There are two major views of hell that are taken from the Christian Bible, they are annihilation as punishment and the traditional view where hell is a place of everlasting suffering. The traditional view is more fitting with the characteristics of God as presented in the Bible, the nature of sin, punishment, the language associated with hell, and apocalyptic images presented in the Bible. Annihilationism is not only unneeded to understand references to punishment, but creates contradictions.
God loves people, but He wants people to freely choose Him. One claim is that God cannot be a loving God and allow people to suffer for eternity as punishment. This loses sight of how God’s mercy is shown in the context of justice. God is a just God. It is fundamental to the need for Christ that God operate within a system of justice; otherwise a savior to take our place would have been unneeded. Deuteronomy 32:4 even says “all His ways are justice.” An everlasting punishment is not so unreasonable in light of the need for justice.
"God is infinite and infinitely holy. Anyone who sins has offended God... This offense is against and infinite God therefore the offense has an infinite consequence... Since God is infinite and the offense has an infinite offense (by offending an infinite God), then the punishment must be infinite - eternal damnation." (“Even”)
1 Corinthians 15:24-28 describes a vision of eternity where Christ is “all in all,” and “He has put all things under His feet.” Ephesians 1:9-10 says “having made known to us the mystery of His will… that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.” According to this view, the problem with the traditional view is that:
"We see a dualistic picture, one world of bliss and holiness, one world of utter horror and sinfulness… throughout eternity, the saved and the damned... Sin will be an eternal reality, evil will be an eternal reality… the kingdom of God will exist side by side with the kingdom of darkness." (Theonomy)
References to destruction make universalism unreasonable in the annihilationist perspective and thus only annihillation can be true.
It is a mistake to think that at the end when everything is brought into submission to God all that would now oppose Him will be destroyed. Everything is already under God’s power, He is just allowing choice for a time but He still retains the ultimate power or say over what happens. In Luke 8:29 Jesus commanded a demon to leave a man. Demons must submit to His will. This world is already subject to the authority of God who created it. If the only options are universalism or annihilationism, then that denies the powers of God to do anything to change these people. Rebellion won’t be an option and denial will be impossible. All will be forced to recognize and submit to the authority of God, but those who did so before will be rewarded and those who did not will suffer as justice dictates and choices made beforehand lead to.
The nature of destruction of the lost can also be a partial destruction.
“The Hebrews thought of man as a unit with a body, soul (animal life), and spirit (that aspect of man which enables him to commune with God) inseparably related. Apart from the body, the soul was not the complete man.” (Hessert 199)
Lacking one part makes a person less than a whole person and the unglorified body of the unsaved will be resurrected for judgment. (Laudate_Dominium, Phatcatholic) Yet even if in the course of punishment, one part will be fully destroyed and annihilationism otherwise shownto be true, then more than merely a crumbs or ashes of a body will remain.
The problem of eternity in annihilationism is that in an effort to prove the complete obliteration out of existence that happens to those who go to the lake of fire is then that one must view the word for eternal in description of destruction as meaning that it will be finished and irreversible. While the irreversible aspect rightly describes it, it also forces the word eternal to thus describe that which has end. Now the same word is used to describe eternal life and to describe eternal punishment or destruction, so it can be assumed that the lives of Christians are as much an everlasting state of reality as destruction and Gehennah is for the damned. This is true even in the OT (Old Testament) as in Daniel 12:2 which speaks of some rising “to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” This “eternal,” “everlasting” fire described in the Bible show that the right view of eternity is indeed a dualistic view. 1 Timothy 1:17 refers to “the King eternal, immortal, invisible…” Hebrews 9:14 makes reference to the “eternal Spirit” through which Christ was offered. 2 Corinthians mentions the “eternal house” in heaven. If we redefine eternal to mean everlasting in effect only, then this goes against the very concept of God and heaven that Christianity has always taken from the Bible. In light of this, it is unfitting to redefine “eternal” to make sense of the ideas that people bring about what destruction should mean.
One of the differences between annihilationism and the traditional biblical view is the understanding of the words for destruction. Some of the words used do not always hold meanings in accordance with, and indeed in other circumstances would hold meanings that would be contradictory in annihilationism. The annihilationist understanding therefore goes beyond the literal meaning in other context where the meaning of these words is clear. They therefore define a limited based on an interpretation of the words used.
It must be said that the pasages which speak of destruction… do not necessarily imply the cessation of existence, for in these passages the terms used for ‘destruction’ do not necessarily imply a ceasing to exist or some kind of annihilaiton, but can simply be ways of referring to the harmful and destructive effects of final judgment on unbelievers. (Grudem 1150)
Annihilation also violates a fundamental characteristic of the Bible which is that the Bible does not contradict itself but rather can be used to create a logical, coherent, scripturally based theology without contradiction. It may be worth noting that in definitions of destroy in dictionaries include meanings other than bringing to non-existence, such as total defeat, damage beyond repair, and ruin.
Matthew 10:28 is sometimes used to support annihilationism where it says “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Apollumi, which is translated here as “destroy” does not necessitate obliteration out of existance. It “literally means ‘to loosen,’ but often means to destroy or tear apart or come apart. It does not necessarily mean nothing will be left.” (Jaltus) Those that are “destroyed” in this way are not obliterated out of existence, but lost to God or life or hope forever. This is the same word used in Luke 17:27 and 2 Peter 3:6 to describe what happened to the unrighteous in the flood and Luke 17:29 what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah yet these people exist to be resurrected. The same word is used in numerous verses to speak of that which is lost as in the parables about lost sheep and lost coins. People who are destroyed in this manner have no hope but will exist separated from God, never to be made alive with the presence of God or be again what they once were or could have been.
“Olethros” is translated as “destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, “And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” To speak of "eternal" would be superfluous unless there is some reason to think that the destroyed would suddenly come back to existence later. The very fact that this destruction is described as eternal may suggest that it is something other than a mere annihilation. Furthermore, this same Greek word is used in the Septuagint in Ezra 14:16 to describe how the land might be rendered "desolate." Certainly the idea is not that the land would be annihilated. This indicates that this Greek word need not refer to annihilation. This word can then refer to the desolate state that the unsaved will suffer in apart from God. The eternal then indicates that this state will last eternally without end.
Although some annihilationists may claim otherwise, the traditional view does account for the fact that many passages referring to hell and end times are figurative. Mark 9:48 quotes Isaiah 66:24 in reference to the fire not being quenched and the worm never dying. Worms would eat away at a body of a dead person in this world after the first death. The worm that doesn’t die hardly seems like a literal reality, but one can see in this a kind of destruction, whatever the destruction is, that always happens but is never completed as this punishment or judgment consumes but is never satisfied once and for good. With fire representing God's judgment, it might be argued that judgment doesn’t simply stop as if they had been obliterated out of existence, but that the unquenched is never finally satiated to be no more. An unquenched fire is always consuming.
Belief in the truth of Christian scripture necessitates by its very make-up a belief in the inferrance of God in the religion of the people in it. Many times in the Bible pagan influences were accepted by the Jews and then some event brought about a rejection of false religious followings. If some false influence were to have taken hold at some point in the Bible, proper consequence would have occurred. (Maher 2) The original idea of an immortal soul in hell came not from Hellenic influence, but Zoroastrian. In it, hell was endured before the final resurrection and then mortal souls would be given immortality. “The Zoroastrian view is more akin to the traditional view in Christianity… Many modern scholars argue that Zoroastrianism should be properly considered the source of the very concept of hell for the Abrahamic Monotheistic faiths.” (Falcioni) Although in Zoroastrianism beings like demons were annihilated at the resurrection point, the lack of scriptural objection near the time this happened does give strong indication of the acceptance of the immortality of souls by the Jews in the Bible who remain the theological predicessors to Christianity.
The historic Christian view of hell is that refered to as the traditional view. Many of the early writings demonstrate similar language as the Bible in describing hell. Other works give an even more explicit view of how they understood it. In his work Apology in A.D. 197, Tertullian described hell as “the punishment of everlasting fire--that fire which, from its very nature indeed, directly ministers to their incorruptibility." (“Corunum”) The early church leaders were much closer than people today to the writers of the Bible and they still taught this.
Slight differences in may exist in the understanding that different groups have, yes despite this, mainstream Protestantism holds the traditional view of everlasting suffering just as many throughout Christian history have. The Catholic Church has maintained the traditional view for some two thousand years. (Maher 3) Despite differences in understandings of many other things, the traditional view is one of the most unifying beliefs within Christianity. If some two thousand years of Bible study have not taken away from the proliferation of this view, then some personal observation seems more a reason to study further than to abandon this long held doctrine.
(All Scripture references taken from New King James Version.)
“Even More Quotes From Universalists.” Christian Apologetics and
Research Ministry. 5 Dec. 2005 <http://www.carm.org/uni/uniposts3.htm>.
“Heaven and Hell” Curunum Apologetic Web Site. Ed. Joseph A. Gallegos. 5 Dec 2005. <http://www.cin.org/users/jgallegos/heaven.htm>.
Falcioni, Ryan. “RE: Hellfire and Damnation, or Why I Disagree with Annihilation by [author's legal name removed]” Email to the author. 6 Dec. 2005.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.
Hessert, Paul. Introduction to Christianity. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1958.
Jaltus. “Re: Destruction Question.” Email to the author. 15 June 2005.
LaHaye, Tim, et al, eds. Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible. Chattanooga: AMG, 2001.
Laudate_Dominum. “Resurrection and the Unsaved.” Online posting. 4 Dec 2005. <http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/index.php?showtopic=43802>.
Maher, Sr. Terry. Personal interview. 3 Dec. 2005.
Phatcatholic. “Resurrection and the Unsaved.” Online posting. 4 Dec 2005. <http://www.phatmass.com/phorum/index.php?showtopic=43787>.
Strong, James. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990.
Theonomy. “Opening Statement Against the Affirmative” Online posting. 17 June 2005. <http://www.theologyweb.com/campus/showthread.php?t=54937>.
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