Eternity in Hell or Forever Dead? Part 2 (Traditionalism vs Conditionalism)

Matthew 18:28-35 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Continuing with our discussion of conditional immortality, traditionalists (that is, people who maintain the view of eternal torture) argue that verse 34 indicates a period of time lasting an eternity in which the evil servant is forced to suffer in order to repay his debt.

Matthew 18:34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. prison-300x200

There are three very big problems with this argument. First, there is no death or hell in the text. That is, the servant has not departed from this life. The text simply states that the servant’s master delivered the servant to the jailers. To the jailers. Not to outer darkness or destruction, but rather to the jailers.

In addition to this, the argument has the servant losing his salvation at some point after receiving redemption! Consider the text.  The servant had owed his master a debt.  The master forgave the servant his debt.  The text even explicitly states, “the master of that servant released him and forgave him his debt.”  Is this not a picture of redemption?

Later however, after being forgiven of his debt, the servant refused to forgive another servant of a lesser debt.  In return, traditionalists tell us the master recanted his forgiveness by delivering the servant over to . . . eternal torture?  Doesn’t this imply the servant lost his salvation?

Had the servant never been the master’s, then the master would never have forgiven him in the first place.  This is the doctrine of election and redemption.  By arguing this text is referring to final judgment however, and in particular eternal torture, the traditionalist has the master recanting the security of redemption and tossing his own elect into hell.   Might instead this text, in fact, have nothing at all to do with final judgment?

The third big problem with the traditional argument lies with the notion that the unjust man really can pay his debt to God.  After all, the text says his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt.  This was Origen’s argument, in fact, that those who are condemned at the last day will indeed one day repay their debt and at that day be released from their prison of torture.

Thankfully, not many traditionalists follow their own argument to its logical conclusion like Origen did.  Let it be said again then that neither permanent death nor the permanent torture of mortal, finite human beings can ever satisfy God’s wrath.  Only the death of the Son of God Himself satisfied God’s wrath, and not only because He was without sin, for even the elect angels are without sin, but also because He is God, inherently eternal and immortal.

With this in mind it was recently brought to my attention that Calvin himself stood against this truth.  Calvin argued that had Christ died only a bodily death then His death would have been ineffectual, for He debt-is-modern-slaveryhad to pay also a soul debt.  Now what in the world is a soul debt? And why would torture rather than death satisfy such a debt?  Put it this way, if Christ had to suffer a death that was more than physical in order to pay His people’s debt, then His people are above all others to be most pitied, for they have an imperfect salvation!

Consider, for example, that if Christ had to also endure torture in addition to death in order to satisfy His people’s debt, then why was His torture not permanent? I mean, after all, according to traditionalists, isn’t this the debt man owes to God, an eternity of torment in hell for his sins?  Would this not mean then that Christ really did not sacrifice for the full punishment for all His people’s sins, after all? Did He only suffer a small portion of that punishment instead? If permanent torture is the punishment for man’s sins, then how could mere physical death followed by a very brief time of torture have fully satisfied God’s wrath? Cemetery

But wait, Dave, just hold on there. Let’s suppose for a moment you’re right.  Let us say that permanent death rather than permanent torture is indeed the punishment for sins.  If this be the case, then why didn’t Christ suffer permanent death? I mean, He did resurrect, after all.  He is not still dead.  Would this not then mean that He did not fully satisfy God’s wrath?

No, it doesn’t.  Because I never said, nor do the Scriptures say, permanent death is the punishment for sin. Rather, I said, along with Scripture, that death is the punishment for sin.  Death. Nothing about permanent death, but rather death.  However, because the non-elect do not have anyone who has atoned for their sins, they will die and then remain dead.  There will be no resurrection for them.

Isaiah 53:9 And they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth.

Psalm 92:6-9 The stupid man cannot know; 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.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

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 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Philippians 3:18-19 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 . . .

Psalm 1
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous; but the way of the wicked will perish.

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.

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



About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church
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3 Responses to Eternity in Hell or Forever Dead? Part 2 (Traditionalism vs Conditionalism)

  1. markmcculley says:

    packer: The assertion that in the age to come life is the sort of thing that goes on while punishment is the sort of thing that ends begs the question.

    mark: would it change anything if we said that life is the sort of thing that goes on living while death is the sort of thing which stays dead?

    if you stay dead, is that a “sustained event”?

    if you substitute punishment for “perish” or ‘destruction”, does that change anything?

    is ‘eternal redemption” a “sustained event’?

    if redemption is “once for all time”, does that mean that redemption is not “everlasting’?

    why does exclusion rule out destruction?

    has the thing destroyed been excluded?

    or does it have to be destroyed in such a way that it is never destroyed in order to keep on being excluded?

  2. Pingback: Eternity in Hell or Forever Dead? Part 1 (Is Everyone Immortal?) | Cornbread & Bourbon

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