The Doctrine of Annihilation
Several weeks ago the church in Angleton where I worship received a letter entitled "From where came Hell?" This six-page letter indicated that the writer had done a great deal of studying on Hell. He recounted the definitions of Gehenna, Sheol, Hades, and Tartarus; he discussed usages of the Greek words apolummi and phthora, and our English words life, death and destruction; then, he concluded with "six major evils" of our teaching on Hell. He didn't sign his name or give a return address, but I assume that he is a "brother in Christ" by some of the comments in the letter. He said, "If I put my name, I may not be allowed to preach or teach."
My first thought, after skimming over the letter, was to throw it away. But, after thinking about it for a few days, and re-reading it a few times, I decided to challenge his position in writing. Hope-fully, he will find this rebuttal the same way (I assume) he found the addresses of the many churches around the country to which he mailed his letter.
The following is a summary of his letter along with my thoughts about his doctrine.
First, as "brother Anonymous" looks at gehenna, he cites several passages in which the word is found: (1) Matthew 10:28 and Luke 12:5, (2) Matthew 18:9 and Mark 9:43-45), (3) Matthew 23:15-33, and (4) James 3:6. He mentions its derivation from the Hinnom Valley near Jerusalem, and concludes his point by saying that Gehenna was only used as a symbol of fire and consumption. He retorts:
Fire is never used by God to torment, but for destruction. Matthew 3:12 `... gather his wheat (the saved) into the garner, but he will burn up ... the chaff (the lost) with unquenchable fire.' Do we not teach the exact opposite, not burn up (consume completely and destroy as the farmer does the chaff), but burn (torture) forever? Matt. 7:19 worthless trees are `cast into the fire' . . . Trees are cast into the fire to burn up, to get rid of them, not to be tortured forever.
In his remarks, our anonymous "brother" suggests that spirits can burn up like wood or paper; but, the Bible never indicates such. Also, he forgets that five of these passages are parables that do not describe what will literally happen; but, explain in the closest terms the things which will take place in the spiritual parallel.
Gehenna is described in the Bible as a place of unquenchable fire "where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" (Mk. 9:44). It was a real place into which people could be cast (Matt. 5:29-30), not just a one-time event. In fact, with reference to torment, Revelation 14:9-11 says and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone . . . and the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night." Souls would not burn up, but would continue in flaming torment for eternity.
Second, as "brother A" looks at hades, he accuses us of confusing it with hell. He makes this point about Luke 16:19-31:
If this is not a parable, and the rich man and Lazarus are real people, then Abraham is also a real person, but now in the place of a god. Is he not? No, for this is a parable, not a true story. it is also when the rich man had brothers living on the earth, not after the judgment, therefore couldn't be what we call `hell' as no one will be in our `hell' until after judgment day.
But, we can see who is confused. As any Bible student will affirm hades is not hell. Jesus said to one of the thieves before they died, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise"(Lk. 23:43). Did our Lord not know where he was going? Acts 2:27 says in reference to Christ . . . You will not leave my soul in Hades." Along with the previous verses, Revelation 20:13-15 make a clear distinction as to the difference between hades and hell.
On top of these facts, I also affirm that there is no reason why Luke 16:19-31 should be viewed only as a parable. Whether it is or isn't has no bearing upon what is implied by the story, and cannot nullify the application. Though the men died, they spoke, were cognizant of their situation, and had feelings of torment or comfort. Abraham was not a god, but was mentioned there because he was the lather of the faithful, and the Pharisees would have understood that.
Next, in delving into the usages and definitions of apollummi and apoli, he makes several points based on an inconsistent usage of the Greek words, even though he himself points out the proper definition. "Brother A reveals:
. . . it is translated destroy, perish, lost, lose, die all from the same Greek word. Bottles perish (Matt. 9:17). Losehis reward (Matt. 10:42). Lost sheep (Mart. 15:24. Gold that perisheth (I Pet. fl7). These things will not he tormented forever, but will come to an end. Yet, when the same word is used for people - . . we teach they will not and cannot come roan end, but must live forever in torment"
First of all, when he says they will "come to an end," what does he mean? Were the bottles, gold, and sheep annihilated or vaporized into thin air? No, they were ruined, lost, or made of no use. Therefore, spirits would not realize a loss of being, but of well-being. They would be in a state of detriment, and not annihilation. But, rather than having the wicked souls eternally tormented as prescribed by God, "brother A" would have them vaporized after Judgment. This idea of annihilation certainly does not come from the Scriptures.
Again, he uses phthora which means corruption, perish, and destroyed to mean vaporized or annihilated. He simply decides on his own definition and then uses it freely to fit his purposes. Every time he sees these words he automatically thinks annihilation or vaporization. He starts with a wrong assumption and reaches a wrong conclusion.
Life and Death
"Brother A" then brings into the argument a few paragraphs on Life and Death. But, his views of physical and spiritual life versus physical and spiritual death are not scriptural. For a definition of physical death look at James 2:26: "For as the body without the spirit is dead "Physical death is the separation of body and spirit. With reference to what happens at death, the wise man in Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it."
Now then, whats spiritual death? It is separation also. We are spiritually dead when, as Isaiah says, Your sins have separated you from your God" (Isa. 59:2). Sin separates us from God to make us spiritually dead. Thats why in Romans 6:11,13 when we die to sin, we are made alive again to God. But, "Brother A" doesnt agree with the Scriptures. He says,
"First death is of the body, the end of it. Then second death must be like the first or it is not like the first the end. We teach spiritual death! the second death is being separated from God. Then (1) there is a place where God is not at, therefore He cannot be God in that place. (2) There is in this place life without God. This makes two reasons he cannot be God. Maybe we need to relook at our teaching. Spiritual Death is not in the Bible, but a very big part of our speaking where the Bible is silent, and not saying Bible things in Bible ways."
Can you see what he has done? He makes spiritual death and the second death the same, when they are not. He also does not see that physical and spiritual life are two different forms of life as physical and spiritual death by baptism or repentance, if he is still physically alive. One cannot return, though, from the second death. I believe he still has trouble with the difference between life and death both physically and spiritually because he says this:
"With the view I had for many years, I had a hard time with this verse (1 Cor. 15:23, sic). (I) My I soul could not be dead, so could not be made alive. (2) My body, flesh and blood, cannot inherit the kingdom of Heaven. (3) The only answer was that at death the soul of a sinner would be alive some place where God is not at, but must be dead (according to my definition of death separation from God) in order to be made alive at his coming. All this does not make much sense tome now, but did then as it was necessity to support our view of death."
Also, in this section, he mentions Matthew 25:46 and 2 Thessalonians 1:9 and how they must be a once-for-all-time punishment. He says,
Is this a destruction that will be bit by bit, but will take forever? No. It is a destruction (or punishment) that will be final, and will last for eternity."
He believes that spirits will be annihilated; gone forever and never to return again. But, what does Revelation 14:11 and 20:10 say? "They shall be tormented day and night forever and ever." It will not just be one powerful zap from God and they're gone forever, but continuous torment and agony.
Six Major Evils
Finally, in his `Six Major Evils' of Hell he claims that our doctrine (1) slanders God, (2) makes Christ's death, not a death, (3) means that death is not real, (4) means there is never a victory, (5) makes the resurrection impossible, and (6) is the cause of atheism or stumbling in many. He also states:
"The God of the Bible is a God of life and justice, not as our teaching makes him sadistic, fiendish, cruel, evil, and in character much like Satan." ... "Satan has had many victories: (1) the Catholic church, (2) the Protestant divisions, (3) the Christian church division, (4) the liberal division, (5) etc. etc... but the invention of `Hell' may well be his biggest one. And we preach his lie!"
He certainly doesn't leave us guessing about his position.
What the Bible Says
So what is the scenario of gehenna and hades as taught by the Bible? Upon physical death the spirit departs and the body goes to the ground (Eccl. 16:19-31; 2 Pet. 2:9). A final judgment will be made (Matt. 25:31-46), after which the wicked will suffer eternal punishment (Rev. 14:11; 20;10), and the righteous will enter into heaven.
Now, the eternal punishment is due to the severity of sin and God's hatred of it. He promised punishment, and no matter how hard we try to imagine it away, it will still be there. That's why the Scriptures mention the following verses: ". . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2.12); "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31); also, ". . . since it is a righteous thing for God to repay with tribulation those who persecute you .... (2 Thess. 1:6). God is a God of justice, love and tender mercy. Eternal torment shows the vengeance of a just God upon sinful souls; and, Christ's sacrifice shows he loved us enough to provide a way to be cleansed from sin, and escape the consequences.
In conclusion, remember that "Brother A" calls hell an invention of Satan; and he believes that anyone who preaches it is a liar. That apparently means Jesus was a liar when he said, "Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?" (Matt. 23:33) Here are five other "Major Evils" of his doctrine of Annihilation:
1. Slanders God It infers that he is not really a God of justice, and that the wicked will not indeed be punished as he promised. You make God a liar, "Brother A"!
2. Christ's death was vain There is really no reason to be saved from sin if there are no consequences to be saved from.
3. The apostles were liars You assert that all those who taught that hell was a place of torment and retribution were liars. If they were not really inspired by God we might as well throw out the Bible!
4. The cause of Atheism or stumbling in many If there is no Hell, we might as well live-it-up (eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we get zapped!).
5. A victory for Satan Satan has had many victories: (1) denominations, (2) liberal divisions, (3) religious cults, (4) etc., etc., but, the invention of this doctrine of annihilation may well be his biggest one!
For all those who have believed and preach Satan's lie May God have mercy on your souls at Judgment Day.
Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 1 p. 16-18