Hiram Diaz, with whom I debated the nature of eternal punishment back in December, recently posted a question on his Facebook page. He later indicated in the comments thread that his question leads to a refutation of annihilationism, based on the insufficiency of repeated Levitical sacrifices to satisfy the punitive demands of the Law, as described in Hebrews 7. Once it is formulated clearly in the form of a syllogism, however, the insufficiency of his argument to challenge annihilationism becomes clear.
Here is the question Hiram originally asked:
Question: How many sacrificial lambs would be required by the Levitical law in order to make atonement for our sins, and why?
After others commented back and forth, Hiram posted this comment:
I was primarily referring to Hebrews 7:27. There would be no end to the death and bloodshed. No shed blood save that of the Lord Jesus Christ could end the death and bloodshed due to sinners. Therefore, it is impossible for any other death to fully a satisfy the punitive demands of the law. Yet apart from the sacrifice of Christ, there is NO sacrifice that remains for sins. Therefore, those who reject the Gospel will be ther recipients of God’s judgment, and cannot ever cease to exist, for it is only the blood of Christ that brings an end to the unending bloodshed and death due to all sinners. Therefore, annihilationism is false.
Personally, I think tenuous extrapolations from texts which don’t say anything about what awaits the unsaved should be interpreted through the lens of texts which do say something about what awaits the unsaved, which is my biggest problem with universalism. Since the passages which do say what awaits the unsaved say they will be reduced to lifeless remains forever, we already know Hiram’s argument fails. What’s more, the answer to Hiram’s argument is quite simple: Christ’s sacrifice was not merely about satisfying the punitive demands of the Law; it was about turning away God’s wrath, and since the unsaved will be reduced to lifeless remains forever, God’s wrath is not turned away from them, and their death does not accomplish that which Christ’s does.
But since I happen to know that Hiram appreciates logical syllogisms, and because I still hope to be able to reason with him on this topic, let’s examine his argument in the form of the syllogism to which I think it reduces (I’ll attempt to, anyway; I’m not an expert in formal logic):
- P1: The punitive value of the death of an animal in a Levitical sacrifice is equal to the punitive value of the death of a human being.
- P2: The death of an animal in a Levitical sacrifice does not satisfy the punitive demands of the Law for sins committed prior to the sacrifice being made.
- P3: The punitive value of a human being’s first death is equal to the punitive value of the second death of annihilation.
- C: The second death of an annihilated sinner does not satisfy the punitive demands of the Law for sins committed prior to being annihilated.
Consider what it means if the first premise is not true. Well then no matter how insufficient a long series of repeated Levitical animal sacrifices, the death of a human being might, in fact, be capable of satisfying the punitive demands of the Law when an animal’s death could not.
Consider, also, what it means if the first premise is true, but the second is not. Well then it may have been necessary to repeat Levitical animal sacrifices ad infinitum because any given sacrifice satisfied the punitive demands of past sins but not future sins, in which case the death of a human being, rendering him incapable of future sins, might be capable of satisfying the punitive demands of the Law.
Consider, still, what it means if the first and second premises are true, but the third is not. Well then whatever equality in punitive value there may be between an animal’s death and a human’s first death, and even if such a death cannot satisfy the punitive demands of the Law for even past sins, perhaps a human’s second death could.
Thus, if any of these three premises is not true, then Hiram’s conclusion is unjustified, and the repeated Levitical sacrifices serve as no challenge to annihilationism.
I’m doubtful that the truth of the second premise can be demonstrated, but that’s not the one I’d challenge most strongly. I would argue that the Bible says only man was created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27) and was given dominion over animals (Gen. 1:28), and whereas God called His creation “good” prior to the creation of man (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25), after creating man and giving him rule over the rest of creation He called it “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Thus the first premise seems obviously false. And since the second death is both one from which the annihilated sinner will never rise (unlike the first), and is one of both body and soul according to Matthew 10:28 (unlike the first), the second premise seems obviously false as well.
Hiram, it seems to me, thus has quite a challenge before him if he wants to maintain his argument against annihilationism from the repeated Levitical sacrifices, which only Christ was able to bring to an end. Even if it is fairly easy to demonstrate that those sacrifices did not sufficiently satisfy the punitive demands of the Law for sins committed prior to the sacrifice being made, Hiram must scale the seemingly unscalable mountain of demonstrating that the punitive value of an animal’s death is equal to the punitive value of a human’s death, and that the punitive value of a human’s first death is equal to the punitive value of a human’s second death. In the meantime, his argument fails to challenge annihilationism.