And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:46)
Last week I wrote on the topic of an eternal hell, which was prompted by an article posted on social media by an author who believes that hell is not eternal. The man who wrote the article spent many years researching the topic and has written several books and produced several DVD’s on the matter. He concluded, after years of study, that the Bible does not teach that hell is eternal based on an extensive word study in the original biblical languages that are often translated “forever” or “eternal.” (See last week’s article noted below.)
Hell is not a pleasant topic to discuss. In fact, we probably find it repulsive. However, the Bible does speak of hell as a real place, so it behooves us not to ignore it. In fact, it is said that Jesus spoke more about hell than He did about heaven, so, if we believe the Bible is true then we need to take hell seriously.
The writer, Aloysius or “Al” for short (not his real name), besides pointing out that the Hebrew and Greek words translated as “forever” or “eternal” have different “shades” of meaning so that they can just as easily be translated as “a long time,” based most of his argument on God being so loving that He would not punish sinners for eternity. This concept is known as annihilationism; “the belief that all the wicked will be judged by God and thrown into the lake of fire, where they will cease to exist. Some annihilationists suggest that this will occur instantaneously, while others believe that the unrighteous may experience a brief period of awareness. However, all annihilationists agree that no individual, however wicked, will suffer eternally a conscious existence in hell.”
I was told by one of my readers about a movie on the same topic. The movie is entitled, “Hell and Mr. Fudge,” so I found it on Amazon Prime and watched it. The movie, based on a real character, told about a boy, a preacher’s kid, which grew up to be a preacher himself. As an adolescent, he had a friend who was a “bad boy;” he drank and smoked, rarely went to church, and he was not “saved.” The boy ends up dying in a car accident and the thought of his friend going to hell haunted Fudge for the rest of his life because he could not accept that God would send his friend to hell forever. The story of Fudge’s struggle is very compelling, and I found myself hoping that he would convince me that hell is not eternal. If you have not seen the movie, I would recommend it, but keep up your guard.
Just like Al, Fudge did extensive research in both Old and New Testaments. In one scene, while he was in Bible college, he makes the claim that he was reading Greek since he was six, so he was no slouch as a scholar, but his failure, as I saw it, was that he allowed his emotions to drive his conclusion. In the end, he resolved his dilemma with John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (emphasis mine). “Perish” is the Greek word apollumi meaning “to destroy fully.” “Everlasting life” (life perpetual), zōē aiōnios, employs the word aiōnios, which is applied in the NT to both eternal life and to eternal damnation. However, the confusion results from the frequent use of apollumi to describe the destruction of a soul in hell. That raises the question. What is the need for an eternal (aiōnios) hell, if the destruction (apollumi) of the soul is relatively brief?
Mr. Fudge, for all his scholarship, failed to parse the aorist Greek verb appoletai (perish) and settled for the English future tense. The “aorist tense” of the verb expresses a present action that is continuing. The verb is in the “middle voice” that denotes that the subject is both an agent of an action and somehow concerned with the action. So, whatever is happening to this subject, he is bringing it upon himself. The verb is also in the “subjunctive mood” indicating that the action may or may not occur. In this verse, the person is “perishing” of his own volition, but by believing in the Son, he can obtain eternal life. John 3:16 speaks of eternal life, not the duration of hell. Those who have not believed in the Son are in the process of destroying (perishing) themselves, and unless they change, they will endure hell for eternity.
When I share the Gospel, I do not want to talk about eternal death in hell. I want to invite those who hear to join me in eternal life with Christ. However, just for the sake of argument, let us agree that hell is brief. Let us say that a really bad sinner will be tortured there for just one year and then incinerate and cease to exist. Then let us say that a “good” person, whose only sin was to reject God’s plan of salvation, goes to hell, and his sentence is just one week. Then he is incinerated and ceases to exist. Can anyone seriously say, they would be willing to spend even just one minute in hell just for rejecting Christ? I would not want to, not from how Jesus describes it. Don’t go there!
I really liked Mr. Fudge. He seemed like a really nice and sincere guy. I also have no doubt in my mind that He is a true Christian. His false notion about the temporal duration of hell is not a salvation issue. However, you know people that would rather continue in a sinful lifestyle than to place their life in Jesus’ hands. The notion of a brief stent in hell followed by total annihilation might seem like a good option to someone who enjoys a sinful lifestyle too much. (And who says sinning isn’t fun!) The idea of an eternal existence in that torturous place might be that thing that will change his mind. Mr. Fudge and Al might be really nice guys, excellent scholars, and wonderful Christians, but they are wrong on hell.
Reader, if you are not sure about where you will spend eternity, please read my page on “Securing Eternal Life.”
 “Eternal Hell” – https://erniecarrasco.com/2021/04/11/eternal-hell/
 Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki, & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, 1999), p. 10.