This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Hi Dr. Craig,
My question for you concerns the nature of hell. I've read/listened to some of your thoughts on this, but I've never heard you attempt to give any sort of real defense on your particular stance. If I'm not mistaken, you hold the traditionalist view of eternal conscious torment rather than the conditional immortality view.
However, it seems to me that scripture is much more in favor of the conditional immortality view. In the Old Testament, it seems that the "prototypes" of the final judgement (The Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah) result in the destruction of the lost - not their being tortured. Moreover, in the New Testament, it seems as if Paul, Peter, and even Jesus himself teach that those who are not saved inherit death - not eternal conscious torment. Scripture says that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), those who believe in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). I'm sure you're well aware of these verses, and the other verses in the NT that seem to indicate that eternal life is only saved for those who believe in Christ. Those who do not will ultimately be destroyed. Moreover, this isn't an issue of translation or taking verses out of context. Without writing a novel, it actually seems that doing a language study or a context study actually supports conditional immortality as well.
I'm curious as to how you would respond to these arguments and why you personally reject conditional immortality. Thanks so much!
Dr. William Lane Craig's Response
It seems to me that the traditional view that hell implies eternal, conscious torment is reasonably well-attested in Scripture. “These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (II Thessalonians 1.9). Denials of this doctrine spring primarily, I believe, from emotional abhorrence and noncogent philosophical objections.
I wouldn’t pretend that exegetical arguments are not available to the annihilationist, but I find the arguments you mention, Bentley, to be fundamentally misconceived.
First, it’s just bad hermeneutics to take Old Testament “prototypes” as the interpretive key to New Testament doctrine on the state of the damned after death. You risk imposing some accidental feature of those stories onto New Testament teaching, which may be contrary to that feature. These Old Testament judgments of people of course involve destruction of the people concerned in the sense of the termination of their earthly lives, lest they still be around today, somehow preserved through the centuries in prisonhouses in Palestine! Moreover, what these prototypes essentially involve is the death of the persons judged, and the New Testament doctrine of everlasting torment involves exactly the same thing.
That forms a nice segue to the second point. The most fundamental failing of your argument is the failure to appreciate that everlasting existence is not the same as everlasting life. The damned in hell have everlasting existence but not everlasting life. In the New Testament everlasting life is not bios (physical life, from which our word biology derives), but rather zōē (spiritual life). The damned, even if they have physical life, having been resurrected, do not have zōē. They are, in fact, spiritually dead and will remain so forever.
So, of course, eternal life is available only through Christ and is therefore conditional upon repentance and faith. Until annihilationists grasp the fact that a person can exist forever and yet be spiritually dead, they will fundamentally misunderstand New Testament doctrine on immortality.
This Q&A and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website.