It is often claimed that the Bible never explicitly says anyone will cease to exist (since the ubiqitous references to the lost being destroyed use words that technically don’t have to always mean absolute annihilation 100% of the time). Because it does not explicitly say that all men do not exist forever, it is argued then that it must teach eternal existence of all people.
Granted, the Bible doesn’t use that exact phrase, but as I show in “The Bible Teaches Annihilationism,” and as is shown in many books and articles on the subject, the Bible does affirm that the lost will be destroyed completely and done away with. Furthermore, the arguments that the Bible teaches eternal torment and the eternal existence of all people, based largely on a handful of passages and on tradition, are flimsy and inaccurate. Most relevant here, the traditionalist argument suffers from the same element of ambiguity (only more so). For the biblical exegesis behind my claims…just read the darn thing already (or any number of other books and articles, though mine is free which gives it an advantage).
I address this argument for traditionalism that goes to the effect of “if the Bible wanted to say annihilation, it would have been clearer” in “The Bible Teaches Annihilationism.” Below is that section [as originally written at the time of the original publication of this post]
NOTE: In my essay, this section comes towards the end, after all biblical arguments for eternal torment have been refuted, and after most of the biblical arguments for the annihilation of the lost have been laid out. I have included references to sections from the paper where more information on my claims can be found.
Dealing with Ambiguity – Summing Up Destruction
Some may still ask, “well, why didn’t the Bible authors just say ‘the damned will cease to exist completely and will never come back and will be completely destroyed and gone for ever and ever’?” Aside from pointing out that some would probably still believe in eternal torment even then, I would simply ask why they never explicitly say anything about everlasting torment in any piece of straightforward writing (or for that matter, anything other than Revelation 20:10, which was dealt with in Section XII)?
One may be quick to point out the ambiguity in the verses on destruction, but the sword cuts both ways. Paul could have stated annihilation a little more clearly, but he could have been way clearer in speaking of torment. The arguments from silence against annihilation pale in comparison to those against traditionalism. Where are the lurid details of Hell that we see in the Qur’an? When does our heavenly Father, the only true God, say “those who reject our Signs, We shall soon cast into the Fire: as often as their skins are roasted through, We shall change them for fresh skins, that they may taste the penalty” (Yusaf Ali Translation, Surrah 4:56)? In what book of the Bible do we find “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God” (which for those who don’t know, is a sermon about Hell by Jonathan Edwards, a preacher from the Great Awakening period who makes today’s most fire-and-brimstone preachers look like little girls dressed as sunflowers)? Why, if the Bible meant to describe conscious existence in a state of horrifying pain that never ends, would it describe the fate of those damned with descriptions of death, pictures of utter annihilation, words that at best for the traditionalist are ambiguous and often do refer to death and utter destruction, all the while failing to mention torment, eternal conscious existence, and other important details?
The Bible is at times ambiguous, but the fact that ambiguous terms are often used to describe the lost doesn’t prove eternal torment. The fact that the terms are ambiguous means that they don’t clearly say either one (or else they wouldn’t be ambiguous). The times when the Bible is clear, what is said? Immortality is inherent to God only (Section VII) and something men must seek (Section XXVIII, with qualifications). Sodom and Gomorrah and dry chaff thrown into a furnace are all used explicitly as direct examples of the lost (Sections XXIX and XXX). Even the parables of the lost that traditionalists point to, many of which I don’t think are even eschatological, almost always involve the figure representing God slaying the damned (Section XXVI). The pictures of exclusion (“outer darkness,” being kept out of the Kingdom etc.), which for some reason people fallaciously assume must mean a conscious existence, all involve the person being slain or deprived of the source of physical life (such as the tree of life in Revelation) (Section XXVIII).
So despite the fact that the Bible never says anything quite as clear as say, the early church father Irenaeus of Lyons (Section X), the ambiguity argument comes back to bite the traditionalist even harder.
(Originally published 06/11/2011:http://3-ringbinder.blogspot.com/2011/06/if-bible-wanted-to-teach.html. Immaterial changes have been made).