Part 7 Isn’t eternal punishment for temporal sins overkill?

Question: Isn’t eternal damnation for temporal sins overkill?  Why should God punish forever those who have only sinned for a short time?

Answer: One view that tries to deal with this question of eternal punishment is universalism.  In this view when people die everyone goes to heaven.  Therefore, there isn’t any eternal punishment.  Since this view goes against the clear teachings of the Bible I consider it false.  I will not spend time refuting it.

A second view some theologians have proposed is called annihilationism.  Until recently only heretical groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses held this interpretation.  According to this view when the unbeliever dies he or she goes out of existence.  The believer goes to heaven and the unbeliever is annihilated.  Arguments in favor say 1) the Greek word for destruction of the wicked implies they are no longer in existence, 2) eternal damnation provides an inconsistency between the love of God and eternal conscious punishment, and 3) there is a discrepancy between sins committed in time and eternal punishment.

The first argument against annihilationism is all the Bible verses that speak about eternal punishment.  By reflecting on these scriptures this view is untenable.  I will examine a few of these verses.  Following the judgment of unbelievers and believers we read in Matthew 25:46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  In Mark 9:47-48 Jesus tells His disciples,If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48 where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED.”  Hell here is described as a place where the worm lives on and the fire does not go out.  John the Baptist told the Jewish religion leaders that the wicked will be “burned with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).  Fire produces pain described as “weeping and gnashing of teeth”(Matt. 8:12;

English: Print by Gustave Doré illustrating th...

[By Gustave Doré parable of the rich man and Lazarus  (Wikipedia)]

13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).  Eternal punishment is depicted as a “coming misery,” “easting flesh with fire,” and the “day of slaughter”(James 5:1-5).  This suffering is constant because it is said that those in hell “will have no rest day or night” (Rev. 14:11) and “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (20:10).  And finally, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 gives us a glimpse of heaven and hell.  The rich man was conscious as he suffered in hell.  Pastor John MacArthur writes, “Though human sensitivities may balk at the doctrine of eternal punishment, it is both the explicit teaching of the Bible and demanded by God's justice and holiness.”[1]

Many passages speak about ‘destruction’ as the punishment for unbelievers after death.  For example, 2 Thessalonians 1:9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”  Additional passages include Matt. 7:13, Rom. 9:22, 2 Peter 3:7, and Rev. 17:8.  The Greek word for destruction doesn’t have to mean gone from existence.  The same word has multiple meanings in the New Testament.  It can mean the harmful and destructive effects of final judgment on unbelievers; also personal ruin.  When combined with the many clear verses on eternal punishment the best definition seems to be personal ruin or the destructive effects of judgment.

What is inconsistent between love and punishment?  Doesn’t a loving father discipline his children?  Does God have the right to punish moral criminals?  If punishment is justified, then what difference is there for the length of time God can punish?  If God has the right to punish for some length of time, the span of time is a non-issue.[2]  It is the prerogative of the one whose laws have been broken.  To claim the length of punishment is disproportionate to the crime is assume we can know the extent of the evil done against God.  Who are we to judge God?  Who are we to make suggestions to God what is and isn’t appropriate punishment for the sins of the world?  Plus sins against an infinite being should have an infinite punishment.  If not then once they pay for their sins, they should be allowed to enter heaven.  Similar to human justice, we let criminals go free once they have paid their debt.

The amount of time it takes to commit the crime doesn’t factor into our justice system.  To murder someone takes seconds and yet, in our courts the person either gets the death penalty or life in prison.  Time perpetrating the wrongdoing isn’t the issue; the penalty is assessed based on the severity of the crime.  Who are we to judge the severity of our crimes against the eternal creator of the universe?

CS Lewis once said the doors of hell are locked from the inside.  People receive the desires of the hearts.  Since God has created creatures who consciously will live forever, then the penalty of rejecting God is separation forever.  Why would God force into heaven someone who would rather worship self rather than worship the creator?

Finally, where is the justice if all unbelievers get the same annihilation?  Hitler and Stalin get the same punishment as an unbeliever who has lived a good moral life.  Under this system if you are not going to follow Jesus you can be as evil as you desire; there is no ultimate justice in the universe.  This viewpoint is clearly wrong.  God is not only a loving God but He is just.  Eternal punishment preserves the eternal justice and holiness of God.  Praise God there is justice in the universe and a person like Hitler will get what he deserves!

Go to part 8 here


[1] John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Revelation 12-22.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic theology, Intervarsity Press 1994 pp. 1150-1151

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Larry Wallace October 15, 2019, 6:56 am

    John 3:16 gives us the answer, and that is we are not born with immortality. Without immortality a person can not burn forever in hell. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him shall not PERISH, but have EVERLASTING LIFE.
    The word perish, as mentioned in John 3:16 in the Greek is, apollumi which means to DESTROY FULLY.
    There is nowhere in the bible the words eternal soul or immortal soul is mentioned. Looking at scripture. I Timothy 6:15, 16. “Which in his times he shall show, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, Lord of lords; (talking about Jesus) WHO ONLY hath immortality, dwelling in the Light, which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see (talking of God the Father) to whom be honor and power everlasting.” — I Corinthians 15:53 – For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this MORTAL must put on Immortality. If you had immortality you wouldn’t have to put it on. There are many scriptures that says the soul dies, or about the SAVING of the soul, “Let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, James 5:20. But nowhere does it say you have an eternal or immortal soul without Jesus Christ. That was the very reason he came into the world to give you eternal life because of the loss of the soul’s immortality suffered in the garden. Adam and Eve did not die that DAY haven eaten from the tree of Good and Evil. Adam lived to be over 900 years old.
    Now about the flames of hell. You would have to have an immortal soul to burn throughout eternity as stated above, and the only way to have immortality is through Jesus Christ. Let’s look at another verse of scripture in Revelation 20:14, 15. “And death and HELL were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, (Death of the soul).”
    Read Psalms 92:7 “When wicked spring up as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be DESTROYED FOREVER.” Hebrews 9:27 “And as it is appointed unto man ONCE to die, but after this the judgment, showing the error of reincarnation.” EZEKIEL 18:4, 20: “The soul that sinneth it shall die!”

    Jer.7:30,31says; For the children of Judah have done evil in my sight, saith the Lord: they have set their ABOMINATIONS in my house which is called by my name, to POLLUTE it. And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of Hinnom, TO BURN THEIR SONS AND THEIR DAUGHTERS IN THE FIRE; WHICH I COMMANDED THEM NOT, NEITHER CAME IT UNTO MY HEART.Duet. 12:30-31 Take heed to thy self, thou shalt not do so unto the lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, WHICH HE HATETH, HAVE THEY DONE UNTO THEIR gods; for even their sons and their daughters THEY HAVE BURNT IN THE FIRE TO THEIR GODS. Yet we still hear preached that if you are a sinner, God’s going to burn you for all eternity. These two scriptures show God hates the burning even of the children of the ungodly (sinners). It is certainly understandable why many have rejected the Gospel, being told that God who is supposed to be merciful and loving would burn someone throughout eternity! The bible says God is just. Common sense tells us this is not justice.The Gospel is not about heaven or hell it is about life or death.
    Duet. 12:30-31 Take heed to thy self, thou shalt not do so unto the lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, WHICH HE HATETH, HAVE THEY DONE UNTO THEIR gods; for even their sons and their daughters THEY HAVE BURNT IN THE FIRE TO THEIR GODS. Yet we still hear preached that if you are a sinner, God’s going to burn you for all eternity. These two scriptures show God hates the burning even of the children of the ungodly (sinners). It is certainly understandable why many have rejected the Gospel, being told that God who is supposed to be merciful and loving would burn someone throughout eternity! The bible says God is just. Common sense tells us this is not justice.The Gospel is not about heaven or hell it is about life or death.
    Now this leads to the question, “What about the punishment for the likes of Hitler, Stalin and all those who have murdered millions? I did not mention there is not a lake of fire. Again, without an immortal soul you cannot burn forever but you can certainly burn for the sins you have committed whether great or small. Just as in our day, different crimes get different punishments. Yes, I believe there is a place of torment and depending on the sins committed, an allocation of time will be spent in horrific pain or Jesus would not have said that those who do harm to children would wish they had never been born. For the likes of Hitler and Stalin, that pain will be allocated to them for all who have suffered at their hands. These two men died and never paid for the atrocities they committed.
    The word of God does not return unto Him void. The scriptures state; “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” “That which you sow, so shall ye reap!” We may not see those scriptures fulfilled in our lifetime, but justice will be processed, eternal life or eternal death!

  • Steve October 22, 2019, 6:14 am

    Larry, 10/22/19
    Thanks for your reply. However, in the article you referenced, I made a strong case that we live on beyond death. I was refuting annihilationism. You didn’t address any of my passages.

    Rather than throw proof texts at me, first deal with my verses in my post. After you have dealt with my passages, then I will answer your passages.

    Steve Bruecker

  • Gordon September 2, 2022, 12:28 pm

    Are there any quotes of the Bible that back up the last 4 paragraphs of this?
    There is no disciplinary value in eternal punishment, so you can’t evoke love.
    Yes, we can know the extent of evil done against God; it’s called the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and is described as ubiquitous in Romans 1 & 2.
    “Plus sins against an infinite being should have an infinite punishment.” CHAPTER AND VERSE, PLEASE.
    “Finally, where is the justice if all unbelievers get the same annihilation?”
    1. Who says it’s the same annihilation?
    2. Where is the justice if all unbelievers get the same eternal torment? Degrees of torment producing degrees of punishment is mathematically false and even contradicts your own assertion that the punishment is infinite. Infinite at the speed of light is the same experience at 2 mph.

  • Steve Bruecker September 10, 2022, 8:02 am

    Gordon,
    Thanks for your insightful comments. I will reply directly below each point.

    Are there any quotes from the Bible that back up the last 4 paragraphs of this?

    Response: I engaged in a more philosophical discussion and therefore, it is lacking scriptural support.

    There is no disciplinary value in eternal punishment, so you can’t evoke love.

    Response: How do you know that? I see the most loving thing God can do is to not force anyone into heaven.

    Yes, we can know the extent of evil done against God; it’s called the Knowledge of Good and Evil and is described as ubiquitous in Romans 1 & 2.

    Response: Please respond in detail to the extent of evil done against God. You need more evidence than can be found in Romans 1 & 2. How can you be confident you know the extent of evil done against God? Are you God?

    “Plus, sins against an infinite being should have an infinite punishment.” CHAPTER AND VERSE, PLEASE.

    Response: This is a philosophical answer to what we find in scripture. Jesus speaking in Matthew 25:31-46 we find eternal punishment for all the goats. God, an infinite being is punishing the unrighteous with an infinite (eternal) punishment. Matt. 25:46 “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    “Finally, where is the justice if all unbelievers get the same annihilation?”
    1. Who says it’s the same annihilation?
    2. Where is justice if all unbelievers get the same eternal torment? Degrees of torment-producing degrees of punishment are mathematically false and even contradict your own assertion that the punishment is infinite. Infinite at the speed of light is the same experience at 2 mph.

    Response: What is your definition of annihilation? Once we go out of existence, the punishment ends. This contradicts what Jesus taught in Matthew 25:31-46. He said the unrighteous would experience eternal punishment. Annihilationism, even after some punishment, is not eternal punishment.

    Steve

  • Gordon September 11, 2022, 1:37 pm

    “therefore, it is lacking scriptural support”
    You have to use philosophical discussion because your idea is lacking in scriptural support.
    Right, so how is forcing someone to be tortured forever more loving than forcing someone to be enlightened and freed from the lies they cling to because they are deceived? How is making something which does not, cannot correct a behavior a form is discipline? How is forcing someone to hell more loving than forcing them so heaven when nobody wants to go to hell except they be forced to “want” to go there because they chose the wrong religion?

    Well, no, Jesus doesn’t even say that either salvation nor damnation are eternal or infinite, but simply into the next life. Neither the words he uses, nor the OT references they refer to have to do with “forever” or “always,” while he certainly had the vocabulary to say so if he so chose. “Æonium” means something much different from “aidium” and the early church fathers (the ones who could read) all agreed for 300 years that God doesn’t torture people forever.
    Yes, annihilation is an eternal punishment; you are permanently punished by being permanently dead, which is what Genesis 3:22 was about, as well as every biblical verse about death as actual death. If I punish your school’s sports program by disqualifying you for 5 years, you don’t assemble a sports team every year for 5 years to not see them play, do you? No, if you’re sane, you don’t assemble the team at all for 5 years.
    Since you acknowledge that the weregild idea to justify what you think Jesus is saying is completely alien to the Bible, try and find a philosophical argument that isn’t based on pagan law, and stop pushing such unbiblical teutonic nonsense ideas. At least try to have a somewhat semitic set of reasonings for your backwards grecianization of Jesus’s words.

  • Steve Bruecker October 3, 2022, 9:53 am

    Gordon,
    It is interesting you claim I don’t make a Biblical case and yet your answers have been almost 100% philosophical. My last response included examples from Matthew 25. Where are your scriptures that support the idea, we go out of existence?

    Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus explains final judgment, following his coming back. He will separate the unbelievers (goats) from the believers (sheep). After the separation, he says to the unbelievers (goats) in 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” What he didn’t say was, “I will take you out of existence the same as I did for the devil and his angels.” (see definition for “eternal” below)

    I used Matthew 25:46 “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” As the word means, believers will be in heaven for all eternity (forever) and unbelievers will suffer punishment forever.

    The Greek word Jesus used for “eternal” is: αἰώνιος aiōnios; from 165; agelong, eternal:—eternal(66), eternity(1), forever(1). Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic, and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).

    The Apostle John used the same Greek word for “eternal” in 1 John 5:11-13, And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

    Your illustration was off-based in describing the situation. Here is a better illustration. You didn’t exist 1,000 years before you were born. Did you suffer punishment? The answer is no because there was no “you” in existence. How about 1,000 years after your death and you go out of existence, do you suffer punishment? The answer is no because there is no “you” in existence 1 day – 1.000 years or a million years after your death.

    Saying going out of existence is punishment is simply wordplay. Going out of existence is what atheists believe and they acknowledge this is not punishment, it is just what it is.

    I have provided Biblical support, where is yours?

    Steve

    More on eternal: ETERNAL
    1. aion (αἰών, 165), “an age,” is translated “eternal” in Eph. 3:11, lit., “(purpose) of the ages” (marg.), and 1 Tim. 1:17, lit. “(king) of the ages” (marg.). See AGE.
    2. aionios (αἰώνιος, 166) “describes duration, either undefined but not endless, as in Rom. 16:25; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:2; or undefined because endless as in Rom. 16:26, and the other sixty-six places in the NT.
    “The predominant meaning of aionios, that in which it is used everywhere in the NT, save the places noted above, may be seen in 2 Cor. 4:18, where it is set in contrast with proskairos, lit., ‘for a season,’ and in Philem. 15, where only in the NT it is used without a noun. Moreover, it is used of persons and things which are in their nature endless, as, e.g., of God, Rom. 16:26; of His power, 1 Tim. 6:16, and of His glory, 1 Pet. 5:10; of the Holy Spirit, Heb. 9:14; of the redemption effected by Christ, Heb. 9:12, and of the consequent salvation of men, 5:9, as well as of His future rule, 2 Pet. 1:11, which is elsewhere declared to be without end, Luke 1:33; of the life received by those who believe in Christ, John 3:16, concerning whom He said, ‘they shall never perish,’ 10:28, and of the resurrection body, 2 Cor. 5:1, elsewhere said to be ‘immortal,’ 1 Cor. 15:53, in which that life will be finally realized, Matt. 25:46; Titus 1:2.

    “Aionios is also used of the sin that ‘hath never forgiveness,’ Mark 3:29, and of the judgment of God, from which there is no appeal, Heb. 6:2, and of the fire, which is one of its instruments, Matt. 18:8; 25:41; Jude 7, and which is elsewhere said to be ‘unquenchable,’ Mark 9:43.

    “The use of aionios here shows that the punishment referred to in 2 Thess. 1:9, is not temporary, but final, and, accordingly, the phraseology shows that its purpose is not remedial but retributive.”*
    W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 207–208.

  • Gordon November 23, 2022, 9:52 pm

    Anything you said about what Europes translate as “Eternal” that was written by anyone who isn’t of semitic culture is invalid and unbiblical. There are many words that actually mean “eternal,” and they aren’t used there. You have to know what the Jews understand by olam, not what some illiterate gnostics like Tertullian and Augustine and their following scholars think of the KJV’s concordance. This isn’t philosophical. The meaning of the Bible’s words is a Biblical thing, not a philosophy.
    You know it is written that there are sins that are not unto death. That means that they can be atoned for without one’s own death as was explained through Moses. It all sins were equal, all crimes would be sentenced to lapidatiom.
    When you imply that I believe that annihilation is the punishment itself instead of the actual end of the punishment, you are putting words in my mouth ir straightup lying.
    When you say that the fire is unquenchable, you are forgetting the fact that magnesium is unquenchable, but that doesn’t mean it burns forever. Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning.

  • Steve Bruecker November 24, 2022, 6:19 am

    Gordon,
    If I don’t know your position, now is the time to lay it out. What do you believe happens after we die and what are the verses that support your position?

    Steve

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