In his book Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, Second Edition, Joseph Ratzinger dispenses with Hell in a mere three and a half pages, during which he manages to confuse Hell with Hades, the Abyss, and Sheol, and confesses that “Hell” has taken on a completely new meaning and form (pp. 215-218).
Catholic theologian Hans Kung writes:
Some theologians when asked directly about hell tend to give confused, evasive answers on the subject: they say that it is ‘no longer on the agenda.’ They hardly dare to repeat the old mythological notions, but they avoid giving a clear new answer – that is an easy way of making oneself unpopular in one’s own church. That is true not only for the Catholic Church, in which up to the Second Vatican Council the allegedly infallible doctrine of the Council of Florence was put forward, according to which anyone ‘outside the Catholic church … will incur the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels’. It also applies to the Lutheran Church, in which Luther’s belief in the devil and anxiety about hell has played a major role right down to the twentieth century, as for example in the widely-noted dispute over hell in the Norwegian church in the 1950s.
Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar writes:
Be warned, dear reader, that this concerns a theologians’ quarrel! And yet is it one whose nature will hardly leave any Christian cold. My little book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? was cut to pieces … before me lies a related heap of angry letters, entreaties to return to the truth Faith and so on. What is this all about? About the duty to have hope for all men. The opposing side holds: No, our hope for ultimate salvation is limited, since we know, indeed, it is dogma, that a number of men languish in eternal hell. Consequently, I am a heretic for refusing to accept a church doctrine.
Is it any wonder Catholics are confused?
But back to Ratzinger.
No quibbling helps here: the idea of eternal damnation, which had taken ever clearer shape in the Judaism of the century or two before Christ, has a firm place in the teaching of of Jesus, as well as the apostolic writings. Dogma takes its stand on solid ground when it speaks of the existence of Hell, and of the eternity of its punishments.
In support of the claim that the doctrine of Hell “has a firm place in the teaching of … the apostolic writings” he offers a number of Scriptural passages, the first of which is 2 Thessalonians 1:9:
MOUNCE: They will experience the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power
ASV: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
YLT: who shall suffer justice — destruction age-during — from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his strength
There’s no mention of Hell here. Gehenna, Hades, Sheol, Tartarus, the lake of fire …
Will they suffer eternal punishment, or will the punishment consist of eternal destruction?
Who is the author speaking of? Who will experience this punishment?
2 Thessalonians 1:6
For it is a righteous thing for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you
First century audience. First century punishment.
When will the punishment occur?
2 Thessalonians 1:7
and to give relief to you who are afflicted, and to us as well, when · the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels
Affliction in the first century. Punishment in the first century. Relief in the first century.
For, the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father, with his messengers [angels], and then he will reward each, according to his work. Verily I say to you, there are certain of those standing here who shall not taste of death till they may see the Son of Man coming in his reign.
First century judgment. It took place in AD 70.