Category: Book Reviews

Book of Life―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 9

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

The Book of Life
The Book of Life

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.

Fire & Brimstone―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 8

I’ve been engaging Denny Burk’s biblical and theological case for Eternal Conscious Torment in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. Next he examines:

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forevereis aión and everaión [literally “into ages of ages”], and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

Revelation 14:9-11, ESV

Smoke

John seems to be drawing directly from the judgment language in Jeremiah 25:15-16 and Isaiah 34:8-10 (see The Evangelical Universalist p124-125). In particular, although Isaiah 34:10 said the smoke of Babylon’s destruction would rise “forever, historically it actually didn’t, making it likely that the language is hyperbolic and symbolic. Therefore, this would suggest that “forever” is also hyperbolic and symbolic here in Revelation―that the smoke won’t literally rise forever. However, Burk doesn’t mention this background, but instead interprets the phrase “forever and ever, and they have no rest day and night” as implying:

John says that the pain and distress do not end but go on everlastingly.

Denny Burk, page 40

In 1Timothy 1:17 the ESV footnotes indicate the Greek behind the phrase “forever and ever” is literally “to the ages of ages”, which means all 3 occurrences of aión in the verse are translated the same:

To the King of the agesaión, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory to the agesaión of agesaión. Amen.

1Timothy 1:17, literal translation in ESV footnotes 

Exactly what into the “ages of ages” means, depends partly on how many ages we think there are… I’ve heard some people argue there are only two, while others argue there are many. I lean towards the latter, although universalism doesn’t hinge on it. In the next section Burk describes the second death as lasting “everlasting ages“, which seems to imply he also thinks there will be more than one future age.

Continuing on, Burk says that in contrast to the “saints who persevere”:

John describes the damned as “tormented with fire and brimstone” (v. 10). Again, the imagery of fire shows up here as an expression of God’s holy and painful judgment on sin.

Denny Burk, page 40

I think God’s spiritual surgery/pruning/purging/purifying of everyone will be both holy and painful, albeit the best thing for everyone. It’s possible the image of theion, translated “brimstone” or “sulfur”, supports this angle too.

… equivalent to divine incense, because burning brimstone was regarded as having power to purify
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, theion

Sherman Nobles unpacks this:

Sulfur was burnt as incense by the Greeks and Romans during their “worship” of the gods as a means of spiritual purification. It’s healing benefits are widely known. Hot Sulfur Springs were well known for their healing benefits. They even burnt sulfur as an incense for medicinal purposes.

Sherman Nobles, The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Burk goes on to say:

The verb for “torment” (basanizó) in verse 10 means to subject someone to severe distress.

Denny Burk, page 40

But it’s interesting that the first definition given in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:

1. properly, to test (metals) by the touchstone.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, basanizó

As Nobles explains:

Note that the word “torment”, basanizo, is related to the testing of metal, rubbing metal against a touch-stone to see how much it needs to be purified.

Sherman Nobles, The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Burk continues:

The noun for “torment” (basanismos) in verse 11 likewise refers to “the severe pain experienced through torture.”

Denny Burk, page 40

Again it’s tricky because severe testing, correction, purifying, pruning, etc. can seem like torture to the person receiving it, especially if they aren’t in a relationship with the Surgeon, Gardener, Metallurgist allowing and/or applying it―which seems to be the case with the “worshipers of the beast”. We see this again in the first definition given in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon:

1. a testing by the touchstone or by torture.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, basanismos

Stepping back from the definitions of the words, it’s worth looking at the context of the passage. Robin Parry does this thoroughly in his chapter on Revelation in The Evangelical Universalist but one of his points is as follows:

The two visions in 14:6-20 both refer to the climax of God’s judgments and 15:2-4 to the eschatological salvation consequent upon those judgments. So our first hell text is set within one of the “final-judgment-followed-by-salvation” sections that Beale notes:

Judgment Salvation
6:12-17 7:9-17
11:18a 11:18b
14:6-20 15:2-4
16:17-18:24 19:1-10
20:7-15 21:1-22:5

This observation will later be seen to be of considerable hermeneutical significance.

Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist page 108-109

So although Revelation 14:9-11 has judgment, it is linked to salvation in 15:2-4. Parry describes this as a “Universalist postscript”.

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,

“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Revelation 15:2-4, ESV

Parry explains the significance:

To see the universalist implications of this we need to clarify the referent of “all nations” in v. 4. In the book of Revelation, the nations are created by God and ought to worship him (4:11); instead, they rebel against him. The Beast is given authority over them (13:7b). They partake in the sins of the world-city Babylon and thus also in her judgment (14:8; 17:15; 18:3, 23; 16:19). John is called to prophesy against the nations (10:11), and, just prior to Babylon’s final destruction, a final gospel call to repentance goes out to the nations (14:6)—a call they do not heed. Under the deceptive influence of Satan and the Beast, the nations persecute God’s people (11:12). When Satan is bound in the millennium, he can no longer deceive the nations (20:3). But afterwards, he raises them for the final battle against the saints (20:8). Consequently, they are the objects of God’s eschatological wrath (11:8; 12:5; 19:15).

The saints are never identified with the nations. For John, the nations are the apostate ethno-political groupings that make up God’s rebellious world. The saints are distinguished from them as those who have been redeemed from among the nations to form a new kingdom and who are the objects of the nations’ rage. There can be no doubt that the nations referred to in 15:4 are the same apostate nations the smoke of whose torment rises forever and ever. So what does the victory song of the saints tell us about them? That although they are now subject to God’s wrath, they will come and worship before God. Notice that John does not say that people from all nations (a description which would fit the church, 5:9; 7:9) will come and worship, but that all nations will come and worship.

Robin Parry, The Evangelical Universalist page 111-112

Fiery Darkness―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 7

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:

wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom-of-utterzophos darkness has been reserved forevereis ton aión.

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:

Achish trusted David and said to himself, “He has become so obnoxious to his people, the Israelites, that he will be my servant for lifeeis ton aión.”

1Samuel 27:12, NIV

And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord as in days of oldton aión and years gone by.

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:

wild waves of the sea foaming up their own shame; wandering stars, ones to whom the infernal-regionzophos of darkness is being kept intoeis theton eonaión.

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.

Jerusalem 70 AD
Jerusalem 70 AD

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.

Ruin from God?―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 6

Fire

I’m blogging through Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. Denny Burk wrote the biblical and theological case for the first view, Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT). The next passage he examines is Mark 9:42-48. However, I’ve already covered that in Immortal Worms & Unquenchable Fire, and Matthew’s parallel in Is Aionios Eternal?, so I’ll move straight to his next passage, 2Thessalonians 1:6-10.

since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternalaiónios destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

2Thessalonians 1:6-10, ESV

Burk notes that there is some disagreement over the translation of verse 9, mainly around whether apofrom should be interpreted “[away] from” or “[that comes] from”. The NIV, NET, RSV, NLT, LEB, GNT, CEB, AMP, NASB, etc. translate it like the former. The HCSB, KJV, DLNT, DRA, GNV, JUB, WEB, WYC, YLT, etc. translate it like the latter. The ESV has the former in the text and the latter in footnotes. Anyway, Burk sides with former and I side with the latter.

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction that comes from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might

2Thessalonians 1:9, ESV footnotes

hoitineswho dikēnpenalty tisousinwill-pay olethronruination aiōnioneonian apofrom prosōpoupresence touof-the KyriouLord kaiand apofrom tēsthe doxēsglory tēsof-the ischyosstrength autouof-him

2Thessalonians 1:9, Interlinear

Talbott explains why he thinks the latter is better:

Second, if the idea of eternal destruction implies punishment of some kind, does it also imply a final separation from God? Some of our English Bibles certainly do leave such an impression … But these are inaccurate paraphrases, and the American Standard Version, which speaks simply of:

eternal destruction from (apo) the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

is both more literal and less theologically biased at this point. The sole reason other translators have for injecting into the text the idea of being excluded or shut out from the presence of the Lord is that the Greek apo, like the English “from,” can sometimes mean “away from.” As Leon Morris once pointed out, “This is certainly the meaning … in Isa. 2:10,” where we read:

Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust from the terror of the Lord, and from the glory of his majesty.

It is also the meaning in Revelation 6:16, where the kings of the earth and others cry out to the mountains and rocks:

Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.

In these texts, however, the verb “to hide” or “to conceal” determines the correct translation. When we try to hide or to conceal ourselves from the presence of the Lord … we are indeed trying to get away from that presence. But in the context of 2 Thessalonians 1:9, we find no relevant verb, such as “to hide” or “to conceal,” no relevant subject of the action, and no other grammatical device that would entitle one to translate apo as “away from.” In the absence of such a device, such a translation makes no more coherent sense in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 than it would in Acts 3:19, where the wording is identical:

Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.

Just as the presence of the Lord is the causal source of, or that which brings about, refreshing times for the obedient, so the appearance of the Lord “with his mighty angels in flaming fire” (2 Thess 1:7–8) is the causal source of, or that which brings about, the destruction of the disobedient. No other understanding seems to me even remotely plausible. “Destruction away from the glory of his might” simply makes no sense at all in the context, but “destruction that comes from or has its causal source in “the glory of his might” makes perfectly good sense.

Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God, page 89-90

Interestingly, despite going with the separation interpretation (which fits better with the ECT’s permanent “them and us”), Burk doesn’t want to support Annihilationism so he says:

They will in fact be in the presence of God’s wrath in their eternal destruction, for it is God himself who will “afflict” them (v. 6) and the Lord Jesus who will give them “retribution” (v. 8).
Denny Burk, page 35

Which ironically seems to actually support the “[that comes] from” interpretation that he opposes.

Anyway, regardless of which translation is correct, I think the more important question is, “What does olethros aiōnios mean?” Burk rightly notes that olethros doesn’t mean “cease to exist” in the other places it occurs in the NT:

hand this man over to Satan for the destructionolethros of the flesh [sinful nature], so that his spirit may be saved on the [Judgment] day of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 5:5, NIV

While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destructionolethros will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

1 Thessalonians 5:3, NIV

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruinolethros and destruction.

1 Timothy 6:9, NIV

So it seems Burk and I would agree olethros is more like “ruination” in the sense of painful reduction. Reminds me of severe pruning, which would seem to fit particularly well with 1Cor 5:5, and with kolasis in Matthew 25:45 (see Pruning the Flock?). However, even if it does mean “cease to exist”, I think that would make 1Cor 5:5 an example of Paul’s “old man vs new man”―that God annihilates the evil within each and every person, rather than annihilating people made in His image (see the second half of Immortal Worms & Unquenchable Fire).

I’ve looked at the meaning of aiōnios a couple of times now (e.g. Is Aionios Eternal?), so I’ll just say here that I think that the word is probably best translated “eonian”, in the sense of something that will occur in the next age (e.g. after Judgment Day).

Burk ends the section by making a case that it is retribution, which it certainly appears to be. However, there are examples in the Bible of retribution being followed, sometimes much later, by reconciliation (e.g. Egypt in Isaiah 19). So the fact that only the former is mentioned here doesn’t rule out the latter.

Pruning the Flock?―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 5

I’m blogging through Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. Denny Burk wrote the theological and biblical case for the first view, Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT). This post will look at the next passage he examines, Matthew 24:31-46.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Matthew 24:31-32, NIV

Burk helpfully notes how this fulfills one of Daniel’s visions:

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlastingaiónios dominion that will not pass away 1, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13-14, NIV

Burk points out that everyone receives justice:

This Son of Man rules over the nations as the world’s true king, and he will render justice to every individual who has ever lived.

Denny Burk, page 28

But Daniel’s vision goes further, stating that everyone worshiped God (v14). Burk might respond that the reprobates’ worship is because of their subjugation. However, I think that’s very unlikely for two reasons:

First, in the vision’s interpretation we are told:

The kingdom, dominion, and greatness of the kingdoms under all of heaven will be given to the people, the holy ones of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will serve and obey Him.

Daniel 7:27, NIV

The only way for these rulers and kingdom folk to serve and obey God is to receive a new heart from God―to repent and willingly join His kingdom.

Second, God isn’t interested in mere forced lip service 2, He rightly requires and deserves wholehearted worship, which can only come from a renewed, Spirit-filled person.

Burk moves on to Jesus dividing “the sheep from the goats”:

The Son of Man separates them from one another because he intends to treat them differently based on what they are.

Denny Burk, page 29

Last year I gave reasons why I think Jesus wasn’t comparing adult sheep with adult goats but rather mature and immature animals within the Good Shepherd’s flock. If this is correct, this changes “what they are” and therefore the interpretation of how “he intends to treat them”. That doesn’t mean it will be easy for the immature but it seems to imply His aim is maturity―particularly Christlike empathy in this parable.

Baby goat
Young goat

Yes, Burk is right that aiónios fire is mentioned but I think this evocative language highlights the severity not the unlovingness of the process. For example:

“Therefore wait for me,” declares the Lord, “for the day I will stand up to testify. I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them—all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger. Then I will purify the speech of all people, so that everyone can worship the Lord together.

Zephaniah 3:8 (NIV), 3:9 (NLT)

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.

Malachi 3:2-3, ESV

their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day [of Jesus’ Judgment] will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.

1 Corinthians 3:13, NIV

Burk discusses how some people translate kolasis aiónios (Matt 25:45) as “correction in-the-next-age” rather than “eternal punishment” as he does. He goes as far as saying:

kolasis never means “correction” or “pruning” anywhere in the New Testament or related literature.

Denny Burk, page 30

I’m puzzled by his certainty because I’ve found evidence to the contrary. For example, according to Perseus 3 kolasis appears in a few hundred ancient Greek texts, and they’ve summed it up as:

checking the growth.

Perseus, Greek Word Study Tool

Barclay, a theologian and author of popular NT commentaries, came to a very similar conclusion:

The word was originally a gardening word, and its original meaning was pruning trees. In Greek there are two words for punishment… kolasis is for the sake of the one who suffers it [i.e. correction to mature someone]; timoria is for the sake of the one who inflicts it [i.e. retribution]

William Barclay, The Apostles’ Creed (see also 

Furthermore, the NAS Exhaustive Concordance says kolasis comes from kolazó, which includes:

1. properly, to lop, prune, as trees, wings.

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

Another word that comes from kolazó, is kólon, which means:

a limb of the body (as if lopped)
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance

However, given correction can be severe (like chopping off a gangrenous leg) it’s understandable that it also became associated with punishment.

kolasis: maiming, cutting off.
J. Schneider, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament Volume III

All this reminds me of Paul’s description of God cutting the Jews off for a time (which has been unpleasant for them), before grafting them back on again once the Gentiles have come in.

Burk comments that:

The term is used one other time in the New Testament, in 1 John 4:18 where it clearly means punishment.

Denny Burk, page 30

I think “clearly” is a bit strong as some translations don’t translate it that way (e.g. Douay-Rheims BibleWeymouth New Testament, 1599 Geneva Bible, and Wycliffe Bible translate it as pain, and Aramaic Bible in Plain English translates it as suspicion). Also if the word is translated “correction” it seems to link better with teleioó in the last sentence:

God’s love doesn’t contain fear, rather His perfect love removes fear―the fear of correctionkolasis. That we still fear means we haven’t yet been fully correctedteleioó (indeed filled) by His love 4.

In any case, universalism doesn’t hinge on the definition of kolasis as there are plenty of examples of God even restoring people who appear to have experienced retributive punishment 5.

Lastly, Burk says that the fate of demonic creatures is ECT, and that therefore ECT is the fate of the people sent into the fire “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). However, Universalists, such as Gregory of Nyssa, the father of orthodoxy, maintained that even “the originator of evil himself will be healed” 6 ―that he will be reconciled because he is part of all things that God has created (see Col 1:15-20).


1. It’s interesting how translating aiónios as everlasting makes an unnecessary tautology, whereas translating it eonian would not. See also Is Aionios Eternal?.
2. See Everyone Repents & Rejoices for examples of what He requires and what He says is unsatisfactory.
3.  An online dictionary used by Logos, the largest and most widely used Bible software in the world.
4. I like the way the Amplified Bible, Classic Edition puts it.
5. e.g. restoration of Sodom in Ezekiel 16:53.
6. Thanks to Robin Parry for pointing this out in Origen on the Salvation of the Devil.
.

Is Aionios Eternal?―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 4

Denny Burk
Denny Burk

I’m blogging my way through Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. The biblical and theological case for the first of the views, Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT), was written by Denny Burk. In this post, I’ll look at the next passage he examines, Matthew 18:6-9.

6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternalaiónios fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hellgeenna.

Matthew 18:6-9, NIV

Burk states that the penalty for causing a believer to completely fall away is:

complete destruction in “eternal fire” (v. 8) and “fiery hell” (v. 9)Denny Burk, page 26

He explains that the word geenna, translated “hell”, literally means the “Valley of Hinnom” but that intertestamental literature and the New Testament used it as an image of final judgment. I recently read Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, which made a compelling case that Jesus actually used geenna much more like Jeremiah did (e.g. warning of imminent destruction in this world). However, for the sake of the argument, I’ll assume it’s also about the final judgment.

Burk says that “life” in Matthew is always “eternal” life of the next age, so it must be that in v8. His next step is to say that because the life is everlasting, then the punishment in the fire is also everlasting. I tried to demonstrate in my last post that just because both things occur in the next age doesn’t imply they must be of equal duration.

That aiónios is often translated as “eternal” or “everlasting” in mainstream English bibles, also doesn’t settle the matter. Terms for Eternity: Aiônios and Aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts is the most comprehensive academic analysis of these particular words that I know of 1. As it is far more in depth than any lexicon entry, it seems to be the logical starting point 2.

[aiónios] may sometimes mean eternal but also bears many other meanings … [such as] pertaining to the next aion [aeon/eon]

Ramelli & Konstan, Terms for Eternity, vii

This is supported by other respected scholars:

[aiónios means] belonging to the age to come

J.I. Packer, The Problem of Eternal Punishment, Crux XXVI.3, September 1990, 23
[aiónios means] of the Age to Come
N.T. Wright, The New Interpreter’s Bible

Some examples of the range of meanings:

in the hope of eternalaiónios life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginningaiónios of time

Titus 1:2, NIV

the mystery hidden for longaiónios ages past

Romans 16:25, NIV

in the ancientaiónios paths

Jeremiah 18:15, NIV
the age-oldaiónios hills collapsed—but he marches on foreveraiónios
Habakkuk 3:6b, NIV
the years of long-agoaiónios
Psalm 77:5, NIV
as in ancientaiónios ruins
Ezekiel 26:20,  NIV
Do not move ancientaiónios boundary stone set up by your ancestors.
Proverbs 22:28, NIV
its bars held me with no-end-in-sightaiónios [ended up being 3 days!]
Jonah 2:6, CEB

Burk sort-of acknowledges the range of meanings (although he adds a disclaimer, which I’ll look at later):

[aiónios] means “a long period of time” in a handful of New Testament texts.

Denny Burk, page 27-28

Surely if God had wanted to unambiguously convey to everyone the idea of Eternal Conscious Torment, He would’ve used less ambiguous words (example below) and phrases. Conversely, because He used the polysemous aiónios, it’s reasonable to infer that He wasn’t trying to convey the idea of eternity.

We have seen that the term aïdios has its roots in the earliest Greek philosophical vocabulary, and more or less consistently refers to a strictly eternal stretch of time, without beginning or end, or at least endless. This use obtains in later pagan as well as Christian writers.

Terms for Eternity, page 237

God is a responsible Creator (many would also say loving Father), so if there was Eternal Conscious Torment, there would be clear support for it in every book of the Bible. That we don’t find anything that could even vaguely suggest it in most of the OT (and much of the NT), seems to suggest He really wasn’t warning us of it.

Similarly, if Conditionalism is true, that God only gives people limited chances, I would expect to find no hint of Universalism anywhere in the Bible because God wouldn’t want to give people false hope and potentially lose them forever. That thousands (millions?) have, often independently, interpreted the Bible as promising Universalism seems to indicate it’s at least a real possibility.

An example of the Bible giving us hope is in the very next verse in Matthew, which is the famous Parable of the Lost Sheep―widely recognised as illustrating God’s grace that persists until all are rescued.

In the sentence after Burk says aiónios is sometimes a long period, he adds this disclaimer:

But its [aiónios] use in Matthew’s Gospel routinely means a “period of unending duration” or a time “without end”
Denny Burk, page 28

However, aiónios only appears in Matthew five other times (see below), that’s hardly routinely, especially when the word appears a total of 163 times in the Greek OT and 77 times in the NT.

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternalaiónios life?”
Matthew 19:16, NIV
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternalaiónios life.
Matthew 19:29, NIV
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternalaiónios fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
Matthew 25:41, NIV
“Then they will go away to eternalaiónios punishment, but the righteous to eternalaiónios life.”
Matthew 25:46, NIV

If each aiónios above was translated, say “belonging to the age to come” as Packer suggested, each verse would still make just as much sense—it is not necessary to translate any of them as “eternal” or as Burk suggests. Sure we believe the life “belonging to the age to come” is also unending but that’s not because of aiónios but because it is:

  • in the sustaining/renewing presence of God (Rev 21:23, 22:5).
  • immortal (2Tim 1:10).
  • without death (1Cor 15:26; 2Tim 1:10; Rev 20:14).
  • without rust and decay (Matt 6:20).
  • tied to our relationship with God (John 17:3).

So far I’ve been arguing that it’s unlikely that the word pivotal to Burk’s case, aiónios, means “everlasting”, but let’s say it does. There are a few different responses that can be given 3 but I’ll just look at one based on this comment:

It is best not to take the eternal fire as literal but as a metaphorical expression that is drawn from Old Testament antecedents (e.g., Isa. 66:24) and that expresses the pain that must be endured by those in hell.

Denny Burk, page 28

I agree we should interpret the fire as metaphorical. So, given that we’re talking about non-literal things, shouldn’t the fuzzy aiónios also be considered non-literal??


1. 250 pages covering almost every instance in the texts of the period. A helpful review.
2. For much longer discussions see Sometimes Eternal Isn’t Forever or Talbott on Matthew 25:41, 46.
3. Others point to examples in the OT where we see that statements about the future are conditional, in that God’s punishments are everlasting/perpetual/no-end-in-sight, until the group or person repents (because God has been working in them) and God saves them. James Goetz makes a good case for this in his book, Conditional Futurism. Others take the dual-selves approach, which I explained at the end of Immortal Worms & Unquenchable Fire―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 2

Punishment’s Duration―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 3

Denny Burk
Denny Burk

I’m blogging my way through Four Views on Hell: Second Edition. The biblical and theological case for the first of the views, Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT), is written by Denny Burk. In this post I’ll look at Daniel 12:2-3, which is the next passage he examines.

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.Daniel 12:2, NIV

Burk highlights Jesus’ allusion to this passage in John 5:28-29. This seems to imply that both passages describe the universal resurrection and judgment at the end of the age. Most Evangelicals Universalists and Conditionalists that I know don’t dispute either event, but disagree about what happens after the judgment.

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.John 5:28-29, ESV

Burk recognises that the Hebrew word olam (translated “everlasting” in the NIV) “has the connotation of time extending into the distant past and into the future indefinitely.”1 Note that neither “distant” nor “indefinite” is necessarily “everlasting”. But he then claims the separation in the passages above is permanent because olam is used to describe both the life and the contempt. As the former is everlasting, he concludes the latter must be too.

However, even according to his own definition of olam, that seems like a huge leap. If I say X occurred in the distant past and Y occurred in the distant past, that surely doesn’t mean both X and Y had to occur at the same instant and for the same duration. Similarly, if I say event X is indefinitely long and event Y is indefinitely long, it seems that logically there’s no necessary link between the durations of X and Y.

If I tell you that, “Tomorrow I’m going to the gym and tomorrow I’m reading a book”, does that mean I must be doing both activities for exactly the same duration? Unlikely. Or even an example where we have a clearer idea of the duration of the first thing, “Tomorrow I’m moving to the US and tomorrow I’m reading a book”, again does this imply I must be reading the book for the entire journey and forever in the US?? I see no reason to think that.

It’s also worth considering how olam is used in Hebrew.

Hebrew words used for space2 are also used for time… The Hebrew word olam literally means “beyond the horizon.” When looking off in the far distance it is difficult to make out any details and what is beyond that horizon cannot be seen. This concept is the olam. The word olam is also used for time for the distant past or the distant future as a time that is difficult to know or perceive.

Ancient Hebrew Research Center

That the life and contempt both occur “beyond the horizon”, in the ages to come, surely doesn’t mean they are necessarily of equal duration.

Here are two more examples of scholars who don’t think “everlasting” is the best translation:

The word [olam] itself simply means “long duration,” “antiquity,” “futurity,” “until the end of a period of time.” That period of time is determined by the context. Sometimes it is the length of a man’s life, sometimes it is an age, and sometimes it is a dispensation.

The second thing to keep in mind is that there are two Hebrew forms of olam. The first form is le-olam, which means “unto an age.” And the second form is ad-olam, which means “until an age.” However, neither of these forms carry the English meaning of “forever.” Although it has been translated that way in English, the Hebrew does not carry the concept of eternity as the English word “forever” does.

The third thing to keep in mind is that the word olam, le-olam, or ad-olam, sometimes means only up “to the end of a man’s life.” For example, it is used of someone’s lifetime (Ex. 14:13), of a slave’s life (Ex. 21:6; Lev. 25:46; Deut. 15:17), of Samuel’s life (I Sam. 1:22; 2:35), of the lifetimes of David and Jonathan (I Sam. 20:23), and of David’s lifetime (I Sam. 27:12; 28:2; I Chr. 28:4). While the English reads for ever, obviously from the context it does not mean “forever” in the sense of eternity, but only up to the end of the person’s life.

The fourth thing to keep in mind about the meaning of olam is that it sometimes means only “an age” or “dispensation.” For example, Deuteronomy 23:3 uses the term for ever but limits the term to only ten generations. Here it obviously carries the concept of an age. In II Chronicles 7:16, it is used only for the period of the First Temple. So, again, the word for ever [olam] in Hebrew does not mean “eternal” as it does in English; it means up to the end of a period of time, either a man’s life, or an age, or a dispensation.

Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Ariel Ministries Manuscript 176, p323

Olam: Jenni holds that its basic meaning “most distant times” can refer to either the remote past or to the future or to both as due to the fact that it does not occur independently (as a subject or as an object) but only in connection with prepositions indicating direction (“since,” “until,” “up to”) or as an adverbial accusative of direction or finally as the modifying genitive in the construct relationship.

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament3

Here’s an example of a translation that I think better captures the broad scope of the word:

I have sunk down to the underworld; its bars held me with no end in sight [olam]. But you brought me out of the pit.

Jonah 2:6, CEB

Interestingly, in this case, olam turned out to be only 3 days! For more examples, see Gerry Beauchemin’s helpful article.

Burk says the use of “contempt” suggests punishment, and it probably does. However, the question isn’t whether or not there’s punishment but whether or not God rescues everyone. Personally I think there are many biblical and theological reasons for thinking that He does. I’ve posted some of them on this blog and when we get to engaging with Robin Parry’s chapter, we should find some more.

Anyway, hopefully from all of the above you can see that the “contempt” in Daniel 12:2 is indefinite in duration, and therefore doesn’t necessarily support ECT.


1. p25
2. The connection with location is interesting when you consider how the Greek equivalent, aionios (which I’ll look at in a future post), also carries the idea of “in or of the age to come”.
3. As cited by HaDavar Messianic Ministries.

Immortal Worms & Unquenchable Fire―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 2

In my last post I started looking at the first of the views in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition, Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT). Denny Burk wrote a biblical and theological case for this view. The next section of his chapter is titled “Scriptural Teaching on Hell”.

Denny Burk
Denny Burk

Robert Peterson has argued that there are at least ten texts of Scripture that deal explicitly with hell and with the final state of the wicked: Isaiah 66:22-24; Daniel 12:2-3; Matthew 18:6-9; 25:31-46; Mark 9:42-48; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10; Jude 7, 13; Revelation 14:9-11; 20:10, 14-15.
Denny Burk, page 21

Burk states that from these passages we find at least three characteristics, which rule out all the other views in this book:

  1. Irrevocable final separation at the last judgment.
  2. Absolutely unending conscious experience.
  3. Just retribution to recompense for evil, not to redeem or renew.

I’ll discuss the above characteristics as I go through Burk’s section on Isaiah 66:22-24:

22 “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure.
23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord.
24 “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”
Isaiah 66:22-24, NIV

He introduces this as “foundational because Jesus himself alludes to it to describe the final fate of the wicked”. 1

So how did Jesus use Isaiah 66? 2 In Mark 9, His disciples after they have been arguing about who was the greatest and who was in the “in group”. In response, Jesus gives a series of exhortations to be humble and welcoming, and to remove temptations from their lives. To illustrate the severity of not doing these things, He quotes Isaiah 66:24:

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into [the Valley of Hinnom], ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’.
Mark 9:47-48, ESV

I’d like to tentatively suggest that Jesus comments on the “fire” in the next two verses:

For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Mark 9:49-50, ESV

If the “salt” here is God’s fire, then perhaps a reasonable paraphrase could be something like this:

For everyone will be refined by God’s fire (because everyone fails to remove temptation and sin for their lives?). Thankfully God’s fire is good, although if the fire has lost its fieriness (through our apathy and complacency? See Rev 3:15-18 below), how will you make it fiery again? Therefore keep God’s fire in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.
Mark 9:49-50, my tentative paraphrase

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot [on fire?]. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me [God] gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich…
Revelation 3:15-18a, ESV

It’s also worth noting that most Christians interpret, rightly I believe, “tearing your eye out” as rhetorical hyperbole―that Jesus isn’t advocating physical self-harm. That He discusses the worm and fire in this context might indicate that they too are rhetorical hyperbole. I think this fits with Isaiah 66 too, which is full of non-literal imagery, for example:

earth is My footstool… Zion was in labor, she gave birth to her sons… Be glad for Jerusalem… nurse and be satisfied from her comforting breast… His chariots are like the whirlwind… His fiery sword
Isaiah 66:1, 8, 10, 11, 15, 16, HCSB

Under the heading “Final Separation” Burk says v22 indicates Isaiah isn’t describing immediate events but the end of this age. He notes that Isaiah 65 describes the next age as in God’s presence, free from weeping, death, want, conflict, and evil, but only for God’s people―that these things don’t apply to the wicked.

I think this is problematic because our love for our loved ones will surely increase as we become more Christlike in the New Creation. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, He didn’t rejoice that they were about to experience the consequences of their love of violence (Luke 19:41). Therefore it’s hard to imagine us not weeping over those in ECT. Similarly, anything that isn’t in a right relationship with God is in an evil state. Therefore it seems to me that if ECT continues, so does evil.

Furthermore, he understands v24 as implying the dead rebels will be visible to God’s people, probably just outside Jerusalem in the Valley of Hinnom.

At the very least, it pictures a separation between the righteous and the wicked… The imagery pictures… “complete separation” of God’s enemies from his worshipers.
Denny Burk, page 23

Given the wicked are visible, just outside the open gates, I’d suggest the emphasis isn’t really on “complete separation”…

Burk then seeks to make a case for it being “Unending Experience”. He says that v22 implies that both the worshipers and wicked will endure as long as the New Creation (i.e. forever), the latter in “a perpetual state of dishonor”. 3

Lastly, under the heading “Just Retribution” Burk writes:

Isaiah 66:24 is the last verse in the book, and the implication is that the final word corresponds to their final state which is unending. This means that the punishment of the wicked is not disciplinary or restorative. Rather, it is a punitive measure to recompense the wicked for rebelling against God. The “continual burning” of the “consuming fire” of God does not purge evil but punished evil.
Denny Burk, page 24

If Isaiah 66:24 was the last verse of the Bible, then this would carry some weight, however, thankfully we have the rest of the Bible, most significantly the record of the coming of Jesus, the full revelation of God.

I’m baffled as to why he sees no possibility of the fire being anything other than punitive as even within Isaiah the image of fire is used in other ways:

I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities.
Isaiah 1:25, NIV
The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire.
Isaiah 4:4, NIV
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.
Isaiah 6:6, ESV
See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
Isaiah 48:10, NIV

And there are other examples throughout the Bible:

 

I think there’s potentially another way of understanding the passage, which comes from the last two verses:

  • all mankind bow down to God (v23)
  • all mankind go out and look at the dead bodies of the rebels (v24)

As all mankind are rebels (Rom 3:23) it seems v24 could read as:

  • all mankind will realise their dead bodies are loathsome

In other words, this appears to be another example of our dual-selves, a theme that appears in Isaiah and throughout the rest of the Bible:

Old name New name Isa 56:5, 62:2, 65:15; Rev 2:17, 3:12
Old man New man Rom 6:6; Eph 2:15, 4:22-24; Col 3:9-11 4
Abram Abraham Gen 17:5
Heart of stone Heart of flesh Ezk 11:19, 36:26
Flesh Spirit Gal 5:16–18
Old things New creature 2Cor 5:17
Old heart New heart Jer 24:7
Simon Peter Mat 16:18
Satanic Peter Peter the leader Mat 16:23, 16:18
Dead Alive Col 2:13, 3:1-17; Eph 2:1-10

I think a case could be made that the wisdom literature (e.g. Proverbs) is similar―that rather than viewing ourselves as the righteous, wise, diligent, etc. and other people as the wicked, foolish, lazy, etc. , that we acknowledge that we are both, but thankfully God is helping us destroy the latter within us.


1. Page 21
2. I’ll leave the question of how Jesus compares to Isaiah’s revelation of God to another day, although it’s definitely worth considering, particularly given it’s Good Friday as I’m writing this!
3. Page 23
4. See also “Old Man” and “New Man” in Paul

Eternal Conscious Torment―Engaging Burk’s View of Hell―Part 1

I’m now going to dive into the actual views in Four Views on Hell: Second Edition, trying my best to keep Sprinkle’s gracious introduction in mind1. Remember that I’m posting as I go, so I don’t know what conclusions the author makes, nor the responses from the other authors…

Denny Burk
Denny Burk

The first of the views is Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT). The biblical and theological case for this was written by Denny Burk. He starts by rightly acknowledging that people don’t like the idea of hell.

One can hardly contemplate the horror of an eternal hell without shuddering at the thought of anyone having to bear such a fate.
Denny Burk, page 17

However, he believes ECT is what God reveals in the Bible, and therefore he has to submit to it. While he notes that some oppose ECT on exegetical and theological grounds, he quickly gives the impression that most objections are based primarily “on human estimations of the way God ought to behave”2. He gives three examples:

  1. Eternal punishment contradicts the goodness, love, and compassion of God and makes Him a tyrant.
  2. Eternal punishment contradicts the justice of God because it is in no way proportionate to the sin in question.
  3. Eternal punishment that is purely punitive and not remedial has no apparent value.
    Denny Burk, page 17

I think (1) is a fair objection but not because I’m bringing my “human estimations of the way God ought to behave” but because the Bible seems clear about what goodness, love, and compassion look like (e.g. Jesus! 1Cor 13:4-8, John 15:13), and that God is indeed Goodness (Psalm 119:68), Love (1John 4:8), and Compassion (Luke 6:36).

I don’t think much is gained discussing (2) because:

a) even if everyone deserves ECT, God is free to save everyone so that no one will experience it, OR
b) even if no one deserves ECT, without God saving each person, no one would be saved (Rom 9:16).

I’m uncertain about (3). While God may use some retributive punishment, I don’t think it’s something God needs as before Creation, He was eternally holy, just, etc. without it. Neither do we need an eternal demonstration of retribution “just so we won’t forget how bad sin is”. I’d also suggest retributive punishment isn’t as satisfactory for God (or us) as remedial correction. For example, if I steal your car, that I’m forced to give it back, would only be one small step towards repairing our relationship. I assume you’d also want to see that:

a) I had genuinely understood the betrayal and stress that I’d caused by stealing it.
b) I had genuinely asked for your forgiveness.
c) I had genuinely had a desire to “make things right”.
d) I had genuinely changed my ways so I never stole from anyone ever again.

If I did a, b, c, and d, you may even waive returning the car if, say, I’d written it off. I get the impression God desires genuine change of heart more than “eye-for-eye” legal retribution (Matt 15:8 and Kevin Miller’s article on punishment).

Such objections have indeed been long-standing and can invoke an emotional response that precludes certain readings of the text.
Denny Burk, page 18

I think the role emotions should, or shouldn’t, play in biblical interpretation is tricky… However, I agree that emotions shouldn’t be the sole consideration. I think we should acknowledge them and then investigate whether or not they are being informed by a misunderstanding. I think that is a better approach than kidding ourselves into thinking that we are being objective and totally unaffected by our emotions.

He gives some examples of the questions that ECT raises:

What kind of a God would preside over a place of eternal conscious torment? Can the loving God of the Bible possibly be responsible for punishing the unrepentant in this way?
Denny Burk, page 18

I think if one believes God is the Father of everyone3, this should also inform our discussion of these questions.

To challenge the one of the “theological presuppositions that often predispose readers against the traditional view”4, Burk now gives a parable to illustrate that:

[T]he seriousness of sin is not measured merely by the sin itself but by the value and worth of the one being sinned against.
Denny Burk, page 19

In the parable he compares the reaction to someone pulling the legs off an insect vs. someone pulling the legs off a baby. The action is the same, “pulling legs off”, but who the victim makes the former disturbing but latter absolutely horrific! He then rightly notes that God is infinitely more valuable, glorious and holy than us. However, because of this, he says:

Thus to sin against an infinitely glorious being is an infinitely heinous offense that is worthy of an infinitely heinous punishment.
Denny Burk, page 20

While the parable is coherent, I think it is a problematic for at least two reasons, which I think he almost gets to with these comments.

[God] is not exactly like you and me… He is compassionate and gracious.
Denny Burk, page 20

First, can we ever “pull the legs off God”? When we tried something similar, in the crucifixion, the divinity of Jesus not only reversed it, in the resurrection, it overcame death for everyone else too!

Second, unlike most of us, when attacked or insulted, Jesus didn’t demand His rights but instead stoops down and opens His arms (‎Luke 23:34). God never gives up on Israel despite their obnoxious attitude towards Him (see Hosea). Determining how offensive something is isn’t just a matter of how important the victim is but also how humble they are and how they choose to react. God can choose not to be heinous in response to our heinousness.

We fail to take sin and judgment seriously as we ought because we fail to take God as seriously as we ought. And so we are often tempted to view the penalty of hell―eternal conscious suffering under the wrath of God―as an overreaction on God’s part.
Denny Burk, page 20

Saying God is merciful can be misunderstood as saying God doesn’t mind sin or that we don’t think it’s serious. While I think sin is so serious that letting it continue in ECT would be an underreaction on God’s part, I think Burk is right to be concerned that sometimes we don’t take sin seriously.

So the question of eternal conscious torment really does come down to who God is. Is God the kind of God for whom this kind of punishment would be necessary? Or is he not? What does the Bible say about God and the judgments that issue forth from him?
Denny Burk, page 20

I agree, I think these are important questions. I can’t see how it could be absolutely necessary, as even in his own view, at least the Elect don’t experience the punishment. One of the helpful things in Robin Parry’s5 book The Evangelical Universalist, is that he spends a considerable amount of time examining God’s judgments in the OT, suggesting that there’s a pattern of warning, judgment, and then restoration.

[ECT] is not a cause for embarrassment for Christians, but will ultimately become a source of joy and praise for the saints as they witness the infinite goodness and justice of God (Rev. 18:20; 19:3).
Denny Burk, page 20

“Ouch!” was my emotional reaction but upon pondering the Revelation 18-19, I think he’s right that we will witness the infinite goodness and justice. I even think he’s right that we will rejoice, just not at ECT but at seeing the end of Babylon, the end of immorality, greed, terror, and all other evil deeds. I don’t think the chapters are necessarily discussing eternal conscious torment for a few reasons:

a) The apocalyptic genre is full of hyperbolic, vivid images that don’t necessarily mean what we initially think (e.g. the sword coming out of His mouth isn’t a physical sword for killing people with but His penetrating words). There are images in chapter 18 that could be used to support the other views:

“Do to her as she has done to others. Double her penalty for all her evil deeds. She brewed a cup of terror for others, so brew twice as much for her.” (v6) As Babylon had caused a finite amount of suffering, even doubling her suffering wouldn’t be eternal.

“And the kings of the world who committed adultery with her and enjoyed her great luxury will mourn for her as they see the smoke rising from her charred remains.” (v9) Doesn’t sound like anything is left conscious.

b) I think there are some reasons to hope in Revelation 21-226.

c) As we grow more Christlike I assume we will love those we currently love even more than we do now―which seems to imply we would be even more upset than we are now at seeing them suffer torment7.

However, I think there’s no doubt God still wants us to heed the severity and intensity of what will happen to those who persist in doing evil.

Wow! I’m only 4 pages into his chapter but I think that’s more than enough for one post.


1. Please feel free to pull me up if I go astray!
2. p18
3. I realise there are differing views on the Fatherhood of God.
4. p18
5. A contributor to the Counterpoints book I’m reviewing here.
6. I think Jersak makes a good biblical case for this in Her Gates Will Never Be Shut.
7. I think Talbott makes a good theological case for this in The Inescapable Love of God.

Sprinkle’s Introduction to “Four Views on Hell: Second Edition”

Alex holding his copy of "Four Views on Hell: Second Edition"
“Four Views on Hell: Second Edition”

I’ll have to pause my current blog series because Four Views on Hell: Second Edition has arrived! This is the latest book in Zondervan’s1 Counterpoints―a series that allows 3-5 prominent scholars to each present their view on an important biblical and theological issue, and then respond to each of the others. Thus, in one book, a reader can get a good overview of the topic and see where the points of difference are. Because of this, I suspect the book will turn out to be one of the most significant books on the topic of Hell for many years to come. My aim is to post about the book as I read through it.

Preston Sprinkle
Preston Sprinkle

The general editor of this book, Preston Sprinkle, wrote the Introduction. He starts by acknowledging that Christianity’s doctrine of Hell has sometimes been poorly articulated and misused. Also, that even within evangelical Protestantism there has been a wide range of views. The examples he gives are Karl Barth, C. S. Lewis, John Stott, and N. T. Wright. He says that in the last 20 years there has been an increasing amount of discussion of the topic (I’ve observed this too). He rightly notes that this isn’t because people are becoming “wishy-washy” but quite the opposite, it’s because people are re-examining Scripture. I think this is partly due to the Internet exposing us to many great Christian thinkers, past and present, across the entire Church, not just our local denomination. In the same vein, he mentions that dialogue between Protestants and Catholics is now common. Another reason for re-examining Scripture is that Early Church history, councils and creeds are more accessible, meaning we can see for ourselves that all of the views on Hell in this book are actually orthodox2.

If you hold onto your view too tightly, unwilling to reexamine it in light of Scripture, then you are placing your traditions and presuppositions on a higher pedestal than Scripture itself. If the view you have always believed is indeed Scriptural, then there’s nothing to fear by considering and wrestling with other views. If Scripture is clear, then such clarity will be manifest.
Preston Sprinkle, p14

I loved that he emphasised “ecclesia temper reformanda est, or ‘the church is (reformed and) always reforming’”3, which was the inspiration behind this blog (see my first post). I agree with him that we regularly need to review our views, otherwise:

It’s common, perhaps likely, that unexamined beliefs become detached from their scriptural roots over time [and acquire “unbiblical baggage” p11] … We believe particular doctrines, but can’t always defend them biblically.

Preston Sprinkle, p15

He briefly introduces each contributor4 and their view:

  1. Denny Burk is “a Professor of Biblical Studies and the director of the Center for Gospel and Culture at Boyce College”. His view is Eternal Conscious Torment, and is based on passages such as Matt 25:46.
  2. John Stackhouse is “the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies and Dean of Faculty Development at Crandall University”. His view is “terminal punishment” (aka Annihilationism or Conditionalism), and is based on passages such as Matt 10:28.
  3. Robin Parry has “a PhD [in OT theology] from the University of Gloucestershire (UK) and serves as the commissioning editor for Wipf and Stock Publishers”. His view is Christian [Evangelical] Universalism (aka Universal Reconciliation), and is based on passages such as Rom 5:18. Sprinkle helpfully points out that this is not “anything goes, all roads lead to heaven” pluralism!
  4. Jerry Walls is “Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University”. His view assumes Eternal Conscious Torment but unlike Burk, he argues here for a type of purgatory where sanctification of believers and sometimes repentance of some (but not all) people who hadn’t believed in this life, can occur (similar to C. S. Lewis?), based on passages such as 1Cor 3:10-15. Sprinkle explains that this does not replace Christ’s atonement.

All of them have also authored multiple books and publications. I appreciated that he repeatedly points out all the contributors to this book:

  1. are committed Christians
  2. believe in the inspiration and authority of Scripture
  3. affirm the existence of Hell (despite differing on the nature of it)
  4. base their view primarily on Scripture and theological reasoning rather than tradition, emotion or sentimentality

As Christians, we should seek to understand before we refute, and if we refute, we must do so based on compelling biblical evidence and not out of fear or presupposition.
Preston Sprinkle, p15


1. Publisher of the well known NIV translation.
2. He mentions this here in relation to Annihilationism but elsewhere I’ve seen him say this about Evangelical Universalism too.
3. p15
4. All quotes in this paragraph are from p13.