The Hell Debate, Part 2 – Annihilationism

A Continued Look at Annihilationism

This month I’d like to continue building on last month’s e-teaching, in which I gave a brief introduction to what theologians refer to as annihilationism, the doctrine that the unrighteous will not suffer eternal conscious torment, but that they will, after being justly punished according to their deeds, be annihilated and cease to exist. A related doctrine, known as conditional immortality, embraces the idea that immortality is not automatically possessed by all, but is only granted as a gift to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (as we read in Rom. 6:23).

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Annihilationism is definitely a minority belief among Christians. Most of us believe that the unrighteous will be tortured forever in the lake of fire. Yet I would bet that most of us would prefer not to believe that. We must, however, stick with what the Bible teaches whether we like it or not.

May I again state that the doctrine of the nature of hell is one upon which sincere followers of Christ can disagree. It is not a doctrine that is central to the Christian faith (see the Nicene and the Apostles’ Creed), nor is it a salvation issue. Jesus will not be saying to the sheep on His right, “Inherit My kingdom, because your doctrine about the nature of hell was correct.”

I’m certainly not crazy enough to think that I’m going to persuade everyone to the view to which I’m leaning. I am crazy enough, however, to think that we should love one another, because Jesus commanded us to love one another, and love is what marks us as His true disciples (see John 13:34-35). John solemnly warned that those who don’t love their brothers are not of God but of the devil, and that love marks us as having passed from death to life (see 1 John 3:10-15). Differing is understandable, but when Christians divide over different views on the nature of hell, it is tragic.

Annihilationism is not an “official doctrine” of the ministry of Heaven’s Family, and it isn’t held by the majority of our staff members. Yet, because they love God and His Word (and me), they are interested in hearing what I have to say. Whatever the outcome of our biblical investigation, we won’t be dividing.

I apologize that this e-teaching is longer than usual. But I think it will be worth your time to read it.

So why even study what the Bible has to say on the nature of hell? There are at least three important reasons:

1.) First, because our Father’s reputation is at stake. As I’ve already said, most of us believe that He will be torturing people for eternity. But may I ask you to think about eternity for a moment and try to grasp the significance of eternal torture? Imagine people writhing in flames, weeping and gnashing their teeth, for a billion years, and after that another billion years, and after that another billion years, and then another, forever, and ever, and ever.

If I heard that you were mercilessly beating your dog for ten hours every day, wouldn’t I wonder what your dog was guilty of that deserved such treatment? And if I couldn’t think of anything, and you were my friend, wouldn’t I owe it to you to investigate, in order to find out if the rumor I was hearing about you was true? Because if it wasn’t true, I’d want to do what I could to dispel that rumor.

So isn’t it worth our time to investigate whether or not it is actually true that God tortures people eternally, lest we perhaps be guilty of misrepresenting Him as being someone He is not? Shouldn’t we want to make absolutely certain that we aren’t spreading what sounds like a terrible rumor about Him, something immeasurably worse than someone slandering you about beating your dog every day?

Of course, in the end, if we discover that the Bible teaches that God does indeed torture the unrighteous forever, then we’ll just have to accept it whether we like it or not. But at least our consciences will be clear that we aren’t inadvertently spreading a lie about our Heavenly Father. All of this is to say, we should study the doctrine of the nature of hell because we love God. That should be enough in itself. But I have two more reasons.

2.) It is also important to try to arrive at truth regarding the nature of hell because of the potential comfort it can offer.

First, if God is not eternally tormenting the unrighteous, we can finally be comforted that we don’t need to question His fairness on the issue. We no longer need to come up with elaborate and sometimes far-fetched speculations that can’t be found in the Bible—and there are many that I’ve heard—regarding why it is in fact just for God to eternally torment the unrighteous. Let’s face it: The reason there are so many explanations why it is just for God to eternally torment the unrighteous is because every thoughtful Christian wrestles with the idea. We all know it is problematic.

Second, we can find comfort regarding the eternal fate of the lost, particularly lost loved ones. If they are ultimately annihilated after suffering a punishment that is just, that is “according to their deeds” as Scripture promises (Prov. 24:12; Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6; Rev. 20:12-13), it is comforting to know that God won’t be tormenting them for the next hundred-trillion years (and then forever) as we worship that same God forever ourselves.

Of course, if we discover from Scripture that God will in fact be torturing people for eternity, then we’ll just have to abandon those above-mentioned comforts whether we want to or not. We can’t allow any of our personal preferences to sway us to adopt an unbiblical view.

3.) Finally, I can think of at least one more good reason for studying the nature of hell, and that is our love for the lost, something that no Christian can debate is an attribute of God and of God’s true people. We owe it to the lost to live holy lives, lest we be a stumbling block to them receiving the gospel. Sadly, the church is too often a reflection on Christ rather than a reflection of Christ. And as a result, “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom. 2:24).

Similarly, if we truly love the lost, we also need to make sure that the message we proclaim to them is accurate, lest we erect an unnecessary barrier between them and the cross. Before we tell them that God will torture them forever unless they repent, we need to make sure we are accurately conveying the message of the One who warned, not, “Repent or be tortured eternally!” but “Repent or perish!” (see Luke 13:3, emphasis added).

One of the most common objections to Christianity among unbelievers is the apparent gross injustice of, as they often say, “God’s roasting people for eternity.” Of course, such an objection can be just a smokescreen. Still, we want to overcome their sincere objections or their smokescreens with biblical truth rather than with weak and unconvincing arguments that “explain” why God is actually just when He roasts people for eternity.

But aren’t we pandering to the world if we soften the truths of God’s wrath contained in the gospel? Yes, absolutely, if the truths we are softening are genuine biblical truths. I’ve written extensively on that very thing for years, warning of the tragic trend of the church to water-down the gospel. In fact, I’ve written an entire book on the subject titled The Great Gospel Deception.

But is there anything wrong with asking questions such as, “When the apostles preached the gospel in the book of Acts, did they warn the unsaved that God would torment them forever in hell?” We know that they called their listeners to repentance and at times warned them about future judgment and God’s wrath. However, during the many instances of gospel preaching recorded in the book of Acts, did the preachers ever mention eternal torment in hell? The answer is no. In fact, there is no record that they ever mentioned hell at all. So when some say that we aren’t giving the unsaved enough reason to repent unless we warn them about eternal torment, it seems they are finding fault with the evangelistic preaching of Peter, Stephen, Philip, and Paul.

A Few Early Objections

But this is a divisive doctrine! some say.

The truth is, doctrine can’t divide, only people can let doctrine divide them. Over the past 40 years, I’ve watched Christians divide over certain doctrines that don’t divide other Christians. What was the difference? The doctrines were the same. The difference was the people and what was in their hearts. All that is to say that the doctrine of the nature of hell will only divide those who allow it to. Thankfully, most of us believe it is not a doctrine to divide over.

But no Christian leaders believe in the doctrine of annihilation! some say.

That is simply not true. The late John Stott, one of the most influential evangelical Christian leaders and New Testament scholars of the last generation, a prolific author of numerous well-known commentaries and books such as Basic Christianity, openly declared his belief in the doctrine of annihilation in 1988. He eventually admitted he had held that conviction privately for decades. Stott wrote, “I believe that the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment.” Over the past few decades, numerous respected theologians and biblical scholars from many streams within evangelicalism have declared their belief in annihilation over eternal conscious torment.

Perhaps you have heard of F.F. Bruce, whose more than 40 theological books and commentaries grace many pastoral libraries and who is probably the most well-known Bible commentator of the 20th century. He wrote the preface for Edward Fudge’s definitive work on annihilation, The Fire that Consumes. In a letter to John Stott in 1989, Bruce wrote: “Annihilation is certainly an acceptable interpretation of the relevant New Testament passages.”

All of this is to say that there are plenty of respected biblical scholars who embrace the doctrine of annihilation or at least believe it is biblically valid. Of course, there are plenty more who don’t, but anyone who says that annihilationism is a doctrine held only by a few Emergent Church pastors is simply mistaken.

Christian teachers have been debating the nature of hell for a long, long time. It was Augustine (AD 354–430), who vigorously championed for eternal conscious torment against the universalist (everyone is saved in the end) views of Origen (AD 185-254). Augustine appealed not only to the standard biblical texts upon which the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is built, but also to a belief that every human soul is inherently immortal, something he learned, not from Scripture, but from the Greek philosopher Plato (429- 347 BC). Of course, reading the Bible while holding to the presupposition that all human souls are immortal leads to the conclusion that everyone will have to live forever somewhere, either in heaven or in hell.

Augustine’s influence in the medieval church was extraordinary, and it is still bearing fruit today in the doctrines of Calvinism, infant baptism, purgatory, and the eternal conscious torment of the unrighteous, to name a few. It literally would have been a crime to disagree with Augustinian “orthodoxy” for almost a thousand years, during what we refer to now as the Dark Ages.

Because eternal conscious torment has been the majority view for 1,600 years, there is immense pressure to “toe the line,” and many are afraid to even listen to anyone who suggests something a little different lest they be labeled heretics. Christian leaders who do believe in annihilationism often keep quiet. (Several wrote to me, to my surprise, after reading my last e-teaching.)

We should not, however, determine truth by taking opinion polls among Christian leaders. Remember how some low-rung Pharisees once defended their unbelief in Christ by declaring, “No one of the rulers or Pharisees has believed in Him, has he?” (John 7:48).

As we consider the merits of the doctrine of annihilationism, let us not forget who our Leader is. Because this does all come down to one question: “What does the Bible say?” So let’s look now at Scripture.

Jesus, Without Any Help

In my previous e-teaching, we considered several scriptures that contrast “eternal life” with “perishing.” One of them was John 3:16, probably the Bible’s most well-known verse. That is where I would like to start again this time.

It is always interesting to consider how Jesus’ contemporary audiences would have understood His words—without the help of theologians to help them understand “what Jesus really meant.” For example, when Jesus said to a Jewish Pharisee named Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life,” how did Nicodemus interpret what Jesus said?

Nicodemus didn’t have anyone to tell him that the word “perish” actually means the exact opposite of what everyone thinks it means, allegedly denoting “to never perish, and to experience eternal life in hell where everyone is forever tortured.” And Nicodemus didn’t have anyone to tell him that “eternal life” actually means “not the kind of eternal life that the aforementioned people—who are said to perish but who actually never perish as they burn forever in hell—will experience, but an eternal life in God’s future kingdom.”

Unless he was theologically prejudiced, Nicodemus would have simply interpreted Jesus to mean that people who don’t believe in Him will perish, and in contrast with that, people who do believe in Jesus will not perish, but will enjoy the opposite fate of perishing, that is, living forever.

What about Nicodemus’ theological background? He was a Pharisee, so he would already have believed in the idea of a future bodily resurrection. (Remember it was the Sadducees who didn’t believe in a future resurrection; see Mark 12:18.) The idea of a future resurrection is revealed in a number of Old Testament passages that Nicodemus would surely have been familiar with as a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews (see, for example, Job 19:26; Ps. 16:9-10, 17:14-15; Is. 26:19; Dan. 12:2). So the idea of people living forever was not a new concept for him.

Neither would the idea of unrighteous people perishing or being destroyed have been new to Nicodemus, even if he was nothing more than a casual student of the Old Testament. If he ever took a look at the Psalms, for example, Nicodemus would have read:

The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (Ps. 1:4-6, emphasis added).

The Lord knows the days of the blameless, and their inheritance will be forever…. But the wicked will perish; and the enemies of the Lord will be like the glory of the pastures, they vanish—like smoke they vanish away…. transgressors will be altogether destroyed (Ps. 37:20, 38, emphasis added).

When the wicked sprouted up like grass, and all who did iniquity flourished, it was only that they might be destroyed forevermore (Ps. 92:7, emphasis added).

The Lord keeps all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy (Ps. 145:20, emphasis added).

Would Nicodemus (or anyone before or after him) have thought that the phrases, “perish,” “like smoke they vanish away,” “altogether destroyed” and “destroyed forevermore,” actually meant the opposite of what such phrases normally mean? Would he have thought that those phrases actually meant “never perish…never vanish…never be destroyed, but exist forever suffering eternal anguish”?

It is claimed by some that all the Old Testament references to the unrighteous perishing are nothing more than divine promises of their premature physical deaths. Although it is true that there are scriptural examples of God shortening the lives of the wicked (Sodom and Gomorrah for example), there are also plenty of scriptural examples of Him allowing the wicked to shorten the lives of the righteous. “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered” (Rom. 8:36). Millions of Christians have suffered martyrdom over the past two millennia, and in many cases, the wicked people who murdered them lived longer lives. And does every person who lives past 60 go to heaven? If not, then it would seem that all unrighteous people do not die prematurely.

All of this is to say that, if the many scriptures that speak of the unrighteous perishing are all promises of God to punish them by means of premature death, those scriptures make God a liar. Moreover, when we read the context of some of those scriptures, it cannot be argued that it is the temporal fate of the unrighteous that is being described, but their ultimate fate.

One example would be Psalm 73. The author of that psalm, Asaph, admits that he had become envious of the wicked, seeing their prosperous and trouble-free lives, while he, a man who was striving to keep a pure heart, suffered frequently under God’s discipline. But as Asaph continued to ponder this disparity, it dawned on him that God would ultimately repay everyone according to their deeds, and that the wicked would be punished while the righteous would be rewarded.

What will the exact fate of the wicked be? Read what Asaph wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit:

When I pondered to understand this / It was troublesome in my sight / Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form…. For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. (Ps 73:16-20, 27, emphasis added).

Is Asaph describing nothing more than the physical deaths of the unrighteous? That would seem far-fetched in light of his language: “You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!” That sounds more like what happens, at least in most cases, after death. And notice that there is no mention of eternal torment. Rather, Asaph uses the same words we find so often in the New Testament that describe the fate of the unrighteous, namely destruction, destroyed, and perish. Note also that the unrighteous will be destroyed “in a moment,” not over billions of years or forever.

Moreover, are we really to believe that, as Asaph wrestled with the prosperity of the unrighteous in contrast with the troubles of the righteous, that he would have been satisfied by the sudden realization that the unrighteous eventually die physically, just as do the righteous?

Take note that Asaph doesn’t stop with his description of the ultimate fate of the unrighteous. He contrasts it with the ultimate, eternal fate of those who, like him, kept a pure heart:

Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand. With Your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory [An obvious reference to afterlife] Whom have I in heaven [the glorious place where I am going] but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth [because I am going to eventually leave the earth to be with You in heaven]. My flesh and my heart may fail [my body will die], but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever [Unlike the aforementioned unrighteous who will perish, I will live forever] (Ps. 73:23-26, emphasis added).

Clearly, the concepts of the righteous gaining eternal life and the unrighteous ultimately being destroyed are both found in Psalm 73.

There are, of course, many similar references in the Old Testament to the fate of the unrighteous (see, for example, Ps. 2:9-12, 11:5-7, 50:22, 94:23, 112:10; Prov. 10:25, 24:19-20; Is. 1:28-31, 10:17-18, 22:10-14, 24:6, 33:10-12, 41:11-12, 66:24; Dan. 12:2-3; Mal. 4:1-6). Interestingly, there is no mention of future eternal conscious torment in the pages of the Old Testament. Think of all the people who lived during the four thousand years or so between Adam and Jesus. God apparently never revealed to any of them that He would eternally torment the unrighteous after death. Yet He did reveal repeatedly that the unrighteous would ultimately perish or “die” in a sense that is beyond mere physical or spiritual death (see, for example, Ezek. 18). Surely that is significant.

Mountains of Evidence

Again, the question of annihilation versus eternal conscious torment comes down to one question: What does the Scripture say? You may be surprised to learn, as I have been, that annihilationism is supported by a large body of biblical evidence—literally hundreds of scriptures in Old and New Testaments—that tower above just a handful of verses that are used to support the idea of eternal conscious torment.

For starters, below is a list of 25 New Testament scriptures that all reveal that the unrighteous will ultimately perish or be destroyed, two words that always denote finality. Looking at these verses, advocates of eternal torment are reduced to the claim that the Greek word(s) that are so often translated perish and destroy sometimes have nuances or alternate translations that can stretch their common meanings. A very big stretch is indeed needed, however, to make the Greek words that the majority of Bible translations translate as “perish” or “destroy” to mean “never perish, but suffer eternal conscious torment” and “never be destroyed, but suffer eternal conscious torment.”

Here’s the first of 25:

1.) Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction (apoleia, related to the verb apollumi), and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matt. 7:13-14, emphasis added).

Would the simple folks who heard Jesus make that statement during His Sermon on the Mount have interpreted Him to be warning about eternal conscious torment, contrasting it with eternal happiness? Or would they have interpreted Him to be warning about destruction, contrasting it with eternal life?

If Jesus actually meant, “The way is broad to a destruction that is really not a destruction since the person said to be destroyed is never ultimately destroyed but suffers eternal torment,” couldn’t He have chosen a better way to say it? It makes me wonder if it might be a good time for that little boy who raised his hand in church during his pastor’s sermon to ask us the same question he asked then, “Pastor, if Jesus didn’t mean what He said, why didn’t He just say what He meant?”

2.) Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy (apollumi) both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10:28).

Did Jesus actually mean, “Fear Him who is able to, but of course never will, destroy both soul and body in hell, because God will actually preserve the souls and bodies of the unrighteous in order to eternally torment them”? Were Jesus’ words nothing more than an empty threat? Or was He warning that God will indeed destroy both souls and bodies in hell as He casts them into the lake of fire and when they suffer what the Bible calls “the second death” (Rev. 20:14, 21:8)?

Incidentally, when some say, “The unrighteous have nothing to fear if annihilation is true,” that seems to contradict Jesus’ warning that we should fear God for the very reason that He will destroy both soul and body of the unrepentant in hell.

And speaking of God destroying souls in hell, Jesus once said, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:25-26). How can it be said that one “forfeits his soul” if his body and soul burn eternally in hell? Doesn’t “forfeiting one’s soul” seem more like it would describe a loss of one’s soul, rather than eternal preservation of one’s soul?

Jesus also once said,

3.) So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish (apollumi) (Matt. 18:14, emphasis added).

4.) I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish (apollumi) (Luke 13:3 & 5, emphasis added).

If Jesus was only warning His hearers of perishing physically through physical death, shall we then conclude that those who do repent will avoid physical death? Jesus did say, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Thus we can escape perishing by repenting. So it would seem quite obvious that Jesus was warning of ultimate eternal destruction, using two temporal examples (see Luke 13:1-5) to illustrate His point.

This being so, we need to ask how those two contemporary examples—the sudden deaths of the Galileans whom Pilate murdered and the 18 men on whom the tower of Siloam fell—illustrate how the unrepentant will ultimately perish, because Jesus said they would “likewise perish.” Both of Jesus’ examples are pictures of sudden, unexpected deaths, not long, drawn-out tortures.

5.) For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish (apollumi), but have eternal life (John 3:16, emphasis added).

6.) And I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish (apollumi) (John 10:28, emphasis added).

In both of the above verses, Jesus contrasts perishing with eternal life, which seems to further emphasize the finality of perishing. Those who perish do not live eternally as do those who receive eternal life. Or did Jesus really mean this in John 10:28: “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; however, those who “perish” will never actually perish either. In fact I will also give them eternal life, but not eternal life like the eternal life My followers will receive, but eternal life in hell, where I will torture them forever.”

7.) And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed (exolethreuo) from among the people (Acts 3:23, emphasis added).

Again, was Peter (and Moses, whom he was quoting) only warning of physical death by using the phrase “utterly destroyed,” as some say? If so, should we conclude that those who do heed Jesus will never die physically? Clearly, Peter and Moses were speaking of the unrighteous being ultimately “utterly destroyed.” All honest readers will have to agree that the phrase “utterly destroyed” certainly sounds more like annihilation than it does eternal conscious torment.

8.) Behold, you scoffers, and marvel, and perish (aphanizo); for I am accomplishing a work in your days, a work which you will never believe, though someone should describe it to you (Acts 13:41, emphasis added).

9.) For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish (apollumi) without the Law (Rom. 2:12, emphasis added).

One of my editors pointed out to me how most of us have been conditioned to read the word perish in verses like the two above to mean “go to hell and be tormented there forever.” And it is a true observation. Yet when we read the identical word in any other biblical context, we do not make that same assumption. For example, when the disciples said to Jesus as waves were breaking over their boat, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” (apollumi) (Matt. 8:25), we all interpret the word perishing to mean “perishing.” The disciples were fearful of losing their lives.

I wonder how advocates of eternal conscious torment would react if I claimed that the word “eternal,” when found in passages that concern the ultimate fate of the unrighteous, actually means “temporal.” Surely they would cry, “Foul play!” They would accuse me, and rightly so, of grossly distorting the plain meaning of the word eternal. But those same folks insist that the words destroy and perish, when found in passages that concern the ultimate fate of the unrighteous, actually mean “not destroy” and “not perish”! To destroy or to perish actually means, according to them, “to eternally preserve in conscious torment!” How is that not foul play on the same scale?

10.) What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (apoleia)? (Rom. 9:22, emphasis added).

11.) For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (apollumi), but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18, emphasis added).

12.) For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing (apollumi) (2 Cor. 2:15, emphasis added).

13.) And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing (apollumi) (2 Cor. 4:3, emphasis added).

14.) In no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction (apoleia) for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God (Phil. 1:28, emphasis added).

15.) They are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction (apoleia) (Phil 3:18b-19a, emphasis added).

Paul declared that the enemies of the cross have an end, not an eternal future. And he stated what their end would be: destruction.

Again, why would the apostle Paul, in the above-quoted seven verses, repeatedly use the words perishing and destruction to describe eternal, tormented preservation? Is that how his contemporary readers would have understood him?

16.) These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction (olethros), away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2 Thes. 1:9, emphasis added).

As I mentioned in my previous e-teaching, the phrase “eternal destruction” could be interpreted to mean a destruction that continues forever, but that amounts to a nonsensical concept, since all destruction reaches an end, at which time whatever was being destroyed is finally destroyed. It would seem to make better sense if the phrase refers to a one-time destruction, the effects of which are irrevocable and eternal.

For example, the Bible speaks of “eternal judgment” (Heb 6:2). That obviously does not mean an eternity of someone standing before God’s throne to be judged, but a one-time judgment, the consequences of which are eternal.

Jesus warned about the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, something He called an “eternal sin” (Mark 3:29). Clearly, He was not speaking of a sin that is committed eternally, but a sin that is a one-time event, the consequences of which are eternal and irrevocable.

The Bible also speaks of “eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12), obviously not intimating that Jesus’ act of redemption on the cross will be occurring forever, but that His one-time act of redemption provides an eternal benefit to the redeemed.

And we are told in Revelation about an angel who flies through heaven proclaiming an “eternal gospel” (Rev. 14:16). Clearly, we are not to think that the angel preaches the gospel for eternity, but that he preaches a gospel that has eternal relevance.

17.) And with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish (apollumi), because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved (2 Thes. 2:10, emphasis added).

Here, salvation is contrasted with perishing. If we can change the meaning of “perish” to mean “not perish,” what prevents us from changing the meaning of “salvation” to “damnation”? Where do we stop? Do words have meanings?

18.) But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction (apoleia). For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Tim. 6:9-10, emphasis added).

Paul was not writing about financial ruin and destruction in this passage. He was warning about what happens to people who start loving money, abandon their love for God (since you can’t love both God and money), yield to all sorts of evil, wander from the faith, and ultimately are “plunged into ruin and destruction.”

19.) But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction (apoleia), but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul (Heb. 10:39, emphasis added).

20.) There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy (apollumi) (Jas. 4:12, emphasis added).

These scriptures make it clear that God is going to do one of two things with everyone: He will save or destroy them, not save or eternally torment them.

21.) But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction (apoleia) upon themselves…. and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction (apoleia) is not asleep (2 Pet. 2:1, 3, emphasis added).

Surely, false prophets will be cast into hell. If the “swift destruction” of which Peter writes only describes their imminent premature physical deaths (as some say), why would Peter not have added more description of what will happen to them after they die physically, when they would really suffer the judgment that they deserve? And do all false prophets and teachers suffer swift temporal destruction? No, but they all, without exception, suffer ultimate destruction.

And if the destruction of which Peter writes actually refers to eternal torment, why didn’t he use language that would not so likely mislead his readership into thinking that false prophets would be destroyed in the same sense that anything else that is destroyed is actually destroyed? Why didn’t he saying something like, “They will be cast into hell where they will never die, but will suffer never-ending torment”? That same question could be asked about the rest of these verses that speak of the unrighteous perishing or being destroyed. Why use the words “perish” and “destroy” when you want to describe “eternal torment”? It would seem to be a terrible choice of words.

22.) But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction (phthora) of those creatures also be destroyed (phtheiro) (2 Pet. 2:12, emphasis added).

23.) But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction (apoleia) of ungodly men…. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish (apollumi) but for all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:7,9, emphasis added).

It sounds like Peter was paying attention the day that Jesus warned His audience, “Repent, or perish” (Luke 13:3,5). Peter offered the same two alternatives to his readers.

24.) As also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction (apoleia) (2 Pet. 3:16, emphasis added).

25.) And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy (diaphtheiro) those who destroy (diaphtheiro) the earth (Rev. 11:18).

In that final verse in the list of 25, we are told that God will “destroy those who destroy the earth.” What gives us the right to change the clear meaning of the first “destroy” to make it mean “never destroy, but eternally torment,” but leave the second “destroy” to mean what it always means when people use the word “destroy”?

In any case, those are 25 verses that speak of the unrighteous ultimately perishing or being destroyed. That is a lot of scriptural evidence. In every one of those cases, the inspired authors could have just as easily used words that could have clearly conveyed eternal conscious torment to their readers, but they instead used words that denote finality, the very opposite of eternal continuation. That seems significant. I hope you can see by now that, I’m not “going liberal.” I’m “going biblical.” And we’ve only just begun to examine the biblical evidence for annihilation.

(If you want to dive deeper and investigate how the Greek word (apollumi)—which is so often translated “destroy” and “perish” in verses like those above that speak of the ultimate fate of the wicked—is translated in other New Testament verses that do not reference the ultimate fate of the wicked, here is a sample: Matt. 2:13, 8:25, 12:14, 21:41, 22:7, 26:52, 27:20; John 11:50; Acts 5:37, 1 Cor. 10:9-10; Jude 5, 11. Those verses alone expose the fallacy that apollumi can mean “not be destroyed or perish, but suffer eternal agony.”)

Eternal Life is Eternal Life

We are told at least 40 times in the New Testament that “eternal life” is the reward for the righteous (see Matt. 19:16, 29, 25:46; Mark 10:17, 30; Luke 10:25, 18:18, 20; John 3:15, 16, 36, 4:14; 5:24, 39, 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68, 12:50, 17:2; Acts 13:46, 48; Rom. 2:7, 5:21, 6:22; Gal. 6:8; 1 Tim. 1:16, 6:12; Tit. 1:2, 3:7; 1 John 1:2, 25, 3:15, 5:11, 13, 20; Jude 21). So it is certainly safe to say that the unrighteous will not receive eternal life, and nowhere does the Bible dare say that the unrighteous will receive eternal life. Yet most of us believe that the unrighteous will receive eternal life, but eternal life of a different kind than the righteous, an eternal life in hell. Because of that, theologians are forced to change the simple meaning of the phrase “eternal life” to make it mean something more than simply “living forever.”

May I submit a passage, however, from John’s Gospel where Jesus uses those two phrases interchangeably? I’ve put both phrases in bold letters:

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life…. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread also which I shall give for the life of the world is My flesh…. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day…. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate, and died; he who eats this bread shall live forever (John 6:47, 51, 54, 58, emphasis added).

Jesus told His audience that He was the living bread, and that if anyone ate of that bread, he would “live forever.” Seconds later He told the same crowd that those who ate Him had “eternal life.” Seconds later He told the identical group that whoever ate of that bread would “live forever.” I think we can safely assume that the phrases “eternal life” and “live forever” are synonymous in spite of what some say. When Jesus promised believers eternal life, He meant exactly what He said. They will live forever. And here then is the obvious question: If everyone automatically lived forever, why would Jesus make such a promise to those who believe in Him?

Clearly, according to Jesus, non-believers will not live forever. That is why our Bibles promise that it is those who “seek for glory and honor and immortality” who will receive “eternal life” (Rom. 2:7, emphasis added). This begs yet another question: If everyone will live forever, why does Paul encourage us to seek immortality, and promises that if we do, we will receive eternal life?

The answer must be that humans are not inherently immortal. And that is why Jesus promised believers, and only believers, that they would never die (see John 6:50, 8:51, 11:26). Immortality is God’s gift given at the resurrection of the righteous. There is no passage in the New Testament that mentions the word immortality in connection with the unrighteous. It is only associated with Jesus and the righteous upon whom He bestows immortality (see Rom. 2:7; 1 Cor. 15:50-54; 1 Tim. 6:15-16; 2 Tim. 1:10). In fact, the Bible tells us that Jesus “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10).

Jesus said to Mary at her brother’s tomb, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26). How much clearer could it be? Jesus promised believers they would live even if they died, and that they would never die again. That is eternal life. Clearly, however, Jesus’ words indicate that unbelievers will not be granted immortality. How would Mary have interpreted Jesus’ words without the help of theologians to “explain” to her that Jesus’ promise also applied to unbelievers?

Speaking once to Sadducees who were putting Him to the test, Jesus said,

The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage; for neither can they die anymore, for they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection (Luke 20:34-36, emphasis added).

Notice Jesus’ promise is only made to those who “are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead.” It is they who cannot die anymore. They become immortal. It follows that those who are unworthy can still die. And they will ultimately die when they are cast into the lake of fire and experience the “second death” (Rev. 20:14, 21:8), when God “destroys both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

And surely this is why the unrighteous are never promised eternal life, but are promised “death” in the New Testament. We are told that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). In this case, Paul contrasts “death” with “eternal life,” so if there is one thing that death is not, it is not living forever. Only those in Christ are blessed to receive God’s free gift of eternal life.

More to the Mountain

But there is still more New Testament evidence that supports the idea of the annihilation of the unrighteous.

In Jesus’ Parable of the Tares of the Field, the owner of the field tells his harvesters, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up, but gather the wheat into my barn” (Matt. 13:30). Jesus explained that the tares were “the sons of the evil one” (13:38; emphasis added). He also explained,

Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire [remember that Jesus already said that the tares are burned up (see 13:38), exactly what one would expect when chaff encounters fire], so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:40-42).

No mention of eternal conscious torment. Just chaff being consumed. Sounds like annihilation. If Jesus wanted His audience to think that the unrighteous would be eternally tormented, He missed a perfect opportunity.

But don’t Jesus’ words, “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” indicate eternal suffering? No, they just indicate that, as the unrighteous are justly burned up like tares in the lake of fire, they will be weeping and gnashing their teeth, expressing regret and rage. Jesus didn’t say, “They will weep and gnash their teeth eternally.” So let us be careful not to add to His words. The Bible says that the members of the Sanhedrin gnashed their teeth at Stephen before they stoned him (see Acts 7:54). Does that mean they were gnashing their teeth at Stephen eternally?

Jesus once warned in His Parable of the Vine and Branches:

If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned (John 15:6).

Is there any indication in what He said that those who would be cast into the fire would be eternally tormented there, never consumed? No, branches, when placed in fires, ultimately burn up.

John the Baptist, a preacher of righteousness, warned his listeners of the fires of hell. But did he warn them of eternal conscious torment? John preached:

And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).

The chaff would be burned up, consumed by the fire. How would John’s audience have interpreted his warning? If John wanted to convey eternal conscious torment to his audience, he failed.

But doesn’t John’s statement that the chaff would be burned up by an “unquenchable fire” indicate an eternal burning of the chaff? Certainly not. John did not say that the chaff would be “forever burned” but “burnt up,” that is, consumed by the “unquenchable fire.”

If I toss something into an unquenchable fire, does that prove that what I toss into it is never consumed? No. The word “unquenchable” is not synonymous with the word “eternal.” Unquenchable just means that the fire can’t be extinguished until everything in it has burned up.

If I said to you, “My neighbor’s house was burned down in an unquenchable fire,” you would interpret that to mean that firefighters tried but were unable to put out the fire. And you would also assume that the fire died when nothing remained for it to consume. You would not think I meant that the house would be burning for eternity. (For biblical examples of “unquenchable fires” that eventually died out, see Jer. 7:20, 17:27; Ezek. 20:47-48.)

Since we’re on the subject, here’s another question: If I toss something into an “eternal fire,” does that prove that what I toss into the fire is eternal and will never be consumed? Of course not. If I toss a twig into a five-hour campfire, does that prove that twig will not be consumed for five hours? That is good to keep in mind when we make assumptions about “eternal fires.”

Incidentally, the author of Hebrews warned those who continue to sin of “a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume [not preserve in eternal torment] the adversaries” (Heb. 10:27). Just a few chapters later, he warns, “Our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29, emphasis added).

So you see there is a mountain of biblical evidence in the New Testament for the idea of annihilation (and there is still more), and that mountain stands against a handful of proof texts that are used to support eternal torment of the unrighteous. I’ve already offered reasonable alternative interpretations regarding two among that handful of proof texts, namely, Jesus’ promise that the goats that are cast into the “eternal fire” would experience “eternal punishment” (considered in my previous e-teaching), and Paul’s warning of “eternal destruction” in 2 Thes. 1:9. I’ll close this e-teaching by offering reasonable alternative interpretations for two more.

Another Common Objection to Annihilation

We all know that Jesus once warned:

And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than having your two feet, to be cast into hell, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] And if your eye causes you to stumble, cast it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:43-48, emphasis added).

This passage is understandably often used as proof for eternal conscious torment of the unrighteous (I used it myself in the past). If their “worm does not die,” it might stand to reason that those who are affected by those undying worms would be suffering forever. But notice that Jesus speaks both of “unquenchable fire” and “undying worms.” Regarding the phrase “unquenchable fire,” I’ve already shown that it does not denote “eternal fire,” and even if it did, eternal fire does not presuppose that all that is cast into it is similarly eternal. Likewise, “undying worms” does not necessarily denote “eternal worms.” If I said, “That deer carcass along the road was infested with undying maggots,” you would assume that I meant, not that the maggots were eternal maggots, but that they didn’t die as long as there was a rotting deer carcass on which to feed. Keep that in mind as we continue looking at Jesus’ words about undying worms.

When Jesus’ Jewish audience heard Him warn about the undying worms and unquenchable fire of hell (Gehenna), they did not make the assumptions that we make, for the simple reason that they had heard of those undying worms and that unquenchable fire before. Having heard the book of Isaiah read numerous times in the synagogues throughout the course of their lives, they would have immediately recognized that Jesus was quoting verbatim from the final verses of Isaiah’s final chapter. Let’s read those verses:

“For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me,” declares the Lord, “so your offspring and your name will endure. And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the Lord. “Then they shall go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched; And they shall be an abhorrence to all mankind” (Is. 66:22-24, emphasis added).

Isn’t that interesting? It shows how our own assumptions can sometimes be so wrong. When through Isaiah God said (and we could rightly say, “Jesus said”), “For their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched,” He was not at all intimating that those affected by the worms and fire would be suffering eternal conscious torment. He was talking about the dead bodies of the unrighteous, corpses that serve as an object lesson to the righteous regarding the fate of those who rebel against God. All who view the corpses of the wicked consumed by worms (maggots feeding on dead flesh) and being burned in flames will understandably be abhorred.

And it is not clear if that abhorrent scene will be eternal or temporary. If it is eternal, it will have to be supernatural, or the maggots and fire would eventually have nothing upon which to feed. The passage could be interpreted to be a temporary scene, so that the maggots don’t die and the fire is not quenched until all the corpse are consumed.

You can be absolutely sure that Jesus, who is really the One speaking in Isaiah 66:22-24, knew that He was quoting Himself when He spoke what is recorded in Mark 9:43-48. And He also knew, as did every Jew in His audience that day, that He was not trying to convey the idea of eternal conscious torment of the unrighteous. Rather, He was conveying to His audience that they needed to be holy if they wanted to avoid being one of those abhorrent corpses that they had all heard about when Isaiah 66 was read in their synagogues.

Still, in spite of what Isaiah plainly wrote, some claim that the corpses he describes are actually living people in the lake of fire, since their worms “never die” and their fire is “unquenchable.”

Even if we grant those worms eternal life and make the unquenchable fire eternal, that fact is that both still feed on corpses, not writhing, screaming, living humans, according to what God said through Isaiah. And it is certainly difficult to imagine the righteous, after spending time worshipping the Lord every sabbath throughout eternity (as Isaiah said), sauntering over to the lake of fire to watch the damned screaming in hellfire, after which they head off for other more pleasant activities. Can you imagine them saying to one another as they walk away:

“Oooh, that was just dreadful, wasn’t it?”

“Oh my, it certainly was. And today I recognized my own mother among the screaming, writhing people!”

“Dear me! This gruesome observation makes me want to skip the sabbath next week. Oh well, let’s try to not think about it as we enjoy a nice cup of tea together, OK?”

I can’t imagine our Father God subjecting us to a one-time or a weekly monitoring of millions of people who are weeping and gnashing their teeth in flames. Surely just a glance at the silent corpses of the unrighteous ought to be enough to keep us on the narrow path that leads to eternal life.

Again, consider how questionable our assumptions have been about undying worms and unquenchable fire somehow “proving” eternal conscious torment for the unrighteous. So perhaps when we read about “eternal smoke” (naturally, eternal fires will produce eternal smoke) or the eternal torment of the devil in the lake of fire, we should also be careful making assumptions about how those things prove that the unrighteous will be consciously tormented in hell forever. Especially in light of the fact that there is so much biblical evidence in favor of the unrighteous ultimately being destroyed and perishing, evidence placed in the Bible by the One who warned that He would destroy both souls and bodies in hell (see Matt. 10:28).

One Final Scriptural Objection

But the Bible plainly states in Revelation 20:10-15 that the unrighteous will be tormented day and night, forever and ever, in the lake of fire!

That is a common objection. So let us first read Revelation 20:10-15 to see what it says:

And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10-15).

Here’s my first question: Where does it say in this passage that the unrighteous—those who are “thrown into the lake of fire”—will be tormented day and night forever and ever? The undeniable answer is that it doesn’t say that anywhere in this passage. It is only an assumption.

But it stands to reason, some will reply, that if the devil, beast and false prophet will be tormented forever in the lake of fire, never to be consumed, so will the unrighteous who are also cast into that same lake of fire!

Why does that assumption stand to reason? Is it reasonable to conclude that, because one thing I throw into a fire is not consumed, everything I might throw into that fire will not be consumed?

And is it reasonable to conclude that, because the devil, beast and false prophet (none of which are human beings) are never consumed in the lake of fire, that anything else that is cast into that lake will never be consumed?

What about “death and Hades,” which will also both be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14)? Is it reasonable to conclude that, because the devil, beast and false prophet are never consumed by the flames, that death and Hades will likewise never be consumed by the flames?

More specifically, will death, “the last enemy that will be abolished” (1 Cor. 15:26), actually be eternal? As death is cast into the lake of fire in Revelation 20:14, is the “eternal tormenting of death” what is being symbolized, or is “the final end of death” being symbolized? The answer is obvious. When we read of future kingdom blessings in the very next chapter of Revelation, we learn that “there will no longer be any death” (Rev. 21:4), fulfilling a promise God made through Isaiah hundreds of years earlier: “He will swallow up death for all time” (Is. 25:8). If there will no longer be any death, how can it be correct to say that people will be suffering the “second death” for eternity? So every reader has to admit that there will be something that is cast into the lake of fire that will be annihilated, and a picture of that annihilation is found in the premier proof text of those who advocate the eternal torment of the unrighteous.

Also, take note that, not only does “death” meet its final end in the lake of fire, so does Hades. Another annihilation.

May I argue that it is much more reasonable to conclude that humans who are cast into the lake of fire (which was “prepared,” not for humans, but “for the devil and his angels”; Matt. 25:41), will indeed be treated differently than Satan? Might not the devil, God’s arch-enemy from before the fall of humanity, the ruler of the kingdom of darkness and master of demonic minions, who led a rebellion in heaven in an attempt to exalt himself above God, who bears almost infinitely greater guilt for the world’s evil and sorrow than any other creature, who for thousands of years has continually tempted every person to sin against God and inspired humanity’s most sinister savagery, gross perversions, and abominable wickedness, who has never been offered forgiveness, whose sins Jesus never died for—is it not much more reasonable to conclude that Satan—who makes Hitler look like an angel—might not be slightly more worthy of eternal torment than a teenager who lost his life in an auto accident?

Do we assume that, because a serial killer is put in a prison and executed, that every criminal who walks through the same prison gates is executed?

This leads me to an interesting observation of an inconsistency: Those who believe (as I previously did) that God will eternally torment the unrighteous in hell also believe, without exception, that each person who is cast into the lake of fire will receive different treatment. And well they should, because that is what Jesus taught:

And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more (Luke 12:47-48; see also Matt. 11:22, 16:27).

So why do those who rightly believe that every person will receive different punishments in hell based on the principle of justice, at the same time jump to the conclusion that, because God will torment the most evil, abhorrent, vile creature in the universe eternally, He will also torment every unrighteous person eternally? That is a logical inconsistency.

Incidentally, Jesus’ promise of just punishment for the wicked that I just quoted—the one about the many and few lashes that will be meted out—is yet another scripture that supports the idea that the unrighteous will ultimately be annihilated. The phrases “many lashes” and “few lashes” express a duration of punishment. Both come to an end, but at different times. And that is why most annihilationists believe that the unrighteous will be justly punished “according to their deeds” for a time in the lake of fire and then be mercifully annihilated, suffering exactly what Jesus promised—destruction of both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10:28)—what amounts to an eternal punishment, as they have no hope of any future. Perhaps that is why it is labeled “the second death” (Rev. 20:14) rather than “the second torment” or “eternal life for the damned” or “deathless death.”

May I point out another inconsistency that is commonly found among advocates of the idea of eternal conscious torment? They almost universally believe that all the elements of which Scripture speaks regarding hell—the flames, the worms, the darkness, the weeping and gnashing of teeth—are all symbolic to some degree. The flames represent some kind of emotional and physical torment. The worms perhaps represent pangs of conscience. The darkness represents separation from God, and so on. Every detail of which Scripture speaks regarding hell is given symbolic meaning except one—the detail of the alleged never-ending nature of the sorrows those symbols represent. Consequently, we have symbolic worms that literally never die.

But annihilation is no punishment at all! some say.

Suffering for a fitting amount of time in the lake of fire and forfeiting an eternal relationship with God and eternal life isn’t a punishment? If I told you that by doing “thus and so,” you would spend time suffering in the lake of fire, ultimately be annihilated, and thus forever forfeit your relationship with God and not inherit eternal life, wouldn’t you consider that to be a threat of a punishment? (In fact, you would readily say that it was an “eternal punishment,” because your punishment would last just as long as the righteous will enjoy eternal life—forever.)

We all know that judicial execution is referred to as “capital punishment,” because it is indeed a punishment. What makes it a punishment? It is because the condemned person forfeits the remaining years of his life. How much more would eternal annihilation be a punishment, as one forfeits life forever?

Jesus spoke of banishment from the future kingdom, by itself, as being a punishment (see, for example, Matt. 5:20, 7:21-23, 25:10-12). If annihilation is not a punishment, doesn’t that conflict with what Jesus said?

And we certainly don’t have to worry about anyone who is annihilated getting off “too easy” before they are justly punished. God has promised to repay every person “according to their deeds” (Prov. 24:12; Matt. 16:27; Rom. 2:6; Rev. 20:12-13).

In Closing for Now…

For the record, in this e-teaching I’ve directly quoted at least 45 passages of Scripture that strongly affirm the annihilation of the unrighteous, as well as cited, by scripture reference, 68 other supportive passages, for a total of 113 scripture passages (and there is much biblical evidence that I haven’t yet mentioned). And I’ve directly quoted 2 of the “most convincing” scriptures among the small handful that are used by advocates of eternal conscious torment, showing how they are misinterpreted.

Even if advocates of eternal conscious torment cling to their interpretations of those two scriptures by altering Scripture to (1) make Isaiah’s corpses into eternal, living people and (2) assign Satan’s distinctive eternal torment to all unrighteous human beings—they still have the formidable task of harmonizing those 2 passages with the 113 that I’ve quoted or cited.

How amusing it is when, during a doctrinal debate, one person presents scores of scriptures that all establish his point, and then his opponent, with a dramatic flare, pulls out one verse that appears to contradict his opponent’s list, and he acts as if he has delivered the fatal blow! He somehow imagines that his one verse has rendered fifty others entirely irrelevant. He’s like a chess player who, with only a single pawn left on the board, cries out “Checkmate!,” while his opponent’s full army is still standing.

In court, cases are often determined by the “preponderance of the evidence.” When there is just one contrary witness who testifies against the testimony of 50 others, his testimony may well be ignored by the judge or jury. Similarly, if we find it impossible to harmonize a few verses with hundreds of others that all agree, we are wise to side with the Bible’s consensus.

I have more to write on this subject, and I want to address a few more common objections and some of the feedback that I’ve received. So please ponder this and Part 1 of this e-teaching as you search the Scriptures and while I work on next month’s e-teaching.

I do appreciate your feedback and I read it all (if it is civil), but I don’t have time to respond to every email. (In fact, if you are reading this between May 15-29, I’m serving in Asia.) Thanks for your understanding. And again, you may want to wait until you read everything I have to say before sending any feedback, as your objection(s) may well yet be addressed.

I hope you still love me! My intention in addressing this subject is to provoke biblical investigation and respectful dialogue that will lead us to understand what Scripture teaches, even if it challenges our long-held traditions. We are all called to be workmen who “accurately handle the word of truth” (1 Tim. 2:15). For most of my Christian life, regarding this issue, I have not done that. Even though I was first exposed to the doctrine of annihilation in 1988, I never spent time investigating its biblical validity, but just kept repeating what I learned at Bible school. Knowing that teachers will incur a “stricter judgment” (Jas. 3:1), I truly regret how I have misled others for all those years. This e-teaching is an attempt to correct that.

Every blessing, David

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the Lord of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” But for you who fear My name the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. And you will tread down the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the Lord of hosts (Mal. 4:1-3).

Read Part 3 of this series.