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Tuesday
Jan112011

Theological Term of the Week

annihilationism
“The teaching that after death unbelievers suffer the penalty of God’s wrath for a time, and then are ‘annihilated,’ or destroyed, so that they no longer exist. Some forms of this teaching hold that annihilation occurs immediately upon death.”1

  • Scripture teaches that annihilationism is false:

    And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:46 ESV)

    And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9-11 ESV) 
  • From The London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689:
    Chapter 32: Of the Last Judgment

    1._____ God hath appointed a day wherein he will judge the world in righteousness, by Jesus Christ; to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father; in which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that have lived upon the earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds, and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.

    2._____ The end of God’s appointing this day, is for the manifestation of the glory of his mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of his justice, in the eternal damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient; for then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fulness of joy and glory with everlasting rewards, in the presence of the Lord; but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast aside into everlasting torments, and punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.

  • From Coram Deo: In Judgment by Stephen J. Wellum:

    (3) What, then, about the issue of justice and fairness? Is eternal conscious punishment unjust? There are a number of things that could be said here, but I will only mention one. In order to evaluate the justice or fairness of eternal punishment judgment must not only be viewed as retributive, which it is in Scripture, it must also be viewed in light of the person against whom we have sinned. And who is that? Of course, the answer that thunders forth from Scripture is that we have sinned against the majestic and glorious God of heaven and earth, the God of infinite worth and value. Our sin is not just against each other on a merely horizontal plane – that would be bad enough. But we have sinned first and foremost against the great and glorious God of Scripture! Why then is hell eternal? Simply, because we have sinned against God and an eternal hell is nothing less than what we rightly deserve. Sin falls short of the glory of God, and if the punishment of our sin is to be just at all and fitting with what we deserve, it must, in the end, be eternal.

    Do we not have to see all of this in light of the cross? If we look at the flip-side of divine judgment, that is, the remedy to our sin, we discover that salvation is only accomplished in nothing less than the enfleshment of God the Son and His going to a cross and laying down His life for the likes of us! And when we hear from Golgotha the cry of the Lord of Glory – “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” – do we not have to ask ourselves: if my salvation was only possible at such great cost, then why should I doubt that outside of this cross and this Christ that my punishment will be eternal?

    These are difficult issues no doubt. When we think about divine judgment, hell, and the state of the unbeliever, these are not pleasant realities. Even though I disagree with John Stott over these issues I think he is right when he writes: “I long that we could in some small way stand in the tearful tradition of Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul. I want to see more tears among us. I think we need to repent of our nonchalance, our hard-heartedness” [David Edwards and John Stott, Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1988), 313].

  • From 18 Words by J. I. Packer:

    Some hold that [the texts in scripture that mention ‘eternal destruction,’ or ‘eternal punishment,’ etc.] these texts imply the annihilation of the rejected — one searing moment in the fire, and then oblivion. But it seems clear that in reality the ‘second death’ is no more a cessation of being than is the first. For (i) the word rendered ‘destruction’ in 2 Thess. 1:9 (olethros) means, not annihilation, but ruin (cf. its use in 1 Thess 5:3). (ii) The insistence in these texts that the fire, punishment and destruction are eternal (aionios, literally ‘age-long’) and that the worm in Gehenna is undying, would be pointless and inappropriate if all that is envisaged is momentary extinction; just as it would be pointless and inappropriate to dwell on ‘unending’ pain resulting from an immediately fatal bullet wound. Either these words indicate the endlessness of torment, or they are superfluous and misleading. (iii) To the argument that aionios means only ‘relating to the age to come’, without any implications of endless duration, it seems sufficient to say that if in Matthew 25:46 ‘eternal’ life means endless bliss (and surely it does), then the ‘eternal’ punishment mentioned there must be endless too. (iv) We are told that in the ‘lake of fire’ (the ‘eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’, Matt. 25:41) the devil will be ‘tormented day and night for ever and ever’ (Rev. 20:10). That any man sent to join him will endure a similar eternity of retribution is clear from the parallel language of Revelation 14:10f.: ‘he (the beast-worshipper) shall be tormented with fire and brimstone … the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night.’

    It seems plain that what these texts teach is not extinction, but the far worse prospect of an endless awareness of God’s just and holy displeasure. Grievous as we may find it to contemplate, and sickening as we may find the Jewish apocalyptic imagery in which Christ and the apostles speak of it (this is, after all, the post-holocaust era), and endless hell can no more be removed from the New Testament than an endless heaven can. This is why physical death (the first death) is so fearful a prospect for Christless men; not because it means extinction, but precisely because it does not mean extinction, only the unending pain of the second death. The godless man dimly senses this, through God’s general revelation (Rom. 1:32); no wonder, then, that he fears to die.

Learn more:

  1. Blue Letter Bible: Will the Unbelieving Dead Become Non-Existent? (Annihilationism)
  2. Got Questions.org: Is annihilationism Biblical?
  3. Sam Storms: Hell and Annihilationism
  4. J. I. Packer: Evangelical Annihilationism in Review
  5. Mark R. Talbot: The Morality of Everlasting Punishment
  6. Wayne Grudem: The Final Judgment and Eternal Punishment (mp3)

Related terms:

1From Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem

Do you have a a theological term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

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