I was recently contacted by a Dr. Ean Theron who, having somewhere learned of my newfound belief in annihilationism, asked if I had read Dr. Robert Morey’s Death and the Afterlife. This began a still ongoing email exchange, the direction of which is not yet clear. But I did a search for his name online and came across his recently-published book, According to Jesus: The Theology of Christ, which is claimed to refute annihilationism. Sincerely hoping (but not expecting) to find something new, I purchased the Kindle version for $3 with some of my very first ministry donation (Thanks! You know who you are!), and took note of those passages which allege to challenge my view. What follows is my response to Dr. Theron’s arguments.
One final note: this is not a text that teaches annihilation or extinction of the soul after the resurrection. Some may be tempted to think this because Jesus said that God could ―destroy‖ the soul. However, the word destroy does not mean annihilate or extinguish. The word for destroy in Greek is apollumi. According to Thayer‘s lexicon, it means to deliver up to eternal misery or ruin. 43 In case some might think Thayer is biased, Dr. Robert A. Morey makes this insightful argument, ―Since Thayer himself was a Unitarian who did not believe in eternal punishment, his definition could only be the result of his knowledge of the meaning of this Greek word.‖ 44 In the New Testament, the word apollumi never means annihilate. Dr. Morey further argues:
In every instance where the word appllumi is found in the New Testament, something other than the annihilation is being described. Indeed, their isn‘t a single instance in the New Testament where apollumi means annihilation in the strict meaning of the word. (Theron, Dr. Ean (2012-03-20). According to Jesus: The Theology of Christ (Kindle Locations 1199-1208). Kindle Edition.)
It is true that Thayer defines apollymi in the way Dr. Theron indicates as used in Matthew 10:28. However, the citation of Thayer gives the impression that this is his only definition of apollymi, which is not at all true. Another, earlier definition Thayer gives is “to destroy i.e. to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to,” a definition with which annihilationists would be quite happy. Also earlier in his definitions than the words Dr. Theron cited, Thayer defines the word as meaning “to kill,” which is exactly what annihilationism holds God will do to both body and soul in Gehenna. And, of course, Thayer’s definition of “to declare that one must be put to death” is quite compatible with annihilationism as well.
It’s strange, then, that Dr. Morey says apollymi is never used in the New Testament to refer to annihilation. Of course, as should hopefully be obvious by now to anybody who has been listening to my podcast, this is because traditionalists often argue against a straw man, that paper tiger being that God will snap His fingers and the unsaved will instantaneously dematerialize, every atom which formerly comprised their bodies ceasing to exist forever. But this is not at all what we’re proposing will happen. No, we’re proposing that the death men can inflict only upon the body, leaving behind lifeless remains, God can and will inflict upon both body and soul. He will slay the unsaved, in other words, altogether.
It is interesting, then, Dr. Morey’s claim to the contrary notwithstanding, that as Dr. Glenn Peoples put it, “every time this word is used in the Synoptic Gospels as a verb describing the actions of one person against another it carries the very meaning that annihilationists draw from Matthew 10:28.” Don’t believe Dr. Peoples? See Matthew 2:13, 12:14, 21:41, 22:7, 27:20, Mark 3:6, 9:22, 11:18, 12:9, Luke 17:27, 17:29, 19:47, and 20:16. You see, even if some other uses of apollymi in the New Testament mean something different, its consistent use as “kill” or “slay” in the synoptics as a transitive verb, whose object is or belongs to someone other than the subject, lends Matthew 10:28 to annihilationism, no matter how much traditionalists may wish to engage in the fallacy of illegitimate totality transfer.
The death of the soul does not mean to pass into non-existence any more than the body passes into non-existence when it dies. It simply means that it was on the verge of separating from the body. (Theron, Dr. Ean (2012-03-20). According to Jesus: The Theology of Christ (Kindle Locations 1215-1216). Kindle Edition.)
In context, Dr. Thoren is (I think) arguing against monism or physicalism (you’ll have to take my word for it; I can’t give all the context), but this follows so immediately after the previous argument that I can’t help but suspect that we are being led to believe that the destruction of the soul Jesus mentioned in Matthew 10:28 “does not mean to pass into non-existence.” But what does Dr. Thoren suggest that Jesus does mean in Matthew 26:38 when He says, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death?” Well, he tells us: “that it was on the verge of separating from the body.”
Despite my suspicions, I’ll give Dr. Thoren the benefit of the doubt. Surely he can’t be arguing that the soul’s destruction means its separation from the body, since all but the most fringe of traditionalists deny that the soul will be separated from the body in the second death. No, the traditional view of hell is that the bodies of the unsaved will never die, will never be separated from the soul after being reunited with it in resurrection. Both body and soul, it is argued, will be united in misery forever.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire— where “Their worm does not die And thefire is not quenched” (Mark 9: 43-48). The idea is that of burning alive with no recourse of action. There will be no water to put out the fire. And there will be no consumption of material to cause the fire to cease. This fire is eternal. In addition, worms eat at Hell‘s inhabitants continually. Just as worms eat into a carcass, so will the worms eat at the flesh of those who suffer in Hell. However, these worms will never stop gnawing. Again, it is important to note that these metaphors can only picture the actual suffering that will happen to those in Hell. In other words, Hell will be much worse than the typology. (Theron, Dr. Ean (2012-03-20). According to Jesus: The Theology of Christ (Kindle Locations 1329-1334). Kindle Edition.)
My fellow annihilationists who are seasoned (rather than being quite green, as I am) will no doubt say I’m being naive when I say that it still amazes me when traditionalists try and make an argument like this from Mark 9:48. “Burning alive,” “no consumption,” “never stop gnawing…” And the end of the quote indicates that Dr. Thoren thinks this is what’s happening in the type, not the antitype! But what is the type?
As annihilationists have pointed out for quite some time, Jesus is here quoting the words of Isaiah 66:24 verbatim. Yet strangely, despite Dr. Thoren’s claim that “the idea is that of burning alive,” the very verse being quoted says that what fire and worms are doing, they are doing to “corpses” or “carcasses.” The idea most certainly is not “burning alive;” rather, the idea is of a lifeless corpse being consumed by fire and maggots.
With all due respect to Dr. Thoren and other traditionalists, what it means for a fire to be unquenchable is not debatable. In the Old Testament it consistently refers to a fire which cannot be prematurely put out. That is, after all, what “quench” means. What it means that “their worm will not die” is, arguably, debatable; I won’t make my case here. But even if we should accept that it means the worms will “never stop gnawing,” the picture, once again, is of carcasses, not living bodies. Therefore, Mark 9:48 simply serves as no support for the traditional view of hell.
Weeping and Gnashing in Outer Darkness
Jesus offers other terrifying examples of Hell in the following verses: But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8: 12).
Then the king said to the servants, ―Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth‖ (Matthew 22: 13).
There is nothing appealing about Hell. There is no light, no hope, and no end; eternal misery. According to Jesus, this is the ultimate state of those resurrected humans who did not receive the grace of God. (Theron, Dr. Ean (2012-03-20). According to Jesus: The Theology of Christ (Kindle Locations 1343-1347). Kindle Edition.)
It’s worth noting that there is a legitimate grammatical question as to whether the weeping and gnashing occurs in the place from which the unsaved are thrown or the place into which they are thrown, but even if it’s the latter, I’m not quite sure what traditionalists intend to demonstrate by pointing to passages like these. The only conclusion I can come to is that they do, in fact, think that we annihilationists are saying God will snap His fingers and the unsaved will instantaneously and painlessly dematerialize. But no, we’re saying they will be given a violent death sentence, which, no doubt, would be cause for weeping and gnashing. Nor does “outer darkness” challenge annihilationism, since it could refer to the darkness of the place in which the unsaved are destroyed, or to the darkness and blackness that was all we who were once atheists could conceive of when we imagined what it would be like to be dead and thus no longer be–which seems to be exactly how Job chapter 3 uses darkness.
Much more could be said. I think, for example, that the parable of the wedding feast more strongly favors annihilationism than it does the traditional view, since in the parable’s earthy scene if someone were bound hand and foot and thrown out of the wedding hall into the darkness of the first century Israeli wilderness, unless rescued he would die of thirst or exposure to the elements, or would be killed by beasts or robbers. Certainly we can’t, as Dr. Thoren appears to do here, read “no end” into these parables. But very obviously weeping and gnashing in outer darkness serves as no challenge to annihilationism which proposes that the unsaved will suffer a violent capital punishment.
Nothing New Under the Sun
Having been compelled by exegesis of the Scripture to annihilationism, kicking and screaming, I’ll continue to hope, perhaps naively, that one day I’ll encounter a challenging case for the traditional view of hell. Rob Bowman, for example, who recently defended Sola Scriptura on my podcast, was kind enough to send me a copy of his book in which he argues against annihilationism. He told me that a PhD who was leaning toward annihilationism read it and returned to traditionalism. So I’m hopeful, and I’ll be sure to try and get Rob on the show again after I’ve read it. But thus far, it seems that Solomon was right: there really is nothing new under the sun.