Tormented Or Terminated? -- By: William E. Arp

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 05:2 (Fall 2001)
Article: Tormented Or Terminated?
Author: William E. Arp

Tormented Or Terminated?

William E. Arp

Professor Of New Testament, Greek And English Bible
Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania


Isaac Watts wrote, “There is a dreadful hell and everlasting pains; there sinners must with devils dwell in darkness, fire, and chains.” Is this poem true? More particularly, are the pains of hell everlasting? Traditionally Evangelicals, have answered, “yes,” to this question.1 However, a group of Evangelicals has arisen who have reacted against tradition. They answer, “no,” or, “I don’t know,” to this question.

Clark Pinnock represents the “No” group when he writes that “the finally impenitent wicked, rather than suffering torture forever, pass out of existence.”2 Edward Fudge agrees and he writes that whatever conscious suffering may be involved, the unrighteous will all finally die.3 John Stott represents the “I don’t know,” group. He writes that the specific texts which are thought to teach the eternal conscious punishment of the wicked in hell “are capable of an alternative interpretation.”4 Stephen Travis agrees with Stott and writes:

“In my view the New Testament does not express itself clearly for one or other of these options.”5

Definitions Of Positions

At this point in the paper it will be helpful to give some definitions. There are five main positions among evangelicals concerning the doctrine of hell: (1) eternal conscious physical and spiritual torment [the occupants of hell will knowingly endure bodily and spiritual punishment]; (2) eternal conscious spiritual torment [the occupants of hell will endure genuine spiritual and psychological torment, but not physical suffering]; (3) eternal separation from God [the occupants of hell will be eternally separated from God]; (4) conditional immortality [there will be no occupants of hell; the unrighteous will cease to exist]; and (5) Annihilationism [there are no occupants of hell; the wicked are annihilated].6

These five positions may be divided into two basic positions. The first three positions acknowledge some type of eternal or everlasting conscious suffering; they do not agree on the specific nature of that suffering, but they do agree that it is unending. The other two positions both agree tha...

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