Sunday, August 7, 2011

Analyzing Annihilation: JPH vs. EWF (Round 1 Post Mortem)

In round 1 of my series analyzing annihilation, I argued that the meaning of apollymi used to describe the final state of the wicked more heavily favors Edward Fudge's view of hell, commonly called "annihilationism" or "conditionalism" or "conditional immortality," than it does J.P. Holding's somewhat more traditional view of hell as argued for in his article, "An Examination of Annihilation." My post received a lot of great comments and the discussion is ongoing.

The latest comment posted there was made by my friend, Michael Burgos of Grassroots Apologetics. As I began to respond, however, I realized that I had so many thoughts to articulate that it would make more sense to write a whole blog post rather than squeeze my large response into the comments area at the end of the previous post.

Here was my friend's comment:

First let me preface my comments by saying that I wholly reject the doctrine known as Physicalism and/or Monism. I find them to be heretical and I say that only because that position tends to be assumed when the topic at hand is discussed. I found Dr. Fudge's presentation very good and incredibly powerful. I have held the traditional view since I can remember, and I have even defended it in writing. However, the arguments put forward by Dr Fudge are in my view profound, consistent, and to be taken seriously. Therefore, I participate in this dialogue from as an objective view point as possible. Let the truth of God's word shine forth.

Regarding your first point:

Lets talk about ἀπόλλυμι (apollumi). The etymology of the word is, I believe, essential to arriving at its meaning. The word is derived from two:ἀπό (apo) which means away from, or away, and ὄλεθρος (olethros) which means destruction or ruin. The word therefore is an emphatic of ὄλεθρος and signals the utter destruction of a person, place, or thing. Certainly we can't decipher a usages meaning without context. Given the contexts of Matt. 10:28, 2 Thess. 1:9, Phil. 3:19 I cannot see any reason to conclude that this word indicates anything other than the full and unbridaled destruction of the reprobate. So far as Mr. Holding's argumentation, I think that while "lostness" is part of the semantic range of the term, that "lostness" is had within the context of utter ruin/destruction.

What are the implications of the reality of this term on the terminal state of the damned? I think the term fits perfectly within the annihilationist understanding. But, I see no reason why it does not fit perfectly within the traditional understanding as well. It's compatibility with annihilationism seems obvious to me. But, my understanding of the traditional view is that the state of punishment that the damned suffer is a state that is ineffably fixed and final. The finality of the fate of the reprobate is utter ruin/destruction in their fixed state of punishment. Therefore, while I think Holding is running from the plain meaning of the text, I am inclined to think that both views find validity therein.

Let me preface my response with first saying that while I am considering monism a little more than Mike is, nevertheless I am sympathetic to at least some of Mike's arguments. In fact, I dedicated a whole episode to one of them when I interviewed notable monist Dr. Joel Green from Fuller Theological Seminary. And so I think it is very important to reaffirm that monism or physicalism, although often assumed to be part of the annihilationist equation, so to speak, is not at all required to hold to Fudge's view. Fudge pointed that out both in our interview together, as well as in his book.

Second, Mike, I share your assessment of Fudge's presentation, and appreciate your desire to be as objective as possible in critically analyzing his case, and that of Holding in opposition. I think too few Christians take this debate seriously, and I think they do a disservice to those of us trying to see what the Bible really says. So as I explained to you in email, I look forward to examining Holding's article together and with my readers and listeners. I'm sure the discussion will be quite fruitful. With that...


I think you're right that the etymology suggests a meaning of utter destruction (though we should be careful not to commit what Carson calls the "root fallacy"). What I don't buy, at this point, is that either apollymi or olethros can mean "ruin" or "waste" in the sense proposed by traditionalists. I certainly haven't (yet, perhaps) seen any examples in Scripture where this is the case. And that was the point I tried to make in the post: that apollymi seems invariably to carry the meaning of something which is destroyed (or being destroyed, or on the way to destruction) to the point where it is no longer alive, eaten away, reduced to rubble and vanishes--not in the scientific sense, but in the sense, as I explained, of food rotting away, or oil vanishing into the scalp of Christ.

In other words, apollymi seems to be consistently used by biblical authors (and translators, in the case of the LXX) to refer to destruction which is not merely "final," but which is so complete that what once was, is (or eventually will be) no longer. I'm beginning to suspect that there's no legitimate sense in which the word would have been used by biblical authors to refer to a person or thing being wasted or ruined in an ongoing, eternal process which never culminates with the complete destruction of the object which finally vanishes. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if biblical authors would have found it absurd to use the word to describe something so seemingly the opposite of how they typically used the word.


I'm reminded of a Monty Python skit in which John Cleese wants to return a parrot to a pet store. At one point Cleese tosses the motionless bird into the air which subsequently falls lifeless on the floor, and he says, "Now that's what I call a dead parrot." Unphased, Michael Palin responds, "Oh no, it's just stunned." "I've had about enough of this," Cleese objects, "that parrot is definitely deceased." A little later, Palin says the reason the parrot had been nailed to the perch was so that it couldn't muscle apart the bars and, "Boom!" Unmoved, Cleese picks up the parrot and says, "Look, matey, this parrot wouldn't boom if I put 4,000 volts through it. It's bleedin' demised." Palin: "No, it's pining!" Cleese: "It's not pining, it's passed on! This parrot is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its maker! This is a late parrot! It's a stiff! Bereft of life it rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed it to the perch it'd be pushing up the daisies!..This is an X-parrot!"

There are a couple of reasons I'm reminded of this skit. First, consider the words Cleese's character uses to desribe the bird: Dead. Deceased. Demised. Passed on. Expired. Late. These seem to align with the meaning of apollymi as used of formerly living creatures in the Bible. The parrot was not merely ruined or wasted; it was a motionless, lifeless corpse. When the Bible, then, says that the fate of the wicked is to "perish" in the "second death," it seems at least likely to me that something like this fictional parrot's state of being (that of death) is what's in mind.

Second, consider how Cleese's character goes on to describe the parrot. It was "no more," it had "ceased to be," it was "an X-parrot." And we all understand that language and laugh at the absurdity of the clerk even though the bird which allegedly was "no more" was right there in front of our eyes. The creature which is said to have "ceased to be" is nevertheless able to be physically tossed around. The parrot, despite all of its constituent parts being handled by the characters, nevertheless is justifiably called "an X-parrot." When writers like Holding object to annihilation on the grounds that when someone dies they don't cease to exist, or that matter can not be destroyed, their arguments seem pretty ridiculous in light of how obvious it is to us that when Cleese calls the parrot "no more," says it has "ceased to be," is an "X-parrot," he doesn't mean the parrot has instantaneously vanished. We all understand what that language means, and there is, in fact, a very real sense in which the parrot is "no more."


What's more, something just occurred to me. As we watch this skit we're moved to laughter by how utterly absurd it is that the pet store clerk continuously insists that this clearly dead parrot is, in fact, alive. But given how apollymi is used to refer to the final state of the unregenerate, and how their fate is called "the second death," imagine a sort of reversal of this skit. Imagine John Cleese walks in and the parrot is cawing and flapping its wings in the cage. Now imagine him insisting to the clerk that the parrot is dead, having perished moments ago. Picture in your mind how equally comical the situation would be as Mr. Cleese tries to come up with all sorts of ways of explaining the allegedly dead parrot's obvious signs of life in order to convince the skeptical clerk to return his money.

I'm beginning to wonder if this is, in fact, analogous to the way traditionalists try to explain how apollymi and "second death" could refer to the final state of the wicked. Michael Palin: "Hello, sir. How can I help you?" John Cleese: "That's what I call a dead sinner. Clearly this wicked man raised from the dead shortly ago has now perished, has fallen victim to the second death." Palin: "Umm... Really? This man is screaming, clearly in pain. Obviously he is quite alive." Cleese: "Oh no, his muscles and vocal chords are just going through post-mortem twitches." Allegedly dead man: "No I'm not, I'm very alive! Please help me!" Palin: "Post-mortem twitches? The man just yelled for help!" Cleese: "No, no, that was me, throwing my voice. I'm a ventriloquist. I assure you, this man has most definitely perished."

And on and on it goes. Were I more creative, I'd write a whole skit to see what came of it. And granted, to be truly analogous to this debate, Cleese would have to say at some point, "Well when I say he's perished, that he's dead, what I really mean is that he's ruined, in a sense eternally dying." Or something like that. But I'm no longer certain that's any less absurd than Monty Python's classic skit.


  1. How, in your words, would you characterize the traditional use of apollymi? When I consider the traditionalist understanding, I see that apollymi indicates a state of utter ruin and destruction. A state of complete undoneness if you will. Much in the same way (although to its full) that Isaiah was undone or "ruined" in Isaiah 6:5 (see meaning for Heb "damah") while standing in the presence of the Holy Son of God.

    While there is value in the other usages of the term, because none deal with the crowning creation of God's world I think that we ought to proceed with caution in drawing stringent parallels. But then again, if the Spirit was trying to communicate anihilation, would He have done it any differently?Hmm.

    To me the traditional hell is just as complete and final as the annihilationist hell. Just, in a different sense. And therefore, I am hesitant to award the use of the term to either views to the exclusion of the other.

  2. I think you might be missing my point, though if that's the case I'm sure it's due to my poor communication. My point is that it seems to me that the biblical use of appolymi consistently refers to more than being undone or ruin, but rather (in the case of creatures) death. Death as in Cleese's obviously dead parrot. Dead and utterly unconscious, devoid of any capacity for experience.

    This, it seems to me, is quite different from the traditional understanding of appolymi--well, at least when it comes to hell. To traditionalists, the reprobate may be "undone" or "ruined" or destroyed or dead in some strained sense of the word. But they certainly haven't perished to the point, like Monty Python's parrot, that they are completely dead, unconscious and without ongoing experience.

  3. It's worth noting that Isaiah 6:5 does not include apollymi in the LXX. In at least one place, however, apollymi translates the Hebrew 'abad (Zeph 2:13) which at a first glance (I'm doing this on my phone right now) seems to refer to death when speaking of people.

  4. I appreciate your candor Michael.

    I can't prove this, but my hunch is that if Scripture described final punishment only using the word apollumi nobody would ever conclude that final punishment would in fact consist of endless, conscious existence in torment. And in fact, the overwhelming majority of passages do describe the fate of unsaved using words like destroyed, perish, die, etc.

    While I think it would be incorrect to say that the frequent use of apollumi unequivocally rules out traditionalism (because language is flexible), I do think that kind of language is vastly more consonant with conditionalism.

    By way of example, the rich man and Lazarus parable has—mistakenly, in my view—traditionally been seen as a picture of the fate that awaits the impenitent. The rich man is alive, he has a body, he can think, reason, feel and communicate. Would it be proper to describe his state as one of utter destruction?

  5. "While I think it would be incorrect to say that the frequent use of apollumi unequivocally rules out traditionalism (because language is flexible), I do think that kind of language is vastly more consonant with conditionalism."

    Exactly. I'm not saying Fudge wins the whole debate on apollymi alone, I think he wins round 1 in that its meaning seems to strongly favor conditionalism.

  6. I think one thing that the scholarly conditionalist community needs to do in the future is a thorough analysis of the way in which words like "destroy," "die," "perish," and "punishment" were used in other literature at the time of Jesus, especially Jewish writings.

    One thing I noticed when looking through Jewish literature was that the Dead Sea Scrolls use "eternal fire" to refer to the annihilation of the wicked, and that the Targums use "second death" to refer to the same thing. In my mind, this greatly strengthens the case for conditionalism; but I would like to investigate further the usage of other words.

  7. First let me point out that while the LXX does not utilize the relevant noun in Is 6:5, the word that is used in the Hebrew text means "to cease" or "to be no more." I understand the importance of the LXX, but to me it is only infallible in so far as it is utilized by the NT authors and also in so far as it is exactly aligned with the original Hebrew text. Otherwise, it's translation is a helpful commentary not unlike the Masoretic vowel pointings.

    Secondly, I hate to say it but I think their may be a bit of question begging going on here. When we speak of death in the NT, we speak of a loaded word. Certainly we understand that when one dies in Christ for example, he is still very much alive. Conversely, the wicked although they are alive are already dead (think John 5:24, 8:51, 1John 5:14,etc). The state of death can be inferred to mean a state of nonconsciousness for sure, but outside of this discussion that is only the case from this side of the veil. The very phrase "the second death" demands a certain amount of flexibility when dealing with the term. We cannot simply assume that when the text characterizes the utter destruction of the damned that they do not exist in a kind of dead state that fulfills the contextualeaming of the term.

  8. Mike, you make some good and important points. If you're right, then I agree with you that the meaning of apollymi does not truly favor one side over the other, and both Fudge and Holding are incorrect in their assessment of its relevance to the debate. Round 1 would, as it were, be a draw.

    I say that while nevertheless leaning toward believing that the word does, in fact, lend itself more toward Fudge's position than Holding's (or traditionalism in general). So let's take a closer look together at these points you've raised, as well as with Ronnie and Joey and Dave, etc., and see where it takes us.

    In my next comment I want to discuss Isaiah 6:5 and the LXX. That comment is coming shortly...

  9. First, regarding Isaiah 6:5, damah most often seems to be used in a way synonymous with apollymi, with what seems to me to be very few exceptions. And I'm not convinced that Isaiah is using the word differently. After all, often when people in the Old Testament saw the Lord, they thought they were going to die, and we today often use the phrase "I'm dead" to mean something akin to, "I'm about to die." So Isaiah may have, in fact, been using the word to mean that, having seen the glory of the Lord, he is about to perish. I'm not saying I'm certain that's how Isaiah's using the word; most commentators would likely agree that he's using the word to mean he's undone at the realization of his sinfulness and that of his people. But I don't think that's an open and shut case.

    Still, the more important question you raise is, I think, if conditionalists are right, why didn't God inspire the authors to use a word more often for the fate of the wicked whose literal meaning is, in a sense, "annihilated?" Well that's an interesting question, but I don't think it gets us anywhere. If the words which are repeatedly used to describe the end state of the wicked consistently refer, not to a "ruining" or "undoing," but to dying or being destroyed such that there is no sense in which the dead creature continues to live or experience conscious existence, then I think we must agree that it lends itself more to Fudge's position than to traditionalism, even if it doesn't nail the coffin shut. That, then, seems to be the question we should ask.

    Now of course, Mike, I agree that the LXX is just helpful commentary, and not theopneustos Scripture. Nevertheless, it can--and should, I think--inform our understanding of how the word apollymi was used by the Jews who spoke both Hebrew and Greek, which would have included the New Testament authors. This is particularly the case if 1) the New Testament authors consistently use apollymi to refer to death, and 2) the translators of the LXX did the same. In my previous post I quoted Fudge, and (in my opinion) refuted Holding's citations of verses which use the word, to show that indeed the New Testament authors used apollymi to refer to death in the way conditionalists claim. If the Septuagint uses the word consistently in the same way, despite being uninspired, it nevertheless buttresses the conditionalist's argument. So let me take a brief look at that in my next comment...

  10. Ultimately, I'd say that the characterization of the lake of fire itself, and the description of its inhabitants is going to be the authoritative high ground for the correct position. I say that only because of the analogy of Scripture, and we need the Spirit to define these things for His people.

    I'd also like to point out the tense of "damah" in Is 6:5, as it is used as a completed action. That is, Isaiah is using a word that means "to cease, to cease to be, to have perished, to be cut off, utterly destroyed." And yet, he remained very much alive. All I am really saying is, given the way the text speaks of these things, a certainty may not be possible thus far.

  11. (I'm about to post the continuation of my previous comment, but let me respond briefly.)

    My problem with claiming that the characterization of the lake of fire and its inhabitants is going to be authoritative is that Revelation is an incredibly figurative book. You know me, Mike, I usually take the text seriously--even if in some cases you disagree with me. So it's not as though I'm trying to explain Revelation away. But certainly if there are numerous straightforward texts which use language more plainly and speak of the final state of the wicked as having perished or died in the way we understand those words, a highly symbolic work would not trump them, would it? I just don't agree with you. I think the more plain descriptions of the fate of the wicked should inform how we understand the imagery and hyperbole of Revelation, and not the other way around.

    As for Isaiah 6:5, yes I understand that the tense of the word indicates a completed action, but that's somewhat beside the point. The point I made was that we do that to this day, saying, I'm dead" to mean "I'm certain to die." In fact, in my next comment I'm going to cite two texts which do something similar, in my estimation. So I don't think Isaiah 6:5 bears any weight in this debate, especially since it doesn't use apollymi or the Hebrew word that apollymi seems most often to translate.

    But at the end of your comment you say, "All I am really saying is, given the way the text speaks of these things, a certainty may not be possible thus far." Yeah, that's what Ronnie and I are saying. We're not saying that the way apollymi and other words are used proves that conditionalism is true. What I am saying, however, is that I am at this point inclined to concur with Ronnie when he says, "While I think it would be incorrect to say that the frequent use of apollumi unequivocally rules out traditionalism (because language is flexible), I do think that kind of language is vastly more consonant with conditionalism."

  12. (Continuing from the comment I made before my last one...)

    As I mentioned earlier, Zephaniah 2:13 uses 'abad and the LXX renders it apollymi. (Incidentally--or perhaps not so incidentally--some of the definitions of 'abad very much line up with damah's "cease to be." It includes meanings like "vanish" and "blot out," "do away with.") Leviticus 23:30, 26:38, Numbers 16:33, 24:19, Deuteronomy 4:26, 7:10, 7:20, 7:24, 8:19, 8:20, 11:4, 11:17, 26:5, 28:20, 28:22 and 28:51 all seem to me to use 'abad to mean what conditionalists claim apollymi means. Numbers 21:29-30, Deuteronomy 8:20 and 9:3 use the word to mean cities have been or will be destroyed and their people killed. Numbers 33:52 and Deuteronomy 12:2-3 uses it to describe the destruction of high places and graven images.

    Exodus 10:7 and Numbers 17:12 seem to depict people who have not yet been destroyed using the word to say they have been, but that's not necessarily the case. As the NASB renders the latter, "Behold, we perish, we are dying, we are all dying!" In other words, as I proposed might have been the case with Isaiah, they use the word in the present tense to describe what they anticipate happening to them in the near future--death.

    With what I think are a few exceptions, all of the above texts are rendered in the LXX using apollymi. The alternative used in Deuteronomy 9:3 and 28:20 shares olothreuō as its root, so they don't really tell us anything. Deuteronomy 26:5 instead uses apoballō to refer to a "castaway" or "wanderer," but I don't think they were translating 'abad, I think they were paraphrasing the meaning. I think the NKJV probably has it right when it renders the verse, "My father was a Syrian, about to perish." Any argument, then, made from this verse and how it's translated in the LXX, that the meaning of "perish" in the Bible has a broader meaning that to die, would be a weak one, I think. (Continued...)

  13. But this does bring us to Deuteronomy 22:3 which uses 'abad to mean "lost" when it speaks of wandering animal as if its owner has "lost' it. And, indeed, apollymi is used to translate the word in the Septuagint. So far I've gone through every use of 'abad in the first page of Blue Letter Bible's listings, and this is the one seeming exception to how the word, so frequently translated apollymi to mean destroyed or killed, is used in some other way. Perhaps, then, this does suggest a broader semantic range than it has hitherto seemed to me to be the case. However, I'm not certain of that yet.

    In the previous post I explained that when a fool wastes his wealth on prostitutes, that money certainly doesn't cease being money. Nevertheless, it ceases being the man's money. The man has "lost" it. His wealth has vanished, disappeared. Therefore, it seems plausible to me that when Deuteronomy 22:3 uses 'abad to refer a "lost" animal from the perspective of its owner, that is, in that its owner has lost it. It has vanished from the owner's sight. As far as the owner is concerned, that animal has perished. It just so happens that he doesn't know it is still alive and in the custody of another.

    So I would probably be sympathetic to an argument attempting to demonstrate that Deuteronomy 22:3 uses 'abad and apollymi in a way consistent with their usual meanings. However, even if that weren't the case, I'd still have to admit that these words do appear to be "vastly more consonant with conditionalism" as they are far and away most typically used. Those few possible exceptions I've seen would appear to be just that: exceptions to the rule. And so, I would still maintain at this point that at this point in our examination of annihilation and Holding's article, the scale weighs more heavily in Fudge's direction than Holding's--although that may change as we move forward.

  14. I certainly agree that Revelation is a book the heavily engages in figurative imagery and hyperbole, etc. However, I see no justification to take very straightforward language that is often emphasized and suggest it is figurative. While there are a great many figurative passages, there also a great many literal passages. Even when taking into account the figurative accounts we, using the totality of the text, come to a literal meaning that satisfies them both (i.e., preterism). Therefore I think it is a kind of slippery slope to write off the characterizations of the second death (the lake of fire) as being anything less than a (albeit human) real account of the fate of the reprobate.

  15. Neither Fudge nor I am suggesting we should "write off" characterizations of the lake of fire as the fate of the wicked. But why we should treat this lake of fire literally when death--a concept or state of being, not a creature--and Hades/Sheol--at most a "place" of disembodiment but possibly just the grave--are thrown into it is beyond me. Are death and Hades tormented forever and ever? Of course not.

    So again, I disagree with you. It is clear that there is some degree or another to which the lake of fire is symbolic. As such, I don't think it wise to subject the numerous plain uses of language throughout the Scriptures to this one highly symbolic book's use of imagery and metaphor. I think it should be the reverse.

    Incidentally, I certainly think that the final judgment awaiting the wicked is symbolically described as a lake of fire. But that doesn't suggest that humans who face this judgment face unending conscious torment for eternity. In fact, I concur with Fudge that when John says death and Hades are thrown into it, that means they will be no more. It seems logical, then, that neither will human beings.

    Of course John does speak in some sense of the devil and demons being tormented forever and ever, as well as the beast and false prophet. But like Fudge, I don't see the beast or false prophet as individual human beings per se. So it seems to me that the most we could possibly conclude is that Satan and the demons will be tormented forever and ever. What does that have to do with human beings?

  16. Exactly, death and hades are no more. They have been destroyed. However, are they persons? Surely not, as they are impersonal realities that God has ended. We both agree and understand a literal ending of Hades and death, but why not the other descriptions given unto all of the inhabitants of the lake of fire? Is it not inconsistent to accept the whole characterization as it is written (and not in a wooden sense)? Also, I can't remember, is death and the grave thrown in before or after the inhabitants are thrown in?

    Just trying to hash this thing out Chris. I am still undecided.

  17. I'm undecided, too, Mike, so no worries. I'm trying to hash it out, too. If it seems like I'm decided, it's only because I'm perhaps leaning :)

    "We both agree and understand a literal ending of Hades and death, but why not the other descriptions given unto all of the inhabitants of the lake of fire?"

    Well that's just it. The fact that non-persons--non-things, really--are thrown into the lake and obliterated suggests to me two things. First, a high degree of symbolism that likely applies throughout, and second, that anything else thrown into it is likewise obliterated. It does, indeed, appear to be a fire which consumes, and while the symbolism throughout suggests to me that it probably will not actually be a lake of fire (although it may involve burning), but will probably do that which fire does: burn up.

    But what of "the other descriptions given unto all of the inhabitants of the lake of fire?" Well first, it never says individual human inhabitants thrown into it will be tormented forever. It's simply not there. So while this is an interesting question, I'm not sure how it applies to the consciousness (or lack thereof) of the reprobate. It does say, however, that the devil, beast and false prophet will be tormented forever. But since I don't believe the beast and false prophet are necessarily individual human beings (to which Fudge hinted in the interview), I'm doubtful that that language is to be taken literally. I'm left with, at most, the devil being tormented forever and ever.

    "Also, I can't remember, is death and the grave thrown in before or after the inhabitants are thrown in?"

    The sequence in Revelation 20 is:

    1) The wicked deceived by Satan at the close of the millennium are devoured by fire from heaven, and Satan is thrown into the lake of fire (where the beast and false prophet had been thrown at the beginning of the millennium).

    2) All the dead are judged, and death, Hades and the sea give up their dead. Death and Hades are then thrown into the lake of fire.

    3) The dead who had been given up by death, Hades and the sea are then thrown into the lake of fire if their names weren't written in the book of Life.

    So, it seems as though death and Hades are thrown in before their former inhabitants are thrown in.

  18. Revelation 20:10 is part of a symbolic, apocalyptic vision. John sees a dragon and two hybrid beasts being tormented in a lake of fire. These visions are not intended to be taken literally, so this is not about "writing off" Revelation, it's about properly interpreting this genre of literature.

    Michael, it surprises me that you say we should take the vision as a real account. Most traditionalists will acknowledge that the beasts are symbols and that the lake of fire is a symbol, but then they will inexplicably demand that the part about torment be taken literally! They will then go one step further and apply the part about torment to the humans found in 20:15, even though John goes out of his way to explicitly interpret the lake of fire symbol whenever humans are mentioned (20:14, 21:8). The lake of fire is the second death.

    This follows the standard interpretation formula found in apocalyptic literature of [symbol] IS [reality]. For example:

    Dan 8:21: the goat is the king of Greece
    Zech 5:8: [the woman in the basket] is wickedness
    Rev 5:8: [the] golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
    Rev 19:8: the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints

    The galling thing—to me at least—is that traditionalists will then claim that they are taking the text at face value. No, no, no! First of all, they aren't, and second of all, if there is any genre that should not be taken at face value, it's this one!

    In terms of further interpreting the vision, if the beast is symbolic of a corporate entity, as most commentators agree, it would be nonsense to say that the Roman empire (for example) will be tormented in fire forever. It would be an improper use of a vision to say that the members of the empire will be tormented forever, in the same way that it would be improper to say that the residents of Media and Persia will be trampled upon by a goat (Daniel 8:7).

    The meaning of the lake of fire should be consistent and work for everything that is said to be thrown into it. Corporate entities and empires cannot be tormented. Death and Hades cannot be tormented. But demons, empires, religious systems, death, the intermediate state and human beings can all come to an end. That what the lake of fire is, an end.

  19. I want to add just one brief thing to what Ronnie said. Mike wrote, "The very phrase 'the second death' demands a certain amount of flexibility when dealing with the term." I don't think that's necessarily the case. In fact, if all we had to go on was the phrase, "the second death," I think we'd naturally conclude that it is another of whatever the first death was. In other words, the wicked die once, rise later, and die again, without the nature of the second death being terribly different from that of the first--with the exception of the permanence of that death. So when, as Ronnie points out, John interprets the lake of fire to mean the second death, I think that might tell us something.

  20. Oh, but I do want to point out that Mike's other point needs addressing:

    "When we speak of death in the NT, we speak of a loaded word. Certainly we understand that when one dies in Christ for example, he is still very much alive. Conversely, the wicked although they are alive are already dead (think John 5:24, 8:51, 1John 5:14,etc)."

    Just to be clear, it is not necessarily true that "Certainly we understand that when one dies in Christ, he is very much alive." I don't think a monist/physicalist would certainly understand it that way.

    However, your second point is a good one, that those who are alive but are not believers are in a real sense dead in the present. If humans can be alive in a sense, consciously experiencing existence, and yet be "dead," what's to prevent the "second death" from describing a similar state?

  21. If humans can be alive in a sense, consciously experiencing existence, and yet be "dead," what's to prevent the "second death" from describing a similar state?

    Nothing prevents "death" from meaning such a thing, if what we are talking about is possible meanings. I think we should ask something like "what is the most likely meaning of "death" when it is used the describe the punishment for a crime?"

    In English, it is also the case that "death" can be used in a less literal way. For instance, someone who just underwent a grievous loss could say something like "I'm dead inside." But would anyone conclude from this that when the law says "the punishment for treason is death" that it might have in mind inflicting severe emotional distress on the lawbreaker?

    When Paul says (in Romans 1:32) that those who practice such things know God's decree that they deserve death, is he talking about a literal return to the dust, or he is talking about "spiritual separation?" What about when he says that the wages of sin is death?

    This does lead us to a broader point that I was going to mention earlier. Contrary to some, I do think that in arguing for conditionalism, it is important—albeit not necessary—to establish the truth of, if not physicalism, at least mortalism (the view that there is no conscious intermediate state). For the traditionalist, death simply does not mean the end of conscious existence; it instead refers to a "separation" and the continuance of conscious existence in some other mode. If this is correct, then yes, I think there would be some warrant to conclude that the second death likewise does not imply the end of conscious existence.

  22. I agree with you, Ronnie, that in and of itself, "death" is more likely to carry the same meaning as apollymi ("perish") typically (if not always) does. These kinds of words do, I think, lend themselves more naturally to conditionalism than to traditionalism. So I still see Fudge as winning round 1, even if after progressing through Holding's article Mike and I conclude Holding wins the bout.

    As to physicalism, however, I think strategically it can backfire. I would agree with you that if monism (or at least mortalism) is true, then yes, "death" does not mean continued conscious existence (albeit disembodied) and therefore establishing its truth would further tip the scales in Fudge's favor.

    On the other hand, for what I think are legitimate reasons to which I haven't yet heard a satisfactory response, Mike believes physicalism is outright heresy, and is far more (dare I say, infinitely more?) likely to accept conditionalism than monism. As such, if you're trying to convince someone like Mike (not necessarily Mike) that conditionalism is true by trying to establish the truth of physicalism, you may actually turn that person away from considering what they would have otherwise considered viable because you've given the impression that it's inexorably tied to what they perceive to be a heresy.

    You see what I mean? This is why, although I grant you that establishing the truth of monism would greatly strengthen conditionalism's case, nevertheless in many discussions such an attempt may backfire. And so I side with Fudge in making very clear that the one does not require the other.

  23. I agree. As I said, it's important, although not necessary.

    I do want to point out that one can be a dualist and still deny a conscious intermediate state. In other words, when the body dies, the soul literally goes dormant, or "sleeps." This is the view that I once held, and I don't think it's outrageously idiosyncratic.

    If this view happened to be correct, then even though humans are composed of both material bodies and immaterial souls, death would still mean the end of conscious existence, and I think we'd be hard pressed to explain why the second death would be any different.

  24. Yeah but it is exactly that which leads Mike to view physicalism as heresy: the lack of consciousness. Because of the Christological implications while He was dead in the tomb.

  25. Incidentally, since Dr. Joel Green's answer to that issue didn't satisfy many of us, Dr. Glenn Peoples has agreed to come back again to talk about it. So for the time being, let's not debate physicalism/mortalism in this comment thread, if that's OK with you gentlemen.

  26. Ronnie just emailed me with a good point, and I am curious what Mike thinks. Ronnie, can you post that here?

  27. Ah, I didn't want to get off on another topic. Should we post it somewhere else? If you don't mind discussing it here, feel free the pose the question when you approve this comment.

  28. Well I don't want to discuss it at length, so I'll post it as a separate blog entry later. I'll email you both when I have.

  29. Please discuss that here:

    Note, however, that I still want to continue the discussion of conditionalism here :)

  30. As has been pointed out by Glenn Peoples, in the Synopotics, whenever apollumi is used to describe the actions of one person against another, it always means something like "to slay."

    One of the most disappointing and, I think, outrageous statements in Holding's article is when, regarding Matthew 10:28, he asserts:

    Another tack is to argue that the words "kill" and "destroy" being in parallel should mean that they indicate the same, which seems all too obviously without any linguistic support.

    The linguistic fact is that apollumi does often mean "to kill" and the verbs clearly are being used in parallel.

    So what would be the traditionalist's take on what Christ is trying to communicate here? Is he saying not to fear him who can kill the body but not the soul, but rather to fear him who can ruin both?

    It seems to me that the dualist is stuck here. According to the passage, in Gehenna, God will slay the soul in the same way that he slays the body. The assertion that Matthew 10:28 actually teaches that both the body and soul will survive in an unpleasant state really strains credulity, in my opinion.

  31. Chris, you stated, "it never says individual human inhabitants thrown into it will be tormented forever. It's simply not there. So while this is an interesting question, I'm not sure how it applies to the consciousness (or lack thereof) of the reprobate."

    I think your making dogmatic assertions here without a basis. Sure there is no explicit statement but there are other considerations. Please, don't get me wrong but I think your not considering the merits of traditionalism seriously enough and perhaps you are too eagerly accepting of the annihilationist arguments.

    For example, we read of the fate of satan: "and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:10)."

    And yet, at the judgement the Lord states, "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41).'" Followed by, "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matt 25:46).

    There seems to be a continuity of the kind of punishment inflicted upon both the wicked and satan, the false prophet, and the beast. Notice, that the "eternal fire" the reprobate is sent to is the very same destination as satan. In addition, when we read texts like Rev 14:9-11 which state," If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger ; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 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." So too texts like Rev 19:20 which for some reason include the detail that the beast and false prophet are "thrown alive into the lake of fire" seem to mitigate quite strongly against Dr Fudge's view.

    Are you really justified in making the statement I quoted? At this point, and after reviewing quite a few texts this afternoon, I don't believe you are.

  32. Well like I argued above, I don't think we should interpret the apocalyptic vision literally.

    But let's just grant for the sake of argument that Revelation 20:10 is a literal description. Are you suggesting that because two people are sent to the same place, that they will therefore receive the exact same punishment there? That strikes me as not merely false, but obviously false.

    Let me put it another way. Does the combination of Revelation 20:10 and Matthew 25:46 demonstrate that both Satan and humans will experience the same intensity of punishment? Almost all traditionalists will say no. But in the same breath they'll speak as if it's just obvious that those passages in tandem demonstrate that both Satan and humans will experience the same duration of torment. That's just completely ad hoc!

  33. Yes, Mike, I do feel justified, because none of those passages say what I said they don't say, namely, that an individual human will be tormented forever.

    You see, I'm not saying that an extrapolation can't be made in favor of traditionalism, which extrapolation might be correct. What I'm saying is that no text says individual human beings will be tormented forever, which is true. One text says the smoke of their torment rises forever, another says the beast and false prophet are tormented forever, but no text says a human being will be tormented forever.

    So yes, I do feel justified, even if traditionalism is true.

  34. The fact that everlasting torment/suffering is not once explicitly predicated of unsaved humans is striking. This is usually the first point I make when introducing conditionalism to people, and they are typically astounded when they realize it's true.

    You would think that—were it the case—such a weighty and terrible consequence would be taught frequently, explicitly and unambiguously in Scripture.

  35. What I will grant, however, is that the statement that humans have no rest day or night sounds like tormented forever. But why we should take that more literally than death being thrown in is past me.

  36. What I will grant, however, is that the statement that humans have no rest day or night sounds like tormented forever

    Why is that? "Forever" as used in that passage only modifies "goes up".

  37. Agreed. I'm not saying it means their torment is forever, only that their lack of rest day and night sounds like ceaseless restlessness. So close to forever-rising smoke, it does, I think, sound like eternal torment.

    But you're right, I've already said, it never says so, and even if restlessness day and night sounds like eternal torment, we still have to deal with the symbolic nature of the book.

  38. Ronnie, my statement was that the text seems to indicate that satan and the wicked suffer the same "kind" of punishment. And given what the text says, to suggest that notion is ad hoc is in my mind unwarranted. When we read of how the wicked will suffer "eternal punishment," however we understand the second death we ought to do so with eternity in mind. So is it ad hoc to argue that satan and the wicked will suffer an eternal punishment of the same kind and duration? I don't think so.

    "he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 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"

    Note the similiarities with the sufferings of the false prophet, the beast and satan. And if annihilation is true why indicate "they have no rest day and night"? Notice that the idiom "day and night" with the conjunction is synonomous with a period of ceaselessness (Rev 4:8, 7:15, 12:10, etc). Their destination is the same exact destination as satans, and their sufferings include the very same verbage utilized including "torment," "day and night." Seems to me like the duration and kind of suffering had by the inhabitants of the lake of fire is the same, albeit with varying intensity. The more I read these texts, the more I am persuaded of their clarity. In my mind, special pleading is required to take these (and other) texts into account and come up with annihilationism.

  39. This is, incidentally, what I meant, that no text says humans will be tormented forever, but that might be able to be extrapolated correctly. I also pointed out that restlessness day and night does sound like eternal torment.

    That said, I'm not convinced that Revelation should be treated as weightier than numerous other texts whose plain language doesn't use symbolism to depict death and Sheol being thrown into the lake of fire, and I've not yet seen good reason to treat a picture of (arguably) the reprobate being tormented forever as reality any more than a woman being clothed with the sun.

  40. Looking back at when I originally made the statement, I do think I meant more than that it had to be extrapolated. So, now that I think about it, while I do feel justified in making the precise statement I made, I don't feel the point I was trying to make was warranted, particularly since, as I've said, it does seem to me that restlessness day and night does seem to be, or sound like, eternal torment. (But there is still the literalness issue to deal with...)

  41. Though we can continue to discuss apollymi and Revelation in this thread. Just wanted to notify everybody that I'd posted on round 2.

  42. Michael, my charge of ad hocness was specifically aimed at the claim that humans thrown into the lake of fire (or the "eternal fire" of Matthew 25:46) must experience the same duration of torment, but not the same intensity, simply because they are said to go to the same place (e.g. when you said, "Notice, that the "eternal fire" the reprobate is sent to is the very same destination as satan.")

    Now, if you think that Revelation 14:11 itself teaches everlasting torment, then that's a separate argument that can be responded to in its turn (and I'll do that below).

    Incidentally, I do believe that Satan and humans will both be destroyed, so in that sense I agree that they share the same fate. But then, I don't think the lake of fire signifies a location but rather that it's a symbol for utter destruction (for reasons already mentioned above).

    And for the record, "day and night" indeed indicates something like "all the time." That's not something that I've disputed. What I've disputed is that it means or implies "everlasting," and it clearly doesn't. Its usage in Revelation 12:10 is an example.

    I have no problem at all discussing Revelation 14:11 and 20:10, but I will say this; it is very difficult, in my experience, to just sit down with a traditionalist and do normal exegesis of straightforward passages, without the traditionalist predictably going back to these two verses in Revelation. It's clear what's going on here; two symbolic, hyperbolic, apocalyptic passages are interpreted literally, and then those verses are used as lenses by which all other passages which speak of final punishment are interpreted, no matter how numerous they are or how explicitly they seem to teach the final destruction of the unsaved. That's just not an acceptable hermeneutic.

    There’s a lot that can be said about Revelation 14:11. Briefly:

    First, there is no indication that this is a depiction of final punishment. There is no mention of the resurrection, final judgment, or the lake of fire. It is mentioned in the middle of a narrative section about the beasts and is directly followed by an earthly judgment.

    Second, the image of smoke rising forever is also found in Revelation 19:3, where it refers to the smoke of the destruction of the great city Babylon. The language is borrowed from Isaiah 34:10, in a prophecy depicting the destruction of Edom:

    Night and day it shall not be quenched;
    its smoke shall go up forever.
    From generation to generation it shall lie waste;
    none shall pass through it forever and ever.

    Nobody that I’m aware of contends that either Edom or Babylon will literally burn forever—they correctly discern that the language ought not be taken literally. Rather, they understand this to be the same kind of symbolic, hyperbolic, judgment language that is found throughout the Old Testament (e.g. the moon turning to blood and so forth).

    For some reason though, when it comes to Revelation 14:11, traditionalists will forget everything they know about this genre of literature and insist that we must make solid inferences about reality based on the imagery.

    Just curious, do you take the judgment imagery depicted immediately after (v14-20) literally?

    I’ll admit this much:

    1. If Revelation 14:11 was explicitly about final punishment and
    2. I was unaware of how similar language is used elsewhere in Scripture and
    3. I thought it was appropriate to interpret the symbolism found in this genre of literature literally,

    then yes, this might be a good proof-text for the traditional view.

  43. In my mind, special pleading is required to take these (and other) texts into account and come up with annihilationism.

    Three points here:

    1. No conditionalist that I'm aware of has claimed that he reads Revelation 14:11 and Matthew 25:46 and "comes up" with annihilationism. The point is that neither of those passages militate against the view, even on a surface-level reading.

    2. I think you're misusing "special pleading" here. Where do conditionalists make any sort of unwarranted exception? Where are they inconsistent?

    3. You say "(and other) texts" but the fact is that Matthew 25:46, Revelation 14:11 and Revelation 20:10 are the texts that do 99% of the heavy lifting for the traditionalist. The other passages that are sometimes cited are hardly even worth mentioning in support of the view.

  44. Alright fellow, I'll be busy for the next few days, so I won't be chiming in much. But I'll try to keep up with the conversation, if it continues.

  45. I step away for two days and the thread blows up!

    Anyway, I notice that the subject has come up of how death, according to dualism, doesn't mean unconsciousness or non-existence. Let me explain why, whether physicalism or dualism is true, the fact that the wicked are repeatedly said to suffer "death" is very helpful towards annihilationism.

    When a person dies, the "whole person," body and soul (or body, soul, and spirit) does not die. Only the body dies. The conscious soul/spirit is not what is dead in the first place. Death is not the separation of two things. It is the RESULT of the separation of two things. When the body is separated from the spirit (whatever the spirit is), the body dies. That’s physical death. And there is nothing living about a corpse...

    This idea is not only logical, but biblical. Consider James 2:26: "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead" (NIV). When body and spirit separate, the body, not the body and soul, is what is dead. Matthew 10:28 further confirms this: “And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (NIV). What can men do? Men can kill the body, but NOT the soul. If the dualist position is correct, then the death that men inflict (physical death) only kills the body, not the immaterial component of man.

    Why does this matter? Well, if what is dead is just the dead body, then what is the apparent result of death? It turns what was once vivacious and sentient into inert, unfeeling matter. If the second death is a “death” applied to the whole person (body, soul, and spirit), and the first death turns bodies to corpses, wouldn’t we expect the second death to do something similar to what if affects (the whole person)? Rather than saying “dead people are conscious, so someone who suffers the second death is probably conscious too,” the correct analogy is, “dead bodies are unconscious and unliving, so somebody who suffers the second death and is likewise made “dead” should likewise be unconscious and unliving).

    Consider this: The "second death" is said to be the whole person being separated from God, so the traditional argument tends to go. It is a separation, after all, so that’s why it is called death (and not because it is like classic “death”). However, who is dead? Are both parties "dead?" If so, then when someone suffers the second death, God dies! No, only the human is dead, just as only the body is dead when it is separated from the spirit. And what is a dead body like?

    It gets all muddled up because we don't typically say "their body died" when someone passes away. We say "they died," so people think of death as encompassing the whole person. Biblically, however, it is the BODY that dies. Even if the "person" lives on in the form of a soul/spirit after death, it doesn’t change what death is.

    Of course, if physicalism is true, none of this matters anyway, since the dead body is the whole dead person. However, it's good to cover all of one's bases when one can.