I’ve been engaging Denny Burk’s biblical and theological case for Eternal Conscious Torment in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. The last passage he examines is:
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever [literally “into the ages of the ages”]…
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:10, 14-15, NIV
In the previous post I looked at how the Greek word translated “tormented” was connected to testing metal in preparation for purification, and how “sulfur” was linked to purification and healing. I also explained why “forever” isn’t a literal translation but an interpretation based on other unnecessary beliefs about the ages. However, in this post I’ll focus on new points Burk raises:
Those found in the Book of Life are separated once and for all from those who are not found there. Those not in the Book of Life are raised from the dead in bodies fit to endure their final punishment, and they are thrown into the lake of fire.
Denny Burk, page 41
I agree that judgment will result in separation. However, Revelation 20:10-15 seems to be linked to yet another “Universalist postscript”:
And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
Revelation 21:23-26, ESV
To understand just how remarkable this could be, we need to look at who the “kings of the earth” were:
These kings of the earth have committed fornication with the economic whore-city Babylon, and she rules over them. When she is burned up in the fiery judgment of God, they stand appalled. Indeed, the lake of fire is the way in which those who join themselves with Babylon share in the same fate as her (17:2, 18; 18:3, 9). These same kings hide in fear from the end-time wrath of God (6:15) but still join with the Beast to make war on Christ (19:19). But the Christ they attack is the King of kings (19:16) and the ruler of the kings of the earth (1:5), and he defeats them (19:21). There can be no doubt that these kings of the earth find themselves in the lake of fire. Yet it is the very same kings of the earth of whom we read that they enter the New Jerusalem via the open gates in order to bring their splendor into it (a contrast with 18:4-19, in which they bring their splendor into Babylon). John has actually changed the “kings” of his source text (Isa 60:3, 11) to “kings of the earth” so as to ensure we understand just who he has in mind. They come, “not as captives or second class citizens,” but as worshippers on an equal standing with the other redeemed.
Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist page 116
Likewise, “the nations” in Revelation are those who have been receiving God’s wrath―the ones who weren’t in the Book of Life and were in the Lake of Fire (see previous post for details). To be clear, it’s only after they get their names written in the Book of Life, that they enter. This alone suggests the contents of the book aren’t fixed but there’s more support:
A more important observation is that [Revelation] 3:5 strongly suggests that one could have one’s name removed from the BOL. This interpretation is strengthened by the following observations:
(i) The Old Testament background to the notion of the BOL clearly envisages the real possibility of being “blotted out” from it (Ps 69:28; Exod 32:32-33; Dan 12:1-2).
(ii) The book of Revelation is clear in its warnings that Christian apostates will be thrown into the lake of fire. To suggest that such apostates were not real Christians does not, in my view, do justice to the way in which they are described and the severity of the warnings to the churches not to apostatize.
Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist page 193
However, if you are still adamant that it’s fixed, there are other possibilities. For example:
Perhaps the BOL is a record of those who will receive eternal life, and within it we see the following, and only, entry—“Christ.” Before creation, God ordains that those “in Christ” (to resort to Pauline terminology) would receive eternal life—share in the resurrection life of Christ. When a person believes the gospel they are in Christ and share in that promise of his life. In Christ they are in the book from before creation. If they apostasize, they are out of Christ and are thus no longer in the book from creation. The moment a person believes he or she moves from the state of “not being (in Christ) recorded in the BOL from before the creation of the world” to the state of “being (in Christ) recorded in the BOL from before the creation of the world.”
I put this forward as a tentative proposal that could possibly make sense of the problematic data. Although the theology of indwelling Christ and sharing in his life is not prominent in the Apocalypse, it is a major theme in John’s Gospel, which probably arose in the same Christian circle; and that could lend weight to this proposal.
Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist page 194
The above seems similar to Karl Barth’s view.
In an email to Parry, Talbott suggests another approach:
Perhaps all the descendents of Adam, all who come into the world as “children of wrath,” also go by a name that is not written in the BOL. Yes some names are written there from the foundation of the world and some are not. But is “Abram” written there? Or is it “Abraham”? In Revelation 2:17 we read:
To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone, which no one knows except him who receives it.
Evidently then, people can receive a new name, and this is certainly consistent with the idea of a new birth or a new creation in Christ. So is not the following consistent with the teaching about the Lamb’s BOL? Even though no new names are ever added, people can (as all Christians do) receive a new name, one that has always been written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world.
Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist page 194
Talbott’s suggestion also fits with the table at the end of Immortal Worms & Unquenchable Fire.
Back to Burk’s argument:
The opening of the books and the judgment according to deeds indicate that the final assize will render to each person what is owed to them. Again, there is no hint of renewal or annihilation, only of divine retribution for the deeds that each person accomplished while living.
Denny Burk, page 41
I agree that there are consequences to our deeds. However, I also believe that God is free to forgive and use those consequences for His glory and our good. As I tried to show in my previous post, I think that even in this severe passage, there are hints of renewal:
- in the Universalist postscripts.
- in the wider use of the image of “sulfur” and “fire”.
- in the Greek words translated “tormented” and “forever”.
- in the hyperbolic OT language that John seems to be drawing from.
- even without all of the above, because there seems to be a pattern of sin-judgment-repentance-restoration throughout the Bible, acknowledging that a particular text is judgment doesn’t rule out the possibility that it’s also part of the pattern.
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