skip to main content


Books that will challenge your current Biblical perspective.
The Fire That Consumes
The Parousia
The Biblical Church
Clinging to a Counterfeit Cross

by J. W. Wenham

J. W. Wenham, 'Hell', chapter 2 from The Goodness of God (Inter-Varsity Press, 1974), pp.27-41.

The ultimate horror of God's universe is hell. The other difficulties of the Bible and of Providence are real enough, but however appalling they may be, their seeming harshnesses and injustices are only temporary, cut short at death. The terrors of hell, on the other hand, belong to the world which lies beyond death. For a single being to endure pain hopelessly and unendingly, or even to pass out of existence and forfeit for ever the joys of heaven, is more terrible than any temporal suffering.


It would have been easier to have evaded the subject of hell altogether on the just ground that it is far too big a topic for adequate treatment. Had this book been simply an academic exercise, it would have been sensible to have argued: 'This is a book for Christians; Christians are committed to the teaching of Christ; Christ taught the existence of hell with a wealth of terrifying images; it is best to let these images speak for themselves, leaving further comment to those who can discuss the issues at length.'

Yet this is not a mere academic exercise, it is an attempt to grapple with the heart's cry of contemporary man who wants to know what to believe about God. If the biblical imagery is left undiscussed, there is no guarantee that he will interpret first-century images correctly. Twenthieth-century man does not and cannot come to the Bible with an empty mind. The very word 'hell' comes to us laden with literary and artistic associations of many centuries. Platonic philosophy clearly had a great influence on Christian thought and Greek mythology on Christian art. Satan is still currently represented in the likeness of Pan, a pagan deity with tail and horns, rather than as a prince of this world and the angel of light of the Bible.

Modern scholarship, whatever its faults may be, has tried very hard to see the New Testament through first-century eyes, and it is now recognized that medieval thought, though believed at the time to be in complete harmony with the Bible, was in many respects quite alien to it. A large number of serious students think that the doctrine of hell as traditionally taught comes in this category. It seems highly desirable therefore that this question should not be side-stepped. Unfortunately the subject is so vast that it will not be possible even to summarize the discussion in such a way that the reader can come to a considered judgment on it. The most that can be done is to outline the alternatives and to give references to books where the matter is more fully discussed.


'Traditional orthodoxy' (as we shall call it, but without begging any questions) is said to have had its first official formulation at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553. Among its acts are the nine Anathemas of the Emperor Justinian against Origen, the last of which runs: 'If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary and will one day have an end...let him be anathema.' 1 Traditional orthodoxy was based on a number of seemingly plain scriptures, mostly derived from Jesus' own teaching in the Gospels. Jesus spoke of the rich man in Hades, tormented by the flame, wishing the beggar Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool his tongue, but told of the great chasm between them which no-one could cross. Jesus also spoke of unquenchable fire, of the undying worm and the wailing and gnashing of teeth of Gehenna. Most strikingly of all, he used precisely the same adjective in the same sentence when speaking of 'eternal (or everlasting) life' and of 'eternal (or everlasting) punishment'. Having declared that on the day of judgment the Son of man would say to those at his left hand, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels', he concludes his solemn statement with the words: 'They will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.'

The same teaching, but spelt out in even stronger terms, is given in the Revelation of John, where it is said of those who worship the beast that 'the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever'. Later on it says: 'the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.' 2 This expression 'for ever and ever' is repeatedly used in Revelation for the reign of God and of the saints; it seems logical therefore to infer that the torments of the lost are unending as the bliss of the redeemed.


To traditional orthodoxy the doctrine was of course difficult. To reconcile the idea of torment which goes on for ever and ever with the love (or even the justice) of God is not easy. The easy thing is to do the opposite and paint the doctrine as revolting and incredible. But the traditionalists contended rightly that philosophical arguments concocted by sinful humans as to how a holy God should order the world to come cannot be relied on. They are liable to prove too much, for similar arguments, if used about the way God orders this present world, would lead to a denial of God's existence. For a Christian one simple sentence of revelation must in the end outweigh the weightiest conclusions of man-made philosophy.

As to the duration of hell, it seemed to the traditionalist that they had not just one straightforward sentence of revelation, but a whole collection of them, which only the incorrigibly perverse could hope to explain away. A minor classic on the traditionalist side was M. Horbery's An Enquiry into the Scripture Doctrine concerning the Duration of Future Punishment, first published in 1744 and reprinted in 1878. He wrote:

'It is hard to say, how any Doctrine can be taught more could he have done it in plainer Words, or in a more emphatical Manner?' A modern writer, W. Hendriksen, says: 'The passages...are so numerous that one actually stands aghast that in spite of all this there are people today who affirm that they accept Scripture and who, nevertheless, reject the idea of never-ending torment.'3


Even so, thoughtful Christians, who were often themselves men of sincere piety and who cared deeply for their fellow-men, did their best to reconcile their belief in the sovereignty and goodness of God with the concept of unending torment (and of unending sin which it implies). Augustine, who has been the greatest single influence on Christian thought since New Testament times, was the arch-opponent of the Manichean religion, which taught a dualist doctrine of the eternal coexistence of good and evil. He had to rebut the charge that unending torment involved the eternity of evil. He did this by maintaining that, whereas unpunished sin was an evil, sin properly punished was a good. Thus the existence of souls undergoing their just punishment throughout eternity was a good and not an evil, and in consequence God and the saints would enjoy unsullied and unending bliss in spite of the existence of hell.4

Similarly Aquinas, in the supplement to his Summa Theologica (the most famous of all medieval works of theology), argued the justice of the punishment and the happiness of the saints in contemplating it. He is recorded as saying: 'This is also becoming to Divine justice, that...they be tormented in many ways and from many sources.' 'Everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.' He then added a further justification (frequently used by other writers also) why the punishment of mortal sin is eternal. By sinning 'one offends God Who is infinite. Wherefore since punishment cannot be infinite in intensity, because the creature is incapable of an infinite quality, it must needs be infinite at least in duration.'5


Nearly all the leading thinkers of the Reformation period continued in the same tradition, as have most scholars since that time who have held strictly to the truth and consistency of the Bible. A good representative of the nineteenth century was Charles Hodge, a lucid writer of great influence. In intention his approach is strictly and exclusively biblical. His most important points (which interestingly are made in this order) are:

  1. It is an almost invincible presumption that the Bible does teach the unending punishment of the finally impenitent, that all Christian churches have so understood it...what the great body of the competent readers of a plain book take to be its meaning, must be its meaning.
  2. The doctrine of the perpetuity of the future punishment of the wicked was held by the Jews under the old dispensation, and at the time of Christ. Neither our Lord nor his Apostles ever contradicted that doctrine...They themselves...taught that doctrine in the most explicit and solemn manner.
  3. We are incompetent judges of the penalty which sin deserves. We have no adequate apprehension of its inherent guilt, of the dignity of the person against whom it is committed, or of the extent of the evil which it is suited to produce.
  4. How do we know that the reasons...which constrained God to allow his children to be sinful and miserable for thousands of years, may not constrain Him to permit some of them to remain miserable forever?
  5. We have reason to believe...that the number of the finally lost in comparison with the whole number of the saves will be very inconsiderable.6

A welcome feature of modern discussions is the human concern which begins to be shown. Earnest attempts are made to mollify the doctrine, either (like Hodge) by arguing the comparative fewness of the lost (B. B. Warfield also speaks of them as a 'relatively insignificant body'), or by arguing that the degree of suffering might be much milder than it was usually painted. Horbery quotes Archbishop King with approval as saying: 'in Hell there may be some whose Condition is preferable to not being.' A popular writer, H. Silvester, while formally repudiating the idea of annihilation and espousing an eternal hell, declares: 'Hell cannot be "side by side" with heaven. Heaven is being, hell toward not-being.'7 This notion in fact sounds like a repudiation of the traditional doctrine, since a movement of indefinitely long duration towards non-being would seem to be a slow process of annihilation, which must eventually reach its term.

These attempts to soften the doctrine of unending suffering have themselves come in for criticism. In principle, it is said, it makes no difference whether it is one person or billions who suffer, or whether the anguish is intense or mild; it is a human being living in sin, in a state which can properly be called torment, without hope, for ever and ever. To ordinary human logic it looks like an ultimate dualism in which the perfection of God's creation is permanently marred by a hideous blot. Furthermore, it is more than doubtful whether the Bible indicates that the number of the finally lost will be 'very inconsiderable'. Jesus spoke of the 'many' who were on their way to destruction and of the 'few' who were on the way to life, of the 'many' who were called and the 'few' who were chosen.8 Equally it is more than doubtful whether attempts to play down the intensity of the pains of hell are justified, since Jesus himself used terms of horror to describe them.

Such considerations have prompted intensive efforts to find alternatives to the teaching of traditional orthodoxy. These fall into two categories, which may be labelled 'universalism' and 'conditional immortality' respectively. Universalism teaches that all men will finally be saved. Conditional immortality (so called because it maintains that man is not naturally immortal, but that he may become immortal on condition of faith in Christ) teaches that the unrepentant when they have suffered the due penalty of their sins, will pass out of existence.


However much we might wish universalism to be true, it seems impossible to reconcile it with many passages in the Bible. To those who regard the Bible as self-contradictory a plausible case (but no more than plausible) can be made out for Paul being a universalist on the basis of certain well-known texts, such as: 'As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive' and 'at the name of Jesus every knee should bow'. Paul teaches an ultimate reconciliation of all things to God, but only after judgment has been carried out, which will mean 'wrath and fury...tribulations and distress for every human being who does evil'; 'they shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord.'9 From the rest of the Bible there is little that can even plausibly be quoted in favour of universalism.

Universalism is usually argued in terms of man as a free being living for ever within the influence of God's infinitely patient love. In his selfishness and pride man may long resist God's gentle attraction, but in the end Love will win his free and full response.10 Yet this enormously important truth (if it were a truth) is nowhere to be found in the Bible, and is in fact contradicted by it. It is in effect a doctrine of purgatory, but a purgatory regarded as the destination, not only of the baptized who die in venial sin (as taught in medieval theology), but of all those who die unfit for heaven.

But the Bible nowhere teaches the existence of a place for slow purgation after death. On the contrary it teaches that at the end of the age, at Christ's second coming, there will be an immediate and instantaneous change for those who are in union with Christ, so that they become like him;11 whereas those who do not belong to Christ will have to face their judgment in their sins. This instantaneity has far-reaching implications, for what happens to those who are alive at Christ's coming establishes in principle what happens to all men: they are judged on the basis of their condition when their earthly life ends. The doctrine of a purgatory of unlimited duration has in fact affinities with those Eastern religions which teach an age-long transmigration of souls, rather than with the Bible.

If purgatory as an intermediate place between heaven and hell is denied and the purifying process is put in heaven (as apparently is done in the Church of England Doctrine Commission's report of 1971: Prayer and the Departed),12the biblical doctrine is even more seriously undermined. Heaven ceased to be a place of perfect purity and joy, and it becomes a place where toiling sinners continue (for God along knows how long) on the moral treadmill, failing, suffering, trying again. One of the great consolations of the Bible is its insistence that the moral struggle does not go on for ever, but that it ends for the whole human race on the day of judgment.


The other alternative, the possibility that the lost will eventually pass out of existence, needs much more serious attention. Conditionalists (as those who uphold conditional immortality are called) look for the resurrection of all men, followed by a just sentence according to the deserts of each, which will mean anguish (but not unending torment) for those outside Christ, finally terminating in the second death. Some (though not all) believe that there is no conscious existence of a soul-without-body between death and resurrection, but that at death all pass into a soul-sleep in total unconsciousness. This would mean that the first consciousness of the redeemed after death would be of Christ's welcome into paradise, that is to say, into heaven.

The conditionalist tries to establish his case by raising fundamental questions. For example, does the Bible teach that the soul is immortal? Does it not rather teach that the souls that sins will die?13 Do not the most frequently used terms, 'death', 'destruction', 'perishing' and the metaphor of the fire which consumes vegetable matter, suggest an end? (The description of Gehenna is based on the garbage dump in the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem, where the slow fires ceaselessly burnt and the worms steadily consumed the rotting rubbish.) Does not the Bible rather teach that man is mortal, and that sin is a self-destructive force whose final wages are the complete destruction of body and soul? Is not immortality part of the gift of eternal life bestowed on those who come to partake of the divine nature through union with Christ?14 Is not the universalist's insistence on the eternity of all souls a move in the direction of pantheism, and the traditionalist's insistence on the eternity of sinning souls a move in the direction of dualism? These are some of the questions conditionalists tend to ask.

Some, such as L. E. Froom, challenge the factual accuracy of Hodge's claim that unending torment has virtually been the sole doctrine of mainstream Christianity, derived from a monochrome belief in first-century Judaism. They admit that from the sixth century to the Reformation unending torment was the accepted orthodoxy with few dissenting voices, and that after the Reformation it continued to be dominant in the major churches at least till the nineteenth century, though with a growing volume of dissent. They deny that unending torment was so generally accepted by first-century Jews that Jesus' hearers would necessarily have interpreted his teaching in this sense without some specific denial on his part. They maintain that conditional immortality was generally accepted in the early church until its thinkers tried to wed Plato's doctrine of the immortality of the soul to the teaching of the Bible. This unequal yoke, they say, spawned two bastard offspring: universalism (as taught by Clement and Origen of Alexandria) and unending torment (as taught by Tertullian and Augustine).

As to the key biblical texts, which seem so inescapable, they claim that the unquenchable fire and undying worm mean only fire which is unquenchable and worms which are undying until their work of destruction is complete. Eternal punishment has been dealt with by them in two different ways. Some argue that eternal punishment is everlasting in its effects (like the 'punishment of eternal fire' which destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, mentioned in Jude 7), but not in its pains. It is an everlasting punishment, but not an everlasting punishing. Others argue that the concept lying behind the Greek word aiōnios is that of contemporary Jewish thought, which spoke of the two contrasting ages: 'this present age' and 'the age to come'. Eternal life is the life of the age to come and eternal punishment is the punishment of the age to come. The former has been made available by the coming of Jesus and the inauguration of his reign; the latter will be administered by Jesus when, as Son of man, he utters the final judgment. Christ's reference to 'eternal life' and 'eternal punishment' is not primarily concerned with the everlastingness of the two destinies, but with the finality of what happens when the advent of the New Age is consummated. These two views are not mutually exclusive and both could be held together.

Conditionalists also deny that the highly symbolic Revelation of John intends us to picture a final state which includes continuing sin and suffering. The smoke of torment which rises for ever represents the memory of the triumph of God's righteousness, not a continuing burning of tortured flesh. As to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, it is noted that the scene is Hades, not Gehenna (Hades is one day to be cast into the lake of fire),15 and that the passage is pictorial rather than literal. It would be precarious for any school of thought to draw literal conclusions from it about the topography of the next world.

If it is said that conditionalism devalues the terror of the biblical deterrents, since 'to believe in annihilation is only to believe what the atheist believes' and many tormented people might welcome annihilation, conditionalists would reply in these terms. (1) The atheist has no conception of the wonder and blessedness of heaven. (2) He therefore has no conception of what it means to forfeit heaven – to forfeit the very purpose for which he was made. (3) He has no realization of what will be involved in the dread of awaiting judgment and in the anguish and remorse of standing naked in the presence of God to see his true self revealed and to hear the Judge say: 'Depart.' (4) It is doubtful if anyone really desires annihilation. Man clings tenaciously to life, and it is arguable that the prospect of annihilation is the most dreadful of all fates. Certainly it is the most final of all tragedies. If the purpose of the Bible is to paint the horror of just judgment and final destruction its language is not exaggerated.16


This line of argument is attractive and can be set out with great learning and has now gained the adherence of a wide spectrum of Christian thinkers. It seems wise, however, to set out five caveats to caution those who might be tempted to abandon the traditional view too easily.

1. Beware of the immense natural appeal of any way out that evades the idea of everlasting sin and suffering. The temptation to twist what may be quite plain statements of Scripture is intense. It is the ideal situation for unconscious rationalizing.

2. Beware of the pervasive and insidious influence of the present liberal Zeitgeist on all our thinking. The modern world and the modern church have little use for a disciplined submission of the mind to the revelation of God, with the result that 'Christian' thought has been penetrated at a thousand points by ideas contrary to its God-given faith. Such a doctrine as unending torment would inevitably be a natural point for merciless attack in a climate of opinion committed to the elimination of everything offensive to modern sentiment.

3. Note that the modern revival of conditionalism was pioneered mainly by Socinians and Arians, who rejected such fundamental doctrines as the deity of Christ, and that today it constitutes an important element in the teaching of Jehovah's Witnesses and Christadelphians.17 Be wary of such bed-fellows.

4. Note that the adoption of conditionalism, even if it can be accepted as a possible interpretation of the bible, does not solve all the difficulties. It can never be easy to accept the idea that God will decree the annihilation of beings made in his own image, nor that he will decree pain which will be of no benefit to the sufferer.18 It may, however, be claimed that these difficulties are similar in character to those posed by other temporal judgments and may be considered along with them, and that they do not introduce a problem of a different order of magnitude such as is presented by the idea of unending pain.

5. Beware of weakening zeal for the gospel. The gospel should be preached with passionate urgency. One who has believed that the alternative to faith in Christ is unending misery in hell may well find that the sudden loss of confidence in this doctrine will leave him deflated, with the edge of his evangelistic zeal impaired. The evangelist R. A. Torrey in the conclusion to his study of this question wrote this:

Shallow views of sin and of God's holiness, and of the glory of Jesus Christ and His claims upon us, lie at the bottom of weak theories of the doom of the impenitent. When we see sin in all its hideousness and enormity, the Holiness of God in all its perfection, and the glory of Jesus Christ in all its infinity, nothing but a doctrine that those who persist in the choice of sin, who love darkness rather than light, and who persist in the rejection of the Son of God, shall endure everlasting anguish, will satisfy the demands of our own moral intuitions...the more closely men walk with God and the more devoted they become to His service, the more likely they are to believe this doctrine...If you in any wise abate the doctrine, it will abate your zeal. Time and again the author has come up to this awful doctrine and tried to find some way of escape from it, but when he has failed, as he always has at last, when he was honest with the Bible and with himself, he has returned to his work with an increased burden for souls and an intensified determination to spend and be spent for their salvation.19

Such a challenge merits the most earnest searching of heart as well as the most conscientious searching of Scripture. If Torrey's view is rejected, another view must be found which evokes at least as great a zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of men.


Yet, having said all this, a long tradition of belief within the Christian church is not decisive. Errors creep in and they die hard, especially when they have been elevated to the status of orthodoxy. At the first whiff of supposed heresy the godly are liable to shut their ears and to rush upon the well-meaning offender. Yet in the matter under consideration the problem is a real one, and a biblical one. Plato envisages everlasting punishment,20 but the problem was not acute for him, since he had no knowledge of the God of Christian revelation. It is because of his knowledge of the God of the Bible, the God of justice and love and omnipotence, that the Christian is troubled. He finds it difficult to imagine that God tolerating ceaseless torment.

A study of the literature reveals a remarkable failure in the 'traditional orthodox' to get to grips with the solid arguments put up by the conditionalists. This is partly due to a vicious circle, in which suspicion of heresy has made it difficult for conditionalists to find reputable publishers, which has resulted in their books being unread, which in its turn has resulted in their views remaining unduly suspect. H. E. Guillebaud, best known for his book on the atonement, Why the Cross?, included in that work a note on eternal punishment, in which he appears to take the traditional view for granted. He then gave himself to a more thorough study of the moral problems of the Bible. This resulted in two manuscripts, one of which was published in 1941, just after his death, under the title Some Moral Difficulties of the Bible. The other manuscript dealt with the doctrine of hell, and came to conditionalist conclusions. But no publisher could be found for this until 1964, when it was printed privately under the title The Righteous Judge. A few years later B. F. C. Atkinson, a Greek scholar and author of several books on biblical subjects, published (also privately) a work entitled Life and Immortality: An Examination of the Nature and meaning of Life and death as they are revealed in the Scriptures. This was the fruit of a lifetime of study and is a remarkable piece of sustained argument. Even more remarkable is the vast work of L. E. Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers, amounting to 2,476 pages of well-organized, lucid exposition, put out by Seventh-Day Adventist publishers.21

These books are not above criticism, nor on the other hand can they fairly be ignored. They cover a great deal of difficult and controversial ground (they are not always in agreement with one another) and are admirably suited to initiate a thorough debate. It is important that the stigma of heresy should not be attached to this point of view at least until there has been full and free discussion. Discussion there must be if Christians are to be renewed in a common mind for the faithful proclamation of the gospel.

It needs to be stressed that our summary of the debate in this brief compass (with none of the detail argued out) provides no basis for decision on so grave and complex and issue. The aim has been to discourage those who hold traditional orthodoxy from surrendering it lightly, while encouraging the serious consideration of the case for conditional immortality. If after renewed study traditional orthodoxy should succeed in making out its case, it would (at least superficially) make the task of defending the teaching of Christ more difficult than with conditional immortality, but relatively it could only make the acceptance of the hard facts of Scripture and Providence easier. For if we feel bound to accept the endless misery of one human being, we cannot raise great objection to the quickly passing miseries of man's earthly existence, however many they may be and however agonizing at the time. But as far as the thesis of this book is concerned, we shall consider ourselves under no obligation to defend the notion of unending torment until the arguments of the conditionalists have been refuted. We shall assume that the realities of judgment are at least as awful as conditionalists maintain and shall try to see how these fit into the pattern of other judgments found in the Bible and in history.

And let it be quite clear that these realities are awful indeed. Jesus and his disciples taught again and again in terrible terms that there is an irreversible judgment and punishment of the unrepentant. Warnings and living invitations intermingle to encourage us to flee the wrath to come.

Back to Top
Comment Script


E-mail (Will not appear online)
This comment form is powered by GentleSource Comment Script. It can be included in PHP or HTML files and allows visitors to leave comments on the website.


1. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 14, The Seven Ecumenical Councils, p. 320. The anathemas of Justinian were adopted by an earlier synod in Constantinople in 543. There is some question whether these anathemas were adopted by the ecumenical council of 553, or whether the were interpolated into its acts later.

2. Lk. 16:19-31; Mk. 9:43, 48; Mt. 8:12; 25:41, 46; Rev. 14:11; 20:10.

3. M. Horbery, An Enquiry into the Scripture Doctrine concerning the Duration of Future Punishment (London, 1878), pp. 55 f.; W. Hendriksen, The Bible on the Life Hereafter (Grand Rapids, 1959), pp. 197 f. Other modern treatments from the standpoint of traditional orthodoxy are L. Boettner, Immortality (Philadelphia, 1956); J. A. Motyer, After Death (London, 1965). Weighty works of the nineteenth century include E. M. Goulburn, Everlasting Punishment (London, 1880); E. B. Pusey, What is of Faith as to Everlasting Punishment? (3 ed., Oxford, 1881); S. D. F. Salmond, The Christian Doctrine of Immortality (3 ed., Edinburgh, 1897).

4. John Baillie, And the Life Everlasting (London, 1934), p. 244, speaks of 'his bland assurance tht the universe is no less admirable and beautiful a place for having a chamber of horrors eternally present within it, so long only as each horror of pain perfectly matches and balances each horror of sin'.

5. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Part 3, English Dominican trans., 1922, pp. 169, 107, 203.

6. C. Hodge, Systematic Theology (London, 1873) III, pp. 870-880.

7. B. B. Warfield, art. 'Predestination', in Hastings Dictionary of the Bible IV, p. 63. Horbery, op. cit., p. 154, n. 1. H. Silvester, Arguing with God (London, 1971), p. 90. U. E. Simon, The End is Not Yet (Welwyn, 1964), p. 207, makes the important point: 'Heaven must not be viewed as the counterpart to Hall. Our fondness of symmetrical arrangements, if apt to suggest a God-Satan, Heaven-Hell, Good-Evil parallelism, must be resisted.'

8. Mt. 7:13 f.; 22:14.

9. 1 Cor. 15:22-28; Phil. 2:10; see also Rom. 5:18; Eph. 1:20-23; Col. 1:20; Rom. 2:1-10; 2 Thes. 1:9.

10. This is attractively argued by J. A. T. Robinson, In the End, God... (London, 1950), chapters 8 and 9 – one of his most powerful pieces of writing. J. H. Leckie's The World to Come and Final Destiny (Edinbugh, 1918) is a careful and thorough work which finally inclines towards universalism.

11. 1 Cor. 15:51 f.; 1 Jn. 3:2.

12. Prayer and the Departed: Report of the Archbishops' Commission on Christian Doctrine (London, 1971).

13. Ezk. 18:4; Rom. 6:23, etc. It is sometimes said that the Bible does not teach the immortality of the soul, but that it assumes it. But that so important a truth should not be explicitly taught is strange. The onus of proof is on those who say it is assumed.

14. The Lor alone has immortality (1 Tim. 6:16); well-doers seek immortality (Rom. 2:7); immortality is brought to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10); those in Christ will put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:54); they have become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).

15. Rev. 20:14.

16. Conditionalists regard their doctrine as providing a more effective deterrent than the traditional teaching, on the ground that the latter is incredible to those who hear and is simply not believed. The point was put by a writer quoted (though with disapproval) by Horbery (p. 274): 'We only imagine we believe it...Nothing that is over-strained, or seems exaggerated, strikes the Mind. Let a Schoolmaster tell his Scholar that his Father will hang him if he doth not study; he laughs at the Menace. It is too much disproportion'd both to his own Demerits, and the Idea he entertains of his Father's Equity.

17. The Seventh-Day Adventists also hold this belief, but they are in a different category from Jehovah's Witnesses and Christadelphians, since they stand essentially in the broad stream of traditional evangelicalism, having eccentricities which may be regarded as more or less peripheral.

18. Sometimes it is said: 'It is inconceivable that God should work for the healing of a human being and then, having failed in his efforts, should cut his throat.' This is to misconceive the normal process of judgment. It may not be necessary to think of God ordering the infliction of chastisements ab extra at the last judgment, but rather of every person suffering the natural, self-destructive consequences of his own wrong choices. When the metaphor is used of the severe beating and the light beating (Lk. 12:47 f.), it could simply mean that the unrepentant will inevitably suffer degrees of painfulness according to the degrees of their guilt. It might be nearer the mark to think of their end as a merciful euthanasia than as a callous execution.

19. R. A. Torrey, What the Bible Teaches (London, n.d.), pp. 311-313.

20. Plato, Laws 904 f.

21. H. E. Guillebaud, The Righteous Judge; B. F. C. Atkinson, Life and Immortality (both obtainable from the Rev. B. L. Bateson, Winsham Vicarage, Chard, Somerset TA20 4JD England, priced 25p and 50p respectively, post free to addresses in the UK). L. E. Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers, 2 vols. (Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, D.C., 1966, 1965). Of an earlier generation, the books of J. A. Beet are well argued: The Last Things (London, 1897, revised 1905); The Immortality of the Soul (London, 1901).

Back to Top