The Reality of Hell
I have considered several options for addressing this section of the chapter, but one glaring point keeps staring me in the face. That point is this: how one defines the term aionios (Greek meaning age but translated in modern translations as eternal or some derivative, e.g. forever, etc.) determines ones’ theology. How one defines this term determines ones’ doctrine of salvation, of God, of the Bible, of all of existence. Why? Because, if there is such a thing as “eternal punishment” or “eternal conscious torment” then our whole system called Christianity is built around a God who calls us to a standard He does not Himself follow. This is just one of a myriad of issues this belief entails.
For instance, we are commanded to love our enemies and to bless those who curse us, yet, if God punishes His enemies eternally, meaning without end, how is that loving His enemies? How do we love our enemies? Like God loves His enemies? Treat them lovingly in this life, knowing that they will get their’s in the end? No, my friend, God is not like that. He has a different plan than the one concocted by men to scare people into the Kingdom. As I have already talked about in numerous articles already, and will speak about in many more, what God created and said was good, He will restore to Himself in the end of all things. One of the problems Christians have is that they think the Bible and time end with the book of Revelation. I would challenge you to read 1 Cor 15:22-28 for the true end of all things, the end of time as we know it, the end of the Bible, the true last verse in the Bible, 1 Cor 15:28. This is truly the final “word.”
If one believes in eternal torment in hell, then any Scripture that talks about any type of judgment becomes a talk about “eternal” judgment and continues in the vein of some going to eternal punishment and some going to eternal bliss. It is an either/or situation. But, those believing in the restoration of all people, the salvation of all people at some time in a future age, then judgment passages speak of a purifying process, or God’s view of sin that will result in correction, but not retributive justice where the offender is consigned for all eternity to suffering.
In this section of the book Moo defines eternal as most others do, unending, forever and ever, etc. He also believes that after this life there is no possibility to believe in Jesus. He believes, as I have before, that an average life span of 70 years is all we get to get it right (believe in Jesus) and only if we happen to be fortunate enough to have someone preach it to us. And, if someone in the far reaches of the world has never heard of Jesus, Romans 1 convicts them because they suppress the truth that God exists in their unrighteousness and therefore stand condemned.
Moo says, “Since Paul never uses the Greek words normally translated “hell,” we will have to depend on the various ways in which Paul depicts the fate of the wicked to determine what he teaches on this matter.” He lists seven words/sets of words.
As you look over the verses in this list, ask yourself how much sense does ECT/hell make when substituted in. Ask also whether it aids in understanding the verse in context or whether it clouds the issue. Ask also whether the change goes against other scripture passages thereby causing a contradiction. I also have included a brief commentary on each of the typical passages Moo lists.
- Death, die – (Rom 1:32; 5:12, 14, 15, 17, 21; 6:16, 21, 23; 7:5, 9-11, 13, 24; 8:2, 6, 13; 1 Cor 15:21-22; 2 Cor 2:16; 3:6-7; 7:10; Eph 2:1) typical verse Rom 6:23 – For the wages of sin is (ECT/hell)death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In Gen 2:17, God told Adam that in the day you eat of the tree, you will surely die. He did not tell Adam that he would go to ECT. The wages of sin is death, not ECT. We inherited death from Adam, not his sin. We now sin because we are dead spiritually, dying one day physically as well.
Paul is reminding the believers that because of this gracious gift they now produce fruit for holiness and righteousness, and their proper behavior in response to God’s grace is to present themselves to God to be used as implements of righteousness.
- Perish, destroy, destruction – (Rom 2:12; 9:22; 14:15, 20; 1 Cor 1:18; 15:18; 2 Cor 2:15; 4:3; Gal 6:8; Phil 1:28; 3:19; 1 Thes 5:3; 2 Thes 1:9; 2:10; 1 Tim 6:9) typical verse Gal 6:8 – For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap (ECT/hell)corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
Can we get something eternal from a temporal (worldly) issue? Can corruption of the flesh (this worldly since after this life we become spirit until we receive glorified bodies), which is in this life, be made into an eternal thing? Is temporal (worldly) corruption the same as eternal conscious torment? This is what Moo would have you believe.
3. Wrath – (Rom 1:18; 2:5, 8; 3:5; 5:9; 9:22; Eph 2:3; 5:6; Col 3:6; 1 Thes 1:10; 2:16;5:9) typical verse Eph 5:6 – Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the (ECT/hell)wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience
Since the behavior from verse 5 will keep those without salvation from having a part in the kingdom (this is Jesus’ Kingdom which will come to an end, 1 Cor 15:24), Paul is pleading with the believer to remember this, and to avoid such behavior. Again, Paul is not issuing a command upon which salvation is based. He continues to entreat the believer to live a life that is worthy of God’s calling that they have experienced.
- Condemn, condemnation, judge, judgment – (Rom 2:1-3, 5, 12; 3:7-8; 5:16, 18; 8:1; 1 Cor 11:32; 2 Cor 3:9; 2 Thes 2:12; 1 Tim 5:24) typical verse Rom 5:18 – Therefore, as one trespass led to (ECT/hell) condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
This trespass led to spiritual death, which then called for physical death. Adam’s standing with God was ruined and due to that he was no longer fit for the Garden and part of the sentence was physical death. Everyone after him is born with this sin/death cycle until it is broken. Jesus broke that cycle with His death and resurrection. So, through Jesus’ sacrifice spiritual justification came (the wages of His death are justification) to all men, and this justification brings about life for all men (the wages of justification is spiritual life).
- Curse, cursed, eternally condemned – (Rom 9:3; Gal 1:8-9; 3:10, 13; 1 Cor 12:3; 16:22) typical verse Gal 3:10 – For all who rely on works of the law are under a (ECT/hell)curse; for it is written, “(ECT/hell)Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
How this relates to eternal conscious torment I do not know. What Paul is talking about in this chapter is that no one is justified by keeping the Law, because no one can keep it. The Galatians were saved by faith in Christ, and now they were acting like they were saved because of their works. Even substituting ECT in for the word “cursed” does not make any sense.
- Punishment – (1 Thes 4:6; 2 Thes 1:8-9) typical verse 2 Thess 1:8-9 – 8in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will suffer the (ECT/hell)punishment of eternal (ECT/hell) destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
Eternal destruction literally is eonian extermination which means death for an eon (age) or eons (ages) to come. It is eonian (for an eon, or multiple eons) extermination (death) … not everlasting destruction as some translations erroneously note. It is not a final condition, but a step in the process of God’s dealings with mankind.
- Trouble/distress – Rom 2:9 – There will be (ECT/hell)tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,
Note that this passage is not referring to eternal life for those who believe in this lifetime and endless torment for those who do not. The judgment and reward here (vv. 5-9) is dependent upon acts, not faith. And eonian life (vs. 7, eternal life in many modern translations) refers to life during the eons or ages to come, not the life which followsthe last eon or age.
We must remember that the Greek aion (eon, age) refers to a time period with a beginning and an end … not endlessness. No passage of Scripture, even when talking of judgment, will follow the final outcome declared by God. Death will one day be abolished, and all will be given life when God becomes All in all (see 1 Cor 15:22-28).
Moo states after this list, “Human beings are, therefore, already in a state of perishing.” This condition is fixed forever (my emphasis) for those who do not respond to God’s grace in Christ and the work of His Spirit. But it is also clear that the condition that follows final judgment is an intensified form of what unbelievers now experience.” According to Paul in 1 Cor 15:22-28, there is nothing that comes after God becoming “All in all.” So how can an eternal conscious torment exist if everything is reconciled to God in the end and willingly bows in worship to Him (Philippians 2:10-11)?
Let me conclude with this lengthy quote to show the extent that scholars will go to defend the traditional denominational party line that hell is ECT and Paul taught it, but never used the word “hell” to label it.
“Despite initial impressions, therefore, Paul’s teaching about hell is widespread and clear … Nevertheless, rarely, if ever, does Paul devote himself to explicit teaching about hell as a central purpose within his letters. How are we to evaluate this circumstance? Some might cite Paul’s failure to provide extended treatment about hell as evidence that the doctrine was of minimal importance to him. Some might go so far as to view the references we have cited above as holdovers from the tradition Paul inherited, concluding that Paul himself was not fully persuaded of the doctrine. But another conclusion, is equally tenable: Paul and his readers assumed the doctrine of hell as so basic that he did not need to provide extensive evidence for it. There are good reasons to think that this is the more likely conclusion to be drawn.”
I think we have every reason to believe Paul spoke of sin and its results, that of judgment by God, but we do not see Paul referring to God’s judgment as final and eternal and the wicked going to ECT. How does Paul then explicitly teach about hell when it is never spoken (the term hell) and thus becomes a very ambiguous thing to the readers? Why must Moo’s conclusion be anyone else’s? I do not believe he has made his case in the least part. Equally tenable? Possibly. But, what are the good reasons to even believe it is tenable, the belief that Paul believed in ECT in a place called hell (which I repeat, he never used!)
I will stop here for now. I have probably gone far beyond where I needed to go, but I will leave that for the reader to decide. If one has a presupposition that hell is a place of ECT , you will come to the same conclusions that Moo has arrived at. However, if you drop all the presuppositions that you can, and openly let Paul speak for Paul (and not the modern church, Roman Catholic Church from maybe AD 400 and beyond or tradition), I believe the conclusion one arrives at is this: It is better to believe in this life for the judgment will be less at the end of the final age. That hell is a real place, but a place of judgment and restoration, a place of refinement in fire to allow the dross to settle to the top and be skimmed off. A place of age-enduring punishment for unrepentant sinners, that lasts only until the end of the final age, when God, through His long-suffering and abundant love will overcome even the hardest of hearts and melt that heart into a God worshiping one.
One view of God is, one of love BUT just. The other, is a God who is love and who, based on His all-encompassing love, justly punishes His image-bearers, called His children, with restoration to Himself in mind, rather than ECT.
I think Moo assumes too much and obfuscates (changes) the issue using church tradition as a smoke screen rather than exegesis of the texts and arriving at a position based on the text. I appreciate his willingness to openly admit what Paul does not say (the actual word hell) but do not appreciate him having to concoct a belief based on supposition and possibilities rather than the actual words Paul DOES use. In other words, I reject his conclusions as false.
Until next time, sorry for the length, but please let me know what you are thinking (not only content but length as well). Blessings to you!