Annihilationism Briefly Examined

Annihilationism Briefly Examined

Annihilationism is an unbiblical belief that those who go to hell will not suffer eternal punishment, but will one day cease to exist. We will examine some of the main biblical passages used to support this view and then the Bible's teachings on the eternity of hell.

Vocabulary of destruction
The biblical words "perish" and "destruction" do not refer to extinction, but to a wretched and ruined existence, cut off from all good and everything that makes life valuable. It is the eternal ruin of all that is worthwhile in human existence. C.S. Lewis makes a good point when he says that even when something is destroyed, it still leaves remains. So even when annihilationists understand perish and destruction in a strictly literal sense, it still doesn't prove their case because that would not support extinction at all, since there are still remains when something is destroyed.

Annihilationists also appeal to the Bible's use of the imagery of fire to describe God's judgement on the wicked. They say that the purpose of fire is to consume and eliminate. However, the Bible uses fire-imagery to refer to the great pain and suffering of the wicked. It speaks of anguish, not extinction.

Some argue that it is against God's justice to punish eternally. However, this is a human-centered perspective. Sins against us would not warrant eternal punishment, but the Bible views sin as an attack on God's character. Since God is of infinite value, then sins against him are of infinite seriousness and therefore are deserving of eternal punishment.

If the wicked were only extinguished from existence, justice would not be complete. They would not be getting what they deserve, because there punishment would not be in proportion to the infinte severity of attacking God's glory. What motivation would it be for sinners to change if they only had extinction ahead, and not punishment? And if the wicked are only annihilated, why did Jesus warn about hell so much while He was on earth. Why didn't He warn about extinction for those who refuse His grace?

"All in all"
What about the passages that say God will be "all in all"? If we look at 1 Cor. 15:24-28, we see that God will be all in all because His enemies will be "under His feet" and no longer free to wantonly disregard and assault God's holiness. They will be subject to Him and judged, not annihilated. It means that God will reign over the just and just, not that only the just remain. The final three chapters of the Bible bear out that the eternal punishment of the wicked is not considered by God to be in compatible with His being all in all.

Hell is eternal
Matthew 24:46 is one of the clearest testimonies that people who are in hell will suffer eternally: "And these [the wicked] will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (NASB). Jesus is drawing a parallel between the destinies of the wicked and the righteous. Since both destinies are said to be eternal, "it follows necessarily that either both are to be taken as long-lasting but finite, or both as endless and perpetual. The phrases `eternal punishment' and `eternal life' are parallel and it would be absurd to use them in one and the same sentence to mean: `eternal life will be infinite, while eternal punishment will have an end.' Hence, because the eternal life of the saint swill be endless, the eternal punishment also..." (Augustine, The City of God, 1001-2 (21.23)). Jesus also asserts that in hell "the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48). When a fire consumes its fuel, it goes out. The fire of hell never goes out because its work is never done. Thus, the fire never goes out because the wicked suffer eternal torment in hell, not eventual extinction.


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