Is Hell Forever?
by Millard J. Erickson
[Millard J. Erickson is Research Professor of Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.]
[This is the third and final article in the series, “The Destiny of the Unevangelized,” delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 8–11, 1994.]
The view known as annihilationism holds that at some point human beings cease to exist. Annihilationism takes one of three forms.1
1. Pure mortalism is the idea that human life is inseparably bound up with the human organism. Thus with the death and dissolution of that organism, the person also passes out of existence. This understanding that annihilation applies to all persons is not commonly found within Christian theologies.
2. Conditional immortality, a view considerably more common within Christian circles, agrees with the preceding view in that humans are naturally mortal, but this second view disagrees with the first view by saying that humans can, under certain circumstances, become immortal, or as Paul put it, “put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:53–54). The essential point, however, is that human beings are not naturally immortal but must have immortality conferred by God.
3. Annihilationism proper says humans are naturally immortal, not mortal. Thus the soul, or more correctly, the person, does not pass out of existence simply because of death; he or she ceases to exist because of God’s action. This action occurs either at death, at the general judgment, or at the end of a period of punishment based on each individual’s guilt.
Warfield pointed out that these three views do not always appear in pure or unmixed form. Because their advocates are not
always careful to keep strictly within the logical limits of one of the three theories, mixed versions of the views are often held.
The overall concept of annihilation has recently received renewed interest, exposition, and defense from somewhat surprising sources. In the past decade a number of rather prominent evangelical theologians and leaders have affirmed they are annihilationists. Among these are Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Clark Pinnock, John R. W. Stott, Stephen Travis, and John Wenham. At the Consultation on Evangelical Affirmations, held at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in May 1989, debate broke out on this topic and it proved impossible to formulate an article that would articulate the overall views of those present.2
Arguments Advanced in Favor of Annihilationism
A number of arguments are given by those who currently represent this position.
The Issue of Mortality versus Immortality
One argument, which is both theologically and biblically broad, is to reject the idea that humans are somehow inherently immortal, thus moving the discussion toward the position of conditional immortality. The reason for concern about this, Edward Fudge argues, is that if the natural immortality of the soul is accepted, then the options are reduced to an unacceptable few.3 He quotes Pusey, who wrote, “If man is admitted to be immortal, and punishment is not endless, there is no other conclusion but that he should be restored.”4 For those who reject this conclusion and who find either alternative unacceptable, rejection of natural immortality takes on significance.
Part of the argument against inherent immortality is that this idea of the soul is of Greek philosophical, rather than biblical, origin. It has found its way into Christian theology at a number of points. Some, especially those of the Reformed tradition, maintain that immortality is part of the image of God in man and God’s life-giving by breathing into man the breath of life.5 Critics, however, have claimed increasingly that this doctrine, which has had a rather long and in some periods unchallenged reign in the churches, is not biblical. They say this doctrine is of pagan origin and crept into Christian thinking through Platonic philosophy. When the Bible speaks of immortality, it refers to the future glorified body, rather than the present soul. Thus the basis of confidence in life after death is bodily resurrection, not immortality of the soul.6
While conceding that the early church fathers such as Origen and Augustine believed in the immortality of the soul, Fudge insists that their view differed from that of the Greek philosophers. Their view was not that the soul was inherently immortal. It had come into being at the creative hand of God. Though it survives death, its future existence also depends on God’s will. Others, however, such as Justin Martyr and Tatian, openly opposed the pagan doctrine of immortality.7
Fudge maintains that the traditional biblical arguments that man is immortal must be rejected. Immortality, he says, does not follow from the fact that humans have been created in the image of God. This divine image in mankind obviously does not include God’s omnipotence or omniscience, so why should it include immortality? If it did, it was certainly lost in the Fall, since Genesis 5:3 states that Adam “became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image.”
Another argument used to support human immortality is from Jesus’ statement, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Matt 22:32). Surely, some say, this must argue for the immortality of at least these three patriarchs. However, the context indicates that Jesus’ point was to prove the resurrection, not immortality. The parallel passage in Luke 20:37 makes clear that Jesus was speaking of the resurrection of those who belong to God, not the immortality of every person. Further, expressions in the Bible such as “salvation of the soul” (e.g., 1 Pet 1:9; cf. Mark 8:35) do not argue for a separate immortal soul. These are merely quotations of passages such as Psalms 16:9–11; 49:15 ; and 73:24 , which speak of the psalmist’s hope for abiding fellowship with God, who will not let His own perish. The word “soul,” for both Old and New Testament writers, is here simply referring to the person, not to some entity within him.8
Fudge then develops this view at some length through examining the biblical data from both Testaments. The Hebrew word
נֶפֶשׁ is so rich and varied in its meaning that it is rendered in 45 diff
erent ways by the translators. The same terms are applied to both humans and animals. The conclusion to be drawn from such data is that the human person is an indivisible whole. When death occurs, it is the death of the soul, the whole person, not simply the death of the body, with the soul somehow surviving.9 Similarly the word ψυχή usually denotes the life of a person, not some part of the individual. Sometimes the adjectival form of the word refers to the unspiritual or carnal person in contrast to the spiritual person (1 Cor 2:14–16), or the natural body of this life, contrasted with the spiritual body of the life to come (15:44 ).10
Annihilationism and the Idea of “Destruction”
A second argument used to support the doctrine of annihilation centers around the idea of destruction, together with the concept of its means, namely, the consuming fire. Stott notes that words for “destruction” are often used in relation to the final state of perdition, the most common Greek words being ἀπόλλυμι (“to destroy”) and ἀπόλεια (“destruction”). When the verb is active and transitive it means to kill, as in the case of Herod’s attempt to murder the baby Jesus and the plot of the Jewish leaders to have Him executed (Matt 2:13; 12:14 ). Jesus told His hearers not to be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul (Matt 10:28; cf. James 4:12). If, then, to kill is to deprive the body of life, it would seem that hell is a deprivation of both physical and spiritual life, in other words, an extinction of being.
When the verb ἀπόλλυμι is in the middle voice it means to be destroyed and so to perish, whether physically, as by hunger or snake bite (Luke 15:17; 1 Cor 10:9), or eternally in hell (John 3:16; 10:28 ; 17:12 ; Rom 2:12; 1 Cor 15:18; 2 Pet 3:9). Just as believers are those being saved, so unbelievers are οἵ ἀπολλύμενοι (“those who are perishing”). This term occurs in 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15; 4:3 ; and 2 Thessalonians 2:10. Jesus said that the broad road leads to destruction (Matt 7:13). Other verses using this verb are Romans 9:22; Philippians 1:28; 3:19 ; Hebrews 10:39; 2 Peter 3:7; and Revelation 17:8, 11. It would seem strange,then, Stott says, if those who are said to suffer destruction are not actually destroyed. He agrees with Edwards that it is “difficult to image a perpetually inconclusive process of perishing.”11
The biblical imagery of hell is also referred to by annihilationists in support of their view. The most prominent element in this imagery is, of course, fire. This is commonly understood as teaching that those who are lost will be submitted eternally to punishing flame and will never be consumed by it. Jesus used the expression “the fire of hell” (Matt 5:22; 18:9 ) and spoke of “eternal fire” (18:8 ; 25:41 ). The Book of Revelation refers to “the lake of fire” (20:14–15 ). Stott suggests that fire is associated in people’s minds with “conscious torment” because of their having experienced acute pain from being burned. He maintains, however, that the main function of fire is not to cause pain, but to bring about destruction, as incinerators bear witness. This also fits well with the biblical expression “a consuming fire” and with John the Baptist’s warning of the Judge’s “burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt 3:12; cf. Luke 3:17). From this data Stott draws this conclusion:
The fire itself is termed “eternal” and “unquenchable,” but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed for ever, not tormented for ever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which “rises for ever and ever” (Revelation 14:11; cf. 19:3 ).12
Stott responds to four objections to his understanding of the lake of fire. The first is the vivid picture of hell as a place where “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). He points out that Jesus’ quotation is from the last verse of Isaiah (66:24 ), which refers to the dead bodies of God’s enemies being consigned to the city’s rubbish dump, to be eaten by maggots and burned. While the apocryphal Judith 16:17 applied this to everlasting pain for the nations hostile to God, Jesus, in quoting this verse from Isaiah, did not mention everlasting pain. The worm will not die and the fire will not be quenched—at least not until their work of destruction is done, Stott says. The worm and the fire are everlasting, not the persons subject to them.
A second objection to annihilationism is Jesus’ reference to “eternal punishment” in contrast to “eternal life” in Matthew 25:46. If eternal life means that the righteous shall live forever in conscious bliss in the presence of God, does not the parallelism require that wicked unbelievers will forever experience conscious punishment in hell? Stott replies that this interpretation reads into the text what is not necessarily there. Though Jesus said that both life and punishment will be eternal, He did not, at
least in this passage, define the nature of either of these. Elsewhere (John 17:3), He spoke of eternal life as conscious enjoyment of God, but it does not follow, Stott argues, that eternal punishment must be a conscious experience of pain at God’s hand. “On the contrary, although declaring both to be eternal, Jesus is contrasting the two destinies: the more unlike they are, the better.”13 Pinnock responds in a slightly different way. Like Stott, he says Jesus did not define the nature of either eternal life or eternal punishment in Matthew 25:46. But Pinnock adds that Jesus simply stated that there will be two destinies and leaves it there, so that one is free to interpret this verse as meaning either everlasting conscious torment or irreversible destruction. The text allows both possibilities. All it teaches explicitly, he says, is the finality of the judgment itself, not its nature.14
A third objection raised against annihilationism is based on the parable, if that is what it was, of the rich man and Lazarus, as found in Luke 16:19–31. Did not the rich man (called Dives, after the Latin word for rich man) declare that he was “in agony in this flame” (vv. 23–24, 28 )? However, one must be cautious in interpreting a parable (if it was a parable) that speaks of “Abraham’s bosom” as well as hell fire. Also, since the experiences of the rich man and Lazarus occurred immediately after their death, the most natur
al interpretation of the passage would be that it refers to the intermediate state between death and resurrection. Stott, in fact, believes this is when the lost come to the horrible realization of their fate. And such an interpretation, he says, is surely not incompatible with annihilation. Similarly, since the “torment” mentioned in Revelation 14:10 will be experienced “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb,” that seems to refer to the moment of judgment, not to the eternal state. The smoke, symbolizing the completed burning, and not the torment, will be forever.
Annihilationism and Justice
A fourth objection against annihilationism is the concept of justice, the belief that God will judge people “according to their deeds,” as stated in such passages as Revelation 20:12. This implies that each person’s penalty will be commensurate with the evil he or she did. This principle was of course followed in the Jewish law courts, in which the lex talionis limited punishments
to retributions corresponding to the offenses. However, Stott argues that if eternal conscious torment is administered as punishment for sins done in time, is there not a serious disproportion between the wrongdoing and the penalty? Is not God guilty of the same sort of inequity that His law prohibited? While not minimizing the seriousness of sin as rebellion against the Creator, Stott wonders if “eternal conscious torment” is compatible with divine justice as revealed in the Bible. The only possible exception to this, Stott says, would be if somehow one’s impenitence also continues throughout eternity.15
Pinnock also argues this point. This would be infinite punishment for finite sin, for a finite being cannot commit an infinite sin, even if it is against an infinite Being. The major point, however, as he sees it, is that such unending torture of the wicked would serve no conceivable purpose of God except sheer vengeance and vindictiveness. It would spell endless and total unredemptive suffering, punishment for its own sake. There is no question here of reformation or reeducation of the wicked. There could never be any resulting good beyond the suffering itself. He cites with approval Hans Küng’s observation that (quite apart from the point that a merciless God contradicts Jesus’ teachings about the Father) this concept is strangely out of harmony with present-day practice. In education and in criminology in many states, retributive punishments without an opportunity for probation are being abandoned. It is thus most inappropriate, and to most persons it is monstrous, that God should administer not only lifelong but also eternal punishment of body and soul.16
Stott also argues for his view on the basis of verses that have traditionally been used as the basis for universalism. These include John 12:32; 1 Corinthians 15:28; Ephesians 1:10; Philippians 2:10–11; Colossians 1:20. He is not led to universalism because of these verses, but he raises the question of how the impenitents’ eternal existence in hell could be reconciled with the biblical teaching of God’s apparent reconciling of all things to Himself in His final victory over evil. How can God in any meaningful sense be said to be all things to all people if a certain number of people continue in rebellion against Him and under His judgment? Stott feels that “it would be easier to hold together the awful reality of hell and universal reign of God if hell means destruction and the impenitent are no more.”17
Pinnock presents at least two more reasons for his belief in annihilationism. One is the doctrine of God. A God who would torment even the rebellious eternally is cruel and merciless. How can one worship and imitate such a Being? Further, everlasting suffering, especially if linked to soteriological predestination, according to which God predestined persons to that fate, raises the apologetic task connected with the problem of evil to an impossible and hopeless level.18
Pinnock also argues that a metaphysical problem is involved in the teaching of eternal conscious torment. An unending hell involves a similarly unending cosmological dualism. Heaven and hell just go on existing together forever. Pinnock feels that it would make better sense metaphysically, as well as biblically, morally, and justice-wise, if hell meant destruction and the wicked simply were no more. Otherwise, the “disloyal opposition would eternally exist alongside God in a corner of unredeemed reality in the new creation.”19
An Evaluation of Annihilationism
The traditional evangelical view is that those who are not saved will suffer endless punishment in hell. The following response to annihilationism includes criticism of arguments advanced by the annihilationists, and a positive argumentation for the traditional view.
The Philosophical Basis of Annihilationism
It is necessary first to examine the philosophical concept present within the usual form of annihilationism. As stated earlier, annihilationists contend that the idea that the human soul is immortal, and hence cannot cease to be, or cannot be destroyed, even by God Himself, does not derive from biblical sources, but from Greek philosophy, especially Plato. This argument is built on two false assumptions. One is that similarity of two ideas demonstrates a common origin or cause, or that one of these originates from or is caused by the other. The other assumption is the claim that a causal explanation of something adequately accounts for it, or settles the question of its truth.
These two assumptions must now be scrutinized. The overall difficulty with this argument is the lack of specificity and precision in the description of the Greek view. Greek thought had a variety of concepts on any given issue, rather than one monolithic
idea. In Platonism, the view most frequently cited, the idea of immortality is related to the concept of the preexistence of the soul. Thus the soul is eternal or immortal in both directions, past and future, having neither beginning nor end. However, this is not true of the Christian view of man. What is usually described as the doctrine of immortality in Christian theology is that the soul is immortal into the future but not into the past. It will never cease to be at any point in the future, but came into existence at some point in the past.
Also the Greeks viewed the soul as having natural or inherent immortality. The biblical view, on the other hand, is of a derived or dependent, and contingent or conditional, immortality. A person’s ability to survive forever derives from God. The soul was potentially immortal when created, but it could have become truly immortal only if the requisite conditions were fulfilled, in other words, if the first parents of the human race had obeyed God’s command completely. Therefore a causal connection between Greek philosophy and the Bible on the subject of immortality has not been established. There simply must be more s
pecific resemblance to establish any sort of derivation or common origin of the Christian view from the “Greek” view.
Even if there were some sort of derivation or causation, however, it would not account for the Christian view of immortality. It might give a causal explanation of how this belief came into being, but not the actual reason for it. It would not settle the question of the truth of the idea. One who holds that this does suffice would seem to be guilty of the genetic fallacy, of assuming that explaining the existence of an idea also accounts for its truth.
Theological Issues and Annihilationism
God’s love. The Scriptures often refer to God’s love. But what is its nature? As Pinnock, Stott, and others depict it, His love seems to be a sentimentalized version, in which God would not do anything to cause pain, displeasure, or discomfort to anyone. Thus endless suffering would be incompatible with divine love.
Is this really the picture of God’s love given in Scripture? May it not be that God chooses some actions that cause pain to some persons for the sake of a higher good, namely, the greater joy or welfare of the whole of humanity, or more significantly, the good of the whole of reality, especially, the glory of God Himself?
God’s will. Annihilationists also seem to have a truncated understanding of God’s will. Pinnock complains that if God does not want anyone to perish, then the idea of eternal conscious suffering for anyone is incredible. One must ask, however, whether there may not be more than one sense of God’s will. Are there not
situations in Scripture in which God willed to permit persons to do what He really did not wish or did not like? A clear case is Jesus’ statement in Matthew 19:8 about divorce in the Old Testament era. God’s “wish” and God’s “will” are to be distinguished.20 Certainly all moral beings periodically make decisions contrary to their wishes. People choose to do things that they do not really like and choose not to do things that they would very much like to do. This distinction, however, does not seem to be part of Pinnock’s thinking. If God wants something to happen, and has the power to bring it about, then, Pinnock says, it must surely occur.
God’s justice. As already noted, annihilationists argue against eternal conscious suffering on the basis that it is a punishment grossly disproportionate to the offense. How can a just God punish eternally or for an infinite period of time someone who has committed only a finite sin? How can a finite person be guilty of an infinite wrong?
These questions, however, assume that God and man are basically equal partners, and therefore are able to negotiate a mutually acceptable agreement between them. In such a situation, the human might protest against what is to him a disagreeable outcome. Here, however, one person is finite and owes everything to God, the infinite Person, including even life itself. To fail, then, to honor God, obey Him, and accept what He says is indeed an infinite act of ingratitude and of rejection.
Some contend that no sin or combination of sins could be infinite. What must be measured, however, is the effect, which may seem out of all proportion to the act. Thus one person might make just a tiny pinprick in the body of another, so slight as to be scarcely noticeable. Yet if it is made in a crucial spot or with a contaminated instrument, the effects may prove fatal. The act is then an absolute one, slight though it seems. Annihilationists, in protesting what they see as the injustice of everlasting suffering as punishment, assume that sin does not have a great effect on God, and so it should not be punished infinitely. But this overlooks the full extent of sin’s effect on a perfectly holy God, for whom sin must be exceedingly offensive, since it is a contradiction of His very nature.
Annihilationists also assume that punishment in hell is something God administers by His own deliberate, voluntary, and vindictive action, when He really would not need to do so. May it not be, however, that it is primarily the human person who chooses the eternal punishment, or at least chooses the action that
leads to that punishment? Indeed, this is the very point C. S. Lewis proposed as a possibility.21 He wrote that what is most characteristic of hell is not physical flame and attendant suffering. Instead what really makes it hell is the absence of God, with the consequent loneliness, anguish, and longing (whereas God’s presence is what makes heaven heaven). Thus sin is a human being saying, “God, go away and leave me alone,” and hell is God finally saying, in effect, “All right, you shall have what you wish.” In the final analysis it is not God who sends individuals to hell, but those persons themselves.
May it not be that for persons to be what they are, so that salvation may be what it is, they must be so constituted as to have the potential of living forever? Perhaps this is one of those necessary matters, such as God’s incapability of making triangles without three sides or circles in which all points on the circumference are not equidistant from the center of the circle.
Of course Pinnock objects to this and similar attempts to minimize in some fashion the severity of hell. One may ask, however, why hell must be understood in the most offensive way possible. It almost seems as if annihilationists are stating the eternal punishment option as unfavorably as possible in order to give rhetorical appeal to their alternate view. This seems, however, to be a less than ideal way of handling a difference. (One of Socrates’ opponents or dialogue partners once complained that Socrates stated the opponent’s view in the worst possible way.) If true, that is a serious charge, since it suggests an attempt to gain an unfair advantage.
The doctrine of eternal punishment is not well accepted in American society. The idea of individual responsibility is not popular. Though individuals take unwise actions, they are not regarded as having contributed to the outcome of those actions. To suggest that the agent of the action is responsible may seem cold or hardhearted. Reality, as God defines it, is not that way, however. Certain actions bear certain consequences, and justice means that those consequences have to be experienced. God provides for the removal of those eternal consequences for those who repent and accept His provision—and that is grace. Justice, however, does not require that He cancel the inevitable results for those who continue to live independently of Him.
Other Aspects of Annihilationism
As already noted, both Pinnock and Stott have appealed to Bible passages that are generally used by universalists. They
feel, for example, that these verses speak of God’s victory over all things, of His reconciling all things to Himself. Yet universalists contend that this is not accomplished without the actual restoration of everything, which would preclude the disposal of anyone, as in annihilation. According to annihilationists, eternal punishment would seem to be a matter of God’s giving up on some of His children as incorrigible. They say this would certainly not be the triumph of love. However, it would be the surrender of God’s love to the fact of failure.
The same problem applies to the question of God’s love and justice. Pinnock has argued that such precludes endless punishment. For a universalist such as Nels Ferré, h
owever, the problem is not solved quite so easily. In his thinking, God’s love and justice preclude annihilationism. He argues for universal salvation and against annihilation, using terminology and arguments strikingly similar to those of Pinnock. (Actually, to avoid an anachronism, one should say instead that Pinnock’s arguments resemble Ferré’s.) Ferré contends that if God gives eternal life to some or most, He would then be unjust in allowing or causing some persons to pass out of existence.22 That would be a failure of sovereign love. Ferré would probably suggest that an expedient such as annihilation is a case of “taking the hell out of hell.” Thus on both these points the annihilationists may be dealing with a two-edged sword.
Biblical Evidence against Annihilationism
The significant passage in support of eternal conscious punishment is Matthew 25:41–46. The usual argument is that just as Jesus was promising believers everlasting life, unending bliss with Him, He was also threatening unbelievers with everlasting punishment. In an extensive argument Fudge attempts to show that when applied to nouns that speak of a resulting condition (such as punishment), αἰώνιος does not denote eternity as it does when modifying nouns that refer to activities (such as punishing). Yet he does not discuss the matter of parallelism in verse 46 , namely, that if in the one case (life) the adjective αἰώνιον means eternal, it must also mean eternal in the other phrase (punishment). The parallelism requires that if life for believers is of everlasting duration, punishment for unbelievers must be also.23 Perhaps most impressive, because of its source, is this statement by John A. T. Robinson, a universalist:
The genuine universalist will base nothing on the fact (which is a fact) that the New Testament word for eternal (aionios) does not necessarily mean everlasting, but enduring only for an indefinitely long period. For he can apply this signification to “eternal punishment” in Matt 25:46 only if he is willing to give exactly the same sense to “eternal life” in the same verse . As F. D. Maurice said many years ago now, writing to F. J. A. Hort: “I did not see how aionios could mean one thing when it was joined with kolasis and another when it was joined with zoe” (quoted, J. O. F. Murray, The Goodness and Severity of God, p. 195). To admit that the two phrases are not parallel is at once to treat them with unequal seriousness. And that a true universalism must refuse to do.24
Another issue in this passage may provide some guidance. The place to which the “goats” are consigned in the judgment of the sheep and goats is “the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41 ). Revelation gives more information on this future condition of the devil. The beast and the false prophet will be “thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone” (19:20 ). Then the devil will be cast into the same lake (20:10 ), and they “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (v. 10 ). Then verse 15 states that “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” While these verses only say explicitly that the devil, the beast, and the false prophet will be tormented forever and ever, no statement suggests that the persons whose names are not written in the book of life have any different fate in the lake of fire. This supports the view that the punishment spoken of in Matthew 25:41, 46 is also everlasting in nature.
Is this fire everlasting, however? According to Revelation 14:11 the smoke from this fire of torment of the beast and the false prophet will be forever. Fudge and others contend that the smoke, not the punishment, is everlasting. However, how there can be smoke without something being burned? If these bodies are burned up, consumed, destroyed, how can there still be smoke? What would produce smoke, unless something was burning? For that matter, why would the lake of fire continue to exist, with nothing left to burn?
Another point needing evaluation is Stott’s contention that the contrast between life and punishment requires maximum difference. That means that if the former is eternal, the latter is not. One must ask, however, whether this is really so. On what
evidence is that contention based? And if it is valid, what does it really require? It would seem that the greater contrast would be between the eternality of “life” and the eternality of “punishment.” Overall, this argument for annihilationism is not overly impressive.
Pinnock’s argument from metaphysical dualism is not impressive either. He argues, as noted earlier, that hell cannot be eternal because that would require an ongoing dualism in which opposition to God would exist forever alongside God. However, this dualism as such is not ultimate; it is a derived dualism in which continuation of evil depends on Him. Yet its continuation is not a true dualism in the sense of being an active opposition. It presents no challenge or threat to God. It has been brought into complete and permanent subjugation. Thus equilibrium has been attained or achieved in the universe. This would seem, therefore, not to be a genuine tension for theology.
Luke 16:19–31, on the rich man and Lazarus, is frequently presented in arguing against annihilation. Actually, its application is somewhat narrower. This story actually refutes only the idea that unbelieving humans cease to exist at death. There is no explicit basis for believing in a later annihilation. In fact the opposite would seem to be the case.
The idea of the wicked being obliterated rather than suffering endlessly will continue to appeal to sensitive Christians. Yet emotion cannot be the primary consideration in settling theological issues. In this case the biblical and theological data weigh strongly on the side of eternal conscious punishment of the wicked.
In Reply to Dr. Farrar’s Challenge in His “Eternal Hope,” 1879 (Oxford: James Parker, 1880), 27.
© 2010, Matt. All rights reserved.