A Review Of “Hell – Why It’s Eternal”, by John G. Weldon

TraditionJohn Ankerberg posted an article by John G. Weldon entitled Hell – Why It’s Eternal and the Remarkable Ease of Entering Heaven. The article presents three arguments in favor of the traditional view that hell is a place of endless conscious punishment.

Unfortunately, the three arguments articulated in the article have no Biblical foundation. None of the scriptures referenced define or teach the core arguments advocated by the author.

With a subject as important as whether people will suffer endlessly in hell, it is vital to be certain in our source of truth. This isn’t a game. It’s not pretend and it’s not academic. Real people will face these real consequences.

Most Christians consider the Bible to be that source of truth. However, with a doctrine like an endless hell, tradition has so colored Biblical interpretation that some traditional teachers seem to see the tradition as scripture itself.

Let’s examine Weldon’s three arguments:

Argument #1: “First, hell is eternal because sin, though finite by itself, is primarily committed against an infinite God; the punishment must therefore also be infinite.”

This is a foundational claim, put forth by the author as an absolute. In response, I ask: where is the scripture that says: “Thus says the Lord: the one who sins against his Maker commits an infinite sin deserving of infinite punishment.”? I have never seen anything close to this. Instead, I’ve seen the opposite expressed in the Bible. Consider Genesis 2:16-17: The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

God’s clear instruction, the one command, was to abstain from the forbidden fruit. The consequence was clear—death. Scripture defines death like this in Genesis 3:19: “Till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

There is no ambiguity in the language here. Death means that we return to the dust. In later books, The Bible reveals details about the dead being raised for judgment before the “second death,” but ultimately the unredeemed end up returning to dust. Dead. Nowhere does the scripture define “death” as actually meaning “alive, but suffering for an endless eternity.” It just isn’t there.

In contrast to the article’s first claim, the Bible teaches that when men sinned against an infinite God, He promised them death, or a return to the dust from which they were made. God does not hold people responsible for the fact that He is infinite.

Weldon makes another claim in his first argument: “once God declares an eternal hell exists (such as in Matthew 25:46), it is by definition in harmony with His infinite love and mercy.” This reasoning is frequently used by advocates of the traditional view:

  • Given that hell means eternal conscious torment,
  • and God is infinitely loving and merciful,
  • then eternal conscious torment must be loving and merciful, and inline with the character of God.

This logic is flawed. By the Bible’s own definition of justice, an infinite punishment for finite sins is unjust. The Bible says that punishment should fit the crime. See my previous article for explanation and scripture references. If the Bible says that crimes should have a fair, just punishment, then a punishment  that doesn’t fit the crime is unjust.

Therefore, if God does torment people endlessly for less than a finite lifetime of sin, He would be, by His own definition, unjust. The fruit of an unjust, endless torture would logically define God as unjust (“you will know them by their fruits” Matthew 7:20).

It seems some Christians are used to living with logical contradictions because they think “well, it’s God, so it’s beyond my ability to understand”. And yes, while many things about God are above our comprehension, we are expected to understand those things he specifically explains, like the definition of justice. God expects people to love justice like He does, and frequently criticizes injustice in the Bible.

Ultimately, everyone knows that an endless conscious torture for a finite amount of sin is unjust. Those who defend this view are admirable in their desire to uphold tradition, to hold the Bible in high regard, and to take a stand even when it doesn’t make sense to them. My hope and prayer is that they will re-examine the Bible for what it says, not for what their tradition teaches, and come to the more Biblical conclusion that the end of those who reject God’s loving offer of eternal life is actual death, meaning a complete end of conscious existence.

(Note: Those who read our Free E-Book will learn that Bible statements like “eternal punishment” as in Matthew 25:46 mean that the consequences of the punishment are eternal, not that the punishing lasts for ever — just like “eternal salvation” doesn’t mean that Christ is dying on the cross forever.)

Argument #2. “A second reason hell is eternal is because no amount of punishment throughout finite time has any ultimate meaning compared to eternity.”

Again, this is an absolute statement with no Biblical foundation. Where in the Bible does it say that the only punishment that has ultimate meaning is an endless conscious punishment? In fact, the Bible does teach that death has eternal consequences. Those who are unredeemed will “perish,” as in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

This is among the clearest verses related to the role of God’s Son in providing the hope of eternal life. How can one teach that to “perish” eternally has no meaning when this scripture clearly teaches that God gave His son to save us from “perishing”?

Christians everywhere agree that the most meaningful act in history was the sacrifice of Christ to provide eternal life to those who believe. The fact that God was willing to go to such lengths to rescue us from the death we deserve shows that God thinks death has ultimate, eternal meaning. (Again, we must defined terms like “death” and “perish” as the Bible defines them, as I explained in the first point above.)

Argument #3. “A third reason hell is eternal is because unbelievers can only bring who they are into eternity — their unredeemed sinful natures. Thus, they will sin eternally — and the only possible penalty for eternal sin is eternal punishment.”

This is an amazing assertion, one that is completely speculative and based on nothing scriptural. Where does the Bible teach that people continue to sin while being punished? Again, the Bible teaches the opposite. Hell is shown to be a place of punishment that ends in destruction. Matthew 10:28 says “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Philippians 2:10 says that in the end, “every knee will bow to Christ” as king. How can people bow to Him, whether as Lord or as Judge, and continue to sin? We have already shown that after the judgment, death is what follows, not an eternity of continued sin.

If we’re going to speculate, I would ask: Why would God keep people alive so that they can continue to eternally sin against Him? Why would He make a creature that He could not destroy, so he had to keep them alive eternally even when they hate Him? What would He gain by setting up such a universe?

Conclusion

If this critical doctrine is based more on tradition and speculation than what the Bible actually says, how can we expect non-believers to take the Bible seriously? By clinging to the traditional view of an endless hell, we undermine the very scriptures we claim to respect.

My brother, my sister, isn’t it time to put this non-Biblical tradition behind us and start teaching what the Bible actually says? I strongly believe that a great revival and reformation are in store when the floodgates of truth open and reveal the goodness of God’s true character to a world that desperately needs that message.

Our free e-book, Endless Hell Ended, explains all of these points in much more detail. I encourage you to request it and make it a part of your own personal Bible study.

  1. Just a little afraid of sounding angry at traditionalism, but actually I don’t think I am.

    If anybody is angry in this debate these days, it is generally those trying to defend unending consious torment. Why are they so upset when conditionalists start reading the Bible out loud and gaining a little traction in the idea marketplace? Could they be afraid that too many people will start to “like” God on His FB page?

    Reply

  2. I Cor 15 tells us that the resurrected body can not be destroyed. Thus unbelievers would have that same type of body and the fire does not go out.

    Reply

    1. Daniel, thank you for caring about this issue and considering the scriptures on it. I think the part of 1 Corinthians 15 you’re referring to could easily be interpreted as referring to the redeemed, not the lost. In the context, when Paul refers to “we”, it’s referring to believers: v. 49: “we shall bear the image of the man from Heaven”, and v. 50: “brothers”. Also, v. 53 sure sounds like conditional immortality: “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” Then, v. 55: shows that the immortality we “put on” is swallowing up death. Since Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death,” and the immortality referred to in 1 Cor. 15:55 “swallows up death”, I don’t see how this can be used as a case that unbelievers will be made immortal.

      If you are interested in the Biblical case for Conditional Immortality, it’s really strong and there are many resources that can help you see the depth and breadth. My favorites are Edward Fudge’s books, but the new Four Views on Hell has a great entry by John Stackhouse. If you haven’t read the Rethinking Hell or Afterlife websites, you have missed a ton of great content. I hope you’ll openly consider the case, because I think it fits much better with the character of God revealed in Christ, and it paves the way for more people to receive the Gospel message who are put off by the incongruity between the love of Christ and the over-the-top vengeance expressed in the Eternal Conscious Torment view.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: