This post is on a controversial issue. I will declare from the outset that, due to my understanding of the function of the two trees in the Garden of Eden within the Adamic Covenant, I hold to the view that Hell/Hades/Sheol is an intermediate state equivalent to death row, where those who die apart from Christ consciously await judgement and execution by divine decree. My basis for this is explained in this post but readers will benefit from reviewing the background work on the Garden of Eden and the distinction between natural death and judicial death at the fall.
There are broadly three Christian views on the sentence handed to the wicked on judgement day.
The first is eternal conscious torment and physical torture. The resurrected bodies of the damned are thrown into a lake of fire (Rev 20:14) where their bodies are not destroyed but tortured by fire and worms (Isa 66:24) and where their consciences are tormented eternally.
The second is annihilationism which, in its simplest form, states that mortal death is judgement and that the person simply ceases to exist.
The third, which has been confused with simple annihilationism, is death-row executionism. The wicked die and are held in a place of conscious torment where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth as they await judgement and sentencing. The sentence they know and expect from Genesis 2:17 is to miss out on the promise of eternal life by being summarily executed by royal decree.
The second view is unbiblical as man is destined to die once and after that face judgement (Hebrews 9:27).
The first and third views are hotly debated with respect to the nature of the sentence. I have considered arguments for and against both views. I am yet to come across an argument which properly takes into account the initial conditions in the Garden of Eden. Most arguments start with proof texts or philosophical constructs about the nature of God or the nature of man. I believe two initial conditions at creation support the death-row executionism view.
First, Adam and Eve were not created with immortality. God had not promised that they would live forever. The promise of immortality would be sealed as they ate by faith in God’s word from the tree of life. Eternal conscious torment assumes either that:
- the human soul is created with immortality and so must suffer eternally as it cannot be destroyed.
- God will raise the bodies of the dead and impose immortality on them in order to torment and torture them eternally.
Plato and Aristotle, who have arguably influenced biblical scholars, taught that the soul is immortal but there are no texts in the bible which explicitly support this anthropology. Indeed, the bible clearly states that God alone is immortal (1 Tim 6:16) and that God will destroy the body and soul in hell (Matt 10:28). Unless explicitly stated we should not assume that immortality is a communicable attribute.
Second, and more importantly, the sentence for rebellion announced by God in Genesis 2:17 was execution by royal decree. Adam and Eve knew explicitly that should they eat from the prohibited tree God would summarily execute them. There was no sentence of eternal conscious torment and physical torture for disobedience in the Garden. If we change the nature of the sentence we make God out to be a liar. God does not lie (Heb 6:18). If he says “I will summarily execute you for rebellion” then that is what God will do. Put simply, “The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
I am yet to find a defence of eternal conscious torment and torture which deals satisfactorily with either of these initial creation conditions. The executionist view of the sentence at judgement on the wicked and their conscious torment on death-row (the intermediate state) makes best sense to me of the controversial passages in scripture, both the apollumi (destruction) and waling/gnashing passages. More on these passages will follow later.