Saturday, October 20, 2012

Three Views on Hell: Annihilationism


There are three major views of final punishment. Eternal conscious suffering and universalism are based upon tenuous, inconsistent interpretations of passages divorced from context, interpreted through unfounded philosophical claims and flimsy extrapolations drawn from irrelevant texts. Annihilationism, on the other hand, or conditional immortality, is based upon relevant texts which actually speak of final punishment, and understands them in their contexts, allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. Annihilationism contends that all the dead will rise from their graves, and the wicked will be irreversibly executed, leaving behind lifeless remains, never to live again.


A) Matt. 25:46’s “eternal punishment” is the everlasting outcome of being executed. It is by means of verse 41’s “eternal fire,” a phrase Jesus uses in Matt. 18:8, paralleled in Mark 9:47 and Matt. 5:30. In each of these three texts Jesus refers to Gehenna, “the valley of Slaughter” where scavengers consume corpses (Jer. 7:32-33), likened unto a funeral pyre for burning up corpses (Isa. 30:27-33). Jude 7 says Sodom and Gomorrah suffered “the punishment of eternal fire,” the parallel in 2 Peter 2:6 saying they were reduced to ashes.

B) In Mark 9:48 Jesus quotes Isa. 66:24 which describes piles of lifeless, smoldering, rotting corpses. Unquenchable fire irresistibly consumes (Jer. 17:27, Ezek. 20:47). Undying worms consume corpses (Isa. 14:11) and communicate the same thing as scavengers which can’t be driven away (Deut. 28:26, Jer. 7:33): shame and irresistible consumption of corpses.

C) Jesus says the wicked will be burned up—katakaiō meaning “burn down completely”—like chaff (Matt. 3:12, Luke 3:17), including when He interprets the parable of the wheat and the tares beginning in Matt. 13:40, saying that as the chaff is burned up, so will His angels will throw sinners into a furnace of fire. This hearkens to Mal. 4:1-3 where sinners are set ablaze like a furnace, reduced to ashes beneath the feet of the righteous.

D) Paul’s “vengeance” and “flaming fire” of 2 Thess. 1:7-8 come from Isa. 66:15, that chapter ending with a pile of lifeless corpses. Paul’s “eternal destruction” in verse 9 is the everlasting outcome of being destroyed: executed and reduced to lifeless remains.


A) People can render only bodies lifeless, but Jesus says God will destroy body and soul in Gehenna (Matt. 10:28). With no demonstrable exception, when "destroy" (apollymi) describes what one person does to another in the synoptic gospels, it always means "slay" or "kill." That’s why James says “he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death.”


A) Apocalyptic imagery of smoke rising from torment forever symbolizes permanent destruction. In Rev. 14:9-11 John sees imagery of smoke rising forever from the torment of restless beast-worshippers. This hearkens to Isa. 34:10's smoke rising forever from the remains of Edom, like the smoke Abraham saw rising from the remains of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:27-28). The smoke of the harlot is seen rising forever (Rev. 18:21), and though she is tormented (Rev. 18:7, 10, 15) the city she symbolizes is destroyed (Rev. 18:21) using language describing the end of Tyre (Ezek. 26:21).

B) The imagery of eternal torment in the lake of fire also symbolizes permanent destruction. After being emptied in the resurrection, death and Hades—abstractions unable to be tormented in reality—are thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14), symbolizing their permanent end (cf. 1 Cor. 15:26). The beast is the fourth beast of Daniel 7, symbolizing the same final kingdom represented by the statue in Daniel 2. In both places what happens to the symbol represents the permanent end to the kingdom’s dominion (Dan. 2:44, 7:26), succeeded in all three visions by the dominion of the reigning saints (Dan. 2:44, 7:27, Rev. 19:20 cf. 20:4). The resurrected wicked are thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15), as are the devil and false prophet (Rev. 20:10). Consistent application of the imagery demands that all will, in the reality represented by the symbolism, come to a permanent end.


Despite the historical consensus when it comes to final punishment, the Bible is clear: All the dead will rise from their graves: the redeemed will be granted immortality, and the unredeemed will be judged and punished by being irreversibly executed, leaving behind only lifeless remains.


Chris Date is the host the Theopologetics podcast, as well as a contributor to ReThinking Hell. He is also a software engineer by trade and has participated in multiple debates on the topic of hell.



Eternal Conscious Torment


Edward Fudge, "The Fire that Consumes"

My appearance on the "Unbelievable?" radio program with Justin Brierley, defending annihilationism.

The Theopologetics podcast and blog on annihilationism.

ReThinking Hell


  1. Fire is associated with God in many ways throughout the Bible & it’s not all negative (e.g. the burning bush, temple sacrificial system, a symbol of purity, purifying in Mark 9:49, baptising in Luke 3:16b & Matt 3:11b, refining in Mal 3:2-3, purging in Isa 4:4. Even Zep 3:8-9’s “consuming fire” has as positive result. Again even in Deut 4, 6 of the 7 occurrences of “fire” appear to be about His splendor not destruction). i.e. all Scripture's uses of fire needs to be taken into account when interpreting a particular Scripture that contains fire.

    Although Sodom and Gomorrah suffered “the punishment of eternal fire,” the residents will be resurrected (an example something positive happening after destruction that appears irreversible), and furthermore “[God] will restore their fortunes, both the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters, and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes in their midst,” (Eze 16:53 ESV).

    Is 1Cor 5:5 another example of someone "destroyed" yet still saved?

    I realise Strong’s isn’t perfect but looking at the passages which use katakaiō (G2618), there seems to be a range (i.e. not always “burn down completely”), for example 1Cor 3:15. However, even if it does in the Matt passages, the question is, are you sufficiently taking genre into account? i.e. most (all?) of the passages are either parables or apocalyptic, both of which are known for hyperbolic imagery.

  2. Destroy has to be considered in context; universalists don't get to commit the illegitimate totality transfer fallacy any more than traditionalists do.

    Yes, these are parables and the like, but we don't get to read any meaning into them that we want. As I demonstrate in, the purpose of the death imagery is to show that the shame of the wicked will never be undone. As I demonstrate in, the imagery in Revelation is interpreted by John and the One on the throne to refer to the second death of the wicked.

  3. For the record, the katakaio of 1 Corinthians 3:15 absolutely does mean to burn up.

    1. Ronnie,

      True, although what's being burnt up and destroyed in that case are unworthy works, not the person (who will be saved).

      However, I'll allow that Paul's example in that case is arguably only applicable to Christians, depending on how far the "building on the foundation of Christ" is pressed. (Strictly speaking Christ is the only foundation for anyone to build anything on, as Paul affirms elsewhere, but not in that particular imagery.)

    2. That's right, it's referring to the shoddy work of Christians (probably Christian leaders specifically) portrayed as wood, hay, and straw.

    3. Right, so 1 Cor 3:15 is not support for a range of meaning beyond how I claimed it's used in Matthew 3:12 and other passages.

      When I say it means "burn down completely," I don't mean in the sense of something large, like a building, burning down to the ground. I mean it in the sense of being reduced to ashes, being completely consumed, completely destroyed. Mat 3:12; Mat 13:30, 40; Luke 13:17; Acts 19:19; 1 Cor. 3:15; Heb. 13:11; 2 Peter 3:10; Rev. 8:7; Rev. 17:16 and Rev. 18:8 all support that.

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    5. Chris,

      So long as you're willing to acknowledge that the complete destruction being referenced isn't always hopeless for the person: there isn't any possible way 1 Cor 3:15 could support _that_, for example.

      The heavens and earth completely destroyed in 2 Peter 3:10 are slated for their own glorified resurrection or restored recreation, so they aren't an example of hopeless destruction.

      The trees and plants burned up in Rev 8:7 are restored later.

      The prostitute being burned up by the ten horns in Rev 17:16, the great city, isn't completely destroyed because animals live in its ruins later.

      Preterists (though I am not one) take this city to be rebel Jerusalem, who is certainly described as a whore like Babylon and even moreso than Sodom in the OT, and who like Babylon does not regard herself as a widow (in Jerusalem's case because she slew her Husband!) But rebel Jerusalem and Sodom both are slated for resurrection and salvation per Ezekiel 16 after having been completely destroyed for their sins.

      (I'm somewhat doubtful you meant Luke 13:17 at all, for different reasons, unless you think Jesus' opponents in the synagogue were burned up while being disgraced.)

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  4. I agree that destruction by fire isn't inherently hopeless. There is, after all, a resurrection, from which many who were burned to death will rise. But risen unbelievers will rise from the first death and be executed: the second death, symbolized--or perhaps actually inflicted--by the unquenchable fire that burns up chaff. A case needs to be made that having been so executed, they will be resurrected a second time.

    1. Alternately, a case needs to be made that the lake of fire, as a 2nd type of death, doesn't involve physical destruction like the 1st type of death.

      (I think everyone agrees it's a second type of death different from the 1st type. We disagree on how it's different. What it means for death and hades to be thrown into the lake of fire as the second death, is a key interpretative challenge for everyone; although I think all three sides can agree that it would be pretty hard to have a resurrection from hades without the death of death-and-hades!)

      As to the chaff saying (paralleled in Luke 3)--I'm glad to see you connect it to Malachi 4, which I think is VERY VERY IMPORTANT for contextual purposes. {ggg!} But I'll have more to say about that in my official reply.

    2. That case needs to take into account that "the second death" is the divine interpretation of the apocalyptic imagery. When figures in the Bible interpret imagery, they make the meaning of the perplexing imagery plain. Universalist and traditionalist interpretations of "the second death" are more discombobulating than the imagery they purport to explain.

  5. Replies
    1. I thought it might, although I didn't want to point out that citing a parallel text doesn't count as an extra example. ;)

      However, it could be worse: I still have less than no idea why I referenced Mark 10:30!! {lol!} It certainly wasn't a simple typo for the verse I actually had in mind. (Maybe I was commenting on it elsewhere at about the time I was working on my first draft and a neuron crossfired.)

  6. Chris, thank you for taking the time and effort to compose a short essay on such a complex topic. It is near impossible to do the topic justice in so many words. That said, I must take issue with your effort to allow "Scripture to interpret Scripture" - which is wonderful, by the way. I just have a small issue since you mention the parallels between Gehenna and the so-called "valley of slaughter."

    We must ponder what Jeremiah means when he describes the valley of Hinnom as something that God Himself could never command, nor even think of (7:31 and 32:35). Personally, I love to let Scripture interpret Scripture on this point; and I don't believe that the God of the Bible has ANY intention on slaughtering (or annihilating) God's own children. This detail may not seem a problem for you, but it is for me. If God commits the same acts that God seems to denounce in Jeremiah (and elsewhere), then what kind of God is this? No wonder most people don't find this God worthy of devotion. That is just a thought to add to the mix.

    Some other problems in a series I'm doing currently on all this #DamnedNonsense :)

  7. If you use 2 Thessilonians 1:7-8, isnt that out of context? Because in verse 9 it goes farther to explain "They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might." (NIV) I just see that as not an annihilation of a person once, but forever.