Conditional Immortality or Annihilationism

Since I was able to question my Christian faith for the first time once I believed in Conditional Immortality or Annihilationism as the best Biblical description of hell, see here, I thought I'd offer a few brief notes on that view, from a Biblical perspective. I know there is a debate about this going on among Christian circles, but here are some of the things that those who dispute it must deal with:

We should not confuse the reality of hell with its images. The images of hell are of: 1) “everlasting punishment” (Matt. 25:46); 2) “eternal destruction” (Matt. 10:28); and 3) banishment into the “darkness” (Matt. 22:13; 25:30). How we interpret these images depends on other Bible verses. In the O.T. the wicked will cease to exist (Psalm 37, Mal.4: 1-2). Jesus in the N.T. shows us that the purpose of fire in punishment is to destroy or burn up the wicked (Matt.3:10-12; 13:30,42,49-50). According to John R.W. Stott: “The main function of fire is not to cause pain, but to secure destruction.” [Evangelical Essentials, (p. 316)]. Paul likewise emphasized destruction (2 Thess 1: 9; I Cor. 3:17; Phil. 1:28; 3:19). Peter likewise stressed the sinners’ fate as that of destruction (2 Pet. 2:1,3, 6; 3:6-7). Even in John’s book of Revelation, the lake of fire will consume the wicked (Rev. 20:14-15). G.B. Caird: “John believed that, if at the end there should be any who remained impervious to the grace and love of God, they should be thrown, with Death and Hades, into the lake of fire which is the second death, i.e., extinction and total oblivion.” [Commentary on Revelation, (p. 186)].

“The Bible uses language of death and destruction, of ruin and perishing, when it speaks of the fate of the impenitent wicked. It uses the imagery of fire that consumes whatever is thrown into it.” But “linking together images of fire and destruction suggests annihilation. One receives the impression that ‘eternal punishment’ refers to a divine judgment whose results cannot be reversed rather than to the experience of endless torment (i.e. eternal punishing).” [Pinnock, Four Views of Hell, p. 144].

L.E. Froom claims that conditional immortality was generally accepted in the early church until its thinkers tried to wed Plato’s doctrine of the immortality of the soul to the teaching of the Bible.” [The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers, Herald Pub., 1966]. Biblically speaking, human beings are not immortal. God alone has immortality (I Tim. 6:16); well doers seek immortality (Rom. 2:7); immortality is brought to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10); those in Christ will put on immortality (I Cor. 15:54), so that they now partake of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).

If human beings don't have immortality until they die in Christ when God grants it to them, then according to the Bible we cease to exist after we die. We are annhihilated, and that's our punishment. And since according to the Bible God is judging us all along the way, there's no need to believe that the figurative pictures of a great white throne judgement are literal events one can expect to experience, either.

First posted 7/14/06

20 comments:

Chris said...

What about those who emerge from the Great Tribulation into the 1000 year reign of Christ, never having died?

John W. Loftus said...

I was an amillenialist.

Jason said...

That view of hell is far and away the least ethically objectionable that I have encountered thus far.

John W. Loftus said...

Jason, yeah from a Biblical perspective. But the very least ethically objectionable view is that there is no hell. Hell is a mythical tale developed mostly during the intertestamental period.

Rich said...

I don't know that hell is always used to describe a physical place.
It seems to me that to have an eternal suffering or punishment you would have to continue to exist. Everone that comes to earth will be ressurected and live forever. While we are being judged along the way, there will be a final judgement becasue we still have the opprtunity to repent and right the wrongs we commit.

Callen Damornen said...

My first doubts came up as nagging thoughts when I was a kid and told to dismiss the idea out of fear the end of the world was coming soon. It wasn't a fear of hell with the Jehovah's Witnesses, but a fear of dying a horrible death -- always soon.

My doubt has been with the Genesis account, the basis on which all Hebrew/Christian/Muslim faith rests. The whole Garden of Eden story never sat well with me. Adam was with Eve while she ate the fruit, but he said nothing while the serpent spoke to her to tempt her into eating it. As a brainless, lovesick puppy, Adam just eats it, too. They realise they are naked and hide while a clueless god, or one who likes to play mind games with inferior beings, cannot find them until they come out from hiding.

The punishment? Death. Eve is deceived so women are not to be trusted, but men are allowed to remain head of the woman even if Adam's act was deliberate. Instead of destroying the garden, god leaves it up to torture the duo to remind them what they can never have or give to their children while their lives suck. And then give completely innocent people the curse of death simply by being born to them instead of destroying Adam and Eve and starting all over again before it went too far.

A god who expects everyone to forgive cannot be bothered to do the same. Power trips, mind games and cruelty. If a child went into something that was poisonous that the parent warned them not to touch and the child drank it, does that mean a loving parent should just let the child die or do something to save their life? The antidote to the poison of Adam and Eve was right there and god denied it to them. However, the fruit which was supposed to make them as smart as god never clued them into eating the antidote before god banned them. And wouldn't the serpent knowing everything involved want them to eat the antidote fruit as well as the knowledge fruit?

So many levels of that story never sat right with me as a child who was used to reading fairy tales. It irked me to no end that my concerns about this story were mocked.

Official Site of Callen Damornen

Mark Plus said...

If human beings don't have immortality until they die in Christ when God grants it to them, then according to the Bible we cease to exist after we die. We are annhihilated, and that's our punishment.

You didn't need the bible to learn that death annihilates us as individuals. Epicurus and his followers independently reasoned to annihilation as the default fate of humanity. His Roman expositor Lucretius presents a lengthy (and mostly scientifically defensible) argument for annihilation in De rerum natura.

Of course, Lucretius also argues that a physical "resurrection" could happen under highly unlikely conditions if the atoms in your body at, say, right now, came back together in the same configuration at some remote time in the future. But, Lucretius argues, these atoms would constitute a new individual because the process doesn't preserve psychological continuity. The original you would still remain dead forever.

A friend of mine named Mike Perry, who has a Ph.D. in computer science and works for a cryonics company, takes a different view of how "resurrection" could happen scientifically. He published his idea in his book, Forever For All:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1581127243/

Rich said...

The creation story in the bible is pretty scarce in detail. I doubt Adam was actually by Eves side whrn she was talking to the serpant. If he was he was watching baseball on the TV and not really listening to his wife.
Adam made a choice to eat the fruit and stick with his wife, as he was commanded to multiply and replenish the earth. He couldn't do that with her booted out of the garden. They were both running around in the garden for who knows how long competly naked and never realized it. If they didn't know they were naked how were they going to have kids?
The fall brought about two kinds of death, as discussed many times before, spiritual or separated from God's presense and physical. The fall had to happen for us to be here. We are not punished for Adam's Transgression, only for our own.

"A god who expects everyone to forgive cannot be bothered to do the same. Power trips, mind games and cruelty. If a child went into something that was poisonous that the parent warned them not to touch and the child drank it, does that mean a loving parent should just let the child die or do something to save their life? The antidote to the poison of Adam and Eve was right there and god denied it to them. However, the fruit which was supposed to make them as smart as god never clued them into eating the antidote before god banned them. And wouldn't the serpent knowing everything involved want them to eat the antidote fruit as well as the knowledge fruit?"

He didn't want them to live forever in their sins but be able to be forgiven of their sins thats why they were forbiden to take of the fruit of the tree of life. The other tree was not an antidote to the tree of knowledge. So he did forgive Adam and Eve. The serpant may very well have wanted them to then eat from the other tree because that would have foiled God's plan of salvation.
We have to have separation from God to exercise our free will and choose to follow him or not.

Anonymous said...

I hate to say this but you have all missed it.45 years of bible, an I finally figured it out.REMEMBER you cant throw out one verse to make your theory work.Are you ready, I am going to give you a clue.You wont believe me but i am right.HERE it is.Where is HELL?Here is the shocker an its been right under everyone noses all the time.This is hell, your allready in it.Your allready dead, that is why you have to be born again.When your born again you become a new creature.What kind of creature, I bet you dont know.But first back to why hell is here.HADES is hell a place of torment an paradice.Describe hades with the bible an only one place fits it perfectlly, earth.We anwser the phone with a hell lo letting every one know are location.This is a place of outter darkness.The worm never dies. I Been a herbalist for years an most peoples bodies are loaded with worms a nice word, parasite.My son would grind his teeth in his sleep.Weeping an nashing of teeth.Where is hells fire?Its all around you my friend the ultra volient, (get it) radiation cosmic rays gamma rays are burning your body to a crisp they measure radiation in greys that when you burn something, all that is left is grey ashes or carbon Your hair turns grey, you dehydrate an burn up.GODS timeline thats one hour an half a 1000 years is a day to GOD.About 40 years an hour.It is an invisble fire but it there all the time that a fact.Man is a carbon based organism. Carbons number is 6(check your periodic table) it has 6 electron, 6 neutrons, 6 protons, the number of man 666.worms eat dead things an herbalist know the worms would not be there if the body was not dead.Why is everyone here flawed?There damned my friend. wars (Planned events to give blood sacrifices to bail)That why you have to be perfect to go in the army no blemished golem(cattle) to there god bail.South central bail,taco bail,I got bailed out of jail,the liberty bail.IT Hot as hell,hell no, hell yeah.HAIL to the chief etc.devil spelled backward is lived your daddy deviled a long time.Read JOHN 3 13 no man has ever ascended into heaven jesus said that, not me.Act 2 38 is the only way out an no one does it.Everyone gets baptised in the name father, son, an holy ghost.These are titles not names father could be any body, son could be sun, or bail worship etc.These are examples of how black magic works the double meaning words you innocently say an agree with.The devil knows the best place to hide something is right in front of you.LOOK AROUND MY FRIEND BE OBSERVENT AN YOU WILL KNOW THIS IS HELL WHERE THE DEVIL RULES.WHERE IS THE DEVIL,HES IN HELL OF COURSE.Sickness,disease,divorce,mental anguish,proverty,abuse of all kinds,disrespect,broken hearts,why dont everyone be honest,murder,rewared for doing evil(live).This is hell punishment to the damned, the dead.Your rotting like a zombie you can smell it, body odor.

Brad Haggard said...

John, correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't the annihilationist view hold that people are destroyed in hell? That would mean that they would still accept the historical final judgment. And then the universalists (the evangelical ones) claim that the punishment in hell is actually reformative. So either way, you still wind up with the judgment scene. The issue is what exactly happens in hell.

db said...

In my long journey out of Christianity, one of the stops was at http://bible-truths.com/ which seemed to me to destroy the Christian doctrine of eternal hell right from the scriptures. Demonstrating that the Biblical view is Universalist. How many times can you read "It is God's wil that ALL men be saved." or All men shall be saved." before you have to start calling God a liar, because clearly according to the doctrines all men will not be saved, as MOST will be sent to hell.

Anyway, it was a stop along the way, a place I had some boundaries obliterated and mind opened for what was to come....

No God... no Hell...

Hooorah.

Harlan Quinn said...

Reminder,
John is away at a conference and will not be able to respond until he gets back.

I'm moderating comments for him.

ZDENNY said...

I always find your post fun and this is a great example.

The godless believe life has no consequences so be moral right?

The logic is painful to me but it is your logic.

Now, you argue that Christianity and godliness have the same result for the atheist.

I guess you can cross your fingers and hope. However, if you are in the hoping business, I would recommend Christ because a life of love for eternity is going to be much better than anything you have experienced so far!

God Bless...

Mark Plus said...

As I and some others pointed out in another thread, Annihilationism never became the majority view in christianity because so many christians fear the prospect of nonexistence. Apparently they rank their preferences for the afterlife storage bin as (1) Heaven. (2) Hell (eternal conscious suffering). (3) Annihilation.

Of course, Epicurus and other philosophers have argued that we only have (3) as our destiny all along.

It also amuses me to hear hell rebranded as the allegedly horrific subjective state resulting from "eternal separation from god," or words to that effect. While this interpretation of hell probably has some historical justification, to me it also shows the influence of modern ideas derived from psychology and a culture organized around the pursuit of this-worldly happiness.

AndreLinoge said...

>>>The godless believe life has no consequences so be moral right?

Of course life has consequences; natural and social. Smoke cigarettes and your health suffers; murder someone and be incarcerated.

>>I guess you can cross your fingers and hope. However, if you are in the hoping business, I would recommend Christ because a life of love for eternity is going to be much better than anything you have experienced so far!

Been there done that, that's the whole reason for this blog. John and many of us here are "ex-Christians".

Mark Plus said...

ZDENNY writes: "The godless believe life has no consequences so be moral right?"

Of course life has consequences. We arrived here as the consequence of the fact that our ancestors made babies.

Manifesting Mini Me (MMM) said...

Andre wrote: ">>>The godless believe life has no consequences so be moral right?"

I don't believe that the godless believe life has no consequences, it's just that they are trapped in the consequences, vascillating between extremes of oppressive legalism/policing and depravity. As grace (light) fades, these extremes will become more apparent and readily visible.

Rob R said...

John, it's sad that you considered critical reevaluation of this doctrine to be a "chink" in your armor and it's precisely that attitude that makes me question the quality of your philosophy training if it suggested that a belief system had to be so rigid that any developements along these lines would leave cracks in the armor.

Mysterium Tremendum said...

I'm comming to same conclusion in my stdies. Where I may differ is that I think that maybe Satan and his angels will be tormented forever while humans will go to the place called eternal punishment where the worm never dies and the fires are eternal they will be condemned to extinction:

Jude 7-

Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities....serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (ESV)

2 Peter 2:5

If by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly. (ESV)


Sodom and Gomorrah serve as an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly. They will suffer eternal punishment, be turned to ashes and condemned to extinction.

Michael said...

I would like to invite you to examine my article on the subject of conditional immortality entitled "The Immortality of the Human Soul." You can find it at onenesspentecostal.net

Thanks