Interview With Edward Fudge

With all the discussion of hell on this blog over the last few months I thought I would bounce a few questions off someone who has been studying the subject a lot longer than myself. So I asked Edward Fudge if he would field some questions. He is best known for his book “The Fire that Consumes” and has a movie coming out soon that chronicles his study of what has become a giant topic in Christianity. The movie is called “Hell and Mr. Fudge.” Thanks to Mr. Fudge for his willingness to sit down and answer these questions so thoroughly.

What sparked your initial study of the annihilation perspective on hell?

It would be more exciting if I had a dramatic story to relate about that, but I really do not. My detailed study of the doctrine of final punishment came about in a  quiet way that I now am convinced was thoroughly providential.

In August 1976, Christianity Today published an article of mine called “Putting Hell in Its Place.” It was not  particularly controversial, but it was somewhat provocative to think.  I began with a brief overview of  the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom in the OT and in the literature from between the Testaments. I observed that gehenna (the Greek word for “hell” as place of final punishment) appears only twelve times in the NT, all but one of those in the Gospels, and always with Jesus speaking to Jews living in and around Jerusalem. In the rest of the article, I examined a dozen statements by NT writers contrasting the final state of the redeemed and of the lost. Interestingly,  those comparisons usually are worded in simple terms that clearly suggest either life or death.

An Australian theologian and publisher named Robert Brinsmead saw the article in CT, was impressed by it, and invited me to do a one-year research project on final punishment in the Bible, and to trace the doctrine of hell through church history. I took on the task. Life has never been the same since.

What has been the most humbling finding in your studies on hell and annihilation?

 It is extraordinarily humbling to realize, as I soon did, that we all have overlooked most of the Bible’s teaching about the end of the wicked, all the while feeling so sure that we had a complete understanding of that subject. 

What has been the most surprising reaction you have gotten from people in regard to your teaching and writing on the subject?

Two reactions compete for  that title, and both are as unreasonable as they are surprising. The first is the anger some people exhibit, seemingly from a deep sense of insecurity, and an almost fiendish desire for others to suffer everlasting torment. It is as if their own happiness in eternity depended on the misery of others.  

The second surprising reaction has been the stubborn refusal by so many Christian leaders–pastors, scholars, teachers and the like—to seriously consider what the Bible actually says on the subject.  Instead they focus on “what the church has always taught,” what some human creed or confession says on the subject, or how a given explanation fits into their own End-Time (eschatological) system. This malady seems especially to afflict Reformed folk and Dispensational folk.

What has been the biggest “aha” moment for you in your study on this topic?

A giant “Aha!” occurred when I finally discovered the actual linkage in logic between the doctrine of unending conscious torment and the pagan Greek belief that every human has an immortal soul.  During the  second century of the Christian era,  certain converted Greek philosophers brought the idea of the immortal soul into the Church, and it quickly became the  basis for teaching unending conscious torment.  This is crystal clear in the writings of Tertullian, for example, who was a chief culprit in the process. Tertullian’s longest work is on the Soul (de Anima) and he is explicit in grounding unending torment in the Platonic belief that every human has an immortal or deathless soul. Of course, the Bible says that only God is inherently immortal. Every time the Scripture speaks of human immortality, it is always talking about the saved, never about the lost; always about an embodied being, never about a disembodied soul or spirit; always in the resurrection, never now.

Why do you believe it is important that we understand the duration of hell?

Let me say first that hell will be a place of eternal punishment that is everlasting in duration. This “eternal” punishment is capital punishment, “everlasting destruction,” as Paul puts it in 2 Thessalonians 1. This punishment will endure as long as does eternal life.

I see three main reasons why it is important for us to understand the biblical teaching on this topic. If we claim that we are telling people what God has said — on any subject — we have a fearful duty to do our best to get the message straight. Throughout Scripture, God has shown himself quite unhappy whenever someone announces a  message not from him and calls it the word of God. It is important that we diligently try to understand this teaching correctly in order to be faithful spokespersons.

Second, the traditional doctrine of hell has often been a  hindrance to evangelism and a stumbling block to faith. Through the centuries, the teaching of everlasting torment has driven away many would-be believers and has actually turned many people into atheists. Famous atheists from Bertrand Russell to Antony Flew have specifically stated that they cannot believe in a god who would make people stay alive forever to torment them for deeds done in a few years lifetime. If the Bible really taught the doctrine, we should just have to live with it. But since it  does not teach unending torment in hell, that doctrine is an unnecessary impediment to the spread of the gospel, and for that reason needs to be abandoned and forgotten.

Third, the traditional notion that God will intentionally and actively keep millions of people alive forever just to torment them endlessly is inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture, contradictory to the character of Jesus, and, even worse, is a horrible slander against the heavenly Father.  Think how two good parents would feel to learn that their babysitter has told their little children that if they disobey, their parents have said they will cut the children’s fingers off with scissors, stab them in the neck with a butcher knife, and poke them into the microwave oven until they pop. That is nothing compared to the slander of saying that  God will torment people alive in fire forever and ever without end—if indeed God has said nothing of the sort. 

What practical implications does that have in the lives of Christians today?

These three reasons involve our vision of the character of God, the way we relate to him ourselves, and how we represent him to others. What could possibly be more practical than that?

What has been the most difficult verse you have wrestled with or been the closest to sway you away from annihilationism?

The only verse in the Bible that actually speaks of any creature being tormented forever  is Revelation 20:10. In this symbolic vision, John saw the devil, the beast,  and the false prophet  thrown into the lake of fire, where they “were tormented day and night forever.” Note that there are no humans in that picture. Further,  every time the book of Revelation pictures people in the lake of fire, it always explains that the lake of fire represents the “second death.” Even in Revelation, the final options for humans are either to have their names in the Book of LIFE (the registry of living citizens in the heavenly city), or to be thrown into the lake of fire and suffer the second DEATH.

In addition to your book, “The Fire that Consumes,” are there any other resources out there you would recommend for people to read who are interested in this topic?

The book titled Two Views of  Hell, from InterVarsity Press, is an excellent introduction to this debate. In it, I  set  out the  case succinctly for annihilationism, and Dr. Robert Peterson from Covenant  Seminary in St. Louis presents the traditional viewpoint  of everlasting conscious torment. After laying our opposite views before the reader, each of us then critiques the viewpoint of the other. This gives you and each reader  of this book both the pro’s and the con’s of each position.

Those who have read an earlier edition of  my book The Fire That Consumes will do well to read the new, revised, third edition of the book, released in May 2011 by Cascade Books, a division of Wipf and Stock. A valuable addition to this new edition is my interaction throughout the book with seventeen traditionalist authors of twelve traditionalist books that have come out since my first edition of The Fire That Consumes in 1982.

Go to Youtube.com and search for “Edward Fudge,” to get many video teachings, including a whole series on the topic “The Fire That Consumes.” Visit  my web site at http://www.edwardfudge.com/written/fire.html   for a wide assortment of helps. Try a fun multiple-choice test at www.EdwardFudge.com/hellquiz.html/  (available in English, Spanish and Danish). And be sure to read about a professional feature movie in the works titled “Hell and Mr. Fudge” (at www.hellandmrfudge.com/ ).

If you would like to get regular emails/updates from Mr. Fudge click here and subscribe

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

15 Responses to Interview With Edward Fudge

  1. Preacherman says:

    Interesting. I enjoyed this post.

    • Donnie Bama Marlow says:

      The was a great move clean the way move should. Be. In replay I live in ELKMONT for all my live thanks again for the move. God bless brother fudge.

  2. Thank you for posting this. I believe this is something people need to hear. The Fire That Consumes is a very thorough study of the subject. While it does not answer all questions, it at least frames the questions in a solid exegesis of what the Bible actually says about the destiny of the wicked. Mr. Fudge himself says that this is not a “salvation issue,” but is important because of the implications he stated in your interview above for evangelism and understanding the nature of God Himself.

    One of the most telling points, to me, is the fact than only God is immortal by nature. For the rest, eternal life (immortality) is a gift contrasted with the wages of sin, which is death.

    Jerry

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  4. Ken Sublett says:

    The concept of burning humans (2 Chron 28) was briefly replaced with burning goats (2 Chron 29) and then burning humans in 2 Chron 33.

    Isaiah 30 has Christ showing FOR WHOM “hell” was prepared and the marks of God carrying out punishment of His enemies just as Israel etc had burned infants: the marks in sight and sound would be wind, string and percussion instruments. Long before Tertullian the Babylonian clay tablets picture the netherworld as a place of conscious existance. This was reinacted when the women wept for Tammuz (Isa 8). I am not sure about plato downward speaking of a lake of fire. That’s why we need to be disciples.

    Revelation 19:20 And the beast was taken,
    and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him,
    with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast,
    and them that worshipped his image.
    These both were cast ALIVE into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.

    And those deceived go to the second place.

    Revevelation 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable,
    and murderers, and whoremongers,
    and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars
    ,
    ……shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone:
    …..which is the second death.

    Olethros or destruction does not mean anniahilation
    A. ruin, destruction, death, imprecation, plague take thee!
    destruction of property

    Thantos and Hades are “gods”. The Jews had a covenant with Death and hell.

    Isaiah 28:15 Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:

    Death or Moros is a goddess.

    Revelation 2:10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
    Revelation 2:11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

    This clearly is not anniahilation.
    Rather than clutter, I will post a review.

  5. Ken Sublett says:

    Tertullian Apology For, like us, the poets and philosophers set up a judgment-seat in the realms below. And if we threaten Gehenna, which is a reservoir of secret fire under the earth for purposes of punishment, we have in the same way derision heaped on us.

    …. For so, too, they have their Pyriphlegethon, a river of flame in the regions of the dead.

    And if we speak of Paradise, the place of heavenly bliss appointed to receive the spirits of the saints, severed from the knowledge of this world by that fiery zone as by a sort of enclosure,

    —-the Elysian plains have taken possession of their faith.

    Whence is it, I pray you have all this, so like us, in the poets and philosophers? The reason simply is, that they have been taken from our religion. But if they are taken from our sacred things, as being of earlier date, then ours are the truer, and have higher claims upon belief, since even their imitations find faith among you.

    A very quick review of Edward’s Comments:

    http://www.piney.com/Edward.Fudge.No.Everlasting.Punishment.html

  6. Wes Dawson says:

    Matt,

    Thanks for the interview with bother Fudge. This provides the clearest and most concise view I have seen on the net of his investigation.

    Unfortunately, up till now, I have gotten lost in the details and the debate. I have begun my own study and will continue it.

    The fact “that the church has always done that way” has never been sufficient proof for anything, because that “fact” usually only applies to the person making that claim’s lifetime.

    Neither do I have any desire to see anyone in eternal torment. If I did, I would certainly as I heard someone say once “leave them alone and let them go on to Hell where they belong.” In fact, It is my desire to prevent anyone from going to Hell even if brother Fudge is right!

    Interestingly, the main problem I saw with annihilation was also Revelation 20:10. I understand that Devil and the Beast are not human. Unlike some, I never believed they were, but what about the false prophet. Is a false prophet not always a human being who preaches false doctrine or makes false predictions?

    Thanks again,
    Wes

    • mattdabbs says:

      One question I haven’t asked about the Revelation 20 interpretation is what do you do with the beast? Many commentators associate that beast with the Emperor/Caesar and those who were pushing Emperor worship in Rome (See Rev 13)…the priests and those who tended various imperial shrines to Caesar, etc. This would include people and not just Satan and other non-human entities being thrown in the lake of fire forever and ever in Rev 20:10. Maybe Fudge would just limit it to that group? Or maybe he would say that others who have a similar function since, to pull people away from God to worship false God’s would fall in that same category. I’m not sure. I will ask him and see what his interpretation is of the beast in Rev 13 & 20.

  7. Wes Dawson says:

    To me, the Beast is civil government, not the people in it but the concept itself. The people in it serve the Beast.

    Cain and his descendants were responsible for it civil government before the flood as were the descendants of those other than Abraham afterward. When the Israelites desired a king, God said they had rejected him as king over them. Even Romans 13, indicates that God only uses civil government to carry out his ends even though he does not approve all its actions.

    Of course as a friend of might is fond of saying, “That opens a whole other can of worms:-)

    Wes

    • mattdabbs says:

      I figure you already know how someone would respond to that so let me do the predictable. How does that interpretation fit Revelation 13 & 20? Also, how does it jive with Paul’s teaching about God’s purpose and placement of governments and authorities in verses like
      Rom 13:1-7

      “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

      6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. “

  8. Wes Dawson says:

    God did authorize civil government under protest informing those who desire it and follow it instead of God that they have rejected him as king (I Samuel 8:5-22). We are to pay taxes because God uses it to accomplish his ends and as Jesus pointed out, money belongs to Caesar but we belong to God (Matthew 22:17-21). Romans 13: 7 parallels this, we are to render taxes and custom, another form of taxes, to civil government; some amount of respect and honor also belong to civil government in obeying the laws and not rebelling against it. This is limited by Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than men.” I may also receive the services for which my taxes pay.

    As a Christian and a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven (Philippians 3:20 ASV) , my allegiance and worship belong only to God. If I pledge allegiance to the flag or sing songs of praise to it or the republic, I am engaging in idolatry.

    Romans 13, uses different pronouns for the Christian and for the civil government; clearly separating the Christian and the government. The Christian runs a risk of giving approval to the ungodly acts of the government by participating in any way, even voting.

    I am aware that most Christians in the United States would disagree, although it is my understanding that this is not so in other countries. The fact, that this is a democracy does not change things. God is our only King.

    Wes

  9. Edward Fudge says:

    This passage in Revelation 20 is the one text in all of Scripture that comes closest to picturing human beings in conscious torment forever. I understand the “beast” and the “false prophet” to be symbols for wicked civil government and false rellgion respectively that persecute believers and fight against God and his Messiah/tChrist. For Revelation’s original readers these two symbolic figures in John’s visions represent hostile Rome amd the Emperor cult that deified it and supported its demand for ultimate allegiance. I see these as institutiions rather than as specific humans.

    Even If humans are in this picture (which I am not convinced of), no less authorities than Strack and Billerbeck propose that even the picture of unending torment in literature of Second Temple Judaism (specifically the Pseudepigrapha) might stand for unending extinction. Whatever the case with that. we finally have to decide whether we will interpret a symbolic text from Revelation that sounds like unending torment in light of scores and perhaps hundreds of straightforward texts from Genesis through Jude that sound like extinction, or the other way around. Responsible hermeneutical principles require that symbolic be interpreted in light of straightforward as all recognized authorities agree.

  10. Pingback: Around the web 28th October 2011 | Afterlife | Conditional Immortality, Soul Sleep and Annihilationism |Conditional Immortality

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