Warning!: This post is a mere 3,000 words, so proceed if you have time. This two-part “research” argumentative paper contains two views. The first view I will discuss is Annihilationism. The second view I will discuss will be the Eternal Punishment Traditional Literal View. I will be open and honest here with full disclosure to you who are brave enough to read these posts. I DO NOT hold to the Annihilationist view. I am your typical Evangelical who holds to the traditional view of Hell. So, as you read part 1 you will see my research on Annihilationism, specifically the view of Clark H. Pinnock, who was a leading proponent of the Annihilation view. I do not write these posts to persuade you of what I believe, but simply to inform you of two views on life, or lack there of from an annihilation view, after death. Again, I hold to the view that there is a place called Hell where unrepentant sinners will suffer eternal conscious punishment, but I wanted to share the other view with you all. Please do not bombard me with Scripture that supports what your view is in the comments, rather politely discuss/respond in a godly manner that will honor Christ and give him glory.
Sorry in advance for this lengthy post! I applaud all who read this all the way through! Gold star to those who do! Let me dive right in…..
What happens after we die? Where do we go? Is there a place called heaven or hell? These are questions that have caused all mankind past, present, and certainly in the future, to ponder and worry about. The Christian especially ponders these questions. The Christian knows where he or she is going after they die, but they argue amongst themselves where the non-believers will end up after they die. Will they simply cease to exist? This is the view of the Annihilationist. Will they suffer eternal punishment in a place called Hell? This is the view of most modern Evangelicals, although it is starting to lose proponents as the Annihilation movement progresses in society today. Can God be Just and Loving if he allows for the unrighteous, who are equally his creation, to suffer forever? Or, is there a more “loving” way to punish them. These are important issues that will be discussed in detail.
What does the Bible say on the matter?
Obviously, this wouldn’t be an issue for Christians if we all understood what Scripture has to say on the matter. Alas, Christians, past and present, have interpreted key passages in the Old and New Testaments on life after death differently. Not only do Christians have differing views about the eternal state of a Christian, but also when it comes to the eternal state, or lack there off in one view, of the unsaved the views differ. There are really two main interpretations of the final state of the unrighteous.
One view, called Annihilationism, holds that there is not an eternal state of conscious punishment for those unsaved. The Almighty God instead, will destroy them because they rejected his grace. This view has had several modern evangelical proponents such as: John R.W. Stott and Clark H. Pinnock. Pinnock challenges evangelicals to reconsider their stance on the issue by asking, “How can one imagine for a moment that the God who gave his Son to die for sinners because of his great love for them would install a torture chamber somewhere in the new creation in order to subject those who reject him to everlasting pain?” (Dixon). Pinnock sees Revelation 20:11-15 as God declaring his judgment on the wicked and condemns them to extinction, this is the second death. He believes that the idea of a hell that inflicts eternal torture on a person is entirely a Greek view, which came into Christian theology early and is still around today. In other words, hell is read into the Biblical text. One must separate himself from the presupposition of a morally inappropriate belief that God would inflict continual pain on a creature created in his own image and read what the Bible actually has to say on the matter.
The Bible is clear, says an Annihilationist, “it is the fire that is called everlasting, not the life cast into it” (Dixon). Stott once said, “It would seem strange if people who are said to suffer destruction are in fact not destroyed.” The traditional view states that the person who does not come to Christ will suffer destruction. However, Stott challenges this definition. If in every other case destruction meant total extermination, then why would it mean something different when it comes to the final judgment on the unrepentant? Stott also says, “ the main function of fire is not to cause pain, but to secure destruction, as all the world’s incinerators bear witness.” He argues that God does not use the eternal fire for imposing pain, but for destroying those who oppose him. When one is thrown into the eternal fire, the being thrown in is not eternal and is consumed forever. There is not torment.
Both these men argue, “that the traditional view of eternal punishment seems incompatible with God’s justice” (Dixon). In fact, they consider eternal punishment an offensive doctrine and immoral. Pinnock states, “ The chief point is that eternal torment serves no purpose and exhibits a vindictiveness out of keeping with the love of God revealed in the gospel” (Dixon). So, because of the good news there is no reason that a God who allows sinners to repent would then turn his back those whom he came to die for by eternally punishing them in a fire that they cannot escape. It seems to contradict God’s attributes.
Why is it that annihilationism defers so radically from the traditional view?
Both views hold the Bible as the key source and teacher on this topic. Both views also advocate that Jesus taught about Hell the same way that they believe. However, only one view can be right. Did Jesus teach of an eternal punishment on the lost; or did Jesus teach that the lost will be destroyed, eliminated, eradicated from the new creation? Clark H. Pinnock offers his answer, “The Bible uses the language of death and destruction, of ruin and perishing, when it speaks of the fate of the impenitent wicked. It uses the imagery of fire that consumes whatever is thrown into it; linking together images of fire and destruction suggest annihilation” (Pinnock). He argues that the traditional view of Hell is not a biblically taught view. To the Annihilationist, the Bible teaches nothing short of final destruction.
The Old Testament
The Old Testament is a good place to start to understand the Annihilationist view. In Psalm 37 for example, David says that the wicked “will fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.” The wicked will perish just like a flower or garden would perish if not well maintained. Later on, in verse 9 of Psalm 37, we read, “For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land. In just a short while, the wicked will be no more…” Again in verse 20, “But the wicked will perish; the enemies of the LORD are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish—like the smoke they vanish away.” Verse 38 is the real kicker though, “But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.” This Psalm suggests that the wicked will not suffer an eternal torment in fire, but will suffer a final destruction and cease to exist. In the Book of Malachi, the same picture is painted. “For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like claves from the stall” (Mal. 4:1-2). Surely this image sets the tone for New Testament doctrine (Pinnock).
Even the Book of Proverbs seems to suggest final destruction within its pages. Proverbs 1:32, “For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them.” This verse and most of the verses in Proverbs are focused on destruction in this world, but they also seem to denote a spiritual/afterlife destruction. All throughout Solomon’s wisdom in this book paint an image that the sin of the wicked leads to destruction. He instructs the reader to pursue the path of the righteous and obey God’s commandments. The consequence of not obeying is utter destruction.
The New Testament
However, the Old Testament is not the only revelation that God has given. The New Testament is really where the core of this argument on the eternal state rests. What did Jesus teach? Did Paul or Peter teach the same as Jesus did? What about the Revelation to John from Jesus Christ? What did John see at the end of the first creation’s life? Eternal damnation or Final obliteration? Pinnock argues, “[Jesus] did not speak of Hell in order to convey information about [Hell] as a place beyond present human experience and then use that data to press the decision the gospel calls for” (Pinnock). So, for Pinnock, Jesus never intended that we focus on the speculations about the nature of Heaven or Hell. The decisions of the here and now are what Jesus pressed over the speculations that could be made of these supernatural realms. Yet, Christ did make many statements that support the Old Testaments impression of Hell. This impression, of course, is that of final destruction.
Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew teaches, “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 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” (Matt. 10:26-28). Jesus teaches here that a person is to not fear anything or anyone. The only thing a person should fear is the Lord himself, who is able to destroy whom he wills. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew the Lord Jesus teaches that the wicked will be cast into Hell (Matt. 5:30), thrown into the valley outside Jerusalem like the sacrifices made to Moloch (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6), or burned up like weeds thrown into the fire (Matt. 13:49-50). The teaching of Jesus is clear. The wicked can expect to be destroyed by the wrath of God.
Evangelicals affirm what the apostles teach as well in the New Testament. Paul writes in his second epistle to the Thessalonians, “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1:9). This is the wrath that will fall on the unrepentant sinner. In Paul’s other epistles he writes again that God will destroy the wicked. The unrepentant deserve death as stated in the epistle to the Romans. Pinnock suggests that in each of the apostle Paul’s teachings on this matter he states that hell means the termination of the wicked (Pinnock).
In 2 Peter 2:1-3, it is apparent that the false teachers bring upon themselves destruction because of their wicked teachings. Peter even likens the destruction of the ungodly to that of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Old Testament account, these cities were burnt to ash and completely destroyed. He even brings up the Flood and how God used it to destroy the ungodly (2 Pet. 3:6-7).
Jude and the author of Hebrews both agree in a final punishment for the unrighteous. Jude likens the account of Sodom’s destruction in the same way Peter does. The author of Hebrews however, focuses on those who shrink away from the life of holiness being destroyed. John, in a vision from the Lord, sees the Lake of Fire that will consume the wicked in the Book of Revelation chapter 20.
Pinnock argues that both the Old and the New Testament suggests the perishing, destruction, and corruption to describe the end of the wicked (Pinnock). He clearly disagrees with the traditional view of an eternal punishment of the wicked and is able to use the Scriptures to support his ideas. He sees that his view is the biblical view and that the traditional view is wrong in saying that his view has no basis.
Pinnock also does not believe in the immortality of the human soul. Jacques Maritain defines the human soul this way, “ The Human soul cannot die. Once it exists, it cannot disappear; it will necessarily exist forever and endure without end.” Clark H. Pinnock opposes this view and instead states that God alone has immortality and is the only one who can graciously give life to mankind. If he is the only one who can give life, then it is also only God who can take life away. This view is called Conditionalism. This view holds that God created man as mortal and only has the capacity to live forever; it does not inherently belong to mankind. Pinnock continues his argument that the soul is not immortal by stating that the only way the soul becomes immortal is through the redemption of Christ’s death on the cross. It is the gospel that offers mankind a soul that can endure forever. However, if a person rejects God, there is nothing in the theology of Anthropology that can contradict Jesus’ teaching, that God will ultimately destroy the wicked. The wicked’s body and soul will be destroyed in hell. Greek doctrines have crept its way into the Church’s teachings and theology is the Annihihationists view. The doctrine that a soul is immortal and will suffer eternal punishment is not a biblical doctrine to them but is a doctrine read into the text because of the culture that was surrounding the forming of Scripture.
The Great I AM
The attributes of God are also in question when it comes to eternal punishment of the unsaved. Once again the clear disagreement of Pinnock is a good look into the mind of the Annihilationist. He thinks that the eternal punishment of the ungodly goes against God’s attributes. The attributes in question here are God’s Goodness, Mercy, and Love. God is good, which means he is not a “big meany” so to speak when it comes to dealing with human life. The gospel is also evidence of God’s mercy toward man. He withholds his wrath from mankind and instead graciously offers mankind a Savior. Through his love, he welcomes in the sinner to enjoy his holy presence. Why would God, who sent his Son to die for the human race, then take back his love, mercy, and goodness by giving the unrighteous a mean, cruel, and treacherous punishment that lasts forever? “The traditional view of the nature of hell does not cohere well with the character of God disclosed in the gospel” (Pinnock). Pinnock asks that Christians rethink what the moral implications of an everlasting hell are. When the Nazi’s tortured the Jews in the death camps we look back on that event as immoral and wrong. How much more wrong and immoral would it be if God were to do the same to the unrepentant.
The Annihilationist sees God respecting the choice of men and when man chooses not to repent he will not save them. Sinners are not forced to go to Heaven. Because sinners are not forced to go to Heaven, man has the right of “Hell”, which is God spilling his wrath on them through immediate destruction. If God is a just God Hell makes no sense. A Just God would not punish sinners eternally without offering them a way of escape after a time. Jesus himself calls believers to a higher standard of justice. Has man eternally wronged God? Pinnock argues, “Of course not!” The implication of an eternal punishment in hell means that man’s finite sins merit an eternal, everlasting, painful experience. Since God is Just, it goes without saying that he has the obligation to not allow wickedness to exist forever. This means that no further evil can be committed if the wicked are annihilated.
Mr. Pinnock also suggests that if Hell were to exist while the new Heavens and earth exist, it would mean that there are two kingdoms with two kings. God the king of Heaven and earth and Satan king of Hell sounds absurd. Surely God will not allow another kingdom to exist and that there is a complete victory over sin and death.
Matthew 25:46 seems to promote a problem to the Annihilationist, however. “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” This looks like a verse that would advocate for the traditional view, yet the Annihilationist interprets this verse differently. They argue that Jesus does not define the nature either of eternal life or of eternal death. He simply says that there are two final destinations. So, this passage is open to interpretation, but should not be used as a proof text for the traditional view.
The Annihilationist’s Conclusion
The Annihilationist agrees that whatever Hell ends up being like, it will not be fun. Hell is looked at as a final punishment, just like the traditional view. Yet, this view does not turn Hell into a Nazi torture chamber. The final destruction of the ungodly is a serious matter. Being rejected by God is the most anticlimactic event that could possibly happen. Rejecting God leads to him rejecting the man doing the rejecting. Why waste salvation what is freely given only to be eliminated from history?
Again, this is not the view that I personally believe is displayed in Scripture and is thus not what I believe will happen to the unrepentant. I believe in Hell so…
Here are the two works that I used for this view:
Dixon, Larry. The Other Side of the Good News: Confronting the Contemporary Challenges to Jesus’ teaching on Hell. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1992.
Pinnock, Clark H. “The Conditional View.” Walvoord, John F., et al. Four Views on Hell. Ed. William Crockett. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. 143-166.