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Love Wins Book Review

by Doug Becker

Love Wins is a book by the popular Christian author Rob Bell, former senior pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.[1] Published in 2011, the book was released to considerable fanfare, partly because Bell was already known as one of the most influential and controversial figures in American Christianity, and partly because of an attention-grabbing promotional video that hit the internet prior to its release.[2] This video prompted a lively discussion, parodies included, as well as the mixture of both accolades and condemnation that the book drew when it was released. This included an interview on MSNBC with Martin Bashir that went viral.[3] So widespread was the chatter surrounding Love Wins that Time magazine ran a cover story about it, bearing the title, “Is Hell Dead?”[4] Conservative writers, such as John Piper and Al Mohler, quickly branded the book as advocating ideas beyond the bounds of Christian orthodoxy, while others, such as Richard Mouw and Brian McClaren praised it for igniting a conversation on a topic that has long been too taboo to touch.

The thesis of the book is that Christians need to seriously consider completely reworking how we understand heaven and hell (but especially the latter), as well as the exclusive claims that are often held to be central to the gospel. In this review, I offer my own understanding of what Rob Bell is saying in Love Wins, as well as my opinion as to whether Bell is indeed correct in his assertions, particularly in his reformulation of the nature of God’s judgment. My conclusion is that Bell’s central thesis, as I understand it, is unsustainable. I am not offering here a defense of the orthodox doctrine of the final judgment, beyond what is necessary to correct the many errors of Love Wins. It is my hope that this review will be helpful both for those who have read the book, as well as for those who have not.

Opening Thoughts

Bell makes some good points in his book. He is obviously concerned with how quick to rejoice over the condemnation of others many Christians can sometimes be, as well as how truncated the Christian gospel has tended to become. For many, the good news about Christ has become only a message about how to get to heaven. For those who are still in the dark about such things, Bell shines a well-needed light on both the cosmic significance of the gospel (i.e., in it God is redeeming all things), as well as its power to transform lives now, in this world.

It is important to realize that Bell is not attempting to argue against what he knows to be the clear teaching of Scripture; he is trying to show that Scripture does not, in fact, teach what most Christians throughout history have thought it does. In other words, he does not believe what he does in spite of what he thinks the Bible teaches; he believes it because he believes that this is what the Bible teaches. This doesn’t mean he’s right, but it does set Bell apart from others, who simply dismiss the Bible and use their own speculations as the ultimate barometer for truth.

This review will not cover all of the errors that Bell makes in this book (and they are, in my view, multitude). All I can offer is a critique of some of the more blatant missteps, in hopes that those who read this will not be led a stray by a very popular personality who is clearly well-meaning and very persuasive to some, but whose analysis of the topic of hell ultimately cannot be trusted.

Heaven and Hell

Before addressing the issue of hell, Bell treats the topic of heaven. He begins by caricaturing the common understanding of heaven and eternity, seeking to paint it as shallow, “bumper sticker” Christianity. The concern to receive “eternal life” that many Christians view as central, according to Bell, “wasn’t a concern for . . . Jesus.” He goes on, “This is why Jesus doesn’t tell people how to ‘go to heaven.’ It wasn’t what Jesus came to do” (30). For Bell, when Jesus speaks of “the age to come,” he was not referring to an age that goes on forever, during which people are consigned either to God’s new creation or a place of eternal judgment (or even annihilation). Rather, he contends, Jesus is speaking of a period of time on this earth when the hope expressed by Israel’s prophets will be fulfilled, when “nations will stream” to Jerusalem (Isa 2:2–3), all walking “in the light of the Lord,” whose knowledge will fill the earth “as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:9). Thus, eternal life, in the scenario Bell paints, is a time of earthly peace, justice, righteousness, and bliss (30–40). This age is what the Bible holds forth as the hope of heaven, which is envisioned as a process (42–43, 51). This understanding of heaven is not entirely unwarranted, biblically speaking, and is similar to the much more appropriate, informed, and nuanced views endorsed by the eminent biblical scholar N. T. Wright.[5]

What is unexpected, however, is Bell’s assertion of who will be there. According to Bell, since this heaven is envisioned as a worldwide phenomenon, encompassing “everybody” (34), and since it includes the promise of being cleansed from sin (Isa 1:18) and of humanity being purged of the evil in their hearts (49–51), this is the time when absolutely every person on earth will turn to God and be forgiven for their sin. Later in his book, Bell quotes a barrage of passages to this effect: “‘All people will come’ to God [Ps 65:2]. . . . ‘All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God’ [Isa 52:10]. . . . ‘Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him shoulder to shoulder’ [Zeph 3:9]. . . . ‘Every knee shall bow . . . and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father [Phil 2:10]’” (99). The problem with citing these verses this way is that the very books from which these statements are taken deny that every human being, without exception, will join one another in God’s future kingdom. Rather, these passages refer either to the universal acknowledgement of God’s salvation, righteousness, and lordship (e.g., Isa 52:10; Phil 2:10), or to the inclusion of nations that were previously regarded as heathen into the family of God.

What then of hell? Bell claims to exhaustively survey the Bible’s comprehensive teaching on the subject. This begins with a denial that the notion is found anywhere in the Old Testament, in which life after death is instead described with terms such as “sheol,” “the depths,” “the pit,” and “the grave” (64–67). All these carry little or no connotation of judgment or punishment, aside perhaps with death being the consequence of sin, following the reasoning laid out in Genesis 3. This is an overstep on Bell's part. While it is true that the Old Testament is nowhere near as clear about the afterlife as the New, it is misleading to say that it is entirely silent. Interestingly, Bell neglects to speak of Isaiah 66:24: “They shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” Note that this is quoted by Jesus as referring to hell in Mark 9:47–48. Also consider Daniel 12:2: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”

Bell then to the New Testament with the intention of exposing the notion of hell as eternal punishment to be an unbiblical teaching. He does this by offering a rather misleading discussion of the Greek term geenna (“Gehenna”), which is typically the word that is rendered “hell” in English. While it is true that the literal meaning of this word is a reference to the Valley of Hinnom somewhere in the vicinity of the ancient city of Jerusalem that was used to burn human waste and executed criminals, it is untrue to say, as Bell does, that this is where its symbolic significance stopped in the mind of first century Jews.[6] Gehenna was viewed metaphorically as a place of God’s fiery judgment, both within and outside the New Testament. This was clearly the opinion of the Jews of Jesus’ day, and there is no reason to think that Jesus would have used the term differently.[7] It is described as a place of “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43; cf. Matt 18:9; Jas 3:6), “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41), which bears a resemblance to the lake of fire described in Revelation 19:20 and 20:10–14, the latter of which Bell conveniently leaves out of the discussion in his chapter on hell.[8] Jesus says that it is better to lose limbs or eyes than to be cast into Gehenna (Mark 9:45, 47).[9] And so, when Bell says, “Gehenna, the town garbage pile. And that’s it” (69), he is either being dishonest or is ignoring the vast amount of readily-accessible scholarship that has gone into understanding the term as it was used in Jesus’ day.

Ultimately, in Bells’ opinion, the concept of hell is entirely restricted to the personal agony that we create for ourselves in this life and in the next. The agony of hell of which Jesus warns us is nothing more than suffering in this world (70–79). For Bell, hell is a present reality experienced by those who chose to shun God’s perfect standard of righteousness and justice (170–71). Thus, the only reason Bell can say that beliefs are “incredibly important” is because hell is the state of disbelief in a God who loves us. When we disbelieve, we are in hell; when we believe, we are not. Back and forth, back and forth (175–76).[10] To use Bell’s own words: “The only thing left to do is trust. Everybody is already at the party. Heaven and hell, here, now, around us, upon us, within us” (190). Or, from the chapter on hell: “There are individual hells, and communal, society-wide hells, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously. There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously” (79). By “hell later,” Bell does not mean a place of final judgment to which God’s enemies are consigned forever. Rather, he means that, even in the age to come, people will be able to choose either heaven or their own personal hell.

Cosmic Redemption

As I noted earlier, one of the admirable parts of Bell’s work is his insistence on the cosmic scope of the gospel, which he articulates in chapter 5. He correctly notes that many Christians have a view of the gospel that is so narrow that it makes it hard to fathom what Paul means when he speaks of the significance of Christ’s death extending to “all things” (1 Cor 15:27–28; Eph 1:10, 22; 4:10; Phil 3:21; Col 1:20). Indeed, it is difficult to see how the courtroom metaphor necessary to explain Paul’s theology of justification applies to all creation, and so while Christ’s work on the cross certainly encompasses this, it must also have other implications. Bell’s error is that he criticizes traditional protestant theology for making personal salvation the overarching significance of the cross, and then turns right around and embraces another form of reductionism, replacing forensic justification with the reconciliation of all things. While this, for Bell, makes the gospel “bigger,” he allows it to distort the Bible’s otherwise clear teaching of how God deals with man’s sin and the objective guilt incurred by us because of it. Apparently, Bell believes that reconciliation of all things trumps “a gospel that repeatedly, narrowly affirms and bolsters the ‘in-ness’ of one group at the expense of the ‘out-ness’ of another group” (135).[11]

It is with respect to this concept of cosmic redemption that Bell puts forth the notion that God is in the process of saving all people, and he marshals a slew of verses that he thinks support this (e.g., John 6:33, 51; 10:16; 12:32; 1 Tim 2:3–4). “Jesus himself,” Bell writes, “again and again, demonstrates how seriously he takes his role in saving and rescuing and redeeming not just everything, but everybody. . . . He is sure, confident, and set on this. All people, to himself” (150–51).

Eternal Punishment?

At this point, we might ask how Bell comes to grips with the Bible’s teaching that God’s punishment of the wicked is “eternal” (e.g., Matt 25:41). This would seem to be a fatal objection for his view. Bell gets around this by appealing to the meaning of the Greek word aiōn, which is usually translated “age” in English (as in the “age to come” in Luke 18:30), but can also mean “eternity.”[12] He correctly points out that it is often incorrect to understand passages that use this word, or its cognates, as referring to things that will literally never end (55–56). However, while this is true for some passages in which the word is used, in others it is clearly false. For example, in John 6:51, Jesus says that anyone who eats “the living bread that came down from heaven” (i.e., himself) will “live forever” (Greek zēsei eis ton aiōna). Is Jesus claiming that his disciples will only live “for an age”? In 2 Corinthians 9:9, Paul, quoting Psalm 112:9, says of God, “His righteousness endures forever” (hē dikaiosūnē autou menei eis ton aiōna). Does God’s righteousness only endure “for an age”? In Hebrews 5:6, 6:20, 7:17, 21, 24, and 28, we learn that Jesus is a “priest forever” (sū hiereūs eis ton aiōna). Does Jesus’ priesthood endure only “for an age”?

This leads to one of the most blatant blunders in Bell’s book. After attempting to limit biblical references of the “age to come” to a period of time that has both a beginning and an end, he then turns to show how this is relevant to Jesus’ teaching about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. Jesus ends this chapter in verse 46 by saying that the unrighteous “will go away into eternal punishment (Greek eis kolasin aiōnion), but the righteous to eternal life”—clearly a problem for Bell’s overarching argument, since the destiny of the wicked is said to endure as long as the destiny of the righteous. Ignoring this very obvious observation, Bell instead gives the following convoluted explanation of the phrase:

“The goats are sent, in the Greek language, to an aion of kolazo. Aion, we know, has several meanings. One is ‘age’ or ‘period of time’; another refers to intensity of experience. The word kolazo is a term from horticulture [note: this is the term rendered ‘punishment’ in the quotation of the verse above]. It refers to the pruning and trimming of the branches of a plant so it can flourish.

“An aion of kolazo. Depending on how you translate aion and kolazo, then, the phrase can mean ‘a period of pruning’ or ‘a time of trimming,’ or an intense experience of correction.

“In a good number of English translations of the Bible, the phrase, ‘aion of kolazo’ gets translated as ‘eternal punishment,’ which many read to mean ‘punishment forever,’ as in never going to end.

“But ‘forever’ is not really a category the biblical writers used” (91–92).

This statement is chock full of error, and is a clear example of how someone who claims a level of confidence in his understanding of the Greek language can end up perpetuating glaring errors which most leaders have no ability to evaluate. Unfortunatley, these errors affect certain steps that are key to Bell's argument. First, neither aiōn nor kolazō are the words actually used by Jesus. “The phrase, ‘aion of kolazo’” never occurs anywhere in the New Testament—or anywhere else in all of Greek literature because it is a nonsense phrase. To be clear, we are talking about the phrase “eternal punishment,” used in Matthew 25:46. The words Jesus uses are aiōnios and kolasis, forming the construction kolasin aiōnion (“eternal punishment”). Kolasin is an adjective (Bell thinks it is a noun) and aiōnios is a noun (Bell thinks it is a verb).[13] The point here is that the way Bell constructs these statements should make it clear to anyone who can read Greek that he cannot. That doesn’t in itself mean that he’s wrong, but it does raise suspicion as to whether or not he can responsibly evaluate the evidence from which he is drawing his conclusions.

In all fairness, the two words aiōn and aiōnios share the same root, but this does not mean that their meanings are identical, even if Bell were correct about the meaning of the former, which he is not. Had Bell taken the time to investigate how the adjective that Jesus uses here (aiōnios) is used throughout the New Testament, it is difficult to see how he could possibly have come to the conclusion that “eternal” is not an inappropriate translation of this word as Jesus uses it. As I mentioned above, the place to start would be within this very verse, where the righteous enter into “eternal life” (v. 46, zōēn aiōnion). The word occurs sixty-nine times in the New Testament, and its most frequent usage by far refers to the “eternal” reward bestowed on those who repent of their sins and trust Jesus Christ for salvation.[14] The problem should be obvious: If this word does not men “eternal” when the Bible speaks of hell (Matt 18:8; 25:41, 46; 2 Thess 1:9; Heb 6:2; Jude 7), then how does it come to mean this when it speaks of heaven?[15] Yet this is precisely what Bell expects us to believe.

What about the second term in this phrase, kolasis? Does this, as Bell claims, “refer to the pruning and trimming of the branches of a plant so it can flourish” (91)? Honestly, I cannot find anything to suggest that this is the meaning of this word (and I have tried), aside from the fact that it seems to be derived from the word kolos, which typically describes something as “mutilated,” and that the verb kolazō can also mean “to cut short,” “to lop,” or “to trim.”[16] Kolasis (the noun that Jesus uses) means “chastisement” or “punishment,” and is commonly used of divine punishment, as well as “the punishment and torments which martyrs had to endure.”[17] The only other time the term appears in the New Testament is in 1 John 4:18: “Fear has to do with punishment.” And there are plenty of examples of it outside the Bible, none of which have to do with “horticulture,” as Bell asserts.[18] To be sure, Bell doesn’t claim to be an expert on these matters, but he can hardly be excused for these blunders, since he is the one who has written a book that seeks to overturn established orthodox doctrine and is aimed at popular audience that has absolutely no way to verify whether or not what he is saying is true.

Although my discussion of Bell’s comments on Matt 25:46 may seem a bit pedantic, I feel it is necessary, for he apparently believes that this allows him to dismiss any and all references to “eternal” (aiōnios) punishment in the Bible. Aside from these specific terms, he entirely ignores statements in the Bible that do not actually use the term “eternal,” yet still clearly have this concept in mind, such as Isaiah 66:24 and Mark 9:48: “Their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched.” Bell would do well to take his own advice: “When we read ‘eternal punishment,’ it’s important that we don’t read categories and concepts into a phrase that aren’t there” (92).

Some Final Observations

Rob Bell has a penchant for presenting the message of the Bible (or his version of it) in a way that sounds attractive. In this respect, we can all learn from him. But in doing so, he is forced to obscure or blatantly deny key elements that are absolutely crucial for understanding God’s revelation to mankind. His emphasis on bringing the values of the age to come into the present is admirable, and it makes him a strong advocate for justice and compassion. All this can certainly help us to care for the physical needs of others in a way that genuinely reflects the heart of Christ. The problem with the way Bell says it, however, is that he does so at the expense of denying other critical aspects of the Christian faith. He portrays people who are concerned with eternal destiny in heaven or hell as being concerned only with such things, as if orthodox Christianity somehow makes us forget about and neglect the suffering of our fellow man. Can he not see that some of the Christians who have done the most for the cause of justice in the world are also ones that hold passionately to more traditional views concerning the final destiny of mankind? No doubt, there is much room for improvement in the Evangelical community, but can we really say that this is because we aren’t on board with Bell’s universalist theology? (On the label of “universalism” to describe Bell’s views expressed in Love Wins, see below.)

One obvious criticism of Love Wins is that the scenario Bell presents makes belief in Jesus irrelevant. Bell anticipates this objection, and insists that it is “not true. Absolutely, unequivocally, unalterably not true” (155). But his explanation of how this can be is so frustratingly vague that he might as well agree with his critics. Here is how he answers that question—after insisting that “the door is opened to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Baptists from Cleveland.” He claims:

“What Jesus does is declare that he, and he alone, is saving everybody. And then he leaves the door way, way open. Creating all sorts of possibilities. he is as narrow as himself and wide as the universe. He is as exclusive as himself and inclusive as containing every single particle of creation” (ibid.).

One would be hard-pressed to find a Christian who does not agree that the door is, in fact, open to people of various religions—provided they respond in faith to the gospel. We cannot deny that Jesus alone is the one who saves. But notice how Bell says this: He does not say simply that Jesus alone saves, but that “he, and he alone, is saving everybody.” Taken in isolation, this can mean a whole array of different things. But remember, he is saying this in a book in which he has already presented his views of heaven and hell, and has stated that he believes (1) that hell is the personal, subjective misery that we create for ourselves when we rebel against God, and (2) that God leaves all people suffering in this hell the option of turning to him and entering heaven—and that he does so even after this life. And so, even if he is saying that salvation is through Christ alone, through faith alone, his critics are correct in saying that, for Bell, which path we choose in this life is ultimately of very little, if any, consequence, since Adolf Hitler can decide to turn the moment he finds himself separated from God after death, only to experience the very same heaven that Stephen experienced after he was stoned to death for preaching the gospel.[19]

Again, it is worth saying this in Bell’s own words:

“At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most ‘depraved sinners’ will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God (107).”[20]

Rob Bell, responding to his critics subsequent to this book’s release, has denied that he is a universalist (i.e., that he believes every human being will be saved and go to heaven). This is a judgment that many who have reviewed this book share with him. The question I would pose, however, is whether this lines up with what he has actually written. Regardless of what he calls himself, the views he expresses again and again in Love Wins clearly amount to a version of universalism. Several reviewers, seeking to shield Bell from this criticism, have noted that he is simply asking questions and trying to open up a conversation on a topic which Evangelicals typically consider sacrosanct. I disagree, because he builds his case on confident assertions that the Bible does not, in fact, teach that the ultimate destiny of those who reject Christ is eternal punishment, or even annihilation. Bell does not present this as a question, but rather proclaims it as fact. He cannot have it both ways. He cannot spend almost 200 pages arguing that all human beings will ultimately spend eternity with God in heaven, mocking those who disagree with him as shallow and callous, and avoid the label of universalism.

The reason I say that Bell’s view amounts to a version of universalism is because he does not say that all people will be in heaven, regardless of their choices in life. If people continue to reject God, God will give them what they want: the misery of life without him. As he puts it, “We get what we want.” Rather, the scenario Bell proposes is one in which heaven remains an open option for people after death, after experiencing the anguish of their own personal hells (116–17). And so, as I understand him, it is most accurate to say that Bell envisions a watered-down version of hell that has a perpetually unlocked escape hatch. People can go in and out of the misery their sin creates for them (= Bell’s hell) at will.

If there is something we should take away from Love Wins, it is a renewed appreciation of how profoundly misguided we as Evangelicals are when we flippantly discuss the topic of hell. Having been around traditional evangelicalism, Rob Bell has clearly developed a strong distaste for this doctrine, as it is often formulated. He has apparently sided with many secular humanists of our day by failing to see any way to reconcile the character of a loving God with the biblical teaching of his final and lasting judgment against those who have rejected him. But what began as a mere distaste for the doctrine has finally culminated for him in the ideas expressed in Love Wins, in which he constantly ridicules both the doctrine and those who disagree with him. It is not difficult to see why this book has generated such harsh responses—it removes virtually all urgency behind the gospel mission of the church and twists the meaning of Scripture beyond credibility. What is left is a gospel that is not worth living for, let alone dying for, since, if we follow Bell’s thoughts to their logical conclusion, the lost will one day be found, even if they die having never heard the gospel of Christ.

[1] Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: Harper Collins, 2011).
[2] Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=is0AUGhf9n4.
[3] Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vg-qgmJ7nzA.
[4] Jon Meacham, “Is Hell Dead?,” Time 177:16 (April 25, 2011), 38–43.
[5] N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (New York: Harper One, 2008).
[6] Gehenna acquired such a negative reputation due to the fact that it was the place in which the Israelites participated in both human and animal sacrifice to the Ammonite deity Moloch (Heb. milkōm) during the reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh (2 Kgs 16:3; 21:6; Jer 7:32; 19:6).
[7] References to Gehenna as hell, for example, occur outside the Bible in the following ancient sources: Ethiopian Enoch 90:26; 27:1ff.; 54:1ff.; 56:3–4; in the Babylonian Talmud in Rosh Hashanah 16; 4 Esdras 7:36; Syrian Apocalypse of Baruch 59:10; 85:13; Sibylline Oracles 1:103; 2:291; 4:186. Some early Jewish sources may have viewed Gehenna as a kind of purgatory (e.g., Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:3), but this is expressly not the view endorsed by Jesus, and at any rate that would still amount to a form of post-mortem judgment. Information about these is easily accessed in the standard scholarly works on the topic.
[8] Bell mentions the lake of fire in passing later on, only to dismiss it as being part of a book that is “written in an apocalyptic, heavily symbolic way,” that is “enigmatic,” and “filled with scenes of scrolls and robes and angels and plagues and trumpets and horses and dragons and beasts and bowls and prostitutes and horses” (111–12; yes, he mentions horses twice). One wonders whether he would make the same assessment of Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 1, where the future is depicted with “the Lord Jesus revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed.”
Note also that, in the very same discussion, Bell affirms other statements in the Book of Revelation as perfectly intelligible symbolism, when it suits his purpose. So, for example, the fact that, in his description of the new heavens and the new earth, John writes, “Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there,” is taken by Bell to be an open invitation to every person throughout history to enter heaven when they are ready (114–15). So much for writing off the entire book because of its angels, plagues, trumpets, horses, dragons, beasts, bowls, and prostitutes.
[9] Whether or not hell is actually a place of literal fire is hotly debated among biblical scholars. For a helpful treatment of the differing views, see William Crockett, ed., Four Views on Hell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).
[10] Consider, for example, what Bell says on page 177: “God is love, and to refuse this love moves us away from it, in the other direction, and that will, by very definition, be an increasingly unloving, hellish reality. We do ourselves great harm when we confuse the very essence of God, which is love, with the very real consequences of rejecting and resisting that love, which creates what we call hell.”
[11] I think that what Bell means by this is not that some people are, in fact, under God’s blessing, while others are not—he seems to affirm this in other parts of his book (e.g., 113–15). Rather, he is criticizing the presentation of the gospel as emphasizing “‘in-ness’ . . . at the expense of ‘out-ness’ of another group.” In other words, he wants us to ask the question, “Is this something we should celebrate?”
[12] Bell also argues that this term is used to denote a time that feels like “forever,” due to the intensity of emotions experienced in it. But at this point it is unnecessary to discuss this here.
[13] According to the form of the words themselves, not necessarily in their use in Bell’s made-up construction. Actually, it’s a bit more complicated to explain the missteps he makes by wording the phrase like this. The first word that Jesus uses, the adjective aiōnos, meaning “long ago,” “eternal,” or “without end,” Bell switches to the noun aiōn, which means “the past,” “eternity,” or “age” (this is the word from which we get “aeon”).  Kolazōis actually the verb from the same root as the adjective that Jesus uses, but is not the word that actually occurs in this text. The only two places this verb occurs in the New Testament are Acts 4:21 and 2 Peter 2:9. Ironically, in both of these places it means “to punish.”
[14] Matt 19:16, 29; 25:46 (x2); Mark 10:17, 30; Luke 10:25; 16:9; 18:18, 30; John 3:15, 16, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:24, 39; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68; 10:28; 12:25, 50; 17:2, 3; Acts 13:46, 48; Rom 2:7; 5:21; 6:22, 23; 2 Cor 4:17, 18; 5:1; Gal 6:8; 1 Tim 1:16; 6:12, 16; 2 Tim 2:10; Tit 1:2; 3:7; 2 Pet 1:11; 1 John 1:2; 2:25; 3:15; 5:11, 13, 20; Jude 21.
[15] After surveying the word’s use in the entire New Testament, I found only three places where the word does not refer to an eternal duration of time: Romans 16:26, 2 Timothy 1:9, and Philemon 15. John A. T. Robinson puts the issue in Matthew 25:46 this way: “The genuine universalist will base nothing on the fact (which is a fact) that the New Testament word for eternal (aionios) does not necessarily mean everlasting, but enduring only for an indefinitely long period. For he can apply this signification to ‘eternal punishment’ in Matt 25.46 only if he is willing to give exactly the same sense to ‘eternal life’ in the same verse. As F. D. Maurice said many years ago, now, writing to F. J. A. Hort: ‘I did not see how aionios could mean one thing when it was joined with kolasis and another when it was joined with zoe’ (quoted, J. O. F. Murray, The Goodness and the Severity of God, p. 195). To admit that the two phrases are not parallel is at once to treat them with unequal seriousness. And that a true universalism must refuse to do” (In the End, God: A Study of the Christian Doctrine of Last Things [London: James Clarke & Co., 1950], 131 n. 8).
[16] See J. Schneider, “κολάζω, κόλασις,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (ed. Gerhard Kittel; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965) 3:814.
[17] Ibid., 816. See also W. Bauer, W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (3rd ed.; Chicago: University of Chicgo Press, 2000), 555.
[18] For example, Diodorus Siculus I.77.91; IV.44.3; Plutarch’s De iis qui sero a numine puniuntur 9 and 11 (II, 553–54; 555d; Claudius Aelianus’ Varia Historia, VIII 15; Philo’s Legatio ad Gajum 7 and De Vita Mosis I 96; 2 Maccabees 4:38.
[19] Of course, Bell would probably say that it might take God a bit longer than this to melt Hitler’s heart.
[20] Some might object by pointing out that this quotation occurs in his book as a description of the view of certain individuals throughout church history. I would respond by pointing out that the reason Bell even mentions these individuals is because he believes it gives historical precedence to his own view.




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