Now that our revised The Grace New Testament Commentary is out, I can go back to finishing up two or three book projects, such as on the “atonement” and “hell.”
My book on hell will, so far (I can still be convinced of a different view), defend eternal conscious torment (ECT)—though not the ECT of Augustine, Dante, and the Roman Catholic Church. I want to build my doctrine on the Bible, not tradition—whether Catholic tradition or secular tradition.
One of the key passages in the debate over ECT is the parable/story of the rich man and Lazarus. Whether or not it is history or parable, the big question is does it give us true information about the intermediate state?
Understanding what is Biblically possible about the intermediate state helps us to understand what is Biblically possible about the final state.
The annihilationists I’ve interacted with generally deny the story of the rich man and Lazarus gives us true information about the intermediate state. Instead, they usually take a materialist/physicalist view of the human person. For them, there really isn’t a substantial difference between the body and soul. For them, when you die, something called the “whole person” dies in the sense of “ceases to be conscious.” So, in many cases, they deny there is an intermediate state. They think souls aren’t the kinds of things that can have a conscious existence apart from the body.
By contrast, I think the Bible teaches man is trichotomous—body, soul, and spirit. As I understand the Biblical evidence, death affects different parts of you differently. When you die, your physical body starts to become corrupt and can be buried in a grave, while your soul can end up in Hades, where it still has conscious existence.
How can you decide which view is right?
A key piece of evidence in this debate is the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. On its face, this story clearly supports ECT. After death, the rich man’s soul experiences torment in Hades, where he is fully conscious, while Lazarus’ soul is in paradise, where he is also presumably conscious. Death is not what the annihilationists assume it to be.
So what do annihilationists do with that passage? Try their best to ignore it! Edward Fudge, the leading annhilationist, just can’t believe it depicts a real situation. So he claims that Jesus is borrowing a popular parable to make a moral point about the danger of covetousness, and that’s as far as it goes. Fudge thinks we should absolutely not understand Jesus to be teaching about literal details of the intermediate state:
[T]he parable should not be read literally, as if a literal reading contained Jesus’ intended message. That would require one to believe:
- That Abraham receives the godly dead and remains with them;
- That angels transport the godly dead from earth to Abraham;
- That the godly and ungodly, though apart, are both audible and visible to each other;
- That a single drop of water would relieve the pain of the lost;
- That the saved can theoretically travel to the unsaved, or even to earth.
In fact, I have never met, heard, or read anyone who consistently interpreted the story of the rich man and Lazarus literally in every detail. It is not hard to understand why. The story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable, not historical narrative (Fudge, Hell: A Final Word, 116).
Fudge simply can’t believe Jesus’ depiction of the intermediate state could be true. It’s too fantastic for him!
What about you? Can you believe the kinds of things he mentions?
For example, can you believe that angels transport the souls of the dead to heaven or Hades, or is that too far out? If you can’t believe that on the basis of Luke 16:22, can you believe it is at least possible on the basis of Ps 91:11? “For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways.” Angels have a vibrant role in creation. Is it really so hard to believe that one of their jobs is to take the souls of the dead to heaven or Hades?
What about the idea that the “dead” can travel “to the unsaved, or even to earth”? Fudge thinks that’s too outlandish to believe. What about you? I don’t see what the trouble is. Consider: Samuel, Elijah, and Moses, though long dead, all appeared to the living on earth (1 Sam 28:7ff; Matt 17:1-3; Mark 9:3-4; Luke 9:29-30). So how can Fudge deny that is “theoretically” possible without denying Scripture?
Here’s my takeaway.
You know your mind should be formed by God’s Word, not conformed to this world (Rom 12:1-2). Your thinking should be different from the world’s thinking—it should be Biblical.
Did you know your imagination should be Biblical, too? After all, your ability to imagine is part of your ability to think—i.e., it’s part of your mind. There’s a danger that your imagination can be conformed to this world, just as much as your thinking can. And if it is, you’ll find it hard to believe God’s Word whenever it conflicts with your worldly imagination.