Eternal Punishment or Annihilation?

By Jack L. Holt

The word “annihilation,” is from the Latin nihil, “nothing.” The doctrine of annihilation taught by the Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others is that some, if not all, human souls will cease to exist after death; they will become nothing.

Warfield, in commenting on this subject, says, “This point of view may take three main forms: (a) that all men cease to exist at death (materialism); (b) that while man is naturally mortal, God imparts to the redeemed the gift of immortality and allows the rest of humanity to sink into nothingness (conditional immortality; (c) that man, being created immortal, fulfills his destiny in salvation, while the reprobates fall into nonexistence either through a direct act of God, or through the corrosive effect of evil” (annihilation proper).

In debates with Adventists I have asked them to produce one Scripture that teaches any spirit will ever cease to be, whether that spirit is angelic, demonic or human. No one has produced that Scripture. The Scriptures teach that all human spirits will eternally endure and their condition after death is settled by the choices they made and the life they lived on earth (2 Cor. 5:10; Jn. 5:28-29).

Books written to prove annihilation seem to have a built in flaw. The authors go to the Bible to prove their doctrine rather than to get the doctrine of God. When one comes to the Bible with his idol in his heart God will satisfy him according to his idol. Being in love with their idol they don’t mind wresting the Scriptures in their futile attempts to prove it worthy of worship.

Adventists deny the immortality of the soul. They refer to 1 Timothy 6:16, “God only has immortality.” Then they say since God only has immortality, the human spirit is not immortal so it dies. To them death means the spirit ceases to exist. But if one is saved, God bestows upon that one immortality and he will enjoy eternal life. Their argument on 1 Timothy 6:16, falls flat for it fails to take into consideration the truth that God may and does bestow immortality on all human souls. Adventists argue that the word death proves the wicked will cease to be. For example, Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” But death in the Bible is never set forth as the end of being, but the end of well being (Vines). The root meaning of the word death is separation, not end of being. In physical death a separation takes place when the spirit leaves the body. The Bible says “the body without the spirit is dead” (Jas. 2:26), but it never says the spirit out of the body is dead.

To be separated from God is to be separated from the source of all life, light and love. The second death is eternal existence away from God in the lake of fire, in the regions of outer darkness, where their worm (anguish, Bagster) does not die and the fire is never quenched (Matt. 25:30; Mk. 9:43-44). Does this “worm of anguish” feed on something that ceases to exist? Can one be punished before he begins to be? If not how can one be punished who ceases to be? Consciousness is an essential element of torment. Can one punish a fence post? Can one quench what the Lord calls an unquenchable fire? Since this fire is in hell, does hell cease to be?

Adventists seem to think they are qualified to apologize for the Savior’s teaching that all who leave this world in their sins will be eternally punished. They sit in judgment on God’s word and declare eternal punishment is inconsistent with God’s love. In a recent debate with an Adventist he “proved” eternal punishment is inconsistent with the character of God for Tom Paine and other infidels said it is! He declared the doctrine of eternal torment drives people from God, turns them off to the Scriptures, and drives them into infidelity.

To many, God’s revelation of himself in his book, as a just but loving God who will by no means clear the guilty, but punish them eternally is not consistent with what they conceive as the character of a loving God. So, worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, they consider themselves qualified and empowered to rewrite God’s word and make the eternal God fit an image the world will accept. God can annihilate and be just, but he can’t eternally punish and be just. So declares rank unbelief of the word of God. This is the same error men follow when they try to rewrite God’s marriage law. After all, we have to doctor the word of God so the world will accept the God of the Bible! Why if we teach what God says on marriage it will turn the world off to the Scriptures. They just will not accept a God with such strict laws on marriage. So don’t preach the word, preach what people want to hear is the plea today. (Pardon the digression.)

The Scriptures are often rejected as our guide and man’s own reasoning becomes his god. The godless error of annihilation was invented by the devil in order to promote sin by banishing hell. And thousands fall for it. So when Jesus speaks of “the worm that never dies … .. the fire that is never quenched,” “the sons of the kingdom being cast into outer darkness where there will be (the) weeping and (the) gnashing of teeth” and about “fearing him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell,” why you should just take that with a grain of salt. Adventists declare that teaching is an insult to the love and mercy of God. Unbelief will make void God’s word, won’t it? (cf. Rom. 3:3-4)

One of the most blatant errors of Adventists is the way they pervert the meaning of certain words. They take words like death, destroy, destruction, perish, blot out, and limit them to one meaning. They use these words to prove the wicked will not suffer eternal punishment for they cease to exist. It is hard for me to believe one can be intellectually honest and teach this error.

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 19, pp. 579-580
October 3, 1991