No Hell or Judgment In Acts??

An article on rethinking the Gospel was recently brought to my attention. Among other things, it claimed that there were no warnings of hell and judgement in the book of Acts. Yikes!

Here is my response:

This article presents some landmines that need to be explored.


There is huge danger in “rethinking” an essential Biblical concept while restricting oneself to only one book. The Bible is presented to us as a complete work (of progressive revelation, many would say), so we are obligated to use all of it when constructing our views on any given topic. Cherry-picking certain verses, passages or books is the antithesis of Bible study. This danger is intensified if the chosen book is a narrative (narrating historical events), and not a didactic book (explaining/instructing us on Biblical concepts).

A quick example of this error: The belief that “all men are created equal” was at the foundation of the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War. But we would not read a narrative of the US Revolutionary War in order to understand Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy on how all men are created equal. No, we would read his personal works where he elaborates on these ideals, or we would read from those who influenced him (Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu).


In several places throughout Acts, Luke makes it clear that much more was said than what he recorded, starting all the way back at Pentecost:

[+] And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt generation! ” (Acts 2:40)

[+] “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of everyone’s blood, for I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God.” (Acts 20:26-27)

[+] Now as he spoke about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix became afraid and replied, “Leave for now, but when I find time I’ll call for you.” (Acts 24:25)

I’m sure there are more passages that make this point, but these are the first few off the top of my head. (See also Acts 15:32; Acts 20:11; Acts 28:23)

The point is this: Acts does not tell us everything the Apostles said and did. It only tells us what Luke wanted to record about what the Apostles said and did. This distinction is not a slam against Luke. Rather, this distinction is made in order to further underscore the error of using a narrative passage as a foundation for teaching doctrine.

Forgive me for being blunt, but stories do not save souls; doctrines do. A person can believe the story that Jesus died for him, but if he believes the wrong doctrines embedded in that story, he is NOT saved (Matt 7:21-23).

(Sidebar: next time you hear missionaries elaborating on “storying” as a means of reaching the lost, ask them what doctrines the natives are gleaning from those stories. I have stopped being shocked at the erroneous doctrines that we see in our ministry in various countries in Africa, because locals are almost always taught stories without being taught proper doctrines to go along with those stories. Here are a few of the ones I’ve come across recently:

  • Jesus told the women to tell the disciples about His resurrection, therefore, endorses women preachers in the pulpit
  • Isaac and Jacob gave dowries, therefore, the Bible mandates wedding dowries
  • All science comes from man, therefore all science is the teaching of man and therefore must be rejected
  • Five foolish virgins were left outside, therefore 50% of Christians are going to hell
  • Hanna said in her prayer that the earth was built on pillars, therefore, the earth is built on pillars and science is wrong.

These errors flourish because they learn stories without being taught doctrines. But I digress…

No Judgment Preaching?

Much of the preaching we see in Acts is being preached to people who were already familiar with the content of the OT ( “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.” (Acts 26:27)).

A dominant theme of the OT is that the Messiah is coming and He will destroy all His enemies. This theme is all over the OT, including Moses’ Song in Deut 32, one of the more frequently referenced passages in the NT. (We would do well to pause and read the chapter. If we do not recognize God in this chapter, then we do not know the God of the Bible. This is the chapter that includes the verse ” ‘Vengeance is Mine. I will repay’, says the Lord” …quoted verbatim in Romans and Hebrews, and alluded to in many other NT passages).

Reading through the inter-testamental writings and the Gospels, we clearly see that the Jews were quite cognizant of the Deut 32 and other similar passages of judgment, like Isaiah 66 or Malachi 4 (Mal 4 is the last chapter of the OT. In this chapter, the righteous dance on the ashes of the enemies of God and look for the coming one who will announce the Messiah). So the 1st century devout Jew waited in eager anticipation for the Messiah to come and fulfill those promises.

If we don’t see judgment preaching in Acts,

  • Did the Apostles not reference them at all because they weren’t relevant and/or were promises that God wasn’t going to follow through on?
  • Were they omitted by Luke because he had another evangelism tactic in mind for Theophilis?
  • Were these topics referenced in the preaching of the Apostles, but unfamiliar to our untrained eyes?

I take the latter view. To wit…

  • In the preaching on Pentecost, Peter makes direct reference to the coming day of Judgment where the earth (and all its sinners) will be destroyed (Acts 2:19-21). It is this event that people need to be saved from (v21). BTW, Peter elaborates on this notion in 2 Peter 3:10, and when Jude copies 2 Peter, he uses an OT preacher (Jude 1:14-15) as the proclamation of Jesus coming in world-wide judgment to destroy all evildoers.
    Peter’s preaching in Acts 2 also includes Jesus as Lord over all enemies, having subjugated them (a quote from Ps 2 and Ps 110). His audience knew exactly what that meant, and were “cut to the heart”, seeking repentance.
  • In Acts 3, Peter preached to the religious leaders telling them that Jesus is the one who would restore all things (elevate the saint and destroy the sinner) according to the OT Scriptures:
    [+] Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. (Acts 3:22-24). Here, Peter is explicitly saying that Deut 18 teaches us that anyone who does not listen to and obey Jesus will be destroyed, just as ALL the OT prophets preached. Rest assured, judgment was clearly preached by the prophets of the OT.
    His audience, instead of being convicted, were “greatly annoyed” (Acts 4:2)
  • When persecuted in Acts 4, the saints respond by quoting a portion of Psalms 2. Pause now to read the passage and see what they had in mind. May we all be like Ps 2:12
  • In Acts 5, in the infancy of the NT Church, Ananias and Saphira emulate the self-seeking motives of Nadab and Abihu in the infancy of the OT Tabernacle scene of Lev 10. The two stories match point-for-point. And the vain “worshipers” suffer the same fate. And the audience in both scenarios had the same response: fear before a holy God. I humbly submit that the correlation of Nadab and Abihu vs Ananias and Saphira was not lost on the Jewish audience. They were seeing acted out before them in 3D what it meant to violate the holy presence of a God that is a consuming fire. Indeed, “I will show My holiness to those who are near Me, and I will reveal My glory before all the people.”
  • In Acts 7:51-53, Stephen accuses the Sanhedrin (and by extension, all unbelieving Jews) of being guilty of ignoring the laws of Moses, just as their forefathers were. The penalty of this is death and condemnation. (Acts 7:37 is a quote of Deut 18:15-19. Read it.)
  • In Acts 8, Peter gives Simon a 1st-century equivalent of “You and your money can go to hell!” (Yes, ἀπώλεια is a reference to damnation.)

Well – as you can see, we’re only in Acts 8, and there are already a 1/2 dozen warning calls about judgment.

Here’s also another thing we see: When the people of God move and preach by the Spirit of God, there are 2 general reactions:

  • the righteous people are in fear before a holy God
  • the unrighteous are indifferent or angry for being called out by the preacher

If a person wants to insist that Gospel presentations in Acts don’t include images of hell and judgment, I humbly submit they are not reading carefully. But here’s what does not require careful reading: the audiences of those messages were struck with conviction, fear and trembling.

Does your Gospel preaching invoke conviction, fear and trembling? If not, it’s not like the Gospel preaching in Acts.

Love of God?

The author rightly notes that the “love of God” scarcely gets mention in Acts. Truth be told, there is no passage anywhere in the Bible where a preacher tells an audience of unbelievers “God loves you and has a plan for you”. Not once; Not even close. If anything, the sermons of the Bible are “Judgment is coming. You better repent NOW!”

This “God loves you and has a plan for you” sermonette is the invention of man, and doesn’t embody the teaching of Acts or anywhere else in the Bible.

For a Biblical exposition on the content of the Gospel, use Isaiah 52:7 – 53:12 in the OT and 1 Cor 15 (whole chapter!) in the NT. Both passages set out to explain what the Good News is. And both include Judgment.

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