Link to Jim's concordance study is at foot of page
An introduction to the topic from Ian Milligan About Ian
What does the Bible really teach about Hell?
- Eternal suffering or Eternal destruction?
This topic and Jim’s way of tackling it, is a good example of the Punton approach, if we can call it that. Jim loved the Gospel and firmly believed that the Bible was a true and trustworthy source, given by God to the church.
He believed that the Church had often made mistakes about what the Bible said and what Jesus’ life and message was all about, notably in areas such as peace and justice for the poor. He felt that many evangelicals simply ignored some Bible passages and overly or wrongly ‘spiritualised’ others. Hence his detailed study of the term ‘the poor’ showing how major a feature of the NT it was, and how central to the Gospel.
In this paper he gathered all the NT material on final destruction and ‘hell’. Basically he believed that the Bible taught that only those who lived as Jesus taught would experience ‘eternal life’ and those who lived against his way would simply disappear as it were, would not be resurrected, rather would be permanently destroyed. He did not believe the Bible taught that they would suffer endless burning and torment.
Jim’s work on this topic is also typical of his approach in another way – he published very little on it! Partly that was because he died young (aged 48) when he was still in his prime, studying and teaching and increasingly internationally recognised. The main thing that he authored on this topic was a highly detailed ‘concordance study’ which the Resurrection Fellowship (formerly the ‘Conditional Immortality Mission’) published in 1984 as a typescript document which we have scanned and can be found at the link at the foot of the page:
One of the reasons Jim did not publish much, especially on controversial topics, was that he wanted to be very sure of what he was saying before he went into print. However he did talk through these things with a number of his friends and was always keen to get us thinking and exploring scripture for ourselves.
Anyway if you are interested in Hell what is the fuss all about! Well for me it was discovering that there are two entirely different words for hell found in Scripture, ‘Hades’ and 'Gehenna’ as they have come into English. Two entirely different words in the Greek which most unfortunately have been translated as the same thing, when they are very evidently not.
Hades is the place of the Dead, sometimes where the dead sleep. Gehenna on other hand is mentioned much less frequently in the NT, originally it was the name of the area of the city dump for Jerusalem. It was a place where rubbish, including the bodies of dead animals – and criminals -were burned – a place where the dead were burned not the living!
There are a number of contemporary theologians who have the same view and if you are interested you can explore some of these issues through the following links:
Blogger Benjamin Corey has written extensively on this topic: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/category/hell/
and one of his blogs – link below - gives a good introduction showing how often the Bible –OT and NT – uses the word ‘destruction/annihilation’ to describe the fate of those who reject reconciliation with God – complete destruction not continuous living torment.
Another writer who self-describes as a ‘progressive Christian’ is Roger Worsley and he has likewise looked at the words Hades and Gehenna, where they came from and what they mean,
Rachel Held Evans also comments on the troubled consciences of many of those who feel they have to believe in conscious torment as the fate of all those who don’t believe in Jesus, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2011/06/22/quench-not-the-spirit/comment-page-1/
The Concordance study produced by Jim
Pages 1 - 10 open pdf
Pages 11 - 22 open pdf
Pages 23 - 35 open pdf
Pages 36 - 46 open pdf