Destroying Soul and Body in Hell

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 (Mt. 10.28 NIV).

Jesus, in Mt. 10.28, gives the function of hell (Gehenna) as the destruction of the human wicked. This, obviously, is eternal punishment, annihilation. Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) it seems is predicated upon only Satan, the Beast, and the False Prophet: And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Rev. 20.10 NIV). Yes, unredeemed humans will be sent to the same place, but their duration is temporary unlike those for whom the Lake of Fire prepared (see Mt. 25.41).

At creation of Adam, God gives the human spirit in conjunction with the body to create a soul: Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Gen. 2.7 NIV). This “breath of life” is a spirit who returns to God at death: and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Eccl. 12.7 NIV). These spirits, it seems, will be reconstituted with physical bodies at different times depending on their order: For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the Firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him (1Cor. 15.22-23 NIV). Therefore, the redeemed will receive “spiritual bodies” (see 1 Cor. 15.44) at the return of Jesus to Earth.

Only the Righteous Receive Immortal Bodies

It seems humans were promised immortality by the presence of the Tree of Life in The Garden of Eden. After Adam’s Fall, access to immortality was withdrawn by expulsion of the offending couple from Eden: He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever (Gen. 3.22b NIV). Humans could not have been redeemed, it seems, if they were both immortal and sinners at the same time. Therefore, by almost universal agreement among Christians, the removal from Eden of Adam and Eve was a gracious act that opened the way for humans to be saved by the sacrificial death of Christ on their behalf.

Humans, by nature, do not have native immortality as seen in Genesis 3.22. Paul affirms the same in 1 Cor. 15. 42: So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable (NIV). Further, the bible is explicit that, 1. humans are mortal, and 2. the redeemed are only given immortality by Paul’s use of “we”: For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality (1Cor. 15.52b-53 NIV).

Therefore, it is clear that only God’s people are given eternal life and will never perish: I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand (Jn. 10.28 NIV). If humans had native immortality, this statement by Jesus would make no sense whatsoever. This eternal life is a gift that nonredeemed are never given, and therefore they remain mortal and subject to eventual destruction after their proportional and requisite punishment.

Conditional immortality is a doctrine taught in the bible and comports with the goodness of God. The doctrine doesn’t weaken the severity of God at all but follows the text of scripture from after the Fall in Genesis. Annihilation of wicked humans is both reasonable and severe and doesn’t dilute the justice of God. The judgement of God will be eternal for both the righteous and wicked; oblivion for the fallen but everlasting life for the people of God.

In a subtle way, most Christians have been persuaded that eternal punishment only means ECT. This is not correct, since, by definition, destruction is also eternal punishment and fulfills the criteria of the warnings in the bible. Paul even explicates the judgement upon the wicked as destruction in 2Th. 1.9: They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (NIV).

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