David Hume died in his native Edinburgh, Scotland, two hundred years ago this month. His writings, like those of Kant, are a watershed in the history of philosophical theology. The bicentenary of his death offers an occasion for taking another look at some of his views.

Hume’s ideas on religion are found primarily in the last three sections of his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (Section X being his famous essay on miracles), several shorter essays on such subjects as the natural history of religion, suicide, and immortality, and his classic Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Hume acceded to the urging of several friends (including some clergymen) that he have publication of the Dialogues delayed until after his death. They contain a profound and influential analysis of the empirical arguments for God’s existence, especially the argument from design.

Much of the notoriety Christians usually associate with Hume’s name results from a less than careful reading of his works. Hume is commonly believed to have attacked the foundations of Christianity, such as the existence of God, personal survival after death, and miracles. While it is true that his personal beliefs about many of the doctrines of orthodoxy were anything but reflective of the Calvinism that surrounded him in his early youth, what Hume intended in his writings is often quite removed from what his interpreters have thought.

Hume’s writings on religion cover more topics than can be surveyed in one short essay. One can easily find competent discussions of his views about the theistic arguments, miracles, and survival after death. My conviction is that Hume’s major threat to Christianity today comes not from the theories for which he gained notoriety but rather from his espousal of a notion that has, in fact, become widely held in Christendom. For two hundred years, Christians have fussed and fumed over Hume’s arguments on such topics as miracles. In these debates Christian theism has more than held its own. But while Hume was not triumphant in the areas where Christians have been most concerned, he has apparently won in an area that may be the pivotal one facing Christianity today. Before I identify that view (which, more for alliteration than for disparagement, I’ll call “Hume’s Heresy”), we need to look at some background material.


There are three common misconceptions about Hume’s philosophy. The first: Hume denied the reality of causal relations; that is, he denied that there is ever a necessary connection between that prior event we call a cause and the subsequent event we call its effect. Misconception two: Hume rejected the existence of what philosophers call “the external world”; that is, he doubted the existence of the real world, the world outside his mind. It is claimed that he was a solipsist and a skeptic. Misconception three: Hume doubted the existence of what philosophers call the self that is, the real I, the basis of my identity through time. These claims (which make up “the philosophical package”) are all false. But what led to their promulgation has a bearing on a key doctrine of Hume and through that doctrine is linked to Hume’s Heresy.

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The philosophical package came to be attributed to Hume because of the writings of two of his fellow Scotsmen, Thomas Reid and James Beattie, who became famous for their defense of common sense against the supposed skepticism of Hume. They believed that Hume was simply borrowing certain premises from the empiricism of two earlier British philosophers, John Locke and George Berkeley, and extending those premises to their logical but bitter end, namely, total skepticism about God, the world, and the self.

But Hume’s entire enterprise was quite different from what Reid and Beattie envisaged. According to Hume, men hold to a number of pivotal beliefs, around which most other beliefs, individual actions, and social institutions turn. These pivotal beliefs include the reality of causal relations (that some things can and do cause changes in other things), the reality of the external world (that the existence of the world does not depend upon its being perceived by any human being and that it continues to exist even when it is not being observed), and the reality of the knowing self. It would be fundamentally foolish to doubt these beliefs. But what concerned Hume was how men come to know them. In a brilliant analysis (to say it was brilliant is not to suggest agreement) too long and complex to reproduce here, Hume showed that neither reason nor experience is sufficient to bring man to a knowledge of these matters. But there simply is no other way for man to know them. Therefore, if man cannot know these things by reason and experience, he cannot know them.

It was at this point that Reid and Beattie made one of their mistakes. They jumped to the conclusion that Hume was actually denying these pivotal beliefs. That is wrong. Hume was denying that there is any sense in which men can be said to know these things. But this is not to say that men should doubt them. That would be the height of folly. Obviously, we must continue to believe them. The consequences of not believing are too absurd to contemplate. And no one has to force or persuade us to believe them; believing them is the natural thing to do. With this last observation we begin to approach Hume’s basic point. Hume tried to show that most of our pivotal beliefs about reality are matters that our reason is powerless to prove or support.

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Hume was really doing two things. First, he was attacking the supremacy of human reason, one of the cardinal tenets of the Enlightenment, by seeking to show that human reason has definite limits. Whenever men attempt to extend reason beyond its limits, they become involved in absurdities and contradictions and become prone to the disease of skepticism. Philosophers have been entirely too optimistic in assessing the claims of human reason. Most of the important things we think we know are not known at all. That is, they have not been arrived at on the basis of reasoning; they are not supported by experience. Hume’s second point is that these pivotal beliefs rest on something other than reason and experience, namely, on instinct, habit, custom. Some non-rational force within men compels them to accept these pivotal beliefs. In his writings on ethics, Hume also tried to argue that man’s moral judgments rest not on reason but on man’s non-rational nature. In ethics, as in metaphysics and religion, man’s reason is and ought to be the slave of his passions, that is, his non-rational nature.

Well, what does all this have to do with theology? Where is the “heresy”?

Hume is claiming that man simply cannot have knowledge about the transcendent. This axiom was the foundation of Hume’s Heresy.

If Hume was a skeptic, he was not one in James Beattie’s sense; he did not doubt the existence of the world. As Hume saw it, this kind of skepticism is absurd because it contradicts common sense and violates our natural instincts to believe in certain propositions against all reasoning. Nature, instinct, and common sense all lead us to believe in an external world. We should ignore the arguments of the rationalists and trust our instincts. According to Hume, men ought to limit their investigations to those areas where knowledge is possible, such as mathematics, and avoid speculative knowledge-claims about certain topics in metaphysics, epistemology, theology, and ethics. These matters should be accepted on the basis of faith, not knowledge.

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Hume’s religious views are, for the most part, an extension of the position just discussed. But there are some blatant distortions of his religious position that should be noted. It is sometimes thought that Hume was an atheist, that he attempted to prove God does not exist, and that he argued that miracles are impossible. To be sure, Hume was not a Christian in the New Testament sense. He did not believe in miracles (which is, however, something quite different from trying to prove them impossible). He did not personally believe in special revelation or immortality or religious duties like prayer. But he was not an atheist; he did not attempt to prove that God does not exist. And he certainly never argued that miracles are impossible.

Hume believed in the existence of a divine mind that was in some unknown way responsible for the order of the universe (see Section XII of the Dialogues). He was shocked and amused by the dogmatic atheism of the French philosophes. Their mistake was the same as that of the orthodox Calvinists: they thought they could obtain knowledge about the transcendent.

It would have been inconsistent for Hume to attempt to disprove God’s existence. His point was that men cannot have any knowledge about God. But it is entirely natural for them to have faith that God exists. In fact, the same nature that compels men to hold the pivotal beliefs mentioned earlier leads them to believe in the existence of God.

But nature does not compel us to go beyond this basic belief in God’s existence and accept the theological claims that orthodoxy insists on adding. Those claims must be rejected because they go beyond the limits of human reason. When Christians claim that reason can prove the existence of God from certain features of the world, or that reason can infer many of the divine attributes from features of the world, and that the Christian religion (or any religion, for that matter) is supported by miraculous events, these claims exceed the bounds of human reason and must be rejected. Also to be rejected are the many assertions that Christians make about God in their creeds, items allegedly derived from special revelation.

Therefore, Hume’s goal in his discussions of religion was the same as his objective in philosophy: he wished to show that reason is powerless to convert us to the claims of faith. “To be a philosophical skeptic is,” he wrote, “the first and most essential step towards being a sound, believing Christian.…” Hume’s own preference seems to have been for a non-rational faith in a god unsupported by reason, revelation, miracles, or evidence. Like Kant, Hume was engaged in denying knowledge in order to make room for faith. To both Hume and Kant, knowledge and faith have nothing in common. The spurious arrogance of rational religion must be destroyed so that faith (a non-rational faith, that is) can assume its proper place as the only legitimate ground of religion.

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With this background, we can now turn to the matter of Hume’s Heresy. Hume’s Heresy is the rejection of the possibility of a rational knowledge of God and objective religious truth. Hume grounded man’s belief in God in man’s non-rational nature. He is a precursor of those philosophers and theologians who insist that religious faith must be divorced from knowledge and who say we cannot have knowledge about God, mistakenly assuming that this approach will in some way enhance faith.

Historic Christianity has affirmed both (1) an intelligible revelation from God and (2) man’s divinely given ability to know the transcendent through true propositions. Carl F. H. Henry, however, observed more than ten years ago, “Almost everywhere in non-evangelical Protestant theology today, there lurks the destructive notion … that man can have no cognitive knowledge of transcendent Being, no rational knowledge of the supernatural world.” Henry has continued to call on evangelical theology to resist “this needless relinquishment of cognitive knowledge of the spiritual world.”

The last two centuries of Christian theology are the record of an evolving attack on the place of knowledge in Christianity. Following Hume and Kant, liberal theologians rejected the truth content of Christianity and asserted that the essence of faith is feeling or trust or obedience. Neo-orthodoxy, too, rejected objective, rational revelation and replaced God’s disclosure of propositional truth with personal encounter.

By the time Paul Tillich expressed his version of Hume’s Heresy, what was left was a “religion” that was neither objective, rational, miraculous, supernatural, nor even personal. About the only thing non-evangelical thinkers can agree about is that God has not spoken. Neo-orthodoxy is not really an exception, because of its denial of cognitive revelation. The contemporary eclipse of God can be seen in Sartre’s “silence of God,” in Heidegger’s “absence of God,” in Jasper’s “conceal-ment of God,” in Bultmann’s “hiddenness of God,” in Tillich’s “non-being of God,” and finally in radical theology’s assertion of “the death of God.” St. Paul’s sermon to the philosophers on Mars Hill (Acts 17) concerning man’s worship of the Unknown God is all too relevant to the contemporary theological scene. Non-evangelical theology since Hume and Kant is a chronicle of futile attempts to retain respectability for religious faith while denying religion any right to revealed truth.

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While contemporary non-evangelicals have, to quote Carl Henry once more, “virtually reduced faith to courageous ignorance,” evangelicals have hardly been faithful in defending God’s objective communication of truth. Hume’s Heresy has infected orthodoxy to the extent that if evangelicals are not de-emphasizing the cognitive dimension of revelation, they are successfully ignoring it.

The new anti-intellectualism that threatens evangelicalism is evidenced by its disregard for the revealed truth of God and its effort to substitute other concerns for that truth. Christian anti-intellectualism may be manifested in a variety of ways: in a contempt for creeds, in a search for God through the emotions, in a dependence upon some kind of mystical experience. Hume would be comfortable in many of our churches today, for he would not hear the truth of God proclaimed and defended. He would hear stories and testimonies about religious experiences that appeal to the emotions. Hume could teach in most theological seminaries (including some that call themselves evangelical). He would find acceptance among the twentieth-century Kierkegaardians who hold that the quotient of faith increases as its rational content decreases.

The most obvious consequence of Hume’s Heresy is a minimal theism. Once Hume’s stance is adopted, New Testament Christianity, with its proclamation of a divine Christ whose death and resurrection secured redemption from sin and gave man hope beyond the grave, must be replaced with a religion that talks about how good it feels to have an experience with a god about whom nothing definite can be known.

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The threat to Christianity today from the legacy of David Hume is not a full-fledged frontal assault upon Christian theism, with all the troops advancing in full light of day. That kind of attack would fail because it would arouse Christians to a rational defense of their faith. David Hume's legacy is more insidious. This time around, the enemy comes while everyone is asleep. He undermines the faith not by denying it but by directing our attention away from the importance of its knowledge-claims and its truth-content.

Ronald H. Nash is head of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, where he also directs graduate studies in philosophy, religion, and humanities. His Ph.D. is from Syracuse. His books include "Ideas of History."

Putting Hell In Its Place

What is the final destiny of the wicked? For many of us, the answer is simple and quick: “They go to hell.” And, indeed, that response rests on good authority, no less than that of the Lord Jesus himself. Yet I suspect, on reading through the New Testament, that the specific figure of “hell” may have crowded out other equally worthy figures.

We would be ill advised to neglect any subject that found place in the teaching of our Lord, and “hell” is one that did. But we need to guard against putting words in his mouth, and against reading into scriptural terms unscriptural meanings.

Much popular literature on hell both falls short of and goes beyond the clear teaching of Scripture. It falls short by neglecting a variety of other New Testament language regarding the eternal destiny of the lost. It goes beyond by injecting literalistic imagery based more on Dante’s Inferno than on the carefully exegeted Word of God.

The earliest creeds did not mention the punishment of the wicked. The so-called Apostles’ Creed speaks of “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” but that is, all it says about eschatology. The Nicene Creed affirms that Jesus Christ “shall come again, with glory, to judge the living and the dead,” and expresses anticipation of “the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” The Athanasian Creed goes a bit further concerning the punishment of the wicked, but limits itself to the simplest language. When Christ returns, it says, “all men shall rise again with their bodies; and shall give account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.”

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Just how far from this unadorned and unimaginative language popular religion can go is illustrated in this vivid passage from a sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon:

“There is a real fire in hell, as truly as you have a real body—a fire exactly like that which we have on this earth, except this: that it will not consume though it will torture you. You have seen asbestos lying amid red hot coals, but not consumed. So your body will be prepared by God in such a way that it will burn forever without being consumed. With your nerves laid raw by the searing flame, yet never desensitized for all its raging fury, and the acrid smoke of the sulphurous fumes searing your lungs and choking your breath, you will cry out for the mercy of death, but it shall never, never, no never, give you surcease.”

Or take these lines from a hymn of Isaac Watts:

What bliss will fill the ransomed souls

When they in glory dwell,

To see the sinner as he rolls

In quenchless flames of hell.

But enough of that; let us look to the Scriptures.

“Hell” (Greek gehenna, from the Hebrewge-hinnom, “valley of Hinnom”) appears just twelve times in the New Testament and never in the Septuagint. Of the twelve New Testament occurrences, one does not speak of the end of the wicked (James 3:6). Of the other eleven, seven are in Matthew’s Gospel and four are in Mark or Luke, in passages that parallel Matthew. Not one of these uses the word to contrast the fate of the wicked with that of the righteous. “Hell,” or more properly “Gehenna,” is a Jewish term. It is absent from John’s Gospel, the Acts of Apostles, all the epistles of Peter, Paul, John, and Jude, and the Apocalypse, and for Gentiles it would have had no meaning in familiar experience.

What, then, does the term signify? What did it mean to those who heard Jesus use it? After reading material in the lexicons of Thayer and Bauer-Amdt-Gingrich, the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, and the Hastings Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels, I concluded that Joachim Jeremias expresses all that is readily known in his article on the subject in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (1:657–58). The term, he notes, was given to the Wadi er-rababi, in South Jerusalem, a site of human sacrifices to Moloch during the days of Ahaz and Manasseh (2 Chron. 28:3). Prophetic warnings of judgment on this macabre valley led to the familiar equation between the Valley of Hinnom and the “hell” of the last judgment, a correspondence that can be found as early as the intertestamental book of Enoch. This is the usage reflected in the New Testament, which, unlike other literature of the first century A.D., stops short of using “hell” for a place of punishment in the intermediate state. Nor does the New Testament give any particular descriptions of the torments of hell, as some apocalyptic literature before it did and as many Christian popularizes have since done.

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We may safely say, therefore, that when Jesus was teaching in his earthly ministry, the figure of Gehenna was the most vivid and appropriate picture he could use to warn his Jewish hearers in terms familiar to them. Gehenna was not, to their minds, a raging fire that would quickly consume all but asbestosized bodies. Rather, it was the Valley of Hinnom, a putrifying place of horrible odor and filth, a place where maggots did their needed but repugnant work, accompanied by the always smoldering garbage fires.

It is important to remember that this is not the only figure used in the New Testament, nor is it the primary one. However, this image can speak to us very powerfully. For while we need not think of a thermometer (Gehenna was not a raging fire), we must certainly be warned by the thoughts of maggots, decaying flesh, and smoldering garbage. These terms are not one whit too severe in picturing the just punishment awaiting those who now reject God’s deliverance. Nor may this impression be dismissed as antiquated and unfashionable, for it rests on the words of Jesus.

But while the figure of “hell” or “Gehenna” is true, it is not exhaustive. The problem comes in trying to use concepts appropriate to one category to express truths about an entirely different category. Jesus once encountered such a question regarding the Age to Come. Who will be the husband of the much-loved lady in the resurrection—her first husband, or one of the six who followed him? And the Lord’s answer was, None of them. The categories don’t fit, he said: “in the resurrection there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage” (Matt. 22:30).

Here is the crux of the matter, so far as language is concerned: we are trying to speak of one age or aeon in terms drawn from a qualitatively different aeon. The biblical picture presents two ages: the Present Age and the Age to Come. The Present Age is the age of “time,” from the creation of the space-time physical universe to its end at the return of Christ. The Age to Come is “eternity.”

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The problem we face may be illustrated like this: suppose a man from a two-dimensional world of length and breadth but no height should pay a visit to our three-dimensional world, and then return to his own fellows. How could he possibly describe to them what he had seen here? This illustration might be closer to the truth of our situation than we first think, especially when we remember that time is called the “fourth dimension.”

Scripture uses many pictures, many figures, many categories to impress on us the truths we need to know about the Age to Come, about future reward and punishment. Most often it expresses the nature of that which belongs to the Age to Come by using a special adjective, the Greek word aiōnios. In our common versions this word is usually translated “everlasting” or “eternal.” A better translation would probably be the transliteration “aionic,” or “new-age.” Aiōnios designates a quality of the Age to Come. And, even allowing for the great truth that the Age to Come has already begun to break into the Present Age—that this occurred with our Lord’s first advent, his cosmic victory over Satan and sin, his powerful resurrection, and his gift of the Spirit—we may still say that the Age to Come is as different from anything we now know and experience as our own world would be to the imaginary two-dimensional people suggested above. It is enough, therefore, to say of something yet to be that it is “aionic.” It is of “new-age” quality.

Most often in the New Testament, this adjective is attached to the word “life.” Forty-one times we read of “aionic” life, so that “eternal life” is in reality “new-age” life, life of a quality that cannot be adequately described in terms we now know. Scripture also uses the adjective “aionic” to describe habitations (Luke 16:9), weight of glory (2 Cor. 4:17), glory (2 Tim. 2:10; 1 Pet. 5:10), salvation (Heb. 5:9), kingdom (2 Pet. 1:11), redemption (Heb. 9:12), inheritance (Heb. 9:15), and the house not made with hands (2 Cor. 5:1). We know all those nouns, and they are rich in meaning to us, in terms of our own experience in the Present Age. God is telling us that all the good things these words suggest are in store for the righteous in the Age to Come, but of a quality altogether new, describable only by “aionic.”

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On the other hand, we read also of “aionic” destruction (2 Thess. 1:9), damnation (Mark 3:20), judgment (Heb. 6:2), and fire (Matt. 18:8; 25:41; Jude 7). Again we can identify with the nouns. But again the adjective “aionic” or “new-age” warns us not to think that our present experiences can really provide a framework for comprehending the quality of each phrase when applied to the post-judgment fate of the wicked. The term “aionic” or “new-age” must suffice. All the terrible things these nouns suggest are in store for the wicked, but the horror these words carry does not begin to exhaust the reality. That must be subsumed under the adjective “aionic.”

If this were all God said, it should be enough to terrify the wicked, reinforce the righteous, and convince those who were vacillating and weak. And if it were all God had said, it should have to suffice for our curious minds, for we can know only what he has seen fit to reveal. But God has said more on the subject, and we will do well to let allhe has said influence our thinking and our behavior.

Twelve times the New Testament presents us with comparative statements about the destiny of the righteous and the wicked. Three observations about these twelve passages are worthy of note: (1) In each, the picture is drawn in terms of a specific situation, and the words used fit that situation. (2) In each, the expressions used describe the reward or punishment in the most severe and extreme manner. (3) The various passages taken together, though they overlap at times, give us a wide variety of pictures, using many images and sources.

1. Romans 2:6–10

“God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil … but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good …” (quotations from the NIV).

On the side of the ledger marked RIGHTEOUS, put the words “glory,” “honor,” “immortality,” and “peace.” On the side marked WICKED, put the words “wrath,” “anger,” “trouble,” and “distress.” These two sets of words describe contrasting conditions in extreme terms familiar to Gentiles as well as Jews, now as well as then.

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2. Romans 6:23

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Under RIGHTEOUS re-emphasize the term “eternal” or “aionic” or “new-age” life. Under WICKED put “death.” Both “life” and “death” have meaning to us in terms of the Present Age. Some of that meaning is intended here, but it is enlarged by the attachment of the “new-age” adjective to “life.” Nevertheless, we see contrasting conditions.

3. Galatians 6:7, 8

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”

Again we see “aionic” or “new-age” life. In contrast here is “corruption.” The one extreme is healthy, wholesome life. The other is decay, corruption.

4. Philippians 1:28

[Do not be] frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.”

Here “salvation” is contrasted with “destruction.” When an angry God takes righteous and reasoned judgment, these are the two alternatives. Students of the prophetic literature of the Old Testament will recall many parallel passages there.

5. Philippians 3:19–21

“[The heretics’] destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who … will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

Again we enter “destruction” and “Savior.” But this time “salvation” is further described; it includes the transformation of our body so that it will be like His. The terminology here is distinctly Christian; it is not particularly Jewish, nor is it Hellenistic in origin.

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6. First Thessalonians 5:9

“For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Again we meet “wrath,” and again “salvation.” The destruction that usually stands opposite salvation is seen to be the expression of an offended God who is justly furious! Although it comes first to mind to say, “Therefore warn one another with these words …,” Paul speaks instead to those presumed to be faithful: “Therefore encourage each other with these words.”

7. Second Thessalonians 1:6, 7

“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.”

The righteous are here given “relief.” The wicked receive “trouble.” These Thessalonian saints had been suffering pressure of every imaginable kind from their enemies (“pressure” is the literal sense of thlipsis, here translated “trouble”). All this will change, Paul assures them. Those who have dished out the trouble will get their own dish—prepared by God himself! And those who have had little but trouble will instead be given blessed relief (the Greek word is anasis, from which comes the trade-name “Anacin”). All this is prefaced by the statement that what God does will be just and fair; we must remember this alongside the earlier statement that God’s punishment will be the product of divine wrath.

8. Second Thessalonians 1:8–10

He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day that he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.”

Again we meet “aionic” destruction. This time what is emphasized is that this punishment means being shut out from the Lord’s presence and power, and away from the fellowship of God’s holy people. By way of contrast, Jesus will then be glorified in his own people, and marveled at among the believers. A different picture from any yet, but clear within itself and sharp in contrasts.

9. Hebrews 10:39

“But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.”

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Here “salvation” is literally the acquiring of life (peripoiēsis psychas). We note in passing that this text also contrasts the recipients of these fates, presumably distinguishing between the readers. On the one hand are those who shrink back from completing their race; on the other are those who press on in constant faith.

10. James 4:12

“There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?”

Enter again the two words (the most common so far) “save” and “destroy.” And if these are the most common, they are in themselves the most colorless. Perhaps their undefined lines make them loom all the larger in our imaginations!

11. Revelation 21; 22

These chapters are generally held to describe the final fates of the righteous and the wicked—in terms familiar to the Jews and clearly drawn from the apocalyptic literature that preceded it. Here we have the “Holy City” contrasted with the “Lake of Fire.” The first is all-glorious, with God as personal shepherd, the Lamb as the light, the faithful as companions. In it are the tree and water of life, trees that bear health-giving fruit each season, gold streets and jeweled gates. There is no curse, no death, no sickness, no pain. The Lake of Fire burns with fire and sulphur; it is the second death.

All elements in both pictures are figurative, and are well known in apocalyptic literature . This is not to say they do not express the truth, however, for they do—in words full of emotive force in our own age and experience. And the Holy City includes, as has often been noted, the restoration of all that was lost with the entrance of sin into the original paradise, Eden. This picture is not, however, the definitive one, into which all other terms are to be forced. It is one of many. Each, in its own context, is complete.

12. Matthew 25:46

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

This last passage, first in canonical order, sums up in a word all that we have seen in the other eleven. Here is “punishment”—punishment that expresses both wrath and justice. There stands “life.” Both terms are rich in meaning for inhabitants of the Present Age. But both are here qualified by that same word “aionic.” Both punishment and life are of a quality belonging to the Age to Come and may be described finally only by “aionic.”

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“Hell” is one New Testament picture portraying the fate of the unsaved. But, as we have seen, it is not the only one; it is not even the primary one. Nor is it the definitive one. God’s Word is rich in illustrations and terminology describing the divine punishment of the Age to Come. All serve a useful purpose. The very variety of expression adds to our limited conception. Let us be warned—and stop where God has stopped. To do otherwise is, according to Revelation 22:18, to risk the very punishment we seek to understand.

Edward Fudge is a writer and publisher who lives in Athens, Alabama. He received the M.A. from Abilene Christian College. Among the books he has written is "Our Man in Heaven," a commentary on Hebrews.

People of Light

Thank God! for people of Light

Who are not afraid of Darkness:

People who realize that the light and love of God

Can illuminate the loneliest and darkest night,

Can shed light in the darkest cave,

Can make safe the most dangerous and precarious of paths.

People of Light: people not afraid to bear the candle,

knowing that those to whom they bear i

may well attempt to extinguish it.

Thank God! for people of Light

Who are not afraid of Darkness.

Not afraid to get their hands dirty,

Or to taint their reputations by association

with persons so disclaimed as “evil”;

Who do not attempt to kick while down—even by gossip

but rather are not afraid to be seen

lending an uplifting hand;

Who are not afraid to journey to ghetto stench

or to sweet-smelling mansion

where persons, rich, place needle in sore veins;

Not afraid to cross well-established lines of social,

racial, and financial standards,

Or to lend a helping hand to one whom everyone else had given up on;

Who are not afraid to spend hours with lonely alcoholics

even see them drink and not frown that frown of disapproval

which closes all lines of communication;

Who can listen to young and old pour out their hearts

not sadly nodding the head

at poor and indiscriminate word choice;

Not saying “I have the way of life” or “I have the Light”

But accepting that the person is living—and that the lighted have a better way of life.

Thank God! for people of Light

Who are not afraid of Darkness.

Danny Cade

Note: After his death, these lines Danny Cade had written were found, obviously still uncompleted, among letters he had gratefully received from a counselor during his time of Darkness. Cade was murdered on July 11, 1975, while he was trying to be of help to a friend in a drug-related incident. He was a 1973 graduate of Greenville College.

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