I had commented on a post at http://satireandtheology.blogspot.com/ on “Annihilation”, that, while I don’t agree (yet) with the concept of annihilationism, I believe that there are some legitimately Biblical reasons to hold to such a position. I suggested Philip E. Hughes as an example of a Biblical scholar who believes that annihilationism is taught in the Scripture and that it is the only way to properly understand the contrasting principles of “life” and “death”. I only commented on this briefly over at Russ' blog because it occurred to me that a full post would do better justice to Hughes’ argument.
I will attempt to summarize Hughes’ position from his excellent book, “The True Image: The Origin and Destiny of Man in Christ”. This is the best work I’ve ever read on The Doctrine of Man and Christology. I may do a review of this book in the future, since I think every Christian should read this monumental work. If you want to know who Man was created to be and how it is that Christ has brought Man to his destiny, then read this book—you’ll never look at yourself, the human race or Christ the same again!
After having read this book and with possibly only a few minor points of contention, it’s only his view on annihilationism that I (may) have any issue with—that’s one chapter (Chpt. 37; pgs. 398-407) out of thirty eight. But again, as I’ve already said, he makes a compelling argument and I believe his conclusions on the matter can be understood as legitimate and Biblical, though not necessarily fully persuasive…at least not to me…at least, not at this present time.
As I began introducing Hughes’ thought in my comment on Russ’ blog, I suggested that his primary foundation for annihilationism was that he believed the soul was not created immortal, that the Scripture doesn’t teach the innate immortality of the soul. He says that Man, as originally created, was potentially immortal and potentially mortal, as well as potentially sinless and potentially sinful. This is important because if the soul is not inherently immortal, then there is no necessary obligation for a person to exist eternally in either state of being—whether that of “life” or that of “death”. Of course as Creator, God can take immortality away just as easily as He can grant immortality; but if the soul is not inherently immortal, then there is no logical necessity of its existing forever. Because of this, there is no reason logically, or more importantly, Biblically, that “death” cannot mean literal death or annihilation. Biblically, for Hughes, death is the opposite of life without regard to an eternal existence, but with regard to eternal finality.
Just because Man was created with the potentiality of immortality and mortality, this doesn’t mean, according to Hughes, that Man was created “neutral”. Man was created in the image of God “which is the bond of his personal fellowship with his Maker”, thus placing “his existence quite positively within the sphere of godliness and life” (pg. 400). He goes on to say about Man as originally created, “His loving and grateful concurrence with the will of God, who is the source of his life and blessedness, would have endured the continuation of his existence in unclouded blessing as he conformed himself to that image in which he is constituted (to which he was created).” (Of course, since Man did fall, now the Spirit is the One who is doing the work of conforming His people to the image of Christ, the True Man, and it is in this way that Man is restored to his true humanity as “image-bearer”) Hughes continues by saying that it was because of Man’s rebellion against God that he “passed from a positive to a negative relationship and brought the curse upon himself.” He argues that death is the “sum of that curse” and is also “the evidence that man is not inherently immortal”—soul or body (pg. 400).
Most of the above was taken directly from my comment on Russ’ blog; and as I stated over there, I tend to agree with Hughes on the points made above. Now I'd like to further expand on Hughes' thoughts. His argument for annihilation comes from his chapter entitled, "Is the Soul Immortal?" (pg. 398-407). By referencing the "soul" in the title of chapter does not mean that he sees the Bible as teaching a hard partition between soul (spirit) and body. Though some believe that matter is inherently evil and therefore it is only the spirit which partakes of immortality, the Bible clearly teaches that our "humanness" is made up of "body" and "spirit". Human nature in its fullness, as evidenced by Christ as the True Man, is both "body" and "spirit"; and therefore, the immortality that is assured to the Christian (because he/she is "joined" to Christ) will be an eternality of restoration to his/her true humanity—body and soul.
The question of human nature and immortality is very important in Hughes argument. He doesn't deny that Christians will live forever and spend eternity in the presence of God our Savior. He just doesn't think that the unbeliever will spend an eternity "living" in torment. Because, as Hughes reasons, immortality is not innate to human beings, it must be granted to them by God. He says, "It is God who alone has immortality and thus who alone may properly be described as immortal" (1Tim. 6:15-17; Rom. 1:23). Hughes continues, "And it is for us to confess, as did the Apostle, that by virtue of God's purpose and grace 'our Savior Jesus Christ has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel' (2Tim. 1:9-10). The immortality which was potentially ours at creation and was forfeited in the fall is now really ours in Christ, in whom we are created anew and brought to our true destiny."
Immortality, Hughes argues, is not innate to human nature; so only those who have been granted immortality will "live". Those who have not been granted immortality will continue in "death" until the end. Death is only swallowed up in Victory—in Christ; for those "outside" of Christ, death still reigns. Therefore, if one is not joined in union with Christ, he has not tasted this victory and, therefore, has not been granted immortality. This does not argue against an "intermediate state" in which unbelievers who have died physically will still survive in some sense until the resurrection and final judgment. Hughes is simply stating that the Bible, in distinguishing between the eternal categories of "life" and "death", grants immortality as a gift from God to the "victor"—to the one who ""(has) been baptized into Christ Jesus" and therefore is identified not only with the death of Christ (he has been "buried" with Christ), but also the life of Christ by sharing in His resurrection (Rom. 6:1-11).
Since the "sting of death" is sin (1Cor. 15:55-56), where there is no sin there is no death. Those outside of Christ do not share in His life because sin still reigns through their rebellion against God—they are still estranged from God and the "life" that He offers in Christ. But for those "in Christ" there is no condemnation: "By the law of the Spirit of life in Christ, they have been freed from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:1-2) and have therefore been counted as the "victorious" ones who, though perishable will "put on the imperishable", and though mortal will "put on immortality" so that there is no victory for death—"Thanks be to God who give us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Cor.51-58)!
Death and Life are the two key categories that must be dealt with in order to understand the Bible's meaning with reference to eternal things. Hughes recognizes that the Bible uses language that speak of "everlasting" and "eternal" realities; but he also recognizes the Biblical concepts of "death" and "life" as being diametrically opposed to each other. With regard to the idea of punishment, Hughes has no problem with the concept of "everlasting"; "But", he says, "…the ultimate contrast (as was also the original [contrast]) is between everlasting life and everlasting death, and this clearly shows that it is not simply synonyms (everlasting) but also antonyms (life and death) with which we have to reckon." For Hughes, the concept of death simply can't mean endless punishment because it is contrasted with life itself: "There is no more radical antithesis than that between life and death, for life is the absence of death, and death is the absence of life" (pg.403). The idea that eternal death is an endless existence without the power of dying is not meaningful in its own right, much less since the Bible depicts death as the opposite of life.
That many passages of Scripture seem to depict the idea of an eternity of punishment for wicked (various OT passages depicting judgment; Mark 9:48; Matt. 25:41; 2Thess. 1:9; Jude 7; Rev. 14:10-11; etc.) is undeniable. But since this "punishment" that is reserved for the wicked (as opposed to the righteous which are "in Christ") is associated with the principle of death (as opposed to life, which is the blessing of the righteous which are "in Christ"), there must be a change in the meaning of death to believe that the wicked will be "kept alive to suffer punishment without the power of dying." The eschatological perspective of the Bible is Life or Death—and Jesus Christ is the point of demarcation.
Hughes finishes his argument by making four points for consideration (pg. 405-406). I will simply quote these four points directly from his book and let you, the reader, make your own conclusions as to their merit.
First of all, because life and death are radically antithetical to each other, the qualifying adjective eternal and everlasting needs to be understood in a manner appropriate to each respectively. Everlasting life is existence that continues without end, and everlasting death is destruction without end, that is, destruction without recall, the destruction of obliteration. Both life and death hereafter will be everlasting in the sense that both will be irreversible: from that life there can be no relapse into death, and from that death there can be no return to life. The awful negation and the absolute finality of the second death are unmistakable conveyed by its description as "the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thess. 1:9).
Secondly, immortality or deathlessness, as we have said, is not inherent in the constitution of man as a corporeal-spiritual creature, though, formed in the image of God, the potential was there. That potential, which was forfeited through sin, has been restored and actualized by Christ, the incarnate Son, who has "abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tim. 1:10). Since inherent immortality is uniquely the possession and prerogative of God (1 Tim. 6:16), it will be by virtue of his grace and power that when Christ is manifested in glory our mortality, if we are then alive, will be superinvested with immortality and our corruption, if we are then in the grave, will be clothed with incorruption, so that death will at last be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:51-57; 2 Cor. 5:1-5). And thus at last we shall become truly and fully human as the destiny for which we were created becomes as everlasting reality in him who is the True Image and the True Life. At the same time those who have persisted in ungodliness will discover for themselves the dreadful truth of Christ's warning about fearing God, "who can destroy both body and soul in hell" (Matt. 10:28).
Thirdly, the everlasting existence side by side, so to speak, of heaven and hell would seem to be incompatible with the purpose and effect of the redemption achieved by Christ's coming. Sin with its consequences of suffering and death is foreign to the design of God's creation. The renewal of creation demands the elimination of sin and suffering and death. Accordingly, we are assured that Christ "has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb. 9:26; 1 John 3:5), that through his appearing death has been abolished (2 Tim. 1:10), and that in the new heaven and the new earth, that is, in the whole realm of the renewed order of creation, there will be no more weeping or suffering, "and death shall be no more" (Rev. 21:4). The conception of the endlessness of the suffering of torment and of the endurance of "living" death in hell stands in contradiction to this teaching. It leaves a part of creation which, unrenewed, everlastingly exists in alienation from the new heaven and the new earth. It means that suffering and death will never be totally abolished from the scene. The inescapable logic of this position was accepted, with shocking candor, by Augustine, who affirmed that "after the resurrection, when the final, universal judgment has been completed, there will be two kingdoms, each with its own distinct boundaries, the one Christ's, the other the devil's (though he would in no way enjoy his rule because he would be consigned the same fate as the wicked—comment, GGM), the one consisting of good, the other of bad" (Enchiridion, 111). To this it must be objected that with the restoration of all things in the new heaven and the new earth, which involves God's reconciliation to Himself of all things, whether on earth or in heaven (Acts 3:21; Col.1:20; to this GGM adds, Eph. 1:10), there will be no place for a second kingdom of darkness and death. Where all is light there can be no darkness; for "the night shall be no more" (Rev. 22:5). When Christ fills all in all and God is everything to everyone (Eph. 1:23; 1 Cor. 15:28), how is it conceivable that there can be a section or realm of creation that does not belong to this fullness and by its very presence contradicts it? The establishment of God's everlasting kingdom of peace and righteousness will see the setting free of the whole created order from its bondage to decay as it participates in the glorious liberty of the children of God (Rom. 8:21).
Fourthly, the glorious appearing of Christ will herald the death of death. By his cross and resurrection Christ has already made the conquest of death, so that for the believer the fear and sting of death have been removed (Heb. 2:14f.; 1 Cor. 15:54-57), the passage from death to life is a present reality (John 5:24), and the resurrection power of Jesus is already at work within him, no matter how severely he may be afflicted and incommoded outwardly (2 Cor. 4:11, 16). We do not yet see everything in subjection to the Son (Heb. 2:8); but nothing is more sure than that every hostile rule and authority and power will finally be destroyed, including death itself. Hence the assurance that "the last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15:24-26). Without the abolition of death the triumph of life and immortality cannot be complete (2 Tim. 1:10). This is the significance of the second death: it will be the abolition not only of sin and the devil and his followers but also of death itself as, in the final judgment, not only will Death and Hades give up their dead for condemnation but Death and Hades themselves will be thrown with them into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:13-15). Hence the clear promise that "death shall be no more" (Rev. 21:4).
Hughes concludes by challenging the contention that "if the death sentence pronounced at the final judgment against the unregenerate meant their annihilation the wicked would be getting off lightly and would be encouraged to regard the consequence of their sin without fear." The Biblical testimony is that the ultimate "day of the Lord" will be "terror for the ungodly, who will then be confronted with the truth of God's being which they had unrighteously suppressed and experience the divine wrath which previously they had derided." The truth of Hebrews 10:31, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" will be experienced "first hand" by those who have not come to Christ by faith. Revelation 6:15-17 is a reality that the unregenerate will experience; so the idea of their "getting off lightly" if their final outcome is annihilation is easily dispensed with. The unregenerate will at last be given eyes to see the truth of the glory of our Lord and His Kingdom, but they will forever be excluded from it. They will come to know the blessedness of union with Christ and the removal of the curse of estrangement, but they will never get to experience it. They will get a glimpse of the "transcendental joy and bliss of the saints as in the light eternal they glorify their resplendent Redeemer, to whose likeness they are now fully and forever conformed", only to be "plunged into the abyss of irreversible destruction, (which) will cause the unregenerate of mankind the bitterest anguish of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. In vain will they have pleaded, 'Lord, Lord, open to us!' (Matt. 25:11f; cf. 7:21-23). Too late will they then wish they had lived and believed differently." Their destiny is the "abyss of obliteration" which is the "destruction of the second death" (pg. 406-407).
Hughes finishes with this statement: "Thus God's creation will be purged of all falsity and defilement, and the ancient promise will be fulfilled that 'the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind as the multitude of the redeemed are glad and rejoice forever in the perfection of the new heaven and the new earth" (Is. 65:17f.; Rev. 21:1-4).
I hope that the reader will take Hughes' argument seriously. There is a lot here to think about and, as much as it may seem to the contrary, I didn't quote everything in this chapter! :-) I think Hughes' argument needs to be carefully examined (in its entirety) before being dismissed out-of-hand. I encourage the reader to find and purchase this book and read it carefully. Even if one doesn't end up agreeing with him on this issue, the other thirty-seven chapters are well worth the time invested in reading them. If you want to know what the destiny of Man is, then read this book--from beginning to end.