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A STUDY OF MUSIC IN THE CHURCH

After spending the majority of my life defending the notion that instrumental music is sinful in worship to God (and having a formal, public debate on the issue), I changed my position in 2014 after examining the arguments. Below are a few articles that explain my reasons as to why I changed:

MUSIC IN THE CHURCH: WHY I CHANGED MY MIND – This study examines the alleged argumentation against instrumental music in worship and why I believe the reasoning is lacking in biblical evidence (and why I changed my mind).

A BRIEF CORRESPONDENCE WITH DR. MOORE ON MUSIC IN THE CHURCH – Dr. Kevin Moore responds to my original article and we engage in a brief correspondence outlining the issues and argumentation for both positions.

WORSHIP WARS – This article explains why we should be careful about diving fellowship over theological matters and differences of how one worships God.

 

CAN WE TRUST THE NEW TESTAMENT? LESSON 5: THE “HIDDEN GOSPELS”

Have you ever heard somebody claim that there should be more than the four gospel accounts we have in our Bible? Sometimes these are referred to as the “lost,” “hidden,” or “Gnostic,” gospel accounts.

“With so many hidden gospels now brought to light, it is now often claimed that the four gospels were simply four among many of roughly equal worth, and the alternative texts gave just as valid a picture of Jesus as the text we have today” (Philip Jenkins, Hidden Gospels. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, p.7).

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were randomly chosen to be in the Bible — in reality, there are several other gospel accounts that should also be in the Bible. These “lost gospel accounts” shed further light on Jesus and His followers and they should be included in the Bible.

“If you had ten documents and you arbitrarily selected four of them and said only they have a connection with the apostles, and you didn’t have any reason for saying that – then that would be prejudice, I agree. But if you go through all ten and you discover that you actually do have credible historical evidence for four of them as having some kind of apostolic connection and the others not a chance – then it’s not a dogmatic prejudicial assertion. It’s a reasonable and considered conclusion, based on the evidence” (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, p.34).

While it is not within the scope of this study to thoroughly examine every single alleged lost gospel account, we will take a quick examination at the more popular ones and show why they should be discredited.

We will also show why Matthew, Mark, Luke and John do rightfully find their place in the Bible while (rightfully) no other so-called “gospel accounts” find their place in the Bible.

The Gospel of Thomas

The Gospel of Thomas should be rejected because it was written at the wrong place, at the wrong time and by the wrong person (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, pp.35-38)

The gospel accounts were published in the Greek language and then Christianity spread to all sorts of language groups. This included traveling eastward, where people speak Syriac (A form of Aramaic).

In 175 AD., Tatian (who was a student of Justin Martyr) created a written version of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John called the Diatessaron. This was a blend of all four gospel accounts put together in the Syriac language (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

In blending together Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in Syrian, Tatian created some new forms exclusive and distinctive to the Syrian language, because it was part Matthew, part Luke, and so forth. Interestingly enough, those distinctive Syrian forms are present in the Gospel of Thomas. Furthermore, the Gospel of Thomas has word order and identical arrangement of material found in the Diatessaron. This simply means that the Gospel of Thomas had to be written sometime after 175 AD. (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, p. 37).

Second, the Gospel of Thomas refers to Thomas as Judas Thomas. Why is this important? Because that name is found only in the Syrian church and nowhere else. Furthermore, the Syrians did not like wealth, business people and commercialism. They were heavy ascetics and these ideas are reflected in the Gospel of Thomas (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, p.38).

Most telling is that there are more than five hundred Syrian catchwords that link virtually all of the Gospel of Thomas in order to help people memorize the gospel. This was a Syrian memorization aid (ibid, p.38). All of the evidence points towards the fact that the Gospel of Thomas is of Syrian origin, dated sometime after 175 AD. and is fraudulent.

A few scholars turn to what is called “special pleading.” They’re aware of the evidence against the Gospel of Thomas, so they hypothesize that perhaps there was a earlier Gospel of Thomas that we just don’t know about. In other words, instead of modifying their theory to fit the evidence, they modify the evidence to fit their theory (ibid, p.39).

The Gospel of Mary

This alleged Gospel Account was popularized by The Da Vinci Code. Scholars are virtually unanimous that this Gospel Account was written between 150-200 AD thus could not have been written by Mary because it is too late (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, pp.46-48).

The Gospel of Mary is full of inaccuracies and was never accepted as truth. These texts are not only unhistorical, but they don’t even claim that Jesus and Mary were married (as so many often claim that they do).

The Secret Gospel of Mark

First, this alleged “secret gospel” is not even in existence today (thus, how could it be included in the New Testament)? The story of the secret gospel account of Mark is absurd. Morton Smith, who was a professor of Judeo-Christian origins at Columbia University for years, announced in 1960 that he had earlier made a discovery at the Mar Saba Monastery in the Judean wilderness (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, pp. 48-52).

Smith claimed that he found a letter which contained two quotes from a previously unknown mystical or secret version of the Gospel of Mark. In this writing, there is a homosexual reference made to Jesus.

The quotes describe Jesus raising a young man from the dead and then later the young man comes to him wearing a linen cloth over his naked body and remaining with him that night so Jesus could teach him the “mystery of the Kingdom that night.”

Smith later wrote two books analyzing the quotes he had found – one 450-page scholarly treatment published by Harvard University Press, and a more popular edition for a general audience.

The headlines in the New York Times at the time of Smith’s announcement reflected the controversy. “A New Gospel Ascribed to Mark,” said the newspaper on December 30, 1960.

Here is the interesting part about this so-called document: It is gone, there is no trace of it. Smith claimed that he left it at the monastery, but nobody can find it. Smith simply took photos of the alleged document and that is all we have today. The photos of the document have since been analyzed and have been found to be nothing but a hoax.

When experts examined the photos of the text, they found what is called “forger’s tremor.” This is where the text isn’t really written, but drawn in attempts to deceive. There are shaky lines and pen lifts in the middle of the strokes – all signs of a forgery.

Furthermore, the photos indicated the presence of mildew on the book – something that couldn’t occur in a book from the dry climate where the monastery was located where this document was allegedly found.

The evidence continues to pile up showing that the Secret Gospel of Mark is counterfeit. There is no evidence at all, prior to Smith’s alleged discovery, of this book/document being in the Mar Saba library. Therefore, there is no evidence it was ever there before Smith’s alleged discovery nor is there any evidence it was there after Smith’s alleged discovery.

If indeed this was a hoax, then Morton Smith was the “hoaxer.” But why would he do this? Why would he go to such great lengths to forge a false document, make up a false story about Jesus being gay and then write two books about it?

The obviously answer might be fame and fortune. But even more interestingly than that, it came out years later that Smith himself was gay — which he had kept a closely guarded secret in the 1950s.

The Jesus Papers

A man by the name of Michael Baigent wrote a book entitled, “The Jesus Papers.”

He reported the discovery of two papyrus documents written in Aramaic and dated back to the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Allegedly, this is a gospel account written by Jesus Himself.

The first problem is that Baigent is a conspiracy theorist and writer – he isn’t a historian or Bible scholar (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, pp.52-54).

Baigent describes how he went into a walk-in safe of an antiquities collector and saw the papyri under glass. He couldn’t take a picture of them. He admitted he doesn’t read Aramaic nor did the other guy with him. However, he has assured that two well-known archaeologists, Yigael Yadin and Nahman Avigad, have confirmed it (ibid, p.53).

There is only one problem – these men are both dead and there is no evidence, other than one man’s testimony – Baigent’s testimony.

So, we have an author with dubious credibility in the first place, an antiquities dealer who can’t be identified, documents that Baigent can’t read or produce (and which there is no evidence for their existence in the first place) and two archaeologists who are dead.

On top of this, there are no papyrus buried in the ground of Jerusalem that could survive two thousand years, no exceptions. You can’t bury papyrus in the moist ground and expect it to still be legible two thousand years later (ibid, p.53).

The Gospel of Judas

On April the 6th, 2006, it was announced that a new gospel account – the Gospel of Judas – had been discovered. Carbon 14-dating indicates the papyrus dates back to the AD 220 to 340. The original gospel account was written around 180. Therefore, making this another late gospel account (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, p.56-57).

Furthermore, Irenaeus, who lived around 130-202 AD warned about this alleged gospel account being fictitious history (Against Heresies 1.31.1).

Criteria for Document Authenticity

(1) When was it written?

(2) Where was it written?

(3) Is the document culturally/historically accurate?

(4) What is the motivation/intent for writing?

(5) Is the document/writing verified?

 “We look at the New Testament documents and, yes, they have an agenda: they’re affirming that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. But they also make all kinds of statements that can be evaluated. Are they culturally accurate? Are they true to what we know from other historical sources? Were they written in a time and place that has proximity to Jesus’ life? The answers are yes.” (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, pp. 32-33).

In other words, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are included in the Bible and accepted as true because:

(1) They were written by friends of Jesus and/or associates of eye witnesses of Jesus.

(2) They were written within close proximity to Jesus’ life and His geographical location (the events could be verified by eye witnesses).

(3) The documents are culturally and historically accurate and reliable.

(4) The documents were accepted by the early church/Christians.

On the contrary, when we consider the alleged “lost gospel accounts,” we will find that:

(1) They were written at a later period of time (too late).

(2) They were written from other places (too far).

(3) They contain historical and cultural inaccuracies (too unreliable).

(4) They were rejected as heresy and marked as fraudulent when they were written (too exposed).

(5) They were never accepted by Christians as genuine (too false).

“The problem…is there are so many people pursuing doctorates, writing dissertations, pursuing tenure, and trying to get published that there’s a tendency to push the facts beyond where they should go. If you’re hoping to get on the network news – well, news has got to be new. Nobody is going to get excited if you say the traditional view of the Gospels seems correct. But if you come up with something outrageous – that Jesus’ body was eaten by dogs, for example – then that warrants a headline. Or if you say there’s a gospel just as valid as Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, but it was suppressed in an early Christian power play, well, that’s news.” (Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus, p.32).

– Kevin Pendergrass

 

CAN WE TRUST THE NEW TESTAMENT? Lesson 1: Introduction

The Claim

The New Testament claims to be from God Himself.

 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” –   2 Timothy 3:16-17

The Greek word for Scripture (graphḗ) is used 51 times in the NT and always speaks of the holy Scripture or sacred writings from God, including the New Testament writings (Strong’s Greek Concordance #1124). The New Testament is considered Scripture, for when Peter wrote his second inspired epistle, he referred to Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15-16).

The Process

The word for inspiration (theópneustos) means “God breathed” and relates to the idea of God’s Spirit (Strong’s Greek Concordance # 2315). This correlates with what Peter said in regards to how the New Testament was recorded:

“And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” – 2 Pet. 1:19-21 (See also: Jn. 14:25-26; 16:12-13; Eph. 3:1-7).

The things in which the apostles and inspired men wrote and spoke came from the mind of God and not the mind of men:

“For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” – 1 Cor. 2:11-13

Once these inspired men, who were led by the Holy spirit, wrote down the things the Holy Spirit led them to speak and write, they were then passed on to churches and Christians to be read. Once they read them, they would pass it on to other Christians and churches to read. This is how the New Testament began to be circulated.

“Now when this epistle is read among you, see that it is read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” –    Col. 4:16

The Proof

One common question that is asked is, “Why did so many people believe that these writings were really written by inspired men led by the Holy Spirit?” The answer is simple. These inspired men had miraculous ability to prove what they were saying was really from God Himself.

“…how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will? – Heb. 2:2-4

Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds” – 2 Cor. 12:12

Therefore, it can be said in summary that (1) the New Testament claims to be from God; (2) God chose certain men and led them through the Holy Spirit to teach and record His will (i.e., the Scriptures); and (3) these holy men were given miraculous ability to prove that what they were speaking and writing was from God. 

The Skeptic Rebuttal

It is commonly argued that just because a book claims to be from God doesn’t mean that it is. This argument is a valid one. Anybody can write a book and claim that it is from God. This is the case with books such as the Book of Mormon, The Quran, Dianetics, etc. that all claim to be inspired by God. A claim alone is not evidence or proof for the claim.

Many people view the Bible is just another false book with a false claim. Consider the following comments:

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Some more comments can be seen from Dr. Bart Ehrman. Dr. Bart Ehrman is a James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is a leading authority on the New Testament and the history of early Christianity. Here are some comments he has to say about the Bible/New Testament:

“During the time the New Testament was written, books and letters were not mass produced. They had to be written by hand and copied by hand. If you wanted a copy of a book, somebody had to copy it for you or you had to copy it yourself.  When someone copies something by hand, they make mistakes. Invariably, there would be a mistake, or two, or three or twenty. When someone came along and wanted a copy, they would copy the mistakes that were previously made and then they made their own mistakes…”

“…And then when someone else came along and wanted a copy of the copy of the copy, they would replicate the previous mistakes while making their own. This process was repeated multiple times over. The only time mistakes got corrected in the process was when someone thought their predecessor made a mistake and sought to correct it. The problem is that there is no way of telling if the person who corrected the mistake corrected it correctly….”

“The truth is that we do not have the original copies of the New Testament. We don’t have copies of the copies. We don’t have copies of the copies of the copies of the copies….” “We are left with copies of the copies of the copies of the copies of the copies filled with textual errors years removed from the originals” – Dr. Bart Ehrman (Excerpts from Wallace/Ehrman Debate, Is the Original New Testament Lost).

(Note: To view the debate from which these comments were made in it’s entirety, you may click here). 

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In summary, it can be said that the skeptics response to the biblical claim that the New Testament is from God is as follows: (1) The New Testament is not historically reliable, and the original New Testament is lost; (2) We can’t really know who wrote the New Testament letters; (3) We don’t even have the original writings. All we have are copies of copies that have been tainted throughout the years; (4) The New Testament is full of textual errors and contradictions; (5) We don’t even know which books actually belong; (6) The story of Jesus is a copied story from much earlier stories and is nothing but a myth.

Conclusion

These and many other accusations and alleged arguments against the validity and trustworthiness of Bible and New Testament are constantly hurled at believers. In the next few months, I will be doing a series of lessons and studies on this very topic. We will be delving very deep into this study. We will be taking a logical, historical and systematic approach to this study. We will confront these questions, accusations and assumptions head on in the following weeks!

– Kevin Pendergrass

LIGHT vs. DARKNESS

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“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (Jn. 1:4-5).

The New Testament continuously draws a stark contrast between light and darkness (Lk. 1:79; Jn. 12:46; Psa. 18:28; etc.). As long as Jesus walked the earth, He was the light of this world (Jn. 9:5; see also: Jn. 8:12). However, His followers are now to be the light of the world.

“A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light” (Jn. 12:35-36).

As followers of Jesus, we must be exemplifying the same light Jesus did. In fact, the way in which the world sees the light of Jesus is through His followers.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16).

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

The Bible says that followers of Jesus are to walk in the light (1 Jn. 1:7-9). But what does all of this talk about light and darkness mean? To put it simply, light is good and darkness is bad. Light is a representation of righteousness, and darkness is a representation of sin. Walking in the light is to walk in the Spirit. Walking in the darkness is to walk according to the lust of the flesh.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8; See: Eph. 5:9-14).

To walk in the light doesn’t mean that we will never mess up, nor does it mean that we have it all figured out. Instead, to walk in the light means to strive to follow Jesus in all we do by bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Phil. 3:12-16; Gal. 5:16-26). To truly walk in the light means to love your brother. The Scribes and Pharisees wanted to make walking in the light about a list of rules. Yet, they neglected love for their fellow men. John and Jesus said the following about loving your brother:

“He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness, until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 Jn. 2:9-11).

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:34-35).

Have you left the darkness? Are you walking in the light? Do you love your brother? Are you exemplifying love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?  Are you striving to follow Jesus in all you do? It is never too late to leave the darkness and step into the light.

– Kevin Pendergrass

WHY DO CHRISTIANS SOMETIMES HAVE DIFFERENT INTERPRETATIONS?

It is very apparent that there are many studied Christians who have different interpretations of certain Bible passages and verses. Even the two most like-minded individuals do not see everything alike. In Luke 10:25, a lawyer asked Jesus what he had to do in order to inherit eternal life. In Luke 10:26, Jesus responded by asking, “What is your understanding/interpretation of the law?” Even Jesus acknowledged the fact there are different understandings of scripture. In Acts 8:30, Philip asked the eunuch, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

The Bible is from God and the Bible is an objective book (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Jn. 8:30-32; Jn. 17:17). However, at times, we will all have different understandings of certain passages. Some erroneously point to the words of Peter to claim that it is wrong to have different interpretations of the Bible and that everyone should just understand every Bible verse just alike. However, this is a misunderstanding of the context in which Peter writes.

Peter says in 2 Peter 1:20-21, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” This passage isn’t speaking of an individual’s understanding of a Bible verse or certain passage. Peter is speaking of how we received the Scriptures. Peter’s point is that we can rest assured that the Scriptures we have are from God and were not tampered with by man’s interpretation.

So, with that being said, let’s go back to the original question. What causes a difference of interpretation? There are several answers to this question.

First, while the Bible is an infallible book, we as humans are fallible people (Rom. 3:23). Naturally, there are going to be flaws in our own interpretations at times because we are human and we are not perfect. Only a flawless person could have a flawless understanding of all things.

Even though the lawyer in Luke 10:26-29 knew the right answer, he was attempting to justify himself. Many times, we have preconceived ideas that hinder us from seeing the fullness of the text. This could be caused by self-justification, emotionalism, legalism, self-righteousness, ignorance (lack of deeper study), fear, family, agendas, upbringing, pressure from others, tradition, money/job, politics at the church you attend, etc. Therefore, we as Christians will at times have different interpretations because of our own sinfulness and fallibility.

Second, there are some areas where God has purposefully not revealed enough information for us to know all the things we wish we could know (Deut. 29:29). This is one reason why preachers and Bible students often have to speculate about details that are not revealed. Therefore, this often leads to a difference in interpretation.

Third, Christians are not all on the same educational levels. We are constantly growing in our knowledge (2 Pet. 3:18). As we grow, we will learn more and come to a better understanding of something we perhaps did not see before. Not every Bible student is going to be at the same level at the same time (Heb. 5:12-14). Every Bible student can look back and see where they believed or taught something they no longer believe because of maturing and experience. This is a natural result of spiritual growth that will take place with any Christian. Therefore, Christians will at times have different interpretations because of their constant growth in educational, experimental and maturity levels.

There are many more points that could be stated, but suffice it to say that it is clear many studious, well-intended Christians hold different beliefs. It is also clear that even Jesus understood that people would hold different understandings of scripture. This doesn’t mean that the Bible is not objective truth, it just means we do not always objectively search for it the way we should because we are a fallible people attempting to understand and apply an infallible book. That is why it is so important to search and study the scriptures with an open heart and open mind (Acts 17:11; 2 Tim. 2:15).

We should not use the excuse, “that is just your interpretation” in attempts to justify sin or lower God’s standard. But we should also abstain from haughty arrogance believing that our interpretation is infallible. We need to begin sincerely admitting the fact that many times sincere Bible students will come to different conclusions, and we should thank God that those in Christ have freedom in these matters (Rom. 8:1)! May our study always be with humility and the right heart!

– Kevin Pendergrass

A COMPREHENSIVE STUDY ON THE FINAL FATE OF THE WICKED

Hell. The word itself brings thoughts of anguish and fear. While Jesus was on earth, He taught more about hell than He did heaven. So many people today have simply ignored the fact that the majority (compared to the minority) are going to be sentenced to hell (Mt. 7:13-14). The reason is because they have rejected God’s free gift of Salvation.

However, at the same time, so many Christians have glossed over clear passages that teach what will actually happen in hell. Hell is not a place where the wicked will suffer eternal conscious torment. Instead, hell is a place where the wicked will go to be ultimately destroyed. Those who reject God will perish and be destroyed in hell. Please click the links below to be taken to the specific studies.

Will the Wicked Live Forever?

The Final Fate of the Wicked in the Old Testament.

The Final Fate of the Wicked According to Jesus/The Gospel Accounts.

The Rich Man and Lazarus.

The Final Fate of the Wicked: Acts & Epistles.

The Final Fate of the Wicked: Revelation.

Jesus Died for the Sins of the World: What This Means.

The Meaning of Death, Destruction and Perish in the Contexts of the Final Fate of The Wicked.

Summary/Answering Objections.

 

THE MEANING OF DEATH, DESTRUCTION & PERISH IN THE CONTEXTS OF THE FINAL FATE OF THE WICKED

The Bible teaches that the wicked will ultimately perish (Psa. 73:27; Lk. 13:3; Jn. 3:16; 10:28; etc.). The final fate awaiting the wicked is death and destruction (Ezek. 18:20; Rom. 6:23; 2 Thess. 1:7-9; Mt. 7:13; Phil. 3:19; Mt. 10:28; Gal. 6:8; etc.). There is no debate that the Bible teaches that this is the final fate of the wicked. However, what does it mean when the Bible says that the wicked will die, be destroyed and perish in hell?

While this may seem like a somewhat superfluous question, it is important to answer because many Christians do not believe that the wicked will actually die, perish and be destroyed (At least not in the literal, straightforward sense of the meaning). Instead, they argue that in the contexts which deal with the final fate of the wicked, these words mean something less specific such as “to be ruined,” “a loss of well-being” or “usefulness.” Although this argument ultimately fails, there is a bit of semantic validity we must acknowledge with this argument.

Let’s begin with the relevant Greek word apollumi, which is part of the apoleia word group. This word group in the New Testament is seen being translated as “destroyed,” “lost,” “perished,” “kill,” “ruin,” etc. The word itself is defined as “to fully destroy,” “permanent destruction,” “experiencing a miserable end,” “to cancel out, to ruin or render useless” (http://biblehub.com/greek/622.htm).

This wider word group does have some range of meaning and does not always mean the same thing. For example, this word group is used to speak of “lost sheep,” “a lost son” and “a lost coin” (Lk. 15:4, 8, 24, 32, etc.). It is even seen as describing wineskins that are “ruined” (Mt. 9:17). In these contexts, the word should clearly be understood as “ruined,” “a loss of well-being” or “usefulness.”

On the other hand, this same word group is used to speak of killing and destroying in the straightforward understanding of taking one’s life or something being brought to a permanent end (See: Mt. 12:14; 21:41; Mk. 9:22; Lk. 6:9). It was Herod’s desire to “kill” baby Jesus (Mt. 2:13). Herod didn’t want to just ruin Jesus’ reputation or take away His usefulness, he wanted to destroy Jesus in the literal sense of bringing His life to an end (See also: Mt. 27:20). Furthermore, Jesus spoke of food which perishes (Jn. 6:27) and Peter spoke of gold that will perish (1 Pet. 1:7).

Both food and gold are temporal that will have a permanent end. Another example is when Paul spoke of the Jews who were literally destroyed/killed by the serpents (1 Cor. 10:9; Num. 21:6). The idea with these verses when the apoleia word group is used is clearly a literal and straightforward destruction and permeant end.

Many more examples could be cited, but the aforementioned should be sufficient to show that, from a semantics standpoint, the apoleia word group can be used to mean a literal and straightforward destruction and bringing something to a permanent end. And it can also mean the loss of well-being or usefulness.

Now, let us look at the word death. Death is usually defined as the loss or cessation of life (That is, the death of the body when the soul/spirit is separated and leaves the body (http://biblehub.com/greek/2288.htm; Ja. 2:26). The body then dies. For example, the Greek word thanatos had a long history leading up to its use in the New Testament. From Homer through the Hellenic/Hellenistic periods and into Greco-Roman thought, the vast majority of the time the word death referred to death as we all ordinarily understand it. A normal, ordinary and physical death. The body dying and coming to an end.

Throughout the LXX and New Testament, the vast majority of the time it refers to that same, ordinary death. Consider from the very beginning that Adam was warned that when he ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil he would surely die. After he and Eve did eat of that tree, God pronounced the sentence of which He had warned, saying, to dust you shall return (Gen. 3:19). God revoked their access to the tree of life explicitly so that they would not live forever. And indeed, after several hundred years, they did die. From the beginning this is the meaning of death: one’s physical life coming to an end–the body dying (Ja. 2:26). The majority of times death is seen in the Bible it is seen as life coming to an end.

There are a few times the word death is used either figuratively as a metaphor or as a prolepsis. For example, Christians are metaphorically seen as being dead to the law and dead to sin demonstrating how their relationship with the law and sin have ceased and should no longer continue (Rom. 7:4; Rom. 6:2, 11). Some people today may figuratively speak of people in their lives by saying that, “They are dead to me.”

Furthermore, consider passages such as Ephesians 2:1 and 1 Tim. 5:6. The reality of death as ordinarily understood is used here and similar passages as a metaphor for a cessation of a relationship with God and a life of righteousness (See Also: Lk. 15:24; Col. 2:13). It can also be used as a prolepsis, meaning that one’s future death is spoken of as if in the present(e.g., A prisoner may be told after his sentencing that he is a dead man walking). The general consensus based upon these passages appears to be that unbelievers in the here and now are living their physical lives in some sense separate and discontinued from God (That is, they are spiritually dead). They are physically living, but they are dead otherwise.

With all of the aforementioned in mind, the question still remains however. What does it mean when the Bible says that the wicked will die, be destroyed and perish forever? Does it mean that they will actually die, be destroyed and perish in a literal and straightforward sense? Or, does it mean that they will simply be ruined and have a useless life. In other words, is the final fate of the wicked a loss and end of total life that takes place in hell, or is it a continued life of loss and conscious torment in hell?

Before proceeding, we have to be careful with word study fallacies. This is a common error of Bible students. A word study fallacy is when someone looks up all the occurrences and possible lexical meanings of a word and then simply chooses which meaning they want to insert. When a word can have different meanings (or can be used in a figurative sense), we have to let the context decide the meaning of the word. We can’t just pick whichever meaning we want. We have to let the context pick which definition is most accurate.

A simple way to illustrate this in English is by using a word such as “drill.” There are several meanings for the word drill. For example, it can mean a hand tool. It can mean an exercise or an instruction. It can also mean to question someone relentlessly. As you can see, I can’t just randomly grab any one of those definitions of my choosing and plug it in anytime I see the word drill. If I told you that someone drilled me last night for over 2 hours, it would be incorrect for you to assume that someone took a tool and drilled holes in me for two hours. We have to use context to determine what kind of drilling took place.

The same is true with words such as death and destruction/perish. I firmly believe that the final fate of the wicked is exactly what the Bible says it is going to be. The wicked are going to be sentenced to hell where they will die, be destroyed and perish forever. I believe that these words, when used in the context of describing the final fate of the wicked, should be understood in their literal, straightforward definitions. Here is why:

First, the contexts use clear imagery as to the kind of death and destruction that will be enacted on the final fate of the wicked. Descriptions include: Passing away; Being cut off from the land of the living; Being no more; Being burned up (Psa. 11:1-7; 34:8-22; 34:1-40; 58; 69:22-28; 73:23-28;145); Being consumed like flowers of the field and going up in smoke (Psa. 37:20); The wicked having no future (Psa. 37:38); Cut down like grass and wither as the herbs (Psa. 37:2); Chaff that the wind blows away (Psa. 1:4); Cut down and thrown into the fire and burned up (Mt. 3:10, 12; 7:19; Lk. 3:17).

If I were to tell you that you are going to die, be destroyed and perish like chaff in fire or grass that withers away, what comes to mind? The imagery is clear that the kind of death and destruction being spoken of is the same kind that comes to grass, herbs and chaff when it is burned up, cut down and no more. What comes to mind is a permanent destruction of life, not a continuation of it in any sense. Therefore, the imagery and other descriptive words used to describe the kind of death and destruction of the final fate of the wicked point in clear favor of describing a literal and permanent end of existence, not a continuation of one.

Second, the words used to contrast death and destruction would prove that this death and destruction are a literal death and destruction. For example, Matthew 7:13-14 says that the broad way leads to destruction and the narrow way leads to life. Jesus, in no uncertain terms, said “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28). Jesus also said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Me shouldn’t perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). Life is contrasted with death and destruction. The righteous will have eternal life whereas the wicked will be destroyed and perish.

Constantly and consistently throughout the Old and New Testament, the Bible contrast eternal life with death and destruction (Prov. 12:28; Job 19:26; Psa. 73:23-28; Isa. 26:19; Rom. 6:23; Mt. 19:16, 29; Mk. 10:17; Jn. 10:28; Prov. 12:28; Jn. 3:36; 4:14, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47, 54; Rom. 5:21; 1 Tim. 6:12; Titus 1:2; 3:7; 1 Jn. 1:2; etc.).  The clear implication therefore is that if only the righteous have eternal life, then clearly the wicked will not because they will die, be destroyed and perish.

Third, death never means a continuation in any sense. Even when considering death from a figurative relational sense, it is still speaking of a relationship coming to an end or a relationship that doesn’t exist. The Bible says that in the first death, the body dies (Ja. 2:26). There is no consciousness in the body once the spirit departs. It is a lifeless corpse that will decay. There is no feeling, no life, no consciousness, no pain, no nothing. It is dead. The Bible teaches that we all die this first death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). However, at the resurrection, the righteous will be raised to eternal life and the wicked be raised only to die a second death (Rev. 2:11; 20:14).

The wicked will be sentenced to hell where they will die, be destroyed and perish forever. In fact, Jesus makes this clear when He says in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Just as the physical body dies at the first death (Ja. 2:26), the soul dies and is destroyed in the second death in hell (Mt 10:28; Rev. 2:11; 20:14). Whatever happens to the body in the first death will happen to the soul in the second death according to Jesus.

Fourth, the majority of the times these words are used, they are understood as a literal and permanent death/destruction. Therefore, there would have to be overwhelming evidence as to why we should understand them any differently in the context of the final fate of the wicked. In light of the fact that this is the common understanding and meaning, and in light of the fact of the contexts and the contrasting words used, I firmly believe that the death and destruction spoken of in the final fate of the wicked is just that: a final death and destruction where the wicked perish, are destroyed and come to an eternal permanent end in hell whereas the righteous enter into an eternal life in heaven forever.

– Kevin Pendergrass

 

THE FINAL FATE OF THE WICKED: ANSWERING OBJECTIONS/SUMMARY

In our in-depth study of the final fate of the wicked, my conclusion is that the wicked will ultimately die the second death, perish and be destroyed forever. Of course, there are some alleged objections and misunderstandings I want to address. I want to look at some of these misunderstandings and objections before we conclude our study.

Misunderstanding #1: But the Bible teaches that hell is a real place. How can you deny hell?

We are not denying the existence of hell. The Bible certainly teaches that hell is a real place. The question is not whether or not hell exist (For the Bible certainly teaches that it does).

Misunderstanding #2: The punishment that takes place in hell is just as long as the reward that takes place in heaven.

Once again, there is no denying the eternal duration of the punishment. The punishment that takes place in hell is eternal (That is, forever without end). It is just as long as the reward that takes place in heaven (Mt. 25:46). The question is not how long the punishment is (For I agree that it is eternal). The Bible teaches that the ultimate punishment that takes place in hell is the irreversible and eternal death and destruction of the wicked, not eternal conscious torment.

Objection #1: Death doesn’t mean non-existence; it only means separation (Ja. 2:26; Lk. 23:46; Gen. 35:18).

I happen to agree with the fact that death doesn’t mean non-existence; it simply means a loss of life. The Greek word θανατος had a long history leading up to its use in the New Testament. From Homer through the Hellenistic periods and into Greco-Roman thought, the vast majority of the time it referred to death as ordinarily understood: normal, physical death (Ja. 2:26). Throughout the LXX and NT, the vast majority of the time it refers to that same ordinary death.

Consider that, in Genesis 2-3, Adam was warned that when he ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil he would surely die (the Hebrew b’yom is an idiom that just means “when”), and after he and Eve did, in fact, eat of that tree, God pronounces the sentence of which he had warned, saying, to dust you shall return. God revokes their access to the tree of life explicitly so that they will not live forever. And indeed, after several hundred years, they did die. From the beginning this is the meaning of death: one’s physical life coming to an end. A loss of physical life. Therefore, death simply meant and means a loss of some life. In the majority of the Biblical cases, it meant a loss of one’s physical life from this earth.

Objection #2: When someone dies (separated from their physical body), they go on existing (Lk. 16:22-31).

This in and of itself is a debatable point, but for argument’s sake we will assume such is the case. This alleged objection completely misunderstands the doctrine of final destruction in the second death. Everybody dies a first death. But one’s totality is not destroyed nor does one perish in the first death. Man can kill someone, but man cannot destroy someone’s soul. Only God can destroy both body and soul in hell-this happens in the second death. A loss of life still happens to us all when we experience the first death, for our body perishes and eventually becomes no more in this life (Gen. 3:19; Eccl. 3:20). But since Jesus conquered death, the righteous have the hope of eternal life. Whereas, in the second death which the wicked will suffer, the soul perishes, is destroyed and becomes no more. We all face the first death, only the wicked will suffer the second death. It is in the second death where one is destroyed and perishes.

Objection #3: Someone can be considered spiritually dead while still living (1 Tim. 5:6; Eph. 2:1; Rom. 6:2, 11).

This objection is quite interesting because, I believe, it further clarifies the point I affirm. If a sinner is dead and has no spiritual life, and once the wicked physically die God will ultimately destroy both their body and soul in hell (Mt. 10:28), then, if neither the body or soul is living, what part of the wicked person is in existence in anyway? The only reason someone can rightfully be considered dead while still living is if it can be proven that a part of them is still existing. There is nothing in the Bible that even hints at the fact that the wicked will continue to exist in anyway after receiving their eternal fate of destruction. In fact, Jesus emphatically teaches that the totality of the wicked person will be destroyed-both body and soul (Mt. 10:28). Furthermore, when describing the final fate of the wicked, the word “death” is never qualified with terms such as “life,” “continuation” or “existence.” Instead, the word death is qualified with words such as “perish” and “destroy.”

To make the point clear, let’s consider how some have completely redefined terms to fit their view. When some read that the wicked will die a second death in the Bible, they define it as “live forever.” When some read that the wicked will be destroyed in the Bible, they define it as “go on forever.” When some read that the wicked will perish in the Bible, they define it as “continue to exist forever.” How can one read such explicit words and define them with the exact opposite meanings? If words like death, destroyed, perish, etc. don’t actually teach that the wicked will die, perish and be destroyed; then what other words would the Bible have to use in order to teach that the wicked actually do die, perish and will be destroyed? There is not a single verse one can go to in order to show that the wicked will exist forever.

Furthermore, if indeed the wicked never really do die, perish or face complete destruction, then they will never actually face the punishment that Jesus said they would face.

In conclusion, the Bible teaches that the righteous will have eternal life whereas the wicked will die a second death. The righteous will continue to exist whereas the wicked will perish. The righteous will never die, but the wicked will be destroyed forever.

Objection #4: The Bible speaks about how for some people it will be worse than others when it comes to their punishment. If all the wicked die in hell, then how can one death be worse than another?

Death and destruction is the final fate of the wicked. The Bible teaches, or at least implies, that there will be different “degrees” of suffering for the wicked before they are destroyed (Mt. 11:22-24; Lk. 10:13-15; Mt. 12:41; Lk. 11:29-32; etc.). This can further be demonstrated in Jesus’ own death. Jesus came to take the penalty we deserve. The penalty we deserve is death as a final fate (Rom. 6:23). Since Jesus took upon the penalty we deserve, then those who accept God’s gift will receive eternal life (Rom. 6:23). However, before Jesus’ actual death, He was tormented for the sins of the world and then He died (1 Pet. 2:23-24; Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:20-21; Isa. 53; etc.).

Those who do not receive the gift of eternal life will be responsible for their sins since they chose not to allow Jesus to carry them. They too will be tormented and then destroyed. The difference is that Jesus overcame death whereas the wicked will be destroyed forever and will not overcome death.
The torment the wicked will receive before being destroyed is also implied in passages that speak of the weeping and gnashing of teeth that takes place in hell (Mt. 8:11, 12; 13:30, 40-43; 13:48-50; See also: Psa. 112:10). You can only imagine the weeping and yelling that takes place by those who are burned to death. This is the picture Jesus so explicitly gave us.

Some argue that there are not degrees of suffering and that these passages are figurative and perhaps even in regards to the destruction of Jerusalem (At least in part). Either view you choose to take on the suffering of the wicked, the final fate of the wicked is always seen as destruction regardless of how much suffering may take place before. Simply arguing that there are different degrees of suffering for the wicked before their death doesn’t negate the wicked’s final fate, which is always seen as death and destruction regardless of how much suffering might take place beforehand.

THE FINAL FATE OF THE WICKED: REVELATION

There are two passages in the book of Revelation that are often cited as alleged proof for eternal conscious torment for the wicked. However, what we will discover is that these passages are not intended to be understood literally, and the figurative language used could actually be used as further evidence of complete destruction for the wicked and not eternal conscious torment. With that in mind, let’s get right into these two passages.

We must first understand that the bulk of Revelation is a book that is written in apocalyptic language. That means that many of the graphic and bizarre descriptions are not meant to be taken literal. This is agreed upon by Bible scholars of all beliefs and backgrounds. This book was written in symbols and signs (See: Rev. 1:1; Dan. 2:28-30, 45; Gen. 41:25). For example, the ten horns and seven heads of the beast in Revelation 13 are interpreted by the angel as symbolizing hills and kings. Therefore, these descriptions are not meant to be taken literally, rather, they should be understood as symbolizing something else. Let’s now turn our attention to the first passage.

The first passage that some point to in order to defend the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is Revelation 14:9-11. It reads as follows: “Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

In this passage you will notice three key elements. First, there is a torment involving fire and brimstone. Second, there is smoke ascending forever and ever. Finally, it is said that those who worship the beast and his image will have no rest day or night.

If one wanted to take this passage literally, then they would also have to argue that only people who receive a literal mark on their forehead or hand would be punished. Furthermore, it would not be all of the wicked, but only the wicked who worshiped the beast and his image. So even taking this passage literally, one could still not use it to teach the doctrine of eternal, conscious torment for all the wicked.  But as stated earlier, this passage is highly figurative and should be understood through figurative language. Therefore, what does the passage mean?

In Revelation 18, similar language is used to describe Babylon, the harlot mystery (18:4-9, 18; 19:3). And at the beginning of the next chapter, smoke rises forever from the harlot, just like it does from chapter 14’s beast-worshipers (19:3). This phrase is defined for us in the Old Testament using the same apocalyptic language, the same kind of language used in Revelation. The everlasting smoke that rises which will not be quenched day or night comes straight from Isaiah 34:8-10. It reads as follows: “For it is the day of the LORD’s vengeance, the year of recompense for the cause of Zion. Its streams shall be turned into pitch, and its dust into brimstone; Its land shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night or day; Its smoke shall ascend forever…”

Isaiah 34 is speaking of the destruction of Edom. But Edom is not still literally burning to this day. There is no smoke still rising from its remains. The language used in Isaiah meant that Edom’s fire would not be limited to just a day or night. It burned constantly and continually…but it didn’t literally burn forever. It only burned until it had consumed all that was there.

In the same way, the meaning in Revelation is that the wicked under consideration here will have no rest, instead they will be destroyed. This is the same symbolic language designed to communicate the permanency of Edom’s destruction in Isaiah 34. The same conclusion would then be true in Revelation since we are dealing with the same Jewish apocalyptic language. Therefore, the day and night torment and everlasting smoke of the torment of the beast-worshipers rising forever is Jewish imagery communicating permanent destruction, and not eternal conscious torment.

The second passage often quoted to allegedly prove eternal conscious torment for the wicked is Revelation 20:10. It reads: “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

Just like Revelation 14, there is no reason to take this text, which is highly figurative and apocalyptic, and apply it literally. Of course, even if one wanted to press this passage literally, there are several problems in attempting to use it to teach eternal, conscious torment.

First, only the devil, the beast and the false prophet are seen as being tormented forever in this verse. Therefore, if pressed literally, this verse could not be used to defend the doctrine of eternal conscious torment.

One must also consider that John said that death and hades would be thrown into the same hell fire (Rev. 20:14). Yet, death and hades are abstractions, incapable of being tormented to begin with. Clearly, this is figurative. Therefore, whatever happens to death and hades in Revelation 20:14 is the same thing that will happen to the wicked described in Revelation 21:8 for they are going to the same place.

What exactly is the final punishment and outcome of anything thrown into this lake of fire? It is a permanent destruction. Revelation interprets that this lake of fire represents the second death (Rev. 20:14; 21:8). Furthermore, it contrast those who will face the second death with those who were in the book of life and will live forever (Rev. 3:5; Rev. 20:12, 15).

Those found in the book of life will be able to partake of the tree of life and live forever. “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). For the faithful, the curse of death will finally be defeated and destroyed once and for all. “In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life…the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him…And they shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:3, 5).

Some still argue that the Bible here in Revelation 20:10 uses the word “forever” in regards to the false prophet, the beast and the Devil’s torment. What does the word forever mean? It can mean the obvious. It can mean everlasting time without end. But it can also mean “age-lasting,” or until the time under consideration is finished/complete (http://biblehub.com/greek/165.htm). In fact, this is a common meaning (Especially when you are dealing with figurative language as we have already seen from Isaiah 34).

For example, things such as the sprinkling of the blood at the Passover, the Levitical Priesthood, Caleb’s inheritance, Solomon’s Temple, the period of a slave’s life, Gehazi’s leprosy and many other situations are describes as being “forever” or “everlasting” when they were in fact temporary (Ex. 12:24; 29:9; Lev. 3:17; Josh. 14:9; 1 Kgs. 8:12, 13; Deut. 15:17; 2 Kgs. 5:27; etc.).

Does this mean that the Bible contradicts itself? Of course not. It means that the word forever doesn’t always mean time without end. It can mean a time that will continue until the purpose is completed; a set duration of time which will be fulfilled. Consider this: Petavel notes that at least 70 times in the Bible this word forever or everlasting is used to qualify objects of temporary and limited nature so that it signifies only an indeterminate duration of which the maximum is fixed by the intrinsic nature of the persons or things (Fudge. The Fire That Consumes, p. 39-44). In other words, it speaks of unlimited time within the limits determined by the thing it modifies.

Furthermore, this is exactly the way it is used in the same type of symbolic language in Isaiah 34:10. As noted earlier, the smoke that ascended forever from the destruction of Edom only lasted a short period of time even though it can rightfully be said it was “forever.”

Therefore, I believe that the meaning of this passage and the lake of fire is symbolic and should be understood as the second death, also known as final destruction and extinction where God will destroy both body and soul (See: Revelation 20:14; 21:8; Mt. 10:28).

Furthermore, I have no problem saying that there will be a determined age-lasting or “forever” period of torture before the wicked are finally destroyed (Mt. 10:28). Jesus Himself, I believe, implicitly taught this (Mt. 11:22-24; Lk. 10:13-15; Mt. 12:41; Lk. 11:29-32; etc.). This can further be demonstrated in Jesus’ own death. Jesus came to take the penalty we deserve. The ultimate penalty we deserve is death as a final fate (Rom. 6:23), but a period of suffering was included in God’s wrath and justice (See: Isa. 53:5).  Before Jesus’ actual death, He was tormented for the sins of the world and then He died (1 Pet. 2:23-24; Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:20-21; Isa. 53; etc.). Therefore, there is certainly a great possibility of a “forever” age-lasting and determined period of time that will be fulfilled for God’s wrath to be poured out on the wicked through suffering before finally destroying the soul forever (Mt. 10:28; 2 Thess. 1:7-9).

In conclusion, I have assumed that these passages are in reference to the end time (This is an assumption that many would disagree with and one I am not so sure of). Therefore, many wouldn’t even consider these passages in regards to the final judgment of the wicked at all. With these individuals, these passages have no bearing on the final destiny of the wicked.

But to those who believe these figurative passages do refer to the final judgment of the wicked, one could still not use these passages to justify the doctrine of eternal conscious torment per the aforementioned information and the apocalyptic contexts which the passages find themselves in. One must also consider that a doctrine should never be built upon one or two figurative passages, but must be built upon the whole context of the Bible and nature of God. Consistently and continually throughout both the Old and New Testament, the Bible teaches that the righteous are the only ones who will have eternal life while the wicked will be destroyed.

– Kevin Pendergrass

THE FINAL FATE OF THE WICKED: ACTS & EPISTLES

Thus far in our study on the final fate of the wicked, we have found that the wicked will be destroyed in hell and that their destruction will be forever. We have examined the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus and the Gospel accounts. Now, we will continue with our study by looking at Acts and the Epistles. The same message is consistently taught in Acts and the Epistles.

The final and eternal outcome of the wicked is death and destruction whereas the final and ultimate outcome of the righteous is everlasting life with Jesus (See: Rom. 1:32; 6:16, 21, 23; 7:5; 8:2, 13; 2 Cor. 2:16; 2 Tim. 1:10; Ja. 1:15; 5:20; 1 Jn. 3:14; 1 Jn. 5:16; Acts 3:23; 1 Cor. 3:17; 1 Cor. 15:26; 2 Cor. 5:1; Ja. 4:12; Phil. 3:19; Heb. 10:29; 2 Thess. 1:9; 1 Pet. 2:1-3; 3:16; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15; 2 Thess. 2:10; 2 Thess. 1:7-9; 2 Pet. 3:19; 2 Pet. 2:12; Gal. 6:8; Jude 1:6-7; 1 Jn. 3:15; etc.). There is nothing at all in Acts and the Epistles that teach any form of eternal conscious torment as being the final fate for the wicked. Instead, Acts and the Epistles teach that the wicked will be destroyed forever.

One of the clearest and most straightforward verses is found in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9: “…in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” Paul is not speaking of the process of destruction, but the result itself. For if Paul only meant the process, then the wicked would actually never die, perish or be destroyed. Those who believe in eternal conscious torment as the final fate for the wicked are forced to concede that the destruction, death and perishing that is constantly spoken of as the final fate of the wicked will never actually be experienced by the wicked. Yet, the Bible teaches that the wicked will ultimately die the second death, perish and be destroyed forever. The everlasting punishment is being destroyed…forever (Mt. 25:46; 2 Thess. 1:8-9).

Jude 7 is sometimes used in an attempt to defend the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. It reads, “…as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Some point to the phrase “eternal fire” to explain that the wicked will live forever in the eternal fires of hell. There are several problems with this understanding and I believe, in fact, this verse actually continues to affirm the final destruction of the wicked. The wicked are never described as living forever. It is the fire that is described as being eternal, not the lives of the wicked of Sodom and Gomorrah. But the fire of Sodom and Gomorrah no longer exist. In fact, Abraham went back to Sodom and Gomorrah the next morning and only saw smoke. The eternal fire was no more.

The eternal fire had ceased and the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah had been destroyed (Gen. 19:26-29). We must let the Bible interrupt itself and Jude 7 defines what it means when it says, “eternal fire.” This “eternal fire” didn’t even last 24 hours. But the results of that fire were eternal, not the fire itself. Eternal fire represented the complete and utter destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In fact, 2 Peter 2:6 confirms this understanding when Peter said, “… and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly” (Emphasis mine). The example of eternal fire is complete destruction, not eternal conscious torment.

If we do not live faithfully, then we too will suffer the “eternal fire” of God (Mt. 18:8; etc.). The everlasting or eternal fire stands for the result of the fire (destruction that last forever) and not the actual fire itself. When the Bible speaks of something being eternal it can refer to the process or the result (or both). Context must be the determining factor.

For example, in Hebrews 6:2 the Bible speaks of “eternal judgment.” Are we to assume that the process of judgment will be eternal? Or, is the result of the judgment eternal? If the process of judgment is eternal, then that means that neither the righteous nor the wicked will receive a final judgment since we will forever be in the process of being judged. This is obviously nonsensical. Instead, it is the result of the judgment that is everlasting. In the same way, it was (and is) the result of the fire that is eternal and not the fire itself. The actual fire of the eternal fire of Sodom and Gomorrah only lasted a few hours, but the result will last forever.

If we reject God’s gift of salvation, then the Bible teaches that we too will suffer the “eternal fire” and will be destroyed forever. In our next study, we will look at what the book of Revelation has to say in regards to the final fate of the wicked.

– Kevin Pendergrass