree with your statement, but I am trying to get to a point. You recognize the hyperbolic language of one statement, but not the other in the same passage.

          Yeah, that was a typo! God does not change. Whew… and to think, it was National Grammar Day and I made a type.

          Rory, again, I am not talking about constraint on views, but constraint on charges on heresy.

          1. Hi Joel,

            I see I have failed to convey my thoughts on those verses accurately again and am at a loss how to further clarify, sigh. I don’t think the language in those verses about maiming is hyperbolic, but hypothetical, does that help?

            Haha you are a kick Joel. Maybe you did that to celebrate National Grammar Day. I think I’m still wining the overall typo war though, which is not something I’m proud of, lol.

            Thanks for the clarification. Yeah let’s avoid lightly throwing the ‘heresy’ word around, there’s more than enough of that. Everyone accuses everyone who disagrees with them of heresy (speaking hyperbolically that is).

            Blessings, Rory

  17. Obviously, Christ knew that the physical fires of the Valley of Hinnom would one day be quenched, but referring to the future punishment of the wicked, Christ said three times:

    ” … and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44b,46b,48b).

    How clear could Christ make this, and how many times did He have to say it? His words indicate He was referring to something eternal and obviously beyond the temporal example, and we should not spiritualize away the immediate meaning and context of His words. Even if one chooses not to believe this, it certainly can’t be used as a proof text that Hell and the punishment of inhabitants therein is temporary just because some men have believed so. That would truly be doing injustice to the immediate text of Christ’s Words, and giving undue deference to possible misunderstandings of men.

    I don’t believe we should gouge out our eyes and cut off our hands and feet, but that isn’t what Christ said. He indicated it would be better to do these things and enter into eternal life than to use them for sin and enter into Hell, which is quite literally true. Any temporal sacrifice would be better than an eternal Hell, so there is no conflict in Christ’s statements.

    Moreover, consider the close relationship of Christ’s words to the final verses of Isaiah, which Christ was seemingly expounding upon. The following verses obviously refer to the eternal realm also, and are similar to verses in Revelation:

    “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, [that] from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” (Isa. 66:22-24).

    I believe we should consider conflicting views of people in the early church as well as the church at other times through the modern day, but make our own direct evaluation also. I would not advocate constraining our view of Scripture to be refracted through the prism of the fallible and internally conflicting opinions of men in the early church, as if they were necessarily a more qualified or intended target audience of God’s eternal and infallible Word than men today.

  18. Obviously, Christ knew that the physical fires of the Valley of Hinnom would one day be quenched, but referring to the future punishment of the wicked, Christ said three times:

    ” … and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44b,46b,48b).

    How clear could Christ make this, and how many times did He have to say it? Christ’s words indicate He was referring to something eternal and obviously beyond the temporal example, and we should not spiritualize away the immediate meaning and context of His words. Even if one chooses not to believe this, it certainly can’t be used as a proof text that Hell and the punishment of inhabitants therein is temporary just because some men have believed so. That would truly be doing injustice to the immediate text of Christ’s Words, and giving undue deference to possible misunderstandings of men.

    I don’t believe we should gouge out our eyes and cut off our hands and feet, but that isn’t what Christ said. He indicated it would be better to do these things and enter into eternal life than to use them for sin and enter into Hell, which is quite literally true. Any temporal sacrifice would be better than an eternal Hell, so there is no conflict in Christ’s statements.

    Moreover, consider the close relationship of Christ’s words to the final verses of Isaiah, which Christ was seemingly expounding upon. The following verses obviously refer to the eternal realm also, and are similar to verses in Revelation:

    “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, [that] from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” (Isa. 66:22-24).

    I believe we should consider conflicting views of people in the early church as well as the church at other times through the modern day, but make our own direct evaluation also. I would not advocate constraining our view of Scripture to be refracted through the prism of the fallible and internally conflicting opinions of men in the early church, as if they were necessarily a more qualified or intended target audience of God’s eternal and infallible Word than men today.

  19. Rory, the fire not being “quenched” has nothing to do with how long the fire will last.

    In Isaiah 66 we read that the righteous will “go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

    These people are depicted as well and truly dead, yet still we are told that the fire shall not be quenched. When Jesus quote this passage in Mark 9, some proponents of the doctrine of eternal torment allude to it as a passage that refers to a fire that will “never go out,” but this is simply not what it says. Be on guard for that kind of thing, because all it takes is a subtle change of wording to give an altogether different impression. The reference in Mark 9 is to an unquenchable fire. It appears that the mere appearance of reference to fire that is not quenched calls to mind (for some people) a familiar view of hell that involves fire, and that view is then found in the statement itself.

    A fire that is not “quenched” is one that is allowed to burn unrestrained (i.e. “unquenched”) until it has consumed the object being burnt. This is exactly how such language is used, for example, in Ezekiel 20:47-48.

    [S]ay to the forest of the Negeb, Hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord God, I will kindle a fire in you, and it shall devour every green tree in you and every dry tree; the blazing flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be scorched by it. All flesh shall see that I the LORD have kindled it; it shall not be quenched.

    It seems clear enough that what is in view (whether the picture itself is literal or figurative) is a blazing fire that will destroy the forest, and nobody is going to save the forest, because the fire will not be quenched by anyone. An unquenched fire is simply one that is not prematurely snuffed out. This has no implications for whether or not the fire will last forever. Apart from common sense then, we have good Scriptural precedent in Isaiah 66 and Ezekiel 20 for understanding it this way. If this is the case, then Morna Hooker is surely right when he says of Mark 9, “It should be noted that nothing is said here about eternal punishment: on the contrary, the image seems to be one of annihilation, in contrast to life; it is the fire, and not the torment, which is unquenchable.” [Morna D, Hooker, The Gospel According to St Mark, Black’s New Testament Commentaries (London: A & C Black, 1991), 232.]

    1. Glenn, I reckon I am still understanding ‘unquenchable’ in the ‘old way.’ I think you do have a point, in that the lexicons which I am reading now state that the word is about the fire squarely. Um….more mediation required, I reckon.

    2. Hi Glenn,

      After checking every reference to ‘quenched’ in the Bible and other sources, I agree with the great majority of what you said here, with the exception that the image seems to be one of annihilation. Christ seems to be saying the fire will not be put out, but He does so in the context of avoiding a future judgment worse than cutting off one’s limbs and plucking eyes out in the present life.

      Whether or not something or someone cast in the fire is consumed by it (e.g. annihilation) is not addressed by this term. Being cast into unquenched fire is not a pleasant prospect in any case, but whatever the judgment He refers to, it must be significantly worse than the prospect of plucking out eyeballs and cutting off limbs, or the illustration would cease to make sense.

      It is the verses in Revelation, most notably and conclusively Rev. 22:11, that the saved and unsaved still exist as the only two groups in view, and their situation is not going to change from what had previously been stated. The saved remain saved and the lost remain lost, and all are conscious since the attributes mentioned there require consciousness.

      Blessings,

      Rory

      1. By the way, I always found the verses following the ‘unquenched fire’ verses intriguing:

        “For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt [is] good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.” (Mark 9:49-50).

        Note the words ‘for’ and ‘fire’ which connects this with the previous verses on judgment. Salt was widely used as a preservative and for taste, but salt that had lost its saltness was rejected and used on the roads, literally to be trampled under feet of men (Matt. 5:13). Salt was added to all OT meat offerings (Lev. 2:13).

        Some have suggested that the term “salted with fire” refers to all these ideas, including being rejected and preserving the lost for eternity so they are not consumed (“shall be salted” is in the future tense, so refers to a future event). I find this somewhat speculative, but the meaning of this verse is definitely tied in with the previous verses on judgment in unquenched fire. OT meat offerings were consumed by the fire of course, but the idea of the lost being salted ‘with fire’ is different, and somewhat mysterious.

        1. Rory, I certainly agree that this is speculative. “Salt” int he verses you quote is not connected with preservation, but with flavouring (“if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it?”). I wouldn’t dare to use this as an argument for eternal torment (or any view of punishment).

          1. No I wouldn’t either, but I still am not confident we understand the ‘salted with fire’ reference although I agree the last part is about flavoring. If anyone could shed more light on the ‘salted with fire’ phrase in context of the judgment verses above I would be grateful!

          2. Rory, I’m not sure that passage makes sense 🙂

            But I will offer an explanation. First, salt is good. Everyone is salted with fire. No salt is bad. Perhaps, in conjunction with the previous passage and explanations given, we could paraphrase it like this:

            Everyone will be tried and purged. Either you are purged in the fire or in the sacrifice of this life. If you lose your salt, you will not get it back, so keep purging yourself. Or else.

      2. Rory, you’re right that going into gehenna must be worse than losing an eye or a hand. The contrast, I think is given by jesus. It’s better that only one of your members perish (i.e. be destroyed) than for ALL of you to perish, which is worse.

        What’s more, quoting Isaiah 66 would encourage the idea of annihilationism, since the victims of God’s wrath at the end of that chapter are very clearly dead, not alive.

        1. Yep Glenn good points.

          The end of Isa. 66 talks about looking at corpses, but also unquenched fire, and the ‘eternal worms’ are there as well. However, I notice that the last few verses of Isaiah (Isa. 66:22-24) tell of future events, but do not imply a chronology to those events unlike the Revelation account which is chronological and much more extensive. The lake of fire is referred to as the second death, not the first, physical death (Rev. 20:14, 21:8), so it’s hard to tell if or how the Isa.66 ‘corpses’ are related to the lake of fire in Revelation.

          So, looking at Isa. 66 and Christ’s statements about being cast into unquenched ‘hell fire’ (Mark 9:47), which seem to be related, one could postulate they are both talking about the same event, and if so that there are physical corpses around related to this event. If (another if, uhoh) Christ’s statements in Mark about casting into ‘hell fire’ are about casting into the ‘lake of fire’ in Revelation, then this also associates these corpses with the lake of fire somehow. The current physical bodies of the saved will be transformed into incorruptible, immortal bodies (I Cor. 15:35-57), but we aren’t told the form of the lost when they are raised from the dead for judgment, the ‘second death’ in the lake of fire, and beyond. Whatever dead physical bodies are around, they aren’t the last of the lost since the lost will remain lost and conscious in some unknown form into eternity (Rev. 22:11,15).

          Although we don’t have all the answers (at least I don’t), Revelation provides the fullest, most detailed and chronological account on these topics.

          Blessings, Rory

          1. Well, the lake of fire would take me way off topic. I don’t think that’s “hell” at all.

            On another note – “eternal worms”? That’s not in Isaiah 66! I think the worm not dying and the fire not being quenched just means that they aint stopping until the job is done.

          2. Um, not trying to take you off topic there. Maybe we should just avoid using the word ‘hell’ and use more specific terms, since (as Joel also noted) ‘hell’ has been used for so many different things. I’ll try to be specific.

            Isa. 66 says the worms don’t die and the fire isn’t quenched right? Christ also said the worms die not and the fire isn’t quenched in Mark.

            I know we discussed that the fire is unquenched, not addressing its eternality in Mark, but the verses specifically say the worms don’t die, so please enlighten. I personally don’t know why eternal worms would have value, but it seems to me that’s what the verses say. How can they mean otherwise and why wouldn’t other language be used if this weren’t the case?

          3. Hahaha, well God has revealed what He wants to reveal for our edification, but He didn’t reveal everything!

            I’m just saying Rev. has more information than glimpses of eternity we are provided elsewhere, and a chronological framework for reference rather than fragmented sources from other books to piece together based on certain assumptions.

            That said, we’re not going to get all the answers in this life. We will get a lot more in the ‘next’, but I believe we will be forever learning and growing.

          4. Hahaha, well God has revealed what He wants to reveal for our edification, but He didn’t reveal everything!

            I’m just saying Rev. has more information than glimpses of eternity we are provided elsewhere, and a chronological framework for reference rather than fragmented sources from other books to piece together based on certain assumptions.

            That said, we’re not going to get all the answers in this life. We will get a lot more in the ‘next’, but I believe we will be forever learning and growing.

          5. Yikes!…over 100 comments. Reading this in my e-mail thread was confuising…but just wanted to say that I agree with Glenn on just about every point he made.

          6. Terri, I tend to agree with Glenn on a few things, although what we might allow for at the end may be different.

            Feel free to check out the other posts on this as well. It is been a rather enjoyable conversation.

  20. Perhaps on the more philosophical and existential side, C.S. Lewis has written some profoud thoughts on the nature of hell, and a man’s choice of it! “Hell, all God’s mercy cannot remove the fact of, (“So much mercy, yet there is still there is Hell”).
    The Problem of Pain, 119,120 / PP 8:3. And yet also he says, ‘Hell, doctrine of, is complex – knotty and ambiguous – as is all of Christianity, indeed all of reality. PP 119

    And yet, for the E. Orthodox, Hell is a negation, and not lasting or “reality”. (my statment, Fr. R.)

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