Book Review: Hell- A Final Word (the surprising truths I found in the Bible) By Edward Fudge
Most students of the doctrine of Hell that have landed on the side of conditional immortality and annihilationism will be very familiar with the name Edward Fudge. Fudge wrote what is now the standard exegetical and hermeneutical text on the subject. This book is a condensed reader-friendly version of Dr Fudge’s “The Fire that Consumes”. As a more introductory text, this book introduces the major concepts and principals that Fudge spends more time proving at length in his previous book.
The book is broken up into 51 small chapters ranging from 1-5 pages long and is easily digestible in small portions or even all at once. I found this to be a benefit of the book as I was able to quickly read a few chapters and then set it aside and come back to it without feeling like I needed a review of where I had left off. While the chapters are short in length, they still pack a strong potent punch like a fortune cookie or Chinese proverb. There is much to be unpacked from each chapter.
The book begins with some autobiographical material with Fudge telling his story and how he came to question the historically held view of eternal conscious torment. What I found refreshing was his honest and open struggle with the topic and how he felt about going up against a traditional doctrine that had been established for over 1600 years. Fudge challenges the reader saying that whatever view they end up with, it will ultimately say something about the character of God. This point I think is key.
Whatever the reader leaves with, they should be able to reconcile their portrait of who God is with their view of Hell and the punishment of the wicked.
What Fudge does very well in his writing is his ability to boil a complex topic down into bite-size digestible pieces that can be consumed for the reader. In this book, he provides the reader with simple straight forward answers that are both memorable and also backed with a tremendous amount of scripture and research. Ultimately, says Fudge, the question of Hell can be summed up in the decision of how one interprets the metaphor of fire. Does it torment for eternity, does it consume and destroy, or does it purify and redeem?
Throughout his research, Fudge says that in his study he found the traditional view was predominantly built on four foundations. These foundational building blocks of the writings he examined where:
- The Old Testament says nothing about hell.
- Between the time of the Old and New Testaments, the doctrine of eternal conscious torment developed from Old Testament principals. By the time of Jesus, it had become “the Jewish view” in Palestine.
- New Testament writers follow Jesus and teach unending conscious torment.
- The immortality of the soul requires unending conscious torment.
The remainder of the book is the attempt to dismantling these four pillars backed by sound Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics.
The Old Testament
Fudge says that when we approach the Old Testament we have to ask the right questions. If we simply go looking for the word Hell in the Old Testament we will draw a blank. However, when we examine what the scripture says about the destruction of the wicked. The Old Testament reveals several principles of destruction, prototypes of destruction and prophetic imagery of destruction. The principles of destruction can be found in the multitude of metaphors and similes of total destruction using creative language to describe someone’s ultimate demise. The two prototypes of total destruction are revealed in the stories of the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Biblical prophecy describes a day when God will judge the wicked and they will be broken like pottery and seen as dead corpses. The promise to the righteous is that God is just and will ultimately judge justly. This is important because often times life does not seem just here on earth when the wicked are prospering.
The Intertestamental Period
During the time between Testaments Fudge states that we have three groups of writings to try and determine what was taught and believed concerning Hell. We have the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha and Dead Sea Scrolls. The historical assumption has been that all three of these groups aligned with the eternal conscious torment view. What Fudge shows, however, is that there is evidence for all three views of Hell within the literature, a fire that torments, a fire that consumes and a fire that purifies. The bottom line is that there was not a general agreement on the matter in the intertestamental period. There simply was not one dominant view on Hell.
Jesus and the New Testament writers
In the third section of chapters, he sets out to disprove that the New Testament authors and writings can be used to justify eternal conscious torment. Fudge appeals to John the Baptist, who opens the New Testament by saying the unrepentant will burn like chaff. Clarification is made between the Biblical language often translated Hell and the reader is able to see that Gehenna refers to the Valley of sons of Hinnom in the Old Testament. The reader is encouraged to take words like destruction, perish, and destroy at face value and not the opposite of what they mean.
Fudge explains that texts referring to ‘gnashing of teeth’ have to do with anger, not pain. Throughout the book, the challenge is made that tradition or the majority view doesn’t necessarily define truth. He goes on to explain the use of the word ‘eternal’ in the Bible and how it often applies to a result of an action and not necessarily its duration. As an example, we find that the phrase ‘eternal fire’ is used as an example for Sodom and Gomorrah which did not burn forever but stopped burning once its fuel source was ashes.
Closing out the section on Jesus teaching, Fudge gives extra care and attention to addressing a cherished proof text of eternal conscious torment, the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus. He brings to light that the parable itself does not take place after the resurrection and cannot refer to Hell. Rather, it is used to explain what some have called the intermediate state, between death and resurrection. In addition, the reader discovers that the parable is not original to Jesus, (which will come to a shock to many) but instead existed culturally in several forms prior to Jesus teaching.
The remainder of the section goes on to address the other New Testament writers. What we find upon closer examination is that James uses the language of death, destruction, and consummation. A book one would think would be filled with Hell, the book of Acts remains silent on the subject and what is revealed is that the apostles motivated people with something greater than fear, love. The dominate language used by Paul are the three words die, perish and destroy. Hebrews, Peter, Jude, John also all speak in contrasting terms of life and death. The last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation plainly explains that the Lake of fire is the Second death. Life is also contrasted with Death with the language of the Book of Life and the Lake of Fire.
The Immortal Soul
For someone concerned with the foundation and justification for annihilationism which is conditional immortality, the last portion of the book is where I think Fudge really shines. He states:
“If the traditional view (ECT) is not found in the Bible, where did it come from? I found that answer in Tertullian and the supposed immortality of the soul.” (pg 146)
It is at this point that we get to the heart if the matter. Chapter 45 then becomes a summary chapter of why conditional immortality is Biblical. Fudge gives an extensive list of reasons why conditional immortality is Biblical, and the idea of the immortal soul is not.
- The three most common words concerning judgement and punishment are die, perish and destroy.
- The choice set before people is always in terms of life or death.
- Nowhere does scripture teach humans will experience eternal torment in Hell.
- Scripture says that ‘the wages of sin is death’.
- Humans are defined as dependent beings contingent upon God.
- Scripture says that God alone possesses immortality.
- Immortality is always spoken of as a gift.
- The Bible says nothing of ‘immortal souls’.
- Humans are described Biblically as mortal and susceptible to death.
- God intervenes with resurrection not a reunion of body and soul.
Fudge explains that Tertullian, a Platonist, taught that souls are immortal and as a result, they do not need saving. This goes against scriptures view of anthropology as well as all the scripture that points to a final destruction of the wicked in Hell. This forced the church to choose between Universalism and Eternal Conscious Torment because immortal souls must exist somewhere for eternity. A portion of the church led by Origin, went the route of Universalism but Augustine won the day with the view of Eternal Conscious Torment and guided the Roman Catholic Church in that direction. Tradition then became solidified and teaching on the topic of Hell became set in cement doctrinally.
Perhaps the most precise articulation of conditional immortality that the author gives is the small graph on page 154. Fudge says when scripture speaks of immortality and eternal life it always says three things in the positive and it never says three things in the negative.
Human Immortality in the Bible:
|Always :||But Never:|
|Who?||the saved||the lost|
|What?||the whole person||a disembodied spirit|
|When?||The resurrection||At birth or at a new birth|
Fudge goes on to say, “the doctrine of everlasting torment was the direct descendant of the doctrine of immortal souls.” (pg 157). He says “The notion that your mortal body houses some sort of immortal soul sprang from the pagan Greeks and was popularized by the Philosophers Socrates and Plato. (pg 181).
In conclusion, this book is definitely worth the purchase and read for anyone looking to study further the topic. For those already in agreement with the annihilationist view of Hell, you could skip to the latter half of the book to simply read about conditional immortality. The book provides an easily consumable and accessible read on the topic and would be an excellent primer for anyone just getting into studying the topic.