The Nature of Hell – (my sub-title: refuting annihilationism)
This final subsection of Chapter 4 begins with the following statement:
“Hell exists – people who do not respond to the gospel will go there after death. And hell will always exist – since escape from the consequences of sin is possible only in this life, people who die in their sin will never leave hell. What , then, is the nature of hell? Or, to put the matter another way, what exactly is the fate awaiting those who die apart from Christ?”
I grant that hell does exist, but that it is remedial in nature, a place God uses to purify souls. Again, as has been stated repeatedly in past chapters, the turning point that all this hinges on is the term “eternal” and how it is biblically defined. I have already shown that the term eonian should properly be defined as having to do with an age or ages, periods of time with known beginnings or endings, but not as we define today as forever (without beginning or ending).
Moo merely reasserts his assumption of what hell is without providing biblical exegesis of the topic at hand. I have also shown that heel will not be needed forever and once God becomes all in all (1 Cor 15:28), hell will no longer be needed. For modern day theologians to say that hell is where God is not, does not make any sense. There is no place created where God Is not. Think about it, if God created a place where He is not, or is not acknowledged, then forever punishment has no valid meaning. It is purposeless and cannot be of God because everything God does is for a purpose. If God’s purpose is to punish forever, then He is not only the sustainer of evil (a place where He is not) but also relishes the punishing of these souls. I know this may not be sophisticated philosophy. But it seems to make sense to my understanding of the way things must be if God is not all in all or total love as we see biblically.
Moo has also not proved that this life is all there is for believing in Jesus or being saved. What then is the nature of hell? Well, I think you pretty much have assumed it, Professor. The fate must be what you have already stated, which is no escape from the consequences of sin or eternal conscious punishment as you put it.
I must include this next statement to show the mindset of far too many today:
“The historic view of the Christian church is that hell involves unending conscious punishment and exclusion from the presence of God. Challenges to this interpretation have arisen periodically in the history of the church.”
First off, Moo has not proved that the historic view of the church is eternal conscious punishment, as he puts it (ECT as I have defined it). I encourage the reader to download and read the book, Universalism: The Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During Its First 500 Years by J. W. Hanson. Moo appears to be saying that the belief in universal salvation, the belief that God will eventually save all people He has created, has merely been a passing fad sporadically rearing itself throughout the last 2,000 years. How untrue this statement is. Though the numbers of believers in universal salvation may not rival the corrupt church down through the ages, it has nevertheless been present since the training of the Twelve and Paul. And, if you read the Old Testament without the lens of Roman church corruption from the time of Augustine especially, you will find that believers in the Old Testament also believed God would redeem all mankind.
Moo assumes what he believes is what has always been believed and accepted by believers. What I am saying is, not so fast. Read J. W. Hanson’s book and peruse the other materials at Tentmaker.Org Scholars Corner to see how prevalent universal salvation really has been. It has not been the minor little “heresy” that Moo wants to make it out to be. It has been the prevalent and accepted teaching of the early church and the remnant since then.
His focus in this chapter is on the “most dominant challenge in our day [which] is annihilationism.” He will focus on the three key issues which are:
The language of “destruction” that Paul uses to describe the final statements
The significance of the word “eternal” as it is applied to God’s judgment
The nature of immortality in Paul
The most important text in this debate is 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9.
He begins by saying that verse 6 of this chapter states that whose who receive this punishment are those who disobey the gospel and do not know God. The nature of the judgment is described using two Greek words, olethros (1 Cor 5:5, 1 Thess 5:3, 1 Tim 6:9) and apollumi/apoleia (Rom 2:12; 9:22; 14:15, 20; 1 Cor 1:18; 15:18; 2 Cor 2:15; 4:3; Phil 1:28; 3:19; 2 Thess 2:3, 10; 1 Tim 6:9). He says :these words do not mean “destruction” in the sense of “extinction.” Rather they usually refer to the situation of a person or object that has lost the essence of its nature or function.”
The definition most likely intended by Paul in these texts is ruin because Paul describes elsewhere the state of the wicked by using terms like suffering wrath, spiritual death, tribulation, and condemnation. Also, it refers to the end of relationship with God because verse 9b talks about being shut out of the presence of the Lord and from His glory.
His final statement in this section is, “The wicked, Paul suggests, do not simply cease to exist; they undergo “eternal ruin,” punishment, and exclusion from God’s presence as long as the new age shall last.”
I, for the most part, can agree with his refutation of annihilationism. I see no biblical warrant for it. I believe Paul was talking about ruin rather than extinction. I will gladly look into and write about the parsing of the words rendered “destruction” in a future article. Also, some of the scriptures that Moo lists above, I believe, speak about remedial punishment, not endless torment (e.g. 1 Cor 5:5). Again, I will leave that discussion for a future article.
Conclusion of the Chapter
Moo states, “Paul never uses the Greek words that are normally translated “hell,” nor does he teach explicitly about the concept of hell as do some other New Testament writers…Paul teaches nothing to contradict the picture of hell that emerges more clearly from other portions of the New Testament…hell is an unending state of punishment and exclusion from the presence of the Lord. Such a fate is entirely “just,” Paul repeatedly stresses (e.g. Rom 1:18-2:11; 2 Thess 1:8-9), because human beings have spurned God and merited his wrath and condemnation….Paul, therefore, represent the judgment that comes on the wicked as the necessary response of a holy and entirely just God…Paul never in his letters explicitly uses hell as a means of stimulating unbelievers to repent.”
There are just so many questions that these statements raise. I have raised them myself earlier in this review. I will end with this. Romans 1 does not teach ECT nor does 2 Thessalonians. And, there is a very good, valid, and basic reason why Paul never explicitly taught about hell. He never taught about hell (ECT) because he didn’t believe it nor did he teach it. On the contrary, Paul explicitly taught universal salvation of all mankind as I have shown throughout this book review. I believe that is more than enough on this chapter and shall look forward to moving on. Stay tuned for Chapter 5, Gregory K. Beale explaining The Revelation on Hell
Until then, may God’s glorious mercy and grace through our Savior Jesus Christ envelope you and cause you to love others more fully and desire to glorify God more completely!