Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Defending eternal conscious punishment

BTW, Jerry Shepherd as a number of long, informative responses in the combox.


  1. I especially agree with Shepherd's case for ECT based on Second Temple Jewish Literature. The Lord's descriptions of hell in the Gospels don't exist in a theological and religious vacuum. Such language was used during the intertestamental period literature and in 2nd temple Jewish literature in ways that affirmed ECT. Even if such language was also used by some Jews to refer to what would be equivalent to annihilationism, they weren't the only ones who used such language. Therefore, that doesn't limit the NT's imagery to only an annihilationist-like interpretations. The Jews had MANY views regarding the final state of the wicked. Not just annihilationism simpliciter or eternal conscious torment simpliciter. Some held to a kind of purgatorial universalism for all or some of the wicked. Some to annihilation for some wicked, while eternal conscious torment for the heinously wicked. Some were physicalists who denied an afterlife like the Sadducees. There are many other variations. But the fact remains that even those who held to eternal conscious torment for some or all of the wicked used the same types of imagery used by annihilationists and the Gospels. In my opinion, when all the NT data is factored, ECT seems to be the more plausible and likely teaching of Scripture. Especially since none of the NT authors specifically teach annihilationism/conditionalism in opposition to eternal conscious torment (which was known to be a view among both Jewish and pagan conceptions of post-mortem punishment).

    Edersheim's appendix to his Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah on "ON ETERNAL PUNISHMENT, ACCORDING TO THE RABBIS AND THE NEW TESTAMENT" is obviously dated, but I suspect if modern scholars did a similar survey today they would pretty much come to the same conclusions.

    Edersheim's appendix is freely available here:

    In his BOOK REVIEW, Edward Fudge makes many correct and necessary criticisms against Robert Morey's Death and the Afterlife. However, even after subtracting all the problems from Morey's book, there's still enough evidence left over to strongly favor the traditionalist ECT view.

    For those interested, here's my blogpost:

    Resources Arguing for the Traditionalist Understanding of Hell

    1. Minor correction.

      Re-reading Edersheim's appendix I realize that he "[Left] aside the teaching of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigraphic Writing[s]..." Edersheim focused on Christ's contemporary hearers. He basically argues that it was the accepted belief of the Jewish schools in the time of Christ to believe in eternal punishment for at least some of the wicked. By this I take it he means the two major schools of Hillel and Shammai even though were other schools as well. Edersheim seems to imply it was the majority view among Jews at the time. If he's right, then he's also right to infer that Jesus' original audience would have more naturally assumed an ECT interpretation of His statements.

      However, I'm not sure it was the majority view. Maybe it was or wasn't. I'm no scholar. I wouldn't be surprised if it was. But even if it was, I'm not sure of the percentages.

      My claim is more modest. Basically that an ECT view was known among Jesus' original hearers and that when we examine how our Lord used such imagery and the rest of the NT teaching, it fits best with ECT.

      Though, I can see how Paul's writing could be interpreted as conditionalist. Maybe, Paul was personally a conditionalist, but God inspired Paul's writings and providentially guided the canonization of the the books of Scripture not to explicitly and unambiguously teach conditionalism. I don't think the inspiration of the Apostles necessitates they were correct on all their theology.

      However, being a Pharisee, it's more likely that Paul did hold to eternal conscious torment along with the common Pharisaical view of an immortal soul (even if previously the uninspired Pharisees held to such a view partly on pagan philosophical influence). According to Josephus the Pharisees [generally] believed in both immortality and ECT. And Paul (nor any other NT author) doesn't seem to go out of his way to correct it (as recorded in Scripture). Moreover, some of Paul's statement (IMHO) better fits with ECT (e.g. 2 Thess. 1:9).