Bleach was and still is my no. 1 favorite anime and manga series ever since I first watched it as a teenager on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Written and drawn by Tite Kubo, the story features the adventures of 15 year old Ichigo Kurosaki, a high school student with the ability to see spirits and talk to them. In episode 1, Ichigo gains the ability of a Soul Reaper from Rukia Kuchiki and uses his new powers to fight evil spirits called hollows to prevent them from eating the souls of both the living and the dead. A Soul Reaper’s job is twofold; (1) Guide departed souls to the afterlife by performing a “Soul Burial” with the hilt of their sword (i.e a Zanpakuto), and (2) use the blade of that sword to slay hollows. With the new anime streaming on Disney+ and Hulu, having come back after being prematurely cancelled in 2012, it seemed like a good time to write an article explaining how a couple of the concepts in this series most likely helped me visualize (albeit subconsiously) a couple of biblical ideas.
Do note that this article does contain spoilers, especially The Thousand Year Blood War arc which is the arc currently being adapted for television.
The main enemies of Soul Reapers, as already mentioned, are a group of evil spirits called hollows. Hollows are hunted by Soul Reapers because hollows devour the souls of humans whether they’re embodied or not, and the former don’t see them coming. In fact, the protagonist’s mother was killed by a hollow when he was very young, but he didn’t realize this fact until years later when he met the hollow that killed her, in about episode 9 of the anime, and in volume 3 of the manga.
Moreover, after the first arc in which Ichigo fought hollows in a Monster-Of-The-Week format, two high ranking officers arrested Rukia for the crime of giving her powers to a human. According to the law of the Soul Society, it is a captial offense for a soul reaper to transfer their powers to a mere human. This kicked off The Soul Society arc in which Ichigo and his friends Chad, Orihime, Uryuu, Ganju, and Yoruichi invade the Seireitei to rescue her, fighting lots of Soul Reapers along the way.
Before Ichigo went off to The Soul Society on this rescue mission, he tried to prevent Rukia’s arrest, fighting Lieutenant Renji Abari and Captain Byakuya Kuchiki. Ichigo was defeated and left bleeding out on the pavement as the three went into a portal to Soul Society, all the while Ichigo curses his powerlessness and “Will Of The Heart” from Bleach’s fire soundtrack plays in the background. Ichigo came very close to dying before Kisuke Urahara took him back to his home and nursed him back to health.
Ichigo nearly died a couple of other times, once being impaled by Kenpachi Zaraki’s Zanpakuto, and later, much much later, by a Hollow-Soul Reaper hybrid (i.e an Arrancar) named Uquiorra.
In all these instances, Ichigo was a disembodied spiritual being. He was a soul without a body. His body was either being occupied by a substitute soul named Kon or was just left lying somewhere. Ichigo always had to leave his physical body in order to fight as a Soul Reaper.
As a kid, I had been taught that the soul was immortal. It initially baffled me to think that someone could die as a spiritual being. “They’re already dead. How can they die again?” I thought to myself. But surely, a second death was possible. People who died while embodied could be eaten by souls and lose consiousness completely. Ichigo could be slain as a pure spirit being. Rukia could have been executed in The Soul Society; the execution weapon destroying not only her gigai, but her soul as well. And Ichigo could never meet his mother in the afterlife despite having free passage there later because Misaki Kurosaki had been killed not only in body, but in both body and soul.
Years later, I adopted a view of Hell called Annihilationism or “Conditional Immortality”. Unlike the traditional view of Hell in which the damned are tormented for all eternity, Annihilationism asserts that what God does with the damned is annihilate them in Hell fire. I came to this conclusion after reading Edward Fudge’s book “The Fire That Consumes” and after listening to several episodes of The Rethinking Hell Podcast.
For those wanting a full treatment of the biblical evidence for and against this view, I recommend watching my series on my web show, Cerebral Faith Live. The series is called “The Problem Of Hell” and is divided into 7 parts. I talk about the biblical evidence for annihilationism in parts 2, 3, and 4.
But for now, let me just mention a few of what I consider to be the most compelling verses in favor of annihilationism.
Matthew 10:28 – “Do not fear him who can destroy the body, but fear him who can destroy both body and soul in Hell.” (emphasis mine)
In this verse, Jesus is talking to His disciples and is warning them of the persecution that is to come from their dedication to being His disciples. He is sending them out like sheep among wolves, and Jesus warns them that they’ll be arrested, flogged, brought before government officials, and that within households in which one is a Christian but others are not, family members will turn on each other. (see verses 16-27). It is on the heels of these warnings that Jesus tells His disciples not to fear him who can kill the body, but to fear him who can destroy BOTH body AND soul in Hell.
If annihilationism is not true, this verse makes no sense. The only response to this verse from traditionalists I’ve heard is that this is talking about what God CAN do, not what God WILL do. Sure, Jesus is speaking in modal language here. However, if what God actually intends to do to the damned is to torture them forever, then why does Jesus even mention the destruction of body and soul in Hell as basis for fearing God. God is omnipotent, so there really isn’t much he can’t do.1 As Glenn Peoples once put it, Jesus might as well have told his disciples to fear God because he has the power to turn them into chickens! 2
Moreover, since Jesus is trying to dissuade the disciples from denying him (since he goes onto say in verses 32-33 that anyone who denies him will be denied before the Father in Heaven), wouldn’t it be more of a motivator3 to say “Do not fear those that can kill the body, but instead fear him who can destroy the body and then torture you for all eternity.”
2 Peter 2:4-6a says “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 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;” (emphasis mine)
What happened to Sodom and Gomorrah is an example of what will happen to the ungodly. And what happened to them? They were thoroughly destroyed by fire from God (see Genesis 19:24-25). God didn’t subject them to conscious torture. In Genesis we read that “Early the next morning, Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the LORD. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and all the land of the plain, and he saw the smoke rising from the land like smoke from a furnace.” Abraham didn’t see the inhabitants of Sodom screaming in agony in a fiery inferno. He didn’t see them being tortured by demonic entities. He didn’t see them experiencing mental anguish either. He didn’t see the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah at all. They were destroyed. Only smoke and ashes remained.
John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.”
This is perhaps the most famous verse of The Bible. In this verse, Jesus says that only those believe him are the ones that have eternal life. Those who don’t believe, by contrast, perish. But if the eternal torment view of Hell were true, everyone would have eternal life! The only differences between the saved and the lost would be where they spend their eternal life and whether they’ll be happy or miserable. But both groups of people would still be eternally alive.
Again, it is beyond the scope to give a full treatment of the biblical evidence for annihilationism here. I recommend either checking out the aforementioned YouTube series I made or, if you want written content, you can pick up a copy of my book “Yahweh’s Inferno: Why Scripture’s Teaching On Hell Does Not Impugn The Goodness Of God”.
However, it might have been harder for me to visualize the idea of someone’s spirit being destroyed had I not seen it happen or nearly happen countless times throughout an anime series full of spiritual beings. The irony here is that in Bleach’s conept of the afterlife, it’s version of Hell is the eternal torment version. As seen in the fourth animated movie, when someone dies in Hell, they just regenerate and suffer a death all over again. It’s ironic that Hell is the only place in the Bleach universe where you’re essentially invincible and immortal whereas in The World Of The Living, The Soul Society, and Hueuco Mundo, you’re not.
2: The Angel-Hybrid View Of The Nephilim
Anyway, Ichigo’s father is a Soul Reaper. His mother is human (albeit of a special type). Isshin was able to reproduce with Misaki because of a special physical body that Kisuke Urahara had invented. When Soul Reapers visit the World Of The Living, they inhabit physical bodies called Gigais. This enables them to be seen and communicate with living humans who’d they otherwise be completely invisible to. During the first arc of Bleach, Rukia stayed in a gigai posing as a high school girl while she waited for the powers she gave to Ichigo to return to her.
Soul Reapers are practically gods. Indeed, in the Japanese version, they are called Shinigami which roughly translates to “Gods Of Death”. They are spirits who can’t be seen or interacted with by normal humans, and certainly cannot procreate with humans under normal circumstances. Isshin, through the use of his special gigai, was able to sire offspring with a human (Ichigo and his two younger sisters).
This probably subconsiously affected how I could envision spiritual beings like angels taking on physical form and being able to procreate, such as in Genesis 6:1-4.
Genesis 6:1-4 says;
“When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.’
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”
But it’s probably thanks to Bleach that I don’t have a hard time imagining how a spirit being could become material and be capable of procreating.
1: Not including the logically impossible like creating a square circle, one ended stick, or married bachelor. Not even God can make the incoherent coherent. But this is no challenge to His omnipotence as most theologians define omnipotence precisely as “being able to do all that is logically possible.”
2: I believe Peoples said this in “Episode 4: The Case For Annihilationism – with Glenn Peoples” —https://rethinkinghell.com/2012/09/04/episode-4-the-case-for-annihilationism-with-glenn-peoples/
3: Traditionalists love to go on about how eternal torture is so much worse than being annihilated. To the point of borderline saying that being annihilated is no big deal!