1. Hell and Punishment: Eternal, Conscious Torment

This theory is the standard one. However, one of the most stunning outcomes of my study of this theory is how little support it receives from Scripture, or the Scriptures can be interpreted differently than I first expected. Don’t believe it? Read every word of this post.

Notice that I did not say “no support” but “little support.”

This post is about the unredeemed, not the saved. When someone genuinely receives Christ and remains in union with him, hell becomes a nonissue.

Before we proceed, here is an abbreviation:

ECT = Eternal, Conscious Torment (the traditional view).

Each of the other two theories, fully taught, says hell exists and people will be punished in it. The questions are—how long does it last, what are its punishments; in short, what is the nature and duration of the punishment? I trust that no one will use these three theories of hell and punishment as tests for orthodoxy and heterodoxy. I believe that the doctrine of punishment in the afterlife is secondary in Scripture.

Therefore, in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty, in all things, charity (love).

The problem

As noted in the other articles in this three-part series, the problem can be stated thus: We misunderstand God’s justice and his love when we conclude that your kindhearted grandmother, who was charitable and generous, but who never proclaimed Christ as Lord in her heart and with her words, will bob up and down in the lake of fire, next to Hitler, Stalin, or Mao (and many others). This scenario is unjust, even if the lesser degree of punishment applies to her, because she feels less pain than they do (is there a “jacuzzi section” in the lake? Hardly). It is still eternal and never ending and out of proportion to her crime of unbelief in her brief life on earth. God is the just Judge, yes, but he is also the loving Father.

Are there other options besides ECT in the fires of hell?

ECT says no. Accept the problem to the glory of God. It may not pump up our emotions, but we don’t go by them, but by the Word of God. Now that’s orthodoxy!

But does the Word fully support ECT? That is an open question we now explore.

Key Scriptures

So, let’s review a sample of Scriptural support for the doctrine (see Denny Burk in Four Views on Hell, for detailed analyses. I present them in highly abridged form). Prof. Burk says that the ten following passages are the strongest ones that teach ECT.

However, since ECT is so dominant in Christian circles, I also add alternative interpretations of these verses from the viewpoint of terminal punishment. Readers need to know that there are biblical options and other interpretations.

If readers would like to see the following verses in many translations and in their contexts, they may go to biblegateway.com, and type in the references.

Is. 66:22-24:

22 “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord. 24 “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” (Is. 66:22-24, NIV)

These verses mention the undying worms and unquenchable fire, which will eat and burn dead bodies. This refers to the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem, where garbage was thrown. Jesus alludes to these worms and fire in his own description of the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem (see Mark 9:48, below). Undying worms and unquenchable fire clearly teach the ECT of the dead.

Alternative interpretation: This is not a description of hell at the final judgment. The undying worms and unquenchable fire are not consuming zombies, but corpses, and corpses are dead. They do not feel conscious punishment, so the “C” in ECT is denied. Eventually worms and fire consume their victims and finish their grim job, so the “E” is also denied (see Mark 9:42-48, below, for a fuller alternative interpretation).

Dan. 12:2-3:

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. (Dan. 12:2-3)

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake; those whose names are written in a book will rise to everlasting life; many will rise to shame and everlasting contempt. ECT says this is conscious, eternal punishment in hell. The Hebrew word for “everlasting” is olam, which can be translated into Greek as aiōnios; that is, they mean the same thing in this case.

Alternative interpretation: “Everlasting contempt” is what the living feel towards the wicked, not what the wicked feel. Further, the final punishment of them is unclear here. In comparison, in Jer. 23:40, the “perpetual [olam] shame” is upon Israel for the conquest of Judah by the Babylonians, and this shame shall not be forgotten. In that sense the contempt and shame are “everlasting”—but only in the minds of the living. The same may be said of Daniel 12:2-3. Also, the “many” who will rise to suffer contempt is not the same as “everyone,” so the passage does not match John 5:28-29, which talks about the final resurrection, when everyone will rise. Therefore, there is no thought of ECT in hell in Daniel 12:2-3 (or in Jer. 23:40).

See my post and a look at Hebrew and Greek lexicons: What Do Words ‘Eternity,’ ‘Eternal’ Fully Mean in the Bible?

Matt. 18:6-9 (and 5:29-30):

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. (Matt. 18:6-9, NIV)

If an eye or hand or foot causes you to stumble, cut it off or gouge it out, for it is better to enter life maimed or crippled than have two hands or two feet or two eyes and “be thrown into the ‘eternal fire of hell’” (vv. 8 and 9, combined). The hell here comes from gehenna or the Valley of Hinnom, and the hell is “everlasting,” which translates the Greek word aiōnios. Therefore, ECT is supported.

Alternative interpretation: The word Greek word aiōnios does not always mean “eternal” or “everlasting” or “endless” in every context in Scripture. Its basic meaning is “without a determinate horizon” that one can see, “enduring” (without eternality necessarily), “a long age,” “age to come,” “pertaining to an age,” or “of divine origin and character.” So one can translate the Greek more expansively in this way: “be thrown into the hellish garbage pit for punishment in the coming age.” There is no decisive clarity on the kind or the duration of the punishment. Advocates of terminal punishment can claim these verses, just as easily as ECT advocates do.

See my post and a look at Hebrew and Greek lexicons: What Do Words ‘Eternity,’ ‘Eternal’ Fully Mean in the Bible?

Matt. 25:31-46:

This passage is too long to quote. You can read it by clicking on this link:

Matt. 25:31-46

In the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, some people helped the needy, while others did not. They are turned into metaphors: the sheep (the helpers) and the goats (the callous). The sheep go into eternal life, while the goats go to eternal fire (v. 41) and eternal punishment (v. 46). This parallel but opposite fate shows that punishment is eternal, just like life is eternal. It is here that Jesus revealed that hell was prepared for the devil and his angels (v. 41). And “everlasting” is the same word aiōnios both for eternal life and eternal punishment; the two things are parallel. Symmetry.

Alternative interpretation: This passage is eschatological (end of the age). So aiōnios could just as easily be translated “life in the age to come” and “punishment in the age to come.” There is no word on the duration of the fire. For in the duration of life in the age to come, immortality depends on God, and those who depend on him have immortality, while those who do not depend on him do not have it; their life will eventually end in death, that is, nonexistence. Death could mean unconsciousness (i.e. extinction) after the second death in the afterlife (Rev. 20:14-15), not ECT. Immortality is not automatic just because a person has a soul (an idea that comes from Plato and other Greek philosophers). Immortality depends only on God. Only God’s kingdom life is indeed eternal because he alone is eternal. Satan’s kingdom and his own punishment may not be eternal, but may last for a terminal age. Asymmetry, and that’s okay

Now what does “punishment” mean? It could be translated the result of punishment, not the process of punishing, which is alleged to go on endlessly, as ECT believers say. On the other hand, advocates of terminal punishment (annihilationists) could claim that this punishment is endless in the sense that the unrighteous are terminated forever. But it is not clear that the act of punishing is endless in the first place. As for the devil and his angels, imagine throwing a stone or paper into a fire. The stone would be scorched, while the paper would be consumed. And so it is true, possibly, with the devil and his angels, in contrast to humans. Demonic beings and humans are made of different stuff (Gregg, p. 172). Or some advocates of terminal punishment say that the devil and crew will also be extinguished. Therefore, advocates of terminal punishment can claim this passage because their interpretation is better—closer to the eschatological context and the key Greek words.

Mark 9:42-48:

42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. [44] [b] 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. [46] 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where

“‘the worms that eat them do not die,
    and the fire is not quenched.’

49 Everyone will be salted with fire.

This is a parallel passage to Matt. 18:6-9 (above). It adds the reference to Is. 66:22-24, which, recall, mentioned the undying worms and unquenchable fire. And they signify ECT.

Alternative interpretation: “Unquenchable” simply means that humans cannot—are not able—to put it out. Jer. 4:4 talks of the wrath of God that destroyed Jerusalem with a fire that no one could quench, but the fire indeed ended. “Unquenchable fire” is a common phrase in the Old Testament for earthly and temporal judgment: Is. 1:31; 34:40; 43:17; Jer. 4:4; 7:20; 17:27; 21:12; Ezek. 20:47-46; Amos 5:6. Anyone experiencing the fire can expect pain and punishment, but the duration of the fire is not known. Both life and punishment may be long-lasting, but they are not equally so. Punishment can be instantaneous, and the effect everlasting. The process of punishing does not have to be endless. See the alternative interpretation of Matt. 18:6-9 for more information about aiōnios or “the age to come” or “long-lasting.” This passage does not support ECT thoroughly.

2 Thess. 1:6-10:

God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (2 Thess. 1:6-10, NIV)

The lawless one will work how Satan works, with signs and wonders in front of those who are perishing because they who perish do not love the truth. But the lawless one is being held back. Paul does not tell us who the lawless one is and who or what is holding him back. But no matter, because the lawless one will be revealed, and Jesus will overthrow him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming. He will suffer judgment and everlasting destruction. They will be excluded from the Lord’s presence forever, which implies they are alive and suffer.

Alternative interpretation: Advocates of each theory say that this passage may equate the last judgment with Rev. 20:10-15, so let’s proceed as if that is true. The one judged here undergoes everlasting destruction because they are snuffed out, and the result is everlasting, not that the process of destroying goes on forever. And the word “everlasting” is aiōnios, and it could also be translated “destruction in the age to come.” Finally, the very word “destruction” (or “ruin”) supports terminal punishment (annihilationism).

See my post here and what the Hebrew and Greek lexicons say: What Do Words ‘Eternity,’ ‘Eternal’ Fully Mean in the Bible?

Jude 7:

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7, NIV)

Sodom and Gomorrah and surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. “They serve as an example of those who suffer punishment of eternal fire.” Again “eternal” is the best translation of the Greek adjective aiōnios. Therefore, this verse clearly supports ECT.

Alternative interpretation: Sodom and Gomorrah did not burn eternally, but the Greek word aiōnios in this context just means the intensity of the fire of judgement, and the effects of the punishment were everlasting, not the process of punishing. Every generation should look on Sodom and Gomorrah and shudder. Recall that the term aiōnios can mean “eternal” in some contexts (e.g. the eternal God), but not in other contexts. It could be translated as “the punishment of fire in the age to come” or “the punishment of new-age fire” or “the punishment of age-long fire.”

Once again, see my post and a look at Hebrew and Greek lexicons: What Do Words ‘Eternity,’ ‘Eternal’ Fully Mean in the Bible?

Jude 13:

13 They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever. (Jude 13, NIV)

Certain false believers penetrated the church to whom Jude was writing. Blackest darkness is reserved for them forever. The Greek adjective for “forever” is aiōnios.

Alternative interpretation: Once again, the Greek word could be translated blackest darkness in “the age to come” or “age-long darkness” but the duration of the darkness is not clear. Also, darkness can speak of nonexistence, which can last forever from God’s and our point of view. This concept of darkness is parallel to Jesus’s description of the afterlife for the wicked as “outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; cf. 2 Pet. 2:17). But if ECT proponents claim that this interpretation of aiōnios is farfetched (the age to come or age-long), then one thing is for certain: they teach that hell is a fire, and this verse talks about blackest darkness. So all three theories can have problems with it. Every doctrine runs into at least one problem text, but the general import of all the other verses discussed in this section significantly weakens the ECT doctrine.

Rev. 14:9-11:

A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, 10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” (Rev. 14:9-11)

Anyone who worships the beast will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of God’s holy angels and of the Lamb. Smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and there will be no rest day or night for anyone who worships the beast and its image. “Forever and ever” is the word aiōnios used twice, which emphasizes the eternality of the punishment.

Alternative interpretation: The entire book of the Revelation is apocalyptic. So caution is needed. First, there is no mention here about hell or final punishment. It is just a judgment on anyone who worships the beast and its image. Rev. 9:17-18 used the wording “fire and brimstone” in connection with temporal judgment with no association to the lake of fire (Rev. 20:7-15). This passage instead has the background of the fire and brimstone of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24; Ps. 11:6); the land of Israel under judgment (Deut. 29:23); Isaiah’s prediction of the Valley of Hinnom at the destruction of Assyria (Is. 30:33); his prediction of the destruction of Edom (Is. 34:9); and Ezekiel’s prediction of the destruction of Gog, the chief prince of Magog (Ezek. 28:22). None of the fire and judgment lasted forever (Gregg, pp. 178-83).

Back to Rev. 14:9-11, interpreters could say that this destruction happened when Jerusalem was conquered by the Romans in A.D. 70. But let’s say that Jerusalem is not in view in Rev. 14:9-11. The ECT advocates remind us that that hell is eternal separation from God’s presence, yet the punishment in Rev. 14:9-11 is right in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. So the passage really is not about ECT in hell, or hell at all.

As for the smoke that rises day and night, these are symbols of the effects of punishment, which can last forever, particularly since it is not about hell. Wherever this judgment happens, literal smoke does not last forever, but the social and emotional impact does, particularly when it refers to those Old Testament passages about judgment.

Finally, the idiom that says those who worshipped the beast and its image will find “no rest day and night” merely speaks of continuity, not necessarily ECT. Such is the nature of apocalyptic literature—symbols abound. The book of the Revelation is the most symbolic book in the Bible.

Rev. 20:10, 14-15:

10 And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. … 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:10, 14-15)

The devil will be thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and false prophet will also be thrown. They will be tormented for ever and ever (v. 10). Then death and hades were thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death, and so was anyone else thrown there, if his or her name was not found in the book of life (vv. 14-15). In v. 10, “forever and ever” is the word aiōnios used twice, which emphasizes the everlasting nature of the punishment.

Alternative interpretation: The devil and beast and false prophet are tormented forever and ever (v. 10), but nowhere does it say that people are consciously tormented forever. All vv. 14-15 say is that the lake of fire is the second death—and this death could mean final unconsciousness (i.e. extinction) here in the afterlife, not consciousness. So the C in ECT is denied.

Further, these verses can just as easily support terminal punishment (annihilationism) because of the meaning of second death. After all, how can death and hades, which are also thrown into the lake of fire, be tormented endlessly? Paul says death will be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26), and destruction speaks of annihilation or termination—terminal punishment. “It would be hard to imagine a concept more confusing than that of death which means existing endlessly without the power of dying” (Philip E. Hughes, qtd. in Gregg, p. 207). So the “E” in ECT is also denied.

In any case, advocates of terminal punishment can claim this passage, and it does not support ECT as strongly or as clearly as its proponents believe.

Quick objections and answers

First, advocates of ECT could object that 1 Tim. 6:16 says God is immortal, and so is the human soul. It can never be destroyed or annihilated, but must go somewhere, and there’s nothing more effective than everlasting hell for the unredeemed, everlasting soul.

Reply: it is true that God is immortal, but the verse says that he alone is such. The only people who are also immortal are the believers in Jesus, and he gives them eternal life. They derive their immortality from God, not by merely being a soul. The eternality of the soul by virtue of being a soul is found in Plato and Greek philosophy, not in the Bible.

Second, ECT proponents claim that God is infinite in majesty and holiness, and any sin against him must have an infinite punishment.

Reply: the only problem with this claim is that it is supported nowhere in Scripture, Rather, what is supported is God grace and love and goodness and willingness to forgive. He is willing to forgive our sins more than his wrath against them lasting an eternity. Ancient Israel spent centuries sinning against an infinitely holy God, and he did punish them, but eventually the punishment ended. He even restored the remnant.

Third, ECT proponents could say that it is wrong to translate aiōnios always as “the age to come” or “age-long” or some such parallel. It really means “eternal” or “everlasting.”

Reply: Yes, it can mean those latter terms in some contexts, like his name is everlasting (2 Chron. 7:3-6; Ps. 136:1-26), or in this verse: “But the Lord is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King” (Jer. 10:10). This verse too: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim 1:17). God is the only being who is eternal.

However, those verses are not about hell, but about God’s nature and name. He transcends ages. In contrast, the verses about final judgment and hell are eschatological or about the new age, by definition. It is simply begging the question to equate hell and punishment with God’s eternality and import this presupposition into those verses, above, when this is the issue under dispute. God alone is eternal; hell may not be. And in an eschatological context, aiōnios is best translated as “new age” or “age to come” or “age-long” (and such like).

Fourth, ECT advocates can ask, “Is it wise to overturn a doctrine that has dominated Evangelical thought for so long and been believed by so many?”

Reply: Caution must be observed, true, but 500 years ago the Reformers were asked the same thing, and they answered yes. Long-standing traditions sometimes have to be challenged, but not done so lightly. It should be noted that the two alternative doctrines have strong Scriptural support, as the two other articles in the series will hopefully demonstrate.

Further evidence

Though gehenna is used 11 times from Jesus’s lips, most of them occur in parallel passages. So he used it probably only on four occasions:

The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:22, 29, 30)

In warning the disciples not to fear men (Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:3)

In the discourse on relationships (Matt. 18:9; Mark 9:43, 45, 47)

In his denunciations of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 23:15, 33) (Gregg, p. 88)

In other words, gehenna was not a frequent or major topic in his teachings. So we need to stop giving the impression that he spoke of it often.

As for aiōnios fire, the NT references it only three times. Gregg says:

In Matthew 18:8 Jesus described the fires of Gehenna by this term, and he later spoke of aiōnios fire that was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). If it be conceded that both passages speak of the final judgment of the lost in hell, this nonetheless tells us nothing of eternal torment there. In fact, the only other occurrence of the term “aiōnios fire” is in Jude 7, which uses the term to describe the fire that came from heaven and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. In that case, such a description neither conveys the notion of unendingness (since that fire is still not burning Sodom), nor of lasting torment—since there is no reason to assume that the fires of Sodom did not quickly kill the inhabitants, ending their torment.

The expressions “unquenchable” and “eternal,” therefore, when added to the generic image of fire, do not add to our knowledge of the subjective experience of those suffering its violence. For all we know, eternal and unquenchable fires burn up their victims as readily as do other fires (pp. 206-07)

Further, the apostolic preaching in the book of Acts never mentions the fires of hell, though Paul talked about the judgment to come to Felix and Drusilla (Acts 24:25). But fires of hell and endless torment? Silence.

The epistles hardly mention hell, let alone hell fire (Jude 7).

Nowhere does the Old Testament clearly teach ECT in the fires of hell.

And so ECT is not as strongly supported in Scripture, as ECT proponents have told us. Those linchpin verses analyzed in the Key Scriptures section do not always and clearly teach it.

Further, some theologians say that the image of darkness and fire are metaphors.

Here is a long quotation from Charismatic theologian J. Rodman Williams, a devout and Bible-respecting Presbyterian minister. He says fire and darkness are just metaphors, for separation from God and punishment. They cannot be taken literally. He writes:

These two terms, “darkness” and “fire,” that point to the final state of the lost might seem to be opposites, because darkness, even black darkness, suggests nothing like fire or the light of a blazing fire. Thus again we must guard against identifying the particular terms with literal reality, such as a place of black darkness or of blazing fire. Rather, darkness and fire are metaphors that express the profound truth, on the one hand, of terrible estrangement and isolation from God, and on the other, the pain and misery of unrelieved punishment. It is significant that Jesus in His portrayals of darkness and fire often adds the statement “There men will weep and gnash their teeth.” This weeping and gnashing … vividly suggests both suffering and despair. So whether the metaphor is darkness or fire, the picture is indeed a grim one, even beyond the ability of any figure of speech to express.

One further word: both darkness and fire refer to the basic situation of the lost after Last Judgment. However, we have already observed that there will be degrees of punishment; hence in some sense the darkness and fire will not be wholly the same. Some punishment will be more tolerable than other punishment: some people will receive a greater condemnation, while some (to change the figure) will be “beaten with few blows” [Luke 12:48]. Thus we should not understand the overall picture of the state of the lost to exclude differences in degree of punishment. Even as for the righteous in the world to come, there will be varying rewards, so for the unrighteous, the punishment will not be the same. (Renewal Theology, vol. 3, 470-71).

For the record, Williams did not believe in annihilationism (or terminalism) or universal reconciliation (or restorationism).

So how does this post help me grow in my knowledge of God?

Let’s look at the issue of hell and punishment at 30,000 feet. Maybe God in his providence did not clarify the details about them as clearly as many Evangelicals have believed. Therefore, maybe we should learn that since the details are now undergoing discussion, we should not be dogmatic about it or bludgeon dissidents from ECT with the cries of “Heterodoxy! Heresy!” Maybe we should not make ECT a test for orthodoxy but discuss it and the other two theories with calm, reasonable minds.

Let’s allow Steve Gregg, whose book on the three versions of hell and punishment is superb, to counsel us. He writes:

The fact that the Bible actually exhibits sufficient ambiguity on the subject of hell as to allow three very disparate viewpoints to be maintained by Christians of equal intelligence and sincerity raises the question whether God even thinks it is important that we reach final conclusions on the matter. It may be that God, in His wisdom, has chosen not to satisfy our curiosity about the fate of others, so that we might redirect our energies to fulfilling our own assigned tasks. When Peter, wondering about John’s destiny, asked Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “What is that to you? You follow me” (John 21:21-22). (p. 301)

Therefore, once again: in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love). And therefore, let’s stop making this debatable doctrine of punishment in the afterlife a test for orthodoxy.

One day you will meet a concerned objector to Christianity who says he cannot believe that his non-Christian, generous and kindhearted grandmother will burn forever in the fires of hell, next to Hitler, Stalin and Mao. In reply to him, you can now tell him that there are three theories of hell, and none of them are “slam-dunks.” You can then quote to him from Gen. 18:25, which, fittingly, comes in the context of the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah: “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” The Judge is God and the answer is yes.

The best news is that the objector can come to know Jesus and have new life in him. When that happens, hell is a nonissue for him personally.

ARTICLES IN THE “HELL AND PUNISHMENT” SERIES

1. Hell and Punishment: Eternal, Conscious Torment

2. Hell and Punishment: Terminal Punishment

3. Hell and Punishment: Universalism

RELATED

What Do Words ‘Eternity,’ ‘Eternal’ Fully Mean in the Bible?

Rich Man and Lazarus: True Events or Just a Parable?

Are All Sins Equal?

What Happens to Children after They Die?

What Happens at Judgment to People Who Never Heard Gospel?

SOURCES

Works Cited

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