The following are quotes, both contemporary and historic, about the doctrine of hell. It is “across the spectrum”, so it is not necessarily meant to support just one view. Some universalists, annihilationalists, and traditionalists are all represented. I hold to the traditional doctrine of hell and believe that it is an established doctrine in Christian orthodoxy, but I think it is a wonderful discussion to have.
Let’s just get this out of the way: Can a true believer deny the reality of Hell?
I have to be very careful with these type of minimalistic questions. I don’t like their implications. It is like when my depressed sister came to me and asked if she committed suicide could she still go to heaven. How do you give an honest answer to that when you believe the answer is yes? Nevertheless, here is my answer: Yes, someone could recognize their sin, call on Christ for mercy, and then have a divergent view on the punishment of the wicked. However, they would definitely fall outside the realm of historic orthodoxy on this issue.
Across the Spectrum of History on Hell
“Let me say at the outset that I consider the concept of hell as endless torment in body and mind an outrageous doctrine, a theological and moral enormity, a bad doctrine of the tradition which needs to be changed. How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the gospel itself… Surely the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is no fiend; torturing people without end is not what our God does.”
(Clark Pinnock, “The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent,” Criswell Theological Review 4/2 (1990) 246-247).
“Is it not folly to assume that eternal punishment signifies a fire lasting a long time, while believing that eternal life is life without end? For Christ, in the very same passage, included both punishment and life in one and the same sentence when he said, “So those people will go into eternal punishment, while the righteous will go into eternal life” (Matt 25:46). If both are “eternal,” it follows necessarily that either both are to be taken as long-lasting but finite, or both as endless and perpetual. The phrases “eternal punishment” and “eternal life” are parallel and it would be absurd to use them in one and the same sentence to mean: “Eternal life will be infinite, while eternal punishment will have an end.” Hence, because the eternal life of the saints will be endless, the eternal punishment also, for those condemned to it, will assuredly have no end.”
(Augustine, City of God, 21.23-24).
“But if you pay no regard to our prayers and frank explanations, we will suffer no loss. For we believe that every man will suffer punishment in eternal fire according to the merits of his deed. . . . Sensation remains to all who have ever lived, and eternal punishment is laid up.”
(Justin Martyr, 160 AD, First Apology, 1.168, 169)
“The fire itself is termed “eternal” and “unquenchable,” but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed for ever, not tormented for ever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which “rises for ever and ever.”
(John Stott, Evangelical Essentials, 316).
“[O]ur expectation would be that the smoke would die out after the fire had finished its work. How could the smoke from the fire rise forever if its fuel had been consumed?”
(Robert A. Peterson Vol. 37: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society Volume 37. 1994, p. 560)
“He has prepared darkness suitable to persons who oppose the light, and He has inflicted an appropriate punishment upon those who try to avoid being subject to Him. . . He has prepared the eternal fire for the ringleader of the apostasy—the devil—and for those who revolted with him. The Lord has declared those who have been set apart by themselves on His left hand will be sent into this fire.”
(Irenaeus, 180 A.D. Against Heresies, 1.523)
” John’s use of the symbol [of the lake of fire] shows that he views it as the alternative to the city of God, the new Jerusalem (see 21:7f.). Its significance for humanity thus begins with the new creation. That it does not have the meaning of annihilation is indicated by 20:10. The lake of fire signifies not extinction in opposition to existence, but torturous existence in the society of evil in opposition to life in the society of God.”
(G. R. Beasley-Murray, Revelation, p. 304) Continue Reading →