(Notice: the blog series has moved to Rethinking Conditionalism on Our Common Salvation)
I was recently told that I have not made any coherent arguments in my previous articles and podcast, and that my position against conditionalism (conditional immortality) was hard to follow. Here are some points to chew on, plain and simple (although what I am about to say will not be an exhaustive argument).
If the fire is unquenchable in that it can’t be “put out” as conditionalists say, and that it will not be put out until the work is finished. Then, when the work is finished, and the wicked are annihilated, will the fire be done doing its work? In other words, will it no longer burn? If a conditionalists says yes, that it will no longer burn when it has finished its work, then the fire must not be eternal. It would follow, then, that it either does die out, or it goes away somehow. So making the distinction between put out vs die out is unnecessary and linguisitically deceptive. Furthermore, in Matthew 25, the fire is described as being in and of itself eternal and is not exactly equivocal in nature to the fire coming down from God (Sodom), nor indicative of exclusively being God’s glory or holy presence somehow. Such attempts are trying to explain away the obvious. It is a categorically different fire. It is the fire of God’s eternal wrath. It is a fire of judgment that is permanent and perpetual. If you have a wrathful fire burning against sinners, which is the purpose of the fire, and the fire is supposed to be forever burning, how do you have a fiery wrath burning against an enemy that will eventually no longer be there? Some conditionalist will retort that the fire can be in and of itself eternal, but those that are in it are not (and they say I am proposing some kind of “eternal fuel” theory when I am not). But that still doesn’t solve the problem. Because the fire is still indicative of God’s wrath against sinners. So why will His wrathful anger still burn? If the people are consumed, the fire should cease. But it will not.
But also, another thing that is pointed out by Conditionalists is that the worm will not die. They make a distinction to say that the Bible doesn’t say it will “never” die (although linguistically there is proof that it implies that), but simply that it does “not” die. In other words, it will not die until it is done doing the work that it was set out to do, just as the the Rethinking Hell ministry has affirmed many times. The worm’s purpose is eating the corpses of the dead bodies that they say Isaiah 66 illustrates. So if the fire and worm exist to accomplish what it was meant to accomplish, what happens when the worm dies? Wouldn’t the fire die out as well since both are an illustration of God’s judgment? That is what the contributors at Rethinking Hell are implying. And if the fire stops too, why does Matthew describe the fire as eternal?
What you have here is a huge inconsistency that basically makes the future punishment of unquenchable, eternal fire as Jesus explains it in the New Testament being a complete equivalent to the nature of the Old Testament fire that destroys its adversaries (which eventually went out when the work was finished). Even though Jesus used Old Testament language to describe God’s wrath and burning judgment against wicked, Jesus further expounds upon the nature of the future judgment in the New Testament. In Matthew 25’s case, it is eternal. And, it is explaining what happens after you die. Not the first time you die like in many Scriptures used to substantiate annihilationism. So either the fire is truly temporal and not eternal, or the worms and fire are eternal thus making the punishment eternal. It’s not hard to understand. But of course, Jude 7 is used, again, to substantiate their claim that the fire can be eternal. But this is categorical and semantical mistake. I will exegetic Jude 7 for you all in the future, but just know this for now. The eternal fire spoken of by Jude 7 is teaching us that the wicked are suffering NOW in torment.
But let’s add Jude into the mix for a second. If we use Jude 7 to interpret how the eternal fire can still be eternal because it is God’s glory, or is coming from God’s holy presence down from heaven as some conditionalists say, and it doesn’t have to burn forever, then why does Matthew’s grammatical construction (see part 2a-b) make eternal fire categorically different from other fires? Also, Matthew refers to the location of those thrown into eternal fire as a separate “place” 6 times in his writings (Mathew 8:12; 13:42; 13:50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30), “prepared” for Satan and his angels, where there is outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth. Keep this in mind that this place is still a place of wrath, anger, fire, judgment. If conditionalist wish to make the fire that Matthew describes like that of Sodom, which they wrongly assume Jude means – a fire that comes down from God upon Sodom and Gomorrah and burns for a period of time only to kill and annihilate – if God already dished out the punishment with eternal fire, then why is He resurrecting them to do the same thing again? In other words, He already “annihilated” them with “eternal fire” in Sodom. That was their punishment, right? I’ve asked this question before in Part 3 of this series. And if this is the case, why would Jesus say that it would be better for Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt 10:14-15; 11:22-24) on the day of judgement than for those that reject the gospel if the same kind of death-by-fire (or should we say annihilation-by-fire) punishment is coming? It doesn’t add up. Oh, and by the way. The example in 2 Peter 2:6 is not describing annihilation after death, but is illustrating that God will preserve the righteous and judge the wicked. Not that Sodom serves as a direct parallel describing annihilation. Context is key.
Lastly, the rebuttal and arguments to make the eternal fire in Matthew something other than an instrument of wrath located in a place that is categorically different is plain ludicrous. The fact that this fire will never go out, be put out, or die out (whichever wording you choose) implies that God’s wrath will abide there forever. And if God’s wrath abides there forever, on whom is it abiding against when the wicked will sooner or later be annihilated? This isn’t eternal fuel. This is eternal punishment. The fire existed prior to them begin thrown in their because it is a place “prepared” and a place that endures forever for those that are not born again. I wish I could be more plain, but I’m not sure how. If this isn’t good enough for conditionalists I’m not sure what is. Nevertheless, I will continue to write and extend an open invitation for conditionalists to come on a podcast with me to discuss what they believe and why. So far, they have declined for emotional reasons.
Tune in to part 4 coming within the next week about how the Church Father, Irenaeus, believed some of the very same things about the punishment and fire enduring eternally, even though the ministry of Rethinking Hell take him out of context.
-Until we go home