Sunday, 12 January 2014

Hell, thoughts on annihilationism

"But I notice that Our Lord, while stressing the terror of hell with unsparing severity usually emphasizes the idea not of duration but of finality. Consignment to the destroying fire is usually treated as the end of the story—not as the beginning of a new story. That the lost soul is eternally fixed in its diabolical attitude we cannot doubt: but whether this eternal fixity implies endless duration—or duration at all—we cannot say” – CS Lewis in his book the Problem of evil pg 126-127.


"Christians have professed appalling theologies which made God into a sadistic monster. ... Hell is not eternal torment, but it is the final and irrevocable choosing of that which is opposed to God so completely and so absolutely that the only end is total non-being” - The Church of England's Doctrine Commission - February 1995.

Note - I am revisiting and updating this post today (13/05/14) to add it to a synchro-blog and because my studies over the past few months have shed a little more light into the topic of hell. This was originally part 4 of a 5 part series on hell, you can read the parts on false assumptions that we have about hell, Gehenna, Universalism and the Traditional view of hell by clicking them in this sentence.


The view on hell that this post focuses on is that of annihilation or conditionalism as some people call it. I will spend quite a bit of time on it because I actually think that there is a very strong case biblically speaking. Annihilationalists believe that only those who are born again receive the gift of eternal life, the lost do not share the gift of eternal life but are only resurrected in order to face a final judgment. The consequence of this is death (Rev 20:14) which is permanent (that is to say, it is eternally effective). Adherents claim that the popular concepts of hell and the idea of the human soul being immortal stem from the Jewish intertestamental writings which were influenced by Greek philosophy. Some scriptures that support this view of the mortal soul are 1 Timothy 6:15-16

…The King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who alone has immortality…, Ezekiel 18:20

The soul who sins shall die…, and Romans 2:7.

To them who by patient continuance in well doing 'seek' for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life:

So the focus here is on resurrection — to eternal life for the believer and to destruction for the unbeliever. Immortality therefore is the result of the redemption provided for us in Jesus (Romans 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:53,54; 2 Timothy 1:10). I should also point out that conditionalists do not have a problem with the idea of punishment in hell before death (Mathew 16:27, Luke 12:47-48), it simply is not believed to be eternal in its' duration.

Adherents

As with the other 2 views on hell, Conditionalism has been supported by at least some in the church throughout history. Ignatius of Antioch (108 AD), Justin Martyr (165 AD), Irenaeus (202 AD) and Arnobius (330 AD) are among the early adherents. John Wesley may have had annihilationist leanings as well as C.S. Lewis who is quoted at the start of this article. Today John Stott, Edward Fudge and Greg Boyd are three popular teachers who held to this position and most surprisingly of all, Dr Preston Sprinkle, who was the researcher and co-author of Erasing Hell with Francis Chan  shared in a 2 part podcast over at www.rethinkinghell.com that he is leaning strongly toward annihilationism these days as well.

Supporting texts

Annihiationalists point out that the bible mostly uses words like “perish”, “death”, “destroy” and “destruction” rather than “torture”. There is no reason to believe that these words mean anything other than their plain, literal meanings. Some examples in scripture are…

Psalm 1:6 - …but the way of the ungodly shall perish
Psalm 92:7 - …shall be destroyed forever
Malachi 4:1 - …and the day which is coming shall burn them up.
Mathew 10:28 – Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Mathew 7:13 - …broad is the way that leads to destruction.
John 3:16 - …whosoever believes on him should not perish
John 6:51 - …if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.
Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death…
Philippians 3:19 – whose end is destruction…
2 Thessalonians 1:9 – who shall be punished with everlasting destruction…
Hebrews 10:27 - …and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
Hebrews 10:39 - But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition (Greek: destruction); but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
James 4:12 – there is one lawgiver, who is able to save and destroy.
James 5:20 - …whoever saves a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death…
Revelation 20:14 – This is the second death…
Revelation 21:4 – There shall be no more pain. For the former things have passed away.

How can the saved live in blissful joy knowing that some of their loved ones are suffering in hell for eternity (Revelation 21:4)? How can Christ be all in all and reconciled to all things (Colossians 1:16-20) if people are separated from him and suffering in hell? If God will make all things new (Revelation 21:5), the most sensible thing to believe is that whoever has rejected Christ will be destroyed in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone beforehand (Revelation 21:8). The only other option is universalism which I just do not see any scriptural support for.

Rebuttals

While most bible verses point toward total destruction, there are a few scriptures that are not so easy to reconcile with annihilationism. To be more specific, there are two verses that are quite difficult to interpret within the annihilationist view.

Revelation 14:11 – “And the smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name." And then…

Revelation 20:10 - "And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

There are however counter arguments stating that Revelation is a highly symbolic book and the word orders are affected by the chiastic structures of the author. The words of Revelation should also be understood within the Old Testament books it refers too (278 of the 404 verses in Revelation allude to Old Testament passages, compare Rev 20:10 to Ezekiel 38-39 for instance). Likewise, Revelations 14:11 seems to be a direct quote from Isaiah 34. But when one looks at Isaiah, we read of the destruction of the Edomites and verse 10 says of its desolation that "it will not be quenched night or day, its smoke will rise forever and ever...". The obvious thing to all of us is that the smoke that once literally burned Edom is no longer rising. The verse therefore should not be read literally which raises the argument of whether Revelation 14:11 should also be understood in the same way. Similarly, we read in Jude 7 speaks of how Sodom and Gomorrah serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. Once again, Sodom and Gomorrah were completely burnt up and are now no longer literally burning. The language merely emphasizes eternal consequence rather than eternal torture. For me, the arguments are persuasive but I would stop short of being dogmatic on it.

I now see annihilationism as the most plausible viewpoint of hell given in scripture. It certainly seems more just than eternal torment does when we consider that our days on earth are so short. Nevertheless, there is enough seemingly contradictory verses supporting the traditional view in the bible that I will remain open to that possibility. Which I am fine with, even though I will certainly be anathema'd by some for admitting doubt over eternal torment as the best interpretation of scripture, in fact, since this was originally posted, some have done just that. But if NT Wright, Brad Jersak and Francis Chan all admit that one cannot be dogmatic about hell based on what’s written in scripture, then I am happy to add my name to that list.


This post is part of a Synchroblog on the topic of hell. Below is a list of the other bloggers who participated this month (May 2014). Go read what they have to say on the topic of hell.

Jeremy Myers – Does Jesus Talk About Hell More Than Heaven?
K. W. Leslie – Dark Christians
Angie Benjamin – Hell Is For Real
Paul Meier – Hell Is For Real – I’ve Been There and Came Back
Glenn Hager – Abusing Hell
The Virtual Abbess – What The Hell?
Kimbery Klein – Hell, if I know.
Michael Donahoe - Hell Yes…or No?
Liz Dyer – Hell? No!
Margaret Boelman - Hell No I Won’t Go
Loveday Anyim – Why the hell do you believe in hell?
Linda - If you died today, where would you go?
Edwin Aldrich – What the Hell do we really know.
Mallory Pickering – The Time I Blogged About Hell


16 comments:

  1. Good stuff. I also embrace conditional immortality.

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    1. Thanks. The more I have studied it the more convinced I have become. I hope to return to the topic later again as I keep finding more and more, particularly in the OT, that supports conditional immortality.

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  2. I hope we will never know the answer to this question and suspect it is intentionally always going to remain one, otherwise knowing how people think in their hearts, Grace would cease to be Grace...and Mercy, Mercy. If people knew 'with Certainty' (which is not possible) our motivation would not be For Love but out of fear...though also there would be no Fear of the Lord to the contrary...which for many of greater insights is a pre-requisite into the Depths of Repentance.

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    1. The other thing to 'maybe consider ' is The Breath of Life. How many breaths does a person take in a year? One estimate is around on average 10,541,200 breaths a year..now if one lived 80 years, it would be that times 80 or with every single breathe a person took was one more chance to have come to the Knowledge of the Truth...but likewise, that many times and opportunities it was also DENIED. so it's not only ignoring but also denying... or 80 millions (at least ) 'chances'..each is a 'breath of a life time'...that is a LONG time..It is also possible each person will be in 'their own hell'..or 'the prison of their own making..just as we store up treasures in heaven..those are some who say from the one scripture that 'the kingdom of God is inside you" but why would Jesus say that to a Pharisee who he threatened with hell? If that is so, then Hell is inside you too...(?)...and being acted out in those apart from God in this life as we speak...the last question is .. https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/708-will-hell-be-destroyed-eventually

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    2. Your search might be enhanced by reading up on some good sources on the deeper meanings of Fear of the Lord as well as what is meant exactly by Salvation 'the existed before the foundation of the earth'..some answer I end up with have come from being counter-intuitive. Good luck! :-)

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    3. Thanks for your comments and the link Stephen. I will definitely look more into the fear of the Lord,I have being reading up on salvation for the last several months as well. I have come to realize that my views (as well as everyone else) are often based on an interpretation of the facts rather than the facts themselves so I am with you on getting to dogmatic about things as well as being gracious to those who come to different conclusions as well. I also agree that hell can exist in this present age as well. I do see the eternality of the second death mentioned in the link you posted as referring to the permanent nature of Gods judgment rather than the act of eternally dying (yet never dying). Verses like Rev 14:10 make me wonder if death can mean separation in the context of hell as well. there is so much to this topic worth considering. Thanks again.

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  3. Wesley, your site is a blessing! My wife and I just recently left a church we'd attended for almost 24 years. I was an elder for 7 of those years. Dogmatic teaching of eternal conscious punishment as well as other leadership failings forced us to move on. God has yet to plant us in a new church, but we are certainly enjoying breathing fresh air again. Keep up the great work on helping people to "see with new eyes" what the Bible really says about hell and eternal punishment.

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    1. Thank you very much for your kind words Vic. It's a blessing for me to hear that it has encouraged you in some way. Enjoy that fresh air and the new relationships and fellowship it will bring!

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  4. Dear friends:Im aware that there have been discussions in evangelical Christianity, in recent yrs,reexamining the
    doctrine of Hell.(Many believers are not aware of this)Theres a book entitled "Two views of Hell"(Peterson&Fudge
    Publisher Spectrum 2000).It spells out a lot of the main
    issues, its thought provoking but both Peterson&Fudge are dogmatic// Many have drawn from the debate that a case can be made from the scriptures(scrip)for both positions,1 for hell being a place of "Eternal conscious suffering (ECS) & 1 for hell being a place of a period of suffering & then the extinguishing of ones life//F.F.Bruce a renown evangelical writer wrote,“annihilation is certainly an acceptable interpretation of the relevant N.T.scrips… For myself,I remain agnostic"//Here I cite 2 scrips 1 support-ing 1 view 1 the other. Eccles 12:7 the dust shall return to the earth as it was & the spirit shall return unto God who gave it KJV. Rev 20:10 & the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire & brimstone,where the beast & the false prophet are & shall be tormented day and night for ever & ever KJV//I cant reconcile a place of ECS with Gods justice.I cant see how God can be just and allow ECS to exist.This doesnt mean it cant be true.It means I cant currently see how it could be.The doctrine of the immor-tality of the soul(IOTS)is closely connected to this.If the soul is "immortal" then it must exist somewhere, con-sciously,eternally.You could say that the doctrine of IOTS justifies a place of ECS.If someone is to remain conscious forever & they have rejected God,insisting on living life as they choose,instead of submitting to Gods rule, such could not be allowed in the new heaven or on the new earth or we would be right back where we started. It only takes 1 renegade to rob the rest of us of our peace. They have to be put somewhere & it can't be among the righteous. Any place filled with such "renegades" with nothing to re-strain them surely would be "hell"//An issue of great import here,is,that the doctrine of IOTS cant be found explicitly stated in scrip.(If I'm wrong please inform me)Some conclude it,the IOTS was a doctrine brought in by Greek philosophers who converted to Christ in the early centuries of the church.It was taught by Aristotle & Socrates well before the birth of the church//My con-clusion: Hell is a place to be shunned,it's real. TO BE CONTINUED

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  5. CONTINUED:
    People will suffer there.For how long?I don't know.I believe it could be a place of ECS.But it might not be.Whatever the case may be, it should be avoided it at all cost.It may be that hell will be a place of ECS for the devil & his angels but not for human beings.Why for the devil & not us?Was the devil was privy to something we weren't? We know for instance that it was the evil influence of the serpent that brought about the fall of man,had the serpent not been in the garden Adam & Eve would not have fallen. But all the scrip. says about Satan's fall was that"iniquity was found in him"(Eze28:15)Nothing in scrip.tells us where that iniquity came from. If the evil that rose up out of Satan was in him from the beginning,only God could have put it there. God was Satans maker.If this is so,it would
    be unjust for God to allow Satan to suffer eternally.So what are we left with? Are there things past finding out? I think it's a safe assumption that there are. I think we have more Q's than A's. This I am convinced of: what 1 be-lieves about hell has no bearing on their standing with God.It's not a salvation issue. You can be wrong about this issue either way,or be unsure & still be saved.Our standing with God doesnt come from what we believe about hell but from having genuine faith in Jesus Christ.
    Christians can be & are in error regarding many doctrinal issues. Christians can & do misinterpret scrip. You can pick out any 5 theologians, who are genuine believers, who can fluently read,write & speak all of the biblical lang-uages, all of whom have a resume of 50 or more yrs of experience & its a guarantee that all of them will dis-agree with one another on many points of doctrine & scrip (some very vehemently)//For the first 25 years of my Chris-ian life I was passionately convinced that hell was a place of ECS & believed anyone who professed to be a believer who didn't believe this was a part of a cult & in all likely hood was not saved//This is a controversial issue & we should be very careful with whom & how we discuss it because it has the potential to stir up a lot of strife & division. We should keep seeking the truth, passionately, prayerfully, & prudently & be gracious with one another. After all,all of us are fallible, finite human beings. I think it was Tozer who said: "it's humility that becomes fallen creatures, not perfection". Many Blessings - Johnny


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    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment Johnny. I really do appreciate the way you have worded it and I agree with you. There are a lot of angles and questions that lead out of this part of eschatology and scripture is not always as clear as we would like it to be. So yes, it's good not to be dogmatic where various interpretations are possible. Some things we can be sure of and other things we can lean toward and others we can just accept that we don't know and might never have figured out this side of the grave. And even though both views (ECT and Conditional Immortality) cannot be right we can recognize that true believers will fall on both sides for the fence on this and other issues.

      PS - I'm a big Tozer fan, the Pursuit of God is one of my favorite books of all time :)

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  6. Why would Satan be first kept in the bottomless pit instead of being cast into the lake of fire along with the beast and false prophet if the lake of fire would not annihilate him?
    Satan would have to be kept in the bottom pit until the time for his next assignment while his accomplices are cast into the lake of fire because their assignment had ended. If the the lake is not for annihilation Satan would have to be tortured in it with the beast and false until the time of his assignment then brought out from there latter to do his final assignment. But God has to keep him in the bootomless pit for 1000 years because any one cast into the lake of fire will be annihilated and will never rise to life again. To be continued. Order for the ebook: "Lost in Adam,Restored in Christ" through nwaokedi@gmail.com for a clear understanding of immortality

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  7. Continuation: Rev.20:14,15. Notice that death would be thrown into the lake of fire with hell and other beings. In Rev.15:4 we read that there was no more death. If death would be destroyed and cease to be by being cast into the lake of fire why would the othe beings which would be cast into the lake of fire with it keep on living while only death is destroyed by the fire? For more insight into immortality order for the ebook:"Lost in Adam,Restored in Christ" nwaokedi@gmail.com

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  8. The hardest part about believing in annihilation is finding a church. I have been attending a wonderful little church. I love the people there. I agree with everything taught and practiced there. For the first few months, the pastor taught the "wage for sin is death". I hoped he secretly believed in conditional immortality. However, after the past two Sundays, which have been heavy on eternal conscious torment in hell and tares among the wheat, I suspect he has read my book "Gehenna Revisited: Rebutting Francis Chan". It deals with my belief in annihilation. Now that the pastor, (whom I had considered the best pastor of my life), is breathing out hell, while looking directly at me and questioning if everyone in his church is saved, (a church of about 20 people when they're all there), I know I have to move on. As he questions the salvation of someone in his congregation, I know he is not thinking about the elderly people who have been attending for decades. Now I'm looking for a church again, and I'm heartbroken. I loved those people, the sermons, and that little church. I loved having Christian fellowship and being welcomed with open arms. Now all of that is gone, and I'm grieving. I can't attend a church that teaches eternal conscious torment in hell or questions my relationship with Christ because I reject it.

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    1. I'm sorry to hear about your experience. It grieves me that 'open arms' are reserved only for those who agree on every little doctrinal point and I've experienced the same reaction with some friends though fortunately not within our church meetings. Your book looks very interesting, I remember being so disappointed that Erasing Hell gave a good few pages to annihilation and then with 1 verse (Matt 25) they just dismissed everything previously said.

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    2. Thank you, Wesley. I feel as if there's been a death in my family. Can't express how heartbroken I am to lose the fellowship of that church. I know what you mean about "Erasing Hell". I was disappointed with it too.

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