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The Moving Goalposts of the Hell Debate
Traditionalists are often inconsistent in the use of argumentation against Conditionalist exegesis, Darren Clark gives some examples of what this looks like.
A guest blog post by Darren Clark, a member of the Rethinking Hell team.
One reason conditionalists are not convinced by traditionalists (those who defend Hell as eternal torment) in the debate over Hell is inconsistent argumentation. By this I mean some traditionalists will argue against conditionalist exegesis using a certain principle but when that same principle is applied to traditionalism it is waved away as being inconsequential.
Some examples of this include,
The analogy of faith.
When debating a verse like Matthew 10:28 or John 3:16 (and many others that prima facie support CI) we conditionalists can be told that the analogy of faith would mean that these verses cannot support CI. Revelation 14:9-11 and 20:10 clearly teach eternal torment. Matthew 10:28 and John 3:16 must be read in light of that later revelation.
But when we conditionalists turn to the AoF argument by noting that the entire context of the OT and the NT combined forms the backdrop for properly understanding Revelation 14:9-11 and 20:10 then this is waved away as some kind of attempt to avoid the plain meaning of these passages.
The prima facie argument.
Traditionalists will often argue that we conditionalists ignore the plain meaning of the language of verses like Matt 25:46, Rev 14:9-11 and 20:10. But when we point out that there are many other passage that talk about the final death and destruction of the lost in plain language like 'burning up' (Mal 4:1, 3, Matt 3:12, 13:40-42; Luke 3:17), 'turn to ashes' (2 Pet 2:6), being killed (Is 66:15-16, 24; Matt 10:28; Luke 12:5), perishing (John 3:16), ect. we are castigated for trying to get around the Bible.
Moreover, even when we present an argument that assumes the plain sense of the language of Revelation 14:9-11, 20:10, 14, 21:8, we are still accused of refusing to take that language seriously. This is while those same traditionalists appeal to the phrase 'second death' in a way that is not, strictly speaking, the plain sense of those words.
The ancient historical context argument
Some traditionalists will argue that the entire Second Temple context saw the majority (if not all) Jews adopting eternal torment and then assume that context informs the NT hell passages, meaning they do teach eternal torment in hell.
A variation of this argument might focus on what the Pharisees believes, so it is argued that since they did believe in eternal torment then without good evidence to the contrary we should assume that Jesus and the early church also held to eternal torment.
But when it comes to Jude 7 - when we conditionalists point out that in the biblical and extra-biblical literature, Sodom and Gomorrah had become the quintessential example of what God does to those who do evil - this is waved away as inconsequential because what matters is what the Bible says.
The historical argument.
When discussing a hell proof text, traditionalists can and do drop in the argument that the church has always interpreted X verse to mean Y. When they do this they often assume that the church has had a near universal understanding of the verse in question.
But when we conditionalists point out that the specific version of eternal torment being defended by the traditionalist is itself novel (e.g. the naked soul view of hell, the Lewisian view of dehumanization) so was not held throughout church history, we are told that we need to prove this is the case.
All this is to say that the strategy is to refuse to allow their own arguments to be applied to their own view of Hell and their exegesis of the Hell proof texts.
It is a constant moving of the goal posts that helps insulate them from conditionalist replies to their arguments.
We conditionalists can see that happening and it really does make the traditionalists' arguments unconvincing.
(I am not by any means saying this is how all traditionalists argue but I have participated in many debate where this has happened. The traditionalists in those debates are the people I have in mind.)
It has been a pleasure getting to know Darren through the Rethinking Hell Facebook group and through his interactions on my channel. As he has more experience with exegesis than I, I asked him to participate in a multi-part study of the gospel of Matthew which you can find the playlist here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLaog0Y4c5Adwz1qLW7Z_GP_SoJPfyROBX
For some of Darren's writings go to: http://rethinkinghell.com/author/darren-clark/