This and many other subjects are ridiculously easy to understand so long as the student is
willing enough to do so through a intellectually honest and diligent study of the Holy Bible.
Unfortunately, the problem will only persist as there are people too lazy to research
the matter to its logical conclusion, as is evident in (for example) some of the posts in this
So, please research the matter instead of misrepresenting God by posting misleading information
such as "punishing the wicked by torturing them throughout the ceaseless ages of eternity" non-
--Bmaxdlux from the Value of a Human Being topic in the Miscellaneous forum with a challenge to rightly divide scripture concerning eternal torment in the lake of fire.
This essay is my answer to the challenge posed by Bmaxdlux (hereinafter, Max) concerning eternal torment of the unsaved, which came up in the thread titled, Value of a Human Being, in the Miscellaneous forum.
Max holds to the annihilationism interpretation of scripture that says that the wicked are cast into the lake of fire where they are completely burned up, once and done, hence the term annihilated.
I hold to the clear meaning of God’s word in scripture that the wicked suffer eternal torment in the lake of fire.
Both views appear to be supported by scripture. But I will show why the doctrine of annihilationism is a false doctrine, and that the holders of that doctrine misinterpret the scripture that they believe upholds their view.
In order to fully understand and interpret scripture used by both sides in this debate one must accurately parse the expressions used. The problem is that although a word in English might render itself with one meaning that we associate with it in common usage, it might, and very likely will, have a different, but distinctly precise, meaning in the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew.
It is the misinterpretation of many of the key expressions in scripture that leads to many of the false doctrines floating around in the church today.
The one that is pertinent to our discussion is misinterpreting the meaning of the words death, die, dead, etc.
In English common usage when somebody dies, from our earthly perspective he or she ceases to exist … is non-existent, or annihilated, so to speak. One can’t be faulted for thinking this is so when seeing this word in print.
But someone who preaches what he believes to be an important doctrine must be sensitive to varied usage of words in scripture, and must discern that the common-usage meaning might not be God’s meaning, and interpret it correctly.
In the Greek language of the New Testament, and biblically speaking, death is never defined as extinction, annihilation, non-existence or unconsciousness.
You must let this sink in before proceeding: Death in the Bible is always pictured as the separation between two things.
I’m going to dwell on this for a bit because if one has a clear understanding of the different kinds of “death” in scripture, and which state of the person that experiences the death, most of the problems with annihilationism simply go away.
Also, keep in mind something that is related to this, and that is extremely important: Make sure you recognize whether scripture concerning death refers to death of the body, death of the soul or death of the spirit. Anyone who is confused about which of the states of man has experienced death simply will never be able to understand the verses in which death appears.
Also, fixing the correct time of events referenced in scripture is vitally important to not misinterpreting.
For example, Max referenced Malachi 4:1 as one of his examples of scripture that supported annihilationism.
“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” (Max’s bolds)
Max’s comment on this verse:
This verse clearly indicates that there is a particular day (future tense, meaning it's not happening right now) in which the wicked will be introduced into the Lake of Fire and that fire will destroy them completely. (His emphases)
The problem with Max’s interpretation of this verse is one of context and timing. Malachi 4:1 does not refer to the wicked being cast into the lake of fire. That comes much later.
What Malachi 4:1 does refer to is the Day of the Lord, which is Christ’s second returning at the end of the seven-year tribulation. That return involves the burning up of the earth, and the cleansing of the earth of the wicked who survived the tribulation. It ushers in the 1,000-year earthly reign of Christ, called the millennium, in which only the saved in Christ can enter.
The wicked do indeed get burned up. Their bodies! Let that sink in. Not their souls nor their spirits. Those will be dealt with later during the second death. Their earthly bodies will indeed cease to exist on earth. But they, meaning their souls and spirits, have not been annihilated.
Do you see how important it is to fix the right time referenced in scripture as well as to whom or what is being acted on?
Malachi 4:1 is simply and clearly not a supporting verse for the false doctrine of annihilationism.
To continue with the explanation of death meaning separation:
Before I start, I’ll remind of what most already know. A person’s body is his or her physical presence on this earth. The soul is a person’s mind, will and emotions … basically what makes up a person’s consciousness, which can live on beyond his or her physical death. And a person’s spirit is the part that connects one to God, which also can live on without a body or soul. These short definitions will be important later.
Physical death is a separation of the body and soul, as in Eccl 12:7.
Spiritual death is a separation of man from God, as in Isa 59:1-2
Second death is a spiritual separation of man from God, as in Rev 21:18, 22:14-15
Dead to sin is a separation of Christians from sin, as in Rom 6:2, 11 and Heb 7:26
Dead to law is a separation of Christians from law, as in Rom 7:4
Marriage dissolved by death is separation of man from woman, as in 1 Cor 7:39
Note that of the six examples of death only two involve a physical death of the body. It’s important for annihilationists to keep that in mind when parsing scripture to support their view.
For example, they are quick to jump on death of the wicked anywhere in scripture as total extinction of a person’s body, soul and spirit.
With that in mind, how do they deal with the event in Gen 2:17?
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (My bold)
They did eat of the tree in Gen 3:6. They didn’t die, but lived on for centuries and populated the earth.
Did God lie? Did God change his mind? Is God capricious?
No. They did surely die a spiritual death that day, banished from the garden, forever outside of God’s presence.
Annihilationists would say, “That’s obvious!” And it is. But they then fail to provide the same depth of meaning to other scripture that would be equally as obvious to them were it not for the built-in annihilationism bias they bring to their reading.
The lesson here is that one must strive to understand the relationship between death and the state of person that is subject to that death. A totally misconstrued view of doctrine results from not doing that properly.
Here’s another verse where refusing to correctly parse a death event results in much confusion.
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
This verse is often used to support the annihilationist’s view. On the surface, it seems to.
However, the word for death here is thanatos in the Greek.
Here is Strong’s Concordance translation for thanatos in context:
“The misery of the soul arising from sin, which begins on earth but lasts and increases after death of the body in hell. The miserable state of the wicked dead in hell. In the widest sense, death comprising all the miseries arising from sin …” (My bold)
I’ll have a section on the second death below, but suffice it to say that Rev 21:8 does not support the annihilationist’s view, as it was never intended to.
Another example provided by Max:
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Max’s comment on this verse:
(The results of the punishment are eternal): but (only) the righteous into life eternal.
Only the righteous get eternal life NOT the wicked, they (the wicked) only get death.
I hope everyone is starting to get the (above and beyond obvious) point. (Max’s emphases)
Aside from the fact that everlasting and eternal are virtually synonymous, convey the same meaning, and are the same word in Greek, there is one other serious issue with trying to morph this verse into an apologetic for the annihilation view.
If we go to 1 John 4:18, we see the phrase “because fear hath torment.” What’s interesting is that the word for torment here is the same Greek word for punishment in the Matthew 25:46 verse above, kolasis.
One of my favorite Bible teachers has a saying that if you submit the data to enough torture it will confess to anything you want it to.
That is the case here. In the Greek, it is difficult to wrap one’s brain around the false notion that the result of everlasting torment is eternal, but the torment itself is not eternal. Everlasting torment is not a once and done thing. Torment is an ongoing, continuous process, as is shown elsewhere in scripture.
OK. Enough with death. There are a lot more, but I believe I’ve provided enough examples to show that one can’t just assume that death and all its derivative words in scripture can automatically be taken to mean totally ceasing to exist … body, soul and spirit.
I’m hoping those examples would prompt one to keep in view the body, soul and spirit and the six or more kinds of death that could be possible when reading any verse about death in the Bible. Math says there could be 18 difference combinations of possibilities in each verse … even more in verses with two or more usages.
If I may digress for a final example, here's one from Max’s post illustrating this:
“The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”
The bold and underlined part above does not say the wicked get eternal life, it flatly states that sinners DIE!!!
Max, what dies? Look at it again.
It’s what I mean by being careful to not equate the body with the soul with the spirit. God is always very clear, even if one has to look carefully for it, about which state of man’s existence he is talking about.
Now, I want to talk about fire.
This is important because fire figures heavily in judgment, and is very prominent in the final days judgments as well as in the eponymously named lake of fire.
One of the big problems that annihilationists have with the lake of fire that never quenches is that they believe fire always burns up, and things being burned simply disappear into nothing or into ash.
However, God has provided us with at least three instances of a fire that never quenches.
An example that every kid in Sunday school learns about is the fiery furnace in Daniel. There, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were cast into the fiery furnace, and were seen walking around unscathed from the flames; except for their rope bindings, which were burned off.
Another example would be Moses twice meeting God as a flame of fire that did not consume the bush.
Could not the God who has the power to prevent the men from being burned up in the fiery furnace, and prevent the bush from being consumed while on fire also have the ability to preserved the bodies of the wicked from being consumed in the lake of fire?
I don’t want to be the one to pronounce a limitation on God like that.
But, what twisted machinations would the annihilationists use to deny the clear telling of the fire that is not quenched that we see here?
And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. (My bold)
Let's not play games with doctrinal bias here. The plain meaning of the text is:
The … fire … is … not … quenched. Period. End of story.
What figure of speech could be dredged up that could undermine the absolutely, perfectly, unquestioning clear meaning of those words?
And, just in case anybody wants to try to deny that God means what he said, he put in a little zinger for them. Salt is a preservative. God tells us that those cast into the lake of fire will be salted with fire, which means the fire will be preserved from going out. But, that little tit bit would only be available to someone looking at scripture deeper than just into the surface meaning.
“But, Dave,” I can hear the annihilationists say, “I’ll accept that the fire never goes out, but that doesn’t prove the wicked won’t be immediately killed by the fire.”
Fair enough. Let’s look at these two verses taken together.
And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (My bolds)
I believe at this point, the reader should be able to discern for himself that this scripture is crystal clear that:
1. The beast and false prophet were both cast alive into the lake of fire …
2. 1,000 years later, they are still alive in the lake of fire when the devil was cast into it with them.
3. And -- this is absolutely crystal clear -- they are tormented day and night for ever and ever.
And, as God often does, he anticipates those who would corrupt his word by providing a proof text:
The devil, the antichrist and the false prophet will endure torment in the unquenchable fire along with all those in Rev 14:11 who will be cast in there and “have no rest day or night.”
Have no rest day or night for ... what ... two days, two weeks, 90 days? No. For ... ever.
It’s interesting that torment here is translated from a different word in Greek than the other torment. The word is basanizo.
The translation for this word in context gives me shivers:
To question by applying torture, to torture, to vex with grievous pains (of body or mind), to torment, to be harassed, distressed
Is there any expression in scripture that could possibly be less ambiguous in meaning than what God told the author of Revelation to write what he is planning for the unrepentant sinner who dies outside of Christ?
OK. Now to address Max’s comment on this verse.
Before anybody jumps up and says "SEE, SEE I TOLD YOU SO!!! THAT MEANS IT BURNS FOREVER!!!!!"
First off, for the sake of brevity I only provided a few verses of scripture (out of a multitude available) that indicate the lake of fire doesn't last forever since, as stated above in Revelation Verses 20:15 through 21:1 Earth gets a rebuild after the lake of fire does its job.
Therefore, when taken in context of the entire Bible, the Lake of Fire cannot literally last forever, it only burns until there is no sin left for it to burn. (Max’s emphases)
What Max’s comment does is very handily point out why I believe that any serious student of the Bible should thoroughly study, understand and master the book of Revelation.
The fact is that the lake of fire is not located on the earth. Max is correct in stating that the present earth will be destroyed by fire after the millennium and before the new heaven of New Jerusalem descends to be our final heaven.
Look it up. The beast and the false prophet will be cast into the lake of fire before the earth’s destruction, whereas the devil will be cast into it after the destruction. This couldn’t happen if the lake of fire burned up and was no more.
Nobody knows where the lake of fire is presently. But it is the same place right now where it will be in the future and forever. Some conjecture it will be in the outer darkness which is referenced throughout scripture.
In any event, it most definitely will not be destroyed along with everyone in it during the last days of planet earth as we know it.
Max and others might be getting confused by the several different hells, hades, Abraham’s bosom, bottomless pits, abyssos, etc., referenced in scripture, which do indeed exist somewhere in the earth. Again, I recommend an in-depth study of Revelation.
Finally, I’d like to address the second death since it figures heavily in annihilationism doctrine … mainly in that they believe that any mention of second death equates to an annihilation death of body, soul and spirit.
However, in each use of the term second death in scripture, all in Revelation by the way, it refers to a spiritual death, and is reserved for those wicked who die outside of Christ.
Think of it this way. You know about the first birth, and being born again. Are you like those who questioned Jesus about how someone could exit their mother’s womb again as an adult?
No. You of course understand that the first birth is the physical one of the body, and that the second birth is a spiritual one. Right?
God promised that “it is appointed unto men once to die.” –Heb 9:27. That applies to those who die in Christ.
However, those who die outside of Christ will face a second death … of their spirits when they are thrown into the lake of fire.
As stated earlier here, the second death means the unsaved are to be forever separated from the presence of God.
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
This is a strange phrase until you realize that it refers to those who have already died once, and who must be dispatched to the lake of fire to die again.
It begs the question: Who have already died once? With a few exceptions everybody who has ever lived and not been raptured or caught up without dying, will die once.
But, who will die again … the second death? Only those who died outside of Christ.
The important factor here is that this second death is not a physical death, which is manifested on earth by decaying into nothingness. It is a death of the spirit to God, in which those resurrected bodies of the unsaved are tormented forever in the unquenchable fire.
I’m done. I’m tired.
Max, I’m betting that neither you nor anybody else on this forum will ever say to me again:
Unfortunately, the problem will only persist as there are people too lazy to research the matter to its logical conclusion, as is evident in (for example) some of the posts in this thread. So, please research the matter instead of misrepresenting God…
I did as you asked. To great length, I believe much to the detriment of those who hold the belief in annihilationism.
You might pick at minor points, swatting at gnats while the elephant flies around the room. But, scripture is extremely, intricately, soundly clear about the doctrine of eternal torment in the lake of fire for those who die outside of Christ.