Denying Hell? (Turretin)

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 3 Volumes

The last section of Francis Turretin’s Institutes appropriately covers the doctrine of the last things (eschatology). Turretin’s seventh question is this: “Is there a hell? And what are its punishments…?” Turretin immediately says yes, hell is real and it is a place of punishment for the wicked. He gives numerous Scripture quotations to defend the doctrine of hell (Mk. 9:44, Mt. 22:13, Mt. 25:41, Rev. 19:20, Heb. 6:2, Mt. 3:7, etc. etc.). In other words, Turretin says, yes, quite clearly the doctrine of hell is taught in the Bible. I like how he then commented on the question itself:

We think it is superfluous to inquire whether there is a hell, whatever Epicureans and atheists (who consider it as a mere figment and empty scarecrow of the simple) may say. For it is asserted in so many passages of the Scriptures, and is confirmed by so many arguments (whether from the justice of God, or from the curse of the law, or from the heinousness and demerit of sin, or from the terrors and torments of conscience) that it is a proof not only of the highest impiety, but also madness to question or deny it. Those deriders will too well feel its truth and terribleness to their own great hurt.

Francis Turretin, Institutes, volume 3, p. 605.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Hell (Geenna) (NIDNTTE)

In many modern English versions of the Bible, the word hell is used fourteen times (eleven by Jesus). The Greek word in twelve of these instances is γεεννα (geenna or gehenna). What does this word “hell” or “geenna” mean? It’s actually the Greek transliteration of the Old Testament phrase “Valley of Hinnom.” Below is a helpful summary of geenna in the NIDNTTE. It’s helpful because it gives us some of the OT background of the NT’s teaching about hell.

In Jewish Literature:

The word γεεννα is not certainly attested prior to the NT…. The term is a transliteration of Aram. גֵּיהִנָּם, which in turn derives from Heb. גֵּי־הִנֹּם, “Valley of Hinnom,” referring to what is now known as Wadi er-Rababi, just S and W of Jerusalem (Josh 15:8; 18:16; 2 Chr 33:6; Isa 31:9; 66:24; Jer 32:35 [LXX 39:35]). Because child sacrifices were sometimes offered in this valley (cf. 2 Kgs 16:3; 21:6), Josiah had it desecrated (2 Kgs 23:10). According to Jer 7:32 and 19:6–7, it will be the place of God’s judgment (cf. Isa 30:33; 66:24).

Jewish apocalyptic [literature] refers to “a valley, deep and burning with fire” (1 En. 54.1; cf. 56.3 et al.), apparently assuming that the Valley of (Ben) Hinnom would become, after the final judgment, the hell of fire (this idea may have been influenced by the fact that the valley evidently was used for burning refuse and the bodies of criminals). Hence the name γέεννα came to be applied to the eschatological place of punishment in general….

The word geenna in NT literature:

The term γεεννα occurs 12× in the NT, mainly in Matthew (Matt 5:22, 29–30 [par. 18:8–9 and Mark 9:43, 45, 47]; Matt 10:28 [par. Luke 12:5]; Matt 23:15 [υἱὸς γεέννης], 33; Jas 3:6). Because it is a place of fire (ἡ γέεννα τοῦ πυρός, Matt 5:22; 18:9; τὸ πῦρ τὸ ἄσβεστον, “unquenchable,” Mark 9:43 [cf. Matt 3:12 = Luke 3:17]), Gehenna is elsewhere referred to by such phrases as “the blazing furnace” (Matt 13:42, 50), “the eternal fire” (25:41), and “the fiery lake” (Rev 19:20 et al.). Gehenna is distinguished from Hades, which evidently houses the souls of the dead before the last judgment; indeed, Hades along with death will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14). The same punishment will overtake Satan and the demons, the beast from the abyss, and the false prophet (Matt 25:41; Rev 20:10).

 Moisés Silva, ed., New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 548.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Easter and the Fear of Hell (Boston)

Works of Thomas Boston, 12 volume hard cover set (Boston) Although many people mock the truth of hell’s existence, some people struggle with the fear of hell.  Some people are afraid of spending eternity facing a punishment in a place where there is forever weeping and gnashing of teeth.  It’s hard to think about suffering God’s eternal wrath against sin.  On this topic,  Thomas Boston does a great job explaining how the resurrection of Christ can drive away the fear of hell and give a great and joyful hope of heaven:

Hell is a fountain of fears. Sometimes the godly are above, sometimes under the fears of hell. It is terrible, the thought of being excluded forever the presence of God! “Who can abide with everlasting burnings?” When we look down to the pit, it seems hard to escape it; when we look up to heaven, our souls faint, lest we never get there.

But fear not: for Christ died; and if so, he suffered the torments you should have suffered in hell, as to the essentials of them. He was under the punishment of loss; God forsook him, Psalm 22:1. He endured the punishment of sense, even to drops of blood, and the wrath of God poured into his soul. Then God will not require two payments for one debt. Christ lives, he rose, and entered heaven as a public person; and therefore, believer, you shall as surely go to heaven as if you were there already, yea, the apostle says we are there already. Eph. 2:6, “We are raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” as our Head. Jesus lives forevermore; and therefore you shall be forever with the Lord.

“He has the keys of hell and death.” Suppose your father or best friend on earth had these keys, would you be afraid? But we may have more confidence in Jesus than in ten thousand fathers or even the mothers that gave birth to us. They may forsake us, and a mother may be found that will not have compassion on the son of her womb; but, O believer, Jesus has said, “I will not forget you,” Isa. 49:15, 16, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have carved you upon the palms of my hand, you walls are continually before me.” Though Satan be the jailor of hell, yet he keeps not the keys; they hang, believer, at the belt of your best friend.

 Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: Sixty-Six Sermons, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 9 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1851), 22–23.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Eternal Punishment (Vos)

The Collected Dictionary Articles of Geerhardus Vos When Scripture talks about the eventual fate of the unrepentant, those who never turn to Christ in faith, it is a bleak picture of God’s wrath and punishment.  It’s not a fun thing to talk about, but it is a reality that makes Christians so thankful for Christ and his saving work and the eternal life he gives.  It also is one of many reasons why we share the gospel with those who don’t believe.  One aspect of this topic is the fact that the punishment is eternal.  Here’s how Geerhardus Vos explained it:

The judgment assigns to each individual his eternal destiny, which is absolute in its character either of blessedness or of punishment…. Only two groups are recognized, those of the condemned and of the saved (Matthew 25:33, 14; John 5:29); no intermediate group with as yet undetermined destiny anywhere appears. The degree of guilt is fixed according to the knowledge of the Divine will possessed in life (Matthew 10:15; 11:20–24; Luke 10:12–15; 12:47, 48; John 15:22, 24; Romans 2:12; 2 Peter 2:20–22). The uniform representation is that the judgment has reference to what has been done in the embodied state of this life; nowhere is there any reflection upon the conduct or product of the intermediate state as contributing to the decision (2 Corinthians 5:10).

The state assigned is of endless duration, hence described as aionios, “eternal.” While this adjective etymologically need mean no more than “what extends through a certain aeon or period of time,” yet its eschatological usage correlates it everywhere with the “coming age,” and, this age being endless in duration, every state or destiny connected with it partakes of the same character. It is therefore exegetically impossible to give a relative sense to such phrases as pur aionion, “eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8; 25:41; Jude 1:7), kolasis aionios, “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46), olethros aionios, “eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9), krisis aionios or krima aionion, “eternal judgment” (Mark 3:29; Hebrews 6:2). This is also shown by the figurative representations which unfold the import of the adjective: The “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12), “the never-dying worm” (Mark 9:43–48), “The smoke of their torment goeth up for ever and ever” (Revelation 14:11), “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). The endless duration of the state of punishment is also required by the absolute eternity of its counterpart, zoe aionios, “eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).

In support of the doctrine of conditional immortality it has been urged that other terms descriptive of the fate of the condemned, such as apoleia, “perdition,” phthora, “corruption,” olethros, “destruction,” thanatos, “death,” point rather to a cessation of being. This, however, rests on an unscriptural interpretation of these terms, which everywhere in the Old Testament and the New Testament designate a state of existence with an undesirable content, never the pure negation of existence, just as “life” in Scripture describes a positive mode of being, never mere existence as such. Perdition, corruption, destruction, death, are predicated in all such cases of the welfare or the ethical spiritual character of man, without implying the annihilation of his physical existence.

Geerhardus Vos, The Collected Dictionary Articles of Geerhardus Vos (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2013).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Jesus’ Teaching On Hell

How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil, 2nd ed.  Jesus talked about hell quite a bit; if you’ve read the Gospels, this is not a groundbreaking statement.  I appreciate how Don Carson reflects on Jesus’ “hard” teaching on hell:

1) On the whole Jesus himself is not shocked by the existence of hell, but by the hardness of people’s hearts.  As I already suggested, that may tell us that we need to wrestle much more diligently with how God looks at sin, and the degree and degradation and moral offensiveness of the sin that he sees.

2) There is no hint in the Bible that there is any repentance in hell.  There may be a cry for relief, or a plea, but there is no hint of repentance (Lk. 16:19-31).  Perhaps, then, we should think of hell as a place where people continue to rebel, continue to insist on their own way, continue societal structures of prejudice and hate, continue to defy the living God.  And as they continue to defy God, so he continues to punish them.  And the cycle goes on and on.

3) We must always remember that the Bible does not present us with a God who chances upon neutral men and women and arbitrarily consigns some to heaven and some to hell.  He takes guilty men and women, all of whom deserve his wrath, and in his great mercy and love he saves vast numbers of them.  Had he saved only one, it would have been an act of grace; that he saves a vast host affirms still more unmistakably the uncharted riches of that grace.

4) Heaven would surely be hell to those who do not enjoy and desire the blessing of the unshielded presence of God.

5) The God of the Bible is not unmoved by our suffering.  He is slow to anger, abundant in mercy.  Jesus, after saying “woes” to the religious hypocrites of his day, ends up weeping over the city of Jerusalem (Mt. 23).  Though the Bible speaks plainly [about hell], and sometimes in fury, it never does so without tears.  And Christians can never forget that they too, like the rest, are by nature objects of wrath.  They never warn others about the wrath of God from a position of intrinsic superiority, but from the broken experience and the relief of redemption they want to share.

These excellent quotes (edited for length) are found in D. A. Carson, How Long O Lord? p. 90-93.

shane lems