Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Analyzing Annihilation: JPH vs. EWF (Round 2)

In round 1 we looked at J.P. Holding's claim in "An Examination of Annihilationism" that the Greek word apollymi, rendered "perish" in describing the final fate of the wicked, more strongly supports the traditional view of hell than it does the conditionalist position. I concluded such was not the case at all, and that the word more strongly supports conditionalism than traditionalism. My friend Michael Burgos agreed that Holding was running away from the clear meaning of the word, and that apollymi clearly fits within a conditionalist framework, but did not feel that it was any less consonant with traditionalism. So I gave the round to Fudge, and Mike would say, I guess, that round 1 was a draw (though he does find statements in Revelation compelling, which we'll get to later in this series). And so the bell rings in round 2.


Toward the end of the first half of my interview with Edward Fudge on the topic of hell, as part of his positive case for conditionalism Fudge cited a ton of texts from the Old Testament which describe the fate of the wicked. If you've listened to that, then the fire hose Fudge let loose probably came to your mind as you read this hypothetical conditionalist argument Holding presents after his treatment of apollymi:

Other words are used of the "destruction" of the wicked - an example being 'kataphtheiro' in 2 Peter 2:13 --- translated as "utterly perish." Paul also uses "apollumi" in 1 Cor. 15:18, translated "perished". Paul's hypothetical argument here makes it clear that he means they will not live again.

Also, the Old Testament speaks of the final end of the wicked in terms such as "cut off"; will "be no more"; are "slain"; they will "not be found"; "vanish like smoke"; "perish"; "be destroyed"; be "torn to pieces"; "vanish like water which flows away"; "melt like a slug"; be like the "stillborn"; their "blood will bathe the feet of the righteous"; etc.; etc. These pictures cannot possibly symbolize "perpetual concious [sic] torment forever."

Indeed, I explicitly remember Fudge citing at least one of these in his positive case: Psalm 58:8 which says, "Let [the wicked] be as a snail [or slug] which melts away." Of course, he marshaled a great many more passages than that in driving home his point, many more than even mentioned here by Holding. But how does J.P. respond to this?

I will simply ask this question: In any of the places where apollumi is used, did the things in question "cease to exist as" whatever they were? No -- 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. The same may be said of every other example I cited, and of 1 Cor. 1:19 -- the plans did not "cease to exist as" plans; they simply did not fulfill their intended purpose...

That "other words" are used is true, but beside the point. 2 Peter 2:13, at any rate, refers to people currently living on the earth. (emphasis mine)

And after that, so far as I can tell, none of the language quoted in the hypothetical argument is responded to. None. Holding's entire response to this argument seems to be, since apollymi does not describe something ceasing to exist (an argument I think I refuted in round 1), then we don't even need to consider other language used to describe the fate of the wicked. Really?!? We can just ignore it all? I'm sorry, but this seems sloppy and immature, and certainly anything but persuasive.

Now, as strong as my words are, this is not, actually, what I'm going to present as round 2. In the first hours of writing this post that's what I had intended. But then I began to look carefully at what Holding says immediately following his dismissal of those "other words," and what I discovered led me to present something else as round 2.


In introducing his positive case for his view, after briefly quoting (but not citing, if I'm making the correct differentiation) several descriptions of the fate of the wicked given in the Psalms, Dr. Fudge says this:

It frequently says to us that the principles of divine justice are such that the righteous will endure forever with God's blessing but the wicked will be cut off and be no more. Well now somebody says, "Maybe that's talking about in this life." Well, maybe it is. But the problem is then, as the Psalms acknowledge, sometimes that doesn't happen in this life. So what do we say then? Do we say well this is true when it's true but it isn't true when it isn't? Or do we say there must be some other way it's true even when we don't see it now? And I think we need to say the second part.

This is, in fact, what was going to be round 2, but will now be round 3. That is, this issue of whether or not the Old Testament descriptions of the fate of the wicked are "talking about in this life," and whether or not Fudge is correct that these present to us "principles of divine justice" which we should think apply to the second death. In introducing the question, I was going to point out that J.P. does, very briefly and without addressing Fudge's greater point, make this point when he says, "2 Peter 2:13, at any rate, refers to people living on the earth."

Actually, the hypothetical argument to which Holding is responding is from verse 12, not 13. It reads, "But these [false teachers among you (v. 1)]...will in the destruction of [fallen angels] also be destroyed." Alternatively, "But these...will utterly perish in their own corruption" (NKJV). The hypothetical objector to traditionalism is arguing that the fate of these wicked teachers, then, is utter destruction, not eternal conscious torment.

Holding's response to 2 Peter 2:12 is, well, lacking clarity to say the least. I think what he really means (correct me if you think I'm wrong) is not that it refers to "people living on the earth," but that it refers to a destruction that will take place in this life, and not the final judgment when Christ returns. If I'm right, J.P. still would have yet to respond to Fudge's broader point about "principles of divine justice," and we'll come back to that in round 3. But my examination of 2 Peter 2:12 led me to focus on it as round 2. Does it, in fact, refer to judgment in this life rather than the one to come?


When I first read and re-read the verse in its context, for some reason I was inclined to agree. But now that I've taken a third and fourth look, I don't think that's the case. Here is the verse in its broader context:

(9) the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, (10) and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, (11) whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. (12) But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed.

Notice verse 9, which speaks of the keeping of the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment. Doesn't this suggest, contrary to what I've proposed is what Holding really meant, that the "utter destruction" referred to in verse 12 is the one that will take place in the final judgement? Consider also the next chapter of 2 Peter which says, "by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (v. 7). Again, this sounds like the second death, and not some punishment in this life, is what's in view.

I will admit that, as a preterist (I suppose that for those who are not familiar with my position, I should say I'm not a hyperpreterist, or what is unfortunately often called a "full preterist"), I did wonder if what I was reading was a prediction of the soon-coming destruction of Jerusalem. However, 2 Peter 3:13's mention of hope in "new heavens and a new earth" lends further support to the view that 2 Peter 2:12 is referring to the final judgment.

It would seem to me, then, that not only does what I surmise to be Holding's argument not address Fudge's broader point, but it is, in fact, mistaken. Peter does appear to suggest that the final state of the wicked is whatever is meant by kataphtheirō. But is Holding's hypothetical objector, to whom he so woefully responds, right when he says that kataphtheirō means "utterly perish?"


This word appears in one other place in the New Testament, 2 Timothy 3:8 which speaks of men of "depraved" or "corrupt" minds. Its root word, phtheirō, is used in 1 Corinthians 3:17 to refer to the "defilement" of the temple of God; in 1 Corinthians 15:33 to speak of the "corrupting" of good morals; in 2 Corinthians 11:3 to warn against the "corrupting" of one's mind from the simplicity of Christ; and in Revelation 19:2 to say that Mystery Babylon had "corrupted" the earth with her immorality. Even Peter himself uses a form of this root word, phthora, to write of the "corruption" from which believers have escaped (2 Peter 1:4), and of "corruption" to which false teachers are enslaved (2 Peter 2:19).

Despite Thayer's inclusion of definitions like "to be destroyed" and "to perish," it seemed to me that the authors of the New Testament typically used the word and its root to refer to corruption, rather than to death. And so, despite giving round 1 to Fudge and his treatment of apollymi, I was finding myself inclined toward giving round 2 to, well, certainly not Holding, since he doesn't even address this text seriously, but to traditionalism in general, since Peter seemed to be saying that the final state of the wicked is utter corruption, rather than utter destruction.

But then I began to search through the LXX. The meaning of kataphtheirō as used in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament tips the scale in this round back toward the center. Isaiah 10:27 uses it to describe a destroyed yoke. Genesis 6:13, 6:17 and 9:11 use it to describe the destruction of all life in the flood. In Isaiah 32:7 it refers to the destruction of the humble by scoundrels. It is used in 2 Chronicles 25:16 to say that Amaziah would be killed. Several other texts use the word similarly.

Of course, there are occasions in which the LXX seemingly uses kataphtheirō to mean something more like "corruption." But the point I'm making is, clearly it can carry the meaning of "be destroyed" or "perish," and Peter doesn't make it clear that that's not how he intends to use it. As such, I am neither inclined to side with Holding's hypothetical objector in insisting that kataphtheirō suggests an utter destruction of the wicked in the second death, nor with the response Holding could have given but didn't, that the word more typically describes corruption than actual death.

And so, although I'm not sure either Fudge or Holding would focus much on 2 Peter 2:12 and its use of kataphtheirō, because proponents of their mutual positions might do so in a debate like this, I'll include it as round 2 in this boxing match, but I can't justify anything other than a draw. What say you?


  1. First off, I'm pretty sure Holding meant 2 Peter 2:12, not 2:13 (Verse 13 makes no mention of destruction or any form of phtheirō, but Verse 12 makes multiples references to it).

    Secondly, and much more importantly, there is more to it than just the fact that "kataphtheirō" comes up describing humans in Verse 12 (which I think Fudge brought up in the interview but I could be wrong):

    The same word in the same sentence also describes the killing of animals. The wicked are like animals, which as Peter says, are to be caught and killed (or "destroyed," depending on translation). Then, after that, Peter declares that they will be destroyed, using the same word.

    Most would agree that animals don't have immortal souls, and even if they did, I doubt humans could "ruin" them upon catching them by somehow making them miss out on eternal life and instead stay in conscious misery (like the word is said to mean for humans in the same sentence)...

  2. While I do intend to comment on this last post, I would like to insert a few comments in passing regarding the commentary on the last post that was on this topic. Firstly, Chris and Ronnie felt that the figurative nature of Revelation could lend itself to a different understanding of Rev 14:10ff. It was argued that because death and hades are also thrown into the fire there remains such a warrant to leave the "clear" passages to govern the texts in Revelation. But, couldn't that line of argumentation be used to butress traditionalism? Why couldn't "death" and "hades" be figurative language for a group of persons or specific persons? It seems to me that the annihilationist argument cuts both ways. As I read through the text of Revelation, I think that death and hades may very well be symbolic characterizations of a grouping of people. Also I'd note that if one is going to take what I would consider to possibly be a hyper-figurative position on that account doesn't consistency demand a figurative devil too?

    Conceptually speaking, when it comes down to it, annihilationism renders the damned in a state of nonexistence (oxymoron I know) that is essentially identical to the state of nonexistence had by those same persons prior to their birth. I was considering this aspect and thinking of our Lord who stated of the betrayer,

    "the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born."

    From this statement, I gather that the Lord of glory viewed nonexistence to be a better end than the eternal punishment given unto the traitor.

  3. I never said that Revelation can't be understood within a traditionalist framework, only that it doesn't necessarily lend itself to one. That's another reason I don't think we should treat it as weightier than the numerous texts Fudge points to. Incidentally, death and Hades have been emptied before they're thrown in, so I think it's seriously unlikely that they symbolize groups of people.

  4. As for the unwarranted allegation of being hyper-figurative, Revelation uses symbolism when it describes him as a dragon sweeping stars from the sky (oh, perhaps we're being hyper-figurative there, too). Here it simply uses the title used of him throughout the Bible, including where you yourself pointed out Jesus says the devil and his angels were headed. So no, this line of reasoning doesn't work.

  5. What's more, Ronnie and I aren't saying death and Hades are symbols, we're saying the lake of fire is a symbol, figuring the fate of anything metaphorically thrown into it. So annihilationists are consistent in their treatment of everything thrown into it, including death, Hades and the devil. It is, in fact, traditionalism which I'm beginning to suspect is inconsistent.

  6. As for your comment on round 2, you're ignoring the process of destruction Fudge and other (but not all) annihilationists affirm will involve suffering, suffering consummate with one's offenses. So of course it would have been better that Judas had not been born than face what annihilationists insist will be a fire that consumes but not instantly.

  7. Joey, that's a good point. For some reason I read the verse wrong before, and didn't even notice the mention of animals destined to be killed--using the very word I've argued tends to mean "corrupt." If the utter whatever which false teachers are said to face in 2 Peter 2:12 is an utter form of what the beasts experience in the very same verse, well then it may, in fact, favor conditionalism. Perhaps I have to rethink round 2 and give it to Fudge after all...