In May National Geographic published an article entitled “The Campaign to Eliminate Hell”. The tagline reads, “A new generation of evangelical scholars are challenging the idea that sinners are doomed to eternal torment—but traditionalists are pushing back.” Annihilationism is the teaching that sometime in the future the condemned will be completely destroyed, body and soul. The historic evangelical doctrine has been that those who die without having received Jesus for salvation will suffer eternal physical and spiritual torment in the lake of fire. Annihilationism teaches that the unsaved will not suffer forever, but at some time will cease from existing. Though some well known evangelical leaders have held to annihilationism, very few evangelical Christians believe the teachings of annihilationism.
The Bible states that those who suffer in hell will do so forever. Jesus describes hell as a place where, “The worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” Those who have rejected Jesus will, “go away unto everlasting punishment.” (Matthew 25:46) Reading these statements would lead one naturally to believe the suffering of the lost has no end. Annihilationists seek to explain these passages as metaphorical descriptions of the greatness of the suffering of the unsaved or as teachings that the result of God’s judgment will have eternal effects but the punishment itself is not eternal. The biggest problem with reading these passages in this way is the significant similarity between the warnings of eternal suffering and the promises of eternal joy. If the lost in hell will not suffer everlasting torment, then why should anyone believe the saved in heaven will enjoy everlasting bliss? The annihilationists cannot consistently define words like eternal and everlasting. They must define them one way when describing punishment and another when describing salvation.
Some arguments for annihilation are based on a misdefinition of death. Most people view death as the ending of life. Medically speaking life is over, death occurs, when the heart stops and the brain ceases to function. The Bible does not define death according to that modern, medical perspective. The Bible defines death as separation. When Adam and Eve sinned they died. They died on the day of their sin just as God had warned. They suffered the first death in being physically and spiritually separated from God, the Author and Sustainer of life. The end result of the first death- separation from God- was physical death- separation from the physical body. The person dies when the spirit and body are separated. This is why the Bible often speaks of death as “giving up the ghost”. When the spirit and the body are separated the person is physically dead. The eternal punishment for sin is called the second death. The condemned are not dead in the modern sense of ceasing to have existence, they are dead in the Biblical sense of being separated from the presence of God. (2 Thes. 1:9) The unsaved are eternally separated from God and thus they are eternally dead.
Annihilation is emotionally easier to accept than eternal torment. The idea that God would remove His offending creature from existence is easier to accept than the idea that God would punish them forever. Appealing or not, the Biblical doctrine is that the unsaved will suffer God’s wrath, actively and consciously, for all eternity. Annihilationism is not a Biblical doctrine. Historically this doctrine has had very few defenders and discerning Christians today should reject it as contrary to the plain meaning of Scriptures.
2 thoughts on “Is Annihilationism Biblical?”
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“Annihilationism is the teaching that sometime in the future the condemned will be completely destroyed, body and soul.”
Weird! Why would anybody believe that the condemned are destroyed, body and soul?
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
The words of Jesus in Matthew 10:28 are crucial to the case for annihilationism. If this verse means that God will remove a person from existence, body and soul, then the passages describing everlasting torment have to be interpreted as meaning something else. However, the Biblical use of the word death and the repeated descriptions of eternal torment place the burden of proof on those who would argue that Jesus is teaching annihilationism.
The English Bible is a translation of the Greek in which it was originally written. The reader must consider the meaning of the Greek word, not the meaning of the English word, and how that Greek word is used in the New Testament. The Greek word is apollumi and is found 86 times. 36 times this word is used in clear reference to physical death. 31 times this word communicates the idea of loss, like losing a silver coin or not receiving a reward one could have gotten. It is used a few times in the sense of something being broken, like a ruptured wine skin. Some can argue that most of the remaining uses are more open to interpretation. Jesus says it is better for a part of your body to perish (apollumi) than for your whole body to be cast into hell. A demon asked if Jesus was come to destroy (apollumi) him. During the flood the world perished (apollumi). One day the universe will perish (apollumi). Gold is something that will eventually perish (apollumi). Only the last two uses have any plausible connection with the idea of ceasing to exist. The vast majority of time the word is used it does not mean cease to exist. In Bible interpretation, this is strong evidence for preferring a meaning of Jesus’ words that does not include annihilation.
The possibility of this word meaning annihilation is very slim. I will concede that the use of the word in the New Testament does not conclusively prove Jesus did not mean annihilation. It does show apollumi is, at best, a very weak and uncertain platform on which to build a doctrine that requires explaining away the portions of the Bible describing everlasting torment.
What is conclusive is the parallel passage in Luke 12:4-5, “And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.”
Why would anyone believed the destruction Jesus warned of is spiritual and physical annihilation? Through the gospel of Luke the Holy Spirit explains Matthew 10:28. The destruction Jesus foretold is dying and being cast into hell, not the cessation of all existence.