Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Are the Wicked Punished in Hell Forever?

I've always heard that the wicked would be punished in Hell for eternity. Let's look at some verses:

Luke 13:1-5

"Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." (NIV)

What is the context of the word perish here? Perish like the people who had a tower fall on them?

John 3:16
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (NIV)
John 10:28
"I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." (NIV)
Note that Jesus said 'perish' not eternal punishment.

John 3:36
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (NIV)
What does 'not see life' mean? Not live for eternity?

Jude 1:7
"In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire." (NIV)
How is this an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire? There could be an eternal fire that destroys the wicked in the same way that the people from Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. An eternal fire does not necessarily mean the wicked survive in the fire eternally.

Rom 6:23
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (NIV)
Again eternal life is contrasted with death - not an eternity of punishment.

Matt 7:13-14
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (NIV)
What does destruction mean?

Verses used to support eternal punishment
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matt 25:46 NIV)
This does say eternal punishment. One explanation used to fit with the perish side is this: Consider someone getting multiple life sentences for a crime. It does not mean the person will live as long as the sentence. Is it possible that the punishment is eternal, but the life of the person is not eternal?
"They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power" (2 Thes 1:9 NIV)
Could everlasting destruction mean they are destroyed forever?

Mark 9:43-48
"And if thy foot may cause thee to stumble, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into the life lame, than having the two feet to be cast to the gehenna, to the fire -- the unquenchable --where there worm is not dying, and the fire is not being quenched. " (YLT)
We also need to consider that Jesus is quoting Isaiah 66:24 here:
"And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind." (NIV)
Note the reference to dead bodies, not living bodies. Also Gehenna was a burning garbage dump near Jerusalem. Things thrown into the burning garbage dump would be destroyed. The fire burned forever, but the things thrown into it perished.

Either way eternal life with Jesus is still the obvious choice. I'm just questioning if the doctrine of Hell, that most denominations support, is true to scripture. To be destroyed or perish may simply mean that those who do not choose life with Christ do not get to live eternally.


mr zig said...

interesting question, but definitely dangerous ground here. Kind of takes the seriousness out of the less desirable alternative. Also could possibly provide comfort to those that want to live as they do, and feel such sort of hell, where it's not eternal punishment, just lack of everlasting life is alright with them... Dangerous post dude...

Jonathan said...

Hi Zig, thanks for reading my thoughts here. I don't think this let's sinners get off easy. I think it is very consistent with God's nature. The theme of "the wages of sin is death" occurs frequently throughout scripture.

I think it is equally dangerous to hold too tight to a doctrine that isn't strongly supported in scripture. I'm OK saying this is something I'm not 100% sure about. If this part of the doctrine of Hell was a central part of Christ's message, I believe He would have included more details.

God bless!

Anonymous said...

Jesus talked about hell more than all the other writers of the Bible combined.

God the Father poured His wrath upon His Son and killed Him. All those outside of Christ will suffer the eternal wrath of God. I don't think any of us can grasp what hell will be like.

Vic said...

Interesting postulations. Hell to me has always seemed to be the natural consequences of a choice not to want anything to do with God in this life. So it is a default position. God honors our choices and if we don't want God in this life, why would He force an eternity with him by granting us life. The question of destruction? Sin itself is destructive and our participation in it causes self-inflicted guilt and a turning away or hiding from our relationship with Him for a time until we can overcome our perceived shame.So it becomes a tearing apart of what we thought we had gained in building up a relationship.
Regarding the issue of death. The Greek word is "thanatos" which literally means separation and never insinuates a ceasing to exist. It can mean separation of the soul from the body or in the true spiritual sense an eternal separation of the soul from God, thus eternal darkness and eternal destruction since your choice to repair the effect of your destructive behavior has reached an end.

Jonathan said...

Anonymous - sorry a bit late on the reply here... you say: "Jesus talked about hell more than all the other writers of the Bible combined."
Please let me know if I missed any verses where Jesus talked of the type of Hell that punishes the wicked forever. I do think Jesus spent more time talking about how we to live in the here and now... so I do agree with you that when we focus too much on the afterlife it is often done in speculation.

Vic - I'm with you on the natural consequence line of thought. I'm no Greek scholar - barely function well enough in English. So I need to look elsewhere to repond about thanatos. From what I read on wikipedia Thanatos was a Greek personification of death. And according to
thanatos means death and all the Bible translations I've looked at translate it as death.
So I'm curious what info you have that would support the idea that death in Rom 6:23 really means separation.

Thanks for the comments! God bless!