As I mentioned on the “Garden of Eden” page/tab above, the traditional view that the final judgment of the lost entails being in conscious torment for all eternity finds its strength first in the mistaken concept that all souls, saved or lost, are immortal, and secondly from about 10 passages of Scripture that are believed to demonstrate the reality of eternal suffering. While it was well short of the full study I’ve done of the erroneous view of unconditional immortality, I hope the “Garden of Eden” page demonstrated many of the flaws with that view, and pointed to the source of much of that error. In the links to the right, below the link that brought you here to this page, you’ll see 9 passages of Scripture, that are each a hyperlink to a post I’ve written about the traditional take on these passages. Each post is an analysis of each passage, and like the Garden of Eden page, it’s only a summary of the full study I’ve done on these, and which one day will hopefully be available in book form.
A Very Brief Background
Over a decade ago, when I began to seriously question the traditional view of eternal hell and immortality, I purchased a book entitled Two Views of Hell, wherein the topic was debated from the traditionalist position, and the non-traditionalist position (often called the “conditionalist” view). It’s called this because those of us who hold such a view consider immortality, in any form, to be “conditional”, based on faith in Christ (or faith in the one true God, for those who lived before Christ came in the flesh). Edward Fudge argued the conditionalist position and Robert Peterson argued for the traditional. As I pursued this study, I found most of Fudge’s scriptural logic to be solid, but if I thought he’d got it all correct and addressed the subject from all angles, I wouldn’t have pursued writing out my own study. Yet I still appreciate his position for the most part, and his knowledge of the historicity of the immortal soul issue is deep. I found little of value in Peterson’s arguments for the traditional position. They were weak for the most part, filled with fallacies, and failed to let Scripture interpret Scripture. But I’m not singling him out as “the” problem by any means. While he is probably the most outspoken modern proponent of the issue, and has taken upon himself to write about the subject in numerous articles, and at least three books that I’m aware of, he is simply restating what the Church’s position has been on this for centuries. And he’s doing so by using the same small handful of proof texts that have always been used, and those either taken out of context, or not considered in light of the overwhelming biblical statement on what is in fact the ultimate wage for the sin of faithless unbelief.
So in the analyses of these 10 passages, which Peterson calls “the footings of the foundation of the house of traditionalism”, I’ll reference his commentary on various passages at times, in order to demonstrate that perhaps he’s not taking the care he should with some of the verses in question.
The reason there are nine links instead of ten is that two of the verses will be discussed together (that’s the “undying worms and unquenchable fire” link) because the same images are used in both the Old Testament and New Testament references to a particular judgment.
I’m making a late edit to this introduction because I believe something that I state in the closing (the “There you have it” link) needs to be stated at the outset of going through these proof texts for the traditional view of hell and immortality. For those of us who have had the concept of eternal conscious torment deeply ingrained in our minds, it’s easy to assume the reality of it, and then see these verses as descriptions or verification of a reality that we already assumed existed. That’s actually a backward way of looking at it. Can I get onto one of my favorite preachers for a minute here? I absolutely love James MacDonald. He’s still in my top 3 favorite pastors to listen to, learn from, and be inspired by. But in my estimation, he, like so many other pastors and teachers I love is wrong when it comes to this eternal suffering issue, and not only has he referred to these proof texts in the way I described above…sort of as a verification of what we already know, “describing and giving us more information about hell”, but in the introduction to that same 3-sermon radio series where he stated this, he “validated” his knowledge and study for that series with the statement that he had taken a whole week and studied nothing but hell. I almost choked when I heard that. A week?!? I was a few years into this being a topic I was passionate about when I heard him say that and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. Fortunately no one was around. I’ve studied this for well over a decade now, and sorry James, a week is simply not enough. And I think that exemplifies the problem within mainstream Christianity. It’s not a comfortable subject, so it gets avoided, even by pastors who should be the ones digging in most deeply on it. And then if you begin to get an inkling that maybe we’ve missed the boat somewhere in our traditional thinking, well then you’re challenging your own Christian brothers and sisters, which is also very uncomfortable…believe me…hasn’t been fun. Overall, it’s just flat out an uncomfortable topic, even if you’re coming to some non-traditional conclusions that actually relieve you greatly in terms of how much more merciful God is in final judgment than what we’ve been taught. Well, I’m drifting a little off from the point I wanted to add here. But it’s this – We need to step back from it far enough to realize that the only way we can claim that there is a future reality of eternal conscious suffering in hell for the lost is if it’s solidly found in Scripture. We can’t assume its reality and look to this tiny handful of passages as “descriptions” of an eternal hell reality we already simply “know” is out there. If it’s truly out there, and if it’s a reality, then Scripture should make that crystal clear. It doesn’t….not at all. And what follows in the links which are below the one that led you here, are the top 10 verses that Robert Peterson (the most outspoken eternal hell proponent) believes lay the foundation for this reality, and I’m going to demonstrate that not a single one of these does any such thing, and in fact, a few of them actually demonstrate just the opposite. Please take the time and read through each of these – not all in one sitting of course. It’s long, and at times tedious. But it will be worth the work. And again, if you haven’t read the “Garden of Eden” page yet, please click on that tab and read it first before getting into the analyses of the traditionalist proof texts. God Bless.