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Are you grappling with the concept of hell and eternal punishment as described in the Bible? This article thoroughly investigates the Biblical evidence for Annihilationism, providing a scholarly yet accessible examination of key Scriptures like Matthew 25:46 and Ezekiel 18:4. Discover what the Bible actually teaches about the eternal fate of the wicked.
We begin with a view by J.P. Moreland on Annihilationism, which I disagree with based on Scripture. I will reply to his view, followed by my dealing with the subject of Annihilationism thereafter in much greater detail.
The J. P. Moreland View on Annihilationism
Does the Bible teach that the unsaved will suffer in hell for only a time and then be annihilated? Some argue from Scripture that the flames in hell are literal and point out that flames destroy whatever they burn. Further, they claim that infinitely long punishment is disproportionate to a finite life of sin. Thus extinction is morally preferable to everlasting punishment.
The scriptural argument is weak. Clear texts whose explicit intent is to teach the extent of the afterlife overtly compare the everlasting conscious life of the saved and the unsaved (Dn 12:2; Mt 25:41, 46). Moreover, the flames in hell are most likely figures of speech for judgment (cp. Heb 12:29; 2 Th 1:8). Otherwise, contradictions about hell are apparent (for example, it is dark despite being filled with flames).
The moral argument fails as well. For one thing, the severity of a crime is not a function of the time it takes to commit it. Thus rejection of the mercy of an infinite God could appropriately warrant an unending, conscious separation from God. Further, everlasting hell is morally superior to annihilation. That becomes evident from the following consideration.
Regarding the end of life, sanctity-of-life advocates reject active euthanasia (the intentional killing of a patient), while quality-of-life advocates embrace it. In the sanctity-of-life view, one gets one’s value, not from the quality of one’s life, but from the sheer fact that one exists in God’s image. The quality-of-life advocates see the value of human life in its quality; life is not inherently valuable. Thus the sanctity-of-life position has a higher, not a lower, moral regard for the dignity of human life.
The traditional and annihilationist views about hell are expressions, respectively, of sanctity-of-life and quality-of-life ethical standpoints. After all, the grounds that God would have for annihilating someone would be the low quality of life in hell. If a person will not receive salvation, and if God will not extinguish one made in His image because He values life, then God’s alternative is quarantine, and hell is certainly that. Thus, the traditional view, being a sanctity-of-life and not a quality-of-life position, is morally superior to annihilationism. – J. P. Moreland, “Does the Bible Teach Annihilationism?,” in The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Ted Cabal et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 1292.
Response to J.P. Moreland
The argument presented by J.P. Moreland draws on both scriptural and moral lines of reasoning to argue against annihilationism and in favor of the traditional view of eternal torment. Let’s consider these arguments within the framework of a literal interpretation of Scripture and the objective Historical-Grammatical method of interpretation.
Moreland points to Daniel 12:2 and Matthew 25:41, 46 to suggest that the Bible teaches eternal conscious torment for the unsaved. While these verses do use the term “everlasting,” it’s crucial to understand what is meant by that. The concept of “everlasting” (Greek: “aionios”) can also be interpreted to mean “age-lasting” or having to do with the age to come, not necessarily eternal in the way we understand the term. The same word is used for the “eternal destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9. This is not eternal conscious torment but destruction that has lasting impact. I have much more on these verses below.
Regarding the flames in hell, Moreland suggests that these are figures of speech for judgment. However, if we maintain a literal interpretation of Scripture, then the fire being “unquenchable” (Mark 9:43) suggests not that it will torment forever but that it will accomplish its intended purpose: complete destruction.
Moreland argues that the severity of the crime is not dependent on the time it takes to commit it and that rejection of an infinite God warrants infinite punishment. While it’s true that rejecting an infinite God is a grave matter, it’s also worth noting that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), not eternal conscious torment. Death implies a cessation of life, aligned more closely with annihilationism than with eternal torment.
Moreland further argues that the traditional view of hell reflects a sanctity-of-life ethic, while annihilationism is more in line with a quality-of-life ethic. However, this overlooks the fact that an eternal conscious torment would perpetually defile the image of God in a person, as opposed to annihilation, which would respect the inherent dignity and purpose of human life by putting an end to what has been corrupted.
It’s important to recognize that Scripture provides various descriptions of the fate of the wicked, from “destruction” (Philippians 3:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:9) to “death” (Romans 6:23) and being “consumed” (Hebrews 10:27). These terms seem more consistent with the notion of annihilation than eternal torment.
In summary, while Moreland presents a thought-provoking case against annihilationism, a closer examination of Scripture within the framework of literal interpretation and historical-grammatical exegesis suggests that the argument for annihilationism remains strong, both scripturally and morally.
The Edward D. Andrews View on Annihilationism
The doctrine of hell has been a subject of debate among Christians for centuries. A commonly held view posits that hell is a place of eternal torment, where wicked souls are sentenced to an unending existence of agony. However, a close examination of Scripture reveals a different picture, one that aligns more closely with the concept of “annihilationism.” In this view, the wicked are not tormented eternally but rather are completely destroyed—annihilated—so as to not exist anymore. This article aims to explore this idea and demonstrate how it is supported by a careful reading of Scripture. Contrary to the popular understanding of hell as a place of eternal torment, the Bible, when examined closely, actually supports the doctrine of Annihilationism.
What Does “Death” Mean in Scripture?
When God told Adam that eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would result in death, He stated, “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17, ESV). The word used here is “die,” not “suffer eternally.” Ezekiel echoes this sentiment, declaring, “the soul who sins shall die” (Eze 18:4, ESV). Moreover, Paul notes, “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23, ESV). The recurrent theme here is death—not eternal torment.
The Nature of Hell in Scripture
When most people think of hell, they often envisage a fiery place where wicked souls are tormented eternally. However, to establish a doctrine firmly, it must stand on the bedrock of Scripture rather than tradition or popular thought.
Hellfire: A Misconception
Many hold the belief that wicked people will be eternally tormented in hellfire. Yet, nowhere in Genesis 2:16-17 or Genesis 3:19, where sin and its penalty are initially discussed, is hellfire mentioned. Adam is told that he will return to dust, aligning more with annihilation than eternal suffering. One may argue that if the punishment were eternal torment, it would only be just for God to warn Adam and Eve explicitly about such a fate.
Understanding Hades and Sheol
In the New Testament, the term “Hades” is often used to describe the place of the dead. Hades is a place where both the righteous and the unrighteous dead are “conscious of nothing, awaiting a resurrection” (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15). The Old Testament term “Sheol” corresponds to Hades, also describing a place where the dead await resurrection (Gen. 37:35; Psa. 16:10; Ac 2:31). In neither Hades nor Sheol is there a concept of eternal torment or agony. Again, there is no mention of torment or eternal suffering in this state (Matt. 11:23; Acts 2:27).
Gehenna: Symbol of Eternal Destruction
Gehenna, or the Valley of Hinnom, is often associated with eternal punishment. However, a historical and scriptural analysis reveals that Gehenna was actually a place where waste and dead bodies were destroyed. Jesus and His disciples used Gehenna symbolically to signify eternal destruction, annihilation, or what Revelation refers to as the “second death” (Rev 20:14, ESV). Again, Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom, was an incinerator for waste and dead bodies. The complete destruction that took place here became symbolic of annihilation or the “second death” (Jeremiah 7:31, 19:6). Jesus used Gehenna to depict eternal destruction, not everlasting torment (Matthew 10:28).
Tartarus: Not a Place, but a Condition
Many misunderstand Tartarus to be a place of torment due to the conflation of terms like Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus in some translations. Tartarus, however, is more accurately described as a condition, one to which certain fallen angels are subjected. They are in a weakened state, having lost their ability to materialize as humans. Tartarus signifies restraint and limitation, not eternal torment. Again, Tartarus refers to the condition of angelic beings who were restrained due to their rebellion, not a place of torment for human souls (2 Peter 2:4). The confinement of these beings serves as an example of severe judgment, but it does not involve eternal torment.
The Wages of Sin is Death
Scripture is unequivocal in stating that the penalty for sin is death. Adam was warned, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17, ESV). Ezekiel 18:4 states, “The soul who sins shall die.” Paul confirms, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23, ESV). At no point do these verses suggest eternal torment; rather, they all point towards cessation of life—annihilation.
Man as a Soul
A significant point that further supports annihilationism is the biblical understanding that humans are souls, not that they have souls. “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7, ESV). Since humans are souls (Ezekiel 18:4), the concept of a soul suffering eternal torment becomes not just biblically inconsistent but also logically impossible.
Lessons from Sodom and Gomorrah
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah serves as a poignant example of God’s punishment for wickedness. These cities were utterly destroyed by “a rain of fire and sulfur” (Gen 19:24, ESV). Their destruction serves as a symbol of complete annihilation (De 29:22, 23; Isa 1:9; 13:19; Jer 49:18).
Eternal Destruction, Not Eternal Torment
Paul provides a compelling summary in his second letter to the Thessalonians: “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thess 1:9, ESV). The term “eternal destruction” aligns with the concept of annihilationism, where the wicked face permanent destruction rather than eternal torment.
The Case of Sodom and Gomorrah
The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah serves as a vivid illustration of the concept of annihilation. The complete destruction by fire and sulfur symbolizes complete annihilation (Genesis 19:24, 28). These cities are described as suffering the punishment of “eternal fire” in Jude 7, which signifies eternal destruction or annihilation rather than ongoing torment.
For those who find it hard to let go of the idea that wicked people should be tormented eternally, it is worth remembering that God is both just and merciful. The punishment of annihilation does not negate God’s justice. Wicked individuals do face punishment, but it is eternal destruction, not eternal torment (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Therefore, the idea of eternal torment can be more accurately viewed as a human addition rather than a biblical principle.
Matthew 25:41 and 25:46 (Eternal Punishment)
This passage is often cited to defend eternal torment: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels'” (Matthew 25:41, ESV). Also, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46, ESV).
The term “eternal” refers to the consequence of the punishment, not the duration of torment. The focus is on the irreversible nature of the judgment. The “eternal fire” is intended for “the devil and his angels,” and it results in eternal destruction, not eternal torment.
The Greek term used for “punishment” in this verse is “κόλασις” (kolasis), which is indeed often associated with the concept of cutting off, or pruning. The word doesn’t necessarily imply torment or torture but rather indicates a penalty or punitive action.
The idea of “eternal” (aionios) punishment here is juxtaposed with “eternal” (aionios) life, emphasizing the lasting outcomes of the judgment for both the righteous and the unrighteous. When considering the nature of “κόλασις,” the passage is best understood to mean an “eternal cutting off” from life, rather than an eternal, conscious torment. This fits well with the biblical teaching that the soul who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:4, ESV).
Furthermore, if the focus of “κόλασις” is more on the act of cutting off or pruning, then the “eternal” nature of this punishment would signify an irreversible separation from God, which leads to the soul’s eternal destruction. This aligns with the broader biblical themes regarding the wages of sin being death (Romans 6:23, ESV), not eternal torment.
Therefore, Matthew 25:46 can be interpreted to support the concept of annihilationism, where the punishment is everlasting in its effect (eternal destruction or “cutting off” from life), rather than in its process (eternal torment).
By viewing this passage through the lens of the objective Historical-Grammatical method, one can reconcile the notion of “eternal punishment” with the idea that the soul itself can die. In this view, “eternal punishment” refers to the irrevocable and complete nature of the judgment, not to ongoing, eternal torment. It’s a punishment from which there is no return, a complete and eternal “cutting off” from the presence and life of God.
Adding the historical context related to Matthew’s background and the intended audience for his Gospel would provide another layer of depth to our argument. Understanding that Matthew originally wrote his Gospel in Hebrew around 45 C.E., targeted for a Jewish audience, can offer significant insight into the semantics and intended meaning of certain passages, including Matthew 25:46. Note that he shortly thereafter wrote his gospel in Greek about 45-50 C.E.
The concept of being “cut off” carries a heavy weight in the Jewish context, especially as seen in the legal codes found in the Torah. When a person was said to be “cut off” from the people in the Israelite community (see Exodus 31:14; Numbers 15:30-31), it was usually a penalty for certain grievous sins. In some instances, this meant excommunication or exclusion from community rites, and in other cases, it literally meant the death penalty. To a Jewish audience, the concept of being “cut off” resonates deeply with the notion of severe judgment and the ultimate, irreversible penalty: death or destruction.
Now, when Matthew writes about “eternal punishment” or “eternal cutting off” (Matthew 25:46), his Jewish audience would likely understand this within their cultural and scriptural context. To them, the phrase would conjure images not of eternal torment but of an irrevocable, devastating penalty—akin to the strongest form of being “cut off,” which is death.
Furthermore, the Jewish understanding of Sheol did not traditionally include the concept of eternal conscious torment. Sheol was seen as the place of the dead, not a place of ongoing, conscious punishment. This fits well with the broader theme of “the wages of sin being death” (Romans 6:23, ESV), a phrase also rooted in Old Testament thinking (Ezekiel 18:4, ESV).
Therefore, adding this layer of historical context related to Matthew’s background and his intended audience can indeed strengthen the argument for annihilationism from this passage. It allows for an interpretation that is consistent not only with the language and structure of the New Testament but also with the Old Testament concepts and cultural understanding that Matthew’s initial audience would have held.
In sum, the concept of eternal punishment, as described by Matthew, can be more appropriately understood as an irrevocable, complete, and eternal “cutting off” from life and God’s presence. This aligns with both Old and New Testament teachings and the original intent and understanding of the Gospel writer and his audience.
Revelation 20:10 (Tormented Day and Night)
“And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10, ESV).
Note that this passage is speaking specifically about the devil, the beast, and the false prophet, not human beings. Moreover, Revelation is a highly symbolic book, and its imagery should not always be taken literally. The symbol of eternal fire serves as a representation of eternal destruction.
A question that often comes up in this context is: What about the verse in Revelation 20:10 that says the Devil will be “tormented day and night forever and ever” in the lake of fire? The key here is to remember that if the lake of fire itself is symbolic, then the torment would logically be symbolic as well.
In historical context, the term “torment” often related to jailers or tormentors who would mistreat prisoners. For instance, in Matthew 18:34, Jesus tells a parable about a harsh slave being handed over to the “jailers” to be tormented. The Greek word used here is “ba·sa·ni·stes,” which is accurately translated as “tormentors” in many Bible versions. The story helps us to understand that being “tormented” is akin to being imprisoned in a state from which there is no escape.
When Revelation talks about the Devil and others being tormented “forever” in the lake of fire, it’s not speaking of eternal torment but of eternal imprisonment in a state of “second death” or complete destruction. In other words, they are “jailed” eternally in a state from which there is no possibility of return. This fits well with other passages like Hebrews 2:14, which talks about Jesus destroying the Devil; 1 Corinthians 15:26, which states that the last enemy to be destroyed is death; and Psalm 37:38, which speaks of the future of the wicked being cut off.
So, while the term “tormented” is used, it is in the context of a symbolic representation of irreversible destruction, not perpetual conscious suffering. This aligns well with the biblical teaching that humans are souls subject to death (Ezekiel 18:4; Genesis 2:7), and that eternal separation from God is described as destruction, not endless torment (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Therefore, a literal, grammatically-historical interpretation leads us to conclude that the wicked face eternal destruction, not eternal torment.
First, it’s crucial to note that this passage speaks specifically about the devil, the beast, and the false prophet, not about human beings. This alone makes its application to human destiny a bit more nuanced.
Secondly, the Book of Revelation is filled with symbolic and apocalyptic language, making it risky to interpret its descriptions in a strictly literal sense. The imagery of “fire and sulfur” and “torment day and night forever and ever” are symbolic representations designed to convey the irreversible and complete nature of divine judgment.
Thirdly, the purpose of these symbols in Revelation is often to convey the idea of finality and totality. The lake of fire signifies complete destruction, and its eternal aspect emphasizes the irreversible nature of that destruction. Therefore, when the passage says, “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever,” it doesn’t necessarily mean eternal conscious torment. The focus is likely on the permanent and irrevocable nature of their destruction.
Fourthly, considering the broader biblical teaching that we are souls and that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, ESV), the idea of eternal conscious torment contradicts the fundamental nature of what a soul is, according to Scripture. Souls can die; they aren’t inherently immortal. Immortalization is a gift of God granted to those who are saved, not an inherent quality of every human soul.
In sum, a careful consideration of Revelation 20:10 within its literary and theological context suggests that it is not a clear affirmation of eternal torment for human beings. Instead, the passage uses apocalyptic symbolism to underscore the irreversible and final nature of divine judgment, which aligns more closely with the concept of eternal destruction or annihilationism.
Revelation 14:9-11 (Tormented with Fire And Sulfur)
“… He also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image…” (Revelation 14:9-11, ESV).
As with other apocalyptic literature, the imagery is symbolic. The smoke going up “forever and ever” signifies a judgment that is final and irreversible, not one that continues for all eternity. The terms “eternal torment” and “fire and brimstone” in Revelation 14:9-11 and Revelation 20:10 have often been interpreted as describing endless, conscious suffering. However, a closer, historically grounded examination reveals that these phrases can be understood differently.
Firstly, the “torment” described in these texts must be read within the broader framework of Scripture. In Revelation 11:10, the torment inflicted by the prophets is the consequence of their messages, which expose and condemn the actions of those who oppose God. In Revelation 14:9-11, the torment with “fire and brimstone” cannot refer to eternal conscious suffering after death, because, as Ecclesiastes 9:5 tells us, “the dead know not any thing.”
So, what is causing this torment? It is the humiliating exposure and inevitable destruction pronounced by the servants of God against the worshipers of the “beast and his image.” The torment is a finite, spiritual suffering brought on by the realization of impending divine judgment and eternal destruction, represented by “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.”
Moreover, the “smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever” emphasizes not the perpetuation of the act of torment but rather the finality and eternal consequence of their judgment. The “smoke” serves as an everlasting marker or remembrance of the destruction that has taken place; it doesn’t imply that the torment itself is endless.
In summary, the torment described in Revelation is not indicative of eternal, conscious suffering in hell. Rather, it signifies a finite period of spiritual agony, triggered by the realization of impending judgment that culminates in eternal destruction or “second death.” The enduring “smoke” symbolizes the eternal consequence and irrevocable nature of this judgment, not an everlasting experience of torment.
Revelation 20:14-15 (The Lake of Fire)
Revelation chapter 20, verse 15 (King James Version), says: “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” But verse 14 says: “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.”
The verses from Revelation 20:14-15 do raise questions that demand thoughtful scrutiny for anyone concerned about what Scripture teaches on the topic of eternal punishment or annihilation. Let’s take a closer look at these passages:
“Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:14-15, ESV)
In dealing with this text, it’s crucial to start with the immediate context. This “lake of fire” is identified as “the second death,” and as the passage suggests, both “Death and Hades” are thrown into it. The idea that “Death and Hades” — entities or conditions, not individuals with moral culpability — are thrown into this “lake of fire” already suggests we are in the realm of the symbolic.
The phrase “second death” needs unpacking. It is clear that this doesn’t merely reiterate physical death; rather, it speaks to a complete, eternal separation from God, a full destruction or annihilation of the wicked. This aligns well with 2 Thessalonians 1:9, which speaks of “eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord.”
Intriguingly, Hades is thrown into the lake of fire. The word “Hades” in the New Testament corresponds to “Sheol” in the Hebrew Scriptures. Both terms essentially point to the realm of the dead, a condition of unconsciousness, not a place of torment (Acts 2:27; Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10). So, when Hades is thrown into the “lake of fire,” it is symbolically communicating the end or annihilation of death itself, an idea echoed in 1 Corinthians 15:26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
That “Death and Hades” can be thrown into the lake of fire (which is called the second death) without implying that they are tormented forever, but rather are annihilated, also sheds light on the fate of humans who are thrown into this lake of fire. The emphasis is on their destruction or annihilation, not on their eternal conscious torment. This aligns perfectly with the core Scriptural teaching that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, ESV), not be tormented endlessly. After all, humans are souls (Genesis 2:7), not immaterial entities that can be tormented forever.
Finally, regarding Revelation 21:8, it too confirms that the “lake of fire” signifies the “second death,” which as per our analysis, points to eternal destruction, not endless suffering.
Therefore, a consistent, literal, and grammatically-historical reading of these Scriptures, coupled with the understanding that we are souls, leads to the conclusion that eternal destruction or annihilation, rather than eternal conscious torment, is the fate of the wicked.
Luke 16:19-31 (The Rich Man and Lazarus)
“In Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side” (Luke 16:23, ESV).
This passage is a parable and not a doctrinal treatise on the nature of the afterlife. Furthermore, even within the parable, the torment experienced is in Hades, not Gehenna. This is a state before the final judgment and thus doesn’t affirm the idea of eternal torment.
The passage of Luke 16:19-31, commonly known as the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, has frequently been cited to support the concept of eternal torment in hell. However, an examination within the broader Scriptural context suggests a different interpretation, one that is aligned with the understanding that Hell represents eternal destruction, not eternal torment.
Firstly, it is crucial to acknowledge that Jesus often spoke in parables, using earthly stories to convey heavenly truths. In this case, the narrative is not a historical account but a parable aimed to teach a spiritual lesson. This is confirmed by some scholarly footnotes, like those in the Catholic Jerusalem Bible, which point out that this is a “parable in story form without reference to any historical personage.”
Secondly, the characters and situations in the parable represent more significant realities. The rich man symbolizes the religious leaders of the time, who, although privileged with spiritual insights, failed to provide spiritual nourishment to the people. On the other hand, Lazarus represents the downtrodden and neglected commoners, who are spiritually starved and marginalized by the religious leaders.
Their ‘deaths’ are metaphorical, symbolizing a change in their spiritual conditions. For Lazarus, this change is positive: he is “carried off by the angels to the bosom position of Abraham,” representing the spiritual nourishment and recognition he gains as a result of Christ’s teachings. In contrast, the rich man’s ‘death’ signifies a loss of divine favor and the torment he experiences emanates from the sting of Christ’s teachings, which expose his failure to fulfill his spiritual responsibilities.
The “torment” experienced by the rich man is not physical but a form of spiritual agony rooted in the realization of lost opportunities and divine disfavor. His appeal to Abraham and request for Lazarus to relieve him underscore his state of despair and the irreversible nature of his spiritual condition.
Therefore, the story is not affirming a doctrine of eternal torment in a fiery hell. Instead, it is describing a radical shift in spiritual conditions instigated by the teachings of Christ. Those who were neglectful of their spiritual duties, represented by the rich man, find themselves in a state of spiritual ‘torment,’ while those who were humble and receptive to divine truth, represented by Lazarus, find spiritual ‘rest’ in the bosom of Abraham, or the favor of Jehovah God.
Mark 9:43 (Unquenchable Fire)
“… it is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43, ESV).
The term “unquenchable” refers to a fire that cannot be put out prematurely, not a fire that torments endlessly. It ensures complete destruction. The fire consumes utterly; it doesn’t torment forever. Mark 9:43 uses the term “unquenchable fire” as a dire warning against spiritual neglect and sin. However, it’s crucial to understand that the term “unquenchable” does not indicate a fire that torments endlessly. Rather, it signifies a fire that cannot be extinguished before accomplishing its purpose: complete destruction. The fire in this context serves to consume utterly, not to torment perpetually.
To gain a fuller understanding of the concept, it’s beneficial to differentiate between different terms used for the afterlife in the Bible. Jesus used the term “Gehenna” in Mark 9:43-48, not “Hades” (the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew “Sheol”). Gehenna was an actual valley near Jerusalem used as a trash dump where fires were kept burning to consume waste. The term evoked the idea of total destruction or annihilation rather than eternal suffering. This aligns with the notion of Hell as a place of eternal destruction rather than eternal torment, consistent with other Scripture passages like Revelation 21:8.
The Book of Revelation adds another layer of understanding to the concept of Hell. It talks about a “lake that burns with fire and sulphur” where the wicked are thrown (Revelation 21:8). Interestingly, Revelation also mentions that death and Hades will be thrown into this lake of fire (Revelation 20:13-14). Since death and Hades are abstract concepts, they cannot experience suffering. Rather, their inclusion in the lake of fire symbolizes their ultimate destruction or annihilation.
Therefore, the concept of “unquenchable fire” or “lake of fire” in the Scriptures should be understood as a metaphor for eternal destruction or annihilation, not endless torment. This interpretation adheres to a literal, historical-grammatical method of understanding the Scriptures and aligns with the broader biblical teaching that Hell is a place of eternal destruction, not eternal suffering.
2 Thessalonians 1:9 (Eternal Destruction)
“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9, ESV).
Here, the text itself supports annihilationism. The punishment is described as “eternal destruction,” not eternal torment. Being “away from the presence of the Lord” signifies total annihilation, not perpetual suffering.
The objective Historical-Grammatical method of interpretation allows us to conclude that the Biblical concept of hell aligns more closely with annihilationism than with eternal torment. When we respect the literal translation philosophy and carefully examine the original language words like Hades, Sheol, Gehenna, and Tartarus, we find that the idea of eternal torment is not supported. Instead, Scripture consistently teaches that the ultimate punishment for the wicked is eternal destruction—annihilation. Therefore, for those committed to a straightforward reading of the Bible, annihilationism offers a more accurate and consistent understanding of God’s justice and the fate that awaits the unrighteous.
The doctrine of Annihilationism is deeply rooted in the exegesis of biblical texts, ranging from the Old to the New Testament. It aligns with the biblical understanding of the wages of sin being death, not eternal torment. It also concurs with the biblical anthropology that we are souls, not beings with souls. Therefore, while the eternal punishment for the wicked is real and terrible, it is a punishment of eternal destruction or annihilation rather than never-ending torment. This view not only aligns closely with the scriptural data but also upholds the character of God as both just and loving.