Hell. There is no other word in today’s culture that can stir more emotion, of either hate towards Christianity or passion to win the lost. Furthermore, since the time of Jesus, hell has been of great discussion among thinking Christians. Over time in church history some have tried to make hell a temporary place of being cleansed from sin (The “Purgatorial View”), others have suggested that it represents annihilation or total unconscious destruction (The “Conditional View”) or maybe everlasting, but not literally “hellfire,” punishment for the wicked (The “Metaphorical View”).
Therefore, the belief in a real place with literal fire, torment, and everlasting pain has become “unpopular” for most clergy. However, it is the focus of this book review to solidify and prove once again in the modern times that the “Literal View” of hell is the only true and Biblical view of God’s wrath. In the end, when one is confronted with the Biblical facts surrounding this terrifying punishment hopefully one thing will remain, the fear of God.
In the book, “The Four Views on Hell,” edited by William Crockett, the reader is given the chance to evaluate the four main views of hell found today in Christendom. Along side of the views, the reader is also able to read the rebuttals to each of the views by the other authors. The book gives great details to each author’s stance on the issue and provides hard-hitting intellectual debate on the subject.
Four Views of Hell
- The Literal View: Hell is a real place with real fire that lasts for eternity. This belief is based on a very literal way of interpreting the words in the Bible used to describe hell, such as “eternal,” “fire,” “torment,” and “thirst” (Matthew 5:22; Luke 16:19-31; & James 3:6).
- The Metaphorical View: Hell is a real place of punishment for eternity, but the punishment is not a “literal fire,” but rather a place filled with horrible pain and separation from God. This view is based on the metaphors that are used in the Bible such as, “his eyes were like blazing fire” (Rev. 1:14), “the worm never dies” (Mark 9:48), and “beaten with many blows” (Luke 12:47).
- The Purgatorial View: Though there is a heaven and hell, there is also an intermediate place where souls will go to be cleansed from all their guilt and sin before entering heaven. This belief is based mostly on Roman Catholic history from such theologians as Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa. The Scriptural basis comes from passages like Matthew 12:31-32 with the phrase, “either in this age or in the age to come” and 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, “fire will test the quality of each man’s work.”
- The Conditional View: Hell is not a real place or a state of mental existence, but rather “closure” and “absolute death.” In other words, hell is the annihilation of the souls who reject God; they will never exist again, but will be utterly destroyed forever. This belief is primarily based on the concept of “justice” and that a good God could not be just in torturing His own creation for eternity. Also, the belief is based on such phrases found in the Bible, “destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7), “swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1), and “destroyed” (Hebrews 10:39).
The book does a great job of presenting the opposing author’s arguments to the reader; thus, the best arguments against the “Literal Position” will now be presented and answered.
Arguments Against the Metaphorical View:
(Q1) How can the hellfire of hell (Jude 7) be literal, when hell is also described as “blackest darkness” (Jude 13)?
(A1) First, God could create a fire that burns with brimstone/sulfur and yet produces no light. There is no reason to suggest God could not do both, seeing that both extremes are mentioned. For example 2 Enoch 10:2, mentions “black fire” being in hell. Second, hell is described in earthly terms, but it is also seen as a totally separate and unique place. Therefore, the same laws of nature do not need to apply to hell because it is not an earthly/temporal place, but it is an eternal place. Lastly, when the metaphorical position does not accept that God can create a literal fire that produces no light, they do so on a private interpretation of what hellfire must be to be “real” and what God can and cannot do, because the Scriptures are clear that there is both everlasting fire and darkness.
(Q2) Heaven is described in metaphorical ways with such terms as “sparkling rivers, golden streets, and pearled gates,” thus, if one does not take these literal, why would one take the “fires” of hell literally?
(A2) This proves that the metaphorical position has trouble with a literal interpretation of the Bible in many other passages. There is no sound Biblical reason- either from the meaning of words, to the context of the passages to not believe that these things written about are not literally present in heaven or hell. The metaphorical view cannot be based on a proper interpretation of the Bible because it denies the very words of the Bible. Therefore, if one rejects the words used to describe heaven and hell, how can one know anything about these places? The Bible is the only book that can describe heaven and hell for the Christian, thus the seeker can easily recognize how both Jesus and the New Testament authors believed these places to be. Otherwise, each person who reads the Bible would be left with their own “opinion” to what heaven and hell is “really” like.
Arguments Against the Conditional View (Annihilation):
(Q1) How can a loving God, who desires the salvation of the world, allow His creation who rejected Him in one short lifetime, but tortured endlessly?
(A1) This kind of argument proves that the “conditional” position does not primarily reject the idea of a literal hell based on the terms used within the Bible, but rather on an outside influence of humanism read into the Bible. Humanism, which believes God to be made basically in the image of man and since they cannot see how they would allow such torture, therefore, God could not either. However, this is a direct contradiction to the very words of Jesus who mentions hell very often in regards to those who reject Him (Matthew 13:40, 25:41 & Luke 12:5). Also, the Bible writers not only believe in the terror of hell being a literal place, but they used this “fear of God” to help persuade people to repent and turn to God (2 Corinthians 5:11).
(Q2) The Bible uses words like “eternal destruction” to describe a state of annihilation for the wicked, thus how can a soul be “destroyed” and yet “remain conscious” for eternity?
(A2) This argument is based on two faulty positions, first the use of the words in these passages and avoiding the phrases that speak of eternal torments. First, the Greek word used for “destruction” in 2 Peter 3:7, “destruction of ungodly men,” does not mean, “to cease to exist,” but rather, “doomed to eternal miseries.” Also, the context in 2 Peter 3 proves that the “destruction” of the ungodly does not mean to “dissolve” or “absolute death,” because the word used to describe the “destruction” of the heavens in v. 6 is a different word than the one used in v. 7. Therefore, the destruction of the ungodly people is different than the destruction of the world. Lastly, even if the two words used to describe the destruction of the wicked and the earth/heavens are the same in their “core meaning,” this would only prove that the destruction has to do with the permanent removal of those people and things from the new earth/heavens. Thus, the section in 2 Peter 3 does not deal with the afterlife and eternal punishments, but rather Armageddon.
Second, annihilationist too quickly change and overlook such passages as Revelation 20:10-15, “they shall be tormented night and day forever,” Luke 3:17, “He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire,” and Matthew 25:41, “you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” The language here both in the Greek and in the historical context is positively taking about and referring to eternal, non-stop, everlasting torment and punishment.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed reading this book because it gave a greater depth to the belief I already hold concerning hell and the lake of fire, which is a literal view. William Crockett, the editor and author of the metaphorical view, did the best job of presenting his views outside of the literal view. He offered new insight to me such as the views of the different church fathers and conservative theologians; though at the end I still felt that his arguments were Biblically weak. Plus, he did not offer any real solutions to the points brought up by John Walvoord- the literal view author.
I also felt like the purgatorial view from Zachary Hayes had great information concerning church history and Roman Catholic Church history. However, he lacked a true convincing argument from Scripture, he simply relayed upon too many outside sources and an allegorical interpretation of the Bible. Lastly, the conditional view held by Clark Pinnock gave the best possible scholarship for annihilation, but still failed horribly at removing the weight of the Biblical words and the plain intent of the authors. Lastly, his emotional plea- even within a great scholarly work, simply reduced his arguments to the likes of “atheistic humanism.”
Hell. It may provoke all kinds of emotions and beliefs, but it is what Jesus said about it that really counts. Thus, Jesus believed in a literal eternal hell and so should we, both in the pulpit and in private conversation.
 William Crockett. Four Views on Hell (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1992), 28.
 Ibid, 60.
 Ibid, 106.
 Ibid, 165.
 Ibid, 146.
 Ibid, 30.
 Ibid, 30.
 Ibid, 165.
 Ibid, 146.
 Thayer’s Lexicon. http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G684&t=KJV (accessed December 4, 2010).