In my series, A Universalist Looks at the New Testament, I’m going through the New Testament and pointing out verses that look different if you don’t start with the assumption that the hell Dante wrote about is real. I’m a Christian Universalist who believes that through Christ, God will save everyone, though many will face judgment first. And I believe this fits well with what the Bible teaches.
I’m not going to linger in the epistles from Peter. They do talk about judgment, but nothing that says it will last forever.
A couple of places have some interesting talk about preaching the gospel “to imprisoned spirits” and “even to those who are now dead” (I Peter 3:19; 4:6). I’ve never heard a great explanation for these verses from the traditional perspective. From my perspective I take it as evidence that hearts can change and decisions can be made after death.
In II Peter 2:4, the Greek word Tartarus is translated “hell.” This is the only time this word is used in the Bible, and it is not described as a place of eternal torment, but a place where angels are imprisoned until the day of judgment.
In talking about the day of judgment in II Peter 2 and 3, there are fearsome descriptions of destruction. II Peter 3:7 says, “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”
This is talking about the earth being destroyed — but I don’t think even those who hold to the traditional view think that the earth will burn eternally. So you could use this passage to support the annihilation of the wicked, but not the eternal torment.
And I still think it can fit with judgment coming after death — maybe even consisting of a purifying fire.
II Peter 3 has more to say:
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.
The earth will be “destroyed” and made new. Perhaps that will also be true of the wicked?
Don’t forget that II Peter 3:9 also tells us God’s desire for humans:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
I think of the day of judgment as God’s last resort to bring about that repentance. But it’s what He wants for everyone. Will God succeed?