Annihilationist

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What does an annihilationist believe about hell?

An annihilationist believes that the soul of an unsaved person ceases to exist if they die without accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Many annihilationists do not believe in a literal hell as a place where the souls of the lost are tormented in a lake of fire for eternity. They argue that a loving, compassionate, and moral God would not torture souls for eternity no matter what they had done during their lifetimes. Instead, they believe that the souls of these people are annihilated at their death and they simply cease to exist. Some have referred to this as a kind of “conditional immortality” by arguing that there is no reason that a soul has to be eternal.

Other annihilationists (Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, e.g.) believe that hell is a real place and that the lost are sent there to be punished. However, this group also believes that at some point the souls of the damned are allowed to perish and thereafter, cease to exist. How long those souls are tormented until they are completely annihilated is uncertain.

All annihilationists admit that the “real hell” for the lost is the eternal separation from God because of the annihilation of the soul. (Of course a counter-argument to annihilationism is that separation from God was exactly what those who rejected Christ during their lifetimes wanted. They did not want a relationship with God).

On what do annihilationists base their beliefs?
Annihilationists point to various verses of Scripture that they claim support the idea of the extinguishment of the soul. One verse they use is John 3:16, one of the most famous verses in the Bible, which says, “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.” They argue that John 3:16 clearly shows a difference between those who did not believe in Jesus and are allowed to “perish” versus believers, who are given “eternal life.”

However, the counter-argument is that while believers are, in fact, given eternal life, that does not necessarily mean that those who “perish” are allowed to have their souls annihilated. The word “perish” could easily have several different meanings. One could be said to have “perished” because they died in their sins without Christ. Once they are “dead in their sins”, they no longer have any hope of life. However, that does not mean that their soul will escape eternal torment in hell. They have “perished” by disappearing forever into the pit of hell, where they have no hope of escape.

The great majority of mainstream Christian denominations believe in the Bible’s numerous references of a literal hell, whereby the damned are tormented forever in the lake of fire. Although hell is not something that most people want to think about, nevertheless the general consensus is that most annihilationists believe what they do based more on moral conviction and belief that eternal punishment does not seem “fair” than on exegesis of Scriptures relating to descriptions of hell.



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