Pollock: Does Fire Consume?

We are now nearing the end of A. J. Pollock’s defense of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment (ECT). At this point Pastor Pollock has made most of the arguments he is going to make and is now tying up loose ends. Because of this I am going to begin moving faster with an eye to finishing my review of Pollock’s booklet in the very near future.

In this post I am quoting from pages 32 through 34 of Pollock’s HADES and Eternal Punishment. I am going to intersperse my comments with Pastor Pollock’s text.

First off Pastor Pollock deals with objections that a person must burn up in the Lake of Fire. I agree with Pollock that a person does not necessarily burn up in the Lake of Fire, God can preserve unbelievers in the Lake of Fire if He so chooses.

Here is Pastor Pollock:

There are, however, two striking incidents given in Scripture, which may well silence any objector.

When Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law at Horeb, he saw a wonderful sight.

“And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed” (Ex. 3:2).

The caviller may say, ‘How could the bush be on fire and yet not be consumed?’ Yet here we have the plain statement that it was so.

Again, you remember how the three Hebrew children were flung into a burning fiery furnace, heated seven times so that the fierce flame slew the mightiest men of Nebuchadnezzar’s army who threw them in, and yet the three Hebrew children were not burned, nor their hair singed, nor the smell of fire on their clothes, only their bonds were consumed. Can you explain this?

Rather let us bow to God’s Word without question, and believe just what it states.

We must ever bear in mind that we cannot apply the conditions that obtain in this life in connection with mortal bodies to the bodies of unbelievers which will be raised for judgment. To do so is to betray our ignorance.

There is one very expressive passage affording much room for thought. It comes in at the end of the Scripture, in which the Son of God gives solemn warning as to gehenna.

“For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another” (Mark 9:49-50).

We all know the preservative quality of salt. Decay is indefinitely arrested in meat when it is salted. This is a world where moral decay has set in and the Lord would have His people kept by the preserving salt of His grace. The sacrifice salted with salt is emblematical of the fact that God would preserve His people for Himself from the impurity and corruption of what is around. As a well known author says:-

“Salt… is that energy of God within us which connects everything in us with God, and dedicates the heart to Him, binding it to Him in the sense of obligation and of desire, rejecting all in oneself that is contrary to Him” (J. N. Darby).

Failing this, how terrible is the language, “Salted WITH FIRE.” The fire, instead of consuming and destroying, does the very opposite. It is preservative for itself, hence, “the fire is not quenched.”

I have never heard before that in this passage (Mark 9:49) Christ is teaching the eternal preservation of the unbeliever, this is a novel interpretation to me. Here is a longer quotation from this passage in Mark:

47 And if your eye causes your downfall, gouge it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where

Their worm does not die,
and the fire is not quenched.

49 For everyone will be salted with fire.[b][c] 50 Salt is good, but if the salt should lose its flavor, how can you make it salty? Have salt among yourselves and be at peace with one another.”
Mark 9:47-50

[b] Mark 9:49 Other mss add and every sacrifice will be salted with salt
[c] Mark 9:49 Lv 2:13; Ezk 43:24

I am unconvinced that in this passage Christ is speaking of preserving unbelievers by salting them with fire. If He is, then what does He mean by “everyone will be salted”? Does this mean that both believer and unbeliever will be preserved in eternity by being salted with fire? Notice that the footnotes provided here refer back to Levitical sacrifices. If these footnotes are correct, and they may not be, then why would Christ link this preserving of unbelievers with sacrifices that represent Christ’s work on the cross and the forgiveness of sins? In verse 50 the emphasis is on salt losing its flavor and not on its preservative properties.

Like most Christians I have certain resources that I use on a regular basis. One of my mainstays when I need to look up detailed exegesis of a passage is Gary Kukis’ “The List” page. Most of the links provided are to ministries that studied under the same pastor I did growing up (they are quite conservative and not favorable towards annihilationism). They are generally thorough and provide much food for thought.

Using “The List” I tracked down two expositions on this passage. The first comes from Pastor Ron Snider of Makarios Bible Church in Sarasota, FL. Pastor Snider’s exposition of Mark 9 (you can download his notes on New Testament books from here) is eighty-four pages and quite detailed. His exposition of Mark 9:49-50 begins on page 80 and contains sixty-four points. Pastor Snider discusses all of the questions I have plus some. Basically this passage is complex and difficult to interpret for anyone and everyone. The one point of Pastor Snider’s that I want to highlight for my purposes is this one from page 81:

  1. In the preceding context, it is simple enough to understand that the unbeliever will be preserved through the fires of Hell for all eternity; although this verse alone is not sufficient to discredit the annihilation view, other texts indicate that unbelievers experience unending conscious torment in eternity. Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10-15

Pastor Snider is not, nor did I expect him to be, sympathetic to the annihilationist view. I agree that Mark 9:49-50 is not sufficient to discredit the annihilationist view. Interpretation of Matthew 24:51 depends on how aionios is translated (my posts on aionios can be found here, here, and here) and Revelation 20:10-15 is probably speaking about demons (see the extended quote from Robert Allen Taylor here). I don’t want to get off on a tangent here, the point is that Mark 9:49-50 does not lend support to Pastor Pollock’s position.

The other resource is an exposition of the Gospel of Mark by Dr. Daniel Hill who is the pastor of Southwood Bible Church in Tulsa, OK. Dr. Hill’s exposition can be downloaded from the Grace Notes Bible Studies page. Dr. Hill’s exposition of Mark 9:49-50 begins on page 24 and he doesn’t even mention the unbeliever. It is clear that he doesn’t view the unbeliever as being the subject of this passage.

Now quickly back to Pastor Pollock:

Keble says truly:-

“Salted with fire they seem to show

How spirit lost in endless woe

May undecaying live . . .”

 HADES and Eternal Punishment
A J Pollock
p. 32-34

[Click on this link to see the next installment in this series: Pollock’s Concluding Remarks]

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