Explore Evangelical Conditionalism: Introduction

What is evangelical conditionalism?

Conditionalism refers to the biblical doctrine of conditional immortality, which holds that God alone possesses immortality innately and therefore any other being who is immortal (imperishable, deathless) is so extrinsically, that is, as the result of a positive act of God. No other being, human or otherwise, whether by creation or resurrection, possesses immortality innately but only as God’s specific gift.

Anytime the New Testament mentions immortality in connection with human beings, there are three contrasts which bear out as true: (1) that immortality is ascribed only to the redeemed and never to the damned, (2) that it is a gift of God in the heavenly body and never the natural body, and (3) that it is always in reference to the whole person and never a disembodied soul or spirit.

Conditionalists believe that since the damned are not immortal and never will be, they will actually perish in hell (annihilation). This is the punishment referred to in the Bible as destruction, by which one will perish in the lake of fire, the second death. Some Christians suppose that everyone innately has an immortal soul, redeemed and damned alike, which God will not or cannot destroy. But Jesus implied otherwise, saying that we should fear God because he "can destroy both soul and body in hell" (gehenna).

Immortality is a gift bestowed by God upon his children. To receive this crown, a person must belong to Christ. Such is the condition of this conditional immortality. And this conditionalist view is evangelical insofar as it is understood and articulated within a framework of evangelical Christian orthodoxy.

So this view, then—evangelical conditionalism—is what we explore and commend at Rethinking Hell, whereby we examine how those who do not belong to Christ will be resurrected to face both judgment and the punishment of their destruction in the lake of fire, "the second death."

What is annihilationism?

On the one hand, conditionalism emphasizes what awaits the redeemed, namely, eternal life and immortality. (See What is evangelical conditionalism?) On the other hand, annihilationism is about what awaits the damned, namely, the eternal punishment of destruction in hell. Such is their perishing, the permanent end to the conscious existence of the whole person.

There is some debate among evangelical conditionalists regarding finer eschatological details. For instance, some believe there is a consciously experienced intermediate state between physical death and judgment day, and others believe the intermediate state is not consciously experienced.

All evangelical annihilationists believe that the damned (those who do not belong to Christ) are raised bodily from their graves at an appointed day of judgment and are then finally punished?they perish with finality, suffering the eternal punishment of destruction in hell.

Why is it controversial?

Conditionalism can be controversial for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it has been affirmed historically by a minority of Christians, while the majority of the church has believed and taught the traditional view of hell since at best the time of Augustine. Furthermore, until the recent rise of conditionalism among evangelicals, it was popular to dismiss the final annihilation of the damned as a doctrine believed and taught only by pseudo-Christian cults (e.g., Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians, etc.) and Christian denominations which some consider questionable (Seventh-Day Adventists, etc.).

It can also be controversial because there have been some outspoken evangelical proponents of conditionalism who have given the impression to critics that this view was arrived at on more sentimental grounds, as if they had interpreted scripture through a fallen sense of justice and a humanist view of love. Other proponents of conditionalism have represented arguably questionable views such as open theism and anthropological physicalism (or some other variation of monism, mortalism, or soul sleep), or denied substantive evangelical doctrines like the inerrancy of scripture.

For these reasons and perhaps others, conditionalism is a controversial view. But the climate is changing and an increasing number of evangelical lay people and professionals are becoming convinced of this view. And there are critics who suggest that it may be affirmed by a majority of evangelical scholars. But conditionalists come from a variety of backgrounds and theological positions; one can find conditionalists on virtually every side of virtually every theological debate within evangelicalism.

Some Reasons to Consider Conditionalism

Important Biblical Themes and Texts

Immortality in scripture

From cover to cover the Bible indicates that immortality and everlasting life are gifts given by God only to his people. In Genesis 3:22-23 God banished Adam and Eve from the garden so that, without access to the Tree of Life, they would not live forever. In the imagery of Revelation 2:7 and Revelation 22:14, only believers will have access to the Tree of Life as inhabitants of paradise, the New Jerusalem. The hope of immortality was lost in the fall, but 2 Timothy 1:10 says life and immortality were brought to light through the gospel. According to 1 Corinthians 15:50-53 believers in Jesus Christ will be clothed with immortality so that they can inherit the kingdom of God. The lost will not be granted immortality and will therefore not live forever. No wonder John 3:16 says those who do not believe will perish, and Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death.

The biblical vision of eternity

The biblical vision of eternity is one in which sin and evil are no more, and everything will be united under Christ. Ephesians 1:10 says God will “bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (NIV). Thus using an accountant’s terminology Paul says that all the totals will be summed up, the accounts settled, and everything will be in Christ’s name. He writes similarly in 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 that when the end comes, after Jesus Christ “has destroyed all dominion, authority and power . . . then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” (NIV). In God’s creation there will be no eternal dualism of horror and bliss, good and evil, for as 1 John 2:17 says, “The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

Jesus' atoning death

All orthodox views of the atonement share in common the belief that Jesus’ atoning work consisted largely of acting as a substitute in the place of his people. But what did he bear on their behalf, so that they would not bear it? Isaiah 53:8-9 says that “he was cut off out of the land of the living” and that “they made his grave with the wicked.” Romans 5:6 says that “Christ died for the ungodly," and 1 Corinthians 15:3 says that “of first importance” is that “Christ died for our sins.” And if it weren't clear enough, 1 Peter 3:18 makes explicit that it was by physical death that Jesus stood in place of believers, saying, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh.” So the saved will not die, since Jesus died for them. But the lost must die, since they reject the substitute.

The language and theme of destruction

It should be no surprise by now that, of all the language scripture uses to describe the fate of the lost, most of all it promises their death and destruction. Matthew 10:28 says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 7:13-14 warns that “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction.” In Matthew 13:40-42 Jesus interpreted his own parable of burned up weeds to caution that “as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire” so too will Jesus and his angels “gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.” 2 Peter 2:6 says that “by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes” God “condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly.”

Other Important Considerations

Like traditionalists, evangelical conditionalists are committed to the authority of scripture, and are not liberal in their bibliology. First and foremost, conditionalists believe in the final annihilation of the lost precisely because they find it to be the product of sound exegesis, a better application of the traditional rules and principles of hermeneutics. They believe that their view is the more accurate, better reasoned, and proper understanding of the biblical passages concerning hell and final punishment. However, many conditionalists believe that there are additional, secondary but important arguments from moral reason and philosophy that support the case for conditionalism against the traditional view.

The character of God

Before we suppose that either the traditional or conditional view is correct, we might first ask of any doctrine, “Is this consistent with the moral character of God revealed in the scriptures?”

While it is true that God’s character is primarily revealed to us by what scripture says he has done and will do, it is nevertheless fairly intuitive and obvious that there are some things which he would not do, for it would be inconsistent with his revealed character. When apologists leverage the moral argument for God they will often ask their detractors whether or not it is objectively wrong to torture young children for fun, a rhetorical question whose affirmative answer ought to be obvious. While this is not an argument for the character of God, a fairly intuitive corollary is that God would not torture young children for fun, because it would be inconsistent with his perfectly moral character.

One such description of God’s character is that he is full of mercy and truth, and the delicate balance between these complementary opposites must be maintained in our understanding of God. We have all seen the error of those who dismiss part of the nature of God by over-emphasizing either his justice or his mercy—making God either overly harsh, as the Pharisees did, or so loving that he excuses sin and subverts justice.

So one is not completely without warrant in asking whether the traditional view of hell as eternal conscious torment (ECT) is incongruent with God’s character. It is true that God is holy and wrathful, justly punishing wickedness. At the same time, however, God’s righteous anger is apparently not unending (Psalm 30:5; 103:9). He is also a God of love (1 John 4:8) and of mercy (2 Samuel 24:14; Psalm 119:156), and it is legitimate to ask if such a God would render immortal the risen lost or otherwise supernaturally keep them alive forever in order that he might cause them to suffer unimaginable pain and misery for all eternity, as punishment for their sin.

Proportional justice and punishment

One of the primary philosophic and intuitive or gut level objections to ECT is that it seems unjust to punish people forever for temporal sins. It can be viewed as cruel or tortuous and out of proportion. In the context of punishment the common expression for this is that the punishment should fit the crime. Philosophical and subjective intuitions about the justice of God are certainly not to override what the scriptures teach, but such reasoned counter-indications at least ought to warn us and make us reconsider our current understanding of scripture. Have we misunderstood? And is there a biblical warrant for these concerns?

First we must answer a more foundational question: Does God expect us to understand and do justice here on earth to some extent? And, if so, does he give us principles and examples in the Bible? The clear answer is yes. And, further, insofar as those principles reflect the nature of God we would expect God to act according to those same principles.

When Abraham pleaded with the Lord by the oaks of Mamre on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah he asked God, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” He said to God, “Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” (Genesis 18:20-33). Abraham knew, as do evangelicals, that God is perfectly just, for “all his ways are justice . . . just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). It follows, therefore, that the final punishment of the unredeemed would reflect God’s perfect justice.

Like Abraham many conditionalists ask, “Won’t God act according to the principles of mercy and justice that he has revealed to us as part of his righteous character?” In this example Abraham is questioning harsh retribution that sweeps away the innocent with the wicked. Surely God would not do that! That is rather unlike him. And what this demonstrates is that we can understand and question theologies which seem out of character with God’s revealed ways of exacting justice.

With that idea established, we can now ask the question relevant to ECT and proportional justice: Does the eternal torment view actually violate the principle of proportional justice, and can such a principle be found in Scripture? Most readers will immediately think of or recognize the Old Testament principle of an eye for an eye (Exodus 21:24). This principle of proportionality is central to God’s view of justice and is repeated in Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21.

Many conditionalists argue that when the philosophical and moral objection to the disproportionality of ECT is brought up there is scriptural support for such a stance. This does not, however, invalidate the traditional view. We must still primarily rely on good exegesis—interpretation of the specific Bible passages that teach on hell—but we must also admit that the important yet secondary proportionality argument may also have biblical merit.

Is conditionalism more proportional than ECT?

Assuming for the moment that the exegetical argument for conditionalism is the superior and correct understanding of the biblical passages on hell, we might then ask, “How does the conditionalist view fare when evaluated by the argument for proportional justice?” Many conditionalists argue that, while both annihilation and ECT have eternal consequences, conditionalism has a temporal experience of punishment for the wicked (“the second death”) while ECT requires an eternal experience of suffering. The conditionalist view, in a sense, can be viewed as administering a temporal experience of punishment for temporal sins, rather than an eternal experience of punishment for temporal sins, thereby being much more proportional than ECT, if not less cruel and unusual and non-tortuous.

Again it must be admitted that arguments around the relative harshness or eternality of these two views is a bit of an endless debate but, as mentioned, they always take a backseat to direct and accurate interpretations of what the Bible actually teaches. If we elevate philosophic arguments over biblical authority we run the risk of being taken captive “by philosophy and empty deceit” that is “not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). However, for many people this moral objection to ECT is a strong one, and many conditionalists will at least agree that for those who need an answer to the question of proportional justice conditionalism is much better answer than the traditional view.

Impact on evangelism

One primary objection that many traditionalists level at conditionalism is that it reduces in some sense the harshness of God’s justice and so provides less of a contrast to the sacrifice of Jesus, thereby lessening the gospel’s appeal. The conditionalist, however, has many replies to such an objection.

First, whether or not conditionalism is more or less harsh is a debate, and some even argue that the annihilation of sinners is actually more harsh than ECT.

But second, and more importantly, there is a bad hermeneutical assumption underlying the traditionalist’s objection, that the harsher punishment is more likely the correct one because it forms a greater contrast for the gospel. The problem with this view is that it suggests that we should take the harshest possible view of hell as the correct one. But is this a valid hermeneutic? And is it consistent with the balance of justice and mercy of God as revealed in the Bible? No.

Third, the conditionalist would reply that what is most impactful for the gospel is to preach the truth, which is what the Holy Spirit will confirm in the hearts of hearers.

If the ECT view is incorrect, as conditionalists claim, then we may be doing grave harm to the cause of the gospel, adding an additional stumbling block to the gospel and barring many from faith who otherwise might be saved. Bertrand Russell, articulating the sentiments of many who reject the gospel of Jesus Christ, said, “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that he believed in hell.” (Why I Am Not a Christian (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 17.) Charles Darwin said, “I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so . . . men who do not believe . . . will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.” (The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809–1882, ed. Nora Barlow (W. W. Norton & Company, 1993), 87.) It is the Holy Spirit who changes hearts, to be sure, but whether salvation is monergistic or synergistic, we’re not to add offense to the gospel in our evangelism efforts because how the gospel is delivered can play a role in how it’s received. And the traditional view of hell often impacts how the gospel is received.

Few reasons for rejecting Christianity are given more often than the prospect that the lost face an eternity of torment as punishment for their sins. Many people cannot conceive of worshiping a God so malicious (in their mind) as to cause endless suffering forever. Others simply scoff at the message of Christ, finding the traditional view of hell to be an absurdly ludicrous, laughable notion. Of course, unbelievers will in their enmity toward God drum up any number of reasons to reject him, but there can be no doubt that this issue will feature toward the tops of their lists.

Conditionalism, from the perspective of the proportionality argument, may actually have a huge positive impact on evangelism, opening up the minds of those who might otherwise reject the gospel on hearing the ECT doctrine. In addition, however, it may also positively affect our presentation of the gospel in other ways.

First, it may simplify the gospel to something we all understand: a simple reckoning of our works before God, resulting in being brought to an end, the deprivation of life perhaps by means which are painful. In light of the fact that societies throughout history, including many today, punish the most grievous of sins with the death penalty, the final destruction of the wicked may ring more true and reasonable than the traditional view.

Second, rather than viewing God as mainly punitive, that is, depriving humans of something they had (eternal souls), annihilation allows one to instead see the lost as being given exactly what they had earned - the wages of sin is death. This removes undue emphasis on the punitive nature of God and makes hell more of a just consequence. Therefore, immortality is presented more as something graciously given to the repentant rather than something maliciously taken away.

Common Misconceptions

This view is about denying hell!

On the contrary, we affirm the realities of hell. The biblical testimony is clear that hell represents something very real and very fearful. Even as we say this, however, we all tend to supply ideas and assumptions about what hell is like. That important question is different, and secondary, to the affirmation of hell.

You believe that the unsaved go to the grave and cease to exist

Actually, evangelical conditionalists hold to a resurrection for the wicked who are to face final judgment. Afterwards, they will be utterly destroyed in what the Bible calls the second death. It is really not all that different from the traditional view; the main area of difference has to do with the duration of conscious torment.

Annihilation is an error of the Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.

If this view is an error, it will not be on account of who believes it. That ignores the primacy of the Bible in addition to demonstrating the genetic and association fallacies. Jehovah’s Witnesses also believe in God and the inerrancy of the Bible. By the same logic, these beliefs would be in error. Moreover, the traditional view of hell is believed by both Mormons and Muslims. Obviously we shouldn't conclude from this that the traditional view of hell is false.

You are twisting the Bible to fit your ideas of justice and the love of God

It is true that there are conditionalists, formerly affirming the traditional view of hell, who began rethinking hell because they could not reconcile it with what they believed was a biblically and theologically accurate understanding of justice and the love of God. Many of them, however, affirm the authority of scripture over such considerations and are perfectly willing to bow their knee to the Bible if it can be shown to teach the traditional view of hell. As John Stott said, “As a committed Evangelical, my question must be—and is—not what my heart tells me, but what does God’s word say?” (John Stott, Evangelical Essentials (IVP, 1988), 315.) But conditionalists are convinced that Scripture does not teach the traditional viewand that this can be conclusively demonstrated.

Furthermore, it is not true that this is how all conditionalists begin to rethink hell. Edward Fudge himself affirmed the traditional view of hell without misgivings until he was hired to research the topic, and over the course of that research became convinced of conditionalism as a result of exegesis of the biblical text (among other things). Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date maintains, to this day, that the traditional view of hell is compatible with justice and the love of God, and was convinced of conditionalism purely as a result of biblical exegesis.

You are teaching the error of Rob Bell

There are evangelicals who for some reason associate conditionalism with universalism, which seemed to be what was promoted in Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. But conditionalists, by virtue of their annihilationist view, cannot be universalists. They instead side with traditionalists in affirming that the punishment of the lost will be eternal and that those who are sent to hell will never have eternal life.

You are liberals who deny the authority and reliability of Scripture

There are some conditionalists—just like some traditionalists and universalists—who have a somewhat low view of scripture, although many do not. We here at Rethinking Hell affirm the supreme authority and complete infallibility of the Bible. John Stott, who held to conditionalism at least tentatively and admitted that he found the traditional view of hell intolerable, nevertheless affirmed the authority and reliability of Scripture, saying, “our emotions are a fluctuating, unreliable guide to truth and must not be exalted to the place of supreme authority in determining it. As a committed Evangelical, my question must be—and is—not what my heart tells me, but what does God’s word say?” (John Stott, Evangelical Essentials (IVP, 1988), 314-315.)

You are denying the historic Christian creeds

Surprisingly little is said about hell in the most famous Christian creeds:

  • Nicene Creed
  • We believe also in only One, Universal, Apostolic, and [Holy] Church; in one baptism in repentance, for the remission, and forgiveness of sins; and in the resurrection of the dead, in the everlasting judgement of souls and bodies, and the Kingdom of Heaven and in the everlasting life.
  • The Apostles’ Creed
  • I believe in God the Father Almighty . . . And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord . . . he descended into hell . . . I believe in . . . the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.
  • Athanasian Creed
  • At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies; And shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.

The statements in these creeds concerning hell consist in little more than simple repetitions of biblical language—everlasting judgement, hell, and everlasting fire. Conditionalists and traditionalists debate what this biblical language means, of course, but since these creedal statements do not speak beyond the language of scripture they cannot be cited as support for either view, or as being denied by those who hold to either view. And the fact that the nature of hell plays such a diminished role in the creeds means it was not considered an issue worth dividing over (i.e., a doctrine considered definitional to Christianity).

Some have argued that annihilationism was condemned at the Second Council of Constantinople, but in fact it was Origen and universalism that were anathematized, not annihilationism. Anathematism IX reads, “If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema” (emphases added). Annihilationists do not contend that the punishment of the lost will be temporary or have an end, nor that they will one day be restored. Therefore, annihilationism cannot be thought of as included in this anathema.

Traditionalist Proof-texts Against Conditionalism

Ecclesiastes 3:11

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”

Although not used very often, this verse is sometimes said to teach that man is an eternal or immortal being. But nothing contextually suggests that this is what is being communicated. The meaning of עֹלָם (‘olam; darkness, perhaps eternity, or the future) is a matter of some debate. If we translate it as eternity like the ESV does, then it should be pointed out that this passage is not telling us something about human nature in itself but about a contingent human desire set there by God. The KJV translates it as “world,” so that some commentators suppose God made man with an interest in nature. Both views are common amongst most traditionalists, and in either case this passage does not appear to indicate that humans were created eternal. (The NET translates it as the darkness of “ignorance,” such that it is ignorance which God placed “in the human heart so that people cannot discover what God has ordained, from the beginning to the end of their lives”—a translation that certainly makes sense contextually.)

Daniel 12:2

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

According to the traditional view, the contempt spoken of in this verse refers to an emotion experienced by the one who is raised to judgment. Thus, since the contempt is everlasting, the risen wicked must exist for eternity in order to experience that everlasting contempt. But the Hebrew word translated here as contempt, דְּרָאוֹן (dera'own), does not seem to refer to an experience on the part of the contemptible. It is used only one other time, in Isaiah 66:24, where the corpses of the slain wicked are “an abhorrence [דְּרָאוֹן] to all mankind.” In other words, contempt is not the experience of the contemptible, but rather how they are perceived or remembered by others. So this passage arguably tells us little beyond the fact that the unsaved will be resurrected to judgment, after which they will be remembered in shame forever. Whether or not they continue to exist forever experiencing ongoing conscious punishment is not a question answered by this verse.

Matthew 3:12 (cf. Luke 3:17)

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Those who hold the traditional view seem to think that to quench means to go out, so they argue that the chaff—the risen wicked—will be burned eternally in a fire which never goes out. But this is not even the primary meaning of quench in English, never mind biblical Hebrew. Rather, its primary meaning is extinguish, such that an unquenchable fire is one that cannot be put out, a fire which cannot be stopped from fully consuming its fuel (2 Kings 22:17; Isaiah 34:10; Jeremiah 7:20; 17:27; Ezekiel 20:47).

The Greek word translated here as burn is κατακαίω (katakaio) and means to burn up or consume by fire, not a generalized burning but being burned down completely. Thayer contrasts this meaning by the use of this term in the Septuagint translation of Exodus 3:2, where the bush was burning but was not consumed (κατακαίω). Jesus uses the word in Matthew 13:30 and Matthew 13:40, in the parable of the wheat and the tares. He said that just as the tares in the parable are utterly consumed, so too will his angels throw sinners into a furnace of fire, recalling Malachi 4 and its imagery of the wicked being reduced to ashes like chaff in a furnace of fire.

Not quite servicing the traditionalist critique of conditionalism, the unquenchable fire of Matthew 3:12 and Luke 3:17 stands as strong support for the view that the unsaved will be raised, judged, and irrevocably destroyed by fire.

Matthew 5:25-26 (cf. Luke 12:58-59)

“Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”

There are some traditionalists who argue that this passage refers to the final judgment. Since the guilty one is thrown into prison until every last penny is paid—which will never happen, on that view, because the debt owed is infinite—this is said to indicate that eternal punishment is a kind of everlasting prison sentence.

But other traditionalists disagree. Some are skeptical that the final judgment is in view here. Others believe this has nothing to do with hell at all, instead seeing it as practical advice for avoiding conflict in the here and now. Still others believe it refers to final judgment but metaphorically rather than literally. (And were it indeed taken in a literal sense it would actually support annihilationism, since a person never freed from prison would eventually die there.)

At the end of the day, if this has anything to do with final judgment at all, the most that could be argued is that there will be a punishment—perhaps even that the damned will not be released. But the nature of their punishment? That is not at all arguable from this passage.

Matthew 8:12 (cf. 22:13, 25:30; Luke 13:28)

“. . . while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Passages like this one that speak of outer darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth do not specify any duration. It is strange, then, that critics should often point to these passages as if they were a challenge to the final annihilation of the unsaved. They are not.

Weeping and gnashing of teeth does not communicate suffering and pain in the Bible. In fact, weeping communicates grief and sorrow and teeth-gnashing communicates anger and hatred. So these passages are not proof of any extended period of suffering and torment. But even if they were, conditionalists do not typically believe that God will snap his fingers and the risen wicked will instantaneously and painlessly disappear. Rather, we believe the execution of the unsaved will be a painful one, as our Savior's was. Either way this language of weeping and gnashing of teeth does not challenge an annihilationist view but is rather consistent with it.

Moreover, this language of darkness, grief, and anger appears in the parable of the marriage feast (Matthew 22:1-14), where guests are bound hand and foot and thrown out of the wedding hall into the darkness of night. In such a scene, particularly in first century Israel, someone so bound and thrown outside at night would die if not freed at some point, from thirst or exposure or killed by beasts or robbers. Again, the imagery favors the annihilation of the unsaved, not their eternal torment.

Matthew 10:15 (cf. 11:24; 16:27; Luke 12:47-48; Revelation 20:12)

“Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”

Those arguing for the traditional view of hell often appeal to such texts as this and others like it as evidence that final punishment will be meted out in varying degrees, according to each individual’s level of guilt before God. This is contrary to the conditionalist view, they suggest, which holds that all unsaved human beings will eventually cease to be.

Yet none of these texts indicate exactly how varying degrees of punishment will be accounted for. They indicate only that the day of judgment will be more tolerable for some than for others, and that each person will be judged according to his works. Only the text in Luke is more explicit, but its servants who are beaten with different numbers or severity of blows appear in a parable, one that is not taken literally by even most traditionalists.

Conditionalists debate amongst themselves when it comes to how degrees of punishment will play out. Perhaps some will be forever remembered as more shameful than others (cf. Daniel 12:2), much like Hitler’s legacy of evil is considered more contemptible than that of less noteworthy unbelievers. Alternatively, the annihilationist view allows for an array of possible combinations of type, intensity and duration of suffering as part of the process by which the lost are destroyed. Perhaps it is these differences in the degree of suffering, experienced while being destroyed, that accounts for degrees of punishment.

In the end, conditionalists can account for degrees of punishment in multiple possible ways, though they might hasten to add that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), and that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10), and as such everyone deserves death.

Matthew 18:8

“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.”

The phrase eternal fire evokes in the mind of the traditionalist a picture of the unsaved burning and suffering in flames for all eternity. But the text indicates that it is the fire which is eternal, not those thrown into it. And both the local context and the use of the phrase elsewhere indicates that eternal fire utterly destroys and reduces to lifeless remains.

Jesus’ admonition here, recorded also in Matthew 5:30 and Mark 9:43, likens final punishment to Gehenna, a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew “valley of [the sons of] Hinnom,” which was once a place where idol worshippers burned up children as sacrifices to their gods. But Jeremiah 7:32-33 says that Gehenna would become “the Valley of Slaughter . . . And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away.” Isaiah 30 speaks of God’s fiery vengeance upon Gehenna, likening it to a funeral pyre, which is a pile of wood for burning up corpses.

Another place the phrase eternal fire is used is in Jude 7, where Jude writes that Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities “serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” Jude explicitly states that the cities suffered the punishment of eternal fire, as many theologians admit. No wonder the parallel in 2 Peter 2:6 refers to their having been reduced to ashes.

The punishment of eternal fire is therefore not suffering for eternity as everlasting fuel for its flames. Rather, it is the punishment of being utterly destroyed, completely burned up, reduced to nothing but lifeless corpses and ashes by a fire that is eternal insofar as it cannot be quenched—no mere earthly fire but an eternal fire from God.

Matthew 18:34

“And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.”

Some traditionalists have argued that since the offender is handed over to be tortured until all that is owed is paid—which they say will never happen since the debt owed is supposed be infinite—this therefore indicates that eternal punishment involves an eternity of suffering due to the infinite debt of sin. But this is a parable, and its point is that those who do not forgive will not be forgiven.

The most that could be argued is that there will be a punishment, and that the damned will not be released from their punishment. But the nature of their punishment itself cannot be determined from this parable. Interpreting it to mean that the risen wicked will consciously suffer forever involves bringing material to the text not found in the parable and doing violence to its intended meaning. And most traditionalists do not believe anyway that the unsaved will literally be whipped and beaten by torturers for eternity.

Matthew 25:41

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”

The phrase eternal fire evokes in the mind of the traditionalist a picture of the unsaved burning and suffering in flames for all eternity. And it is assumed that this eternal fire, prepared for the demons, is the same lake of tormenting fire found in the symbolic imagery of Revelation 20. But the text indicates that it is the fire which is eternal, not those thrown into it. And the use of the phrase elsewhere indicates that eternal fire utterly destroys and reduces to lifeless remains.

Jesus uses the phrase elsewhere, in Matthew 18:8, and his admonition there, also recorded in Matthew 5:30 and Mark 9:43, likens final punishment to Gehenna, a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew “valley of [the sons of] Hinnom,” which was once a place where idol worshippers burned up children as sacrifices to their gods. But Jeremiah 7:32-33 says that Gehenna would become “the Valley of Slaughter . . . And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away.” Isaiah 30 speaks of God’s fiery vengeance upon Gehenna, likening it to a funeral pyre, which is a pile of wood for burning up corpses.

Another place the phrase eternal fire is used is in Jude 7, where Jude writes that Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities “serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” Jude explicitly states that the cities suffered the punishment of eternal fire, as many theologians admit. No wonder the parallel in 2 Peter 2:6 refers to their having been reduced to ashes.

The punishment of eternal fire is therefore not suffering for eternity as everlasting fuel for its flames. Rather, it is the punishment of being utterly destroyed, completely burned up, reduced to nothing but lifeless corpses and ashes by a fire that is eternal insofar as it cannot be quenched—no mere earthly fire but an eternal fire from God.

Also see our discussion on the lake of fire in Revelation 20.

Matthew 25:46

“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Traditionalists argue that since eternal (αἰώνιος, aionios) is used in both clauses, the duration of the punishment for the damned must endure as long as the duration of the life for the redeemed. And most conditionalists do not disagree! If the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), such that the damned will die and never live again, then the duration of the punishment surely is every bit as eternal. It is not the punishing itself that is eternal, a process that never ends. It is the punishment that is eternal, the final death sentence which is permanent (i.e., forever).

When eternal describes a so-called “noun of action” in the New Testament—that is, the noun corresponding to a verb (punishment versus punish)—it frequently is the verb’s outcome, not its process, whose duration is everlasting. Eternal judgment refers to the everlasting outcome of a finite process of judging (Hebrews 6:2). Eternal salvation and eternal redemption refer to the everlasting outcome of a finite process of saving and redeeming (Hebrews 5:9, 9:12). Eternal sin refers to a sin the consequences of which are eternal (Mark 3:29, unless its original reading is “eternal judgment,” in which case it is once again the everlasting outcome of a finite process of judging). Likewise eternal punishment may refer to the everlasting outcome of a finite process of punishing.

Of course, some conditionalists argue that αἰώνιος is not properly translated "eternal" in the first place. Rather, they make a case for understanding it as having a qualitative meaning, rather than a quantitative one. In their view, αἰώνιος life does not inherently communicate “everlasting” life in the sense of forever ongoing—although they believe that that teaching can be found elsewhere—but rather a “kind” of life, one corresponding to the age to come. In other words, eternal might refer to the quality of the age in which the life is lived, that is “in the age of, and with the qualities of, eternity”—not merely a temporal quantity. This explanation would also track with the idea that the eternal fire of Jude did not continue to burn in Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, but was of an eternal nature and origin. (See section on Matthew 25:41.) Likewise αἰώνιος punishment may refer to the punishment corresponding to the age to come, not one of unending duration.

Matthew 26:24

“The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”

Traditionalists sometimes suggest that the non-existence of never being born is existentially on par with the non-existence of having been annihilated. But this text says that “it would have been better for that man if he had not been born” so therefore, they reason, annihilationism must be rejected. However, they seem to neglect a rather important element: the unsaved lived a life of sin and guilt from birth until death.

Given the conditionalist view, the lost live a life of sin and rebellion against God until the day they die. At judgment they are raised and stand accountable before God, whose judgment casts them in the shame of their guilt—and in the case of Judas it is particularly intense. They are sentenced to face the second death, knowing not only that the blessings of eternal life have been missed but also that they will forever be remembered in shame and contempt. Moreover, the final punishment of the lost will be violent and painful. Surely to have never been born would be better than all of that!

Mark 9:48 (cf. Isaiah 66:24)

“. . . where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

Perhaps unbeknownst to many traditionalists who cite this verse as a challenge to conditionalism, Jesus is quoting Isaiah 66:24 here, in which it is said explicitly that it is corpses being consumed by fire and maggots—not living beings. Those traditionalists who are aware of this nevertheless insist that the worm is depicted as never dying and the fire as never going out. But this is not what these idioms communicate.

The phrase “does not die” is used several times in the Hebrew scripture and does not mean will never die (Genesis 42:20; Exodus 30:20; Jeremiah 38:24). It means that someone or something will not die at a particular time or in a particular context. In Isaiah 66:24 that context is the consumption of corpses. So their worm, it is promised, will not die before fully consuming the bodies. And like other tenacious scavengers that are difficult to prevent from fully consuming their corpses (Deuteronomy 28:26; Jeremiah 7:33), the irresistible and complete consumption of the dead by the worms makes their shame permanent and everlasting.

And a fire which “is not quenched” is not a fire that will never go out. The primary meaning of quench is “to extinguish.” The biblical picture here is of a fire that cannot be quenched, a fire which cannot be prevented from fully consuming its fuel (2 Kings 22:17; Isaiah 34:10; Jeremiah 7:20; 17:27; Ezekiel 20:47).

Mark 9:49

“For everyone will be salted with fire.”

It is sometimes argued that this verse, following Jesus’ infamous statement about undying worms and unquenchable fire, indicates that the fires of hell will have a preserving effect that keeps the risen wicked alive to be tormented for eternity. However, this is one of more than a dozen understandings offered by commentators throughout history, and even those critical of conditionalism have acknowledged the perplexing nature of the statement. In fact some traditionalist commentators do not even see this as saying anything about the damned at all.

And others, supported by some early interpolations during the text’s transmission, see this as harkening to the salting of Levitical sacrificeswhich were subsequently burned up, rather like the picture of the fires of hell permanently destroying the unsaved. Bruce Metzger notes that other early interpolations indicate that this salting by fire is consuming and destructive. And Hebrew lexicographers indicate that salting is sometimes a Hebrew idiom meaning “to destroy completely.” While the original text of Mark 9:49 was undoubtedly in Greek, nevertheless Jesus’ Hebraic background would have allowed him to use the idiom, whether speaking in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek.

Given the diversity of possible understandings of this strange and unclear statement, there is no contextual justification for insisting that Jesus must be saying that the lives of the damned will be preserved forever in hell.

Luke 16:19-31

“The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side” (vv. 22-23)

In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Jesus portrays the rich man being tormented by flames. Abraham tells him that a great chasm is fixed and cannot be crossed from the side of agony to the side of rest. It seems that traditionalists see torment, flames, and irreversible separation and suppose they have here all the elements of their view, bringing up this passage time and time again when talking to conditionalists. The problem is that while it does have those elements it has others as well, elements ignored when using it to defend the traditional view of hell.

First, the rich man and Lazarus are dead and buried, awaiting their resurrection. And so, second, they are indeed in Hades, the place of the dead, not hell as a place where the resurrected wicked are ultimately punished. Third, the rich man’s brothers are still alive, and he asks that Lazarus be sent from the grave to encourage them to repent. For these reasons (and perhaps others), the setting of this tale is the first death, the grave, the intermediate state, and the parable tells us nothing about the future eternal state—even if one wishes to interpret it as a literal, historical account rather than a parable.

John 5:28-29

“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.”

This text is sometimes used by traditionalists in support for their view. However, this text says only that the lost will be resurrected and judged. It does not speak to what awaits them afterward. In fact, this text indicates that only the righteous will be resurrected to life, underscoring that the resurrected lost will not be, contrary to the traditional view.

2 Thessalonians 1:9

“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might . . .”

According to the traditional view, this eternal destruction Paul speaks of militates against conditionalism. At best there would be no point, it is argued, in calling annihilation eternal; the word destruction would be sufficient, making the qualifier superfluous. At worst the presence of the qualifier means the destruction must last forever, an eternal destroying. The wicked are also said to experience this “away from” (ESV) or while “shut out from” (NIV) the presence of the Lord.

As a matter of fact, it makes perfect sense for Paul to call the destruction awaiting the resurrected wicked eternal. Although in this life they die only to face resurrection to judgment, thereafter they are destroyed forever, sentenced to the second death which is eternal. And the phrase “shut out from” (NIV) does not appear in the original Greek; even the translation “away from” (ESV) is dubious. But if we were to accept that meaning, all it would mean is that the destruction takes place away from the presence of God. The unsaved will be sent away from God’s presence, thrown into a furnace of fire where they will be burned up (Matthew 13:40-42).

Paul said in the preceding verses that Jesus will be revealed “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance"—a combination of terms found elsewhere only in Isaiah 66:15. This chapter of Isaiah, and the book as a whole, ends with the wicked having been reduced to lifeless, smoldering, maggot-ridden corpses. This is then the eternal destruction of which Paul speaks, being destroyed, rendered lifeless, never to live again.

Jude 6

“And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day . . .”

Many conditionalists, including us at Rethinking Hell, believe that the Bible teaches it is not just the unsaved who will be annihilated at the final judgment but Satan and his demons, too. Some critics of our view think that this verse in Jude is proof otherwise. They suppose that it refers to the final sentence of fallen angels, which amounts to being kept in bondage (rather than destruction) and forever since the chains are said to be eternal.

While this verse and its parallel in 2 Peter 2:4 indicate that fallen angels are now in bondage, having been cast into what Peter called Tartarus, according to both passages that bondage is said to be “until the judgment.”

Although it is no proof that Satan and his demons will be annihilated in the end, these verses nevertheless do not contradict that view. Jude calls these perhaps figurative chains eternal but does not say that they will eternally bind fallen angels. After all, consider the very next verse.

Jude 7

“. . . just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”

Conditionalists find it strange when this verse in Jude is called upon as support for the traditional view of hell. After all, not only does it appear to indicate that Sodom and Gomorrah suffered the punishment of eternal fire—as even some traditionalists admit—but it also says their destruction by eternal fire serves as an example (presumably of what final punishment looks like). How better could the Bible indicate that the final punishment of the unsaved will be their utter destruction?

But some translations read differently, making it appear as if the fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is not itself “a punishment of eternal fire” but is rather an example of that eternal fire which awaits the risen wicked in final punishment. For example, the J. B. Phillips translation reads, “Sodom and Gomorrah . . . stand in their punishment as a permanent warning of the fire of judgment.” Similarly the New Living Translation renders it, “Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God's judgment.” Based on translations like these, some traditionalists argue that this verse is a challenge to conditionalism because final punishment consists in eternal fire, suggesting that the unsaved will burn forever.

In response, it is first worth noting that many traditionalists (if not most) do not believe that eternal hell consists of literal, natural fire. So one is then left to wonder in what sense a finite destruction by fire (Sodom and Gomorrah) is an example of an eternity spent apart from that sort of fire. The comparison would make little sense. Moreover, the Greek word δεῖγμα (deigma, example) is literally translated “thing shown” or “showing,” and is closer in meaning to the word specimen than something like type or prefigure (which is the meaning of some derivatives of δεῖγμα). In other words, even if Sodom and Gomorrah didn’t suffer the punishment of eternal fire, those who wish to understand what that punishment will look like need only look at Sodom and Gomorrah.

Additionally, the phrase eternal fire is used also in Matthew 18:8 and Jesus’ admonition there, recorded also in Matthew 5:30 and Mark 9:43, likens final punishment to Gehenna, a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew “valley of [the sons of] Hinnom,” which was once a place where idol worshippers burned up children as sacrifices to their gods. But Jeremiah 7:32-33 says that Gehenna would become “the Valley of Slaughter . . . And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away.” Isaiah 30 speaks of God’s fiery vengeance upon Gehenna, likening it to a funeral pyre, which is a pile of wood for burning up corpses.

So regardless of which translation gets this verse in Jude right, whether Sodom and Gomorrah suffered the punishment of eternal fire or simply serve as an example thereof, Jude tells us that eternal fire does not inflict agony forever, but reduces to lifeless remains.

Jude 13

“. . . wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.”

It is sometimes argued, because the “utter darkness has been reserved forever” for these false teachers, that this suggests hell is to be understood as an eternity spent separated from God in some metaphorical darkness (because fire produces light and so the fires and darkness of hell cannot be taken literally). But this text follows shortly after verse 7 in which Jude says Sodom and Gomorrah suffered the punishment of eternal fire as an example of what awaits these false teachers. It comes after verse 10, too, which indicates along with its parallel in 2 Peter 2:12 that false teachers will be destroyed like animals are destroyed.

There is no good reason to think that darkness forever refers to some conscious separation from God for all eternity. Upon being afflicted Job wished that he had never been born. In other words, he wished that either he had never existed or that the day of his birth had never existed. He says (Job 3:3-10),

Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, “A man is conceived.” Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, nor light shine upon it. Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds dwell upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. That night—let thick darkness seize it! Let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. Behold, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry enter it. Let those curse it who curse the day, who are ready to rouse up Leviathan. Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none, nor see the eyelids of the morning, because it did not shut the doors of my mother's womb, nor hide trouble from my eyes.

Darkness in Job’s plea is not the darkness of conscious existence in some place absent of light, but rather the darkness of complete nothingness. That darkness reserved for false teachers may be understood as the utter nothingness awaiting the wicked who will rise to judgment and annihilation.

Revelation 14:9-11 (smoke of torment goes up forever and ever)

“. . . 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 forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night . . ."

If it were not for this passage and one other in Revelation, what is now the traditional view of hell may never have developed. The angel promises that beast-worshippers will be tormented with fire and the smoke thereof goes up forever, which seems to suggest that their torment goes on forever. He also says they will have no rest day or night, suggesting that their restlessness will never come to an end. The challenge to conditionalism seems obvious.

But equally obvious should be the fact that the vision given to John consists of highly symbolic and apocalyptic imagery, so it must be interpreted carefully. The imagery of restlessness and smoke rising perpetually from torment may not actually communicate eternal torment, any more than a seven-headed, ten-horned beast (Rev 13:1) ridden by a prostitute with the name of a city on her head (Rev 17:3-6) communicates a future reality like something pictured in a horror movie.

So then what does the imagery in this portion of John’s vision communicate? The harlot Mystery Babylon is seen tormented as well (Rev 18:7,10,15) and smoke from her torment also rises forever (Rev 19:3). But with respect to the city the harlot represents the interpreting angel says, “Babylon the great city [will] be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more” (Rev 18:21), borrowing language from Ezekiel 26:20-21, a prophecy concerning the destruction of the city of Tyre fulfilled long ago: “you will not be inhabited . . . you will be no more; though you will be sought, you will never be found again.”

So this imagery of smoke rising forever from torment, when interpreted in the light of the Old Testament source it is quoting from, communicates permanent destruction that leaves lifeless remains. This should serve as no surprise to students of the Old Testament; the imagery comes straight from Isaiah 34:8-10 which describes the fires which long ago destroyed the city of Edom and have since dissipated: “Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever.” Edom is not literally burning to this day, smoke is not still rising from its remains.

The imagery of smoke rising forever communicates the permanency of Edom’s destruction and that of Mystery Babylon. Therefore, the smoke rising from the torment of the beast-worshippers amounts to imagery communicating their permanent destruction as well.

Revelation 20:10-15

“. . . and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

If it were not for this passage and perhaps one other in Revelation (See section on Revelation 14:9-11), what is now the traditional view of hell may never have developed. The beast and false prophet are seen thrown into the lake of fire at the onset of the millennium (Rev 19:20) and are still there a thousand years later when the devil joins them and they are tormented forever. After rising from the dead the unsaved are thrown in, joining their fate, and consistency would seem to demand that they, too, are tormented forever. The challenge to conditionalism again seems obvious.

Other equally obvious factors, however, often go unnoticed or unmentioned. First, it should be obvious that the vision given to John consists of highly symbolic, apocalyptic imagery and must be interpreted carefully. As discussed above, the imagery of eternal torment may not communicate literal eternal torment any more than a seven-headed, ten-horned beast (Rev 13:1) ridden by a prostitute with the name of a city on her head (Rev 17:3-6) communicates a future reality like something pictured in a horror movie.

Secondly, it should be obvious that death and Hades are abstractions, not concrete entities, and are thus incapable of experiencing torment at all. And yet in this image they’re thrown into the same lake of fire as the others after being emptied of their dead (Rev 20:13-14). Most traditionalists acknowledge that this means death and Hades will be no more, yet they nevertheless argue that even though the resurrected lost are not explicitly said to be tormented eternally in the lake of fire their fate must be the same as the others thrown into the fire. But consistency demands that everything thrown into the fire experiences the same fate, so that of the devil, beast, false prophet, and risen wicked should be annihilation in reality, even though some of them are depicted in the imagery as eternally tormented.

Thirdly, not only do we have the Old Testament uses of the imagery to rely on (see section on Revelation 14:9-11), but the book of Revelation in many cases interprets the images for us! John’s vision is sometimes interpreted for him (Rev 17:7), and John appears to explain the imagery of the lake of fire itself by calling it "the second death" (Rev 20:14), the same interpretation offered by “he who sits on the throne” (Rev 21:8). So the imagery does not symbolize everlasting suffering but death—a permanent, irreversible death of body and soul (Matthew 10:28). Furthermore, the divine interpreter of imagery, foretelling the same events, explained to Daniel that what the beast experiences in the imagery symbolizes the permanent annihilation of the dominion of the kingdom it represents (Daniel 7:11, 25).

Lastly, the symbolic nature of the vision recorded in the book of Revelation is such that it must not be the foundation upon which we build our doctrine of hell, even though it is arguably used in just that fashion by traditionalists. When we allow the divine interpreters of Daniel’s and John’s visions to explain the imagery to us, we can see that it communicates annihilation. The dominion of the kingdom represented by the beast comes to an end. Death and Hades come to an end. The devil and his angels will come to an end. The unsaved will likewise come to an end, a permanent destruction of body and soul.

Revelation 22:11

“Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”

These words, spoken by Jesus’ messenger to John, follow the imagery describing the New Jerusalem which had descended from heaven. It is therefore sometimes argued that after the unsaved are cast into the lake of fire they continue to exist and sin, thereby challenging conditionalism. But many conditionalists happily acknowledge that in the symbolic and apocalyptic imagery of chapter 20 the beast, false prophet, devil, death, Hades, and the risen wicked are all depicted as eternally tormented in the lake of fire (implicitly in the case of death, Hades, and the damned). As such, the verse does not quite begin to challenge conditionalism since the question of the imagery’s interpretation remains.

However, just as in Revelation 22:15 (See section on Revelation 22:15.), this verse does not speak of those who continue to do evil in the lake of fire. These words were spoken by the angel to John after the vision had concluded. John concludes in verse 8, “I am the one who heard and saw these things.” And in verse 10 the angel tells John, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” The dialogue is no longer taking place in the vision of the future, but in the present. The angel is speaking of how people will respond to the letter in John’s time.

Revelation 22:15

Outside [the city] are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”

These words, spoken by Jesus’ messenger to John, follow the imagery describing the New Jerusalem which had descended from heaven. So it is sometimes argued that after the unsaved are cast into the lake of fire they still exist, thereby challenging conditionalism. But many conditionalists are quite aware that in the symbolic and apocalyptic imagery of chapter 20 the beast, false prophet, devil, death, Hades, and the risen wicked are all depicted as eternally tormented in the lake of fire (implicitly in the case of death, Hades, and the damned), but they understand that the proper interpretation of that imagery is destruction. As such, the verse does not quite begin to challenge conditionalism since the question of the imagery’s interpretation remains.

However, just as in Revelation 22:11 (See section on Revelation 22:11.), this verse does not depict the ongoing existence of the unsaved in the lake of fire outside the gates of the New Jerusalem. These words were spoken by the angel to John after the vision had concluded. John concludes in verse 8, “I am the one who heard and saw these things.” And in verse 10 the angel tells John, “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near.” The dialogue is no longer taking place in the vision of the future, but in the present. Speaking of the gates of this future city in the present tense is nothing new; the author of Hebrews did it (Hebrews 12:22).

Conditionalist Proof-texts

Genesis 3:19

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

God had warned Adam and Eve, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Traditionalists take this as indicating that Adam and Eve spiritually “died” the very day they ate from the tree, arguing that therefore death does not mean cessation of life but separation, in this case separation from God. This verse, however, demonstrates that by death God had meant literal, physical death, for in pronouncing the consequences of their sin he promised that they would surely one day return to the ground from whence they had come.

Genesis 3:22-23

“‘Now, lest [the man] reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—’ therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden.”

Traditionalists and conditionalists often differ in their interpretation of God’s warning in Genesis 2:17, that Adam would surely die “in the day” he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Proponents of each view, however, generally agree that in Genesis 3:22-23, God banishes Adam and Eve from the garden so that, lacking access to the tree of life, they would not physically live forever. Whatever spiritual penalties sinning incurs, then, one consequence of sin is death.

What’s more, this passage indicates that, whether Adam and Eve were originally immortal or whether their lives would have been indefinitely sustained by the tree of life, the hope of immortality, of living forever, was lost in the fall. Thankfully it can be found, but only through relationship with God. As Paul told Timothy, “our Savior Christ Jesus . . . abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:10). Eternal life, he said, is given only to those who seek after immortality (Rom 2:7). It is those who will inherit the kingdom whose “mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:50, 53).

The tree of life appears again at the other end of the Bible, in the apocalyptic vision shown to John on the island of Patmos, and in light of the above texts it should come as little surprise that it is only the righteous who have access to it in the end (Rev 2:7; 22:2). All of this stands in stark contrast to the traditionalist’s vision of eternity, in which the risen lost live forever, too.

Psalm 1

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked . . . He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither . . . The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment . . . but the way of the wicked will perish.”

Throughout the psalms, the destiny of evil men is consistently said to be death, destruction, perishing, vanishing, being no more—a theme clearly present from this, the very first psalm. Righteous people, we are told, will persist in life indefinitely as all that remains after wicked people, being unable to stand in judgment, disappear by means of death, like the disposable parts of a grain plant swept away from the threshing floor by wind.

It is worth noting that this first psalm’s contrast is not between specific people at a specific time in history, but between kinds of people: the righteous and the wicked. This is important, because frequently in life the righteous are the ones who are cut off and disappear, and the wicked live long and prosper. The author of the divinely inspired psalm, then, must have in mind the ultimate destinies of the righteous and the wicked.

Psalm 11:5-6

“The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.”

Here the psalmist likens the ultimate fate of the wicked to that which befell the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah who were violently slain by raining sulfur and fire (Gen. 19:23-29). The picture is of death by irresistibly consuming fire, not enduring life in fire which never consumes.

Psalm 37

“Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb . . . For the evildoers shall be cut off . . . the wicked will be no more . . . The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming. The wicked draw the sword . . . to slay those whose way is upright; their sword shall enter their own heart . . . the wicked will perish . . . they vanish—like smoke they vanish away . . . those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off . . . For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off . . . transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.”

Psalm 92:6-9

“the fool cannot understand this: that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever; but you, O Lord, are on high forever. For behold, your enemies, O Lord, for behold, your enemies shall perish; all evildoers shall be scattered.”

Psalm 112:10

“The wicked man sees [the horn of the righteous] and is angry; he gnashes his teeth and melts away; the desire of the wicked will perish!”

Proverbs 10:25-31

“When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established forever . . . The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short. The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish. The way of the Lord is a stronghold to the blameless, but destruction to evildoers. The righteous will never be removed, but the wicked will not dwell in the land. The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut off.”

Proverbs 12:28

“In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.”

Proverbs 24:19-20

“Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.”

Isaiah 33:11-14

“You conceive chaff; you give birth to stubble; your breath is a fire that will consume you. And the peoples will be as if burned to lime, like thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire . . . The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling has seized the godless: ‘Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?’”

Isaiah 53:8-9

“ . . . he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people . . . they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death . . . ”

Most orthodox atonement models include the element of substitution, whether penal or otherwise. Jesus is believed to have taken the place of sinners, suffering their fate in their stead. Calvinists believe Jesus substituted only for the elect, from which it follows that his fate must await those in whose stead he did not stand. Non-Calvinists believe Jesus substituted for all mankind, but that his fate awaits those to whom, failing to exercise saving faith in him, his atoning work is not appropriated. But in what did Christ’s atoning work consist?

Familiar to most Christians is Isaiah’s famous “Suffering Servant” who, we so frequently recall, “was pierced for our transgressions” and “was crushed for our iniquities.” Perhaps overlooked, however, is what Isaiah goes on to write about him, that “he was cut off out of the land of living,” that he died and was buried. Jesus did not only suffer pain in the stead of those for whom he substituted; he also died. Therefore the destiny awaiting the lost, and escaped by believers, is death, not everlasting life.

Daniel 12:2

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

Contrary to the traditional view of hell, in which all mankind is resurrected unto immortality and eternal life, here Daniel is told that only some people will live forever. The corollary? The rest will die. The word “contempt” is used to describe the experience of those who find something abhorrent or abominable, like the righteous who look out in disgust at the corpses of God’s slain enemies (Isa 66:24). This passage indicates, then, that after they’re dead and gone, the wicked (or the memory of them) will be held in contempt by others who still live.

Malachi 4:1-3

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name . . . you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.”

Matthew 3:11-12 (c.f. Luke 3:16-17)

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

These two verses are part of John the Baptist’s introduction of Christ where he is emphasising the superiority of Christ’s ministry and work over his own ministry. This episode is recorded in Matthew 3:1-12 and Luke 3:1-18 and while there are differences between the two presentations in the broader contexts they make the same point about the nature of the eschatological judgment. In both passages, Christ’s greater ministry involves the expected eschatological judgment associated with the coming of the true Messiah. The imagery of harvested wheat being separated from the chaff via a winnowing process (throwing the wheat into the air with the fork so the wind separates the grain from the chaff) is used to pictorially unpack the nature of this aspect of Christ’s ministry.

Of interest for our purposes is the burning of the chaff. The use of the verb “to burn” (κατακαίω, katakaio), which has the meaning of “to burn up” indicates that whatever is being burned is completely consumed by the fire with nothing but ash remaining (c.f Acts 19:19; Heb 13:11). It should be noted that numerous Greek lexicons and traditionalist scholars agree that this is the meaning of κατακαίω. This is not an obscure shade of meaning the at Conditionalists are appealing to for support. The imagery of chaff being consumed by fire clear speaks to its destruction any this is most likely how the first century audience would have understood it. Taken at face value – and there is no reason to not do so – then the imagery demands an annihilationist reading of this text.

Nevertheless, some Traditionalist commentators often refuse to admit the validity of this reading of this text on the basis that the fire is described as “unquenchable”. The argument is that the fire is unquenchable because there is always fuel to burn (c.f. Robert Yarborough in Hell Under Fire and Craig Blomberg in his commentary on Matthew in the NAC series). This is a non-sequitur! The Greek adjective ἀσβέστῳ literally means “a fire that cannot be put out”. It references the quality of the fire per se and has nothing to do with the fuel. Trying to manoeuvre around the issue by relating “unquenchable” to the burning chaff lacks exegetical credibility.

Furthermore, consider the Baptist’s statement that Christ will baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire”. In the Greek, this phrase forms a specific construction where the two nouns “Spirit” and “fire” are modified by the one preposition “with/in” (ἐν). Now, when this construction is used it means that both nouns refer to the same concept (this is sometimes called a hendiadys [“one-through-two”]). The implication of this insight is quite important since it means that the Baptist is not talking about two separate baptisms but one Spirit-fire baptism. This explains why the word “unquenchable” is used in relation to the fire in verse 12 since it is referring to the Holy Spirit. It also renders assertions that the “unquenchable” nature of the fire relies on the burning chaff theologically absurd since, as God, the Spirit exists necessarily of Himself.

In conclusion, the Conditionalist reading of Matthew 3:11-12 as a reference to the absolute destruction of unrepentant sinners by God at the last judgement is the only exegetically, logically, and theologically sound position.

Matthew 7:13-14

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Matthew 10:28

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Matthew 13:40-42

“Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 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 18:8-9

“And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”

Matthew 25:46

“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Most people cite this verse thinking the parallelism here excludes a Conditionalist reading of the text. There are very good reasons, however, to think that this verse is a key verse supporting Conditionalism. Let us focus for the moment on the word for “punishment” (κόλασιs). When this word is used in the LXX (Jer 18:20; Ez 14:3-7; 18:30; 43:11; 44:12) and in the NT (1 John 4:18) it is usually used in an undefined and ambiguous way. The only exception to this is Ezekiel 18:30 where the context dictates that he punishment in question refers to physical death. There is, therefore, nothing in the meaning of word “punishment” (κόλασιs) itself demanding the idea that sinners suffer an unending punishment of torture.

If we consider some of the other ways that Matthew refers to the punishment of sinners throughout the Gospel we can gain a very good idea of the punishment in 25:46. Take for instance Matthew’s use of fire imagery in 3:10-12 to convey the idea that the “chaff” (sinner) will be completely burned up and in 13:40-42. Then there is Matthew’s references to the destruction of sinners (Matt 7:13) and his exhortation to fear God who can indeed destroy “both the soul and body in hell” (for more detail see the commentary on these verses). The imagery used in these texts tells us that for Matthew the eschatological punishment is the kind where sinners experience utter destruction.

It is usual for traditionalists to point to the adjective “eternal” (αἰώνιος, aionios) to argue that this punishment will be experienced by those in hell forever. At first blush αἰώνιος can appear to lend support to the traditional reading but once one considers the way “eternal” is often used with other “nouns of action” it becomes clear that we cannot make this assumption. By “noun of action” we mean those nouns that refer to the results of its corresponding verb (also known as a deverbal result noun). If that is all too much to get your head around then consider the following examples: eternal judgment (Heb 6:2), eternal sin (Mark 3:29), eternal redemption (Heb 9:12), eternal salvation (Heb 5:9), and eternal inheritance (Heb 9:15). In each of these cases it is obvious that a continuing and unending action is not in view. Now, it is not our contention that all uses of the noun “punishment” are deverbal result nouns. It is our contention, however, that given the context in Matthew, where the fire/burning/destruction imagery clearly indicates the destruction of unrepentant sinners, the best way to understand “punishment” in Matthew 25:46 is as a deverbal result noun.

One other argument used by traditionalists is to assert that the parallelism in Matthew 25:46 demands that just as those experiencing “eternal life” will never die so also those experiencing the “eternal punishment” will continue to live forever (an argument dating back to Augustine). Conditionalists agree that the parallelism has a bearing on the meaning of the text and that a contrast is being made between “eternal life” and “eternal punishment”. Given Matthew’s use of imagery in previous contexts that point to the complete destruction of sinners it is our contention that the contrast made between “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” is one where one group will experience true life in the coming eschatological age whilst the other group will experience the complete destruction and ruin of both the spiritual and the physical dimensions of the person. We agree this punishment is eternal but we also insist that, based on sound exegetical principles, it does not involve the eternal conscious torture of sinners.

Mark 9:48 (cf. Isaiah 66:24)

“. . . where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

Perhaps unbeknownst to many traditionalists who cite this verse as a challenge to conditionalism, Jesus is quoting Isaiah 66:24 here, in which it is said explicitly that it is corpses being consumed by fire and maggots—not living beings. Those traditionalists who are aware of this nevertheless insist that the worm is depicted as never dying and the fire as never going out. But this is not what these idioms communicate.

The phrase “does not die” is used several times in the Hebrew scripture and does not mean will never die (Genesis 42:20; Exodus 30:20; Jeremiah 38:24). It means that someone or something will not die at a particular time or in a particular context. In Isaiah 66:24 that context is the consumption of corpses. So their worm, it is promised, will not die before fully consuming the bodies. And like other tenacious scavengers that are difficult to prevent from fully consuming their corpses (Deuteronomy 28:26; Jeremiah 7:33), the irresistible and complete consumption of the dead by the worms makes their shame permanent and everlasting.

And a fire which “is not quenched” is not a fire that will never go out. The primary meaning of quench is “to extinguish.” The biblical picture here is of a fire that cannot be quenched, a fire which cannot be prevented from fully consuming its fuel (2 Kings 22:17; Isaiah 34:10; Jeremiah 7:20; 17:27; Ezekiel 20:47).

Luke 20:35-36

“those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead . . . cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection”

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:36

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

John 5:28-29

“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 6:49-51

“Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”

John 8:51

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

John 10:28

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish . . . ”

John 11:25-26

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’”

Romans 2:6-8

“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”

Romans 5:17

“For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”

Romans 6:23

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

1 Corinthians 15:50,53-54

“flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable . . . For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’”

Galatians 6:8

“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

Philippians 3:19

“Their end is destruction . . . ”

2 Thessalonians 1:7-9

“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 eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

1 Timothy 6:15-16

“the King of kings and Lord of lords . . . alone has immortality . . . ”

2 Timothy 1:10

“Christ Jesus . . . abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”

Hebrews 10:26-27

“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

James 5:20

“ . . . whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death . . . ”

2 Peter 2:6

“by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly”

2 Peter 2:12

“But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction”

2 Peter 3:6-7

“by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly”

1 John 2:17

“And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

1 John 5:11-12

“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

Jude 7

“Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”

Revelation 20:13-14

“And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.”

Revelation 22:1-2

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.”

Some Major Proponents of Conditionalism

Early Church Fathers and Documents (1st-4th C)

  • First Clement (late 1st century)
  • Ignatius of Antioch (late 1st century)
  • Epistle of Barnabas (late 1st or early 2nd century)
  • Irenaeus (2nd century)
  • Arnobius (early 4th century)
  • Athanasius (4th century)

Historical Church Figures (5th-18th C)

  • Isaac Barrow, English mathematician and theologian of the 17th century. His works on theology are published as Sermons and fragments attributed to Isaac Barrow: to which are added two dissertations on the duration of future punishments and on dissenters (edited by J. P. Lee).
  • Henry Constable, Canon and Prebendary of Cork, Ireland, author of The Duration and Nature of Future Punishment (1872).
  • Charles Ellicot, Anglican Bishop (Gloucester and Bristol), academic and author of several books, in particular Destiny of the Creature (1865).
  • William Ewart Gladstone, British Prime Minister on four occasions in the nineteenth century and lay theologian.
  • Joseph Parker, English Nonconformist (congregationalist) pastor.
  • J. H. Pettingell, Congregationalist author of several books including Theological Tri-lemnia (1878) and Life Everlasting (1883).
  • Samuel Richardson, pastor of the First Particular Baptist Church of London, who wrote A Discourse on the Torments of Hell: The foundations and pillars thereof discovered, searched, shaken, and removed. With Infallible Proofs that there is not to be a punishment after this life, for any to endure that shall never end (1658).
  • Joseph Nichol Scot, minister and author of Sermons, Preached in Defence of All Religion, Whether Natural or Revealed (1743).
  • Sir George Stokes, Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, theologian and president of the Victoria Institute, president of the British and Foreign Bible Society.
  • Richard Francis (R.F.) Weymouth, Greek scholar and Bible translator. Best known for the Weymouth New Testament (aka The New Testament in Modern Speech) published in 1903, the year after his death.

Recent Christian Leaders and Scholars (20th/21st C)

  • Basil Atkinson, Greek scholar and under-librarian at the University of Cambridge. Dr Atkinson was a key figure in the formation of the Intervarsity fellowship and wrote numerous scholarly and popular books including The Greek Language and Life and Immortality.
  • Horace Bushnell, Congregationalist theologian.
  • S. Parkes Cadman, Congregationalist clergyman, newspaper writer and pioneer Christian broadcaster.
  • E. Earle Ellis, Professor at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, founder of the Institute for Biblical Research,  and author of Pauline Theology: Ministry and Society and Paul’s Use of the Old Testament
  • R.T. France, Anglican Greek scholar, one time teacher at London Bible College, principal of Wycliffe Hall and New Testament commentator.
  • Harold Guillebaud, author of The Righteous Judge: A Study of the Biblical Doctrine of Everlasting Punishment.
  • Homer Hailey, preacher in the Churches of Christ, professor at both Abilene Christian University and Florida College, and author of more than a dozen books on theology and biblical studies.
  • Philip Edgecumbe Hughes, Anglican clergyman, Calvinist and New Testament scholar, author of numerous scholarly books and articles including The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ.
  • Dale Moody, Professor of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, 1948-1984.
  • I. Howard Marshall, Professor Emeritus at the University of Aberdeen, author of numerous biblical commentaries and New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel
  • Emmanuel Pétavel-Olliff, Swiss pastor and biblical scholar, author of The Problem of Immortality and The Struggle for Eternal Life; Or the Immortality of the Just, and the Gradual Extinction of the Wicked.
  • Clark Pinnock, theologian and lecturer at New Orleans baptist Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Regent College and McMaster Divinity College. Pinnock authored numerous books and articles including several articles in defence of conditional immortality. He defended that view in Four Views on Hell.
  • W. Graham Scroggie, Evangelist, pastor and author of numerous commentaries and theological studies including The Unfolding Drama of Redemption and Guide to the Gospels.
  • John Stott, renowned Evangelical leader, and author, one-time Rector of All Souls’ Church, Langham Place, who was especially well known as a supporter of Intervarsity Fellowship. Stott’s revelation in Evangelical Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue that he held to the annihilationist view sent shockwaves through the evangelical world and significantly boosting the visibility of our position.
  • John Wenham, Anglican biblical scholar, author of The Elements of New Testament Greek and The Goodness of God (also published as The Enigma of Evil).

Contemporary Christian Leaders and Scholars (Living)



Contemporary Traditionalists Who Support Conditionalism as an Evangelical Doctrine

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.
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