About: this paper was delivered to Dr. Libby Vincent at Fuller Theological Seminary during my first year for a class in systematic theology.
What will hell be like? That question is a tough one to answer, but when we look at Scripture we can indeed answer it. However, answers vary even though they are claimed to be based on sound biblical interpretation. But which one is correct? Although there are several different interpretations or views regarding what hell will be like, our own examination of Scripture will inform us if the information given by one view or another is erroneous or correct. What will hell be like? Robert A. Peterson thinks he knows what it will be like. He says it will be eternal punishment. In his book, Hell On Trial: the case for eternal punishment, Peterson looks at several areas of theology to indicate that hell will be eternal punishment, and he spends much space looking at what the Bible has to say regarding what hell will be like.
In observing the Old Testament portion of the Bible, Peterson looks at three sections. First, he looks at several judgment passages that are found in the Old Testament, which are as follows: the Deluge, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues of Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea, and the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities of Israel.1 Second, he examines what the Old Testament has to say about Sheol.2 Third, he explores Isaiah 66:22-4 and Daniel 12:1-2.3 After looking at these three sections of the Old Testament, Peterson looks at the New Testament to determine what it has to say regarding hell, and he starts with Jesus.
Peterson looks at Jesus and what he said regarding what hell will be like. In order of the canonical books, he looks at the content of the four gospels. He explores several texts in Matthew (5:21-2, 27-30; 7:23; 8:11-2; 10:28; 13:30, 40-3, 49-50; 18:6-9; 23:15, 33; 24:51; 25:30, 41, 46),4 and several passages in Mark (1:24; 3:11; 5:7; 9:42-8), Luke (16:19-31) and John (3:16-21, 36; 5:28-29; 8:21, 24).5 Peterson does not stop at the end of the canonical gospels, for he also treats several passages from different epistles. He examines Romans 2:5, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, Hebrews 6:1-3, Jude 7 and 13, and Revelation 14:9-11; 20:10, 14-15; 21:8; 22:15.6 Of all these texts, Peterson chose ten to focus on in his treatment of the traditional view in Two Views of Hell, a book that debates the traditional (eternal torment) and conditional (annihilation) views of hell.
Peterson resorts to a fair exegetical treatment of his ten chosen Scripture passages in Two Views of Hell. He specifically looks at Isaiah 66:22-24 and Daniel 12:1-2, demonstrating that the Old Testament taught that there would be everlasting contempt for all the wicked ones.7 He looks at Matthew 18:6-9, Revelation 14:9-11, and Revelation 20:10, 14-15, which he argues that these texts teach eternal torment.8 Peterson examines Matthew 25:31-46, a text that he claims reveals eternal condemnation.9 He explores Mark 9:42-48 and determines that it teaches eternal suffering.10 He looks at 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 and says it proclaims eternal destruction.11 Peterson examines Jude 7, which he claims that it teaches eternal punishment.12 He also looks at Jude 13 and argues that it teaches eternal darkness.13 Of these ten passages, Peterson consistently focuses on the eternal element of each of them, which is characteristic of the traditional view since it is based on the never ending punishment of the wicked.
Granted that Peterson has written extensively on this topic and on each of these passages, it is necessary to keep his exegesis in check. Therefore, it is only right that we should perform our own exegesis of these texts so that we can clearly determine if what Peterson has written is correct or erroneous. If it is correct, then we can place confidence in Peterson and the traditional view. If it is not, then we might still be able to place confidence in the traditional view, but it would be hard to place any in Peterson. We will conduct our own exegesis of five of the ten aforementioned passages from Two Views of Hell. After having performed our own exegesis, we will briefly compare and contrast the two exegetical studies and then come to a conclusion regarding the reliability of Peterson and the traditional view of hell. To the following passages we now turn: Matthew 18:6-9; Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Revelation 14:9-11; and Revelation 20:10-15.
Exegesis of Five Passages
Matthew 18:6-9 is translated as follows:
But whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in me to stumble, it would be better for him should a donkey’s millstone be hung around his neck and he be thrown into the depths of the sea and drowned. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks. For it is necessary that stumbling blocks come but woe to the person through whom they come. But if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter into life crippled or lame than to be thrown into eternal fire having two hands or two feet. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pick it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter into life with one eye than to be thrown into the hell of fire having two eyes.14
The beginning of this passage concerns disciples, not literal children.15 Jesus, in talking of his followers, warns against causing others to stumble in their faith. In other words, the issue being discussed concerns disciples being caused to lose their faith, whether by someone else or all by one’s own self.16 Jesus is expressing a concern for the avoidance of offense that would cause someone to lose faith.17 He is concerned against actions and behavior that act against the spiritual well being of another person.18 We should bear in mind that Jesus expects his disciples to do everything in their power to keep themselves from stumbling. We should also bear in mind that Jesus considers it a dire situation and act for someone to cause another to stumble. It is within these two elements that we must understand Jesus’ statements regarding hell.
As we pay special attention to vv. 8 and 9, we should also be aware of a few other syntactical and vocabulary issues in this passage. In v. 6 we have a comparison being made by Jesus. He says that it would be better for a person who makes one of his disciples to stumble to be drowned in the deep sea by having a large object hung on his neck and being cast into the sea. The comparison clearly indicates that the actual judgment will be something much worse. However, Jesus does not clarify what the true judgment will entail; he leaves his listeners with the dreadful picture of the drowned person and adds nothing more to the future judgment.19 At any rate, this picture expects a dire punishment for something quite scandalous. The Greek word for “to stumble” (v. 6) is skandalizein. Some have understood the use of this word in this text as the serious causing of someone to fall into sin, or perhaps even to lose their faith in Jesus and the gospel; it is not a simple personal offense.20 This verb entails much more than a personal offense as it “speaks of setting off the bait stick of a trap and thus ensnaring.”21 Commentators either say that the stumbling mentioned is either in reference to disciples sinning or losing faith. In either case, the well being of the disciple is at stake, because someone is actively acting against his or her interest when causing someone to stumble.22 This picture demonstrates the severity for causing someone to stumble; the ramifications of such an action are dire.
Jesus uses picturesque hyperbole in the verses to follow, which demonstrates a necessity for a desire towards drastic action in order to overcome stumbling blocks.23 Jesus commands that his disciples cut off their hand or foot and throw it away if it causes them to stumble. He actually expects that their hands and feet will in fact cause them to stumble.24 Since he expects that they will stumble by use of their appendages, it is odd that he would command them to cut them off and throw them away. The same is true of his conditional statement regarding the eye. He expects it to be true for his disciples to stumble by use of the eye, and it is equally as odd as in the earlier conditional statement for him to command that his disciples pluck out their eyes and throw them away. The mixture of the first class condition with the harsh imperatives serves as a clear indication that we are dealing with hyperbole. In telling his disciples to cut off their hands and feet or pluck out their eyes and throw them away, Jesus “is using picturesque language to make clear that he looks for a complete and thorough repudiation of evil. . . . [And] his followers should take decisive action to be rid of sin.”25 However, we must ask ourselves why Jesus would expect such a drastic measure. The answer is to keep oneself from reaping harsh punishment.
Jesus alludes to the kind of punishment that will be given to the one who does not guard against stumbling. He talks of eternal fire and hell of fire in reference to that one’s punishment. The phrase “eternal fire” in v. 8 is important in two ways. One, “eternal” denotes a period without end.26 This adjective modifies “fire,” which indicates that it is to be understood as being without end. Two, “fire” is a reference to the substance with which God will punish sinners.27 This language depicts judgment and punishment. When we combine “fire” with “eternal” we end up with a punishment without end, “eternal fire.” This phrase is “used metaphorically in an expression that brings out the painfulness of the lost in their eternal lostness.”28 The phrase “hell of fire” in v. 9 is somewhat confusing. However, “of fire” in Greek is a genitive of content, which means that it identifies the content of the noun it belongs to. In this case, hell is said to contain fire. The idea of fire as God’s punishment of sinners is also present in this phrase. The two phrases combine to show a small picture of what hell will be like. Hell will involve some form of punishment. This punishment will take place in hell, and it will never end.29 It is no wonder that Jesus would resort to commanding such drastic measures, because “given how high the stakes are, any sacrifice is worth making to keep oneself back from a life of sin.”30
Jesus took stumbling very seriously. He charged the person who actively tries to cause another to stumble with a serious offense and he charged his disciples to do everything that they possibly could to actively keep themselves from stumbling. The former he proclaims harsh punishment on; the latter he warns against harsh punishment. It is the latter punishment mentioned that gives us any sort of clarity towards what hell will be like, while the former is left open to one’s imagination. The fundamental idea of punishment in the latter is it will take place in hell and it will be without end. The text does not indicate anything further regarding what hell will be like.
Matthew 25:31-46 is translated as follows:
But whenever the Son of Man might come in his glory and the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne; and all the nations will be gathered together before him, and he will separate them from one another, just as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to the ones on his right, “Come here blessed ones by my Father, receive your inheritance the kingdom having been prepared from the laying of the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you put clothes on me, I was weak and you tended to me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous ones will answer him by saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we see you as a stranger and invite you in, or naked and put clothes on you? And when did we see you weak or in prison and we came to you?” And the king having been answered will say to them, “Truly I say to you, whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers of mine you did to me.” Then he will say to the ones on his left, “Go away from me accursed ones into the eternal fire the one having been provided for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you did not give me something to eat, I was thirsty and you did not give me a drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I was naked and you did not put clothes on me, I was weak and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they will say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or weak or in prison and did not serve you?” Then he will answer them saying, “Truly I say to you, whatever you did not do to one of the least of these, neither did you do to me.” And these ones will depart to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
This long passage is a story told by Jesus concerning the Judgment Day to come at the end of this age. There are two things that we should note regarding the story. First, the story’s details must be taken as “revealing images rather than literal descriptions.”31 We need to bear in mind that the story is apocalyptic in nature and is not to be taken as an actual account of what will precisely happen. Second, this story “deals with the evidence on which people will be judged, not the cause of salvation or damnation.”32 This story emphasizes judgment; it is not concerned about how one is saved or damned, but rather it is concerned about what deeds a person has done, which is implicitly connected to one’s condition of either being saved or damned. Bearing these two notes in mind, we can now set out to study this passage.
Jesus makes it clear that judgment is the topic when he brings the Son of Man language into the story, for the coming of the Son of Man indicates judgment.33 In this story, Jesus brings judgment for the righteous and the wicked. He judges that the righteous will go to eternal life while the wicked go to eternal punishment. Both judgments are eternal—without end—so that both will experience the retribution for their deeds in the present life forever and ever. The righteous ones will receive the kingdom that was prepared for them since before the universe was created (v. 34). However, the wicked will enter the eternal fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels.34 It is in the eternal fire that the wicked will be punished forever. They will receive “eternal punishment” in the eternal fire. “Eternal” means, “without end.” The righteous will have life without end. Similarly, the wicked will have punishment without end. The syntax demands this understanding. The two phrases, “eternal punishment” and “eternal life” are joined by the conjunction, kai. This conjunction informs the equality of the attributes of the two nouns that it joins together. In this instance, the attribute of time is the same. We are certain that the righteous will experience life without end in the kingdom prepared beforehand. Because kai ties “life” and “punishment” together, and especially because both of these nouns are modified by the exact same adjective, we have no choice but to view “eternal” in the same way for both instances. Therefore, the punishment of the wicked will also be without end in the same way that life will be for the righteous. Note also that this punishment is of a particular kind. It is one that denotes transcendent retribution.35 God will repay the wicked for their deeds. Furthermore, Jesus is speaking of a punishment without end,36 but it is not clear how that punishment will be carried out.
This story proclaims judgment for the righteous and the wicked. The righteous will be given eternal life, but the wicked eternal punishment in eternal fire—the same fire that was made for the devil and his angels. This text tells us that hell will involve a never ending punishment. However, it does not describe the punishment in any further detail. Thus far we have seen two texts that indicate hell will involve eternal punishment of the wicked. Will it involve anything else?
2 Thessalonians 1:5-10
2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 is translated as follows:
An indication of the righteous judgment of God for us to be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, on behalf of which you also suffer, since it is just for God to repay persecution to the ones who persecute you and relief to you who are persecuted with us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with his mighty angels in a flaming fire, giving retribution to the ones who did not know God and obey the good news of our Lord Jesus, any of those will pay a penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and away from the glory of his strength when he comes to be glorified in his saints and to be marveled at in all the ones who believe, for our testimony was believed by you, on that day.
This passage takes place in the midst of a discussion on suffering. The verse that we will pay particular attention to is v. 8, but we have to understand it within the context of suffering and vv. 5-10. What is clear from this passage is suffering will be avenged. God will repay those who inflict others (v. 6). God is just. He will return persecution for those who persecute, and rest for those who are persecuted (vv. 6-7). The author of 2 Thessalonians makes a connection between those who persecute and those who either do not know God or did not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. Such ones will be judged with punishment, which is understood by the phrase “in a flaming fire,” which is tied to the revelation of the Lord Jesus. The use of fire language denotes punishment of divine judgment.37 Since the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ will usher in a time of judgment, the context indicates that the author of 2 Thessalonians is writing about the Day of Judgment.38 We must bear in mind that what we see here is apocalyptic language, which ought not to be taken literally, and that “Paul seeks to portray the frightening punishment awaiting those outside the community and especially the enemies of the community.”39 With this view in mind, we can look at four important features of this text.
First, rest is promised to those that are afflicted. “Rest” denotes “relief from something onerous or troublesome.”40 Furthermore, in itself it is “the lifting of the pressure caused by persecution [sic], but it is accompanied by the positive blessing of participation in God’s ‘own kingdom and glory’ (1 Thess. 2:12).”41 At the time of the revelation of the Lord, the time when Jesus will come and bring judgment, God will give relief from the afflictions of the oppressors to the oppressed. However, the oppressors will themselves be oppressed by God.
Two, Christ will bring punishment on the ones who both do not know God and obey the gospel at his revelation. “Punishment” denotes “penalty inflicted on wrongdoers.”42 The ones who did not know and obey the gospel are wrongdoers deserving of a penalty. These ones, those not knowing God and obeying the gospel, are due for punishment.
Three, the aforementioned wrongdoers will pay a penalty. “Penalty” denotes “punishment meted out as legal penalty.”43 These ones will be judged and they will be punished for their actions. But how will they be judged? What kind of penalty will they pay? The answer is forthcoming.
Fourth, such wrongdoers will pay a penalty of eternal destruction. “Eternal” means “without end,” and it modifies “destruction.” The noun, “destruction,” is difficult to determine how it ought to be translated. It does mean “a state of destruction.”44 However, it can be in reference to physical destruction or a metaphorical one.45 The discussion on the use of this word and its translation into English is written best in the following words:
If it were literal here it would imply the annihilation of the enemies of God. On the other hand it may have a more metaphorical signification. The problem is made more difficult by the qualifying adjective [aiônios]. It can mean either something without end or something that is final or ultimate. The latter would accord with the sense of annihilation, while the former would fit with the idea of destruction in the metaphorical sense of punishment. As there is no evidence in Paul (or the rest of the NT for that matter) for a concept of final annihilation of the godless, the expression ‘eternal destruction’ should probably be taken in a metaphorical manner as indicating the severity of the punishment awaiting the enemies of God . . .46
The “eternal destruction” mentioned is metaphorical. The metaphorical language fits the apocalyptic style, which we have noted needs to be taken in a non-literal way. Given that v. 8 contains metaphorical language (i.e., flaming fire) and because it points towards a social exclusion contrasted to the state of the readers that deserves divine retribution,47 it makes sense that we should understand “eternal destruction” as figurative, not literal. Those wrongdoers that did not know God and did not obey the gospel must face a severe punishment, for they have excluded themselves from the salvation of Jesus Christ.
This passage identifies that hell will involve punishment for the wicked. We still do not know what kind of punishment they will receive while in hell. Yet, we do know that the punishment—destruction—will last forever. Considering that the wicked will pay their penalty “away from the presence of the Lord,” hell will also entail being out of the presence of Jesus Christ. Apart from these things, the text is silent. Except that it will involve a severe punishment that will have no end, we still do not know much about what hell will be like.
Revelation 14:9-11 is translated as follows:
And another angel, a third one, followed them saying in a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and this image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, then they will drink from the wine of the wrath of God being poured out undiluted in the cup of his anger and they will be tormented with fire and sulfur before the holy angels and before the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises up forever and ever and they do not have rest day and night the ones worshiping the beast and his image and if anyone receives the mark of his name.
This passage contains some additional information that we have not yet seen concerning hell. It is similar to the others in that it also uses fire language to indicate judgment.48 It too has an element of punishment without end just as the other texts do. Although this text shares some similarities with the ones we have already looked at, it does shed some new light on what hell will be like.
This passage reveals that hell will involve God’s wrath. The wicked ones “will become drunk with God’s wine, the effect of which will not be temporary. God’s wine will make the nations submissive to his judicial will forever . . .”49 Part of God’s judicial will for the wicked is torment. Those who worship the beast and his image and receive a mark on their foreheads or hands will be tormented in fire and sulfur in the presence of Jesus and the angels. Given the context of judgment, the word for “they will be tormented” in Greek means “to subject to severe distress.”50 What will they be tormented with? They will be tormented with fire and sulfur. Fire is indicative of punishment; however, sulfur is indicative of suffering. Suffering is emphasized in this text—a new feature in our research to what hell will entail—“when [‘sulfur’] is added to the image . . .”51 The torment of the unbelievers is a conscious one that attacks the spirit and psyche, which is not an uncommon feature for Revelation as a whole in reference to trials that precede the Day of Judgment or are part of it.52 The result of the torment, the smoke, is a mixed metaphor. The smoke is “figurative of an enduring memorial of God’s punishment involving a real, ongoing, eternal and [sic] conscious torment. . . . The genitive [tou basanismou] does not express the source of the smoke (‘the smoke arising from [their] torment’; brackets in the original) but association or reference: ‘the memorial to [their] torment’” (Brackets in the original).53 Furthermore, the smoke ascending forever and ever is a reminder for past and ongoing judgment, which is seen in the following words:
It is not the smoke of a completed destruction, but ‘smoke of their torment.’ The nature of the torment is explained in the second part of v. 11 [sic]: it is not annihilation but lack of rest. Indeed, annihilation would be a kind of rest or relief from the excruciating torment of the brief final judgment. Therefore, the smoke is metaphorical of a continued reminder of the ongoing torment of restlessness, which endures for eternity.54
This passage tells us three important things about what hell will be like in the context of the final judgment, and some of which are new pieces of information. One, hell will involve God’s wrath. Two, hell will involve torment. And three, the torment will never end. Except for these three important things, the text does not tell us anything else about what hell will be like.
Revelation 20:10-15 is translated as follows:
And the devil the one who deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and sulfur where also the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it, of whom the earth and the heaven fled away from his presence, but no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the large and the small, standing before the throne. And scrolls were opened, then another scroll was opened, which is the scroll of life, and they judged the dead from what was written in the scrolls regarding their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and they were judged last according to their works. Then death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone is not found written in the scroll of life, he will be cast into the lake of fire.
This passage also uses fire language, which indicates judgment is a key theme in it. This passage notes the same things as the other four passages, except that it proclaims that the devil, the beast and the false prophet are all going to be thrown into the lake of fire to be tormented for all eternity. In addition, it also proclaims that everyone will be judged according to their deeds, which are written in the scrolls, and everyone will be judged according to the scroll of life. This context of judgment is important to note for interpreting this text.
Within the context of judgment, the devil is cast into the lake of fire along with the beast and the false prophet to be tormented day and night forever and ever. To be sure, the lake of fire certainly is not a literal place, but rather it is spiritual.55 It is the second death, which “is separation forever from God’s presence in the ‘city’ of God.”56 “To be tormented” is “to be subjected to severe distress.”57 What kind of torment are we talking about? The kind of torment referenced is “conscious suffering, especially spiritual and psychological suffering. . . . that this is a real, ongoing suffering for those represented by the images of ‘beast and false prophet’ is apparent, since the same expression of eternal punishment applies to the individual devil in this verse and since virtually the same expression is applied to the individual followers of the beast in 14:10-11” (Italics in the original).58 The devil, the beast and the false prophet will be subjected to severe distress, and this will happen for all eternity. The preposition, eis, is an extension in time that indicates duration,59 so that “forever and ever” refers to a time that has no end.60 Not only will the devil, beast and false prophet be judged at the Day of Judgment, but so also will everyone who has ever lived. No one can hide from the Judge. Everyone is subject to judgment. All will be judged according to their works. “Judge” denotes “a judgment based on taking various factors into account.”61 Everyone’s deeds will be taken into account when they come before the Judge. However, no one’s deeds will be good enough to save one’s self from the wrath of God. What counts is whether or not one’s name is written in the scroll of life. If it is not, then that person will be cast into the lake of fire. Since eternal torment awaits the devil, beast and the false prophet in the lake of fire, it also awaits anyone whose name is not found in the scroll of life. Since we are not viewing the lake of fire as a literal location, we do not take it to mean that it indicates annihilation, but rather eternal torment.62 Indeed, “It appears that our author believes in eternal punishment rather than annihilation of the wicked in view of Rev. 14:10-11 [sic]” (Brackets in original).63
This passage indicates that hell will involve eternal torment. This torment will be of such a kind that it will vex the spirit relentlessly. Hell will also involve the devil, the beast and the false prophet being tormented along with all those who did not have their name written in the scroll of life.
The exegesis of Matthew 18:6-9, Matthew 25:31-46, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, Revelation 14:9-11, and Revelation 20:10-15 reveal several things about what hell will be like. Much of the information provided by these texts is repetitive, but they all bring something new to the argument. Of these five texts, there are at least four common themes, which are as follows: one, hell is a place; two, hell is eternal; three, hell will involve eternal punishment; and four, hell will include the wicked. These texts also reveal that hell will be a place of oppression and destruction for the wicked (2 Thess. 1:5-10), and it will torment its inhabitants by not giving rest to them (Rev. 14:9-11). Hell was designed for the devil and his associates, but all those who did not have their name written in the scroll of life will be sent to hell to join the devil (Matt. 25:31-46; Rev. 20:10-15). Whatever hell may be like, it will certainly not be pleasant, which is why Jesus emphasizes that his disciples should do everything that they can to avoid it by taking drastic measures in this life (Matt. 18:6-9).
The exegesis that we have conducted revealed that the five passages proclaim that hell will involve eternal punishment. We agree exegetically with the general understanding of these texts that Peterson presents in Two Views of Hell and Hell on Trial. In his treatment on Matthew 18:6-9, Peterson notes that Jesus is referring to eternal destinies and his disciples.64 Peterson also demonstrates that Jesus uses picturesque language for the drowning of a person to leave the listener or reader with a horrific image to show the severity of one who causes another to stumble.65 We also agree with Peterson’s comment that when speaking of cutting off appendages Jesus “means that his hearers should take drastic action rather than sin and face the horrors of hell.”66 Although we differ in the translation of skandalizein (Peterson translates it as “to sin” while we translate it “to stumble”), he does maintain the force of the hyperbole as we do. However, Peterson talks of “the torments of hell” in relation to “eternal fire.”67 At this point we disagree. This text makes no mention of torment. If we are to be true to the text and allow it to speak for its self, we have to recognize that the text reveals eternal punishment and not necessarily torment. However, despite this difference, Peterson still demonstrates that the text does indicate eternal punishment. The only problem is he was a little irresponsible with his choice of words. This particular text teaches eternal punishment, not torment.
In his treatment of Matthew 25:31-46, Peterson notes Jesus is talking about the end times, a time of judgment.68 He rightly considers that the symmetrical design of the passage to indicate that the two destinies mentioned will be everlasting.69 However, Peterson does not refer to the grammar to prove his point, but rather, to a linguistic structure that may or may not be true. Although it is quite possible that what he says is true, referring to the grammar would have been a stronger basis for supporting his claim, a claim that is truly navoidable when examining the grammar in Greek, which we have done. Furthermore, Peterson, comparing Scripture with Scripture, identifies that the accursed ones will suffer the same fate as the devil when he considers Revelation 20:10.70 Peterson makes a good connection between these two passages of Scripture, and we accept his hermeneutical practice of comparing Scripture with Scripture.
In his treatment of 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, Peterson notes that Paul is describing judgment for oppressors, the ones who are ignorant of God and do not obey the Lord’s gospel.71 Peterson does well to note that the punishment language of destruction could mean annihilation, but that when we consider the word for “destruction” in terms of its adjective, “eternal,” or as Peterson has it, “everlasting,” it must mean a destruction that will not end.72 We agree with Peterson, and we applaud him for the way that he notes the language could mean annihilation but that with all things considered it does not, but rather, it means a state of destruction that has no end.
In his treatment of Revelation 14:9-11, Peterson rightly notes that the Last Judgment is in view.73 He notes that the language of Revelation 14:9-11 points towards “the terror of falling into the hands of the living God.”74 He does well to note that the horrific image of fire is not to be literally understood,75 which we determined to be true as well. Peterson also correctly notes that the torment mentioned will be endless.76 Our exegesis is very close to, if not the same as, Peterson’s regarding this passage.
In his treatment of Revelation 20:10-15, Peterson does well to show that unsaved humans suffer the same fate as the devil, the beast and the false prophet in the lake of fire.77 The devil will be eternally tormented in the lake of fire, and Peterson rightly points out that the same fate awaits the unsaved.78 Peterson’s hermeneutics are very good, and we agree with what he has to say regarding this passage.
Overall, Peterson’s exegesis is sound and valid. Much of what we discovered in our own exegesis was also demonstrated in Peterson’s. Our exegesis of the same passages demonstrates that Peterson is not erroneous. His exegesis is trustworthy. Therefore, we can place confidence both in Peterson and the traditional view. The traditional view is present in our own exegesis as well as Peterson’s; it merits our confidence because of it is founded on sound exegesis.
In sum, the traditional view—eternal punishment—is a biblically sound position in accord with what we have studied. Peterson’s argument for the traditional view is good, and it was confirmed by our own exegesis. We can confidently say both by Peterson and ourselves teach eternal punishment. This exegetical comparison has determined that Peterson points us in the right direction; we can be confident in what he teaches because his exegesis is sound. Therefore, we have a good start to this study, but the research should not stop here. More Scripture should be studied; more research conducted; more exegesis performed. However, at this point in our research, we can say that the Bible points towards the traditional view of hell, a view that affirms that hell will entail eternal punishment.
Bauer, Walter. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd edition (BDAG). Revised and edited by Frederick Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Beale, G. K. The Book of Revleation: a commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Edited by I. Howard Marshall and Donald Hagner. Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Carlisle, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. and Paternoster Press, 1999.
Bruce, F. F. 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Vol. 45 of Word Biblical Commentary. Edited by David Hubbard, Glenn Barker and Ralph Martin. Waco: Word Books, 1982.
Fudge, Edward, and Robert Peterson. Two Views of Hell: a biblical & theological dialogue. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000.
Hagner, Donald. Matthew 14-28. Vol. 33b of Word Biblical Commentary Series edited by Bruce Metzger, Ralph Martin and Lynn Losie. Dallas: Word Books, 1995.
Keener, Craig. Revelation. NIV Application Commentary. Edited by Terry Mucket, Eugene Peterson, Scot McKnight, Marianne Thompson, Klyne Snodgrass, Stanley Gundry, Jack Kuhatschek and Verlyn Verbrugge. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.
Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew. Edited by D.A. Carson. Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Leicester, England: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. and Apollos, 1992.
Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew. Edited by I. Howard Marshall and Donald Hagner. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Bletchley, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. and Paternoster Press, 2005.
Peterson, Robert. Hell on Trial: the case for eternal punishment. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1995.
Wanamaker. The Epistles to the Thessalonians. New International Greek Testament Commentary.
Witherington, Ben. Revelation. New Cambridge Bible Commentary. Edited by Ben Witherington. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
1 Robert Peterson, Hell on Trial: the case for eternal punishment (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1995), 23-5.
2 Peterson, Hell on Trial, 27-9.
3 Ibid., 29-36.
4 Ibid., 39-56.
5 Ibid., 57-75.
6 Ibid., 77-96.
7 Edward Fudge and Robert Peterson, Two Views of Hell: a biblical & theological dialogue (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 130-7.
8 Fudge and Peterson, Two Views of Hell, 137-40, 159-64.
9 Ibid., 140-5.
10 Ibid., 145-9.
11 Ibid., 149-53.
12 Ibid., 153-6.
13 Ibid., 156-9.
14 All translations of the biblical texts are my own according to Nesle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th ed.
15 Donald Hagner, Matthew 14-28, vol 33b of Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Bruce Metzger, Ralph Martin and Lynn Losie (Dallas: Word Books, 1995), 520.
16 Hagner, Matthew 14-28, 520.
17 Ibid., 521.
18 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, Pillar New Testament Commentary, ed. D.A. Carson (Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Leicester, England: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. and Apollos, 1992), 461.
19 John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary on the Greek text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, ed. I. Howard Marshall and Donald Hagner (Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Bletchley, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. and Paternoster Press, 2005), 736. Nolland writes, “One is left to imagine what the fate of those who cause a little one to stumble might be.” The simple truth of the matter is we do not know why it would be better for the one who causes another person to stumble.
20 Hagner, Matthew 14-28, 522.
21 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 461.
22 Ibid., 461.
23 Hagner, Matthew 14-28, 523.
24 The use of the first class condition in the Greek expects that the protasis, the “if” clause, is true. By saying, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble,” in Greek, using ei (if), one is essentially saying, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, and it will, then . . .”
25 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 463, 464.
26 Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition (BDAG), Revised and edited by Frederick Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000) 33.
27 BDAG, 898.
28 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 463.
29 Ibid., 464. Morris writes that “hell indicates place, whereas ‘eternal’ points to the unendingness.” Tied together with “fire,” they both speak towards the punishment of the wicked; one identifies where, and the other identifies for how long.
30 Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, 736.
31 Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew, 1036.
32 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 634.
33 Hagner, Matthew 14-28, 741.
34 Note that the eternal fire was not created for the wicked ones, but rather for the devil and his associates in the spiritual realm.
35 BDAG, 555.
36 Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, 641.
37 F. F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, vol. 45 of Word Biblical Commentary, ed. David Hubbard, Glenn Bakrker and Ralph Martin (Waco: Word Books, 1982), 151. Bruce writes, “Fire figures especially in depictions of divine judgment.” Fire language is commonly used throughout the New Testament to indicate divine judgment or punishment.
38 Charles Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: a commentary on the Greek text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, ed. I. Howard Marshall and W. Ward Gasque (Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Carlisle, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. and Paternoster Press, 1990), 227. Wanamaker writes, “The author of 2 Thes. 1:8 uses the image of the flaming fire to portray the frightening experience awaiting the enemies of God when God inflicts vengeance on the Thessalonians’ oppressors.”
39 Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, 227. On the apocalyptic element of the text, Wanamaker writes, “The apocalyptic orientation of much of the imagery of 2 Thessalonians warns against overly literalistic attempts at interpreting what is said because the power of apocalyptic results from its imaginative or symbolic presentation.”
40 BDAG, 77.
41 Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 150.
42 BDAG, 301.
43 Ibid., 250.
44 Ibid., 702.
45 Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, 228.
46 Ibid., 228-9.
47 Ibid., 228.
48 G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, ed. I. Howard Marshall and Donald Hagner (Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Carlisle, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. and Paternoster Press), 760. Beale also notes that fire is used in this way in Revelation 1:14; 2:18; 3:18; 4:5; 8:5, 7-8; 15:2; 19:12. There is no shortage of texts where fire language depicts judgment. It is clear that this language is metaphorically pointing to judgment.
49 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 759.
50 BDAG, 168.
51 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 760.
52 Ibid., 760. Beale lists all of the following passages as containing the spiritual and psychological suffering type of trials: 9:5-6; 11:10; 18:7, 10, 15; 18:7, 10, 15: 20:10.
53 Ibid., 763.
54 Ibid., 764. Cf. also Ben Witherington, Revelation, New Cambridge Bible Commentary, ed. Ben Witherington (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 192, and Craig Keener, Revelation, NIV Application Commentary, ed. Terry Mucket et al. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 374-5.
55 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 1029.
56 Ibid., 1036.
57 Cf. BDAG, 168.
58 Beale, The Book of Revelation, 1030.
59 BDAG, 289.
60 Ibid., 32.
61 Ibid., 568.
62 Keener, Revelation, 470. Keener writes, “Although fire can communicate instant annihilation rather than eternal torment, earlier Christian tradition portrayed an unquenchable burning (Matt. 3:12; Mark 9:43; Luke 3:17), and Revelation elsewhere speaks of eternal torment (14:10-11), implied also in this context for the lake of fire (20:10).” Just as fire language is metaphorical for judgment, the use of the lake of fire is also metaphorical, and it speaks towards eternal torment.
63 Witherington, Revelation, 252.
64 Fudge and Peterson, Two Views of Hell, 137.
65 Ibid., 137-8.
66 Ibid., 138.
67 Ibid., 138.
68 Ibid., 140.
69 Ibid., 141.
70 Ibid., 142.
71 Ibid., 150.
72 Ibid., 150.
73 Ibid., 160.
74 Ibid., 160.
75 Ibid., 160.
76 Ibid., 161. Note also Peterson’s exceptional study of the phrase “for ever and ever” in Revelation. Peterson writes, “The [thirteen] occurrences [of ‘for ever and ever’ in Revelation] fall into several categories: God (either the Father, the Son or both) is to be praised ‘for ever and ever’ (Rev 1:6; 5:13; 7:12); the risen Christ is alive ‘for ever and ever’ (Rev 1:18); God the Father lives ‘for ever and ever’ (Rev 4:9, 10; 10:6; 15:7); Christ will reign ‘for ever and ever’ (Rev 11:15); the smoke of the burning city Babylon goes up ‘for ever and ever’ (Rev 19:3); the devil, beast and false prophet will be tormented ‘for ever and ever’ (Rev 20:10); and the saints will reign ‘for ever and ever’ (Rev 22:5).” Peterson rightly concludes that Revelation 14:11, in light of his insight into the phrase “for ever and ever” in Revelation as a whole, indicates “that the sufferings of the lost in hell will never end.”
77 Ibid., 164.
78 Ibid., 165.