An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Monday, 30 April 2007

Annihilationism

Johnny-Dee (aka John DePoe) of Fides Quarens Intellectum has recently posted a piece on annihilationism. He maintains that annihilation is a somewhat unorthodox theologica[l] position on the nature of hell; it doesn't have any positive support in Scripture.

I want to speak up for annihilationism – it can’t be lightly dismissed. It may be 'somewhat unorthodox' but it is certainly not unorthodox, many evangelical scholars hold to this position; these include: John Stott, E W Fudge, John Wenham, Michael Green and Philip Edcumbe Hughes.

A range of options
There are a number of different views that are covered by annihilationism. The first two hold to some form of conditional immortality. 1. Only those in Christ are resurrected, the rest die and that’s it; this is the view held by Jehovah’s Witnesses. 2. Both those in Christ and the rest are resurrected, the rest are judged and then annihilated – this position also allows for the possibility of punishment after judgement and before annihilation; this is in essence the view of the Seventh Day adventists. 3. All are created immortal, after the resurrection the unbelievers are punished and then annihilated.

Conditional immortality
One motivation for adopting annihilationism is that it avoids a Greek view of the immortality of the soul. The concept of conditional immortality fits perfectly with annihilationism (positions 1 and 2 above). (Though not all annihilationists (position 3) are conditionalists, eg John Stott.)

God alone is eternal (1 Tim 6:16), immortality is a gift of God through the work of Jesus (2 Tim 1:10). The scriptures never speak of the immortality of the soul. The immortality of the soul is predominately a platonic idea.

Eternal punishment not eternal punishing
As Wenham puts it: 'It is an everlasting punishment, but not an everlasting punishment’ (Goodness of God p 36). It is the fires and its effects that are eternal rather than the punishment the unbeliever receives.

Death and suffering will be no more
The idea that there will be some who have everlasting punishing stands in contradiction to the idea that death and suffering have been swallowed up (Rev 21:4). Eternal punishing means that suffering will always exist. How can all things be headed up in Christ if there are still those who are in conscious torment in God’s creation?

FT imagery of the fate of the wicked
The imagery used in the First (Old/ older) Testament suggests an extinction rather than a continued suffering. Images include:
  • vessel broken to pieces
  • ashes trodden underfoot
  • smoke that vanishes
  • chaff carried away by the wind
  • tow that is buried
  • thorns and stubble in the fire
  • branches pruned
  • wax that melts
  • a dream that vanishes

A look at Jn 3: 16 shows a parallel between perish or everlasting life, it suggests those that don’t have everlasting life perish.

The debate must continue.

11 comments:

Johnny-Dee said...

I think you peg me as being too stringent against annihilationism. I certainly am not an annihilationist. But I'm not suggesting that it is utterly implausible or without any biblical support. I intended my more modest conclusion to be that the traditional understanding of hell is more strongly supported by scripture and reason than annihilationism. I am quite open to the possibility that annihilationism is true. So, I hope you don't get the impression that I'm completely unsympathetic to the view.

D Howard said...

If Annihilation were true then eternal life and salvation would just be an option. Annihilation weakens the need for salvation, it's like a softer Hell. Some may prefer annihilation as a form of escape/rest. Sort of a form of denial and an escape out of prison card.
'A dream that vanishes', would make a good title/subject for a painting.

Steve Bishop said...

Hi Johhny,

Thanks for that clarification. I'm sorry if I misrepresented you in my post.

Cheers,

Steve

Steve Bishop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Bishop said...

Hi D Howard,

Thanks for your comment. I can't see that annihilation would weaken the need for salvation. Annihilation doesn't mean that there is not some form of judgement. Does anyone really desire annihilation? (I suppose some Buddhists might.) Kvanvig his book The problem of Hell suggests that annihilation is a metaphysical capital punishment and that the standrd view is a metaphysical life imprisonment - this would suggest that annihilation 'assigns a more severe punishment' than the traditional view!

Anyway, 'turn or burn' is not the gospel!

Cheers,

Steve

D Howard said...

What you don't know won't hurt you.
Matthew 25v46 one of the gospels declares - "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal"
Punishment is meted out on a subject, an aware subject.
Turn or burn is exactly one of the tenents of the gospel. What would be the point of salvation otherwise.

Steve Bishop said...

I thought the motivation for spreading the word was the love of God - not the fear of hell? Anyway, Mt 25:46 is a tricky one I admit. Stephen Travis has suggested that it could legitimately be translated as "punishment of the age to come' and 'the life of the age to come'". It may also be that the effects of the punishment are eternal; an eternal punishment rather than an eternal punishing.

I like the paintings on your site, by the way.

Cheers,

Steve

Glenn said...

I was glad to see John Depoe's clarifying comment here. When I first read the blog entry, suggesting that John saw no support for the view I thought - he can't possible be serious!

I for one find the attempts to rebut the biblical case for annihilationism to be strained at best. I did my own small part in attempting to demonstrate that earlier this year in JETS, with a response from Dr Robert Peterson. Decide for yourself whether the attempt had any success (you can see my piece and the response here).

And D Howard - you say "If Annihilation were true then eternal life and salvation would just be an option."

I don't see the problem here. Are you suggesting that it's not just an option?

Glenn said...

steve, you noted, Stephen Travis has suggested that it could legitimately be translated as "punishment of the age to come' and 'the life of the age to come'".

What publication is that, I'd like to check it out.

Glenn said...

My mistake earlier. I got the URL for the article wrong. It's actually at http://www.beretta-online.com/articles/theology/articles_theology.html

Steve Bishop said...

Hi Glenn,

Thnaks for the link - I'll check it out.

The Travis quote is from I Believe in the Second Coming of Jesus (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988).