‘Hell: A Final Word’, by Edward Fudge, Reviewed: 13 May

Edward Fudge is a world-leading expert on hell. He set himself a considerable challenge – to condense his 420 page scholarly book The Fire that Consumes into a 186 page popular book Hell, A Final Word (Leafwood 2012). The new book, as its title suggests, is a summary of Fudge’s lifetime’s thinking about eternal punishment. He also responds to some criticisms of The Fire that Consumes and includes how he came to investigate and write about this unpopular subject. The personal story was partly to coincide with the movie of his life, Hell and Mr. Fudge, also produced in 2012. Edward Fudge is to be admired for taking on the whole challenge. He has, in many ways, succeeded.

‘This is my goal in writing Hell: A Final Word – to put the same biblical data and historical facts into the hands of serious Bible students and readers in general that the scholars have had for at least thirty years.’[1] The biblical data and historical facts prove that the traditional doctrine of hell as eternal torment is wrong. Hell is, instead, a place of utter destruction, annihilation, for the bodies and souls of the wicked. This is the truth which Fudge has been explaining and championing for many years. In this book he summarises the teaching with confidence and conviction.

 ‘I went to the Old Testament asking if it had anything to say about the end of the wicked. To my great surprise, it answered with principles, prototypes, and prophecies.’[2] ‘Evildoers… are totally burned up – nothing is left, neither root at one end nor branch at the other. Nothing but ashes remains to remind that the wicked ever existed.’[3] ‘Jesus’ teaching on final punishment, as on other subjects, was rooted in Old Testament revelation, which it sometimes advanced but never contradicted.’[4] ‘In fact, those three words – die, perish, and be destroyed – are the very words that the New Testament writers use most often to describe the final end of the wicked. Isn’t it interesting that most modern believers think they are sure that those who go to hell will not die, will never perish, and certainly will never be destroyed.’[5]

 Fudge recognises that believers think according to the teaching they have received . He details how the Church came to teach an unbiblical doctrine, through the influence of Greek philosophy. The majority of the book is an expert, convincing, accessible explanation of teaching throughout the Bible about the ultimate annihilation of the unrepentant wicked.

 Fudge dismantles what he sees as the Four Pillars of Eternal Torment:

  1. The Old Testament says nothing about hell
  2. There was one ‘Jewish view’ in the time of Jesus [ie torment]
  3. New Testament writers follow Jesus. [in teaching torment]
  4. The Immortality of the soul

 Fudge mostly succeeds in conveying his teaching pithily and memorably. His structure and style is also a bit rambling. The Four Pillars form the framework of the book, although not highlighted in the contents. Personal accounts and response to critics come up along the way. The chapter ‘Refreshing Our Memories’ is an excellent summary but it comes before he has addressed the final pillar.

 A more major flaw is that Fudge does not properly address what Jesus and the New Testament writers taught about Hades, as well as about Gehenna. Jesus used both words, which have been translated by the one word ‘hell.’ The whole traditional concept of hell’ is therefore a combination of what Jesus said about Hades and what Jesus said about Gehenna. Combining these two terms, assuming that they are two different names for the one same place, is not only a pillar, but the foundation of eternal torment.

 Fudge focuses on Gehenna. ‘When the New Testament refers to “hell” as the place of final punishment it translates the Greek word gehenna.[6] ‘Jesus uses the word “hell” (gehenna) eleven times and is the only person in the Bible who uses it at all to speak of final punishment.’[7] Fudge should also have included references to Hades as references to ‘hell’, for all who argue for eternal torment include them.

 Fudge does mention hell in terms of  Hades ‘In fact when Jesus talks about hell, he pictures it as a place of weeping, or a place of defiant anger…’[8] Fudge argues that gnashing of teeth denotes extreme anger. ‘Weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth’ in the Gospels are features, however, not of Gehenna, but of Hades.

 Fudge writes about the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: ‘In fact, the “hell” in this story in the King James Version, the “hell” that has caught so many eyes and captured so many imaginations through the centuries, is not the hell of final punishment at all. It is simply hades, sheol, gravedom, the unseen realm of the dead. If the parable proved anything about post-mortem circumstances, it would still say nothing about final punishment in hell or gehenna.[9] He explains what Hades is not, without saying what it is. He ignores that in this very parable Jesus opens a window into the ‘unseen world of the dead’ from which we can learn more than from the Old Testament.

 Late in the book Fudge writes: ‘Based on Old Testament comments about Sheol, the wisest way to understand Hades is simply as a symbol for the invisible realm of the dead. To say more than that becomes very troublesome when one recalls that Jesus is pictured as in Hades (or Sheol) between his death and his resurrection. (Acts. 2:27,31)’[10] Fudge relies too much on the Old Testament and seems to dismiss New Testament teaching on Hades as ‘troublesome.’ It would be better to look more carefully and coherently at what Jesus and the New Testament writers teach about Hades. Fudge rightly sees that Hades and Gehenna are distinct. He needs to go further and investigate Hades as he has investigated Gehenna.

 I hope, therefore, that Hell: A Final Word will not be Edward Fudge’s final word on the subject. I hope that, as part of Fudge’s further investigations, he will look more at Revelation 14:9-11. This is a passage which some take as another pillar of eternal torment.[11] Fudge, surprisingly, does not address these verses, in which we read ‘the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever.’ The whole description in Rev. 14:9-11, however, is a description not of Gehenna, but of Hades. This is torment ‘in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the lamb’, something very different from the fate of the wicked after the Final Judgement. It would be good also to read Fudge expounding Rev. 1:18, Jesus saying ‘I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’

 Edward Fudge’s detailed attention to the Bible, his ability to summarise and convey its main points, his determination to argue, publish and speak the truth as revealed in Scripture, place him at the forefront of the scholarly saints of our age. Hell: A Final Word is an excellent summary of his teaching so far. Many people would profit from reading it, not put off by its somewhat frightening title. I hope also for more Fudge to come.

 Roger Harper

[1] p19, 20

[2] p79

[3] p78

[4] p96

[5] p135

[6] p21

[7] p36

[8] p23

[9] p115

[10] p142

[11] eg Gregory Beale in Hell Under Fire (Zondervan 2004)


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