Is Hell Eternal? A Bible Study

Is Hell Eternal? A Bible Study by Jack Kettler
“Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” (Psalm 25:4)
In this study, we will look at the biblical teaching about eternal judgment. We will do this under the general heading of annihilationism. There are several subheadings such as soul sleep, conditional immortality, and everlasting punishment.
As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, lexical evidence, commentary evidence and confessional support for the purpose to glorify God in how we live. May God be glorified always!
“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.” *
Conditional Immortality:
The view that immortality is given only to those Christians who believe in Christ. The rest are destroyed and do not exist. Some adherents to conditional immortality believe that the wicked will be punished in hell for a period proportional to their sins and then they are annihilated. **
Soul Sleep:
The teaching that when a person dies his soul ceases to exist. On the final judgment day he is brought back to life and judged. This is not a heresy, only an error of interpretation. The Bible is not specific on the condition of the person between death and resurrection. However, there are scriptures that strongly suggest man’s continued self-awareness and continued existence after death (Luke 16:19-31; 2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Philippians 1:21-23). **
From Scripture:
“And these shall go away into everlasting (αἰώνιον, aiōnion, age-long, eternal) punishment: but the righteous into life eternal (αἰώνιον, aiōnion, age-long, eternal).” (Matthew 25:46)
My comments on Matthew 25:46:
For those arguing for some form of temporal punishment for non-believers citing the Greek word aiōnion, which they say may not be eternal but only age long, I ask for consistency. To be consistent, the advocates of temporal punishment would have to say for believers that life eternal may be only age long or temporal. To argue this is absurd since the same Greek word for everlasting punishment and life eternal is used in the Matthew passage.
The proponents of temporal punishment are committing a fallacy that is known as amphiboly, which comes from the Greek word “indeterminate.” This fallacy is similar to equivocation. Here, the ambiguity results from an inconsistent grammatical misreading. Consequently, since the same Greek word used to refer to both “everlasting punishment” and “life eternal,” it is a biblical conclusion that both believers and non-believers have an eternal/immortal soul.
From the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on Matthew 25:46:
46. And these shall go away—these “cursed” ones. Sentence, it should seem, was first pronounced—in the hearing of the wicked—upon the righteous, who thereupon sit as assessors in the judgment upon the wicked (1Co 6:2); but sentence is first executed, it should seem, upon the wicked, in the sight of the righteous—whose glory will thus not be beheld by the wicked, while their descent into “their own place” will be witnessed by the righteous, as Bengel notes.
Into everlasting punishment—or, as in Mt 25:41, “everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Compare Mt 13:42; 2Th 1:9, &c. This is said to be “prepared for the devil and his angels,” because they were “first in transgression.” But both have one doom, because one unholy character.
But the righteous into life eternal—that is, “life everlasting.” The word in both clauses, being in the original the same, should have been the same in the translation also. Thus the decisions of this awful day will be final, irreversible, unending. (1)
“And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.” (Revelation 14:9-11)
From the Pulpit Commentary on Revelation 14:11:
Verse 11. – And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever. Compare the wording of the passages quoted above on ver. 10, especially Isaiah 34:9, 10, “The smoke thereof shall go up forever.” This statement of the eternity of punishment is also in agreement with Luke 16:26 and Mark 9:44. And they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. “No rest,” in contrast with the blessed rest of the saints (ver. 13). Wordsworth says, “Οἱ προσκυνοῦντες τὸ θηρίον is a stronger expression than ‘those who worship the beast;’ it means those whose distinguishing characteristic is that they are worshipping the beast, and persist in worshipping him, even to the end. This characteristic is so strongly marked that they are here represented as keeping it even after their death.” (On the “mark,” see on Revelation 13:16-18.) (2)
My comments on Revelation 14:11:
The “smoke ascendeth up forever and ever,” means that what the fire is burning is never finished burning or what is burning is never burned up. If so, the smoke should cease. Thus, this punishment is endless as evidenced by the fact that the smoke never ends ascending up.
“And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting (עֹולָ֔ם, o·v·lam, long duration, antiquity, futurity) life, and some to shame and everlasting (עֹולָ֔ם, o·v·lam, long duration, antiquity, futurity) contempt.” (Daniel 12:2)
My comments on Daniel 12:2:
Observations on this passage are virtually the same as the Matthew 25:46. In this passage the same Hebrew word used for everlasting life and everlasting shame and contempt. These two passages are definitive in deciding this debate about eternal life or temporal punishment. It is readily admitted that in Greek and Hebrew that everlasting may be tied to a long age. When you have the same words in the same verse saying everlasting life for believers and everlasting punishment for non-believers, you cannot equivocate and say there are two different usages of the word in the same verse that are coupled together by way of contrast. If one word may mean temporal, the other may also which is nonsense when speaking of everlasting life for the believer.
The next entry is well worth the serious Bible student’s time to carefully consider:
PUNISHMENT, EVERLASTING from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
1. Survival after Death
2. Retribution for Sin
3. Conscious Suffering in Future
1. Old Testament and Jewish Conceptions
2. New Testament Teaching
(1) “Eternal”
(2) Equivalent Expressions
(3) The Last Judgment
3. Teaching of Analogy
1. Universal Salvation
2. Annihilation
3. Second Probation
1. Mystery of the Future
2. Nature of Punishment
3. Range of Divine Mercy
4. Gradation of Punishment
5. God “All in All”
I. Preliminary Assumptions.
(For “everlasting,” where used in the King James Version as the rendering of aionios, the Revised Version (British and American) substitutes “eternal.”) It is assumed in this article that Scripture teaches the survival of the soul after death, the reality of retribution and of judgment to come, and a shorter or longer period of suffering for sin in the case of the unredeemed in the world beyond. Only a few words need be said, therefore, in preliminary remark on these assumptions.
1. Survival after Death:
Whatever view may be taken of the development of the doctrine of immortality in the Old Testament (see ESCHATOLOGY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT), it will scarcely be doubted that it is throughout assumed in the New Testament that the souls of men, good and bad, survive death (see IMMORTALITY). Two passages only need be referred to in proof:
one, Christ’s saying in Matthew 10:28: “Be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Gehenna); the other, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31: Lazarus is carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; the rich man lifts up his eyes in Hades, being in torments. The whole doctrine of the future judgment in the New Testament presupposes survival after death.
2. Retribution for Sin:
Retribution for sin is a cardinal point in the teaching of both the Old Testament and New Testament. The doctrine of judgment, again, in the New Testament, with Christ as judge, turns on this point. The following passages are decisive:
Isaiah 3:10, 11; Matthew 11:22, 24; 12:41, 42; Romans 2:5, 12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7, 8, etc.
3. Conscious Suffering in Future:
The conscious endurance of punishment for sin in the future state is already implied in the preceding. The parable of the Rich Man speaks of it as following immediately on death in Hades; all the descriptions of the judgment imply pain and anguish as the result of condemnation (compare Romans 2:5,12). This does not settle the nature or duration of the punishment; but it excludes the idea that physical death is the extinction of being, or that annihilation follows immediately upon death or judgment.
These things being assumed, the questions that remain are:
Is the period of suffering for sin eternal, or is it terminable? May it be cut short by repentance or by annihilation? Is there any final solution of the discord it implies in the universe? It is maintained here that the punishment of sin, in the case of the finally impenitent, is everlasting.
II. Scriptural Support.
The doctrine that the punishment of sin is everlasting is sustained by many plain testimonies of Scripture.
1. Old Testament and Jewish Conceptions:
The doctrine of future punishment is not prominent in the Old Testament, where rewards and punishments are chiefly connected with the present life. In a few passages (Psalms 49:14, 15; 73:18, 19; compare Isaiah 24:21, 22; 66:24), Dr. Charles thinks that “Sheol appears as the place of punishment of the wicked” (Eschatology, 73-76, 156). If so, there is no suggestion of escape from it. In Daniel 12:2 some that sleep in the dust are represented as awaking to “shame and everlasting contempt” (the word for “everlasting” is the usual one, `olam). In the Jewish literature of the century before Christ, “Sheol is regarded,” says Dr. Charles, “as the place of final eternal punishment, that is, it has become hell” (op. cit., 236).
2. New Testament Teaching:
In the New Testament, the strongest language is used by Jesus and the apostolic writers on the certainty and severity of the punishment of sin in the future state, and always in a manner which suggests that the doom is final.
(1) “Eternal.”
The word “eternal” (aionios) is repeatedly applied to the punishment of sin, or to the fire which is its symbol. A principal example is Matthew 25:41, 46, “eternal fire,” “eternal punishment” (kolasis aionios). Here precisely the same word is applied to the punishment of the wicked as to the blessedness of the righteous. Other instances are Matthew 18:8; Jude 1:7; compare Revelation 14:11; 19:3; 20:10. In 2 Thessalonians 1:9, we have, “eternal destruction.” The kindred word aidios, “everlasting,” is in Jude 1:6 applied to the punishment of the fallen angels.
The reply made by Maurice (Theological Essays, 442) that aionios in such passages denotes quality, not duration, cannot be sustained. Whatever else the term includes, it connotes duration. More pertinent is the criticism of other writers (e.g. Cox, Salvator Mundi, 96; Farrar, Eternal Hope, Pref., xxxiv, pp. 78, 197; compare his Mercy and Judgment, passim) that aionios does not necessarily mean “eternal” (according to Cox it does not mean this at all), but is strictly “age-long,” is therefore compatible with, if it does not directly suggest, a terminable period. Cox allows that the term is “saturated through and through with the element of time” (p. 100,), but he denies its equivalence with “everlasting.” The sense, no doubt, is to be determined by the context, but it can hardly be questioned that “the eons of the eons” and similar phrases are the practical New Testament equivalents for eternity, and that aionios in its application to God and to life (“eternal life”) includes the idea of unending duration (compare John 10:28, 29 for express assertion of this). When, therefore, the term is applied in the same context to punishment and to life (Matthew 25:46), and no hint is given anywhere of limitation, the only reasonable exegesis is to take the word in its full sense of “eternal.”
(2) Equivalent Expressions.
The meaning “eternal” is confirmed by the use of equivalent expressions and of forms of speech which convey in the strongest manner the idea of finality. Such are the expressions, “the unquenchable fire,” the “worm” that “dieth not” (Matthew 3:12; Mark 9:43-48; compare Matthew 13:42, 50), with those numerous references to “death,” “destruction,” “second death,” on which the advocates of conditional immortality build their arguments for final extinction. Such is the dictum of Jesus:
“He that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth (remains) on him” (John 3:36; the opposite of “life” is “perishing,” 3:16); or that in Revelation 22:11, “He that is unrighteous, let him do unrighteousness still: and he that is filthy, let him be made filthy still.” Finality is the note in all Christ’s warnings—“the outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13); “The door was shut …. I know you not” (Matthew 25:10, 12; compare 7:23), as in those of the Epistles (e.g. Hebrews 2:3; 6:6, 8; 10:27, 31; 12:25, 29). Jesus speaks of the blasphemy against the Spirit as a sin which shall not be forgiven, “neither in this world, nor in that which is to come” (Matthew 12:32; not as implying that other sins, unforgiven in this life, may be forgiven in the next), a passage which Mark gives in the remarkable form, “hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29). The Rich Man in Hades found an impassable gulf fixed between himself and Lazarus (Luke 16:26). See GULF. It adds to the terribleness of these sayings that, as before remarked, there is nothing to put against them; no hint or indication of a termination of the doom. Why did Jesus not safeguard His words from misapprehension, if behind them there lay an assurance of restoration and mercy? One may ask with Oxenham, in a reply to Jukes, “whether if Christ had intended to teach the doctrine of eternal punishment, He could possibly have taught it in plainer terms.”
(3) The Last Judgment.
The New Testament doctrine of the last judgment leads to the same conclusion. Two things seem plainly taught about this judgment:
The first, that it proceeds on the matter of the present life—“the things done in the body” (Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:12); and the second, that it is decisive in its issues. Not a single suggestion is given of a reversal of its decisions in any future age. Such silence is inexplicable if the Scriptures meant to teach what the opponents of this doctrine so confidently maintain.
3. Teaching of Analogy:
In corroboration of this Scriptural view analogy might be pleaded. How constantly even in this life is the law illustrated of the tendency of character to fixity! The present is the season of grace (2 Corinthians 6:2), yet what powers of resistance to God and goodness are seen to lie in human nature, and how effectually, often, does it harden itself under the influences that seem most fitted to break down its rebellion! What likelihood is there that eternity will alter this tendency, or make conversion more easy? Eternity can hardly be thought of as more really a scene of grace than time is for those to whom the gospel has already come. Its characteristic mark is said to be “judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Like the photographer’s bath, may its effect not be to develop and fix existing character, rather than to change it? If so, the state in which judgment finds the soul may be presumed to be one that will remain.
III. Difficulties and Objections–Rival Hypotheses.
What, it will now be asked, of the tremendous difficulties which inhere in this doctrine, with their undeniable effect in alienating many generous minds from it and from Christianity? The lurid rhetorical picturings of the sufferings of the lost, too frequent in the teaching of the past, may be discounted; it is not necessary to go beyond the inexpressibly solemn words of Christ Himself and His apostles. But even with this limitation, does it not seem as if, by this doctrine, a reflection was cast on the righteousness and mercy of God in creating such multitudes of the human race, as, on any showing, are outside the pale of Christ’s salvation–the countless generations of the heathen, with the masses even in Christian lands who have not received or do not obey the light–only to doom them to endless misery? Before attempting a positive answer, it is proper that a glance be taken at the rival theories put forth in alleviation of the difficulty.
1. Universal Salvation:
The most comprehensive solution propounded is that of universal salvation–of a final restitution of all souls to God’s favor and to blessedness. This tempting speculation–for it is no more–advocated by Origen in the early church, by Schleiermacher in the last century, has been urged by many writers in modern times. One of its best known advocates was Samuel Cox, in his book Salvator Mundi. It is noticeable that not a few who favor this theory (e.g. Maurice, Farrar) decline to commit themselves to it as more than a “hope,” and admit the possibility of human souls continuing to resist God endlessly (Maurice, Theological Essays, 476; Farrar, Eternal Hope, Pref., xv, xvi; Mercy and Judgment, I, 485, “In this sense there may be for some souls an endless hell”). It must, however, be evident that, be the number greater or smaller–and who shall give assurance of its smallness?–if there are any such souls, the difficulty in principle remains, and the passages alleged as teaching universal restoration are equally contradicted. The deeper objection to this theory is that, springing, not from real knowledge, but from men’s hopes and wishes, it has, as already shown, the tremendous stress of Scripture testimony against it; nor do the passages commonly adduced as favoring it really bear the weight put upon them. We read, e.g., of a restoration of all things–the same that Christ calls the palingenesia–but, in the same breath, we are told of those who will not hearken, and will be destroyed (Matthew 19:28; Acts 3:21, 23). We read of Christ drawing all men unto Him (John 12:32); but we are not less clearly told that at His coming Christ will pronounce on some a tremendous condemnation (Matthew 7:23; 25:41); we read of all things being gathered, or summed up, in Christ, of Christ subduing all things to Himself, etc.; but representative exegetes like Meyer and Weiss show that it is far from Paul’s view to teach an ultimate conversion or annihilation of the kingdom of evil (compare Meyer on 1 Corinthians 15:21,28 and Ephesians 1:10; Weiss, Biblical Theology, II, 723, 107, 109, English translation). We confess, however, that the strain of these last passages does seem to point in the direction of some ultimate unity, be it through subjugation, or in some other way, in which active opposition to God’s kingdom is no longer to be reckoned with.
2. Annihilation:
The view favored by another class is that of the annihilation of the finally impenitent. The type of doctrine called “conditional immortality” includes other elements which need not here be discussed (see IMMORTALITY). The annihilation theory takes different forms. So far as the annihilation is supposed to take place at death, it is contradicted by the Scriptures which support the soul’s survival after death; so far as it is believed to take place after a longer or shorter period of conscious suffering (which is White’s theory), it involves its advocates in difficulties with their own interpretations of “death,” “destruction,” “perishing,” seeing that in Scripture this doom is uniformly represented as overtaking the ungodly at the day of judgment, and not at some indefinite period thereafter. The theory conflicts also with the idea of gradation of punishment, for which room has to be sought in the period of conscious suffering, and rests really on an unduly narrowed conception of the meaning of the Scriptural terms “life” and “death.” Life is not bare existence, nor is “death” necessarily extinction of being. As said earlier, the language of many parts of Scripture implies the continued existence of the subjects of the divine wrath.
3. Second Probation:
It is significant that on the side alike of the advocates of restoration and of those of annihilation (e.g. E. White), refuge from the difficulties is frequently sought in the hypothesis of an extended probation and work of evangelization beyond death. This theory labors under the drawback that, in marked contrast with Scripture, it throws immensely the larger part of the work of salvation into the future state of being. It is, besides, apart from the dubious and limited support given to it by the passage on Christ’s preaching to “the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19, 20); destitute of Scriptural support. It has already been pointed out that the final judgment is uniformly represented as proceeding on the matter of this life. The theory is considered elsewhere.
IV. Nature, Conditions and Issues.
1. Mystery of the Future:
While dogmatisms like the above, which seem opposed to Scripture, are to be avoided, it is equally necessary to guard against dogmatisms of an opposite kind, as if eternity must not, in the nature of the case, have its undisclosed mysteries of which we here in time can frame no conception. The difficulties connected with the ultimate destinies of mankind are truly enormous, and no serious thinker will minimize them. Scripture does not warrant it in negative, any more than in positive, dogmatisms; with its uniformly practical aim, it does not seek to satisfy an idle curiosity (compare Luke 13:23,24). Its language is bold, popular, figurative, intense; the essential idea is to be held fast, but what is said cannot be taken as a directory to all that is to transpire in the ages upon ages of an unending duration. God’s methods of dealing with sin in the eternities may prove to be as much above our present thoughts as His dealings now are with men in grace. In His hands we must be content to leave it, only using such light as His immediate revelation yields.
2. Nature of Punishment:
As respects the nature of the punishment of sin, it cannot be doubted that in its essence it is spiritual. Everything can be adopted here which is said by Maurice and others—“The eternal punishment is the punishment of being without the knowledge of God, who is love, and of Jesus Christ who has manifested it; even as eternal life is declared to be the having the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ” (Theological Essays, 450). The supreme penalty of sin is unquestionably the loss of God’s life and love–the being sinful. Environment, indeed, may be expected to correspond with character, but the hell is one the sinner essentially makes for himself, and, like the kingdom of God, is within. The fire, the worm, the stripes, that figure its severity, are not physical. Even should the poena sensus (were that conceivable) be utterly removed, the poena damni would eternally remain.
3. Range of Divine Mercy:
It is a sound principle that, in His dealing with sin in the world to come, God’s mercy will reach as far as ever it can reach. This follows from the whole Scriptural revelation of the character of God. What may be included in it, it is impossible for anyone to say. It should be noticed that those of whom it is said that they shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on them, are those who “obey not” the truth (John 3:36)–who actively and consciously disregard and oppose it. But all do not belong to this class. It may be assumed that none will be lost who can in consistency with holiness and love be saved. The most germinal goodness, which is the implantation of His own Spirit, God will acknowledge and develop. The problem of undeveloped character may receive a solution we do not wot of with the entrance into the eternal light–not in change of character, but rather, as said before, in the revelation of character’s inmost bent. In this sense, the entrance into eternity may be to many the revelation of a love and grace which had not been understood or appreciated as it should have been on earth, but with which it is in essential kinship. There are at least many shades and degrees of character, and God may be entrusted to take the most just, yet most merciful, account of all.
4. Gradation of Punishment:
The fullest weight must further be given to what the Scripture so expressly says of gradation of punishment, even of the unsaved. It is not the case that the lot of all who fail of the eternal life in Christ is all of one grade. There are the “few stripes” and the “many stripes” (Luke 12:47, 48); those for whom it will be “more tolerable” than for others in the day of judgment (Matthew 11:20, 24). Even “Sodom and her daughters” will be mercifully dealt with in comparison with others (Ezekiel 16:48, 49, 53, 55, 61). There will be for everyone the most exact weighing of privilege, knowledge and opportunity. There is a vast area here for the divine administration on which no light at all is afforded us.
5. God “All in All”:
There remain those passages already alluded to which do seem to speak, not, indeed, of conversion or admission into the light and fellowship of Christ’s kingdom, but still of a final subjugation of the powers of evil, to the extent, at least, of a cessation of active opposition to God’s will, of some form of ultimate unification and acknowledgment of Christ as Lord. Such passages are Ephesians 1:10; Philippians 2:9-11; above all, 1 Corinthians 15:24-28. God, in this final vision, has become “all in all.” Here, again, dogmatism is entirely out of place, but it is permissible to believe that these texts foreshadow such a final persuasion of God’s righteousness in His judgment and of the futility of further rebellion as shall bring about an outward pacification and restoration of order in the universe disturbed by sin, though it can never repair that eternal loss accruing from exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and glory.
Maurice, Theological Essays, “Eternal Life and Eternal Death”; S. Cox, Salvator Mundi; F. W. Farrar, Eternal Hope; Mercy and Judgment; A. Jukes, The Second Death and the Restitution of All Things; E. White, Life in Christ; H. Constable, Duration and Nature of Future Punishment. For: Pusey, What Is of Faith as to Everlasting Punishment, H. N. Oxenham, Catholic Eschatology; C. Clemance, Future Punishment; Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus, the Messiah, Appendix, xix, “On Eternal Punishment, according to the Rabbis and the New Testament “; The Future Life, A Defence of the Orthodox View, by the Most Eminent American Scholars; S. D. F. Salmond, The Christian Doctrine of Immortality, Book VI; Orr, Christian View of God, lecture ix; Luthardt, Saving Truths (English translations), lecture x. See also the various works on Dogmatic and Biblical Theology. James Orr (3)
J. I. Packer on Why Annihilationism Is Wrong article is abridged:
2. The Intrinsic Eternality of the Soul
The second common argument is that once the idea of the intrinsic immortality of the soul (i.e., the conscious person) is set aside as a Platonic intrusion into second-century exegesis, it will appear that the only natural meaning of the NT imagery of death, destruction, fire, and darkness as indicators of the destiny of unbelievers is that such persons cease to be. On inspection, however, this proves not to be the case. For evangelicals, the analogy of Scripture—the axiom of its inner coherence and consistency and power to elucidate its own teaching from within itself—is a controlling principle in all interpretation, and though there are texts which, taken in isolation, might carry annihilationist implications, others can’t naturally be fitted into any form of this scheme. But no proposed theory of the Bible’s meaning that doesn’t cover all the Bible’s relevant statements can be true.
Texts like Jude 6, Matthew 8:12, Matthew 22:13, and Matthew 25:30 show that darkness signifies a state of deprivation and distress, not of destruction in the sense of ceasing to exist.
After all, only those who exist can weep and gnash their teeth, as those banished into the darkness are said to do.
Nowhere in Scripture does death signify extinction; physical death is departure into another mode of being, called sheol or hades, and metaphorical death is existence that is God-less and graceless; nothing in biblical usage warrants the idea that the “second death” of Revelation 2:11; 20:14; and 21:8 means or involves cessation of being.
Moreover, Luke 16:22–24 shows that, as in a good deal of extra biblical apocalyptic, fire signifies continued existence in pain. The chilling words of Revelation 14:10 with 19:20 and 20:10, and of Matthew 13:42, 50, confirm this.
In 2 Thessalonians 1:9 Paul explains, or extends, the meaning of “punished with everlasting [eternal, aionios] destruction” by adding “and shut out from the presence of the Lord”—which, by affirming exclusion, rules out the idea that “destruction” meant extinction. Only those who exist can be excluded. It’s often been pointed out that in Greek the natural meaning of the destruction vocabulary (noun, olethros; verb, apollumi) is “wrecking,” so that what’s destroyed is henceforth nonfunctional rather than annihilated altogether.
Annihilationists respond with special pleading. Sometimes they urge that such references to continued distress refer only to the temporary experience of the lost before they’re extinguished, but this is to beg the question by speculative eisegesis and to give up the original claim that the NT imagery of eternal loss naturally implies extinction. Robert Peterson quotes from Stott, which he calls “the best case for annihilationism,” the following on the words “And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever” (Rev. 14:11):
The fire itself is termed “eternal” and “unquenchable,” but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed forever, not tormented forever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which “rises for ever and ever.”
“On the contrary,” Peterson replies, “our expectation would be that the smoke would die out once the fire had finished its work. . . . The rest of the verse confirms our interpretation: ‘There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image.’” There seems no answer to this.
So at every point, the linguistic argument simply fails. To say that some texts, taken in isolation, might mean annihilation proves nothing when other texts evidently do not. (4)
Is immortality of the soul a Greek concept smuggled into the Bible?
Immortality of the Soul by Louis Berkhof – article is abridged:
The historical and philosophical proofs for the survival of the soul are not absolutely demonstrative, and therefore do not compel belief. For greater assurance in this matter, it is necessary to direct the eye of faith to Scripture. Here, too, we must rely on the voice of authority. Now the position of Scripture with respect to this matter may at first seem somewhat dubious. It speaks of God as the only one who hath immortality (I Tim. 6:15), and never predicates this of man. There is no explicit mention of the immortality of the soul, and much less any attempt to prove it in a formal way. Hence the Russellites or Millennial Dawnists often challenge theologians to point to a single passage in which the Bible teaches that the soul of man is immortal. But even if the Bible does not explicitly state that the soul of man is immortal, and does not seek to prove this in a formal way, any more than it seeks to present formal proof for the existence of God, this does not mean that Scripture denies or contradicts or even ignores it. It clearly assumes in many passages that man continues his conscious existence after death. In fact, it treats the truth of the immortality of man very much as it does that of the existence of God, that is, it assumes this as an undisputed postulate.
1. THE DOCTRINE OF IMMORTALITY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT. The assertion has been made repeatedly that the Old Testament, and particularly the Pentateuch, does not teach in any way the immortality of the soul. Now it is perfectly true that this great truth is revealed less clearly in the Old than in the New Testament; but the facts in the case do not warrant the assertion that it is absent from the Old Testament altogether. It is a well-known and generally recognized fact that God’s revelation in Scripture is progressive and gradually increases in clearness; and it stands to reason that the doctrine of immortality in the sense of a blessed eternal life, could only be revealed in all its bearings after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who “brought life and immortality to light,” II Tim. 1:10. But while all this is true, it cannot be denied that the Old Testament implies the continued conscious existence of man, either in the sense of a bare immortality or survival of the soul, or of a blessed future life, in several ways. This is implied:
A. In its doctrine of God and man. The very root of Israel’s hope of immortality was found in its belief in God as its Creator and Redeemer, its covenant God, who would never fail them. He was to them the living, the eternal, the faithful God, in whose fellowship they found joy, life, peace, and perfect satisfaction. Would they have panted after Him as they did, have entrusted themselves to Him completely in life and death, and have sung of Him as their portion forever, if they felt that all He offered them was but for a brief span of time? How could they derive real comfort from the promised redemption of God, if they regarded death as the end of their existence? Moreover, the Old Testament represents man as created in the image of God, created for life and not for mortality. In distinction from the brute, he possesses a life that transcends time and already contains within itself a pledge of immortality. He is made for communion with God, is but little lower than the angels, and God has set eternity in his heart, Eccl. 3:11.
B. In its doctrine of sheol. We are taught in the Old Testament that the dead descend into sheol. The discussion of this doctrine belongs to the following chapter. But whatever may be the proper interpretation of the Old Testament sheol, and whatever may be said of the condition of those who have descended into it, this is certainly represented as a state of more or less conscious existence, though not one of bliss. Man enters upon the state of perfect bliss only by a deliverance from sheol. In this deliverance we reach the real core of the Old Testament hope of a blessed immortality. This is clearly taught in several passages, such as Ps. 16:10; 49:14, 15.
C. In its frequent warnings against consulting the dead or “familiar spirits,” that is, persons who were able to summon the spirits of the dead and to convey their messages to the inquirers, Lev. 19:31; 20:27; Deut. 18:11; Isa. 8:19; 29:4. Scripture does not say that it is impossible to consult the dead, but rather seems to presuppose the possibility while it condemns the practice.
D. In its teachings respecting the resurrection of the dead. This doctrine is not explicitly taught in the earlier books of the Old Testament. Christ points out, however, that it was taught by implication in the statement, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” Matt. 22:32, cf. Ex. 3:6, and chides the Jews for not understanding the Scriptures on this point. Moreover, the doctrine of the resurrection is explicitly taught in such passages as Job 19:23-27; Ps. 16:9-11; 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2.
E. In certain striking Old Testament passages which speak of the believer’s enjoyment in communion with God after death. These are in the main identical with the passages referred to in the preceding, namely, Job 19:25-27; Ps. 16:9-11; 17:15; 73:23, 24, 26. They breathe the confident expectation of pleasures in the presence of Jehovah.
2. THE DOCTRINE OF IMMORTALITY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT. In the New Testament, after Christ has brought life and immortality to light, the proofs naturally multiply. The passages that contain these may again be divided into various classes, as referring:
A. To the survival of the soul. A continued existence of both the righteous and the wicked is clearly taught. That the souls of believers survive, appears from such passages as Matt. 10:28; Luke 23:43; John 11:25 f.; 14:3; II Cor. 5:1; and several other passages make it quite evident that the same can be said of the souls of the wicked, Matt. 11:21-24; 12:41; Rom. 2:5-11; II Cor. 5:10.
B. To the resurrection by which the body is also made to share in the future existence. For believers the resurrection means the redemption of the body and entrance into the perfect life in communion with God, the full blessedness of immortality. This resurrection is taught in Luke 20:35, 36; John 5:25-29; I Cor. 15; I Thess. 4:16; Phil. 3:21, and other passages. For the wicked the resurrection will also mean a renewed and continued existence of the body, but this can hardly be called life. Scripture calls it eternal death. The resurrection of the wicked is mentioned in John 5:29; Acts 24:15; Rev. 20:12-15.
C. To the blessed life of believers in communion with God. There are numerous passages in the New Testament which stress the fact that the immortality of believers is not a bare endless existence, but a rapturous life of bliss in communion with God and with Jesus Christ, the full fruition of the life that is implanted in the soul while still on earth. This is clearly emphasized in such passages as Matt. 13:43; 25:34; Rom. 2:7, 10; I Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:21; II Tim. 4:8; Rev. 21:4; 22:3, 4. (5)
In closing, we can affirm:
The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXXII. Of the State of Men after Death, and of the Resurrection of the Dead:
I. The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption:[1] but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them:[2] the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies.[3] And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day.[4] Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledges none.
II. At the last day, such as are found alive shall not die, but be changed: [5] and all the dead shall be raised up, with the selfsame bodies, and none other (although with different qualities), which shall be united again to their souls forever. [6]
III. The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonor: the bodies of the just, by His Spirit, unto honor; and be made conformable to His own glorious body. [7]
Scripture Proofs
[1] GEN 3:19 in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. ACT 13:36 For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption.
[2] LUK 23:43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, to day shalt thou be with me in paradise. ECC 12:7 then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
[3] HEB 12:23 to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect. 2CO 5:1 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. 8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. PHI 1:23 For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better. ACT 3:21 whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. EPH 4:10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.
[4] LUK 16:23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. ACT 1:25 that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. JUD 6 and the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. 7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. 1PE 3:19 by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.
[5] 1TH 4:17 then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. 1CO 15:51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
[6] JOB 19:26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: 27 Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. 1CO 15:42 so also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: 43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
[7] ACT 24:15 And have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust. JOH 5:28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. 1CO 15:43 it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. PHI 3:21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.
“Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:12)
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 946.
2. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary, Revelation, Vol. 22, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans Publishing Company reprint 1978), p. 349.
3. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, “Entry ‘PUNISHMENT, EVERLASTING,’” “International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), pp. 2501-2504.
4. J.I.Packer, Why Annihilationism is wrong, (Minneapolis, MN: The Gospel Coalition: Oct 7, 2015),
5. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, “Immortality of the Soul,” (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans), pp. 674-676.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. He served as an ordained ruling elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He worked in and retired from a fortune five hundred company in corporate America after forty years. He runs two blogs sites and is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at:

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