Jumping to Conclusions
doctrine of eternal torture in Hell] is a doctrine which
the natural heart revolts from and struggles against,
and to which it submits only under stress of authority.
The church believes the doctrine because it must believe
it, or renounce faith in the Bible, and give up all the
hopes founded upon its promises.” [Charles
Hodge, Systematic Theology (New York, 1871),
was incorrect. Most churches throughout the past 2000 years have
not believed and taught this doctrine because the Bible teaches
it, but because they have committed a number of logical
fallacies in their reasoning from the scriptures about the
topic. For an introduction to the problems in logic that
surround this doctrine, see the article
Establishing Doctrine. See
the article The Logical Fallacies
for an overview of that topic. The purpose of this current
article is to point out the effect in particular of two of the
types of logical fallacies as they apply to the study of the
doctrine of Hell in the Bible.
commits the fallacy of Hasty Generalization when he fails
to consider an adequate amount of evidence before coming to a
firm conclusion on a topic. To generalize about something
means to assume that your experience with a small sample can be
confidently applied to circumstances outside the sample.
stopped for a meal at an Eataburger restaurant in three
different towns in the past year. Each time, he has been very
disappointed in the service he received from a waitress. He
might well be tempted to thus make the generalization that
"the waitresses at all Eataburger restaurants across the
country are incompetent." But if he did, he'd be guilty of
committing the fallacy known technically as Hasty
Generalization. The common term for this kind of poor logic
is "jumping to conclusions."
There are all
sorts of explanations that could account for his experiences.
Maybe he tends to go to these restaurants at the same time of
day, right at the end of a long, exhausting shift for the
waitresses. Maybe he's been extra grumpy himself when going
there, and gave the waitresses a hard time. And maybe, given the
small sample, it was just time and chance. What if the first
waitress just had a death in her family and was distracted by
grief; the second was suffering from a migraine headache; and
the third had a sick baby at home and got no sleep the night
before? These situations wouldn't reflect at all on the chain of
restaurants and most of its employees, or even on those three
waitresses under most circumstances.
What does this
have to do with Bible Study on the topic of Hell? People from
most Protestant and Roman Catholic churches come to the Bible
with the accumulated experience of a lifetime of exposure to the
ever-burning Hell doctrine. They are already convinced that the
doctrine is true, so even when they approach the Bible to find
proof-texts to support their belief, they are likely to jump to
conclusions after checking only a very few related scriptures.
Most seldom go back to "square one" to carefully sift through
all of the scriptures on the topic, and attempt to harmonize
all of the relevant passages. Nor do they ever think to
examine the history of the development of the doctrine, and add
that evidence to their reasoning.
the primary purposes of this Is It True What they Say
About Hell? website is to present readers with a
challenge to set aside the preconceived ideas they may
have about the doctrine, to set aside the hasty
generalizations they may have made based on just a few
proof-texts. (See the article
Doctrine for more information on the hazards of
proof-texting.) Only after doing this is it possible
to objectively examine the "whole counsel of Scripture"
on this topic.
commits the Straw Man Fallacy when he refuses to actually
address the logical arguments offered by someone with whom he
disagrees. Instead, he invents a "straw man" based on factors
that weren't part of the original argument at all. When he
verbally pummels this straw man and succeeds in tearing it
apart, it can give the illusion that he has "won the argument."
An onlooker who is not paying careful attention may not realize
that the builder of the straw man hasn't even touched the real
argument that has been offered against his position.
This type of
fallacy is often used in discussions about the nature of Hell. A
very poignant example of this is found in Four Views on Hell,
a 1996 book from Zondervan Publishing. In this book, four
different writers offered their varying perspectives on the
nature of Hell. Each wrote a chapter of his own, carefully
explaining and supporting his point of view. After each such
chapter, the other three authors took turns critiquing the
content of the chapter.
Clark H. Pinnock presented a carefully-reasoned biblical
explanation of his conviction that the Bible does not teach that
humans have an inherent "immortal soul" that can never be
destroyed. God alone has immortality, and can choose to grant it
to humans ... or withhold it if He so chooses. (This position is
technically termed "Conditional Immortality" in theological
circles.) Pinnock further explained and supported his belief
that the Bible does not teach the notion that the unsaved will
be endlessly tortured in an ever-burning Hell for eternity.
Instead, at the end of human history, those who never repent of
rebellion against God will be annihilated. Pinnock offered many
of the same points of reasoning and scriptural analysis as those
in the articles on this website. He carefully investigated the
origins of the common conception of Hell, and compared it
carefully to the scriptural evidence.
popular evangelical theologian and author John F. Walvoord
offered a chapter of "Response" to Pinnock's material. It is
almost embarrassing to read through Walvoord's comments. He
managed to address virtually none of what Pinnock actually
wrote! Instead, he seemed to invent a totally unrelated
position, and attack it rather than engage Pinnock's points.
Pinnock's primary focus was that the commonly accepted view of
Hell is a result of a MIS-interpretation of a few scriptures,
mixed with the idea of the immortality of the soul inherited
from paganism. He made absolutely no attempt to reason from a
position that the Bible is unreliable. He asserted throughout
that it is the fallible interpretation of men that has been
unreliable. So that there would be no mistaking his position, he
theology starts with the Bible and asks what the Scriptures
have to say about the nature of hell. The Bible enjoys
primacy relative to other sources for theology, being our
canon and teacher. Whatever it teaches about Hell, we are
obliged to accept.
And yet almost
immediately in his response, Walvoord offered his first point of
rebuttal to Pinnock:
Conditional Immortality Challenges the Doctrine of
Scriptural Inerrancy. This presentation of conditional
immortality raises the question of whether the Bible was
actually inspired by the Holy Spirit and is verbally
inerrant, that is, whether it never expresses as true
something that is false. As in the metaphorical view
[offered in another chapter in the book], the common
assumption that the Bible bends to the wrong conceptions of
punishment that existed in the first century implies that
the Holy Spirit was not sovereign in guiding the Scripture
and that the writers were not kept from error. The teaching
of Christ on the subject of hell is also labeled as a
misrepresentation. The great majority of those who hold to
conditional immortality of the wicked do not subscribe to
the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy.
had nothing to do with what had been in the chapter by
Pinnock! And the three other points in Walvoord's response also
had little to do with the actual content of Pinnock's
writing. Walvoord created a Straw Man in his response chapter,
and ripped it to shreds ... while leaving the scriptural points
of reasoning that had been offered by Pinnock untouched. It
isn't clear whether Walvoord was being deliberately
intellectually dishonest, or was just a victim of his own poor
ability to use sound reasoning. But in either case, he utterly
failed to address the issues raised by Pinnock, and undermined
his credibility with anyone able to see through his use of
conception of the nature of Hell is so pivotal to the
understanding of the nature of God that it is vitally important
to avoid logical fallacies when discussing it. Pinnock was
correct. Whatever the Bible teaches about this topic, Christians
are obliged to accept. Pinnock wrote elsewhere:
Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and
vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting
torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have
been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly
like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral
standards, and by the gospel itself. ( C.H. Pinnock, The Destruction
of the Finally Impenitent, Criswell Theological Review
4 (1990-Spring), Pages 246-47.)
If the Bible
truly teaches the doctrine embraced by John F. Walvoord, then Charles Hodge, quoted
at the beginning of this article,
is right. All Christians must believe it or deny the very basis
of their faith, the Bible itself. But if the Bible does not
teach this doctrine, then those who promote it are denying a
significant factor of the
nature of God and, as Pinnock implied above, are in danger remaking Him in the
image of Satan.
reality is that the doctrine of an ever-burning Hell, where the
unsaved are perpetually tortured with unimaginable suffering
throughout eternity, is not just a fringe doctrine that can be
swept under the rug, or put on a shelf, or otherwise hidden from
sight and ignored. It is, in one way, the centerpiece of a
debate to define the very nature of God.
It is a primary goal of this
website to bring
the full horror of this doctrine into sharp focus.
Only when Christians can examine this doctrine
in the clear light of day, with sound reasoning,
and consider BOTH sides of the debate,
will they be able to form a truly informed opinion
on what the Bible actually says on the subject.
This site contains a collection
of articles, on the topic of Hell and the Afterlife, that may
each be used independently for research purposes. But it also is
designed as a systematic, sequential overview of the whole
topic, which can be read like a book.
For those who would like to take
advantage of this perspective of the content, the articles are
arranged in the
Reading Guide as they would appear as chapters in a book, along
with a few reference chapters at the end such as would appear in
a book Appendix.
links below to go to the next article, previous article, or
in the Reading Guide sequence.
Back to Beginning
No single short article can comprehensively cover
any aspect of the topic of Hell. If you have
questions or concerns regarding the material in this
article, be sure to first read through the site
FAQ before writing to the
author. It may already specifically address the very
points you are wondering about.
noted, all biblical references in this and other articles on the
Is It True What They Say About Hell? website are from the
New International Version (NIV).
All of the articles on this
Is it true what they say about Hell? website were written by Pam Dewey, with
the support and sponsorship of Common Ground Christian
Ministries. For more of Pam's inspirational and educational
writings, visit her Oasis
All website content
© 2007, Pam
Dewey and Common Ground Christian Ministries
All rights reserved. Material may
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