“Second Chance”

by John M. Frame   


This article is taken from Walter Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 991-2. Used by permission of Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright 2006. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group. http://www.bakerbooks.comhttp://www.BakerPublishingGroup.com.

Another chance after death to profess Christ. Some theologians (Marcion and Origen in the ancient church, Schleiermacher, Dorner, Godet, and others in more recent times) have argued that some (or all) who die unsaved will have a second chance. The Jehovah’s Wit­nesses also maintain this view. Chief arguments for it: (i) general considerations about divine love and justice; (2) the position (defended by texts like John 3:18, 36) that conscious, deliberate un­belief in Jesus is the only legitimate ground for condemnation; therefore, those at least who have never heard of Christ or who have not seriously considered him ought to have another chance; (3) texts like Matt. 12:32; I Pet. 3:19; 4:6 taken to teach a probation after death.

This view is rejected by all orthodox Protestant churches. The mainstream of Protestant theology urges that death is the end of man’s probation and that the spiritual condition of man after death is fixed, not fluid (Luke 16:19-31; John 8:24; Heb. 9:27). God’s judgment is based upon deeds done in the body, i.e., on earth (Matt. 7:22-23; 10:32-33; 25:3415.; II Cor. 5:9-11; Gal. 6:7-8; II Thess. 1:8). The idea of a second chance is inconsistent with the urgent call in Scripture to repentance and obedience now (II Cor. 6:2; Heb. 3:7-19; 12:25-29).

In reply to the arguments in favor of a second probation: (i) God owes man nothing; he has already given to us a fair probation (in Adam); that any of us has opportunity to hear the gospel is an extraordinary divine kindness. (2) John 3:18 and similar passages teach that Jesus is the only way to salvation, but not that disbelief in him is the only ground for condem­nation; we are condemned by all of our sin, in­cluding our corporate sin in Adam (Rom. 3:23; 5:12-17; 6:23). (3) These texts are far too difficult and isolated to provide an adequate basis for so significant a hypothesis. Further, on any respon­sible interpretation, they do not teach a secondprobation. Matt. 12:32 does not say that any sins will be forgiven after death, only that some will not be. First Pet. 3:19 has been understood in different ways: (i) Jesus’ preaching the gospel to OT saints; (2) Jesus’ proclaiming judgment to dead unbelievers (common among Lutheran in­terpreters); (3) Jesus’ proclaiming his triumph to fallen angels (a common interpretation among contemporary scholars, based on parallels with the Book of Enoch); (4) Jesus’ preaching through Noah to those living before the flood (cf. 1:11; Eph. 2:17—Augustine, Beza, some Reformed). None of these interpretations permits the con­clusion that a second chance is given to the dead in general. First Pet. 4:6 probably refers to the preaching of the gospel in this world to people subsequently martyred for the name of Christ.

Bibliography. L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology; L. Boettner, Immortality; W. J. Dalton, Christ’s Proclama­tion to the Spirits; B. Reicke, The Disobedient Spirits and Christian Baptism.


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