Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Why Eternal Punishment is not Nonsensical

Many people wrestle with the question of how an all-good and loving God could ever send someone to Hell. Some have claimed the two concepts don't make sense together; if God is good and loving, why of course he wouldn't send people to Hell for eternity. However, I have written before that to be separated from God means to be separated from his goodness and all that entails. Thus, the only thing left for a person where God's good gifts of peace, contentment, and rest are missing is torment.

For others, they may accept that God's justice would warrant him to allow a certain amount of suffering for those who rejected him. (For example, if one asks about what the fate for a cruel dictator or one who sells children into sexual slavery should be, most would understand simple annihilation as unfair. These people caused an undue amount of suffering and they shouldn't get off so easily by simply ceasing to be!) But why must such suffering be eternal? Isn't God unfair if the crime is finite but the punishment is infinite? Does the idea of an all-loving God and eternal punishment even make sense?

What Kind of Beings are Humans, Anyway?

To better understand God and his relationship with humanity, I think it's important to look at human beings the way God created them. In Genesis 1:27, the Bible states "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (ESV). The repetitive emphasis of being created in God's image (it is mentioned three times in verses 26 and 27) is meant to emphasize just how important this image bearing is.

As image-bearers, humans are endowed with the ability to weigh moral values and duties against our own actions. We are rational beings, capable of making meaningful choices. We can relate to the person of God, even though he is immaterial. These are all aspects that separate man from the other creatures of creation. If God were to change a person into someone who no longer was able to make meaningful choices, we would see that as demeaning the humanity of that individual. We lament those who fall victim to head injuries and are no longer able to function autonomously. We take pity on them because they cannot exercise their full humanity.

Secondly, God created humans to be immortal beings. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 draws attention to the fact that when God breathed his spirit into Adam (Gen. 2:7), that Adam became a living being. God's desire for humanity was and still is for us to fellowship with him for all eternity. Thus, another aspect of being human is that humans will endure eternally. And because we were made as embodied souls, our eternal state will also be as embodied souls. That's why there is a resurrection of the dead for both believers and unbelievers at the final judgment.

God Won't Make Humans into Non-Humans

In understanding that human beings are a very unique creation of God endowed with particular attributes, two of which are the ability to make meaningful choices and an ongoing immortality in some kind of state. That's how God created Adam and Eve. Sin introduced a corruption to humanity, but I argue that it didn't make humans into non-humans. It may have distorted the image of God in human beings, but it never cancelled it.

One point I must make is on the concept of death itself. Death in the Bible is used to talk about separation, not annihilation. Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body (Gen. 35:18, Ecc. 12:7) and spiritual death is the separation of our spirit from God's spirit. That's why God told Adam that the very day he sinned he would die (Gen. 2:17). It is our separation from God that is labeled death. Paul consistently uses this kind of terminology, stating the Ephesians were dead in their trespasses and sins but still walking according to the world's standards.

So, humans by definition bear the imago Dei, the image of God. That is the differentiation between them and every other creature we see. Humans are therefore morally aware beings that can recognize sin and can make meaningful choices. Give this, how would an all-good God still be all good if he takes away the immortality aspect of the imago Dei? Does it make sense to say God is all good if he changes those who choose to reject him into something less than human? Or how could God remove the ability to make real choices from those who reject him? Does that sound like mercy or a replay of the lobotomy scene from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?

Humans are created to be immortal, thus their choices will have a very real effect on their immortal existence. Humans are beings that hold the ability to make meaningful choices. That means even after physical death, they can choose to continue in a state of sin and rebellion against God. Thus ongoing torment is a reflection of ongoing sin in the hearts of the rebellious. To me, this doesn't seem cruel or nonsensical at all, but the tragic result of free creatures who have been given the ability to make decisions for themselves.


  1. So you're saying that after death, we'll be given a choice whether to accept Christ or continue sinning? I don't understand.

  2. "That means even after physical death, they can choose to continue in a state of sin and rebellion against God. Thus ongoing torment is a reflection of ongoing sin in the hearts of the rebellious." Hmm. This seems like selective universalism -- a second chance after judgement. That doesn't seem to align with the biblical account.

    1. No. While free creatures can continue to sin after physical death, they cannot choose to be redeemed. That seems to be why God blocked Adam's way to the Tree of Life in his sin state. Moving from this life to the next somehow sets the individual in his heart to being aligned with God or at enmity with God.

    2. Thank you! I just needed that clarification, but your answer also explains even more. Thanks for your excellent ministry, Lenny!

  3. The bible says if you are a christian now, when you die, or are raptured, you will be "changed" in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye! You are sinless then. But if you die, & your not a christian,(belief in the death,burial,& resurrection of Christ), you will not enter heaven. Your sin remains!!

  4. I think the author made some good points but the argument against annihilation is a weak one. Almost every single verse that addresses the soul of an unbeliever speaks of destruction, perish, and death. Nowhere in the Bible does it mention eternal torment. Even the passages that talk of eternal damnation or destruction seem to mean that the soul is eternally annihilated. The references that say the fire is not quenched is in fact a reference to eternal destruction or annihilation. “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.” This verse could not be any clearer.

    1. I think Lenny mentioned that "destruction" and "death" are used in the Bible in the sense of "separation." Spiritual death is separation from God, which Adam experienced "the day" he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He didn't keel over on that day, but he was separated from God that day with the effect that his body began to degrade. Physical death is separation of the soul from the body. And eternal death is when you experience physical death in a state of spiritual death.

      As for eternal torment, in Luke 16 Jesus said the rich man, after death, was in torment. This wasn't torture as we think of it, since he was having a conversation, but it was torment nevertheless. And in Revelation 21:10 the Bible states that the devil and the beast will be thrown in the the lake of fire and brimstone where they will be "tormented day and night forever and ever." If they ceased to exist, they could not be tormented "day and night forever and ever." And in verse it says the rest of the dead are to be judged and thrown into the same lake of fire and brimstone. To amplify, in Rev. 14:10-11 the Bible says that all those worshipping the beast will be among those punished, "and the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day or night." If they ceased to exist, they would have rest, but the verse says that "forever and ever" they have "no rest."

      That all seems pretty straightforward to me.

    2. Death is separation? You are just making stuff up. When Herod wanted to kill Jesus he didn't want to separate Him. Herod wanted Jesus dead. And Jesus didn't go to the cross to separate on our behalf - he went to die. This article places too much value in man. God said man is dust and will return to dust. The ONLY way man gets eternal life is a gift. If you don't get the gift then you do not have eternal life. You die. Death is dead. Thats what the word means. If God wanted to use the word separate I'm sure He's more than capable - but He didn't. God said the wages of sin is death. I think He meant it.

    3. Respectfully, I suggest you go back and reread my answer, perhaps more slowly and paying attention to each point. This would include the point about Adam, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and the rather evident verses in Revelation. If you do that, it might cause you to rethink tautologies like saying, "Death is dead. That's what it means." That statement is just a circle going nowhere. And sure, man's body returns to dust in death, but that's the result of Adam's separation from God (which we inherit) and wearing out of the body, which then separates from the soul which continues to exist. That's the whole point of the very first mention of death in scripture: Genesis 2:17, where Adam is warned he will "die" the very 24-hour day he eats the forbidden fruit, and yet only suffers physical dissolution hundreds of years later. Isn't that true? So how did Adam "die" the very day he ate of the fruit? The record of Genesis 3:1 to 5:5 gives you the answer. His once perfect, undying body was corrupted, wore out, and died after 936 years, despite the fact that according to God, Adam "died" back in Genesis 3. So there were two types of death: One happened the day he ate of the fruit, and resulted in a horrible process of decline, and the other happened as recorded in 5:5, when his body gave out and eventually decomposed. So spiritual death--separation from God's life-sustaining power--led to physical death--separation of the soul from the body. And we know his soul survived his body because of the many other scriptures (see my first post) showing how that happened to every other human. The contextual evidence and the direct evidence in the Bible is clear that if you take into account ALL the biblical data regarding the definition of death, then the full picture leads to the ironclad conclusion that it is more than physical dissolution.

  5. This link will provide a list of all the places in Gen where the word for dead in Gen 2:17. I think you will find that dead does mean dead. What you are saying about death meaning separation is simply not in the text. Again, if God wanted Adam (and us) to think of separation when He gave the warning to Adam He could have used the word for it. I'm happy to have a discussion about Revelation and the Lazarus parable but let's at least come to agreement that what you are suggesting that God said (and the serpent contradicts) is not in the text. The warning to Adam is that he will die (Gen 3:19) and God causes this by removing access to the tree of life (Gen 3:21, 24).

    1. There are two texts in scripture that explicitly describe physical death as the separation of the soul from the body. Genesis 35:18 "nd as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin"--and Ecclesiastes 12:7 "the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." Physical death is not the cessation of the conscious being, but the separation of the soul from the body.

    2. Gen 35:18 refers to her "nephesh". Ec 12:7 refers to the "ruwach". These are two different things in Hebrew terminology. So at best you only have one verse that supports the separation idea. I suggest that even the Gen passage simply means her living being was being extinquished. Check out the Bible project for a good explanation of the words Soul and Spirit.

    3. VP, I appreciate the reply. I looked at the passages in your link and did not find anything other than passages about people being dead. I get the fact that "dead," "die," "died," and "death" are words (in Hebrew and English). I think what you're not getting is that you can't define a word by simply repeating that word, as in "dead means dead." I could say, "Don't you get it? Charger means charger." The problem is that the word "charger" has different shades of meaning depending on the context. The context rules the meaning, especially when the context is descriptive and/or illustrative.

      In the case of the Hebrew word(s) for "dead," "die," etc., the full meaning is found by the context, including how the word's meaning is described. For "death" of human beings in the Bible, it means separation.

      In fact, you yourself agreed with this in your post, when you said that God caused Adam to die by "removing access to" -- i.e., separating from -- "the tree of life."

      You say that God could have simply told Adam that he was going to "separated" from God's life if that was what death means. But I don't think that reasoning works to refute the death-separation thesis, because I could simply turn it around and say: You are insisting death equals annihilation, so why didn't God use the word "annihilation" or "extinction"? I could say, "Since He didn't use annihilation, death can't possibly mean that, so you are refuted." But that would be wrong reasoning on MY part, because I would be failing to examine the context of how the word is used in scripture to fix the full, complete definition. Thus, if you simply say, "God didn't say 'separation' to Adam, therefore 'death' can't mean 'separation' in any way," you're committing a fallacy that could be reversed against your position just as easily.

      So the question is: What does the context of scripture say to give the full, complete meaning of death? Is it annihilation? And the answer is no, it can't be, for the reasons Lenny and I have stated in above posts. But for added definition:

      There are at least 23 scriptures in the OT Hebrew that death ushered an immaterial part of men (often called "shades" or "rephaim") into a location where they had immediate conscious existence.

      The Genesis 2 and 5 scriptures I mentioned in a previous post (where Adam "dies" in Gen 2 yet continues to "live" for 936 years) parallels Eph. 2:1-6 where Paul says the unsaved were "dead" while they walked, talked, breathed, ate, and looked very much not dead! So they were "dead" and alive simultaneously: spiritually dead like Adam after he ate the forbidden fruit, and therefore physically alive but headed for physical death. If death is not some kind of separation, this scripture makes little sense. On top of that, the passage says they "were dead" but are not dead anymore. How could that be if death is annihilation? Did they somehow cease to exist (even though they were active?!) and then re-exist once they were saved? No. They had been separated from God, thus spiritually dead, and upon salvation became spiritually alive--connected to His eternal life.

      In the rest of the NT this becomes even more fully apparent, but I'll leave this as it is.

    4. I just saw that my reply to this comment by you is actually a level higher on the thread. Since I answered there I won't repeat but wanted to apologize for posting in the wrong place. And btw, thanks for the polite discussion with both myself and Brady Mayo. It does much credit to you and to Christian living when we can disagree but do so respectfully. I applaud you for that.

    5. VP, likewise!

  6. Chris,I do not buy that death always means separation because it is almost always contrasted with eternal life. It is obvious that death is the opposite of eternal life in many of the passages having to do with the fate of the wicked and that eternal life is a gift that belongs to God alone (1 Timothy 6:16). The Hellenistic philosophical tradition views the human soul as inherently immortal but scripture does not demand this even in the Revelation passages. God graciously offers immortality as a gift to people who align themselves with his will (e.g. John 3:15–16; 10:28; 17:2; Rom. 2:7; 6:23; 1 Cor. 15:42f; 50, 54; Gal. 6:8; 1 John 5:11). Those who choose to reject God’s will are denied this gift, following the pattern of Adam and Eve when God denied them access to “the tree of life” (Gen 3:22-24). So the separation could very well mean they are separated from immortality or ETERNAL life.

    “The wicked suffer “eternal punishment”(Mt 25:46), “eternal judgment” (Heb 6:2) and “eternal destruction” (2 Thess 1:9) the same way the elect experience “eternal redemption” (Heb 5:9, 9:12). The elect do not undergo an eternal process of redemption. Their redemption is “eternal” in the sense that once the elect are redeemed, it is forever. So too, the damned do not undergo an eternal process of punishment or destruction. But once they are punished and destroyed, it is forever. Hell is eternal in consequence, not duration. The wicked are “destroyed forever” (Ps 92:7), but they are not forever being destroyed.” (Boyd)

    “Also the references in scripture that mention “unquenchable fire” and “undying worm” seem to mean the finality of judgement, not its duration. If these passages (Isa. 66:24, cf. 2 Kings 22:17; 1:31; 51:8) are read in context, it becomes clear that the fire is unquenchable in the sense that it cannot be put out before it consumes those thrown into it.

    The Old Testament actually has a good deal to say about the ultimate destiny of those who resist God. Peter specifically cites the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as a pattern of how God judges the wicked. The Lord turned the inhabitants of these cities “to ashes” and “condemned them to extinction” thus making “them an example of what is coming to the ungodly…” (2 Pet. 2:6).”

  7. Throughout the Old Testament the Lord threatens the wicked with annihilation. Also, I think you can better understand the word death in comparison to other words that God uses to describe the fate of the wicked and all of them mean annihilation: Devours, consumed, perish (apollymi), destroyed, burned, cut off, vanish, trodden down and wither, “the wicked perish…like smoke they vanish away” (Ps. 37:20); They become “like the chaff of the summer threshing floor” blown away by the wind “so that not a trace of them [can] be found” (Dan. 2:35). Nahum says that in the judgment the wicked “are consumed like dry straw” (Nahum 1:10). Malachi tells us that the judgment day shall come “burning like an oven” and “all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble.” The judgment thus “shall burn them up” (Mal. 4:1).They “shall be cut off…and…will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there“ (Ps. 37:9–10). In short, the fate of the wicked is disintegration into nothingness. And finally, “[t]he evil have no future; the lamp of the wicked will go out” (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. Jesus contrasts the wide gate that “leads to destruction” with the narrow gate that “leads to life” (Matt. 7:13).

    “The theme that the Lord will annihilate the wicked is especially prominent in the Psalms. The Psalmist says that whereas those who take delight in the Lord shall be “like trees planted by streams of water” (1:3), the wicked shall be “like chaff that the wind drives away…the wicked will perish” (Ps. 1:4, 6). They shall be dashed “in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (2:9), torn into fragments (Ps. 50:22) and “blotted out of the book of the living…” (Ps. 69:28, cf. Deut. 29:20). Each metaphor depicts total annihilation.”

    So too, Paul teaches that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life” (Rom. 6:23, cf. 21, 1:32). This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching that those who try to find life apart from God end up losing it (Matt. 10:39).
    The contrast in these passages between “death,” losing life, and “perishing,” on the one hand, with “life,” on the other, seems quite incompatible with the contrast of eternal bliss with eternal pain that the traditional teaching on hell presupposes. “Death,” losing life, and “perishing” are not easily read as signifying another kind of life, viz. a life of eternal conscious pain.
    if throughout eternity there shall be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” as multitudes suffer an endless second death? If the traditional view of hell is correct, God remains non-victorious. Instead of a glorious universal Kingdom unblemished by any stain, an ugly dualism reigns throughout eternity.

    1. Brady, thanks for your reply. IMO, your first and second paragraphs suffer from only considering one category of scriptures concerning a topic (in this case, death) and ignoring others that would give a more full, accurate, and multi-faceted view. Jehovah's Witnesses make this same error regarding the deity of Christ, looking only at scriptures showing Christ in his functional/incarnational role and leaving out those which paint a complete picture of His identity.

      In the same way, your last paragraph simply assumes that terms like "death" and "perish" and "destruction" only always mean annihilation or extinction. But that's just an assumption, and in light of other scriptures not one that I believes holds up.

    2. Chris - "Death is the cessation of life. That is the definition." Cessation - "the fact or process of ending or being brought to an end." You are the one changing definitions. The foundation of this article and your argument is that death means separation from God in a conscious enduring tormenting sense. Lenny says in his article - "However, I have written before that to be separated from God means to be separated from his goodness and all that entails. Thus, the only thing left for a person where God's good gifts of peace, contentment, and rest are missing is torment." Uh, what? Uh no! it does not have to mean that at all. In fact, annihilation IS to be eternally separated from God's goodness and all that entails. It does not imply eternal torment whatsoever. What Lenny and you are doing are presupposing one of the traditional views that you are already convinced of and inserting it into the text.

      When annihilation occurs they are, in fact, separated from God forever. So, Lenny's argument fails from the very beginning.

      Also, in the early church era there was no consensus on the idea of hell being a place of eternal torment. Even Augustine (354-430), who vehemently opposed Universalism, acknowledged, "There are VERY MANY in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments." Enchirdion cxii. (The Latin for "very many" is imo quam plurimi, which can be translated "majority").

      Just to name a few (and this is not all of them) Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa did not believe in hell as being a place of eternal torment. Some saw hell as a place of cleansing or purifying sense and some as complete annihilation.

  8. "It’s important to keep in mind that Revelation is a highly symbolic book. Its apocalyptic images shouldn’t be interpreted literally. This is particularly true of the phrase “forever and ever” since similar phrases are used elsewhere in Scripture in contexts where they clearly cannot literally mean “unending” (e.g. Gen 49:26; Ex 40:15; Nu 25:13; Ps 24:7). The Lake of Fire is clearly a place of annihilation if seen in the light of the Old Testament passages like Isaiah 34.

    The most significant example of this for our purposes is Isaiah 34:9-10, for it closely parallels the two passages in Revelation. In this passage Isaiah says that the fire that shall consume Edom shall burn “[n]ight and day” and “shall not be quenched.” Its smoke “shall go up forever” and no one shall pass through this land again “forever and ever.” Obviously, this is symbolic, for the fire and smoke of Edom’s judgment isn’t still ascending today. If this is true of Isaiah, we should be less inclined to interpret similar expressions in the book of Revelation literally."

    I think your case for eternal torment is a very weak one. John Stott also saw the weakness in this traditional view of hell. You cannot ignore the Old Testament language that is seen again in Revelation that clearly means annihilation. If context and not Hellenistic philosophical tradition (or any other traditions) owns the day then annihilation clearly wins.

    1. Brady, regarding the scriptures you cite in which "forever and ever" "cannot mean 'unending'", I beg to differ. I'm not sure what source you got this from, but they didn't carefully examine these verses. First, most translations don't say "forever and ever" in these passages. In any case, in Gen 49:26, of course the pertinent term can mean unending, since scripture is clear that certain features of the earth will always be present, including many hills in the Holy Land. Have some faith in God's Word! Ex. 40:15 and Nu 25:13 can also mean unending, since we know that after the Second Coming, the priesthood will be resumed among the tribe of Levi to offer unending worship to God; but also in these two scriptures, there are possible qualifiers in the passage that are not present in the Revelation passages, meaning that even if the line of priesthood ended, there are loopholes in these two passages to account for it. And in Ps. 24:7, this famous passage obviously refers to something unending: the doors of God's temple in heaven; if that's not endless, I'm not sure what is! Indeed, it seems these scriptures strengthen the case for a literal "forever and ever" and weaken the contention that anything one finds distasteful in Revelation can be brushed off by saying a lot of Revelation is symbolic. Yes, a lot of Revelation is symbolic, but not all of it, and much of the terminology is clear, including the passages on judgment.

      Regarding Is. 34, the context of this chapter and those surrounding it clearly shows that most, if not all, of the events described haven't happened yet, so verse 10 is no defense of annihilationism and could very well be used against it by strengthening the anti-annihilationist views of the Revelation passages. Is. 34 includes descriptions of future judgment of the world which dovetail nicely with Revelation.

      In addition, comparing it with Rev. 14 and 20 reveals key additional phrases in Revelation which aren't in Is. 34, and which invalidate the attempt to use it to refute eternal conscious punishment.

      Finally, it's possible for good men like John Stott to succumb to false beliefs, which he did in the case of the nature of judgment. Obviously, a greater number of respected, careful experts in the Bible disagreed with Stott, and wrote pointed refutations of his view. Regarding Hellenism, it's a fallacy to attack a belief simply because the Hellenists believed it. You almost certainly hold many beliefs on spiritual issues that would agree with something the Hellenists also believed. I could just as easily counter your view by showing that annihilationism picked up huge steam from the secular Enlightenment. These arguments are strawmen. The issue is what the scriptures say.

  9. Here's the english definition for death

    the action or fact of dying or being killed; the end of the life of a person or organism.
    "I don't believe in life after death"
    synonyms: demise, dying, end, passing, loss of life; More
    the state of being dead.
    "even in death, she was beautiful"
    the permanent ending of vital processes in a cell or tissue.

    The above is the definition. It is what the Hebres word is translated to. I am not claiming translators are infallible but I wonder why they chose to chose the english word "death" for the translation if the Bible really meant something else.

    Is it possible that what you are calling "context" is really just a excuse for you to insert pre-conceived ideas into the text when those ideas don't really show up in scripture. I agree with the use of context but am extremely suspicious when words that we all understand start to have different and contradictory meanings.

    One thing you said intrigued me. "There are at least 23 scriptures in the OT Hebrew that death ushered an immaterial part of men (often called "shades" or "rephaim") into a location where they had immediate conscious existence." Would you care to show me a few where the immediate conscious existence is so obvious that a non-biased observer who have to say, "Of course, this proves consciousness after death"?

    One of your last points was if death really meant the end of life how could some of the scriptures make sense. Several years ago a movie was made called "Dead Man Walking" but it had nothing to do with zombies. Its setting was a prison death row and the phrase was a reflection that although alive at this moment the dead man was going to their execution. We see a similar concept expressed by David in 1 Kings 2:37. Today we might hear it when in anger someone with power over anothers life says "You're a dead man" even while the person they are taking to is still breathing.

    The contrast of life and death is replete throughout scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Death as defined at the beginning of this post is the most straightforward way to interpret scripture. I don't need to redefine the term to mean something else to have scritpure make perfectly good sense.

    1. VP, for most of world history, Judeo-Christian and pagan, for most people the word "death" would not have had the limitations of our modern secular dictionary definition centered around cessation of existence. Epicureans and other materialist ideologies might have aligned with the modernist view of death, but not most people. So where do you get the idea that "death" is limited to existential cessation? Do you get it from the Bible, or the secular Enlightenment? If you're reading most modern dictionaries, it's the latter, and they are tainted with a modernist worldview bias that echoes the Epicurean error. So when you talk about my possibly "pre-conceived ideas," isn't it just as likely, if not more, that your's are pre-conceived from reading modernist-influenced dictionaries like the one you cited, and being immersed in a secular culture in which a massive amount of secular education and secular literature consider death to be "the end" and the soul to either be an illusion or a temporary emanation of the body? Actually, isn't modern dictionary annihilationism a more recent innovation?

      Of course, the Hellenists' view of the immaterial soul and their take on the afterlife were imprecise since they didn't have divine revelation, but their holding of a general concept of a soul and an afterlife doesn't make these concepts wrong. Ptolemy was right about a lot of his math, but we don't reject it because he was a Greek. The question is what the scriptures, not the Greeks or modernist-influenced dictionaries, say, and how they describe death and the fate of the soul.

      Lenny and I have given enough scriptures to make the case for the existence of the soul and spirit that survives physical death, whether you are saved or unsaved; that "death" involves separation (of the human from God; of the soul from the body; and for the unsaved, of the reunited soul and body from God's presence) and that the ultimate fate of the unbelieving is perpetual punishment. I can give more, but I'd actually like to interact on the scriptures already cited.

      I would be interested to know what you think of Ephesians 2:1-6. Doesn't this describe a type of "death" whose primary characteristic is not annihilation? Isn't it reasonable that this is the same kind of "death" that God warned Adam and Eve about in Genesis 2, at a time when Adam and Eve were still non-dead (i.e., alive)? Didn't Adam and Eve go from a state of life to a state of death the very day they ate of the forbidden fruit, just as God said they would? What is the difference between the death Adam experienced in Gen 2 and the one he experienced in Gen 5?

      I take it from your "Dead Man Walking" allusion that you think the scriptures are merely using figurative foreshadowing. But when I read the text, this seems not to explain it in a way that supports non-separationism or annihilationism. Was God really just telling Adam that eating the forbidden fruit would mean that he would be instantly put under a death sentence, but not actually be dead for 936 years? And even if so, what changed in Adam's body to make that death-sentence into a biological state of decline, if not an instant separation or disconnectedness from God's life which defined that death sentence so that God could tell Adam that he was dead "that day"? Wasn't Adam a "Dead Man Walking" because something tangible had occurred to him "that day"? And that this catastrophic change was defined by a break, disconnection, or separation from a divine life source?

      Also, it is your position that a soul or spirit CANNOT exist apart from our present body?

    2. First that we shouldn't confuse soul and spirit. Understanding these terms in Hebraic thought will help alot as scripture is read. I suggested earlier checking out the Bible Projects work on these terms.

      I take a very holistic view of man. In Gen 2:7 God creates man from dust (body), breathes (spirit) into man, and man becomes a living soul. The ESV translates it this way - "then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."

      The body without the breath of life from God is a dead creature (or a dead soul) such as Lev 21:11. When the body has the breath of life it is a living creature (or a living soul).

      So, I think you should see that I am taking scripture very plainly. I am not changing definitions of words to match some "englightened" attitude.

      Regarding Eph 2:1-6 I suggest we expand to the full paragraph - through vs 9. Then it becomes quite obvious that Paul is speaking about the death sentence or the gift of life that will come in the future. We are dead and deserving of wrath. Or we are alive and raised up to the heavenly realms. Both of these, wrath or raised to heavenly realms refer to a future - or as Paul puts it, a coming age.

      And you make a rather strange claim if you are suggesting the OT Hebrew thought was that there would be a conscious afterlife and that its exhibited in the OT. Remember, its the OT that says the dead do NOT praise God. Its the OT that says ALL plans come to an end when one is dead.

    3. VP, I don't think you're taking a holistic perspective of man at all, since you are restricting your analysis to a few scriptures and ignoring the whole.

      Re: Eph. 2:1-9, I don't understand how what you've said addresses my point. The passage clearly says Christians were dead yet were physically active, then were made alive by grace through faith in Christ. Similarly, Gen 2 says Adam was alive, then instantly dead, but still physically alive until 936 years later (his physical death recorded in Gen 5). Similarly, Col. 3:1-4 says we were dead in sins, then made alive (raised up with Christ through being identified with Christ's death for our sins--see v.1). All the events of being dead-yet-physically-alive, and then made "alive" in a sense beyond the physical, are in the PAST and PRESENT tenses. These have future ramifications, but are not future events. And thus all point to one logical conclusion: there are different types of life and death described in the Bible, with the definitions going all the way back to early Genesis. 1 John 5:10-13 says we know "have" eternal life as a present possession.

      To get back to a holistic view, an accurate categorization of the scriptures is as follows:

      Category #1 - Scriptures that show that death is not annihilation but separation: spiritual separation from God, and ultimate separation of the immaterial part of man from the body at physical death.

      Category #2 - Scriptures that show OT humans possessed an immaterial part of their being that is conscious after death and went to a location called Sheol.

      Category #3 - Scriptures that refer to the dead as being totally cut off from activities of this life and world. They do not know, and cannot influence, what happens in our world, and our world has no knowledge, apart from a few slices of scripture, of what is happening in Sheol.

      Category #4 -Scriptures showing that Sheol is a location, not simply a state of non-existence.

      Category #5 - Scriptures showing that when a person dies, his body decomposes and returns to the dust.

      Category #6 - Scriptures showing that the dead will be resurrected.

      For Category 2, conscious separation of the immaterial part of man, some examples:

      Isaiah 14: 9-11 prophetically describes the after-death experience of a king of Babylon, probably Belshazzar. Unlike other kings who were buried in splendor, Belshazzar was brutally killed by the Medo-Persians who took the city by sudden stealth (Dan. 5).

      The Isaiah prophecy describes the dual nature of his demise: his spirit (Heb. Rephah which means "shade" or "departed spirit") went down to Sheol where he was mocked by the rephaim (plural of rephah, "shades" or "departed spirits") already there, and his body was eaten by maggots (indeed, the fate of his body becomes a topic of the mockery Belshazzar must absorb from the other rephaim when entering Sheol).

      Ezek. 32:21 describes a similar welcome into Sheol for the king of Egypt and his slain hordes. The dead there mock the newcomers. The dead in Sheol can sense and speak.

      Job 25:5-6

      There are plenty more.

      I think we should agree to disagree. But some of your answers lead me to ask: Do you consider yourself saved, in a here-and-now sense, by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, based on his atoning sacrificial death and resurrection; regarding Christ to be God in the flesh? Just asking, because I don't want to neglect things more important than the matters we've been discussing. Thanks!

    4. Chris, you asked a great question above about "what changed in Adam's body to make that death-sentence into a biological state of decline ... so that God could tell Adam that he was dead "that day"?" And you continued with what "tangible" thing occurred that day?
      The answer is in Gen 3:22. Here's God's words according to the NIV -“The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”
      God is banishing Adam from the tree of life. Otherwise Adam could have continued to live forever. Without access Adam is sentenced to death. God is so concerned about this point that vs 24 says He put a guard between Adam and the tree of life.
      The ESV and NASB for example tranlate vs 22 a bit more closely to the original text. Note that God doesn't actually finish His statement. Its as if the thought of a sinful man living forever is so abhorrent to God that He won't even state it in words.
      (Note that at this point conditionalists see God as saying sinful man must die. I assume you are ECT and say that actually sinful man will live forever in hell. Our disagreement on this subject starts in the very first book of the Bible.)

    5. VP -- Thank for your reply. I don't think this is really an adequate answer, but a clarifying one for our respective positions.

      My critique would be that the evidence of death is seen much earlier than Gen. 3:22. From verse 7 onward, the scripture describes a change in Adam's and Eve's relationship to God and to each other, as well as an internal change resulting from the break with God. This change is profound and horrible, manifested in things that are physical, emotional, and psychological. All evidence of just what God warned: instant death. All before 3:22, and all before 5:5, when physical death occurred.

    6. Since we have so many threads going here I hesitate to keep another progressing but I missed this response until now. I will simply say that with your interpretation you have a math and biblical language problem (at minimum). Count the deaths provided in the explanation you gave and then look to Heb 9:27 and also Rev 20:14-15. Do you see the discrepancy?

  10. Chris, thank you for your response. I appreciate the civil dialogue.That is rare when it comes to these topics.

    Isaiah 34 is absolutely not describing an unending process. The fate of Edom is not eternal torment but annihilation. That would make no sense. Yet it is clear that John borrowed the language used in this verse to describe the fate of the wicked in Revelation. All her princes will what? Vanish.

    "For the Lord has a day of vengeance,
    a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause. 9 Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch,her dust into burning sulfur;
    her land will become blazing pitch!
    10 It will not be quenched night or day;
    its smoke will rise forever.
    From generation to generation it will lie desolate;no one will ever pass through it again.11 The desert owl[b] and screech owl[c] will possess it;the great owl[d] and the raven will nest there.
    God will stretch out over Edom
    the measuring line of chaos
    and the plumb line of desolation.
    12 Her nobles will have nothing there to be called a kingdom, all her princes will vanish away.

    Also, why is it when the word "death" is contrasted alongside of "eternal life" that it is not described as eternal death or eternal separation? If death automatically means eternal separation then why would "life" need a qualifier? If eternal was already implied regarding the fate of both the wicked and the righteous then wouldn't make more sense to leave "life" alone? I guess when can agree to disagree but Matthew 10:28 to me cannot be dismissed:

    "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."

    This clearly annihilation language. As far as annihilationism having its beginning during the enlightment that is simply not true. Some of this is a stretch, but many of the early church fathers thought of hell in this way.

    1. Brady, likewise, and thank you. I do want to give an answer to your points, though I agree we will likely agree to disagree.

      Regarding Is. 34, there's no reason what is described in the chapter could not be unending. It is an eschatological passage describing events concerning ultimate judgment. In that period of history, there will be a Millennial Kingdom leading to an eternal state, and these will have tangible structures, locations, and characteristics that will be everlasting. As for Edom's royalty "vanishing," that means there will be no more Edomic government, not that individuals will be punished for the sins by annihilation.

      And as for John borrowing from Is. 34 to write Revelation, I don't agree. John, you will recall, wrote down what God showed him in a vision (Rev. 1:1, 4:1, 22:7-8). You write as if he sat down and pieced together parts of the OT to compose Revelation. Instead, the words he received were a direct vision from God. God used similar phrases in Is 34, Revelation 14 and 20 (and elsewhere) to describe similar, though possibly not the same, phenomenon. If what is described was the same event in Is. 34 and Rev. 14 and 20, then the COMPLETE picture is in Revelation, and it clearly describes conscious torment that God's Word says goes on day and night forever and ever. You'll recall that you brought up other scriptures purporting to show that "forever and ever" do not mean unending, yet upon examination I found that this wasn't so. There is simply no linguistic reason to disbelieve the plain meaning of these words in Revelation and elsewhere, and the burden of proof is on those who claim the words don't retain their plain and normal meaning.

      Regarding Matthew 10:28, I note the difference between "kill the body" and "destroy both body and soul in hell." The Greek words for "kill" and "destroy" are different, with the word for "destroy" very often meaning "ruin" or "lose" some other action quite different from annihilate. And even it this wasn't the case, "destroying both body and soul in hell" has no entailment of annihilation.

      As to the enlightenment, I never said annihilation originated then, but that secular enlightenment thinking has greatly encouraged annihilationism and provided a platform for it thinking.

      And regarding "eternal life," the fact is that eternal life is often described in the Bible as simply "life" with no qualifier. In addition, always saying "eternal death" could be confusing since death has three aspects: spiritual, physical, eternal. "Eternal life" saves from all three of these aspects of death, not just from eternal death.

    2. Looking through this it seems Brady Mayo is arguing for conditionalism and I am pretty much in agreement with him. However, that has not really been my focus (I got into this discussion based on the definition of death).

      A major confusion seems to be how death is defined and I am arguing for taking death at face value. I don't want to speak for Brady Mayo here but one major confusion the ECT side often has in these discussions is that they think conditionalists define death as annihilation. That is NOT the case.

      Death is the cessation of life. That is the definition.

      Now, if life never returns we could call it annihilation but that is not the definition. When Lazarus was dead he was dead. Death for Lazarus did not mean he was alive somewhere else nor did it mean that he was annihilated. Some might use the terminology and say he was annihilated since all his life processes had ended and he had no thought functions. But the fact is he was dead. He had ceased to live.

      One of the strong positives of conditionalism is that it doesn’t have to redefine words to meet its agenda. It can take the common definition and use it to explain itself. In other words, conditionalism defines its doctrine on the basis of scripture as opposed to “re-defining” scripture on the basis of its doctrine.

      For a conditionalist death means cessation of life

      For a ECTer death means either 1)
      separation or 2) living forever in a really bad place

    3. "Death is the cessation of life. That is the definition." Respectfully, this is more circular reasoning. It is also a special problem for your position since you acknowledge more than one aspect to the definition of "life." And from my view, I chuckle at such platitudes as "conditionalism . . . doesn't have to redefine words to meet its agenda." Not only does conditionalism "redefine" words, it often fails to define them in the first place!

    4. Now that's silly. I've given the definition and you didn't like it. And you say I'm using circular reasoning and not defining at all.

      Previously I posted the english definition of death.

      Here's a paragraph from the web site

      2. The Meaning of Death:

      This is decidedly expressed in Scripture much more so even than among ourselves. For we are influenced always more or less by the Greek, Platonic idea, that the body dies, yet the soul is immortal. Such an idea is utterly contrary to the Israelite consciousness, and is nowhere found in the Old Testament. The whole man dies, when in death the spirit (Psalms 146:4; Ecclesiastes 12:7), or soul (Genesis 35:18; 2 Samuel 1:9; 1 Kings 17:21; Jonah 4:3), goes out of a man. Not only his body, but his soul also returns to a state of death and belongs to the nether-world; therefore the Old Testament can speak of a death of one's soul (Genesis 37:21 (Hebrew); Numbers 23:10 m; Deuteronomy 22:21; Judges 16:30; Job 36:14; Psalms 78:50), and of defilement by coming in contact with a dead body (Leviticus 19:28; 21:11; 22:4; Numbers 5:2; 6:6; 9:6; 19:10; Deuteronomy 14:1; Haggai 2:13). This death of man is not annihilation, however, but a deprivation of all that makes for life on earth. The Sheol (she'ol) is in contrast with the land of the living in every respect (Job 28:13; Proverbs 15:24; Ezekiel 26:20; 32:23); it is an abode of darkness and the shadow of death (Job 10:21,22; Psalms 88:12; 143:3), a place of destruction, yea destruction itself (Job 26:6; 28:22; 31:12; Psalms 88:11; Proverbs 27:20), without any order (Job 10:22), a land of rest, of silence, of oblivion (Job 3:13,17,18; Psalms 94:17; 115:17), where God and man are no longer to be seen (Isaiah 38:11), God no longer praised or thanked (Psalms 6:5; 115:17), His perfections no more acknowledged (Psalms 88:10-13; Isaiah 38:18,19), His wonders not contemplated (Psalms 88:12), where the dead are unconscious, do no more work, take no account of anything, possess no knowledge nor wisdom, neither have any more a portion in anything that is done under the sun (Ecclesiastes 9:5,6,10). The dead ("the Shades" the Revised Version, margin; compare article \DECEASE\) are asleep (Job 26:5; Proverbs 2:18; 9:18; 21:6; Psalms 88:11; Isaiah 14:9), weakened (Isaiah 14:10) and without strength (Psalms 88:4).

      Here's the usage and definition of the word used translated in Gen 2:17. It's Strongs H4191 -
      Outline of Biblical Usage [?]
      to die, kill, have one executed


      to die

      to die (as penalty), be put to death

      to die, perish (of a nation)

      to die prematurely (by neglect of wise moral conduct)

      (Polel) to kill, put to death, dispatch

      (Hiphil) to kill, put to death


      to be killed, be put to death

      to die prematurely

      Strong’s Definitions [?](Strong’s Definitions Legend)
      מוּת mûwth, mooth; a primitive root; to die (literally or figuratively); causatively, to kill:—× at all, × crying, (be) dead (body, man, one), (put to, worthy of) death, destroy(-er), (cause to, be like to, must) die, kill, necro(-mancer), × must needs, slay, × surely, × very suddenly, × in (no) wise.

      Since each time I present actual definition of the word you tell me I am wrong in favor of your own pet definition, we can't even find common ground. Therefore its useless to attempt any reason.

      I will leave it at this. You should be extremely careful in life and biblical study because most words have definitions and we don't get to choose the meaning. Using pet definitions can lead someone into all sorts of heresies since they can twist scritpure to mean anything they want. I caution you against following anyone who does that type of twisting and against doing it yourself.

    5. VP, I apologize for using the word "chuckle" in my previous post. It seems to have rubbed you the wrong way and provoked a lecture! That was not my intent.

      I do, though, think you've been going in circles given the topic of our discussion, the nature of death and the afterlife especially for the lost. Simply saying, "Death means death" or "Death means cessation of life" is unhelpful when the entire argument hinges on breaking down the definition of "death" and "life." That insistence is neither silly nor presumptive on my part, it's simply good and necessary inductive reasoning.

      I actually think the paragraph you pasted in gets more to the point, because it contains descriptions and illustrations of terminology. I don't agree with all of it (which author was it at the study tools site?), but it is much more helpful. I posted something similar above, with categorization of Hebrew terms on death and the afterlife for the lost that is the best way to rationally construct a composite picture of the doctrine with all scriptures reconciled according to sound hermeneutics. I could only fit 3 of the 23 scripture from the OT indicating conscious life for the lost after physical death. You may want to revisit that.

      As to your lecturing me about Bible study methods, a little background: I came to Christ from atheism decades ago, almost joined Jehovah's Witnesses on the way, and worked with counter-cult and apologetics ministries. I never believe something "just because" some authority says it. I study the Bible, and pay attention to systematic, inductive methods of exegesis and hermeneutics.

      My conclusions regarding death and the afterlife for the lost come from such study, but were intensified during a prolonged dialogue with a Jehovah's Witness elder who came to my door a few years ago. We had a cordial email interchange as I undertook an extensive study in Hebrew and Greek of the topic. My emotional preference would be for the CI position. My inductive study of scripture led me to confirm the ECT position, prompting my JW friend to admit he had no firm answers to my analysis (alas, it didn't draw him out of that cult).

      If I can post more of my analysis I will (it was many, many pages), but frankly this is getting tiresome, and I'm not sure it would do any good.

      Thanks, Chris

    6. The author was a Herman Bavinck ( ) but I don't know much about him.

    7. I am a conditionalist but my posts here have been against rewriting definitions - that’s how I started my input into this conversation. (It also drifted off into the idea of “immortal” soul a bit.)

      I am simply for taking the words at their face value and that’s why I post the actual definitions. And I bristle when I hear that death means something other than those definitions. (I am not beyond saying at some point Strong’s might have gotten something incorrect but then the burden of proof is extremely heavy to show why they are wrong). So if Strong’s says Muwth means death or kill I go with that. And if I hear someone say that it means separation I might call it out as I did here.

      Regarding conditionalism, it works very strongly with this method of interpretation. Perish (John 3:16) and death (Rom 6:23) and extinction (2 Peter 2:6) all can be taken at face value. There are a boatload of verses that work perfectly with this understanding and so give conditionalism extremely strong support. And the verses that at first glance support ECT are just a handful. And in every case close examination of the text suggests that conditionalism is at least possible or more likely. So, over time my belief that conditionalism is the correct doctrine has grown to about 97%. Honestly, outside of Revelation I don’t know of any verses that really challenge conditionalism. And in Revelation the 2 passages that at first seem to support ECT don’t require all that much analysis to understand why conditionalism is at least possible or probable.

      And although I might be a bit callous on the subject I don’t give much value to someone’s emotion in interpreting scripture. Just because they want something to be true does not make it so. Many ECTer’s want ECT to be true because it doesn’t challenge their belief structure. Still, I think they need to put their emotions to the side and go with what the Word says. Interpret the text instead of trying to make it conform to one’s pretext.

      If you want to post your best couple verses for ECT I’m more than willing to listen and give feedback. Or if you want to go with the overarching themes of the Bible to discuss I’m willing to go there.

      As far as what JW’s believe about conditionalism I am not well versed on that. I know they hold to some form of it but how close it is to scripture I cannot say since I haven’t spent time reviewing. They often give lip service (IMO) to certain biblical ideas but have different meanings \ definitions. (And that, funny as it seems, is exactly what I was critical of you for.)

      Anyway, for the most part, this has all been very cordial. ECT vs conditionalism, immortal soul vs a more holistic view of man, the definition of death. I don’t think these are issues to separate over but I do think they are serious nonetheless. Its good when brothers can discuss and not separate.

    8. Ah, the same Herman Bavinck who wrote, in Reformed Dogmatics: “Scripture clearly and irrefutably teaches human immortality. When conditionalism views the destruction, that is the punishment of sin as an annihilation of the human subsistence, it is confusing the ethical with the physical. …just as God does not annihilate human beings in the first death, so neither does he annihilate them in the second. For in Scripture the latter, too, is described as punishment, weeping and gnashing of teeth, anguish and distress, never-ending fire, the undying worm, and so on, expressions that all assume the existence of the lost.”

      Sorry, I couldn't resist! :-) Just sayin. I know there are comebacks to this.

    9. Interesting and nice catch. Just proves to me to let scripture be the guide and not one man's opinion.

  11. Great point VP!

  12. Chris who really wrote Revelation? John or God? Who wrote Isaiah 34? This is all God’s word and it makes sense that God uses the same metophor and language in the Old and New. I appreciate the dialogue but I am just as convinced that annihilation is what happens in hell. I did not find your arguments convincing. but you are a class act and a brother in Christ.

  13. I'll be replying to these objections in an article coming in the next day or so and highlighting how the continued existence of the human soul is key to the nature of redemption. Stay tuned.

    1. Excellent. Let me point out a few objections you will have to overcome.

      1 Tim 6:16 where Paul says only God is immortal

      Gen 3:19 where God says man is dust (and He doesn't make any exception)

      The first use of soul in the OT is referring to animals. Are they immortal also?

      The OT refers to dead souls. What does a dead immortal soul mean?

      Why the Bible says the soul that sins will die.

      Mt 10:28 God kills the soul

      I've suggested before you check out some resources on the definiton of soul and spirit. It might prove helpful in your forthcoming article.

    2. One question for you, VP. Do you hold to historic Christian orthodoxy? Do you believe in the Trinity and that Jesus was fully God and fully man?

    3. Lenny, as you write your article here's another few questions for you to ponder and I'd love to hear your answer. In John 11 we have the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus makes a couple statements to the disciples. He says Lazarus is sleeping and that Lazarus is dead. Why does Jesus not tell them Lazarus' soul is doing just fine? Why does Jesus completely avoid a discussion of the "immortal" part of Lazarus in discussing the situation with the disciples?

      When Jesus has a chance to comfort Martha and Mary why does Jesus not tell them that Lazarus' soul is immortal and doing well? Why does Jesus point them instead to the resurrection, completely skipping the peace Lazarus is now enjoying?

      How angry was Lazarus with Jesus when Jesus brought him back from the dead? If Lazarus soul was enjoying great peace wouldn't he be at least a little miffed?

      What do you think Lazarus said when asked by friends and interested parties how wonderful his three days with his soul free from his body were? Surely he would have been asked. And this would be a key concern of anyone who knew that one day they would also die. Any conjecture on why the gospel writers didn't include any statements from Lazarus?

      If the soul is immortal and has conscious thought after death I think all the above questions would be extremely relevent to your coming article.

      You probably have deduced if you've been following the thread that I don't believe Lazarus had anything to say since he had completely ceased to live.

      This is also why Jesus told the disciples that Lazarus was sleeping and dead.

      This is why Jesus only comforted Mary and Martha with the statement that Lazarus would rise again - not that he was already alive.

      I look forward to your article.

    4. You could as easily ask, "Why didn't Lazarus or the disciples proclaim that the dead don't think about anything and don't, in fact, exist? Why no recorded discourses about this fact, which would have been surprising and corrective to many Jews? Why did Jesus say Lazarus was asleep when he clearly wasn't and this would have been a cruel metaphor?" It works both ways.

    5. These are great questions. So, imagine with me that when one dies they cease all consciousness. I'm sure you don't believe this but try it as a thought experiment. So, Lazarus comes out of the grave and a few days later his friends are asking "What was it like?". What would he say? Well, it might be like this -

      "I don't have much to say. I remember being sick but the next thing I know I hear Jesus' voice saying 'Lazarus, come out'. I opened my eyes and wondered 'where the heck am I?' But I came out of the tomb and there you guys were all gathered." Lazarus' friends countered, "No, tell us about what happened while you were dead." Lazarus replied, "There's nothing to say. I don't know anything. It was just like waking up from being asleep."

      So, if you survived the thought experiment, what would be a good term to use to describe what Lazarus went through. Well, I think "sleep" is a pretty good one and, of course, that is the term Jesus used. But it wasn't clear to the disciples so when they didn't understand Jesus went farther and said Lazarus was dead.

      Now this concept of death being described as sleep was not new to the disciples. They knew the scriptures (many of them such as Ps 90:3-6, Ps 13:3, 1 Kings 2:10) compare death to sleep. But they seem not to have made the connection. So Jesus explains the situation with the term death. Did they now think of Job 7:21 where death is compared to returning to dust and ceasing no more? Did they see that Jesus might be hinting about what Isaiah says in 26:19 that corpses will rise? I assume they didn't. They would need to have it demostrated for them.

      So, to your question, why didn't they say more? Well, what more is there to say? Sleep. Death. I closed my eyes and then I heard Jesus' voice. You don't focus on the intermediate state because there is nothing to tell.

      If I ask my kids how did you sleep last night then "fine" is a perfectly good answer. There's nothing more to say. However, if my kids go somewhere I've never been before I need MUCH MORE than a simple "fine" - well, at least if they were conscious for the experience. But if they were asleep for the experience then I don't expect much of an answer.

      If God says through the wisest man in Ec 9:5 that dead know nothing, then Jesus description of death as sleep is perfect and no further explanation from Lazarus is possible.

    6. I see lots of problems here. First, it doesn't address my question about why this "nothing in death" doctrine would not have been as big of a news item, and gotten into the NT, as the "paradise in death" doctrine. Neither view concerning what Lazarus said seems to be published in the NT, even though both would have been fascinating, meaning that for whatever reason, God decided not to include it. In sum, your initial argument of silence can be used against your position. Second, the "nothing in death" would likely to be more apt to be published since it would have refuted the popular rabbinic views. But it isn't. Third, we have testimony in scripture of people seeing or experiencing heavenly things either being prohibited from speaking about them, or having words fail them. Fourth, "sleep" could just as much be used to define death as including conscious thought as to denote annihilation, if not more, since sleepers don't think nothing, they dream, something those in Bible times would obviously know. Sleep, as a metaphor, is more fitting of the body in death, which resembles a sleeping person, than it is a metaphor for non-existence, since the mind thinks during sleep. Fifth, the OT contains examples of dead people being conscious. I've mentioned some in other posts. The bottom line is that the resurrected Lazarus is speculative line of reasoning.

      Re: sleep, destruction, etc., I think this fails because it doesn't take into consideration all the scriptures on the topic, and thus misses the proper categorization. There are scriptures describing death as bodily destruction, scriptures describing death as the separation from the land of the living, and scriptures describing the dead as still existing and even thinking. The composite picture is that the living are cut off from any knowledge of the dead, and the dead cut off from any knowledge of the living, yet both consciously exist in their hermetically separated spheres. I would refer back to my categorization in another post. That's how I see it, anyway. Any other view seems to miss the totality of scripture ("totality" is an important word here).

    7. Just thought of another possibility for Lazarus. It's entirely plausible he didn't remember much, possibly because God didn't want him to. Curiously, this could (though I could be overreaching) connect to the OT descriptions of spirits of the departed in Sheol, which are depicted as conscious but weakened, with impaired, though existing, mental capacities. The catch is that those descriptions are of the lost in Sheol, and I think we can presume Lazarus was not lost. Still, he may not have been impaired or God blocked his memory. (That would also accord with the "sleep" metaphor, since we all dream and think during sleep, but don't always remember our dreams.)

    8. Let's take your issues one by one
      1) Why wasn't this "no consciousness" in death a bigger news item?
      Remember that these guys were steeped in the OT. The OT gave no hint that all who die have consciousness after death. In fact, its explicit to the contrary. So, this wasn't news. The people at Lazarus death were just following the scriptures.
      The news was that Jesus could bring someone back to life. Look at the interaction between Jesus and Martha in John 11:21-27 and specifically Martha's words in vs 24. Martha could have said "I know my brother is already in paradise" but her knowledge is only that he is dead (vs 21) and that he will rise again (vs 24). It wasn't news because it didn't change anything they already believed.
      2) Why didn't Jesus counter the rabbinic view of consciousness in death?
      There were multiple views on the afterlife. We have the Sadducees who didn't believe in any kind of afterlife. The Pharisees who probably fell into multiple groups - likely most believed in a resurrection but who were likely split on the intermediate state as Greek ideas started infiltrating into Judaism. Regardless, the Torah is the common basis among all the groups and it says very little about life after death. The rest of the OT suggests a resurrection but not of a consciousness in the intermediate state. So, staying true to the scriptures, Jesus didn't need to address it. God had already laid out.
      3) Some people saw heavenly things and were forbidden or couldn't find the words to say.
      I have no idea why this fact helps or hurts either one of our arguments.
      4) Sleep might connote something other than unconsciousness or annihilation.
      I would save the term annihilation for what happens in the final judgment. I think we both believe the dead today will rise again. Therefore "annihilation" doesn't seem to fit.
      I agree that in today's scientific parlance we believe that sleep is a different kind of consciousness and not unconsciousness. But Jesus wasn't trying to layout a scientific way of speaking. He was using the common experience we all share as He often did. Do we dream? Of course. Science tells us as much. But, and this is most important, that is not what we think of when we think of sleep. We think of unconsciousness. We rarely remember our dreams. We think of ourselves as unconscious when we sleep. We believe that if we consciously become aware of something we have woken up.
      Now, I think the major point Jesus means to make is that the first death is a temporary state and we will wake from it. Therefore Paul puts much emphasis on the resurrection even to go so far as to say that our faith is in vain without the resurrection. What is important is that we will awake from the intermediate state.
      5) The OT contains examples of dead people being conscious.
      I did not go back through your posts to see who you are referencing. I assume the Saul \ Witch \ Samuel story is one and I'm more than happy to discuss that and why it may not offer the support you think. Regardless, I think anyone can see even if we could find an incontrovertible example of a dead person who has consciousness that would be an exception rather than the rule. The OT, which is what the characters in the John 11 story knew, did not talk about consciousness during death for all people. To them death was the cessation of life.
      On your final point I'm not sure where you are heading. But let's address the theme of how to understand scripture. You say we need to understand the totality of scripture and I completely agree with that. We should look at all relevant scriptures and see how they best fit together. We should also look at what backdrop the individual writers would have been writing from and what they would have expected their hearers to understand.

    9. You say OT representations of those in Sheol show them as conscious, with mental capacities. Can you provide some examples?

    10. You say: "1) Why wasn't this "no consciousness" in death a bigger news item?
      Remember that these guys were steeped in the OT. The OT gave no hint that all who die have consciousness after death. In fact, its explicit to the contrary." This is simply not true. The OT has several passages that support conscious life in the intermediate state before resurrection, which would have been known and likely believed by many of the parties involved.

      You say: "2) Why didn't Jesus counter the rabbinic view of consciousness in death?
      There were multiple views on the afterlife. We have the Sadducees who didn't believe in any kind of afterlife. The Pharisees who probably fell into multiple groups - likely most believed in a resurrection but who were likely split on the intermediate state as Greek ideas started infiltrating into Judaism." You've made my point: the Bible's silence on Lazarus' experience supports neither of our points, which is why it is a red herring for you to have mentioned it to Lenny.

      You say: "4) Sleep might connote something other than unconsciousness or annihilation.
      . . . Do we dream? Of course. Science tells us as much." The people of the time didn't need "science" to tell them they dreamed! Everyone knew it! So using "sleep" as a metaphor for the dead might not be quite a much a metaphor as you presume, especially when death in some OT passaged is likened to a dreamlike state.

      You say: "5) The OT contains examples of dead people being conscious.
      I did not go back through your posts to see who you are referencing. I assume the Saul \ Witch \ Samuel story is one" No, I didn't use that one, though it's a good secondary support. I'm disappointed you didn't go back to my post. It was a key one.

    11. 1) See my response to your #5 below
      2) Apparently I am not making my point clear. Let me try again. If there is a bunch of stuff going on in the intermediate state then there will be much to say. If there is nothing going on in the intermediate state then there will be very little to say.
      4) So you think that Jesus told the disciples that people were sleeping in order to make the point that in the intermediate state the “dead” were dreaming? Seriously, is that what you really think was Jesus’ purpose?
      5) I now know why I didn't remember your examples. They were extremely weak exegetically to make the point at hand and I decided not to comment as a favor. Since you've brought them up again I will now comment.

      Is 14:9 - 11
      Isn't it odd that you didn't go back one verse so that we can discuss the "talking trees". So, if you want to suggest that this passage teaches the dead leaders of the world (who apparently still have thrones according to the passage) will wake up to meet the king of Babylon you must also assert talking junipers and cedars. I am waiting anxiously for your explanation.

      Ex 32:21
      I hope you take the time to read the entire chapter to get an understanding of what is happening. This is one of many visions presented to Ezekiel. To even consider it as proof of the dead talking shows how lacking you are for evidence. For example, notice in this chapter how often God says that everyone is killed by the sword. Are we really to believe that no one died of illness, during childbirth or any other method? Then why are we to believe that the "mighty leaders" in the realm of the dead will recite vs 21 about Egypt?

      The proper interpretation of this passage is that Egypt, regardless of how powerful they are, will die and go to the grave just like those in great nations before them. It is NOT that they will go to the grave to retain their power, sit on thrones and taunt other leaders as future leaders take their place in the grave.

      Job 25:5 - 6
      I don't even see how this passage applies. Well, at least it doesn't make your point. The meaning of this passage is that man is extremely weak in comparison to God. If anything, this bolsters my point that man is not immortal - only God is immortal.
      I will give you the benefit of the doubt and just assume you mis-typed the reference.

      Am I to assume this was the best evidence you have from the OT?

    12. VP, thanks for your reply. As to Lazarus, I’m going to give up trying get across my main points. I don’t think we’re communicating. My overarching point was that it’s a red herring argument with no real gravity for the CI position. The arguments you make for it could be turned against it.

      Regarding the three OT passages, you’re correct that I mistyped thr Job reference; it’s chapter 26, not 25. Sorry. As for the others, you’ve brought up resonable responses that others in your camp have made, but I think they fall short for solid exegetical reasons which I can supply.

      But before going further, we need to get something agreed to. And that’s tone. I’m all for productive and spirited discourse. I’m not for personal sarcasm and insults, which I believe you have drifted into. I’ve learned not to expend my time with folks who display arrogance and a lack of humility. Sometimes their tone is to cover weak arguments, sometimes it’s just personality. Either way, it’s unproductive. And this practice of limiting my engagements with those who display such behavior is partly to protect myself, so as not to be provoked into the same tendency, which can happen. And it’s especially not kosher on a third party’s blog site. So I will be fine, as I have time, to offer the fruits of my research, including answers to your points above. But unless you want to be cordial and respectful, I am fine letting you bask in the belief (with which I obviously disagree) that you have all the answers.

    13. I'm all for stopping.

      I apologize for expressing my frustration. When I asked you to supply verses expressing your viewpoint and you told me go back through the long thread and these were what I found, I was very disappointed. I felt that you spent so little time in coming up with prooftexts that the work I was expending was wasted. I let sarcasm spill over into my replies and I'm sorry I offended you. Still, I am not impressed that you still want to defend 2 of the 3 choices when the type of scripture goes against your intent. (The Job 26 passages suffers the same type of issue as the other two. Just read through the passage and see what else you must affirm if you want to take vs. 5 and 6 literally and not as poetry.)

      At this point I don't believe you are capable of seeing these issues any other way than what you currently hold. The many scriptures to the contrary do not matter to you and the lack of biblical testimony to support your position do not seem to dissuade you. You are more likely to double-down and say the scriptures are there than recognize there is a hole in your argument.

      Previously you made a comment about biblical totality and I am in total agreement with that. We should look at all relevant scriptures and see how they best fit together. We should note the genre and the context. We should also look at what backdrop the individual writers would have been writing from and what they would have expected their hearers to understand.

      I think the issue you face is that you are trying to categorize the scriptures not as they are but how they fit into your pre-conceived ideas - and I believe the issue that really is throwing you off it the extra-biblical premise of an immortal soul. Since you are trying to force scripture into that construct you end up with incorrect categorizations. That's also why you must use non-standard definitions for the words death, destruction, perish, extinction. These are words that would have been extremely clear to the original hearers of scripture but because of the baggage you bring you are forced to redefine the terms.

      I suggest as an exercise that you challenge yourself to put those pre-conceived ideas to the side and take scripture as it is. Read John 3:16. Check the word perish and in an interlinear see what word its translated from. Then read the definition of both perish and its match in biblical Greek. Do the same with Rom 6:23. Check Mt 3:12.

      Ponder what the hearers of the word thought when they heard the term Gehenna. Check the OT reference. When Jude and Peter say the unrighteous will suffer the same fate as that of those in Sodom what would the hearers have understood?

      Yes, do your best to conform your ideas to the totality of scripture. Be extremely careful you are not going the other direction.

    14. Respectfully, I think you should re-read your posts (including your latest) and ask yourself, "Is this tone likely to make my words heard by others, especially adults, or more likely to put them off by lecturing them as if they were middle school students?" That issue is a heck of a lot more important than the CI vs. ECT debate.

      You say you became frustrated that I kept referring you to my past posts. That's because they were important! They contained vital information you were not addressing. Why keep repeating myself to someone who ignores arguments and just keeps lecturing and preaching?

      You say, for that reason, I wasn't apparently matching the extensive time you were putting into studying the scriptures. However, I had already said that I had put weeks into an extensive Hebrew and Greek examination of CI and ECT in the OT and NT, producing almost 20 pages of single space research for a Jehovah's Witness acquaintance. I'd described my theological journey. So I'm not a child in matters of hermeneutics. Virtually all the objections you raised to my meager three OT verses are ones I thought hard about years ago as part of my research. E.g., your response to Is. 14 is reasonable and must be considered; it's how I mentally counter-attacked and tested the more literal interpretation of verses 9-21 years ago, but I think it ultimately it falls short for multiple reasons.

      Obviously, the critiques you make against my interpretive methods on CI/ECT could be turned against yours; these are only lecturing words whose content has little meaning without diving into the actual verses. It just comes off as more presumptive lecturing and finger-wagging. And what you say about my "problem" regarding "pre-conceived ideas" from "external sources" like the Greeks . . . this constitutes a lot of old accusations from CI folks that that at this point seem condescending to bring up and, frankly, tiring to those who have spent time examining the topic. And doing word comparisons you've mentioned? I've already looked into it a while ago.

      If you are truly interested in respectfully exploring and dialoging about this my email is These space-limited blog response windows have no capacity for sharing serious research. But I'm busy and I suspect your mind is made up (I think you said it was). So I'll leave it to you.

  14. I believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man. I also believe in the Trinity if what you mean by that is
    - There is one God
    - There are 3 distinct persons in the Trinity
    - Each person of the Trinity is fully God

    I only hesitate on answering the question about the Trinity as I've heard some odd definitions and I don't know what definition you are using.

    Historic Christian orthodoxy is completely different as many things come and go as orthodox. At one time in history paying indulgences was considered orthodox. I think that was wrong even if it was orthodox at one time.

    1. Lenny's question reminded me that I had also asked you earlier about your view of salvation: who gets saved, why, and how, and who doesn't. Just wanted to make sure I wasn't discussing more minor issues and neglecting essentials.

    2. Boy that would take a book for an answer. And even then I would have to humble myself enough to say I hold my conclusions very lightly.

      What I hold strongly is
      - God will choose who He wants to be saved.
      - All salvation is because of what Jesus did on the cross.

    3. To simplify, my original question was: "Do you consider yourself saved, in a here-and-now sense, by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, based on his atoning sacrificial death and resurrection; regarding Christ to be God in the flesh? Just asking, because I don't want to neglect things more important than the matters we've been discussing." Thanks!

    4. I'm sure exactly what you are trying to get at that I didn't answer before.

      First, a couple criticisms of the wording of your question -

      One, what I consider of myself is of no consequence to my eternal destiny. It’s all up to God. Just because I “consider myself saved” does not determine my outcome.

      Two, Christ was not always in the flesh. He took on our form (Phil 2:7).

      So, more explanation - Do I deserve salvation? Of course not. But God has granted me grace and mercy and so I believe He has written my name in the book of life. (Maybe the book is a metaphor as opposed to a real physical book. I don't know.)

      Christ has paid for my sins by His death on the cross.

      Like Paul, I look forward to the resurrection when I will be raised from the dead and given a new imperishable body (1 Cor 15:50). Without the resurrection my faith is in vain (1 Cor 15:14).

    5. VP, what you consider yourself does not save you, true, but it can indicate your view of how a person is saved. That's what I'm getting at. Knowing that you have eternal life as a present possession is normal for a Christian (1 Jn 5:10-13), and a good indicator of your view of what is required for salvation (e.g., faith alone or faith plus works). For example, a Mormon or Jehovah's Witness will answer my question very differently from me. On the second point, when Christ paid for our sins, he was fully God and fully man (i.e., "God in the flesh"). Do you agree? Some people believe he "took on our form" but don't believe he was fully human. Just some simple, basic, defining questions. I've talked with enough people to know its valuable to nail down such questions.