What does Bible say about annihilationism? Is hell forever?
Annihilationism states that the wicked are destroyed eventually rather than suffering in hell forever. Those who teach annihilationism do not believe that God would cause the wicked to suffer in hell forever. To them, God would be immoral if He causes the wicked who have rejected Jesus Christ to suffer for eternity in hell. So, what does the Bible say about annihilationism?
Definition of Annihilationism
The term annihilationism is taken from the Greek word, apoleia, which is translated as “destruction” in 2 Peter 3:7.
But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 2 Peter 3:7 (NASB)
The Greek word, apoleia, can be translated as “waste,” or “ruin.” Those who believe in annihilationism usually claim the wicked will suffer in hell, but eventually, will be totally wasted, ruined, or destroyed at some point after death. Thus their interpretation of 2 Peter 3:7 seems to support their view.
Also, they reinterpreted passages as John 3:16 to mean that suffering in hell is a short period of time, but the salvation of believers is forever. Here is the verse,
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NASB)
The Greek word for “perish” is apollymi. It is the verb form of apoleia. Therefore, they would interpret this verse to mean that believers have eternal life, but unbelievers will cease to exist eventually. These two passages illustrate how they defend their viewpoint.
Wayne Grudem summarizes four arguments that have been used to support the view of annihilationism. Here is his summary,
Arguments advanced in favor of annihilationism are: (1) the biblical references to the destruction of the wicked, which, some say, implies that they will no longer exist after they are destroyed (Phil. 3:19; 1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 1:9; 2 Peter 3:7, et al.); (2) the apparent inconsistency of eternal conscious punishment with the love of God; (3) the apparent injustice involved in the disproportion between sins committed in time and punishment that is eternal; and ( 4) the fact that the continuing presence of evil creatures in God’s universe will eternally mar the perfection of a universe that God created to reflect His glory.
What Does the Bible Say About Annihilationism?
Annihilationism is a false teaching that cannot be objectively supported. As a starting point, it should be noted that one author claims that Hellenistic philosophy influenced what the Bible teaches about the destiny of the wicked. He quotes example verses in both the Old and New Testament to support his view. But he is wrong because Greek philosophy did not exist when the earliest books of the Old Testament were written. One example is that he quoted from Deuteronomy 29:20 which he claims proves the wicked cease to exist, but Deuteronomy was written in 1445-1405 B.C. In sharp contrast, Greek philosophy did not emerge until the sixth century, which occurred about 900 hundred years later. He also quotes extensively from Psalms (such as Psalms 1:3-4; 9:6; 34:16), but the vast majority of Psalms were written before the sixth century. Thus his argument is faulty.
Also, he employs a secular argument when he states that Greek secular philosophy affected Scripture. When he did that, he ignored the biblical teaching of 2 Peter 1:20-21 which states the Holy Spirit wrote all of the Bible. The Holy Spirit was the determining influence of what was written in the Bible and not Hellenistic philosophy. Are we supposed to believe that God was influenced by Greek philosophy? His argument reveals that he does not understand the teachings of the Bible. Consequently, he is either a false teacher or untaught.
Eternal Torment of Hell Is Required
Those in favor of annihilationism reinterpret every verse that appears to imply the wicked or the unbeliever will suffer in hell forever, to mean that they suffer until they have paid their debt to God. But where is that stated in the Bible? Annihilationists ignore the implication that hell is eternal. Why would hell exist eternally? 2 Peter 3:10-13 and Revelation 20:11-22:2 reveal that our universe and planet will eventually cease to exist. That means people will no longer be born on the earth. New people will not be born forever. Then if we assume the annihilationists logic is correct that the wicked will eventually stop suffering in hell, why will hell continue forever? People are no longer being born to occupy hell. Why would hell continue forever without anyone in it?
Also we should notice that Matthew 25:41 states the devil and his angels will suffer in the eternal fire.
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels . . .'” Matthew 25:41 (NASB)
This would seem to imply that hell was created for the demonic realm. But then five verses later, Jesus said that the wicked will be sent to eternal punishment too!
These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:46 (NASB)
Here eternal punishment and eternal life are obviously compared. Annihilationists support the concept that believers will live forever in heaven. That is, eternal life lasts for eternity. The Greek word that is translated as eternal is aionios. The word means “unlimited duration of time.” Thus, we cannot legitimately change the meaning of eternal punishment for the wicked. Both the wicked and the righteous will exist eternally, and so will the devil and his evil angels. This is a strong argument against annihilationism. Why would hell continue forever without anyone in it? An eternal hell is needed because the devil, his angels, and the wicked will be punished eternally.
Eternal Torment of Hell Is Forever
The Bible clearly describes the punishment of the wicked as existing forever. That was the message of Matthew 25:46 (see above). Eternal punishment is eternal. Eternal means forever. There are three more passages that must be considered.
The first one is 2 Thessalonians 1:9. It states that the wicked will suffer for forever. Notice the destruction is described as lasting forever.
These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power . . . 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (NASB)
The Greek word eternal is once again aionios. This means that the Holy Spirit is telling us the wicked will suffer unlimited punishment and unlimited destruction. Our experience teaches us that fire destroys. That is the message of Scripture. The wicked and the demons will suffer in the destructive flames of hell for eternity. Mark 9:43 refers to the “unquenchable fire.” Matthew 5:22 and 18:9 refer to the “fiery hell.” Thus the wicked and the demons will be forever destroyed in the flames of hell for an unlimited duration of time. Yet, they will never die.
The third important passage is Revelation 14:11-12. Verse 11 refers to the judgment on the wicked, while verse 12 describes what happens to believers or the saints.
And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. Revelation 14:11-12 (NASB)
Verse 11 refers to “smoke,” ‘torment,” “forever and ever,” and “day and night.” All four terms reveal the wicked will suffer and suffer forever. “Smoke” reminds us that flames of fire burn things which results in smoke. The Greek word for “torment” is basanismos. It refers to severe pain associated with the torture of the flames of hell. Next, we are told the torment lasts forever and ever. The Holy Spirit repeated the Greek word which means “forever” or ‘eternally.” In the Greek grammar a word is repeated to add emphasis. That is, the Holy Spirit is strongly emphasizing that the severe pain will literally last for eternity. Finally, the expression “day and night” adds more emphasis that the severe pain from the flames of hell are forever. It never stops! The torment of the wicked and of the demons will never end. If believers will have eternal life, then the torment of the wicked will also be eternal.
A fourth passage is Daniel 12:2. It states,
Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2 (NASB)
Notice that the verse is about the dead. It says that some will have everlasting life, but others will receive everlasting contempt. Their contempt is everlasting. It does not last for a short period of time and then stop. It lasts forever. The Holy Spirit tells us in both the Old and New Testaments the wicked and demons will suffer for eternity. Since Scripture does not contradict Scripture, these four verses are not in contradiction with any other verse in the Bible. That is, the other verses in the Bible do not contradict these very strong statements, because the Holy Spirit will not contradict Himself.
Eternal Torment of Hell Is Fair
Those who claim that it is not fair for the wicked to suffer forever for sins committed during their short life, have seated themselves in the position as a judge over God, Himself. Sadly, they have missed Jeremiah 17:9 which states that the heart of man is deceitful and desperately sick. Thus man has a distorted sense of what is fair and moral. Scripture states that God is holy and just. He is a God of justice (Isaiah 30:18; Malachi 2:17).
Scripture teaches that God has revealed Himself in the very design of the universe (Romans 1:18-20). God has also embedded His moral standard in their consciences (Romans 2:14-16). That should communicate He exists. Therefore, when the wicked reject Him and Christ they are without excuse (Romans 1:20). They did not respond to the Holy Spirit’s convicting and drawing ministry. The testimony of Scripture is that the wicked will remain wicked even while living in hell (Revelation 21:8; 22:11). So, why should the wicked escape an eternity of suffering when they will not stop being wicked, rebellious, and defiant for eternity and never repent? The message is that they will remain evil, which is sufficient reason for them to continue suffering forever. Revelation 16:11, 21 tells us that during the tribulation period the wicked will blaspheme God even while being punished. The wicked will not repent. The wicked will continue being wicked.
Only God is holy, righteous, just, all-knowing, all-wise, and completely loving. The testimony of the Bible is that God is impartial. God is not a respecter of persons. Eternal suffering for the rejection of Jesus is fair! How can man, who is just like grasshoppers, reject Christ who, in love, suffered death for the forgiveness of our sins and was resurrected, think it is fair the wicked to escape judgment (Isaiah 40:22)? So, annihilationism is unfair because it would give preference to the wicked above showing respect to a loving, holy, and just God.
God Will Be Glorified
To claim that evil creatures in God’s universe would eternally mar the perfection of the new universe and tarnish God’s glory, misses the point that God’s holiness will be demonstrated. Our holy God does not see a problem, since it is clear that annihilationism cannot be found in the pages of Scripture. God understands how eternal punishment for the wicked is consistent with His character. Annihilationism applies human logic instead of embracing the truth of God’s Word and does not demonstrate an understanding of God.
For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9 (NASB)
Finally, it is important to carefully interpret Scripture. For example, Malachi 4:1 does not refer to a short period of suffering of the wicked in hell. The verse reads,
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” Malachi 4:1 (NASB)
The context reveals that this verse refers to the day of the Lord and not hell. The “day of the Lord” is referred to in Malachi 3:2 and Malachi 4:1, 3, 5. Since Malachi 4:5 says that Elijah comes before the day of the Lord, that means verse one is about an event associated with the day of the Lord. When does Elijah come? He comes before the second coming of Christ. Therefore, some think that one of the two men in Revelation 11:3-14 is Elijah. The day of the Lord is often described as a cataclysmic event (Isaiah 13:9; Joel 2:11, 31 and Joel 3:14).
In summary, the concept of annihilationism is not biblical. It fails to accept a plain sense of understanding of Scripture. The teaching is motivated by an incorrect sense of morality and a distorted misunderstanding of God. Ultimately, annihilationists seat themselves as the judge of God, and cannot accept God the Holy Spirit’s statement about the eternal punishment of the wicked. Annihilationists who think it is fair for Satan and his angels to suffer forever in the flames of hell because of their sins, cannot adequately explain why rebellious man should escape hell for committing sin too! Finally, how can our infinitely holy God not punish sin infinitely? Anything less than infinite punishment would reveal that God is not infinitely holy! Should God be soft on crime?
1. Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. Zondervan. 1994. p. 1150.
2. MacArthur and Mayhue. Biblical Doctrine. Crossway. 2017. p. 847.
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