Hell Under Fire Book Review – Chapter 6 – Biblical Theology: Three Pictures of Hell

NOTE: I have the materials I need to review Chapter 5 concerning Greg Beale’s take on Revelation and Hell. I will therefore not need to be out of sequence except for this one chapter. I would hold off publishing this, but it has been so long since my last chapter, I did not want you to wait any longer. So, keep in mind, this comes out of sequence, but we will return with Chapter 5 next time. Then we will, as far as I can tell now, continue in chapter sequence for all future reviews.

In the first paragraph of his chapter, Biblical Theology:  Three Pictures of Hell, General Editor of this work, Christopher Morgan, states,

This chapter endeavors to provide a basic overview of the New Testament teaching on hell with the goal of uncovering its primary depictions.  There is no need to supply a thorough exegesis of the major New Testament passages on this topic because Robert Yarbrough, Douglas Moo, and Gregory Beale have already provided that in their chapters.  In addition, no attempt will be made to interact significantly with the Old Testament teaching on hell since that has already been successfully accomplished in Daniel Block’s chapter.  Rather the focus here is threefold – to summarize the teaching on hell as portrayed by each New Testament author…to show how three predominant pictures of hell (punishment, destruction, and banishment) emerge from this survey, and to offer some proposals for interpreting these three pictures.

Morgan’s focus will be on three themes of punishment, frequently portrayed as retribution, judgment, suffering, and torment by fire. Destruction, often described as perishing, death, or the second death. Banishment commonly pictured as separation from the kingdom of God, exclusion from the presence of God, or being cut off from something living. The next five pages are spent discussing a basic overview of hell in the gospels and Paul’s writings. I will not even attempt to go over the same ground that has already been covered since there really is nothing new nor worthwhile given there.

Morgan does discuss briefly some texts that others skimmed over or did not treat at all. He gives a basic overview on Hebrews 6:1-3 and 10:27-30, saying these passages refer to future punishment. He says Hebrews 6:1-3 is a foundational elementary teaching on eternal judgment. He also says that Hebrews clearly teaches that hell comes from God as punishment, judgment, and retribution. And, that is all that is said. I know of no Christians who deny that there will be a future judgment and that everyone will suffer under this judgment. But again, the issue is not whether or not there is a coming judgment, but about the nature of that judgment, whether it is for an age or forever and ever. And again, as I have spoken of in earlier reviews on earlier chapters, the key is how the term aionios is defined. If it is defined as forever and ever (then hell is viewed as eternal conscious torment), then you come away with the beliefs held by every author in this book. If, however, you render aionios as an age of time, then you see things quite differently. And the stark difference is this:  Either you believe God will pour out retribution on all unbelievers forever in a place called hell, a place of eternal conscious torment, OR you believe that God’s judgment and punishment and banishment and how He deals with sin is restorative, meaning, in the end He will restore all people to Himself and all people will willingly worship God.

Morgan also talks about hell in Peter’s epistles and Jude, since Jude parallels Peters writings closely. He says Peter’s writings are filled with references to future punishment and to that I concur. Again, how that judgment is viewed depends on what I just discussed. What I think many believers gloss over or are not taught alongside these “judgment” texts is the full story of how God deals with unbelievers or those who oppose His people, harkening back to Old Testament times. And since Peter is writing to call believers away from false teachers and back to serving God, much of what he wrote concerns judgment. Peter, being a Jew, writing to Jews, refers back to the prophets, which was pretty standard for Jews to do.  He recalls all the calamity that God meted out to those who opposed Israel. However, because it doesn’t fit his concern in his short letters, Peter leaves off a critical teaching of one of the prophets. This teaching needs to be remembered because it not only shows that God judges people’s sin, including Israel’s, but that He also restores those same ones whom He judged. Take the following text to heart and see if it fits with eternal conscious torment or if it fits better with God restoring all people back to Himself. Here in Ezekiel 16, Ezekiel is writing to Israel about how awful they have acted and how they have treated God. Ezekiel also explains what the outcome is of the ones God has judged in the past.

46 And your elder sister, she is Samaria, and her daughters, who are dwelling on your north, and your younger sister is the one dwelling on your south; she is Sodom and her daughters. 47 And you have not only gone in their ways, but you also did according to their detestable things. ⌊In such a short time⌋ you behaved more corruptly than they in all of your ways. 48 ⌊As surely as I live⌋,’ ⌊declares⌋ the Lord Yahweh, ‘surely your sister Sodom and her daughters did not do as you and your daughters did. 49 Look! This was the iniquity of Sodom, your sister: Pride, abundance of food, and ⌊prosperous ease⌋ was to her and to her daughters, and ⌊she did not sustain the needy and the poor⌋. 50 And they were proud, and they did a detestable thing ⌊before me⌋, and I removed them ⌊because⌋ I saw it. 51 And Samaria did not sin ⌊according to even half of your sins⌋, and you caused your detestable things to increase more than they, and you made your sister righteous in comparison with all of your detestable things that you did. 52 Also, you bear your disgrace, by which you furnished justification to your sisters through your sins by which you acted more abominably than they; they were more righteous than you, and also, you be ashamed and bear your disgrace through your making your sister righteous.

53 And I will restore their fortune, the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters, and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and even the fortunes of your captivity in the midst of them, 54 in order that you may bear your disgrace and you may be put to shame because of all that you did at your consoling them. 55 And as for your sisters, Sodom and her daughters, they will return to their former state, and Samaria and her daughters, they will return to their former state, and you and your daughters will return to your former state. 56 And was not Sodom, your sister, a byword in your mouth in the day of your pride. (Ezek 16:46-56)

The three themes Morgan talks about add nothing new to the argument. I agree, many New Testament texts refer to the punishment of the wicked. What I do deny is that God’s justice is solely retributive. Morgan lists a bunch of texts that do not bear out the idea of retributive justice. One such example is 2 Peter 2:17. I believe God’s justice is just, but it is also restorative in nature. God does not punish for the sake of punishment, but for the sake of those transgressors coming to a full realization of their sin, suffering under the judgment of that sin, and being covered by the blood of Jesus either in this life or the next, in order that every knee will bow in worship to God. Again, we arrive at the same argument: Is God’s punishment eternal or for an age?  Does God’s punishment have the purpose of vengeance or of mercy and grace?  Does God’s punishment show God’s retribution or restoration?  Is God love, but just, or is God love AND He is just and merciful and long-suffering, etc?

The second theme is destruction. He says that death or destruction is spoken of in many verses. And, again, the argument comes back to how the term “eternal” is defined. The understanding of kolasin aionion, judgment eternal, as some render it, and more accurately rendered, judgment for the ages, is looked at as the key in deciding this issue. Paul shows us what the wages of sin are (death) and those wages are not annihilation and they are not eternal conscious torment in a place called hell. The wages of sin, going back to the Garden of Eden and Adam’s original sin, is DEATH. Every person who lives will suffer death (both spiritually, estranged from God for an age and then transformed to be in Jesus Christ, and physical, in that all eventually die). Morgan adds nothing new nor significant to the issue at hand.

The third theme is banishment. He says that punishment stresses the active side of hell, but banishment shows its horror by what a person misses. As I wrote in a recent post, Morgan states that most Christians, when asked, describe hell as separation from God. In my post, God IS NOT Omnipresent, I took on this issue. Either God is omnipresent and hell IS NOT separation from God, or hell is a place of separation from God and He is not present in or involved in hell, and therefore is not and cannot be omnipresent. That argument still stands here. But, Morgan also states that,

“banishment is much stronger than separation. It suggests God’s active judgment while separation could simply imply divine passivity…They are forever banished from his majestic presence and completely miss out on the reason for their existence – to glorify and know their Creator.”

Morgan’s definition even strengthens the force of my argument against the omnipresence of God, if hell is banishment. And, if God is not omnipresent, then the Bible is a lie (or at the least contains lies, because at least David states there is no place one can go to hide from God!). And if it is a lie, or contains lies, then God is a liar because it is said to be His Word. And if God is a liar, He is not worthy to be followed after and is really no god.

Finally, Morgan makes the following observations.

“The three pictures of hell are not easily integrated into a simplified whole, however…But this does not mean that these three pictures do not have important systematic implications…understanding them will further biblical and systematic theology. These pictures of hell correspond to the biblical teaching concerning God, sin, the atonement, salvation, and heaven.”

He says the three pictures are biblical portraits of God.

“Hell as punishment shows Gods as Judge, who justly sentences the wicked. Destruction portrays God as Warrior or Victor who defeats His enemies. And hell as banishment views God as King who allows only his citizens into his kingdom.”

Hell as a

“portrait of sin shows punishment, recognizing sin as guilt, crime, trespass, or transgression. Destruction portrays sin as death and as opposition or spiritual death. And banishment views sin as alienation from God.”

Morgan continues by saying,

“God’s wrath is on sinners, and hell is the culmination and release of that wrath (Romans 1:8-2:8; 5:6-11) Sinners are condemned already, but they await the ultimate condemnation in hell (John 3:16-36; 5:24-28) Sinners are now dead spiritually, but await the second death. Unbelievers are alienated from God now but will be finally excluded from his presence.”

So, the ultimate outcome for sinners is God’s wrath, not His love. I think, given the true Gospel and Good News is thwarted by this. Instead of Jesus being a joy to the world, He is the one who forever separates because of His death, and is mostly wrath and not joy. If most of the world suffers His wrath, then He is not a joy to the world.

“The three pictures of hell also appear to illustrate the biblical doctrine of the atonement. On the cross, Jesus died as a substitute for our sins and drank the cup of wrath – punishment. On the cross, Jesus offers himself as a sacrifice for our sins – death. On the cross, Jesus experiences separation from the Father’s fellowship as cries, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?””

Do any of you see a problem with this portion? What cried out to me was that it completely leaves off the resurrection of Christ. How does hell portray the resurrection? It cannot and it does not. Jesus is not forsake forever, is “restored,” and this is the whole point to God’s purposes! The purpose of God is not to punish sin, but just as we see in Jesus, to restore all things back to Himself! The analogy would hold if Jesus was not resurrected from the dead. And, hell would be eternal conscious torment forever, if Jesus has not risen. God’s purpose for us is seen in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. As by one man sin entered into the world, and condemnation by that sin, so also through the one act of the man Jesus came salvation (reconciliation to the Father) for all! There is no clearer understanding in all the Bible than this. One man (Adam) sinned and all are guilty. One man (Jesus Christ) died and resurrected and ALL are reconciled to God. What a story! What a great and loving God! Do you serve a god of ultimate wrath and vengeance or a God who is LOVE and will see all He has created made new again?

I will finish with this. In this chapter there is nothing new added to our understanding of the bible or the ultimate state of all people. The categories Morgan comes up with add nothing new to our understanding. They are just one more way that the elite can seem more deep in their thinking than the average believer, therefore continuing the distinction between clergy and laity, the false distinction that really sent the church into the mess it has been in for nearly 1600 years (or more!). I was sadly disappointed, but also encouraged that if this is the best of the scholastic world, the truth of God has nothing to fear. And those of us who stand opposed to all things traditional that subvert the work of God, we know that are work is not as difficult as some would make it out to be.

May the love of God so consume your thinking that the thought of an eternal conscious torment repulses you to the point of abandoning it once and for all. You will not stand alone in that belief. There are many who have repented of this view of God and are living the life God marked out for us, the one where sin abounds, but grace MUCH MORE ABOUNDS! Don’t be the one who elevates sin to be the victor. Elevate God’s love as VICTOR and be set free from the traditions that so easily ensnare people. To God alone the glory!

In Christ’s love,

Craig

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3 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews, Everlasting - Eternal, God's Love, Hell, Universal salvation

3 responses to “Hell Under Fire Book Review – Chapter 6 – Biblical Theology: Three Pictures of Hell

  1. This makes so much clear sense to me. I am all for universalistic teachings. I admit, I’m afraid of posting them on my site so as to detract from my main theme – my relationship between mental illness and religion/spirituality. I have studied universalism in the bible and find that it makes much more logical sense than either calvanism or arminianism.

    • Your focus seems to be such that you may not need to discuss actual theology, but incorporate it into your counsel to others. Or, you may want to private message those who comment and let them know where you stand theologically and why. Not everything needs to become public on a blog forum. My goal is to have fellowship with those in my area, so I am open and honest about my beliefs since I do not want anyone to think I have deceived them in anyway. However, when I talk to people, I do not automatically go into a full blown discourse on universal salvation. I discus it when asked about it or asked about what I believe, but unless it does, why would I want to “expose” it out of context?

      I am becoming more convinced daily of god’s plan to reconcile the whole world back to Himself and am happy to help anyone who wants to know why I believe what i do. As you know, there are many wonderful resources on the web, some which I have links to. I also have gone from Arminian, to Calvinist, to Universalist, and regard each as a necessary step in MY journey, praising God for it, though ti was not without incredible pain at some points. I understand both of the other theologies well and use it to speak to the inquiring minds that come to me. When not asked specifically about universalism or my beliefs, I merely am the light on the hill, showing forth God’s love however I can. We don’t BECOME the light by DOING, we ARE the light by are standing as “IN CHRIST!” Keep being In Christ and His light will always shine brightly through you to help heal those who come to you for help.

      Blessings to you in Christ our Lord!
      Craig

      • Thanks for the response! I agree. Not forcing a conversation, but showing the love of God is the Way. Thank you for your post and Blessings to you too in Christ our Lord 🙂

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