By Spencer D Gear
There are Christians active on the Internet and in churches who are promoting the doctrine of annihilation for unbelievers at death. One post on Christian Forums stated:
“Have you considered the possibility that people are annihilationists because they believe the bible supports that position better than any other position?”
Not anyone who is familiar with the Scriptures and accepts them as written.
John Stott, the late evangelical scholar, ‘In Evangelical Essentials, I described as “tentative” my suggestion that “eternal punishment” may mean the ultimate annihilation of the wicked rather than their eternal conscious torment. I would prefer to call myself agnostic on this issue, as are a number of New Testament scholars I know. In my view, the biblical teaching is not plain enough to warrant dogmatism. There are awkward texts on both sides of the debate’ (McCloughry 2006).
Clark Pinnock supported annihilationism. See ‘Clark Pinnock’s thoughts on hell’. Pinnock outlined his doctrine of annihilation in, ‘The conditional view’, in Four Views on Hell (Zondervan):
Here he stated that
we are asked to believe that God endlessly tortures sinners by the million, sinners who perish because the Father has decided not to elect them to salvation, though he could have done so, and whose torments are supposed to gladden the hearts of believers in heaven. The problems with this doctrine are both extensive and profound….
I will argue that it is more scriptural, theologically coherent, and practical to interpret the nature of hell as the destruction rather than the endless torture of the wicked. I will maintain that the ultimate result of rejecting God is self-destruction, closure with God, and absolute death in body, soul, and spirit. I take the verse seriously that says: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23)….
I conclude that the traditional belief that God makes the wicked suffer in an unending conscious torment in hell is unbiblical, is fostered by a Hellenistic view of human nature, is detrimental to the character of God, is defended on essentially pragmatic grounds, and is being rejected by a growing number of biblically faithful, contemporary scholars. I believe that a better case can be made for understanding the nature of hell as termination—better biblically, anthropologically, morally, judicially, and metaphysically (Pinnock 1992:136, 137, 165).
For a response to Pinnock’s position, see the rebuttals by John F. Walvoord, William V. Crockett and Zachary J. Hayes (Crockett 1992:167-178
What’s the meaning of ‘eternal destruction’?
I do not support annihilation, but some Christians who have promoted this view to me have taken the line that Scriptures that advocate ‘eternal destruction’ and ‘perish’ are supporting the annihilationist theology. Many SDAs take this line. Annihilation is the dogma of the Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and some others, even among evangelicals.
The SDA fundamental beliefs state:
The unrighteous dead will then be resurrected, and with Satan and his angels will surround the city; but fire from God will consume them and cleanse the earth. The universe will thus be freed of sin and sinners forever. (Rev. 20; 1 Cor. 6:2, 3; Jer. 4:23-26; Rev. 21:1-5; Mal. 4:1; Eze. 28:18, 19.).
Here is some of my reasoning why I reject annihilation:
This is what 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (ESV) states: ‘They [those who do not know God, v8] will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might’.
It is important to note that in the Greek this verse begins with the qualitative relative pronoun, oitines. which means ‘such people as’ and is not the same as ‘who’ (Hendriksen & Kistemaker 1955/1984:160).
The NT Greek of this verse is found at 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (SBLGNT). A literal translation is: ‘such people as penalty will pay destruction eternal from face of the Lord and from the glory of the strength of him’.
We are told the nature of this ‘destruction’ in context. Second Thess 1:7-8 says of unbelievers (those inflicting punishment on the believers at Thessalonica) that ‘God considers it just to repay with affliction…. inflicting vengeance’. That’s the language of God and he says that this is what happens when ‘they will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might’ (1:9).
To summarise what the Scriptures state in the context of 2 Thess. 1:7-9.
- unbelievers will be repaid with affliction;
- In this affliction, God is inflicting vengeance;
- This vengeance is called ‘eternal destruction’’;
- And it means being ‘away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might’.
This is the justice that all unbelievers will receive from the absolutely just Almighty God of the universe. ‘Destruction’ in 2 Thess 1:9 is a descriptive term and it tells us its content. Those who want to find destruction to mean something that is destroyed and that’s the end (as this person seems to infer) are found to be wrong because of the Greek word, aiwnios (eternal). There is no time frame here. It is timeless eternity and this destruction goes on to the aeons to come. This is what the adjective, aiwnios, means. It is true that the eternal life of the believers is as long as the eternal destruction of unbelievers.
Richard Lenski explained:
Those who find annihilation in it [destruction] would thereby abolish hell, others misunderstand aiwnios and reduce it to a long term which, however, eventually ends. There is no time beyond the last day, either short or long, but only timelessness, eternity, “the eon to come”; this is what the adjective [aiwnios] means, which is true of the zwe or “life” of the blessed as it is true of the “destruction” of the damned. The destruction occurs “away from the Lord’s face” and thus in the outer darkness (Lenski 1937:388-389).
Second Thess 1:9 says that this will be happening ‘away from the presence of the Lord’ and from ‘the glory of his might’. Please don’t minimise the seriousness of this destruction. The saints are surrounded by the glory of the Lord God’s presence. The unbelievers are excluded from the presence of the Lord and are experiencing God’s vengeance by means of eternal destruction. You and I don’t invent the meaning of ‘destruction’. It is explained in context.
Elsewhere the experience of unbelievers after death is described as being sent to the place where it is ‘outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matt. 22:13). That is a very clear description that cannot be lightened by annihilation or metaphorical intent.
In 2 Thess. 1:9, the fact that destruction is eternal, never ending (see also 1 Thess 5:3; 1 Cor 5:5: 1 Tim 6:9) means that it does not indicate a contemporary understanding of destruction. It cannot mean annihilation or going out of existence. Instead, it means to be away from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might. When I reverse over my child’s toy and destroy it, it is not annihilated out of existence.
Everlasting destruction is the manifestation of God’s vengeance and is the very opposite of everlasting life to be experienced by the believers.
Here’s another response
This was provoked by this response on Christian Forums:
Example 3. Exegesis versus Eisegesis (Not having any thing to do with Annihilationism)
2 Thessalonians 1:9
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction,away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
Exegesis says the punishment is destruction, because it says “destruction”
Eisegesis says the punishment can’t be destruction because we “know” that the punishment is eternal torment. So even though this verse says “destruction” the word destruction can’t mean destruction, it must mean eternal torment. This is reading an existing doctrine into scripture rather than taking doctrince (sic) from what scripture says.
’Everlasting destruction’ (2 Thess. 1:9) means that the penalty is everlasting, never-ending. That’s what the Greek word, aiwnios means. The fact that this destruction (see also 1 Cor 5:5; 1 Thess 5:3; 1 Tim 6:9) is everlasting clearly indicates it is NOT referring to annihilation. If death of unbelievers means they are zonked out of existence, it is ridiculous to speak of it as being everlasting. I buried my dead cat and its remains are dust now. Does that mean it has an everlasting existence as dead dust? This is ridiculous thinking.
Second Thess 1:9 tells us clearly what the meaning is of “everlasting destruction”. It is being “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”. That is not a description of being annihilated out of existence. Second Thess 1:8, the preceding verse, is clear about what this absence from the presence of the Lord involves. It is “inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus”.
So eternal destruction = inflicting vengeance and it will happen “away from the presence of the Lord”. That’s biblical exegesis and it is not imposing on the text as this person on the forum (Timothew) wanted to do.
Therefore, eternal destruction is banishment from loving fellowship with God Himself and means expulsion “from the glory (radiant splendour) of his might”. However the presence in that glory is what Christian believers will be experiencing after death.
Crockett, W (ed) 1992. Four views on hell. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.
Hendriksen, W & Kistemaker, S J 1955 / 1984. Exposition of Thessalonians, the Pastorals, and Hebrews (New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.
Lenski, R C H 1937/1946/1961/2001. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. Paul’s epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon. [Lutheran Book Concern 1937; The Wartburg Press 1945; Augsburg Publishing House 1961; Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers Inc. 2001, limited edition].
McCloughry, R. 2006, ‘Basic Stott as a precursor to my piece’, Kenyananalyst, 2 May, available at: http://kenyananalyst.blogspot.com/2006/05/basic-stott-as-precursor-to-my-piece.html (Accessed 22 October 2012).
Pinnock, C H 1992. The conditional view, in W Crockett (ed) 1992, Four views on Hell, 135-166. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.
 Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Hell’, phoenixdem #66, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7693914-7/ (Accessed 22 October 2012).
 Seventh-Day Adventist ‘Fundamental Beliefs’, #27 ‘Millennium and the End of Sin’, available at: http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/fundamental/index.html (Accessed 22 October 2012).
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 November 2018.