A hell of a difference: How our understanding of hell affects the Christian life

by | Nov 29, 2018

This essay was adapted from Paul Williamson’s talk on “A hell of a difference” at our 24 October 2018 event. Watch or listen to his talk on our website.

Introduction

What do you think of when you think of hell? A psychological state of mind? A burning pit of fire and brimstone? Perhaps even a small village in Norway? (Some friends at church visited there in July, so they can now honestly say that they’ve been to “hell” and back.)

Our English word is of Germanic origin—derived from an Indo-European root meaning “to cover/hide”. It was associated with burial and thus the “realm of the dead”. In modern speech, the word “hell” is used to express irritation or displeasure, as in the question, “What the hell’s going on?” Or it’s used as an expletive: “Oh hell!” is a fairly typical response when something goes wrong. We also see it used to voice strong dissent—as in “Hell no!” But all such usage constitutes “a hell of a problem”—another phrase that employs the term in a rather vacuous manner.

The very concept of hell is a terrifying reality: it’s not a word we should take on our lips casually, nor is it something we should be cracking jokes about. Even if we know little of what the Bible says on the topic, we’re probably familiar with graphic literary depictions of hell. Take Dante’s Divine Comedy, for example, where Inferno’s rivers flow with boiling blood, sadistic demons torture the damned, and hell’s gates are inscribed with that ominous warning, “Abandon all hope, you who enter here”. Or consider Milton’s Paradise Lost, where hell is a visible darkness in a lake of fire and demons build their Pandemonium—a pale and sinister imitation of heaven. Little is left to the human imagination in classical literature or art, and unlike some of today’s more popular images, hell is definitely not portrayed as somewhere any sane person would ever wish to go.

This is also equally true of the biblical depiction. While admittedly less graphic and detailed, the biblical scenario is no less frightening. The images depicted are clearly designed to evoke fear and dread: a lake of eternal fire; blazing sulphur with smoke ascending forever; outer or blackest darkness; weeping and gnashing of teeth; and flesh-eating worms or maggots that never die. Hell in the Bible is a grim and terrifying prospect.

But the biblical portrayal inevitably leaves us with certain questions—some of which are exegetical and some of which are ethical or theological. Furthermore, often these questions are interconnected. How exactly should we understand the biblical depiction of hell? To what do these rather graphic biblical images refer? Indeed, do they really depict eschatological or eternal punishment at all? Or, as one North American Presbyterian minister has recently argued, does this simply misconstrue what Jesus actually intended?1

Rather than thinking of hell as a place of eschatological judgement, Keith Wright controversially suggests that “the Hell Jesus talked about is actually a present reality we create for ourselves and each other through our destructive behaviours”.2 Moreover, he’s adamant that the usual concept of hell is not only “inconsistent with the biblical message of God’s long love affair with humanity” (his words, not mine!), but “leads to a far too narrow view of God’s grace and saving activity … [and] to an image of God that has turned many thoughtful people away from the Christian faith”.3 Wright obviously represents a more liberal brand of Christianity, but I suspect that his views represent many in the theological mainstream today—including some who might even label themselves “evangelical”.

But even within the more conservative camp, there is little unanimity today on how we should understand the biblical depiction of hell. For example, are the biblical images we’ve mentioned above literal or metaphorical?4 And even if we understand the more graphic imagery as being metaphorical, what about the more straightforward language that seems to depict hell as an actual place in God’s universe—a place where rebellious sinners experience eternal punishment? These are the exegetical questions that Scripture’s portrayal of hell raises, and very different answers are offered—even among those who respect the Bible as the inspired and infallible word of God.

Furthermore, the answers given evoke important theological and ethical questions: does not the penalty far outweigh the crime? Whether in its severity, its duration or both, is hell not disproportionate to the offences it serves to punish? Does the concept of hell not undermine God’s justice, never mind his love? With respect to the latter question, how can a loving and merciful God inflict such extreme retribution on those he has created? Does the concept of hell seriously undermine the idea of a good and benevolent God? In addition, what about God’s sovereignty and universal rule? How can God really be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28) if a place remains in God’s universe for all eternity where created beings continue to resent his authority and gnash their teeth against him in anger and hostility?

While we will certainly take time to consider some of the answers to these and other such theological questions, my main concern in this essay is how the doctrine of hell impacts the Christian life—our social, moral and ethical values, our thoughts and our behaviour. In other words, if we truly embrace the biblical doctrine of hell, what difference should it make to the way we think, speak and live?

But let us begin with the most fundamental question: what exactly does the Bible teach us about hell?

1. The biblical teaching on hell

While this may seem a very straightforward question, the answer is a bit more complicated. As already noted, various Christians interpret the relevant biblical material very differently. Currently, even among those who claim to treat the Bible with utmost seriousness and as the final authority for all matters of faith and practice, there are at least three sharply different understandings of hell. Two of these view hell as an actual place and one sees it more as a state of existence (or non-existence, to be more precise). I’ll briefly summarise each of these different interpretations in turn, beginning with the traditional idea of hell as a place of unending punishment.

a) Unending punishment or “eternal conscious torment”

Those of us who espouse the common, conservative view believe that hell is a place of everlasting and conscious punishment. Those consigned there are sentient beings, acutely aware of their situation and surroundings, and able to experience some kind of genuine torment—whether physical, psychological or both. Among those who hold this viewpoint, some take the biblical depictions of hell quite literally,5 whereas others would interpret much of the actual language as metaphorical—that is, not all to be taken at face value, but instead depicting graphically a conscious and ongoing experience that is truly terrifying.6

The biblical evidence for eternal conscious torment (hereafter referred to as “ECT”) is drawn mainly from the New Testament, although it’s often also inferred from Old Testament texts such as Isaiah 66:22-24 and Daniel 12:2-3, as well as some of the Old Testament references to “sheol”.7 The bulk of the biblical support for the idea of ECT comes from the Gospels, the general epistles and Revelation. Particularly important are Jesus’ references to “Gehenna” as a place of “unquenchable” or “eternal” fire (Mark 9:43),8 a fate worse than death (Matt 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2), where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13:42, 50). All this seems to imply ongoing conscious activity, rather than the idea of being annihilated.9

Also significant is Paul’s depiction of God’s coming wrath in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10. There, the “trouble” (thlipsis) that God will pay back to the persecutors of his people seems to involve conscious agony.10 Moreover, if understood as annihilation, “eternal destruction” (v. 9) would be a very strange tautology: annihilation has no need to be qualified in this way; one is either annihilated or one is not. This also undermines the suggestion that Paul is describing here separate stages of divine punishment (i.e. trouble, leading to annihilation, resulting in separation from God). The latter (separation from God) is equally redundant if these people have just been annihilated. Thus the idea of “eternal destruction” does not rule out some kind of ongoing existence. Something can be destroyed without necessarily being annihilated—for example, a car wreck.

Moreover, Peter’s description of Tartarus has much in common with the traditional concept of hell: Peter portrays it as a gloomy dungeon in which rebellious angels are held in darkness and bound with everlasting chains (2 Pet 2:4).

But particularly significant is Revelation 14:9-11, where those worshipping the beast face the torment of unmitigated divine wrath: “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” and “they have no rest, day or night”. The imagery here may indeed be metaphorical, but what the metaphors patently convey is agony without respite.

The same point is made with respect to the evil trio in Revelation 19-20: the beast, the false prophet and the devil are cast alive into the lake of burning sulphur (Rev 19:20, 20:10),11 where they will be “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:10). It’s clear from the end of chapter 20 that they will be joined there by their human allies (Rev 20:15; cf. 19:21, 21:8). Thus eternal conscious torment in the lake of fire is not exclusively prepared for the devil and his angels; rather, as Jesus underlined in his portrayal of final judgement in Matthew 25:41, reprobate humans can anticipate such eternal fire as well.

b) Terminal punishment or “annihilationism”

Unpersuaded by the traditional view, however, a growing number of evangelicals have embraced a rather different perspective—most accurately labelled “terminal punishment” or “annihilationism”.12 This position holds that the dominant biblical language for the fate of the wicked does not imply never-ending conscious existence; rather it suggests finite punishment, but with everlasting effects. Sooner or later, the lost simply cease to exist; their lives will, in every sense, be snuffed out or terminated.

Key biblical vocabulary or imagery that describes the fate of the lost (for example, “perishing” or “destruction”; “fire”, “smoke” and “maggots”) is associated in the Old Testament with judgement that involves nothing more than physical death and destruction. Key texts such as Isaiah 66:24 envisage smouldering and rotting corpses, rather than endless torment. Likewise, Daniel 12:2 speaks of “shame and everlasting contempt”, rather than ongoing personal existence and suffering. Moreover, cataclysmic judgements such as the flood or the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah become, in the New Testament, symbols or analogies for the final destruction of the ungodly (cf. 2 Pet 2:4-9, 3:5-7; Jude 7).

Thus understood, when Jesus alludes to the Old Testament in his depictions of Gehenna as a place of unquenchable fire and undying maggots, the dominant image is bodies being burned by fire and left to rot, rather than any notion of perpetual conscious torment. The idea is that of being treated ignominiously—dumped like human garbage. Any experience of emotional terror or physical torment will be short-lived; the effect of being consumed by the fire of God’s wrath will be terminal. The lost will simply cease to exist; they will be annihilated. This is what is signified by the notorious lake of fire in Revelation: it’s plainly explained there as being “the second death” (Rev 20:14; 21:8). Thus understood, the Bible consistently presents the wages of sin as death (Rom 6:23)—physical death in the present age and eternal death (i.e. final destruction) in the age to come. In other words, it’s the consequence of such eschatological punishment that endures forever, rather than the punishment itself. The latter may be relatively short-lived, but its effects are everlasting.13

Particularly significant for this interpretation is the idea of conditional immortality—the premise that humans are not intrinsically immortal; rather, immortality belongs exclusively to God (1 Tim 6:16), and is something conferred on humans by divine grace (2 Tim 1:10; cf. John 3:16; Rev 22:2). Immortality is not something we already have (Rom 2:7), but something we will put on (1 Cor 15:53-54). This being so, the idea of God conferring such immortality on the wicked is considered incongruous and without any clear biblical support. Thus one of the theological convictions that often underpins a terminalist perspective on hell is this idea that humans are not innately immortal: immortality is something God conditionally bestows; it is divinely granted to the righteous, but not the wicked, and therefore the wicked are simply incapable of surviving eschatological punishment. As mere mortals, sooner or later, their life will ebb away: they will be vanquished by the second death and cease to exist.

One further observation used to support terminal punishment relates to the nature of the atonement. As John G Stackhouse puts the argument,

Just as Jesus did not suffer eternally, even for the sins of the whole world, so each person who makes atonement on his or her own will not suffer eternally, either. Finite beings can perform only a finite amount of sin, and therefore a finite amount of suffering is sufficient to atone for it.14

In other words, if even Jesus did not have to suffer eternally for the sins of the world, why must reprobate sinners suffer eternal punishment, rather than the clearly stated penalty for sin: death (Rom 6:23)? It should thus be clear that, whatever the weaknesses in its arguments, the terminalist or annihilationist position is not based merely on human sentiment, but on an exegetical and theological reflection on Scripture.

c) Temporary punishment or “evangelical universalism”

This is likewise true of the third perspective that a small number within the “evangelical” camp have more recently embraced:15 temporary punishment or “evangelical universalism”. Essentially, this is the view that however horrific it may be, eschatological judgement is simply not God’s last word. Punishment in hell is not final; rather, sooner or later, there will be deliverance from it, and hell will finally be emptied, as those God has consigned there come to their spiritual senses, repent of their sin and are reconciled to God through Jesus.

As is clear from this, “evangelical universalism” differs radically from the pluralist ideology that naively suggests that all roads and religions lead to God.16“Evangelical universalism” is certainly not the ecumenical, multifaith, all-inclusive brand that suggests that we’re all simply at various points along the same spiritual path, or that we all represent different spokes in the wheel of divine truth, which ultimately has God and heaven as its hub or centre. Rather, “evangelical universalism” insists that there is but one way to escape God’s judgement, and that is through the cross of Christ. Advocates are keen to point out that such universalism has a fairly long pedigree, reaching back to some of the Early Church Fathers. Moreover, most “evangelical universalists” would endorse a high view of Scripture—and thus seek to establish their position from a theological and exegetical interpretation of the biblical text. In other words, they are not boldly attempting to dismiss or set aside what Scripture clearly teaches; rather, they are seeking to interpret what the Bible teaches about hell in the light of what they consider to be “a theological hermeneutic, rooted in the gospel itself, that is sensitive to the contours of this story”. By this, they mean “the Trinitarian, gospel-shaped narrative … known as ‘the rule of faith’”.17

Thus for “evangelical universalists” like Robin Parry (aka Gregory MacDonald), any doctrine of hell must make sense within the context of the biblical metanarrative—the overarching story of creation and redemption that runs from Genesis to Revelation. As Parry obviously contends, only temporal punishment in hell truly correlates with this. Let me explain.

Texts like Romans 11:36 and Colossians 1:20 are of key importance for the universalist understanding of the biblical metanarrative. In Romans 11:36, Paul states that “all things” are “from [God] and through him and to him”, and in Colossians, he claims that through the Son, God has reconciled all things to himself—“whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross”. How, Parry logically asks, can being damned forever in hell tally with the concept of such peace or reconciliation? Moreover, if all things have their telos or destiny in God, and that destiny is to be conformed to the image of the Son as God reverses the effects of the fall, “will God allow sin to thwart his purposes to beautify the cosmos?” asks Parry. According to Romans 5, he will not; rather, the second Adam more than undoes the havoc and destruction wrought by the first (vv. 12-21). This and similar texts are thus understood as suggesting that just as death came on all humanity through the sinful disobedience of Adam, our first representative, so eternal life comes to all humanity through the perfect obedience of Christ, our final representative. As such, Jesus died to redeem all people, and through his resurrection, he is the firstfruits of a new humanity—one that ultimately will be all-inclusive. Eventually everyone will share in the salvation that has been achieved by Christ. Not only will all Israel be saved (Rom 11:26), but all the nations and even the kings of the earth will bring their tribute into the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:24-27). That is to say, even those rebellious kings and nations depicted earlier in the book of Revelation will eventually repent and be reconciled to God. Everyone will eventually bow the knee, not grudgingly or forcibly, but willingly and sincerely, fulfilling the expectations of Isaiah 45:22-23 and Philippians 2:9-11.18 Thus God will “unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10), and God will be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).

So how does hell fit into this very positive ending? Well, “evangelical universalists” like Parry do take seriously its retributive aspect. Those in hell are being justly punished as their sins deserve. But—and here’s the rub—biblical justice is ultimately “about putting wrong things right”19—something that retribution alone cannot achieve. Punishment in hell thus also functions as

a corrective for those being punished—a means by which they can come to appreciate the true significance of what they have done, and its consequences.20

Thus understood, hell reflects both retributive and restorative justice. Indeed, it allegedly reflects the pattern that recurs in the Old Testament time and again—both for Israel and the nations: “judgement followed by restoration”.21

It follows from this pattern, as well as the biblical metanarrative as a whole, that condemnation cannot be God’s final word. Deliverance from hell must be possible. Indeed, it is alleged that nothing in the Bible clearly suggests that post-mortem judgement or eschatological condemnation is irreversible.22 Rather, post-mortem salvation is considered highly consistent with the all-important doctrine of God’s love and his eschatological victory over sin.

Thus “evangelical universalists” endorse the biblical fact that some people will certainly end up in hell. But they insist that the Bible also teaches that all will eventually be saved, thus deliverance from hell must be possible. While Revelation portrays the lost as outside the New Jerusalem, the gates of that city will never be shut (Rev 21:25)—which is understood to indicate that the opportunity to vacate hell and join those in the New Jerusalem forever remains possible for whoever chooses to. Furthermore, eventually everyone will do so—including Hitler, Pol Pot and (according to some evangelical universalists) even Lucifer himself!23

d) Synthesis

While markedly different, all three perspectives on hell share several significant points in common. As already noted, they all attempt to ground their understanding of hell in the teaching of Scripture. Each points to particular biblical texts in support.

Secondly, they all consider the matter of sin to be extremely serious. Sin is not something that God can simply brush under the mat, so to speak. Rather, sin is something God must and will punish—either by the cross of Christ, or through retributive justice in hell (however this is conceived). If you take just one thing from this essay, it should surely be this: hell highlights how very serious sin is.

Thirdly, the consequences of unforgiven sin are considered to be extremely severe: whether this is conceived as eternal conscious punishment in the caverns of the damned, a terrifying second death by consuming flames in the lake of fire, or even retributive and corrective suffering in a more purgatorial-like hell, God’s judgement on sin is understood as a terrifying prospect.

Fourthly and consequently, the biblical doctrine of hell exercises a significant role in deterring sinful people from continuing in their rebellion against God. It acts as a strong incentive—the stick rather than the carrot—to be reconciled to God through the atoning work of Christ.

However, while all three views share these points in common, their more precise correlation to these matters remains a matter of debate.

2. The theological and ethical objections to hell

This brings us to the theological and ethical objections to hell. Some people, of course, object in principle to the idea of retributive justice; it’s simply not a concept that aligns with their moral values, because it conjures up images of revenge or vindictiveness. Keith Wright is firmly of this persuasion: indeed, he is convinced that such a punitive concept of hell is a primary factor in turning thinking people away from the Christian faith.24 He notes as one example the case of RG Ingersoll, the agnostic son of a Presbyterian minister back in the 19th century: after expressing concern about the portrayal of God in the Old Testament and being assured that the numerous “atrocities” had happened under the “old dispensation of law” rather than the “new dispensation of grace and mercy”, Ingersoll replied,

As a matter of fact, the New Testament is infinitely worse than the Old. In the Old Testament there is no threat of eternal pain. Jehovah had no eternal prison—no everlasting fire. His hatred ended at the grave. His revenge was satisfied when his enemy was dead.25

There can be little doubt that the idea of such retributive justice and a punitive concept of hell is indeed an obstacle or problem for some people. But each of the three perspectives on hell that we’ve examined above agrees on the biblical teaching about God’s retributive justice: God is just, and so he will punish those who hate him and pay back trouble to those who have afflicted his people.

It’s usually the practical implementation of such justice in the various perspectives on hell that people have expressed problems with. Obviously this differs, depending on which particular viewpoint one has in mind. With the traditional view, it’s the extremity of God’s punishment that poses the major problem. The horrors of hell, as traditionally conceived, have been likened to some kind of eternal torture chamber—encouraged, no doubt, by the depictions in classical literature and the more lurid word pictures used by hellfire preachers such as Jonathan Edwards. As already mentioned, this is compounded by the fact that such extreme suffering is construed as unending—eternal conscious torment. This seems so utterly disproportionate to the temporal offences being punished. How can it be just for God to mete out eternal condemnation for temporal offences—infinite punishment for a finite amount of sins?

Various answers have been offered to this particular objection. The first relates to the character of the one sinned against. The second concerns the persistence of sinful rebellion against God—even in hell. The third stresses the free will of the reprobate and argues that they stay in hell by choice—that is, they actually prefer to remain in hell, rather than go to heaven.

According to the first response, since the one sinned against is the infinite and eternal God, such rebellion arguably warrants an infinite and eternal response (i.e. ECT). According to the second response, since those in hell cannot and do not repent, the fact that they maintain their sinful hostility toward God makes their perpetual punishment absolutely fair and just. In either case, ECT does not really undermine God’s just and righteous character. It does not make him some kind of moral monster. Rather, it highlights his perfect justice and his righteous character by underlining that such punishment is entirely warranted and deserved; it is not excessive or extreme at all. According to the third response to this justice issue, God is simply giving the reprobate what they want: he’s handing them over to their foolish and rebellious wills. As CS Lewis famously put it, God is simply saying to them: “Thy will be done”.26 So, as Lewis puts it elsewhere, “the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end … the gates of hell are locked on the inside”.27

All three explanations have been challenged: they generate a number of philosophical questions that cannot adequately be discussed in this essay and, more importantly, they lie outside my field of expertise.28 But whatever the philosophical debate they evoke, these explanations are commonly proposed to resolve the divine justice issue in relation to ECT.

With the annihilationist view of hell, this justice issue may seem less of a problem, but it’s a problem nonetheless. After all, the objection of unfairness still applies: even though the punishment is not being continually meted out forever, its effects still last forever, and thus it’s still a case of infinite punishment for finite offences.29 But the more particular concern with this view is that the punishment involved hardly seems extreme enough. Indeed, for some, it may not seem to be punishment at all. For example, those who genuinely long for death in this life and who are strongly tempted to take such matters into their own hands would hardly baulk at the idea of eschatological annihilation. Isn’t this what they might actually wish for? Thus it would not seem a deterrent in any sense. More acutely, how can annihilation be considered adequate or just retribution for mass murderers or perpetrators of the most heinous crimes on earth? In particular, how does this amount to justice in the case of those who have escaped (through death) the scales of human justice? Annihilating such people seems a rather inadequate divine response to balance the scales of justice for the atrocities they’ve committed. In response to such criticism, some point to the terror or torment leading up to annihilation in the lake of fire, or to the fact that some may take longer to be annihilated than others. However, this still seems to be incompatible with the biblical concept of retributive justice,30 as well as undermining one of the chief arguments used to defend the view of hell as annihilation—that God’s punishment for sin is simply death and destruction throughout all of Scripture.

Justice may seem less of a problem for the third view (i.e. that God gives the reprobate what they want): after all, those who end up in the universalist’s hell experience a severe measure of punishment for their sins, but only until they embrace the Lord Jesus, whose atoning sacrifice has paid the penalty for humanity’s sin in full. Moreover, it’s arguably no more unjust for God to allow such sinners to escape the consequences of their sins in the age to come than it is for him to allow Christians to escape the consequences of such in the present age or at the final judgement.

But the ethical issue for this view is at least twofold: the first relates to the idea of a second chance—a post-mortem opportunity for people to be reconciled to God. Why is there so much biblical emphasis on the urgent need of repentance if there’s a further opportunity (or multiple opportunities) to do so in the afterlife? At the very least, this seems to imply that repentance is not so urgent after all, as it surely won’t require much thought or persuasion for anyone in hell. If this is countered with the proposition that only God can bring people to genuine repentance, this seems to introduce the spectre of a God who unnecessarily prolongs eschatological suffering by denying such sinners the ability to repent. One might also ask how it can be considered fair for God to insist on a life of self-denial and faithful service in the present age, yet in the age to come, insist on nothing other than an act of repentance? But we must obviously be cautious with that kind of objection in the light of Jesus’ parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20:1-16.

Nevertheless, another fundamental ethical objection remains: why should God demand any payment from sinners whose sin has already been atoned for totally through Christ? Such double payment “diminishes the glorious all sufficient work of Christ on the cross”.31 This, of course, raises an underlying theological premise with respect to the universal nature of the atonement—but that’s well beyond the parameters of our main focus—which is, I hasten to remind you, the significance of hell for the Christian life.

3. The ethical and practical ramifications of the doctrine of hell

Some insist that the doctrine of hell has had little or no impact on human thought or behaviour, nor should it have. Others argue, however, that this is not the case, and that there may well be some correlation between modernity’s rejection of hell, and the licentiousness of contemporary society.32 So we’ll start by considering how the doctrine of hell might influence our moral choices and decisions.

a) Moral choices and decisions

Someone has suggested that “If the only thing keeping you from being a horrible person is your religion, then you are already a horrible person”.33 There’s possibly some truth in that. After all, it does appear to resonate with the biblical doctrine of sin—that is, that we are all horrible people, corrupted by sin and with a natural propensity to do the wrong thing, even if this means hurting other people. So to some extent, it’s true: all of us are horrible people who, without the restraints of common grace, would instinctively do the wrong thing.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we’re all equally horrible, just that we all have the same horrible potential—should there be no restraints, and should the right (or wrong) buttons be pushed or the appropriate circumstances catch us off-guard.

But it’s obviously difficult to say if there’s any direct correlation between society’s ills and a decline in its belief in hell. The correlation is probably much broader than that, with disbelief in God or at least a practical atheism being the more decisive factor. But the two ideas—God and hell—are evidently related, therefore the removal of the stick (i.e. ultimate consequences) may well be a significant factor in society’s declining moral standards—at least, as these might be measured by a Judeo-Christian ethic.

But what about Christian people, rather than the world at large? What influence or impact should the doctrine of hell have on our morality and ethical behaviour? Well in one sense, the answer is probably none—in that, having been justified freely by God’s grace, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Our sins have been forgiven, so we need not fear death and hell any longer. As Christians, we don’t seek to obey and honour God in our lives primarily out of a desire to escape the flames of hell, but rather out of genuine gratitude and a loving desire to please God by offering him the worship and respect that he alone deserves.

And yet, while this is absolutely true, it’s interesting that Jesus and his apostles do seem to use the danger of hell as one of the factors that should influence our behaviour, including the moral decisions we make: “whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt 5:22). Also,

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matt 5:29–30)

Similar warnings appear in Matthew 18 in the context of Christian discipleship, and the pastoral care of ourselves and other believers:

whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. (Matt 18:6-10)34

Furthermore, in the context of being prepared for his return, Jesus tells four parables in which those who are not ready—that is, those who are not reflecting kingdom values or living in the light of the returning king—will forfeit their reward and be shut out or consigned to hell (cf. Matt 24:51; 25:11-12, 30, 41-46).

Similar warnings can also be found in the New Testament epistles,35 particularly in the letter to the Hebrews. Take, for instance, these sobering words in Hebrews 6:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. (Heb 6:4-9)

Or take the equally strong warning in chapter 10:

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (Heb 10:26-29)

While the status of those to whom these warnings are directed is debated, the most straightforward interpretation is that they are believers,36 not apostates or pseudo-Christians, as some suggest. As such, these believers must “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1), for it is only those who persevere to the end who will be saved—that is, receive the eschatological prize of eternal life. And thus in this epistle, the author issues several strong warnings to those who are clearly flagging in their faith and tempted to throw in the towel. But the warnings should not be understood as hypothetical; they are real. Yet these very real warnings are a means of grace—an instrument through which flagging disciples will be encouraged to persevere and finish the course.37

Thus understood, New Testament warnings about hell serve to prevent believers from apostatising or abandoning their faith. They encourage us to persevere in our faith and godliness by reminding us just how high the stakes really are. So while the doctrine of hell may not be the primary motivation for Christian faith and behaviour, it remains a significant motivation nonetheless.

b) Social issues/concerns

As well as having some bearing on our morality, the doctrine of hell may also have significant implications for some contemporary social issues. The most obvious such issue is that of voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide. The primary rationale behind such a radical step is, of course, to die—or to help someone else to die—with dignity, rather than to suffer intolerably. Thus this issue is particularly pressing or tempting in cases of terminal illness that involves a great deal of physical discomfort, psychological distress, or both. In such circumstances, euthanasia is considered to be the most humane and merciful thing imaginable—to permit or to help such a patient, friend or relative to end their life more pleasantly (and quickly). And it evidently makes best sense if we consider death to be the end, or if we have a very optimistic view of the afterlife. In other words, if we’re simply helping someone on their way to oblivion, or we’re facilitating a fast track to some kind of everlasting paradise, assisted suicide might indeed be construed as a “mercy-killing”, despite the other ethical and moral issues it raises.38

However, our concept of hell must surely have a significant bearing on any such thought or decision. If we believe death is not the end and that a much bleaker situation could await people after they die or after the general resurrection of the dead, the idea of euthanasia loses much of its appeal. It’s no longer such an obvious solution to a temporal problem. Rather than facilitating a “happy ever after” or permanent non-existence, the premature ending of a life could well be doing quite the opposite—and irreversibly so. Indeed, even if someone perceives hell to be of more limited duration, it can hardly be considered an improvement on the physical or mental suffering anyone is enduring in their present life. Granted, some may well find this very hard to imagine, especially given the extreme anguish they may currently be facing or experiencing. But in such circumstances people may easily lose sight of the biblical depiction of hell—the most extreme terror imaginable.

Bearing that in mind, the doctrine of hell must inevitably inform our attitude to voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide. If we believe that hell exists, we surely cannot, in all good conscience, advocate or endorse such a radical step. It’s not just someone’s life that’s at stake, but possibly their eternity. Of course, I’m not suggesting that it’s okay for believing friends or loved ones; there are plenty of other reasons why such extreme action should be avoided. But the doctrine of hell should arguably provide at least some reason for pause: it should stop us from naively thinking that euthanasia can unquestionably deliver on its promise of a “good death”.

c) Christian evangelism

Historically, the idea of hell has been a fairly key motivating factor in the practice and, indeed, the urgency of Christian evangelism. This is hardly surprising, given that Jesus himself seems to have set the pattern. In the Gospel accounts, Jesus explicitly mentions “hell” a number of times 39—nearly always referring to the dreadful consequences of unforgiven sin.40 The good news Jesus preached assumes or is expressly grounded in bad news—not just as regards to our sinful human condition, but also with respect to its terrible consequences, should we fail to repent and embrace, through faith, God’s king and kingdom.41

This pattern—of preaching the gospel of grace against a backcloth of terrifying judgement—is likewise reflected in the preaching and teaching of the apostles. We see hints of this in the book of Acts,42 but it is perhaps more plainly evident in the epistles and Revelation. For example, while Paul never explicitly mentions “hell”,43 he often alludes to the conceptual reality as the consequence of unforgiven sin, using interrelated terminology such as “wrath” (e.g. Rom 5:9; Col 3:6; 1 Thess 1:10, 5:9), “death” (e.g. Rom 6:23),44 “perishing” (e.g. Rom 2:12; 2 Cor 4:3; 2 Thess 2:10),45 “destruction” (e.g. Rom 9:22; Gal 6:8; Phil 1:28, 3:19; 2 Thess 1:9), “condemnation” (e.g. Rom 8:1; 1 Cor 11:32; 2 Thess 2:12), “curse” (cf. 1 Cor 16:22; Gal 1:8-9, 3:10, 13), “punishment” (e.g. 1 Thess 4:6; 2 Thess 1:8, 9), “trouble” (Rom 2:9; 2 Thess 1:6), “distress” (Rom 2:9), and [implicitly] “exclusion” (2 Thess 1:9).46 As Doug Moo insightfully concludes,

One cannot adequately explain … [Paul’s] passion for preaching the gospel without assuming that Paul believed human beings who did not respond to the gospel face a bleak and extremely distressing fate.47

This seems equally true for the other New Testament authors. We’ve only to think of those strong warnings in Hebrews,48 the sobering exhortations in James,49 the rationale for holistic (i.e. life and speech) evangelism in 1 Peter,50 and the anticipated end for false teachers and the reprobate in 2 Peter,51 Jude and Revelation.52

The fact that the good news is consistently set within the context of extremely bad news cannot be denied or ignored. Consequently, if we are to follow the pattern set by Jesus and his apostles, the doctrine of hell will and must fuel our evangelistic zeal and our attempts to follow Jude’s exhortation: “save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear” (Jude 1:23). So I guess if our doctrine of hell fails to do so, either it’s the wrong doctrine, or we’re not taking it seriously enough.

Conclusion

We have explored what contemporary evangelicals understand by the doctrine of hell, some of the significant issues this raises, and how this doctrine impacts our decisions, our thinking and our behaviour. Obviously it’s impossible to address this topic comprehensively in a single essay, and undoubtedly you’ve been left with many more questions than answers.

There is, however, one final but very important point that must be made concerning the biblical doctrine of hell, and that is this: it’s possible to know all about it—to have an orthodox view of hell—indeed, even to preach the most orthodox sermons on it—and yet still go there. Remember those sobering words of Jesus:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:21-23).

So whatever the differences in the contemporary understanding of hell, the most important thing is to ensure that we don’t end up there. Knowing the truth is not the same thing as rightly responding to it. On the final day, it’s the latter that will make all the difference. And as the title of this essay clearly implies, this is no small or insignificant matter.

Endnotes

1 Keith Wright, The Hell Jesus Never Intended, Northstone, Kelowna BC, Canada, 2004.

2 Extract from publisher’s blurb on the back cover of Wright, The Hell Jesus Never Intended.

3 Wright, The Hell Jesus Never Intended, pp. 30, 33. Please note: these quotes were printed in bold in his original text.

4 By literal, I mean taking all these images at face value—as descriptions of what punishment in hell will actually look like and entail. By metaphorical, I mean taking the images as figurative, yet faithful depictions of the eternal conscious torment experienced in hell.

5 For example, John F Walford, “The Literal View”, in Four Views on Hell, edited by William V Crockett, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1996, pp. 11-39.

6 See William V Crockett, “The Metaphorical View”, in Four Views on Hell, pp. 43-88. Unlike the first 1996 edition, in the 2016 edition (edited by Preston Sprinkle), there is only one representative of the traditional view (Denny Burk, “Eternal Conscious Torment”), who “generally take[s] the metaphorical approach and recognize[s] that the realities symbolized by the metaphors are no less dreadful for their being depicted symbolically” (pp. 28-29). For more on this issue (literal or metaphorical?), see Andrew David Naselli, “Hellfire and Brimstone: Interpreting the New Testament’s Descriptions of Hell,” 9Marks eJournal Vol 7:4, September-October, 2010, pp. 16-19.

7 “Sheol” is the proper noun used with respect to the Hebrew underworld. It’s translated as “hell” in the King James Version 31 times.

8 “Gehenna” takes its name from the Old Testament’s Valley of [ben] Hinnom, a notorious site where children were burned as sacrifices to idols (Jer 7:31, 19:5-6, 32:35; cf. 2 Kgs 16:3, 21:6). The valley became synonymous with the destruction and ignominious end of such idolaters (Jer 7:31-33; cf Isa 30:33, 66:24, which arguably allude to this same location). While clearly associated in this manner with “human garbage”, there is no justification for thinking that Jesus was simply referring to Jerusalem’s municipal dump. (This idea was first suggested in medieval times.) Something more sinister than death and dishonour (being treated as rubbish) would appear to be on view in Mark 9:42, where Jesus associates Gehenna with “unquenchable” fire (Mark 9:43), etc.

9 See also the demonic anticipation of “torment” in Matthew 8:29 (cf. Rev 20:10) and the rich man’s experience of “torment” and “agony” in Hades (Luke 16:23-25, 28). While the latter seems to denote the intermediate rather than the final state of the lost, Jesus’ depiction of Gehenna suggests significant experiential overlap.

10 Even Edward Fudge concedes this, but sees this “trouble” as culminating in extermination (The Fire that Consumes: A biblical and historical study of the doctrine of final punishment, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, 2011, p. 193).

11 Admittedly two of these may refer to institutions. However, institutions are comprised of people, and thus the latter are implicitly included. In any case, arguably the beast and false prophet refer here to the leaders of such institutions and those they represent (see Gregory K Beale, “The Revelation on Hell”, in Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment, edited by CW Morgan and RA Peterson, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2004, pp. 127–29).

12 For a concise overview and some of the seminal twentieth-century contributions, see Christopher M Date, Gregory G Stump and Joshua W Anderson (eds), Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism, Cascade, Eugene, 2014.

13 The first line of Matthew 25:46 is thus interpreted to signify the eternal consequences of punishment, rather than its eternal or infinite duration (as the adjective arguably suggests in the second line of this verse, although in both phrases, it more accurately signifies “of the coming age”—which is unending in any case).

14 John G Stackhouse, “Terminal Punishment” in Four Views on Hell, edited by Preston Sprinkle, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1996, pp. 61–81.

15 While proponents label themselves as “evangelical”, more conservative evangelicals object to this label on the grounds that this viewpoint (universalism) is inconsistent with evangelicalism. See, for example, D Hilborn (ed), The Nature of Hell: A Report by the Evangelical Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth Among Evangelicals (ACUTE), Paternoster, Carlisle, 2000. For a more penetrating critique highlighting some of the serious flaws in their theological method, philosophical premises and “exegetical” approach, see Edward Loane, “An Evangelically Flawed Theological Method: A Response to Robin Parry’s The Evangelical Universalist”, Churchman, 2016, 130:4, pp. 349-60.

16 This is plainly the kind of universalism espoused by Keith Wright: “It is inconceivable to me that the Creator of the universe, the architect of this small planet, the parent of all humanity, would limit the divine effort to heal a broken world and build a kingdom of peace and love on this earth to one small clan of people who came to be called the Jews. I cannot imagine a God who sends only one messenger to embody the divine love and to teach people the true essence of God, so that they may cease their fear of God and find their peace in God’s presence. It seems to me to be the height of arrogance to believe that God has only revealed God’s self to my particular religious group and that the rest of the world is damned because they have not yet heard of this particular revelation, or have not suitably responded to it if they have heard.” (The Hell Jesus Never Intended, p. 33.)

17 Robin A Parry, “A Universalist View”, in Four Views on Hell, edited by Preston Sprinkle, p. 103. Parry notes how “all sides can point to verses that seem to support their view”, but insists that “Everyone in this discussion who thinks that the Bible is not contradictory will need to interpret some passages in ways that run counter to their prima facie meaning” (pp. 102-103). However, at times, Parry’s exegesis is primarily driven by his presuppositions, and he acknowledges as much when he writes, “clearly my interpretation is underdetermined by the [biblical] texts” (Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist: The Biblical Hope that God’s Love Will Save Us All, SPCK, London, 2012, second edition, p. 140).

18 It should be noted that the expectation in both texts is not quite as positive as Parry suggests. Indeed, when these texts are read in the light of their wider contexts (cf. Isa 45:14-17, 24b-25 [cf. also Isa 49:23b]; Phil 1:28; 3:19-21), neither seems to be expressing any hope of universal salvation. (Gregory MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist, pp. 67-72, 97-100).

19 Parry, “A Universalist View”, p. 113.

20 Ibid, p. 114.

21 Ibid, p. 114. While this pattern is certainly true of Israel and also applies to some nations (Egypt as in Isaiah 19:22), it is hardly as universal as Parry implies. Particularly problematic is his understanding that God promises even to restore Sodom in any “literal” sense (Ezek 16:53). Both Samaria and Sodom rhetorically function in this text as despised peoples who, like Judah, will also experience “restoration”—primarily to expose and shame Jerusalem over her sin. There is absolutely no mention here of repentance. Even if some kind of actual restoration is in view, it is not in the sense of national rejuvenation, but rather being incorporated with Israel in the blessings of the messianic age through the Gentile mission of the church. In any case, the rhetorical point here is as follows: “If God is able and willing to pardon and restore you [Israel], then Sodom will be no problem to him.” (Christopher JH Wright, The Message of Ezekiel, BST, IVP, Nottingham, 2001, p. 153.) As Preston M Sprinkle likewise observes, “Ezekiel’s focus is on the wickedness of Judah, not the future salvation of ancient Sodom. Jesus employs a similar rhetorical move when he describes Sodom as being better off than the Jewish cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (Matt 12:20-24). And Jesus says that Sodom will be judged and not ultimately saved, as do both Peter and Jude.” (Four Views on Hell, 2016, p. 201.)

22 Parry believes that the Bible “does not directly address the issue”, claiming that “[t]here are no biblical texts that say death is a point of no return” while conceding that “neither are there texts that unambiguously say that one can repent after death” (“A Universalist View”, p. 116). In particular, he takes issue with any appeal to Hebrews 9:27, insisting that “all that this text claims is that all humans die once and then face judgement … To go further and insist that this judgement leads to irreversible punishment is to go beyond anything said in the text”. While this may indeed be so, Parry seems to overlook other New Testament texts that suggest there is no hope of escape from hell for the reprobate (e.g. Luke 13:22-30), as well as texts that depict the judgement of the wicked using images that imply finality (i.e. burned up chaff, weeds or branches [cf. Matt 3:12, 7:19, 13:40; John 15:6]; chopped to pieces or burnt to ashes [cf. Matt 24:51; 2 Pet 2:6]). Moreover, it is difficult to understand why there is so much urgency in New Testament calls to repentance and faith if “the time of God’s favour, the day of salvation” extends beyond the present gospel era and into eternity.

23 E.g. Parry (see MacDonald, The Evangelical Universalist, pp. 130-31). Others are more agnostic on the fate of the devil or restrict universal salvation to humanity.

24 Wright, The Hell Jesus Never Intended, p. 33.

25 Robert G Ingersoll, Ingersoll’s Greatest Lectures, Wehman Bros, New Jersey, 1940, p. 20. (Cited in Wright, The Hell Jesus Never Intended, p. 34.)

26 CS Lewis, The Great Divorce: A Dream, Geoffrey Bles, London, 1946, p. 67 (emphasis original). The full quotation is: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”

27 CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain, The Centenary Press, 1940, p. 127. The main problem with this view is its incompatibility with the biblical emphasis on God imposing such punishment on the lost—although some also point to the moral problem of why God would not put such people out of their self-imposed misery.

28 Interested parties might find the following discussion helpful: CP Ragland, “Hell”, in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: A Peer-reviewed Academic Resource (accessed 14th September, 2018). For some solutions, see Loane, “An Evangelically Flawed Theological Method”, pp. 350-52.

29 Christopher D Marshall expresses this objection as follows: “Annihilationism faces fewer moral difficulties than eternal suffering, but it still encounters the problem of how an eternal punishment can be regarded as a just and proportionate recompense for temporal, finite sins. An eternity of nothingness is as much an infinite penalty for finite sin as an eternity of pain” (“Divine and Human Punishment in the New Testament”, in Christopher Date et al [eds], Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism, Cascade, Eugene, 2014, pp. 217-18). However, Marshall’s proposed solution to the conundrum—finding non-retributive categories for explaining the doctrine of final judgement—plays down the meaning of the Bible’s retributive language altogether.

30 It does not seem to reflect any sense of the punishment fitting the crime, since presumably the same fate might be experienced by the self-righteous Pharisee and the mass-murdering psychopath.

31 Loane, “An Evangelically Flawed Theological Method”, p. 356.

32 Such a correlation may be suggested by some statistics, although admittedly other factors might also account for some of the data. See, for example, Azim F Shariff and Mijke Rhemtulla, “Divergent Effects of Beliefs in Heaven and Hell on National Crime Rates” (accessed 28 September, 2018). NB: The method and conclusions of this study have drawn sharp criticism from others. See, for example, Scott A McGreal, “Belief in Hell: Does it Benefit or Harm Society?”, Psychology Today (accessed 28 September, 2018).

33 Cited in web article by Bo Bennett, “Does Society Need the Threat of Hell and the Promise of the Reward in Heaven?”, (accessed 28 September, 2018).

34 One could infer a similar strong warning concerning an unforgiving spirit in the subsequent parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt 18:21-35), whose punishment involves torture and nor merely imprisonment. We might also consider the directive Jesus gave his disciples in a context of human animosity and persecution. He steels them for the task by telling them, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28). It’s probably not what you or I might say to any brave souls about to do some evangelistic door-knocking. But interestingly, this is exactly how Jesus sought to address their natural fear of man—by focusing attention on a healthy fear of God.

35 E.g. Rom 8:13; 1 Cor 6:9-11, 9:24-10:13; Gal 6:7-10; Eph 5:3-6; Phil 3:17-4:1; 1 Thess 4:3-8; 2 Pet 2:17-22, 3:17-18; Jude 5-7; cf. also Rev 16:15, 14:9-12, 18:4-8, 21:7-8.

36 Cf. Heb 6:4-5, 9, 10:19, 23, 32-36, 39.

37 For more on this interpretation, see Christopher W Cowan, “The Warning Passages of Hebrews and the New Covenant Community”, in Stephen J Wellum and Brent E Parker (eds), Progressive Covenantalism: Charting a Course between Dispensational and Covenant Theologies, B&H Academic, Nashville, 2016, pp. 189-213.

38 E.g. the sanctity of human life; the breaking of a divine commandment; the somewhat subjective or arbitrary decision on what constitutes intolerable suffering or a life worth living; the related question of involuntary euthanasia, which could be justified along similar lines—especially in the case of comatose or mentally impaired individuals.

39 Mostly using “Gehenna” (Matt 5:22, 29, 30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 23:33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5), but occasionally using “Hades” (e.g. Matt 11:23, 16:18; Luke 10:15, 16:23).

40 Matthew 16:18 is arguably the only exception, “the gates of Hades” referring metaphorically to “the imprisoning power of death” (RT France, The Gospel of Matthew, NICNT, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2007, p. 624). See Isaiah 38:10 (LXX); Wisdom 16:13; cf. Job 38:17; Pss 9:13, 107:18.

41 E.g. see Matt 10:15, 11:21-24, 13:30, 40-43, 49-50; 23:15, 33, 24:51, 25:30, 41-42; Mark 9:42-48; Luke 9:23-26, 12:46, 13:24-28, 16:27-31; John 5:24-29; cf. Matt 10:28, 12:36-37; Mark 3:29; Luke 20:47; John 8:21, 24, 12:48, 15:6, 17:12.

42 Cf. Acts 3:23, 10:42, 13:40, 17:31, 24:25.

43 I.e. Paul never uses the words “Hades” or “Gehenna”.

44 Moo claims that “death” here refers in context to eternal death, by which he means ECT (The Epistle to the Romans NICNT, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1996, pp. 399, 408). While the latter is obviously debatable (it would obviously challenge annihilationists and universalists), most evangelicals would agree that Paul is alluding here to eschatological punishment (however this is understood). As Kruse observes, while “death most often means physical death … the fact that sometimes its opposite is eternal life (6:22, 23) suggests that eternal death is also involved” (Colin G Kruse, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, PNTC, Eerdmans/Apollos, Grand Rapids/Nottingham, 2012, p. 285).

45 While “perishing” may refer primarily to a present condition, the state it describes has clearly eschatological implications as well.

46 The Greek preposition (ἀπὸ) here seems to convey the sense of “away from”—especially in light of the possible allusion to Isa 2 (cf. LXX vv. 10, 19, 21)—hence the English translation “excluded/separated/shut out from …” in some English versions, despite the absence of any such verb in the original.

47 Douglas J Moo, “Paul on Hell” in Christopher W Morgan and Robert A Peterson (eds), Hell Under Fire, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2004, pp. 91-109 (96).

48 Cf. Heb 2:1-3, 3:7-4:11, 6:4-12, 10:26-39, 12:14-17, 25-29.

49 Cf. James 2:12-13, 4:11-12, 5:1, 9, 20.

50 1 Pet 2:11-12, 4:1-6, 16-19.

51 2 Pet 2:1, 3, 4, 9, 12, 17, 3:7, 9, 16.

52 Cf. Jude 4-7, 13-14, 23; Rev 2:11, 3:5, 6:15-17, 11:17-18, 14:6-20, 18:4-8, 19:1-3, 17-21, 20:7-15, 21:8, 22:14-15, 19.

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