Edward Fudge: Against Literalism
Edward Fudge’s article The Final End of the Wicked (1984) is a very rational work of literature. It presents its arguments in a seemingly objective, point for point thematic study and eagerly finds points of refutation with traditionalist views. However, these views are clouded by a priori interpretations of the author which throws his conclusions into doubt. Several key breaks with Biblical traditionalism exist. The chief problem, and the overwhelmingly significant one, is the making of passages to fit an already held frame of reference. Fudge squeezes meaning into text that simply makes no sense. His understanding conflicts with the literalist view in that he does not separate body from soul. Once the former is destroyed, he assumes the latter is as well (325) as in “everlasting destruction.”
This is most easily seen in his discussion of physical ending on page 326. The verses from the Old Testament affirm complete destruction. However, this is the destruction of the body – the jar of clay that holds the eternal soul. As accepted through strict interpretation, God knew us before we existed on earth, well before we had a physical earthly body, and will know us after this body passes away, and this is something Fudge refuses to accept. He goes on to claim that traditional literalists, “(have) to deny that the wicked will ever become like any of those things…an everlasting spectacle of indestructible material in an unending fire” (326). This is a huge jump of logic that refutes the Bible. Clearly, bodies are destroyed, and physically end. However, in stories such as Lazarus speaking from beyond the grave about his sufferings, we also see that spiritual life, for better or worse, continues after bodily death.
Fudge ignores literal truth in these cases. Nitpicking words such as, “their memory will perish and they will be as though they had never been” (326) again denies that the Bible accepts a body/spirit separation. As late as page 333, the author once more attributes a meaning of everlasting to one side of eternity and sudden conclusion to the other side of things. This is not an objective treatment of definitions.
Any personal conclusion of the Biblical literalist that can be drawn from reading Edward Fudge must be based upon strict acceptance of the Bible texts, not mere individual feelings. Then true meaning can be taken. Going the other direction, where an apologetic first assumes meanings and then comes up with a thesis, and attempts to prove it by pulling quotes and passages out to prove one’s point is dangerous. I find this to be the case in the article The Final End of the Wicked.
It seems like Fudge has some axe to grind, and some agenda to push and that is what worries me. An author who is prepared to argue against long held literal readings of the Bible is putting themselves into what I consider the ‘infallible’ position. New believers and non believers who live in the world may be given sway to a logical presentation of arguments. On the whole it is easy to follow the rationale of writings such as these and accept the conclusion because things seem to fit so well. But that also demands ignoring basic, literal truths of the Bible.
My view is that we must let the Bible speak literal truths of its own meaning. We cannot assign values to words, and go on to make them fit. We cannot pretend that literal facts do not exist. The spirit/body separation, for example, must never be doubted. Once authors are allowed to do these things, any wild interpretations of wisdom may develop, and these are harmful to true belief.
I would sum up that authors of texts such as these are putting themselves into the meanings of the Bible, rather than letting the Bible speak to them. If we prefaced all statements about Biblical subjects with the introduction, “I feel this way about the interpretation of the following…” we would be able to see a little more clearly that these are just that, personal interpretations of already established fact. That is not what Biblical literalism is about. That is why single minded articles like Edward Fudge’s The Final End of the Wicked must be dismissed and disconnected from the Biblical canonical texts.
Fudge, E. (1984). The Final End of the Wicked. Journal of the Evangelical Theological
Society, 27/3, 325-34.