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.
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.