Iosif Ton: Universalism – Referitor la declaratiile Papei Francisc despre iad si rai

Rob Bell interviewed on the Unbelievable Broadcast

English: Rob Bell at the 2011 Time 100 gala.

Rob Bell, former founder and pastor of Mars Hill Church up until 2012, has just released a new book earlier this month, titled ‘What we talk about when we talk about God‘. This follows his prior book „love Wins’ which stirred up controversy over the idea of universalism and the existence of hell. In this interview, done right after the release of his newest book, Andrew Wilson debates Rob Bell on God, Salvation & Homosexuality on Justin Brierly’s radio show ‘Unbelievable’ which airs in the UK. (You can listen to the interview at the link above the video). In the video, Dr. Oakley of Alpha and Omega Ministries (website examines Rob Bell’s interview and his statements on several points.

From Dr. Oakley:

Dr. Oakley reviews Rob Bell’s appearance on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable Radio Broadcast recently. The discussion turned to his new position on homosexuality, and Mr. Bell demonstrated that his position is one of cultural compromise, not biblical reflection. To read up or learn more about Rob Bell and the issues surrounding his views on universalism and hell, see the links below the video.

You can listen to Rob Bell’s interview here –

Dr. Oakley’s review of the interview

  1. Heaven and Hell debate – (Rob Bell debates Adrian Warnock after the release of his book ‘Love Wins’. 
  2. Mithra? Attis? Really, Rob Bell? by Dr. Oakley (Review of troubling Nooma video)
  3. Panel Discussion of Rob Bell’s book ‘Love wins’ at Gospel Coalition 2011
  4. Love Wins: A ‘Theological’ Conversation on Rob Bell’s New Book at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
  5. Martin Bashir -Interviewed about “Love Wins” (Part 1-4, 40 minutes)
  6. Rob Bell vs. Adrian Warnock Video Debate – Heaven & Hell with Justin Brierly
  7. Hell Yes, Hell No: A Response to Rob Bell & Love Wins, Bobby Conway


Dr.Daniel Akin, President Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary on Rob Bell

Good lecture by the President of Southeastern Seminary committed to Biblical Inerrancy on various subjects and on Rob Bell. He also talks about Universal vs. limited atonement. and election and free will.Rapture – pre trib vs post trib.

Videourile Vodpod nu mai sunt disponibile.

Dr.Daniel Akin, President Southeastern Seminary…, posted with vodpod

The fate of those who never heard the Gospel, Robert H. Grundy

From      – An International Journal for Pastors and Students of Theological and Religious Studies. Volume 36, Issue 1  – May 2011

Themelios is an international evangelical theological journal that expounds and defends the historic Christian faith. Its primary audience is theological students and pastors, though scholars read it as well. It was formerly a print journal operated by RTSF/UCCF in the UK, and it became a digital journal operated by The Gospel Coalition in 2008. The new editorial team seeks to preserve representation, in both essayists and reviewers, from both sides of the Atlantic.

Themelios is published three times a year exclusively online at It is presented in two formats: PDF (for citing pagination) and HTML (for greater accessibility, usability, and infiltration in search engines). Themelios is copyrighted by The Gospel Coalition. Readers are free to use it and circulate it in digital form without further permission (any print use requires further written permission), but they must acknowledge the source and, of course, not change the content.

Pastoral Pensées: The Hopelessness of the Unevangelized

Robert H. Gundry

Robert Gundry is professor emeritus and scholar-in-residence at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He is the author of numerous books, most recently Commentary on the New Testament (Baker, 2010).

Editor’s Note: Recent controversies have swirled around the fate of those who never hear the gospel, arising in no small part because of the searching, even searing, questions posed by many, both Christian and non-Christian. This essay represents a compact, biblical restatement of the urgency and necessity of the call to proclaim the gospel to all the nations so that people may believe in Jesus Christ and be saved.

Lately there has come out of cold storage a question that has been hibernating among conservative evangelicals for some time. That question has to do with the status of people who live and die without ever hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Will God consign them to everlasting punishment? If so, where is his sense of fair play—they never had a chance—let alone his love for them? If not, through what means and at what time does he give them opportunity to be saved?

1. Reasons for Challenges to the Traditional View

This question of theodicy (divine justice) needs open discussion. We can easily identify reasons for its acuteness: (1) the relative fewness of the saved under the traditional view that apart from evangelization in their lifetimes people have no hope;1 (2) the guilt of Christians in failing to evangelize them; and (3) the eternality of punishment in the hereafter. These considerations have always troubled pious minds.

In recent times historical factors have heightened sensitivity to the question. The downfall of monarchism and the rise of egalitarianism in the political realm have made it hard for people to continue thinking of God as a king who exercises his sovereignty at what surely looks to be the outrageous expense of vast hordes of humanity. Add the lingering myths of the happy heathen and the noble savage; the modern syndrome of self-pity, evident in the anti-heroes of literature, drama, and cinema and in the attribution of human failings to genetic and environmental factors; the current emphasis on love without holiness, on tolerance without convictions; the exchange of “convictions” (connoting objective truths) for mere “values” (connoting subjective preferences); and the cosmopolitanism of the global village, in which people all over the world have a more immediate awareness of one another than they ever had before. This mixture offers a witches’ brew to anyone who would dare defend the traditional view, which sat a little less uncomfortably in provincial society.

2. Ruling Out Universalism and Annihilationism

Let us rule out the doctrines of universal salvation and of the annihilation of the wicked (also called conditional immortality). The former solves our problem by positing the salvation of all people in the end but runs aground on texts that describe the eternal punishment of unbelievers (e.g., Matt 25:46; Rev 14:11; 20:10, 15) and on Jesus’ explicit statements—in the Sermon on the Mount of all places!—that “wide is the gate and broad the way leading to destruction, and many are the ones who enter through it” and “how narrow is the gate and confined the road leading to life, and few are the ones who find it” (Matt 7:13–14). The reconciliation of all things (Eph 1:10; Col 1:19–20) refers to the new creation in Christ (Eph 1:22–23; Col 1:17–18), outside of which fall the unsaved (see Eph 2:3; 5:5–6; Col 3:5–6, 12;2 Rev 21:8). In view of the contrast between “those who are being saved” and “those who are perishing” in 2 Cor 2:14–16, the reconciling of “the world” to God in 5:19 cannot imply universal salvation as a coming actuality or even as a possibility—rather, salvation as available on condition of accepting “the word of reconciliation”: “we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (5:20). Similarly, justification “for all people” in Rom 5:18 makes justification available for all, but not actual for all, because 2:2–6, 8–9 has previously spoken of suffering God’s wrath at the Last Judgment. And again similarly, Jesus’ drawing “all people” to himself according to John 12:32 cannot imply universal salvation; for 5:29 has referred to “the resurrection of judgment” as opposed to “the resurrection of life,” and 3:36 has said that God’s wrath “remains” on unbelievers, so that “all people” in 12:32 has to mean all kinds of people, such as non-Jews, “the Greeks” who had just asked to see Jesus (12:20–21; cf. Rev 5:9; 7:9). So settling for “tension” between supposedly universalistic texts and obviously nonuniversalistic texts amounts to ignoring the first rule of interpretation: Take account of the context.

The destruction of both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28) connotes devastation and ruination, not annihilation. Compare the underlying Greek word’s frequent use for lostness, as in the cases of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the Prodigal Son, none of them annihilated (Luke 15:4, 6, 8–9, 24). The doctrine of annihilation also runs into the difficulty that a shortening of punishment does not at all answer the question, Why does God not give everybody an equal opportunity to be saved? Besides, eternality characterizes future punishment to the same degree that it characterizes future bliss (note the parallelism in Matt 25:46).

3. Considering Inclusivism

On to forms of so-called inclusivism, then. Usually hallowed with a supportive reference to the opinion of C. S. Lewis—though his associated belief in purgatory goes unmentioned—three inclusivistic answers to our question have captured more serious attention among conservative evangelicals:

1. Salvation is possible through the revelation of God in the visible creation and in the human conscience. People who respond to this general revelation have the benefits of Jesus’ redemptive work applied to them without their hearing and believing the gospel in this lifetime. 2. All those who did not hear the gospel before their death will hear it after their death. Then they gain the opportunity of which they were deprived during their lifetimes. 3. Of those who did not hear the gospel before their death, only those who responded well to general revelation before dying will have an opportunity after dying. In view of their good response to general revelation, post-mortem belief in Christ will probably follow as a matter of course.

3.1. Various Appeals to Scripture

Proponents of these views make a number of appeals to Scripture.

3.1.1. Gentiles such as Melchizedek, Balaam, and Job

The Gentiles Melchizedek, Balaam, and Job (not to mention Adam, Abel, Seth, Enoch, and Noah, who lived prior to God’s special revelation distinguishing Gentiles from Abraham and his offspring through Isaac and Jacob) are marched out as examples of salvation through general revelation. But the appeal to them overlooks the possibility that their knowledge of God derived from an original special revelation of himself to humanity, a revelation that started the practice of religion and passed on to succeeding generations of the whole human race.3 The missionary drive of the early church and, even earlier, the wholesale prophetic and other Jewish attacks on pagan religions imply that by the time of Jesus God’s special revelation of himself at the dawn of human history had long since suffered dysfunctional corruption.

3.1.2. Matthew 25:31–46

Matthew 25:31–46 indicates that all nations will receive judgment according to their exercising or failing to exercise charity toward the wretched of the earth, whom Jesus identifies as his own brothers, not according to their hearing and believing the gospel or failing to do so. Thus it is claimed. But this interpretation, which has proved irresistible to many a Christian humanitarian, stumbles against Jesus’ own definition of his brothers as those who do the heavenly Father’s will (Matt 12:50) as revealed specifically in the teaching of Jesus (see Matt 7:21 with 7:24–27; 28:20), and even more seriously stumbles against the parallel in Matt 10, where the persecuted little ones needing shelter, food, and drink are not the world’s needy in general but Christian missionaries in particular (see especially v. 42)! When viewed in its Matthean context, in other words, the passage turns out to militate against the view for which it is cited; for “one of these littlest brothers of mine” (v. 40) is seen to be a messenger of the gospel.

3.1.3. John 1:9

John 1:9 says that the Word enlightens every human being. But the context deals with the incarnate ministry of Christ as providing light, and John later shows awareness that the disciples need to be sent in order for the saving effects of that light to be felt (John 20:21–23). Furthermore, the gaining of Christ’s light links with believing in Christ (John 1:9–13; 3:16–21; 8:12–30). We do better to say that John jumps from the old creation at the beginning (1:1–3) to the new creation, dating from the incarnation (1:4–18), than to think that he writes concerning a preincarnate and continuing general ministry of the Word through the light of reason and conscience. Therefore, John 1:9 means that Jesus the Word as preached in the gospel brings the light of salvation to everyone who hears and believes.

3.1.4. Acts 10:1–2, 34–35

To appeal to God’s acceptance of Cornelius, his household, and others like him (Acts 10:1–2, 34–35) is to forget that Luke and Peter are not talking about people deficient of special revelation, but about God-fearers, that is, about Gentiles who know and follow the special revelation of God in the OT. Such Gentiles frequented the synagogues, where they regularly heard the Scriptures read. Moreover, God sent Peter to preach the gospel to these people. Hence, they hardly support the possibility of salvation for the unevangelized.

3.1.5. Acts18:9–10

According to Acts 18:9–10 the Lord said to Paul, “I have many people in this city [Corinth].” But in view of Acts 13:48b (“and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed”), it is worse than gratuitous to take the Lord’s statement as referring to ignorant but acceptable people rather than to those foreordained to salvation through hearing and believing the gospel in their present lifetime. And again, the very fact that God sent Paul to preach the gospel to these people in Corinth takes away support for theories of salvation through general revelation and post-mortem belief in Christ.

3.1.6. Romans 1:19–20

Yes, the heathen do—or at least did—understand general revelation (Rom 1:19–20); but the whole thrust of Rom 1:18–3:18, 23 is that they along with the Jews stand under God’s wrath because of their sin. Paul brings up general revelation to show that humankind has rejected it. Therefore, the passage poses a liability, not an asset, to the views under discussion.

3.1.7. Romans 2:14–16

Romans 2:14–16, combined with vv. 6–7, 10–11, 13, has been thought to describe the good works of the Law as performed by conscientious heathen and to ascribe to such heathen salvation. But more than once in the early chapters of Romans Paul sets out brief statements that he later interprets in detail,4 and in 8:1–4 he indicates that only those who are in Christ by faith and consequently have the Holy Spirit can fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law. Therefore, 2:14–16 refers to Christian Gentiles.5

3.1.8. Romans 10:18

Certainly Paul’s quoting Ps 19:4 (“Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world”) in Rom 10:18 does not substantiate the possibility of salvation through the general revelation enjoyed by unevangelized people. For although the psalmist has general revelation in mind, Paul reapplies the phraseology to “the gospel . . . the word of [= concerning] Christ” (vv. 16–17). As is well-known, reapplications of OT passages typify Paul’s style.6 Furthermore (though not essential to the argument), those who have heard (v. 18) are probably the Jews, so that now God is turning his attention to the Gentiles, who have not yet heard (vv. 19–21 and the whole of Rom 9–11).

3.1.9. 1 Peter 3:18–20

Even though we were to construe Christ’s preaching to the spirits in prison (1 Pet 3:18–20) as an offer of salvation to deceased human beings, the problem of the ignorant heathen would still beg for solution. For the text limits the proclamation to the spirits active during the antediluvian generation of Noah and then confined to prison. Moreover, these spirits were “disobedient.” They were not the open-hearted kind of heathen the possibility of whose salvation some current theologians are exploring. And disobedient to what? General revelation alone? Can we be sure that the special revelation of a destructive flood formed no part of Noah’s preaching of righteousness (cf. Gen 6:9–22; Heb 11:7; 2 Pet 2:5)?

But, of course, 1 Pet 3:18–20 probably does not at all refer to an offer of salvation to deceased human beings. The context favors a proclamation of triumph over demonic powers. Just as Jesus gained such vindication before them, so too at the Last Day his persecuted followers will gain vindication in the presence of their persecutors. As usual, when lacking qualification to the contrary, the term “spirits” refers to spirits of an angelic or demonic kind, not to the spirits of disembodied human beings.

3.1.10. 1 Peter 4:6

Differences of phraseology distance the preaching of the gospel to the dead (1 Pet 4:6) from Christ’s proclamation to the once disobedient spirits in prison. This latter text specifies the gospel and deceased human beings. But who are these deceased people, and when did they hear the gospel preached to them? Apparently they are deceased Christians who heard and believed the gospel prior to suffering martyrdom. For Peter writes of their suffering in the flesh as Christ did, that is, to the point of death (v. 1; cf. 3:17–18). The gospel was preached to the martyrs. This happened before their deaths, naturally; otherwise they would not have suffered martyrdom for the gospel. During the present interim between their martyrdom and resurrection they enjoy a disembodied life with God (cf. 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23). Peter designs his comments to steel living Christians against the possibility of their own martyrdom. The passage does not afford good grounds, then, for conversion after death.

3.2. The Problem of Appealing to Equal Treatment

Those who see an out for the unevangelized do so out of concern to avoid impugning the justice of God and sacrificing his love. A laudable concern! But do the suggestions of salvation through general revelation and of conversion after death in fact do the apologetic job they are intended to do! No, they fail. We must ask whether the preaching of the gospel to people in their present lifetime gives them a better opportunity to be saved than they would have had apart from such preaching. If it does, God remains unfair and unloving to let some hear while some do not hear. For then a very large proportion of human beings will suffer eternal loss because he did not give them so good an opportunity as he gave to others.

On the other hand, if for the sake of equal treatment God does not allow the preaching of the gospel to enhance the opportunity to be saved, we have no reason to preach the gospel, at least not so far as the eternal destiny of people is concerned. In fact, on the principle that the servant who knows his master’s will and disobeys will receive many lashes but the servant who does not know it will receive few (Luke 12:47–48), it would be better not to preach the gospel to anybody. None would suffer disadvantage, and—since we know by observation that where the gospel is preached the majority usually reject it—many would escape a worse punishment for sinning against greater light. Oddly, the merciful thing would be not to preach the gospel; and the suffering and martyrdom of witness-bearing Christians becomes a cruel mistake if the unreached can be saved equally well without hearing the gospel in this lifetime.

Besides, what of the many who have heard the gospel in their present life, but only from those whose conduct does not recommend the message or only from those who in other ways have failed to make it clear and convincing? We might also wonder about people whose backgrounds make them less susceptible to evangelism. The list of inequalities could go on and on. If we demand equal treatment of those who have never heard, others cry out for equal treatment too. The attempts to justify God’s ways in salvation cannot stop with the ignorant heathen. The facile solutions here criticized rest on a philosophical view of the problem that is too simplistic and restricted—and on a theological view of our ability to justify God’s ways that is too inflated (cf. Rom 11:33–36).

Given the complexities of the case, we might also doubt our ability to recognize perfect equality even though we saw it right before our eyes. Who knows? Maybe the inequalities are only apparent. But we can make no such claim, since appearances run to the contrary. It is enough to say that intellects properly chastened through recognition of their own limitations and of the complexities attending our question will hesitate to mount either an accusation against God or an apology for him. We can hardly improve on Paul’s statement that the fate of the lost demonstrates the wrath and power of God just as the salvation of believers demonstrates his mercy (Rom 9:22–23). At this point it becomes evident whether our thinking centers on God—from whom and through whom and for whom are all things (Rom 11:36)—or whether anthropology has encroached on theology.

4. Staying within Scripture: The Necessity of Evangelism

The Scriptures stand alone as our source of information concerning the status of the unevangelized. As we have seen, the notions of salvation through general revelation and of an opportunity after death find no solid footing in Scripture. More than that, Scripture indicates the hopelessness of people apart from hearing and believing the gospel now. In Adam all human beings stand under condemnation (Rom 5:12–21). They have rejected general revelation (Rom 1:18–32). God’s wrath remains on them apart from belief in Jesus the Son (John 3:36). The present is the time for such belief: “Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time’; behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’” (2 Cor 6:2). Most clearly of all for our question, Paul puts all these pieces together in Rom 10:9–16 by writing in uninterrupted succession about the necessity to salvation of confessing Jesus as Lord and calling on his name, about the necessity of believing in Jesus for calling on him, about the necessity of hearing of him for believing in him, about the necessity of our preaching the gospel for people’s hearing of him, and about the necessity of sending for preaching. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). We can hardly fail to notice Paul’s focus on the specific message preached concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. And the repeated rhetorical questions, each beginning “How shall they . . .?” show this way of salvation to be the only way. Without the human witness here and now, an essential link is broken; the chain of salvation will not hold.

Since Scripture makes the unevangelized lost and our preaching the gospel to them necessary to their salvation, those who propose contrary views need to adduce more cogent biblical evidence in favor of those views. Otherwise, we should have to move to a decanonized view of revelation as an ever-ongoing process. Biblical particularism and evangelistic necessity, which may have been good enough for olden times, could give way to post-biblical revelation of a theodicy supposedly more just and gracious and conveniently easier to swallow.

But the new truths of salvation by general revelation and of post-mortem conversion would doubtless yield to the even “better” truth of universal salvation. For someone is bound to ask why God even bothers to create beings who he knows ahead of time will respond neither to general revelation nor to special revelation, and why he allows many of them to increase their damnation by giving them more and more revelation that he knows very well they are not going to accept. Either we settle for a technically fair God (he gives everybody an equal opportunity) notably lacking in kindness (he creates people who he foresees will not take advantage of their equal opportunities). Or we save his kindness with the excuse of ignorance (he did not know that many of his creatures would destroy themselves, and even yet he mindlessly keeps on willing them into existence). Or, ironically, having rejected the Calvinistic doctrine of particular election, we universalize the Calvinistic doctrine of irresistible grace. By this time we have strayed so far from Scripture that the whole problem, having lost its biosphere, ceases to exist. Staying within Scripture, however, we discover behind the Great Commission a reason to evangelize the heathen more compelling than the desirability of bringing them into the joy of salvation a little earlier than otherwise they would enter it. The reason is that apart from our preaching to them the word of Christ, they have no hope. So let us urgently and compassionately rescue the perishing.

5. An Extended Note on Eternal Punishment

The NT doesn’t put forward eternal punishment of the wicked as a doctrine to be defended because it casts suspicion on God’s justice and love. To the contrary, the NT puts forward eternal punishment as right, even obviously right. It wouldn’t be right of God not to punish the wicked, so that the doctrine supports rather than subverts his justice and love. It shows that he keeps faith with the righteous, that he loves them enough to vindicate them, that he rules according to moral and religious standards that really count, that moral and religious behavior has consequences, that wickedness gets punished as well as righteousness rewarded, and that the eternality of punishment as well as of reward invests the moral and religious behavior of human beings with ultimate significance. We’re not playing games. In short, the doctrine of eternal punishment defends God’s justice and love and supplies an answer to the problem of moral and religious evil rather than contributing to the problem.

God will finally rectify all the imbalances in the scales of justice. To biblical people no mystery attached to this rectification, as though to say we can’t understand it now—how it could be right for God to punish the wicked eternally—but at the Last Day we’ll recognize his love and justice in punishing them eternally and rewarding the righteous, also eternally. To biblical people it was already clear that by so doing, God will be exercising his love and justice. And it was already clear to them because they had an acute, firsthand awareness of the depth of human depravity, on the one hand, and of the pain of man’s inhumanity to man, on the other hand. Often, moderns think that if only biblical people hadn’t been so insular, if only they’d lived in the times of radio, television, the Internet, international travel, if only they’d been personally acquainted with people of other religions—some Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims—they wouldn’t have come up with the horrible idea of eternal punishment. But the doctrine of divine inspiration of Scripture aside (though it warrants acceptance), biblical people were probably less insular than we moderns are. Most of them had closer and more numerous contacts with people of other religions then we do. As to most of the people we Christians in the Western world deal with, if they aren’t Christians they’ve at least been deeply influenced by the side-effects of the Christian faith that have permeated our culture. But biblical people rubbed shoulders daily with those who diligently practiced other religions, usually a variety of other religions at the same time. They knew what those other religions were and what effects they had on people. So maybe the problem we modern Westerners feel in regard to the doctrine of eternal punishment arises out of our comparative insularity, not out of the insularity of those who wrote the Bible, to our relative ignorance of the realities of human nature, other religions, and their effects on human behavior. At any rate, it’s simply wrong to attribute the doctrine to unfamiliarity with other religions and their devotees.

To reference the righteous and the wicked in this discussion isn’t to imply that people gain eternal life or suffer eternal punishment on the basis of whether their conduct is, on the whole, good or bad. Thinking that they do is probably part of the problem modern Westerners have in accepting the Bible’s teaching of eternal punishment: Non-Christians often seem to be good people. Why should they be punished forever? But people’s conduct isn’t necessarily an accurate gauge of whether their nature is good or bad. Relatively good conduct can be the accidental effect of a good environment in family, friends, teachers, and the surrounding general culture. Put supposedly good people in another set of circumstances—a set in which they can do what they jolly well please, for example, or in which they’re subject to greater temptation—and they may turn into Hitlers. Take Nero. At first, when still under the influence of the Stoic philosopher Seneca, Nero was a fairly good Roman emperor. After Seneca died, though, Nero turned demonic. We just don’t know people’s hearts, or even our own hearts, as God knows them (Jer 17:9–10). People don’t go to heaven because their conduct is good enough. They don’t go to hell because their conduct is too bad, but because they themselves are bad whether or not that fact has come out very clearly in their conduct. Our conduct and our eternal fate aren’t related directly to each other as cause and effect. They’re both the effect of whether or not we’ve been born from above through faith in Jesus Christ and the action of God’s Spirit. What our conduct does determine, however, is the degree to which we enjoy eternal life or suffer eternal punishment (see, e.g., Luke 12:47–48; 1 Cor 3:10–15). Though purely enjoyable, heaven won’t be equally enjoyable for everybody there. Similarly, hell won’t be equally torturous for everybody there, and not so torturous as to impugn God’s justice—yet torturous enough to be avoided at all costs.

  1. ^Compare Luke 13:23 (“Lord, are there few who are being saved?”) and the whole book of 4 Ezra.
  2. ^The initial “e” in “elect” indicates a choice of some “out of” a larger number (so also the original Greek).
  3. ^See the old but still valuable book by Samuel M. Zwemer, The Origin of Religion (New York: Loizeaux, 1945), and the anthropological studies cited there of W. Schmidt.
  4. ^Compare 1:8–15 with 15:14–33, and 1:16–17 with 3:21–4:25.
  5. ^See, e.g., C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Romans (ICC; 2 vols.; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1975], 1:155–56.
  6. ^For another example nearby, see Rom 9:25–26, where the word of God through Hosea concerning the restoration of Israel shifts to God’s acceptance of Gentiles who believe the gospel.

Ben Witherington on the Apostle Paul and Universalism

A Quote of Note—- Paul on Universalism

see full article here. (

Dr. Witherington on Paul’s Phil. 2.5-11 verse:

One of the texts most frequently used to prove Paul believed that in the end all human beings would be saved is of course the material in the Christ hymn in Phil. 2.5-11, particularly the line “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord….”   The problem with this conclusion is two fold.     1)  The partial quotation of Isaiah 45 provides a clue as to Paul’s thinking at this juncture since Isa. 45.24 refers not to universal salvation but rather says that “all who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.”  2)  Phil.
1.28 has already referred to the destruction of those who oppose Christ.

„When you adopt universalism and erase the distinction between the church and the world,then you don’t need the church, and you don’t need Christ, and you don’t need the cross „, Al Mohler

from Al Mohler’s website.

“A Massive Shift Coming in What it Means to Be a Christian?” — TIME Magazine Considers Rob Bell

The real question is now whether the church has sufficient biblical conviction to resist this doctrinal seduction. Otherwise, it may well be that Rob Bell’s “massive shift” is the shape of things to come.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The edition of TIME magazine timed for Easter Week features a cover story on the controversy over Rob Bell and his new book, Love Wins. Interestingly, the essay is written by none other than Jon Meacham, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and former editor of Newsweek TIME’s historic competitor. Meacham, who studied theology as an undergraduate at the University of the South, helpfully places Rob Bell in the larger context of modern theology, even as he offers a basically sympathetic analysis.

Meacham explains:

The standard Christian view of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is summed up in the Gospel of John, which promises “eternal life” to “whosoever believeth in Him.” Traditionally, the key is the acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of God, who, in the words of the ancient creed, “for us and for our salvation came down from heaven … and was made man.” In the Evangelical ethos, one either accepts this and goes to heaven or refuses and goes to hell.

Bell, Meacham writes, “begs to differ” with this “standard Christian view.” He then relates that Rob Bell “suggests that the redemptive work of Jesus may be universal — meaning that, as his book’s subtitle puts it, ‘every person who ever lived’ could have a place in heaven, whatever that turns out to be. Such a simple premise, but with Easter at hand, this slim, lively book has ignited a new holy war in Christian circles and beyond.”

Well, “holy war” is an exaggeration loved by the media, but Bell has obviously ignited a raging controversy within evangelical circles.

Meacham then traced something of the reaction to Bell’s argument:

When word of Love Wins reached the Internet, one conservative Evangelical pastor, John Piper, tweeted, “Farewell Rob Bell,” unilaterally attempting to evict Bell from the Evangelical community. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says Bell’s book is “theologically disastrous. Any of us should be concerned when a matter of theological importance is played with in a subversive way.” In North Carolina, a young pastor was fired by his church for endorsing the book.

All that is a matter of public record now, but what makes Meacham’s analysis really interesting is what comes next:

The traditionalist reaction is understandable, for Bell’s arguments about heaven and hell raise doubts about the core of the Evangelical worldview, changing the common understanding of salvation so much that Christianity becomes more of an ethical habit of mind than a faith based on divine revelation. “When you adopt universalism and erase the distinction between the church and the world,” says Mohler, “then you don’t need the church, and you don’t need Christ, and you don’t need the cross. This is the tragedy of nonjudgmental mainline liberalism, and it’s Rob Bell’s tragedy in this book too.

click here to read the entire post.

Other articles of interest-

Panel Discussion of Rob Bell’s book ‘Love wins’ at Gospel Coalition 2011

God: Abounding in Love, Punishing the Guilty

April 14, 2011 Notes by: Jonathan Parnell (for Desiring God)

A special session convened in light of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. The panel, moderated by Kevin DeYoung, included D. A. Carson, Tim Keller, Crawford Loritts, and Stephen Um.

Carson framed the discussion giving a brief and clarifying overview on universalism:

1. Be clear about definition of universalism, don’t muddle what it is.

2. Universalism is built out of several different assertions: a) everyone is savingly loved by God and is reconciled to God already; b) because of the wideness of God’s mercy, people of other religions will somehow find their way to heaven; c) initially, the only lost people are those who reject God’s love; d) despite their rejection of his love, these people are still loved by God.

This set of beliefs invariably teaches other things that are often not articulated. It affects your view of atonement, impoverishes the love of God by disconnecting it from his holiness, and it assumes that Scripture always speaks the same way about God’s love.

3. Despite different claims to the contrary, universalism is a later development. It has never been accepted in confessional Christianity.

4. A few notes on biblical texts thought to defend and justify universalism:

2 Corinthians 5:19—“world” is not everyone without exception, but everyone without distinction.

Romans 5:18—“all” does not refer to the same locus of people. The broader context deals with two humanity, one in Adam and one in Christ. There is a contrast to these two different humanities.

John 12:32—“draw all people to himself,” in the context we see that Gentiles try to approach Jesus understands this as precipitated the cross. They do not come on the basis of past covenants, but on a new covenant rooted in the cross.

Revelation 21:25—”its gates will never be shut.” The symbolism of the gates open is not about whether people can get in day or night. Gates were shut for defense, but in the new heavens and new earth there is no more threat for violence.

Carson pastorally asserted that universalism’s handling of the atonement itself is deeply manipulative—even blasphemous. We must not talk flippantly about the cross of Christ, explaining that penal substitutionary atonement is not built on a proof text but is woven through the entire biblical narrative.

Panel Discussion (led by Kevin DeYoung)

To Keller — Is our response to this subject worth it?

Yes. It’s sort of like the bird in the ecosystem who if goes extinct throws off everything. Anything other than endless punishment lessens sin and the God who has been sinned against. If you take away the infinity of punishment, everything diminishes.

To Keller — There is one thread that says Bell is saying the same thing as C. S. Lewis. How do you respond?

Lewis was rebelling against the spirit of the age, which said that Hell is bad. His whole project was to tweak his contemporary scene and show that Hell and judgment make sense. It appears that Bell does just the opposite and acutally sympathizes with the spirit of the age.

To Carson — In John 10:16, does the phrase “many sheep are not of this fold” refer to other religions?

Although there are more recent readings that try to take it this way, the context is clear that “fold” refers to the Jewish people. “Not of the this fold” refers to Gentiles who are outside of the old covenant. It is about becoming one new people, Jew and Gentiles, as the church.

To Carson — What do you think this reemergence of universalism may or may not signify about underlying shifts in Christianity in North America?

This is not new. The early twentieth century and the rise of liberalism started the project of trying to defend Christianity by jettisoning everything the age considers unreasonable.

Evangelicalism is so broad and diverse, and also thinner. The newer generation is making choices: many who want to be more acceptable to this age and others who are embracing the gospel, wanting it to be heard as it is. There is a big division taking place and Bell’s book is a marker to this.

To Um — Respond to Bell’s statement that the position saying only a certain number will be saved is „misguided, toxic, and ultimately subverts Jesus’ message of love.”

There are several assumptions that need to be addressed. One assumption is that God is obliged to show favor to a sinful humanity. We should remember that Jesus spoke more about Hell than anything else. Rejecting Hell has serious implications for what we think about Jesus, undermining his entire ministry. I understand the heart: no one delights in seeing people in eternal conscious torment.

To Loritts — What would you say to someone who has cut their teeth on Bell? They are not committed to this view, but are sympathetic to it.

We all need to be careful when we talk about these things not to overcorrect. We are to love unbelievers and we are to preach the love of God. I would encourage this person, not only to pursue right exegesis on this issue, but to the study of the nature of God altogether. Look at the wholeness of who God is. Secondly, look at how we really view Scripture. Thirdly, we need to understand that God does not need a PR agent or marketing firm. The whole idea of wanting to have a Jesus who the world can embrace is wrong.

DeYoung — „God does not need a publicist, he calls preachers.”

Teachers will be judged more strictly(James 3:1). Questions are one thing, let’s talk about them all. Allow people to ask them, ask them yourself. But we must (not) stay in the realm of mystery. If you are a teacher, at some point you need to let clarity be king.

To Keller — In light of your commitment to the gospel, how did Bell’s book make you feel?

The first thing that disappointed me was not the content so much as the attitude. There is an immediate ridicule of apparent “close-minded” people. A conversation about conflict cannot begin with ridicule.

We should not pit the doctrines of God against one another. At the cross, the love and holiness of God both win.

To Carson — What advice can you give about receiving criticism? Does disagreeing immediately make you the bad guy? Where does the younger generation need tweaking here?

First, I worry about ministries that focus just on correcting everyone. What I hope to do in all my writing is to promote the truth and proclaim it positively. When we correct, we do it because we think that the glory of God is being diminished.

Part of a positive faithfulness to proclaiming the truth involves refutation. Our articulation of right doctrine also involves saying what it is not. And all our correction should be done thoughtfully and humbly.

Concluding words:

Um asserted that universalism is unhelpful for sinners in need of atonement. Universalism subverts the work of Jesus on the cross. This whole situation is a wonderful opportunity for correction, for us to understand the finished work of Christ.

Loritts encouraged those considering universalism to write down all the issues their struggling with and go to the word of God. We should ask the Spirit to illumine our minds. We have listened to too many other voice. Go to the source.

Keller agreed with with Loritts and DeYoung and closed in prayer.

Click below for audio of  panel discussion:


Below – video from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a review of ‘Love Wins’ (from early March, 2011)

This is an excellent, informative, theologically rich, video discussion, on the various theological issues arising from Rob Bell’s new book ‘Love wins’. The panel includes: Albert Mohler (President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Justin Taylor (former Crossway Managing Editor for the ESV Bible), Denny Burk (Dean of Boyce College (SBTS)  and Russell Moore (Dean of School of Theology SBTS):

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Publication Love Wins: A Conversation on Rob Be…, posted with vodpod

Related articles on the subject of HELL

University Indoctrination- ‘Christianity plagiarizes Mithraism’

Irenaeus on heresies:

„Error, indeed, is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced (ridiculous as the expression may seem) more true than truth itself.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.2)

The word „heresy” originally meant „choose” or „faction,” but as the early church grew, false teachers started to infiltrate.  It became necessary for the early church to determine what was and was not true doctrine.

The Bible condemns false doctrines and false teachers.  Gal. 1:8-9 says, „But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.”  See also 1 Cor. 16:22; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; 1 Tim. 1:18-20; Titus 3:10.

Christians are saved by faith in the work of Jesus on the cross, but faith by itself is not enough.  Faith is not a substance you obtain.  Faith is belief, and faith is only as good as who you place it in.  False gods don’t save anyone.  This is why the True God says in Exodus 20:3, „You shall have no other gods before Me.”  Faith is not what saves, but faith in the true God is what saves.

Many college students’ faith in God gets smashed by secular professors presuming to teach them historical facts that discount God’s existence and attack the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Since we now have a prominent pastor who through his video ministry speeches, validates the belief that it’s possible that Christianity borrowed from the cult of Mithra, it is important to know the Christian response.The enlightened professors at universities across the country never present an opposing view in the classroom other than their own personal set of beliefs. Here is a response from a Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. There are other excellent articles at this website, on various subjects that are highly informative. Talk to your children about this, and give them historical facts before they head to college. And then again, check and see if what your own church pastor has to say on this subject.

Doesn’t the religion of Mithra prove that Christianity is false?

Some critics of Christianity teach that the Christian religion was not based upon divine revelation but that it borrowed from pagan sources, Mithra being one of them. They assert that the figure of Mithra has many commonalities with Jesus, too common to be coincidence.

Mithraism was one of the major religions of the Roman Empire which was derived from the ancient Persian god of light and wisdom. The cult of Mithraism was quite prominent in ancient Rome, especially among the military. Mithra was the god of war, battle, justice, faith, and contract. According to Mithraism, Mithra was called the son of God, was born of a virgin, had disciples, was crucified, rose from the dead on the third day, atoned for the sins of mankind, and returned to heaven. Therefore, the critics maintain that Christianity borrowed its concepts from the Mithra cult. But is this the case? Can it be demonstrated that Christianity borrowed from the cult of Mithra as it developed its theology?

First of all, Christianity does not need any outside influence to derive any of its doctrines. All the doctrines of Christianity exists in the Old Testament where we can see the prophetic teachings of Jesus as the son of God (Zech. 12:10), born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), was crucified (Psalm 22), the blood atonement (Lev. 17:11), rose from the dead (Psalm 16:10), and salvation by faith (Hab. 2:4). Also, the writers of the gospels were eyewitnesses (or directed by eyewitnesses as were Mark and Luke) who accurately represented the life of Christ. So, what they did was write what Jesus taught as well as record the events of His life, death, and resurrection. In other words, they recorded history, actual events and had no need of fabrication or borrowing.

There will undoubtedly be similarities in religious themes given the agrarian culture. Remember, an agriculturally based society, as was the people of the ancient Mediterranean area, will undoubtedly develop theological themes based upon observable events, i.e., the life, death, and seeming resurrection of life found in crops, in cattle, and in human life. It would only be natural for similar themes to unfold since they are observed in nature and since people created gods related to nature. But, any reading of the Old Testament results in observing the intrusion of God into Jewish history as is recorded in miracles and prophetic utterances. Add to that the incredible archaeological evidence verifying Old Testament cities and events and you have a document based on historical fact instead of mythical fabrication. Furthermore, it is from these Old Testament writings that the New Testament themes were developed.

Following is a chart demonstrating some of the New Testament themes found in the Old Testament.

Theme Old Testament
New Testament
fulfilled in Jesus
Ascension of Jesus to the right hand of God Ps. 110:1 Matt 26:64; Acts 7:55-60; Eph. 1:20
Atonement by blood Lev. 17:11 Heb. 9:22
Begotten Son, Jesus is Psalm 2:7 Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5
Crucifixion Psalm 22:11-18; Zech. 12:10 Luke 23:33-38
Eternal Son Micah 5:1-2; Psalm 2:7 Heb. 1:5; 5:5
God among His people Isaiah 9:6; 40:3 John 1:1,14; 20:28; Col. 2:9; Matt. 3:3
Incarnation of God 1)Ex 3:14; 2)Ps. 45:6 Isaiah 9:6; Zech. 12:10 1)John 8:58; 1:1,14; 2)Heb. 1:8; Col. 2:9; Heb. 1:1-3
Only Begotten Son Gen. 22:2. See Typology John 3:16; Heb. 11:7
Resurrection of Christ Psalm 16:9-10; 49:15; Is. 26:19 John 2:19-21
Return of Christ Zech. 14:1-5; Mic. 1:3-4 Matt. 16:27-28; Acts 1:11; 3:20
Sin offering Ex. 30:10; Lev. 4:3 Rom. 8:3; Heb. 10:18; 13:11
Son of God Psalm 2:7 John 5:18
Substitutionary Atonement Isaiah 53:6-12; Lev. 6:4-10,21 Matt. 20:28; 1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18;
Virgin Birth Isaiah 7:14 Matt. 1:25

(For a more complete list please go to Are the New Testament themes found in the Old Testament?)

As you can see, there is no need for any of the Christian writers to borrow from anything other than the Old Testament source in order to establish any Christian doctrine concerning Jesus. If the argument that pagan mythologies predated Christian teachings and therefore Christianity borrowed from them is true, then it must also be truth that the pagan religions borrowed from the Jewish religion because it is older than they are! Given that all of the Christian themes are found in the Old Testament and the Old Testament was begun around 2000 B.C. and completed around 400 B.C., we can then conclude that these pagan religions actually borrowed from Jewish ideas found in the Old Testament. Think about it, the idea of a blood sacrifice and a covering for sin is found in the first three chapters of Genesis when God covered Adam and Eve with animals skins and prophesied the coming of the Messiah.

Furthermore, those who wrote about Jesus in the New Testament were Jews (or under the instruction of Jews) who were devoted to the legitimacy and inspiration of the Old Testament scriptures and possessed a strong disdain for pagan religions. It would have been blasphemous for them to incorporate pagan sources into what they saw as the fulfillment of the sacred Old Testament scriptures concerning the Messiah. Also, since they were writing about Jesus, they were writing based upon what He taught: truth, love, honesty, integrity, etc. Why then would they lie and make up stories and suffer great persecution, hardships, ridicule, arrest, beatings, and death all for known lies and fabrications from paganism? It doesn’t make sense.

At best, Mithraism only had some common themes with Christianity (and Judaism) which were recorded in both the Old and New Testaments. What is far more probable is that as Mithraism developed, it started to adopt Christian concepts.

„Allegations of an early Christian dependence on Mithraism

Foxe's Book of Martyrs (nearly 3,ooo pages)details ALL historically known and recorded examples of the torture and martyrdom of the Saints from the First-Century Apostles through the Reformation of the 16th Century.(People lived and died for a very real faith)

have been rejected on many grounds. Mithraism had no concept of the death and resurrection of its god and no place for any concept of rebirth – at least during its early stages…During the early stages of the cult, the notion of rebirth would have been foreign to its basic outlook…Moreover, Mithraism was basically a military cult. Therefore, one must be skeptical about suggestions that it appealed to nonmilitary people like the early Christians.”1

What is more probable is that with the explosive nature of the Christian church in the 1st and 2nd century, other cult groups started to adapt themselves to take advantage of some of the teachings found in Christianity.

„While there are several sources that suggest that Mithraism included a notion of rebirth, they are all post-Christian. The earliest…dates from the end of the second century A.D.”2

Therefore, even though there are similarities between Christianity and Mithraism, it is up to the critics to prove that one borrowed from the other. But, considering that the writers of the New Testament were Jews who shunned pagan philosophies and that the Old Testament has all of the themes found in Christianity, it is far more probable that if any borrowing was done, it was done by the pagan religions that wanted to emulate the success of Christianity.

  1. 1. R. Nash, Christianity and the Hellenistic World as quoted in Norman Geisler, Baker’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999, p. 492.
  2. 2. Bill Wilson, compiled by, The Best of Josh McDowell: A Ready Defense, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1993, p. 167.

(VIA) Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry

Mithra? Attis? Really, Rob Bell? by Dr. Oakley (Review of troubling Nooma video)

Dr. Oakley discusses one of Rob Bell’s Nooma videos in which he uses atheist data, most of which comes from a book titled ‘Christ and the Caesars’, written by Ethelbert Stauffer, a Universalist author (who makes some very grand claims and draws some grand conclusions without much supporting evidence.) The troubling part is that the book has no citations. Stauffer says a lot about how things were historically, but the only real evidence he cites is coinage from the time. The book was brought back out of print after Rob Bell talked about using this book in his research. Rob Bell believes Christianity copied pagan religions because he read a book?

Dr. Oakley states that this is nothing new, it is what is taught in Liberal Protestant seminaries. He also states that the modern movement (read emergent) finds absolutely no contentment in the clarity of the past; they seem to have a disdain for it. Dr. Oakley addresses some of the Rob Bell claims; the last one is shocking where Rob Bell ends the video with the statement-„You are the Good News; You are the Gospel” to his video audience.

Here is a link to a short essay on Mithra mythology.

Matthew  24:4  Jesus answered,“Watch out that no one deceives you.

Other articles of interest:

  1. David Platt -on Rob Bell Intellectual universalism is dangerous, but functional universalism is worse
  2. Sinclair Ferguson – Universalism and the reality of eternal punishment
  3. Paul Washer – Do you believe in the existence of a literal hell?
  4. North Carolina Pastor loses job over universalism belief and other stuff
  5. Al Mohler – the new atheism

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Mithra? Attis? Really, Rob Bell?, posted with vodpod

–>Universalism and The Reality of Eternal Punishment by Sinclair Ferguson – Desiring God Conference 1990

The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment

You can listen to the audio for this message here at

(The following is a transcript of the audio.)

I’m very conscious, indeed, of the privilege of participating in this conference; albeit, as you would understand, it is both a burden—in the sense of the topic that has been selected for our study—and also, as you would understand in many ways, for someone who has shrunk from being a pastor to being a seminary teacher, it is a particular burden to address a conference of pastors.

And so, I urge you to pray for the ministry of the word on these occasions, and for our own ability to receive it with meekness and also with a sense of godliness for our sanctification.

I want to ask you to turn with me to the first psalm, that we may settle our minds on God’s word and that he may bless us as we read it together.

Psalm 1

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

It is sad that a number of years ago, certainly within the lifetime of all of us present in this room, one of the royal princesses of the realm coming out of a cathedral service in England spoke to the dean of the chapter of the cathedral, and said to him, „Is it true, dean, that there is a place called ‘hell?'” To which the dean apparently replied, “Madame, the Scriptures say so, Christian people have always believed so, and the Church of England confesses so.” To which she responded, “Then in God’s name, why do you not tell us so?”

It is precisely this question that we are to seek to address together. Because if this is the teaching of sacred Scripture, then clearly few things in Scripture will have a more monumental impact upon the seriousness of our ministries and the broken-heartedness of our preaching. Few things will clarify our vision of what it means to be ministers of the new covenant than to recognize with stark clarity that our great business in life is to pluck men and women and boys and girls from the eternal burnings. And the great privilege of our ministry will one day be to see those who otherwise would have been eternally condemned before the majestic righteousness of God shining like stars in the heavens and like jewels in the crowns of our own ministry.

It is true that the Christian Church as a body throughout every age has confessed that in his eternal righteousness, God judges and condemns sinners eternally to hell. For example, my own standard of faith, the Westminster Confession, puts it like this: “The wicked, who know not God, and do not obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ shall be cast into eternal torments and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord.”

And the great issue today, as indeed it was for the church in Scotland in the day of George MacDonald, increasingly the great issue for ourselves today as we wrestle with these questions as individual believers and as pastors and as leaders among the flocks of God’s people, is the question—and it is very seriously asked on every hand—Is this indeed the teaching of God’s Word? Or do we distort the testimony of Scripture and therefore correspondingly distort men’s vision of God by so teaching that there is a place of eternal judgment and eternal lostness, of separation from the face and presence of God?

As we have already sensed in our prayer and in our singing, there can be few themes that will make a more profound practical impact upon our spirits as gospel ministers and pastors than to recognize that men and women and boys and girls who sit under our teaching and pass through our ministry will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ and be sent either to heaven or to hell.

My goal in this opening study we are having together, is to try to unfold a little—and it will really only be a little—of the biblical basis for the doctrine of eternal punishment. And I want to try to unpack that a little, first of all, by looking to the biblical testimony of its reality; second, by examining some objections and alternatives which claim a biblical support; and then thirdly, by saying something as we close about the nature of the punishment that is in view in the pages of Scripture.

I. The Biblical Witness to the Doctrine of Hell

First of all, therefore, we turn in our study to think about the biblical testimony to its reality. And you will appreciate that it is beyond the bounds of possibility for any of us to present within the scope of one address the wholeness of the biblical testimony to this extraordinary and awesome doctrine. It is essential for us to be selective. And of the things I have selected that we may weigh upon our spirits is what seems to me to be the single most important feature of the biblical teaching in this area, and it is this: that the great witness to the reality of eternal punishment is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ and Savior himself.

There is a mighty sermon in Gresham Machen’s book, God Transcendent, on the text in Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear those who can kill the body; fear Him who is able to cast soul and body into hell.” And the sermon begins by the repetition of the text and with these words: “These words were not spoken by Augustine, or by George Whitefield, or by Jonathan Edwards, but by Jesus of Nazareth.” And it behooves us to listen to his testimony; both because this is the testimony of the Savior, and because this is the testimony of the One who names Himself as the living and true witness—who is the One who has come back from the dead to tell men that it is so.

One of the striking things that I’m sure many of you will have noticed as you have read through the gospels in a sitting, is that the testimony he provides and the warnings he gives in relationship to eternal punishment are both prolific and all-pervasive and utterly devastating in their effect.

We can think about that testimony in the several ways.

1) First of all, it is manifestly in the gospels the backcloth to our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming and is its profoundest explanation. You remember how John wrestles with this whole issue in John 3, strikingly placing together the glory of the love of the Father and his purpose in sending his Son with the dark backcloth against which his coming shines so gloriously, and which alone explains its deepest significance.

Why did He come? The Father delivered up the Son from the bosom of his love into this broken world, says John, in order that those who believe in him might not perish but have this everlasting life. And he goes on to describe what it means to have this everlasting life. It comes, he says, to those who believe. But what if we do not believe? „What if,” as Paul says, „all men do not have faith?” Then John goes on, you remember, to say that although he came into the world not to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved, those who do not believe are those on whom the wrath of God remains.

It is this sense in the heart of our Savior Jesus Christ that the wrath of God is already revealed from heaven against men and their ungodliness and unrighteousness, and so it will remain. But he comes into the world not to condemn it but that through faith in his name men and women might be saved. But as John goes on to underline at the end of John 3, the great tragedy of man’s existence, although the Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands, whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life. For God’s wrath remains on him.

There is this deep certainty, already in these early sections of John’s Gospel that the only explanation for Christ’s coming is for the removal of the wrath of God against those who believe, and at the same time the insistence that there are those who remain under the wrath of God, reject the Son, and therefore will not see life.

2) And not only is that the basic backcloth which explains our Lord’s coming in the love of the Father; it is, secondly, manifestly so in the New Testament teaching and in the Gospels that this becomes the great central burden of our Lord’s own teaching.

With what magnificent parables he taught the people! With what amazing and beautiful and sometimes humorous insight he showed them what it means for the kingdom of God to come! But in those very same parables the theme is re-iterated and re-iterated—that the kingdom of God means that some will be brought into the glory of the fellowship of God’s people and, on the other hand, there will be those who remain outside.

Remember those parables in Matthew 13 that make this point so powerfully, taking up the great Old Testament themes of the two ways and the two destinations that are illustrated, for example, in the opening chapter of the Psalms.

Tares (weeds)

  • The parable of the wheat and the tares, in which the tares in the parable are bound and burned;
  • the parable of the net that catches the fish in which the bad fish are then cast away and lost;
  • or, in Matthew 25, the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, in which the foolish virgins are shut out and have no access to the place where the wise virgins rejoice and flourish;
  • and the parable of the unprofitable servant who is cast out into the outer darkness;
  • and the story of the sheep and the goats in the same chapter, in which the great final division takes place among mankind. And over there on the left hand of the Savior is a place destined for the devil and his angels into which men are sent by Jesus himself because of the way they have responded to the message of his grace and the outworkings of his grace in the life of his people.

We might stand back and say, as some have said, “Yes of course these are Jesus’ parables. These are Jesus’ weapons and his warfare to incite men to

Parable of the virgins-(depiction of 5 foolish virgins)

judging their own selves and thus to saving themselves in response. But these possibilities that are held out in the parables are hypothetical.” Until, of course, we read on in these very same sections of the Gospel and listen to our Lord Jesus interpreting his parables in the plainest of language: “This is how it will be at the end of the age. This is no parable. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Here parabolic teaching has come to an end. And its significance for men’s lives is so extraordinarily pointed out. „As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire in the parable,” says Jesus in Matthew 13:40, „so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil and they will throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, while the righteous shall shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

O, this is the broken heart of Jesus. He who has an ear to hear, will he not hear?

So it is of the very essence of Jesus’ understanding of his own parabolic teaching, that it has a direct bearing on the eternal destiny of men and women. And not only does he speak in these passages of the terrible reality of the punishment that men will receive, being weeded out and thrown into the fiery furnace of the judgment of a holy and almighty God; but he makes it explicit in those same passages in the New Testament that that destiny involves not only the reality of punishment, but this punishment is viewed by Jesus himself as eternal.

Listen to what he says in Matthew 18. He says in v.8, „If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you enter into life maimed or crippled, than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. Gouge out your eye if it causes you to sin, because it is better to enter into life as a one-eyed, holy believer than to have two eyes, unholy, and to be thrown into the fire of hell.”

Again in Matthew 25:41, as he is expounding the principles of the last judgment, „Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” And again in v.46, „Then those on the left shall go away into eternal punishment.”

The very echo of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ convinces us that he believed and taught and appealed to men and women on the basis that, without his saving grace, the only destiny that awaited men and women was both penal and eternal.

And not only so, but he further underscores this if we will remain in Matthew’s Gospel for a moment in those words that he speaks in chapter 12. He says in v.32 “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either in this age or in the age to come.” There is, says Jesus, a sin of such eternal significance and dimension that it is eternally unforgiven; and all of its consequences, in the subtlety and in the duplicity of man’s sinfulness, will fall upon the man whose unforgiven sin brings upon his soul and resurrected body the final judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And strikingly, all of this already could be read out of those glorious words in chapter 3 of the Gospel of John. Because the alternative to perishing, says John, is everlasting life. These are two parallel opposite destinies for men and women. And Christ has come to redeem us from the one that we may enjoy the other. And if the life which we seek to enjoy is to be eternal, then the perishing of which John speaks in 3:16 is a perishing that will be without mitigation and without an end.

When John speaks in the 5th chapter of his Gospel of that great and awesome day when Jesus Christ will appear as Resurrector of men and their Judge, does not our Lord Jesus Christ confirm everything we see taught here variously in the Gospels, telling us that there will be two separate and distinguishable and permanent destinies for resurrected men and women? And one of them will be in glory, and the other will be in the most awesome and eternal shame.

The doctrine of eternal punishment is the backcloth to our Lord’s Incarnation; it is the great burden of his teaching; and thirdly, it is the great significance of his passion.

3) I need hardly spell this out for you, brethren, I’m sure. But you have grasped what is the significance of our Lord’s shrinking from the cross in the garden of Gethsemane, and especially of his words, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” What is the cup of which he speaks? It is of course the cup to which he had alluded earlier—the cup which he was to drink. It was the cup of which he had heard and read in the pages of the Old Testament prophets, when God had spoken of that day when he would visit them in vengeance and justice across the face of the earth, and he would make the nations to drink of the cup of his wrath that would make them stagger under the permanence of his judgment and of his casting of them off.

This of course is the reason why our Lord shrinks from death—does not go singing to death, as his followers and martyrs would do, but shrinks from it with every energy particle in his being. Because, in his perfect obedience, he has given his life to the Father’s will and comes close to the darkness of the cross in the garden of Gethsemane. He begins, as a man, as our substitute representative, to taste in ever-deepening ways the significance of what he has come into the world to do: he has come into the world to be circumcised on the cross by God himself. And he has said to his disciples, „This word of prophecy shall be fulfilled in me when the Father says, ‘I will smite the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.'” And this was his own interpretation of his death on Golgotha. The Father, he says, is going to smite the Shepherd. And the Shepherd will cry out in the midst of a darkness unparalleled in human history, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”

Do you remember how the Epistle to the Hebrews gives us illumination into the significance of this, by urging us to go outside the camp to where Jesus was crucified? What was it that happened outside the camp? What happened outside the camp was the event that took place as Leviticus 16 describes on the Day of Atonement when the sins of the people were confessed over those goats and one was taken and sacrificed, and its blood shed as a propitiatory offering to appease the righteous judgment of God against the people’s sins. And you remember the other one was taken out into no-man’s land, by the hand of one who was worthy and there it was released—excommunicated, forsaken—bearing the sins of the people outside of the camp.

And this is the significance of the dying of our Lord Jesus Christ, his cry of dereliction, his burden in the Garden of Gethsemane. But in order to give to damned, lost sinners the cup of salvation in which we can call upon the name of the Lord—which he urged them to take, you remember, in the upper room—he had himself to drink to the last dregs that other cup of dereliction—excommunication, God-forsakenness—which was so unique for him, because in the mystery of the transaction of the eternal Trinity, the God-man gave an eternal quality to the sufferings he experienced as a penalty for our sin inflicted upon him by the sacred hand of his own dear Father.

You see, this doctrine of eternal punishment arises not only out of the teaching of Jesus; it is confirmed by the experience of Jesus as that experience is illumined and interpreted for us by the rest of the pages of Scripture. What he suffered on the cross in his agony and shame and dereliction, hanging alone between God and man, was nothing less than the punishment of his own Father which he had taken upon himself as our representative and substitute, to which in his sacrifice of himself upon the cross as a propitiatory offering, he gave an eternal dimension, in order that he might be a Savior fitted for sinners who otherwise would experience that punishment in an eternal dimension.

And so you notice in passing how this doctrine of eternal punishment and the doctrine of the Savior’s work upon the cross interpret one another and, as John Piper was saying a moment ago, stand or fall together. And it that sense what is at stake in this doctrine is not simply the significance of what it means to reject Christ but the significance of what Christ has done in order to be the Savior and Redeemer of his people.

4) Fourthly, we discover in the New Testament that the doctrine of eternal punishment is the burden that lies behind the Lord’s apostles’ proclamation. How did they view men and women?

„Oh,” says Paul in 2 Corinthians 2, „we are a savor of death to those who are perishing.” What is characteristic of those whose minds Satan has blinded, as he says in chapter 4? It is that they are perishing. The reason they are perishing, says Paul, is

  1. because the wrath of God is already revealed from heaven against them, and
  2. because that wrath of God will be consumed on them in the future.

You remember how just as it’s true that there are two dimensions to our salvation—a present experience of it, and a future consummation of it—the New Testament tells us that it is the same with the wrath of God. The revelation of God is all of a piece in this sense. And wrath is already revealed from heaven against men as he gives men and women over to their sinfulness, men and women around us on every hand who mock this teaching of God’s judgment and say, “I am flaunting God’s laws and I see no sign of his judgment.”

Paul says the very way in which you are in utter bondage to your flaunting of God’s law and of giving yourself up to it is a sign that you’re already under this judgment of God and his wrath is already bearing down upon you. But he says in Colossians 3:6 that this wrath is going to come upon men in the future. And he underlines that in those words in 1 Thessalonians, in which he speaks of those Thessalonians as having been rescued from the coming wrath of God.

And that, you remember, Paul goes on to tell the Thessalonians, is both punitive and everlasting. 2 Thessalonians 1:8—He will punish those who do not know God, and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. „They will be”—listen to this, beloved brethren—”they will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes and his wrath is revealed,” when Jesus appears in blazing fire from heaven.

And, outside of the teaching of Paul, think for example of the pastoral burden of the author of the letter to the Hebrews. In Hebrews 10:26-31, burdened as he is that professed Christians may not really be Christians who possess grace, he say, „How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot and treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him. For we know him who said”—this is God speaking—”‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

And that deep burden in the letter of Jude in which he speaks similarly about the terrible consequences of man’s sinfulness. „Just as was true of those angels who did not keep their position, 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.” „They will,” as Peter puts it in the parallel passage, „be paid back for what they have done.”

5) And fifthly, this great burden of eternal punishment is confirmed by our Lord in his own post-incarnational revelation of himself to John. Remember how he reveals himself in the book of Revelation? The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him to show his servants. The revelation of Him as the great King and Ruler and Judge and Controller of the affairs of men. And as the One who will appear as their Judge. What will take place on the day when he appears? Oh, says John, the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, every slave, every free man, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains and called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of the One who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand? He comes with blood upon his feet, as the one who bore blood in his bosom for the salvation of men and women.

And John goes on, you remember, as he brings us to the consummation of this great vision, to speak about the judgment of the great white throne and the opening of the books. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. The cowardly, he says, in 21:8, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars; their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur, which is the second death. It is the place, as he said in 20:10, where the devil who deceived them was thrown, and where the beast and the false prophet were thrown. It is, he says, a place of torment day and night forever. And in that place, he finally concludes, there is an outside where are the dogs and those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

All this testimony is really saying to us, beloved brethren, is what men and women fear, even if they will not confess in their consciences, that those who do such things deserve death. And one day he will say, “Depart you cursed, into everlasting punishment.”

II. Objections to the Orthodox Doctrine of Hell

Yet you would recognize, and I’m sure some of you would be much more familiar than I am with the fact, that this exposition of eternal punishment of a holy God of sinful men and women is one that has met with the most serious of objections. And I want to concentrate for a little while on two of those objections, and two particular kinds or forms of objection.

It would, I think, be out of place for us and unnecessary for us to deal with objections that are raised simply on the grounds of how men and women like to think about God. But there are two objections to this teaching which claim specific biblical foundation. In other words, there are two other kinds of objections which respond to such an exposition of eternal punishment by saying that it is not so in the teaching of Scripture.

One of these is a form of universalism, and the other is a form of conditionalism and annihilationism. And I think it’s important for me to say something about both of these.


You are familiar, perhaps, with the fact that in almost every era of the Christian church, professing Christian people have found the idea of universalism attractive. From time to time, it’s been condemned in the history of the church, almost from the beginning. And from time to time it has arisen again.

In the early church it was especially something that was expounded in the teaching of Origen. In the modern church, in many ways, it owes its significance to the influence of Schleiermacher. And I think it would be true to say today, that it is regarded by and large in liberal circles as the orthodoxy of our times. „It is utterly unthinkable but that God would save every human being who has ever lived out of the largeness and greatness of his mercy and favor.”

And that position is supported usually in two ways: by the use of biblical texts, and by the use of theological argument.

Objections Using Biblical Texts

Of the biblical texts, there are three categories.

1) There are texts to which appeal is made which seem to portray the idea of a universal redemption: John 3:17—”The Son came into the world not to condemn it but to save it.” 1 Timothy 2:3-6—the notion of God as the Savior of all men. 1 John 2:2—”Christ is the propitiation not only for our sins, but of the sins of the whole world.” Here, it is claimed, is a line of thought in the New Testament, which speaks about Jesus Christ as the Savior of all men.

2) The second strand of thinking is an appeal to those texts which give us a picture of universal restoration: Acts 3:2, for example—the hope of the restoration in the last days. 1 Corinthians 15:22-28; that great day when the Son will hand the kingdom over to the Father and God will be all in all. God will have reclaimed everything for himself. Texts like Ephesians 1:10 and Colossians 1:20-21 which speak of a universal reconciling work of our Lord Jesus Christ. There you have it again—Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world.

3) And then there are those texts exegeted in order to underline the principle that there are hints in the New Testament that those men and women who have not responded to the gospel and perhaps those who have never heard the gospel will receive, in the mercy of God, a second chance. Sometimes appeal is made to 1 Peter 3:18 and to Christ preaching to the spirits in prison as indication of the prospect—momentarily illumined for us in the New Testament—that, thankfully, at last, all men will be saved.

How are we to respond to these passages? Briefly let me say it’s impossible to exegete every single text. Let me simply give you three principles.

1) The first is, that universal statements in the first category of texts invariable and demonstrably have in view an antithesis different from the antithesis “some men will be saved vs. all men will be saved.” And frequently, but not necessarily always, that antithesis is that Christ saves not only Jews who are of the seed of Abraham, but Christ breaks down the ethnic boundaries of God’s ancient people and saves men and women—praise his name—from every tribe and tongue and people and nation under the sun. There is no “us” and “them” mentality in the New Testament; that is to say, it’s not that there’s something in us or our background that he specially qualified to be suitable for salvation.

2) And then in terms of the second view of text what is in view in the great eschatological restoration is the visible reign of God in which He will put everything under the feet of Jesus Christ, subduing enemies into friends and trampling in wrath and judgment those who refuse both now and then to honor him with the honor that is due to the Son of the Father. The restoration is that which is viewed in the great Messianic promises, when the world which Adam had handed over to Satan for his lordship—the prince of the power of the air—will again manifestly, and is it now really, be visibly seen to be in the hands of its creator, our Savior Jesus Christ.

That is to say, the reflection is not on the question, “Will all be saved, or will only some be saved?” The question is, “Will Jesus Christ fulfill the promises of God in the Old Testament and demonstrate his Lordship over all things?”

3) And in the third category of texts, 1 Peter 3:18 has been variously exegeted even by evangelical students of Scripture. And all would recognize, whatever the language may be and its significance, it is by no means evangelistic language. But more significantly, according to the analogy of Scripture, there is in that future world a great gulf fixed so that those who are there cannot come here, says our Lord in his story of the rich man and Lazarus. Those who are there can never cross over into the bosom of Abraham. That is, it would be to deny every canon of ordinary biblical interpretation to exegete such texts as though they sat before us the prospect of a second chance.

Objections Using Theological Arguments

There are these biblical arguments, and it seems to me that they depart from the analogy of Scripture in their exegesis. But there are also theological arguments used. And it’s both significant and important as we think of what they are that we recognize the subtle shift of gear that takes place. Because it is invariably true of universalism, that having thrown out these texts and said, “Look, there is universal salvation!,” it never pauses to seek to exegete these texts in the light of the rest of the New Testament but immediately leaps from these texts to a great, mastering theological principle—the “logic of love.”

“It would be impossible for a God of love to tolerate men and women being sent to hell. It would be the great emblem of his failure,” as MacDonald and others have maintained, “and he simply won’t tolerate lost souls.”

Now what are we to say about this? Let me suggest briefly that there are six devastating criticisms of this.

1) First, it substitutes logical speculation for biblical revelation; man-made reasoning from a biblical principle for biblical exegesis of biblical texts. It is a notion that is set loose from the New Testament because it lies on every page of the New Testament that the God of infinite love is also the God who punishes sinners.

And that simple principle alone—that he punishes sinners simply because they deserve punishment, not to improve them but because they deserve it—is enough to invalidate the notion that the “logic of love” leads us to a universal redemption.

2) The second that seems to me a devastating argument against it is the simple one that it ignores the biblical teaching that, outside the gates of the city of the New Jerusalem, there is a profound darkness into which men and women are sent.

You remember how Revelation puts it in 22:10-11, „Then he told me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.'”

That is to say, there is a sense in which God says to men and women who die continuing to reject Him, “Well then, continue to reject me forever.” And so Revelation goes on to speak in the next page about what is outside in the outer darkness, where there are sinners identified even in specificity of the sins they have committed.

3) The third criticism of this “logic of love” is that it provides no explanation for the clear words of our Lord Jesus Christ concerning Judas Iscariot that it were better for him to have never been born.

My brothers, if we had some sense of the ineffable glory of being in the presence of God, a million purgatories would be worth it to be there. A million purgatories would be worth it if we could one day be brought out of it into the bright light and shining face of the welcome of the Father. But if that were to be true, it never could have been said of Judas Iscariot that it would be better for him to have never been born.

4) And in addition to these reasons, let me add a fourth. Let me ask you this: What more will God do to make his love effectual in the hearts of sinners than he has already done? What more can he do? He has done everything!

5) Fifthly, if I may argue in an ad hominem manner—and I mean this seriously and not cynically or in any sense merely as a put-down—it is one of the most extraordinary things in the world that, to a man, universalists are semi-Pelagian in their views. But suddenly, after death, everything becomes Calvinistic. The love of God is overwhelming. The love of God is irresistible. The love of God cannot be stopped.

But you see the principle of the New Testament is that God does not change because we die. His love is already overwhelming, irresistible. There is no more love of God to be demonstrated, beloved, than in the work of our Savior on the cross and the zealous pursuit of his efficacious work in the hearts of men and women by the power of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing more that God can do; there is no more love he can demonstrate; there is no more irresistible grace than the grace which effects our salvation here and now.

6) And sixthly, there is the homiletical argument that, inevitably, whenever universalism is espoused, the urgency and energy of New Testament preaching is dissipated. I tell you, it is a very unusual thing to hear a Barthian say, “I beseech you, be reconciled to God.” And it is an even rarer thing to hear a card-carrying, genuine-article universalist publicly espousing the doctrine of universalism with tears in his eyes, to say, “I beg you; lay down your arms; be reconciled to God.”

The principle here is that if the gospel that is proclaimed does not produce the fruit of that gospel that is visible in the New Testament, the gospel that is proclaimed cannot be the New Testament gospel. And the very reason for the urgency of the apostolic ministry and the zeal in our Lord’s heart that was to consume him was because of the sense of the urgency of men and women repenting and believing now, or else they would be lost forever.


The second kind of argument that is used against the doctrine of eternal punishment is some form of conditionalism. And I want again, if I may, to try and deal with it briefly. Conditionalism, as you know, comes in a whole series of forms. The only form I want to treat this evening is the form in which it is espoused by some of our evangelical brethren, and it is this: that in the intermediate state God justly punishes sinners, but at the resurrection of the last day, he will raise both the just and the unjust to stand before his throne, and he will welcome the faithful into everlasting bliss, and he will send the unbelieving into a dark, annihilated non-existence.

And this position, which in many ways has gained some publicity and popularity in our own times, has four central arguments, and it is good for us to know what they are.

1) The first is philosophical. That is to say, regarding the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, which makes it necessary for the doctrine of immortal punishment to exist. If a soul is going to exist for ever, then if it is sent away from the presence of God it must be punished forever.

The doctrine of the immortality of the soul, which has been so influential, it’s argued, in the notion of everlasting penal retribution, is of course a doctrine that is rooted, it is said, in the influence of Hellenistic philosophy in the early centuries of the Christian church, and is not to be found in the pages of the New Testament.

Now you see the point that is being made: if you believe in the immortality of the soul, then it’s necessary for you to do something in your theology with that immortal soul that rejects God.

In contrast, it is claimed, the New Testament’s teaching is different. We are to fear him who is able to “destroy” body and soul in hell, and this is what he will do. And it’s vital that we have a biblical response to that.

And it seems to me that the biblical response to that is this: that the immortality of man—which of course is dependent on him who alone has immortality—is not rooted in a Hellenistic view of the immortality of the soul that certainly was not in the Old Testament, but is first of all rooted in the biblical doctrine of man as the image of God, created to bear his likeness and to whom he has committed himself to uphold an everlasting existence.

And on the other hand, the doctrine of the general resurrection of the dead, which otherwise must be viewed as some kind of cynical joke in the heart of this All-Righteous God, that he punishes men and women and then raises them from the dead simply to annihilate them out of all existence. That’s a little bit like having shot Socrates in the head and taking him to the emergency room in order that he may live to drink the hemlock. And there is something in it that is altogether out of keeping with everything that Scripture says about the utter integrity of God and his dealings with men and women.

But even more significant than either of those two arguments is this argument: that in our doctrine of man and salvation and God’s dealings with man there is an abiding principle by which every doctrine must be tested: if it is not true of Christ, it is not true. And this was not true of Christ—the true, genuine, full man who on the cross bore the judgment of God against our sin.

Was the judgment of God against our sin, the eternal judgment which our Lord Jesus Christ received on the cross a means of his annihilation? I might point out that Jehovah’s Witnesses who believe that Jesus simply dissolved into gases would at least have logical consistency between Christology and divine judgment. But you see the point, if Jesus has borne it all to save us from the terrible judgment of God, then he must have born exactly what that eternal judgment will be. And if annihilation is that judgment and Jesus did not experience annihilation, then from annihilation not one single one of us can be saved.

If it is not true of what Jesus did for us as our perfect representative and substitute on the cross, it is not true. So conditionalism will not stand in terms of the philosophical argument.

2) The second argument that conditionalism tends to employ is what I might call the perspectival argument. And this is the argument which accuses the orthodox doctrine of a subtle eschatological misfocus. Let me give you an illustration.

How do evangelical orthodox people tend to preach the story of the rich man and Lazarus? They tend to preach that story as if it were a picture of eternal judgment. But, says the conditionalist, what is in view there has manifestly taken place in the intermediate state; the rich man is begging for someone to be sent to his brothers, so what is in view here is indeed punishment—judgment for sin—but judgment for sin that takes place in the intermediate state prior to the general resurrection, in which general resurrection what will happen to men and women without Christ is that they will die, perish, cease to exist altogether.

And the conditionalist argument consistently is that when you turn to the pages of the New Testament and read those passages that speak about the punishment and the suffering of the wicked, it is prior to the day when through the general resurrection the wicked will perish.

What are we to say to this? I believe we may say to this, even granted that Lazarus and other passages have a focus on the intermediate state, two things are also true.

  1. One is that the New Testament sees complete harmony between the intermediate state and the final state in terms of the experience of God which men and women have.
  2. And the second thing is this: that there is abundant evidence in the passages of the New Testament that speaks about the judgment of God that follows the intermediate state and the general resurrection, beyond which judgment men and women will go into unbearable suffering under the judgment of God.

Isn’t this what Paul is saying in Romans 2? That all these things in which he speaks about the retribution man will experience, all these things will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ as my gospel declares. The suffering of which he speaks—the wrath that men will experience, the trouble and distress for every human being who does evil—is not a trouble and distress that will be experienced prior to annihilation, but a trouble and distress that will be experienced following the judgment of God.

And you remember how when you gather together the materials from the closing chapters of Revelation, it tells us that the destiny of the lost is one in the same with the destiny of the devil and his angels, the beast and his prophet, where there will be torment forever and forever.

Whatever passages in the New Testament, therefore, may refer to divine judgment and punishment in the intermediate state, those passages are entirely harmonious with the indications that the New Testament gives us of the punishment men and women will experience in the resurrected state.

3) The third argument used by conditionalists we might call the exegetical or semantic argument, in which they argue that the language of the New Testament has been over-weighted in the exegesis of traditional orthodoxy. There are many illustrations of this; I mention one or two of them.

It is reasoned by a good number of able scholars undoubtedly that, for example, whenever the New Testament speaks of “eternal punishment” and uses the language of the eon that is to come, (Greek αἰώνιος) it’s speaking only of what will take place in the future, the age to come, and gives no reflection whatsoever on how long that age will be. It speaks about the quality of experience, just as they say that we all speak about eternal life, not simply as a life that goes on and on but as a life with a special quality about it. To which I think the simplest and clearest answer is: αἰώνιος means not only „the age to come,” but by very definition, „the endless age to come.”

That is to say, it’s not only true by means of parallelism, eternal life and eternal death; but the death goes long as long as the life goes on. In view in that αἰών-ic death and punishment and suffering is the experience of an endless age to come.

Another form of the same exegetical and semantic argument is to argue that when the New Testament speaks of various things as being “eternal,” it indicates an endless condition, not necessarily an endless action and experience. That is to say, endless death does not mean endless dying but endless condition of death; endless punishment does not mean endless punishing, but a punishment that is endless in its consequences.

Annihilation—what is the language that’s used? Of course it’s death, destruction, perishing. And again, it seems to me that the analogy of Scripture is done harm in this argument, because in Scripture, life is the opposite of death—death is not the opposite of existence.

God’s veracity is at stake here because he said to Adam, „On the day you eat of it, you shall die,” but he didn’t cease to exist. And the whole flow of the Bible’s understanding of what death means is not that it’s the cessation of existence but that it’s the cessation of life and fellowship, in this case with God himself. To die is to enter into a living death, not into the end of existence.

What does the New Testament mean when it speaks about destruction? Invariably, it means not annihilation, but a loosening of all that would give significance and purpose and direction. When the New Testament speaks for example of „the body of death” of believers being destroyed, „the body of sin” being destroyed, it speaks about the loosening of the potency of sin in the life of the believer—not the cessation of existence of life—until the presence of sin is finally banished.

And when the New Testament tells us that Jesus has destroyed the devil, it doesn’t mean that he has annihilated Satan, but that he has loosened the whole grip that Satan has had on us and we now belong to our Lord Jesus Christ.

When the New Testament speaks about the new wine destroying old wineskins, it doesn’t mean that the wineskins are annihilated, but that their original function—the function for which formerly they were created—has ceased to exist. And so it is with man in his sinfulness; he does not cease to exist in the destruction, in the perishing, in the death that is the final judgment of God. But every last ounce of the blessedness of that original former destiny for which God created him which he was able to suck and, in measure, enjoy in this world he can suck no more and will never be able to enjoy again.

It seems to me in that context that the words of Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 can never really be weighed by an annihilationist. You remember what he says? „They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and the majesty of His power.” You see, if you adopt an annihilationist exegesis of that text, the adjective becomes redundant: “everlasting destruction.” And the words that follow have no force: shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power.

4) And then there is a fourth argument, which is a theological argument, and it is similar to the universalist argument that God will be all in all: that there will be nothing on his left hand.

But you see the whole point of Jesus’ story of the sheep and the goats is that he does have a left hand. The minor motif of the book of Revelation is that there is, permanently, an outside. That’s why Jesus says, “They will go away to eternal punishment, while the righteous go to eternal life.” And all I’m saying here is that it seems to me that conditionalism, like universalism, does not take with sufficient seriousness the whole of Scripture.

III. The Nature of Eternal Punishment

That leads us to our final consideration; brethren, be patient with me for a moment as we consider it. We’ve tried to think about the biblical foundation for the doctrine of eternal punishment, and these two forms of objection which claim scriptural foundation to deny the doctrine of eternal punishment.

Let me say a word briefly about a thing to which we will inevitably return in our studies, about the nature of eternal punishment.

And the first thing, obviously, to say, is that its nature will be utterly overwhelming. Have you ever meditated on these words in Revelation 20:11? “I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence.” Here we can but speak with awe and humility, trembling in our hearts and in our spirits.

There is, it seems to me no doubt, that the New Testament uses many metaphors to describe the nature of eternal punishment. And there, I confess, I think I side with Calvin somewhat against Edwards. But that’s a very different thing from saying that those metaphors convey anything less than the physical characteristics which are used in the metaphors.

It seems to me if anything is true, the question is not whether the sufferings of the wicked are physical or spiritual. The truth is the sufferings of the wicked will ultimately be the sufferings of resurrected men and women, and therefore will inevitably be holistic; the whole man, the whole woman will suffer.

But what does it involve?

  • It involves separation from God, being cast away from His presence.
  • It involves depravation of that which is most foundational to our existence: light.
  • It means being cast into outer darkness. Some of you may be pastors in the country; if you’re a pastor in the city, you’ve never seen darkness. But if you’re a pastor in the country, you may have been out some time late at night when the sky has been overcast and you have placed your hand to your nose and you’ve seen nothing. And you know something of the sense of utter disorientation that comes into your breast as you realize that you are lost.

By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website:

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