This debate should not turn us away from Jesus Christ. It also cannot allow us to take Godís judgment lightly. The Bible makes it absolutely clear that those who reject God will suffer. We cannot deny this if we believe the Word of God.
Our question is whether or not this suffering will ever end. Traditionalists believe this will never end, while conditionalists believe it will end in utter extinction. Several factors determine which view holds up better to scrutiny.
Preponderance of the Evidence
Traditionalists can support their view when they tell us which verses to focus on. If we examine only these passages, we think of everlasting torment. Certainly, traditionalists can find evidence for their view in Scripture.
Conditionalists can also point to Scripture that supports their view. When we read these passages, without preconceived ideas, we think of total extinction. Clearly, conditionalists can also support their view in the Bible.
One consideration is the amount of Scripture. Conditionalism is a recurring theme that runs throughout the Bible. Although traditionalism can be shown in rare instances, these passages are needles in the haystack compared to Scriptures supporting conditionalism.
Another consideration is the reliability of the passages in question. We know that not all Scripture is literal. Jesus tells us that some language is figurative (John 16:25). When we study the case for everlasting torment, we see undue reliance on Revelation, the most symbolic book in the Bible. We also see the strongest argument against soul sleep for nonbelievers is a parable (Luke 16:19-31).
When we examine all Scripture, conditionalism manifests itself. Proof-texts used to support traditionalism are extremely rare. More importantly, the best passages supporting this view are highly symbolic and unreliable. The preponderance of the evidence plainly favors conditional immortality.
The Word of God challenges scholars with passages that appear to conflict with one other. We know that all Scripture is inspired by God, so it cannot contradict itself. We must reconcile these difficulties.
In our study of final judgment, we find Scriptures that appear to say opposite things. One example is that warnings of fire conflict with warnings of blackest darkness (Jude 13). Another problem is that some verses say they will be in the presence of the Lord (Revelation 14:9-11) and others say they will be away from the Lord (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10). While these examples are important, the biggest challenge is warnings of torment compared to warnings of death and utter destruction.
Conditionalists see these passages as a sequence of events. They are tormented in the presence of the Lord (Revelation 14:9-11), then they are utterly destroyed and out of God's presence (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Traditionalists, instead, believe these apparent conflicts describe different aspects of hell, all occurring at the same time. Death is only separation and destruction is only ruination, so nonbelievers remain in conscious torment throughout eternity. Traditionalists also claim that the Bible never shows the proper sequence for conditionalism.
This is a puzzling response. Although we have already discussed the following passages, they must be repeated here. One clear example of torment followed by destruction in the Old Testament is Psalm 112:10, which says, "he will gnash his teeth and melt away." How much plainer could that be?
Another example is the Dead Sea Scrolls passage discussed in Chapter Nine:
. . . And all the ages of their generations they shall spend in bitter weeping and harsh evils in the abysses of darkness until their destruction, without there being a remnant or a survivor among them. 1QS 4.13-14
The word until implies there will be a change. If destruction and bitter weeping are the same, then this passage does not make sense.
In the New Testament, the best examples are reminders of Sodom and Gomorrah. As any rational Bible scholar realizes, fire tormented them until it turned them to ashes. Obviously, this is the only possible order of events. The warnings that they serve as an example because they suffered in fire (Jude 7) then were reduced to ashes (2 Peter 2:6) could not be any clearer!
These references plainly show torment followed by extinction. The only way to interpret them any differently is to read into them the assumption that nonbelievers have immortal souls. This goes against Scripture.
Once I read the Bible, without assuming the soul is eternal, it became clear. There is so much evidence for conditionalism, it practically jumps off the pages when I read. I wonder why I did not see it sooner.
When I first believed in conditionalism, I thought I was almost alone in this belief. This did not discourage me, since the Biblical evidence is overwhelming. As Paul says, "Let God be true but every man a liar." (Romans 3:4) I later realized several Christians agree with me.
After extensive research, I am astonished that so many scholars still hold the traditional view. While traditionalists wonder why many are abandoning their view, I wonder why it is taking so long. Conditionalism is growing, and this trend will continue as long as people rely on the Bible instead of orthodox tradition.
The battle for truth must continue. Martin Luther was one of the first major Protestants and he found many errors in church doctrine. When the religious leaders tried to persuade him to recant his beliefs, he replied:
Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a reply, I will answer . . . Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
I am forced into the same position. Many proponents of everlasting torment point out that they have studied the Bible longer than I have. Many also say they know Hebrew and Greek better than I do. None, however, give valid Scriptural responses to many arguments presented in this and other books on conditionalism. They are either unwilling or unable to respond. Until they respond, I will assume they have no response.
Among conservative Christians, everlasting torment is still the majority opinion. People should base their decisions objectively, yet three obstacles are difficult to overcome.
One hindrance to truth is preconceived ideas. People have heard that the soul is eternal all their life. Many insist they have read this in the Bible. They have read it in many commentaries and accept it as truth without studying it.
Another obstacle to conditionalism is peer pressure. I have had many discussions with proponents of evolution who disagree with my belief in creation. They do not insult me as much as Christians who disagree with my views about death and judgment.
A third factor is time limits. Many do not devote enough time to fully research this subject. The longer and more thoroughly we research this subject, the more certain we can be of our belief.
Your belief is your decision. You must research the evidence and weigh all sides. Which view has more Scripture? Which view has clearer Scripture, rather than ambiguous Scripture? Which view has better responses to opposing Scripture? Which view is more in line with the character of God?
While I believe conditional immortality is the answer to all these questions, you must make your own decision. Believing in everlasting torment because you believe it is more Scriptural is a valid position; believing in everlasting torment because your pastor believes it is unacceptable.
The choice between conditionalism and traditionalism is not the determining factor in your salvation. There are people on both sides of this issue who are saved. There are also people on both sides of this issue who are not saved.
Belief in Jesus Christ is the most important choice you will ever make. You can enjoy temporary pleasure on earth. It does not satisfy you; it only makes you desire more. Every pleasure on earth will not even compare to the true happiness of heaven.
Do not allow the hellfire and brimstone preachers to turn you away from a loving God. Reject their doctrine, not God or the Bible. You will not suffer throughout eternity if you turn away. You will, however, cry bitter tears when you realize what you gave up.
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Table of Contents: Title Page: The Myth of Everlasting Torment
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