Saturday, July 12, 2014

We all trust Paul

Illustration from

So, I've been thinking again. 

I know, it gets me in trouble.  As I read the New Testament, I am thinking about Paul. The beloved Apostle Paul! We all want to be like him.  May I speak for Christians across-the-board when I say we believe Paul wrote inspired words by the Holy Spirit for our edification, understanding and education? We all trust him! 

Paul wrote thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament (which does not include Hebrews - although that author is consistent with what Paul taught in his other letters concerning final punishment.)

So, I've been wondering - what did Paul believe about 'hell'? As we study Paul's writings, you'll notice that in his teachings about final punishment, he uses the words 'death' and 'destruction' most frequently. Can you find any evidence of eternal torment?

What do we learn from Paul about final punishment?

Paul was not timid, he didn't hold back on what he really thought. He could be bold and quite straight forward in his letters. "For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God." (Acts 20:27) If Paul believed that final punishment involved people being tormented forever, don't you think he would mention that. At least once?

Maybe he didn't like talking about negative consequences? Maybe he just wanted to focus on grace and holy living and let someone else expound on the 'bad news'? ... No, that is not the case - Paul really had a good amount to say about God's wrath and warned people sternly about the reality of the Day of Judgment.

"But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek…"  Rom. 2:5-9

Well, that could be a description of the classic hell, right? Yes, you could understand his warning about the wrath of God in that way. But then he explains himself as you read further in Romans: 

"For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law."  (2:12)

The word 'perish' comes up quite a bit concerning the lost (i.e. John 3:16). Does that word actually mean to be kept alive to be tormented? Well, let's consider more of Paul's teaching about the consequences of sin. There is one word that comes up a lot: death.

"…just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned… For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ… as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus…" Rom. 5:12,17,21
"Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?"   - Romans 6:16
"Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death."  (6:21) 
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (6:23) 
"… for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live."  (8:13)

But don't we all die? Yes, we all die at some point, so what is he talking about? Ask yourself that question as you consider all these verses by Paul's hand:

"What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?"  (9:22)
"For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (G622 apollymi – to destroy, abolish), but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."  (1 Cor. 1:18)
"Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away."  (1 Cor 2:6)  
“If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.”  (1 Cor. 3:17)  
 “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.” (1 Cor 15:17-18)  
“…then comes the end, when He [Messiah] hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power."   (1 Cor. 15:24)  
"The last enemy that will be abolished is death."  - 1 Cor. 15:26  (abolished how? In the lake of fire. Rev. 20:14)  
"For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing."  (2 Cor. 2:15)  
"And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing…" (2 Cor. 4:3)  
“These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”  (2 Thess. 1:9)

Consider this: When you read about eternal salvation, eternal judgment or eternal redemption it is clear that 'eternal' is an adjective that modifies the noun.

So, we are not being continually saved throughout eternity, but our salvation is eternal - of the age to come and permanent. Jesus does not continue judging through eternity but His judgment, once handed down, is eternal. And so on. God is not redeeming His people forever, it is a complete redemption that lasts forever. God will not be 'destroying' people for eternity (that doesn't even make sense). The penalty of destruction is eternal - of the age to come and permanent. Read Matthew 10:28 where Jesus says, …fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna]. 

"Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming… with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness."  (2 Thess. 2:8,10-12)    
"For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction’…" (Phil. 3:19)  
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.”  Eph. 5:6   
"For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…"  1 Thess. 5:9  
"…and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come." – 1 Thess. 1:10 
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness… and although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” (1:18,32)  
"…having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him." (5:9)

So, Paul speaks often about God's wrath. As a man of the Scriptures, what would Paul have known about 'the day of wrath'?

"You will make them as a fiery oven in the time of your anger; The LORD will swallow them up in His wrathAnd fire will devour them."  (Psalm 21:9) 

"Destroy them in wrath, destroy them that they may be no more."  (Psalm 59:13) 

"Riches do not profit in the day of wrathBut righteousness delivers from death."  (Prov. 11:4) 

"Neither their silver nor their gold Will be able to deliver them On the day of the LORD'S wrathAnd all the earth will be devoured In the fire of His jealousy, For He will make a complete endIndeed a terrifying one, Of all the inhabitants of the earth."  (Zeph. 1:18)

Peter agrees and echoes this description of the day of the Lord:

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up."  (2 Peter 3:10)

Does the wrath of God have anything to do with hell? From the above verses I see death and destruction. Rev. 15:1 seems to indicate that there is a point when God’s wrath is finished, which doesn’t line up with a hell that never ends. "Then I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels who had seven plagues, which are the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished."

In conclusion, eternal conscious torment is not found in Paul's teaching. It just isn't there. If that was a reality awaiting the lost, do you think Paul might have made some mention of it? He does mention the wrath of God, death, destruction and perishing as penalties that await the lost.

I will be creating a separate post to look intently at the verse where Paul says, "For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren…" (Rom. 9:3) We will ask: what in the world did he mean by that?

As for our admirable Apostle...
"…our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters… in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction."  (2 Peter 3:16)

1 comment:

  1. Dirk Waren writes: "Paul fully proclaimed the whole counsel of God by plainly declaring:

    That those who live a lifestyle of unrepentant sin “deserve death” — Romans 1:32
    That “all who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law” — Romans 2:12
    That sin “leads to death” — Romans 6:16
    That sin “results in death” — Romans 6:21
    That “the wages of sin is death” — Romans 6:23
    That those who live according to the sinful nature “will die” — Romans 8:13
    That the gospel is foolishness “to those who are perishing” — 1 Corinthians 1:18
    That “in Adam all die” — 1 Corinthians 15:22
    That those who preach the gospel are “the smell of death” “to those who are perishing” — 2 Corinthians 2:15-16
    That the Old Testament law “kills” and ultimately brings “death” — 2 Corinthians 3:6-7
    That the gospel is “veiled to those who are perishing” — 2 Corinthians 4:3
    That those who please the sinful nature “from that nature will reap destruction” – Galatians 6:8
    That “they will be destroyed” — Philippians 1:28
    That “their destiny is destruction” — Philippians 3:19
    That “they will be punished with everlasting destruction” — 2 Thessalonians 1:9
    That they “are perishing” — 2 Thessalonians 2:10
    That “they perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” — 2 Thessalonians 2:10
    That “Christ Jesus… has destroyed death” — 2 Timothy 1:10
    We can add these four if Paul was the writer of Hebrews:
    That they are like worthless land that will “in the end… be burned” — Hebrews 6:8
    That sins are “acts that lead to death” — Hebrews 9:14
    That raging fire “will consume the enemies of God” — Hebrews 10:27
    That those who “shrink back” in unbelief will be “destroyed” — Hebrews 10:39
    In various ways with various words Paul was sure to repeatedly declare precisely what would happen to those who foolishly reject the gospel. He was sure to do this because God appointed him to fully proclaim the whole counsel of God. Paul didn’t hide any aspect of the truth — including the awful truth that those who reject Christ will be utterly destroyed by the raging, consuming fire of the Lord. If words have any meaning at all then this is what we must conclude.

    Allow me to add that if Jesus supposedly preached eternal torture, as many contend, then Paul would have certainly backed it up. Yet Paul taught no such thing because Jesus taught no such thing, not to mention the Bible they taught from — what we now know as the Old Testament — teaches no such thing."



I understand this is a difficult subject and there are different views from folks who all value God's inspired word. I value your feedback, corrections and questions. Please leave a comment!