An Eternal Hell is for Real - The Heresy of Annihilationism?

Is Hell for real or is everyone just going to cease to exist?
Thanks for your question. This is a humbling issue. The Doctrine of an Eternal Hell is very clearly taught in such historic documents as the The Westminster Confession of Faith (33 - Of the Last Judgment):

I. God hath appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father. In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged; but likewise all persons, that have lived upon earth, shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.

II. The end of God's appointing this day, is for the manifestation of the glory of his mercy in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of his justice in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.

III. As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin, and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity: so will he have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.

The Belgic Confession (Article 37: The Last Judgment), and numerous others historic Confessions agree with the WCF. I too agree with these Confessions on the doctrine of Hell, but more importantly the Scripture itself; Hell is for real and is a place of conscious eternal torment - Matthew 25:46.

It would at this point behoove us to show what the Scripture says concerning this most important and holy of issues. I will divide the answer into three parts: (1) "Some Facts Concerning an Eternal Hell," which is an extremely basic summary of Hell from Scripture; (2) "The Heresy of Annihilationism," which is a snapshot view regarding the different types of Annihilationism; and (3) "A Brief Response to the Main Arguments for Annihilationism," where I endeavor to examine and expose some of the main arguments of Annihilationism. Please note, though I cut this last section short, it is still rather long.

Some Facts Concerning an Eternal Hell:

  • (1) God made Hell because of who he is - holy, holy, holy (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8) - and thus is too pure to look upon sin (Hab 1:13).

  • (2) God is love (1 John 4:7-8) and while he spoke more concerning Heaven than he did Hell, in his holiness and honesty Jesus spoke about Hell (i.e. Gehenna) a considerable amount of times too - since he is the Word, Jesus is actually the author of every usage of Hell in the Bible (Matt 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; parallels to the same; Matt 7:21-23; 8:12; 13:42; 24:29-31, 45-51; 25:30-32, 41-46; Rev 2:11, etc.).

  • (3) God is the Judge and sends the unsaved to Hell (Matt 25:41; 2 Pet 2:4, 9).

  • (4) In another sense, people send themselves to Hell, as they willing sin against God (Rom 2:5; 3:23; 1 Cor 6:9).

  • (5) Hell was prepared for the Devil and his angels (Matt 25:41), but Satan's seed (Gen 3:15) will spend eternity there as well (Rev 20:14).

  • (6) Hell is a place where one can never stop sinning (Rom 8:7-8; Rev 21:8; 22:14-15). Since the sinners in Hell keep sinning there is perpetual punishment.

  • (7) Hell is a waterless place with no exit (Luke 16:24-26).

  • (8) Hell is a bottomless pit (Rev 20:1).

  • (9) Hell is a lake of fire into which the wicked will be cast alive forever (Rev 19:20; 20:15).

  • (10) Hell is a place of eternal torments (Luke 16:23).

  • (11) Hell is a place of everlasting punishment (Matt 25:46).

  • (12) Hell is a place of everlasting destruction from the presence of God (2 Thess 1:6-10).

  • (13) Hell is a place of being cut into pieces (Matt 24:51).

  • (14) Hell is a place where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:48).

  • (15) Hell is a place of outer darkness, of weeping, and gnashing of teeth (Matt 25:30).

  • (16) It's not enough for God to take us out of Hell; he must remove Hell out of us; and thus he sent his only begotten Son to die for the sins of his people (Rom 5:8; Jude 1:23; John 1:29).

While many of the descriptions of Hell in Scripture may be meant to be interpreted figuratively, the reality these divine images point too are meant to be understood by us to be more - not less - than the word pictures can themselves depict to our finite minds. Hell is for real!

However, the doctrine of Hell is under attack by those not willing to submit to the authority of God's Word and fear the existence of an eternal Hell. Their false doctrine is called "Annihilationism." Ultimately, if these tormentors of Scripture remain unrepentant, they will be among the eternally tormented.

The Heresy of Annihilationism:

One Small Step Out of the Gospel, One Gigantic Leap Into Hell

A general definition of Annihilationism ("extinctionism" or "destructionism") is that after people have paid a penalty for their sins, they will be completely obliterated or cease to exist. Or, the annihilation view of Hell contends that there will be irreversible terrible and horrific punishment for the reprobate; those who don't know Christ. This punishment may last for a period of time, but ultimately it will end. The reprobate will simply pass out of existence; they will not be punished forever and ever.

Some of the false denominations that teach a form of Annihilationism include: Christadelphians, Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormonism, and Seventh-day Adventists. Some other theologians are also campaigning against the historic doctrine of an eternal Hell; such as Philip E. Hughes, John Stott, and John W. Wenham, Michael Green, et. al.

When one begins to study Annihilationism, they will soon discover that there are different nuances to the doctrine. These may be discussed within five basic categories of which I will only give a brief snapshot view of below:

  • (1) Immediate Annihilationism View: It represents those that believe that upon death a person goes completely out of existence; there is no afterlife for anyone.

    This heretical view has numerous problems. Among them: (1) it does away with the clear endless judgment of God which is spoken of in Scripture (Acts 17:31; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20:11-15); (2) if saints go out of existence this does away with the need of the new heavens and new earth (Isa 65:17; Rev 21:1); and (3) what purpose do the saint's crowns serve, if they simply go out of existence? (1 Cor 9:24-25; 1 Thess 2:19; 2 Tim 4:8; 1 Pet 5:4; Rev 2:10), etc.

  • (2) Immediate Universalist View: It aserts everyone will live a life of eternal bliss.

    This view is heretical as well. Its errors include: (1) the removal of the clear endless judgment of God which is spoken of in Scripture (Acts 17:31; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20:11-15); (2) it assumes that God rewards the wicked who hate him (Psa 10:3, 4, 13); and (3) it makes Jesus a liar (Matt 7:21-23; 10:28; John 3:7), etc.

  • (3) Postponed Universalism View: It maintains that at the resurrection everyone will be given eternal life.

    This heretical view does away with: (1) the clear endless judgment of God which is spoken about in Scripture (Acts 17:31; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20:11-15); (2) the truth that the wrath of God remains upon the wicked (John 3:36); and (3) the "great chasm [that] has been fixed" between the righteous and the wicked (Luke 16:26); since the wicked can't cross over a life of bliss for them is impossible, etc.

  • (4) Postponed Annihilationism View: it teaches that unbelievers will be judged and then put out of existence. This view is embraced by the majority of Annihilationists.

    This heretical view: (1) makes nonsense of the endless judgment of God, as what is just about a judgment without a full payment for sins committed (Prov 11:21; Isa 13:11); (2) the Bible clearly teaches about degrees of punishment, but Annihilationism dismisses these (Matt 10:15; 11:21-24; 16:27; Luke 12:47-48; John 15:22; Heb 10:29; Rev 20:11-15; 22:12, etc.); and (3) sinners continue to sin even in Hell (Rom 8:7-8; Rev 21:8; 22:14-15), so Hell must consist of perpetual punishment, etc.

  • (5) Possible Annihilationism View: This error asserts that people have a second chance to accept or reject Christ as Lord and Savior.

    This heretical view: (1) fails to understand that it is "appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Heb 9:27); (2) salvation is not a mere chance, but a divine ordained gift (Eph 1:3-11; 2:8-9); and (3) the Bible speaks of eternal life and death, not a probation (Rom 6:23), etc. See "Is Purgatory Biblical?" below.

As opposed to the five heretical views above, the correct view of the afterlife is called, "Certain Eternal Existence," which maintains that the elect go to Heaven forever and ever and the reprobate go to Hell forever and ever. "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt 25:46).

A Brief Response to the Main Arguments for Annihilationism:

Now that we have briefly looked at the five views and some of their inherit problems, let's look briefly at a few of the arguments for general Annihilationism and examine in more detail why Annihilationism is unbiblical:

Argument 1: Fire Imagery

Annihilationism Argument:

The Bible uses "fire" to describe Hell (Rev 19:20; 20:10, 14-15; 21:8). We know fire consumes everything that is thrown into it, so it will burn up unbelievers so that they no longer exist.

A Biblical Response:

This argument fails to understand: (1) the nature of divine eternal fire and (2) the nature of the resurrected body, which can't die.

The Nature of Divine Eternal Fire:

First, even this side of eternity, there are fires that burn for decades. Uzbekistan is home to a place called Darvaz, nicknamed "the door to hell." It's been burning over 35 years. [1] However, this is minor as compared to Australia's Burning Mountain (aka, Mount Wingen, meaning "fire" in an Aboriginal language), a coal seam that has been burning for an estimated 6,000 years; the longest continuous fire upon earth. [2]

If the eternal sovereign omnipotent God can make a place on earth stay on literal fire for centuries, what's to keep him from having made an eternal fire? Absolutely nothing!

Second, Hell is an "eternal fire" prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt 18:8; 25:41). It is a "place of torment" an "anguish in this flame" (Luke 16:24, 28). Note, that it is not merely "a flame" but "this flame;" that is a particular kind of flame. Most Annihilationists agree with what is written so far. However, the Scripture goes further and maintains that Hell is a "fiery furnace" with "unquenchable fire" (Matt 13:42; Mark 9:44). Since the fire is "unquenchable" then it can't go out of existence and therefore logically must be eternal, endless, and forever; "where their worm does not die" (Mark 9:48). These texts annihilate Annihilationism.

Third, the Bible says that the wicked are:

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 (Rev 14:10-11); that is "unto the ages of the ages" - this strongest emphatic usage is only used to describe an unending duration (cf. Rev 1:6; 4:9; 5:3; 22:5).

This is decisive against the false doctrine of Annihilationism, as: (1) the wicked are "tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb;" since Christ and the elect angels are eternal, then this (combined with the other points below) reveals that Hell is absolutely eternal; (2) "the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever"; where there is "smoke" - "forever and ever" smoke - there is fire - "forever and ever" fire - and fire requires fuel, that being the un-annihilated "forever and ever" unbelievers; (3) those in torment have "no rest," so annihilation is not possible; and (4) torment goes on "day and night," making annihilation impossible. Clearly, this speaks of perpetual punishment.

The Nature of the Resurrected Body

The Bible reveals that both believers and non-believers will have resurrected imperishable bodies on the last day (Dan 12:2; cf. 1 Cor 15:42, 52-53, etc.). The bodies we have now are merely temporary (2 Cor 5:4). At the last day we will "all" (1 Cor 15:51) leave our present bodies (2 Cor 5:8) and take upon ourselves an imperishable one (Phil 3:21). This goes for the believer as well as the unbeliever. Jesus said in John 5:25-29:

... Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

These bodies will be similar to our present bodies, but yet be imperishable. The Rich Man in Hell felt, "torment" and "agony," he could "see" and "speak," had a "tongue" that he desired "cooled," and he could reason and form arguments and even "beg" (Luke 16:19-31); yet his body was "imperishable" and he desired his family to never encounter his eternal experience.

Matthew 10:28 states, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."

In context, Jesus is expressing two contrasts: (1) one between "body" and "soul," and (2) the other between "kill" and "destroy." There is a contrast between two types of fear: (1) the fear of men and (2) the fear of God. So, the words "kill" and "destroy" must mean different things, just like "body" and soul" do; otherwise no contrast would exist. "Kill" means to cease to live; therefore this can't be the meaning of "destroy." So, what does "destroy" mean? In this world, people can kill the body of this world, but can't kill the soul; only God can eternally kill the soul. The temporal body of this world is a small matter in comparison with an eternal body and an eternal soul. A temporal death in this world is minor as compared with eternal death of the next world; called Hell for the unbeliever. So, logically since "destroy" can't mean "kill" or annihilation (see Argument 3 on aionios below; Matt 25:46) it must mean an existence of eternal never-ending torment (Matt 25:41) in an eternal Hell (Rev 20:10).

Logically the last use of the word "body" in Matthew 10:28 refers to the "imperishable" body, not the perishable one of this world (cf. 1 Cor 15:42, 52-53, etc.). As Daniel says, "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan 12:2). The destruction of "the body and soul" in Hell is the "second death" (Rev 2:11; 20:14; 21:8); "eternal destruction" (2 Thess 1:9).

Mark 9:48 where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (cf. Exod 16:20; Job 25:6; Isa 66:24; Acts 12:23).

As a former homicide detective, I have had the displeasure of seeing numerous corpses; including many "worms" (maggots). Understanding insect activity (etymology) is important; as it can help establish the time of death, etc. There are five (5) basic stages of decomposition (decomp): (1) Fresh, (2) putrefaction, (3) fermentation, (4) dry decay, and finally (5) skeletonization. Every stage attracts different kinds of organisms that will feed off the cadaver (body) and recycle the matter. These stages may take days or even thousands of years! Yes, you read correctly - even 1000s of years.

Decomposition (decomp) begins several minutes after death. As decomp progresses cadavers begin giving off a very foul unmistakable odor; once one has smelled it, they will never forget it. Though other species of flies, beetles, and arthropods are attracted to cadavers, blowflies are the most common. Adult female blowflies will often arrive minutes after death. They can be attracted to blood from as far as a mile away. Indeed, they are attracted to the foul smell of the cadaver too. They lay 100s of eggs in orifices and other open wounds of the cadaver that begin to hatch within 24 hours; this gives rise to first stage (instar) of maggots. As these maggots feed on the rotting cadaver they molt into even larger maggots (second instar), which then feed for several hours before molting again (third instar).

Depending on many conditions (temperature, moisture, location, etc. - heat can speed things up) approximately Day 3, is when the maggots begin to move around a little - Mark 9:48 activity! Finally, the maggots reach the pupa stage and wrap themselves in their little cocoons. At approximately 14 days the now adult blowflies leave ...

This is pretty gross, right? How is it relevant? Let's read Mark 9:48 within the context of how decomp really works this side of eternity. Jesus said, "where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48). So, as Mark wrote that the "worm" (skolex) doesn’t not die - see Job 25:6; Isaiah 66:24; and Acts 12:23. God, as always, is making an important point. Hell is the location of the living dead (Rich Man; Luke 16:22-24, 27-28). In regular decomp the "worm" (maggots) develops "early" in death. So, Mark 9:48 reveals that one's eternal decomp never gets past this early stage of eternal worm activity. In other words, the eternal body never reaches the final stage of decomp - skeletonization! This means that there is "forever and ever" an eternal imperishable body that will eternally be in decay.

Of course, the Annihilationist will say, the bodies of the wicked cease to exist shortly after they reach Hell. However, that is not true. Why, (1) the wicked never reach skeletonization, so their payment for sin remains incomplete; in the imagery of Mark 9:48, they are not adults so they can't fly away; (2) God is still being glorified by his judgment upon the wicked (Rom 9:22-23; cf. Rev 18:20; 19:2-3; see "Argument 5: No Enjoyment" below); (3) the wicked don't lose their sin nature upon entering Hell, so they continue to sin; therefore the punishment must be perpetual, and (4) Mark adds, "and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:48); in other words, an eternal fire for eternal imperishable bodies.

There is eternal fire in Hell, however it is not the type of fire that totally consumes the imperishable body out of existence (Dan. 12:2; Matt. 25:46; cf. 1 Cor. 15:40, 42). We remember that the burning bush was not consumed (Exod 3:2). Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego survived unscathed by the fiery furnace (Dan 6:8-30). If God can do this - and he most certainly did - then he can prepare bodies that will never go out of existence because of an eternal fire! However, unlike Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, unrepentant sinners won't be unscathed! Because of their sins they will suffer forever.

Argument 2: Time and Eternity

Annihilationism Argument:

This argument maintains that it is unjust for God to punish the wicked eternally for temporal momentary sins. For instance, a murder may happen in a minute or less, why is it just to suffer for eternity for it? Clark Pinnock in Destruction of the Finally Impenitent, states, "it would amount to inflicting infinite suffering upon those who have committed finite sin. It would go far beyond an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. There would be a serious disproportion between sins committed in time and the suffering experienced forever."

A Biblical Response:

First, even this side of Heaven, we do not assign a length of punishment based upon how long it took to commit a particular crime. A murder that took only a minute to commit, can incur the death penalty, life in prison, etc.

Second, Paul answers this Annihilationist argument saying, "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? ..." (Rom 9:20). God has the right to judge man anyway he desires; he is the Potter and we are the clay. The clay does not tell the Potter what to do! Neither can God make a mistake (Num 23:19; Psa 145:17; 1 John 1:5). He is holy, just, and good (Rom 7:12).

Third, people in Hell will be answering for all their sins; even the ones yet to come. Sinners in Hell retain their sin nature. They do not continue to be sinners because they sin, they sin because they are sinners; it's their very nature.

Annihilationism when it speaks about the judgment of sin, fails to recognize that sinners won't stop sinning in Hell; and their sins in Hell may even grow worse, if God lifts his restraint(s) (Gen 20:6; 1 Sam 25:14, 26, 34; cf. Psa 81:11-12; Rom 1:28). Moreover, the "gnashing of teeth" in Hell (Matt 8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30) while possibly referring to pain and suffering, definitely represents anger and seething hatred (Job 16:9; Psa 35:16; 37:12; 112:10; Lam 2:16; Mark 9:18; Acts 7:54-55). Since wicked anger and hatred are sins, then there is perpetual sin in Hell requiring perpetual punishment.

Therefore, sinners in Hell will always be paying for their ongoing perpetual eternal sins in an eternal perpetual Hell. So, Hell is forever. It is eternal. It is an everlasting state. For more on this issue please see, "How can God exact infinite punishment for a finite sin?" below.

Argument 3: The Meaning of the word "Eternal"

Annihilationism Argument:

It is asserted that the word "eternal" only means "belonging to the age to come." Therefore, "eternal" does not mean "everlasting" or "forever and ever."

A Biblical Response:

First, while in some texts the word "eternal" (Greek, aionios) may refer to "the age to come" or "age" (Luke 1:70, etc.) in Matthew 25:46 we read:

And these will go away into eternal [aionios] punishment, but the righteous into eternal [aionios] life.

The Greek word [aionios] is used numerous times in the New Testament. In addition to being used for, an eternal covenant (Heb 13:20), an eternal kingdom (2 Pet 1:11), an eternal dominion (1 Tim 6:16), an eternal gospel (Rev 14:6), an eternal redemption (Heb 9:12), an eternal salvation (Heb 5:9), an eternal inheritance (Heb 9:15), an eternal comfort (2 Thess 2:16), an eternal weight of glory (2 Cor 4:17-18; cf. 2 Tim 2:10; 1 Pet 5:10), and an eternal house (2 Cor 5:1), it is also used (1) three times to describe God's eternal nature (Rom 16:26; 1 Tim 6:16; Heb 9:14), (2) numerous times to describe the unending happiness of the redeemed (Rom 5:21; 6:23; 1 John 1:2, et. al.); and (3) five times to refer to the punishment of the wicked (Matt 18:8; 25:41, 46; 2 Thess 1:9; Jude 1:7).

In Matthew 25:46, the identical word "eternal" (Greek, aionios) is mentioned twice: (1) once in regard to the righteous and (2) and again in regards to the unrighteous. So, if the punishment mentioned in Matthew 25:46 is merely temporary and if the Annilhilationist is consistent in thier interpretation method, then Heaven, God's covenant, God's kingdom, God's dominion, the Gospel, the saint's redemption, the saint's salvation, the saint's inheritance, the saint's comfort, God's and the saint's glory, the saint's eternal home, the saint's happiness, AND God's very nature are all temporary too! If the Annihilationist doesn't believe in the necessary conclusion of their interpretation, then they need to repent and abandon the false doctrine of Annihilationism. If they fail to abandon Annihilationism then; "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19).

In Matthew 25:46 the contrast is clear that there is a different quality of existence that is "endless" in both cases. Moreover, when this verse is read in its fuller context, including Matthew 25:41, speaking of the unbeliever in "eternal fire," a conscious state of torment and painful judgment is clearly understood. The "eternal fire" that unbelievers are cast into (Matt 25:41) is the same "eternal fire" the devil and his angels are cast into; where they are tormented "forever and ever" (Rev 20:10). Therefore, in context "eternal" must mean "forever and ever," "endless," "everlasting," or "eternity" (cf. 2 Thess 1:9). Hell is forever; it is an endless place of torment!

Second, God lives "for ever [aion] and ever [aion]" (Rev 1:18; 10:6; 15:7), and glory, which includes God's holy and just wrath against the wicked (Isa 5:16; Rom 9:22-23; cf. Rev 18:20; 19:2-3), is to be given to him "for ever [aion] and ever [aion]" (Rev 1:6; 4:9-10; 5:13; 7:12), and since the righteous in Christ shall reign with him "for ever [aion] and ever [aion]" (Rev 22:5), then the wicked surely will be tormented day and night "for ever [aion] and ever [aion]" (Rev 20:10; cf. Rev 14:11).

Third, "eternal life" means more than a mere "eternal existence." A rock has an existence, but it's not alive. Eternal life has a living beginning point; so does eternal damnation. John 3:36 states, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." Here as in other places "eternal life" is spoken of as a present possession (John 5:24; 6:54; 1 John 5:11, 13). As "eternal life" is a present (John 17:3) and future reality (Matt 25:46), so the unbeliever is under the living "wrath of God" now (John 3:36) and in the future (Matt 25:46). So, eternity has already begun and will never end. The wrath of God upon the unbeliever has already begun; they are "condemned already" (John 3:18).

Argument 4: The Lost Perish

Annihilationism Argument:

The lost perish - they are totally destroyed (John 3:16).

A Biblical Response:

Do you remember when God said, "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt be annihilated (cf. Gen 2:17)? Or what about, "And just as it is appointed for man once to die, and after that comes judgment" and then the wicked shall be annihilated (cf. Heb 9:27). I don't either, but this is the kind of stuff that can happen when we force our presupposition upon the holy text of Scripture.

First, John 3:16 must be taken in context with John 3:36 which states, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." As seen above, "eternal life" refers to an endless life, so in contrast the unbeliever has the wrath of God remaining upon him "endlessly." This is consistent with the unbeliever being "condemned already" (John 3:18; Jude 1:4). But John adds, "the wrath of God abides on him," meaning a continuous, enduring, remaining wrath (cf. John 11:8; 14:10; 16:19; 19:15; Rev. 6:16). There would be no reason for God's wrath to be remaining (Greek, meno), if it weren't eternal.

Second, as we continue to see, Scripture is best explained by Scripture. The phrase "the punishment of eternal destruction" (2 Thess 1:9) is best explained by the same wording of "destruction" in Revelation 17:8, 11. What type of "destruction" do the Devil, the Beast, and the False Prophet receive:

and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:10; cf. Rev 19:20).

So, in context, 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is using the phrase "eternal destruction" as referring to eternal suffering "day and night forever and ever" observed, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in Revelation 20:10. Note the inclusion of the phrase, "day and night," indicating there is absolutely no relief. In addition, the Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, enhances the meaning of "the punishment of eternal destruction" (2 Thess 1:9) by adding the phrase, "away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (2 Thess 1:9). Since logically someone must exist for him or her to be excluded, this disproves the doctrine of Annihilationism.

Third, Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Luke 13:28 all reveal that "outer darkness" signifies a state of a living deprivation, discomfort, and distress; not a concept of ceasing to exist. A person who didn't exist wouldn't understand any concept of "outer darkness." Individuals in Hell must still exist if there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth." Additionally, in Jude 1:6 the fallen angels are kept in "eternal chains." Though this may be figurative language, at the very least it reveals that they are presently alive in torment.

Fourth, some state from such texts as 1 Corinthians 1:18, 2 Corinthians 2:15; 4:3, and 2 Thessalonians 2:10 that the wicked are those who "perish" (hoi apollumenoi; interpreted by Annihilationists as meaning "to cease to exist"). However, as seen in 1 Corinthians 1:18 those "who are perishing," is a present tense participle revealing people that presently exist are presently perishing (cf. John 3:18, 36). The same word is used to describe: (1) a lost, but existing coin (Luke 15:8-9); (2) a lost, but existing sheep (Luke 15:4, 6); and (3) a lost, but existing Prodigal son (Luke 15:17, 24).

Fifth, Annihilationists attempt to use other verses as well to defend the idea of "perishing;" or in their words, "ceasing to exist." Among these are:

  • Deuteronomy 29:20 / Psalm 68:28 and Annihilationism:

    Annihilationists point to the fact that the wicked are "blotted out of the book of the living" (Psa 69:28; Deut 29:20); and therefore in their words, the wicked will 'cease to be.' However, being "blotted out of the book of the living," means not being listed "among the righteous" - as observed in the second part of Psalm 69:28. Indeed, Deuteronomy 29:20 adds that "all the curses of this book" will fall upon the unrepentant. Eternal damnation is one of those curses (Deut 32:22) - and to be cursed one must exist. Revelation 20:12 speaks of the final curse:

    And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.

    So, being blotted out of "the book of the living," necessarily means one is in the "other books," which reveals the evil deeds of the eternally condemned; who suffer "forever and ever" in an eternal Hell (Rev 20:10-15).

  • Psalm 37 and Annihilationism:

    Greg Boyd argues for Annihilationism stating:

    They "shall be cut off" and "will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there" (Psa 37:9-10). While the righteous "abide forever" (Psa 37:27), "the wicked perish ... like smoke they vanish away" (Psa 37:20); they "vanish like water that runs away; like grass [they shall] be trodden down and wither"; "like the snail that dissolves into slime; like the untimely birth that never sees the sun" (Psa 58:7-8). And again, "... transgressors shall be altogether destroyed" (Psa 37:38, cf. 34). In short, the fate of the wicked is disintegration into nothingness. [3]

    Psalms 37 speaks of those living in the Promised Land, while the wicked prosper and the righteous are afflicted. Psalm 37:9-10 means that while evildoers have their day of pleasure and prosperity, it is short-lived; "their riches melt, their power decays, their happiness turns to wretchedness" (Spurgeon, Treasury of David). Soon the wicked who are heard of often in this world will be noticed no more; "you will look carefully for his place, but it shall be no more," which speaks of physical death, not total annihilation.

    Psalm 37:20 means that the success, fame, and prosperity of the wicked is as temporary as mere smoke. Smoke only appears to the eyes to disappear, however smoke is made up of ash and tiny drops of water. Ash itself cannot burn up! As smoke rises the drops of water evaporate (go from liquid to a gaseous state) and the ash becomes a part of dust seen in the atmosphere (Gen 2:7; Eccl 3:20; 12:7; Psa 103:14; Isa 40:15). So, both the ash and water continue to exist, but in different states (i.e. the mortal body dies, but the immortal body is eternal; 1 Cor 15:44, 53). So, Annihilationism is totally annihilated. While I mean no ill-will, it seems that the only "disintegration into nothingness" is Boyd's understanding of the text.

    In Psalm 37:38 we see the 6th time that the future of the wicked is not one to be desired. Yes, the wicked will be "destroyed" (Psa 37:38) and be "cut off" [carath] (Psa 37:38; cf. Psa 37:22, 28, 34), both probably speaking of a physical death, but definitely not total annihilation. However, being "cut off" can also mean a person would be excommunicated or exiled (Gen 17:14; Lev 17:14).

    At times, Annihilationists attempt to prove too much as Christ also was "cut off" (Dan 9:26). Christ certainly wasn't annihilated! He disarmed the rulers and authorities (Col 2:15) and conquered death too (1 Cor 15:55-57). He is risen (Matt 28:1-10) and he is alive (Rom 14:9; Rev 2:8) "forevermore" (Rev 1:18). The wicked too shall be raised one day and be alive in an eternal Hell! A common divine sentence accompanies all the wicked. Their time upon this earth will be cut short; their happiness and hopes dashed to pieces. The wrath of God abides upon them and Hell is knocking at their door.

    While Greg Boyd referenced Psalm 58:8, please note that it has nothing at all to do with Psalm 37. However, since he cited it; we observe that the snail makes its own slime as it goes and so dissolves as it proceeds. This means that the wicked eat out their own strength while they proceed along their own wicked course of life. As to the illustration in the text of an untimely birth of one that will never see the light of day, it speaks of the fact that it would have been better that if the wicked would never have been born (cf. Mat 26:24). As Spurgeon once wrote in the Treasury of David, "Every unregenerate man is an abortion. He misses the true form of God made manhood; he corrupts in the darkness of sin; he never sees or shall see the light of God in purity, in heaven." And we know from present day events that abortion does not mean total annihilation, as PPH sells baby body parts! Each step of the wicked purchases for them a more dismal future in an eternal Hell (cf. Matt 24:51).

  • Psalm 143:12 and Annihilationism:

    Psalm 143:12 And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.

    Annihilationists simply state that the wicked are 'cut off" / "destroyed" - go out of existence. However this is a Psalm of imprecation. See "Imprecatory Psalms" below. This is a plea asking God to help his helpless servant by defeating his enemies. It is not asking God to annihilate anyone and send them into Hell. It wouldn't even be biblical to pray to send someone to Hell. Rather, it is asking God to destroy his enemies physically, that way God's servant can accomplish that which God has given to him to do.

  • Proverbs 8, 10, 12, and 24 and Annihilationism:

    We read Boyd once again who states:

    Proverbs tells us that all who hate the Lord "love death" (Prov 8:36) and that when "the tempest" of God's judgment passes, "the wicked are no more" (Prov 10:25, emphasis added). Again, when God's fury rises, "the wicked are overthrown and are no more" (Prov 12:7, emphasis added). And finally, "the evil have no future; the lamp of the wicked will go out" (Prov 24:20). It seems impossible to accept that the wicked have "no future" if in fact they shall never cease to experience an eternal future in hell. So too, it seems impossible to accept that the wicked will "be no more" and even be "as though they never were" if they shall be existing in eternal torment. [5]

    Proverbs is a book containing many proverbs, not just one proverb. While an initial reading of Boyd appears as if he is undefeatable on his point, a closer examination reveals that he jumps from chapter 8 to 10 to 12 and finally to 24 to make his argument. D.A. Carson wrote, "A text taken out of context is a pretext for a proof text; a text taken out of context is a pretext for a proof text; a text taken out of context..." [6] An example may help:

    Does Jesus want you to commit suicide right now? What does the Bible say?

    (1) "Judas hanged himself" (Matt 27:5).
    (2) "Go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37).
    (3) "That thou doest, do quickly" (John 13:27).

    We can combine any number of verses and make a doctrine. However, this doesn't mean it's true. The Bible certainly isn't instructing anyone to commit suicide, or for that matter believe in Annihilationism either! Boyd knows that his paragraph is eisegesis / isogesis (reading something into the text that isn't there) and not exegesis (explanation of a written work). See 2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Timothy 2:15; Acts 17:11.

    But let's look briefly at each verse Boyd cites. First, he uses Proverbs 8:36, which states, "but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death." Who is the "me" that is mentioned in the text -"wisdom" (Prov 8:1, 11, 12, 14). While the pathway opposite of wisdom may lead to a physical death in this world (Prov 1:28-33; 5:23), it does not necessarily mean that "all" the unwise are going to be annihilated. David, an adulterer and murderer, and Peter who denied Christ, both made some unwise choices, but both are in Heaven.

    Boyd in his argument combines Proverbs 8:36 with Proverbs 10:25 (and see Prov 12:7). Boyd emphasizes the phrase "is no more" in Proverbs 10:25 and "are no more" in Proverbs 12:7. He interprets these as meaning that the wicked are annihilated. However, Solomon has already interpreted the phrase in Proverbs 10:25, saying, "the years of the wicked will be short" ... " the expectation of the wicked will perish" (Prov 10:27, 28). So, this speaks of the fact that the wicked's expectations shall be cut short and that their years before physical death will be shortened. Proverbs 12:7 in context, refers to the same fact; it compares the idea that "the wicked are overthrown" to "the house of the righteous" which "will stand." So, these passages are speaking of the loss of expectations and physical death, not Annihilationism.

    The last verse in Boyd's argument is Proverbs 24:20. Proverbs 24:13-22 mark off the final section of the "thirty sayings." The five dictums are all proverb pairs consisting of double admonitions (Prov 24:13-14, 15, 17, 19, 21) with validations (Prov 24:14, 16, 18, 20, 22). Once again, we must turn to the context of the verse to understand its meaning. The complete proverb of two verses - not just the one Boyd mentions - reads:

    Proverbs 24:19-20 Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked, for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.

    The proverb deals with not being envious of evil doers while they are alive, not eternal death. The phrase, "the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out" clearly does not refer to Annihilationism, but rather the loss of hope, expectation, and happiness in physical death. At death and when the wicked enter an eternal Hell, all their comforts shall cease. We see this clearly in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31:

    There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.' And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house - for I have five brothers - so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'

    When it came to material wealth, the Rich Man once had it all (Luke 16:19), but in Hades he had no hope, expectation, or happiness. However, note that he was still alive in Hades and "in torment" and "in anguish in this flame" (Luke 16:23, 24,28). And there was no way for him to escape; as "a great chasm [had] been fixed" (Luke 16:26). Annihilationism is false doctrine, heresy!

  • Proverbs 11:10 and Annihilationism:

    Proverbs 11:10 When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.

    Annihilationists simply state that the wicked "perish" - go out of existence. However, in context we observe that both the righteous and unrighteous influence public life; a city is blessed by the righteous and overthrown by the unrighteous. The city rejoices when the righteous rule and when the unrighteous are removed from their wicked rule. Their influence and possibly even their life may end, so this has absolutely nothing to do with Annihilationism.

  • Daniel 2:35 and Annihilationism:

    Some Annihilationists argue their false doctrine from Daniel 2:35:

    Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. [emphasis theirs]

    Annihilationists from the highlighted portion of this passage, claim that the wicked cease to exist. Is this proper exegesis? Not at all. Daniel 2:35, and its prophetic interpretation in Daniel 2:44-45, are echoing Psalm 1:4-5 and Psalm 2:8-9 respectively. This point is important as these echoes fill in what only may be implied in Daniel.

    The part of Daniel 2:35 that is in question is, "became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found" (i.e. Psa 1:4). So, some important questions to ask to better understand the context are: (1) How is the chaff driven away by the wind? and (2) Does the chaff evaporate into nothingness. or does it still remain in existence?

    In biblical times, after grain was harvested, it was essential to separate the useful kernel from the utterly useless chaff. So, the grain was tossed into the air and the wind blew the lighter chaff away, while the heavier kernels would fall back down into the harvest pile. Depending on the strength of the wind, the chaff was driven some distance away; even out of sight.

    In context, "no trace" (Dan 2:35) of the "chaff" (meaning "nations" or "kingdoms;" Psa 2:8-9; Dan 2:44-45) could be found near the harvest "pile;" i.e. God's people - "the congregation of the righteous" (Psa 1:5). Note, this seems like a pretty clear description of Heaven (Rev 21:8; cf. Luke 16:26). However, according to the imagery being used by Daniel, with the sifting, the chaff still exists in some form somewhere. If the chaff is not near the harvest pile, where did it go? It was scattered abroad (cf. Jer 13:24). Ultimately, the chaff, "will burn with unquenchable fire" (Matt 3:12) which will burn "forever and ever" (Rev 20:10). Note, that this chaff didn't leave on its own accord it had to be "driven away" (Psa 1:4).

    Since the chaff still exists burning with unquenchable fire this is not Annihilationism, but an eternal Hell (Dan 12:2-3; cf. Job 21:17-18).

  • Nahum 1:10 and Annihilationism:

    Another argument regards Nahum 1:10 and the wicked being "consumed like stubble fully dried." However, even if this meant absolute total annihilation of everything, which it doesn't, it concerns only Nineveh, and not all the wicked in the world.

    Nahum 1:10 is meant to be taken in context with Nahum 1:14. The phrase, "You will have no descendants to bear your name" reveals the complete loss of power and prestige. In Nahum 2:1, we discover that God did not kill absolutely everyone in Nineveh, rather their "attacker" (pus; cf. Psa 68:1; Isa 24:1; Jer 52:8) is more literally a "scatterer," a common figure used for a victorious king. Nineveh fell; the battle is recorded in detail in the Babylonian Chronicle, where Assur-uballit II was not killed:

    A new king, whose name was Assur-uballit II, set up a kingdom in Harran. But he was no match for Nabopolassar, who, according to the Fall of Nineveh Chronicle, "marched to Assyria victoriously" in the fifteenth and sixteenth year of his reign (r.612-609). King Assur-uballit was forced to leave Harran. [4]

    In addition, if we proceed to Nahum 2:2, 9 we discover that Nineveh was "plundered;' and it mentions that the "slave girls lamenting" (Nah 2:7) - meaning they were still alive.

    So, the text has absolutely nothing to do with Annihilationism!

  • Malachi 4:1-2 and Annihilationism:

    Malachi 4:1-2 For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

    First, this speaks of the day of the Lord. Second, in Malachi 4:1-2, two images of fire are used to describe the Lord: (1) a destroying fire (Mal 4:1) and (2) a refining fire (Mal 4:2). Compare Psalm 21:9; Isaiah 10:16; 30:27; Joel 2:1, 3; Zephaniah 1:18; 3; Hebrews 12:29. (notes, R. Pratt, Gen. Ed., Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible). Third, justified divine anger ("burn") is coming forth (Psa 2:12; 89:46; Isa 30:27; Jer 4:4; 21:12).

    So, the idea here is the complete removal (branch, root) of all God's enemies (the wicked) to be properly punished; that being a warranted total eternal destruction in Hell (Amos 2:9). Of course, for the destruction to be "total," it must be eternal; forever and ever, as this is what the Lord, the sun of righteousness, in his perfect and complete justice ordained. This has nothing at all to do with Annihilationism.

    On the other hand, the righteous will be "leaping like calves" (gladness or joy) as the Lord of hosts (sun of righteousness; all his actions are justified) brings in the last day.

The questions above are some of the topics asked through our Q&A here at IIIM and do not exhaust all the assaults on Scripture raised by Annihilationists, regarding words such as - "death," "destruction," and "perish," etc. One thing thier arguments all seem to have in common is the similar pattern of distorted interpretation. They use what one may call "interpretive gymnastics" to make their points; but it isn't any gold medal performance. They essentially begin with the faulty presupposition that Annihilationism is the truth and then twist, turn, and torment passages to bring about thier desired rendering. However, if one examines the context of their claims carefully - including the original meaning of the passages, thier context, grammar, history, etc. - thier error(s) become very apparent.

Argument 5: No Enjoyment

Annihilationism Argument:

This is an argument that asserts that God and his saints would never enjoy Heaven if they knew others were forever in eternal torment.

A Biblical Response:

First, this Universalist argument is heresy to the uttermost. If God's knowledge of eternal miseries for the wicked is incompatible with his divine nature of eternal joy, then all knowledge of any misery whatsoever - especailly the ordained death of his own Son (Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28) - is inconsistent with his nature of his eternal joy. So, this Universalist argument attacks the very foundation of Christianity; the Cross itself!

Second, this is an attack upon God's glory; an attempt to make God someone other than who he is. God made Hell because of who he is - holy, holy, holy (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8) - and thus is too pure to look upon sin (Hab 1:13).

Third, if it is immoral that God created an eternal Hell for eternal suffering, isn't it just as immoral for God to annihilate unbelievers? Either way people suffer! Indeed, why would God raise the wicked from the dead (Dan 12:2; John 5:28-29), only to make them suffer again? See points three-five below.

Fourth, there are numerous ways Hell glorifies God: (1) it reveals that God keeps his Word, which never fails; (2) it demonstrates that God fought a Just War and is victorious in subduing evil; (3) it upholds the reality of divine justice; (4) it reveals the vastness of God's mercy and love he has given to believers; and (5) it vindicates those that suffered for Christ, etc. Hell is for real! It glorifies the King of kings.

Fifth, Scripture states that God is glorified in his justice. Paul reveals to us that God is glorified in that some of his eternal decrees are designed to allow him to express his wrath (Rom 9:22-23; cf. Rev 18:20; 19:2-3). Paul mentions the "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (Rom 9:22), which is consistent with other Scriptures (Prov 16:4; cf. John 3:18; Jude 1:4). Part and parcel of their purpose is that the reprobate actually serve the elect by being condemned (Prov 11:8; 21:18). Herman Hoeksema says, "Reprobation exists in order that election may be realized. Reprobation is necessary to bring the chosen to the glory which God in his infinite love has appointed for them." [7] See "What is Reprobation?" below.

''But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness" (Isa 5:16). So, the seed of the serpent will forever glorify God by living out their full purpose in an eternal Hell; by being eternally judged. In the new heavens and new earth the saints will perfectly love what God loves and hate what he hates. So, the saints won't be shaken by the reprobate in Hell, any more than Abraham was in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:24-26, 29-31). The just punishment of the wicked will be in the Lord's presence (Rev 14:10). The saints will enjoy God's victory (Rev 18:20; 19:3). They will eternally lay out the palm branches of his just victory! As the psalmist writes, "To execute on them the judgment written! This is honor for all his godly ones. Praise the Lord!" (Psa 149:1-9).

Argument 6: A Tarnishing of God's Victory

Annihilationism Argument:

Another argument used by Annihilationists is that an eternal Hell would tarnish God's victory over evil. The Bible states that God will be victorious in the end; he will "be all in all" (1 Cor 15:28), which seems to be difficult to reconcile if some people are in Hell.

A Biblical Response:

First, this, like the argument in "Argument 5: No Enjoyment" above is an attempt at Universalism. The same arguments as in #5 applies. God being "all in all" refers to the totality of God's glory - love and justice both glorify God. God's image or self can't be tarnished by the judgment he himself has ordained.

Second, to eliminate Hell would be to eliminate the need this side of Heaven for God's mercy, grace, and the need for repentance in salvation; which are all free gifts. However, gifts by their very nature contain within them the prerogative to either give or withhold them. To demand them would not be to establish them, but to eliminate them. So, if there was not an eternal Hell, and all were going to Heaven, there is no need for the Cross, the Gospel; what a damnable thought!

Argument 7: Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah Pattern

Annihilationism Argument:

The Apostle Peter argues that Sodom and Gomorrah is an example of the coming annihilation of the wicked - bringing the cities to ashes - total destruction (2 Pet 2:6; cf. Jude 1:7). Since the fires in Sodom have ceased, Hell is not eternal.

A Biblical Response:

This is an interesting argument if indeed the fires in Sodom have ceased. But have they ceased? And do the fires of Sodom correspond exactly on a one-to-one basis with the fires of Hell?

First, observe that Jude 1:7 is preceded by Jude 1:6 which speaks of angels being in "eternal chains." Even if this is figurative language it reveals that they - the angels - still exist as prisoners awaiting final judgment and being cast into the lake of fire. Jude 1:7 is followed by Jude 1:8-10, speaking of the rebuke of the Devil; his final rebuke will be "ongoing destruction" in "eternal fire" (Rev 19:20; 20:10). So, our interpretation of Jude 1:7 must be consistent with the passages surrounding it; i.e. "a punishment of eternal fire" (Jude 1:7); implying an ongoing endless fire.

Second, Jude 1:7 reads:

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire."

So, Jude 1:7 uses the word "similar" (Greek, hos, meaning "as, like as") and "as an example" (Greek, deigma, meaning "a type"). Peter uses the phrase "an example" too (Greek, hupodeigma, meaning "a figure or example"). So, neither author is stating that there is an "exact one-to-one correspondence;" as Hell is not the exact same as Sodom, it is exceedingly worse (Matt 10:15; 11:23-24; Luke 10:12). So, according to the Bible we aren't looking for an "exact one-to-one correspondence" with Hell, just likenesses to it. Amazingly, though Annihilationists initially are willing use the word "example" in their descriptions of 2 Peter 2:6 and Jude 1:7, they quickly desire to annihilate that thought, informing their readers that since there is not an "exact one-to-one correspondence" concerning "eternal fire" than the interpretation of "fire" must be taken in a temporal way?

Third, this said, Sodom and Gomorrah (S&G) has allegedly been found; "Tall el-Hammam seemed to match every Sodom criterion demanded by the text" (Gen 13:1-12). [8]. The Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project is in the area of the Dead Sea; the Greek name for the Dead Sea was Lake Asphaltitis [asphalt]. This region was formed "by tectonic activity, including two plates sliding past each other and pulling apart at the same time." [9] This area still has present day "subterranean fires" burning under the sea. [10] Though it is still being researched, it is likely that it has what are called "asphalt volcanoes;" underwater sea vents that erupt asphalt instead of lava. It has numerous hot springs and even today petroleum products appear on the surface of the Sea; including some asphalt. Josephus reported that there were pieces of tar floating in the water the size and shape of "headless bulls" (Wars 4.479). "There are bitumen deposits there and regions of high sulfur (brimstone). Bitumen is like asphalt and is a form of oil." [11] The infallible Scriptures state:

Genesis 14:10 Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits [tar or asphalt pit], and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled to the hill country.

Genesis 19:24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.

Genesis 19:28 And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace.

Luke 17:28-30 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot - they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all - so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.

Revelation 14:9-11 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also 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, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name."

Revelation 19:19-20 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.

Revelation 20:10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

Please See: Deuteronomy 29:23; Job 18:15; Psalms 11:5-6; Isaiah 30:33; 34:8-10; Ezekiel 38:22; Revelation 9:17-18.

So, both Scripture and a brief history of the Dead Sea and S&G recount for us particular facts concerning: (1) bitumen pits, (2) sulfur, (3) fire, (4) the smoke of the land, (5) the smoke of the burning furnace, (6) burning with sulfur, and (7) the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And all this in the context of being eternally related to "forever and ever" (Rev 20:10).

Fourth, we should note that even if this in not S&G that the Tall el-Hammam Excavation Project has found, that Abraham was still able to see S&G from the great trees of Mamre, near Hebron (Gen 18:1, 16, 22; 19:27-28); Hebron is approximately 18 miles from the Dead Sea. So, we are still in the same general region of S&G. Clearly, the area of the Dead Sea in and around S&G sounds like it has at least the potential of burning today. Is Sodom and Gomorrah still on fire? There seems to be a rather large history of this very fact:

And in one day these populous cities became the tomb of their inhabitants, and the vast edifices of stone and timber became thin dust and ashes. And when the flames had consumed everything that was visible and that existed on the face of the earth, they proceeded to burn even the earth itself, penetrating into its lowest recesses, and destroying all the vivifying powers which existed within it so as to produce a complete and everlasting barrenness, so that it should never again be able to bear fruit, or to put forth any verdure; and to this very day it is scorched up. For the fire of the lightning is what is most difficult to extinguish, and creeps on pervading everything, and smouldering. And a most evident proof of this is to be found in what is seen to this day: for the smoke which is still emitted, and the sulphur which men dig up there, are a proof of the calamity which befell that country (Philo, On Abraham 27).

The length of this lake is five hundred and eighty furlongs, where it is extended as far as Zoar in Arabia; and its breadth is a hundred and fifty. The country of Sodom borders upon it. It was of old a most happy land, both for the fruits it bore and the riches of its cities, although it be now all burnt up. It is related how, for the impiety of its inhabitants, it was burnt by lightning; in consequence of which there are still the remainders of that Divine fire, and the traces of the five cities are still to be seen, as well as the ashes growing in their fruits; which fruits have a color as if they were fit to be eaten, but if you pluck them with your hands, they dissolve into smoke and ashes. And thus what is related of this land of Sodom hath these marks of credibility which our very sight affords us. (Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, IV.8.4).

The fire which burns beneath the ground and the stench render the inhabitants of the neighboring country sickly and very short lived (Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, II.48).

Lake Sirbonis [should read Asphaltites lacus] is large; in fact some state that it is one thousand stadia in circuit; however, it extends parallel to the coast to a length of slightly more than two hundred stadia, is deep to the very shore, and has water so very heavy that there is no use for divers, and any person who walks into it and proceeds no farther than up to his navel is immediately raised afloat. It is full of asphalt. The asphalt is blown to the surface at irregular intervals from the midst of the deep, and with it rise bubbles, as though the water were boiling; and the surface of the lake, being convex, presents the appearance of a hill. With the asphalt there arises also much soot, which, though smoky, is imperceptible to the eye; and it tarnishes copper and silver and anything that glistens, even gold" (Strabo, Geography, XVI.42). [12]

There are numerous other historical reports throughout the centuries recounting similar findings as seen above. The various names of the Dead Sea give us a vivid picture of the area - Sea of the Arabah, the Sea of the Desert, the Sea of the Plain, the Salt Sea, the Asphalt Sea, the Sea of Sodom, the Sea of Lot, the Stink Sea; the sulfur led the Crusaders to call it the Devil's Sea. Subterranean fires, and the others evidence of them (i.e. floating tar, etc.), are still seen in this present day. The Sea still stinks today. There is still asphalt in the Sea. The Dead Sea region is still burning today!

The similarities with an eternal Hell are uncanny to say the very least.

So, when Jude 1:7 states, "... They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire," the text is accurate; disproving Annihilationism. Hell is forever!


Annihilationism is perversion of the Gospel (Gal 1:7; cf. 2 Cor 11:4), delivered by false teachers (2 Pet 2:1; 1 John 4:1; Tit 3:10; Jude 1:4; 2 John 1:10-11). It is a heretical doctrine (Gal 1:9).

Thomas Watson wrote in the Body of Divinity:

Eternity is a sea without bottom and banks. After millions of years, there is not one minute in eternity wasted; and the damned must be ever burning, but never consuming, always dying, but never dead. "They shall seek death, but shall not find it" (Rev 9:6).

The fire of hell is such, as multitudes of tears will not quench it, length of time will not finish it; the vial of God's wrath will be always dropping upon a sinner. As long as God is eternal, He lives to be avenged upon the wicked. Oh eternity! eternity! who can fathom it? Mariners have their plummets to measure the depths of the sea; but what line or plummet shall we use to fathom the depth of eternity? The breath of the Lord kindles the infernal lake, (Isa 30:33), and where shall we have engines or buckets to quench that fire?

Oh eternity! If all the body of earth and sea were turned to sand, and all the air up to the starry heaven were nothing but sand, and a little bird should come every thousand years, and fetch away in her bill but the tenth part of a grain of all that heap of sand, what numberless years would be spent before that vast heap of sand would be fetched away! Yet, if at the end of all that time, the sinner might come out of hell, there would be some hope; but that word 'Ever' breaks the heart. "The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever." What a terror is this to the wicked, enough to put them into a cold sweat, to think, as long as God is eternal, He lives for ever to be avenged upon them!

If Hell scares you that is good; it scares me too. It, like reprobation, is a humbling topic. However, it must be discussed. People never realize they need a Savior, until they see the need.

In high school and the first few summers of college I served as a lifeguard during the summers. Since I was the only authority figure on the beach, I was teased a lot. One guy though was the absolute worse. He was plain mean in an aggravating sort of way. Then one day he developed a cramp while swimming in the deep. I could see his hands splashing the water around him. He was beginning to drown. I swam to him, gave him my buoy, and escorted back to shore. From that day forward, he and I became good friends. He realized that he needed a savior.

If Hell makes you scared - good! Are you still drowning or have you met "the" Savior - Jesus Christ? See "A Gospel Summary" below.

Jude 1:23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.


[1] Wikipedia, "Darvaza gas crater." ( Last accessed, 14 August 2017.
[2] Wikipedia, "Burning Mountain." ( Last accessed, 14 August 2017.
[3] Boyd, Greg. The Case for Annihilationism. ReNew ( Last accessed, 14 August 2017.
[4]"ABC 3 (Fall of Nineveh Chronicle)." ( Last accessed, 14 August 2017.
[6] Carson, D.A. Exegetical Fallacies, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996.
[7] Hoeksema, Herman. The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the Gospel. Southwest Protestant Reformed Church Evangelism Committee (1993).
[8] Popular Archeology Magazine, "Possible site of ancient Sodom yields more finds." Vol 11, 28 September 2015. ( Updated from the article, "Making the Case for Sodom," published June 5, 2014 in Popular Archaeology Magazine. Last accessed, 14 August 2017.
[9] Natural Historian, "Sodom, Gomorrah, and the Seismic History of the Dead Sea." 24 September 2014. ( Last accessed, 14 August 2017.
[10] Stone, Perry. Secrets from Beyond the Grave: The Amazing Mysteries of Eternity, Paradise. Charisma House (2010).
[11] ibid, Natural Historian.
[12] The Apologist's Bible Commentary, "Jude 7." ( Last accessed, 14 August 2017.

Related Topics:

Annihilationism Error: Hebrew Word Definition Charts
Annihilationism Error: Greek Word Definition Charts
How can God exact infinite punishment for a finite sin?
When was Hell created?
Is Purgatory Biblical?
What is Reprobation?
Imprecatory Psalms
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
A Gospel Summary

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).