The Final End Of The Wicked -- By: Edward Fudge

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 27:3 (Sep 1984)
Article: The Final End Of The Wicked
Author: Edward Fudge


The Final End Of The Wicked

Edward Fudge*

Today, as a growing host of evangelical (and other) scholars bear witness, the evidence for the wicked’s final total destruction (rather than the traditional view of unending conscious torture, which sprang from pagan Platonic theories of immortal, indestructible souls) is finally getting some of the attention it demands. Because nearly all of us have completely skirted the relevant material on this subject far too long, I would like to present a concise summary of the case against traditionalism’s conscious unending torment and at the same time the case for the total, ultimate, everlasting extinction of the wicked. The “second death” involves an eternal graveyard around which we can no longer merrily whistle.

Jesus once said of some people: “They will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Whoever honors him as God’s Son and our Savior must receive his teachings as from God. Jesus’ words will never pass away (Matt 24:35); they will judge us on the last day (John 12:48).

The question at stake is not, therefore, whether the wicked will suffer “eternal punishment.” It is rather of what that punishment consists. Is it, as many Christian preachers since the third century have assumed, unending conscious torture of body and/or soul? Or is it, to use the words of Paul, “everlasting destruction”—in the most ordinary sense of those words (2 Thess 1:9)? Like most readers of JETS I had always assumed the former, until a year-long research project forced me to change my mind. Here I will simply summarize some of the pertinent evidence that study uncovered, which I present for the reader’s consideration.

I. The Traditional Position

The traditional position of conscious unending torment is easy to summarize and is perhaps best stated in recent years by Harry Buis.1 The traditional doctrine rests on three arguments: (1) that the OT is, generally speaking, silent on the subject; (2) that the doctrine of conscious unending torment developed during the intertestamental years and came, by Jesus’ time, to be “the commonly-accepted Jewish view” (it is said therefore that we ought to read Jesus and the NT writers with a presumption that they and their original hearers all held to the doctrine of unending conscious torment); (3) that the NT language on the subject requires us to conclude that God will make the wicked immortal for the purpose of torturing them alive forever without end.

*Edward Fudge is editor of The Good Newspape...

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