Monday, March 21, 2011

The combination view of hell

There are four possible views on suffering in hell:

  1. Traditional View (TV): Some people have everlasting suffering in hell.
  2. Weak Universalism (WU): Everyone lives forever and nobody has everlasting suffering in hell.
  3. Annihilationism: Nobody has any suffering in hell but some are annihilated.
  4. Combination View (CV): Some suffer in hell and then are annihilated.
I called (2) Weak Universalism, since it's compatible with the idea that some people go to hell for a finite amount of time and with the idea that some people stay forever in hell but only suffer for a finite amount of time. In this post I want to examine and reject the Combination View.

In principle, CV could be motivated over and against TV by claiming that TV is too lenient—hell is too good for some people. Such a view is rare, I think, and I won't argue against it. Instead, I want to argue against those versions of CV on which TV is too harsh.

Those who accept CV presumably think that punishment is primarily retributive in nature—otherwise it's hard to see why CV is more appealing than straight Annihilationism. For if punishment is there to protect the innocent, Annihilationism seems to work even better than CV. And if punishment is there to reform the wicked, then either all the wicked are reformed by the punishment, and hence should not be annihilated at the completion of it, or else some of the wicked are not reformed. If some of the wicked are not reformed by the punishment, why shouldn't God prolong it, hoping for results? (And if there must be a cut-off, then why shouldn't that cut-off be at death instead?)

So suppose that punishment is primarily retributive. But now I worry that WU is a better view than CV. The CVer thinks that everlasting suffering in hell is too harsh, but that nonetheless some people deserve some post-death suffering in hell. Well, wouldn't it be better for God to keep those people in hell until their total punishment is sufficient to pay the penalty, and then once their penalty has been paid, give them a life that is neither heavenly nor hellish? I suppose one could insist on this odd view: no finite amount of post-death suffering in hell is sufficient penalty but an infinite amount of post-death suffering in hell is too harsh a penalty, and CV manages to produce a punishment that is in between, but this just does not seem very plausible.

I expect that the motivation for CV is often a hybrid of theological and philosophical reasoning. For reasons of Scripture and Christian tradion, WU and Annihilationism are rejected, and I think rightly so. For philosophical reasons, however, TV is rejected. CV is not philosophically superior to WU and Annihilationism but maybe in terms of Scripture and tradition it is superior. Still, I think CV is not a stable position. And if one really thinks a finite amount of suffering in hell is better, why not just hold to the traditional Christian view that hell is forever, but tweak it so that the total amount of suffering is finite? I am not defending that modified view, but it seems superior to CV in terms of conformity to Scripture and tradition, and philosophically no worse.

15 comments:

Jarrett Cooper said...

It seems to me that if one has a high regard for Biblical authority then it seems like option 3 (Annihilationism) is truly not an option. (The Bible strongly attests to at least some suffering of the damned.)

Furthermore, it seems pretty likely that even option 2 (WU), for one with a high view of Scripture, is not really an option as well. In the Book of Revelation (even though the book is overly metaphorical and symbolic) seems to indicate that the inhabitants of Hell will suffer forever and ever, and even notes their anger at God becomes even stronger and they remain in a state of unrepentance. (Rev 16:10-11; Rev 21:10)

It seems, both Biblical and philosophically, that as long as people inhabit Hell then we have good reasons to think they will continue to sin and therefore there will be consequences for their sins. (Namely, suffering by punishment from God, or suffering from the effects of the sins themselves.)

So it seems the real options to uphold are options 1 (TV) and 4 (CV). (These are the ones with the most Biblical support.)

Granted, I'm no NT scholar, nor have I grappled with the Greek that makes up the NT. However, I would try to persuade the ones who hold to option 4 (CV) that we should read the Bible passages consistently (and the Bible as a whole consistently). We should read consistently the language that speaks of forever and ever--when applied to both: the ones who will dwell in Heaven (more correctly New Earth), and those who face damnation in Hell.

One example, Rev 20:10, writes that Satan (along with the beast and false prophet) where thrown into the lake of sulfur and will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then in the same chapter just a couple of verses later we see the 'Judgement of the Dead' and those who were not found in the 'book of life' were cast into the lake of fire. (I'm guessing it is not a far leap to say this is the same lake of sulfur which Satan, and company, were cast into a couple of verses earlier.)

This language is very worrisome for the one who holds to CV. Because in just two chapters later (Rev 22) speak about Eden restored and says the ones who dwell there will reign there forever an ever. It seems inconsistent to take the reading forever and ever for the damned to be finite, and yet take the same language for the saved to actually be forever and ever.

Heath White said...

I have toyed with a view like the following:

The reward/punishment of heaven/hell should be seen as natural consequences of human choices. (Without ruling out grace, in the heaven case.) On the positive side, openness to God results in more sanctification, which results in greater union with God, which means further sanctification, thus greater union, and so on.

On the negative side, turning away from God leads to self-absorption and self-deception, which leads one further away from God, which leads to worse sin and vice, etc.

It is not totally ridiculous to think that the end result of the negative cycle is total disintegration of the personality: the evil soul gets so corrupt it ceases to be a soul.

If the above makes sense, and the end stage of the negative cycle takes place after death, then that would be a version of the CV view. Again, I'm not endorsing this, it's just something I've thought of.

Ronnie said...

Jarrett, just curious, how would you understand the "forevers" found in Isaiah 34:10 and Revelation 19:3? Both passages describe smoke rising "forever" from destroyed cities.

Most commentators that I'm aware of do not take the expression found in these two passages literally. Rather, they seem to be examples of hyperbolic judgment language. By my lights, this is precisely the same type of language used in Revelation 14:11 and 20:10.

I do agree with your broader point that we mustn't take certain passages literally and then just arbitrarily take similar passages figuratively.

As for your third paragraph, I think scripture is explicitly clear that final punishment is meted out according to the deeds we perform in *this* life.

Let me know what you think.

Ronnie said...

Alexander, I affirm what you call CV primarily on biblical grounds. I also think that CV is superior to TV both theologically and philosophically.

wouldn't it be better for God to keep those people in hell until their total punishment is sufficient to pay the penalty

On my view, the sufficient punishment for sin just is death (i.e. "the wages of sin is death"). And as in earthly executions, that death is accompanied by various levels of suffering, depending on the severity of the crime (say for example, a beheading vs death by burning).

Alexander R Pruss said...

"And as in earthly executions, that death is accompanied by various levels of suffering"

Is this suffering itself a part of the punishment? If so, then the death is not by itself sufficient punishment.

Ronnie said...

Is this suffering itself a part of the punishment?

Yes, I think so. That might be a good way of putting it: that the death is always necessary, but in some cases, not sufficient.

Jarrett Cooper said...

Ronnie,

I would agree that it is, indeed, the same language used as in Rev 14:11; Rev 20:10; Rev 22:5.

However, what needs to be stressed and what is important for my case is to make sure we be consistent. Namely, in this case, when it comes to BOTH the damned and the saved. The words forever and ever are used to denote the torment for those in Hell, and forever and ever is used to express those who will reign in Heaven.

When it comes to this particular aspect--the saved and unsaved--we should read the language consistently. It's inconsistent to say that the damned gets finite punishment and the saved gets everlasting reward, when the language is the same for both.

I don't see this hurting my case even when the same language is used to represent destroyed cities or any other thing that doesn't relate specifically to the fate of the saved and unsaved individuals.

It seems given the language to the damned and saved we clearly see that both will have everlasting/forever punishment or reward. For example, Matthew 25:46. The wicked is given eternal/everlasting punishment and the saved is given eternal/everlasting life (reward).

Ronnie,

you say, "As for your third paragraph, I think scripture is explicitly clear that final punishment is meted out according to the deeds we perform in *this* life."

Yes, just the other day I was reading the Catholic Encyclopedia (even though I'm not Catholic) and the author seemed to indicate that this is the traditional view, "Hell is, especially in the eyes of God, one and indivisible in its entirety; it is but one sentence and one penalty."

However, I don't think that it's set in stone, so I certainly don't see my argument at all being impossible, though given tradition one can give it a lesser credence. I'm fine with that. It was just a thought.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Jarrett:

I think this is right exegetically. In the context of discussion of the final state of each human being, we should read words like "aionios" consistently, and hence as "forever". There are hyperbolic usages in other cases, just as there are in English: "I've been waiting forever here", says the teenager (an interesting case where the emphasis decreases the force).

Ronnie said...

I completely agree that aionios, as used in Matt 25:46, for instance, should be read consistently. I affirm that both the life and the punishment will be eternal. I just think that the punishment is death; or as Paul puts it, "they will punished with eternal destruction."

There is not one instance that I'm aware of where Scripture explicitly describes human beings as being tormented forever. No passage explicitly describes everlasting human pain or everlasting human suffering (with a possible exception in the book of Judith that Catholics might find compelling). The closest we have, I think, is "eternal punishment" in Matt 25:46.

In Revelation, we have Satan and two symbols of corporate entities that are said to be tormented forever in the lake of fire. We then have Death and Hades being thrown into said lake where they are presumably destroyed. I think it's telling that both times John describes humans being thrown into the lake (20:14-15 and 21:8), he is careful to interpret the symbol for us; "[The lake of fire], which is the second death". This follows the consistent formula throughout apocalyptic biblical literature of "[symbol] is [reality]," e.g. Daniel 7:17 "These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth."

And yes, if the only place in Scripture that described the eternal life of believers was a vision in Revelation, I think we'd have good reason to not hastily interpret it literally--especially if we have other passages that seem to militate against that interpretation.

I don't see this hurting my case even when the same language is used to represent destroyed cities or any other thing that doesn't relate specifically to the fate of the saved and unsaved individuals.

My point was more that we should consistently interpret expressions like "smoke goes up forever". If we don't conclude that those cities will literally burn forever, neither should we conclude that Revelation 14:11 teaches that people will be tormented with fire forever.

Let me know if any of that seems incorrect, or strained.

p.s. I don't mean to hijack this into a purely exegetical direction; I know that wasn't the purpose of the original post. If you're interested in this issue, consider checking my blog occasionally as it's devoted to this and related topics. There, a hijack AND a plug :)

Jarrett Cooper said...

Ronnie,

(I want reiterate the fact to readers of this blog that I'm not a NT scholar nor have I grappled with the Greek that makes up the NT.)

Given the above, I'll put forth some of my own thoughts.

For the Apostle Paul quote, "They will be punished with eternal destruction." (2 Thess 1:9) In all the different commentary I looked up, it was repeatedly said that this verse was not mentioning annihilation (http://bible.cc/2_thessalonians/1-9.htm). The Barnes' Notes on the Bible had a commentary I would agree with, "The meaning then must be, that the soul is destroyed as to the great purposes of its being - its enjoyment, dignity, honor, holiness, happiness. It will not be annihilated, but will live and linger on in destruction."

Back to Matthew 25:46, the same commentary (Barnes' Notes on the Bible) states, "The original word translated here as "punishment" means torment, or suffering inflicted for crime." Again, all of the commentary on this verse indicates the the punishment is everlasting and not that the punishment will be annihilation, which is everlasting.

Ronnie you wrote, "My point was more that we should consistently interpret expressions like "smoke goes up forever". If we don't conclude that those cities will literally burn forever, neither should we conclude that Revelation 14:11 teaches that people will be tormented with fire forever."

What matters, most importantly, is that we need consistency specifically when it comes to the actual fate of the saved and unsaved. I believe it's consistent to say both will experience torment(for the damned) and reward (for the saved)--everlastingly.

I think given the language that is attributed to Jesus where he repeatedly speaks about eternal fire, and the like, that one could say for cases of the damned and the lake of fire that smoke could literally go on forever and ever. I don't necessarily adopt this view, but it could be argued strongly for.

Jarrett Cooper said...

Ronnie,

(I want reiterate the fact to readers of this blog that I'm not a NT scholar nor have I grappled with the Greek that makes up the NT.)

Given the above, I'll put forth some of my own thoughts.

For the Apostle Paul quote, "They will be punished with eternal destruction." (2 Thess 1:9) In all the different commentary I looked up, it was repeatedly said that this verse was not mentioning annihilation (http://bible.cc/2_thessalonians/1-9.htm). The Barnes' Notes on the Bible had a commentary I would agree with, "The meaning then must be, that the soul is destroyed as to the great purposes of its being - its enjoyment, dignity, honor, holiness, happiness. It will not be annihilated, but will live and linger on in destruction."

Back to Matthew 25:46, the same commentary (Barnes' Notes on the Bible) states, "The original word translated here as "punishment" means torment, or suffering inflicted for crime." Again, all of the commentary on this verse indicates the the punishment is everlasting and not that the punishment will be annihilation, which is everlasting.

Ronnie you wrote, "My point was more that we should consistently interpret expressions like "smoke goes up forever". If we don't conclude that those cities will literally burn forever, neither should we conclude that Revelation 14:11 teaches that people will be tormented with fire forever."

What matters, most importantly, is that we need consistency specifically when it comes to the actual fate of the saved and unsaved. I believe it's consistent to say both will experience torment(for the damned) and reward (for the saved)--everlastingly.

I think given the language that is attributed to Jesus where he repeatedly speaks about eternal fire, and the like, that one could say for cases of the damned and the lake of fire that smoke could literally go on forever and ever. I don't necessarily adopt this view, but it could be argued strongly for.

Ronnie said...

I would love to get into an exegesis of the Thessalonians passage, but I'm not going to. Yes, almost all modern commentaries written by authors familiar with the annihilationism debate will spill a lot of ink arguing against those interpretations of certain passages. For my own part, I do not believe their exegesis or argumentation is very good, but that's probably to be expected.

I will say that the claim that kolasis (translated as "punishment" in Matt 25:46) means "torment" is just false. This can be easily verified by checking any lexicon. The word means almost exactly "punishment." It is used in 2 Maccabees 4:38, for instance, to describe someone being slain.

About "eternal fire"; that expression is only mentioned three times in the NT. It's mentioned twice in Matthew and once in Jude 1:7. I think the Jude passage gives us insight into what eternal fire is. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Jarrett Cooper said...

Ronnie,

In the Barnes' Notes on the Bible, the next sentence reads, "The noun is used but in one other place in the New Testament - 1 John 4:18; "Fear hath 'torment.'" The verb from which the noun is derived is twice used - Acts 4:21; 2 Peter 2:9. In all these places it denotes anguish, suffering, punishment."

1 John 4:18, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment [kólasis]. He that fears is not made perfect in love."

"Cognate: 2851 kólasis (from kolaphos, "a buffeting, a blow") – properly, punishment that "fits" (matches) the one punished (R. Trench); torment from living in the dread of upcoming judgment from shirking one's duty (cf. WS at 1 Jn 4:18).

Perfected love casts out tormenting fear (2851 /kólasis)

1 Jn 4:17-18: "By this, love is perfected [brought to its higher stages] with us, so that we may continuously have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment [2851 /kólasis, "torment"], and the one who fears is not perfected in love.""

It seems that Barnes' Notes on the Bible, given Matthew 25:46 was correct about G2851 κόλασις [kólasis].

With regards to eternal fire, I also noted other language of the like. Though I didn't spell them out. Such language would include the unquenchable fire (cf. Mark 9:43, Matthew 3:12, Luke 3:17) and the furnace of fire (cf. Matthew 13:41-50).

Matthew 13:41-41, "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." From this language and other language that notes that the fire never goes out (unquenched) and their worm does not die, and so forth and so on. Makes it appear that the fire truly is eternal and that the damned are tormented everlastingly.

Then given all the Scripture that says the saved will reign in Heaven eternally, further emphasis the difference between those in Heaven and Hell. The inhabitants of Hell are tormented and punished eternally, while the ones that are saved are fully restored, perfected, happy, righteous, and so forth and so on, everlastingly.

Ronnie said...

Whatever you're quoting there is simply incorrect. Every single modern English translation that I'm aware of translates kolasis as simply "punishment." I just checked Acts 4:21 and 2 Peter 2:9 and the verb there is translated "punishment" almost without exception. The arguably best Greek-English lexicon, BAGD, renders kolasis as "punishment."

Of course, kolasis could refer to torment, but no such meaning is present in the word itself. As I mentioned, it is used in 2 Maccabees to refer to an execution.

I'm not sure why you would think that expressions like furnace of fire or weeping and gnashing of teeth imply eternal torment. In interpreting the parable, Jesus, in Matthew 13:40, says, "Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age." Here, Jesus explicitly compares what will happen to the wicked to what happens to weeds thrown in a fire. That doesn't sound like eternal torment to me, it sounds like annihilation!

Unquenchable fire is not fire that burns forever, it is fire that is never quenched. Unquenchable fire is, again, OT judgment language. It is found, for instance, in Ezekiel 20:47 and clearly expresses the idea of a judgement that cannot be resisted. Just do a quick search of "quench" to confirm this.

I think it's instructive to go to Isaiah 66:24 and see the passage that Jesus quotes regarding worms and fire:

And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.

The fire and worm are not tormenting, they are consuming the corpses of God's enemies! Again, this sounds like annihilation, not eternal torment.

I think what offen happens is people will smuggle in ideas about eternal torment into any NT judgement passage that refers to fire or worms or gnashing of teeth (as a side note, "gnashing of teeth" is a biblical expression that denotes rage, not pain).

I believe there will be fire, burning and pain. I believe that the fire of God is unquenchable. I believe people will be punished by eternal fire (this is what completely destroyed Sodom and its inhabitants, per Jude 1:7). But I just can't see eternal torment in any these passages.

Nice discussion! This will be my last post in this thread, but I look forward to your response. Shoot me an email if you want to continue the discussion there.

Jarrett Cooper said...

Ronnie, I thank you for the discussion as well. :)

Now to get the last word :)-. I don't think you did justice with the word kólasis. Recall, the only time (other than in Matt 25:46) the noun is used is in 1 John 4:18, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment [kólasis]. He that fears is not made perfect in love." Many translations use torment for that verse and I've seen multiple references where G2851 κόλασις [kólasis] has torment as part of its definition.

Furthermore, it seems the best approach for Matt 25:46 is that when one goes away into eternal punishment, means that one is punished everlastingly (aionions). Not that their punishment is annihilation, which is everlasting (aionions). You can't be everlastingly punished if you cease to exist!

You're right about the unquenchable fire. It does not mean never ending, but rather fire that will consume all. You're also right that gnashing of teeth can denote rage. Though it also denotes pain and/or anguish, especially when weeping is used in front of gnashing of teeth. Taken together it indicates some type of torment.

Other than the concessions I gave above, another point I'd try to argue for is given all the fiery language, that it also important that we not forget the other descriptions of Hell we are given in the Gospels. One, for example, is being cast out into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 22:13, Matt 25:30).

Taking a holistic approach of the descriptions of Hell from just the Gospels alone, what I get is not annihilation (though I certainly see how one can argue it), but rather the complete differences between the saved and unsaved--namely, the separation and how they are actualized.

The wicked [the chaff/weeds] burnt up and separated from the saved [the wheat]). The damned will live in utter darkness and are separated from the light, and from all that is holy, just, and good (all being God). (In such a place void of 'The Light', the good, and all that is holy can only logically follow that such a place will be one of great anguish.) The saved, on the other hand, will properly experience God in the way in which we were truly made. (Finally perfected, without sin, and union and fellowship with God fully restored, a place as this is certainly one in which "Our Cup Runneth Over.")

In all, my point is that when being consistent with the language--forever and ever--we end up believing this applies to both the
saved and unsaved. (This has always been my goal and point in all of this.) The damned are forever punished/tormented and the saved are forever blessed. Also, I think Matt 25:46 fits better on the view that one will be punished everlastingly, and not that you're annihilated, which is everlasting.

However, you gave me food for thought about the the fiery imagery in the Gospels (namely, furnace of fire, unquenchable fire, and eternal fire).

Thanks for the food. I have much to digest. :)