Paul’s Concept of Eternal Punishment, James Rosscup

Explores the concept of eternal punishment in Paul's epistles, focusing on three major passages. Moo covers similar territory better in Hell on Trial.

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Excerpts

329
It would be fair to say that more than any other evangelical author, Peterson has been the bastion of traditional doctrine of hell in recent times and the most vocal critic of annihilationism.

335
John Stott has commented that "it would seem strange, therefore, if people who are said to suffer destruction are not in fact destroyed."

344
Responding to the claim that the text teaches eternal torment, Fudge commented, "[I]t is an 'everlasting' contempt, because the state is irreversible."

 

Degrees of Punishment in Hell

In chapter 7 of Is There Anything Good About Hell?, I argue briefly that there are degrees of punishment in hell precisely because there are degrees of sin.

It is a serious error of Christian doctrine to make all sins equal in the sight of God, and it is surprising just how prevalent this error is in Christian circles. If all other things are equal, rape is more heinous to God than lust, although both are sins of sexual violence. Murder is more abhorrent to the Lord than anger, though they are cut from the same cloth (Mt 5:21–22, Jas 4:1–2). False teaching is more odious than ignorance, though they are offspring of the same deceiver. What is important in light of the variation in hell’s degrees of punishment is that we preserve the truth that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (Jas 2:10).

Recently, I stumbled across an excellent and concise essay at The Gospel Coalition by Albert Martin and Fred Zaspel that does an excellent job of explaining the rationality of hell’s degrees of punishment. It probably doesn’t warrant an entry into the literature database, but it is worth a bit of your time. Some excerpts are selected below.

Top 5: Building Theological Depth

For this top five, I want to share five books referenced in Is There Anything Good About Hell? which could help establish a younger or less mature believer in some deeper theological thinking. None of these are about hell or punishment itself and I have deliberately not included longer works: systematic theologies, commentaries, or other reference-type works. I also ruled out sermon compilations, or larger collated works (no Jonathan Edwards or Charnock here). If when you think of theological books, you are a toe-dipper, think of this top five as the moment you take a breath and submerge under the water. It may take a moment to acclimatize, but when you do it will be so much better!

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The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment, Harry Buis

Excellent, medium-length book which surveys both the historical and biblical doctrine of hell with breadth. Not much new here, but a solid resource.

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Excerpts

Preface
This book is not written because the author takes delight in the subject. The thought of hell terrifies. It ought to make us all shudder. But it is a fact taught in God's Word. To deny or to ignore any Scriptural teaching is a serious matter. . . We have been led to a serious study of this subject for several reasons. One is that there is no other doctrine that is clearly taught in Scripture which is so generally denied or ignored in our modern theological world.
38
In his pronouncement against Judas, Jesus describes the punishment of the wicked by means of another comparison. "The Son of man goeth, even as it is written of him; but woe unto the man through whom the Son of man is betrayed: it were better for that man if had never been born" (Matthew 26:24). According to this passage the fate of Judas will be far worse than annihilation.
p43
 The teachings of our Savior may be summarized as follows: There are only two ultimate destinies, heaven and hell. The existence of the wicked in the future state is a very terrible reality and endless. Part of the punishment lies in exclusion from the presence of Jesus himself. There are degrees of punishment depending upon the kind of life lived on this earth, and upon the greatness of the opportunities which were neglected.
p53
The masses of Christians in the early Church certainly believed in the doctrine of eternal punishment. Gibbon considered this to be one of the five most important reasons why the Gospel spread in such amazing fashion.
p100
John Charles Ryle (1816-1900), Bishop of Liverpool, certainly believed in it. He said, "Let others hold their peace about hell if they will — I dare not do so. I see it plainly in Scripture, and I must speak of it. I fear that thousands are on that broad road that leads to it, and I would fain arouse them to a sense of the peril before them. What would you say of the man who saw his neighbor's house in danger of being burned down, and never raise the cry 'Fire'? Call it bad taste, if you like, to speak of hell. Call it charity to make things pleasant and speak smoothly, and soothe men with a constant lullaby of peace. From such notions of taste and charity may I ever be delivered. My notion of charity is to warn men plainly of their danger. My notion of taste is to declare all the counsel of God. If I never spoke of hell, I should think I had kept back something that was profitable, and should look on myself as an accomplice of the devil."
p116-117
A Just God Would Not Give Infinite Punishment for Finite Sin.
This is a very popular argument of the universalist. To this it may be replied: Sin against God is a very serious matter. As Shedd so well explains: "Those who deny the position that sin is an infinite evil forget that the principle, upon which it rests is one of the commonplaces of jurisprudence: the principle, namely, that crime depends upon the object against whom it is committed as well as upon the subject who commits it. The merely subjective reference of an act is not sufficient to determine whether it is a crime. The act may have been the voluntary act of a person, but unless it is also an offence against another person, it is no crime. To strike is a voluntary act; but to strike a post or a stone is not a culpable act. Furthermore, not only crime, but degrees of crime depend upon the objective reference of a personal act. Estimated only by the subjective reference, there can be not only no culpability, but no difference in culpability. Killing a dog is no worse than killing a man, if merely the subject who kills, and not the object killed, is considered. Both alike are voluntary acts, and of one and the same person. If therefore the gravity of the act is to be measured solely by the nature of the person committing it, and not by that of the thing against whom it is committed, killing a dog is as heinous as killing a man.
p127
It is no coincidence that our present age which laughs at the idea of hell is an age of gross immorality. As Sheila Kaye-Smith says, "Every significant religious revival has been accompanied by a quickening sense of the danger and terror of hell."

“Peerless”: Review of Hartman’s Divine Penology

Decretum Books will soon be re-publishing L. B. Hartman’s phenomenal book on justice and hell, Divine Penology (public domain), which will include a biographical introduction. This has been a fascinating project, as no significant biography of Hartman exists at present. Appendix B in the new publication is a glowing review from Christian Work: Illustrated Family Newspaper, Vol. 67, in 1899, which captures many of my own thoughts about the work, idiosyncratic as it is. It is printed here in hopes it will whet your appetite for this “peerless” treatise.

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On Predestination, Reprobation, and the Love of God, John Piper & Thomas Talbott

Two leading theologians from opposite viewpoints spar over reprobation and how eternal punishment interacts with God's love and His eternal decrees.

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Excerpts

329
It would be fair to say that more than any other evangelical author, Peterson has been the bastion of traditional doctrine of hell in recent times and the most vocal critic of annihilationism.

335
John Stott has commented that "it would seem strange, therefore, if people who are said to suffer destruction are not in fact destroyed."

344
Responding to the claim that the text teaches eternal torment, Fudge commented, "[I]t is an 'everlasting' contempt, because the state is irreversible."

 

The Doctrine of Eternal Punishment, Sperry Lewis Johnson

Three-part sermon series on hell by an excellent expositor. Deals excellently, if succinctly, with universalism and conditionalism.

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Excerpts

Sermon I
Now, the question, of course, is an unpopular one. We never will find that people rejoice in the idea of an endless punishment of the finally impenitent. Even good Christians are troubled by it. They puzzle over it. It is an unpopular subject. But the question is really, is it truth? Just as Mr. Russell was saying, “Is it that which is true?” And if it is that which is true and if we yield ourselves to that truth, we will find that ultimately it will be good for us.

Just yesterday I was reading a new book that I had received and on one of the pages beginning it there is a quotation from the pope. And even the pope in this quotation says, “Let us never forget that sin is sin.” That’s a biblical expression. He goes on to say, “The destructive nature of the error is still more apparent in practical theology. Could it be proved that the Christian church have been deceived in finding, the doctrine of Endless Punishment in the Christian Scriptures, and that there is no such thing, havoc would be made of all the liturgies of the Church, as well as all of its literature.” And he goes on to talk about the fact that the Christian church has been built up upon belief in the doctrine of eternal punishment.

The suffering that Jesus Christ undergoes is not remedial suffering; it’s retributive suffering. He dies under the judgement of God. This is what we teach. This is what the Scriptures themselves proclaim. Suffering that is merely educational doesn’t require vicarious atonement in order to release from it. But suffering that is judicial and punitive can be released from the transgressor only by being inflicted upon a substitute. And so, the only way in which we can be delivered from retributive judgement, the kind of judgement that would bring us to hell, the only way we can escape from that is by substitution. We cannot bear it ourselves. It’s eternal judgement. We need someone to bear it for us. And the story of the gospel is that Jesus Christ does bear it for his people.

Sermon II
Another thing, the extinction of consciousness is not of the nature of punishment. The essence of punishment is suffering. And suffering belongs to consciousness. If we say that an individual is to suffer punishment, there is no suffering of punishment if he’s not conscious. Consciousness belongs to suffering. And if the eternal punishment of individuals is something of which they do not know anything, have no concept of it happening, do not experience it, how can it be called eternal punishment? But the Bible calls it eternal punishment.

Now, spiritual death and eternal death are the same thing. Eternal death is simply spiritual death prolonged into eternity. And so, if consciousness characterizes spiritual death now, why should it not characterize spiritual death after we die? In other words, in eternal death, we have spiritual death simply prolonged. All sentimental arguments about a father not punishing his children forever measure God by human sinful men’s thoughts. He is not measured by us. Scripture reveals what we know about him.

Sermon III

Now, fear is a legitimate motive for the doing of the will of God. There are lots of people who seem to think that if a person does obey God by reason of fear, that that’s not the kind of obedience that God is interested in. Well, of course, God would love to have us obey him because it is right for us to obey him. In other words, right for right’s sake is certainly a high motive for doing the will of God. But men are not angels.

So, hell is rational because sin is an infinite evil. And in order to be properly punished, we should have an infinite punishment. Robert Browning said once, “There may be a heaven, there must be a hell.” As he looked out over human experience, it seemed reasonable to him, more reasonable that there should be a hell than a heaven. And someone else has said, “If there is no hell, we’d be compelled to invent one.” And if you read your newspapers day after day and see the level of the crimes in the United States of America, the wickedness, the utter carelessness of human life, I often almost every time I open the paper, I often feel there has to be a hell, and the sooner the better for some of the crimes that are committed these days.

Fallacies in the Annihilationism Debate, Peoples and Peterson

Peoples and Peterson interact over Peterson's traditionalist critiques of Fudge and others. Peterson corrects a couple of points, and clarifies others, ably answering the major objections.

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Excerpts

329
It would be fair to say that more than any other evangelical author, Peterson has been the bastion of traditional doctrine of hell in recent times and the most vocal critic of annihilationism.

335
John Stott has commented that "it would seem strange, therefore, if people who are said to suffer destruction are not in fact destroyed."

344
Responding to the claim that the text teaches eternal torment, Fudge commented, "[I]t is an 'everlasting' contempt, because the state is irreversible."

 

The Decline of Hell, D. P. Walker

An in-depth survey of views on hell in the 17th century. Fascinating and insightful, if narrow in its scope. Most of the usefulness of the book is in unearthing many of the philosophical questions, conundrums and attempted explanations.

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Excerpts

p20, citing Lampe on the phrase "for ages and ages"
Hence it is abundantly clear that the Holy Ghost intended this, that he might express eternity more vervously than it had formerly been done in human language, and remove all possible evasions which the genius of the language seemed otherwise to admit.

p44
Thomas's (Aquinas) own justification of eternal torment is more subtle and satisfactory. Since the torments of hell are infinite in duration but finite in intensity (though much more intense than anything in this life), the sin must be both infinite and finite; it is infinite in that it is a turning away from God, but finite in that it is a turning toward the creature.

p140, summarizing Lady Conway
A creature can make limitless advances towards food, because God is infinite and the creature can approach indefinitely near to Him without even becoming Him. But the same infinite progress towards evil is not possible, because 'there is no Being, which is infinitely and unchangeably Evil, as God is infinitely and uncheangeably Good'. Thus 'there are limits and bounds to Evil; but none unto Good'.

p262
Eternal torment is nowadays an unpopular doctrine among most kinds of Christians; the God of love has nearly driven out the God of vengeance; vindictive justice has had to take refuge among the advocates of hanging; and it is no longer considered respectable to enjoy the infliction of even the justest punishment. I am not asserting that we now behave or feel less cruelly , but only that we are more worried about the abominations we commit.

What is of Faith as to Everlasting Punishment? Reply to Dr. Farrar, E. B. Pusey

A response to Farrar's popular, universalistic teachings, Pusey argues for the orthodoxly of eternal punishment. Although not the greatest theologian, the most useful parts of the book are the Hebraists considerable documentation of early church beliefs and testimonies on hell. This alone greatly commends the book.

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Excerpts

p18-19
Fire is the most excruciating suffering, of which we have any experience here. The flesh shrinks from the slightest touch of it. Since then S. Paul has said of the Day of Judgment, "knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men," I dare not myself lessen any terror, to which our Lord's words may give rise. The dread of hell peoples heaven: perhaps millions have been scared back from sin by the dread of it.

p38, quoting Greek Scholar Riddell on "aionios"
In the New Testament it occurs seventy-one times: of eternal life, forty-four times; of Almighty God, His Spirt and His glory, three times; of the kingdom of Christ, His Redemption, the blood of His covenant, His Gospel, salvation, our habitation in heaven; of the glory laid up for us, thrice; our inheritance, consolation, of a sharer of eternal life; of eternal fire, thrice; of punishment, judgment, destruction, four times. of the future then it is no where used in the New Testament, except of eternal life or punishment.