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Showing posts with label hell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hell. Show all posts

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Review of 'Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife' by Bart D. Ehrman

I learned recently through social media of Bart Ehrman's essay in Time Magazine entitled What Jesus Really Said About Heaven and Hell. The provocative headline and claims within had the intended effect: they induced me to buy Ehrman's new book (on which the Time essay is based), Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife. For readers unfamiliar with Ehrman, he is one of the world's leading New Testament scholars, specialising in textual criticism (efforts to reconstruct the original Greek text using analytical methods). He is also a former Evangelical Christian who is now an agnostic, and through his many popular-level books (and some public debates with leading Christian scholars), has emerged as a leading spokesperson for contemporary post-Christian critics of the historical and theological claims of classical Christianity.

Ehrman has had several previous bestsellers, such as Misquoting Jesus and How Jesus Became God, and in all likelihood Heaven and Hell will follow suit. The book follows a template similar to his previous works: it makes a few provocative and controversial claims, but in fact about 80% of the content represents an introduction some area of biblical and historical scholarship. That is, Ehrman expends most of his ink not defending his headline-grabbing theses, but describing uncontroversial findings of modern scholarship. Thus, Misquoting Jesus is an introduction to textual criticism, How Jesus Became God to historical Christology, and Heaven and Hell to historical 'individual eschatology'—beliefs about the afterlife. Ehrman's writing style is accessible, engaging, and cheeky. He manages simultaneously to entertain and inform the reader, which is probably what has made him so successful in writing popular books.

With that said, I can recommend at least 80% of the content of Heaven and Hell, apart from a few attempts at humour that overstep my threshold of good taste. My opinion of the other 20%, in which Ehrman defends his own controversial interpretations of the biblical and historical record, requires more nuance.

Overview of the Book

Heaven and Hell's most distinctive thesis is that belief in a literal heaven and hell—places of reward and punishment to which people go after death—does 'not go back to the earliest stages of Christianity'; 'cannot be found in the Old Testament and they are not what Jesus himself taught' (p. 14). These ideas, so central to classical and contemporary Christian theology, are post-Jesus innovations.

The book consists of fourteen chapters. Chapter 1 introduces the reader to some of the more fanciful descriptions of the afterlife in early non-canonical Christian literature. Having seen in these works the seeds of 'belief in a literal heaven and hell' as espoused by most contemporary Christians, Ehrman proposes to go back and see where these ideas came from. He thus embarks on a journey through the ancient history of ideas about death and afterlife. Chapter 2 takes us all the way back to the Ancient Near East (the Epic of Gilgamesh). Chapters 3 and 4 look at Greek thought from Homer down into the Christian era. Chapters 5 and 6 consider the Hebrew Bible. Chapter 7 summarises developments in Jewish thought between the Hebrew Bible and the time of Jesus. Chapter 8 looks at the beliefs of historical Jesus, insofar as they can be reconstructed (primarily from Mark and Matthew). Chapter 9 looks at Paul the Apostle, and chapter 10 delves into the later Gospels (Luke, John, and certain noncanonical gospels), which he regards as preserving post-Jesus Christian developments. Chapter 11 analyses the Book of Revelation, and chapters 12 to 14 study Christian beliefs about the afterlife in the patristic period, up to the time of Augustine (early fifth century C.E.) My appraisal below will focus largely on the biblical literature, i.e. on chapters 5 to 10.

Appraisal of Ehrman's Historical Claims

Hebrew Bible

I found Ehrman's treatment of the Hebrew Bible to be both satisfactory and uncontroversial. With most modern scholars, he maintains that the Hebrew Bible does not, for the most part—on a purely historical reading as opposed to Christian theological interpretation—witness to any belief in an afterlife. He thinks that Sheol in the Hebrew Bible is largely synonymous with the grave, denoting 'a complete diminution of life, to the point of virtual nonexistence' (p. 80). Death marks the end of all that can be called life, with a few curious exceptions such as Samuel (recalled by the witch of Endor), Enoch, and Elijah. The Hebrew prophets, in oracles such as Isaiah 26 and Ezekiel 37, use language of resurrection to metaphorically predict a restoration of Israel's national fortunes. Such language eventually inspired the notion of individual resurrection to eternal life, an idea attested in the Hebrew Bible only in the Book of Daniel (the last book of the Hebrew Bible in terms of date of composition).

Subsequent Jewish Literature

Ehrman describes subsequent developments in early Jewish thought as attested in other literature from the Second Temple period. He notes that some texts witness to belief in rewards and punishment immediately after death, others witness to belief in resurrection at the end of time, and sometimes both ideas occur together in the same text. He correctly notes the diversity of Second Temple Jewish ideas, though of course he cannot do justice to the topic in a short chapter.1

What is odd about Ehrman's description of these texts is that it contradicts his own central thesis that belief in a literal heaven and hell does 'not go back to the earliest stages of Christianity.' For instance, writing about 1 Enoch 22 (from the Book of the Watchers), Ehrman describes how 'the souls of those who have died are held until the Day of Judgment' in different hollows within a high mountain (p. 102). One hollow holds the righteous as they await the resurrection. A second 'holds the souls of sinners who did not receive their punishments on earth; these are being tormented in their temporary dwelling place in anticipation of the Day of Judgment, when they will be assigned to eternal torment.' This sounds a lot like later Christian ideas, as Ehrman acknowledges: 'In comparison with later texts such as the Christian Apocalypse of Peter, these destinies are rather vague and lacking in graphic specificity. But the basic ideas are here' (p. 103, emphasis mine). If Ehrman recognises that the Book of the Watchers—which predates Christianity by two centuries or more—contains the basic ideas of postmortem rewards and punishments and eternal torment that the terms 'heaven' and 'hell' convey, how can he maintain the thesis that these ideas do not 'go back to' earliest Christianity?2

The Historical Jesus 

As is fitting for a historical study, Ehrman is interested in the historical Jesus as opposed to the canonical Jesus. He reconstructs the beliefs of Jesus from that subset of Gospel sayings that, by standard critical methods, he considers to be historically reliable. For him, this largely entails using sayings from Mark and Matthew, and not from Luke and John. There are relatively few sayings that he discusses even from Mark and Matthew,3 but from those he does discuss, he paints the following picture:
Jesus did not teach that when a person died they would go to heaven or hell. He taught that the Day of Judgment was soon to come, when God would destroy all that is evil and raise the dead, to punish the wicked and reward the faithful by bringing them into his eternal, utopian kingdom. (p. 130)
a close reading of Jesus's words shows that in fact he had no idea of eternal torment for sinners after death. Death, for them, is irreversible, the end of the story. Their punishment is that they will be annihilated, never allowed to exist again, unlike the saved, who will live forever in God's glorious kingdom. (p. 132)
I will comment on three of Ehrman's key arguments. First, in Matthew 8:11-12 Jesus declares that
I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (NRSV)
Ehrman observes that the passages says nothing about torment, and asks, 'What will happen to [those on the outside]?' His answer: 'Jesus doesn't say. Do they simply end up dying, and that is the end of their story?' (p. 131) This question and answer presuppose that being thrown into the outer darkness is a prelude to punishment and not the punishment itself. However, the passage in no way suggests this. A more natural reading is that being thrown into the outer darkness is the punishment. Note the antithetical parallelism: some are rewarded by being welcomed into the kingdom; others are punished by being thrown out of the kingdom, into another 'place' characterised by darkness and weeping.4 Ehrman emphasises that this passage makes no mention of eternal fire, but other Matthaean texts about the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth do make this connection.5

Second, Ehrman quotes several passages that use the Greek verb apollumi or noun apoleia (particularly Matt. 7:13-14 and 10:28) and infers from them the notion of 'annihilation,' reduction to non-existence. He translates Matthew 10:28b as, 'fear the one who can annihilate both the soul and body in Gehenna', adding, 'It is important to note that Jesus here does not merely say that God will 'kill' a person's soul: he will "annihilate" (or "exterminate") it. After that it will not exist' (p. 135). Now, in Ehrman's 2003 translation of the Apostolic Fathers,6 when the verb apollumi is used in the active voice of the ultimate fate of humans, he consistently translates it 'destroy.'7 Why now has Ehrman departed from his own precedents, and from the practice of most English translations and lexical authorities, by translating apollumi by 'annihilate' rather than 'destroy'? One searches in vain for a lexical argument, or even (since this is a popular-level book) a footnote referencing an argument he has made elsewhere. He simply asserts without argument that apollumi and apoleia convey the specific idea of annihilation, of reduction to non-existence, rather than the more general idea of destruction.8

Third, Ehrman discusses at some length the 'sheep and goats' saying of Matthew 25:31-46. He argues that the 'eternal punishment' spoken of there is simply death, since it is contrasted with 'eternal life.' As for 'eternal fire,' he reasons that 'it is the fire that is eternal, not the sinner in the fire. The fires never go out' (p. 140). Yet, in a footnote, he acknowledges that the text says the fire was prepared for the devil and demons 'who, since they cannot die, will indeed burn forever.' On what basis does he make this sharp distinction between the nature of 'eternal fire' punishment for humans vs. superhumans, when the text makes no such distinction?

Finally, it is worth noting that, despite generally finding Matthew to be a reliable source of historical Jesus sayings, Ehrman says nothing about the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35), which ends with the protagonist being 'handed...over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt' (NRSV), followed immediately by Jesus' warning, 'So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.' Thus, Jesus here appears to depict eschatological punishment in terms of torture of indefinite duration. A noteworthy omission, to say the least! For further commentary on eschatological punishment in the Synoptic Gospels, see here.

The Apostle Paul

I find little to disagree with in Ehrman's treatment of Paul. He offers a good overview of Paul's teaching on resurrection, and also rightly acknowledges Paul's belief in a disembodied intermediate state, as attested in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 and Philippians 1:20-24. He thinks Paul understood the fate of the wicked to be annihilation, and there is little—at least in those letters of Paul that are universally accepted as authentic—that would suggest otherwise.9

The Later Gospels

Ehrman finds the view of the afterlife presented in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts (widely assigned to the same author) to be strikingly different from that of Jesus himself. In particular, 'unlike the historical Jesus himself, Luke maintains that eternity begins immediately at a person's death. Like Paul, but even more emphatically, Luke thinks that when believers in Jesus die, they go straight to heaven' (p. 160). He bases this on such texts as Luke 23:43 and Acts 7:59, and I think his interpretation is sound.

Ehrman spends a couple of pages on the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, which he considers to be 'the only place' in the Bible where the notion of eternal punishment for the wicked is suggested (p. 167). He does not think this story is attributable to the historical Jesus (I find his argument unconvincing),10 and he thinks the message of the parable is more about how people should live in the present than what will happen after death. I agree that this is the parable's emphasis, but I think it's a both/and, not an either/or. Outi Lehtipuu's monograph on the parable has shown convincingly that the story was believable within the parameters of its cultural world, and so there is no reason to think the afterlife imagery was not meant to be taken seriously.11 The clincher is the striking similarity between the afterlife imagery in this parable and that in Luke 13:27-30.12

Ehrman argues that the 'realised eschatology' of the Gospel of John, in which eternal life is already attainable in this life, and the wrath of God already abides on the disobedient in this life, represents a de-apocalypticising development of the message of the historical Jesus. I think this claim is basically accurate, though it is important to acknowledge—as Ehrman does—that references to eschatological resurrection are still present.

Other Early Christian Literature

For the sake of brevity, I won't discuss Ehrman's treatment of the Book of Revelation or of early patristic literature. He maintains that Revelation teaches a heavenly intermediate state only for a few martyrs, and teaches the annihilation of the wicked; I think he has overlooked the important evidence of Revelation 22:15.13

Ehrman spends his final three chapters on early patristic literature, and the various theological ideas that emerged concerning the nature of resurrection (resurrection of the flesh vs. of the spirit), the possibility of purgatory, universal salvation, etc. Attempts to systematise what would become established as orthodox Christian eschatology can be found in Tertullian in the early third century and in Augustine two centuries later. The fundamental teaching here is of immediate postmortem rewards and punishments, followed eventually by the resurrection, which ushers in embodied eternal life for some and eternal torment for others. After describing what became the orthodox view, Ehrman states, 'Some observers might consider the views to be a kind of natural development of what the "founders of Christianity" thought, or even as inevitable' (p. 201). He then insists that they were not inevitable, since other competing views existed that did not finally carry the day. However, he does not address the question of whether the orthodox view is a natural development from ideas of Jesus, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament writers. This is the Catholic Church's claim (made most famously by Cardinal Newman in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine): that the systematisation of doctrine in the patristic era is but the natural growth and development of the seeds contained in divine revelation.

Ehrman's Theological Message

In the preface, Ehrman insists that he has no theological axe to grind: 'In this book I will not be urging you either to believe or to disbelieve in the existence of heaven and hell' (p. 14). However, he still arrives at the existential inference that 'even if we do have something to hope for after we have passed from the realm of temporary consciousness, we have absolutely nothing to fear' (p. 18). He elaborates in the afterword at the end: we may have something to hope for because a beatific afterlife is at least possible (though he is inclined to think death is the end of existence). We have absolutely nothing to fear because hell can be ruled out on rational grounds; eternal torment would imply that God is 'some kind of transcendent sadist' (p. 235). It would be disproportionate to subject people to 'indescribable torments, not for the length of time they committed their "offenses," but for trillions of years—and that only as the beginning'.

I would make three brief points in reply to Ehrman's rationalistic critique of the doctrine of hell. First, as with transcendent rewards, no one alive knows exactly what transcendent punishment will be like. The biblical language of light, gardens, food and drink, banqueting, peace, life is all analogical, as is that of darkness, fire, banishment, torment, destruction, death. All such language is attempting to describe, 'in a glass, darkly,' the unknown quantities beyond our world in terms of the known quantities within our world. Without knowing exactly what eschatological punishment might be like, we are not well positioned to rule on whether it is just or disproportionate. Second, our lack of knowledge extends not only to the nature of the punishment but to its duration. The expression 'trillions of years' assumes that, for those in the transcendent realms, time passes and is experienced just as now on earth. Why should that be true? Heaven and hell are not material objects making trips around the sun. Many philosophers regard eternity as somehow beyond time rather than simply an unending, linear interval of time. Third, I have always found it curious that people simply assume that annihilation is a merciful and moderate alternative to eternal punishment. Ehrman describes annihilation in almost pleasant terms, like a very deep sleep. Non-existence is in some ways a more horrifying prospect than unending punishment. Besides, if annihilation is the eschatological equivalent of capital punishment, then hell is the eschatological equivalent of life imprisonment without parole. In the human domain, which of those is considered the more severe penalty? To be sure, hell is not a pleasant idea. Those who affirm this doctrine do so with sorrow but with firmness because they have received it from the Church, which (they maintain) received it from the apostles, who (they maintain) received it from the Lord.

Pros and Cons

As stated in the beginning, one great pro of Ehrman's book is that he succeeds in telling the history of ideas about the afterlife in a way that is concise and accessible yet informative and engaging. A second major positive, specifically for a Christian audience, is that he has called out the modern Church for having lost sight of the resurrection and placed all the emphasis on what is really only the interim state: going to heaven after death. For instance, Ehrman quotes from Justin Martyr (died c. 165 C.E.), who wrote that those should not be considered real Christians who assert 'that there is no resurrection of the dead, but that their souls are taken up to heaven at the moment of their death' (Dialogue with Trypho 80.4).14 Ehrman 'wonders how many twenty-first century Christians would escape this charge' (p. 197). Hopefully, those who recite the Creed thoughtfully do escape it, since they 'look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.' However, how many either conflate resurrection with what happens to the soul at death, or are ignorant of resurrection altogether? Ehrman's critique is a welcome and much-needed one.

The cons, for me, lie in questionable exegesis at certain points (particularly the Matthaean texts about eschatological punishment), as well as a tendency to overstate the significance of differences between Jesus and the New Testament writers, among the New Testament writers, and between the New Testament writers and subsequent proto-orthodox theologians. Yes, there is diversity, but it follows a natural developmental trajectory that converges on orthodoxy.

  • 1 For my own discussion of eschatological punishment in the Hebrew Bible and other Second Temple Jewish literature, focusing mainly on 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra, see Part 1 of my review of Edward Fudge's book, The Fire That Consumes.
  • 2 Perhaps Ehrman would justify his thesis by noting that 1 Enoch's geography of the afterlife—various hollows in the same high mountain—is very different from the cosmic picture of heaven above and hell beneath that later emerged in Christianity. However, the fundamental issue is not the precise 'where' of transcendent abodes, but the 'that' of righteous and wicked going to separate abodes after death.
  • 3 Those he does discuss are Matt. 3:10; 5:22, 29-30; 7:13-14; 8:10-12; 13:36-43, 47-50; 25:31-46; Mark 9:42, 47-48; 12:18-27
  • 4 No noun meaning 'place' occurs in the Greek, but the adverb ekei ('there'; 'in that place') implies a specific location.
  • 5 The formula, 'In that place (ekei) there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth' occurs in Matthew six times. In three of them, the place is called 'the outer darkness,' in one, 'with the hypocrites,' and in two, 'the fiery furnace' (Matt. 13:42, 50). The fiery furnace, for Matthew, is obviously synonymous 'fiery Gehenna' (5:22; 18:9), which in turn is synonymous with 'the eternal fire' (18:8; 25:41).
  • 6 Bart D. Ehrman, ed. and trans., The Apostolic Fathers, 2 vols. (Loeb Classical Library; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003).
  • 7 e.g., in 1 Clement 57.7,  Barnabas 12.5; 20.2, Hermas, Mandates 2.1, 12.6.3, Similitudes 8.6.6, 8.8.5, 9.23.4, 9.26.3.
  • 8 I have not myself undertaken a close lexical study of apollumi. However, it appears that when used in the active voice, it can take meanings akin to 'lose,' 'kill,' 'destroy,' 'ruin.' It certainly does not intrinsically convey the cessation of all existence, just as 'destroy' does not in English. For instance, if we say that Hiroshima was destroyed by the atomic bomb in 1945, we are not suggesting that Hiroshima ceased to exist, but that it was devastated, ruined.
  • 9 Ehrman considers only those letters that are universally accepted as authentically Pauline, so we do not get to hear his views on 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, which is the most detailed passage about eschatological punishment in the Pauline corpus. For my own brief discussion of Paul's views, see here.
  • 10 Ehrman thinks that the ending of the story is a 'dead giveaway' that it was not told by Jesus (p. 165). He reasons that Abraham telling the rich man that his brothers would not believe even if someone were raised from the dead alludes to Jesus' own resurrection, and thus postdates it. However, this argument only demonstrates that the ending of the story has been edited or shaped in light of Jesus' resurrection. It is possible that the original story ended with v. 26, or that the whole story dates back to Jesus but that the language of 'rising from the dead' in v. 31 reflects post-Easter editing.
  • 11 Outi Lehtipuu, The Afterlife Imagery in Luke’s Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Leiden: Brill, 2007). I have discussed the matter previously here and here.
  • 12 The afterlife scene in the parable has the rich man in a place of torment where he can see Abraham attending a banquet. That Lazarus was 'in Abraham's bosom' refers to reclining with his head on Abraham's breast, 'a position dictated by ancient banqueting practice' (BDAG 556-57). In Luke 13:27-30, a place is described (using the adverb ekei) of weeping and gnashing of teeth, from which people will see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God, where they will 'recline at table.'
  • 13 For my take on eschatological punishment in Revelation, see here, in Part 2 of my review of Edward W. Fudge's book, The Fire That Consumes.
  • 14 For my comments on this text and Justin's individual eschatology more widely, see here and here.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Review of "The Fire That Consumes" by Edward W. Fudge (Part 3)

This is the third article in a three-part series reviewing the late Edward W. Fudge's important and influential book on hell, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment (3rd ed.; Eugene: Cascade, 2011; 593 pages). This book, over its three editions dating back to 1982, has helped to make the doctrine of annihilationism—that the final punishment of the ungodly is the absolute termination of their existence—an acceptable and growing (if still minority) view within Evangelical Christianity. Thus the traditional Christian view of hell as a place of unending suffering, which used to be an area of theological common ground between Evangelicals and Catholics, is no longer reliably such.

In Part 1 of this series, I interacted with Fudge's first ten chapters, which cover some introductory issues, the Old Testament, and Second Temple Jewish literature (Apocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Pseudepigrapha). I found myself in substantial agreement with Fudge's characterisation of Old Testament teaching on the fate of the wicked when interpreted at a strictly grammatical-historical level, but argued that Christians cannot limit their reading of the Old Testament to the grammatical-historical level, because the New Testament writers did not. I further took issue with Fudge's interpretation with a couple of late passages from the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 66:24 and Daniel 12:2). I noted that Fudge and I are in agreement that Judith 16:17 presupposes a traditionalist view of final punishment, but that Fudge regards this text as apocrypha whereas the Catholic Church has always (at least since the late first century, on the evidence of 1 Clement) regarded it as Sacred Scripture. Finally, while I agreed with Fudge's claim that Second Temple Jewish literature is diverse in its perspectives on final punishment, I differed with his interpretation of some of that literature, devoting particular attention to three apocalyptic works: 4 Ezra, Jubilees, and 1 Enoch.

In Part 2, I interacted with Fudge's exegesis of New Testament passages about final punishment (his chapters 11-23). In contrast to Fudge, who finds the New Testament evidence to be uniformly in support of annihilationism, I followed historian Alan E. Bernstein in distinguishing between two distinct traditions within the New Testament, the "positive tradition" and the "symmetrical tradition."1 The positive tradition, whose most prominent representatives are the Gospel and Letters of John and the Letters of Paul, emphasises what the ungodly will not receive (eternal life; the kingdom of God) and prefers to describe their fate in vague or abstract terms (e.g., wrath, distress, death, destruction) rather than vivid imagery. This part of the New Testament witness is consistent with an annihilationist view, and arguably most plausibly interpreted in terms of annihilation, and to that extent my reading of this material aligns with Fudge's. However, the positive tradition does not actually contradict the traditionalist view. The possibility remains open that these writers held a traditionalist view of hell but preferred not to express it, perhaps for pastoral reasons. At least one passage in the Pauline corpus (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9) appears to lend support to this reading. On the other hand, the symmetrical tradition, whose most prominent representatives are the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and Revelation, describe the fate of the ungodly in vivid detail as equal and opposite to the fate of the godly, thus painting a symmetrical picture. Differing sharply with Fudge's assessment of this material, I argue that it depicts the suffering of the ungodly as interminable.

In this final installment, I interact with Fudge's treatment of patristic literature, later Church history, and his theological findings and concluding reflections (chapters 24-36). I devote most of my attention to chapter 24 ("Apostolic Fathers and Their Successors") for two reasons. The first reason is that these earliest post-apostolic writings are the only ones that both Protestants and Catholics are likely to regard as in any way normative. Protestants have no qualms about rejecting the teachings of such luminaries of Church history as Augustine of Hippo, John Chrysostom, Ambrose of Milan, Anselm of Canterbury, and Thomas Aquinas (all held to be saints and Doctors of the Church in Roman Catholicism),2 as Fudge does in chapters 27-29. Conversely, Catholics do not regard the teachings of the Reformers (e.g., Luther and Calvin) or later Protestants as normative. However, most Protestants and Catholics are likely to share Fudge's conviction that, while not infallible, the Apostolic Fathers are important due to their proximity to the apostles: "these are men who were taught by the apostles, or by those whom the apostles had taught" (p. 375). The second reason why this review concentrates mainly on the writings of the earliest post-apostolic period is simply that I happen to be more familiar with them than with writings of the third century and beyond.

Chapter 24: The Apostolic Fathers and Their Successors
  The Didache  
  1 Clement  
  2 Clement  
  Ignatius of Antioch  
  Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians  
  Martyrdom of Polycarp  
  Epistle of Barnabas  
  Epistle to Diognetus  
  Justin Martyr  
Later Christian History
Fudge's Concluding Chapters
My Concluding Remarks

In this chapter, Fudge undertakes to describe the views of final punishment of the Apostolic Fathers and Justin Martyr. These writings roughly span the period from the end of the first century to the middle of the second century C.E. (though the collection of these particular writings into a corpus called "Apostolic Fathers" occurred many centuries later). Before interacting with Fudge's analysis of individual writers, I wish to point out three major shortcomings of this chapter that detract significantly from the value of the historical aspect of his "Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment."

The first shortcoming is that Fudge omits from his book a number of Christian texts from this period that contain relevant material, such as the Ascension of Isaiah (late first/early second century),3 the Apocalypse of Peter, the Shepherd of Hermas4 (which is among the Apostolic Fathers!) and the Epistula Apostolorum. The Apocalypse of Peter is an especially glaring omission, since it discusses final punishment in far more detail than any other Christian text of the period, and since it was influential enough to be reckoned by the earliest extant New Testament canon list (the Muratorian Fragment, c. 200 C.E.) as on the fringes of the canon.5 The second shortcoming is that Fudge appears to rely entirely on dated Greek texts and translations of the Apostolic Fathers and Justin Martyr, and has not interacted with any scholarly commentaries or articles in arriving at his exegesis.6 The third shortcoming is a general lack of attention to detail. Several important early Christian texts are passed over in a couple of sentences that do not even mention the relevant passages about eschatological punishment.

That said, let us attend to Fudge's comments on individual writings and offer our own assessment of the ideas about final punishment presupposed therein.

Fudge deals with this important church manual or handbook, often dated to the first century, in just five lines, citing only two passages (Did. 1.1 and 16.5), which refer to "death" and "perish[ing]." Fudge avers, "There is no mention of unending conscious torment. There is no pretense that 'perish' means continued existence, though in a state of ruin. The author seems to use 'perish' with its ordinary meaning of die" (p. 378). As with some New Testament passages, Fudge asserts without argument that the Didache uses the verb apollumi ("perish") in the sense of "die," and in turn uses the word "death" of "ordinary" physical death that entails annihilation. Simply assuming that a text has an annihilationist perspective is not very compelling exegesis. What is more problematic is that Fudge has overlooked some contrary evidence. In its description of the Way of Life, the Didache states:
'Give to everyone who asks you, and do not demand it back,' for the Father wants something from his own gifts to be given to everyone. Blessed is the one who gives according to the command, for such a person is innocent. Woe to the one who receives: if, on the one hand, someone who is in need receives, this person is innocent, but the one who does not have need will have to explain why and for what purpose he received, and upon being imprisoned will be interrogated about what he has done, and will not be released from there until he has repaid every last cent. (Did. 1.5)7
In a text that obviously shares some tradition-history8 with Matthew 5:25-26 and 18:34-35 (discussed in Part 2 of this review), despite being applied to a different moral situation, the Didache clearly conceives of eschatological punishment in terms of enduring imprisonment that ends—if it ends at all—not with annihilation but with release. If this statement is combined with a subsequent statement that warns against testing prophets who speak in spirit, since "every sin will be forgiven, but this sin will not be forgiven" (Did. 11.7), it appears that the Didache conceives of eschatological punishment in terms of imprisonment that for some ends in forgiveness and release, and for others does not end. The Didache's references to "death" and "perishing" must be interpreted through this lens. The ending of the Didache is missing from the extant text, and may have included a description of the final judgment with symmetrical fates for the righteous and wicked.9

Fudge discusses both 1 Clement and 2 Clement under the heading of "Clement of Rome," although most scholars today regard these as works written decades apart by different authors. The two documents do share some close similarities; for instance, they both quote the same passage from an otherwise unknown scriptural source.10 1 Clement is a long, anonymous letter from the church of Rome to the church of Corinth, usually dated to the late 90s C.E. Fudge treats this important text in just two sentences and quotes just one passage (1 Clem. 9.1) that warns that jealousy "leads to death." Again, Fudge appears to assume without argument that "death" in any early Christian text denotes annihilation.

Many of this letter's statements about punishment of the ungodly consist of references to divine judgments from the biblical past taken from the Septuagint. The writer makes it clear that these past judgments are proof of future divine judgment, but does not describe the future judgment in much detail beyond that it entails "punishment and torment."11 There are, however, several passages that appear to depict the destiny of the ungodly as more than death, although they are too vague to be conclusive. In 1 Clement 41.3-4, the writer emphasises how violation of ministerial duties under the Levitical cult result in the death penalty. He then implies that the punishment for such disobedience under the Christian dispensation is something greater: "as we have been considered worthy of greater knowledge, so much the more are we exposed to danger."12 In 1 Clement 46.7-8, the writer quotes a saying of Jesus that parallels Matt. 26:24 and Luke 17:2 (which were discussed in Part 2), comparing the fate of the ungodly favourably with never having been born and with a gruesome execution. It is also worth noting that the author of 1 Clement believed in a beatific intermediate state for Christian martyrs (as I have discussed previously here and here) and was thus apparently a body/soul dualist.

On the whole, 1 Clement should probably be assigned (like Paul, whose letters the writer holds in high regard) to the positive tradition. The writer sometimes describes the fate of the ungodly negatively in terms of exclusion from eternal life (e.g., 1 Clem. 57.2), and otherwise uses mainly general terms like "death" and "perish" rather than describing eschatological punishment in vivid detail. The letter does not explicitly refer to unending conscious torment, and is on the whole consistent with annihilation, notwithstanding a reference to "punishment and torment." However, the statements in 1 Clem. 41.3-4 and 46.7-8 imply that a fate worse than death is in store for the ungodly, which makes it possible that the writer conceived of final punishment in traditionalist terms.

2 Clement is an anonymous homily composed in the mid-second century. Fudge devotes two paragraphs to this text and cites six passages from within it (2 Clem. 2.7; 4.5; 5.4; 6.7; 7.6; 17.6-7). However, for most of these passages he merely offers a translation, with no detailed comment on their meaning. On 17.6-7, he comments that "Traditionalists" interpret the homily's teachings in terms of "unending conscious torment" whereas "Conditionalists understand the author of 2 Clement to affirm horrible pains from a[n annihilating] fire that cannot be extinguished" (p. 378). It strikes me as odd that Fudge assumes that traditionalists will interpret an early Christian text as traditionalist while conditionalists will interpret it as conditionalist. Is it unrealistic to hope that traditionalists and conditionalists might hold their own theological biases in check and offer balanced and impartial exegesis rather than automatically interpreting texts as supporting their own theological position?

2 Clement 1.4 expresses indebtedness to Christ in that "while we were perishing (Greek: apollumi), he saved us." This pre-salvation state is described further: "our entire life was nothing other than death...we were beset by darkening gloom...a great error and destruction was in us" (2 Clem. 1.6-7). Fascinatingly, the writer also states, "For he called us while we did not exist (ouk ontas), and he wished us to come into being from nonbeing (ek mē ontos)" (2 Clem. 1.8).13 All of this language, especially that of v. 8, sounds like annihilation talk (death, destruction, non-existence) but is clearly not literally such, since it refers to a state from which people subsequently were rescued. It would thus be inadvisable to assume (as Fudge seems to) that the language of "perishing" and "destruction" in 2 Clement 2.5-7 refers to annihilation.14

2 Clement's language about final punishment is reminiscent of that of the Synoptic Gospels and falls squarely within the symmetrical tradition. In 2 Clement 4.5, a quotation of an otherwise unknown saying of the Lord expresses the negative eschatalogical verdict in terms of being "thrown away" (Greek: apoballō)15 and commanded, "Depart from me" (upagete ap' emou; cf. Matt. 7:23; 25:41; Luke 13:27). This is the language of spatial exclusion, not annihilation. 2 Clement 5.4 mentions Gehenna in a saying that parallels that of Matt. 10:28 and Luke 12:4-5 (discussed in Part 2), and 2 Clement's form of the saying implies both transcendent postmortem punishment and anthropological dualism.16 In an unmistakably symmetrical description of eschatological fates, 2 Clement 6.7 contrasts the "place of rest" for the obedient with the "eternal punishment" (aiōniou kolaseōs) of the disobedient.17 In 2 Clement 7, the homilist uses "the games" as a metaphor for the Christian walk, and in 7.4-6 he uses the metaphor to make an a fortiori argument about eschatological punishment:
4 We must realize that if someone is caught cheating while competing in an earthly contest, he is flogged and thrown out of the stadium. 5 What do you suppose? What will happen to the one who cheats in the eternal competition? 6 As for those who do not keep the seal of their baptism, he says: 'Their worm will not die nor their fire be extinguished; and they will be a spectacle for all to see.'18
This text describes the earthly cheater's punishment in terms of corporal punishment and being "thrown out," a verb we have already seen the writer use of eschatological punishment. Then, the writer quotes Isaiah 66:24 LXX, implicitly applying it to Gehenna (as does Mark 9:43-48). We saw in Part 1 of this review that Isaiah 66 already conceives of an unending fire of punishment, albeit one that incessantly burns cadavers rather than conscious persons. 2 Clement 7.6 does not make it clear whether the victims of this unending fire are conceived of as conscious, but 2 Clement 17.5-7 quotes Isa. 66:24 again and describes the righteous on the day of judgment as observing "those who have deviated from the right path and denied Jesus through their words or deeds...punished with terrible torments in a fire that cannot be extinguished".19 Unquestionably, then, the writer of 2 Clement understands the unending Gehenna fire of Isaiah 66 as a tormenting fire. This is also confirmed by the verses following 2 Clement 7.6.

In 2 Clement 8.1-4, the homilist contrasts the present, "while we are still on earth...still in the world," when repentance is still possible, with the hereafter: "For after we leave the world we will no longer be able to make confession or repent in that place (eti)" (2 Clem. 8.3).20 The writer thus clearly conceives of Gehenna as an otherworldly, postmortem "place" of punishment in which repentance is no longer possible—a statement that presupposes that people still consciously exist in that place.21 Other passages refer to eschatological punishment in terms of "torment" (basanos) and a "double penalty" (2 Clem. 10.4-5), being "miserable" (2 Clem. 11.1), a "blazing oven" (2 Clem. 16.3), "death" (2 Clem. 16.4), and punishment "with chains" (2 Clem. 20.4).

On the whole, 2 Clement describes fiery eschatological punishment with a vividness comparable to that of the Synoptic Gospels. It is unmistakably a postmortem punishment of conscious persons in a transcendent place, and the writer describes it as "eternal" and its fire as "unquenchable" without giving any indication that the punishment will end in annihilation.

Concerning the seven epistles of Ignatius of Antioch, usually dated to the early second century, Fudge states that "four [epistles] contain references to our subject" (p. 378). He proceeds to quote five passages from these four letters (Eph. 11.1; 16.2; Smyrn. 6.1; Magn. 5.1; Trall. 2.1) with little comment. He sees Ignatius' judgment language as drawn mainly from Scripture, and thus (given his exegesis of Scripture) consistent with annihilation. He offers one positive argument: in Trallians 2.1, Ignatius writes that Jesus Christ "died for us that you may escape dying by believing in his death."22 Since Ignatius gives no indication that the "dying" that the faithful may escape is metaphysically different from the "death" through which Jesus delivered them, Fudge implies that both refer merely to physical death.

Ignatius' letters show considerable dependence on some of Paul's letters, and reflect an indebtedness to the positive tradition, speaking of "the wrath to come" (Eph. 11.1) and contrasting "to live at all times in Jesus Christ" with "to die" (Eph. 20.2).23 He also describes the fate of the ungodly simply as "death" in Magn. 5.1 and (as noted above) Trall. 2.1, as "perish[ing]" (Smyrn. 7.1), and as "[not] inherit[ing] the kingdom of God" (Phld. 3.3; cf. Eph. 16.1). However, there are four passages from Ignatius' letters—three noted by Fudge, one not—suggesting that Ignatius' view of eschatological punishment entailed something more than physical death.

In Eph. 16.2, Ignatius makes an a fortiori argument: if those who corrupt their own households "die," "how much more the one who corrupts the faith of God through an evil teaching, the faith for which Jesus Christ was crucified?"24 He adds a more specific description of the punishment: "Such a person is filthy and will depart into the unquenchable fire; so too the one who listens to him." While Fudge states that Ignatius "does not further explain" this language, the verb of motion chōreō suggests that "the unquenchable fire" refers to a place (Gehenna) and not merely a method of execution. Moreover, ceteris paribus, we should interpret "the unquenchable fire" in a way consistent with the use of this expression in the Synoptic Gospels, 2 Clement, and their biblical source, Isaiah 66:24. As has been argued previously in this review, in those texts, "unquenchable" refers to a fire that does not go out, not merely to a fire that cannot be extinguished until it has consumed its fuel (as Fudge maintains).

The second text is Magn. 5.1, where Ignatius contrasts the opposite destinies of "death and life" (probably alluding to Deut. 30:15-19), and adds, "and each person is about to depart to his own place".25 The same relatively rare verb chōreō that is used in Eph. 16.2 occurs here, suggesting that the "place" to which the unbelievers are about to depart is "the unquenchable fire" mentioned in Eph. 16.2. The reference to "his own place" also recalls what Acts 1:25 says about Judas (discussed in Part 2), implicitly aligning Ignatius' eschatology with that of Luke-Acts. The third passage is Smyrn. 6.1 which, as Fudge notes, states that "Judgment is prepared even for the heavenly beings, for the glory of the angels, and for the rulers both visible and invisible, if they do not believe in the blood of Christ."26 Presumably the "judgment" that is "prepared" for disobedient angels, in Ignatius' view, is not physical death, but imprisonment of the kind described in detail in 1 Enoch and alluded to in New Testament passages like Matt. 25:41, Rev. 20:10, 2 Pet. 2:4, and Jude 6.

Ignatius' most distinctive statement about eschatological punishment is one that Fudge does not mention. In Smyrn. 2.1-3.3, Ignatius is affirming that Jesus "truly suffered" and "truly raised himself," in opposition to "some unbelievers" (apparently the Docetists), who say "that he suffered only in appearance."27 Ignatius then explains how their punishment will fit their crime: "their fate will be determined by what they think: they will become disembodied and demonic."28 Needless to say, punishment that entails being disembodied and demon-like can only be a postmortem punishment and not merely physical death.

Fudge discusses Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians and the account of his death, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, under the same heading of "Polycarp," but it makes sense to separate them, since clearly only the first can have been written by Polycarp. The Letter to the Philippians, as Fudge acknowledges, shows dependence on the Letters of John, and (like those letters) has little to say about the fate of the ungodly. Polycarp makes repeated reference to judgment. For instance, "our Lord Jesus Christ...is coming as a judge of the living and the dead; and God will hold those who disobey him accountable for his blood" (Phil. 2.1). Alluding to 1 Cor. 6:9, he warns that those guilty of certain vices will not "inherit the kingdom of God" (Phil. 5.3). He declares heretical those who say "that there is neither resurrection nor judgment" (Phil. 7.1). Thus, Polycarp clearly believes in a final judgment, and that those who live wickedly will be excluded from the kingdom of God, but he says nothing about the eschatological punishment that will come upon the ungodly. Polycarp's letter falls within the positive tradition.

According to Ehrman, this theologised account of Polycarp's martyrdom is dated by "probably the majority of scholars" to c. 155-156 C.E.29 Fudge cites two passages within the Martyrdom (2.3; 11.2), both having to do with an eschatological fiery punishment. He regards these passages as ambiguous as to whether the writer(s)—apparently member(s) of Polycarp's congregation from Smyrna—conceived of the eschatological fire as unending or merely irresistible (so long as it lasts). Let us consider these two passages, which are the only two that shed light on the writer's view of final punishment.30 Martyrdom of Polycarp 2.3 describes the courage of certain martyrs thus:
And clinging to the gracious gift of Christ, they despised the torments of the world, in one hour purchasing for themselves eternal life. And the fire of their inhuman torturers was cold to them, because they kept their eyes on the goal of escaping the fire that is eternal and never extinguished (to pur...to aiōnion kai mēdepote sbennumeon).31
Fudge translates the key phrase, "the eternal and never-to-be-quenched [fire]," and regards it as uncertain what these two adjectival expressions mean. We conceded to Fudge in Part 1 a certain ambiguity in the adjective aiōnios, which could mean "eternal" in a temporal sense (endless) or in a qualitative sense (transcendent; pertaining to the age to come). However, the second expression here is unambiguously temporal, since it has a temporal adverb (mēdepote, "never") affixed. "Never-to-be-quenched" can only plausibly mean just that, and not irresistible until it consumes its fuel, whereupon it is quenched. The second relevant passage reads thus:
Again the proconsul said to him, 'If you despise the wild beasts, I will have you consumed by fire, if you do not repent.' Polycarp replied, 'You threaten with a fire that burns for an hour and after a short while is extinguished; for you do not know about the fire of the coming judgment and eternal [punishment], reserved for the ungodly. (M. Polyc. 11.2)32
Fudge observes that the text explicitly contrasts "man's fire with God's fire" (p. 380), but seems not to have noticed that the point of contrast is that man's fire is temporary, being "extinguished" after it has "consumed" its victim. The Martyrdom's description of man's fire corresponds precisely to how Fudge understands God's eschatological fire. It is thus obvious that Martyrdom of Polycarp conceives of the eschatological fire not as temporary and not merely as consuming but as punishing endlessly; otherwise the contrast breaks down. It is also worth noting that Martyrdom of Polycarp shows literary dependence on 4 Maccabees, a Jewish martyr-acts likely written in the late first century C.E. To give just two examples, in both 4 Maccabees and Martyrdom of Polycarp, the martyrs regard the fire of their earthly torture as "cold" (4 Macc. 11.26; M. Polyc. 2.3). Moreover, like 4 Maccabees (9.5-9; 13.14-15), Martyrdom of Polycarp (11.2) contrasts the temporary torture by the persecutors, which leads to eternal life for the martyrs, with the eschatological punishment that awaits the persecutors themselves. Given these similarities, it seems likely, ceteris paribus, that Martyrdom of Polycarp shares the view of 4 Maccabees that the eschatological punishment consists of "endless torment" (4 Macc. 10.11). All told, Martyrdom of Polycarp unquestionably belongs to the symmetrical tradition.

Fudge quotes four passages (4.12; 20.1; 21.1; 21.3) from this anonymous early-second-century letter (which was not written by the Barnabas of Acts and does not claim to have been). Fudge avers that, "Taken at face value, [the writer's] words suggest the final extinction of sinners after some righteous recompense that involves 'suffering'" (p. 381). Certainly, Barnabas must be assigned to the positive tradition. The writer warns about the risk of the evil one "hurling us away from our life" (Barn. 2.10) and "forc[ing] us out of the Lord's kingdom" (Barn. 4.13).33 In Barnabas 4.12, the writer states that "Each will receive according to what he has done" and refers to "the reward for...wickedness" without describing what it is.34 Barnabas 5.4 and 21.1 use the verb "perish" (apollumi) to describe the fate of the ungodly, while 10.5 and 14.5 respectively describe the impious as "condemned already to death" and "already paid out to death." It is noteworthy that, according to Barnabas 21.3, "the evil one" is also destined to "perish." Since the evil one (Satan) is an angelic being (cf. Barn. 18.1), it is unlikely (though not impossible) that the writer conceives of "perishing" as annihilation. Similarly, the transitive use of apollumi for various vices that "destroy people's souls" appears to bear a meaning like "ruin"; certainly the vices themselves do not literally annihilate souls.

The one text that goes beyond the typical language of the positive tradition—and may imply a punishment more than physical death—is Barnabas 20.1, which describes "the path of the Black One" (or, the path of blackness) as "the path of eternal death [which comes] with punishment (hodos...thanatou aiōniou meta timōrias)"35 The phrase "eternal death" on its own already suggests something of a higher order than mere physical death. The occurrence of the words "with punishment" after the words "eternal death" suggests a postmortem punishment; an ordinary capital punishment would more likely be described as something like "punishment unto death" or "the punishment of death." Thus, while this expression is somewhat oblique and Barnabas on the whole belongs to the positive tradition, like 2 Thess. 1:8-9 within the Pauline corpus, Barnabas 20.1 suggests that the writer envisioned an eschatological punishment more transcendent than mere physical death.

The Epistle to Diognetus is generally dated later than the rest of the Apostolic Fathers writings (late second century). Fudge discusses this text briefly, citing only one passage (Diog. 10.7-8) and concluding that this passage indicates annihilation, either as "a destroying fire that burns until all is consumed" or a fire that "keeps burning forever after its victims are consumed" (p. 381). Before looking at this passage, which provides the letter's most detailed description of eschatological punishment, let us consider a couple of other relevant passages. Diognetus 6.8 states straightforwardly that "The soul, which is immortal, dwells in a mortal tent."36 Thus, this writer is obviously not a conditionalist. Diognetus 8.2 denounces "the vain and ridiculous teachings of those specious philosophers, some of whom asserted that God was fire," adding the ironic parenthetical remark, "(where they themselves are about to go, this is what they call God!)"37 Diognetus 9.2 describes the "ultimate reward" of an unrighteous way of life as "punishment and death" (kolasis kai thanatos).38 This brings us to Diognetus 10.7-8:
7 Then even while you happen to be on earth, you will see that God is conducting the affairs of heaven. Then you will begin to speak the mysteries of God. Then you will both love and admire those who are punished for not wanting to deny God. Then you will condemn the deceit and error of the world, when you come to know the true life of heaven, when you despise that which merely seems to be death here and come to fear that which is truly death, which is preserved for those who are condemned to the eternal fire, which will punish those who are given over to it until the end [of time]. 8 And then, when you know that other fire, you will admire and bless those who endure the fleeting fire of the present for the sake of righteousness.39
The writer here contrasts two "deaths" and two "fires." The one death "merely seems to be death" (seemingly because it sets Christians free to the life of heaven),40 while the other is "truly death." The "true death" entails being "condemned to the eternal fire," which contrasts with "the fleeting/temporary fire" (to pur to proskairon). This temporal adjective demonstrates that aiōnios is likewise meant temporally here, i.e. "the eternal/endless fire." Since (as we have seen) this writer affirms that the soul is immortal, it is unlikely that the fire burns endlessly (for what purpose?) after its victim has been annihilated. Rather, "until the end" coincides with aiōnios and means (as per Ehrman's gloss) "until the end of time." The fiery punishment continues eternally. The Epistle to Diognetus unmistakably belongs to the symmetrical tradition.

Justin Martyr was a mid-second century Christian apologist and martyr whose ideas survive in his Dialogue with Trypho and his two Apologies. As I have discussed previously, Justin depicts his ideas as "ours" and not "mine," giving every impression that he is a doctrinal traditionalist and not an innovator, notwithstanding his vocation as a philosopher. This, together with the sheer volume of his writings (which have a greater total word count than all of the Apostolic Fathers together), makes Justin a very important witness to early Christian doctrine.

We perceive Fudge's legal mind at work in his discussion of Justin. Fudge essentially depicts exegetical debate over Justin's ideas as a hopeless stalemate, thereby casting reasonable doubt on attempts to use Justin's writings to support the traditionalism:
Round and round they have gone over Justin...In the end, most non-biblical references are of little help except for refuting the dogmatic extremes too commonly found on both sides. We need someone to explain the explainers. Better to read them quickly, and turn our attention back to Scripture. (p. 385)
Fudge sets certain passages that seem to feature a "Traditionalist Justin" against certain others that seem to feature a "Conditionalist Justin," and leaves it at that. Fudge's advocacy of reading extra-biblical texts "quickly" and his reference to his study of Justin's works as a "perusal" (p. 383) do not instill confidence in the diligence of his efforts to understand the doctrine of final punishment found in Justin's writings. As already noted, Fudge cites only 19th-century translations of Justin, and does not appear to have interacted with the Greek texts. Furthermore, Fudge cites just fourteen individual passages from Justin (eight from 1 Apology, four from 2 Apology, and two from Dialogue with Trypho), whereas by my count there are 54 passages that have a bearing on our subject (18 from 1 Apology, six from 2 Apology, and 30 from the Dialogue). One must agree with Fudge that there is evidence for both a "traditionalist Justin" and a "conditionalist Justin" that is difficult to harmonise. However, the evidence is not balanced: numerous passages in both of Justin's Apologies and his Dialogue witness unambiguously to traditionalism, while only one highly philosophical passage from the Dialogue suggests annihilation of the wicked.

Let us first examine the evidence for a traditionalist view. Justin's dominant image for final punishment is that of fire. He refers frequently to "eternal fire" (pur aiōnios) and "eternal punishment" (kolasis aiōnios), and less frequently to "Gehenna," terms taken directly from the Synoptic tradition, and cites several sayings of Jesus about final punishment.41 This evidence will be disputed since the Synoptic Gospels' evidence is disputed. However, it is clear that Justin envisions the "outer darkness" and the "eternal fire" as interchangeable terms for the same punishment, and not two sequential punishments (as Fudge appears to think).42 It is also clear that Justin understands Gehenna as a "place" (topos), equivalent to the "regions of punishment [Greek: hai kolastēria]" (1 Apol. 12.1-2; 19.8).

There is much more evidence of what kind of punishment Justin envisioned the eternal fire to be. Justin's main proof text for his doctrine of final punishment from the Jewish Scriptures is Isaiah 66:24 LXX, which he quotes or paraphrases four times (Dial. 44.3, 130.2; 140.3; 1 Apol. 52.8). Notably, Justin once says that the worm will not "die" (Greek: teleutaō), following the extant LXX text, but twice (Dial. 140.3; 1 Apol. 52.8) he paraphrases the text, saying that the worm will not "cease" (Greek: pauō), thereby heightening the verse's temporal emphasis. Justin provides more direct evidence of his interpretation of Isaiah 66:24: in Dialogue 130.2, he states, "Isaiah tells us that 'the limbs of sinners shall be consumed by the worm and unquenchable fire,' but with it all remaining immortal [Greek: athanata menontaso as to be 'a spectacle to all flesh.'"43 In 1 Apology 52.7-9, Justin cites Isaiah 66:24 to prove "in what kind of consciousness and punishment [Greek: aisthēsei kai kolasei] the unjust are going to be," adding after the quotation, "And then they shall repent when they shall gain nothing."44 Unquestionably, Justin (like Judith already in pre-Christian Judaism) interprets Isaiah 66:24 in terms of unceasing conscious punishment. Another scriptural text Justin uses for his idea of hell is Deuteronomy 32:22, which he paraphrases (rather differently than the LXX) as stating that "Everlasting fire [Greek: aeizōon pur, literally "ever-living fire"] will come down and will consume unto the depth beneath" (1 Apol. 60.9).45

Several other statements from Justin make it clear that he envisions final punishment as both conscious and unceasing. In Dialogue 45.4, Justin states that "some will be sent to the judgment and sentence of fire to be punished unceasingly [Greek: apaustōs kolazesthai],"46 which is explicitly contrasted with the freedom "suffering, corruption, sorrow, and death" that will be the lot of the righteous.47 In 1 Apology 52.3, he describes those sent to the eternal fire as being "in eternal sensation [Greek: en aisthēsei aiōnia]."48 In 1 Apology 8.4, Justin says that the unrighteous "will be punished with eternal punishment [Greek: aiōnian kolasin kolasthēsomenōn]," explicitly contrasting the Christian position with that of Plato, who said that Rhadamanthus and Minos would punish people only for a period of a thousand years. This shows unmistakably that he understood the word aiōnios temporally when it modifies "punishment" or "fire." In 1 Apology 18.1-3, Justin argues that "if death led to unconsciousness," this would be "a godsend to the unjust"; instead, "consciousness endures for all those who have existed, and eternal punishment lies in store...even after death souls remain in consciousness."49 In 1 Apology 28.1, Justin declares that the devil "will be sent into the fire with his army and with the human beings who follow him to be punished for an unending age [Greek: kolasthēsomenous ton aperanton aiōna]."50 In 1 Apology 45.6, Justin contrasts "punishment through eternal fire" with mere killing (cf. 1 Apol. 19.7-8). In 2 Apology 7.3-4, Justin states that the demons will be "imprisoned [Greek verb: egkleiō] in eternal fire," adding that humans who serve them will share the same punishment.51 The evidence for Justin having been a traditionalist is overwhelming.

Let us now turn to the evidence that Fudge brings forward in support of "Conditionalist Justin." In 1 Apology 44.4-7, Justin comments on the phrase "a sword will devour you" from Isaiah 1:20. According to Fudge, this passage is evidence that "Justin explicitly says that the wicked will finally pass away" (p. 384). However, Justin explains that Isaiah is not referring to a literal sword, i.e. one "that cuts and dispatches instantly"; otherwise the prophet would not have used the word "devour." For Justin, this passage is not about being "slain by the sword"; rather, "the sword of God is the fire, of which those who choose to do evil things become food." Justin says immediately after these comments that "whatever both the [Greek] philosophers and poets said concerning the immortality of the soul or punishments after death...they were enabled to understand...because they took their starting-points from the prophets" (1 Apol. 44.9).52 This implies that Justin understands the devouring sword of Isaiah 1:20 in terms of a postmortem punishment of the soul, i.e. eternal fire.

Fudge says that conditionalists "proudly point to" 2 Apology 6(7).1-253 as proof that the wicked will "finally pass away forever." In this passage, Justin contrasts Christian eschatology with Stoic philosophy. The Stoics taught the notion of ekpyrōsis, a periodic conflagration through which the entire universe was destroyed by fire and started over again.54 Justin counters that God "refrains from" or "delays causing"55 "the dissolution and destruction of the whole universe, which would entail an end [Greek: mēketi hōsi, literally "they would no longer exist"] to wicked angels and demons and human beings".56 A conditionalist interpretation of this statement requires that God is eventually going to reduce wicked angels, demons, and humans to non-existence. However, if we read on, Justin argues "that the conflagration will occur, but not as the Stoics said" (2 Apol. 6.3, emphasis added). The way Justin envisions the conflagration is that "the race of angels and the human race...will reap the just retribution in eternal fire for whatever wrong they do" (2 Apol. 6.5), which retribution (as we have seen) involves being "imprisoned in eternal fire" (2 Apol. 7.3). Thus, the argument of 2 Apology 6-7 is consistent with the traditionalist position espoused throughout Justin's writings.57

Finally, let us consider the one passage that does teach conditionalism and appears to espouse annihilation of the wicked: the detailed philosophical discussion on the soul in Dialogue 5-6. Fudge construes Justin's position thus: "Justin believed the soul was mortal, that it would suffer only as long as God willed, and that finally it would pass out of existence" (p. 384). In the early chapters of the Dialogue Justin contrasts the Christian view of the soul with those of Greek philosophies. In Dialogue 1.5, Justin denounces the Stoic idea that the next life will be a recurrence of the present life and the Platonic idea that "the soul is immortal and incorporeal," both of which, in Justin's view, contradict the notion of divine punishment.58 In Dialogue 4-6 Justin recounts a discussion he had with an old man that was instrumental in his conversion to Christianity; the old man's opinions can therefore be assumed to reasonably represent Christian views (as Justin understands them). In Dialogue 4.6-7, the old man attacks the Platonic doctrine of the soul, and specifically the notion that souls transmigrate into other bodies (e.g., animal bodies) after death. Again, the objection is that this undermines the idea of divine punishment, since imprisonment in a beast's body would leave the soul unaware of the punishment: "they suffer no punishment at all, unless they are conscious that it is a punishment" (Dial. 4.7).59 This shows that, for Justin, consciousness is fundamental to the idea of punishment. In Dialogue 5.1-2, the old man states (contra the Platonists) that the soul cannot be called immortal, "for, if it were, we would certainly have to call it unbegotten." Justin agrees with the old man that "Souls...are not immortal."60 However, they are objecting to the Platonic notion that souls are intrinsically immortal;61 the old man instead appears to espouse a "theory of mortal souls which actually do not die."62 The old man's key qualification is as follows:
'On the other hand,' he continued, 'I do not claim that any soul ever perishes [Greek: alla mēn oude apothnēskein phēmi pasas tas psuchas egō], for this would certainly be a benefit to sinners. What happens to them? The souls of the devout dwell in a better place, whereas the souls of the unjust and the evil abide in a worse place, and there they await the judgment day. Those, therefore, who are deemed worthy to see God will never perish, but the others will be subjected to punishment as long as God allows them to exist and as long as he wants them to be punished.'
The Greek of the first statement is ambiguous; apothnēskein...pasas tas psuchas could mean "any souls die" (like Slusser's rendering) or "all souls die" (so van Winden, and the translation quoted by Fudge).63 Van Winden, like Fudge, infers that some souls do die, namely those of the wicked. Whereas "the good souls...do not die any more, the wicked are punished as long as God wants them to be punished, and then die."64 The problem with this interpretation is that Justin's old man objects to the idea of souls dying precisely because this would be a boon to the wicked. This makes it unlikely that the old man expected the souls of the wicked to be finally annihilated. In Dialogue 5.4-5, the old man adds that the soul, like the world itself,
can be destroyed, since it is a created thing, but...will not be destroyed or be destined for destruction since such is the will of God...For, whatever exists or shall exist after God has a nature subject to corruption, and therefore capable of complete annihilation, for only God is unbegotten and incorruptible.65
Thus, the point of the old man's statement that the wicked "will be subjected to punishment as long as God allows them to exist" is that God could annihilate the souls of the wicked, not necessarily that he will do so. The passage continues, "This is also the reason why souls die and are punished" (Dial. 5.5). Since, if the old man/Justin expects souls ever to die, this would only be after the judgment day, "souls die" (present indicative) cannot be taken as a concrete statement here; it is a philosophical statement of an abstract truth: "souls die," i.e., are mortal. As the old man adds in Dialogue 6.1-2,
the soul partakes of life because God wishes it to live. It will no longer partake of life whenever God doesn't wish it to live... whenever the soul must cease to live, the spirit of life is taken from it and it is no more, but it likewise returns to the place of its origin.66
As van Winden explains, this passage, after arguing that the soul comes to an end, then explains "how the soul comes to an end."67 Again, these are abstract statements about the soul. The soul is not intrinsically immortal; it partakes of life as long as God wills this, and when he no longer wills this, it ceases to exist. The question is, when and indeed whether God ever wills for the souls of the wicked to cease to exist. Abundant evidence from the rest of the Dialogue and the Apologies suggests that Justin's answer is "No"; God wills unending punishment for the wicked. Again, even in the immediate context, the old man states that soul death would be a boon to the wicked.

When interpreting Dialogue 5.3-6.2 it is important to remember that the main topic at hand in this passage is not Christian eschatology (hence the absence of any mention of resurrection or eternal fire) but philosophical anthropology: the nature of the soul. The main point is that souls are not (contra Platonism) intrinsically indestructible, but exist only because, and as long as, God wills this. This leaves us with two possibilities: either Justin's ideas here contradict his eschatology as stated elsewhere, or his unstated corollary here is that the souls of the wicked, though essentially mortal, will not actually die because God wills them to be punished perpetually. (In fact, according to 1 Apology 8.4 it is not only the soul but also the body that is punished eternally.) Scholars such as van Winden and Bobichon prefer the incoherence solution,68 but I think that where a coherent synthesis is possible—as it is in this case—this synthesis is a better solution than positing that Justin's theology was self-contradictory. What is beyond doubt is that, outside of Dialogue 4.6-6.2, Justin consistently takes a traditionalist view of final punishment.

Due to the length of my interaction with Fudge's chapter 24, I will just briefly describe his subsequent chapters on church history. The Apologists of the late second and early third centuries (Tatian, Athenagoras, Tertullian, but not Irenaeus) are the first Christians whom Fudge unambiguously acknowledges to have believed in unending conscious punishment (in chapter 25, "The Apologists: A Fire That Torments"). Consequently, at this point Fudge shifts from describing early Christian authors' views on final punishment to rebutting them, which is in my view not a very sound historical method.

In chapter 26 ("Apokatastasis: A Fire That Purifies"), Fudge discusses the views of Clement of Alexandria and Origen and uses the opportunity to discuss and rebut the doctrine of universal salvation. (He does not, however, interact at length with the Catholic doctrine of purgatory.) Fudge makes one glaring error in his description of Clement of Alexandria's views: he attributes to Clement a passage from the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions (p. 400), which depict themselves as written by Clement of Rome (not Clement of Alexandria), but which are believed by modern scholars to be a fourth-century work that drew on an earlier novel composed c. 220 C.E. by a Syrian Jewish Christian.69 The Recognitions have nothing to do with Clement of Alexandria!

In chapter 27, Fudge offers a detailed discussion of the views of Arnobius (the first Christian writer to defend a doctrine of annihilationism in detail), and briefer comments on the views of other writers from the fourth and fifth centuries, such as Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus, John Chrysostom, and Ambrose of Milan. At the end of chapter 27 and through chapter 28, Fudge interacts in detail with the views of Augustine of Hippo, whom he views as instrumental in solidifying eternal torment as orthodox Christian doctrine (p. 432).

In chapter 29 ("Middle Ages to Reformation"), Fudge discusses the views of medieval theologians Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas Aquinas, and then those of the Reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin (as well as William Tyndale and the Anabaptists). In chapter 30, he gives special attention to John Calvin's efforts to combat the Anabaptist idea of soul sleep.

In chapter 31 ("An Old Tradition Questioned"), Fudge notes that the traditionalist view of unending conscious torment had become "the fixed orthodoxy of the Roman Catholic Church" from Augustine's time, and had a secure place in Protestant doctrine as well due to "the backing of Calvin and Luther, but especially that of the creed writers Bullinger and Melanchton" (p. 479). He then documents how various nonconformist individuals and movements of the 17th to 19th centuries challenged the traditional view of hell. In chapter 32 ("Roots of the Current Recovery"), Fudge discusses the resurgence of conditionalism in 20th-century Evangelical circles. Despite the rise of fundamentalism, which made traditionalism a non-negotiable and stifled debate on the subject, three British scholars helped the conditionalist cause to gain momentum: Harold Ernest Guillebaud, Basil F. C. Atkinson, and John W. Wenham. At this point in the narrative, Fudge begins to weave in his own story. Fudge wrote what he describes as a "largely noncontroversial" 1976 article in Christianity Today entitled, "Putting Hell in Its Place," and was subsequently commissioned by an Australian theologian to carry out a research project that led to the publication of The Fire That Consumes in 1982. In chapter 33 ("The Evangelical Recovery Continues"), Fudge discusses the momentum that annihilationism has gained in recent years, naming numerous prominent biblical scholars and theologians who have "publicly rejected traditionalism's doctrine of unending conscious torment" (p. 505). He states that annihilationism "now appears poised to enjoy exponential growth for many years to come." In this chapter he also documents some of the recent Evangelical efforts to defend the traditionalist view and refute annihilationism.

In chapter 34 ("A Kinder and Gentler Traditionalism"), Fudge argues that many traditionalists today have shied away from preaching on hell. He contrasts those who follow in Jonathan Edwards' footsteps with fire-and-brimstone preaching with those who "cower in embarrassment at his name" (p. 523). However, Fudge thinks the fire-and-brimstone approach is more justifiable: "If the wicked are to be made immortal for the purpose of enduring everlasting torture in agony," he says, writers who make this very plain "do sinners an inestimable favor" (p. 530). His main point in this chapter is that "Traditionalism's problem is not that it is unsympathetic but that it is unscriptural." In other words, the doctrine cannot be rescued by toning it down; it must be abandoned because it is false. I personally believe that the shying away from hellfire preaching in contemporary pulpits reflects postmodern society's high valuation of tolerance at the expense of divine judgment, and not pastors' misgivings with traditionalism specifically. I am skeptical that annihilationist pastors today preach their idea of hellfire with much more enthusiasm than do traditionalist pastors.

In chapter 35 ("Refreshing the Memory"), Fudge recapitulates his main arguments and interacts once more with "some of the sidetracks, arguments, and objections that have appeared along the way" (p. 532). After briefly highlighting various biblical images of punishment and attendant theological issues, Fudge avers that
One issue alone divides traditionalists and conditionalists: Does Scripture teach that God will make the wicked immortal, to suffer unending conscious torment in hell? Or does the Bible teach that the wicked will finally and truly die, perish, and become extinct forever, through a destructive process that encompasses whatever degree and duration of conscious torment God might sovereignly and justly impose in each individual case? (p. 538)
Fudge thinks that the evidence is "clear and uncomplicated" and points decisively to the second view. In chapter 36 ("Afterword"), Fudge briefly discusses the matter of burden of proof, as well as the distinction between issues and people. He warns against the temptation "to think of one's own view as a badge of faithfulness to God, and to demonize any who differ" (p. 542), i.e. "the sectarian impulse." Fudge expresses his view that the doctrine of hell is a serious matter but is not an essential doctrine of Christianity nor a definitive component of an Evangelical identity.

In this three-part series I have interacted at length with Edward Fudge's influential book, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment. Although meticulous in its argumentation, Fudge's work in my opinion does not present a compelling case for annihilationism. It does not adequately address the weight of evidence for a traditional view of hell represented by those New Testament documents that belong to what I have called (following Alan E. Bernstein) the "symmetrical tradition"—especially the Synoptic Gospels and Revelation. As we saw in the first part of the review, the "unending conscious torment" view did not originate in patristic Christianity, nor in the New Testament, but in Second Temple Judaism, including in works such as 1 Enoch and Judith (the latter part of Sacred Scripture in the Catholic tradition) whose ideas unquestionably influenced early Christian apocalyptic eschatology. The Second Temple Jewish and early Christian "symmetrical tradition" was in turn influenced by certain key texts from the Hebrew Bible such as Isaiah 66:24 and Daniel 12:2.

Since the scope of Fudge's book was "Biblical and Historical," the scope of my review has likewise focused more on exegesis of biblical and ancient extra-biblical texts than on systematic theology. In closing I just want to make a couple of theological comments. The first is that the biblical language about the punishments of hell, like the language about God, about eternal life and about other transcendent realities, is analogical rather than literal. N.T. Wright has appropriately described biblical eschatology in terms of sign-posts pointing into a fog. We cannot claim that any one biblical image of hell—whether as a fiery furnace, a dark prison, a place of exile, torture, destruction, (second) death—is definitive while others are metaphorical. All of these images gesture toward an awful reality. Many traditionalist theologians today describe the punishments of hell more in terms of psychological suffering than physical suffering, perhaps with some justification. Imagery that sounds like annihilation—destruction, perishing, death—is part of the picture: hell represents the total and final ruination of a human person and the loss of all that can be called life. In this very important respect, traditionalists and annihilationists are on the same page. However, in view of the whole range of images and descriptions revealed by God, the Catholic Church has since antiquity taught, and continues to teach, that the destruction of hell does not entail an end of all existence. That view, as we have seen in this third part of the review, was presupposed in some of the earliest Christian literature outside the New Testament.

One of the main theological problems with the doctrine of hell is one of theodicy: how can a righteous and loving God consign people to unending conscious torment? A "biblical and historical" review is not the place to offer a detailed answer to this legitimate philosophical question. However, a couple of brief comments are in order. First, we humans may not have as complete a grasp either of the magnitude of sin or of the exact nature of eternal punishment as we think we have, which means we are not well positioned to question God's judgment in this matter (think of Paul's potter-clay metaphor). Second, a pertinent issue that I touched on briefly in the first part of this review is that of the philosophy of time. We may be wrong if we assume that eternity as an unending epoch of time as we currently experience it, so notions of "unending" or "eternal" punishment built on this assumption may well be unfounded. Third, it does not automatically follow that for God to annihilate the wicked would be either more good or more merciful than for God to consign them to unending conscious torment. Fudge himself appears to argue (pp. 212-13) that annihilation is no less severe a punishment than unending conscious punishment.

Fourth, some would argue that a finite human being cannot do enough sins (or a great enough sin) in a finite lifetime to deserve punishment of infinite duration. Medieval theologians such as Anselm of Canterbury countered that punishment is infinite because the sinner has sinned against an infinite God, and no finite duration of punishment will qualify as satisfaction for this debt. We can also add that the premise of the argument is flawed: a finite human being can in a finite lifetime commit sins of infinite proportions. Consider the sin of scandal: leading others into sin. This sin is described in Scripture as particularly egregious. Of all the evil kings of the northern kingdom of Israel, none is condemned as frequently in 1-2 Kings as Jeroboam son of Nebat, who is named repeatedly as the one "who caused Israel to sin" (1 Kings 22:53 etc.), the archetypal bad king. Jesus speaks about the sin of scandal in Luke 17:1-2, warning that a gruesome execution compares favourably with the punishment for this sin. If I lead someone else into sin, and thereby cause them to miss out on eternal life, the consequences of my sin are unending. As long as the eternal reward of the blessed endures, that person is excluded from it because of my sin. Now, everyone commits sins that amount to scandal, inasmuch as every sin that is known to others sets a bad example for those others. In that sense, we are all guilty of contributing to the guilt of others and therefore the loss of eternal life for others. Since our sins have consequences that are never repaired but endure forever, it follows that we merit punishment that is not relieved but endures forever. Only God in his mercy can deliver us from this fate worse than death.


  • 1 Alan E. Bernstein, The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993).
  • 2 This, of course, does not mean that their doctrinal teachings are infallible, so in fact Catholics may disagree with particular teachings of Doctors of the Church, but will generally approach them with a greater degree of reverence than Protestants. If Fudge is correct in characterising Gregory of Nazianzus as skeptical about eternal torment (he devotes only a couple of sentences to this Cappadocian Father, on p. 428), then this is one Doctor of the Church whose ideas on final punishment did not align with what became official Church doctrine.
  • 3 Chapters 6-11 of the Ascension of Isaiah, which are believed to have been composed before chapters 1-5, have little to say about eschatological punishment. However, in Ascension of Isaiah 10.8, the Father commands Christ to "descend through all the heavens" (for the incarnation), and specifies, "You shall descend through the firmament and through that world as far as the angel who (is) in Sheol, but you shall not go as far as Perdition" (trans Michael A. Knibb, in OTP 1:173). Norelli comments that this statement, which is found only in the Ethiopic text, seems to refer to an area of hell (viewed as a subterranean region) other than Sheol, and seemingly the place of imprisonment—whether temporary or definitive—of those dead who have no hope of salvation. He adds that for the author of this passage, Perdition already contains the damned (since Christ is specifically ordered not to descend there) (Enrico Norelli, Ascensio Isaiae: Commentarius [Turnhout: Brepols, 1995], 508-509). In chapters 1-5, the author describes the second coming of the Beloved, and states that the Lord "will drag Beliar, and his hosts also, into Gehenna" (Ascen. Isa. 4.14). He adds that "There will be a resurrection and a judgment in their midst in those days, and the Beloved will cause fire to rise from him, and it will consume all the impious, and they will become as if they had not been created" (Ascen. Isa. 4.18). Since chapters 1-5 give no evidence that anything other than annihilation is envisioned for the wicked, this is best understood as a description of annihilating fire. Norelli regards this passage as teaching annihilation of wicked humans but not necessarily of Beliar (Satan) (Commentarius, 274-75).
  • 4 Hermas speaks of the eschatological fate of the wicked primarily in terms of death (Vis. 1.3.7; Mand. 12.1.2; 12.2.2-3; Sim. 5.7.2; 8.6.4-6; 9.18.2; 9.20.4; 9.26.2; 9.32.4-5), though other texts use metaphors of exclusion and banishment (Vis. 3.9.5-6; Sim. 1.5; 9.14.2; 9.15.3), or of captivity and imprisonment ("death and captivity," Vis. 1.1.8; "lest by denying [the Lord] you get thrown in prison," Sim. 9.28.7), suggesting that "death" may not entail annihilation. The apocalypse's only reference to "torments" refers to temporary, purgatorial torments that can lead to repentance and salvation, but can also lead to death (Vis. 3.7.5-6; Sim. 6.3-5). Echoing a dominical saying, Hermas warns the disobedient that "it would have been better for them not to have been born" (Vis. 4.2.6). Similitudes 4.4, in an agricultural parable, foretells that the sinners, likened to withered and fruitless trees, will "be burned as firewood" in the world to come. Similitudes 6.2.1-4 states that those who live in luxury will be destroyed, "some to death and some to corruption." Hermas asks for clarification on what "to death" and "to corruption" mean, and the angelus interpres explains that "corruption has some hope of renewal, but death has only eternal destruction (apōleian aiōnion)." It is not entirely clear whether this "death" or "eternal destruction" entails annihilation or torment. Hermas never describes death in terms of annihilation, and he seems to use the term "death" to describe the (potentially temporary) torments and punishments that come upon the deceived (Sim. 6.5.3-4). Moreover, it is clear that Hermas does not equate physical death with non-existence, since Similitudes 9.16.5-6 states that the apostles, after falling asleep, "preached also to those who had previously fallen asleep". All things considered, Hermas belongs to the positive tradition rather than the symmetrical tradition, since his dominant language for the eschatological fate is that of death and destruction, but his witness is consistent with traditionalism, and his language of punishment and torment is actually mainly concerned with a temporary purgatorial state.
  • 5 For text and translation of Apocalypse of Peter, see Dennis D. Buchholz, Your Eyes Will Be Opened: A Study of the Greek (Ethiopic) Apocalypse of Peter (Atlanta: Scholars, 1988). All translations herein are from Buchholz. The Apocalypse of Peter's prologue describes the apocalypse's content as "about those dead who die from their sins because they did not observe the laws of God who made them." Peter is shown "how the righteous and sinners will be separated...and how the evildoers will be rooted out forever and ever" (Apoc. Pet. 3.2-3). The apocalypse continues with description of "the river of fire which does not go out, a fire which flames as it burns" (Apoc. Pet. 5.8), a "devouring fire" (Apoc. Pet. 6.4). The fate of "the evildoers and the sinners and the hypocrites" is that they "will stand among the abysses of the darkness which does not go out and their punishment (is) the fire. And the angels will bring their sins and prepare for them a place where they will be punished forever, each one according to his guilt" (Apoc. Pet. 6.5-6). The work proceeds to give a tour of hell that describes particular torments assigned to particular types of sinners (idolaters, adulterers, etc.) It is apparent that the punishment is conscious and unending: "And they are punished without rest while their pain is felt by them. And their worm multiplies like through a cloud of darkness" (Apoc. Pet. 7.9); "they are set on it that they might be punished (with) a punishment of pain which does not end" (Apoc. Pet. 9.6); "Other men and women from a height throw themselves headlong. And again, they return and run and demons force them... And they force them to the end of existence and they throw (themselves) over. And this like this they do continually. They are punished forever." (Apoc. Pet. 10.2-3); "With one voice [and] all of those who are in punishment will say, 'Have mercy on us, for now we have learned the judgment of God which he told us beforehand and we did not believe.' And the angel Tatirokos will come and rebuke them with punishment increasingly and he said to them, 'Now you repent when there is no time for repentance and life did not remain.'" (Apoc. Pet. 13.4-5).
  • 6 Fudge states (p. 387 n. 9) that his quotations from the Apostolic Fathers are his translations of Bihlmeyer's Greek text (published in 1924). The only other texts and translations that he mentions are the Ante-Nicene Christian Library (edited by Roberts and Donaldson, 1867-85), J.B. Lightfoot's edition (1869-77), and Goodspeed's (1950). Available to Fudge at the time of his first edition of The Fire That Consumes, but not consulted, were Robert M. Grant's translation and commentary (1964-68) and the relevant volumes from the highly respected Sources Chretiennes series (published continuously from the 1940s onward). New critical texts, translations, and commentaries that appeared after the first but before the third edition of The Fire That Consumes, and also not consulted, include the Hermeneia series (1980s to present), Holmes's critical text and translation (1992; 2nd edition 2007), Ehrman's critical text and translation (2003), and the German Kommentar zu den Apostolischen Vätern series (1991-2007). In discussing Justin Martyr, Fudge cites only the 19th-century edition of Roberts and Donaldson, and not the more recent critical texts and/or translations of, for instance, Falls (1948; revised by Halton and Slusser, 2003), Marcovich (1997) or Bobichon (2003) (for the Dialogue with Trypho) or Marcovich (2005) or Minns and Parvis (2009) (for the Apologies).
  • 7 Trans. Michael W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 252-53.
  • 8 Although some scholars regard the Didache as dependent on Matthew and others regard Matthew as dependent on the Didache, the scholarly consensus is that there is no literary dependence between the two but rather use of shared traditions (implying a similar religio-historical context). See Aaron Milavec, "A Rejoinder," Journal of Early Christian Studies 13 (2005): 519-23.
  • 9 Evidence for the content of the Didache's lost ending consists of a fourth-century text called Apostolic Constitutions that includes a loose paraphrase of the Didache, and a late Georgian version of the Didache. Robert E. Aldridge renders the Apostolic Constitutions ending—which he thinks "may be accepted as the Didache's proximate true ending"—thus: "8 Then the world will see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven with the angels of His power, in the throne of His kingdom, 9 to condemn the devil, the deceiver of the world, and to render to every one according to his deeds. 10 Then shall the wicked go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous shall enter eternal life, 11 to inherit those things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, such things as God hath prepared for them that love Him. 12 And they shall rejoice in the kingdom of God, which is in Christ Jesus" ("The Lost Ending of the Didache," Vigiliae Christianae 53 [1999]: 12-13). Kurt Niederwimmer renders the ending of the Georgian version of the Didache thus: "(coming with the clouds) with power and great glory, in order to repay every human being according to his [or her] works in his holy righteousness, before the whole human race and before the angels. Amen" (The Didache: A Commentary [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1998], 226-27). Only the Apostolic Constitutions ending has the reference to "everlasting punishment." Given that the Apostolic Constitutions' ending is more verbose than both the surviving portion of the Didache's apocalyptic ending (Did. 16.1-8) and the Georgian version's ending, and that the Apostolic Constitutions' reference to "everlasting punishment" can be explained as an interpolation drawn from Matthew 25:46, on the whole it seems unlikely that the Didache's lost ending referred to everlasting punishment.
  • 10 Possibly the Book of Eldad and Modad. See Dale C. Allison, Jr., "Eldad and Modad," Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 21 (2011): 99-131.
  • 11 For example, the writer gives a series of biblical examples of the negative consequences of jealousy in 1 Clement 4. The examples include "Jealousy brought Dathan and Abiram down alive into Hades" (1 Clem. 4.12), but this is merely a paraphrase of Numbers 16:33 LXX and thus provides little information about the author's understanding of Hades. In 1 Clement 14.5 and 22.6 the writer quotes from two psalms (36:35-37 LXX and 33:12-18 LXX) that refer to the end of the wicked. The one psalm states that the ungodly "was no more," and the other that "the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to destroy any remembrance of them from the earth." Undoubtedly these psalms referred in their original grammatical-historical context to physical death and the end of one's family line, but it is not clear what kind of eschatological meaning the author of 1 Clement might have assigned to these statements. In 1 Clement 11.1, the writer alludes to Lot's rescue from Sodom and the judgment of the region "by fire and sulfur." His theological inference: "The Master thus made it clear that he does not abandon those who hope in him, but hands over to punishment and torment (eis kolasin kai aikismon tithēsin) those who turn away" (trans. Bart D. Ehrman, The Apostolic Fathers [2 vols.; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003], 53-55; Holmes renders the last clause, "but destines to punishment and torment those who turn aside" [Apostolic Fathers, 41]). The writer thus implies that "punishment and torment" are in store for the ungodly, and he adds that Lot's wife is a "sign" of such judgment. For other allusions to divine judgments from the biblical past, see 1 Clem. 17.5; 51.3-5; and a lengthy quotation from Prov. 1:23-33 in 1 Clem. 57.3-7, which is said to describe "the dangers foretold by Wisdom, which threaten the disobedient" (1 Clem. 58.1; trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 1:139).
  • 12 Trans. Holmes, Apostolic Fathers, 75.
  • 13 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 1:167.
  • 14 This passage reads, "5 This means that he was to save those who were perishing. 6 For it is a great and astonishing feat to fix in place something that is toppling over, not something that is standing. 7 Thus also Christ wished to save what was perishing. And he did save many; for he came and called us while we were on the brink of destruction" (Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 1:169).
  • 15 See discussion of "throwing out" language in the Gospels in Part 2.
  • 16 2 Clement's form of the saying is distinct from both Matthew's and Luke's and is the most detailed of the three: "Jesus said to Peter, 'After they are dead, the sheep should fear the wolves no longer. So too you: do not fear those who kill you and then can do nothing more to you; but fear the one who, after you die, has the power to cast your body and soul into the hell [lit. Gehenna] of fire'" (trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 1:171-73). Like Matthew, 2 Clement is explicit that it is both body and soul that are punished in Gehenna; like Luke, 2 Clement is explicit that this punishment takes place after death and that Gehenna is a place into which one's body and soul can be "thrown." Thus, 2 Clement clearly does not conceive of the punishment of Gehenna as a definitive but merely physical execution; he conceives of it as a transcendent postmortem punishment. Moreover, 2 Clement conceives of the soul as something that can be spatially "thrown," and thus not as a mere abstraction like "life-force."
  • 17 The same phrase occurs in Matt. 25:46, where it is equivalent to "eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (25:41)—unquestionably a transcendent punishment. Fudge takes "eternal punishment" to denote annihilation with unending consequences. However, as discussed in note 12 of Part 2 of this review, the same phrase is used in 4 Maccabees interchangeably with "eternal torment."
  • 18 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 1:175-77.
  • 19 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 1:195.
  • 20 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 1:177.
  • 21 This passage also uses a pottery metaphor in which once the potter "has already put [the vessel] in the kiln (eis tēn kaminon), he can no longer fix it" (2 Clem. 8.3). The Greek word kaminos is the same word used in Matt. 13:42, 50 to describe Gehenna as a "furnace."
  • 22 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 1:257-59.
  • 23 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 1:241. Holmes has "to live forever in Jesus Christ" (Apostolic Fathers, 151).
  • 24 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 1:235-37.
  • 25 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 1:245.
  • 26 Trans. Ehrmans, Apostolic Fathers, 1:301.
  • 27 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 1:297.
  • 28 Trans. Holmes, Apostolic Fathers, 186. Ehrman translates differently: "and it will happen to them just as they think, since they are without bodies, like the daimons" (Apostolic Fathers, 1:297). Ehrman's translation has Ignatius explaining a future prediction ("it will happen to them") with reference to a present reality ("since they are without bodies"), which makes little sense. With Holmes, it seems preferable to take the final clause (ousin asōmatois kai daimonikois) as subordinate to the prior ones (kai kathōs phronousin, kai sumbēsetai autois). My translation would be: "And just as they think, so it will happen to them, [namely] being bodiless and demon-like."
  • 29 Apostolic Fathers, 1:362.
  • 30 The text also predicts that those members of Polycarp's household who betrayed him to the Roman authorities would "suffer the punishment of Judas himself" (M. Polyc. 6.2), but does not give any further details about the nature of this punishment.
  • 31 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 1:369.
  • 32 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 1:383. I have replaced Ehrman's translation of kolasis, "torment," with "punishment," which is the more common translation of this word. Holmes translates "eternal punishment" here (Apostolic Fathers, 236).
  • 33 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 2:17, 25.
  • 34 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 2:25.
  • 35 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 2:81. I have added the square brackets to indicate that these words are not in the Greek.
  • 36 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 2:143.
  • 37 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 2:147.
  • 38 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 2:151.
  • 39 Trans. Ehrman, Apostolic Fathers, 2:153-55. Square brackets have been added around the words "of time" since these are not in the Greek.
  • 40 See Diog. 5.12: "They (Christians) are put to death and made alive."
  • 41 Justin refers to "eternal fire" (apart from quotations of dominical sayings) in 1 Apol. 12.2, 17.4, 21.6, 45.6, 52.3; 2 Apol. 1.2, 2.2, 6.5, 7.3-4, and 9.1. He refers to "eternal punishment" in Dial. 117.3, 1 Apol. 12.1, and 18.2, and to "Gehenna" in 1 Apol. 19.7-8. Other references to eschatological punishment by fire are found in Dial. 35.8, 45.4, 47.4, 116.2, 117.3, 120.5; 1 Apol. 28.1 and 54.2. Direct quotations of sayings of Jesus or John the Baptist are found in Dial. 49.3 (cf. Matt. 3:11-12), Dial. 76.4-5 (cf. Matt. 7:22-23; 8:11-12; 25:30, 41; Luke 13:28), 120.5-6 (cf. Matt. 8:11-12; Luke 13:28), 122.1 (cf. Matt. 23:15), 140.3-4 (cf. Matt. 8:11-12; Luke 13:28), 1 Apol. 15.2 (cf. Matt. 5:29; 18:9), 16.2 (cf. Matt. 5:22), 16.12-13 (cf. Matt. 3:10; 7:19; 8:12; 13:42, 50), 17.4 (cf. Luke 12:48), 19.7 (cf. Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:4-5). Some of these quotations do not exactly correspond to the Gospel sayings they parallel.
  • 42 See Dialogue 76.4-5, where Justin paraphrases the saying of Matt. 25:41 as "Depart into outer darkness, which the Father has prepared for Satan and his angels" (Matthew has "Depart...into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels"). See also Dialogue 120.5-6, where a saying of Jesus about the "outer darkness" is quoted as proof that Christ will condemn some to "unquenchable fire."
  • 43 Trans. Slusser 196; text in Bobichon 1:534.
  • 44 Text and translation Minns and Parvis 210-13.
  • 45 Text and translation Minns and Parvis 234-37.
  • 46 My translation. The adverb apaustōs is a form of the verb pauō that Justin uses in his paraphrase of Isa. 66:24 (as was noted above).
  • 47 Similarly, in Dialogue 117.3, Justin contrasts those who will be made "incorruptible, immortal, and free from pain" with those whom Christ will dispatch "into the eternal punishment of fire." Of course, annihilation also entails freedom from pain, so it is odd that the language of "freedom from pain" should be used so prominently of the righteous (see also Dial. 46.7; 69.7) if he thought this was the lot of the unrighteous as well.
  • 48 Text in Minns and Parvis 210-13.
  • 49 Text and translation Minns and Parvis 122-23.
  • 50 The adjective aperantos means literally "endless" or "without completion" (cf. BDAG 101). Text and translation Minns and Parvis 158-59.
  • 51 Text and translation Minns and Parvis 298-99.
  • 52 All translations from 1 Apology 44 are from Minns and Parvis 194-95.
  • 53 The 19th-century edition used by Fudge has the relevant passage as chapter 7; recent critical texts such as Minns and Parvis have it as chapter 6.
  • 54 See Anthony Preus, Historical Dictionary of Ancient Greek Philosophy (2nd edn; Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 140.
  • 55 Minns and Parvis, 291, render the verbal expression epimenō...mē poiēsai as "refrains from bringing about," while the translation used by Fudge renders it "delays causing." Kyle Pope renders the phrase "waits and does not cause" (The Second Apology of Justin Martyr: with Text and Translation [Shawnee Mission: Ancient Road Publications, 2001)], 25).
  • 56 Trans. Minns and Parvis 291.
  • 57 Minns and Parvis state, "Although he does not believe the soul to be inherently immortal (D 5.3; 6.1-2), Justin does not mean that wicked angels, demons, and human beings will cease to exist, but that they will be punished everlastingly (2A 7.3; 1A 28.1; 52.3; D 117.3)" (Justin: Philosopher and Martyr, 291 n. 1).
  • 58 The Platonists, says Justin, "conclude that they will not be punished even if they are guilty of sin; for, if the soul is incorporeal, it cannot suffer; if it is immortal, it needs nothing further from God" (trans. Slusser 4). On the identity of the philosophies Justin is denouncing here, see J. C. M. van Winden, An Early Christian Philosopher: Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho, Chapters One to Nine: Introduction, Text and Commentary (Leiden: Brill, 1971), 39.
  • 59 This is the old man's statement, and Justin explicitly agrees with it: "'No, indeed,' I conceded" (trans. Slusser 11).
  • 60 Trans. Slusser 11-12.
  • 61 "Since the soul had a beginning, it is necessary that it is essentially perishable, i.e., can be non-existing. This does not mean that it has an end. In fact, this is the opinion of the old man (Dial. 5, 3)" (van Winden, Early Christian Philosopher, 88).
  • 62 van Winden, Early Christian Philosopher, 92.
  • 63 van Winden: "'But, on the other hand, nor do I contend that all souls die, for that would indeed be some good luck for the bad...'" (Early Christian Philosopher, 90).
  • 64 van Winden, Early Christian Philosopher, 90.
  • 65 Trans. Slusser 12.
  • 66 Trans. Slusser 13.
  • 67 van Winden, Early Christian Philosopher, 101. He adds: "The death of the soul, treated by the old man in the second part of the passage, is described as a process exactly parallel with bodily death. When this comes to man, the soul leaves the body and he exists no more. In the same manner, when death comes to the soul, the life-giving spirit leaves the soul and the soul is no more. In other words, just as man is compounded of corporeal matter and soul, so the soul is a compound of soul matter and life-giving spirit. And just as at corporeal death the bodily matter (=the body) reverts to the earth from which it was taken, so, the soul matter (=the soul) goes back whence it was taken" (van Winden, Early Christian Philosopher, 101).
  • 68 van Winden comments that what the old man defends in Dialogue 5.3-6.2 "clearly conflicts with what Justin teaches on the matter elsewhere...the theory of the death of the wicked soul contradicts Justin's statements elsewhere" (Early Christian Philosopher, 106). van Winden's solution to the contradiction is simply to acknowledge it: "In the time of first confrontations of Christianity with philosophy the Christian problem of the here-after could as yet not be worked out, also because the Scriptures are not always clear either. Hence it had to happen that the first centuries of Christian philosophizing at times embodied inconsistencies" (Early Christian Philosopher, 108). Bobichon concurs that "Les affirmations que contiennent le Dialogue et l'Apologie à propos de la survie des âmes et de la durée du châtiment ne paraissent pas toujours cohérentes" (2:592-93).
  • 69 See F. Stanley Jones, "Jewish Christianity of the Pseudo-Clementines," in A Companion to Second-Century Christian 'Heretics', ed. Antti Marjanen and Petri Luomanen (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 315-34.
  • 70