Does everyone gain eternity?
A response to an article sent to me to teach me what the Bible 'really' teaches about Hell. I found it to be an example of how not to read scripture.
In a recent video on youtube which I may well respond to in the near future, a fellow commenter responded to me with the following comment:
"I consider this teaching elementary.
Even reading this short study will teach you the words eternal, eternity, judgement are all in the same theme as eternal life , everlasting life etc. I’m happy to post more links to help you in your search for sound doctrine"
At the link above you won't find a study. You will find sentences with proof texts. I wonder when it became a thing to base an entire (elementary) doctrine on verses out of context - but apparently its a thing we evangelicals do all the time for EVERYTHING and I am guilty of it as well. I hope in this article I at least give commentary on verses as to why I think they say what I think they do. So as I've written on all of these verses before, I thought I'd map out my responses in line with the article above. The original article is in black and my responses are in grey.
Key Facts About Eternity
(1) Everyone will exist eternally either in heaven or hell (Daniel 12:2,3; Matthew 25:46; John 5:28; Revelation 20:14,15 ).
This assumes both the immortality of the human and that our eternal destiny is a location called heaven. Neither can be backed up biblically. Genesis 1-3 is the narrative of sin corrupting creation and the result is that humanity comes under a sentence of death. They are cursed that they are 'dust, and to dust you shall return' (3:19) and then removed from the garden 'lest he ... eat, and live forever' (3:22). The exile was actually merciful and stops humanity being in a curse of living forever in torment.
Though I believe Genesis 3 is quite clear in terms of humanity's doom to an end rather than an ongoing torment, I'll add just a couple more thoughts. We are told in the New Testament that only God is immortal (1 Tim 6:16, 2 Tim 1:10) and we are to seek immortality (Romans 2:7). If we already exist eternally somewhere then these verses make no sense. I've seen traditionalists explain that immortality doesn't mean existing forever - if this is the case then it is the traditionalist that twists words to their own ends.
In terms of a Christian's eternal destiny, it isn't heaven. Isaiah 25, echoed in Revelation 21 and 22 (alongside multiple other verses and themes from Genesis to Revelation) points to the world being made new and God dwelling with His people in the new creation. Even if between death and resurrection, Christians who have died are resting in heaven with Christ, that is not their eternal destiny. We long for resurrection where we, like Christ, will gain bodies that live in the new heavens and new earth and can survive living in God's presence without being consumed. Those who do not gain life in Christ will be consumed in their judgement and perish, returning to dust due to the wages of their sin. I could reference that last sentence but I hope you hear the biblical language in there.
In reply to the references dropped in without commentary or context I'll give some comments below. Some of these responses can be found in my extensive essay on this site though I've added extra bits below as the essay is now a few years old: click me.
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
This is quoted to refer to resurrection of both the sinner and the righteous to judgement (as per Revelation 20), but it is misquoted to be a signpost for ECT. A traditional view reads “everlasting contempt” to mean that those in shame must be conscious. This is simple eisegesis (reading culture and tradition into the text) not good exegesis (letting Scripture speak). Contempt, or disdain, is felt by those looking on, not necessarily by those under contempt. How do I know this? The Hebrew word under 'contempt' is the same word under 'abhorrence' in, Isaiah 66:24 (the only two times this word appears in the bible) and the abhorrence in Isaiah is felt by the righteous NOT the shamed wicked who are corpses. There is no reason to read consciousness into those who are corpses.
'Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was ill and in prison and you did not look after me.” ‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?” ‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” ‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’1
Scholars agree that Jesus does not clarify what eternal life OR eternal punishment look like in this passage and therefore this passage is open to CI or ECT depending on how a person views other Scripture. Edward Fudge argues in The Fire that Consumes that the overview of Scripture points to the result of eternal punishment being the understanding of death discussed in this article and my study – an event that leaves no consciousness or awareness of being. I agree with Fudge in that the passages of Jude 1:7 and 2 Peter 2:6 show eternal fire destroys permanently and this is the eternal punishment Jesus was talking about in Matthew 25.
So while Jude and Peter both use the phrase eternal fire, it is even more important to find what Matthew thinks of both fire and eternal fire. Eternal fire comes up in Matthew 18 and also the image of fire as punishment starts in Matthew 3 and 13 and total death as a punishment in Matthew 10. ONLY 13 is selected by this original article. Those who defend traditional torment rip the verse out of the whole of Matthew. Matthew 3 shows that the wicked will be cleared out, the wheat saved in the barn and the chaff 'burned up'. Those that know Greek will know that the Greek behind this is the strongest possible term for totally consumed. Google 'chaff in fire' if you want to see what image Jesus had in mind - it isn't one of lasting agony and ongoing existence.
We'll discuss Matthew 13 below but again it utilises the image of being burned up. I think Matthew speaks for himself when he contrasts having your body killed by man or having your body and soul destroyed by God in Matthew 10:28:
This does not mean some vague ruination but the kind of destroy that could be equated with being no more. Destroy is 'appolumi' which Matthew uses to explain what Herod wants to do to Jesus in Matthew 2:13 and what Herod ends up doing to the boys in Bethlehem - the result is 'Rachel weeping... because they are no more' (see 2:18). Matthew means what he says and he clearly doesn't mean ongoing torment. Why would he suddenly mean that in chapter 25?
Again Matthew in chapter 18 uses the phrase eternal fire to compare the removal of a limb being better than the loss of the body to eternal fire. Why would eternal fire represent an ongoing torment as opposed to the loss of life? There is no logic to eternal torment being read into this passage.
Matthew also makes the positive case for their being no eternal conscious torment in the new creation when in the sermon on the mount he references Psalm 37. Only the righteous will inherit the land -
'In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. '
Reading the whole of Matthew, there is no room for eternal torment. Matthew didn't mean it, Jesus didn't mean it, therefore I don't need to believe it and neither do you. I'll continue though because the case only gets stronger.
John 5 says:
“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.
This is why it pays to look at the references anyone drops into a paragraph to see if the context and passage says what the author proof-texting wants it to say. Let's look at the context in verse 24:
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
So the opposite of eternal life is judgement and death. This makes sense given John 3 states that those who look to the son will be given life rather than perish like those who looked to the serpent Moses lifted up (Numbers 21:9) were saved from death those who look to Jesus will be saved from death (death = perish NOT live forever in torment).
And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Notice that the phrase "second death" is used to explain what the "lake of fire" is. It is the place where death and the place of the dead (Hades *NOT* hell... I'll explain further on why this is important) die. They are totally destroyed, and even traditionalist David Pawson acknowledges this in his book "The Road to Hell" and yet totally ignores that those not in the book of life receive the same fate - they die the second death and like hades and death they will be totally destroyed (body and soul see Matt 10:28 above). In my study in Revelation I'll go into more depth as to why this is not an image of eternal torment but as I'm going into depth, I won't be in this chapter for a while. You can see how this phrase is used in chapter 2 though here: click me.
None of the references made in this Bible.Org article mean what the author wants them to mean or, at the very least, need further examination.
(2) Everyone has only one life in which to determine their destiny (Hebrews 9:27).
(3) Heaven or hell is determined by whether a person believes (puts their trust) in Christ alone to save them (John 3:16, 36, etc.).
2 and 3 aren't that contentious but it is interesting that he doesn't reference Hebrews 10:27 in reference to what judgement looks like:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
That doesn't sound like ongoing conscious torment to me.
I would also add that Revelation 20:10-15, a much loved passage as we see throughout this article is ignored totally when it comes to what will be judged:
And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. (vs 12)
I mean, if we are to take these passages literally then it seems to me people aren't necessarily just judged on what they believe and who they believe in. But then, you'd have to not take single verses out of the context of the whole scripture wouldn't you...
Key Passages About Hell
(1) Hell was designed originally for Satan and his demons (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10).
While this again isn't too contentious I am not convinced the language is about design or creation but something 'prepared' for (see Matthew 25:41) Satan and his demons. I can prepare an already lit fire for cooking. Given the fire is an 'eternal fire' it would make sense that the fire is already in existence. It makes better sense therefore to see the eternal fire as a part of God's presence that will be 'prepared' to destroy Satan and his demons. Though I'm not going to die defending this proverbial hill, I think it is a defensible position once you get in your mind the idea that new creation will have no stain of sin or evil in it, that the devil won't be hanging around and nor will his demons.
Why do I think Revelation 20:10 isn't so conclusive on the eternality of the torment of the devil and his angels? Revelation 18-19:3 shows Babylon will be no more and the Angels celebrate by shouting,
“Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”
This could be literal and there will be a constant smoke around Babylon in New Creation or, we can do what any bible teacher should do when reading Revelation and look around the bible for similar language. It turns out, Isaiah (regularly quoted by John in Revelation) has used this language before in reference to Edom (Isaiah 34:10) and not only do we see Revelation language we also see an unquenchable fire and language of 'night and day' which is also utilised in Revelation 14:11. Edom isn't still burning, neither will Babylon be and I think this points to language of total destruction that is echoed in 20:10. If not, well, 20:10 says nothing of the impenitent human so maybe God will keep around the devil just to torment him and his minions forever and we'll figure out how that is just and merciful when we see God - but for now, I just don't see it.
(2) Hell will also punish the sin of those who reject Christ (Matthew 13:41,50; Revelation 20:11-15; 21:8).
Matthew 13:41,50 - Weeds are burned in fire. The traditionalist reads into verse 42 that the wicked will be alive forever in the furnace. The language of this verse, without filters and preconceptions, does not state any such duration. One can easily imagine that being consumed by fire is not instant and so both sorrow/anguish (weeping) and anger (gnashing of teeth) could be heard before the wicked are completely destroyed.
See above for Revelation 20 commentary. My discussion on the second death also deals with Revelation 21:8. There is no need to read eternal conscious torment into the word 'death'.
(3) Hell is conscious torment.
Matthew 13:50 “furnace of fire…weeping and gnashing of teeth”
See above. Weeping and gnashing of teeth has no duration attached. The author wants you to assume eternal conscious torment and I don't think you should.
Mark 9:48 “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched”
Rethinking hell do a nice response to this. Enjoy not reading for a moment.
Didn't watch it? Read Isaiah 66:24 and that will be your answer. There is no ongoing conscious torment but the impenitent will become corpses - that means they are dead and not experiencing life or torment.
Revelation 14:10 “he will be tormented with fire and brimstone”
This is just painful proof-texting. Who is 'he'? Obviously the author wants you to read 'he' as the one who rejects Christ. He also wants you to not read Revelation in context! Verse 10 says fire and brimstone but where do we find both outside Revelation that implies those who face it will live forever? Nowhere - everywhere that experiences judgement by fire and brimstone (Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, see also 'sulphur/sulfur' in Isaiah 34 and the example they are of what happens to the ungodly - see 2 Peter 2:4-6) experiences death/destruction. We can also look at Revelation and the second death which is what the lake of fire is, and given the second death destroys body and soul (see Matt 10:28 above) it can be connected to the symbolic use of 'sulphur' as well. That which is tormented/experiences fire and brimstone/sulphur will be totally destroyed.
(4) Hell is eternal and irreversible.
Revelation 14:11 “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever and they have no rest day and night”
Revelation 20:14 “This is the second death, the lake of fire”
Revelation 20:15 “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire”
Go read Revelation and see all the amazing symbolism of God in his temple, worthy of worship. See that he will make all things new and not allow sin, evil and death to stain the new creation. This proof-texting is just disgraceful and any bible teacher that does this simply to try and prove their doctrine (for ANY doctrine) needs to be retaught how to read books, not just the bible.
See above for detailed response - also note the selective quote from 20:15 - I mean it isn't like John explained that the lake of fire 'is the second death'! This kind of quote-mining is dishonest, plain and simple.
Erroneous Views of Hell
(1) The second chance view – After death there is still a way to escape hell.
Answer: “It is appointed unto men once to die and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
(2) Universalism – All are eternally saved.
Answer: It denies the truth of salvation through Christ which means that a person decides to either trust in Christ or else he/she rejects Christ and goes to hell (John 3:16;3:36).
(3) Annihilationism – Hell means a person dies like an animal – ceases to exist.
Answer: It denies the resurrection of the unsaved (John 5:28, etc. – see above). It denies conscious torment (see above).
I’m not sure what he mean by 'dies like an animal' so that is irrelevant. I, and evangelical conditionalists do not deny the resurrection of the saved and the unsaved. The idea is to try and lump conditionalists with those who teach heresies (i.e. JWs) or to suggest the view is weakened because there are a variety of views held under the label. This is true however, for any doctrine. For example, traditionalists will vary on whether the torment is caused by God or by the anguish of the sinner, whether it is in God's presence or separation from God's presence, and many will not agree with the strongest depictions of hell from the last century (see Johnathan Edwards sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God as one example). If you are going to attack a view, at least find the strongest possible arguments and deal with them. It is the prevalence of this kind of article that helped make me a conditionalist.
Objections to the Biblical View of Hell
(1) A loving God would not send people to a horrible hell.
Response: God is just (Romans 2:11).
God has provided the way of salvation to all (John 3:16,17; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15; 1 Timothy 2:6; 4:10; Titus 2:11; 2 Peter 3:9).
Even those who haven’t heard of Christ are accountable for God’s revelation in nature (Romans 1:20). God will seek those who seek Him (Matthew 7:7; Luke 19:10).
Therefore God doesn’t send people to hell, they choose it (Romans 1:18,21,25).
This isn't the strongest argument against traditionalism nor is it one I would make. The title of this section assumes the author has THE biblical view of hell which as I've shown above needs some further work. That said, I do believe that God has put in us an understanding of justice and from that, an eternal existence of torment is not a just or proportionate response to a finite existence in sin.
Please read Romans 1 and find where Paul taught eternal conscious torment. Actually read the whole of Romans and find where he mentions 'hell', 'gehenna' or 'hades' once. Words like wrath and judgement don't count as they don’t equate to eternal torment. While you are reading, see what Paul says about sin and death - Romans 6:20-23 for example:
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Sounds like John 3:16 - you have life in Christ or death without him. Welcome to conditionalism. Paul taught it, so did Jesus.
(2) Hell is too severe a punishment for man’s sin.
Response: God is holy-perfect (1 Peter 1:14,15).
Sin is willful opposition to God our creator (Romans 1:18-32).
Our sin does merit hell (Romans 1:32; 2:2,5,6).
What is unfair and amazing is that Christ died for our sin and freely offers salvation to all (Romans 2:4; 3:22-24; 4:7,8; 5:8,9).
Reading 'hell' where you see judgement is not a good use of the bible. I highly recommend reading the Old Testament and seeing what actually happens when God judges people. I can tell you now - they are consumed, they die, they return to dust, they are killed, they no longer live, they end up in Hades. We know from the repeated Revelation 20:10-15 that hades and the dead who are not in Christ will face the second death after resurrection and judgement and there their body and soul will be destroyed.
Biblical Terms Describing Where the Dead Are
Sheol - a Hebrew term simply describing “the grave” or “death” – Does not refer to “hell” specifically
Hades - A Greek term that usually refers to hell – a place of torment (Luke 10:15; 16:23, etc.)
This is a non-scholarly definition of Hades. Hades is the Greek word used to translate Sheol and is pretty synonymous with Sheol. It is a place before resurrection and judgement where even the righteous go (see Genesis 37:35 - Jacob expects to go there in sorrow). Luke 16:19-31 (the parable of the rich man and Lazarus) is set in Hades and often ends up confusing traditionalists because although it uses the word 'torment' it is clearly not after resurrection and judgement.
Also see this:
Gehenna - A Greek term (borrowed from a literal burning dump near Jerusalem) that always refers to hell – a place of torment (Matthew 5:30; 23:33)
See this video (spoiler - it isn't a literal burning rubbish dump):
“Lake of fire”- the final abode of unbelievers after they are resurrected (Revelation 20:14,15)
“Abraham’s bosom” - (Luke 16:22) a place of eternal comfort
Possible but more likely to just be part of a parable.
“Paradise” - (Luke 23:43) a place of eternal comfort
“With the Lord” - a key phrase describes where church age believers are after death (Philippians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; 2 Corinthians 5:8)
“New heavens and earth” – where believers will be after they are resurrected (Revelation 20:4-6; 21:1-4)
So now he references New Creation? Where is this hell of eternal torment (or as he calls it, 'death') going to be in a place with no more pain, mourning or death? If second death means ongoing consciousness in agony then 'no more death' is meaningless.
Our curiosity about the abode of the dead is not completely satisfied by biblical terms or verses. What we do know is that either eternal torment in hell or eternal joy in heaven awaits all people after death, based on whether they trust in Christ’s payment for sin or reject Christ.
Eternal torment in hell or eternal joy in heaven is Greek and medieval and non-biblical given he himself quotes Revelation 21:1-4 pointing to new creation being the place where believers will be after resurrection. This article is one big failure of exegesis and a prime example of reading into the text what is wanted and how not to dig in to doctrine. I wish the author well, I am sure he is a sincere brother in Christ but this kind of article needs to be thought through and re-written to stop misusing scripture.
My final point - go back and read through the article and note how often the article references the Old Testament. You'll get the same number I did and if any doctrine ignores the foundation that the New Testament builds off so blatantly, it isn't really worth your time.
For New Creation theology check out Surprised by Hope by NT Wright or The New Heavens and New Earth by Richard Middleton.
Every video above that is made by me (The Hell Project) can be found on this website including its script if you prefer reading and not my face or voice.