Annihilationism versus Mortalism

Over the weekend I was thinking about annihilationism and how it contrasts with a view called mortalism.

I'm weird like that.

If you don't already know, annihilationism is the view that the unrighteous are not consciously tormented in hell forever and ever. Rather, the fire of hell refers to the destruction of the unrighteous. Upon being judged or thrown into hell the unrighteous cease to exist. They are--thus the term--annihilated. In this view, hell, geographically speaking, doesn't exist. Hell isn't a noun. It's a verb, a verb describing an act of God (i.e., the destruction of the ungodly).

The best introduction of annihilationism is Edward Fudge's book The Fire that Consumes, recently republished in a third edition. I highly recommend it. One of the more prominent evangelicals who endorsed annihilationism was the late John Stott.

What is the biblical basis for this belief? It comes from a many places. For example:

Matthew 10.28
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Revelation 20.14-15
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.

John 3.16
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The picture you take away from passages like these is that the lost "perish" (i.e., cease to exist). This happens in the following way. To start there is our "first death," the death of the body. This is followed by Judgment where the unrighteous face a "second death" where God "destroys the soul" in hell. After this act of Judgment the only people who exist are the righteous who inherit eternal life.

To be clear, this understanding isn't the only way annihilationists interpret these passages, but it's a common view.

For my part, I think there are at least two problems with the God-destroying-souls-in-hell picture. The first is a theological problem. The second is an anthropological problem.

The theological problem is easily stated. In the God-destroying-souls-in-hell view you have God annihilating people, actively killing them. To be sure, this isn't much of a biblical problem where we see God kill lots of people. But these deaths could be viewed, theologically, as forms of punishment and not annihilation. That is, after the physical death we can posit continued (even if tortured) existence, second chances, and hope. But with the God-destroying-souls-in-hell view God is understood to be finally, irrevocably, and irrecoverably snuffing out human existence. In short, God's a killer.

As I've written about before, I worry about this view of God. Here is a God who licks his fingers and systematically snuffs the flame of each candle, the billions and billions of souls carrying the flame of life. Here we see, in the final moment of life, the child looking into her Father's face hearing his whisper "No."

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No........

Each flame snuffed out. One by one by one. Until the last candle is extinguished. The last life--with all its pain, sorrows, loves, memories, hopes and dreams--finally extinguished in a wisp of smoke.

As you can surmise, I have trouble envisioning God being "good" if this is the way the story ends for most of humanity.

A second problem with the God-destroying-souls-in-hell view is with its anthropology.

The God-destroying-souls-in-hell view presupposes a Platonic anthropology that is untenable on both scientific and biblical grounds.

Specifically, what we find in many annihilationist positions is a dualism where the human person is composed of a body and a soul. From here the first death is believed to involve the body with the second death involving the soul. The notion here seems to be the Platonic idea that once your body dies your soul goes somewhere to face the Judgment. The soul discards and leaves the body behind. The body is a shell the soul escapes, like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

This dualistic vision is supported by an additional Platonic notion, the belief in the immortality of the soul. The reason the soul floats off from the body after death is due to the fact that the body, being made of physical stuff, is mortal and degradable. The soul, however, being made of spiritual stuff, is intrinsically immortal and immune to the forces of entropy and decay. Thus, for the soul to "die" something more than the death of the body is required. God has to kill the soul. This would be the "second death," God "destroying both body and soul in hell."

In summary, certain visions of annihilationism--generally the God-destroying-souls-in-hell view--are built upon a Platonic anthropology: 1) belief in body/soul dualism and 2) belief in the immortality of the soul.

The trouble with this anthropology, and any view of annihilationism built upon it, is twofold. First, while many of the ancients and many modern Christians subscribe to this Platonic anthropology, these beliefs are increasingly untenable in this age of neuroscience and brain imaging technology. Trying to convince people of this vision of personhood is increasingly like trying to convince people that the earth is only 6,000 years old.

But the more pressing problem has to do with how the Platonic anthropology fails to jibe with a biblical anthropology, an anthropology more influenced by the ancient Hebrews than by the ancient Greeks.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 15, the longest and most detailed description of the resurrection in the New Testament, Paul never describes the soul taking a Gnostic flight from the body. Rather, Paul envisions an embodied resurrection. The resurrection isn't a Platonic soul-flight but is, rather, an event where the mortal body is changed into a resurrected body.

More, the bible never teaches that the human soul is immortal. In fact, the bible pretty clearly teaches that only God is immortal:
1 Timothy 6.15b-16a
God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal...
Other passages make it clear that humans aren't immortal (e.g., 1 Cor. 15.53-54) and that immortality is a gift rather than an intrinsic feature of the soul (e.g., 2 Tim. 1.10).

In short, the anthropology supporting annihilationism is suspicious on both scientific and biblical grounds. The souls of the unrighteous don't leave the body to a face a Judgment where God then annihilates them.

Given the biblically suspicious anthropology supporting many annihilationist scenarios a view called mortalism (or conditionalism) emphasizes the biblical teaching that humans are thoroughgoingly mortal and that immortality is a gift given only to the redeemed. In this view when we die we die. And that's it. Consciousness ceases. There is no soul-escape to another realm. We just die. Body and soul. (This is, you might notice, a very naturalistic description of death. Mortalists, thus, see death the same way a biologist would.)

Resurrection, according to mortalism, is God bringing the dead back to life at the resurrection. At the resurrection the mortal becomes immortal allowing the soul to enjoy the New Creation with God. The unrighteous, in this view, are simply not brought back to life, not raised from the dead, not given the gift of immortality. The life of the unrighteous, then, is simply the mortal life. Cradle to the grave. For these there is no resurrection.

Now what I find interesting about all this, and what I was pondering over the weekend, is how mortalism overcomes the two problems noted above about annihilationism.

First, in mortalim God is not "snuffing out" life. God is not actively annihilating or killing souls. Rather, God is limiting the scope resurrection. And while I have issues with a limited resurrection (rather than a general resurrection), I find the view of God in mortalism less problematic than the view found in annihilationism.

Second, the anthropology of mortalism is better positioned, scientifically and biblically. Mortalism rejects the Gnostic and Platonic anthropology supporting many annihilationist accounts. Again, I find this to be an improvement.

Thus, though I personally don't subscribe to either view, if I had to choose between these positions mortalism seems to me to be a more cogent theological position than annihilationism.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

64 thoughts on “Annihilationism versus Mortalism”

  1. Here you have taken a left turn away from Universalism.  I thought "Everybody is Going to Heaven".  Biblically, you have the "holding place" (Sheol/Hades) where EVERYONE, including Christ, went when they died.  After the Resurrection, death was vanquished ("To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord").  This view also jibes with all the thousands of NDE's now being documented by modern medicine.  No one who has had a NDE has "come back" to state that they were quizzed about their beliefs, and most report a "place" of great beauty and love and peace -- along with a Being of Light.

    You cannot espouse Universalism and also state that "cradle to grave, for the unrighteous there is no resurrection".

  2. Sorry for any confusion. I don't espouse either view. I'm just comparing and contrasting them to note, for myself, where I find their relative strengths and weaknesses.

  3.  I'm not so sure the limited resurrection of mortalism gives me any more comfort. I can't see much difference between "actively snuffing out life" and standing idly by while it fades away.

  4. You know, I've read several scriptures in the Bible about standing in judgement before God and giving an account for everything done while in the body.  How does a mortalist square their view with these scriptures?  In other words, if we will all give an account, then it would seem there is a time of consciousness for everyone after death.  If this is true, and I wasn't granted immortality, I would then pass from a state of conscious being  non-existant. How would this be any different then annilhilationism?  Sorry if I'm stating the obvious here.

  5. There might not be much difference at all. Mainly I saw a difference in the amount of psychic pain the two views posited. In mortalism the psychic pain is the pain we all face with facing death, the uncertainty of what happens next. In the words of Ecclesiastes: "All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”

    But in annihilationism there is an additional round of pain: Knowing there is a continued existence, wanting that, then having God lean over and snuffing out your life.

    That might not be much difference, but I think more pain is involved in annihilationism. Plus, when you aggregate all that pain across billions and billions of lives, well, that's a whole lot of pain God is creating. More, that's how God is choosing to wrap up the biographies of the vast majority of humanity.

    But at the end of the day, I tend to agree with you. Which is why I don't subscribe to either view.

  6. No, I think these are excellent questions. Here's the real answer: They don't square their views very well with those passages. Just like traditionalist views of hell don't square well with the annihilationists texts or with the universalist texts. And vica versa.

    The point being, I don't think the New Testament presents a coherent and consistent vision of the afterlife and judgment. The only consistent teaching is that God will judge and punish the ungodly and that this judgment has more to do with this life than the next (e.g., Matthew 25).

    Beyond that, it's all hazy speculation.

    Here's the positive side of this: Christians can stand united on the core teaching: Failing to live by the Golden Rule (a quick summary of Matt. 25) stands under God's judgment.

  7. that is suppose to say..." I would then pass from a state of conscious being to  non-existant".

  8. I've decided to throw in the towel in trying to figure it out. I do believe in a lake of fire where people will go and suffer but I'm not sure how long they will be there.

  9. Throwing in the towel might just be the best idea. I think people only need to wade into these waters if they are struggling with a view of God that they can no longer maintain. 

  10. Thanks Richard, and I agree about the vision of the afterlife being inconsistant.  I have a friend who is a conditionalist and I've always felt like he subscribes to it solely on the fact that conditionalism seems to be soteriological middle ground for him. 

  11. Cole,
    Please don't think that I am chasing you around the internet or anything like that.  But, I just asked Jim731 a question and your comment here is a perfect lead in to that question.  If you look at Revelation 20:10-15, how long do you think that death is in the lake of fire if you consider that people will only be there for 'a while?'

  12. Richard,

    I was  just about to comment on the excellence of this post (and I am not saying that in the sense of 'you spelled your name so well' (shout out to Emma)).  Tons of material so beautifully summarized and presented in a very coherent manner.  But, this comment applies to all (maybe just most???) of your posts.  BUT, THEN I came across this statement:

    " I don't think the New Testament presents a coherent and consistent vision of the afterlife and judgment."

    This really summarizes our differences regarding Scripture.  God could not give us a coherent and consistent picture?  Very, very sorry to hear you say that.

  13. Well, one way of looking at it is that death will be "destroyed". The opposite of death is life. The lake of fire could be God's purifying angent. He mixes grace with His justice all the time to bring about repentance.

  14. So you see 'death' being purified in the lake of fire and 'turning into' life?  Very interesting.

  15. I'm not sure I understand your push back on this statement.  It seems to me that if the pictures we see about the afterlife and judgement were so clear, then why has this subject been debated for centuries?

  16. You and I and Richard disagreeing about the meaning of the text is one thing.  Saying that the text is confused seems to me to be something quite different.  By the way, my answer to your question is sin.

  17. A couple of thoughts. First, I do go on to clarify that the core teaching is clear, a teaching all Christians can get behind regardless of our views about heaven or hell. Two, I'm not even making a theological statement. It's an empirical fact that the bible isn't clear or consistent on this topic. Notice all the views that have been expressed throughout Christian history on heaven and hell? Of course, one could say, well, all that diversity of opinion is just people failing to read the bible correctly which, incidentally, is the way I read it. Yes, one could say that. But I don't. I'll go with a less narcissistic assessment: The plurality of views is due to the bible failing to present a clear and consistent view on this particular topic.

    That said, to return to my first point, I do think there is remarkable consistency on the core teaching.

  18. I wish I wasn't so weak and could just let this pass.  Sorry,  your summary of the core teaching is entirely different from mine.  Maybe I am an outlier and it is only me who is out of step.  I really do believe that is entirely possible.  I certainly don't say 'you must think as I do or you're wrong.'  I simply try to make the argument that supports the view I hold.  And, a works salvation (golden rule) is not what I believe.  You and I will be resurrected beings long before Matthew 25 takes place.  It doesn't apply to us.

    This really does boil down to what that book, the Bible, is.

  19. Thanks, Richard.  I find this helpfully challenging because you are, in effect, presenting us with this question:

    "If we take away the morally reprehensible aspects of God discontinuing existence, is there still a sufficiently compelling case for God continuing existence?"

    This leads me to other questions:

    Would God build redundancy into his creation?
    Would God favour death over life?
    Does moral luck determine our eternal fate?

    and so on.

    Perhaps you have helped some of us to reconstruct our universalist arguments in terms of positive convictions about God's nature rather than objections to the objectionable.


  20. You can't seperate works from true saving faith. Below is a list of evidences on how you know you are born again. These evidences don't mean you never slip and fall. But when you do the Spirit will eventually convict (not condemn) you and you will confess your sin, repent, and hate your sin, and then move forward and make amends if you need to.

    1. Those who are born of God keep his commandments.

    1 John 2:3-4: “By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

    1 John 3:24: “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him.”

    2. Those who are born of God walk as Christ walked.

    1 John 2:5-6: “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

    3. Those who are born of God don’t hate others but love them.

    1 John 2:9: “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”

    1 John 3:14: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death.”

    1 John 4:7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

    1 John 4:20: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar.”

    4. Those who are born of God don’t love the world.

    1 John 2:15: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

    5. Those who are born of God confess the Son and receive (have) him.

    1 John 2:23: “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”

    1 John 4:15: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.”

    1 John 5:12: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

    6. Those who are born of God practice righteousness.

    1 John 2:29: “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.”

    7. Those who are born of God don’t make a practice of sinning.

    1 John 3:6:
    “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.”

    1 John 3:9-10: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

    1 John 5:18: “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.”

    8. Those who are born of God possess the Spirit of God.

    1 John 3:24: “By this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”

    1 John 4:13: “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”

    9. Those who are born of God listen submissively to the apostolic Word.

    1 John 4:6: “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”

    10. Those who are born of God believe that Jesus is the Christ.

    1 John 5:1: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.”

    11. Those who are born of God overcome the world.

    1 John 5:4: “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith

  21. Perhaps one practical answer that we could look at in response the the idea of "giving an account at judgement" is that, after the resurrection of the body, God will judge the resurrected based on their works in this life. I think it's fairly Biblical to say that there will be a varying levels of reward for the faithful based on their works.

    I haven't completely thought this through, nor would I say that I ascribe to this "mortalistic" view of the afterlife, but if we do accept these terms, then perhaps that was what Jesus was talking about when he talked about people receiving a greater or lesser reward.

  22. Thanks Andrew. I ponder similar questions. What I keep coming back to is the problem of evil and the confession that "God is love." Mortalism makes a certain sense if we are talking about the middle or top of the bell curve as far as life happiness goes. That is, I can imagine some people saying to God, "You know God, this life is enough. I'm good." And God saying, "Sure thing." The trouble I have with this is when people's lives are painful and full of suffering. More, our identities are inherently social which means that reconciliation is critical to being whole. Just eliminating the perperators isn't going to heal the hurt and hate that is left behind.

    All of which keeps bringing me back to this vision: "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on
    earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on
    the cross."

    That, in a nutshell, is how I make sense of it all.

  23. Great questions.  To me, always the biggest obstacle of any soteriological view (while maintaining the necessity and inimitability of Christ) is the question of moral luck.

    Though, I'm not really sure how you're drawing your "summary question" from and how you see this as leaning towards God favoring death.  Care to elaborate?

  24. Hi AJ

    The (doubtless hopelessly woolly) thinking linking the two questions ran thus:

    If God is quite happy for some to simply cease to be whilst others continue into an eternity of blissful co-existence, by what criteria is this decided?

    Richard has powerfully argued elsewhere that in reality it is the circumstances of our birth that have the greatest statistical impact on whether we get to be a sheep or a goat (sic).

    Regarding the link between this and death, Richard (if I've understood correctly)  presents us with a picture of God 'deciding' to grant the gift of resurrection to some and not others on these criteria: finding death to be a neater solution than the messiness and toil of reconciliation.

    Does this make sense?


  25. Richard,

    You said:  "Matthew 25 does apply to us. I'm a disciple of Jesus."

    First, I am at a loss to find the term 'disciple' in Matthew 25?  Second, of course, all Scripture is profitable, etc.

    Nevertheless, it is quite possible that I misinterpreted you. If so, I am indeed sorry. If not, then more discussion might help.

    What you said was: "Here's the positive side of this: Christians can stand united on the core teaching: Failing to live by the Golden Rule (a quick summary of Matt. 25) stands under God's judgment."

    What I thought you were referring to is what transpires after Matthew 25:31. If not, then I got it all wrong and I apologize. If that was your reference then I just have to say that I don't think anybody in the body of Christ is in view there.

  26. Absolutely.  I think the realisation that nothing God says or does can be in contradiction to his love was the epiphanal moment on the journey for me.  Everything suddenly makes sense; everything else follows - even the hope that innocent suffering may somehow be an aspect of (if not an expression of) this love.  For now, we see through a glass darkly.

  27. The thinking does make sense, but of course, coming from a Christian perspective there must be some spin on the idea of the need for Christ, whether that aligns with historical understandings or not.  Indeed I have read Beck's posts arguing how much our circumstances play into our confession within this life about the Divinity of Christ.  This has also led me to completely reject any notion of a death-centered Christianity.

    So I guess my question is, "How do we reconcile non-death-centered soteriological views with what is presented in this post as well as the questions you have raised?"

    I think, as Christians, the salvific work of Jesus has to be central to whatever our "answer" might be, that the criteria for why God would be "quite happy for some to simply cease to be whilst others continue into an eternity of blissful co-existence", as you put it, would be centered around the life, death, and defeat of death by Jesus.

    I think I'm tracking with you on the thought process, but, of course, how to reconcile these things together in a coherent, Biblically-based view is a whole other problem, as discussion above illustrates.

  28. I, too, agree with having a kind of epiphanal moment with that realization.  Nevertheless, a quote by Elie Wiesel has shaped the actual expressions of my theology more than anything, and it always serves as a check to any ethereal pontificating I may find myself thinking about:

    you say about God, you should be able to say standing over a pit full of
    burning babies.”

  29. Yes, at times the glass is very, very dark.  A memorable and helpful quote.  Despite this, I travel hopefully if not optimistically.

  30. I tend to agree.  I can't accept the moral example theory of atonement alone.  Christ's resurrection must have decisively effected something eternal, not just influenced the outcome.  I suspect Richard is in the process of addressing just this is his current series on death-centred theology.

  31. "I don't subscribe to either view."

    It would have been helpful if you had clearly stated that.


  32. "The only consistent teaching is that God will judge and punish the ungodly and that this judgment has more to do with this life than the next (e.g., Matthew 25).  Beyond that, it's all hazy speculation."
    Again you echo Mike Gantt.  A perfect example of the fluid thinking of Bible literalists is the concept of death.  They will pick and chose what exactly the word means all the way through the Bible.  In some places they say it means "condemnation", while in others, "non-existence", or even, simply, "forsaking".

    And I think because you chose to favor or better appreciate one view over the other in this post, you confused people such as Ruth and myself, who thought you were espousing one versus the other.

  33. Richard, I used to describe my position as "annihilationism", but I actually meant what you call "mortalism" above. In my thought, annihilationism is the broad view, with sub-views including dualist and mortalist varities.

  34. If I recall Edward Fudge also uses annihilationism as the umbrella term. If so, I think it's a very poorly chosen word for the overarching term. There should be a more neutral term used with mortalism and annihilationism used as sub-types. One hope for my post is to start making this distinction more clear. The two views are, I think, very different.

  35. I don't disagree, although to me, "annihilationism" meant death is annihilation, not continuing existence, not post-mortem waiting.

    And to clarify my last statement, that's still what it means to me. I think the bible focuses solely on the physical and existential judgment that comes when societies break down. The afterlife is kind of a separate issue, and isn't necessarily being discussed in "hell" scriptures at all.

  36. As always, I agree pondering along with you on these issues... I apologize if this has already been covered in the comments section or if you alluded to it in the post (I re-read it again but I'm so tired tonight I don't doubt I could have missed it) but is mortalism what NT Wright briefly describes in his book Surprised By Hope?  That was my first (and only, aside from this post) encounter with such a view.  I don't espouse it either, but I find it interesting... convenient, but not compelling.

  37. If I recall, Wright's view isn't wholly clear. It's a slow fading, of our own choosing, to a condition "beyond pity." But I'm not sure this implies non-existence. While fuzzy on the details, I resonate with his attempt to push back on the notion that God runs a torture chamber for all eternity.

  38. I have been reading this blog the past few weeks and I am
    glad I have discovered it.  I really
    appreciate the exploration into the outlying regions of theology.  Richard’s posts provide much food for
    thought and the comments offered are also nourishing.


    So I thought I would make a contribution to the
    exploration by throwing out a tidbit.


    The afterlife is not the
    issue as in the sense of what happens to individuals when they die.  There is no concordant with death
    death continues on while others abide in heaven.  Going to heaven isn’t even an option or necessary. Rather heaven
    (the full indwelling presence of YHWH) is coming to us. The coming of God: The
    day of YHWH, the Parousia of Christ and
    the homecoming of God into the creation
    filling the entire cosmos with his life giving presence.  The “afterdeath,” or when
    death is finally
    abolished in the entire creation, is what the biblical witness is excited about


    Not only is death abolished,
    along with all the death “derivatives”, but also the whole creation is made
    alive in new ways beyond our imaging. 
    No mere salvaging of the creation but is in fact the true Genesis of the

  39. I Cor. 3:10-23 speaks of judgment and the person whose work will be burned up and he shall suffer loss, yet he himself will be saved as through fire.  v. 22-23 says all things belong to you, whether death or life, things present or to come and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God, a poetic reiteration of Eph. 1, Eph. 2 Col. 1, Rom. 8: the summing up of ALL things in Christ (including death).
    Ultimately annihilationism is an affront to Gen 1 and Rom. 8: Creation is good and created for union with God through Christ. God is not the author of futility, death and annihilation, but creation and life. Either ALL things are summed up in Christ (not just some good things) or the scriptures are false.

  40. Hi Richard,
                       mortalism is definitely the view I find to be most consistent with the scriptures as I understand them. If one reads them as speaking to people who have entered into covenant with God, be it the Jews who willingly accept the terms of the Mosaic Covenant, 'I set before you this day life and death, therefore choose life' or as Christians believing 'he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love'. We must acknowledge surely scripture only sees those who obey the will of God as being human (which I take to mean bearers of the divine image) in the sense of being gifted with the breath or life of God. Isn't Genesis 1-6 the story of God 'forming a people for himself' and doesn't Genesis 5 intimate that this people should have lived forever but for Adam's disobedience, and as Jude insists Cain's response to the divine teaching determines him to be a son of  the devil, that is an agent of death, all such return to the dust, for as you rightly note eternal life is a gift and however one understands the new creation the old creation and its dust is gone and despite our concerns now 'the former things will not be remembered nor come to mind'. None of which makes God evil nor tempted of evil but does imply that as Christians we would do better if we focus on the 'goodness of God' leading to repentance or change of perspective, rather than terrifying people with visions of suffering (I take the hell passages to refer to Israel's judgement as promised in Deuteronomy & Daniel & co) as your man MacDonald is right on the button about we really don't know ourselves as sinners until the light of God's truth allows us to see that we are. 'It was grace that taught my eyes to see'. Amen.

  41. I am interested in why you would pick Matthew 25 as THE core teaching of the New Testament. I'm not trying to make the argument that doing good for the world/your neighbors "optional" (in the sense that, it'd be nice if you did but whatever because I'm going to heaven anyway)  but I tend to see the core teaching of the New Testament to be more about God and less about humanity itself. That is, I see the core teaching as being the grace and forgiveness of God towards humanity. God forgave the world, even while they conspired again him. He forgave the world while it was still an enemy. That people respond to this forgiveness by going into the world and forgiving/loving THEIR enemies is, in my opinion, secondary. 

    But as I noted, making it secondary doesn't make it unimportant. I mean, you do have "should we sin so that grace abounds even more?" rhetoric, poking fun at the idea that God's grace is so wonderful that we should create opportunities for more of it to be necessary. But the idea of doing good for others is always in response to, and not a condition for, the grace of God. That is the distinction that I tend to see.

  42. Emily

    Thanks for your reminder that the main thing is what YHWH does, and that it is he who initiates reconciliation.  

    In Matthew 25 it is interesting that the “nations” (ethnic groups or societies) being judged for whether they looked after “the least” all seem completely unaware of what they were doing – including those who thought they were serving Jesus.  

    To me that says that we don’t necessarily know whether what we’re doing is worthwhile, though it does indicate that he values treatment that brings more equitable conditions over the flashy stuff (“mighty works, expelling ‘demons’”).  

    We can’t rate our own deeds, and trying to puts our focus right where it shouldn’t be – on us.


  43. You might be interested to know that the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (my denomination of origin) teaches a hybrid of these two. To be clear, I am no longer an SDA and am tending more towards a Universalist viewpoint. But for anyone who might be interested here are a couple of relevant statements from the SDA website ( Note that the points contained in the statements are taken, pretty much verbatim, from the Bible texts listed afterwards. Some (including myself in cynical moments) might call this a great example of proof-texting ;-).

    26. Death and Resurrection:
    The wages of sin is death. But God, who alone is immortal, will grant eternal life to His redeemed. Until that day death is an unconscious state for all people. When Christ, who is our life, appears, the resurrected righteous and the living righteous will be glorified and caught up to meet their Lord. The second resurrection, the resurrection of the unrighteous, will take place a thousand years later. (Rom. 6:23; 1 Tim. 6:15, 16; Eccl. 9:5, 6; Ps. 146:3, 4; John 11:11-14; Col. 3:4; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; John 5:28, 29; Rev. 20:1-10.)27. Millennium and the End of Sin:The millennium is the thousand-year reign of Christ with His saints in heaven between the first and second resurrections. During this time the wicked dead will be judged; the earth will be utterly desolate, without living human inhabitants, but occupied by Satan and his angels. At its close Christ with His saints and the Holy City will descend from heaven to earth. The unrighteous dead will then be resurrected, and with Satan and his angels will surround the city; but fire from God will consume them and cleanse the earth. The universe will thus be freed of sin and sinners forever. (Rev. 20; 1 Cor. 6:2, 3; Jer. 4:23-26; Rev. 21:1-5; Mal. 4:1; Eze. 28:18, 19.)

  44. "Trying to convince people of this [dualistic] vision of personhood is increasingly
    like trying to convince people that the earth is only 6,000 years old." As someone familiar with the world of NDE and consciousness research, while doing my best to filter out the New-Age nonsense associated with that world, I am convinced that there is a self-aware existence outside of the "shell" of the body, with the brain being the "receiving vessel" of Consciousness and not its source. I can attest that belief in a permanent soul-self is not at all like a stubborn belief in a Young Earth.

  45. I agree that from the current research into the brain, it makes more sense to believe in a "something else" that exists outside the limits of the brain. Also, while I don't hold to the 6.000 year timeline, the more science discovers, the easier it is to believe in a much younger earth.

  46. Oh and I guess I should add that i think the soul is a created entity only gaining immortality from our joining with God through Christ. If we reject him, the door will be shut to the banquet hall. I have no problem with a God who has given me all the opportunities to come to him closing the door if I refuse.

  47. It seems to me that Wright is clear on one point. He thinks that those who deserve this punishment continue on as some sort of animate creatures in "endless time." What isn't clear is what that would be like for those who suffer this fate. He says they are "beyond hope, beyond pity." Well, maybe they're beyond hope (their own hope) but are they beyond our pity? Are these zombies going to be wandering around on the golden streets with the saved? He doesn't say but, if so, would we not pity them in their condition? (I say "we" but I can only hope that I'm not one of them.) 

  48. I agree Richard. I always come back to the idea "am I more compassionate than God?"  No matter how evil someone is I think there would be a limit to my tolerance for watching (or perhaps even inflicting their suffering) if they were being tortured for their evildoing.

  49. The concept of hell is one of the most evil notions ever devised by man. Either view, annihilationism or mortalism, simply demonstrate that the Christian god is not in fact loving at all. Option one: God made the universe and designed humans knowing that some would not follow him. He decided that the punishment for not following him is eternal and not remedial. (I think this is what gets some people to start thinking about the option of annihilationism to begin with). But then look at option two: God made the universe and designed humans knowing that some would not follow him. His plan from the outset is to end up destroying those ones later on.

    Imagine the words we would used to describe such characteristics in a human being.

  50. Guess I should clarify my earlier post as, upon re-reading it sounds a bit ignorant and not entirely clear with the points I wanted to make. To me, in many ways mortalism is no different than annihilationism. It seems more palatable to the human psyche because it doesn't involve the shameful act that we would call murder. But, when you place it in the context of the supposition that God designed the entire universe to begin with (and therefore set up all the rules) and created humans from scratch (and therefore set up our nature), then it essentially becomes the same thing.

    I am not a Christian so I view this from a different perspective than a Christian would. But I see the whole discussion as an attempt for modern Christians to reconcile the realization that the god of the Bible is nothing short of monstrous if taken literally with the notion that their god is all loving. In short, an attempt to seek a more modern middle ground.

  51. As simple and bleak as this sounds, what about the idea of those who refuse to confess Christ as their Savior (John 14:6) and those who are who are deliberately, unfathomably wicked and evil, i.e., slanderers, swindlers, murderers--genocide, etc.?  (I Corinthians 6:10, Romans 2:5-11)  Doesn't the Bible speak of "eternal punishment" for those sorts?  Judgement and punishment seems to fall into this senario somehow.   Seems to be pretty straightforward to me, so my thought is that Immortalism seems to be the only "justifiable" explanation.

    I love this blog spot, Richard!  Thank you for deeper thoughts and ponderings.          

  52. I love how mortalism removes the dualistic clutter and strips away its sentimentality about souls. Arguments based on sentiment usually don't sound very convincing. Which led me to think; isn't the annihiliation/mortalism problem a distinctly human one? I mean, it's certainly very pertinent from an anthropocentric viewpoint, but looked at less subjectively - if only God is immortal, then only God is immortal, and only the things in which He manifests will persist. And the religions are just trying to figure out how God decides where He resides.

    The attraction of naturalism is the scientific attraction - it removes the human sentiment, and if it also removes the religious sentiment, it's a case for atheism. We don't think that God, like nature, is indiscriminate. We consider Him to be subjectively biased in favour of his creation. He bestows favour on it like a gift. But once we assume his subjectivity, there's little space left for his objectivity. The Israelites could only believe in an objective Judge at their own expense and those around them. So after Jesus, mercy was no longer optional - it was expected. We are God's children and He favours us indiscriminately. The "we" had begun to expand beyond Israel and into the gentile nations. So did Jesus herald the beginning of the end of God's justice and the birth of God's unmitigated grace?

    But once the idea of justice has gone to hell, is there still anything special and unique (dare I say, exclusive) about grace? What does faith result in, once it has been made redundant?

  53. My problems with Annihilationism is that it does not "set Free".

    I understand that the "And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" verse might not necessarily have such a large scope, but my personal experience suggests it does.
    Mortalism, although it seems "neater", is no different in this regard

  54. This website is too long!
    It takes forever to load.
    Make your home page teh quick soure to find.
    Put the links to the sides.
    It is so non user freindly.

  55. There is really a simple way of getting around this problem.  First, the bible clearly teaches that there will be those who partake in the 1st resurrection and those who partake in the second resurrection.

    Those saved individuals will partake in the first resurrection whereas the rest of Humanity (All unsaved) will be resurrected after the 1000 years.  The purpose of this is so that God will execute his judgment upon all unsaved mankind.   During the 1000 year reign all saints are in Heaven with the Lord with resurrected bodies likened unto Christ.  The rest of Humanity is DEAD on earth and the Devil is bound during this time. 

    After the Millennium the unsaved dead are raised from the grave to receive their Judgment (Annihilation).  The Devil along with these unbelievers are utterly destroyed and consumed and the Old Heavens and Old Earth pass away.

    Neither Humans nor angels are immortal.  People wrongly assume angelic immortality because they are "spirit".  However, if the old earth is destroyed then all physical unsaved people go along with it.  Hence, when the Old Heavens are destroyed all rebellious angelic beings are destroyed.

    At this point there is a "New" heaven and Earth consisting of redeemed saints and angelic hosts who did not rebel.

  56. The "Second Death" is when the "unsaved" are resurrected and their judgment is rendered.  God being the Good Judge will give them their trial date but none will be pardoned.

      Weighed in the balance and found wanting......
     and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.............

     None is righteous, no, not one….
    God will give them their trial and they will be judged by their works for sure.  However, these who partake in the second death will soon find out that justification was by “faith” and not “works”.
    Also, by having all people resurected whether first or second will fullfil the scriptures where it states, “every knee shall bow”.
    Lastly, “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power”.

  57. You're problem is that mortalism and probably many if not most annihilationists and conditionalists don't even believe in an immortal soul, FYI God is not currently destroying anyone right now. The wicked will all be judged and destroyed as final punishment.

  58. God is just, and He will finally eradicate and do away with evil instead of restraining it and torturing it

Leave a Reply