I have read your recent articles on annihilationism particularly your review of Edward Fudge’s book The Fire That Consumes. Kudos to you for being willing to take your stance on such a controversial topic as you did with Evolution, at the expense of being called a “heretic” by more traditional Christians.
I am not fully convinced of the annihilationist position as of now as I think the eternal punishment view still has some merits. But having read up on the ANE context of Sheol Hades and Gehenna I no longer see annihilation as a theologically aberrant view.
I have one question though. How much of an influence did your view on estachology lead to you accepting annihilationism? You did bring up the aspect of Revelation being symbolic and how the lake of fire aspect might have a first-century precedent, really appreciated that part.
Brian Godawa another partial preterist has also told me in a conversation he leans towards annihilationism but has not taken a stance yet. You should check his book on Psalms 82 if you haven’t read it yet. He believed the Watchers(fallen members of divine council) were destroyed in the lake of fire in AD 70 permanently ending their rule over the nations. Its sounds unbelievable but he does have his evidence for believing so.
I have not read Godawa’s Psalm 82 book. I’ve been wanting to, along with his Chronicles Of The Nephilim series. I am a little surprised that he thinks The Watchers were already destroyed in The Lake Of Fire. I was under the impression that he, like me, believed they were imprisoned in Tartarus to await their final judgment. That’s what happened in the last book of The Chronicles Of The Apocalypse novel series. I see the Lake Of Fire judgment as still future.
My eschatology did not really play a role one way or the other. I have listened to 25 episodes of The Rethinking Hell Podcast so far and there are Annihilationists all over the eschatological spectrum. Chris Date is a preterist like Godawa and I, but he’s interviewed several dispensationalists on there as well. For me, the following are the top 5 most powerful factors in leading me to embrace annihilationism, and I talk about them in depth in my upcoming book Yahweh’s Inferno: Why Scripture’s Teaching On Hell Doesn’t Impugn The Goodness Of God.
1: Jesus Said To Fear The One Who Can Destroy Both Body and Soul in Matthew 10:28
The first time I read The Bible for myself many years ago, I started with The New Testament. I read Matthew’s gospel, and as I got to chapter 10, a statement of Jesus’ stuck out as odd to me. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus said “Do not fear those who can destroy the body, instead fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in Hell.” (emphasis mine). I was like “Wait a minute. Destroy both body and soul? That would mean the total annihilation of the person.” Why didn’t I become an annihilationist 10 years ago? Well, the cultural filters I mention in the introduction of Yahweh’s Inferno are why. I basically shrugged my shoulders and went “That’s weird. But Jesus can’t mean that people will be completely destroyed in Hell. After all, Hell is a place of eternal torment.” Instead of letting The Bible speak for itself, I dismissed perhaps the most blatant proof for annihilationism in The Bible because what I was taught from the pulpit about Hell contradicted what I had read from the text.
The context of Matthew 10:28 is Jesus sending out The 12 Disciples to preach the gospel. Verses 2-4 of Matthew 10 tell us the names of all of Jesus’ disciples. Verses 5-14 record Jesus’ instructions to the disciples of what they are to do when he sends them out. “Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” After this, Jesus warns his disciples in verses 15-27 of what hardships they are to expect when they go off preaching the good news.
“Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”
Then we get to our prooftext. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matthew 10:28
In context, we can see that Matthew 10:28 comes in the context of Jesus warning his disciples of the persecution they’ll face for being His witnesses. Brother will betray brother to death, a father will betray child to death, they’ll be hated by everyone because of Jesus, and so on. So Jesus basically says “Look, don’t be afraid of your persecutors. They can destroy your body, but your immaterial soul will survive the death of your body, and they won’t be able to destroy that. The destruction of your physical body is the worst they can do to you. However, God can not only destroy your body, but your soul as well. That’s complete annihilation.” This is why in, verses 32-33 Jesus said “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” In other words “Since man can only destroy your body, but God can destroy both body and soul, it is, therefore, more sensible to not give into the temptation to deny me before your persecutors just to save your physical life.”
“Do not fear those who can destroy the body, instead of fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in Hell.” – Matthew 10:28
This passage could not be more explicit. Now, the way I got around this verse when I held to the eternal torment view of Hell was to say “Well, Jesus isn’t saying that God will destroy both body and soul, only that He is able to.” However, is this really plausible? Why would Jesus threaten his disciples with the destruction of both body and soul in Hell if God never intended on actually doing that? Jesus might as well have said “Fear the One who can turn you into chickens” or “Fear the one who can cause you to grow an extra head.” or “Fear the one who is able to make all of the food you eat taste like poop.” Since God has no intention on doing these things, it would be odd for Jesus to warn the disciples simply on the basis that God possesses the capability to do them.
2: The New Testament Says That Sodom and Gomorrah’s Judgment Foreshadows The Final Judgment
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)
3: Many Of The Often Cited Proof Texts For Eternal Torment Actually Prove Annihilationism
This is a point that Chris Date unpacks in Episode 7 of The Rethinking Hell Podcast. Many of the biblical passages often cited in support of the traditional view of Hell actually support annihilationism when more closely examined. I’ll give you one of example. Take Mark 9:48. “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9:42-48).
4: The Repeated Use Of Destruction Language
“Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” – Galatians 6:8
“For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed; the offspring of the wicked will perish.” – Psalm 37:28
Matthew 7:13-14 – “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy 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.”
“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction“ – Romans 9:22
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” – Philippians 1:27-28
“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” – Philippians 3:18-21
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.“ – 2 Peter 3:9
5: Annihilationism Is Closer To What Jesus Endured On Our Behalf
I have always held to the penal substitutionary view of the atonement and I don’t see myself abandoning this theory of the atonement anytime soon. I don’t know how else to take Isaiah 53:5-6 when it says “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (ESV) or 1 Peter 3:18 which says “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,” (ESV)
What did Jesus Christ suffer? A slow, torturous death. He wasn’t just tortured and He didn’t just die, he both suffered and died. If the penal substitutionary view is correct, then we should expect those who aren’t cleansed by the blood of Christ to undergo a violent and painful execution. If the wages of sin were eternal conscious torment instead of death (contra Romans 6:23), then for Jesus to have truly “taken my place”, he should still be suffering to this day. But, fortunately, that is not the case. Traditionalists such as William Lane Craig try to get around this issue by saying that because God is an infinite being and Jesus is God, then Jesus could have suffered the infinite punishment in just a few hours. In Dr. Craig’s own words “that in virtue of the dignity of his person, namely, the second person of the Trinity, what he suffered is equivalent to the eternal suffering of the damned in hell.”2 However, this seems like a theological contrivance to me, and even when I was a firmly convinced traditionalist, this answer never seemed quite satisfactory.
For one thing, if “what he suffered is equivalent to the eternal suffering of the damned in Hell”, then why did Jesus have to go on to die? Once Jesus had suffered enough, God could have just miraculously healed him and had a couple of angels descend from Heaven to get Jesus off the cross. On this hypothesis, Jesus didn’t actually die for sins (contra 1 Corinthians 15:3 and 1 Peter 3:18). His death was superfluous in the atoning process. It was a mere afterthought tacked on at the end of the atoning process. Traditionalists need to tread very carefully here, for this line of thinking gets them on the border of heresy! It’s heretical to say that Jesus’ death did not accomplish our redemption! So, besides being an ad-hoc explanation, it’s theologically perilous.
Any of these 5 points would be a good reason to embrace conditionalism over traditionalism on their own, but when they are all considered together, they make an overwhelming cumulative case. Now, I know that traditionalist readers will likely be like “Well, what about this?” and “What about Matthew 25:46?” and “You never addressed the passages in Revelation?” and so on and so forth. I cannot address everything in a single blog post. I do address all of the objections to conditionalism/annihilationism that I know of in my upcoming book Yahweh’s Inferno: Why Scripture’s Teaching On Hell Doesn’t Impugn The Goodness Of God. I expect to have this book out by early 2020. Perhaps around February or March.
As you can see, my eschatology didn’t play any role at all in changing my view on the doctrine of Hell. It was these 5 lines of arguments and the pitiful responses to them from traditionalists (which I respond to in my upcoming book) that caused me to change my mind.
1: In his book “The Fire That Consumes”
2: He brings this up in Question Of The Week #477 “What Did Jesus Suffer?” – https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/what-did-jesus-suffer/