A Question I Was Asked:

...I Am Confused: Annihilation or Eternal Punishment in Hell - Which is the Most Biblical?”

My Reply:

During the last few years more and more evangelicals have been coming out in support of Annihilationism (the belief that people will not remain in Hell forever but will simply be destroyed, or, annihilated). I am not going to go into the relevant Scriptures in depth here because that has been done by others on numerous occasions. I will simply state that certain Scriptures could be taken to show that the wicked will be simply destroyed rather than allowed to continue in hell forever.

Bearing in mind that the Holy Bible tells us almost nothing about Hell (Gehenna - 'hell' -only occurs 11 times in the Bible, whereas the Hebrew and Greek words for 'heaven' occur 568 times!! Certain other words are also erroneously translated as 'hell' in the KJV), then it appears clear to me that this is an area where we should allow honest differences of opinion among Bible-believing Christians.

Now it is true that punishment is warned about quite a lot but hell is truly only very rarely mentioned. What is clear is that hell represents eternal separation from God and we must all warn people about this very real possibility.

Okay, having established that it seems clear to me that this is an area where we must allow differences of opinion since the Holy Scriptures truthfully tell us far less that we need to form a consistent doctrinal position, I will simply state my own view and feelings on this matter.

I feel that Annihilationism does not appear to be wholly biblical despite its proposal by some very sincere people whom I greatly respect. I think 'Eternal Punishment' has more biblical substance to it. But I also feel that Eternal Punishment itself (as traditionally presented) is not free from error - so often it has been presented in a manner in which it is believed that a huge majority of the human race are already doomed to go to Hell almost no matter what they do (something the Bible certainly never states) – this, of course, would turn God into a monster and is plainly the teaching of Fatalism.

One of my problems with 'conditional immortality' or, Annihilationism is that the Bible seems to show that the dead are currently either in heaven or in a place of restraint awaiting judgment, and their doctrine does not seem to allow this.

The Book of Revelation mentions the dead in heaven as 'souls' (Revelation 6:9-11; 18:13; 20:4). This is from the Greek 'psuche', meaning 'breath' or 'spirit' – it refers to the essential ingredient of life which survives death (as well as being present in the living, of course); but whereas we all tend to use the word, 'soul' (and I include myself), it is probably an unfortunate word since the doctrine of the Immortal Soul came from the Greeks. We probably should refer to this as our 'spirit essence' which is that essential ingredient the Lord has given to us whereby we have intellect with a true capacity to learn of the spiritual. I love my cat but he cannot ever learn of the spiritual. If we consider that Hebrew word, 'nephesh' , animals too have souls (apparently inseparable from their physical existences) but they do not have that vital spirit essence by which they may learn of God, or plan their futures, compose great symphonies or paint great works of art (of course the human spirit essence granted to every one of us by God must not be confused with the Gift of the Holy Spirit granted to true believers. The Holy Spirit, however, would surely not be able to work with us without the presence of our vital spirit essence which He can affect and influence). We are made, after all, in the image of God and our human souls (or, spirit essences) are what make us vastly superior to animals.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 plainly tells us that this 'spirit' within us returns to God when we die, so it survives death; only our flesh 'sleeps' and, of course, corrupts.

The New Testament appears to be quite clear that our spirit essences survive death with an ongoing (but bodiless) consciousness: Luke 16:19-23; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8; Philippians 1:20-24; Revelation 6:9-11.

The point I am making here is that those who support soul sleep, conditional immortality and annihilationism do not appear to take sufficient account of this area of biblical teaching. However, I certainly believe that they have a right to hold their view since this is undoubtedly an area where the Scriptures tell us comparatively little.

Whether the fate of those who reject God is eternal punishment or eternal destruction (Scriptures can be found which appear to support either position), we need to ensure that we firmly take hold of the glorious grace of Christ!

Robin A. Brace, 2005.


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