The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP vs Annihilation (Facebook inquiry)

One of the Rethinking Hell admins (for their FB group), Darrin Clark, posted an inquiry at the link above, which I was in a position to have time and energy to work on. I didn’t want to lose it to the depths of FB, where though not annihilated it may never see the light of day again {wry g!}, so I’m reposting here for archive purposes.

First, the inquiry (blockquote of Darrin’s original post):

Many universalists argue hell is a process of refinement and restoration of the wicked. The following quote is from Stephen Martin,

“It is the evil that is destroyed, the contrary nature of sin we, all have inherited is annihilated, not the person themself (sic).”

I don’t want universalists to be bashed over the head here. I do want to discuss the biblical evidence behind a statement like this quote. To be sure, the imagery of fire can be used to express the idea of refinement in the Bible (e.g. Zechariah 13:8-9; Isaiah 48:9-11), but in many key verses relating to the debate over hell fire imagery is used to express the complete destruction of the person (e.g. Matt 3:12; 10:28; 13:40-42; 18:8-9; Heb 10:26-29, 39; 12:25-29; Jude 7; 2 Pet 2:6). I would like to discuss what exegetical warrant universalists have for reading all these verses as refinement texts.

I expect there will be much debate over these verses, but I welcome that because I aim to learn how universalists read these texts.

1.) Is Darren Clark claiming that our sin nature is not ever destroyed, so that instead we continue to have a sin nature forever? Because I would normally expect any Christian to agree that sooner or later, in whatever way or ways, God destroys the sin nature of whomever He saves from sin. If you aren’t actually disagreeing with that, then presumably you know (more or less) the same theological rationales and testimony that the rest of us do. In which case the difference isn’t over whether or not God destroys our sin nature, but over whether God annihilates people totally out of existence or not (and so over whether or not the scriptures are ever testifying to that instead of destroying our sin nature, or to killing us bodily for a while, or anything less than annihilation.)

2.) Facebook is terrible for a systematic reply to anything, and there’s a ton of systematic discussion for the verses cited. Doubtless this is why Marc The-Dawn posted a video where I do a systematic discussion (albeit still somewhat informally) of the unpardonable sin – although that doesn’t have any fire imagery. He probably meant the episode on the purpose of Gehenna according to Jesus, which references Matt 18 and Mark 9 to start with and then continues on contextually with other things including connections to Matt 3 and Luke 16 (the Rich Man in hades), as well as referring back to “the fire the eonian prepared for the devil and his angels” in GosMatt 25 (which I have no problem volunteering for the list, since I make the topical connection myself through Matthew’s or rather Jesus own terminology.)

Still, Marc invoked me so I suppose I should comment something. I’ll append them to this post as sub-comments so as not to flood the thread.

Matt 3:12 doesn’t say anything about God annihilating people out of existence; nor does Matt 18:8-9. Whether annihilation can be read coherently into those verses is another question; presumably Darren is satisfied this can be done, but you aren’t reading them out of those verses. Whether that meaning can be read out of the context of the verses, and so applied to those verses, is also another question. Baptizing the chaff with Holy Spirit and with fire (or “even fire” depending on the English translation), should be considered salvational language, as for example in Isaiah 4 where God cleans those who repent after not surviving His coming, with the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning, cleaning away their murders and bringing them into reconciliation with Himself and with the survivors they were petitioning. Cleaning with fire is also salvational language in Malachi 3, which JohnBapt has been referencing (the chapter divisions not being present at his time of course), and not for people who are repentant yet either. The main point is that (as per Psalm 1, also being referenced) the wicked will not stand in the judgment. Since there is salvational language attached to the same action, it must be a further question whether annihilation is intended or not. Bodily annihilation at least is being used as an image in Mal 4; but this is the same fire refining the worst sinners, the rebel priests in Mal 3, so that they will repent and do justice, “For I YHWH do not change, therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.”

God would have to change His essential nature, and cease to exist as God, whereupon literally all reality (which depends upon God for existence) would poof out of existence, for Him to annihilate the wicked out of existence – that’s how this trinitarian Christian universalist reads that text (since you are asking).

This has bearing on a discussion I was having with William Tanksley Jr. some weeks ago about the Father and the Son giving all things to each other, and so therefore not giving ultimate dishonor and blasphemy to each other, but rather bringing eonian life to all things so that all may be honoring the Father and the Son. (But FB is the worst for having such discussions and I’ve lost the thread.) The theological point is that God must act to bring any creatures who dishonor God to honor God, in order for the Persons of God to honor each other. Annihilating them out of existence would be for God to permanently act to ensure that those creatures could never come to honor God but only to ultimately dishonor and blaspheme God.

At any rate, I think it’s worth noting that in the text with some of the most graphic imagery of apparent annihilation, God also declares that He doesn’t consume rebel Israel because He, the self-existent YHWH, does not change. God changes them (refining them in the fire, the baptism of fire and of the Holy Spirit); they don’t change God.

The warning reported by Matthew at GosMatt 18 has a similar point, although somewhat divided up among Mark and Luke. Jesus says that everyone is salted with the unquenchable fire of Gehenna (“the fire the eonian” in Matthean parlance, and there can only be one such fire also worthy to be called “the eonian”, namely the Holy Spirit, our God the Consuming Fire.) And salting is the best of things, leading to peace with each other when we receive the salting into our hearts. While Matthew doesn’t report that saying, he does report one of the hundred-sheep sayings here, and also the fullest version of Christ’s warning to His own chief apostles (which that Gehenna warning was also aimed against) that if they are not forgiving their brother from their hearts, then the Father will be sending them into the prison of the tormentors – from which they will not come out until they have paid the final cent which they owe, what they owe being forgiveness to other people (which St. Peter had been whining about). They obviously still have the wrong idea about the fire and how God uses it, when shortly afterward (in Luke’s account of the same incident) they are asking Jesus to cast fire down on the ungrateful Samaritans to consume them, and Jesus rebukes them. (Some versions adding that the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s souls but to save them.)

It is true that Jesus (in Matt and Mark, elsewhere to a lesser degree in Luke’s account) references the end of Isaiah, where the bodies of slain sinners are rotting in Gehenna valley, but that isn’t annihilation of the persons, and parallel scenes in the prophets indicate this is before the general resurrection of the good and the evil (because part of the penitence of rebel Israel, saved by God from the pagan armies, is to go out and find every last piece of every slain pagan solider and give them a proper burial). Jesus is definitely talking beyond a millennial army slaughter here, since “the fire the eonian” of Gehenna is also (in GosMatt 25) prepared for the devil and his angels; and Luke reports Jesus repeating key parts of this scene in connection to a later teaching about the Rich Man dying and going to hades. (This is the benefit of a systematic harmonization analysis.) But the purpose of everyone being salted with the unquenchable fire of Gehenna remains: it isn’t to annihilate people, but to make peace among them in their hearts, which is the best of things. At the very least, there is no overt annihilation in the few verses cited for this purpose in the OP.

Matt 10:28, more shortly, certainly features Jesus warning that if we’re going to fear anyone, we should fear the one (definitely meaning God, I agree, thus also meaning Jesus Himself) who has the power to destroy both body and soul in Gehenna; but He doesn’t say God is definitely going to do that (or even has ever done that). On the contrary, Jesus goes on to state that God values people more than grasses of the field which are here today and tomorrow are thrown into the fire! – and by context Jesus isn’t only talking to people already loyal to God either.

Really, I spend a lot more argument nailing down that Jesus is definitely talking about fearing God here! But again, God can save that which He destroys, and this warning doesn’t in any way contradict the purpose of the unquenchable fire, the fire the eonian, of Gehenna. If the best we can do is to fear God because He does have the power and authority to destroy our souls, that’s better than fearing anyone who after killing our body has no power or authority to do anything more to us! – but unless we only have poor faith, then we’re supposed to not be afraid of God, for He loves us very much more than trash to be thrown away and annihilated. It is those of poor faith, contextually, who believe God will annihilate persons in Gehenna. (Though that’s better than having no faith in God.)

Matt 13:40-42 doesn’t happen to mention what happens to the wicked ones after they have been gathered to be burned; but other testimony already explains the purpose and result. Besides which, Jesus seems to be talking about something happening at the coming of YHWH (i.e. the coming of Jesus Himself), not after the general resurrection. So whether or not annihilation is true, this couldn’t be testifying to it – unless (as occasionally happens) the annihilationist is also denying the resurrection of the good and the evil.

I will add here, in passing, that I find A MASSIVE AMOUNT of the prooftexts adduced by annihilationists as supposedly testifying to annihilation, having to do with God killing people before the general resurrection, and so having nothing to do with annihilation per se at all. On occasion, these prooftexts even include testimony nearby that God won’t be annihilating such people! – but usually the texts are simply neutral to the debate between ECT, Annihilation, or universal salvation.

Similarly, adducing this text as evidence for annihilation because it happens not to say anything about salvation for those being punished, would be like adducing this text as evidence that evangelism is pointless, since it says nothing about that either! Nor could that be defended by appeal to a Calvinistic version of the elect and non-elect (on the ground that evangelizing the non-elect is pointless), since the “sons of the kingdom” being harvested as the wheat in the parable are the same “sons of the kingdom” whom Christ warns (back in Matt 8’s report) will be wailing and gnashing their teeth over having been thrown outside and seeing people they weren’t expecting to be saved (and not a few of them either) entering into the kingdom to dine with the patriarchs at the table of the Lord! The “sons of the kingdom” may also be “sons of the evil one” – apparently by insisting that God will only be saving a few.

Keeping that warning about the sons of the kingdom in mind, who are the wheat, whom the tares resemble until the end of the age when their poisonous fruit shows forth? Jesus in explaining the parable quotes Daniel 12:3 in reference to them shining forth (like the sun in GosMatt, like the blue sky and the stars in Daniel into the eons of the eons). They are the instructors, or those who have insight, and those who lead the many to righteousness (to do justice), who having died will be raised to eonian life. Those who are raised from death to eonian contempt or abomination (same term at the end of Isaiah for dead sinners not yet raised), would be those who, by contrast, are not concerned with leading the many to righteousness – which is Jesus’ judgment against the sons of the kingdom in Matt 8! What do the righteous understand? The angel of God explains to Daniel shortly afterward (when Daniel asks about this): “Many will be purged, made white (or purified) and refined (i.e. in a furnace); but the unjust will act unjustly and none of the unjust will understand but the instructors will understand.” The wheat, by extrapolation, are those who instruct the tares to be wheat; and they understand the purpose of the fire the tares are going into, which is to purify them – even though the unjust will not understand this, at least at first, and so will continue to do injustice.

So it turns out that Jesus cites a purgatorial salvation meaning for His parable of the wheat and the tares. The fire is definitely not for annihilating those raised to eonian contempt – and the wheat will understand this. (And by the way, there’s the evangelization which the parable happens not to talk about either!)

Sidenote: since posting that entry, I happened to run across a discussion (analyzing OT testimony about the coming Messiah) explaining the Hebrew term for “many” in Daniel is a cosmic technical term used across the OT for what I myself would call “maximum scope”: like “all” but more emphatic! The point of the term’s usage is to highlight the greatness of God (and of the Messiah) by reference to the scope of those who will come to honor God (and the Messiah).

This has major relevance not only to how the early trinitarian apologists (who borrowed heavily from rabbinic methods, even when they had a Greco-Roman background) emphasized Christ’s intention and capability to save sinners (in what I like to call a “our Christ is bigger than your Christ” argument :wink: ), both of which are key gospel assurances adding up to universal salvation; but also to how St. Paul and other Christian rabbinic authorities use “the many” in their New Testament work. It isn’t strictly necessary to appeal to this in Romans 5, for example, since Paul has various ways of explaining that by “the many” he means “all” in those uses, but it DOES explain why Paul would even bother to shift to “the many” as a term.

In other words, the cosmic-scope usage of magnifying God’s glory and honor by using “the many” in Hebrew, indicates that when Paul uses the term in similar circumstances, it isn’t because he’s trying to say indefinitely-less-than-all. (Or many-not-all.) It’s because he’s trying to emphasize the totality of all! – the term, in rabbinic technical usage of God’s honor by creation, means “all” MORE STRONGLY AND EMPHATICALLY! (Like I might emphasize something with all-caps.)

I’ll try to remember to post a link to the book later in a separate thread. Anyway, moving on to my actual reply.

Hebrews 12 (on our God the Consuming Fire) is a little weird to include as supposedly being a text where “hell fire imagery is used to express the complete destruction of the person” – though thanks for acknowledging God Himself (the Holy Spirit) is the hellfire! But the Hebraist makes as clear as he possibly can in the first half of Hebrews 12, that God only punishes people whom He intends to inherit, and while nobody enjoys being put through that discipline, it’s definitely a good thing in the end. At the very least, it isn’t annihilation (even if as in the reference to Moses it does involve killing the person sometimes first). Or are we supposed to think God annihilates people permanently out of existence because He intends for those people to inherit!?

Beyond this, the Hebraist in connection with God the Consuming Fire, quotes God from Haggai 2, where the result of God shaking that which can be shaken, even the heavens and the earth, is that the pagan nations repent and bring their wealth in fealty to God. It would be difficult for them to do this after they have been annihilated out of existence permanently! – and why God would annihilate them out of existence after accepting their fealty as true and giving them peace, is a mystery I am glad I don’t have to try to explain. ;

Me too…

This comes to the citation of Hebrews 10, and again I’m glad I’m not the one having to insult the sacrifice of Christ by claiming that God annihilates anyone for whom Christ died, or that Christ’s sacrifice was too small to include some sinners! Be that as it may.

I assume the point is the reference to Isaiah 26:11, where the fury of the fire shall consume the adversaries, and in v.14 God declares that “the dead will not live and the shades will not rise, therefore You [speaking to God] have punished and destroyed them, and You have wiped out all remembrance of them.”

Well, whatever it means for those rebels to not live or rise, for their remembrance to be wiped out, it must include what God prophecies in Isaiah 25 to be the result of all this overthrow and defeat: “Therefore a strong people will glorify You; cities of ruthless nations will revere You!”

And that happens to fit the second half of Isaiah 26, too, where after stating earlier that the dead will not live and the shades will not rise due to the punishment and destruction from YHWH (a fire of fury that will consume the adversaries or satans), the same punished ones seek YHWH in distress as a pregant woman in labor who can only bring forth wind, admitting that they could not accomplish deliverance of the earth nor give birth to the inhabitants of the earth (like God can and does). The result of their repentance? “Your dead will live! Their (or My) corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawnlight, and the earth will give birth to the shades!”

That’s referring to rebel Israel slain by God with the fury of a fire consuming the satans (a warning the Hebraist is using about Christians here backsliding into trodding underfoot the Son of God); but God did the same thing to the ruthless nations in Isaiah 25 and brought them back, too, as loyal servants now repentant.

St. Paul thought this was so great, that Isaiah 25 is one of his two cited texts at the end of 1 Cor 15, to encourage us that our evangelical work in God shall never be in vain! (The other text is from Hosea referring to rebel Israel instead of the pagans, also similarly to Isaiah 26 promising that death and hades shall devour them and God shall never raise them again – before God does raise them again, repentant and reconciled to God and to the victims of their injustices. Thus Paul, looking forward several verses to this victorious evangelical resurrection turns the call upon death and hades around as a taunt to them.)

Sooooooooo, yeah. Not in the least a testimony to God annihilating sinners out of existence. If anything it’s a testimony that if it ever happens to look like this is what God is saying, He means something else which results in salvation for the punished ones even after death!

After that, I hardly need to mention that the destruction in Heb 10:39 isn’t annihilation. But I will note that the references to Deuteronomy 32 are about God vindicating His rebel people whom He has slain for their rebellions, and how He will bring them back when He sees that they have been destroyed so far that they are neither slave nor free. If that’s a poetic reference to some kind of annihilation, it isn’t a permanent one! – the punished rebels are brought back by God to reconcile with God and to live in peace. So, nope, not permanent annihilation out of existence either: the punishment is remedial, and succeeds in its goal – although naturally it’s better not to go through the terrifying experience, falling into the hands of the living God means being brought to life eventually. Not annihilation (in a sense exclusive to universal salvation anyway).

What does that leave? Jude 7? – and a parallel from 2 Peter? Sodom and Gomorrah undergoing the justice of eonian fire isn’t a statement of their annihilation permanently out of existence; it would have to be explained that way by references to something else. Strictly speaking, as far as the immediate context goes, they’re kept in aidios bonds (apparently meaning “invisible” as per the Petrine parallel) until the great day of judgment, like the rebel angels in verse 6, since both are used for similar examples about the punishment coming to false teachers.

And God brings Sodom back repentant and reconciled both with Judah and Samaria (whom God is about to similarly kill for being worse sinnners than Sodom), to live as a happy family together under God again, according to the prophecy of Ezekiel 16!

So at the very least, the immediate statement isn’t talking about annihilation yet; and the extended context isn’t prophesying annihilation at all, but rather the salvation of those who were punished by heavenly fire in Sodom (and in similar cases, even where the sinners were worse than in Sodom). Either way, Sodom isn’t a specimen of annihilation (by God’s fire or otherwise). Their bodies were reduced to ashes (per the reference to 2 Peter 2:6), and then their spirits were imprisoned – not annihilated – but God will bring them back, saved from their sins.

In conclusion, rather than testifying to God permanently annihilating sinners out of existence – although that could be in some cases construed from mere prooftexting, perhaps – these citations all point, in systematic context, to God’s mighty saving victories, even for sinners whom He has to destroy! Even when God destroys them so hard that they look annihilated; even when God says He will never raise them again to life; somehow God still raises them to life again! – just not as sinners rebelling against God anymore.

Call that the permanent annihilation of the sin or of the sin nature, instead of the permanent annihilation of the sinner, as you please.

(…attempt at short FB comments: fail. :frowning: )
(God’s absolute salvation of sinners from sin: EPIC UNIVERSAL VICTORY! :smiley: )

No offence, Dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.