Thursday, January 12, 2017

For the Wages of Sin is Death, Not Torture: Why I Hold to Annihilationism (Part 2: Scripture)

Sorry; this was finished much later than I was hoping. I partly forgot to finish it and partly was busy with school and the Christmas Season.

In the last article on this subject, we talked about the reasons, nature, and goals for punishment. I want to, in this article, look at specific passages talking about the nature and goals of punishment. This is Part 2 in my explanation and defense of Annihilationism (Part 1 can be found here).

Before we start, I want you to do something for me. I want you to challenge yourself on a few presuppositions:

Find me a verse stating that souls are inherently immortal.

We come to Scripture, many of us, with the Platonic error of assuming that souls are inherently immortal, and therefore either can't die or by default will never die, wicked or righteous. What verses claim that?

Find me a verse stating that the punishment for sin is eternal conscious torment.

Aha! You might say. You probably came up with Revelation 20:10 or Matthew 25:46. Eh...just hold on to those verses; they'll be dealt with soon enough.

Also, I want to assure you that Annihilationism is NOT the following:

It is NOT the claim that there is no punishment for sins.

It is NOT the claim that the punishment for sins is temporary.

It is NOT the claim that there is no hell.

There; are we good? Okay, now, onward!

The Nature of the Punishment: Death, not Torture

Scripture repeatedly tells us, point-blank, what the nature of the punishment is.

Romans 6:23

"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord."

The wages of sin is...death? Not torment? But can't death simply mean "separation from God" or something? 

I mean, it can and, I would argue, does have that definition. The problem is that that definition would still point to annihilation. If God is the Source of life, and you are separated from are separated from the Source of life. No one is truly and fully separated from the Source of life until the Judgment. Even the reprobate today receive the grace of God: "The rain falls on the just and the unjust." 

Matthew 10:28

"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." 

This passage speaks so clearly to what death is in the context of its relationship to hell. Here, what Jesus says is that what happens to the body at death by the hand of man (destruction, cessation of life in the body, but not cessation of life in the soul), happens to both soul and body in hell (destruction, cessation of life in both body and soul). 

2 Thessalonians 1:9

"They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might."

The wicked suffer the punishment of "eternal destruction", and they will no longer be in the presence of the Lord or the glory of his might. The destruction lasts forever, unlike the 1st death. This is compounded by the fact that they will no longer be in the presence of the Lord. The Lord, Who is, of course, omni-present.

Matthew 25:46

 "And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

After spending quite a few verses detailing how the righteous and wicked will be judged, Jesus states that the wicked will receive eternal punishment, but (and the word "but" is essential, here!) the righteous will receive eternal life."

"But Barely Protestant! Jesus just stated that the wicked will receive 'eternal punishment', right? Surely, that means that the wicked are tormented for all eternity!"

Nope. At least, not necessarily. And when you define the punishment for sins as Scripture does, it really doesn't make sense to claim that the punishment is eternal torment.

A man who is sentenced to be killed for his crimes, what is his punishment? Death. Death is his punishment.

"But Barely Protestant! It says 'eternal punishment'! Death isn't eternal! It's, well, momentary, and...well, okay, it actually is eternal, I guess, but, well, it doesn't hurt eternally! So there!"

The first death isn't eternal, sure. After all, we all get Resurrected. However, the righteous and wicked are Resurrected to be judged, and the punishment of the wicked is known as "the second death". In addition to this, the Scriptures repeatedly state (as has already been seen) that the punishment is death. If the first death is not eternal, and the punishment is known as "the second death", then it makes sense that Scripture would call this "eternal punishment": the punishment (death!) is eternal! This isn't contrived, but a consistent reading of what Scripture repeatedly says about the punishment for sin. 

I could go on and on with these passages, but I want to finish this article up some time this century, so I will instead give references to a few more along these lines:

(This list is taken from Preston Sprinkle's article on the subject. Preston Sprinkle co-wrote with Francis Chan Erasing Hell, a book responding in part to Rob Bell's Love Wins; after co-writing that book, Preston Sprinkle now leans heavily towards the concept of annhilationism, though he is not yet thoroughly convinced. As well, I and many annihilationists would differ from him on certain claims, even in the above-mentioned article. Here is the first part of a two-part interview Preston Sprinkle did with Rethinking Hell on the subject; it's a very good listen!)

Verses talking about the punishment being "destruction" or "perishing":

Matthew 7:13, John 3:16, John 17:12, Acts 8:20, Romans 9:22-23 (hey, Calvinists! it's in your favorite chapter!), Philippians 1:28, Philippians 3:19, 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 1 Timothy 6:9, Hebrews 10:39, 2 Peter 2:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:3.

Verses talking about the punishment being "death":

Romans 1:32, Romans 6:21, Romans 7:5, Romans 8:6, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 and 56, 2 Corinthians 2:16, 2 Corinthians 7:10, James 1:15, James 5:20, 1 John 5:16, Revelation 2:11, Revelation 20:6 and 14, Revelation 21:8.

Verses talking about the punishment being the "end":

Romans 6:21-22, 2 Corinthians 11:15, Philippians 3:19, 1 Peter 4:1.

Verses talking about the punishment being "disintegration/corruption":

Galatians 6:8, 2 Peter 1:4, 2 Peter 2:12.

This barely scratches the surface; for instance, we've not even hit on the Old Testament passages! But I hope these are enough to at least help you rethink your understanding of what Scripture says about the nature of final punishment.

The Goals of God's Judgment

The way Scripture talks about creation after the Judgment leaves me with only two options: Annihilationism or Universalism. Why? Well, let's look at what Scripture says:

1 Corinthians 15:24-28

Here, we see a future in which all of creation is under the rule of Christ, Who gives His Kingdom to the Father. It explicitly states that "the last enemy to be destroyed is death". Even death itself will be no more, after all of the wicked are destroyed.

Colossians 1:19-20

We see God reconciling ALL things to Himself through Christ. This paints a picture, along with 1 Corinthians 15, of there being a time where there is no more death or rebellion against God. Now, in the traditional understanding, is there still rebellion? Of course there is. Those in hell would be still rebelling against God, would they not?

Isaiah 66:22-24

Here, we see a depiction of the result of the final judgment, after a poetic passage proclaiming that "From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before Me, says the LORD." All flesh shall worship the Lord, and the dead bodies of the wicked will be eaten by worms and burned in unquenchable fire. Notice that the people, the wicked, are dead. This isn't talking about torment, but rather their dead bodies; their carcasses. The worm "dies not" until it has completely eaten the flesh, and the fire is "unquenched", meaning it will utterly destroy what remains, without interruption.


"But," some of you might say, "what about the Rich Man and Lazarus? What about Revelation 20:10?"

The parable (or true account, if you wish: it doesn't change this question either way) of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 12:19-31) is not about hell. Specifically, it's about the intermediate state, known as hades. Whether this depiction is to be taken as a factual account or a metaphor, the point is that this is depicting what happens before the Judgment. This is evidenced by the fact that the Rich Man asks Abraham to let Lazarus witness to his brothers, who are still alive.

As for Revelation 20:10, the Book of Revelation itself is a very confusing read. First, let me ask this: do you believe that there will be (or there was) a literal seven-headed, ten-horned beast with a vampiric prostitute riding its back?

I'm guessing not.

The thing about Revelation is that it gives a LOT of imagery that John sees, and writes down. Sometimes the imagery is interpreted by an Angel or revealed in the book itself. For the imagery of eternal torment in Revelation 20:10, there is an interpretation of it given. In verse 14, we see an interpretation of the "Lake of Fire":

"Then Death and Hades were thrown into the Lake of Fire. This is the Second Death, the Lake of fire;"

As well, the imagery of the Beast being thrown into the Lake of Fire is, in part, taken from similar imagery in the Book of Daniel. In Daniel 7, we see the Fourth Beast being thrown into fire is interpreted by the angel in verse 26 as the destruction of the kingdom it represents. Christian exegetes largely consider this to be the same beast as in Revelation, the one thrown into the Lake of Fire. If these images both depict the same event, it seems to be undeniable that the imagery in Revelation 20 is meant to be interpreted as death and destruction. And remember, that's what Revelation 20:14 seems to state, as well!

Apocalyptic imagery is almost always weird. We need to take the Biblical interpretation of the imagery at face-value, not the imagery itself. So don't take the imagery in which torment is depicted as more literal than the angelic interpretation in Daniel 7:26 and the explanation in Revelation 20:14.


Are there other objections? Probably, though, none that I can think of right now. At least, none that are Biblical. If you think of any, comment below and let me know. I'll try to answer them. My next article in this particular series will talk about the Early Church and what they thought on the subject. You may be surprised with that one, as well!

Check out Rethinking Hell, a great website of conservative Christians from various denominations who defend this concept of hell. As well, they have a podcast and YouTube channel. They're a really great source on this subject. Enjoy! 

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Oh! And I also run a podcast with my atheist friend, Xrys! It's called The Religious Nut and Hellbound Sinner Podcast, and we have a fun time discussing all sorts of topics: religion, politics, science, philosophy, movies, etc. Check out our Facebook page on that, as well! 

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