In the late 1970’s, I undertook a year-long professional research project on the doctrine of final punishment. Almost immediately, I began to discover that my very fine biblical and theological training had overlooked many startling facts. How many of the following facts of Scripture and church history catch you by surprise?
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1. The Old Testament utilizes some 50 Hebrew verbs and 75 figures of speech to describe the ultimate end of the wicked — and every one sounds exactly like total extinction.
2. The notion of unending conscious torment arose for the first time in anything resembling biblical literature in the non-canonical book of Judith — in a clear “twisting” of words taken straight from Isaiah.
3. By Jesus’ day, there were at least three “Jewish” ideas about the end of the wicked: (a) annihilation at the grave; (b) resurrection for everlasting torture; and (c) resurrection for judgment followed by total and irreversible extinction in hell.
4. When our Lord taught on this subject, he generally used Old Testament language which most naturally describes complete disintegration of the entire person in the “fire” of the Age to Come.
5. New Testament writers choose the word “hell” (gehenna) to describe the fate of the lost only in the Gospels, only speaking to Jews, and only when addressing people familiar with the geography of Jerusalem.
6. Most often, New Testament authors use the words die, death, destroy, destruction, perish and corruption to describe the end of the wicked — in contexts which suggest the normal, straightforward meaning of these ordinary terms.
7. All New Testament expressions thought to teach eternal torment come from earlier biblical literature — where they regularly describe destruction that is irresistible, total, and which cannot be reversed.
8. No passage of Scripture teaches the inherent or natural immortality of the “soul,” “spirit,” or any other aspect of the human creature.
9. Although Scripture clearly affirms a resurrection of both just and unjust, the Bible nowhere says the lost will be raised immortal, as the saved will be.
10. The notion of everlasting torment appears explicitly in Christian literature for the first time in the writings of the Apologists, who expressly base it on the Platonic assumption that the soul is “immortal” and cannot be destroyed.
11. No creedal formulation of the undivided Church requires eternal conscious torment.