The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Jason Pratt vs. Dr. Bacchiocchi on annihilationism

Several years ago, as a private critical exercise (I do a lot of those), I wrote an analysis of a popular and thoughtful argument for annihilationism presented by the conservative Seventh-Day Adventist theologian and apologist Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi in his book Immortality or Resurrection?, the relevant sixth chapter of which can be found for free viewing at the link I’ve provided to his website.

I have decided to post my notes in an ongoing series; as Dr. Bacchiocchi’s arguments are fairly typical for annihilationism proponents (and so far as I know do not hinge on doctrinal differences between 7DA and orthodox theologians such as myself); are accessible to general readers while featuring some admirable depth; and highlight some interesting conceptual and scriptural tensions between different classes of non-universalist soteriologies. (Dr. Bacchiocchi essentially dismisses universalism out of hand near the beginning of the chapter, so his whole analysis is written in light of dialogue with what in my notes I call ‘traditional damnationism’.)

Forum readers are strongly encouraged to open another browser window to his chapter, in order to read his material along in context, since my notes often presume familiarity with elements not previously mentioned in my notes. Quotes are taken directly from the site text, typically in order presented there.

(In fairness, I should add that this material is at least several years old, and Dr. Bacchiocchi may have since then made modifications and/or repairs.)


While that’s true, the principle remains even if it’s only one person hopelessly condemned.

I mention this, not to disagree against Dr. Bacchiocchi (here anyway), but to forestall a typical traditionalist example which might be used in rebuttal: but surely we don’t want Himmler, for instance, to be simply annihilated or (worse??) to have a continuing opportunity for true repentence and reconciliation, with God and the people he sinned against!

Perhaps some of us are more sensitive than others. My point is that our beliefs about the truth on this topic should not be conditioned primarily by the numbers involved, but by our understanding of the principles. If a doctrine of hopeless punishment forever is wrong, it’s wrong for one person, whoever that person is, as much as for millions. Similarly, if a doctrine of finitely hopeless punishment is wrong, it’s wrong for one person as much as for millions. (And, granted, if a doctrine of hopeful punishment is wrong, etc.)

Furthermore, our emotions on the topic are likely to run high, whatever position we’re advocating. This can (and should) be a result of what we believe, but there is a danger that the emotions will be a ground for our beliefs, too; and we should be avoiding that.

(Note: to anticipate one of Dr. Bacchiocchi’s rejoinders to the Himmler question, he would answer that Himmler, as with any sinner who dies unrepentent, will be punished for some finite period before annihilation.)

I’m not sure when Dr. Bacchiocchi wrote his book (though it seems relatively recent); but I’ve lived among “fundamentalists” all my life, and I have never seen any significant abatement on the preaching of hopeless permanent (and maximal) torment in the past 35 years. I do hear (and have always heard) fundamentalist preachers lamenting that the doctrine isn’t preached as solidly as they would wish, but an occasional lament on the topic is very far from keeping quiet on the topic! It’s a rhetorical device, partly aimed at unbelievers and liberal-ish revisionists who dump the doctrine of hell altogether. I am somewhat doubtful that the majority of people in the United States who believe in a permanent hell, are receiving this belief from the popular media instead of from pulpits (for instance). I am even less doubtful that the obvious and continual stumbling block of the doctrine for believers and sceptics alike comes from popular secular culture or their study of ancient religious texts.

(And, while I’m passing near the subject, I am extremely doubtful that a finite period of hopeless torture before annihilation will be any less of a stumbling block to sceptics. It is frankly humiliating to think that it would be less of a stumbling block to believers…)

I agree with Dr. Bacchiocchi that “the awareness that the traditional view of hellfire is morally intolerable and Biblically questionable… is encouraging theologians today to revise the traditional view of hell and to propose alternative interpretations of the scriptural data.” But if the traditional view follows from holding particular fundamental (but incorrect) understandings regarding such things as forgiveness, mercy, justice, punishment and salvation; and if those fundamental understandings are retained; then any modifications to the traditional doctrine will carry the same faults which falsify the traditional doctrine.

Now, this is an exceedingly odd thing for him to say. The first law of thermodynamics involves natural reactions, not metaphysical necessities. If God withdraws existence from something, I have no problem believing the something is gone.

Why make this sort of qualification, then? Because, as we shall see, Dr. Bacchiocchi knows quite well, that the Biblical testimony about the fire that consumes the wicked, tends to indicate (when multiple texts are accounted in the data) that the wicked are not strictly annihilated–but are transformed into something else. Something that (in the analogical Biblical imagery) rises to heaven like smoke… or (to borrow a related imagery from RevJohn) like incense.

The annihilationist, of course, will have to defer to mere speculation or opaque mystery at this point. I think other Biblical verses should be marshalled to account for the explanation of this. (But then, this is what I am expecting from the metaphysical math, as well…)

Skipping past the representative (and often paganistic) traditionalist imagery next reported (which I reject along with Dr. Bacchiocchi, though possibly for different reasons):

A good point; although I think a traditionalist would say that at least part of the torment of evildoers is to be put together with each other: evil tormenting evil. I myself have no particular problem with this, though I’m not entirely sure it happens.

(Certainly the Biblical testimony indicates the impenitent wicked are put together in some way; and although I remember no textual witness about them hurting each other, it seems a very easy inference to draw from the implications. Put another way: unless God somehow prevents it, I don’t see how the weaker sinners would avoid being abused by the stronger.)

A quote from Robert A. Peterson (defending traditionalist view) is interesting:

So at least some traditionalists still recognize that God is present in hell! That’s good; although unusual nowadays.

Again from Peterson:

This, on the other hand, is incoherent. Not that I disagree with the degrees of punishment (something most traditionalists seem to forget, though at least the Roman Catholics remember the relevant testimony from Jesus to this effect); but it’s useless to claim there are degrees of punishment while also claiming unfathomable maximalities of punishment.

To be fair, an annihilationist could perhaps account for this by claiming that the damned suffer degrees of punishment before being maximally punished by annihilation.

Back to Dr. Bacchiocchi. He doesn’t present a full account and response to every text used by traditionalists to ground their doctrine (though he refers the reader to Edward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes), but covers several for purposes of establishing some principle examples.

(Next time: SHEOL AND ISAIAH 66)


I have some doubts about this myself, but as I don’t have a Hebrew concordance handy (or his 5th chapter, either), I’ll restrict myself to any examples Dr. Bacchiocchi himself will provide.

One reason I have some doubts about this, is because the ‘unseen’ (or Hades, the Greek concept used in the NT and the LXX as the equivalent of sheol or the Pit) is mentioned on at least two occasions in the NT as a place where the ungodly are kept in existence: the rebel angels under chains in the Judean and the 2nd Petrine Epistle (there called the gloom of Tarturus), and (far more vividly) the Rich Man in GosLuke. The torment of “Dives” (to use his popular name) is unmistakable; perhaps Dr. Bacchiocchi will say that the chains of the rebel angels are not punitive, but would he be so bold to make the same claim about the torments in Luke 16?

Anyway, I have difficulty believing (especially from Jesus) that this is a completely new concept introduced only in the 1st century (or the intertestamental period), and foreign to the OT.

But let us pretend that it is improper to call in NT witnesses for illuminating OT examples. Very well. For Dr. Bacchiocchi to be consistent in this claim, he must henceforth avoid claiming that anything which might be regarded as punishment happens to the soul in Hades (based on OT testimony; we’ve already seen that the NT recognizes torments in “the unseen” that could easily count as punishment.) Effectively, this means that the saved and lost souls must be treated exactly the same in Sheol.

What, then, is happening to the souls of the damned in sheol (by analogical imagery), in Isaiah 66:15-24?

Dr. Bacchiocchi tells us several things about this set of verses:

a.) These ungodly are in sheol. (Remember, there is no distinction here in the scriptural text; it doesn’t speak of a resurrection out of sheol, and if it implies one then it’s only clearly showing a picture of the righteous. If we are allowed to bring in NT witnesses for clarity as to sequence, such as at the end of RevJohn, then other NT witnesses are allowable also. Consequently, taking the OT witness by itself, then what has already happened to these sinners, must have happened to them in sheol, regardless of whatever state the righteous are being depicted as existing in here.)

b.) The verses of these ungodly in sheol “forecast in graphic pictorial language God’s judgment upon Israel’s oppressor and his final ignominious destiny in a dusty grave, where he is eaten by worms”. (Remember, ‘sheol’ is the Pit, and commonly identified in Hebrew scriptures as being the grave of death. To whatever extent these sinners are in a ‘dusty grave’, they’re in ‘sheol’.)

c.) Along with the worms (taken figuratively to whatever degree we agree to take it), is the unquenchable fire which is consuming the ungodly in sheol.

d.) The bodiliness of these condemned sinners (not the bodilessness), factors prominently in the imagery; the punishment is focused (even if ‘only figuratively’) on their decaying and burning bodies.

e.) In his description of the setting of the text, Dr. Bacchiocchi writes, “The [righteous] will enjoy prosperity and peace, and will worship God regularly from Sabbath to Sabbath (Is 66:12-14, 23). But the wicked will be punished by ‘fire’ (Is 66:15) and meet their ‘end together’ (Is 66:17).”

f.) These same verses “serve not to reveal the punishment of the wicked in sheol”.

Notice the contradiction in e and f: the wicked (in sheol, where this must have taken place) will be “punished” (by fire, etc.); and yet these same verses “serve not to reveal the punishment of the wicked in sheol”!

But let us suppose that in writing his description of the setting of the text, Dr. Bacchiocchi was not reporting his opinion about what was happening to these ungodly in sheol, but rather the interpretation of the traditionalists, who do in fact claim that being consumed by fire and eaten by worms amounts to some sort of punishment. Dr. Bacchiocchi (on this suppostion, where we are charitably supposing he has not blatantly contradicted himself) does not think this amounts to punishment.

What is happening here in sheol, then? Random pointless torture by God? (The verses are clear enough that this fate is being, or has been, visited on the condemned in sheol by God, as Dr. Bacchiocchi seems to be implicitly agreeing.) Are we supposed to accept random, pointless torture (or torture for no known reason which effectively amounts to the same thing), whether temporary or permanent, as being a more morally tolerable view of hellfire? Compared to what?!! At least the traditionalists are claiming what’s happening to the ungodly here, is God’s punishment on them for something they’ve done wrong (for instance, for being ungodly and attacking the people of God, as per the scriptural testimony itself).

And is this same thing happening to the righteous ones in sheol? Not according to these verses (though the texts are admittedly ambiguous elsewhere concerning even the righteous in sheol); and I suspect Dr. Bacchiocchi would deny this imagery is supposed to apply to the righteous as well as the unrighteous. He certainly gives no indication of this in his unpacking of the verses: it is all directed toward the ungodly.

Is this not happening in sheol, then? Perhaps the verses are not specific. Where or when is it happening? Remember, appealing to the NT for clarification that this is taking place after the death of hades and the resurrection of the evil as well as the good (such as in late RevJohn), means that we may also appeal to the parable of Dives and Lazarus; where Dives is definitely suffering torments (apparently with a body, or some sufficiently similar equivalent thereof) in the ‘unseen’! Does Dr. Bacchiocchi propose to clarify this distinction purely on OT evidence elsewhere (leaving aside how it is supposed to gell with GosLuke 16)?

Dr. Bacchiocchi leans heavily on the figurativeness of the language here, as a means of countering overambitious traditionalist interpretation. I am quite willing to go as far as he wants with that. But to whatever degree he stresses the figurativeness of the language, and the impropriety of drawing conclusions thereby about what is happening here; then by tautology, the impropriety of drawing conclusions thereby about what is happening here increases by the same degree for annihilationism in distinction from traditionalism.

Having said all this, I agree that Dr. Bacchiocchi makes a good point, that Isaiah 66:24 refers to the effectiveness of the consumption; and that if we are drawing conclusions from the analogical language, then the original point would be to emphasize that the destruction will not cease partially completed.

I have two problems with this, however. First, drawing conclusions from analogy is recognized in other disciplines to be so hazardous a logical move, that demonstrating someone has done this is grounds for rejecting their conclusion as invalid. Analogy works properly when used for illustrating principles already established on other grounds. Dr. Bacchiocchi may reply that most (if not all) scriptural testimony falls under this category. Maybe so, but rigorously speaking that isn’t an excuse to derive doctrine from analogy. Analogies are supportive to the point, not for use in primary grounding. (Granted the analogy is divinely inspired, I still think it’s supposed to be adjunctive to other inspiration.)

My other problem (somewhat related), is that his conclusion doesn’t exclude a traditionalist from noticing that the effects of what would naturally lead to complete destruction (which hasn’t yet arrived in this figurative picture, btw), would (whether taken literally or figuratively), be quite appropriate to maximal torment if provision is made by God to keep the object of the effects in existence. Now, I agree that a traditionalist shouldn’t positively argue from this that permanent hopeless torture is God’s punishment for the ungodly; but I agree for much the same reason, that I think Dr. Bacchiocchi shouldn’t (and to be fair probably doesn’t) argue to a finite hopeless torment using this as primary evidence.

But if the traditionalist has clearly (and more primarily) established the everlasting existence torment of the damned elsewhere, then this verse would function as a good illustration (perhaps) of what happens to them in their constant hopeless punishment.

Similarly, if Dr. Bacchiocchi or another annihilationist clearly and more primarily establishes the final destruction of the wicked, then this verse would function as a good illustration (perhaps) of what happens to them in their finite hopeless torment.

Similarly again: if the highest Authority has taught, in direct reference to this verse, that the unquenchable fire being discussed here (let us say He says it is happening in Gehenna, which Dr. Bacchiocchi will perhaps not associate with hades/sheol, thus eliminating a potential stumbling block) is salting the ones it affects; and that everyone gets to be salted with this fire; and that salting is good; and that having salt in one’s self is linked somehow to being at peace with one another; and that (in cultural reference to ‘false salt’, salt mixed with non-salt, commonly sold in His day) unsalty salt is only fit to be thrown out and trampled underfoot; yet asks, somewhat rhetorically, if salt has become unsalty (which true salt never would) with what will it be salted (that is, how will the salt be refined of its impurities)–

–then we would have some data that might count as being more primary in character about what is happening in these verses, and we would read them in this light. These wicked ones are being salted with the unquenchable fire, toward the end that they who were not salty (or who had become unsalty) will become seasoned, and so (now having true salt in themselves) will be at peace with other salted/salty ones.

Nor am I simply speculating. Jesus is reported as testifying to this, directly referencing these verses of Isaiah, in the final verses of GosMark chapter 9 (49-50).

I have some difficulty seeing how this fits either a traditionalist or annihilationist interpretation, though.

(Notably, Dr. Bacchiocchi never touches the end of Mark 9, at least in this chapter.)

[Next time, Daniel 12:2]


Dr. Bacchiocchi’s rebuttal to the traditionalists here, is considerably weaker than his discussion of Isaiah 66.

Supposedly, we are to read “deraon” here as “loathsome[ness]” rather than “contempt”; so that the verse as commonly translated would read: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting loathesomeness.”

While I can only agree that the word is the same as in Isaiah 66, where it refers to the response by the survivors to the decaying bodies of the ungodly, I don’t see how Dr. Bacchiocchi has improved the understanding toward annihilationism rather than traditionalism. On the contrary, ‘contempt’ may be a way for immortals to remember someone or something no longer in existence; but loathesomeness looks properly connected to the immediate impression it makes on persons, such as people who see dead bodies which are still there.

So what is he saying is happening here? The evil ones, whose bodies have (per the imagery) already gone down into the dust, are raised along with the righteous ones–so that God can kill them again and decompose their bodies again? (Dr. Bacchiocchi does not explain here how this would be more morally tolerable in any significant way than the traditionalist doctrine, though on any possible reading involving a resurrection of the evil, the annihilationist doctrine must also involve this.) And if the loathesomeness of this is supposed to be everlasting, then the bodies are still around forever!

Dr. Bacchiocchi would perhaps reply that he doesn’t mean they are completely annihilated, but only their existence as persons is ended. So the righteous alone are to be afflicted forever with the loathesomeness of whatever is left-over after the fire and worms have partially finished the job (and this is a moral improvement of doctrine, how?!)–even though he has previously told us that the whole point to unquenchable fires and worms that die not, is that they finish the job, especially in regard to bodies which are already dead.

Dr. Bacchiocchi and I would probably agree that the real cardinal point to this verse (as well as some others) is how to translate the term which is commonly rendered ‘everlasting’ or ‘never-ending’. And he does have some interesting things to say about this later.

But he doesn’t say them here.

(I do, however, encourage the reader to remember this example and come back to apply what I take to be the proper meaning of the word rendered ‘everlasting’; I suggest also using the reading ‘contempt’, since ‘loathesomeness’ would apply to the ‘everlasting’ otherwise, and that would be nonsense. As a hint, if a Jew swore an oath by “the everlasting”, what would he mean…?)

This is quoted with what looks like approval from Dr. Bacchiocchi. He does not here explain how a shift from pity to disgust counts as a moral improvement of Christian doctrine.

‘Utter’ destruction not being quite ‘utter’, though, somehow…

I certainly have no intention of disagreeing with this. I have three qualifications to add to these, though.

First, (if I may consider NT witness viable here–though if not here, then certainly I will be applying it later!): I notice that our interpretations of what this all entails for the impenitent wicked, depends on when the Day of the Lord may be said to have started. Before the second resurrection in RevJohn, there is a thousand year reign of the Lord; after which there is a final rebellion (which doesn’t seem to even get far off the ground before being totally zorched by God with fire) and before which is the arrival of the Lord to destroy the rebel armies (leaving their bodies for the carrion birds) still on deck after seven years of tribulation. If any of this counts as being the Day of the Lord, then the imagery being given here could easily apply to these destructions of the wicked (which certainly don’t feature less spectacular imagery).

Second: I find in my own devotional life, as well as in some Biblical devotions of penitence, that this is what I ask of the Lord to do to me, in order that my evil will be destroyed. Nor am I kidding about this; any more than the Psalmist was kidding who asked God to pulverize or crush his heart (in English we would say ‘make contrite’). Vines are cauterized so that they may bear proper fruit; branches removed for destruction may be grafted back in again; my heart will be (and has been, and is being) broken like pottery dashed to pieces–so that I may repent and be remade. Indeed, even if I repent, the breaking still must occur so that I may be remade. So I do not spare myself (nor in their best moments do the OT writers) from the destruction of the wicked. Yet still I also hope and trust in God for the sake of the wicked, such as myself.

Third, and related to my second caveat (although perhaps least important): I could apply to verses such as these, Dr. Bacchiocchi’s own remonstration to the traditionalists regarding verses no less colorful than these. To interpret this parabolic language as a literal description of the utter destruction of the wicked means to ignore the highly figurative, parabolic nature of the passages, which are simply designed to depict the doom of self-exalted tyrants. God wins. They (and we, as sinners ourselves) lose. It’s going to be a complete victory for God.

Granted, there will be some kind of extreme (even utter) destruction leveled by God against the wicked. We shouldn’t be arguing to its character from analogies, though.

I am entirely willing to agree that the truths being expressed by the Baptist and Malachi, are the same truth. Since Dr. Bacchiocchi mentions John, I suppose I may also mention a further detail by the Baptist concerning the approach of Christ, bearing God’s judgment: He shall be baptizing us with fire, as well as with spirit!

I constantly pray that my own arrogance and evildoing will be burned up like stubble, leaving neither root nor branch. Because I am already fully penitent? No! Because I am not already fully penitent. The fire must fall on me, in order to soften my heart, so that I will accept the Lord’s salvation. God does it because He loves me, and wants me clean; He has to do it, because I am a sinner, who certainly isn’t being penitent when I am sinning. God does this whether or not I ask for it, because He is gracious and merciful, and will not be leaving me in the pit of sheol where my sin would lead and leave me.

[Next time: Jesus’ references to Gehenna]

PART IV: JESUS’ REFERENCES TO GEHENNA (plus a quick reference to the Qumran Manual of Discipline)


As Dr. Bacchiocchi is hardly drawing authoritative doctrine from these texts, I will pass over them.

Insofar as he attempts to show that there was apparently some division among Jewish writers as to whether the destruction was final or never-ending, I am not so sure that it all can be traced to the importation of Hellenistic ideas (as opposed to confusion about what the implications of canonical texts meant); but neither will I maintain that none of it can be traced there. Let it be so.

Of far more importance is his use of a passage from the Manual of Discipline (found among the Dead Sea Scrolls) to demonstrate the somewhat loose way that our writers might be considering the words commonly translated “unending” etc.

So the words being translated “unending” could mean, or entail, “until completion, then it ends”?

I am somewhat dubious that even this gives the most properly nuanced reading of such words; on what principle then are we to say that the reign of Christ or the life we receive from God in trusting Him, does not mean “until it (the reign or our life) is completed, then it ends”?

More on this soon, below.


I would include some comments on this; but Dr. Bacchiocchi doesn’t mention any–or at least he doesn’t comment himself on the torment of the Rich Man in the “unseen”.


Not surprisingly, Dr. Bacchiocchi takes the Mark 9 references from Jesus (paralleled in Matt 18) exactly down to verse 48–and then stops cold. But I would say that verse 49, at least, would have been worth a note from him, since it speaks of that fire in Gehenna.

I certainly have no disagreement with this.

And yet Dr. Bacchiocchi has ignored a set of verses clearly attached to his own textual testimony; a set which speaks very clearly (though still somewhat figuratively) about the purpose of the fire in Gehenna: Mark 9:49ff.

If this is so, and if Peterson is thus out of bounds in trying to define the nature of eternal death, then neither can Dr. Bacchiocchi try it himself (either directly or by quoting other commentators).

Which of course he immediately proceeds to do anyway…

One way or another, I should think it would be “very odd” for the fire itself to be eternal and unquenchable. If God can make the fire last forever, then He could make the burning last forever. So, is the smoke which rises for ever and ever (as the common translation goes) eternal? Or not? And eternal in what sense? The same sense as the fire?

As it happens, though, Dr. Bacchiocchi doesn’t think the unquenchable eternal fire lasts forever either:

On what principle, then, shall we say that the life of believers and the reign of Christ is “eternal-aionios”?

For what it is worth, I am willing to agree that it is not because these things have endless duration (although neither do I doubt their duration is endless). But since the same adjective (eonian) is used in all these cases, Dr. Bacchiocchi needs to be giving us some common principle of application in all these cases. This, I haven’t seen yet.

Here I recall Dr. Bacchiocchi’s criticism of Peterson–now applied (in paraphrase) to Dr. Bacchiocchi: the fundamental problem with his argument is that he assumes first that “being thrown into the lake of fire” means “final, radical and irreversible extinction of life”. Then he uses his subjective assumption to negate “the self-evident meaning” of the second death: the death of death itself, which along with hades is thrown into the lake of fire.

Now, clearly these are consumed; there couldn’t be a second and total resurrection of everyone, good and evil, without the destruction of death and the unseen (where these souls existed). And again, the second death, the death of death, would have no authority over the first of the faithful to be raised to reign with Christ for a thousand years; for they have already been raised.

Does this mean the souls of the wicked are consumed in the lake of fire, done away with as death and hades are evidently consumed? It might be so, if this was the only evidence we had, and if we had no reason to believe otherwise. (Always assuming we accept RevJohn at all–there was some dispute about this for a long time among the authorities, even up through the arrival of Constantine…)

But in the next chapter (for this is not where RevJohn ends)… here are the wicked! Still alive and still kicking against the goads (so to speak), unable to enter the New Jerusalem (the gates of which are never closed) because they will not give up the sins they love to practice. Revelation ends with an appeal to them, from the Spirit and the Bride and the one who hears them, to come and slake their thirst in the river that flows from beneath the throne, and so have the right to enter the city and eat of the tree of life. For the Lord Jesus says He is coming quickly, bringing with Him His wages, to render to every man according to his works (or perhaps according to His works?)–for (as King David proclaims under inspiration, in the Psalm which is being referred to here) mercy belongs to the Lord because He renders to everyone according to what they do (or to every man according to what ‘he/He’ does).

Not that any of this is ever discussed by Dr. Bacchiocchi (in this chapter at least).

I read a lengthy debate once (wish I could find it) in which a man used those ‘perish’ and ‘destroy’ terms to show from the Greek that it could not possibly mean ‘being continuously destroyed but never destroyed’. It was SO clear cut and convincing that I intended to use it to help bible literalists at least come to the point of seeing past the horrendous ‘kept alive eternally for the purpose of torment’ doctrine.

I’m curious how this one turns out…


This, on the other hand, is a fairly good point:

Quite so. Our redemption is completed forever; our salvation is completed forever; our punishment is completed forever–on this interpretation.

This is one of Dr. Bacchiocchi’s better points (via Basil Atkinson), although I think the adjective ‘eonian’ (or aionios) holds a stronger meaning than this that can apply equally well to any of the nouns we find it describing (whether or not they’re “nouns of action”.)

This, on the other (other) hand, is weaker. Strictly speaking, my freeing and raising up (or ‘redemption’) isn’t complete yet, nor my salvation.

True, God as Christ has acted in past-history toward my redemption and salvation; being infallible, He will not fail to complete His goal in this (or so I am trusting); and so to that extent we could say (with qualifications) that I have already been saved–so long as I accept it. For He has done this action for everyone; consequently, everyone is in principle saved already.

Now, if Dr. Bacchiocchi claims (along with the traditionalists) that despite this, some souls are in fact never saved; then neither can we say that Christ has redeemed and saved us once for all with ‘eternal’ results (however we wish to use ‘eternal’.) Unless perhaps he is joining the hard-core Calvinists in saying that Christ’s salvation was not in fact extended to all, but only to the ones whom God pre-chose to be saved (pre-damning the rest). In which case we will have other matters to discuss.

Meanwhile, I am wondering: is ‘life’ perhaps a “noun of action”? It may not seem so, at first; but consider: I live, but only because God lives and shares His life with me; similarly, as a Christian I claim: “I live yet not I but Christ for Christ lives in me.” Indeed, one could hardly dispute that my living depends far more on God’s action of living (in several ways, down to God’s fundamental self-generation as Father and Son of one substance) than on any ‘living’ I am doing.

I receive life from God. I receive punishment from God. God is doing the punishing; really, God is doing the living, too–I have no life in and of myself. God is the Living One, the self-existant, Who gives His life for us.

What then shall we say to this interpretation now? “Thus the phrase ‘everlasting [life]’ is comparable to ‘everlasting redemption’ and ‘everlasting salvation,’ both Scriptural phrases. No one supposes that we are being redeemed or being saved [as a process] forever. …] In the same way the [redeemed] will not be passing through a process of [living] for ever but will be [given life] once and for all with eternal results.”

We seem to be treading hard on Mormonism here!

The LDS notwithstanding, I don’t believe I become a self-existant Fact due to a one-time gift of God. And I doubt Dr. Bacchiocchi believes this either; especially since he clearly advocates conditional immortality (which I also accept). My continuing to live, even once my redemption is complete, occurs by the gracious continuing action of God.

Then God is not the Living God, but only a god that happens to be ‘alive’! This is privative, not positive, aseity; and I think it denies the orthodox Unity in Distinction of the Trinity. In which case Dr. Bacchiocchi and I have more serious and fundamental problems to discuss.

But let us suppose that ‘life’ is not, after all, a noun of action. What about ‘reign’? Does this noun merely express a state, and not some sort of action?

Let us suppose that Christ’s reign is described somewhere as ‘eonian’. (I am not sure it ever is; more like ‘into the eon’ or ‘for the eons of the eons’. But let us suppose it does, or that the difference makes no appreciable difference to our understanding of doctrine here.) Making substitution for testing of the principle, then: “Thus the phrase ‘everlasting [reign]’ is comparable to ‘everlasting redemption’ and ‘everlasting salvation,’ both Scriptural phrases. No one supposes that we are being redeemed or being saved forever. …] In the same way [Christ] will not be passing through a process of [reigning] for ever but will [reign] once and for all with eternal results.”

I suppose a reign once and for all that is not a process of reigning for ever, might have ‘eternal’ results; but neither is it reigning for ever. The reign ends; just as the punishment ends.

I do think the reign continues forever. I think the punishment does (or at least can) end. But not because I understand ‘eonian’ to describe a quality that its (grammatic) object necessarily possesses in and of itself. I don’t think ‘eonian’ simply means ‘going on forever’, or even simply means ‘complete’ or ‘finished’ (or even some combination of these).

I think it means that what is being described, comes from the One Who transcends the eons of our natural time.

Unless God is also keeping alive the object of the ongoing inconclusive process of destruction. (Though remember I do believe the process can reach a conclusion.)

Yet Dr. Bacchiocchi has already qualified his notion of annihilation to mean not really annihilated, in the sense of altogether ceasing to exist.

Whereas, seeing that there is really only one ‘object’ that can ever be truly qualified as ‘eternal’ (the Living God), I tend to think that this determines the meaning of the object being qualified. It even makes better grammatic sense: adjectives describe nouns, giving further meaning to them. My table is not only ‘a’ table, but ‘brown’. The table, being qualified by the description ‘brown’, does not determine the meaning of ‘brown’.

Whereas, I would have said that if the object is the life granted by God to believers, then the word “eternal” obviously entails “unending, everlasting”, because God, the eternal, has these characteristics. I hardly need to quote a text on this, do I? Or does it truly make more sense to say that John 3:16 means that God will give mortal believers conditional immortality through Christ, because 1 Cor 15:53 says the same thing? (Let the worship of the letter flow freely…!)

So long as we ignore the end of RevJohn, perhaps, after the sinners have been resurrected and thrown in the fire.

But I agree, nowhere do the Scriptures teach (so far as I recall anyway) that the wicked are resurrected to zoe eonian; but to eonian crisis, etc. Yet clearly they are given some sort of life when they are resurrected, and this must be coming from God.

I conclude, then, that zoe eonian isn’t primarily about unending sequence of life within some natural system. Nor (against Mormons) do I conclude that God’s gift of this can make us Independent Facts of reality (nor, alternately, that God isn’t Himself this Fact, consequently He can make us to be entities of exactly the same type as Himself. This, which is another variation of what the Mormons teach, I also reject.)

But God’s life isn’t a static singularity. It is an active dynamic unity, among Persons. It is foundational fair-togetherness, or (as we usually translate the Greek word) righteousness. God is offering this to us, for us to share with Him and with others in our own derivative fashions.

The wicked aren’t resurrected to this (immediately anyway), because their wickedness consists of rejecting this righteousness in various ways. So they are resurrected to something else from God: punishment, destruction, crisis, ruination–judgment.

This, like the zoe, is eonian because it comes from God, and is an outworking of His fundamental character.

The punishment, destruction, crisis, judgment, whole ruination–what these entail, therefore, will also be an outworking of God’s fundamental character. Any doctrine about them must be subordinate to Who He is; any doctrine that involves denying Who He is, should be rejected.

As for myself, I reject any doctrine that denies the name of Jesus–which is “The Lord is Salvation” or “The Lord Saves”. (We have been told quite strongly what happens to those who deny His name… and how could it be otherwise? If I deny the Lord saves, then I deny the Lord is salvation–and if this is true, then how can I be saved?)

[Next time: more on punishment]


This is quite well taken. But an object pruned might be a living tree, as much as a dead branch; or a living grove, as much as a dead tree or harmful thorns.

So, considering that what is being ‘pruned’ here is evil-ness: is any life from God ‘evil’? If God gives some kind of life to the wicked in the resurrection (which obviously He is doing), is He thus filling them with an evil that He now must prune away? Are we now saying that God is the source of evil, and is a doer of evil?!

Of course not! This should give us immediate pause before declaring that the evil which God is pruning away, is the lives of the evil ones. A life may be corrupted, but the corruption is not an originally existant fact of itself, and certainly doesn’t come from God (or, if it does, this can hardly be an improvement of the morality of doctrines concerning God’s judgment!)

Or will Dr. Bacchiocchi say that a person may be so evil that no good at all remains in the person’s existence? No good at all? And yet the person exists?? From where is this existence being drawn, then? From itself? From another than the One Who is Good, even God? This is cosmological dualism (at the least)! I reject that doctrine as an error.

It may be objected that, of course, if a person could somehow expunge all goodness entirely from his or her existence, this would be tantamount to achieving non-existence; and so we have annihilation. Indeed–on this plan we hardly need God to do the annihilating! A man may thus overcome the Most High in power, even though in so doing the man ceases to exist! I reject this also as heresy.

It may be next objected that of course a person (and let us be complete here, so including any sentient creature; for sentient creations other than Man have rebelled…) cannot overcome the Most High in power, thus effecting his own annihilation (not any more than a derivative person may save himself apart from God). Yet God may choose to give the intransigent rebel the annihilation which would be the result of the rebel’s success.

I grant, this is entirely possible.

But would God do this? Granted there are verses (OT and NT) which can be read this way; there are also verses, and not a few, which could be adduced against it. Which verses shall we read in light of the others, then? The answer to this depends on what we believe to be the most fundamental truth of God’s character.

I am not sure that the Bible has a clear answer to this. But if Trinitarian theism has any grounding in the Biblical witness (and I believe it does, although I can deduce it without reference to the witness of scripture if I must), then the fundamental truths we are looking for will be found in this ‘nature’ (so to speak) of God.

And, fundamentally, the ‘nature’ of the Trinity is love and justice; the justice, positively, being fair-togetherness: righteousness enacted.

Whatever enactment of justice God may do, therefore, must have these in His view toward fulfilling, in regard to any object of His action. (Questions of justice, of course, apply only to personal objects; one cannot be just or injust to a muon, for instance. Consequently there wouldn’t necessarily be any contradiction to His own fundamental reality if God caused a sub-atomic particle, or any conglomeration of non-personal entities, to cease to exist.)

Does annihilation, then, involve acting toward the fulfillment of love and fair-togetherness in the object being acted thus upon by God? The question practically answers itself!

Neither, obviously, does a hopeless never-ending punishment (be the torment as light as Limbo).

Yet punishment can very clearly be directed toward this end, of positive fulfillment of love and fair-togetherness–the reconciliation of God and man, as well as between man and man. Indeed we are told this explicitly many times in the NT and OT textual witness, perhaps most clearly by the Hebraist in the latter portions of his Epistle: where we also learn, as if other imagery elsewhere in the O/NT wasn’t sufficient to suggest it, that God Himself is the consuming fire. (Once that is in the account, you surely won’t be finding me declaring that the unquenchable eternal fire actually ceases to exist!)

Well, strictly speaking, that isn’t what we’re told here. Rather, those who do trust in Him will not be perishing, but instead will be receiving eternal life. But texts could be adduced to the other effect easily enough, I suppose; and the converse could perhaps be inferred from this witness.


I doubt a traditionalist would consider these to be mutually exclusive propositions.

Actually, insofar as that particular verse goes, it is quite clear that what is perishing in the melting away, is the desire of the wicked: the desire to be wicked.

I agree.

I agree, with one qualification: I, at least, would not be so bold as to say that anyone is worthless whom God Himself loves and for Whom He has sacrificed His own life.

They have no worth in themselves, it is true; neither do I, even in my penitent moments. Nor do the redeemed, nor the unfallen. But when I remember this, and am tempted to say that I am worthless, I remember in my prayers that God doesn’t think so. I am worth His sacrifice of Himself; because of God’s love for me. A point has no strength or even existence apart from the sheer grace of something other than that point; yet the point, by that grace, still exists, and is regarded by the One Who loves it into existence.

Therefore, I am to live my life as one who is worthy by the blood of Christ. The wicked do not look to God for their worth, but that doesn’t mean they have none; else Christ would have died for none of us.

I will also go so far to say that so long as they are ‘gnashing their teeth’, in anger against God, then their weeping cannot be sorrow; yet if they do ever sorrow, then what has Our Lord Himself promised will happen? Blessed (even happy) are the ones who sorrow–for…?

[Note: the chapter continues on from this; but I haven’t yet continued my notations on it…]

Hello Jason,

A friend of mine is an annihilationist (and a theologian), and sent me the PDF of chapter 6 of Bacchiocchi’s book to show me why he believes that (and by extension why I probably should too). I’m reading it dutifully but not liking it much, and was thrilled to find your comments… but then they stopped! :open_mouth: :wink:

I wonder whether you did end up writing any more on this subject, perhaps elsewhere?

No, I never finished. Actually, I wrote this several years before the forum was even created! :laughing:

I’m sure I intended to use my posting of it here as an excuse/goad to pick it back up and run to the end of the chapter, but then other things came up and I just never got around to it.

Is your friend’s pdf identical to the 6th chapter html page that Dr. B put on the internet (and from which I was working), or is it an update? Dr. B’s book has been out for a while.

Update: looking back over the final portion quickly, I suspect that when Dr. B talked about the sinners being rejected as worthless (due to being sinners), I finally lost patience with him, since this line of logic if accepted would prove too much and would obviate any gospel of salvation from sin at all.

I’m not sure. It’s a scan of a print-out from … tion/6.htm (but there’s nothing at the link now) It appears to have been printed out in 2003. So I would guess it’s the same one. Everything you quoted matches what I have, at any rate.

Yes, the use of the term worthless bothered me too. I can see how you would give up at that point!
Actually the whole thing - I’ve read about half so far - has bothered me. To my mind, there is something very depressing about the idea of God “vanishing” a great number of people who he loves or at least loved, and who presumably continue to be loved by the saved who knew them. Of course, that’s a very emotional argument that understandably won’t wash with my friend. :slight_smile:

Woudl you mind if, when I’ve finish reading it, I come back here with any specific questions I have that haven’t been answered elsewhere, for anyone who sees them to have a stab at? Or should I start another thread?

No, that’s fine. If I ever finish out the analysis, I’d probably update some things in the portion already written. :slight_smile: