Sunday, July 10, 2011

Annihilation: Is this a Biblical Doctrine?

The following is a response to Dr Glenn Peoples on his blog. Glenn believes that annihilationism is a biblical doctrine and I disagree. Annihilation doctrine says that there is no conscious everlasting punishment in hell and that everlasting refers to death being "without end". They believe that this doctrine is biblical and fulfills any requirements of justice and again, I disagree.

What I am impressed with is Glenn's ability to argue a point rationally and with clear reasoning. This alone is worth the time to engage with him I think. This is something that we need to promote in society.

A final note, and one that I hope will not see my points as taken any less seriously, I have trouble working out the proper usage of the terms annihilation and annihilationism! I hope I haven't been painful for anyone to read because of this.

Hi Glenn (and others)

I first want to say that, after discovering and reviewing some of the material on your site, I appreciate and am thankful for your focus on original thinking, and for your desire that people have a deeply personal understanding of important matters. Having said that, I disagree with your position on annihilation.

As time allows, I hope to engage with enough of the material that you (and others) reference in order to give your position a fair hearing. For now though, I want to raise two or three points. If these have been dealt with elsewhere, feel free to provide a link/reference so that I am not wasting your valuable time. Recently getting married has led me to appreciate others’ time much more, as the amount of my own that I have to devote to these issues has become much more scarce!

Firstly, I would like to mention Matthew chapter 11 as a passage that seems to have a lot more weight on the issue of degrees of punishment. Jesus says that it will be more tolerable for some. While I believe that this is not necessarily an argument for or against annihilation, it does seem to be much stronger than the passage you’ve used. I’ve also never come across Luke 12 as a passage with any real weight in the argument.

Second, I think that reducing the issue of punishment/reward to one of “having life or not having life” is overly simplified, and even misses the point when scripture refers to life and death in the context of eternity. If death is permanent and final, without the “spiritual” component of pain or torment, then the direct opposite of this would seem to be life without the spiritual component of joy and completed sanctification. The gains of salvation would seem to be reduced to mere immortality and the issue of what happens during that version of everlasting life seems separated from the biblical concept of everlasting life.

Finally, the position of annihilation seems to me to present a lower view of the majesty of God than that which I find presented in scripture. I don’t say that to offend, but to show that I do consider this an important enough issue for Christians to work out together. I am sure you have just as high a view of God as I do, but I do not think that annihilation supports such a high view. Justice, in at least part of the biblical sense of the word, has a clear meaning of balancing the books. The magnitude of the crime demands an appropriate magnitude of punishment. Not so much from the angle that sin is really bad, but because the sin (or any level) is against a really holy God; that is why conscious punishment without end makes more sense to me. I’ve totally understated just how bad sin is and more importantly just how holy God is, but hopefully I’ve still communicated that it is the holiness that I think demands a greater sense of punishment by those being punished.

The comparison to an earthly court, in particular life imprisonment versus the death penalty, has been used to try and justify annihilation as meeting the requirements of justice. I think this argument presents a misunderstanding of true justice and the role of the legal/penal system. Scripture offers us hope that true and ultimate justice will be served by God on Judgment day. Our earthly systems of justice attempt to copy this, not the other way around. As such, our earthly systems are limited to merely representing in a physical sense the death of the wicked. Because of this, we cannot properly relate a flawed, man-made, physical system to the perfect system administered by a perfect Creator. I could say much more on this but the hints are there enough for you to ponder this further.

Thank you for such an open and valuable forum on this, and other issues. I apologise for the lack of detail in my words. Time and mental energy being scarce, I hope you will forgive me.


You can read the full blog post and comments here: