The Christ in Prophecy Journal

The Conditionalist View of Hell: Image and Character of God

Rethinking Hell


Can mankind who are made in God’s image be destroyed?

I was recently interviewed about my book, Eternity: Heaven or Hell?, by Rethinking Hell contributor Chris Date. We discussed what has become a very controversial topic among many Christians, and that is the duration of time those in Hell will spend. Eternal or limited? I share from the Bible why I am convinced that Conditionalism is the biblical view of final punishment. Tempers can flare over this topic, so I ask you to read this interview in blog format as a good Berean, testing the Scriptures to see what God will teach us.

The Image of God

Chris Date: Ok, now let’s sort of turn the tables and I will play the Devil’s advocate on a few points in challenging you. In summarizing the Traditional View of Hell, early in your book’s chapter, you point out that Traditionalists sometimes argue that since man was made in the image of God and the image of God cannot be uncreated, therefore man must exist forever. You talk about the issue of immortality, but I don’t think that I saw a response to this argument about the image of God being unable to be uncreated. How do you respond to that? Just how could a person created in the image of God be completely destroyed?

Dr. Reagan: First of all, we are created in the image of God, but we are not gods. I’m not a god. You’re not a god. We are not going to become gods, unlike the Mormons who teach that they will become gods. We are created in the image of God. And, since God is spirit, that certainly doesn’t refer to our physical being just because He is spirit. It refers to our immaterial nature. It refers to our mental creation in that we have free will and reason that relates to our morality. That we have a moral compass as a conscience, giving us a sense of right and wrong. It refers to the fact that we are social beings and we are created to fellowship with others.

The Word says point blank that mankind is not immortal. First Timothy 6 says, “God alone is immortal.” First Corinthians 15 says, that the saved will not become immortal until the time of the resurrection. The idea of the immortality of the soul is an idea derived from Greek philosophical thought. It was brought into Christianity when Christianity began to convert Greek thinking people to Christianity. But, it is not a biblical thought.

Chris Date: Yes. I think people misunderstand what it means when someone says something like the image of God can’t be uncreated. I think they are misunderstanding what it means when it talks about Man being created in the image of God. It means in certain respects that we are created like God. An image isn’t a tangible thing that can’t be uncreated. It’s a way of explaining that we are like God in certain respects, though with the exception of the immortality part.

The Character of God

Chris Date: You mentioned earlier difficulties that you have with the Traditional View and its belief in an eternity of suffering seemingly to you to impugn the character of God. You point out that the Traditionalists will sometimes argue that since sin is an offense against an infinitely holy God that sin is therefore infinitely odious and therefore deserving of an eternity of punitive suffering. How then do you think that a finite period of suffering can account for what is allegedly the infinitely heinous nature of one’s sins?

Dr. Reagan: Chris, the very first time I ever heard that argument it came across to me as a theological contrivance, and it still comes across to me as a theological contrivance. It seems to run counter to the Bible’s clear teaching that there are degrees of sin and so therefore there will be degrees of punishment. That’s really about all I can say about that.

Chris Date: I’ll add a little bit then to what you and I both think. We must understand that annihilation didn’t following the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. We also know that annihilation is an eternal punishment in the sense that it is eternal in the results of being a punishment.

Dr. Reagan: Absolutely.

Chris Date: So, it seems to me that annihilation in a sense is an infinite punishment and therefore could account for even if this “eternal sin” argument wasn’t a contrivance, though I also think that it is. But, even if it weren’t and if we did want to admit that finite sin does deserve infinite punishment, that too is what annihilation achieves.

Dr. Reagan: It certainly is, and that’s a good point. Thank you for making it.

Chris Date: You’re welcome.

Another difficulty that you say you have with the Traditional View in your book is that Revelation describes Hell using the phrase the “Second Death.” Traditionalists often respond by saying that death has various meanings in Scripture, one of which is spiritual death and separation from God. Some even go so far to say that death never means extinction in the way that we Conditionalist argue concerning the Second Death. How would you respond to this argument? Isn’t it more biblical to understand the Second Death as eternal spiritual death and separation from God?

Dr. Reagan: I think just as death is a cessation of existence in this world, the Second Death refers to a cessation of existence in the eternal world. Again, in Matthew 10:28 Jesus says that the body and soul can be killed in Hell.

Chris Date: Yes, but Traditionalists would of course push back at that and say that death in this life isn’t a cessation of existence, particularly if they are dualists. They are going to say the body dies, but it doesn’t cease to exists, and the spirit lives on after death.

Dr. Reagan: It certainly is a cessation of existence in this world. My mom and dad are both dead and I don’t see them, and I don’t have any fellowship with them.

Chris Date: Okay, so yes, I think there is something to that argument. It could also just be argued that death is the cessation of life, and the cessation of life that is only extended to the body is the first death, which is extended to both body and soul in the Second Death.

In the seventh and last segment of Rethinking Hell’s interview of me concerning the Conditionalist View of Hell, Chris and I will discuss a few common questions and answers concerning judgment.

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Dr. David Reagan

Dr. David Reagan is the Founder and Evangelist Emeritus of Lamb & Lion Ministries. He is a life-long Bible student, teacher, and preacher and he led over 45 pilgrimages to Israel. Dr. Reagan was the host of the radio then television program Christ in Prophecy for nearly 40 years.

23 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • I think Matthew 10:28 is THE ultimate argument for the soul in hell being destoyed (except for the devil, the a/c, the false prophet and those with the mark of the beast).

    I mean just look at what it says:

    "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell"

    To kill the body is to take life from it. Isn't it safe to say that to kill the soul also means to take life from it?

    Also, anyone who believes in eternal punishment in hell…think about it. If YOU, as a human being, were given the power to pass sentence on someone's "term" in hell, would YOU not find it difficult to sentence ANYONE, other than people like Hitler, to eternal punishment? Could you REALLY send you unsaved friend or family member to hell for ETERNAL PUNISHMENT???!!! I don't think so. You wouldn't want to do it probably because you don't think it would be compassionate or just. So if YOU as a SINFUL HUMAN could have such compassion on a soul out of justice, why wouldn't God, the ULTIMATE in justice AND compassion not sentence a soul, that I'm sure He still loves, according to the degree of it's sin?

    "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

    So, if we EVIL SINNERS can have compassion and mercy WITH justice then how much more compassionate, merciful and just is God?

  • Well stated, Billy! That's a convincing argument for the Conditional View, and explains better God being a God of justice.

    I've wondered about those mysterious nations that exist outside of the New Jerusalem, whether they play in an argument for or against the eternity of Hell. Revelation 21:27's reference that there is nothing "shameful or deceitful" left that exists during the eternal state means that there aren't people living into the eternity in sinful bodies, except maybe those who are dwelling in Hell. Only those in Hell would be sinful and outside of Heaven on Earth. But, for how long? That is also the mystery.

  • God HAS displayed His mercy and compassion by dying on the cross to pay the price for our sins. The rejection of that fact is what condemns a person's soul. God's will is that we believe on His Son. I, for one, deserve eternal punishment. But because of His grace and compassion, He provided eternal life. I believe it is perfectly just for God to condemn souls to outer darkness forever. Whether He eventually terminates their existence or not is in His hands as Creator. You might think that you couldn't condemn a loved one permanently, but that's because of your human nature which is sinful anyway. We are to conform to God's image, not the other way around.

    I've never posted here and I'm not trying to rustle anyone's feathers. I just don't believe we can make any kinds of decisions based on "our feelings", or what we feel is fair/unfair.

  • Anon,

    No feather rustled.

    We are, as you state, human with a sinful nature. But Jesus said though we are evil we are still capable of good.

    "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

    I think that show just because we are sinners it doesn't mean we can't understand goodness and justice and compassion.

    And to ME I hope that means I hope that my Jewish grandmother (by marriage, not blood relative) who passed away will have her soul…and I just paused as I was about to type this…I don't want to type this…I'm going to rephrase what I was going to say…I hope she does NOT spend eternity in hell. Though not a blood relative (she died when I was 12) I loved her very, very much.

    I deeply and sadly regret that she did not know Christ (to my knowledge…who knows at the last minute). I deeply and sadly think of her having to go to hell. I CAN NOT imagine her suffering FOR ETERNITY!

    She was very good and kind to me and my brothers. My grandmother by blood was a mean, nasty, evil person (though calling herself a "Christian"). She treated me and my brothers badly. I believe my Jewish grandmother was not saved and therefore will not have eternal life. My "Christian" grandmother…I don't know nor care. She was what I call a "Chrino". CHRistian In Name Only. Same as my Dad, an evil, hateful, violent, racist man. Do these "Christians" deserve eternal life? No. I don't either. But we will have it through Jesus.

    Is it fair my Jewish grandmother doesn't get eternal life? Yes, if she rejected Jesus. But should she, who lived a better life (to my knowledge) than my so called Christian relatives have to suffer eternally while my evil, mean, nasty, racist "Christian" relatives get eternal life? (Maybe they won't if they aren't TRUE Christians…I leave that up to God)

    Justice for sinners who put faith in Christ IS eternal life. Justice for those that don't is NO eternal life. That means DEATH OF THE SOUL…not ETERNAL LIFE of the soul.

  • Anon,

    To clarify, though I seem passionate on the subject, actually I am on the fence.

    I lean towards death of the soul but will not say I know 100%.

  • Completely agree with you, Anonymous. To judge God's actions by what our feelings on a subject is as wrong as deciding what's moral or not by our feelings on the subject. We are not God, we are not Holy or perfect in justice as God and we should not be judging what He would do based on what we would do. The Bible itself says in Revelation 14, verses 9-12, that anyone taking the Mark of the Beast will be tormented forever. So here is one case where it's clear a person can be tormented for eternity. As for everyone else who rejects Jesus, they are finally thrown into the lake of fire. They're in Hades now, awaiting their judgement and very much self aware and tormented. Whether that will be the case in the lake of fire as well only God knows and whatever is His plan is righteous and just, regardless of what we may think.

  • I don't see it as "feelings" but rather as our understanding of God's nature. I don't have any "feelings" about it one way or the other, but when you delve deeper into the Scriptures that adddress this issue, they do point toward a conditional view of hell.

    Regardless of the length of stay, any time spent in there will seem like eternity.

  • Agree, LookingUp! It's not a matter of feelings, but of the sense of justice that mankind has which reflects the image of God.

    Like Billy, I too am on the fence, for frankly the various verses support both positions, so I have no choice but to be on the fence. But, the Conditional View answers that question I hear all Christian's ask – "How can eternal punishment be just?"

    Just a thought, since God is omnipresent, does that mean He is perpetually suffering in Hell forever? Hmm.

  • Another thought…if Jesus took all the sins of every person upon Himself does that me He must suffer eternally for that? Is He?

    (That may be what you were saying, Nathan, I just didn't "get it". If so, sorry for the redundant comment)

  • Isa 66:24 And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh. This to me mean for all eternity.

  • Could you explain why this argument/discussion even matters? Even one day in hell would be worse than anyone could imagine; so why not focus on staying out of there altogether? I for one really couldn't care less since I will not be there at all and I am praying and doing what I can to see to it that my loved ones won't be either. Just a thought. 🙂

  • I don't see how. I don't want my loved ones there at all…regardless of how long. It brings me no comfort to think anyone who is condemned to hell may only be there for a short time, as I said, even a day. And how do we know how that time is measured? Days, years, millions of years? Basic unbelief worth a thousand years and someone like Hitler 10 million? I'm sorry, I just don't see the point unless it is to give an answer to some random person that may ask. Even then, my response would be to point out how terrible it is going to be regardless and point them to how to be sure they won't ever find out in person.

  • Mrs. Settles said "I don't want my loved ones there at all…regardless of how long."

    Who can argue with that? But if they HAVE to suffer punishment as judgement for their sins wouldn't it be SOMEWHAT of a relief to know their soul would be destroyed after a period of time instead of for ETERNITY?

    The more I think about this subject the more I'm becoming a Conditionalist. How can one's mind even grasp FOREVER? It's getting harder to believe our God would punish any but the devil, a/c, false prophet and mark of the beasters to eternal punishment.

  • I have to protest after reading Dr. Reagans’ theories on the time length of hell and suffering.

    Put up as a mere Q&A with the likeminded falters and sinks into the realm of the fanciful. These articles are set up to merely back slap the likeminded. Its as far from being a serious debate as is Santa interviewing the tooth-fairy.

    This would be interesting if Dr Ragans views on ‘conditionalism’ were being directed by someone such as John Ankerberg in formal debate with a Doctor of theology such as Dr. George Meisinger. Otherwise this is nothing but subjective personal opinion placed among ‘yes men’ all of whom are basing their decisions on feelings. (Did God say!)

    Exegeting the Bible led by the Holy Spirit is the only way to arrive at what God says eternity means – uh, make that ‘forever’, that’s plain enough. This reminds me of the Calvinists who claim that ‘all’, doesn’t mean ‘all’ but an invented subcategory.

    Playing at semantics is a seriously fool-hardy occupation for all concerned, especially those teaching it to the less aware of biblical deception. ‘Millstone round the neck’ comes seriously into view for confusing and deceiving the young in the Faith.

    Billy, please beware of playing 'following my leader' who has an agenda not based on what God has actually said on all subjects.

  • Hi Billy
    As I have never been your 'leader' to follow, that status belongs to Dr Reagan – that would be following my advice. Beside which Billy, my invitation was give to Susie who appears to have a genuine grasp of God's free grace and how that affects the truth of the Gospel.

    Why are you being so unpleasant? Would you like to explain to me why you do not agree with what I have written; have you tested it?

    Why be so dismissive if you say you don't know what you believe about the subject. All I have done is present a plain sense meaning of Matt.10:28. There is NO confusion when read literally. God's word is truth, it is the enemy who causes the question 'hath God said'.

  • Charis said the follow "Chrisitan" things in a passive agressive attack on L&L and people who agree with L&L (or sometimes don't as you'd know if you spent any time here):

    "realm of the fanciful"

    "merely back slap the likeminded"

    "this is nothing but subjective personal opinion placed among ‘yes men’ all of whom are basing their decisions on feelings"

    "seriously fool-hardy"

    Oh and the best for last…you want to KILL those who YOU judge as wrong by putting a millstone around their neck and throwing them in the ocean!

    I have no more time for you. From now on I won't read nor respond to those who attack then sit back and say "who me?"

    Good riddance.

  • Attack Billy?

    Dr Reagan began this piece requesting a civil reply from those who disagree with his view. That is what I have done by explaining that Matt.10:28 has been ‘read into’- eisegesis, instead of ‘taking from’- exegesis, reading what Christ actually said.

    Contending for THE Faith is using God's own Words to show where verses have been taken out of their rightful frame and misapplied it in an attempt to support a personal theory.

    Did Paul 'attack' Peter when he had to reprimand him for being double-minded.

    A critique is not remotely an 'attack'. That is something others use to hide behind when they are un-willing, or maybe unable, to reply with Scripture. Better to have a Biblical answer for what you believe is true. If you can't find one then its likely there isn't one and you are supporting a counterfeit.

    1Peter3:15. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and [be] ready always to [give] an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

    It seems your personal insult of ‘good riddance’ is a replacement for lack of a Biblical answer to my challenge of Dr.Reagan’s misapplication of Scripture?

    Better remedy that Billy, you never know when you might need to be ready to give some-one else the reason for where your faith is.

  • Matthew 18:6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

    The serpent in the garden in Genesis 3:1 said to Eve ‘did God say?” She was deceived into questioning and reinterpreting what God had said “you shall not EAT of the tree…” (she added ‘or touch it’) This is what I mean by playing semantics.

    God has plainly said those who have not been changed through God’s Grace, by Christ’s imputed righteousness, remain in their fallen, condemned state of spiritual death which is an ETERNAL state. Without the free gift (grace) by faith in Christ to save, they will never be able to receive ETERNAL life which is in the presence of God.

    By bringing this into doubt, Dr. Reagan is saying ‘did God say’ and risking confusion to the young in the faith. Yes, God did say that men will spend eternity in the eternal lake of fire NOT, being punished for their individual sins, but because they have refused the free gift of eternal life. That is the conscious eternal abode of the spiritually dead, who are not redeemed by Christ’s Blood. The Lake of Fire was set up as PUNISHMENT for Satan and the fallen host; other than Heaven, that will be the only place where they and the souls of men can abide in their eternally fallen condition.

    Get this clear. Fair punishment for sin is not the issue. The souls of man will not be suffering to pay for their own sins. Jesus paid that price in full, but they refused the free gift of Salvation for Eternal Life instead of Eternal death.

  • Excuse me. Apart from Eternal Life in heaven for the born again; the only other 'eternal' place will be the lake of fire for the spiritualy dead.

    Physical,saved mankind alone will be free to repopulate the earth – and maybe the solar system. There will be no place found anymore for Satan and all who abide with him eternally in the lake of fire.


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