Jesus Creed

We have reserved Saturday afternoons, otherwise a slow time in the blog world, for book reviews. I ask reviewers to keep it under 3000 words, above 1500 words, and to summarize the book accurately and comprehensively. And, bring some critique. If you’d like to review a book, send it to me.

The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment
, IUniverse, 2000; originally published by Verdict Publications, 1982, 500 pages.

Written by Edward Fudge

Reviewed by Aaron Fudge

The issue of hell is divisive. It is a polarizing subject that often leads to strong emotions and strong accusations. During the recent Jesus Creed discussions concerning Gregory MacDonald’s (aka Robin Perry’s) The Evangelical Universalist, I was reminded of this fact. I was also reminded that many discussions regarding final punishment would leave an observer with the impression that Christianity offers only two positions on the final punishment of the lost. The debate often focuses on the viability of either the traditionalist or the universalist position, while ignoring the case for conditionalism. This recognition led to this review of Edward Fudge’s book, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of Final Punishment (IUniverse, 2000; originally published by Verdict Publications, 1982).

Approximately 27 years ago, Edward Fudge, my uncle, wrote a book entitled, The Fire that Consumes. In his book, Fudge argues forcefully that neither the traditionalist nor the universalist positions on the final punishment of the wicked take seriously enough the Biblical descriptions of punishment for those who finally reject Jesus Christ. Instead, Fudge shows that the Scripture unabashedly and repeatedly proclaims that the wicked will be raised to punishment by God and then when their active punishing is finished, the unrighteous will finally be annihilated; the wicked will be raised and will receive an eternal punishment, from which there is no return or end. 

While Fudge is unashamed of his conclusion and is thorough
in its defense, the reader is continually impressed by Fudge’s lack of
vitriolic polemics and his constant cry for critique and discussion (xvi).  Fudge begins his book with a call to
re-examine the Biblical writings on final punishment, to read them again with
renewed focus and vision, and to listen to the words of Scripture through
careful exegetical and historical research.  Early in the introduction, Fudge defines the traditionalist
position as that which asserts, “hell will involve the unending conscious
torment (whether spiritual or physical or both) of the wicked who have been
made deathless (immortal)” (xvi). He then offers that the conditionalist
position is “the view that the wicked will suffer conscious punishment
precisely measured by divine justice but that they finally will perish in hell
so as to become totally extinct forever” (xvi).  He notes further that the conditionalist position is
distinct from that held by Jehovah’s Witnesses and others, who deny any
resurrection of the wicked (399).

After two chapters of introductory matters, Fudge’s first
three substantive chapters concern the Greek word aionios, normally translated as “eternal” or “everlasting” and a
discussion of the immortality of the soul.  In chapter three, Fudge argues that aionios does not only refer to an “unending duration” of time but
to an “eternal” quality, as well (37). Here, Fudge demonstrates “that Scripture
frequently uses aion, aionios, and their Hebrew counterparts (olam in various forms) of things which
have come to an end” (40). He then draws out the implications of reading aionios with both the temporal and
qualitative sense by surveying five passages where aionios is used specifically in this dual sense (Mt. 25:46; Mk.
3:29; 2 Thes. 1:9; Heb. 6:2, 9:12). The first passage Fudge comments on is
Hebrews 6:2, where the author references the “eternal judgment.” Fudge argues
that this judgment is eternal in quality, that it is God’s final judgment. He
then focuses on how this judgment can also be everlasting; how can a judgment
be eternal in relation to time? Fudge writes, “The act of judging will
certainly not last forever… There will be an act or process of judging, and
then [the judging] will be over. But the judging results in a judgment — and
that will never end. The action itself is one thing; its outcome… is something
else. ‘Eternal’ here speaks of the result of the action, not the action itself”
(45).  Similarly, in Hebrews 9:12,
the author writes concerning an “eternal redemption.”  Fudge argues that the saved are not continually being
redeemed, like they are not perpetually being judged, but that the redemption,
the result of the redeeming, is everlasting (45). Fudge closes this chapter by
showing that this is also the natural way to understand both the “eternal
destruction” of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 and the “eternal punishment” in Matthew
25:46; neither the destroying nor the punishing are eternal. Instead, the
results of the destroying and punishing, the destruction and the punishment,
are everlasting (46-48).

In chapters four and five, Fudge deals specifically with the
popular notion of the soul’s immortality. While I do not often hear preachers
or teachers speaking to the notion of the soul’s immortality, I do not assume
that this issue has been decisively dealt with since the publication of Fudge’s
work. These two chapters show clearly that Scripture does not teach the
doctrine of immortal soulism, that the souls of humans are inherently immortal.
Nothing in Scripture states that human souls have or gain immortality apart
from God’s gift of eternal life. This is important because the assumed position
of many pastors and teachers is precisely the opposite. Fudge highlights this
by quoting from traditionalist author’s, such as W. G. T. Shedd: “Scripture
speaks of but two aeons, which cover and include the whole existence of man… If,
therefore, he is an immortal being, one of these must be endless” (51). Fudge
argues that many theologians and clergy through the centuries have held
uncritically to a similar belief in the soul’s immortality. Thus, while Shedd
is notably a dated source for an assessment of contemporary Christian thought,
Fudge uses this quotation to illustrate how this belief might taint a person’s
understanding of Scripture. Though Fudge will speak in later chapters to why
Christians adopted a belief in the soul’s immortality, he uses this chapter to
help the reader understand that the doctrine is not found in Scripture.

Following these chapters, The Fire That Consumes proceeds chronologically through the
Scriptures, the Apocryphal and Pseudipigraphal texts, and then through the
centuries of Christian history. In Fudge’s exploration of the Old Testament, he
treats the subject of Sheol and the Biblical texts dealing with the wicked’s
end. Significantly, chapter seven, “The End of the Wicked in the Old Testament,”
is divided into three main sections: the first deals with those passages that
contain “moral principles of Divine judgment”; the second with descriptions of
God’s judgments in history; and the third with the passages that explicitly speak
of a “Messianic or eschatological judgment.” Fudge includes the first two
sections to acquaint the reader with the Scripture’s terminology concerning
God’s judgments.  Following his
treatment of Zephaniah 1:14-18, Fudge writes:

We may… be sure
that such passages are acquainting us with the terminology we will meet
repeatedly in the New Testament when Jesus and His men warn us of the great
‘day of the Lord’ that will bring history to its climax… As we become familiar
with the symbolism used by Old Testament prophets, we will also learn to look
to those earlier Scriptures for the same language’s meaning in the New
Testament. And to that same extent we will be freed from the temptation to
attach to biblical expressions literal meanings of modern derivation, meanings
which have no basis in Scripture and which sometimes contradict its ordinary
usage throughout (106-107).

Of significance
in the third section is Fudge’s commentary on Isaiah 66:24, which he suggests,
“may be the most ignored biblical passage concerning final punishment, although
it gives us the specific scriptural phrase which is probably quoted most often”
(110). It is here that the phrase, “their worm will not die, nor will their
fire be quenched,” is first introduced. Fudge notes that the probable
historical judgment behind this eschatological pronouncement is God’s defeat of
the 185,000 Assyrian soldiers during the reign of Hezekiah (2 Kings
18:17-19:36; Isa. 36, 37). “Isaiah had strengthened Hezekiah with the Lord’s
encouraging message… Now Isaiah declares that the same scene will be reproduced
on a vaster scale at the end of time. In the historical event of Isaiah’s day
(Isa. 37:36) and in his prophetic picture of the future (Isa. 66:24), the
righteous contemplate with satisfaction ‘the dead bodies’ of the wicked. They
look at corpses (Hebrew: pegerim),
not living people. They view their destruction, not their misery” (111).
Following this, Fudge argues that the worms that “will not die” are those that
help with the decomposition of corpses, not those that torture a living human.
Further, Fudge writes that a fire that is not quenched is a fire that consumes
completely. It is a fire that consumes the corpses of the wicked; nothing will
remain of the corpses because the fire is not extinguished. “Both worms and
fire speak of a total and final destruction” (112). Throughout, Fudge’s
overarching conclusion is that the Old Testament consistently speaks of the
wicked’s end with descriptions and metaphors that portray destruction and

The next section of Fudge’s book offers a survey of the
Apocryphal and Pseudepigrapha texts. The chapter is intended to be a brief
survey of Jewish views on final punishment and states explicitly that it is
neither “exhaustive [nor] final” (124). Fudge will conclude that there was not
one definitive Jewish view of the wicked’s final end during these
intertestamental centuries. He argues that most writers continued to use the
language of the Old Testament, which describes the wicked’s end in terms of
destruction, while others introduced new ideas declaring the eternal torment of
the wicked. Fudge begins with the Apocrypha and works through the relevant
passages.  In his summary, he
concludes that the Apocryphal texts mainly reflect “the teaching of the Old
Testament; the wicked will perish in the end” (132). The only variation from
this is the book of Judith, which contains the “single explicit reference to
conscious everlasting pain” (132). In the next chapter, Fudge treats the
Pseudepigraphal texts, and reaches a similarly mixed conclusion.

The next substantial section of the book deals with “final
punishment in the teaching of Jesus” (155). Here, Fudge follows the same basic
methodology he has used thus far, noting and commenting on each passage where
Jesus speaks of judgment. Though this section is too lengthy to treat fully in
a review, one of the major emphases that Fudge draws from Jesus’ words is
Jesus’ reliance on Old Testament imagery for His depictions and descriptions of
the judgment to come on the wicked. Another notable aspect is chapter 12, “Golgotha
and Gehenna (Jesus’ Death and the Punishment of the Lost).” This chapter, while
often heavy on quotations, offers a glimpse of the wicked’s final punishment
through the lens of Jesus’ own death for sinners. Fudge’s thesis is that in
Jesus’ death we are given a glimpse of God’s last judgment against the wicked,
for Christ willingly died for sinners and in His death bore the consequences of
sin to their fullest extent. How does the Scripture speak of the punishment
that Christ endured? Jesus “suffered death, so that by the grace of God He
might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). Jesus defeated death, the final
enemy, through His death and subsequent resurrection. Christ dealt with the
fullness of God’s wrath through death. It was Christ’s death that satisfied
God’s wrath against sinners, not Christ’s suffering in hell. Fudge illuminates
this further with a quote from Oscar Cullman, “Whoever wants to conquer death
must die; he must really cease to live – not simply live on as an immortal
soul, but die in body and soul, lose life itself, the most precious good which
God has given us…” (230).

Following this chapter, Fudge works his way through the rest
of the New Testament, beginning with Paul and ending with the remaining
epistles. Fudge’s conclusion can be stated briefly. He finds Paul to believe
and teach that the wages of sin is death, not suffering for eternity in
non-death. Fudge illustrates this in Galatians 6:8, where he comments that some
traditionalists have understood phthora,
which normally speaks of “ruin, destruction, dissolution, [and] deterioration,”
to necessarily mean material annihilation in this passage. This means phthora must have a non-literal meaning
here. “Having ruled out this supposed ‘literal’ sense of ‘destroy,’ ‘ruin’ and
‘perish,’ [the traditionalist’s] argument goes on to point out that only
figurative or metaphorical meanings are left. The conclusion is then drawn that
‘destroy,’ ‘ruin’ and ‘perish,’ must mean eternal conscious torment, not
extinction. Words which on their face would seem to suggest ‘loss of life’ are
said to signify a ‘life of loss’ instead” (255). Concerning the rest of the New
Testament, which includes all the expected passages from Revelation, Fudge
likewise concludes that the Biblical authors continued to use the language,
metaphors and echoes of the Old Testament in their descriptions of the wicked’s
final judgment, which reveals that they did not believe or teach the eternal,
conscious torture of the wicked in hell.

The last substantial portion of the book takes the reader
from the New Testament period, through the centuries of church history, and
into the present. Fudge spends considerable space with the second-century
fathers, Origen, Augustine, and Calvin, highlighting the discussions and
contributions of each. Fudge demonstrates a progression from biblical
descriptions of final punishment by the first fathers to the introduction to
Christianity of immortal soulism by those fathers most influenced by Greek philosophy.
Among the voices that began advocating the immortality of the soul was
Tertullian. Fudge writes, “If the souls of even wicked men are immortal and
destined to live forever, and if earthly sin will be punished by what the Bible
calls ‘eternal fire,’ the only conclusion Tertullian could reach was that the
wicked would endure conscious unending torment. When the Bible speaks of
‘destruction,’ therefore, it does not mean what it sounds like” (338). Fudge
next writes concerning Origen who also believed in the soul’s immortality and
developed, at least tentatively, the belief that the eternal fire would “purify
and restore” (347). Fudge then leads his readers through Augustine, the Church
Councils, Calvin and the Reformation. 
His closing chapters call attention to dissenters from the traditional
view and traditionalism’s “problem of pain.” By way of conclusion, Fudge
reiterates that he was raised on the traditionalist position and believed it
because he was told the Bible taught it. He changed his mind because he is now
convinced that the Biblical writings do not teach the eternal, conscious
torment of the wicked. Fudge writes, “[w]e do not reject the traditionalist
doctrine… on moral, philosophical, intuitive, judicial or emotional grounds…
The only question that matters here is the teaching of Scripture. Does the
World of God teach the eternal conscious torment of the lost? Our modest study
fails to show that it does” (435).

My review so far has not included much negative critique of
Fudge’s methodology or conclusions. His exegesis and historical research of the
relevant passages of Scripture has followed standard hermeneutical processes
and his conclusions appear to be valid. 
His identification of key words or phrases that have been misunderstood
was perceptive, and his identification of the doctrine of the immortality of
the soul as one of the major underpinnings of the traditionalist belief seems
to be logical and justifiable.

While Fudge’s work and bibliography were current when The Fire That Consumes was written,
today’s readers will long for interaction with the  research and writing of the last 27 years. It seems that
much of the current research and the concern to read the New Testament in its
historical context would bolster many of Fudge’s claims. Specifically, one
wonders how Fudge might respond to Perry’s The
Evangelical Universalist
, though his brief section entitled,
“Universalism’s New Face,” may offer some insight (350ff.).

One complaint I do have relates to Fudge’s use of quotations
and citations. There are a few sections where his commentary on specific
passages could use the additional credibility and support that additional
quotations or citations might offer. There are other chapters, notably his
chapter on Jesus’ death and the punishment of the lost, that feel almost like a
compendium of quotations. One can follow Fudge’s argument, but the chapter
feels disjointed and choppy. Similarly, there are portions of Fudge’s
commentary that leave the reader wishing for more explanation (Mt. 13:30),
though, more often than not, his commentary is ample.

Overall, I heartily recommend Fudge’s book and find myself
convinced by his interpretations of the Biblical and historic texts. After
Fudge’s careful work, it seems that the onus is on the traditionalist or
universalist to demonstrate why the Scriptural witnesses of the Old and New
Testament should be understood in ways that contradict the “plain” reading of
the text. If Scripture consistently uses terms conveying destruction and death
when speaking of the wicked’s final punishment, why should the interpreter
understand these terms to mean non-destruction and non-death?

Additionally, if one is interested in reading an excerpt
from the book, hearing or viewing Fudge lecture on final punishment, or reading
additional reviews of his book, one can visit his website at:

‘[The traditional view of hell]
must be loyally proclaimed or else denounced. If believed, it should be
preached from the house-tops; if not believed, it should be opposed to the very
end. If this dogma be false, it is a calumny against God and a stumbling-block
in the way of humanity’ (Fudge, 434-435, quotation from Emmanuel Petavel, The Problem of Immortality, 267).

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