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4. The Witness of Paul

The word "hell" (gehenna) does not occur in the writings of Paul. Instead, the apostle refers a few times to Godís judgment executed upon the evildoers at the time of Christís coming. Traditionalists appeal to some of these passages to support their belief in the eternal punishment of the lost. Earlier we examined the important passage of 2 Thessalonians 1:9, where Paul speaks of the "punishment of eternal destruction" that the wicked will suffer at Christís coming. We noted that the destruction of the wicked is eternal? aionios, not because the process of destruction continues forever, but because the results are permanent.

The Day of Wrath. Another significant Pauline passage often cited in support of literal unending hellfire is his warning about "the day of wrath when Godís righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will render to every man according to his works: . . . to those who do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek" (Rom 2:5-9). The "wrath, fury, tribulation, distress" are seen by traditionalists as descriptive of the conscious torment of hell.42

The picture that Paul presents of "the day of wrath," when the evildoers will experience wrath, fury, tribulation and distress is most likely derived from Zephaniah, where the prophet speaks of the eschatological Day of the Lord as a "day of wrath . . . a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom" (Zeph 1:15). Then the prophet says: "In the fire of his jealous wrath, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full, yea, sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth" (Zeph 1:18).

We have reason to believe that Paul expresses the same truth that the Day of the Lord will bring a sudden end to evildoers. Paul never makes any allusion to the everlasting torment of the lost. Why? Simply, because for him, immortality is Godís gift given to the saved at Christís coming (1 Cor 15:53-54) and not a natural endowment of every person. The Apostle borrows freely from the Old Testamentís prophetic vocabulary, but he illuminates the vision of the Day of the Lord with the bright light of the Gospel, rather than with lurid details of conscious eternal torment.

5. The Witness of Revelation

The theme of the final judgment is central to the book of Revelation, because it represents Godís way of overcoming the opposition of evil to Himself and His people. Thus, it is not surprising that believers in eternal hell fire find support for their view in the dramatic imagery of Revelationís final judgment. The visions cited to support the view of everlasting punishment in hell are: (1) the vision of Godís Wrath in Revelation 14:9-11, and (2) the vision of the lake of fire and of the second death in Revelation 20:10, 14-15. We briefly examine them now.

The Vision of Godís Wrath. In Revelation 14, John sees three angels announcing Godís final judgment in language progressively stronger. The third angel cries out with a loud voice: "If any one worships the beast and its image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also shall drink the wine of Godís wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and he shall be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of his holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshippers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name" (Rev 14:9-11).

Traditionalists view this passage together with Matthew 25:46 as the two most important texts which support the traditional doctrine of hell. Peterson concludes his analysis of this passage, by saying: "I conclude, therefore, that despite attempts to prove otherwise, Revelation 14:9-11 unequivocally teaches that hell entails eternal conscious torment for the lost. In fact, if we had only this passage, we would be obligated to teach the traditional doctrine of hell on the authority of the Word of God."43 Robert Morey states categorically the same view: "By every rule of hermeneutics and exegesis, the only legitimate interpretation of Revelation 14:10-11 is the one that clearly sees eternal, conscious torment awaiting the wicked."44

These dogmatic interpretations of Revelation 14:9-11 as proof of a literal, eternal torment reveal a lack of sensitivity to the highly metaphorical language of the passage. In his commentary on Revelation, J. P. M. Sweet, a respected British New Testament scholar, offers a most timely caution in his comment on this passage: "To ask, Ďwhat does Revelation teach ? eternal torment or eternal destruction?í is to use (or misuse) the book as a source of Ďdoctrine,í or of information about the future. John uses pictures, as Jesus used parables (cf. Matt 18:32-34; 25:41-46), to ram home the unimaginable disaster of rejecting God, and the unimaginable blessedness of union with God, while there is still time to do something about it."45 It is unfortunate that this warning is ignored by those who choose to interpret literally highly figurative passages like the one under consideration.

Four Elements of the Judgment. Let us now consider the four major elements in the angelís announcement of Godís judgment upon the apostates who worship the beast: (1) The pouring and drinking of the cup of Godís wrath, (2) the torment with burning sulphur inflicted upon the ungodly in the sight of the angels and of the Lamb, (3) the smoke of their torment rising forever, and (4) their having no rest day or night.

The pouring of the cup of Godís wrath is a well-established Old Testament symbol of divine judgment (Is 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15-38; Ps 60:3; 75:8). God pours the cup "unmixed," that is, undiluted, to ensure its deadly effects. The prophets used similar language:"They shall drink and stagger, and shall be as though they had not been" (Ob 16: cf. Jer 25:18, 27, 33). The same cup of Godís wrath is served to Babylon, the city that corrupts the people. God mixes "a double draught for her," and the result is "pestilence, mourning, famine" and destruction by fire (Rev 18:6, 8). We have reason to believe that the end of Babylon, destroyed by fire, is also the end of the apostates who drink Godís unmixed cup.

The fate of the ungodly is described through the imagery of the most terrible judgment that ever fell on this earth?the destruction by fire and sulphur of Sodom and Gomorrah."He shall be tormented with fire and sulphur, in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb" (Rev 14:10). The imagery of fire and sulphur that destroyed the two cities frequently is used in the Bible to signify complete annihilation (Job 18:15-17; Is 30:33; Ezek 38:22).

Isaiah describes the fate of Edom in language that is strikingly similar to that of Revelation 14:10. He says:"The streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into brimstone; her land shall become burning pitch. Night and day it shall not be quenched, its smoke shall go up for ever" (Is 34:9-10). As Revelation 14:10, we have here the unquenchable fire, the sulphur (brimstone), and the smoke that goes up forever, night and day. Does this mean that Edom was to burn forever? We do not have to go far to find the answer because the verse continues: "From generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever" (Is 34:10).46 It is evident that the unquenchable fire and the ever-ascending smoke are metaphoric symbols of complete destruction, extermination, and annihilation. If this is the meaning of this imagery in the Old Testament, we have reason to believe that the same meaning applies to the text under consideration.

This conclusion is supported by Johnís use of the imagery of the fire and smoke to describe the fate of Babylon, the city responsible for enticing Godís people into apostasy. The city "shall be burned with fire" (Rev 18:8) and "the smoke from her goes up for ever and ever" (Rev 19:3). Does this mean that Babylon will burn for all eternity? Obviously not, because the merchants and kings bewail the "torment" they see, and cry: "Alas, alas, for the great city . . . In one hour she has been laid waste. . . . and shall be found no more" (Rev 18:10, 17, 19, 21). It is evident that the smoke of the torment of Babylon that "goes up for ever and ever" represents complete destruction because the city "shall be found no more" (Rev 18:21).

The striking similarity between the fate of the apostates and the fate of Babylon, where both are characterized as tormented by fire whose smoke "goes up for ever and ever" (Rev 14:10-11; cf. 18:8; 19:3), gives us reason to believe that the destiny of Babylon is also the destiny of those who have partaken of her sins, that is, both experience the same destruction and annihilation.

" No Rest, Day or Night." The phrase "they have no rest, day or night" (Rev 14:11) is interpreted by traditionalists as descriptive of the eternal torment of hell. The phrase, however, denotes the continuity and not the eternal duration of an action. John uses the same phrase "day and night" to describe the living creatures praising God (Rev 4:8), the martyrs serving God (Rev 7:15), Satan accusing the brethren (Rev 12:10), and the unholy trinity being tormented in the lake of fire (Rev 20:10). In each case, the thought is the same: the action continues while it lasts. Harold Guillebaud correctly explains that the phrase "they have no rest, day or night" (Rev 14:11) "certainly says that there will be no break or intermission in the suffering of the followers of the Beast, while it continues; but in itself it does not say that it will continue forever."47

Support for this conclusion is provided by the usage of the phrase "day and night" in Isaiah 34:10, where, as we have seen, Edomís fire is not quenched "night and day" and "its smoke shall go up for ever" (Is 34:10). The imagery is designed to convey that Edomís fire would continue until it had consumed all that there was, and then it would go out. The outcome would be permanent destruction, not everlasting burning. "From generation to generation it shall lie waste" (Is 34:10).

To sum up, the four figures present in the scene of Revelation 14:9-11 complement one another in describing the final destruction of the apostates. The "unmixed" wine of Godís fury poured out in full strength suggests a judgment resulting in extinction. The burning sulphur denotes some degree of conscious punishment that precedes the extinction. The rising smoke serves as a continuous reminder of Godís just judgment. The suffering will continue day and night until the ungodly are completely destroyed.

The Lake of Fire. The last description in the Bible of the final punishment contains two highly significant metaphorical expresions: (1) the lake of fire, and (2) the second death (Rev 19:20; 20:10, 15; 21:8). Traditionalists attribute fundamental importance to "lake of fire" because for them, as stated by John Walvoord, "the lake of fire is, and it serves as a synonym for the eternal place of torment."48

To determine the meaning of "the lake of fire," we need to examine its four occurrences in Revelation, the only book in the Bible where the phrase is found. The first reference occurs in Revelation 19:20, where we are told that the beast and the false prophet "were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur." The second reference is found in Revelation 20:10, where John describes the outcome of Satanís last great assault against God: "The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever." Godís throwing of the devil into the lake of fire increases its inhabitants from two to three.

The third and fourth references are found in Revelation 20:15 and 21:8, where all the wicked are also thrown into the lake of fire. It is evident that there is a crescendo as all evil powers, and people eventually experience the final punishment of the lake of fire.

The fundamental question is whether the lake of fire represents an ever-burning hell where the wicked are supposed to be tormented for all eternity or whether it symbolizes the permanent destruction of sin and sinners. Five major considerations lead us to believe that the lake of fire represents the final and complete annihilation of evil and evildoers.

First, the beast and the false prophet, who are cast alive into the lake of fire, are two symbolic personages who represent not actual people but persecuting civil governments and corrupting false religion. Political and religious systems cannot suffer conscious torment forever. Thus, for them, the lake of fire represents complete, irreversible annihilation.

Second, the imagery of the devil and his host who are devoured by fire from heaven and then cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, is largely derived from Ezekiel 38 and 39, where even the code names "Gog" and "Magog" are found, and from 2 King 1:10, which speaks of the fire that came down from heaven to consume the captain and the fifty soldiers sent against Elijah. In both instances, the fire causes the annihilation of evildoers (Ezek 38:22; 39:6, 16). The similarity of imagery suggests that the same meaning and function of fire as utter destruction applies to the fate of the devil in Revelation 20:10.

Third, it is impossible to visualize how the devil and his angels, who are spirits could "be tormented [with fire] day and night for ever and ever" (Rev 20:10). After all, fire belongs to the material, physical world, but the devil and his angels are not physical beings. Eldon Ladd rightly points out: "How a lake of literal fire can bring everlasting torture to non-physical beings is impossible to imagine. It is obvious that this is picturesque language describing a real fact in the spiritual world: the final and everlasting destruction of the forces of evil which have plagued men since the garden of Eden."49

Fourth, the fact that "Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire" (Rev 20:14) shows that the meaning of the lake of fire is symbolic, because Death and Hades (the grave) are abstract realities that cannot be thrown into or consumed with fire. By the imagery of Death and Hades being thrown into the lake of fire, John simply affirms the final and complete destruction of death and the grave. By His death and resurrection, Jesus conquered the power of death, but eternal life cannot be experienced until death is symbolically destroyed in the lake of fire and banished from the universe.

"The Second Death." The fifth and decisive consideration is the fact that the lake of fire is defined as "the second death." Before we look at the usage of the phrase "second death," it is important to note that John clearly explains that "the lake of fire is the second death" (Rev 20:14; cf. 21:8).

Some traditionalists interpret "the second death," not as the ultimate death, but as the ultimate separation of sinners from God. For example, Robert Peterson states: "When John says that Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire" (Rev 20:14), he indicates that the intermediate state gives way to the final one. He also does this by revealing that the Ďlake of fire is the second deathí (Rev 20:14). As death means the separation of the soul from the body, so the second death denotes the ultimate separation of the ungodly from their Creatorís love. Accordingly, God reunites the souls of the unsaved dead with their bodies to fit the lost for eternal punishment. If eternal life entails forever knowing the Father and the Son (John 17:3), its antithesis, the second death, involves being deprived of Godís fellowship for all eternity."50

It is hard to understand how Peterson can interpret "the second death" as eternal conscious separation from God when, as we noted in chapter 4, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that there is no consciousness in death. The "second death" is the antithesis of "eternal life," but the antithesis of eternal life is "eternal death" and not eternal conscious separation from God. Furthermore, the notion of the souls of the unsaved being reunited with their bodies after the intermediate state, to make them fit for eternal punishment can only be supported on the basis of a dualistic understanding of human nature. From a Biblical perspective, death is the cessation of life and not the separation of the body from the soul. The meaning of the phrase "second death" must be determined on the basis of the internal witness of the book of Revelation and of contemporary Jewish literature rather than on the basis of Greek dualism, foreign to the Bible.

Throughout the book of Revelation, John explains the meaning of a first term by the use of a second. For example, he explains that the bowls of incense are the prayers of the saints (Rev 5:8). "The fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints" (Rev 19:8). The coming to life of the saints and their reigning with Christ a thousand years "is the first resurrection" (Rev 20:5). Following the same pattern, John explicitly explains that "the lake of fire is the second death" (Rev 20:14; cf. 21:8).

Some traditionalists wish to define the second death as the lake of fire, in order to be able to argue that the second death is not the final death, but eternal torment in the lake of fire. A quick reading of Revelation 20:14 and 21:8 suffices to show that the opposite is true. John unmistakenly states: "The lake of fire is the second death" and not vice versa. The meaning of the second death derives from and is dependent upon the meaning of the first death experienced by every human being at the cessation of life. The second death differs from the first death, not in nature but in results. The first death is a temporary sleep because it is followed by the resurrection. The second death is permanent and irreversible extinction because there is no awakening.

References to the "Second Death." Since John clearly defines the lake of fire to be the second death, it is crucial for us to understand the meaning of "the second death." This phrase occurs four times in Revelation but does not appear elsewhere in the New Testament. The first reference is found in Revelation 2:11: "He who conquers shall not be hurt by the second death." Here "the second death" is differentiated from the physical death that every human being experiences. The implication is that the saved receive eternal life, and will not experience eternal death.

The second reference to "the second death" occurs in Revelation 20:6, in the context of the first resurrection of the saints at the beginning of the millennium: "Over such the second death has no power." Again, the implication is that the resurrected saints will not experience the second death, that is, the punishment of eternal death, obviously because they will be raised to immortal life. The third and the fourth references are in Revelation 20:14 and 21:8, where the second death is identified with the lake of fire into which the devil, the beast, the false prophet, Death, Hades, and all evildoers are thrown. In these instances, the lake of fire is the second death in the sense that it accomplishes the eternal death and destruction of sin and sinners.

The meaning of the phrase "second death" is clarified by its usage in the Targum, which is the Aramaic translation and interpretation of the Old Testament. In the Targum, the phrase is used several times to refer to the final and irreversible death of the wicked. According to Strack and Billerbeck, the Targum on Jeremiah 51:39, 57 contains an oracle against Babylon, which says: "They shall die the second death and not live in the world to come."51 Here the second death is clearly the death resulting from the final judgment which prevents evildoers from living in the world to come.

In his study The New Testament and the Palestinian Targum to the Pentateuch, M. McNamara cites the Targums of Deuteronomy 33:6, Isaiah 22:14 and 65:6, 15 where the phrase "second death" is used to describe the ultimate, irreversible death. The Targum on Deuteronomy 33:6 reads: "Let Reuben live in this world and die not in the second death in which death the wicked die in the world to come."52 In the Targum on Isaiah 22:14, the prophet says: "This sin shall not be forgiven you till you die the second death, says the Lord of Host."53 In both instances, "the second death" is the ultimate destruction experienced by the wicked at the final judgment.

The Targum on Isaiah 65:6 is very close to Revelation 20:14 and 21:8. It reads: "Their punishment shall be in Gehenna where the fire burns all the day. Behold, it is written before me: ĎI will not give them respite during (their) life but will render them the punishment of their transgressions and will deliver their bodies to the second death."54 Again, the Targum on Isaiah 65:15 reads: "And you shall leave your name for a curse to my chosen and the Lord God will slay you with the second death but his servants, the righteous, he shall call by a different name."55 Here, the second death is explicitly equated with the slaying of the wicked by the Lord, a clear image of final destruction and not of eternal torment.

In the light of the preceding considerations, we conclude that the phrase the "second death" is used by John to define the nature of the punishment in the lake of fire, namely, a punishment that ultimately results in eternal, irreversible death. As Robert Mounce points out, "The lake of fire indicates not only the stern punishment awaiting the enemies of righteousness but also their full and final defeat. It is the second death, that is, the destiny of those whose temporary resurrection results only in a return to death and its punishment."56 The same view is expressed eloquently by Henry Alford who writes: "As there is a second and higher life, so there is also a second and deeper death. And as after that life there is no more death (Rev 21:4), so after that death there is no more life."57 This is a sensible definition of the "second death," as the final, irreversible death. To interpret the phrase otherwise, as eternal conscious torment or separation from God means to negate the Biblical meaning of "death" as cessation of life.

Conclusion. In closing this examination of the traditional view of hell as the place of a literal, everlasting punishment of the wicked, three major observations can be made. First, the traditional view of hell largely depends upon a dualistic view of human nature, which requires the eternal survival of the soul either in heavenly bliss or in hellish torment. We have found such a belief to be foreign to the wholistic Biblical view of human nature, where death denotes the cessation of life for the whole person.

Second, the traditionalist view rests largely on a literal interpretation of such symbolic images as gehennah, the lake of fire, and the second death. Such images do not lend themselves to a literal interpretation because, as we have seen, they are metaphorical descriptions of the permanent destruction of evil and evildoers. Incidentally, lakes are filled with water and not with fire.

Third, the traditional view fails to provide a rational explanation for the justice of God in inflicting endless divine retribution for sins committed during the space of a short life. The doctrine of eternal conscious torment is incompatible with the Biblical revelation of divine love and justice. This point is considered later in conjunction with the moral implications of eternal torment.

In conclusion, the traditional view of hell was more likely to be accepted during the Middle Ages, when most people lived under autocratic regimes of despotic rulers, who could and did torture and destroy human beings with impunity. Under such social conditions, theologians with a good conscience could attribute to God an unappeasable vindictiveness and insatiable cruelty, which today would be regarded as demonic. Today, theological ideas are subject to an ethical and rational criticism that forbids the moral perversity attributed to God in the past. Our sense of justice requires that the penalty inflicted must be commensurate with the evil done. This important truth is ignored by the traditional view that requires eternal punishment for the sins of even a short lifetime.


The serious problems posed by the traditional view of hell has led some scholars to seek for alternative interpretations. Brief consideration is given here to two fresh attempts to understand the Biblical data, and to redefine the nature of hell. 

1. The Metaphorical View of Hell

The most modest revision of the traditional view of hell involves interpreting metaphorically the nature of the unending torment of hell. According to this view, hell is still understood as everlasting punishment, but it is less literally hellish, because the physical fire no longer tortures or burns the flesh of the wicked, but represents the pain of being separated from God. Billy Graham expresses a metaphorical view of hellfire when he says: "I have often wondered if hell is a terrible burning within our hearts for God, to fellowship with God, a fire that we can never quench."58 Grahamís interpretation of hellfire as"a terrible burning within our hearts for God" is most ingenious. Unfortunately, it ignores that the"burning" takes place not within the heart, but without where the wicked are consumed. If the wicked had a burning within their hearts for God, they would not experience the suffering of the final punishment.


Figurative Imagery. In his compelling presentation of the metaphorical view of hell, William Crockett argues that Christians should not have to face the embarrassment of believing that "a portion of creation find ease in heaven, while the rest burn in hell."59 His solution is to recognize that "hellfire and brimstone are not literal depictions of hellís furnishing, but figurative expressions warning the wicked of impending doom."60 Crockett cites Calvin, Luther, and a host of contemporary scholars, all of whom "interpret hellís fire metaphorically, or at least allow for the possibility that hell might be something other than literal fire."61

Crockett maintains that "the strongest reason for taking them [the images of hell] as metaphors is the conflicting language used in the New Testament to describe hell. How could hell be literal fire when it is also described as darkness (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; 2 Pet 2:17; Jude 13)?"62 He continues, asking a pertinent question: "Did the New Testament writers intend their words to be taken literally? Certainly, Jude did not. He describes hell as Ďeternal fireí in verse 7, and then further depicts it as the Ďblackest darknessí in verse 13. . . . Fire and darkness, of course, are not the only images we have of hell in the New Testament. The wicked are said to weep and gnash their teeth (Matt 8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28), their worm never dies (Mark 9:48), and they are beaten with many blows (Luke 12:47). No one thinks hell will involve actual beatings or is a place where the maggots of the dead achieve immortality. Equally, no one thinks that gnashing teeth is anything other than an image of hellís grim reality. In the past, some have wondered about people who enter hell toothless. How will they grind their teeth?"63 The answer that some have given to the last question is that "dentures will be provided in the next world so that the damned might be able to weep and gnash their teeth."64

On the basis of his metaphorical interpretation of hellfire, Crockett concludes: "Hell, then, should not be pictured as an inferno belching fire like Nebuchadnezzarís fiery furnace. The most we can say is that the rebellious will be cast from the presence of God, without any hope of restoration. Like Adam and Eve they will be driven away, but this time into Ďeternal night,í where joy and hope are forever lost."65


Evaluation of the Metaphorical View. Credit must be given to the proponents of the metaphorical view of hell for pointing out that the images used in the Bible to describe hell, such as fire, darkness, voracious maggots, sulphur, and gnashing of teeth are metaphors and not actual descriptions of fact. When interpreting a text, it is important to distinguish between the medium and the message. Metaphors are designed to communicate a particular message, but they are not the message itself. This means that when interpreting the highly symbolic images of hell, we must seek to understand the message being conveyed instead of taking the images as a literal descriptions of the reality.

Proponents of the metaphorical view are correct in pointing out that the fundamental problem with the traditional view of hell is that it is based on a literalism that ignores the highly symbolic nature of the language used. But the problem with the metaphorical view of hell is that it merely wants to replace the physical torment with a more endurable mental torment. But, by the lowering the pain quotient in a non-literal hell, they do not substantially change the nature of hell since it still remains a place of unending torment.

Some may even question the notion that eternal mental torment is more humane than physical torment. Mental anguish can be as painful as physical pain. By making hell more humane, the metaphorical view has not gained much because it is still burdened with the same problems of the traditionalist view. People are still asked to believe that God tortures evildoers endlessly, though presumably less severely. In my view, the solution is to be found not in humanizing or sanitizing hell so that it may ultimately prove to be a more tolerable place for the wicked to spend eternity, but in understanding the nature of the final punishment which, as we shall see, is permanent annihilation and not eternal torment.


2. The Universalist View of Hell


A second and more radical revision of hell has been attempted by universalists, who have reduced hell to a temporary condition of graded punishments which ultimately leads to heaven. Universalists believe that ultimately God will succeed in bringing every human being to salvation and eternal life so that no one, in fact, will be condemned in the final judgment to either eternal torment or annihilation. This belief was first suggested by Origen in the third century, and it has gained steady support in modern times, especially through the writing of such men as Friedrich Schleiermacher, C. F. D. Moule, J. A. T. Robinson, Michael Paternoster, Michael Perry, and John Hick. The arguments presented by these and other writers in support of universalism are both theological and philosophical.


Theological and Philosophical Arguments. Theologically, appeal is made to "universalist passages" (1 Tim 2:4; 4:10; Col 1:20; Rom 5:18; 11:32; Eph 1:10; 1 Cor 15:22), which seem to offer hope of universal salvation. On the basis of these texts, universalists argue that if all human beings are not ultimately saved, then Godís will for "all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4) would be frustrated and defeated. Only through the salvation of all human beings can God demonstrate the triumph of His infinitely patient love.

Philosophically, universalists find it intolerable that a loving God would allow millions of persons to suffer everlasting torment for sins committed within a span of a few years. Jacques Ellul articulates this view admirably, asking the following probing questions:"Have we not seen the impossibility of considering that the New Creation, that admirable symphony of love, could exist beside the world of wrath? Is God still double-faced: a visage of love turned toward his celestial Jerusalem and a visage of wrath turned toward this Ďhell?í Are then the peace and joy of God complete, since he continues as a God of wrath and of fulmination? Could Paradise be what Romain Gary has so marvelously described in Tulipe, when he said that the trouble is not the concentration camp but Ďthe very peaceable, very happy little village beside the campíóthe little village alongside, where people were undisturbed while millions died atrociously in the camp."66


Purgatorial Process. Universalists argue that it is unthinkable that in the final judgment God would condemn to eternal torment the countless millions of non-Christians who have not responded to Christ because they have never heard the Christian message. The solution proposed by some universalists is that God will save all the unfaithful by enabling them to be gradually transformed through a "purgatorial" process after death.

This view represents a revision of the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, which limits this remedial process only to the souls of the faithful. The universalists extend this privilege also to the souls of the unfaithful. Thus, beyond death, God continues to draw all the unsaved to Himself, until ultimately all will respond to His love and rejoice in His presence for all eternity.


An Appealing but Unbiblical View. No one can deny that the theological and philosophical arguments of universalism appeal to the Christian conscience. Any person who has deeply sensed Godís love longs to see Him saving every person and hates to think that He would be so vindictive as to punish millions of personsóespecially those who have lived in ignoranceówith eternal torments. Yet, our appreciation for the universalistsí concern to uphold the triumph of Godís love and to justly refute the unbiblical concept of eternal suffering must not blind us to the fact that this doctrine is a serious distortion of Biblical teaching.

First of all, the "universalist passages" declare the scope of Godís universal saving purpose, but not the fact of universal salvation for every human being. For example, in Colossians 1:19-23, Godís plan "to reconcile to himself all things" is said to include the Colossian believers, "provided that you continue in the faith."

Similarly, in 1 Timothy 2:4, Godís desire for "all men to be saved" is expressed together with the fact of a final judgment that will bring "ruin and destruction" to the unfaithful (1 Tim 6:9-10; cf. 5:24; 4:8). God extends to all the provision of salvation, but He respects the freedom of those who reject His offer even though it causes Him utmost anguish.

Second, the argument that God ultimately will save all because the doctrine of everlasting torment for the unsaved is impossible to accept, inasmuch as it negates any sense of divine justice as well as the very peace and joy of paradise, is a valid argument. However, such an argument, as we have shown, rests upon an erroneous interpretation of the Biblical teaching about the nature of the final punishment of the wicked. Universal salvation cannot be right just because eternal suffering is wrong.

Third, the notion of a remedial punishment, or of gradual transformation after death, is totally foreign to the Scripture. The destiny of each person is firmly fixed at death. This principle is explicitly expressed by Christ in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-21). In Hebrews 9:27, also, it is clearly stated that "it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment." For the impenitent sinners,"the prospect of judgment" is a "fearful" one, because they will experience not universal salvation but "a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries" (Heb 10:26-27).

Fourth, regarding the challenge of those who had no opportunity to learn and to respond to the message of Christ, it is not necessary either to surrender the belief in salvation solely through Jesus Christ or to consign all the non-Christians to everlasting torment. The less privileged may find salvation on the basis of their trusting response to what they have known of God. Paul mentions that the Gentiles who do not know the law will be judged according to the law which is "written in their hearts" (Rom 2:14-16).

Universalism, though attractive at first sight, is erroneous because it fails to recognize that Godís love for mankind is manifested not by glossing over sins, nor by limiting human freedom, but rather by providing salvation and freedom to accept it. This truth is aptly expressed in the best-known text about Godís love and the danger involved in rejecting it: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

Conclusion. Both the metaphorical and universalistic views of hell represent worthy attempts "to take the hell out of hell." Unfortunately, they fail to do justice to the Biblical data and thus they ultimately misrepresent the Biblical doctrine of the final punishment of the unsaved. The sensible solution to the problems of the traditionalist view is to be found, not by lowering or eliminating the pain quotient of a literal hell but, by accepting hell for what it is, the final punishment and permanent annihilation of the wicked. As the Bible says: "The wicked will be no more" (Ps 37:10) because "their end is destruction" (Phil 3:19).

                      [PART 5 THE ANNIHILATION VIEW OF HELL]