Conditional Immortality VS Eternal Torment
As Christians we often read the Bible with a preconceived notion of the truth. We go in expecting it to line up with what we believe, reading each verse from our point of view rather than letting it speak for itself and then fall into place. A person that doesn’t study God’s word consistently is obviously more susceptible to false doctrine because their ideals don’t have a strong biblical foundation. However, even a strong Christian is susceptible to misinterpretation. So right now I want you to put aside what you believe about the afterlife and consider that there may be a viable alternative to the traditional view of hell.
Most Christians believe that after our physical death on earth, the believers spend eternity in heaven with Christ and the non-believers spend eternity in hell being consciously tortured. It’s not that this view of hell would be unfair; it simply isn’t supported by the Bible. The belief I intend to argue is called conditional immortality or Annihilation. This view says that when a soul is punished and thrown into hell, rather than being tortured for eternity, it is completely consumed and destroyed because as humans we are by nature mortal. Thus, Immortality and eternal life are gifts from God to the believer, not something the nonbeliever is cursed with. Understanding the argument fundamentally, we can now move into the biblical evidence.
1 - Immortality Is Not Given To Those Who Are Condemned
The first argument for annihilation are verses that speak of eternal life and immortality as being reserved for the believer.
1 Timothy 6:11 and Revelation 22:17 say that God alone is immortal but whoever believes and takes hold of the free gift of life will also be given immortality. Proverbs 12:28 says that, “in the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality.” Romans 2:7 says, “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life." 2 Timothy 1:7 says that our savior Jesus Christ abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 15:42 Paul says that we are sown perishable but the believers are raised imperishable. John 6:47-50 says, “Whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your father’s ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from the heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” This idea that immortality and eternal life are given only to the saved is continued throughout the Bible.
Genesis 3:22 - And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
This verse says that whoever eats from the tree of life will live forever. So when man was exposed to sin, he was cut off from the tree of life because we know that God told them in Genesis 2:17 that in the day that they eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil they will surely die. People assume that the soul is eternal, but as seen in this passage, eternity is granted only to the believer. For without the tree of life, we die and cannot live forever. This is why the tree of life is saved for the believers at the end times. We all die here on earth, but then God will raise everyone up from the dead to be judged. The non-believers are cast into hell to be destroyed which is the second death but the saved are given access to the tree of life as seen in Revelation 22:14 which says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.”
2 - The Unbelievers Punishment Is Destruction; Not Torture
The second argument for annihilation are the verses that say the non-believers are completely destroyed rather than tortured for eternity.
Matthew 10:28 says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
This verse says that humans can kill the body but God can kill the soul. It doesn’t say that humans can torture you on earth and God can torture you for eternity. This verse is a direct comparison between man putting to death the body and God putting to death the soul. In Mark 9:22 a demon tries to throw a man into the fire to destroy and kill him. The same language is used when speaking of God destroying the soul and body in hell. Ezekiel 18:4 says “the soul who sins shall die”.
2 Peter 3:6-7 says that the world was covered in water and perished during the flood but the ungodly were kept from destruction until the Day of Judgment. This is another direct comparison of literal destruction and perishing to the destruction of the soul in hell.
Matthew 13:40-42 compares the future destruction of the unsaved to the weeds being burned up and completely consumed. Malachi 4:1-3 says that every evildoer will be stubble. It says that not a root or branch will be left to them.
2 Peter 2:6 and Jude 7 compare the past destruction of Sodom and Gomorra to the destruction of the soul in hell. In fact, in this verse Peter says that by turning the cities to ash he condemned them to extinction. So just as God condemned Sodom and Gomorra to extinction, so will he do with the wicked in hell.
Jude calls the fire that destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorra the eternal fire. The same eternal fire that Jesus says in Matthew 25:41-46 will destroy the wicked in hell. Obadiah 1:16 says it shall be as though they had never been. Psalm 37:10 says, "A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found."
2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 says, "in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might"
This verse says that the punishment for those who do not know God is eternal destruction. People often say that "eternal destruction" means an eternal process of destruction rather than destruction itself. That is twisting scripture to match what you believe. If something is always in the process of being destroyed but never reaches completion, it's not even destruction anymore. Eternal destruction means eternal destruction. Something that is destroyed and will stay that way forever.
Finally we have Revelation 20:14-15 which says, “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire to be destroyed as individual entities. It says that this is the second death the people not found in the book of life suffer. They aren't tortured as objects, they are destroyed as the non believers will be.
Once again, this idea of burning up, completely consuming, destroying, and being removed from existence, is repeated throughout the Bible. Now that we have shown what the Bible says about annihilation, we will look at the three main arguments for eternal conscious torture in hell.
1 - The Church Fathers Believed It And It’s Been Taught For Hundreds Of Years
The faults to this first argument should be obvious. Just because everyone believes something for a long period of time doesn’t mean they’re correct. People thought that the earth was flat until the 17th century but that turned out to be completely false. However, not only is this a terrible argument, but it’s also not entirely true. In the first century some Jews believed sinners would be annihilated in hell. Athanasius, for example, said that sin leads back to the nothingness from which we came. Ignatius of Antioch said that non-believers deprive themselves of eternity.
2 - Eternal Conscious Torment Motivates People To Come To Christ
This isn’t even an argument for why the position is true, it’s a reason why a person would like it to be true. However, even as a statement it’s false. That may be the reason that some people came to Christ but there is a huge sum of people who refuse to believe in a God who tortures his creation for eternity. Not to mention, escaping hell shouldn’t be the sole reason we follow Christ. Romans 2:7-8 says that “To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.” We should be seeking God’s kingdom, not running from torture. For those who seek God’s glory will be granted immortality, but those who live in sin will not.
3. Verses in the Bible suggesting eternal torment
These arguments are of course more in depth because now were supporting ideas with God’s word. The Bible doesn’t speak of hell very often but we have collected the verses that do and we’re going to go through them explaining the misconceptions.
The first verse is Mark 9:43-50 – “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell,[b] to the unquenchable fire.[c] 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire.”
The first thing to address is the term “unquenchable fire”. This means a fire that cannot be put out but for some reason when people read this they add that the soul being burned will also never be put out. However, the verse never says that so it’s a ridiculous thing to say. The fire cannot be put out but the soul will still be destroyed. The second thing to address is the worm that shall not die. This explanation is the same principle as the unquenchable fire. The worm will not die but the soul will. In fact, this verse is eluding to Isaiah 66:22-24 which says, ““And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” This verse specifies that the fire that cannot be quenched and the worm that won’t die pray on dead bodies not live people. Even though these two things cannot be put out, the things they affect are dead and destroyed. It’s not speaking of eternal torture.
The second verse is Daniel 12:2 - many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
When people read this verse they assume everlasting contempt means everlasting conscious torment. Once again it doesn’t say that and that’s not what it means. Everlasting contempt is not referring to how they feel but to how they are looked upon. They will be held in everlasting contempt.
The third verse is Matthew 25:45 – 46 – “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
When people read “eternal punishment” they assume that it means torture because that's what we have been taught. However, eternal punishment is not everlasting torture and there's no reason to interpret it that way. Eternal punishment is death; more specifically, a death from which you will not be raised. 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 – “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,”
The final verse is Revelation 14:9-11 - A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, 10 they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”
This is the main verse people base their argument on but it too collapses upon itself as soon as you think about it.
This is a vision in the form of symbolism. How can you base an entire belief on one quote from a vision John had, yet not accept anything else in the passage as literal? We don’t believe there will be a seven headed ten horned beast that looks like a lion a leopard and a bear. We don’t believe a blood drunk prostitute with Babylon written on her forehead will be riding the antichrist like a horse. We don’t believe the mother of Jesus will be wearing the sun and standing on the moon. We don’t believe Satan will spit a river of water out of his mouth to drown the woman or that the earth will open up to swallow the water to save her.
The imagery of smoke rising forever and ever comes from Sodom and Gomorra; cities the Lord said were burned to ash and cease to exist but have smoke that rises forever and ever. It is symbolism of destruction not eternal torture. Even if you want to believe the rest of the verse is literal, there is still an explanation. As far as those who worship "the beast" having no rest day or night, it never says the period of no rest is for eternity. Also there isn't "day" in heaven which may be insignificant but its another indicator its not literal. (The Greek word translated to mean “forever” often means to the end of an age or a select period of time. Jeremiah 17:25 says that the people will inhabit Jerusalem forever but that does not mean eternity. In Jonah 2:6 Jonah says that the doors closed behind him forever but we see that he was saved from this entrapment.)
If you honestly read these verses objectively and think in terms of what the rest of the Bible teaches, it becomes rather apparent that eternal torment is a teaching we have twisted into the Bible rather than something the Bible legitimately teaches. Notice that none of the arguments used to support the position actually say the souls of the wicked are eternal or that they are tortured forever. It says the smoke rises forever which is symbolism for destruction as seen in other passages, it says that the punishment is eternal which is an eternal death or destruction, it says the fire that destroys them cannot be put out (the same fire that brought Sodom and Gomorra to extinction), and it says that the wicked will wake from the first death to everlasting contempt and destruction in the second death. So ask yourself, why would a person believe this teaching when there are but a few weak verses to support it and the rest of the Bible supports annihilation and conditional immortality?
In conclusion, humans are by nature mortal. Eternal life and immortality are only given to the people written in the book of life. Throughout the Bible it is explicitly stated that the wicked will be burned up, completely consumed, killed, destroyed, made as if they never were, returned to the nothingness from which they came, and brought to extinction. The argument for eternal conscious torment is based on a small number of misinterpreted verses that don’t hold water, while Annihilation is taught thoroughly throughout God’s word.
Patrick44 on August 20, 2019:
Thoroughly interesting and meticulously well thought out and presented Joshua.
charlie from From Kingdom of God living on Planet earth in between the oceans on August 16, 2019:
I do not know how I have missed this article for all these years. You may want to check mine as this I have been teaching for over 40 yrs,
Great work anf from such a young man, you are a blessing God Bless you
CLIFTON H RODRIQUEZ CPA on July 14, 2019:
This article is spot on accurate and very well written. It is obvious to me that God's spirit has given you the same insight, discernment, wisdom, and knowledge that it has given to me. Your article covers the same points that my article, "What Is the 'Second Death' As Discussed In the Bible", does. Brother, keep up the good work. The majority of naysayers simply have been deceived by Satan just as he deceived Eve in Genesis 3:4. Man cannot be an immortal being, given Genesis 3:21-23 as well as John 5:24-29, John 3:13-16, John 6:40, 44, & 54, and John 11 as well as Romans 6:23. Also, the pivotal scripture of them all is Matthew 10:28. Christ could not lie to us on this subject matter. God can destroy mortal men (called the Second Death) in the Lake of Fire & Brimstone. Nowhere in the scriptures does the Bible state that God will grant immortality to the Wicked and then cast them into the Lake of Fire & Brimstone. Spiritual idiots believe this because it came out of the 2nd Century AD and it is a part of Satan's Great Deception which started in Genesis 3:4.
jonnycomelately on March 11, 2019:
Bob Johnson, How can one have an interesting or fruitful discussion with an anonymous person?
Bob Johnson on March 11, 2019:
Are you kidding? Talk about twisting Scripture ...
jonnycomelately on July 31, 2015:
I concede there might be an entity of some kind, beyond our plane of existence, (akin to different planes of existence between an artist and his work of art), that has some how caused this world "to be." If you want to label/name that entity as "god," that's fine by me. "Belief" would for me have to stop there.
But the rest of it, as I have already indicated, is human design for human ulterior motive.
Joshua Nicholson (author) on July 31, 2015:
Oh so you don't believe in God. Well that's another conversation.
jonnycomelately on July 31, 2015:
Yes, in my opinion all the judgments are made by humans to gain control over humans....no god is involved - all gods are man-made.
You are free to have and retain you own understanding.
Joshua Nicholson (author) on July 31, 2015:
I respect your opinion also, but I don't understand what you mean. It is clear God is a judgemental God. If you don't agree with my position, you must have a reason not to, yeah?
jonnycomelately on July 30, 2015:
As one person who does not accept the concept of a conscious life after death, nor the existence of a judgmental god, I still see your Hub, Joshua, as a very noble effort. It is read with great respect for you and your beliefs, without having to "take them on board" myself.
So much of the biblical stories are, for me, metaphor. In other words, they try to describe the indescribable. Interpret them as you wish. Each and every other person will do the same. All individually valid, yet none of them can be seen universally as being the one and only truth.
In my humble opinion.
Joe on July 28, 2015:
Nice work Joshua!
Alexander Gibb from UK on July 27, 2015:
Quote 'while Annihilation is taught thoroughly throughout God’s word.' I neither believe in eternal torment nor annihilation. I am convinced the traditional view is false, but I also feel the Scriptures do not clearly teach annihillation.
Until I am convinced, I remain silent.
Joshua Nicholson (author) on July 27, 2015:
What part did you disagree with?
Alexander Gibb from UK on July 27, 2015:
Welcome to Hubpages.
This is a well written article and you express your view succinctly. Although I don't agree completely, I reject the traditional view.
I too have written on this subject and would appreciate your comments.
I hope you don't mind this link.