Friday, October 21, 2016

Hell No: The Terrible Hermeneutic of Annihilationism

by Michael R. Burgos Jr.
Jesus said that upon judgment the wicked “will go away into eternal punishment.”[1]That is, the “cursed” will “depart” and enter “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” John characterized the punishment of Satan and his demons saying that they “will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”[2] Demons confirmed this eschatology supposing that Jesus had come to “torment” them “before the [appointed] time.”[3] Similarly, John characterizes the punishment of the wicked saying,
He will drink the wine of God’s wrath poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest day or night…[4]
Given this state of affairs, it is evident that the fate of the reprobate is akin to that of the devil and his angels. Harmon likewise noted, “It is hard to discern any ground on which to conclude that the punishment of the goats is something qualitatively different.”[5]
Annihilationists suppose that this eternal punishment results in “extinction.”[6] However, this requires one to interpret the statement “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” to mean the painful cessation of personal existence. So too, the statement “they have no rest day or night” must be similarly interpreted. Such a sentiment requires an atypical hermeneutic. In this case, Revelation 14:10-11 and 20:10 are thrown under the allegedly opaque curtain of apocalyptic imagery.[7]
The wicked will be tormented “forever and ever.” The punishment will be so unrelenting, that no rest will be had, neither during the day nor night. Jesus, implying the terrible nature of his punishment, said of Judas, “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.”[8]Judas’ punishment would be so awful that it would have been better for him had he never been born. Should a painful annihilation been Judas’ judgement, it would have been as if he hadn't been born since non-being is the state, for lack of a better term, of the never-born and the annihilated. However, Jesus stated that Judas’ punishment is worse than non-being. Judas, the “son of destruction”[9] wouldn't face a painful annihilation, but the eternal suffering and affliction justice demands.[10]
Torment, even severe torment that will eventually end, is worse than being put out of existence. Job, after suffering the loss of his progeny, his wealth, and his health “cursed the day of his birth,”[11] essentially desiring non-being instead of temporal torment. Jeremiah, overcome by the persecution of a false teacher, stated, “Cursed be the day on which I was born.”[12] For Job and Jeremiah, non-being was preferable to the affliction that faced them. Revelation 9:1-6 speaks of a people who were so tormented, that they sought death, and even longed to die, but God withheld death from them. Therefore, biblically speaking, death is qualitatively more desirable than torment, and is a less severe punishment.
Jesus stated that the wicked “will go away into eternal punishment” just as “the righteous into eternal life.” The preposition used in both of these clauses (εἰς) communicates something incongruous to annihilation. One doesn't go “into” annihilation, rather they are annihilated. The preposition connotes “extension toward a goal which is inside an area,”[13] just as “Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”[14] This place of punishment is so terrible that it is better to be dismembered than to be “thrown into hell.”[15] For those who corrupt youth, hell is more terrible than having a millstone hung around one’s neck only to be drowned.[16] As for the wicked, their “whole body” will “go into hell.”[17] Hell is a place that is characterized by “eternal fire” in which the damned are “thrown into.”[18] Eternal punishment is a subsistence of torment and not annihilation.
Annihilationists eagerly cite the destruction of  Sodom and Gomorrah, which serves as “an example” of a “punishment of eternal fire.”[19] This they say, is proof that what comprises “eternal punishment” and “eternal fire” isn't everlasting torment, but the cessation of existence.[20] After all, the suffering of Sodom has ended and the fire has gone out.. For instance, Fudge has argued saying, “Jude 7 defines and gives content to the phrase ‘eternal fire’ by reference to the fire that destroyed Sodom once and forever.”[21]
The annihilationist assertion however, is predicated upon a misreading of the text. Jude said that the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and their surrounding cities serve as a current example (πρόκεινται) not by having had suffered through the “eternal fire” previously, but by presently “undergoing” (ὑπέχουσαι) “a punishment of eternal fire” even now. The verb ὑπέχουσαι is a present active participle, and therefore precludes the annihilationist contention. The eternal fire which punishes those people is still burning.  Hence, Fudge’s assertion that “Most traditionalist authors seem almost unaware of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah”[22] is itself a statement likely born of ignorance.
Despite the grammar of the text, Atkinson has argued,
The fire by way of Jude 7 cannot be a fire in which the inhabitants of the guilty cities are burning today in another world, because they would not in such case be “set forth for an example.” It must have been the historical fire.[23]
In the above comment Atkinson has assumed his own conclusion, and in so doing, ignored the sense of the text. If, he has argued, the sodomites are in a place of torment, then they cannot be an example to those of us in this world. Exactly why would that be the case? Within the very same pericope Jude reminds his readers of those angels who suffer “under gloomy darkness.” Are they too unsuitable as an example of the judgement of God and as a warning to us because of their location?  In the same manner as these angels, the present suffering of Sodom and Gomorrah serves as profound example of the judgement to come.
Atkinson’s objection further applies to the final state of the wicked. Edwards notes that “The glorified saints will see the wrath of God executed upon ungodly men.”[24] That is true of the intermediate state,[25] and the final state. Jesus taught that in hell “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” when the damned “see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God.”[26] Jesus understood Isaiah 66:24 not in terms of the redeemed looking upon corpses, but upon conscious people weeping and gnashing their teeth, and who are in some sense “dead.” Indeed, “The saints will not only see the misery of the wicked at the day of judgement… [but also] the state of the damned in hell will be in the view of the heavenly inhabitants.”[27] The smoke of the wicked’s torment rises forever and forever as it is in the sight of the saints, the holy angels, and their Lord.[28] The sight of the damned serves a blessed purpose for the redeemed; their suffering has amplified the saints praise of the Triune God, since it is only the grace of God which separates the saints from those in the flames.
Annihilationism is a troublesome teaching which requires one to read numerous biblical texts in such a way that their explicit meaning is ignored. In order to affirm annihilationism, one must understand “forever” to mean temporary, and “eternal fire” to refer to a fire long extinguished. Such a hermeneutic is typical of cultic groups. Christian cults are infamous for their ability to ignore and obfuscate consistent biblical teachings. Unsurprisingly, many cults have long affirmed annihilationism (e.g., ‘biblical’ unitarianism, Seventh Day Adventism, The Watchtower Biblical and Tract Society, The Worldwide Church of God). So-called evangelical conditionalism rests in the precarious tension caused by holding the pretense of evangelical bibliology while imbibing the hermeneutic of cults. One cannot serve two masters.

[1] Matt 25:46.
[2] Rev 20:10.
[3] Matt 8:29.
[4] Rev. 14:10-11.
[5] Cameron, Nigel M.de S., Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell: Papers Presented at the Fourth Edinburgh Conference in Christian Dogmatics, (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1993), 115.
[6] Fudge, Edward W., The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2012),  39.
[7] See ibid., 240ff. Judging by the use of the phrase “forever and ever” elsewhere within both Revelation and the balance of the canon, it becomes rather evident that there is no cogent means to conclude that the phrase really refers to annihilation. For instance, John said of Christ, “To him be glory and dominion forever and ever,” which is similar to Moses’ statement, “The LORD will reign forever and ever,” Rev 1:6 and Exodus 15:18 resp. The LXX renders the Masoretic text’s le`olam wa`ed (“forever and ever”) αἰῶνα καὶ ἐπʼ αἰῶνα καὶ ἔτι (“forever and into forever and beyond”), thereby making the force even stronger. Cf. 1 Chron 29:10; Ps 10:16; Phil 4:20; 1 Pet 4:11; Rev 4:9-10; 5:13; 7:12; 10:6; 11:15; 15:7; 22:5.
[8]  Matt 26:24; cf. Mark 14:21.
[9] John 17:12.
[10] Edwards has poignantly articulated why justice demands that the reprobate suffer in hell forever. In his sermon entitled The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners, Edwards wrote, “God is infinitely lovely…he is a being of infinite greatness, majesty, and glory; and therefore he is infinitely honorable…His authority over us is infinite; and the ground of his right to our obedience infinitely strong; for he is infinitely worthy to be obeyed himself, and we have an absolute, universal, and infinite dependence upon him. So that a sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations, must be a crime infinitely heinous, and so deserving of infinite punishment.”
Additionally, I am not using the so-called “ABA” argument allegedly presented by Slick and argued against by Date. See www.rethinking hell.com/2012/07/the-same-before-and-after-a-response-to-Matt-slick/. Rather, I am arguing that the Bible teaches that Hell is more terrible than annihilation, and therefore annihilationism is unbiblical. In any event, Date’s argumentation against Slick doesn't follow since the loss inflicted upon the annihilated cannot be realized because they no longer personally exist. In other words, the non-being of the never-born = the non-being of the annihilated. Moreover, it is a category error to draw a parallel between the execution of a violent criminal and annihilation since capital punishment serves more purposes than merely punishing the guilty (e.g., the protection of the innocent, discouragement to potential law breakers). Societies ought to execute violent criminals not because that is the worst punishment that could be inflicted, torture is worse, but because execution is both better for human flourishing and it is obedient to the general equity of the Mosaic penal code.
[11] Job 3:1.
[12] Jer 20:14.
[13] Louw & Nida, 84.22.
[14] Acts 1:25.
[15] Matt 5:29.
[16] Luke 17:2. One wonders how, if this punishment results in death, annihilation could be worse—especially for those who espouse physicalism.
[17] Matt 5:30.
[18] Matt 18:8-9.
[19] Jude 7.
[20] Some annihilationists object to the characterization that annihilation constitutes the cessation of existence since a corpse may remain. Such an argument presupposes some kind of anthropological monism, a view which is erroneous and heretical.
[21] Fudge, The Fire that Consumes, 65.
[22] Ibid., 64.
[23] Date, Chris M., Stump, Gregory G., Anderson, Joshua W. Eds., Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism, (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2014), 108.
[24] Edwards, Jonathan, On Knowing Christ, (Carlisle:Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), 248.
[25] See Luke 16:19-31. Despite the claims of some, the story of the rich man and Lazarus possesses qualities that make it unlikely to be a parable. Parables are stories that are intended to portray a truth by means of a story. Hence, the underlying meaning of the story is the point, and not the story itself. There is no underlying meaning of this story. Unlike parables, the pericope features actual people who are named (e.g., Lazarus, Abraham). Further, the notion that Jesus would convey a fictitious story is itself a product of a low Christology.
[26] Luke 13:28-29.
[27] Edwards, On Knowing Christ, 249.
[28] See Ibid. Edwards argues that, “The church is the fullness of Christ, and is called Christ, 1 Cor 12:12. So in the 19th chapter, ver. 2, 3 the smoke of Babylon’s torment is represented as rising up for ever and ever, in the site of the heavenly inhabitants.”

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Very Brief Refutation of "Christian" Physicalism

by Hiram R. Diaz III
In addition to being a blatant contradiction of Scriptural anthropology, the physicalist conception of the soul as supervenient upon the body, in particular the brain, entails certain logical consequences that place it in direct opposition to Scriptural doctrine of sanctification. Physicalism’s departure from Scriptural anthropology and sanctification prove it to be a departure from orthodoxy and, therefore, incapable of ever being properly labeled “Christian.”
§1. Man is the Image of God
In maintaining that the soul of man is a byproduct of his physicality, physicalism is reducing the soul[1] to an emergent phenomenon of the body. Souls do not, on this view, exist apart from physical bodies. Some proponents of this view believe that “neurophysiology demonstrates the radical dependence and, in fact, identity between mind and brain.”[2] Others “assert that Scripture depicts the human person as a holistic unity, whereas [anthropological] dualism is a Greek concept falsely read into the Bible by many in church history.”[3]
There are two main reasons why this doctrine is false, both of which revolve around the doctrine of the imago dei. Firstly, the Scriptures teach us that “man…is the image and glory of God.”[4] Since “God is Spirit,”[5] and “spirit[s] do[...] not have flesh and bones,”[6] therefore, it follows that man’s being the image and glory of God cannot have reference to his physicality. Gordon H. Clark explains:
In order to describe the nature of the image one can immediately assert the principle that any interpretation which identifies the image with some characteristics not found in God must be incorrect. For example, the image cannot be man’s body. If anyone say that the upright position of the human body, in contrast with fourfooted beasts and creeping things, allows it to be the image, the reply is not merely that birds have two legs, but rather that Genesis makes no reference to a physical image. A more important reason for denying that man’s body is the image is the fact that God is not and has not a body.[7]
The imago dei, in other words, must have reference to the communicable attributes of God shared by his image - i.e. what has historically been identified as the soul, or spirit. Scripturally, the image of God is immaterial; for the Christian it is being renewed according to “true righteousness and holiness”[8] and “knowledge after the image of its Creator.”[9] Man must express these attributes through the instrumentality of his own body, of course, but this does not mean that he lacks these attributes without his body.
Secondly, however, if one were to claim that the imago dei were itself the emergent phenomenon of the soul, there arises another serious problem. The Scriptures teach that man is the imago dei, not that man becomes the imago dei. This means that from his very inception in the womb, man is the imago dei. If the imago dei is that which is produced by the body after a given point of the bodily maturation, then only Adam came into existence as the imago dei. All others would have to become the imago dei, a point which directly contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture. This would imply, moreover, that the imago dei can be undone with the deterioration of the body, in particular the brain.
Man, however, is the imago dei. Whether his body is functional or incapacitated by illness or even death, man is the imago dei. The soul, consequently, cannot come into being after a certain point of bodily maturation. More to the point: If man is the image and glory of God, and the image and glory of God is the immaterial aspect of the whole man (rational personal, individual, volitional consciousness), then the soul cannot be an emergent phenomenon. If a man is, heis the image and glory of God, the immaterial soul sharing the communicable attributes of God.
§2. Bodily Decay and Spiritual Renewal
For the sake of argument, however, granting that the soul is a byproduct of the body, this implies that changes to the body necessarily entail changes to the soul. Bodily simplicity or complexity would be correlative to the simplicity or complexity of the soul produced by the body. For example, the soul of an infant would correspond to the level of simplicity of the body which has produced it. Inversely, the soul of an elderly man would correspond to the level of complexity of the body which has produced it. Similarly, every positive or negative bodily change would be causally related, either immediately or mediately, to a positive or negative change in the soul. Bodily health would be causally related to spiritual health, whereas bodily illness would be causally related to spiritual illness, and so on.
Subsequent to the fall, humanity has been cursed with weakness, illness, decay, and death.[10] Man is also born spiritually corrupt, ill, decaying, dead.[11] Yet God regenerates and saves sinners. Scripture teaches that man is given a new heart, i.e. a renewed soul that struggles against sin, moral corruption, and spiritual illness.[12] That is not all that occurs in the heart of man, either; man’s mind is renewed by the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. This all occurs in man’s heart/soul, moreover, in spite of the fact that man’s body is gradually returning to the dust from which it was formed. Bodily decay and death, according to the Scriptures, will not be eradicated until Christ returns. As the Holy Spirit teaches us in 2nd Cor 4:16-18:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (emphasis added)
Yet if the body and soul are necessarily qualitatively correlative to one another, regeneration and Christian sanctification must result from changes in the body of the believer. If the soul is supervenient upon the body, and bodily states are qualitatively correlative and causally related to soul states, and soul states include (a.)being unregenerate, (b.)being regenerate, and (c.)being regenerate and undergoing the process of sanctification, then (a.), (b.), and (c.) must each have qualitatively correlative bodily states.
Problematically, for the physicalist, the unregenerate are sometimes physically superior to the regenerate. Likewise, the regenerate are, sometimes, weaker than the unregenerate.[13] Scripture testifies that throughout the course of human history God’s people will be visited with affliction, poverty, persecution, and various maladies[14] more than the wicked will. Additionally, and more problematically, nearly all men will undergo bodily death,[15] further demonstrating that unregenerate and regenerate souls progress in their respective states despite the deterioration of their bodies.
Concluding Remarks
In light of the above, therefore, if physicalism is true, then the mirroristic parallel realities of the body and soul revealed by the Holy Spirit in places like Romans 7:13-25 and 2nd Cor 4:16-18 cannot be true. Conversely, if the mirroristic parallel realities of the body and soul are true, then physicalism cannot be true. Physicalism blantly contradicts Scriptural anthropology and implicitly contradicts the Bible’s doctrine of sanctification. Scriptural anthropology, which identifies man as the image of God/immaterial soul sharing the communicable attributes of God, and physicalism are not reconcilable teachings, nor is the Scripture’s doctrine of sanctification and the physicalists repudiation of the mirroristic parallel realities of body and soul reconcilable. Physicalism posits an unorthodox anthropology whose implications are likewise unorthodox and is, therefore, not in any sense a Christian doctrine of man.

[1] Some may hold to the belief that the soul is the whole man, consequently identifying consciousness as an emergent phenomenon of the body, and not the soul. Such distinctions, however, are irrelevant seeing as the differing terminologies have the same referents. The term “soul” here signifies rational personal, individual, volitional consciousness.
[2] Moreland, J.P. “Restoring the Soul to Christianity,” in Christian Research Journal Volume 23/Number 1, Christian Research Institute, accessed October 16, 2016, http://www.equip.org/article/restoring-the-soul-to-christianity.
[3] ibid.
[4] 1st Cor 11:7. (emphasis added)
[5] John 4:24.
[6] Luke 24:39.
[7] The Biblical Doctrine of Man (Maryland: Trinity Foundation, 1984), 5-6.
[8] Eph 4:22-24.
[9] Col 3:10.
[10] cf. Gen 3:14-19 & Rom 8:19-23.
[11] cf. Eph 2:1-3.
[12] cf. Ezek 36:26 & Jer 31:31-34.
[13] As Paul reveals in 1st Cor 1:26-29:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
[14] See Ps 73.
[15] Here we must exclude those who are alive at the return of Christ Jesus. See 1st Thess 4:17.