Friday, January 09, 2015

A Fudgesicle's chance in hell

I'm going to comment on an interview with Edward Fudge, the influential annihilationist:

Conditionalists begin with the premise that only God is inherently immortal.First Timothy 6:16 says that only God has immortality in himself. Humans are not naturally immortal. Every moment of our existence is a gift from God. 
How is that a conditionalist distinctive? How does that stand in contrast to what proponents of everlasting punishment believe? Everlasting punishment isn't predicated on the inherent immortality of the soul, as if the soul is indestructible even for God. All creaturely existence is contingent on divine conservation. 
The notion of immortal souls is a pagan Greek myth, brought by converted philosophers into the early Christian church. 
i) Even if that's true of the church fathers, modern proponents of everlasting punishment don't have the same background.
ii) Many Christians espouse the immortality of the soul based on biblical prooftexts for the intermediate state.
iii) We could just as well say that the notion of a mortalism was brought in by pagan philosophy, viz. atomism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism.
iv) I'd add that unitarians accuse Trinitarians of being overly influence by pagan Greek philosophy, too.
If by "strongest" you mean the argument from whose clutches those bound by it find it most difficult to escape, it is not a scriptural argument at all. It is the argument that says: "The church has always taught unending conscious torment and therefore it must be right." Aside from the fact that the assertion itself is false, the sweeping change of mind on this subject is driven most of all by a close reading and examination of the Bible. If someone puts ecclesiastical tradition ahead of biblical teaching, that person is rarely motivated to consider change.
That's scurrilous hasty generalization. It's true that some Christians simply default to ecclesiastical tradition. But what about Adventists who espouse annihilationism because that's what their church has always taught? Likewise, Fudge is a Churches of God minister. But that's a denomination with its own entrenched doctrinal traditions.  
When John 3:16 says the options are eternal life or perish, conditionalists say that means just what it seems to say.
And when Jn 3:36 says "Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him," is that synonymous with annihilation? 
Even if we knew none of the above, it would not be proper to interpret dozens of clear statements throughout the Bible to fit one or two symbolic passages in the Book of Revelation. It is a well-established rule of interpretation that one should read symbolic or unclear texts in the light of texts that are non-symbolic and clear, not the other way around.Nor is it appropriate to choose an opinion supported by a handful of texts at best and to discard an alternate view that has the support of many multiples more of scripture passages from Genesis to Revelation. The preponderance of evidence favors the latter, and this principle justifies our accepting the conditionalist case even if we have a few unanswered questions remaining.
i) That's methodologically fallacious. If his prooftexts all say the same kind of thing, if they all use the same type of imagery, then it comes down to one interpretation. These aren't different ways of expressing the same ideas, as if each passages makes an independent contribution to the cumulative evidence. Rather, if most of them are all of a kind, then it's a question of how you interpret that kind of imagery. Take fiery images. In each instance, you will offer the same interpretation. You think they mean the same thing. So the strength of the claim is contingent, not on how many prooftexts you can marshall, but on a common interpretation. It's only as good as your singular interpretation of multiple texts. 
ii) Moreover, Fudge says:
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, andsmoke that vanishes. 
But in that event, it's false to contrast "dozens of clear statements" which allegedly support annihilatioism with a few "symbolic" passages. For by his own admission, his prooftexts employ metaphor and similes. But in that case, we're comparing and contrasting different symbolic representations. It's not dozens of literal statements compared to a few figurative statements. For he concedes that his own prooftexts are figurative as well. 
Suppose you have a 100 Bible passages that describe eschatological "destruction" in terms of burning. But unless you think God literally annihilates the damned by incinerating them, the reductive process is a reductive metaphor. Figurative destruction.

Likewise, unless you think maggots literally consume the damned, then that's picture language. Are the souls of the damned are edible?

What makes it "destructive" is the chosen metaphor. But unless you think the souls of the damned are made of wood, burning them isn't an indication that they are literally destroyed.
When the Old Testament talks about the final end of the wicked, it uses language that sounds like total extinction.
Does this sound like total extinction?
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt (Dan 12:2).
Is shame and everlasting contempt conceptually equivalent to oblivion? 
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 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). 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).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).
Does he think the fiery imagery is literal or figurative? Does he think God annihilates the damned by setting them on fire? 
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. 
i) That's a fence-straddling interpretation. Does the adjective really mean both "the age to come" and "never-ending"? 
In principle, if it just means belonging to the age to come, what if the age to come is temporary? Just another epoch? 
ii) Additionally, if the damned cease to exist, then their punishment comes to an end. 
iii) And how, moreover, can nonentities weep and grind their teeth? 
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.
i) Does this mean Fudge is a dualist? Does he affirm an immaterial soul? If so, how does physical fire consume an immaterial soul? 
ii) If the soul doesn't survive the death of the body, then by killing a man you zap him out of existence. A human assailant has the power to destroy both body and soul by murdering the victim. But that weakens or erases the contrast between human persecutors and the divine judge. 
iii) How, moreover, does fire literally annihilate evil spirits?
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt 25:41).
Does Fudge think angels are combustible? Are angels composed of flammable material? If not, then this is figurative imagery. 
iv) Furthermore, how is annihilationism consistent with passages which say eschatological punishment is worse than oblivion?
The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born (Mt 26:24). 
28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (Heb 10:28-29).
If the damned pass out of existence, then it's as if they never existed in the first place. 
The wicked city "Babylon," is pictured as a woman. In Chapter 18, her judgment is "torment and grief," which turns out to be death, mourning, and famine, and she is consumed by fire. It is not unthinkable, therefore, to understand "torment" of the devil, beast and false prophet as death and consumption by fire which is never reversed.Interestingly, there are no people in this verse--only the devil, beast and false prophet. The latter two are symbolic personifications of anti-Christian institutions: ungodly government (the Roman state) and antichrist religion (the emperor cult).
i) To begin with, many Christians think the Bible teaches a personal Antichrist.
ii) In addition, assuming that the beast and the false prophet are personifications, the "whore of Babylon" is undoubtedly a personification. How can Fudge say, on the one hand, that the fate of the beast and the false prophet don't indicate the fate of the damned inasmuch as these are personifications, but on the other hand,  the fate of the whore of Babylon does indicate the fate of the damned, even though that's surely a personification?
By the time the vision reaches the point described in Revelation 20:10, all human followers of the beast and false prophet already have been killed, either by sword in the first diabolical mustering of troops against the Rider on the White Horse (Rev. 19:21), or by fire from heaven in the second such adventure a thousand years later (Rev. 20:9).
i) How is that inconsistent with the opposing position? Proponents of everlasting punishment don't deny that God's enemies sometimes suffer physical death. So that observation misses the point. 
ii) Moreover, what about statements in Revelation which indicate the continued existence of the damned after the dust settles: 
27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life (Rev 21:27). 
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 15 Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood (Rev 22:14).
You have two groups: the saints who dwell in the New Jerusalem, and the damned who are barred from the New Jerusalem.
The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus says nothing about the nature of hell or what happens to those who finally go there. ..At most, this story might say something about an intermediate state for unfaithful Jews at some time before Jesus died and rose from the dead. However, neither the context nor the punch-line is about any intermediate state of the dead, so we need not think that this parable teaches even that.
i) It's more accurate to say the parable doesn't bother to distinguish between the intermediate state and the final state.
ii) The parable classically illustrates the reversal of fortunes. The righteous who suffer in this life will prosper in the afterlife while the wicked who prosper in this life will suffer in the afterlife. But annihilationism destroys the antithetical parallelism. 

iii) Notice that in this parable, fire represents punitive pain and suffering (e.g. thirst) rather than destruction. Fudge constantly assumes that fire signifies destruction. He ignores the symbolic range of fire. 
Take a passage that's quite similar to annihilationist prooftexts: Mt 7:24-27. The theme of total loss. Total destruction.

Yet it would be silly to say that describes the annihilation of the lost. Rather, it describes the total destruction or total loss of everything they live for, everything they acquire. Even though this passage ultimately refers to the eschatological judgment that awaits those who build on a sandy foundation, it doesn't imply the total destruction of the unbeliever, but rather, the total loss of his cumulative achievements, of everything he aspired to. At the end, he is bereft.

A contemporary analogue would be a shady business man (e.g. Bernie Madoff) who suffers utter ruin when he's caught and convicted.

What makes it punitive is that he exists to experience the consequences of his folly.


  1. Fudge states...
    When the Old Testament talks about the final end of the wicked, it uses language that sounds like total extinction.

    When annihilationists focus on the Old Testament to make their case they aren't taking seriously enough the principle of progressive revelation. With that limited approach a person could wrongly conclude that there are OT passages that deny or preclude the possibility of an afterlife for the wicked AND the righteous (e.g. Eccl. 9:5-6, 10; Ps. 146:4 etc.).

    Fudge states...
    Interestingly, there are no people in this verse--only the devil, beast and false prophet. The latter two are symbolic personifications of anti-Christian institutions: ungodly government (the Roman state) and antichrist religion (the emperor cult).

    But the devil is an individual person (angelic though he may be). Does the reference to the devil there represent the demonic host (*plural*) and not to the *singular* demonic person we call Satan? I can't think of anywhere else in Revelation where the devil is mentioned to represent both himself and his demonic cohorts. In fact, there are verses where he is distinguished from them (e.g. Rev. 12:9, 4, 7). So, if the personal devil is punished eternally in Rev. 20:10; 19:20, then it seems more likely that the beast and false prophet are also individually punished as human persons. In which case, if at least two human persons could be punished eternally, why not more (i.e. the rest of damned humanity)? Also, if the personal devil can be eternally punished, then there's nothing inherently inconsistent with Divine goodness and the eternal punishment of personal agents (angelic or human).

    Continued in next post.

    1. For myself, one of the main reasons why I continue to hold to the traditionalist position is the fact that Jesus had no problem adopting pre-existing language and figures of speech used in intertestamental Jewish literature and by intertestamental rabbis which seemed to imply eternal punishment. Intertestamental literature/rabbis had various views regarding the afterlife (see this appendix by Jewish Christian Alfred Edersheim). Some, like the Sadducees didn't believe in an afterlife (for either the just or wicked). While others did believe the righteous and the wicked did have some kind of afterlife. Regarding the wicked, intertestamental Jews sometimes combined various conditions for the wicked. Some believed in annihilation for all or for some. Some believed in a purging of the wicked which resulted in their eventual salvation (a kind of Jewish purgatory). Some believed that the moderately wicked were annihilated while the extremely wicked were eternally punished. Others believed that eternal punishment awaited all the wicked/impenitent. Though annihilationists dispute their proper interpretation, there are passages in Josephus where he seems to say that there were some Jews who believed in the immortality of the soul (removing annihilation as an option for those Jews). In light of all these facts, it's interesting that Jesus DIDN'T LIMIT Himself ONLY to statements which could be interpreted to side with annihilation for all the wicked. That's even though apparently some intertestamental literature/rabbis sometimes used the language annihilationists identify with extinction to refer to eternal torment. I agree with annihilationists that most traditionalists prooftexts from the Bible could (theoretically) be interpreted in an annihilationistic way. There are ingenious (sometimes sophistical) ways in which Evangelical annihilaiontists have done so. However, if we ask ourselves how Jesus' original audience would have interpreted His statements, it seems clear (at least to me) that they would have interpreted Him to be teaching eternal torment for some or (or more likely) all the wicked/impenitent. For example, grammatically speaking Matt. 25:41,46 could be interpreted in the way annihilationists do. However, I highly doubt that's how our Lord's actual first century hearers understood Him. Robert Morey's book does a great job making this argument. That's despite some of the (real) weaknesses of Morey's book which Fudge notes in his review. While a lot of Fudge's criticisms hit the mark, I think Morey's book still presents insurmountable objections to annihilationism.

      Another reason why I stick with the traditional position is that while an intermediate state isn't inherently inconsistent with annihilationism (as evident by some Evangelicals who hold to both), a conscious intermediate state better fits into a traditionalist position (for various reasons). And a conscious intermediate state for both the wicked and righteous both before and after the cross can EASILY be made exegetically from the Bible.

      My collected internet resources defending the traditionalist position.

  2. steve - to what do you attribute the motivation of the annihilationist? For example are they seeking to protect God from accusations of being a moral monster for exacting punishment in excess of the crime?

    What's the perceived net gain or benefit of annihilationism over eternal perdition?

    Also I'm not sure if this is a valid line of argumentation, but wouldn't consistent annihilationism necessarily entail a denial of divine immutability? Maybe the annihilationist isn't wed to the doctrine, or has an answer, but it seems to me that if God's enemies are utterly destroyed/consumed and put out of existence then it follows that God's wrath would be satiated, and thus He would no longer be wrathful at all entailing an essential change in His being.

    Obviously God's wrath against those who are in Christ has been propitiated by Christ's sacrifice, but according to Scripture His wrath abides on those who remain outside Christ.

    But if annihilationism is true, God's wrath will at some point be fully satisfied by the utter destruction and putting out of existence of all objects of wrath, meaning God will change.

    At least it seems this way to me.