Do some people get burned worse than others in hell? Some people think so.
This is the second blog entry in a row on the way that some evangelicals (fewer all the time, thankfully) insist on saying that the Bible – and the New Testament in particular – teaches that some people are going to suffer eternal torment in hell. I won’t make too much of a habit of it, but this entry was prompted by one of the comments on the previous one.
Some have said that the New Testament teaches that there will be degrees of suffering in hell throughout eternity. In the traditional vision of hell as a torture chamber of fire and sulphur, you could think of some people being roasted at 500 degrees Celsius, while others are merely blistering at 100. In more recent, milder descriptions perhaps people might think of deeper levels of remorse or mental anguish, and perhaps a century from now it will be expressed in terms of some people feeling more angsty or bummed out than others. The point is, although hell is posited as the worst possible state that a person can find themselves in, there will still be some people in hell who can correctly say “things could be worse I suppose.”
This doctrinal claim is made as a reason to reject annihilationism. After all, if the punishment for sin is ultimately death in a straight forward literal sense after the judgement, as annihilationists say, then everyone gets the same punishment. But if there are degrees of punishment in hell then not everyone gets the same punishment, so annihilationism has got to be false.
Some annihilationists have sought to show that their position can be accommodated to the view that there will be degrees of punishment in hell, without necessarily committing themselves to that view. Henry Constable in the late nineteenth century noted that the annihilationist view “affords ample room” for such degrees, while Edward Fudge has said (and I have had the fortune of hearing him speak in person where he affirmed this) that his view allows for the possibility of protracted suffering prior to annihilation, enabling degrees of punishment. I actually think that my fellow annihilationists are mistaken to grant this much. After all, if we are serious when we say that our position is grounded, in part at least, on the repeated biblical emphasis on the fact that the wages of sin is death, then what are we doing when we talk about people being “punished” with torment prior to the end of their lives? The punishment is not the suffering. The punishment is the loss of life. If we talk about people being punished appropriately and then destroyed, we’re in trouble, because the Bible refers to eternal punishment. If death is the punishment, then the fact that the punishment is eternal is no barrier to annihilationism at all.
But I digress. The question I really wanted to raise here in order to show that this argument against annihilationism lacks any teeth to begin with is to ask: Does the Bible ever really say this? Do the biblical writers ever clearly say that the punishments of hell are graded, so that some receive a more awful punishment than others?
I think – and I am fairly confident that traditionalists will join me here – that the one text of Scripture that traditionalists regard as the clearest (and perhaps the only) indicator of this belief is Luke 12:47-48, and the conclusion of the story of the wedding feast. Here is that parable of Jesus in full:
“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
Before I explain why this passage offers no support at all for the notion of graded suffering in the world to come, let me first put it beyond all doubt that this is he normal way that traditionalists use this passage.
Harry Buis made the claim in his widely cited book The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment:
In the Parable of the Waiting Servants, we read “And that servant who knew his lord’s will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. And to whosoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more” (Luke 12:47-48). This illustrates the principle that there are various degrees of punishment depending on the degree of knowledge of God’s will.
Harry Buis, The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1957), 39.
Like most of his arguments, Buis provides no detail, no explanation, just a citation of the text and a short conclusion, but nonetheless it is clear what he is getting at. In context he is talking about “hell,” and he is claiming that this text indicates that there are degrees of punishment in hell.
John Walvoord in Four View on Hell regarded the evidence as conclusive: “Jesus also indicated that punishment in hell would be by degrees, depending on their understanding of the will of their master.” [Walvoord, “The Literal View” in William Crocket (ed.), Four Views on Hell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 21.]
Larry Dixon briefly makes the same claim about Luke 12:17-48, saying that it teaches “degrees of punishment at the judgment” [Dixon, The Other Side of the Good News (Fearn: Christian Focus Publications, 2003), 115].
Almost surprisingly (in my view), New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg agrees with these assessments and says, “These verses [Lk. 12:47-48] rank among the clearest in all the Bible in support of degrees of punishment in hell.” [Craig L. Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1990), 192.]
Enough examples – there are more out there, but this is enough to show the pattern of interpretation. This text, many believe, is the best evidence in the Bible for the view that there are degrees of punishment in hell. I submit that without this verse, any secondary biblical texts that people might refer to would, on their own, be deemed clearly inadequate to make the case. This passage is the clincher.
Nobody has ever attempted to present any evidence that this passage has anything whatsoever to do with the last judgement or with hell!
There’s just one problem, and this is a question that appears to be overlooked altogether by traditionalist readers of this passage: Nobody has ever attempted to present any evidence that this passage has anything whatsoever to do with the last judgement or with hell! What’s more, it’s not clear what sort of evidence they would offer if somebody were to make this attempt. Two of the synoptic authors had their own specific way of referring to the future day of judgement. Matthew uses the more specific “the day of judgement,” and refers to it more than the others. However, Luke still does use “the judgement” when relating some of those sayings in Matthew. But Luke does not use that phrase here in chapter 12. He does not even use the word judgement. Granted, there are multiple references to God’s judgement in the Gospels that are not references to the last judgement, but the point is just that the specific terminology of the day of judgement is not used here in this story.
Luke’s Gospel contains only one use of gehenna, the term translated “hell” in reference to final punishment (12:5). But it is not used anywhere else in chapter 12. In fact, Luke 12:47f does not appear to contain any linguistic clues that we are looking into the far flung future at the last judgement at all.
Some might point to the reference to the coming of the Son of Man and assume that this shows that this story is indeed about the future second coming of Christ. But this is far too hasty. The coming of the Son of Man to his house, where his own servants are supposed to be watching over it but who have instead been neglecting it and mistreating the Master’s faithful servants – this has all the hallmarks of Jesus’ teaching about his arrival on the stage of history in Israel in the first century. It is remarkably similar, for example, to the parable of when wicked vinedressers in Matthew 21:33ff. There, the workers in the vineyard mistreat the servants that the master sends into the vineyard, eventually killing even the son of the master. The master responds by executing those employees, and announcing that the vineyard (representing God’s kingdom) will be taken from them and given to others. Here we read that the chief priests and the Pharisees realised “that he was speaking about them.”
Frequently we read in the teaching of Jesus cryptic references to the fact that Israel bore a greater burden of responsibility to respond faithfully to him now that he had come. They had the revelation of God, the law, and it was to them that the prophets had been sent, and yet in spite of all this, they rejected the Son of Man when he came to the house of Israel. Even in this context in Luke there are a couple of rather clear warnings about Israel being ready (or as the case may be, not ready) for the fact that the Son of Man has now arrived but Israel is neither ready nor doing the business of the Father – nor are they prepared for the disaster that is about to befall them. In 12:54ff he chides the people for being able to interpret the weather but not the signs of times all around them.
Not only is there no indication at all that Jesus is talking about the last judgement and eternal punishment, there is every reason to think that he is speaking of the impending doom that is about to befall the nation of Israel, as it did in the years leading up to AD70 in the war with Rome, resulting in the utter devastation of Jerusalem and its temple. The reason they suffered “many stripes” as the older versions read, is because the will of their master had been revealed to them, but they did not do it.
The question of the severity of the torments of hell simply never enters the picture at all in Luke 12, unless we are already looking intently for it.
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39 thoughts on “Degrees of hell?”
if we are serious when we say that our position is grounded, in part at least, on the repeated biblical emphasis on the fact that the wages of sin is death, then what are we doing when we talk about people being “punished” with torment prior to the end of their lives? The punishment is not the suffering. The punishment is the loss of life. If we talk about people being punished appropriately and then destroyed, we’re in trouble, because the Bible refers to eternal punishment.
I don’t see this as problematic. The wages of sin is death, and the punishment is the loss of life. But part and parcel of that is the actual process of dying. It seems to me that on your view, the loss of life would have to be instantaneous and painless. The biblical descriptions of future punishment, however, strike me as painful. If we grant that the death of the unsaved will involve at least some pain, then I don’t see why we couldn’t further suppose that there will be variations in the degree of pain experienced by various people.
I think the statement in Revelation 20:13 that each person will be judged according to his deeds strongly implies that there will be some sort of distinction made when the sentence is carried out.
As an aside, I’ve always wondered how traditionalists who understand hell as solely complete separation from God would make sense of degrees of punishment. Maybe some people are more completely separated from God than others 🙂
p.s. “health and fitness”??
Well no, there’s no requirement that the process of dying be instant and painless.
My concern is that I don’t see the process of dying as the punishment, but the actual privation of life itself is the punishment. If the process of dying were the punishment, then “eternal punishment” would defy annihilationism since it would mean a perpetual state of decline but no actual death.
As I see it, a death penalty is as bad as it gets and there’s no point trying to say that some people have a worse death penalty than others.
Yes, the Bible talks about people being judged by their works, but I just don’t see that pointing to graded punishment (quite apart from the above). Imagine a test for entry to university where people were marked according to their answer. If the pass mark is 100%, they all get equally excluded (unless they get 100%).
Ummm, as for health and fitness as a category, I’ll fix that – thanks!
‘Yes, the Bible talks about people being judged by their works, but I just don’t see that pointing to graded punishment’.
So, Glenn I’m guessing you see the judgment of resurrected peoples’ works as simply being whether they qualify for eternal life or everlasting destruction. If so, I’m not sure that’s correct. I recall 2 judgments: one the judgment seat of Christ where the believers are assessed for the purpose of rewards –
2 Corinthians 5:9-11 (New American Standard Bible)
9 Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
The second is in Rev 20:10-12. Here the devil, false prophet and beast are in the lake of fire (note – being tormented forever, after all it was reserved for the devil and his angels in the first place). Then the dead are raised and judged according to their deeds and names being in the Book of Life or not. I believe the same scene is painted by Jesus in Matt 25:32-34 when the sheep and goats are separated. The goats are sent to their fate of everlasting death (their second), but there seems to be a finite time between the sentence and its final execution.
They weep and gnash their teeth, and can compare their fate to those chosen for eternal life – a distressing realisation potentially. I see scripture portraying a God who is about rewarding the saved to varying degrees; after all some just scrape into the Kingdom (1 Cor 3:15). Similarly, he is all about justice. Whilst death is the worst sentence and a fitting conclusion for the unrepentant, what would be worse for a prisoner on death row would be to suffer a daily dose of conscious punishment which increased with the severity of sin and rebellion during his life, and Rev 20 says as much. Does Pol Pot deserve the same judgment as a gentle, caring Bhuddist?
The verses in Luke 12 do not easily chime with the 70AD prophetic picture Jesus spoke about in Matt 24, although I can see why you make the connection with punishment upon the Jews. The problem I see with that is that if the punishment is levelled at the Jews, they were either unbelieving (many blows) or believing (no blows surely), so who would receive ‘a few blows’? I understand that most, if not all, the believing Jews escaped the city before it’s final sacking.
Overall, I see no conflict with annihilationism accommodating a graduated slide into eventual permanent death. It fits scripture, it fits with God’s meting out appropriate measures of justice and shows his mercy that they aren’t tortured for eternity.
Some of the interpretation and conclusions drawn here will, inevitably, be through the individual’s eschatological and millennial lens.
My own view is that the actual privation of life is the primary and necessary punishment, and as such is the punishment that lasts forever. But this doesn’t preclude the preceding “process of death” punishment that will be experienced by some.
The death penalty is as bad as it gets, but all else being equal, I’d rather be beheaded than burned at the stake. In both cases I’d be dead forever (if there were no resurrection), but that doesn’t mean that the pain of being burned is not part of my punishment—albeit a temporary part.
“and perhaps a century from now it will be expressed in terms of some people feeling more angsty or bummed out than others.”
Thanks Glenn. I had a mouthful of coffee when I read that. Now you owe me a new keyboard!
Do you think that ‘Four views on Hell’ it worth it? I’ve be going back and forth as to whether I should pick it up?
Why can’t it be that the process of annihilation is in degrees. In other words, like captial punishment, we could knock you out as we do it or we could keep you totally conscious. Torturing people before the annihilation is one thing but making the actual annihilation pailful seems to be within reason – perhaps this is Fudge’s view? I think I’m sharing Ronnie’s sentiments.
Gene, because the suffering would be irrelevant to the actual punishment and consequently mere cruel additions to it – additions that achieve nothing in regard to divine justice.
If the punishment is death and nothing else suffices, then what are all these extra bits? Suffering isn’t part of it. The issue is having life or not having life.
Basil, “Four Views of Hell” is rather average. Walvoord is presents a truly awful case for traditionalism – which makes it worthwhile if you want really bad examples of traditionalist exegesis. I guess in the sense that it reflects the way many people actually think, it’s good. I think Pinnock’s chapter on conditional immortality is not just better than the others, it seriously leaves them for dead – it’s barely even a fair comparison. The chapter on purgatory is not bad either – in terms of being a good presentation for a view that I think is incorrect. But the two papers in defence of eternal torment are just not good (but Walvoord’s is very easily the worst).
I don’t have any strong disagreement to your exegesis on the above passage.
But, I remember reading in one of Louis Pojman defences of capital punishment a suggestion, that for certain people such as those who torture little children to death, the electric chair was probably better than lethal injection because the former deserve to suffer somewhat in the process of death given what they inflicted on others. If human beings can factor this in in capital punishment as it exists today, I see no reason the claim that capital punishment cannot come in differing degrees of severity for different offences.
I suspect that Pojman would have been thinking that the suffering leading up to death somehow counted in favour of justice in this way: Their punishment was death and also suffering leading up to death.
That’s just not what I see in Scripture when it speaks directly about the punishment for sin.
Hi Glenn (and others)
I first want to say that, after discovering and reviewing some of the material on your site, I appreciate and am thankful for your focus on original thinking, and for your desire that people have a deeply personal understanding of important matters. Having said that, I disagree with your position on annihilation.
As time allows, I hope to engage with enough of the material that you (and others) reference in order to give your position a fair hearing. For now though, I want to raise two or three points. If these have been dealt with elsewhere, feel free to provide a link/reference so that I am not wasting your valuable time. Recently getting married has led me to appreciate others’ time much more, as the amount of my own that I have to devote to these issues has become much more scarce!
Firstly, I would like to mention Matthew chapter 11 as a passage that seems to have a lot more weight on the issue of degrees of punishment. Jesus says that it will be more tolerable for some. While I believe that this is not necessarily an argument for or against annihilation, it does seem to be much stronger than the passage you’ve used. I’ve also never come across Luke 12 as a passage with any real weight in the argument.
Second, I think that reducing the issue of punishment/reward to one of “having life or not having life” is overly simplified, and even misses the point when scripture refers to life and death in the context of eternity. If death is permanent and final, without the “spiritual” component of pain or torment, then the direct opposite of this would seem to be life without the spiritual component of joy and completed sanctification. The gains of salvation would seem to be reduced to mere immortality and the issue of what happens during that version of everlasting life seems separated from the biblical concept of everlasting life.
Finally, the position of annihilation seems to me to present a lower view of the majesty of God than that which I find presented in scripture. I don’t say that to offend, but to show that I do consider this an important enough issue for Christians to work out together. I am sure you have just as high a view of God as I do, but I do not think that annihilation supports such a high view. Justice, in at least part of the biblical sense of the word, has a clear meaning of balancing the books. The magnitude of the crime demands an appropriate magnitude of punishment. Not so much from the angle that sin is really bad, but because the sin (or any level) is against a really holy God; that is why conscious punishment without end makes more sense to me. I’ve totally understated just how bad sin is and more importantly just how holy God is, but hopefully I’ve still communicated that it is the holiness that I think demands a greater sense of punishment by those being punished.
The comparison to an earthly court, in particular life imprisonment versus the death penalty, has been used to try and justify annihilation as meeting the requirements of justice. I think this argument presents a misunderstanding of true justice and the role of the legal/penal system. Scripture offers us hope that true and ultimate justice will be served by God on Judgment day. Our earthly systems of justice attempt to copy this, not the other way around. As such, our earthly systems are limited to merely representing in a physical sense the death of the wicked. Because of this, we cannot properly relate a flawed, man-made, physical system to the perfect system administered by a perfect Creator. I could say much more on this but the hints are there enough for you to ponder this further.
Thank you for such an open and valuable forum on this, and other issues. I apologise for the lack of detail in my words. Time and mental energy being scarce, I hope you will forgive me.
Firstly, I think Luke 12 is more commonly used to show degrees of punishment. But in any event: On another thread, somebody recently asked me about Matthew 11, so I will reproduce here my response to that person:
Very interesting article Glenn. Say, with your view of annihilationism, when a lost person physically dies, during the resurrection of the dead is he raised, brought before God, judged and proclaimed that God never knew him and is sentenced to an eternal state of nonexistence (death) or once a lost person physically dies he is simply not resurrected with followers of Christ during the general resurrection of the dead?
Milburne, I think the doctrine of the future resurrection of the dead – of the saved and the lost – is pretty clearly what the Bible teaches.
Hey Glenn, thank you so much for responding. I was curious, how do you think the end time or at the very least, the future events for Christians will be? Back before I got deeply involved in apologetics and theology at the typical protestant baptist church I attended while I was smaller, I was taught the following…
1. Current age (people are being born and dying, living out their lives and either accepting or rejecting the gospel as well as hearing or not hearing the gospel)
2. The “rapture” of the church/ all dead believers are either made alive again and awaken from the sleep of death or just their bodies/or remains rise upward to be “connected” again with their souls which are in heaven/temporal heaven/Abraham’s bosom as well as the Christians who are alive at this time will rise upward or will just disappear and have their physical bodies changed and meet up with the formly dead believers.
3. The antichrist comes to power to govern the people remaining on the earth, claims to be God and sits up a one world government and religion.
4. Some countries, and groups of people (along with Israel) rebels and go against the Antichrist and Armageddon breaks out.
5. God along with all of the believers and angels accompanying Him show up in the sky and defeat the antichrist and his followers and God locks Satan up in a supernatural hellish dungeon for the millennial reign.
6. The millennial reign of Christ begins where God rules on the earth in Jerusalem with his followers for a thousand years (during this time new people are born and some even die but not near as much as previous, also people are still given the choice to either accept or reject Christ).
7. After the thousand years Satan comes back trying one last time to mess up God’s plans and take some more people away from God’s fold and then God takes Satan and throws him into the pits of hell along with all of the lost people where they stay there for eternity.
8. Finally the new heavens and new earth are fully finished and God and all of his followers embark on enjoying eternity, each other, and doing wonderful “fun projects” or who knows what for all eternity and we all either live in heaven only, the new earth only or we can pick and choose or go back and forth?????
This was basically what I was taught and believed up until a few years ago. Since I’ve become more involved in apologetics and theology and have become more aware of all the different views like on the rapture, the antichrist, the millennial reign of Christ, and even the specifics of heaven and hell, I’m somewhat confused and don’t know what to believe.
Do you kind of feel like how I do on these issues or do you have a better handle on things that I do? But anyways, thank you so much again for your time and God bless.
Say Glenn, after some more thinking on the subject, according to your view (which I think is a partial preterist view correct?) you would believe as follows..
1. There will be no pre or post tribulation rapture nor will there be any antichirst, one world government, Armageddon, people walking around with 666 or 616 id chips in their heads or hands.
2. (possible options for a preterist or partial preterist) Life will go on as normal until
a. a climatic event (could be anything, a run away greenhouse effect, nuclear war, asteroid impact, massive disease outbreak, massive famine) or anything that wipes out humanity and then after that God resurrects everyone from the dead
b. Life goes on as normal and without a climatic event that kills all humanity God resurrects all the current dead and all the living get caught up with the risen dead
2. Then judgment for the nonbelievers and rewards for the believers are given out.
3. Non believers are annihilated and the believers remain alive forever on a either newly created or newly renovated “heavens and earth”.
Anyway Glenn, does this look just about right or did I miss a few things? Thanks again for your time.
I wonder if one important point could be this. Why would God wish to sustain the existence of those who reject salvation. There seems to be no benefit for his ultimate purposes. All things, including resurrection states would require his power to allow them to continue . There seems to be no logical reason to me why he would continue the existence of those who are lost. This may be a bad analogy, if one is making a new beginning, you get rid of the trash. So, in fairness God’s new creation would be one totally free from the corruptions of the old one. This would include all sources of personal moral corruption. Unfortunately, people in our culture have been conditioned even from a young age to think in terms of a heaven for all, and a hell for a small minority of really bad guys. We are all really good aren’t we? So, God accepts me.
One other point why do atheists get upset by the notion of annihilation? From their perspective i.e naturalism is similar in this way . The whole person is lost at death. The central processing unit fails, and the vehicle dies. And it is lights out! In annihilation, the whole person is also lost. Perhaps the moral judgement by God is a good reason to protest because it has personal responsibility involved which we may want to avoid. But, if one truly believes there is no God, then you are embracing annihilation anyway. That sounds very bleak to me.
lol Nick, it looks like you’re reading through the back catalogue of blog posts!
I have been listening and reading. I have come to the conclusion that annihilation fits best with the Biblical data. I thought your treatment on the podcasts was very fair. Especially, about how our theology needs to be formed from a full examination of the text. I probably was more of a traditionalist by default. I was surprise by the degree of poor hermeneutics being done by the traditionalists. These examples would of been avoided by attending a interpretive method class at any Bible college. You have studied philosophy, I have a couple of controversial questions.
1, Would be be more moral for God to destroy the lost than torment them? Annihilation would be more merciful, if you see my point. It also would persevere God’s moral reputation. By this I mean he is not acting in some vindictive manner towards his enemies. Not, that he has fluctuating emotions like humans. On the contrary by showing his anger by the thorough judgement of evil while remaining unwavering, unsentimental and to a certain degree exhibiting perfection in moral judgement would be more accurate I believe.
2, The victory over sin perhaps would not be so impressive if (analogy) ‘God creates a new kingdom, but over the fence are the same troublesome neighbours’. Victory over evil would appear more comprehensive if the rebellious are annihilated. For those who have faced death for their faith would receive total resolution for their sacrifice.
3, As I perviously mentioned that all beings require God’s power to continue to exist. If the lost remain then God would obligated to choose to continue their life. He would also be aware of corporate and individual suffering if a traditional eternal state model is a reality. In the new creation suffering appears to be excluded. Is it possible that God too wishes to enjoy the new creation being free from any more awareness of suffering? Because of God’s attributes he would (analogy) ‘be reminded by the suffering of these beings and his would be in the back of his mind so to speak’. So peace for all comes through the process of annihilation it would seem.
Can you comment on these 3 points.
Nick, I agree with your three points – but I would word point 1 differently. I don’t think that God has moral obligations, so I would prefer to say that it is more loving for God to end the lives of his enemies than to torment them forever, and thus it is more in keeping with what Scripture reveals about God.
As for the remaining two points – spot on!
Glenn which book have you read which has a good overview of the a annihilation theology? In particular I would be wanting one that has a exegetical structure, and some depth. This is where a lot of the debate will begin I can see. So, if you can recommend one that would be appreciated.
One final point. As I consider the traditionalist view I think there is an idea that sneaks under the radar that is not helpful lay people. This is how it is related. God is eternal, he creates spiritual beings that have eternal life. Therefore, these creatures remain intrinsically eternal. As a result God is left with some undesirable characters which he is stuck with. One problem would be if they can be ‘created’ then they can also be ‘annihilated’ surely. A creationist doctrine about the creation of human soul allows for a unique creation of a ‘soul’. It would also be possible for God to extinguish them too I would think.
Nick, Edward Fudge’s book The Fire that Consumes is really the classic modern book on this. It is now in its third edition.
You said: “Luke’s Gospel contains only one use of gehenna, the term translated “hell” in reference to final punishment (12:5). But it is not used anywhere in chapter 12.” Have you made a mistake or have I completely misunderstood what you’ve written? You point out the one place the word is used in Luke is 12:5 then say it’s not used anywhere in chapter 12. Did you mean “anywhere else”?
Whoops – Yes, I did mean to say “anywhere else.” Fixed now, thanks Paul.
No problem! Easily done. Doing a bit of research and writing on the subject, which brought me to your blog.
Glenn I’d be interested in your take on David instone brewers position on this, basically he argues the biblical language reflects early Jewish and rabbinic language which involved both a picture of suffering and death where the former preceded the latter.
I’m not all that familiar with him, Matt, but I do have a couple of red flags that come up in my mind when I read what he says about hell, however much I might agree with him overall. He repeats the old chestnut about Gehenna being a rubbish dump (when actually there’s no evidence that it was). He translates Jesus’ reference to “weeping and gnashing of teeth” into the idea of “weeping and teeth-clenching pain” as though the purpose there is to describe ongoing physical agony, and on the basis of those texts he gets the idea that “The gospels often refer to the terrible torment of hell.” I just don’t think that’s the real point of that terminology at all, a point Edward Fudge made well I think. I’d also say that even if suffering were the main point of that phrase, there would be nothing in it to commend the idea of protracted suffering over time as the punishment being meted out (for example Jesus uses it in a story where a wicked servant is cut into pieces – presumably not slowly either). And it’s true that there is similarity between the terminology Jesus used and the terminology many rabbis used, but the rabbis also used Old Testament language in spite of, in my view, adding other beliefs to that language (so they would – some of them anyway – have used the language of Isaiah 66,which in context referred to dead bodies, and yet some rabbis believed in eternal torment). So it’s difficult to make much of the inference from a similarity of language. Some rabbis used very similar language, but taught that the destruction/punishment of the lost meant that they would never rise (Mishnah-tractate Sanhedrin 10:3A–CC), and books like 2 Baruch also had terms similar to some of what Jesus said, but it maintained that the wicked would vanish away like smoke with no indication of suffering. So there are a few “rabbinical” perspectives that would have had some overlapping language. I don’t see anywhere where Jesus is recorded as actually saying anything that strongly points to the punishment being a protracted period of suffering prior to destruction.
FWIW, NT Wright says: “Gehenna was the name for Jerusalem’s smouldering rubbish heap, and the word was already in use as an image of hell-fire” – Luke For Everyone: pg 149
Yes, a number of writers have said that about the rubbish dump, but as other writers have pointed out – it’s popular but almost certainly not true, and there’s no early evidence for it. Any specialist on Gehenna (and I realise Wright isn’t) would know this.
Yeah.. it was just ironic, as I had literally just read that line when google popped up your comment for me 😛
ooh, I found this, which I thought interesting too:
Rather than a rubbish dump (which I suppose would work for annihilationists too), the main negative association for the Valley of Hinnom was as a place of slaughter.
Yeah, the link I posted he refers to biblical examples of that too
Glenn: apart from supposed biblical statements which describe degrees of punishment, what about the general philosophical claim relating to justice, that serial child-killers should receive “worse punishment” than your average non-believer who refrained from such acts?
Perhaps this is related, but what about those who engage in egregious acts of violent murder then assume they can simply “check out” because they suppose death is the ultimate end? Does their punishment (death) not become a type of escape route which they have welcomed or even used to their advantage by factoring it in?
Jeff, if we set aside what the Bible says about it, then all bets are off, if our interest is in Evangelical theology (as mine is).
But one way to approach the idea that punishment is stuff, and the worse a person is, the more of that stuff they deserve, is to reverse the way we think about it, and to instead think about evil (and about hell) as a privation – as a loss of the good. The prize is life, and the only way to get it is to be perfect. Think of it like runners in a race. It doesn’t matter how much they lose the race by, if they don’t win, they aren’t getting the gold medal.
Thanks Glenn. Perhaps my first comment was unclear: I was not saying we should “set aside the Bible.” I was just being clear that rather than dealing in exegesis at this point I was making an appeal to reason and our sense of justice as I asked the question. I do think the Bible teaches there are degrees of sin and degrees of punishment (Jesus’s statement to Pilate that the ones who delivered him are guilty of a greater sin, and Jesus’s statement that it will be worse for cities who reject his preaching that Sodom on Judgment Day). I am not only wrestling with physcialism from a purely exegetical perspective (as if that were even possible) but contemplating how such a position can relate to questions of meaning and justice in this life and the life to come, since these issues will probably shape the very presuppositions we bring to the exegetical task. I assume you are also interested in discussing physicalism from a philosophical perspective, even though you (and I) prioritize Scripture above our musings.
I have thought about the reversal approach you suggested and I can see where you are coming from. Though I don’t think it answers the question of whether or not certain individuals (because of their actions) should receive a stricter recompense-perhaps somehow in conjunction with- the death they will experience. In addition, while I find your analogy helpful, I can’t help but think that life can’t be simply compared to a race. People are not disqualifed from eternal life because they lacked a competitive skill. Runners also go of course and start beating raping and killing those in the crowd. Then what? Not only do they miss the medal, but they might face further punishment, right?
I would agree with the idea that “degrees of death” seems impossible. I guess we could ask, however, whether or not some deaths can be worse than others? And to end with the statement from Jesus I made above (Mt. 10:15), could this statement not mean that the second death imposed on those individuals will in some manner be experienced as more severe?
Hi Jeff. I don’t think there’s anything about judgement day being worse for some than others that requires us to think that some people will receive a more terrible punishment than others. Rather, judgement day will be worse for those who *thought* they were on the right side, but who turn out to be mistaken, and who then realise that they had been given the opportunity to hear the Gospel, but who missed it. This is the apparent meaning in context.
Remember when Jesus said that “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.” It’s a similar idea, namely missed opportunities.
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