Views on Hell: Annihilationism

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Welcome back! This is the second episode in our mini-series diving into different views on hell. Last week, we talked about Eternal Conscious Torment. In this episode, we will cover the view of Annihilationism.

As we go throughout this series, regardless of where you find yourself, remember that hell is a real place. Whatever you believe about it, we don’t want people to go there.

Now if you’re thinking, “I already know about annihilationism, it’s an erroneous idea”… keep listening. We think you will be surprised! 

Typically, those who hold to annihilation hold to something referred to as conditional immortality

You might be wondering… why? Conditional immortality is the belief that outside of a relationship with God (through believing the gospel) the human soul is not naturally immortal. So, immortality is conditional based upon whether one has a relationship with God. 

Within Annihilationism, there are a wide variety of viewpoints. We won’t be able to cover every nuance, but this will be a good introduction to the viewpoint.

What is Annihilationism?

Annihilationism is the belief that hell exists and that you don’t want to go there. But ultimately everyone who goes to hell will cease to exist. They will be annihilated whether that be at the final judgment, or after being in hell after the final judgment, for a certain period.

Some annihilationists believe that this will be the case for fallen angels as well (they will ultimately be annihilated). Others believe that humans in hell will cease to exist while fallen angels experience eternal conscious torment. 

Punishment for Sin is Death, Not Torment

Where does it find support from Scripture? For those who don’t believe in this view, it is easy to think that those who are annihiliationists are liberal and don’t hold a high view of Scripture. But this isn’t true- they have searched the Scriptures deeply and have come to this conclusion.

There is this fundamental idea throughout Scripture that the punishment for sin is death, not eternally conscious torment. 

  • In the Garden of Eden, God says, “In the day you eat of the tree you will surely die.” 
  • Romans 6:23 – “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Here, you see that sin leads to death, contrasted with the idea that God gives eternal life. 

Other Biblical Support

Now you might be thinking… that’s kind of a loose argument… and we’d agree with you. But there are other passages Annihilationists point to for support. 

  • Matthew 7:13-14 – “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is eas] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
  • Matthew 10:28 “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” 
  • In 2 Peter 2:6 Peter talks about God rescuing the godly and punishing the unrighteous. “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.” God condemned Sodom and Gomorrah to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly. 
  • John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Multiple other verses use this language of destruction, perish, extinction, etc… 

Annihilationists have no problem affirming that hell itself is eternal, but they don’t believe that people who go there experience eternal conscious torment. 

God is Love

Another big component of Annihilationism is the belief that God is love.

Would a loving God who desires that everyone repents and “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33) take pleasure in the eternal conscious torment of people? They don’t believe that God does not enact justice for sin, but that death is that justice.

Many argue that the punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime. Yes, God is infinite, all-knowing, and all-powerful. But does that mean that sinners are worthy of eternal suffering? 

Annihilationist Response to Eternal Conscious Torment

How would an Annihilationist respond to the verses that seem to support Eternal Conscious Torment?

First, they believe that while some verses point to the idea of Eternal Conscious Torment, there seem to be way more verses that point to Annihilationism. 

They also ask if the verses that tend to support ECT meant to be literal or are they meant to highlight the danger of hell? 

Revelation 14:11 states that “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever.” Many people say this verse supports ETC, but Revelation is full of poetic language- beasts, trumpets, seals, and more are all found in Revelation. If we were to take everything in Revelation literally, then we should believe that only 144,000 people will be saved. We take everything in Revelation to be true, but not everything in revelation is exactly literal. Maybe verses like this are meant to evoke imagery opposed to a literal interpretation.

Matthew 25:46 says “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Most Annihilationists believe hell is eternal. The consequences of their actions are eternal- they will never be with God. Even if one is annihilated and aren’t actively experiencing torment, they are still receiving eternal punishment. It can never be reversed. The result is eternal but they aren’t eternally, actively experiencing it.

Legitimate View

Hopefully this was a helpful intro to Annihilationism. Ultimately, this is an idea that is often viewed poorly among evangelicals, but we don’t think that should be the case. There is legitimate, solid support in Scripture for it. If you want to learn more about this or the other views on hell, we recommend this resource: Four Views on Hell.

John Stott says “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.” And we would agree with him. You can hold to the authority of Scripture and hold to Annihilationism. People who hold this view should not be demonized as inferior, liberal, or anti-Bible.

One Degree Shift

Dive in to this discussion! Search the Scriptures. Read books and resources on this topic. Decide for yourself what you believe.

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