Hell – what does the Bible say?

Not a nice subject, but let’s have a look at it.

4 words

The English word ‘hell’ comes from an ancient German word hel or helle, meaning “a nether world of the dead”, and has sometimes been used to translate 4 words in the New Testament:

Sheol: This word occurs almost 30 times in the Old Testament, and was once translated as ‘hell’. But most translations these days use the words ‘death’ or ‘grave’, and the IVF Bible Dictionary says that the meaning is ‘the state of death’. The Old Testament says nothing about ongoing punishment, and says nothing about ‘hell’.

Tartaro: This Greek word, meaning ‘abyss’ or ‘pit’, is used once in the New Testament (2 Peter 2:24), where it describes sinful angels being held for judgment in the abyss. It says nothing about people.

Hades: This Greek word is used 10 times in the New Testament and means the same as Sheol – the state of death. Again, it is generally no longer translated as ‘hell’ and says nothing of ongoing torment.

Gehenna: This is the main word translated as ‘hell’ and is used a dozen times in the New Testament as a name for a place of destruction or punishment of the wicked.

Other references to fire and punishment

There are references to punishment that don’t mention the word ‘hell’. Prominent among these are:

  • Jesus spoke of ‘eternal punishment’ (e.g. Matthew 25:41,46).
  • Paul spoke of punishment and death (e.g Romans 1:32.
  • Revelation speaks of the punishment of the ‘fire that torments’ (Revelation 14:9-11) and the ‘lake of fire’ (Revelation 20:14-15).

Meaning of gehenna – a place or an image?

Gehenna is the English version of a Greek word Ge’enna, which comes via the Aramaic Gēhannā from the Hebrew Ge Hinnom, which literally means “Valley of Hinnom”, referring to a valley outside of Jerusalem. The origin of this name can be seen 11 times in the Old Testament (e.g. Joshua 15:8, 2 Chronicles 28:3) as Gei Ben-Hinnom, the “Valley of the son of Hinnom”.

The Valley of Hinnom had a number of nasty associations in the Old and New Testaments – it was a place where worshippers of Canaanite gods sacrificed children, half a millennium before Jesus, it was the location of a rubbish tip where refuse was burnt, and the location of tombs. BY the time of Jesus, it was used as a picture of the place of punishment or destruction.

Most of the NT references to ‘gehenna’ (11 out of 12) are from Jesus – the only exception is James 3:6 which uses ‘hell’ as a synonym for ‘evil’ and says nothing of punishment. Paul doesn’t use the word at all. So we must consider what Jesus meant by the word.

The word is presumably used by Jesus in a non-literal way, as no-one thinks he was suggesting that people were in danger of being punished by God in the physical valley.

‘Gehenna’ was in common usage in Jewish thought by the time of Jesus, and (according to the IVF Bible Dictionary) was used with three slightly different meanings:

  • a place of everlasting punishment for some sinners;
  • a place where the wicked were destroyed; and
  • a place where the wicked were purged of their sin before eventual reconciliation with God.

We cannot know directly which meaning(s) Jesus had in mind, but have to judge by what he says. Let us examine the arguments for each.

Everlasting punishment

This has been the most common belief among christians for most of the history of christianity. It is based on a literal interpretation of the words ‘eternal fire’ and ‘eternal punishment’ in Matthew 25:41, 46, and several verses in Revelation, for example 14:9-11: ‘tormented … for ever and ever’. Thus the two key points are consciousness of punishment and unending duration.

It is worth noting that in none of the 10 occasions that Jesus mentions the threat of ‘gehenna’ does he infer that it is everlasting, and in several he suggests otherwise. Thus while the idea of judgment is fundamental to Jesus’ teaching, the idea that punishment endures forever can be inferred from only one or two sayings, and, as we shall see, is not the most obvious meaning even there.

The images of ‘unquenchable fire’ (Matthew 9:43 – Greek: asbestos) are also used to support this view, although it is recognised that “the primary thought of asbestos is not one of duration … but … absolute immutability.” (RA Cole).

Proponents also refer to the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-37), where the rich man, alive and in torment has a conversation with Abraham in heaven, a picture based on a contemporary Jewish belief that there were two sections in Sheol (the state of death) – one for the righteous and one for the wicked. However no-one takes the possibility of such a conversation literally, so it is difficult to apply other parts of the parable literally either.

Critics of this belief say (a) it is cruel and unjust, (b) it is wrongly based on the Greek idea that the soul is immortal (a view not taught in the Bible) and therefore there is no alternative for unrepentant people, (c) it is based on very few passages, most of which should be interpreted differently, and (d) it ignores other contrary passages.

However proponents such as Professor AW Gomes say: “The language is unambiguous, emphatic, and conclusive …. sufficient to settle the argument forever.”

The end of life

This has been a minority belief through the history of christianity, but is gaining ground in the past few decades (e.g. prominent christians such as John Stott and Michael Green endorsed it). It agrees with the traditional view that those who don’t repent will be judged, but believes that the judgment is the end of life.

Support for this view comes from the following considerations:

  • When Jesus speaks of ‘eternal punishent’, the words do not mean the punishment endures forever as we might think. The Greek word aionios (from aion = ‘age’), translated as ‘eternal’, does not mean ‘forever’ but ‘in the age to come’. Even proponents of the traditional view agree on this (e.g. JI Packer: “‘eternal’ (aionios) in the New Testament means “belonging to the age to come” rather than expressing any directly chronological notion”) however they argue that if the age to come continues forever, then so must the punishment – an argument that seems quite unconvincing to me.
  • Jesus speaks not of unending torment but of ‘destruction’. When in Matthew 10:28 he warns of the one who can kill or destroy body and soul in hell, the Greek word used, apollumi, has the primary meaning ‘to destroy fully’ (Strong’s Concordance), and the Bible dictionaries give the following range of meanings: destroy, abolish, ruin, lose, perish, kill. Furthermore, the word ‘destroy’ is used in at least 8 other places in the NT in this context. However critics argue that despite these definitions, apollumi in the NT means ‘ruin’ rather than ‘annihilation’, though I find this argument hard to sustain when I look at the passages (see References below).
  • The Bible nowhere speaks of souls being eternal, but rather says humans will ‘return to the dust’ except if we are resurrected to new life.

Commenting on Matthew 25:41 & 46 in his Tyndale Commentary on Matthew, Professor RVG Tasker sums up this view: “aionios is a qualitative rather than a quantitative word. Eternal life is the life characteristic of the age (aion) to come, which is in every way superior to the present, evil age. Similarly, ‘eternal punishment’ in this context indicates that lack of charity and of loving-kindness, though it may escape punishment in the present age, must and will be punished in the age to come. There is, however, no indication as to how long that punishment will last. The metaphor of ‘eternal fire’ wrongly rendered everlasting fire in verse 41 is meant, we may reasonably presume, to indicate final destruction.”


Universalism holds that, in the end, all will be saved because of God’s great love for us. The view has been a minority view in christianity from the early days (Origen and Clement believed this) and is growing in popularity today.

The view seems to be contradicted by both logic (will everyone respond to God’s love?) and by the sayings of Jesus discussed above, but proponents point to passages like 1 Corinthians 15:22 “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”, of which there are several in the NT. But critics say these passages must mean something less than is claimed.

What may we conclude?

After surveying the evidence, I am drawn to the following conclusions:

  1. Whatever view we hold, the picture is not crystal clear, and we would do well to hold our view with humility rather than unjustified certainty.
  2. The traditional view (unending punishment) may initially seem strong, but it is based on surprisingly few unambiguous passages. It rests most strongly on a few verses in the highly symbolic book of Revelation. It appears to be unjust (do finite sins deserve infinite punishment?), and is often only sustained by appeals to not think we can know more than God (when in fact the question is knowing what God says).
  3. Universalism is attractive (we should all desperately want everyone to be saved), but seems to lack both Biblical support and common sense.
  4. The middle view, often called ‘conditional immortality’ seems to me to make most sense of the Biblical evidence, and is also more realistic than universalism and more compassionate than the traditional view.
  5. No view is entirely satisfactory as each has passages that appear to support it and others which appear to oppose it. But the conditional immortality view seems to explain more and require less of a stretch when considering difficult passages.
  6. We should be careful how we discuss our views, and proponents of the traditional view need to be very careful they do not appear vindictive.

A final view?

I am therefore drawn to the view that Jesus used the images and thought forms of his day to make it clear that judgment would indeed come to those who deserve it, unless we/they seek his grace. That is an immutable fact (that is the meaning of the ‘unquenchable fire’). We are mortal, and our life ‘should’ end at death, but the grace of God is that those who seek him will receive resurrection into a new, eternal, life. The images of the ‘lake of fire’ and the ‘smoke of their torment’ in Revelation are disturbing, but they are symbolic, and interpreting them literally creates problems (e.g. death is thrown into the lake of fire, suggesting a final end).

But God is merciful, and holds out forgiveness for all who will receive it. It is notable, as RA Cole observes, that Jesus only spoke of hell to his followers or to the religious leaders, but offered forgiveness and the hope of heaven to acknowledged ‘sinners’. We could well follow his example.

It is said that this view removes the incentive for people to believe. I believe quite the opposite is true:

  • God is a God of love, and does not wish to scare anyone into his kingdom. Rather he offers it lovingly to all, and seeks to woo us.
  • The traditional doctrine of hell is a barrier to many people who believe it is unjust as well as unloving.


Bible verses which mention gehenna: Matthew 5:22,29,30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15,33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6.

NT verses which mention ‘destruction’: Matthew 10:28; John 3:16; Romans 6:23; James 4:12; Philippians 3:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Hebrews 10:39; Revelation 20:14.

Key verses to consider: Matthew 10:28, 25:41,46; Mark 9:43-47; Luke 12:5, 16:23; Revelation 14:9-11, 20:10.

Websites presenting the traditional view: JI Packer, AW Gomes, Christian Courier.

Websites presenting the conditional immortality or ‘annihilationist’ view: Christ Victor Ministries, Jewish not Greek, Theopedia.

Website presenting the universalist view: The Christian Universalist Association, Eric Stetson.

Wikipedia on Gehenna, Annihilationism.


51 thoughts on “Hell – what does the Bible say?

  1. Anthony Atkinson says:

    I am starting to read some on the aion issue and I am beginning to be a little if not completely convinced that understanding it as eternal is somewhat of an ambiguous meaning in the process of translation. I don’t really know but if the authors of New Testament wanted to convey a sense of eternal never ending punishment it seems to me that that perhaps using aion and its derivatives as they did, would also work just as well for meaning that. Especially if early Christians using Greek scrolls understood it that way. I’m not sure if anyone has written on that. All I know is there is a traditional view of Hell and if it is wrong it would be helpful to know how and why they got on the wrong track. I am beginning to look at Christianity in a new way. Not only are things like the Trinity beyond a rational understanding but many other matters that one would think should have a clear cut answer seem to be vailed by a semantics problem or lack of clarity. Devout people have come up with such divergent views over the ages and that both troubles and disturbs me. If Christians are supposed to give reasons for there hope but some things are so cloudy, it puts them in a difficult position. It creates the very atmosphere where wrong doctrines can so easily be created because people can and have rationalized / justified any number of things based on scripture. I feel I have more to say, that so many doors in my mind are opening that I hardly know where to begin. I just wanted to add these thoughts for now. I can see that opening the Hell door has led to so many others that I know I will need to continue to think on these things.


  2. unkleE says:

    Hi Anthony, I think it is good that you are thinking deeply about this. Doubt and questions can be the gateway to new understandings. My understanding of eternal etc came from a Professor of Greek, quoted in the post, and it certainly was a revelation and help to me.

    I think we can approach the Bible in several different ways. The more traditional evangelical way is to assume it is a recipe book for life and belief spoken out by God and written down faithfully by the writers who were effectively scribes. Then if it fails to fit that expectation (because it is unclear or contains apparent mistakes) then faith can be lost.

    But I think those “problems” with the evangelical view should rather be a sign that the view was wrong, not the Bible. I think the evidence indicates that God inspired the Bible in a more subtle way, because God is working on earth in a way that doesn’t destroy our autonomy and freedom. But the cost of that great gift of freedom is that we get more things wrong, and we struggle more. That is indeed worrisome, but if God is OK with that, then I feel I have to be as well.

    I think it is really exciting to see you write “so many doors in my mind are opening that I hardly know where to begin. I just wanted to add these thoughts for now. I can see that opening the Hell door has led to so many others that I know I will need to continue to think on these things.” I would be very interested to discuss more with you about some of these things. If you are interested, please feel free to use the email link at the top.

    Thanks, Eric


  3. pskinforte says:

    Hello again. I am sorry for the long delays between things I post. I’m thinking on these thoughts, though.

    I’m getting back to your response to my question on how you present the gospel. I and my husband read it and appreciated it. I still have many questions though. Here are 2.
    1. I understand the positive kind message to the regular people. But, those people were mostly Jews, if I’m not mistaken. They had some understanding of God and sin. I would imagine the Sermon on the Mount was given to people who already had some fear/respect for God already, yet they were oppressed. I understand, too, about the Pharisees and Sadducees. They certainly had a boast in God, but what an indictment when Jesus says in Matt 22:3, “Therefore do whatever they tell you and observe [it]. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach.”

    I just wonder if solely using Jesus’ model is accurate when we are preaching the Gospel to Gentiles. In America, we have some very secular Gentiles at that. So, perhaps, the take away I have is to really try to evaluate who I’m talking to.

    Even speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, though her life was immoral, she had somewhat of a knowledge and somewhat of a respect for the things of God.

    I don’t know. I guess my question would be, what are your thoughts on that line of thinking?

    2. This is the one that is just not sitting well with me. You mentioned you prefer not to use the old fashioned “wrath” type language. But, if that is how the apostles shared the Good News, I want to be very careful to not minimize that. I have been open to other arguments than the traditional hell, but I don’t think it wise to dismiss a coming judgment.

    Here are some….
    Rom 2:5, “But because of your hardness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed”

    Rom 5:9 Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath.

    Eph 5:6, Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for because of these things God’s wrath is coming on the disobedient.

    Col 3:6 Because of these, God’s wrath comes on the disobedient

    I Thess 1:10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead-Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

    This one seems clear to me as Paul preached to Gentiles. What did he talk about? Acts 24:25 Now as he spoke about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became afraid and replied, “Leave for now, but when I find time I’ll call for you.”

    Some other verses….
    Rom 14:10 But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God

    Hebrews 6:2 teaching about ritual washings, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

    In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, I think Christian becomes a Christian from hearing the message, “Flee from the wrath to come.”

    I did not grow up in a Bible believing home, but at 13 I heard I, even then, wondered what the purpose of life was. I had some emotional holes because my dad was pretty emotionally absent and my mother worked a lot, but what I heard the Luke 18 parable of the Pharisee and publican, God opened my eyes and I saw that Jesus was the answer! It wasn’t that I was afraid of hell because at that age, I really didn’t think much of dying. It was that “God be merciful to me a sinner” was what my heart was hungry for. My sister, only a year older, heard that if you don’t want to go to hell when you die, ask Jesus to save you and He will. She did, and has not questioned that at all. We are in our early 50s now. I, on the other hand, have had doubts and questions at various times in my life. I have read people who have de-converted and have been plagued by “what if they’re right.” But the Lord always restores me. I have investigated various Christian apologetics ministries (William Lane Craig and Ravi Zacharias, for example) and heard many testimonies that have helped calm my fears.

    But I think this hell discussion is interesting and very important. At least for me to try to clearly present an accurate gospel to people who don’t know the Lord.

    Thank you for having this forum for discussion. I will read any responses, but might not respond myself for a while! I’m slow in my processing.
    God bless.


  4. unklee says:

    Hi, I’ve a little more time now.

    1. I think you are onto something here. Many years ago (about 45 actually) I heard a minister discuss why Jesus seemed to have a different approach in his teaching to Paul. I think there are many possible reasons for this, but he suggested one which has stuck with me.

    He said that Paul was speaking to a pagan culture that had no monotheism to speak of and pretty lax morality. They needed to hear a message and many were willing to hear it because it was new. So plain speaking of the basic story of Jesus, especially his death and resurrection, was required, and Paul gave it to them. But even then, his approach was tailored to his audience – speaking to Jews he built off the Old Testament, speaking to philosophical Greeks, he built off Greek philosophy and poetry, and speaking to kings and Roman authorities he told his own story.

    But Jesus was speaking into a religious culture that had know of God for centuries, was full of religion (the Pharisees had invented numerous rules to supplement the Law) and the people were burdened down with poverty, Roman occupation and all these laws. They had heard it all before. So he spoke indirectly, he used parables, he appealed to people’s hearts and offered them hope more than doctrine. But to the religious authorities, he argued in Jewish rabbinical style.

    I think all this shows us that there’s many ways to share the good news about Jesus, not just one like many of our western evangelical churches have limited it. We should choose under the guidance of the Holy Spirit which approach to use. But it seems likely to me that our culture is more like the religious burdened heard-it-all-before society that Jesus spoke into.

    2. I said in an earlier comment that in the NT, “wrath” doesn’t quite have the meaning it has for us today but: “the emotional response to perceived wrong and injustice” (Holman Bible Dictionary) or “displeasure, indignation, anger, wrath” (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. So the sense is more of “putting right” than “punishment”.

    I think there is no doubt that we all come under the judgment of God, both now and in the age to come, but I feel (not very certainly) that we have misunderstood this term a little too. Judgment can mean “punishment”, but can also mean “discernment”. In the end, if there is life in the age to come as christians (including me) believe, either everyone receives this gift of life, or only some do. Since I believe God respects our choices, I think some won’t receive it because they don’t want to know God, but others will receive it.

    But how does God decide? He must decide perfectly and he must decide lovingly, and that decision is his judgment on us. The Bible portrays God as being angry about things, and Jesus being angry in the temple, but we know that behind that anger is love – the Bible says “God is love” but it never says “God is anger”. So I think that if God judges that some don’t choose eternal life, I think he will make that choice with tears, just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem.

    That is how I see it, but doubtless much of that is uncertain. Thanks again for your comment. What do you think?


  5. wesley says:

    Great post. Especially the concluding remarks. I am sure if most people spent time studying the topic annihilation would be far more popular a position and accepted.


  6. unkleE says:

    Thanks. I think many christians fear that they need to keep to the traditional doctrine, otherwise people are not being warned. But I think the traditional doctrine makes it harder for people to believe in a loving God.


  7. Tad Davis says:

    A very nice concise and balanced treatment. However I’d want to push back against your stance that Universalism’s central claims are contradicted by logic and common sense.

    It’s not clear to me which principles of logic have been transgressed. As for contradicting common sense, this position might be problematic given a strong Libertarian view of human agency. However on a less robust libertarian or view of agency, or some form of compatabilism, it isn’t difficult to see how Universalism’s claim would work: in the end, the beatific vision of God’s immeasurable love and beauty is efficacious in dispelling any existing false beliefs, base desires or negative emotions that hinder us from receiving his call to repentance and reconciliation. Irresistible grace for everyone.

    Of course some form of temporary suffering of the soul, to purge it of its false loves may be an appropriate intermediary step between the transition from this earthly life to the hereafter. Purgatory if you like. Such a doctrine can go some distance toward making sense of those passages about judgment. True, this doctrine goes beyond strictly biblical theology, but one might think of it as tenant of philosophical philosophy aimed at enabling us to make coherent sense of various biblical passages (i.e. which seem to assert that God’s love fully encompasses all of his creatures, that His son’s salvific work is for everyone, and yet that some individuals will undergo judgment).


  8. unkleE says:

    Hi Tad, thanks for your comment and for your occasional “likes” going back a way.

    When I first wrote this, I don’t think I knew any universalists, nor was I coming across them on the web unless I looked for them. But that has certainly changed, and I have friends who are universalists, or tending that way, and I regularly read blogs by universalists. So I certainly have a lot of sympathy for that view, and for what you say here. And I certainly wish it was true, or hope it is true.

    But my feeling is still that the preponderance of Biblical teaching still favours the fact that not everyone will be willing to submit to God, and reason still suggests that (1) if God gave us choice, it is inconsistent to over-ride it, and (2) if God didn’t give us choice after all, then why bother creating this world, why not just create us perfect and in heaven?

    But I am happy to hear the alternate view, as you have expressed it, and to keep on considering. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Tad Davis says:

    Thanks for your prompt and thoughtful reply Eric. I’ve enjoyed following your blog over the past couple of years. You have a rare talent for distilling quite a lot of material down into concise and approachable pithy summaries. Also I’ve found your treatment of the topics you cover to be even-handed and your conclusions reasonable.

    So on the point about the preponderance of biblical data, I don’t deny that there certainly are several passages that seem to teach that not all will submit to God. However a couple of points:

    (a) as your own research has shown, this is one of those doctrines for which there just isn’t all that much biblical data to go on. Furthermore, again as you point out, what biblical data as exists is often figurative, and the language some of it is couched in has more than one viable sense. So really, we are dealing with tentative data at best.

    (b) as is sometimes the case this may be one of those situations in which there are a diversity of points of view within scripture about a given topic (consider for example some of the other passages you allude to which seam to indicate that Christ’s salvific work is for all). Alternatively one might think that the NT writers did hold a more or less unified view of the final judgment and the appearance of variance in their writings on the matter has some other explanation (e.g. imprecision in the exposition, or situational features which prompted different authors, or the same author at different times, to emphasize different points to different audiences). Either way, the “appearance” of diversity of teachings here creates conceptual space for differing theological positions each of which can legitimately claim to have a biblical basis.

    Regarding your second point, ah, I see now where you take the inconsistency to lie. OK let’s tackle that first horn of the dilemma:

    1. If God gave us a capacity for free choice (whatever that happens to be) and then systematically undercuts each and every one of our choices then yes, it is quite clear that this would be undermining the very point of giving us such a capacity in the first place. That said I don’t think if follows that “any” instance of God undercutting a free choice of ours thus counts as undermining the intention behind the capacity.

    It seems reasonable to suppose that God may on occasion has good reasons for either restraining or guiding our choices that supersede whatever reasons he has for allowing our choices to go unchecked. This seems particularly compelling when we consider that God is likened to a supremely wise and loving heavenly father who has his children’s best interests at heart. As any good parent knows there are just some choices one does not allow their child to make (e.g. you don’t hand them a loaded gun and say “I wouldn’t recommend playing with this but hey, that’s up to you”). Sometimes you have to intervene to prevent your child from harming herself, or somebody else. If we think nothing is amiss in mundane cases like this, why should divine restraint pose any more of a threat?

    As a matter of fact off-hand I can think of a handful of occasions in which we are told that God does in fact constrain the will of his children in just such a manner. Take Jonah for example. God had to drag him kicking and screaming to Nineveh in the belly of large sea creature.

    It just doesn’t seem plausible to me that whatever goods God might hope to achieve by abstaining from interfering with human choices overrides the importance of preventing his children from utterly destroying themselves.

    2. Thus far we’ve been speaking of God’s influence over human choices as if it were a sort of interference with those choices. However this need not be the case. Depending on one’s view of human agency (and as you probably know there are quite a few views on offer) God’s influence over our will might actually serve to enhance or enable our faculties for choice, rather than to constrain them. If for, instance, we follow Thomas Aquinas in thinking of the will as a sort of rational appetite which of necessity aims at certain general ends, the most basic of which is “goodness”, then it becomes clear that divine influence serves to aid the will in achieving its ends.

    In case you are unfamiliar with Aquinas’s view, here’s the oversimplified and un-nuanced version. According to Thomas we are creatures with certain natural ends or goals that are not of our choosing. All of our activity is goal directed in the sense that it is aimed at achieving either these ends, or subsidiary ends which together are constitutive of our final end. The most general of these ends is “goodness” (i.e. ultimately we direct our activity toward ends that we consider to be “good” under some description). Choices are made regarding what are considered to be the best means of satisfying these ends. On the Thomistic view once the soul truly grasps its final end (and the means whereby to attain it), it cannot do other than to pursue that end. Yet cognitively limited appetitive creatures that we are, we are bound to make mistakes about such matters. We might for instance err about what in fact are the best means of satisfying our ends, or we might misconceive of what ultimate “goodness” actually consists in. All too often the immediacy of our appetitive urges clouds our judgment. Thus, while we pursue courses of action we believe to be “good’ under some description or other, they may not (and in fact rarely do) actually satisfy our actual ends.

    OK, so granted that picture of the will, were God to come to our aid to enable us to accurately conceive of our ends and how to satisfy them his doing so would count as an empowering rather than a disabling act upon our will. And what is our final end if not everlasting communion with God? So the thomistic view provides a theoretical framework that allows for the sort of non-coercive “irresistible grace” I mentioned earlier.

    So in sum, I think there are ways around the first horn of the dilemma you suggest.


  10. unkleE says:

    Hi Tad, thanks for your kind comments. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss with you.

    1. I agree with you that we are dealing with uncertainty, with matters that are are sometimes written in symbolic or non-literal language. So I am certainly not dogmatic about this, as I have said on this page. So I agree with your statement: “the “appearance” of diversity of teachings here creates conceptual space for differing theological positions each of which can legitimately claim to have a biblical basis”.

    2. You say some passages suggest “Christ’s salvific work is for all”. I agree with that (I think the contrary view, expressed in doctrines like limited atonement, is quite wrong and not taught in scripture). But that could mean it is available for all, or that it actually benefits all with saving all (like the rain falls on the just and the unjust).

    3. You address this matter: “If God gave us a capacity for free choice (whatever that happens to be) and then systematically undercuts each and every one of our choices then yes, it is quite clear that this would be undermining the very point of giving us such a capacity in the first place. “ But my point was a little different. I have no problem that God may sometimes constrain our choices. My difficulty is why create this physical universe with all the suffering and evil that results, most of it because of bad human choices, and then over-ride those choices or prevent them being carried through at the end? If everyone is going to be “saved” and we just have to wait in purgatory long enough to give in to God, then why not just start from that point?

    I’m not saying that is an unanswerable point, only that it helps tip the scale (for me) to the other side.


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