hell: a final word by Edward Fudge, reviewed (1)


It is with both joy and sadness to see the publication of Edward Fudge’s book Hell: A Final Word (Leafwood Publishers, 2012). It brings joy to me for I know the work of his mind and pen will certainly stimulate my thinking on an important teaching of the Bible. It brings me sadness, however, for as Fudge reveals:

“Since 1982, I have written two separate books and one major revision on the subject of hell. The book in your hand at this moment will be my last book on the subject.” (p. 17)

This brief review of Hell: A Final Word will consist of two parts: first, some excerpts from the book and second, my take on it all. Let’s get right to it. First, in today’s post, the excerpts.

I will tell you this – with no desire to exaggerate or to be controversial – that no one before or after could have been more astounded at the things I found throughout the Bible during the course of my study. (p. 17)

Hell is real. Hell is bad. Hell is punishment. Hell is separation from God. Hell is eternal. (p. 21)

… what does the traditional doctrine tell your mind and heart about the character of God whom you love and worship, the same God you sometimes beg in prayer to relieve your own suffering and that of others? (p. 32)

Can you consider it possible that the majority interpretation of hell as conscious everlasting torment is not the teaching of Scripture after all? … Does the Bible really teach that God finally will keep people alive forever in hell just to suffer torment that never ends? … If that is not what scripture teaches, is it not a slander against the heavenly Father almost too heinous to describe? (p. 34)

Jesus uses the word “hell” (gehenna) eleven times and is the only person in the Bible who uses it at all to speak of final punishment. It is important to know what Jesus says about hell. (p. 36)

No one will go to hell because God made them go. … No one will go to hell based solely on Adam’s sin. … No one will go to hell merely because he or she was born in a particular place and not in another. … No one will go to hell because of “missing” the true church. … No one will go to hell for accidentally misunderstanding some doctrinal point while sincerely seeking God’s will. (pp. 40-42)

Every author I found who promoted and defended the traditionalist view … generally believed four fundamental pillars to be true. … (1) The Old Testament says nothing about hell. (2) Between the time of the Old and New Testaments, the doctrine of unending conscious torment developed from Old Testament principles. … (3) New Testament writers follow Jesus and teach unending conscious torment. (4) The immortality of the soul requires unending conscious torment unless those in hell are restored to God and join him in heaven. … Either these pillars are true or they are not. (p. 65)

If we ask what the Old Testament says about hell, meaning a place where people are kept alive to be tormented forever, the answer will be “nothing.” … But if we go to the Old Testament asking what it says about the end of the wicked, we will meet our first great surprise. (p. 67)

… when Jesus was teaching, there was no such things as “the Jewish view” on hell, but rather there was a variety of opinion on this subject. … Jesus’ teaching on final punishment, as on other subjects, was rooted in Old Testament revelation, which it sometimes advanced but never contradicted. (p. 86)

When the biblical authors talk about final punishment, they use words and phrases so often and so regularly that those words and phrases can rightly be called “key words.” But whenever the good people who argue for the majority view talk about biblical texts that contain those key words, they find it impossible to let those words mean what they most naturally seem to say. (p. 90)

Surprise: perish and destroy can mean just that. … Surprise: teeth gnashing means anger, not pain. … Surprise: eternal fire destroys forever. (pp. 92,95,107)

“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt. 25.46) … What is permanent in eternal salvation? The thing that continues forever is the salvation that results, not the process of saving that produces that result. … Eternal judgment is judgment that ends. Eternal punishment results from punishing that stops, and destroying will not continue without end, but the destruction that results will be everlasting. (pp. 101,103)

… the punishment of the wicked consists not only of dying the second death itself and experiencing every pain suffered in the process of dying, but also the loss of every good blessing, every godly companion, and of every moment that might otherwise have been enjoyed in a new heaven and a new earth forever without end. (p. 106)

It is not “eternal” because it burns forever, for it does not burn forever. It is called “eternal” fire because it destroys forever. (p. 109)

In one sense, Paul says more about hell than anyone else in the Bible. Rather remarkable, since he never uses the word “hell.” That raises an interesting question. If Paul does not use the word “hell,” yet still says the most about it, what kind of language does he use …? … die, perish, and destroy. (p. 127)

This is the only text [Rev. 20:7-10] in the whole Bible that speaks of anything being tormented forever. The statement applies to the devil, Beast, and False Prophet, neither of which is a human being. Scripture nowhere says that any human being will be tormented forever. Jesus does say that the wicked will suffer “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46), which Paul explains to be “eternal destruction” (2 Thes. 1:9). (p. 140)

When Death is thrown into the Lake of Fire, Hades is also thrown in. … When Death is gone, so will be the place or state of the dead. That is Hades or Sheol – which is also cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14). … For Hades to be thrown into the Lake of Fire simply means its total and everlasting destruction. It is annihilated. (p. 142)

It is … impossible to square the traditional doctrine of hell … with statements throughout the Bible that teach the final extinction of the wicked: the total, irreversible annihilation of the whole person. (p. 145)

… If the traditional view in not found in the Bible, where did it come from? I found that answer in Tertullian and the supposed immortality of the soul. (p. 146)

Scripture is clear that only God possess immortality (1 Tim. 6:16). He alone lives eternally and is his own source of life. God’s life does not depend on anyone other than himself. That cannot be said of any creature in the universe, including us human beings. For us, immortality is God’s free gift to the redeemed (Rom. 2:6-8). We live in hope of “the promise of the life that is in Christ” (2 Tim. 1:1). The Bible says nothing of immortal souls. (p. 150)

The first question is “What does the Bible say?” Only then can we legitimately talk about the desirable or undesirable effect of a doctrine on our work or that of other people. (p. 167)

The same generation that produced such illustrious scholars as F.F. Bruce and John W. Wenham, also included Dale Moody, E. Earle Ellis, Homer Hailey, Philip E. Hughes, John Stott, Stephen Travis, Michael Green, and I. Howard Marshall. To a man, these all publicly rejected the traditional hell and its unending conscious torment. … Respected evangelical scholars from my own generation … also rejected the traditional hell … Among these are Clark Pinnock, John McRay, Claude Mariottini, Christopher Marshall, Tom Robinson, Richard Bauckham, and N.T. Wright. (p. 170)

Hell: A Final Word by Edward William Fudge (Leafwood Publishers, 2012)