Monday, 5 March 2012

Eternal Punishment or Annihilation?

As promised in my tweet the other day, I have listened to the unbelievable podcast and I will now reveal to you whether or not there is a Hell.

Actually that's slightly inaccurate, the existence of Hell wasn't in question; it was whether or not it was conscious eternal punishment, Steve Jeffery's view, or permanent annihilation of the body and soul, Chris Date's view.

Before you read on I feel I must refer you to my tag-line above; I'm not theologically trained, I just have opinions I'm happy to offer.

So this post really isn't going to be based on exegesis, it's simply going to come from the heart of the way I feel about eternity.

Matthew 25:46 ESV
"And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Surely Hell has to be an eternal conscious punishment? I can't say in what form the punishment will take.  I understand the reference of Hell as Gehenna to be the sacrificial fire, so I don't know if it's a big burning place in eternity or not, but essentially whatever it is, I believe it will be for eternity and it won't be pretty. 

Why would it be so imperative as Christians to be evangelical with the message of God's love? Why would God desperately want no-one to experience Hell and for us all to come to Him and accept His son died in our places so we could avoid it? Because it is eternal, there is no getting away from it.

I do not believe in the tactic of Hell-fire vs Heaven, but it's gotta be more urgent to flee Hell-fire than to flee annihilation.

Matthew 10:28 ESV
"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."

I'm not a Christian because I'm frightened of Hell, but I certainly don't want to go there! But annihilation holds no fear for me.  

Some people would say I know nothing anyway, so to be clueless for eternity isn't going to make much difference. Sure, we may be missing out on Heaven and maybe that is deemed to be the real punishment, but really, will that bother anyone if they are unaware of it?

I've missed hundreds of fantastic parties I knew nothing about; actually I can't really say I missed them because I didn't know anything about them, ergo, it doesn't bother me, I just get on with my life......... or not.......... in the case of the annihilation theory.

Whatever your thoughts that Hell may or may not be, I think as believing Christians, we all know that most importantly we have an eternal place in Heaven; and that is open to everyone.

Romans 10:13 ESV
"For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”


  1. Hi, Naomi. First, thanks so much for listening to my friendly debate with Steve Jeffery on Unbelievable. Thanks, too, for sharing your thoughts. If you don't mind, I'd like to offer mine in return.

    Regarding Matthew 25:46, I think this text favors my view over Steve's. A mere verses earlier Jesus says the unsaved will go into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. That phrase "eternal fire" is used in only two other places, and in both places it refers to a fire which burns down to nothing but lifeless remains. Jude 7, for example, says Sodom and Gomorrah serve as a "specimen" (the word translated "example") of what awaits the wicked, having been punished by eternal fire. Also, in Revelation the imagery of eternal torment in a lake of fire communicates being brought to an end, since death and Hades are thrown into it (thus the intermediate state comes to an end), and since when the harlot is tormented the interpreting angel tells John it symbolizes the destruction of the city she reprsents, hearkening to Isaiah 34:10 where smoke rises forever from the remains of Edom. So I think we have every reason to believe that the eternal punishment to which Jesus refers is the punishment of being destroyed forever. And toward the end of the discussion I quoted the famous traditionalist Jonathan Edwards who admitted that my view makes good sense of "eternal punishment."

    Is there a greater sense of urgency in avoiding eternal torment than avoiding being violently and painfully killed a final time? I don't know, that seems like speculation to me. I think that whether eternal punishment is eternal torment or eternal destruction, either way the worst thing about it is not getting to experience bliss in the presence of God for eternity, and so it seems to me that the urgency is equal in both our views. I just can't relate to your statement that the idea of not getting to spend eternity with God is something that causes you no fear. And besides, nobody wants to be violently and painfully killed. So again, I guess I just can't relate to your sentiment. That said, what's most important is that we believe what the Bible says, rather than base our views on what we think will or will not scare unbelievers.

    Regarding Matthew 10:28, the word "destroy" here, wherever it's used transitively in the synoptic gospels of destroying somebody, it *always* means to slay, or to kill. To render lifeless. And Jesus is saying that we should not fear people who can kill only the body, rendering it a corpse; we should instead fear the One who will render both body and soul a corpse. And He hearkens to Gehenna which in the Old Testament was a place called Topheth, where idol worshippers destroyed children by fire, and which God turned into a place of slaughter where scavenging beasts and birds would not be frightened away from fully consuming lifeless, rotting corpses. Hell, then, is a place where the whole person--and not just the body--will be reduced to nothing but utterly lifeless remains.

    So again, I really appreciate your thoughts, and I hope my response doesn't come across as harsh or mean; I honestly don't intend them to. I just think the Scripture is clear, and I think the violent and painful killing that it says awaits the unsaved in Hell, and not getting to spend eternity in the presence of God, is very much cause for fear.


  2. Chris, I really appreciate you taking the time to read my simple thoughts and comment! I am in no way as scholared as you or Steve!

    You make a very persuavive point and even as I was writing it and looking up verses I was thinking you may be right!

    What worried me about that was, if you were right would my other beliefs slip away? Life is hard as a Christian, and like I said I'm not in it because of the fear of eternal Hell - but it helps!

    "I think that whether eternal punishment is eternal torment or eternal destruction, either way the worst thing about it is not getting to experience bliss in the presence of God for eternity, and so it seems to me that the urgency is equal in both our views. I just can't relate to your statement that the idea of not getting to spend eternity with God is something that causes you no fear."

    I cannot wait to be with God for eternity in Heaven; I am never going to get to travel to all the exotic places of this world, but I know I will experience a world far more beautiful than I can imagine. If the alternative to that was permenant destruction, it would be horrific but it would be over, wheras I could not imagine how awful an eternity of pain and punishment would be and I would fear that.

    I am honoured that you read my post, and you did not come across as harsh at all!


  3. Hi, Naomi. My thoughts are no less simple than yours, trust me :) As I explained on the radio, I'm just a layperson like you, and likewise have no theological training. It's my pleasure and honor to get to discuss this or any other topic with anybody who's interested in discussing them. And I'm very glad I didn't come across harsh; I appreciated the kind, respectful nature of my discussion with Steve, and I hope to continue to have discussions like that one.

    Were you to accept annihilation, would you have to give up other Christian beliefs you currently hold? No, not at all. I can tell you that Steve and I believe the same things in a host of other doctrines. And in those places where we disagree, it has nothing to do whatsoever with our doctrines of hell.

    There is a danger, however, in accepting annihilationism for the wrong reasons, and when some annihilationists slide into more serious error, I think it's because their reasons for accepting annihilationism were wrong. For example, if one accepts annihilationism because of an emotional aversion to the idea of eternal torment, or an objection to eternal torment on philosophical grounds, or because they don't think sin is as serious as it is, well they might spend a brief period of time as an annihilationist but may very well slip into the serious error of universalism. After all, if one has a problem with eternal torment as punishment for sin, one very well may have a problem with being violently and painfully destroyed, too. Other illegitimate reasons for accepting annihilationism could probably be identified, too, which might lead someone to serious error. I asked Steve via email for some examples, since he said something about it in the debate, and he mentioned tinkering with the doctrine of penal substitution, thinking that the suffering of the lost would mar the joy of the redeemed, and other problems--but admitted that I don't make those errors.

    On the other hand, what if one, like I think I have, accepts annihilationism on purely exegetical grounds, firmly committed to the inerrancy of God's Word? What if one, like I think I have, recognizes that an infinite, eternal punishment is required because of the seriousness of sin, and thinks annihilation qualifies since the unsaved who are destroyed in hell will never, ever live again? What if one, like I think I have, recognizes that the atonement was a penal substitution in which Christ bore the punishment we deserve in our place, and thinks that since Christ died for sins, the punishment of hell is death, too? What if one, like I think I have, recognizes that the punishment of the unsaved is a demonstration of God's goodness and mercy to the saved, but sees in Isaiah 66 the saved praising God because of the utter destruction of the unsaved, rather than their torment?

    I guess the point I'm getting at is, I think the Bible teaches annihilationism, but I didn't become convinced of that for any of the wrong reasons, and I believe annihilationism is true for many of the same reasons Steve believes his view is true: penal substitution, seriousness of sin, demonstration of God's goodness and mercy to the saved, and, of course, the text of Scripture itself. And if one accepts annihilationism for the right reasons, I don't think there's any reason to fear that one is going to give up other important beliefs taught by God's holy, inerrant Word.

  4. Hi Naomi! I like the blog. I just wanted to put in my two cents and piggyback on Chris' outstanding remarks regarding the giving up of important beliefs. As Chris stated already, if one adopts an annihilationist persepctive for the right reasons there is no fear of "apostasy", as it were. The only right reason for adopting any view is that it, of course, squares up with the only reliable plumb line that we have; that being Holy Writ.

    In my mind, the real problem with all of this stems from the Reformation stopping just short of "Reformation" in an important area of Christian thought: eschatology. Now that certainly permeates areas other than just the final fate of the wicked, but the overall arc of "last things". I have in no way given up any other central, foundational Christian belief. If anything I have tackled my faith with a bit more gusto. I may still be 'tweaking' my understanding of the intermediate state, but assuredly any fine tuning is done with Scripture firmly in hand. There is really no reason to think that annihilationism will corrupt one's orthodoxy in other areas. Some will vehemently disagree with that but their reasons for doing so would make for a post on it's own.

  5. Thanks for your comments guys.

    Yes, I certainly hope I wouldn't change my views because of my feelings, but because of what I had understood from the scripture. Lots of room to study and grow here I think!