Annihilationism (extinctionism or destructionism) is the belief that those who are wicked will perish or be no more. It states that after the final judgment some human beings and all fallen angels (all of the damned) will be totally destroyed so as to not exist, or that their consciousness will be extinguished, rather than suffer everlasting torment in hell (often synonymized with the lake of fire).
Annihilationism is directly related to the doctrine of conditional immortality, the idea that a human soul is not immortal unless it is given eternal life. Annihilationism asserts that God will eventually destroy the wicked, leaving only the righteous to live on in immortality. Some annihilationists (e.g. Seventh-day Adventists) believe God’s love is scripturally described as an all-consuming fire and that sinful creatures cannot exist in God’s presence. Thus those who do not repent of their sins are eternally destroyed because of the inherent incompatibility of sin with God’s holy character. Seventh-day Adventists posit that living in eternal hell is a false doctrine of pagan origin, as the Wicked will perish in the Lake of fire. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that there can be no punishment after death because the dead cease to exist.
Annihilationism stands in contrast to both belief in eternal torture in the lake of fire, and the belief that everyone will be saved (universal reconciliation or “universalism“).
The belief in Annihilationism has appeared throughout Christian history, but has always been in the minority. It experienced a resurgence in the 1980s when several prominent theologians including John Stott were prepared to argue that it could be held sincerely as a legitimate interpretation of biblical texts (alternative to the more traditional interpretation of them), by those who give supreme authority to scripture. Earlier in the 20th century, some theologians at the University of Cambridge including Basil Atkinson supported the belief. 20th-century English theologians who favor annihilation include Bishop Charles Gore (1916), William Temple, 98th Archbishop of Canterbury (1924); Oliver Chase Quick, Chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury (1933), Ulrich Ernst Simon (1964), and G. B. Caird (1966).
Some Christian denominations which are annihilationist were influenced by the Millerite/Adventist movement of the mid-19th century. These include the Seventh-day Adventists, Bible Students, Christadelphians and the various Advent Christian churches. Additionally, the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission reported in 1995 that “[h]ell is not eternal torment”, but “non-being”. Some Protestant and Anglican writers have also proposed annihilationist doctrines.
Annihilationists base the doctrine on their exegesis of scripture, some early church writing, historical criticism of the doctrine of hell, and the concept of God as too loving to torment his creations forever. They claim that the popular conceptions of hell stem from Jewish speculation during the intertestamental period, belief in an immortal soul which originated in Greek philosophy and influenced Christian theologians, and also graphic and imaginative medieval art and poetry.
Proponents of annihilationism agree that the Bible teaches that the wicked are punished eternally, but do not believe that the wicked endure eternal punishment consciously. They see Old Testament passages referring to the finality of judgment, and not its duration (see Isaiah 66:24; cf. 2 Kings 22:17; Isaiah 17:2–7; 51:8; Jeremiah 4:4; 7:20; 21:12; Ezekiel 20:47–48; Malachi 4:1-3). Similarly, the New Testament teaches that the wicked will justly suffer for their sins, but the end result will be their destruction (cf. Luke 16:19–31; Romans 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 1:6).
Other New Testament texts including Matthew 10:28 where Christ speaks of the wicked being destroyed “both body and soul” in fiery hell, John 11:11 “our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep”, and 1 Thessalonians 4:15 “we shall not precede those who have fallen asleep”. Annihilationists believe that mankind is mortal. Annihilationists furthermore believe that the dead in Christ are awaiting the resurrection of the dead mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. The ancient Hebrews, according to some modern scholars, had no concept of the eternal soul. The afterlife was simply Sheol, the abode of the dead, a bleak end to existence akin to the Greek Hades.
Those who oppose annihilationism generally refer to the New Testament, especially the story of Rich man and Lazarus. By the time of Christ, the Jews largely believed in a future resurrection of the dead. Some annihilationists take these references to portray the temporary suffering of those who will be destroyed. The parable shows the rich man suffering in the fiery part of Hades (en to hade), where however he could see Abraham and Lazarus and converse with Abraham. Although, the parable of Lazarus could also be interpreted in the sense that it states “being in hades he lifted up his eyes”, meaning that the Rich Man was in hades and was then resurrected (“lifted up his eyes”), therefore stating that at the time of the torment described and conversing with Abraham, he was no-longer in hades, but facing the lake of fire.
Church fathers and later
A majority of Christian writers, from Tertullian to Luther, have held to traditional notions of hell, especially Latin writers. However, the annihilationist position is not without some historical precedent. Early forms of conditional immortality can be found in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch (d. 108), Justin Martyr (d. 165), and Irenaeus (d. 202). However, the teachings of Arnobius (d. 330) are often interpreted as the first to defend annihilationism explicitly. One quote in particular stands out in Arnobius’ second book of Against the Heathen:
Your interests are in jeopardy,-the salvation, I mean, of your souls; and unless you give yourselves to seek to know the Supreme God, a cruel death awaits you when freed from the bonds of body, not bringing sudden annihilation, but destroying by the bitterness of its grievous and long-protracted punishment.
Eternal hell/torment has been “the semiofficial position of the church since approximately the sixth century”, according to Pinnock.
Additionally, at least one of John Wesley’s recorded sermons are often reluctantly understood as implying annihilationism. Contrarily, the denominations of Methodism which arose through his influence typically do not agree with annihilationism.
Although the Church of England has through most of its history been closer to John Calvin’s doctrine of conscious continuation of the immortal soul, rather than Martin Luther’s “soul sleep”, the doctrine of annihilation of the “wicked” following a judgment day at a literal return of Christ has had a following in the Anglican communion. In 1945 a report by the Archbishops’ Commission on Evangelism, Towards the conversion of England, caused controversy with statements including that “Judgment is the ultimate separation of the evil from the good, with the consequent destruction of all that opposes itself to God’s will.”
Millerite and Adventist movement
Recently the doctrine has been most often associated with groups descended from or with influences from the Millerite movement of the mid-19th century. These include the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church of God (7th day) – Salem Conference, the Bible Students, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christadelphians, the followers of Herbert Armstrong, and the various Advent Christian churches. (The Millerite movement consisted of 50,000 to 100,000 people in the United States who eagerly expected the soon return of Jesus, and originated around William Miller).
George Storrs introduced the belief to the Millerites. He had been a Methodist minister and antislavery advocate. He was introduced to annihilationism when in 1837 he read a pamphlet by Henry Grew. He published tracts in 1841 and 1842 arguing for conditionalism and annihilation. He became a Millerite, and started the Bible Examiner in 1843 to promote these doctrines. However most leaders of the movement rejected these beliefs, other than Charles Fitch who accepted conditionalism. Still, in 1844 the movement officially decided these issues were not essential points of belief.
The Millerites expected Jesus to return around 1843 or 1844, based on Bible texts including Daniel 8:14, and one Hebrew Calendar. When the most expected date of Jesus’ return (October 22, 1844) passed uneventfully, the “Great Disappointment” resulted. Followers met in 1845 to discuss the future direction of the movement, and were henceforth known as “Adventists”. However they split on the issues of conditionalism and annihilation. The dominant group, which published the Advent Herald, adopted the traditional position of the immortal soul, and became the American Evangelical Adventist Conference. On the other hand, groups behind the Bible Advocate and Second Advent Watchman adopted conditionalism. Later, the main advocate of conditionalism became the World’s Crisis publication, which started in the early 1850s, and played a key part in the origin of the Advent Christian Church. Storrs came to believe the wicked would never be resurrected. He and like-minded others formed the Life and Advent Union in 1863.
Seventh-day Adventist Church
The Seventh-day Adventist Church view of hell is held to be as annihilation rather than eternal burning of the wicked, and one is of its distinctive tenets. They hold that the wicked will be lost eternally as they are consumed in the Lake of Fire as rather than a eternal suffering, they will perish and cease to exist in the fire. The church formed from a small group of Millerite Adventists who kept the Saturday Sabbath, and today forms the most prominent “Adventist” group.
Ellen G. White rejected the immortal soul concept in 1843. Her husband James White, along with Joseph Bates, formerly belonged to the conditionalist Christian Connection, and hinted at this belief in early publications. Together, the three constitute the primary founders of this denomination.
Articles appeared in the primary magazine of the movement in the 1850s, and two books were published. Annihilationism was apparently established in the church by the middle of that decade. (In the 1860s, the group adopted the name “Seventh-day Adventist” and organized more formally.) D. M. Canright and Uriah Smith produced later books.
A publication with noticeable impact in the wider Christian world was The Conditionalist Faith of our Fathers (2 vols, 1965–1966) by Le Roy Froom. It has been described as “a classic defense of conditionalism” by Clark Pinnock. It is a lengthy historical work, documenting the supporters throughout history.
Robert Brinsmead, an Australian and former Seventh-day Adventist best known for his Present Truth Magazine, originally sponsored Edward Fudge to write The Fire that Consumes.
Samuele Bacchiocchi, best known for his study From Sabbath to Sunday, has defended annihilation. Pinnock wrote the foreword.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s official beliefs support annihilation. They hold that the doctrine of hell as defined by mainstream Christianity is incompatible with the concept that God is love. They believe that God loves humans unconditionally, and has no destructive intentions for human beings. Seventh-day Adventists believe that the destructive force of Gehenna is eternal, rather than an indication of eternal conscious torment.
Church of God (7th day) – Salem Conference
According to the Church of God (7th day) – Salem Conference, the dead are unconscious in their graves and immortality is conditional. when God formed Adam, out of the dust of the ground, and before Adam could live, God breathed the breath of life into his body: “And man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). See also Ezekiel 18:4, 20. Psalm 146:4 says, “His (man’s) breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth (dust); in that very day his thoughts perish.” No man has ascended to heaven except Jesus Christ (John 3:13).
Other supporters have included Charles Frederic Hudson (1860), Edward White (1878), Emmanuel Petavel-Olliff (1836–1910, in 1889) and others.
Annihilationism seems to be gaining as a legitimate minority opinion within modern, conservative Protestant theology since the 1960s, and particularly since the 1980s. It has found support and acceptance among some British evangelicals, although viewed with greater suspicion by their American counterparts. Recently, a handful of evangelical theologians, including the prominent evangelical Anglican author John Stott, have offered at least tentative support for the doctrine, touching off a heated debate within mainstream evangelical Christianity.
The subject really gained attention in the late 1980s, from publications by two evangelical Anglicans, John Stott and Philip Hughes. Stott advocated annihilationism in the 1988 book Essentials: A Liberal–Evangelical Dialogue with liberal David Edwards, the first time he publicly did so. However 5 years later he said that he had been an annihilationist for around fifty years. Stott wrote, “Well, emotionally, I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterising their feelings or cracking under the strain.” Yet he considers emotions unreliable, and affords supreme authority to the Bible. Stott supports annihilation, yet cautions, “I do not dogmatise about the position to which I have come. I hold it tentatively… I believe that the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment.” Philip Hughes published The True Image in 1989, which has been called “[o]ne of the most significant books” in the debate. A portion deals with this issue in particular.
John Wenham’s 1974 book The Goodness of God contained a chapter which challenged the traditional church doctrine, and was the first book from an evangelical publishing house to do so. It was republished later as The Enigma of Evil. He contributed a chapter on conditionalism in the 1992 book Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell. He later published Facing Hell: An Autobiography 1913–1996, which explores the doctrine through an autobiographical approach. His interest in the topic stemmed from the 1930s as a student at the University of Cambridge, where he was influenced by Basil Atkinson. (Wenham is best known for his The Elements of New Testament Greek, which has been a standard textbook for students). He wrote:
I feel that the time has come when I must declare my mind honestly. I believe that endless torment is a hideous and unscriptural doctrine which has been a terrible burden on the mind of the church for many centuries and a terrible blot on her presentation of the gospel. I should indeed be happy if, before I die, I could help in sweeping it away. Most of all I should rejoice to see a number of theologians … joining … in researching this great topic with all its ramifications.
The Fire that Consumes was published in 1982 by Edward Fudge of the Churches of Christ. It was described as “the best book” by Clark Pinnock, as of a decade later. John Gerstner called it “the ablest critique of hell by a believer in the inspiration of the Bible.” Clark Pinnock of McMaster Divinity College has defended annihilation. Earlier, Atkinson had self-published the book Life and Immortality. Theologians from Cambridge have been influential in supporting the annihilationist position, particularly Atkinson.
Annihilationism is also the belief of some liberal Christians within mainstream denominations.
There have been individual supporters earlier. Pentecostal healing evangelist William Branham promoted annihilationism in the last few years before his death in 1965.
The Church of England’s Doctrine Commission reported in February 1995 that Hell is not eternal torment. The report, entitled “The Mystery of Salvation” states, “Christians have professed appalling theologies which made God into a sadistic monster. … Hell is not eternal torment, but it is the final and irrevocable choosing of that which is opposed to God so completely and so absolutely that the only end is total non-being.” The British Evangelical Alliance ACUTE report (published in 2000) states the doctrine is a “significant minority evangelical view” that has “grown within evangelicalism in recent years”. A 2011 study of British evangelicals showed 19% disagreed a little or a lot with eternal conscious torment, and 31% were unsure.
Several evangelical reactions to annihilationism were published. Another critique was by Paul Helm in 1989. In 1990, J. I. Packer delivered several lectures supporting the traditional doctrine of eternal suffering. The reluctance of many evangelicals is illustrated by the fact that proponents of annihilationism have had trouble publishing their doctrines with evangelical publishing houses, with Wenham’s 1973 book being the first.
Some well respected authors have remained neutral. F. F. Bruce wrote, “annihilation is certainly an acceptable interpretation of the relevant New Testament passages … For myself, I remain agnostic.” Comparatively, C. S. Lewis did not systematize his own beliefs. He rejected traditional pictures of the “tortures” of hell, as in The Great Divorce where he pictured it as a drab “grey town”. Yet in The Problem of Pain, “Lewis sounds much like an annihilationist.” He wrote:
But I notice that Our Lord, while stressing the terror of hell with unsparing severity usually emphasises the idea not of duration but of finality. Consignment to the destroying fire is usually treated as the end of the story—not as the beginning of a new story. That the lost soul is eternally fixed in its diabolical attitude we cannot doubt: but whether this eternal fixity implies endless duration—or duration at all—we cannot say.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) describes hell as “eternal death” (para 1861) and elsewhere states that “the chief punishment of hell is that of eternal separation from God” (para 1035). The question is what “eternal” means in this context. Thomas Aquinas, following Boethius, states that “eternity is the full, perfect and simultaneous possession of unending life” (Summa Theologica I, question 10), so apparently eternal separation from God is a “negative eternity”, a complete and permanent separation from God. In the Collect (opening prayer) for the eighth Sunday after Pentecost in the Tridentine missal, we find the words “qui sine te esse non possumus“, meaning “we who without Thee cannot be (or exist)”. With this one may compare the Anglican prayer-book, as the collect for the ninth Sunday after Trinity, but stating “we who cannot do anything that is good without Thee”. In the modern ordinary form of the Mass of the Catholic Church, in the collect is included again, used on Thursday in the first week of Lent.
Main article: Christian conditionalism
The doctrine is often, although not always, bound up with the notion of “conditional immortality”, a belief that the soul is not innately immortal. They are related yet distinct. God, who alone is immortal, passes on the gift of immortality to the righteous, who will live forever in heaven or on an idyllic earth or World to Come, while the wicked will ultimately face a second death.[Rev 2:11][20:6][20:14][21:8]
Those who describe or believe in this doctrine may not use “annihilationist” to define the belief, and the terms “mortalist” and “conditionalist” are often used. Edward Fudge (1982) uses “annihilationist” to refer to the both “mortalists” and “conditionalists” who believe in a universal resurrection, as well as those groups which hold that not all the wicked will rise to face the New Testament’s “resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust”.
Interpretation of scripture
Some annihilationists insist that words like “destroy, destruction, perish, death” must refer to “non-existence”. While this interpretation of those terms does not imply the non-existence of Hades or the Lake of Fire, this interpretation does require that the suffering of the souls that inhabit it, is terminated by their reduction to non-existence. Adventists, and perhaps others, then understand the term “hell” (Hades or Lake of Fire) to refer to the process of destruction, not a permanently existing process.
|Psalm 1:6||… but the way of the ungodly shall perish|
|Psalm 37:20||But the wicked shall perish… they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.|
|Psalm 92:7||… shall be destroyed forever|
|Matthew 10:28b||Rather, fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.|
|John 3:16||… whosoever believeth in him should not perish (Greek: destroyed) …|
|Romans 6:23||For the wages of sin is death …|
|Philippians 3:19||whose end is “destruction” …|
|2 Thessalonians 1:9||who shall be punished with everlasting destruction …|
|Hebrews 10:39||But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition (Greek: destruction); but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.|
|James 4:12a||There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy.|
|Revelation 20:14||This is the second death…|
Annihilationists understand there will be suffering in the death process, but ultimately the wages of sin is death, not eternal existence. Some affirm that Jesus taught limited conscious physical sufferings upon the guilty:
That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.— Luke 12:47–48
The adjectives “many” and “few” in Luke 12 could not be used if eternal conscious torment was what Jesus was teaching. He would have used “heavier” and “lighter” if the duration of conscious sufferings were eternal because when the “few” stripes were over there could be no more suffering. By very definition “few” and “many” declare not unlimited (or eternal) sufferings.
Annihilationists declare eternal existence and life is a gift gotten only from believing the gospel; (John 3:16) Paul calls this gift (immortality) an integral part of the gospel message: “who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and ‘immortality’ to light through the gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:10). If all souls are born immortal, then why is humanity encouraged to seek it by Paul? “To them who by patient continuance in well doing ‘seek’ for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:” (Romans 2:7) And also, why would Jesus offer humanity an opportunity to “live forever”, if all live forever? “If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever:” (John 6:51).
Annihilationism is based on passages that speak of the unsaved as perishing (John 3:16) or being destroyed (Matthew 10:28). Annihilationists believe that verses speaking of the second death refer to ceasing to exist. Opponents of annihilationism argue that the second death is the spiritual death (separation from God) that occurs after physical death (separation of soul and body). Annihilationists are quick to point out that spiritual death happens the moment one sins and that it is illogical to believe further separation from God can take place. In addition, annihilationists claim that complete separation from God conflicts the doctrine of omnipresence in which God is present everywhere, including hell. Some annihilationists accept the position that hell is a separation from God by taking the position that God sustains the life of his creations: when separated from God, one simply ceases to exist.
Opponents of annihilationism often argue that ceasing to exist is not eternal punishment and therefore conflicts with passages such as Matthew 25:46: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment but the righteous into eternal life.” This argument uses a definition of the word “punishment” that must include some form of suffering. However, in common usage, punishment might be described as “an authorized imposition of deprivations—of freedom or privacy or other goods to which the person otherwise has a right, or the imposition of special burdens—because the person has been found guilty of some criminal violation, typically (though not invariably) involving harm to the innocent” (according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). By this definition, annihilationism is a form of punishment in which deprivation of existence occurs, and the punishment is eternal.
Much as certain Church Fathers and Catholic theologians have advocated qualified forms of universalism, some Catholic theologians have advocated qualified forms of annihilationism as being in line with Catholic teaching. Concerning the typical doctrinal presentation of hell, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition, states:
1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.” The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
1038 The resurrection of all the dead, “of both the just and the unjust,” (Acts 24:15) will precede the Last Judgment. This will be “the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Son of man’s] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.” (Jn 5:28-29) Then Christ will come “in his glory, and all the angels with him. . . . Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. . . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Mt 25:31,32,46)
- Hebrews 10:26-27 NLT Hellfire will consume the wicked.
- 2 Peter 3:7 Ungodly will be destroyed.
- Romans 2:7 God will make only righteous immortal.
- Genesis 3:19 We came from dust and to dust we will return.
- Psalm 146:4 Our thoughts/plans perish and spirit departs upon death.
- Ecclesiastes 9:5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
- Ezekiel 18:20 The soul who sins is the one who will die.
- 2 Chronicles 28:3 Jeremiah 19:5 Burning one’s offspring in the Valley of Ben Hinnom (which is where concept of Gehenna or Hell comes from) is NOT a commandment of God nor did it even enter His Mind.
- Malachi 4:1–3 God will “burn up” the wicked at the judgment, and they will be ashes under the sole of the feet of the righteous. “For, behold, the day cometh, it burneth as a furnace; and all the proud, and all that work wickedness, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith Jehovah of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch…they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I make, saith Jehovah of hosts”
- Matthew 10:28 Both body and soul are destroyed in hell. “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
- John 3:16 People who don’t believe in Jesus shall perish and not receive eternal life.
- John 6:51 Jesus offer… to “live forever” would make no sense apart from the fact that not all will live or exist forever.
- 2 Thessalonians 1:9 Everlasting destruction is having been destroyed and having no way to undo that.
- Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death.
- 1 Corinthians 15:12–49 Only those who belong to Christ will be raised with imperishable, immortal bodies, all others perish as a man of dust.
- 2 Peter 2:6 God made Sodom and Gomorrah an example of what is coming to the wicked, specifically by reducing Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes: “and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, having made them an example unto those that should live ungodly”
- Revelation 20:14–15 The wicked will suffer a second death, the same fate that death itself suffers (and death will be abolished—1 Corinthians 15:26): “And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire. And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.”
John Wenham has classified the New Testament texts on the fate of the lost:
- 10 texts (4%) “Gehenna“
- 26 (10%) to “burning up“
- 59 (22%) to “destruction, perdition, utter loss or ruin“
- 20 (8%) to “separation from God“
- 25 (10%) to “death in its finality” or “the second death“
- 108 (41%) to “unforgiven sin“, where the precise consequence is not stated
- 15 (6%) to “anguish“
Wenham claims that just a single verse (Revelation 14:11) sounds like eternal torment. This is out of a total of 264 references. Ralph Bowles argues the word order of the verse was chosen to fit a chiastic structure, and does not support eternal punishment.
Proponents of the traditional Christian doctrine of hell, such as Millard Erickson, identify the following biblical texts in support of this doctrine:
- Psalm 52:5 “Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin: He will snatch you up and pluck you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living.”
- Psalm 78:66 “He beat back his enemies; he put them to everlasting shame.”
- Isaiah 33:14 “The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless: ‘Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?'”
- Isaiah 66:24 “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”
- Jeremiah 23:40 “I will bring on you everlasting disgrace—everlasting shame that will not be forgotten.”
- Jeremiah 25:9 “I will completely destroy them and make them an object of horror and scorn, and an everlasting ruin.”
- Daniel 12:2 “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
- Matthew 8:12 “… where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
- Matthew 10:15 “… it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment..”
- Matthew 11:24 “… it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you”
- Matthew 18:8 “It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.”
- Matthew 22:13 “… where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Same as Matt 8:12
- Matthew 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'”
- Mark 9:46–48 “And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.'”
- Revelation 14:11 “And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”
- Revelation 20:10 “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
These Christians point to biblical references to eternal punishment, as well as eternal elements of this punishment, such as the unquenchable fire, the everlasting shame, the “worm” that never dies, and the smoke that rises forever, as consistent with the traditional doctrine of eternal, conscious torment of the non-believers or sinners in hell.
Christians who believe in universal reconciliation have also criticized annihilationism using Biblical references. Books of the Bible argued to possibly support the idea of full reconciliation include the First Epistle to the Corinthians. The sections of 1 Corinthians 15:22, “As all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ”, and 1 Corinthians 15:28, “God will be all in all”, are cited. Verses that seem to contradict the tradition of complete damnation and come up in arguments also include Lamentations 3:31–33 (NIV), “For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love”, and 1 Timothy 4:10 (NIV), “We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.”
Many annihilationists[ believe that the concept of an immortal soul separate from the body comes from Greek philosophy, particularly from ideas found in Plato. For example, Plato’s Myth of Er presents the idea of disembodied souls being sent underground to be punished after death. Hellenistic culture had a significant influence on the early Christian church, see also Hellenistic Judaism. Thus some annihilationists may claim that a Greek concept of soul has been read into the Bible where Old Testament nephesh and New Testament psychē (when translated as “soul”) are concepts different from that in Greek culture.
Others have remained “agnostic”, not taking a stand on the issue of hell. The two listed are also British:
- F. F. Bruce, who described himself as “agnostic” on this issue
- N. T. Wright rejects eternal torment, universalism, and apparently also annihilation; but believes those who reject God will become dehumanized, and no longer be in the image of God.