Sunday, January 11, 2015

Hell under fire

I'm going to comment on some arguments by Glenn Peoples:

For purposes of this post, I'll use "traditionalist" as a label for Christians (like myself) who uphold the Biblical doctrine of conscious everlasting punishment. Keep in mind that I recently did two posts on annihilationism:

So I'm going to skip over a lot of Glenn's arguments. I already covered much of the same ground, so I won't repeat myself here.

The real issue, which is obscured in this reply, is not whether or not the soul is “inherently” or independently immortal, but whether it is immortal at all.

Yet Fudge says:

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.

I guess Glenn and Fudge need to have a little powwow to decide what's the real issue:

The consequences are literally unspeakable. Man is not permitted to have access to immorality in his fallen state, and God will not even speak of such a thing. Human death entered the world.
But if this is so, then the lost cannot live forever, and if they cannot live forever, then the doctrine of eternal torment is false, because if it were true, then the lost would live forever.
But since the immortality of the soul is a claim that the lost either do or will have immortality, it must be rejected for reasons just outlined.

That's confused in several respects:

i) One of Glenn's tactics (unless he's just confused) is to frame the issue in terms of "immortality," by which he means deathless existence. If, however, the Bible teaches postmortem survival (i.e. the intermediate state and/or the general resurrection), then that implies immortality, even though biological life was interrupted by physical death. Physicalists like Glenn must resort to the ad hoc expedient of saying the damned are annihilated the moment they die (indeed, everyone is annihilated at the moment of death), then temporarily resurrected, only to be annihilated all over again. 

Instead of framing the issue in terms of immortality (as he defines it), it would be more accurate to frame the issue in terms of postmortem survival. Life after death. 

ii) Glenn confuses immortality per se with biological immortality in particular. But biological life (and death) is a separate issue from the immortality of the soul. 

iii) Biological mortality and immortality are not contradictory, for it's possible to die, then resume living. As of the general resurrection, the lost will live again–forever–in hell. 

The lost never go out of existence. They live and die, pass into the intermediate state, and participate in the general resurrection. 

That people are mortal in a fallen world is a given for traditionalism. Death is undeniable. That's beside the point. The question at issue is what happens to you after you die. Glenn's framework is an exercise in misdirection.  

Unfortunately, traditionalists have little to say about the direct Scriptural statements about immortality.

i) That's based on OT and NT prooftexts for the intermediate state, resurrection of the just, and/or general resurrection. 

ii) Incidentally, although Glenn glancingly interacts with Daniel Block, he ignores his case for the intermediate state of the lost in the OT. 

There is no getting away from the fact that traditionalism teaches that the lost will be made immortal.

That's equivocal. The lost are already immortal vis-a-vis the soul. They will be made immortal vis-a-vis the body at the general resurrection. 

Scripture tells us that a time will come when evil will be no more. 

Begs the question.  

There is literally nothing that is not under Christ. The picture is one of perfect unity and peace everywhere. But given such a perfect picture, what room is left for evil?

i) Scripture uses the imagery of military subjugation–putting his enemies under his feet. That's "peaceful" in the sense that God's enemies will forcibly subdued. 

ii) And other Scriptures speak of how they will be quarantined. It will be peaceful everywhere on earth. 

Perversely, defenders of the doctrine of eternal torment have taught the opposite of Scripture here, and even worse: That not only will creation be forever divided into a stark dualism of glory and anguish, heaven and hell…

A biblical dualism. 

…but that this will actually be something that we take great pleasure in. 

i) A few traditionalist authors say that. It's not essential to traditionalism. 

ii) But as far as that goes, Rev 18 is a classic taunt-song. The saints celebrate the fall of Babylon. 

In Matthew 10:28, Jesus tells his disciples that rather than fearing men who can kill the body, they should “be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” We know what Jesus meant with His reference to men who can kill the body. Here, the ultimate power to kill the whole person in Gehenna (unhelpfully translated “hell”) is affirmed by Jesus.

That text poses a dilemma for a physicalist like Glenn. He doesn't believe humans are embodied souls–a composite of an incorporeal soul united to a physical body. From his perspective, everyone is destroyed when they die. 

The gist of the response I would make here is that what is qualified as “eternal” is not any duration of suffering, or the people who are subject to eternal fire, but only the fire itself.

i) That poses another dilemma for annihilationists. Given the symmetry of Mt 25:46, by denying the eternal existence of the damned, they thereby deny the eternal existence of the saints. 

ii) We must also take into account how Mt 25:41,46 would be heard by a Jewish audience, accustomed to debates between Pharisees and Sadducees. It's not jus a question of what the words mean, but their literary and cultural connotations. 

When Edward Fudge, for example, makes the observation that the worm in this picture “is a devouring worm, and what it eats – in Isaiah’s picture here quoted without amendment – is already dead,”
If the unsaved really are the “fuel” that sustains the fire then in order for them to provide a perpetually undepleted source of fuel they would quite simply have to keep producing more material to be burned or they would need to have infinite mass.

Traditionalists don't think God is punishing corpses. That confuses a symbol with what it stands for. Same thing with the objects of fire. 

Perhaps the traditionalist might want to insist that in order for a person's shame and/or contempt to go on existing, it must be the case that the person in question is still alive. But what good reason is there to think that this is true? In fact, there's a biblical example that shows that this is not true.
Isaiah 66:24 – in this context God has just victoriously slain his enemies, in vv 15ff
What has happened to the wicked? Simple: They are dead. But notice the word “abhorrence” here in the ESV. It varies from one translation to another, “they shall be loathsome” or “they shall be an abhorrence” are common. But here's the thing: It's the same word translated “contempt” in Daniel 12:2, dara'ōn. Here in Isaiah, the contempt is held by the people of God, for the slain enemies of God. Likewise in Daniel 12:2, it's the contempt, not of the wicked, but of the people of God, or perhaps even of God Himself, that is eternal.

That disregards a key difference between Isa 66:24 and Dan 12:2. A traditional way of dishonoring the enemy is to refuse them burial. Their corpse suffers the ignominious fate of being scavenged. Isa 66:24 trades on that imagery.

In Dan 12:2, by contrast, the lost are restored to physical life to experience reproach. The imagery is not about dead bodies, but about the living. Slain enemies have been raised from the dust in order to be shamed. I'd add that Dan 12:2 has NT counterparts (e.g. Jn 5:28-29; Acts 24:15).

A fire that is not “quenched” is one that is allowed to burn unrestrained (i.e. “unquenched”) until it has consumed the object being burnt. This is exactly how such language is used, for example, in Ezekiel 20:47-48.
The language used here of the followers of the beast is almost exactly like that used in the prophecy against Edom in Isaiah 34:9-10
No exegete has ever suggested that Isaiah 34:9-10 is a reference to the eternal torment of the inhabitants of Edom.

Glenn commits several basic hermeneutical gaffes:

i) He begins with a NT text which echoes an OT text, he puts the NT text on hold while he decides what he thinks the OT text really means, then he transfers that interpretation to the NT text. But that, itself, is hermeneutically fallacious:

a) When a NT text echoes an OT text, the primary question we need to ask is how the OT text now functions in its NT setting. How does the NT author appropriate that passage? What role does it perform in the flow of argument or narrative strategy?  

b) Oftentimes, a NT author will use stock imagery from the OT for its precedential resonance. That isn't a prediction/fulfillment relation. Rather, that's based on broad analogies or theological motifs. It doesn't have the same frame of reference. It needn't "mean" the same thing. 

ii) In the nature of the case, historical judgments in the OT are localized in time and space. But eschatology typically intensifies the scope of judgment. You can't simply collapse NT eschatological imagery back into historical OT judgments, as if these share the same restrictions.

iii) Likewise, I think Isaiah's imagery is hyperbolic. But there's an escalation as we move from historical OT judgments to eschatological judgment. What is hyperbolic in reference to ancient Israel's historic enemies isn't hyperbolic in reference to the final judgment, which is sweeping in scope. 

If the traditionalist were to apply the same method of interpretation to both Revelation and Daniel, we would end up with a glaring contradiction, because if one is slain then one cannot also be kept alive and tormented day and night forever and ever (quite apart from the fact that the beast is not a “someone” who can suffer such a fate).

That's quite nearsighted. Someone can be slain, then resurrected to face never-ending punishment. It's not a "glaring contradiction" at all. It's a simple matter of distinguishing between earlier and later stages of judgment.  

Glenn makes a big deal about 2 Thes 1:9, as if that somehow favors annihilationism. However, as Abraham Malherbe observes:

Paul uses olethros ("ruin") only in eschatological contexts (1 Cor 5:5; 1 Thes 5:3; 2 Thes 1:9). It is related to apoleia ("destruction"; 1 Tim 6:9), but rather than imply annihilation "it carries with it the thought of utter and hopeless ruin, the loss of all that gives worth to existence" (Milligan, 65). 
The translation  "eternal ruin" renders olethron aionion…it does not mean annihilation, but everlasting ruin. The Letters to the Thessalonians (Yale 2000), 292,402.

As a member of the Yale Divinity School, one can't seriously contend that his interpretation is driven by traditional dogma. In his new commentary, Jeffrey Weima observes:

The word olethron occurs three other times in Paul's letters (1 Thes 5:3; 1 Cor 5:5; 1 Tim 6:9), where it appears to have both the literal meaning of physical destruction and the metaphorical sense of disaster or ruin…Here the apostle calls it "eternal" that is, "a period of unending duration, without end" (BDAG 33.3). That Paul does not have in view a destruction of the person that lasts forever (i.e., their annihilation) but rather their unending ruin (e.g., their continuing punishment) seems clear from three factors. First, this is the teaching of Jesus (Mt 5:29-30; 12:32; 18:8-9; 25:41,46; Lk 16:23-25), with which Paul would have been familiar. Second the eternal punishment of the wicked was a common conviction in the apostle's Jewish heritage (e.g. 1QS 2.15; 5:13; Pss. Sol. 2:35; 15:11; 4 Macc 10:15). Third, the following parallel phrases ("from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might") presuppose the ongoing existence of the wicked rather than their annihilation. 1-2 Thessalonians (Baker 2014), 474. 

Given how liberal Calvin Seminary is, I seriously doubt Weima's interpretation is dictated by traditional orthodoxy. Back to Glenn:

When Death is thrown into the lake of fire, it is “killed.” This raises questions over the meaning of the lake of fire. If an entity like death can be thrown into it, then does this not make it difficult to conceive of it as a place or state of conscious suffering? It seems clear, as Roloff notes, that the point of depicting Death being cast into the lake of fire is to show that death itself will one day be done away with altogether. This in itself seems to suggest that the lake of fire itself signifies an end, a “death.” Mounce affirms this understanding, connecting death’s fate in the lake of fire with Isaiah 25:8, which declares that our God will “swallow up death forever.”

i) To destroy death is like a double negation which results in something positive. If death is the loss of life, then "destroying" death entails immortality–for better or worse. The wicked lose the escape route of death. In fact we have an explicit example of this in Revelation:

And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them (9:6). 
ii) Another problem with Glenn's position is the use of psychological terms like "torment" and having no "rest" in Rev 14:10-11. In the nature of the case, that's only applicable to conscious agents.  Nonentities can't experience torment or lack of rest. 

iii) Although Glenn glancingly interacts with Beale, he ignores Beale's analysis of the second death. Taking their cue from Kline, commentators like Poythress and Beale relate the categories in terms of antithetical parallelism:

First death is physical–second death is spiritual (i.e. misery)

First resurrection is spiritual (i.e. intermediate state)–second resurrection is physical (i.e. resurrection of the just)

The second death is not a synonym for oblivion, but misery.

iv) Finally, Glenn constantly treats fire as a destructive element. But in Scripture, the symbolic significance of fire is variable. Sometimes it symbolizes a purifying process, sometimes a destructive process, and sometimes punitive pain and suffering (i.e. blistering heat, thirst). The parable of Lazarus and Dives is a classic example of fire as a symbol, not of destruction, but punitive pain. 

And in Revelation, fire can signify pain rather than destruction. For instance:

8 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and it was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues (16:8-9). 
Notice in this passage that purpose of the fire is not to destroy the wicked, but to inflict pain. 


  1. Two additional traditionalist arguments that may have some merit are the following.

    I. Death in Scripture doesn't entail non-existence but of separation from God and His blessings. So that there are at least three kinds of death. 1. Spiritual death before one's physical death (i.e. the unregenerate state where one is initially distanced from God); 2. physical death (where people are separated from God's intended state of man, viz. men's souls are ideally meant to be joined to their bodies); 3. eschatological death (where human souls are rejoined with their bodies but are finally and fully separated from God's benevolent/beneficient blessings). Also, "Eternal Life" in scripture (or at least Johannine corpus) is a qualitative not a quantitative concept.

    For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.- Rom. 6:23

    So, passages like Rom. 6:23 where it states "the wages of sin is death" doesn't mean non-existence or extinction but ultimate separation from God. And eternal life being the "gift of God" is not about the addition of an eternity of days (quantity), but of a perfectly blessed state (quality).

    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.- John 5:24

    14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.- 1 John 3:14-15

    11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.- 1 John 5:11-13

    Believing in Christ a person NOW HAS eternal life. Having Passed FROM Death INTO Life. Annihilationists explain these passages as proleptic. But that doesn't seem to be the sense in which John uses the terms death and life (even if Paul might). If the same John wrote the Johannine Gospel, epistles and Apocalypse then the book of Revelation (and its use of words like "death" and "life") should be interpreted in a Johannine way, not a Pauline way.

    Continued in next post.

    1. II. Piggybacking on the above, death in the NT doesn't entail non-existence because both John (in the words of Jesus) and Paul talk about death analogously in terms of the corruption of seeds.

      Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.- John 12:24

      37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.- 1 Cor. 15:37-38

      When a seed or a kernel "dies" it doesn't cease to exist. In fact, it continues to have some germ of life even though the outer part of the seed decays. Similarly, the soul "within" a human being continues to exist and be conscious even though the outer physical body decays.

    2. Annihilationists sometimes use 2 Thess. 1:9 as a prooftext, but I think it better fits with a traditionalists understanding because it says they will "suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, AWAY FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD and from the glory of his might..." Implying their continued existence "AWAY FROM" the Lord. If they are extinguished then it doesn't make sense for them to be "away" from the Lord's glorious presence. They would be nowhere in relation to the Lord.

    3. Annihilationists like to cite Matt. 10:28 to argue for annihilationism and conditional immortality. However, the parallel passage in Luke states:

      4 "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!- Luke 12:4-5

      In Luke 12:4-5 there is no exact parallel to Matthew 10:28 where it states God will destroy in hell. Luke just states one will be CAST into hell. This is consistent with eternal conscious torment in Gehenna. Writing for Gentiles, Luke didn't feel it necessary to quote Jesus' more Hebraic and rabbinic wording. Many Gentile cultures at the time believed in an eternal punishment for the wicked. Some of the Jews did too. Yet, in none of the Gospels does the Lord Jesus specifically reject eternal conscious torment. In fact, some of Christ's statements are better interpreted to teach it. Paul would have started out in his Christian life with the presuppositions of a Pharisee (Acts 23:8) and according to Josephus (who may have been speaking too broadly) the Pharisees of his time believed in the immortality of the soul and of eternal punishment. 1 Tim. 6:16 shouldn't be used to support mortalism because the context has to do with God's nature and aseity, not about the temporal duration of creatures.