Is the conditionalism view of hell supported by the Old Testament?

Hi there Max. We met at the EAP in Sing in Nov. I’d like your thoughts on the conditionalism view of hell, which does seem to be strongly supported by the OT. What’s the alternative to eternal life?

Nice to hear from you James, and thank you for your question. Obviously, this issue is not one that can be comprehensively dealt with through a short RZIM connect post. However, there are some things that can be said by way of overview and response.

Firstly, it’s worth noting that there are followers of Jesus Christ who disagree on this issue. My response is in no way a moral or intellectual judgment on those who might disagree with me. However, my view is that a conditionalist approach is not supported in scripture.

References to everlasting contempt (as per Daniel 12:1-2) and the eternal nature of the consequences of sin (as per Matthew 18:6-9) are just a couple of the multitude of examples that reveal that the weight of scripture points to the human soul transcending natural life, whether one accepts Christ as their Saviour or rejects Him. These references – and others – are capped off by the direct words of Christ himself, who declares and confirms that the consequences for rejecting God are eternal (Matthew 25:31-46).

It is also important that we acknowledge and respond to the main counterpoints made. Admittedly, the use of words like ‘destruction’ in scripture (such as in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10) have been used as fuel for the counterclaim to the eternal nature of the human soul. However, when we consider the basic principles of language, we must always interpret any adjective as adding a certain quality to a noun that the given noun would not otherwise possess. Using this reference from Thessalonians then, the question must be asked: If ‘destruction only’ is what the author intended to convey, why bother adding the adjective ‘eternal’? Clearly, the adjective ‘eternal’ is expressly intended to add an otherwise absent quality to the word ‘destruction’ – in this context, the quality of the eternal. Therefore, the most common-sense interpretation of this and similar verses is that destruction does not necessarily refer to non-existence.

Another point sometimes posited is that an infinite consequence seems incongruous for a finite sin (I.e. rejecting God). A number of strong counter-arguments have been made in response to this. One is that a rejection of God– the almighty, all powerful, all loving and eternal creator and sustainer of all – amounts to an eternal sin because of the eternal nature and majesty of the God being rejected.

A final point worth noting that stands against the case for conditionalism is the doctrine of the Imago dei. The fact that we are all made in the image of God strongly suggests that we would share His characteristic of immortality.

There is of course much more to say, and my overview of the issue doesn’t claim to be holistic in relation to either side of the debate. However, the overwhelming weight of both scripture and traditionally accepted and substantiated doctrine points to human souls that are immortal and therefore, created to live forever. The imperative for us as evangelists and apologists is all the more important in this context – calling on us all to point people to the transforming and eternal love of God through Jesus Christ, as the means to spending eternity in glory with Him.