I’ve been engaging Denny Burk’s biblical and theological case for Eternal Conscious Torment in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. The next passage he examines is:
In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternalaiónios fire.
Jude 1:7, NIV
I agree with what Burk wrote about this passage up until the end of this quote:
the fire that rained down on the infamous cites was an example of “eternal fire,” or “fire of the age to come,” invading the present age.
Denny Burk, page 37
However, after admitting here that word aiónios can (I’d say probably should, see Is Aionios Eternal?) mean “of the age to come”, he frustratingly suggests that the fire is everlasting because life “of the age to come” is everlasting. If I said:
The highlight of the year to come will be my long service leave and lowlight of the year to come will be my sick leave.
Does that mean my long service leave will be the same duration as my sick leave? I see no necessity to interpret it that way… Indeed it seems the probability of any two future events having identical durations is low.
As I tried to show in Immortal Worms & Unquenchable Fire, there are plenty of examples in the Bible of God’s fire achieving things. It doesn’t have to be interpreted as an end in-and-of-itself. For example, fire is described as refining and purifying. Sometimes the fire’s purpose, the good that it brings about, is not explicitly stated when the fire is used. For example, with Sodom and Gomorrah, we only discover this much later, in Ezekiel.
I [God] will restore their fortunes, the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and those of Samaria and her daughters. I will also restore your fortunes among them, so you will bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all you did when you comforted them. As for your sisters, Sodom and her daughters and Samaria and her daughters will return to their former state. You and your daughters will also return to your former state.
Ezekiel 16:53-55, HCSB
It’s also pertinent to consider how long Sodom and Gomorrah physically burned? Was it days? Weeks? If we traveled to the site today it’s certainly no longer burning! I think this should inform our interpretation of “eternal” fire.
The next passage Burk looks at is Jude 1:13. I find most English translations very irritating in how they “translate” eis ton aión as “forever”. For example:
Jude 1:13, ESV
1Samuel 27:12 and Malachi 3:4 are examples in the LXX where the words can’t literally mean forever, and indeed some translations realise this:
1Samuel 27:12, NIV
Malachi 3:4, HCSB
If we look at each word in word, here’s what we find:
eis: to or into (indicating the point reached or entered, of place, time, fig. purpose, result)
Strong’s Concordance, 1519
ho, hé, to: the
Strong’s Concordance, 3588
aión: a space of time, an age
Strong’s Concordance, 165
Seriously, why can’t they just translate each word and leave the interpretation to the reader? I think the Apostolic Bible Polyglot translation is more honest and helpful in this regard:
Jude 1:13, Apostolic Bible Polyglot
Although Burk mentions that the darkness is “forever”, I’m glad doesn’t base his argument on eis ton aión. Instead he notes that verse 6 also talks about darkness:
And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternalaidios chains under gloomy-darknesszophos until the judgment of the great day
Jude 1:6, ESV
Burk comment on this is that:
The black darkness suggests the same fate [for the false teachers] as that of the fallen angels who were being “kept in eternal bonds under darkness” (v. 6) until the final judgment.
Denny Burk, page 38
However, this is puzzling because doesn’t it say the fallen angels are only in darkness temporarily, until judgment? Does that mean the false teachers are only in the darkness temporarily too?
Anyway, Burk goes on to look at the image of “darkness” in Matthew, and how it’s connected to the “fiery furnace” and “weeping and gnashing” images:
I tell you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew 8:11-12, HCSB
So he [the king in the parable] said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless. Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Matthew 22:12-13, HCSB (cf 25:28-30)
Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the ageaión. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 13:40-42, ESV (cf v48-50)
Sobering stuff. It’s not surprising that the Pharisees were very offended (Matt 22:15, 26:3) that Jesus’ parables implied they weren’t entitled to be at the feast, that their complacency and negligence was going to result in their blessing/invite/talent being taken away from them and given to those they disdained, even evil people off the streets (Matt 22:10) and Roman centurions (Matt 8:10)! As we now know, Israel was indeed thrown into the “fiery furnace”―God allowed the Romans to burn Jerusalem to the ground in 70AD. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, the natural consequences of rejecting God’s ways―becoming smug, violent, and unloving―was severe and left them weeping and gnashing in the dark.
While I believe the impending earthly “hell” was Jesus’ primary concern for His immediate audience, I think the parables can be applied further. At times, each and every person is unloving in all manner of ways―from subtle disregard of those in need, to blatant smugness, lust for power, and violence. Jesus even warned His 12 disciples about these things so none of us should be complacent and reliant on our righteousness.
However, for those who are trying to heed Jesus, particularly those who are already weeping in the dark, I believe that thankfully the Bible promises that one day there will be no more tears or darkness anywhere, and that those who have been cut off will be grafted back on.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away.
Revelation 21:4, HCSB
On that day the sources of light will no longer shine, yet there will be continuous day! Only the Lord knows how this could happen. There will be no normal day and night, for at evening time it will still be light.
On that day life-giving waters will flow out from Jerusalem, half toward the Dead Sea [the Lake of Fire 1] and half toward the Mediterranean, flowing continuously in both summer and winter.
And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day there will be one Lord—his name alone will be worshiped.
Zechariah 14:6-9, NLT
Did God’s people stumble and fall beyond recovery? Of course not! They were disobedient, so God made salvation available to the Gentiles. But he wanted his own people to become jealous and claim it for themselves… And if the people of Israel turn from their unbelief, they will be grafted in again, for God has the power to graft them back into the tree.
Romans 11:11,23, NLT
1. Thanks to Brad Jersak for pointing this out in Her Gate Will Never Be Shut.