The GTY blog has been posting a series critiquing Rob Bell and defending the doctrine of eternal punishment. Obviously, when a high profile ministry like Grace to You posts articles on current controversies within Christendom, it will draw attention. Thus, a handful of annihilationists sallied forth to our blog and one of them left some challenges.
Most of them were soundly refuted within the comments under the various posts. I thought I would take a moment to answer the one challenge I saw often repeated.
The Biblical passages for eternal life with an immortal soul being a gift from God Rom 6:23, the idea that all men are not born with an “immortal soul” (that term is nowhere in the Bible) platonism [sic] (Greek phylosphical [sic] influence) says all men do have an immortal soul. We believe eternal life is a gift, and God could destroy the soul if he wants to Mat 10:28.
Annihilationists like to call themselves “conditionalists.” The word "conditionalism," for those not in the "know," is another fancy way of saying "annihilationist." They use the term to describe their insistence that men do not have an immortal soul. The only way humanity obtains “immortality” after death is if God grants immortality to the person as a gift upon the person’s faith in Christ for salvation. Thus, the soul’s immortality is “conditioned” upon God giving that gift to the person.
They also like to make the charge that the concept of men having an immortal soul is a result of Greek philosophy creeping into the church.
This is a classic assertion made by annihilationists. Both Leroy Froom and Edward Fudge present this claim in their books defending annihilationism, but it is a claim fraught with problems.
If it is true about Platonism influencing early Christian thought on the immortality of the soul, then there should be clear evidence of such an influencing happening. Meaning, before a certain point in Church History the soul’s immortality was never taught by early Christians and we can thus gage a period of time when this influence of Greek philosophy began to appear. However, if it can be shown that early Christians believed in the immortality of the soul, this claim becomes quickly problematic. This is especially true if Christians believed in the immortality of the soul BEFORE the Platonism allegedly began to influence their thinking. Most annihilationists pin-point the problem with Augustine, or a century or so before his influence. That is at least 200 years after Christ.
Another problem for the Platonic influence claim is the Jewish teaching on the soul’s immortality. Christianity arose from Judaism. If it can be shown that Jews, both before and after Christianity arose, believed the OT taught the soul’s immortality, it then becomes difficult to defend the idea that Platonism introduced false teaching to Christians about the soul’s immortality.
Robert Morey, in his book Death and the Afterlife, documents a number of Rabbinical sources, both before and after Christ, that teach the soul’s immortality. The entire book can be read on-line HERE.
The rabbinic literature is clear that the soul of man was understood to be invisible and immortal (Bab. Tal. Ber. 59, AZ 21). At death, the soul leaves the body and remains conscious. Mid. Gen. 409, 516, 549; Num. 733; Ecc. 83, 229; Ba. Tal. Shab.777-779 PT Mo'ed Ketan 111. 5,826, Yeb amoth XVI.3,157, Bereshath Rabba C.7, Vayyakra Rabba XVIII.
The righteous go to "The Throne of Glory" or Paradise (Bab. Tal. Shab. 779), while the wicked "recline in anguish and rest in torment till the last time come, in which they shall come again and be tormented still more" (2 Baruch 36:12). Thus the wicked experience conscious torment (Apocalypse of Ezra VII, 78-101; Book of Enoch 103:7).
The righteous in paradise are exhorted to worship God (Song of Three Children, 64). This obviously requires that they are still conscious after death.
The rabbis interpreted Eccles. 9:5, "the dead do not know anything," as referring to the living wicked who are called "dead" in a spiritual sense (Mid. Ecc. 229). The word "sleep" is used to describe the body at rest awaiting the resurrection while the soul is conscious in the afterlife (Mid. Gen. 549).
At the resurrection, the soul returns to the body according to The Apocalypse of Baruch.
Early Christian apocalpytic literature such as The Apocalypse of Paul described the angels carrying the righteous away at death (14) and evil spirits coming to carry away the souls of the wicked to torment (15-19).The Apocalypse of Peter graphically described the conscious torment of the wicked in the hereafter (390, 508, 514, 523, etc.).
Josephus states that the Essenes and all Jews except the Sadducees believed in the immortality of the soul (Wars II, 154-159, 163, 166).
The early church historian Eusebius (E.H. VI, C37) stated that the doctrine of "soul sleep" was invented by third-century heretics. The exact nature of the belief of the Essenes is still under investigation and there is conflicting material in the Dead Sea Scrolls. There seems to be a mixture of the teaching of annihilationism and eternal torment in the literature coming from the Essenean community. Thus writers can quote sources to support either position [Morey, 50, 51].
Yet Christians do not need to appeal to extra biblical sources to affirm the truth of man being both body and soul and the soul’s immortality.
The Bible is quite clear that man is a dual creature comprised of both body and soul, and when men die, their soul departs the body, where it is either in the presence of the Lord or away from the presence of the Lord, as it awaits the resurrection of the body at the latter-days.
For example, Jesus states in Matthew 10:28 “But rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” and James writes in 2:26, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Both passages reveal a dichotomy with man between body and soul.
Additionally, the soul of both the righteous and the wicked will continue to exist consciously in the eternal afterlife upon death. They never go out of existence, or just “sleep,” as the annihilationist claims.
One of the more penetrating passages against the idea of the wicked going out of existence is Revelation 20:10, 15, where it says of those who are cast into the lake of fire that “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” The devil, the beast, and the false prophet are cast into the lake of fire, and then those who are not found written in the book of life were cast into the lake of fire (20:15).
You will note that it is conscious beings cast into the lake of fire, angelic beings (Satan, and by inference, the devils), as well as humanity (the Anti-Christ, false prophet and the unsaved). Moreover, they are tormented day and night forever and ever. If they merely go out of existence, what is the use of the phrase “forever and ever?” Most annihilationists say this expression means just that, they go out of existence and will never exist again for all eternity. But those in the lake of fire are tormented. How exactly can non-existent beings be tormented? One must be conscious of the torment in order to be tormented.
Consider also Christ’s contrast in Matthew 25:41, 46 between the righteous who receive eternal life, and the wicked who go away into everlasting punishment. Here we have two categories of individuals being eternally judged. If we can expect the righteous will consciously go into eternal life, so too the wicked will go consciously into everlasting punishment. Also note the description of everlasting fire in 25:41 prepared for the devil and his angels, similar imagery found in Revelation 20:10, 15. Nothing in the words of Jesus suggests He means the wicked go out of existence. Instead, they experience the fullness of God’s holy wrath in the same way the righteous will experience the fullness of God’s holy grace: consciously forever.