Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 8a) – Jude’s Eternal Fire

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I’ve been waiting to write this article for a while. But I have been eager too. Jude 7 is a go-to verse for annihilationists who assert that since Jude 7 seemingly speaks of “eternal fire” that rained down upon Sodom and Gomorrah, and that fire was not (and is not still) burning, therefore, the eternal fire in Matthew 25, or anything other semantical reference about hell’s fires burning forever, is false. And since also the parallel passage in 2 Peter 2:6 mentions Sodom being reduced to ashes, that pretty much seals the deal and destroys eternal conscious torment (pun intended). Not so fast though. There is a key linguistic feature in Jude that I have yet to hear being addressed in any of the articles or podcasts being written (even though I directly challenged Chris Date with this, and his answer was appalling). But before I reveal what that is, this will be a two part article. This first one is the easier-to-read-just-get-the-gist, kind of article that will be for those of us who do not fully understand linguistic terms. I will attempt to break it down so that almost anyone can understand. The next article will be more technical.

So what is this key? First, here is Jude verse 3 – 7

3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. 8 Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. (ESV)

First, notice the blue highlights. They are there to reveal who Jude is speaking about primarily in this passage. He is dealing with False Teachers who have crept in, but he is also giving an example of how God deals with people like this by way of history. This point will be dealt with more in the second part, but for now, take a look at the word “undergoing.” It is the Greek word Hupecho (ὑπέχω). It is written in the present tense and it is a participle of means. Very important to know. But what does this mean? Even though 8b will be more technical, I promise anyone can understand what I’m about to tell them here.

If you look at the phrase “serve as an example” in this English translation, the verb to “serve” or to “set forth” as an example is connected to the present participle “undergoing.” What this does is expand or expound upon the verb “to serve.” In other words, how are these people that Jude mentions serving as an example? By undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. But is this undergoing simply a result of a past action? Or is it a present suffering? According to the context of Jude, and the grammar in the Greek, this is indeed a present suffering. One of the reasons is because this word, undergoing, is written as a present tense that portrays a contemporaneous action. Not only that, since it is a participle of means, it reveals how the example Jude speaks of is being displayed. An example sentence would be: Little Johnny is being an example for all the other children by studying his homework. Johnny studying his homework is the means by which he is fulfilling the example.

Apologies

Please forgive me if I have lost you. But don’t worry. Here’s the recovery. The next part will explain a little more about what I meant above in just English.

Let’s look at the text again with different highlights:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. 8 Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. (ESV)

What do you notice about the difference between the red and blue highlights? Did you notice all the past tense translations of the red? How about the blue? Did you notice it was written in present tense? Although you may find varying translations here, the Greek does the exact same thing when it comes the context of this passage. Jude makes all these past references to teach a lesson about God’s judgment, and then switches the tense to present tense using this participle of means to describe how exactly Sodom serves as an example of God’s judgment to us. And also, reveals how this example is fulfilled to the present day (or at least when Jude penned it) as still undergoing punishment by eternal fire.

Story Telling and Historical Presents

The more technical aspects of this will be explored in 8b, but some conditionalists may say to you (and as Chris Date asserted to me) that “undergoing” can act as some kind of historical present. What that means is that in narratives or story telling, we often use present tense to vividly portray the unfolding events as if it is happening in real time. For example:

Sally went to the store yesterday. When she was there she said to the store clerk, “Can you give me a pack of cigarettes please?” And do you know what he said? He stared at her and said, “Are you sure your are old enough to buy cigarettes?” Needless to say, Sally was feeling pretty pleased with herself.

Notice, in this example, the flip flop between past tense (blue) and present tenses (bold underline) as the story is told. The present tense is used to describe the story as if it happening in real time. But what we have in Jude 7 regarding undergoing is not a historical present. Historical presents follow certain grammatical rules. And although most linguists will tell you most language rules will be broken at some point or another, there is no linguistic indication that the historical present is what Jude intended here. Also, there is no indication that “undergoing” is a participle that signifies past actions with continuing results as some conditionalists may imply.

(Update: Since this article was written, new knowledge has come out. Although the historical present was not an argument Chris has made (although he alluded to it in our past conversations), he has attempted to distort how “undergoing” is portrayed. Read 8b)

Now, as a prediction, I suspect in the future that Chris Date and other conditionalists will catch wind of this and jump through linguistic hoops to explain this away. As Chris Date once hinted to me in conversation, they may release some information on how this kind of participle was used by Josephus or other writers to depict a historical present (if they are still in the works of producing it). And you know what? That’s completely okay. But they still must deal with the fact that this particular text, and all the linguistic factors that go into interpreting Jude, mirror whatever examples they have. In other words, they must find the word within the same, or very similar, contextual environment to make somewhat of a legitimate rebuttal. Also, unless we are not abiding by Sola Scriptura, it really doesn’t matter how Josephus or anyone else uses words similar to the Bible. We can look to those things for data and help to understand how the language and particular words function in certain contexts, but unless they can show why “undergoing” found in Jude 7 does not portray present suffering, then at best we are at a stalemate (which is not the case). At worst, we might have to rethink how we use Jude 7 from an annihilationist’s perspective.

Side note: Although I am using some Greek Grammars, you can look at this easy to read article by Greek linguist Bill Mounce here. He notes that while the “undergoing” depicts how the present geographic location of Sodom serves as warning to us, the Scripture also reveals that they are being currently punished. He says:

“As far as the timing of their ongoing punishment is concerned, relative time does suggest they are currently experiencing it at the same time as we are being warned.”

Last Thoughts

I like to entertain the idea of supposed truth. Allow me to pose something to you that I posed to Chris Date. Let’s say that conditionalists are correct that the eternal fire in Jude explains the eternal fire in Matthew, and also does away with the notion that there is eternal conscious torment. But let’s also assume with the annihilationists that at times when the Bible mentions the punishment for sin as being death, that destruction assumes annihilation (which is permanent death vs. temporal death as some conditionalists commonly define it). If all this is true, and Scripture makes it clear that eternal fire is indicative of final punishment and ultimate wrath, then when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with eternal fire, shouldn’t that be it? Why resurrect them just to use eternal fire on them again? Of course, the question is (and was) directed back at me by saying, “Why would God send people to hell after they die to be tormented only to resurrect them and do it again?” There are several answers to this question. And I hope to deal with this more in the future. For now, here are several teasers.

1) Re-read articles 2a through 2c in this series and remember that eternal fire is a final punishment, a place in which the fire is in and of itself eternal. 2) There are some Scriptural positions that pose when someone dies, they receive their resurrected bodies. And what we understand to be future judgment is full and complete since we cross into the eternal state, and we are only reading God’s word from a temporal and chronological lens while here on Earth. Not saying this is indeed true, just an idea to ponder. 3) Perhaps if you consider the severity in which God dealt with Sodom, would it be too hard to assume that Sodom and Gomorrah’s actions were so grievous, they are currently experiencing torment in the lake of fire and have bypassed the Great White Throne? 4) Those that have died may be experiencing suffering now, without the body, but when God resurrects them, they will be created to endure the full, and exquisite judgment of God upon not just their soul, but body and soul. They will partake of wrath that would indeed turn them to ash as if they were here on earth, but doesn’t because they must bear the wrath that Christ bore on behalf of believers. 5) Finally, even if there seems like an inconsistency on my part to ask why God would destroy with eternal fire the inhabitants of Sodom, there isn’t. Because I am not using terms like destroy, death, punishment, lake of fire, eternal fire, and the like to depict a cessation of existence (or permanent death as it is proposed). The problem of why God would do the “same thing” twice lies heavily upon the shoulders of annihilationists because, according to their language, Sodom was destroyed with a punishment that Scripture depicts as final. In the words of Ricky Ricardo, “You got some splaining to do.”

-Until we go home

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3 thoughts on “Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 8a) – Jude’s Eternal Fire

  1. Pingback: Rethinking Conditionalism (Part 8b) – Jude’s Eternal Fire & 2 Peter 2:6 | Our Common Salvation

  2. The problem with your argument in terms of using Bill Mounce arguement he clearly states “ὑπέχουσαι is present tense, so it might imply a present punishment. However, remember there is no absolute time significance outside the indicative, and this is a participle. So all the tense of ὑπέχουσαι says is that it is undefined in its aspect.

    However, if relative time is accounted for, since πρόκεινται is present, the linear ὑπέχουσαι would be describing action happening at the same time as πρόκεινται and hence a present “undergoing.” So the suggestion is that the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah are currently being punished for their sins, and their current punishment serves as a current warning to us.”
    Look where he specifically said this “However, remember there is no absolute time significance outside the indicative, and this is a participle. So all the tense of ὑπέχουσαι says is that it is undefined in its aspect.” Your whole arguement is based on IF relative time is accounted for but he clearly shows there is no time aspect outside of the indicative and in Jude 7 undergoing is a participle. So at best it’s 50/50.

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