1. Immortality is conditional.
First Timothy 6:16 says that only God has immortality in himself. Humans are not naturally immortal. The notion of immortal souls is a pagan Greek myth, brought by converted philosophers into the early Christian church. I have documented a direct relationship between the notion of the immortality of the soul and the idea of unending conscious torment. You can read the whole story detailed in The Fire that Consumes, summarized in Two Views of Hell, and popularized in Hell--A Final Word.
In the Bible, human immortality is always God's gift to the redeemed, is always given in the resurrection, and always involves a whole, embodied person. Every moment of our existence is a gift from God. Those who go to hell are completely cut off from God, the only source of life and ground of being, and they finally must cease to exist.
2. The wicked will perish and become extinct.
Neither the word gehenna ("hell" in the New Testament) nor the traditionalist idea of unending conscious torment is in the Greek Old Testament. Yet the Old Testament says much about the final end of the wicked--in principles, pictures, prototypes, and prophecies.
Old Testament evidence:
When the Old Testament talks about the final end of the wicked, it uses language that sounds like total extinction.
It is a principle of divine justice that evildoers will answer to God, either now or later. What can they expect when that happens? Many Psalms give the answer, and Psalm 37 is a typical one. It says the wicked will perish, vanish, be cut off and be no more. Other Psalms say that God will break the wicked in pieces, slay them, and blot them out of the book of the living.
The Old Testament uses at least fifty verbs and seventy metaphors or similes to picture the final end of sinners. They will be like: chaff blown away, a snail that melts, grass cut down, wax that melts, and smoke that vanishes.
If the wicked die in health, wealth and fame, they do not escape judgment. We know their end. God will not be mocked.
The Flood (Gen. 6-9) and the destruction of Sodom (Gen. 19) both serve as New Testament prototypes of final judgment (2 Peter 3; Jude 7). As the Flood destroyed with water, the wicked will also be destroyed with fire. Sodom was reduced to ashes and became an example of what awaits the wicked. Jude says that Sodom (which was destroyed forever) provides an example of eternal fire.
The Old Testament contains many prophecies of the final judgment, but I will mention just two. The book of Isaiah closes with a scene of the redeemed in the New Jerusalem. God has killed the wicked, whose corpses are being consumed by gnawing maggots and smoldering fire (Isa. 66:24). This is the origin of the familiar "worm that dies not" and "fire that is not quenched." Later, in the Apocrypha, Judith changes Isaiah's picture of dead bodies being consumed to a scene of living people being tormented forever (Judith 16:17).
Malachi foretells a time when the wicked will be set ablaze and burn until nothing is left except ashes under the soles of the feet of the righteous (Mal. 4:1-3).
New Testament evidence:
When the New Testament talks about the final end of the wicked, it uses language that sounds like total extinction.
John the Baptist -- He introduces Jesus as the End Time judge who will separate between "wheat" and "chaff," and who will "burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matt. 3:12).
Jesus Christ -- By the time of Jesus, Gehenna was a name used for the place of final punishment. It was itself named for a valley outside Jerusalem that had once been the site of infant sacrifices and other abominable practices. Jesus mentions Gehenna eleven times.
Jesus warns that God is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna (Matt. 10:28). Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). The verbs "destroy" and "perish" here both stand for the same original Greek word. It is sometimes used figuratively but we have no reason to think that it is so used here.
There are two eternal destinies according to Jesus: eternal life and eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46). Both are eternal because they belong to the Age to Come, and also because they do not have an end. We know what "life" means, but what is the form of this "punishment"? It is the destruction of both soul and body (Matt. 10:28), a destruction that is eternal (2 Thes. 1:9). It is eternal, total, capital punishment that will never be reversed.
Apostolic preaching -- What did the earliest evangelists say about hell? Final punishment is mentioned only once in the Book of Acts, when Peter warns that anyone who rejects God's greatest Prophet (Jesus) will be "utterly destroyed" (Acts 3:23). The Greek Old Testament uses this same verb in the Flood story and also to describe capital punishment.
Paul -- The apostle Paul says more about final punishment than anyone else in the Bible and he never uses the word "hell." His favorite way of describing it is to say that the wicked finally die, perish and are destroyed. (See Rom. 6:23; Rom. 2:12; 2 Thes. 1:9.)
Hebrews -- The anonymous author warns that apostates will be destroyed (10:39), and speaks of a raging fire that consumes (10:27-31; 12:29).
Peter -- For Peter also, hell means destruction or perishing, as in the destruction by the Flood or of Sodom (2 Pet. 2-3).
James -- The brother of Jesus describes the end of sinners in terms of death (1:15) and destruction (4:12) in a day of slaughter (5:5).
Jude -- Sodom's annihilation is an example of the "punishment of eternal fire" Jude 7).
John -- Among Revelation's symbolic pictures, John sees the wicked tossed into a lake of burning sulfur identified as "the second death," in contrast with the redeemed who enjoy access to the "water of life," the "tree of life" and the "book of life" (Rev. 21-22). John's Gospel speaks of two final rewards: to perish or to have eternal life (John 3:16).
"These are some of the major biblical texts that led me to change my mind about the purpose of hell and the final end of the wicked." - Edward Fudge
|Edward W. Fudge|