Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

Letting Go Of Hell (Without Letting Go Of The Bible)

Affirming that scripture is inspired and true means one must also affirm the “eternal, conscious torment” of hell, correct?

Nope– not at all, and today I’ll explain how it’s possible to let go of hell without letting go of the Bible. I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, and saw that Evangelical Theologian Scott McKnight has been discussing it of late (you can find his posts on it here), so seems like a good time to weigh in a bit.

First, it is important to note that our concept of hell certainly did not exist in Old Testament times (the Hebrew word often translated as hell was “Sheol” does not mean “hell” by our modern understanding). In fact, the concept of hell we have today is far more based on the 14th Century Poem, Dante’s Inferno, than it is scripture itself. Because many of us have grown up with the unchallenged concept of hell being “eternal, conscious torment” we often fail to see alternative understandings that still take scripture seriously. In fact, often times we don’t even realize that such alternate understandings exist, believing the falsehood that one must either believe in the traditional hell or be a universalist.

Now, this is a deep theological topic worthy of a book (there are plenty if you want to go deeper) so I’ll obviously be oversimplifying in an attempt to simply explain the basic concepts of an alternative view. If there are aspects of interest to folks, perhaps we can do a few more posts on this topic and go a bit deeper.

First, it is important to understand the basic premise behind the modern concept of hell: the human soul is immortal, and cannot die. As a result, punishment in hell must be one of eternal, conscious torment. What one believes regarding immortality of the soul has direct correlation to the logical consistency they must follow in a concept of hell. If you grew up like me, we were never aware that there is an alternative view to immortality of the soul and certainly were never invited to consider the merits of the concept.

An alternative view to this belief that the human soul is immortal is a concept called conditionalism.

Conditionalism is the theological view I hold of the human soul, and is one that a growing number of evangelical theologians are embracing, so it isn’t a fringe, hippie view. In short, conditionalism argues that the human soul is not immortal in and of itself– it is only immortal if God wills, and grants immortality (see Romans 2:7, John 10:28, 1 Cor 15: 50, 54). Since God is the creator and one who sustains all things, nothing came to exist or continues to exist apart from his will for that thing or person to exist (Heb 1:3). Since the soul does not posses independent immortality, souls can in fact “die” or cease to exist if God withdraws his will for them to exist.

We would argue that this is precisely what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 10:28 when he said that we should not be afraid of human enemies who can kill the body but not the soul, but rather we should be concerned with God, who actually is able to kill the soul.

Now, if Jesus is correct, it seems that the human soul is not automatically immortal– such immortality is conditional.

This foundation of immortal vs. conditional sets the framework for the two ultimate dispositions of the unjust: eternal conscious torment, or annihilation. Conditionalism leads to the latter and immortality of the soul leads to the former.

Annihilation is the theological alternative to eternal, conscious torment, and the position that I hold. In this disposition, instead of being tortured in hell for all of eternity, the unjust die a “second death” or are “destroyed” as scripture itself calls it throughout both the Old and New Testaments. In fact, the annihilation of the unjust is a far more consistent position with the OT than is the traditional concept of eternal conscious torment. In considering annihilationism, it’s important to be willing to re-examine scripture without reading into it what we’ve been taught– instead, we must look at scripture with fresh eyes. Even go-to verses that we memorized as kids can take on a fresh understanding, such as Romans 6:23 which doesn’t say the “wages of sin is eternal conscious torment in hell” but rather, “the wages of sin is death“. Perhaps scripture means what it actually says– the consequence is “death” or ceasing to exist–AKA, annihilation.

These options lead us to two different competing narratives about God, which is why I think our theology on this topic is important. For the argument of immortality and eternal conscious torment the narrative becomes: “those who reject God are tortured for all of eternity and that this is pleasing to God”. Or the alternative: “to those who do not choose God’s love, he respects their decision and does not force them to live in eternal community with him, and therefore allows them to cease to exist”.

Those two narratives are crucially important because of how it impacts our view and our relationship to God. As A.W., Tozer once said, “what we think about God is the most important thing about us”. One narrative leads to a view of God where he delights in the torture of the wicked (in direct opposition to Ez 18:23), or even worse– that he created some people specifically for this purpose! Or, the second option, which leads to a loving God who invites all to come and embrace him, but ultimately respects each individual choice– even the choice to reject love.


As I said, this a complex topic and obviously can’t be properly dealt with in a short post, but this is an introductory to the basic concepts of how one can reject the traditional “eternal, conscious torment” position in favor of an alternative. If folks want to go deeper on this, let me know and I’ll do a few more posts on it. In the meantime, here are a few resources:

Theologian Greg Boyd has a fantastic post from 2008 that goes deeper into scriptures on the topic– it’s a must read, and you can find it here.

Check out the folks at Rethinking Hell. This is both an Evangelical conference, as well as a book and blog. Really great resources that you’ll find valuable– I am regretful that I can’t be at the conference.

Finally, here’s a great 9 minute video from Boyd that brings up some problems with the traditional concept of hell:



Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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  1. I am an investor of gate io, I have consulted a lot of information, I hope to upgrade my investment strategy with a new model. Your article creation ideas have given me a lot of inspiration, but I still have some doubts. I wonder if you can help me? Thanks.

  2. An interesting view on the matter to be sure. I do, however, have a couple of objections. 1) You claim that Man’s soul is “conditionally immortal,” and that, because of this fact, God would “kill” those souls that do not wish to spend Eternity with Him. This is somewhat irrelevant, however, because, in reality, aren’t ALL things “conditional” in their existences? Since God is the One Ground of all existence and reality, nothing exists without His constant willing that it does. So this idea you present is a bit of a non sequitur. 2) How do you explain all of the Bible verses, particularly in the Gospels, where Jesus says something to the effect of “and they will go into the outer darkness/the pit or lake of fire/gehenna where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” and “the evil ones will go to eternal punishment and the righteous to eternal life”? Both of those examples sound like active, non-annihilated souls being punished and suffering.

  3. How about the possibility that all things “God” (including doctrines and beliefs) have always been and still are evolving? What is more plausible: That humanity has been evolving within God’s universal creation and that many wisdom traditions (like Judaic- Christian) throughout history have/are seeking, learning, expanding in sacred human consciousness and what it means to be alive? Or that God has chosen to be limited and revealed (through that tricky and mysterious “Holy Spirit” thing) in only ONE wisdom tradition (which just happens, conveniently, to be the one I was born into or the one I chose!) and all other possibilities and traditions are “evil,” “deceptive,”empty,” “wrong” or (fill in the blank)?

    I have been studying the bible my whole life ever since I was “saved” at age 19. There is a reason there was no “eternal life” or “eternal hell” throughout much of the Old Testament history…it was EVOLVING!!! It was primarily constructed
    during the time of Daniel to deal with the problem of martyrs and injustice, which the Jews had in spades with every Empire running over them through the centuries! Judaic theology probably borrowed heavily from their other Empire masters (think Egypt, Babylonia, Greeks, Rome….) to construct this imagery of hell for the unholy others!

    This is not rocket science. However, it does REQUIRE a serious study of the
    bible WITHIN its own history in which it was written. To study the bible only through the lens (I would say blinders) of our own modern era is to dismiss and leave out the very traditions and cultures within which the bible is written. It’s called FOLLOWING THE EVIDENCE that is there in political, social, religious and cultural history of the time in which these ancient documents were written.

  4. How about the possibility that all things “God” (including doctrines and beliefs) have always been and still are evolving? What is more plausible: That humanity has been evolving within God’s universal creation and that many wisdom traditions (like Judaic- Christian) throughout history have/are seeking, learning, expanding in sacred human consciousness and what it means to be alive? Or that God has chosen to be limited and revealed (through that tricky and mysterious “Holy Spirit” thing) in only ONE wisdom tradition (which just happens, conveniently, to be the one I was born into or the one I chose!) and all other possibilities and traditions are “evil,” “deceptive,”empty,” “wrong” or (fill in the blank)?

    I have been studying the bible my whole life ever since I was “saved” at age 19. There is a reason there was no “eternal life” or “eternal hell” throughout much of the Old Testament history…it was EVOLVING!!! It was primarily constructed during the time of Daniel to deal with the problem of martyrs and injustice, which the Jews had in spades with every Empire running over them through the centuries! Judaic theology probably borrowed heavily from their other Empire masters (think Egypt, Babylonia, Greeks, Rome….) to construct this imagery of hell for the unholy others!

    This is not rocket science. However, it does REQUIRE a serious study of the bible WITHIN its own history in which it was written. To study the bible only through the lens (I would say blinders) of our own modern era is to dismiss and leave out the very traditions and cultures within which the bible is written. It’s called FOLLOWING THE EVIDENCE that is there in political, social, religious and cultural history of the time in which these ancient documents were written.

  5. While your position is certainly preferable to the popular Christian theory that God punishes non-believers with never-ending torture, it still does not line up with the idea of a compassionate, wise God.

    You write that your theory “leads to a loving God who invites all to come and embrace him, but ultimately respects each individual choice–even the choice to reject love.”

    Yet granting immortality and eternal peace to those who accept Jesus, while allowing the souls of those who do not to be destroyed, hardly strikes me as “respectful” to atheists, people of other religions, agnostics, and everyone else who does not fall under the umbrella of “saved.” Even describing all of these individuals–who surely make up the majority of everyone who has ever lived on earth–as “rejecting love” is disrespectful. The decision to become a Christian and to ask Jesus into one’s heart is not the obviously correct one. Millions–if not billions–of people choose other religions, or no religion at all, for perfectly understandable reasons, and go on to live full, fulfilling lives full of love. Not everyone sees evidence of “Jesus’ invitation” as you do. There are kids in Africa who’ve never heard of Jesus–why should they give up everything they know and adopt some Western missionary’s cultural beliefs over the ones they were raised with? And why would God judge those kids for their decision?

    Determining whether a soul is “annihilated” (your word) based on whether or not they accept Jesus is a completely arbitrary and immoral standard. It leaves the immortality of the soul up to what is, essentially, a cosmic guessing game that gives a major advantage to Westerners. Since God can be neither arbitrary nor immoral, it doesn’t make sense for God to behave this way.

    You’ve done well in pointing out the ways in which modern Christians have misinterpreted the Bible. But you need to go further and explore the possibility that perhaps the Bible itself is flawed. This is not blasphemous; quite the opposite, actually. The doctrine of Biblical inerrancy implies that not only is God perfect, but that God’s servants on earth couldn’t have possibly failed once in transcribing God’s word. So this doctrine depends not only on the inerrancy of God, but the inerrancy of man as well. Now that’s blasphemous! We know that man is not perfect, so there is no reason to believe that the Bible is without flaws and mistakes.

    Again, the notion that those of us who don’t accept Christ as our Lord and Savior are just going to cease to be upon death rather than burning in a pit of hellfire is more comforting than the traditionalist view, but it still relies on a completely arbitrary and immoral prejudice against the vast majority of human beings who’ve existed on earth.

    1. Must man be perfect to write a perfect paper or book? Of course not. Man not being perfect does not preclude the original autographs of the Scriptures from being perfect.

      Does God owe anyone salvation?

      1. “Must man be perfect to write a perfect paper or book? Of course not. Man not being perfect does not preclude the original autographs of the Scriptures from being perfect.”

        Interesting claim. Can you back it up with logic? Because it’s not at all clear to me how you’re drawing your conclusion; you’re just stating it as if it’s obvious. I can’t see any way an imperfect human can write a perfect book, barring direct divine possession. I’m not entirely sure what the Christian doctrine is on how the Bible came to be written–it was pretty much ignored in my church growing up–but I don’t think most Christians believe that the writers were literally possessed by the Holy Spirit throughout the entire duration.

        The fact remains that there is no logical reason to believe that the men who wrote the Bible did so with no human (and therefore corrupting)influence. And that’s not even getting into the lengthy debates and political decisions over which books would be considered canon and which would not. Therefore, there is no logical reason to believe that the Bible is the literal, inerrant Word of God. It thus follows that God would be acting illogically and immorally by giving special treatment to those who believe it is, and destroying the souls of all who do not.

        “Does God owe anyone salvation?”

        When you use the term “salvation,” you’re talking about a concept that I don’t really believe in. I believe that salvation and redemption, in the secular sense, are wonderful human experiences, but I don’t believe that people who accept Jesus into their hearts deserve special treatment in the afterlife.

        I do believe God, having created us, and having deliberately hidden his existence and identity, owes us a lot more than either sending us to hell or destroying our souls simply for not correctly guessing at the nature of said existence and identity. Every parent owes their child more than that.

        1. A person can write a perfect math paper or a book that has no errors.
          What kind of corrupting influence are referring to for those who wrote the Scripture?
          The Bible claims to be revelation from God.
          How is it illogical for God to give special treatment to some but not others?
          The “special treatment” that Christ promised to those who followed Him is what He said. Either it’s true or false.

          God doesn’t send people to hell for not “guessing” about His existence but for breaking His Law that He has written on your heart.

          1. “A person can write a perfect math paper or a book that has no errors.”

            The math part might be true, but there is no such thing as a book without errors. It may be free of spelling and grammar errors, but no work of literature is perfect; there are always gaps, areas that could have been explored further, continuity problems, plot holes. Every writer and student of literature knows this. It is impossible for an imperfect human to write a perfect book.

            “What kind of corrupting influence are referring to for those who wrote the Scripture?”

            Other than the natural corrupting influences that come from just being human, it is abundantly clear that the writers were influenced by their own cultural mores, and they frequently lay down rules that would be considered immoral in our own time. I am not just talking about the Old Testament; Paul, for instance, wrote that women should remain silent and keep their heads covered in church. Virtually no Christians follow this part of the Bible today, because they recognize it as sexist and immoral to treat women as less in the presence of God than men. Paul was corrupted by a deeply sexist culture–that seeped into his writing. And it’s obviously not the only instance of that happening.

            The Bible could still be divinely inspired (though in my opinion, no more than many works of art are), but at the same time, there’s no way to tell which portions are truly the Word of God and which are the corruptions of man. You have to use your god-given common sense and reasoning ability, as well as your own moral compass, to determine which is which.

            “The Bible claims to be revelation from God.”

            Uh…yes, and? If you’re arguing that the Bible must be God’s word because it says so in the Bible, I’d like to introduce you to a term called “circular logic.”

            “How is it illogical for God to give special treatment to some but not others?”

            That’s not what I said. Some special treatment may be warranted for certain criteria. What I said was that it is illogical for God to give special treatment to some but not others based on the criteria of accepting Jesus Christ and scripture. This is an arbitrary criteria because there is no real evidence for or against it. Logic and morality doesn’t really factor into the decision to become a Christian–this decision is objectively no better than being a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, an agnostic, an atheist, or all of the many other categories that people sort themselves into in the quest for meaning. Since God has left no real evidence of which one of these is the “right” path, it would be extraordinarily cruel and immoral to reward those who pick the right one and punish those who do not. Since God cannot be extraordinarily cruel and immoral, this mythology does not make any sense.

            “The “special treatment” that Christ promised to those who followed Him is what He said. Either it’s true or false.”

            Obviously, I believe it to be false, for reasons I have detailed quite clearly. If you have a real moral or logical argument to counter what I have said, I’d love to hear it. Simply saying “it says so in the Bible” obviously won’t convince me.

            “God doesn’t send people to hell for not “guessing” about His existence but for breaking His Law that He has written on your heart.”

            I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. By “His Law,” do you mean to commandment to accept Jesus into one’s heart in order to have salvation? Are you saying that this is something that every human being just inherently “knows” they are supposed to do? Because 66% of the world (the percentage which is non-Christian) would disagree with you on that. It is quite arrogant to proclaim that you simply “know” this is the right path as if it’s something inherent in you, when in reality your choice to accept Jesus has been influenced heavily by your environment and culture.

            The “everyone knows Christianity is right, they just don’t accept it because they don’t want to” argument is pretty tired and illogical, and it feels like that’s what you’re saying right now.

            1. It is not impossible to write a perfect book. If a perfect page can be written then a perfect can.

              It is true that the biblical writers wrote in their historical contexts. That does not mean they are corrupted by it though. Paul’s advice to women for head covering was something that was common in his day and may not apply today or it could be that churches that don’t acknowledge this are wrong.

              What inspiration mean is that “God divinely influenced the human authors of the Scriptures in such a way that what they wrote was the very Word of God. In the context of the Scriptures, the word “inspiration” simply means “Godbreathed.”Readmore:

              If God inspired the texts of Scripture then that means all that they wrote was intended by God to be written. We can make distinctions in Scripture in many cases from the direct words of God and men. The teachings that Jesus Himself taught are the words of God while the words of Pilate are not.

              It is not circular logic to say the Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says so. Since the Bible records the Words of God it is the Word of God.

              It is not arbitrary to say its “illogical for God to give special treatment to some but not others based on the criteria of accepting Jesus Christ and scripture. This is an arbitrary criteria because there is no real evidence for or against it.” The reason it isn’t is because this is what Jesus taught and so did His apostles who spoke with His authority. Jesus can say this because He alone is God incarnate and is the highest authority in creation. He supersedes all other religious leaders etc in authority and knowledge. Anyone who contradicts Christ is wrong.

              Jesus was very clear that there is only one path and that is to follow Him. All other paths lead to destruction.

              People go to hell because they sin. They break God’s Law and are punished in hell for it. The only solution that God has provided for this is Christ. Only those who repent and believe in Christ from the heart will not suffer damnation.

              I believe it because God brought me to Christ and I have read and studied what Christ taught. Its not something inherent in me but something God has brought me to believe by His Spirit.

              Where are you at on the issues of what happens to you when you die? How do you know you are right about it?

              1. “It is not circular logic to say the Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says so. Since the Bible records the Words of God it is the Word of God.”

                How do you know the Bible records the Word of God?

                If you can’t answer that question without invoking the Bible, then yes, you’re engaging in circular logic. It would be like me claiming that this blog comment is the word of God, and as proof, offering nothing but the fact that it says so in my comment.

      2. If Scripture is perfect and kept so by God and the Holy Spirit can you explain the last lines of the book of Revealations to me, please. Why warn against the altering of a text that you claim is perfect and protected by God? Did God forget that he made the text perfect? And how is it parody bibles can even exist? Wouldn’t your view mean that altering Scripture was impossible? These unanswerable inconsistencies are my biggest issues with inerrancy. The evidence for your views just isn’t there.

        1. Just because God made a perfect text does not mean men can try to alter it. There is no promise of God in the Scripture that I’m aware of that the texts of Scripture could not be tampered with.
          Down through the centuries the New Testament is 99.005% correct. That is a phenomenal achievement for any documents that have been copied thousands of times throughout the centuries. There is nothing else like this.

          The original autographs would be without error but not the copies.

          1. It is a shame then that this system allows for such varied interpretation of the writing. Makes it hard if not impossible to claim one interpretation correct and all others wrong if the copies and general feel can be so warped. With so many Churchs and faiths perhaps it is a sign that following Scripture without regard to conscience or historical/scientific context is inappropriate. But maybe that was the point to fend off the legalism and seperate the fundamentalist from the truly spiritual.

            1. What writings in history don’t have various interpretations?
              Not all interpretations are equal or valid. We know some interpretations are correct because they can account for all the supporting texts and passages.

              1. I know only what my conscience and the evidence guides me to. No tradition or interpretation I have seen stands up to scrutiny for long. Can we ever really know who is right? Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Calvinist, Church of Christ: trust seems like a roll of the dice to me.

                  1. Yes, from what I have read of them. Catholics have the Eucharist, Baptists have their Grace, Episcopalians often base their charitability and love for others on the life of Christ, etc. But is that all it takes? The fact that there are debates indicates that something is lost in translation, as it were. Christians have killed Christians in Christ’s name. These aren’t small differences.

                    1. All churches believe Christ is God, celebrate the Lord’s supper and believe in baptism. Christianity is a complex belief system that covers all areas of life. Debates within it are meant to clarify these beliefs and can be a good thing.

                      Christians killing other Christians is wrong.

  6. I am so happy to read this. I understand, once more, the incredible power study warriors have in fighting for the truth.

  7. In Matthew 10:28 it says ” 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The destroying of the body and soul is in hell. I checked some lexicons on destroy and it said nothing about annihilation.
    In Matthew 25:46 is speaks of “eternal punishment”. That would not make sense if annihilation were true. It does make sense in a state of awareness.
    In Revelation 20:10 where the “lake of fire” is mentioned is where Satan etc will be tormented forever and ever. This is the same “lake of fire” that those whose names are not written in Lamb’s book of life are sent. Eternal torment is not what annihilation is. You have to be aware.

    1. Destroying the soul IS annihilation, I think you’ve answered your own question. Eternal punishment fits perfectly with annihilation, because death by definition is permanent and cannot be undone apart from a resurrection. An eternal punishment doesn’t equal an eternal “conscious” punishment, just a permanent one– there’s still a big mountain to climb to prove the conscious part for ECT folks. Even evangelical theologian Scott McKnight noted the other day on his blog that proving the “conscious” aspect is a tough road.

      Hope that helps provoke another look at it. We think the second death is the “eternal” punishment.

      1. Scripture does not use to the word “destroy” to mean annihilation. I can’t find any lexicons that says destroy means annihilation. Death in Scripture is used to mean either separation. Either from the body or from God.

        Actually its up to the ECT folks to prove from Scripture that eternal damnation is really annihilation i.e. cease to exist, to make into nothing.

        Another reason to believe that its conscious is Luke 13:26-28

        “26“Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; 27 and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; DEPART FROM ME, ALL YOU EVILDOERS.’ 28“In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.”

        Gnashing of teeth and weeping requires a person to be conscious in hell.

        There is also the parable of the rich man and Lazarus where the man is in conscious torment.

        1. How are you not seeing that destroy is the same thing as annihilation? They both refer to something that once existed, but no longer exists. Neither term could be used of something that is still alive and conscious. Revelation calls it “death” not “eternal torment”.

          Luke 13 doesn’t prove eternal torment, only a permanent punishment. Imagine an execution– there would be a lot of weeping before/as the sentence is carried out, a permanent punishment from which there is no return.

          The concept of eternal torment is a Greek construct, and is not part of the Hebrew scriptures. When one looks at the whole testimony of scripture and takes it at face value, one will see that the disposition of the unjust is “destruction” not eternal torment.

          1. Your imposing annihilation on the text. There is no Greek lexicon that defines eternal punishment as meaning to cease to exist,to make into nothing.

            In Luke 13 28 it says that those whom Christ cast out of His presence that “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. How could this be understood to “refer to something that once existed, but no longer exists” if there is a something that the individual is doing i.e. “weeping and gnashing of teeth”?

            Here another passages from the OT that shows eternal torment:
            ” Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” Daniel 12:2

            Here we see both groups awaking either to everlasting life or everlasting contempt. Both groups are conscious.

            1. Disagreeing with you doesn’t mean I’m reading my view into the text. I stand in harmony with those throughout church history, including many of the church fathers, who saw “death” and “destroyed” to be taken literally instead of the figurative sense you are interpreting it (you’re interpreting dead and destroyed to mean alive and conscious). Also, you’re not using the lexicon correctly– you’ll want to look up words like perish, death, destroyed, since that’s what’s used in scripture. “Everlasting punishment” points to the finality of the punishment but does not speak to the issue of conscious or not. Even then, when it comes to Greek, a lexicon apart from actually learning Greek structure, aspect, nuance, etc., isn’t sufficient to be able to translate accurately.

              1. Since annihilation means to cease to exist,to make into nothing, are you saying that perish, death, destroyed means this? I know death does not mean this.

                Greek lexicons are a great help especially to those who do not know Greek. They certainly are sufficient to determine what a word means given that they tell us how they are used in various places in Scripture.

                How could Luke 13:28 mean o cease to exist,to make into nothing if there is a gnashing of teeth and weeping?

                How could Daniel 12:2 mean annihilation if they are in a state of disgrace and everlasting contempt?

                Even if some church fathers believed in annihilation that would not mean they are correct given what various passages show an awareness of the dammed.

  8. This post has evoked quite the conversation – thank you Benjamin for bringing up the topic – hoping someone will reply to my comment here a few days ago – would anyone consider checking out the work of Dr. Michael Newton – hypnotherapist – re: Life Between Life sessions – his findings seem to substantiate and refute some of what we’ve been told and may very well help us interpret scripture through another lense. I just would like some varying insight/opinions. Benjamin, I know you are busy so I don’t mind waiting, but would like to know your thoughts as well. Technically, we really don’t know what will happen in the end until we all cross over and experience post life (if it truly exists ( which I believe it does)) – so one can’t really speculate. In terms of the severity of the consequences as professed by mainstream evangelicalism – if taken to be truth as they see it, the wrong choice is damnation forever – so I can see why so many of us object to this line of thinking – so at least the conversation has helped many grapple with their doubts and their queries. I am just wondering if the re-incarnation option resonates with any of the believers posting comments here – as a Christian, I know that most of Christendom refuses to acknowledge the possibility – I still don’t feel the topic to be a closed case. Not a fan of coming back but considering the wealth of data that’s out there, one has to wonder. Annihilation doesn’t really appeal to me but I would suspect that if a soul is so far past redeeming and again has “hardened” it’s stance to living along side the light of God I could imagine, that maybe God may opt to put that soul out of it’s misery. If the soul cannot make it’s way back and has very hard heartedly chosen to live apart from all that’s good – then maybe God is being merciful to let them cease to exist. But for one life of learning – I still don’t feel for the short span of time we are here that all that we need to learn can be done in one life time – hence why i am on the fence regarding this subject. Let me know you thoughts:)

    1. I’m not familiar with Newton, but I don’t find reincarnation to be compatible with the Christian tradition, so I’m out on that one. For me, I’m attempting to make a theological argument using a high view of scripture, so that is the framework I’m trying to work within.

  9. Since this is an interesting discussion on hell and the afterlife, I thought I’d add something for comparison. I’m not bringing this up to change anybody’s mind, but I’ve always found the contrast between Jewish and Christian views of the afterlife fascinating. I was part of a panel that discussed that last year:

    It always amazes me that Christians who claim such a loving Christ worry so much about hell, and in particular who goes and why, and yet as a Jewish kid growing up I was taught that ‘The righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come” and so I never had to worry about hell. Even though I grew up Jewish with Catholic grandparents (my mom converted to Judaism) I never worried about which half of my family was going to heaven, or which half was going to hell.

    Benjamin, do you mind if I recommend a book? “Jewish Views of the Afterlife” might be interesting for you to read just as a counterpoint for comparison regarding Christian beliefs. The favorite thing I learned from that book was the medeval belief that if you died while being poor, surviving a repressive regime, or of a bowel disease, it was considered that you had suffered enough in life and you could skip any purgatory you might otherwise have had coming and go straight to heaven. This applied equally to Jews and non-Jews at the time.

      1. I’m glad I took the time to recommend it then. And to toot my own horn only slightly, I hope you read through the link as well. I’m not going to change your beliefs and you are not going to change mine, but it might be interesting to you to just see what the OT looks like through our eyes, through Talmud and Jewish tradition instead of Jesus.

  10. Nice! About a year ago I studied the 3 views of hell for several months and was also persuaded toward conditionalism. Something I found very helpful was instead of searching for words like “hell” or “fire” I sought out what scripture said regarding the end of the wicked. Turns out there is a heck of a lot, even in the OT starting from Genesis 3:22 the mortal soul idea comes up.

  11. Thank you so much for writing this. I have felt very alone in my belief that there is no hell. I’m somewhere in-between the belief of Annihilationism and Universal Christianity — I think either are possible.

    I’m going to share this on my FB page because I think it is important for Christians to consider this alternative, but it’s also going to solidify the belief of my fundamentalist friends that I have lost my way, need urgent prayer, and am a heretic.

  12. First of all, the
    article said that “the human soul is immortal, and cannot die”. The Bible does
    not say this.

    The Bible says “Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten
    Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish,
    but have everlasting life.”

    word “perish” taken from the greek means:



    From G575 and
    the base of G3639; to destroy
    fully (reflexively to perish, or lose), literally or
    figuratively: – destroy, die, lose, mar, perish.




    From ὄλλυμι
    ollumi a primary word (to destroy;
    a prolonged form); ruin, that is, death, punishment: –

    Mal 4:1 For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn
    as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble:
    and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it
    shall leave them neither root nor branch.

    Mal 4:2 But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun
    of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and
    grow up as calves of the stall.

    Mal 4:3 And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they
    shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts.

    These verses show
    that there will be TOTAL destruction of even the wicked souls.

    The soul is NOT
    immortal, according to the Bible. At the time of the rapture, those Christians who
    are alive will change from mortal to immortal, as stated in:

    1Co 15:53 For this corruptible must put on
    incorruption, and this mortal must put
    on immortality.

    1. I think you need to re-read the article, Chief. I never said the soul is immortal, and actually argued the opposite.

      BTW, there’s no rapture, but we can handle that one a different day.

      1. I think the commonly understood rapture, is actually the first resurrection. But I’ll look for your discussion on that. Oh, I was merely showing my agreement with your idea, by reinforcing that the soul is not immortal, yet…

    2. Please re-read my comment…. I didn’t say that YOU said….. I said the “article” said. I do enjoy your discussions and agree with most of what you say.

  13. Perhaps my thoughts are muddled (likely), but something that has always concerned me with conditionalism/annihilationism is this feeling that the truth isn’t ever on display for the infidel who refuses to submit. If God grants the “soul death,” doesn’t the infidel ultimately “win?” I suppose you could argue from the standpoint of natural revelation that the truth was always there in plain sight, but again (this probably flawed) understanding of the renegade being the victor bothers me.

    Since I’m throwing up complaints, I might as well state conception of the matter: If our goal on earth is to regain relationship with God through faith in Christ’s death and resurrection and then spread the good news and bring glory to God, then the afterlife is the completion of that. God grants His believers harmony and perfect relationship where we continually glorify Him. But He also gives the unbelievers what they want – an afterlife without relationship with Him where they look across an “impassable chasm” and witness the comfort granted to the faithful – a la Jesus’ Lazarus and the Rich Man parable*. In this way, you can avoid both hard lines that seem somewhat heterodox on closer inspection.

    *(I know that this parable is moreso about the larger idea of the rich helping the poor and chastising the money-loving pharisees, but it does seem to shed some light on the discussion. I also realize that the rich man says that he is in anguish due to the flame, yet he is still able to talk, reason, and make requests of Father Abraham. So perhaps the unbeliever’s afterlife isn’t as ghoulish as we’ve conceived and/or been taught.)

    Also, I hope that in later editions, we delve a bit deeper into the always-classic Calvinism v. Arminianism debate, where this discussion surely finds it roots. I am certain that doing so would open a much “flame war-ier” can of worms, but the two narratives at the end of the article present a pretty cruddy picture of the former, and a rather warts-free version of the latter – both of which are too simple.

  14. Similar to discussions about the death penalty, it would seem that most of those I know who hold fast to the idea of eternal conscious torment gleefully do so with some sort of sick desire to see people punished. Perhaps at one time, people were fearful of this ultimate end and lovingly drew others to Christ – or acted as the conduit through which the Holy Spirit might act – but these days…these days it would seem that people are just without even a semblance of love and would consign whole populations to eternal conscious torment with a shrug of the shoulder and a “well, they get what they deserve” AS IF they don’t deserve that. I really don’t know how people can look around today and NOT question everything they were taught as children.

  15. Although I agree with you on many topics, I don’t this time.

    First of all, God is above time, and so shall we be, in the eschaton. Torment “for a while” can only be envisaged only if we put God within time.

    Our image of hell doesn’t come from Dante. Eastern churches have the iconographic imagery for a long time, regardless Dante.

    To put the whole conceptions of the OT in one block is an oversimplification. The latest awareness about the survival of the soul and the resurrection dates back to the exile of Babylon.

    Annihilation, as far as I know, wasn’t believed either by the early Church or by the patristic period. Some of them tried to solve the problem through the theory of the apocatastasis, which theory also fails to see the time to be a creature.

    By the very fact that we are created in the image of God, we are everlasting. Immortality is NOT conditional. Only time is.

  16. Wow, great article! Add in the little fact that everyone is rewarded
    according to their deeds (you know, the whole thing about how many
    stripes a servant gets is determined by whether he knew his master’s
    will or not), and you allow for a hell that doesn’t exist yet, will
    exist in the future, and then goes out (as Malachi says, the wicked will
    be ashes under the soles of the saints’ feet, and ashes imply a past
    fire). How long the fire lasts is known only to God, and I would wager
    that not everyone will be alive for the whole thing, but it does go out.
    Just like Sodom and Gomorrah were examples of eternal fire–a fire that
    went out but did an eternal job. Matthew 25:46 says that the
    punishment–not the punishing–is eternal. It won’t be undone. Death is
    death, and life is life. Death is not miserable life. It’s death.

    So good job!

  17. Actually the New Testament never says that the lost will be subject to eternal torture. The worm and the fire that Jesus talks about are a quote from Isaiah 66. The image is of the disposal of bodies after a great battle, which are either heaped up and burned, or left to rot and be eaten by maggots. The lake of fire in Revelations may symbolize pain or destruction, both.
    But at the end of the day, though we may speculate and form opinions, we need to admit that we just don’t know. Probably will not supposed to know.

  18. Thank you for this basically the choice is ours believe n the love of God or reject it, free will and all that.

  19. How can it be (given the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world) that it still remains expedient that many die (an eternal death) that the nation not perish? How can New Jerusalem possibly shine with the Glory of God with all those Christ figures eternally crying out in torment from the sewers beneath its streets of gold?

    1. Can I just say. yes Jesus is the lamb of God who takes away our sins. But we have to repent and be sorry for our wrong doings. Surely we cannot keep on doing the wrong thing deliberately and then expect that God will pat us on the back and say well done ,

  20. Benjamin, thank you for this post – I would suggest another alternative look to the concept of hell from the work of Dr. Michael Newton – as a Christian with previously a fundamentalist view – I stumbled upon the work of Michael Newton (hypnotherapist) and the work of Dr. Ian Stevenson – I would like for some evangelicals to look into this work – Newton was originally and atheist – his research on Life Between Life regression brought him to a place of faith in a God – not who or what but simply one that “Is”. I struggle with his claims in relation to what I have been taught over the years and it has created a ton of conundrums for my faith – I don’t want to lose hold of what I know of Jesus and His claims and how different facets of the church have presented the paths to “knowing” God – but when I came across his work – it was pretty compelling – so prayerfully consider grappling with this with me or maybe you know of bloggers who deal with this topic. In a day of an emerging church – I know much of “what we think we know” is being “challenged” at every level – for some reason I am not afraid, but it’s like entering a dark forest, and the certainty of reaching out to God to hold your hand or light your way seems ambiguous at the moment – you’re not really sure what you are reaching for but you just know you have to take a step because current day evangelicalism is simply not “cutting” it for me anymore and most definitely the concept of the Biblical Hell that is assumed by many Christians today. Quick reference – in his work there are apparently “dark or grey” spaces that souls go to who have “refused” to embrace God’s light – however – they seem to endure a “cosmic” time out in order to learn from their evil mistaken ways. There seems to be no support of any annihilation but places of “reformation and restoration” – from his client’s claims their descriptions of these places incite, for me anyway, the idea that “in my Father’s house there are many rooms and I go to prepare a place for you” – anyway, none of this can be substantiated scientifically or quantified in any material way but the scores of therapy sessions this man has conducted (over 7000) and now his trained hypnotherapists who practice this kind of work (in the 1000’s) – the data coming back is strangely very consistent. As well the NDE’s that are out there also seem substantiate his clients claims. For me – it’s shaken the core concepts that I have been taught – but at the same time – makes me realize that the God we believe in cannot simply be “boxed” – and religion has only ever tried to do this – this stands to reason that as a species we for sure need direction. But the control that is exerted over the masses in many ways has been quite oppressive to say the least – and with the way “knowledge” has exploded over the last decade or so – it’s hard to contain our inquiring minds. The Christian institutions can’t keep up with the change – I know they are trying to. Hence the emerging and diverging churches that are cropping up everywhere. For me all I know is that the concept and perceptions of the God I know have been changed immensely. I know that however, I will be admonished and warned that I have to be so weary of “false teachings and prophecies” – so you can understand my dilemma in faith. If there ever was a way for the scientific world to bridge the gap in consciousness when a soul crosses over and find a way to materially support it – the ramifications would be huge. I know of the verses in the Bible that warn against this type of “communication” and spiritual foraging – but for many it’s hard not to ignore. How do I as a Christian reconcile these claims and make sense of it in relation to what I have been taught of Jesus and His claims. Thank you for this post regarding Hell because, quite frankly, I cannot embrace a God who would resort to sending a soul who failed “to know Jesus” for eternal torment and punishment. I would accept the notion that a soul that repeatedly chooses to “ignore” the Lord’s promptings and callings and perpetually chooses to harm and commit evil – that this person would face eternal consequences – whereby he/she learns from their wrongs and that they would have opportunity to either do the “time for the crimes” but that the option to return to the world of God and his Love would always be there to choose. I get the impression that the more a person refuses to “accept” God and his callings that the soul does embark on a “hardening” and it will eventually create it’s own hell – the prison of his or her own mind and that if consciousness carries on – he/she will not be able to partake of God’s goodness because that soul has become so “hardened” and cut off – it simply cannot “see” the Light for what it is – this soul then has chosen “Hell” by default. I have heard claims from psychics and have read from different NDE accounts (especially some suicides) that soul’s go to a “grey place” and that because of their selfishness, they simply cannot acknowledge the promptings of God and His light. They are completely trapped within their self imposed place of complete and total “self absorption” but even then, the people who have witnessed these souls while on the other side, claimed that the “light” still beckoned to them. I gather that if God is eternal – He has the time to “reckon” with us – and will wait and continue to pursue us – if we matter until such time God feels the overall “work” of this age has been done. Love never dies in my mind and neither does the hope of reconciliation. I do think that as souls – we are pretty complex – so I think there are deeper levels to consciousness and that the work of the Holy Spirit is being executed in the subconscious unseen ways – so at the moment, I am hedging my beliefs that more is going on behind the scenes (ie. only God knows the Heart of a man”) and that salvation is being “fleshed” out on many levels. I am leaning to the idea that there may be more lives as believed by Newton and those who pursue this line of work. But again, this isn’t an accepted Biblical tenet so consequently I am “wrestling” with all this information.and I know that many will feel that I am on the road to being deceived. Would like to know your thoughts. Thanks again for sharing the way you do and for presenting for us a forum whereby “spiritual breathing” space can be had for those of us who know longer find that some Biblical claims as presented by mainstream evangelicals resonate with our hearts and our souls. Blessings, Amanda:)

  21. Oh, and where do I go to hide when everyone finds out that my thinking is changing on all this? Oh yeah….I’m already a yoga instructor. Guess I’m already out anyway!

  22. Yes. Yes…..more discussion please!!! Help my brain stop the constant circles it’s been making ever since I began reading George MacDonald. And I don’t know if you’ve seen my posts Benjamin, but I’ve been asking your opinion on him. Not feeling slighted or anything but ….. well….. 🙂 What about MacDonald’s very informed opinion that hell is a place of purification for all souls so that they will finally be reconciled so that in the end ALL knees will bow and all will confess that Jesus is Lord? And what of atonement?

  23. I have heard of this before and quickly dismissed it because of Jesus’ words. Thinking through it more now, do you then think that when Jesus said, “They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Mt. 13:42 Do you think that is then a temporary condition during the death? And I still think you should do a podcast or recommend some good ones!

  24. I truly believe, brother Benjamin, that Holy Spirit is opening the eyes of many whose hearts have been touched by the reality of Papa’s love….

  25. Here’s a question: for which of your children do you think hell is the only option/ solution? Who do you actually know PERSONALLY (not someone on the news or that you’ve heard about in history, the media, or rumor) for whom hell is the only possible option/ solution? I’m not saying that no one is in hell; but I think the population may be fewer than is often projected…

  26. I’ve heard a lot about annihilation, most of which presents the theory as a kinder alternative to eternal conscious torment. But honestly? I find it as morally repugnant as eternal torment.
    I can’t imagine a Creator creating a living being, loving him/her, and then ending his/her existence. I think that makes God even more a monster. Or a sociopath, to be frank.

    Um, I’m not trying to be combative here. Really! That’s just my opinion, and obviously I’m very unsettled on this matter.
    Thanks for this post. I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts. 🙂

    1. I’ve seen you enough here, I know you’re not combative 🙂

      Just to prod your thinking a bit… what about those who say “I don’t want to go. Keep that God away from me, I want nothing to do with him”… Would it not be morally repugnant on the other side for this God to say “I don’t care if you want to come, I’m going to make you sit here and love me for all eternity”.

      Do you see how, what some think is a pleasant alternative, is also something that many would find morally repugnant?

      1. I don’t really know where I stand on this. I haven’t been thinking about it all that long (though it has been on my mind recently) nor have I put any real study into it. Still, I find it difficult to imagine that “Keep that God away from me, I want nothing to do with him” statement truly and knowingly coming from someone without there being some deep hurt that freezes the heart to the love God wants to pour out–rendering them not really responsible for their actions–or at least something a just and omnipotent god would take into consideration in rendering a judgement. This all came about in my head when not too long ago, a friend brought up Hitler as someone who obviously is in Hell (or whatever–that is not the point at the moment). Suddenly the thought came to my mind that I don’t know how one becomes that kind of monster–that something must cause it–and that while I have no idea what that could possibly be, I just don’t believe it possible to become so without coercion. Not that I think anything justifies his actions, but…well, I just don’t really know. I do know from my own experience that the people I have known who have been the most horrible or most vehemently opposed to God, have also been some of the most hurt.

          1. Thanks. I look forward to your thoughts–and to having a chance to exploring the links in your post when I have more time.

      2. Thanks! 🙂
        I agree that coercive love is not love, and is equally morally repugnant.
        That being said, I do wonder what would happen if people truly saw God as He is, without all the shit that warps our perspective (pardon my language).
        Sigh. So confusing.

        1. “I do wonder what would happen if people truly saw God as He is”

          You’ve just hit on another thing I’ll be addressing tomorrow/days to come– because THIS is a good question. Looks like I’ll be turning this into a series on hell since folks seem to dig the discussion, so stay tuned.

          1. Elizabeth’s question actually relates to something else I have been thinking about–the flip side of the question–heaven. I have had moments in discussions when I fantasized that someday the person I am arguing with will stand before God and God will tell them I was right. I know this is not me being Godly. The thing about this is that somehow, even if I turn out to be right about whatever this might be, I just can’t see that kind of situation fitting into what heaven should be. Not only do I begrudgingly suspect that I actually am wrong about some things myself, but somehow, when we we see face to face instead of dimly through the mirror, I think that the joy of God’s full presence must overwhelm not only the gloating I desire, but also the regret over our faults and mistakes. Again something on which I know I should study more than I have.

        2. One quote of Joseph Campbell’s that I’ve always remembered is, “Our final obstacle to God is God.”

          In other words, you can’t approach an understanding of God if you have any preconceptions about God.

          I don’t know what I think about that quote, except it’s something to think about.

      3. Ben, I’d push back on the idea that almost anybody is in the “keep that God away from me” camp. Certainly there are lots of people who think God doesn’t exist at all, or that the way God is depicted in parts of the Bible is not a being to be loved, but if we die, and it turns out the loving, Jesus version of God is real, I find it hard to believe that anyone would continue rejecting that being. Evidence, and all that.

          1. I hope you’ll consider including whatever the idea is called wherein a person has the chance to change their mind after death. I know a guy who believes since the Bible doesn’t actually say that the ability to convert stops at death, people may have the chance to do so after death.

      4. Jesus said, “be not overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” I kind of think that God’s infinite and unconditional love could win any human soul over. The Bible says Love Never Fails. The way I see it is that His love is inescapable. Who could turn away from that kind of powerful love displayed ? (without the earthly distortions and pollutions that mar his message of love? ) Yeah, every knee shall bow, every tongue confess Jesus is Lord to the glory of the Father.

  27. Thank you for this. I have been toying with this view for quite some time, and i am also a huge fan of Greg Boyd. I will check out what you have recommended and look forward to more discussion on this. There are a few scriptures that I feel would need clarification for me personally to embrace this view totally, but def open to it as it seems more like the heart of God than torture! Keep it up! 🙂

  28. Annihilation is just a lesser of two evil/negative concepts concerning certain aspects of God’s nature. Neither which I would recommend subscribing to and recommend dropping or growing past as a part of spiritual development. To me, they are both “Fundamentalist” in nature and absolutely worthy of spiritual annihilation. 🙂
    Fear based theology is worth dropping in every way it’s presented.

    1. On one hand, it certainly is “negative” in some way, though I would argue that it is an act of mercy. However, there’s no way to remove all of the tension that could possibly create fear– there’s all kinds of stuff in the scripture that indicates that yes, there will one day be a judgement, plenty of stuff encouraging us to change the way we live, etc. I just don’t think you can rid all things that potentially produce fear without completely scrapping the scriptures and moving onto a new religion.

      1. What about “perfect love casts out all fear?” Or would people say this passage is only meant for those already converted, saved, (insert chosen form of changing here). I’m inclined to agree with John, because in my experience any form of fear based theology leads to acting out of guilt, manipulation, and exploitation.

        1. I would affirm that perfect love casts out all fear, but I think if we take just a cursory view of the world around us we’d see that not everyone chooses to live in that reality. Love, I believe, must be chosen. Certainly, I wouldn’t see “perfect love casts out all fear” as a proof text for universalism (there are some better ones, but I wouldn’t in context see that as being one of them).

          I think there’s also a misconception that guilt is always bad. The right kind of guilt can be very, very good and prompt us to more fully experience love. An example: I was short with a commenter earlier, and reached out privately to apologize because I felt guilty from the exchange. The guilt was good, because it prompted me to seek reconciliation of something that was broken.

          I also think labeling something as fear based theology can be a dangerous reason to outright dismiss something. There’s a lot of BAD fear based theology, but that can’t be a litmus test for what is true or not true. For example, when raising kids we warn them about natural consequences that can result from their behavior– is this fear based and therefore untrue, or is it just good parenting to let them know that our decisions have natural consequences?

          1. The problem I have with this view is that it still comes down to belief. Not love. Not responsibility. Not being a good person, trying to help those around you, being loving or being kind. Just what you believe.

            I know many nice people who believe many different things. I know many nasty people who believe many different things. Why is belief more important than how you live?

            To me, it makes God sound like a dog. The dog doesn’t care if it’s person is good or bad, so long as that person loves the dog. (With apologies to Terry Pratchett.)

            Of course, that might be because I don’t do “faith” well. I don’t “believe” in anything. I acknowledge those things as factual that I regard as proven by the preponderance of the evidence, but that acknowledgment can change if new evidence comes to light. I guess I don’t have the sort of mind that can to “believe in things not seen.” In the traditional religious view, that’s bad. I have a hard time regarding it as such, but, as always, I could be wrong.

      2. An act of mercy perhaps when it’s looked at in comparison to the eternal hell concept. So then, Christians can take comfort in knowing that their loved ones and friends who for some reason don’t make the cut will be annihilated? And this is the mercy they have to look forward to for their “unsaved” relatives and friends? To me, this does injustice to the nature of God as does the notion of an eternal hell.

        For those who subscribe to the idea of “apokatastasis”, judgement, grace, mercy, restoration and union are all finally based on God’s goodness & nature alone. It is the fulfillment of God bringing all things to Himself. Ultimately, in my opinion, how we treat and care for each other is much more important than arguments about eschatology and other sundry theological speculation.

        I do appreciate that you have brought up this topic.

        Thank you!

  29. >Or the alternative: “to those who do not choose God’s love, he respects their decision and does not force them to live in eternal community with him, and therefore allows them to cease to exist”.

    I would love to see where these parts of the narratie you seem to endorse are to be found in the New Testament: “repsects their decision “, “doesn’t force them” and “**allows** them to cease to exist” (the destruction seem pretty *active*)

    Very often when hell is discussed it’s clear that ending there is horrible, and being sent there is an act of **violence** (e.g. they are bound and thrown in there and Jesus even compares it to being thrown into a dungeon to be tortured).

    It’s also clear sometimes that people who want to escape, don’t get to: In the parable of the foolish bridesmaids, they **want** to enter the wedding feast but the groom doesn’t let them in. Jesus also talks about people calling him Lord being “shown to the door”.

    I agree that some places seem to be easier for the annihilationist side (e.g. Paul), but I don’t think you can really find this “passive repsector of people’s desires”-theme in there.

    Oh, and I’m not sure where you stand on the apocrypha, because Christians who accept those (the majority of them) really have a hard time explaining this passage from Ruth 16:17

    >Woe to the nations who rise against my race! The Lord Almighty will punish them on judgement day. He will send fire and worms in their flesh and they will weep with pain for evermore.

  30. I was at SWBTS the same time as E. Earle Ellis. Dr. Ellis and Dr. Penrose St. Amant were two of the smartest men I ever knew.
    Dr. Ellis believed in annihilation, and wrote about it, and taught it.
    He made me think twice about everything you were taught about Hell in the Southern Churches all of our lives.
    I am pretty sure there are people cast into Hell. Hitler, Stalin, about 1/2 of the ministers I know……now I nor anyone here knows what Hell is….I don’t care what you say, the Bible is very confusing on the topic…..and I am pretty sure are people who we have been taught in the Southern Church that were going to Hell, who are not….
    None of this is our call. It is between the person and God….

  31. Your quote from Tozer is exceptionally apropos…

    However, my dead-on favorite Tozer quote is from “Knowledge of the Holy” :

    “God, I worship Thee not as I think Thou art,
    But as Thou knowest Thyself to be.”

    Pretty much covers this, and just about anything else, for that matter… /*smile*/

  32. I myself prefer the Orthodox take on heaven and hell — which is, as I understand it, that they’re the same place: in the presence of God. For friends of God, it will indeed be heaven; for people who at enmity with God, it will be like hell. Although, here again there’s the question of why God would doom someone who finds God’s presence intolerable to an eternity of God’s presence. Perhaps hell is more like C.S. Lewis’ vision of a place where people adamantly attached to their own estrangement from God can exist in the way they want. Or perhaps, as Lewis also suggested (and at least a few of my fellow Lutherans suggest as well), there is a hell…but it’s empty.

  33. Idk I always thought that God didn’t want to send people to Hell and would let them go if they just repented, but they don’t. Interesting article though.

  34. I am interested in more on this topic. “Love Wins,” by Rob Bell, was a transforming book/study for me. My husband (a Presbyterian minister) taught it in an adult class, and I have shared it with many folks. This whole concept you are sharing fits so well with my changing theology. I have never been able to reconcile the God of love that I believe in with this raging, angry God who flings people into burning pits for eternity. Thank you for this!

        1. If you deny Hell you call Jesus a liar. Plain and simple.

          The truth does not require your agreement.

          1. I guess plenty of the church fathers considered Jesus a liar then, because tons of Christians throughout history have believed in annihilation. I’m just glad you’re here– makes me appreciate the legitimate theologians out there.

            1. The Bible says “Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

              The word “perish” in the greek, refers to (total destruction).
              Those words were spoken by Jesus Himself.

  35. I used to believe in annihilation until I was indoctrinated in Calvinism. Funny though, that Calvinism also teaches some were basically created to be damned. I was so absorbed into this belief system I couldn’t see the lack of the love of God in it. Lately I’ve had to rethink my whole theological position. And your article, along with some other things, has me rethinking the whole subject. Thank you!

      1. I’m not an annihilationist myself (although I’m willing to take a second look at the issue), but I don’t necessarily see that belief and Calvinism as mutually exclusive. John Stott immediately comes to mind as one who was a very well known Calvinist and annihilationist.

  36. Benjamin, I find a lot of agreement with your position. My own study of this area leads me to conclude that the language describing hell/sheol is meant to indicate the state of being dead. Now I think when reading ancients descriptions of death their is a bit of contention between what the dead experience, so while the descriptions sound like metaphorical ways of describing death, there seems to be disagreement as to whether to take this literally or not. So Ecclesiastes seems to suggest that people in the land of the dead are not conscious but other passages, like the witch of Endor story, suggest that the shades are still conscious. The New Testament, when it describes hell seems to follow this trend, and I have argued that the lake of fire in Revelation is a metaphor for annihilation and the talk about people burning forever simply means that they are being destroyed forever, that is, the cease to be, not that their is a place where they will be tortured forever.

    But on universalism, I wonder if what is being destroyed is not individual egos but evil generally so what is destroyed in hell is those aspects of everyone that is evil. In this interpretation when we push evil out of our being, we condemn part of ourselves to everlasting destruction. What do you think?

  37. Interesting timing of your post as I picked up Dante again for the first time in a couple of decades and was almost immediately reminded of someone once quoting Dante when he thought he was quoting the Bible. I can’t remember what specifically or even really the context, but I do remember the surprise when he realized his mistake (especially as he was someone who thought he completely rejected any inheritance from the Classical tradition).

  38. My question is, does a God that allows annihilation seem any better than a God that would create a hell? Doesn’t this somehow undermine the inherent transforming power of love? Just some rhetorical questions I wrestle with…

    1. I think as long as you have free will, there will always be those who reject love. However, it’s a great question– precisely what Rob Bell asked when he posed: “does God get what God wants?” Like Bell, however, I also agree with him that there simply are people who will reject it over, and over and over again.

    2. Honestly, yes it does. I suppose all atheists believe in ‘annihilation’ because we don’t believe in souls at all and as far as we can determine we just cease to exist. It’s certainly a more appealing prospect than a god who delights in infinite torture for finite crimes.

      However, if it turns out I’m wrong and the God of the Bible ends up annihilating my soul, I’m perfectly at peace with that as well. I would prefer it to spending eternity rubbing shoulders with the majority of Christendom.

      1. I keep trying to think of a witty retort, but your comments here and elsewhere about preferring permanent annihilation to rubbing shoulders with Christians for eternity has me laughing so hard I can’t think of anything.

        Thanks for the laugh.

        (I mean this sincerely, I should note)

      2. I can agree with your point of view…I would certainly rather cease to exist than hang out with that kind of god for eternity. My question stemmed out of the idea of what love really is. And if love is truly the grand conquering force that we often make it out to be, and if God is that love, then I just don’t see how annihilation is truly love at its purest. This is admittedly a very convoluted explanation of what Im trying to say.

      3. I agree with Irish. Annihilation doesn’t offend me in the slightest. Probably because I’ve spent the last few years coming to grips with the reality of dying and then just being dead. If annihilation is real, what’s the difference?

        1. It’s the same in the sense that us atheists end up in the same state. But it’s very different in the sense that in one scenario you have a person actually deciding to kill us.

          We can compare it to diseases. Liberals Christians and atheists probably both believe that people get sick because of stuff like DNA mutations and micro-organisms. So there’s no difference there. But on the liberal Christian view you have a person that could easily help the sick people just watch and do nothing. Having a person responsible for how things are makes a whole lot of difference in my opinion.

      4. Your comments really convict me Irish. I know I am not responsible for how other people treat you but it is very sad that you have been so abused by other Christians that you would feel this way. I’m truly sorry Irish.

        1. You’re all giving me flashbacks to high school and uni when even everyone who knew my name just called me “Irish.”

          I won’t deny or apologise for the fact that I harbour a good deal of anger and resentment at organised Christianity and that the actions of modern Christians continually stoke that anger. I also don’t apologise for the fact that I believe both the institution of organised Christianity and much of it’s core theology is irredeemably corrupt, despite the efforts of people like Mr. Corey to ‘reclaim’ it.

          That being said, I’ve also begun to strike up friendships with Christians (almost all of them ‘progressive’) who have fought to demonstrate that their faith doesn’t have to represent the nightmare I was taught and witnessed. Even though Christianity permeates our entire (American) culture, I’ve learned that it doesn’t mean I NEED to be perpetually angry and bitter at everyone who helps advance the faith.

          So, thank you for your sentiments, they are genuinely appreciated.

      5. But there are so many more possibilities than just 1. eternal torture and 2. being killed.

        I assume that you had to choose you would rather just be killed by some guy, rather than being tortured for as long as he could keep you alive and then be killed, but you wouldn’t be “perfectly at peace” with that guy killing you.

        Same goes for the god of the annihillationists. Why kill us? I would for example love to have a long afterlife in some sort of a “holodeck” like you see in Star Trek (wouldn’t you?). If the Christian god exists and could do that, but decides to just kill me, then I would be very pissed.

        Just like I would be pissed if a human being would decide to kill me, instead of giving me a vacation to some tropical paradise.

        1. You assume that a tropical vacation in the presence of the Christian god would still be paradise. I’m not operating under that assumption.

          As I said I don’t believe in the immortal soul but I’m perfectly at peace with it being ‘killed’ because it’s identical to what I believe will happen anyway.

          1. What do you mean by the tropical paradise being “in the presence of the Christian god”? I was talking about this god creating a holodeck for me *and then just bugger off” 😉

    3. I can elaborate a bit on The Irish Atheist’s initial point: yes, it makes a significant difference. I’ve never been a theist, and I view all speculations about afterlife as just that: speculations. But since becoming more engaged in theist-vs.-atheist discussions over the last few years, I would say that the notions of ECT/ECP rank at or near the top of the list of intrinsic self-contradictions within Christian theology that apostates and life-long agnostics/atheists find most compelling in their rejection or dismissal of Christianity; it’s an issue that tends to elicit the strongest and most sincerely held objections.

      If these notions were absent from the doctrine (or merely “on the fringe”, on a par with the nonsense spouted by the Westboro Baptists), there would be one less substantive issue for Christianity’s detractors to score on, and there might even be fewer apostates.

  39. I guess we all like to think what we believe is a “complex topic”.

    Annihiliationism is definitely a better alternative than eternal conscious torment; but it’s not the only alternative. Since God does not keep a record of wrongs, who would up annihilated? With annihiliationism you still have winners and losers; those who are in; those who are out. How about all things being restored? Act 3:21 “Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”

    Scripture isn’t about heaven or hell; it’s about life and death. Christ came to bring life. As in Adam all die; so as in Christ all will be made alive each in his own order – not all at once. Death is the last enemy to be destroyed. In the absence of death, there is only life.

    Scripture does define the lake of fire as the second death, but thanks be to God death is not a permanent condition for anyone. God is a consuming fire. From his throne flows rivers of fire. (Daniel 7:10) Those who have refused to wash themselves in the blood of the lamb end up in the lake of fire, but fire is a purifier.

    1. Hmm Michelle are you referring to the scripture that say Love keeps no record of wrongs? Its an interesting scripture as it implies that God keeps no record of those who sin. But if you take that to the extreme, then Jesus would never have had to come and die for us, if truly God does not keep a record of wrong doing. I think we need to keep scripture in the context of to whom it was written, in this case the Corinthians by Paul, because of the actions they were displaying. If there is another scripture you mean by this, would love to know where it is, and your thoughts on it more. 🙂

      1. God is love; it is not just one of His character qualities; it is who He is. Love keeps no record of wrongs.

        Man tends to think that the role of a judge in the bible is to damn sinners, but in Judges we find the purpose of judges to God: Judges 2:17 “Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them.” Hebrew word for judge is “dan” which means deliverer rescuer.
        Judges SAVE people not condemn them. The world through Jesus will be judged IN righteousness. (Acts 17:31)

        I do not believe that Jesus died at the hands of God the father for payment for the sin of the world. If a debt is paid, then there is nothing left to forgive. We can’t say I am forgiven if I steal someone’s car, and someone pays the people for the car. They haven’t forgiven me; they’ve been paid. I do not see the cross as a place for payment. The gospel is not a legal transaction. Man equates judgement/justice with punishment. I believe judgement/justice to God is things be made right. Man cannot make things right; man can only punish.

        Jesus was killed by the violence of man – not by an angry father. He took in our violence and did not respond with violence but rather with forgiveness. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself – not exacting punishment on Christ. His dying on the cross was about saving us/making us whole. No where does Scripture say we need saving from hell or annihilation. Scripture tells us that Jesus came to give life – not annihilation. ALL are in Adam; ALL are in Christ. We didn’t choose to be Adam; yet we seem to think we have to choose to be in Christ. On the cross, Jesus said, “It’s finished; not it’s your turn.”

        One of the widely used evangelism verses is found in Rom 10, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.” I used to take that to mean from hell because I was reading into it; but the 1st few verses tell us what Paul wanted his people saved from – their ignorance of God, and in their ignorance they were trying to save themselves/make themselves whole.

        For me the issue is not about hell or annihilation. It’s about the incarnation of Christ and all of humanity being included in Him – just as all of humanity is included in Adam. Annihilationism is more merciful than ect, but it’s still exclusive which Jesus was not.

        1. Well said. I would agree with most of what you have said. But for me personally, the bible is clear that while Christ forgave ALL men, its a 2 way transaction. We can choose to accept or reject that work that he did. I totally agree that God the Father didn’t punish the Son, but that God was reconciling the world to Himself thru Christ. Choose this day whom you will serve… means choose. I know its an OT quote, but all thru Paul’s writings he says the same thing. God is not going to force someone who hates him to spend eternity with Him. But i think it goes deeper than that. When we are born again, we receive the Holy Spirit. Our spirit is changed, it is renewed. We are no longer a fallen sinner, but a righteous saint who delights in the presence of God. So when someone dies who is unregenerate, what makes you think they will find that a pleasant experience? it may be totally painful to behold God in that state, and they may want to retreat to the outer darkness away from his Glory. …… we seem to forget the new creation. Which is what it is all about. But like i said, I do agree with the rest of what you said. I am not universalist or a inclusionist.

          1. I guess that’s the difference. I don’t see that the two way transaction is clear. I don’t see it as a transaction. The Gospel is the good news. News is to be proclaimed. One does not have accept the news for it to be news.

            Objectively I see Christ as a successful Savior; not a potential Savior. He said, “It is finished.” When we believe in His finished work that work becomes a subjective reality to us that we experience. He the Savior of the all people, ESPECIALLY of believers. (1 Tim 4:10) He came so that we may have life and have it abundantly. Those of us who believe now have abundant life.

            Yes, the verse is saying to the Israelites to choose between the gods of those surrounding them; and Joshua says that He and his house will serve the Lord. Obviously we all make choices each day. The Israelites were surrounded by people who served/believed in/lived according that belief in retributive gods. The Lord is not retributive.

            Mankind is still violent and seems to enjoy violence and seems to think that more violence will bring peace. We didn’t see that in Jesus who is the lens through which all of Scripture should be seen.

            I didn’t have any choice whether or not to be born the first time, and I definitely didn’t have any choice where or to whom I would be born. I now have choice, but my choices are limited by my influences; for example, my dinner choices are influenced by living in the Midwest; my religious choices are influenced by living in the U.S. So I do believe we have wills to make choices; I don’t believe their free wills because they are not free from influences/circumstances. Only God’s will is free.

            I also believe that right now there are choices (knowledge of good and evil) to be made because we are not living in the presence of unfiltered truth. I don’t believe there will be any choices to be made when standing in the presence of the Lord with blinders removed. Even those of us who believe now who have had our blinders removed still see through darkly colored glass. So I don’t believe anyone will be forced to “love” God; I think their eyes will be opened each in their own order.

            1. Wow Michelle. You explain yourself really well. You sound just like my friend who lives in the US – she is a hopeful universalist (as i would call myself as well, )but I can’t get past what i see to be a two way transaction. Hopeful, but not convinced. The good news is good news, regardless of peoples choice to accept. Bit like saying that someone has paid for you to go on a OE – you still have to take up the offer to go do it. You might have the tickets, but you have to experience it. I too see Christ as successful saviour – he has finished the work of redemption, and destroyed the works of the devil. Now the story just has to finish playing out. Its the now, not yet that we all live in. He has done everything possible to reconcile man to the Father. I like how you put about influences. So many wonder how Christ can be Saviour to those that have never heard of Him. I don’t limit him to people having to say the ‘sinners prayer’.. I never got saved if that is the case. God is appearing to people in the middle east in dreams, and people are coming to him at 100,000 a day throughout the world. He is not limited by man to make people aware of the Christ. I guess is like N T Wrights take on dehumanization of people, and that they reach the point where they cease to be human. makes sense to me. Have you read that?

              1. You only have to take the offer to experience it; and when we believe in Christ as the Savior of the world we experience it and have life and life abundantly.

                I have not read N.T.Wright.

                Let’s say some one puts a couple of millions of dollars in your bank account. That makes you a multi-millionare. But you don’t start living like one until you believe the money is really in there and believe it’s yours; then you start living as though you are a multi-millionare.

                Here’s a quote from Kevin Miller – “I define “salvation” not as a state but as a trajectory from bondage to
                freedom. We don’t use our free will to choose or reject Christ. Rather,
                Christ progressively frees our will so we are able to choose him. If
                Christ is all that Christians believe him to be, rejecting him could
                never be described as a free choice. Instead, it would be an expression
                of deep emotional and psychological bondage–the height of irrationality.”

                Read more:

  40. Increasingly lately I’ve been questioning the veracity of the ‘Hell-fire & Damnation’ preaching of my past. I doesn’t seem to fit with either God’s character (as I understand it) or what scripture says (also as I understand it.)
    I would like to see more of what you have to say.

  41. Are you going to do a post about how universalism is also a completely orthodox position? I’m personally with you – or more accurately something like Kurt Willems’ “purgatorial conditionalism” – but I think it is still valuable to point out that many Christians have believed that Jesus will ultimately save everyone, including the editor of the Nicene Creed.

    Anybody more curious on the subject should check out the movie “Hellbound?” Great documentary including interviews from some more popular level thinkers like Westboro Baptist, Driscoll, Schaeffer, some with Bible scholars, and some random other ones like a film writer and a metal band.

    1. Good suggestion, I’ll work on one. Personally, I’m not a Christian Universalist as I simply don’t see it in the cards, but I do actively pray for it and hope that I’m wrong. Definitely worth discussing in a post, so thanks for the suggestion.

      1. Yes, the difference for me is that ultimately I’m a bit too pessimistic about human nature to see everyone responding positively to the purgatorial refining process so I would see those people simply burning away. But like you, I hope I’m wrong and that God’s grace is bigger than I can grasp right now.

      2. I have been struggling with this a bit myself, but cannot get past the fact that Papa would make us responsible to get His ” good news” out, and if we didn’t then those folk are damned already?I thought Jesus told us to make disciples, and I only see that for our good and for those who will listen so the enemy cannot eat their lunch and pop the bag in this life!

      1. Interesting list. It occurs to me that Colossians 1:19-20 might be added to the Universalism column. Does “reconciling all things to himself” mean “all things” including all people?

      2. This list is, in my opinion, terribly misrepresentative. Matthew 10:28 in the ECT column?! Come on!

        1. Yes, the Annihilationism column has barely a representative text. It’s like it’s deliberate.

    2. Universalism is more like the determinism of double predestination since neither the unbeliever nor the believer there is no room for a meaningful response to grace in either.
      Inclusivism is more biblical than universalism, IMO.

      All are “saved” in Christ” by virtue of a common humanity and must knowingly and willfully opt out to lose that salvation rather than having to knowingly and willing opt in to gain it.

      That leaves salvation entirely by Grace and damnation entirely a matter of human choice. God gives us with the option of choosing to receive the gift of heaven. We make our own hells.

      The Early Church Fathers believed in more than the Jesus of history. They believed in and taught about the Christ of faith, the Cosmic Christ. The Orthodox Churches of the East still hold to the Patristic teachings, much of which was lost after the Great Schism in 1054.

      1. I agree with you in terms of being an inclusivist, but there was one way I heard a universalist explain that isn’t so deterministic. It is not, he said, that God can override free will to save you even if you haven’t responded to grace. Instead, it is that after death when you are not being dragged down by many of the other things in our world that keep us from God so that all we can see is God as he truly is, everybody will freely choose that. I’m not sure I see enough reason in Scripture or otherwise to think that way, but it does make sense and does keep universalism from being deterministic.

        1. True, as a Redemptorist priest put it to me, the Catholic Church teaches that there is a hell; but it does not teach that anyone is in it.

          Catholics who receive good theological/spiritual formation are taught that they are not to dwell or even speculate on their Eternal destiny or that of others, but to leave the matter entirely to God. A mature trust/faith in Divine justice and mercy should be sufficient to put our minds and hearts at rest without knowing exactly how they will both be satisfied in the Divine scheme of things.

      1. Thank you for your boldness…there may be a lot of FLACK coming from the religious minded, but it would be like having the ultimate cure to cancer and never telling anyone 🙁

        1. Just remember, Jesus (and the Prophets) were killed by Religious (and Political) “Authorities.” Not much has changed for those who go “off the reservation” of “group think” and so-called “orthodoxy.” They get branded as heretics and all kinds of fun stuff.

    1. Same here Sonya, and about two decades ago I started asking Papa for wisdom and it has come liberally! 🙂

    2. As you continue in your Christian walk you will hear more and more unsupported and fallacious theology.

    3. I love your awesome statement. Just because you haven’t heard about it and/or haven’t been taught it, doesn’t mean that it’s not true. You, are being as the Bereans. Testing everything to see whether it is in the truth.

  42. Well this does cause one to think on which view is correct. I just gotta go back to when you said “Now, if Jesus is correct …” I think I will leave it at that. Thanks for this Benjamin. You cause me to study!

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