Plato Comes to Church
It is the last half of the second century in North Africa--Alexandria,
Egypt, to be exact--the "Mecca" of intellectualism and contemporary
thinking in the Christian world of the early church era.
The writings of church father Athenagoras (A.D. 127-190) of Alexandria
is the first clue that a departure from the Scripture's holistic view
of man is on the theological horizon.
Born in Athens, Athenagoras was trained in pagan Greek learning and
the philosophy of Plato before he became a Christian. And becoming a
Christian did not invalidate his former views. He was the
first ecclesiastical writer to publicly embrace the immortality of the
soul. Without referencing the Scriptures, Athenagoras advanced his
views directly from Plato's philosophical construct. His theology "is
strongly tinged with Platonism" ("Athenagoras," Encyclopedia
Brittannica, 11th ed., p. 831).
Combine Plato With Christian Doctrine
Athenagoras skillfully argued in his writings that Platonic philosophy
was essentially embraced by Christianity. Therefore, it was congruent
for Athenagoras to interweave both. "Athenagoras frequently combined
the beliefs of the Greek poets and philosophers, particularly Plato,
with the doctrines of Christianity" (Encyclopedia Americana ,
vol. 2, p. 605).
According to professor of historical theology Dr. LeRoy Froom,
Athenagoras' "main premise was that God's purpose in creating man was
that he should live--that the divine purpose of man's existence is
existence itself. And God's purpose, he contended, cannot be defeated.
It must be accomplished. It is therefore impossible for man to cease
to exist" (Dr. LeRoy E. Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers
[Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Assoc., 1965], vol.1,
The fruitage of this argument was a "compulsory immortality" for all.
With regard to the wicked, Athenagoras reasoned, they must live
forever in eternal misery; and they must exist eternally because the
primary reason God made man is for the purpose of living.
Tertullian Advances the Theory
While Athenagoras launched publicly the immortal soul, a younger
contemporary, Tertullian of Carthage (A.D. 160-240), pursued and
amplified it. He was the first of the church fathers to write in
Latin, soon to be the official language of the medieval church. Prior
to his conversion at age of 40, Tertullian received a Greco-Roman
education in Rome.
According to Froom, "it was Tertullian who first affirmed that
torments of the lost will be co-equal and co-exist with the happiness
of the saved." (Ibid., vol. 1, p. 950.)
Tertullian's propositions needed other modifications: "He [Tertullian]
confessedly altered the sense of Scripture and the meaning of words,
so as to interpret 'death' as eternal misery and 'destruction' and
'consume' as pain and anguish. 'Hell' became perpetually dying, but
never dead" (Ibid., vol. 1, p. 951).
Without hesitation, Tertullian referred directly to Plato in his
writings. Plato's primary theme, "every soul is immortal," became
Tertullian's unwavering platform (Tertullian, On the Resurrection,
chap.3, quoted in ANF, vol.3, p. 547).
These church fathers followed suit by including Tertullian's
propositions in their public preaching and writing: Minucius Felix,
Cyprian of Carthage, Ambrose of Milan, John Chryosostom and Jerome
(translator of the Bible into the Latin Vulgate).
No Attempt to Support With Scripture
Did they follow blindly? Were these leaders naive? Dr. Froom observes:
"It is to be particularly noted that all Christian Fathers who use
this 'immortal soul' phrase or thought were not only familiar with but
likewise in accord with this position in the writing of Plato. And it
is also to be observed that none of such early Christian writers ever
sought for support for this doctrine by primary appeal to Scripture,
but had recourse instead to arguments similar to those used by
Plato" (Dr. LeRoy E. Froom, Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers
, vol. 1, p. 954).
Search for the Immortal Soul, Daniel Knauft, pp. 49-51
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
366. The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created
immediately by God -- it is not "produced" by the parents -- and also
that it is IMMORTAL : it does not perish when it separates from
the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final
Resurrection [cf. Pope Pius XII -Humani Generis-; Pope Paul VI CPG 8;
Lateran Council V (1513)].
The Fire That Consumes
The Fire that Consumes examines the� tradition which says God will
keep the wicked alive forever in unending torment. This exhaustive
volume examines every biblical text on the subject and shows that hell
involves the everlasting, total destruction of both body and soul. It
also traces the development of the traditional view of unending
conscious torment, from the early church fathers to the 20th century.
An alternate selection of the Evangelical Book Club, this study has
been acclaimed by scholars worldwide. Contains a foreword by the late
Professor F. F. Bruce of Manchester, England.
TO ORDER the original edition of this groundbreaking book (500 pages),
TO READ a brief summary of the biblical material discussed in The Fire
That Consumes, click here.
WHAT REVIEWERS SAY ABOUT
THE FIRE THAT CONSUMES
COLIN BROWN, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif.: "A very
strong case for rethinking the notion of the eternal torment of all
F. F. BRUCE (Deceased), University of Manchester, England: "While this
subject is one on which there is no unanimity among evangelical
Christians, it is at the same time one on which they have often
engaged in fierce polemic. What is called for, rather, is the
fellowship of patient Bible study, the fruit of which Mr. Fudge
LYNN MITCHELL, University of Houston, Texas: "One of the most
important books produced by conservative evangelicals in the 20th
JOHN W. WENHAM (Deceased), Oxford, England: "The author is biblical,
reverent and fair, showing soundness and independence of judgment. He
makes his main points with force and persuasiveness."
CLARK H. PINNOCK, McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario: "I
know of no book which answers this powerful case."
W. WARD GASQUE, Eastern College, Philadelphia: "An important and
thought-provoking book that gives careful attention to the actual
words of Scripture."
DALE MOODY (Deceased), The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary,
Louisville, Ky: "I know of no biblical passage which, interpreted
rightly and in context, conflicts with the conclusions of this book."
THOMAS H. OLBRICHT (Retired), Pepperdine University, Malibu, Calif:
"Evidence for the common assumption that the wicked will suffer
eternal conscious torment may not be as conclusive as assumed."
JOHN F. WALVOORD (Retired), Dallas Theological Seminary: "The most
extensive study [of the subject] in recent years . . . commendably
brings into the discussion many items that are often overlooked." (Dr.
Walvoord expressly disagrees with the conclusions of this book.)
GEORGE LEONARD GOSS, former editor, Evangelical Book Club: "A thorough
and convincing exposition."
NEW OXFORD REVIEW: "Exceptionally evenhanded, forceful and to the
MISSION JOURNAL: "A formidable scriptural argument which defenders of
the popular view will be hard pressed to meet."
EVANGELICAL BOOK CLUB: "A thoughtful case for an opinion that deserves
RESURRECTION MAGAZINE: "The definitive work on conditional
ADVENT CHRISTIAN WITNESS: "A work of impeccable scholarship and
CHURCH OF ENGLAND NEWSPAPER: "Essential reading for anyone interested
in the subject."
L.E. Froom claims that conditional immortality was generally accepted
in the early church until its thinkers tried to wed Plato�s doctrine
of the immortality of the soul to the teaching of the Bible.� [The
Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, Herald Pub., 1966]. Biblically
speaking, human beings are not immortal. God alone has immortality (I
Tim. 6:16); well doers seek immortality (Rom. 2:7); immortality is
brought to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10); those in Christ
will put on immortality (I Cor. 15:54), so that they now partake of
the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).�
Conditionalists commonly argue that the doctrine of natural (or
innate) immortality stems not from Hebrew thought, as presented in the
Bible, but rather from Greek philosophy and the teachings of Plato in
It is further noted that St. Paul teaches in 1 Timothy 6:15-16 that
"God ... alone is immortal," while in 2 Timothy 1:10 he writes that
immortality only comes to human beings as a gift through the gospel.
By Babu G. Ranganathan | Date Submitted: 08/20/06
Keywords: hell, heaven, soul, conditional
immortality,immortality,eternal punishment,after life,
More Details about What is eternal punishment? here.
Summary: Conservative theologian explains why eternal punisment in the
Bible does does not ultimately mean eternal torment.
Although I am a conservative Christian (Baptist), I no longer believe
that the Bible teaches or supports the traditional view of hell with
its doctrine of eternal torment or suffering.
The Bible does teach eternal punishment, but that eternal punishment
ultimately is not eternal suffering.
Few in society realize just how much ancient Greek philosophy
influenced early Christian thought on hell.
The ancient Greeks believed and taught that the human soul is immortal
and indestructible. When early Christianity adopted this belief then
it became only logical to believe that those who go to hell must
suffer eternal torment.
More than anyone else, the early Church bishop Augustine influenced
early Christianity's adoption of this ancient Greek belief about the
nature of the soul. Augustine was a great admirer and follower of the
ancient Greek philosopher Plato even after converting to Christianity.
It was Plato who systematically formulated ancient Greek belief and
thought concerning the nature of the human soul.
The Bible, however, teaches that man by nature is completely mortal
and that immortality is a gift of God to be realized only on
Resurrection Day for those who have put their faith and trust in God's
Son Jesus Christ for salvation because Christ's death on the Cross
fully paid for our sins and His resurrection from the grave is the
guarantee of future immortality for all who believe in Him.
Although the wicked in hell, for a period, will suffer consciously for
their individual sins, the ultimate penalty for sin itself will be the
eternal death of soul and body and the eternal loss to immortality.
That is what the Bible means by eternal punishment - the eternal loss
to immortality and life. Interestingly, even Adam and Eve were not
created as immortal from the beginning. That is why there was placed
the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden of Eden.
In Genesis 2:17 God told Adam not to eat the fruit of a certain tree
(the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) and God also told Adam
that if he did eat of it he would die on that very day. Specifically,
God said to Adam, "For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt
surely die." But the Biblical record shows that Adam did not
physically die on the very day he disobeyed God and ate of the
forbidden fruit. Because Adam did not physically die on the very day
that he disobeyed God most Christians believe that God was referring
to spiritual death and not physical death.
However, in the original Hebrew, in which the Old Testament was
written, the grammatical tense of the word "die" in Genesis 2:17 is in
the imperfect mood. The imperfect mood denotes a process. Thus, what
God was actually saying to Adam is that he would start dying on the
day he ate the forbidden fruit. The literal translation from the
Hebrew of what God said to Adam is: "Dying you will die." God was not,
therefore, referring to spiritual death but to physical death. The
fact that God later prevented Adam and Eve from having access to the
tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24) so that they would not live eternally
proves that God was referring to physical death and not spiritual
There are good Scriptural reasons to believe that the soul also is
physical but distinct from the rest of the body, but that is another
subject. Whether physical or not physical, man's soul, along with the
rest of man, was created completely mortal and that is the primary
point being addressed here.
The penalty for sin, then, is the death of both soul and body so that
man will not live forever in sin. Not only is God not cruel in His
eternal justice, but a holy God will not allow His moral creatures to
exist eternally in sin. God will not immortalize sin and evil by
making the wicked in hell immortal! All of this contradicts the
traditional doctrine and teaching, taught in most churches, about the
wicked having an immortal soul and body in hell.
What about "eternal fire", "unquenchable fire", "weeping and gnashing
of teeth forever and ever", the account by Jesus about the Rich Man
and Lazarus, and other similar passages in the Bible that seem to
teach eternal torment? The key, in many cases, is in understanding the
context in which these and other similar phrases are used in various
parts of Scripture.
For example, figures of speech such as "unquenchable fire" are used in
the Bible to mean that the process of destruction is unstoppable or
irreversible. We see an example of this in the Old Testament book of
Ezekiel 20:47-48 where God says that when His judgment comes on the
land even every green tree will burn and that the fire "will not be
quenched". Obviously, those trees are not still burning. It is
important to understand just why God uses such terms in Scripture as
In the Bible, there were some judgments of God in which His wrath was
quenched or stopped such as in the case when Moses interceded and
pleaded before God for the rebellious Israelites in the desert. When
Moses did this God stopped or quenched His wrath against the
rebellious Israelites. Thus, when God says, in Scripture, that the
wicked in the end will be destroyed with unquenchable fire what He
simply means is that nothing can intervene to prevent Him from
carrying out His wrath fully through to its completion. Over and over
in the Scriptures God is described in judgment as being a consuming
fire. God's righteous wrath in judgment is not an end in itself but a
means to an end.
Unlike the burning bush in Exodus that Moses observed was not consumed
by the fire but was preserved by God, the Scriptures teach that God,
in the end, will not preserve the wicked in the fire of hell but
instead will completely consume and destroy them!
Contrary to popular belief and interpretation, the phrase in Scripture
"where their worm dieth not" is not a reference to the undying human
soul or conscience. We have already seen statements in Scripture that
God will destroy, not preserve or keep alive, the bodies and souls of
the wicked in the Day of Judgment. The worm and fire were figures that
people in Jesus' time could readily identify and understand because in
that time the dead bodies of those who suffered dishonor in society
were all commonly thrown into a certain valley where fire and worms
devoured these bodies. Jesus simply seeks to convey, in figurative
language, that in hell (gehenna) neither the fire nor the worm will
cease until the wicked are totally consumed or destroyed!
The word "forever" is another example. In Scripture the word "forever"
does not always mean endless or eternal duration. For example, in
Exodus 21:6 (KJV Version) we read that certain people were to be
servants "forever". Obviously this cannot mean eternity. The word
"forever" or "everlasting", in the original Hebrew and Greek languages
of Scripture, simply means the entire length or duration of something.
If that something is immortal then the word "forever" must mean
eternity. But, if that something is mortal or temporary in nature
then, obviously, the word "forever" cannot mean eternity.
Scripture says in Jude 7 that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by
eternal fire. These cities are no longer still burning. How, then, can
the fire be called "eternal"? Because the result that the fire
produced is eternal - these cities have never existed again, nor will
When the Bible talks about eternal judgment, or eternal damnation, or
eternal destruction, it is in reference to the result and not the
process! It is not the punishing that is eternal but rather the
punishment! It is not the destroying that is eternal but rather the
destruction! It is not the dying that is eternal but rather the death.
Just as eternal redemption in the Bible does not mean that the process
of redeeming is eternal but rather its result (no one would be saved
if the process of redeeming were eternal) so too the eternal judgment
of the wicked refers to the result of their judgment being eternal and
not the process.
The context of Holy Scripture teaches that the eternal punishment of
the wicked is ultimately their eternal annihilation and not eternal
torment or suffering as the traditional doctrine of hell teaches. As
one preacher has put it: "Eternal punishment is the eternal loss of
life not an eternal life of loss".
Eternal life in Scripture has the same meaning as immortality (i.e.
Romans 2:7) which Christians will possess only in the future on
Resurrection Day. Various Scripture passages teach immortality and
eternal life to be a future possession for Christians. Why then did
Jesus use the present tense when saying those who believe in Him have
eternal life? The answer is that sometimes in the Bible the present
tense is used to describe future events for the purpose of
demonstrating their certainty. Scripture says God "calleth those
things which be not as though they were" (Romans 4:17).
The Bible says Jesus Christ "hath abolished death, and hath brought
life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10).
The opposite of eternal life (or immortality) is eternal death (the
eternal and literal death of soul and body) - not eternally living in
torment and suffering! "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God
is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). "For God
so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting (eternal)
life" (John 3:16). The issue is not what we think eternal punishment
ought to be. The issues are God's character, God's definition of
ultimate justice, and God's eternal purposes.
Some have argued that because man was created in the image of God then
all humans must possess an immortal soul. However, being created in
the image of God doesn't necessarily mean that we must possess every
attribute or even possible attribute that God possess. For example,
God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent - but we are not. The
Bible is clear that immortality is an attribute that will be given
only on Resurrection Day for those who have put their trust in Christ
We must base our views of hell and the after life on what the Bible
teaches, not on tradition or mere human philosophies and opinions. We
must not impose our philosophy of what God ought to be upon Holy
Scripture! Not many people realize the fact that in the New Testament
there are different Greek words for the word "hell." But unfortunately
the English Bible translates these different words for hell as one
word, and this has been a cause of much confusion for those who wish
to study the subject. The New Testament Greek words for hell are
"hades" and "gehenna" and they both have different meanings. Hades
means the unseen world of the dead and is only a temporary abode. It
has nothing to do with punishment or reward. It is equivalent to the
Hebrew word "sheol" in the Old Testament in its meaning. Gehenna, on
the other hand, is the abode of eternal punishment of the wicked.
The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16 has often been used
by many Christians, especially preachers, as a depiction of the
punishment that the wicked will suffer in hell. But this is not the
case. In the first place when Jesus refers to the Rich Man being in
torment in the flame of hell the Greek word for "hell" in the passage
is not "gehenna" (the place of final and eternal punishment), but
rather it is the Greek word "hades" (which in Scripture is the
temporary abode of the dead). The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus,
like the other series of parables before it, was used of the Lord to
illustrate or depict the end of the rule of the Pharisees and to
depict the end of the Jewish Era and dispensation (as represented by
the Rich Man being in torment) and it was also used of the Lord to
depict or illustrate the elevation of Gentile Christendom (as
represented by Lazarus). Actually, Lazarus represented the poor Jews
of Jesus' time who were ignored by the self-righteous religious
leaders of Israel and he also represented the gentiles who, although
rejected by the Jewish leaders, would nevertheless be accepted into
the bosom of Abraham through their new found faith in Jesus Christ as
the Messiah. The religious leaders of Israel had lived only for
themselves and ignored the spiritual needs of the spiritually sick and
starving people around them.
The concept that hades was a place divided into two compartments, one
of suffering for the wicked and the other of bliss for the righteous,
was a Jewish belief that had developed during the intertestamental
period, the period of time in between when the Old and New Testaments
were written. Thus, this particular view of hades was not canonical,
that is it was not something that God Himself had revealed to the Jews
through Scripture. There is no evidence in Scripture that hades is a
place where the wicked suffer while awaiting their final and permanent
judgment in gehenna. Such a concept of hades developed as a result of
ancient Greek influences on Jewish thinking about the nature of the
soul. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus was simply
borrowing this popular Jewish folklore of hades to use as an
illustration to make a point to the Pharisees and religious leaders of
His day, but He was not necessarily endorsing the folklore as being
doctrinally valid or correct. There are various passages in the Old
Testament, such as in Psalms, that tell us that there is no
consciousness in sheol (the Hebrew equivalent of hades in the Old
Some argue that the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is not a parable
because Jesus did not formally introduce it as a parable. But, Jesus
did not always formally introduce His stories as parables, and there
are various examples of that in the Gospels. Now, it is true that in
His parables Jesus used things that actually existed to fill in for
illustrations and figures, but in the particular case of the parable
of the Rich Man and Lazarus the Lord used a popular existing Jewish
myth about hades for the purposes of constructing a story. Jesus
simply used the Pharisees' own superstitous belief about hades against
Why didn't Jesus rebuke the pharisees' belief about hades as being
wrong? Jesus didn't go around always rebuking every wrong doctrine.
For example, in Jesus' time it was a common Jewish belief (from the
influence of Greek philosophy) that souls could commit individual sins
before birth. That is why we read in John 9:1-3 that Jesus' disciples
believed a certain man was born blind because he may have committed
some great sin before his physical conception in the womb. Jesus
didn't respond by telling His disciples that such a belief is
doctrinally wrong but instead healed the blind man.
By no means is all of this new teaching. A minority of Christians, of
various denominations, have held to this view of hell throughout the
centuries. Even some very prominent Christians of the past have held
to this view and there are a number (albeit a minority) of Christian
theologians and scholars in the present who hold to this view.
However, this view on hell, unfortunately, is known so little outside
the Christian community and even inside the Christian community for
Many of the early Protestant Reformers, including Martin Luther, held
to the view that man, by nature, is entirely mortal (including the
soul), but the great Reformer John Calvin opposed this view and
specifically wrote against it and insisted that all of the Reformers
present a united front. An excellent Internet site containing
information on all of this is "Champions of Conditional Immortality In
I highly recommend to all readers Dr. Edward Fudge's thoroughly
biblical and scholarly work "The Fire That Consumes". The book is
foreworded by the great evangelical scholar F.F. Bruce. This book
should be required reading in every seminary and Bible school!
I encourage all to read my larger article "The Bible Vs. The
Traditional View of Hell" at my website www.religionscience.com for
more comprehensive and in-depth coverage of this subject. Other
questions and arguments, not raised here, are answered thoroughly in
my larger article. I also hope that this information will shed new
light in reading the New Testament, particularly the Gospels.
*Some other Internet articles by the author are: "Why The Traditional
View of Hell Is Not Biblical", "Early Christianity Before The Papacy",
"Free Will and Sovereign Grace", "Christ Was Begotten, Not Created",
"Artificial Life By Intelligent Design", "Any Life On Mars Came From
Earth!", "Creationists Right On Entropy, Evolution", "Are There
Natural Limits To Evolution?", "Where Are All The Half-Evolved
Dinosaurs?". The most up-to-date versions of these and other articles
may be accessed at: Babu G. Ranganathan's Articles.
Author's URL: http://www.religionscience.com
The author, Babu G. Ranganathan, is an experienced Christian writer.
Mr. Ranganathan has his B.A. with academic concentrations in Bible and
Biology from Bob Jones University. As a religion and science writer he
has been recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis Who's Who In The
East. The author's articles have been published in various
publications including Russia's Pravda and South Korea's The Seoul
Times. The author's website may be accessed at: www.religionscience.com.
IdeaMarketers - www.ideamarketers.com
Translate this page to another language:
to Spanishto Frenchto Germanto Italianto Portuguese