In everything that I have previously written on conditional immortality, there is an aspect regarding the fate of the lost that I have not addressed before which is the nature of death itself. The popular concept of hell today teaches that death is eternal separation from God which I would agree with but where I part ways with the traditional understanding of this is where that separation is believed to be an eternal conscious torment of the lost soul. The idea that the Greek word thanatos means separation and not death is simply incorrect which is what the first part of this article will try to prove.
Thanatos in Romans 6:23
For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
The first thing that I would like to point out here is that I have not found a single translation thus far that translates ‘death’ in this verse as ‘separation’. The whole contrast that Paul is making falls apart if thanatos only means separation. The opposite of eternal life is not merely separation but rather eternal death.
The second point to make is that if Paul did mean to contrast eternal life with eternal separation he could have used the Greek word that actually means separation which is chorizo. We see the word chorizo later on in Paul’s same letter to the Romans in a portion of scripture that many of us know off by heart.
Who can separate (chorizo) us from the love of Christ? Can tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?...(nothing) shall be able to separate (chorizo) us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:35, 39
Chorizo seems like the ideal word that Paul could have used if he had meant to say what traditionalists think he said but instead he chose thanatos which is consistently translated as death. Consider the use of thanatos in Acts 23:29 where Claudius Lysias writes to Felix about Paul:-
I soon discovered the charge was something regarding their religious law – certainly nothing worthy of imprisonment or death (thanatos).
While physical death could be defined as the separation of the body and soul. Death can never be defined as a less pleasant form of life because it is the very opposite of life, the writers of scripture deliberately showed this to be the case as they consistently contrasted life with death and destruction (Matthew 7:13-14, John 3:16, 3:36, 5:24, 6:58, 10:28, 11:25-26, Roans 5:21, 6:23, Galatians 6:8, Hebrews 10:39).
Separation IS death
Even though I have spent some time explaining why I think death is, well, death… I do acknowledge that the wages of sin is separation from God as well (Isaiah 59:2, 1 Corinthians 15:56, Ephesians 2:1,12, Colossians 2:13). Some of these verses even speak of sin as death AND separation as though they were the same thing. The important thing to note here is that they are referring to people in this life who were lost. They were spiritually dead and lost, much like the prodigal son who “was dead but has come back to life”, and was “lost but now is found” (Luke 15:32).
The biggest thing that traditionalists seem to overlook though is that separation does not lead to an eternal life of torment but to death in the lake of fire. Outside of Christ, there is no life:-
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life. – John 3:36
One must be in community with God, who alone has immortality (1 Timothy 6:15-16) to receive the gift of eternal life.
For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life. – John 6:40
I am the bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. – John 6:51
And this is the testimony; that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; and he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. – 1 John 5:11-12
Notice that John’s wording above is slightly different than Paul’s. The contrast here between those who inherit life and those who do not is as clear as it is in Paul’s writings but it avoids the debate over words like thanatos.
Separation therefore is much easier to understand as the eternal state of non-existence rather than as eternal torment. Is the second death eternal separation from God? Yes it is but it's not eternal conscious torment.
They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from His glorious power. – 2 Thessalonians 1:9