“The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study Of The Doctrine Of Final Punishment” is a fantastic theological treatise on the doctrine of Hell. In this book, Edward Fudge argues in favor the Annihilationist view (also known as The Conditional Immortality View) of Hell which says that the wicked are not tormented for all eternity, but are completely destroyed.
Getting Back To The Protestant Principle Of Sola Scriptura
In the second chapter, Fudge argues that while the eternal conscious torment view has been the traditional view held throughout history (though there have been conditionalists in every age of the church), ultimately, we need to rest our conclusions on this subject on the testimony of The Bible. We who claim to be protestants cannot cling to a doctrine because it’s a traditional view in spite of biblical evidence to the contrary and point our fingers at Roman Catholics for doing exactly the same thing. Sola Scriptura, by definition, means scripture alone is our highest authority in all matters of faith and practice. If The Bible’s teaching conforms to what the early church fathers and the reformers taught, then that’s all good and well. But if The Bible contradicts them, well so much for their teaching. Martin Luther was getting back to The Bible when he argued against Catholic traditions that developed after the apostolic age, and conditionalist like Fudge believe they are doing the exact same thing; arguing The Bible against traditions that contradict it. Fudge does not believe we should ignore the church fathers or reformers like Luther and Calvin, as they all can give us insights into the teachings of scripture and help us understand biblical doctrine, but ultimately everything should be tried before the bar of Scripture. We should remember the slogan “Reformed and always reforming.”
The Soul – Immortal Or Mortal?
In chapter 3, Fudge argues that the view that the soul is inherently immortal was largely influenced by platonism, and this platonic thought influenced the thinking of church fathers like Tertullian. This platonic thought, Fudge argues, had it been absent, the doctrine of eternal torment probably would have never arisen at all in the church. Here, Fudge interacts with philosophical arguments several church fathers gave for justifying the assertion that the soul is immortal and pokes holes in them. Fudge also interacts with traditionalists who argue that the church fathers were not heavily influenced more by platonism than The Bible in their thinking and arguments. It should be noted that soul mortality is not an inherent feature of conditionalism, as God could simply destroy a soul that would otherwise never stop existing unless God acted. This is a point Fudge himself brings up at some point in this chapter.
Sheol and Principles Of Divine Justice
The book, in my opinion, started off kind of slow. I was more interested in the exegetical arguments than all this church history and development of Hell doctrines. We finally get to that in chapter 5, in which Fudge takes a look at what Sheol is. In chapter 6, Fudge takes a look at what The Old Testament has to say regarding the destruction of the wicked. Fudge makes the point that some of these instances refer to earthly, this worldy judgment and therefore cannot be used as proof texts for what happens to people in the afterlife. Nevertheless, there are too many passages in the Psalms, Proverbs, prophets, and even some of the history books which speak of the destruction and death of the wicked in absolute terms and contrast this with the life and prosperity of the righteous, something that does not always come to pass in this life. If it doesn’t always come to pass in this life, Fudge reasons, then what is described must be something that will occur in the age to come. He writes “
“First we notice texts from the poetic books of the Old Testament that reflect moral principles of divine justice. Utilizing a broad variety of words, metaphors, and similes, these passages of Scripture state the outcome of God’s justice when applied to those who do good and to those who do evil. These texts are significant for our study because they express moral principles inherent in God’s own character, which never changes and cannot be thwarted. On earth, men and women who do very evil things sometimes escape unpunished and even undetected. If God says that evildoers will meet a particular end, and that does not happen now during life on earth, it will surely occur in the age to come. For this reason, texts that state moral principles of divine justice say something important on our subject. Someone might object that texts of this sort specifically refer only to judgments during the present life and say nothing about the punishment awaiting in the age to come.
Indeed, many such statements do refer to earthly consequences of wrongdoing. Wisdom literature deals in proverbs, aphorisms, and sayings about life here and now. However, so long as one insists that God’s justice will finally triumph over injustice, and acknowledges that perfect justice does not always prevail in this life, there is a place for these texts. They speak indirectly, by implication.”1
He then proceeds to examine the following Old Testament texts; Psalm 11:1-7, Psalm 34:8-22, Psalm 37:1-40, Psalm 50, Psalm 58, Psalm 69:22-28, and Psalm 145.
Fudge also points out the mistaken notion some traditionalists have of thinking the Old Testament term “Sheol” is the Old Testament word for The New Testament’s “Gehenna” or “Hell”. Fudge writes;
“Do good and bad alike go to Sheol, as viewed by the Old Testament? The mainline Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible flatly states: ‘Nowhere in the OT is the abode of the dead regarded as a place of punishment or torment.’ The evangelical Baker’s Dictionary of Theology says that, ‘Sheol is uniformly depicted in the OT as the eternal, amoral abode of both righteous and unrighteous alike.’ Most of the time, says David J. Powys, sheol has neutral connotations as ‘the ‘place’ of all the dead,’although he acknowledges eight occurrences ‘when it is construed as a place of condemnation.'” 2
Fudge goes onto say “Anyone with a concordance can verify these statements for himself. Faithful Jacob expected to go ‘down to Sheol’ when he died (Gen 37:35; 42:38; 44:29, 31). Righteous Job longed to hide in Sheol until God’s anger passed him by (Job 14:13). David, the man after God’s heart, viewed Sheol as his resting place, though he trusted God to redeem him from its grasp (Ps 49:15). Even Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God, went to Sheol (Greek: hades ) upon his death (Ps 16:10; Acts 2:24–31). There is simply no basis for making Sheol an exclusive place of punishment for the wicked.”3
Jesus’ Teachings On Hell
In the chapters after this, Fudge examines the teachings of Jesus and the apostles and argues that we have every reason to believe they taught that the wicked would be utterly destroyed in the final judgment. Perhaps the most potent example is Matthew 10:28, in which Jesus says“Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body. Instead, fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in Hell!” Jesus told his disciples this in the context of warning them of the persecution they’ll face, and in my opinion, it is THE most powerful text in support of annihilationism. In fact, I remember reading Matthew’s gospel for the first time 10 years ago, and when I came to this verse, I stopped and was basically like “Wait, what? Destroy the body and soul in Hell? I thought Hell was a place of eternal torment! Is Jesus saying the damned are utterly annihilated?” But I shrugged it off because I was basically like “Well, he can’t mean that because complete destruction isn’t what Hell is”. In retrospect, I can really see how powerful my cultural filters were. How I got around this verse was by basically saying “Well, Jesus isn’t saying that God will destroy both body and soul, only that He can.” But, does it really make sense for Jesus to say that we should fear God simply for possessing the ability to do something that He never actually plans on doing? It would seem to me that unless the destruction of both body and soul is something that truly happens to someone who denies Jesus, then Jesus’ warning would be empty of meaning. It would be like threatening to send a child to boot camp for disobeying when all you really plan on doing is taking away his video games for a week.
One of the biblical pieces of evidence for annihilationism has been hiding in plain sight all along. The famous verse John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” Here, Jesus says that those who believe in Him (God’s Son) will not perish, but have eternal life. By contrast, those who do not believe in Jesus will perish. The opposite of eternal life is perishing. The opposite of perishing is eternal life. If the eternal torment view of Hell were true, everyone would have eternal life. No one would perish.
John 3:36 says “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” Again “eternal life” stands as an alternative, this time to “God’s wrath remaining.” Here Jesus emphasizes the realized aspect of both outcomes. Already eternal life is here for the believer; already God’s wrath rests (and continues to rest) on one who rejects the Son of God who is life. So long as one knowingly rejects Jesus, God’s wrath “remains.” Fudge points out that this verse is reminiscent of Deuteronomy 29:20, where all the curses of a broken covenant not only fall on the highhanded rebel, but “rest” (NASB) on him as well. Deuteronomy literally says the curses “lie down” on him, evoking an image of a beast of prey.
Fudge, after looking at John 3:16 and John 3:36, interacts with his critics. John Gerstner insists that “the unbelieving go on perishing as long as they go on unbelieving and that is forever. So far as John 3:16 is concerned, the unbelieving perish forever.”4 Paul Helm reasons that if “perish” means ceasing to exist, and if unbelievers perish in hell, then “hell cannot exist.” Gerstner reads into Scripture the idea that the wicked “go on perishing” rather than “perish.” Fudge responds by saying that If the Gospel writer had wanted to say that, he could have. But he did not. The writer instead assures us that every person who believes in Jesus will not perish, but—the opposite situation—have eternal life. Edward Fudge writes that “Helm’s logic assumes that hell itself must exist forever, and that it would cease to exist if unbelievers truly died and became extinct. Traditionalists infer the eternality of hell from the biblical phrases “eternal fire” and “eternal judgment,” although there are at least two other explanations as detailed in chapter 4.”5
Other biblical evidences for annihilationism/conditionalism that Fudge exegetes are:
1 Timothy 6:13-16 – “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession,to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” (emphasis mine)
God gives life to all things, and alone has immortality.
1 Corinthians 15:50-54 – “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 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.'” (emphasis mine)
So we need to put on the imperishable, we are not currently imperishable. The mortal needs to put on the immortal.
1 Peter 1:22-23 – “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (emphasis mine)
We are born again of imperishable through the word of God.
Matthew 7:13 – “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.”
The wide way leads to destruction. This is not the same as eternal life in torment.
Romans 9:22 – “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction“
Phillipians 1:27-28 – “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”
Their destruction and your salvation…
Philippians 3:18-21 – “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
The end of the enemies of Christ is destruction. The author could have said “Their end is eternal torment” but he did not. He said “Their end is destruction”.
2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you,[a] not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.“
Final Punishment In The Book Of Revelation
In chapter 22, Edward Fudge looks at the two passages of Revelation which, in retrospect, I can now see to be the only passages in the entire Bible which could be indicators that Hell is a place of eternal conscious torment. Edward Fudge explains that the book of Revelation is a book that belongs in the genre of apocalyptic literature, and that genre is known for its highly symbolic imagery and symbolism. Therefore, rather than “interpreting everything as literal unless forced to interpret something metaphorically”, the principle should be turned on its head when interpreting Revelation. Fudge writes “This is not some external principle imposed upon the book from outside, Beale says; it is inherent in the book’s own character as explained in the opening verse of Revelation itself. The opening verse of the book states that its purpose is to “communicate by symbols” ( sēmainō ), as shown by the parallel use of deiknymi (“show”) in the opening clause, Beale writes. This bit of information determines our proper approach to interpreting Revelation. Literalists miss this point, and “contend that one should interpret literally except where one is forced to interpret symbolically.” In fact, says Beale, Rev 1:1 tells us that “this rule should be turned on its head; . . . the essence of the book is figurative. Where there is lack of clarity about whether something is symbolic, the scale of judgment should be tilted in the direction of a non-literal analysis . . . Recognizing the predominant symbolic genre of Revelation is crucial as we approach the interpretation of the book. …….This vocabulary of ‘signs’ belonged to what was almost a language of its own, drawn from an ancient tradition known as apocalyptic, that had thrived already for two centuries, with roots in biblical origins even more ancient. Beasley-Murray compares this “apocalyptic” imagery to the stereotypes of the modern political cartoon. We will see that some images and meanings in Revelation come from non-biblical apocalyptic literature of the period, but that the major source by far is the Old Testament itself.”7
I agree with Fudge on this. Regardless of whether you’re a futurist or a preterist, you cannot deny that much of Revelation is not meant to be interpreted literally. You may see the beast of the sea and the beast of the land as a future anti-Christ figure and the Roman Catholic Church, or you might see them as The Emperor Nero and Apostate Israel (I take the latter), but no one would think that the land and sea beast are going to be literal multi-headed monsters that will wage war against God. Fudge sums up “The symbols of judgment often overlap. Just as the story of Sodom’s annihilation contributed the imagery of burning sulfur, so it also contributed the imagery of rising smoke. When Abraham went out the next morning to look on the scene, all he saw was “dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace” (Gen 19:28). The smoke rising from Sodom did not indicate human suffering or people in pain. Like today’s symbol of a mushroom-shaped cloud, the rising smoke gave silent testimony to a destruction accomplished. Where Sodom and Gomorrah once existed, all was now silent. A day before, the cities had bustled with people. As Abraham views the smoke, the people are gone, dead, destroyed. If anyone was tempted to doubt it, the rising smoke gave proof.”8
There is much in this chapter that I don’t have the space to get into. That said, I think that we should follow the widely accepted and promoted principle of biblical hermeneutics that we should interpret scripture in light of scripture, to interpret the unclear passages in light of the clear passages. If The Bible states (and it does) in a PLETHORA of places that the wicked “perish” (John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 1:18, 2 Peter 3:9) , “are destroyed” (Matthew 10:28, Matthew 7:13, 1 Peter 1:22-23, 2 Peter 2:1, Romans 9:22), “do not have a future” (Psalm 37:38, Proverbs 24:20), “are extinguished” (Proverbs 13:9, Proverbs 20:20), and “do not have life”, (John 5:40, Romans 6:23) then we ought to interpret Revelation 14 and Revelation 20 in light of this mountain of scripture.
Much more could be said, but I shall stop here to prevent this book review from becoming a book report. Overall, I found Fudge’s case to be powerful and convincing. In fact, I find the evidence (much of which wasn’t even mentioned in this review) to be overwhelming! That the wicked are annihilated after a finite period of torment is so obvious in the text that, quite frankly, I’m embarrassed that I held the traditional view for so many years! My confidence in Eternal Conscious Torment has been….annihilated. I plan on re-releasing my book “A Hellacious Doctrine” to reflect my changed view. In the meantime, I highly recommend that you read this book. It is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle. My only real complaint was where his own eschatological positions took him in certain areas. His dealing with Gehenna and more obvious literal national judgment verses in the New Testament teachings of Jesus get confused with future judgment and their timing and nearness context get lost and misapplied. As a Partial Preterist, I do not believe that, for example, Matthew 25 is about afterlife punishment at all, but should be interpreted in light of Matthew 24 in which I’ve argued in my paper “The Case For The Preterist Reading Of Matthew 24” is about temporal earthly judgment upon the people of Israel for rejecting Jesus as messiah. This was fulfilled in the first century.
I, and Edward Fudge does as well, holds that there will be some period of torment after God pronounces sentence and before annihilation. This is the only way I think we can make the most sense out of passages like Luke 16 and those that speak of the condemned weeping and gnashing their teeth. Finite Conscious Torment as opposed to Eternal Conscious Torment.
1: Fudge, Edward William. The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition (pp. 52-53). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
2: Fudge, Edward William. The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition (p. 44). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
3: Fudge, Edward William. The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition (pp. 44-45). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
4: Gerstner, Repent or Perish, 158.
5: Helm, The Last Things, 118
6: Fudge, Edward William. The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, Third Edition (p. 236). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
7: ibid, page 235.
8: ibid, page 2P