However, my friend did ask what I thought of an article by J.P. Holding, "An Examination of Annihilation," in which Holding argues for the traditional view and against annihilation. As I began to read it, I was at first disappointed. The earliest points made in the article are, in my humble opinion, very weak. However, as the article progresses, Holding makes some points deserving of examination.
I told my friend that I'd like to discuss those points together, one-by-one, taking them as seriously as we are both beginning to take annihilationism. It dawned on me, however, that our mutual examination of Holding's article might prove helpful to those who, like us, are beginning to consider this minority alternative to hell. So, assuming my friend does not mind (he is a fellow blogger), I'll publish that interaction here, and I welcome your feedback.
PERISH: TO BE DESTROYED? OR RUINED?
I will not examine the arguments made in this article in the order in which they appear, although I don't intend to neglect any. The first point I want to examine is summed up by this quote from Holding's article:
A second key word is apollumi, which emerges in our translations as "destroy". This is an important word, for many annihilationists like Pinnock and Fudge actually see it as favoring annihilation (Matt. 10:28; 2 Thess. 1:9; Phil. 3:19).
But the meaning of this word and those related to it does not refer to "destruction" in the modern sense that that word is used for the annihilation of something. Rather, it is closer in meaning to the way we use "destroyed" to mean ruined or lost, as in, "He destroyed his family with his drug habit."
Holding goes on to cite some texts which he believes support his contention, and we'll look at those in a moment. But I thought it worth noting that Edward Fudge is well aware of this argument. He writes on page 209 of the third edition of The Fire That Consumes,
Traditionalist writers so often make the point that "perish" (apollymi) is used of ruined wineskins (Matt 9:17) and spoiled food (John 6:12) that casual readers tend to go away thinking the word's primary meaning must be very mild indeed.
At least some traditionalist writers, then, apparently including J.P. Holding, wish us to believe that this idea of "ruined" or "lost" is the rule, rather than the exception. If this is the case, traditionalists have what I think is a compelling case, since as came through in the positive case for annihilation Fudge presented in the interview, it is based largely on the numerous places in which the fate of the wicked is said to be to "perish."
It seems to me, then, that this question as to the normative meaning of apollymi, is a major point in the debate. If Holding is right, much of the weight of the conditionalist case disappears. On the other hand, if its meaning is most often to "die" or be "destroyed," to "perish" as we would normally use the word, then the traditionalist is forced to argue from the defensive, or so it seems to me. Therefore, this seems like a good place to start examining Holding's article.
THE CASE FOR DESTRUCTION
Most often apollymi refers to actual death. It appears ninety-two times in the New Testament, thirteen times in Paul's letters. New Testament writers choose apollymi to say that:
- Herod tries to kill the infant Jesus (Matt 2:13);
- the disciples are about to perish in a storm (Matt 8:25);
- Pharisees conspire to destroy Jesus (Matt 12:14);
- one loses life trying to save it (Matt 16:25);
- a vineyard owner executes murderous tenants (Matt 21:41);
- a king sends troops to destroy murderers (Matt 22:7);
- one perishes by the sword (Matt 26:52);
- the crowd asks Pilate to destroy Jesus (Matt 27:20);
- it is better for one man to die than for whole nation to perish (John 11:50);
- an insurrectionist and false messiah perished at hands of Rome (Acts 5:37);
- Israelites perish in the wilderness (1 Cor 10:9-10), or were destroyed there (Jude 5);
- some perished in the rebellion of Korah (Jude 11).
If we were to limit our survey of the Greek apollymi as it is used in the New Testament to these verses alone, certainly we would come away with the impression that its typical meaning is to be killed or destroyed, not merely ruined or lost. As it turns out, I think a number of additional texts which use the word lend support to Fudge's contention, not the least of which is Hebrews 1:11 in which it is said that the eternal Son will remain while the works of His hands will perish.
But I think Fudge's point is strengthened also when we look at how the word is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint. It is noteworthy that at least one online LXX lexicon (here) consistently suggests "annihilate" as the proper translation. Here are a number of examples of how the Jewish translators of the Septuagint used the word:
- Ethiopians are slain by the sword, Nineveh made desolate, and Assyria destroyed (Zeph 2:13)
- Sodom and Gomorrah would not be destroyed if enough righteous were found there (Gen 18:24,28-32)
- Abimelech and his nation were not destroyed because God prevented him from sleeping with Abraham's wife (Gen 20:4)
- God, the consuming fire, would destroy the cities into which the Israelites were sent (Deut 9:3)
- The fruit of God's enemies will be destroyed from the earth (Psalm 21:10)
- Israel would perish among the Gentiles, save those few who remain to pine away (Lev 26:38)
- Those who burn incense for themselves as though unto the Lord will be cut off from his people (Ex 30:38)
- The children of Israel were to destroy the high places and graven images of those they drove out (Num 33:52)
- Joshua feared his people had been delivered into the hands of his enemies to be destroyed (Josh 7:7)
- Mortals die for lack of wisdom (Job 4:21)
- The beast was slain, his body destroyed and burned (Dan 7:11)
To those who are "perishing" the gospel has a "stench of death"--a fact in keeping with our earlier suggestion that they will be raised mortal, then return to corruption and final extinction in hell (2 Cor 2:15-16). Peter uses this word of the fate that befell the world before the Flood (2 Pet 3:6). Paul (1 Cor 10:9-10) and Jude (v. 5) use it do describe Israel's destruction in the wilderness.
Such a survey leads me to concur with Fudge in insisting that with what is arguably (as we will see) the occasional exception, to "perish" is, indeed, to die, or be destroyed, or be slain. How, then, does Holding present his case, that the word typically means something different?
THE CASE FOR RUIN
Lest there be any doubt [that the word "is closer in meaning to the way we use 'destroyed' to mean ruined or lost], take a look at some verses where the same Greek word is used, and ask youself: Were any of the items in question annihilated?
- Mt. 10:6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.
- Mt. 12:14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
- Mt. 26:8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked.
- Luke 15:24, "For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."
- Luke 19:10 "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
So it seems to me that Holding rests his case for the normative meaning of apollymi on a mere 5 verses, in contrast with the over 30 which Fudge and I have thus presented as evidence for "destroyed" as the typical meaning--not to mention perhaps dozens of others which we could marshal in making our case. The scale hardly seems to be weighted in the traditionalist's favor. Nevertheless, the examples Holding gives deserve some attention.
Very briefly, the second of Holding's examples above should be considered. When it comes to Matthew 12:14, he wants us to ask ourselves, "[Was the item] in question [that is, Jesus] annihilated?" Well of course Jesus wasn't annihilated, but the intent of the Pharisees was to kill Him. They wanted Jesus to perish, to die. They wanted to murder Him, to slay Him, to slaughter Him. They didn't want to simply ruin or lose Him, they wanted to destroy Him! To be quite frank, I'm astonished that J.P. would point to this verse in an attempt to demonstrate that apollymi means to "ruin" or "lose."
He goes on to elaborate on his argument from Matthew 26:8, writing, "the oil of Matt. 26 did not cease to be oil; it was simply (so it was argued by Judas) put to a use that it should not have been. It remained oil." This is fair enough, but it seems to betray a misunderstanding of the conditionalist's argument. The question is not, as put by Holding, "did the things in question 'cease to exist as' whatever they were?" As Fudge points out, the argument is not that apollymi refers to "annihilation in some technical literal sense."
No, the annihilationist is not primarily arguing that the Second Death is to "cease to exist." Rather, he argues that the Second Death is simply that--death. At least when used to describe formerly living creatures. When it comes to inanimate objects (although this applies to animate creatures as well), the conditionalist argues that the word refers to destruction. The sense in which the word "annihilation" refers to this process is not so much that the object "ceases to exist," but that all that remains of what is destroyed is, well, remains. What once was is now gone, and only rotting bodies or smoldering rubble is left.
When the disciples object to the woman pouring oil on Jesus' head by rhetorically asking, "Why this waste?" (as it seems universally translated), yes, the oil continues to be oil--at least very briefly. But what, no doubt, eventually happened to that oil? It disappeared. Not, of course, in the scientific meaning of the word; then again, the authors of Scripture were not writing in scientific jargon. But practically speaking, the oil was gone. It was no more. It soaked into Jesus' hair and scalp and disappeared.
So this verse uses apollymi to mean "waste" in a way which is consistent with how it is typically used in the New Testament and the Septuagint. Consider, also, Proverbs 29:3 where the LXX uses apollymi to say that "he who keeps company with harlots wastes his wealth." Granted, the money that changes hands does not cease to be money, but that's beside the point. The point is that for the one who spends his money on prostitutes, his wealth disappears. Holding's contention, then, is certainly not supported by Matthew 26:8.
But what of Matthew 10:6, Luke 15:24 and 19:10? In each of these verses the word apollymi is typically rendered "lost." Certainly those who were in the present "lost" were not presently in the state of non-existence, of having been previously annihilated. Don't these verses therefore suggest a different meaning for apollymi than we've already looked at?
First it should be noted that when a word is typically used one way, but in a few selected texts is used another way, that doesn't change what is its normative meaning. At best it indicates a broader semantic range; that is, a greater number of meanings than the one intended by the majority of its uses. The fact that a word may have more than one possible meaning as evidenced by its use in a small selection of passages in no way suggests that secondary meanings are to be considered primary ones. So right off the bat, it's clear Holding's contention is unwarranted.
But still the question remains: did Matthew and Luke intend in these verses a meaning fundamentally different from the typical meaning in the verses we've already looked at? Fudge, it seems, would answer that question in the negative. He writes, "Not surprisingly, this verb apollymi stands in contrast with enduring, eternal life. It is the regular term for the spiritually 'lost'--who are 'perishing.'" In other words, even those who are metaphorically likened unto lost sheep are, in fact, in the process of, or are on their way to, being destroyed.
In a footnote to the above sentence, Fudge cites a number of passages in support of his case. In 1 Corinthians 1:18 Paul writes that "the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing." He similarly writes in 2 Corinthians 2:15 that "we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing." In 2 Corinthians 4:3 he says that "even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing," and in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 he speaks of "the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan...and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish."
It would seem, then, that even the lost who are "alive" in the temporal sense of the term are nevertheless "perishing" in a very real sense consistent with the typical meaning of apollymi. They are on their way to destruction. They are not merely "lost" in the way we understand the word, but are genuinely dying. So I'm inclined to side with Fudge despite the passages to which Holding points.
WINESKINS AND FOOD
Although the passages Holding points to as evidence of his contention end with those we've looked at above, Fudge anticipates the traditionalist pointing to a couple of other texts. As I quoted him as writing earlier, "Traditionalist writers so often make the point that 'perish' is used of ruined wineskins (Matt 9:17) and spoiled food (John 6:12)." But in light of everything we've looked at, he goes on to say that "we should think of something more than burst wineskins or wasted food when we read it used of the doom of the ungodly. Taken literally, these various pictures contradict each other. Taken seriously, they paint a single picture of utter, shameful extinction."
I haven't yet boarded the annihilationist bus, so to speak, but at this point I'm inclined to agree with Fudge. In fact, I think he grants too much. The wineskin which has burst has, in a very real sense, been destroyed. It ceases to be a skin which holds wine, since anything poured into it empties out immediately. As for spoiled food, when Jesus says, "Gather up the leftover fragments [of bread and fish] so that nothing will be lost," He doesn't simply mean that were it not for gathering it up it would be unable to be found. He means it will utterly decay away, as rotting food inevitably does. Such spoiled food does not merely sprout mold, it is slowly eaten away, dissolved. Time lapse photography of rotting food (this video and this video and this video) makes the case.
AND ROUND 1 GOES TO...
So it seems to me that the biblical use of "perish" does, in fact, tend to favor the conditionalist's case. Cities which "perish" are not merely "lost" or "ruined," they are destroyed, reduced to smoldering rubble. Food which "perishes" is eventually eaten away. People who "perish" are killed and cease to live. And so, it seems likely on the surface of it, that when it is promised that the wicked will "perish," it means they will become extinct.
In my estimation, round 1 goes to Fudge.