Denying the Obvious Meaning
Traditionalists make it impossible to show conditional immortality. Even though the Bible is filled with unsurpassable words to describe conditionalism, they twist the meanings of plain words.
One example of this twisting is the view of the intermediate state. Scripture repeatedly calls the first death sleep and consistently says the dead wake up at the resurrection. It is difficult to express temporary unconsciousness any better. Traditionalists, however, insist sleep means consciousness separates from the body and wake up means consciousness reunites with the body.
Clear, Biblical, language also supports an end of existence. The opposite of life is death, yet traditionalists tell us death is only separation. What word could better describe the end of life than death?
The warnings given to those who reject God also contain an exhaustive vocabulary of words that describe utter extinction. Again, traditionalists deny the obvious meaning of words like destroy and insist they only mean ruin. As pointed out in Chapter Nine, the issue is consciousness, not physical remains.
If we deny conditionalism, then we must believe that sleep does not mean sleep, wake up does not mean wake up, death does not mean death, and destroy does not mean destroy. This twisting of plain meaning is necessary because the best words to describe conditionalism are abundant from Genesis to Revelation.
Nature Determines Destiny
The answer lies in the nature of nonbelievers. In Chapter Four, we saw that all humans are mortal because of sin. We also searched for evidence that the soul is eternal and found that this belief is contrary to Scripture. Then in Chapter Eight, we examined the resurrections and saw that only believers will be immortal.
Since nonbelievers do not have eternal souls and will never be immortal, destruction means destruction. We also conclude that warnings discussed in the previous chapter are only everlasting in effect. Mortal beings cannot be conscious throughout eternity.
Traditionalists continue to insist that everyone has an eternal soul. Because of this assumption, they conclude that warnings using the word everlasting must mean everlasting consciousness. They also claim destruction can only mean an eternally wretched existence. Now we will examine the traditionalist’s efforts to bypass clear Scriptural evidence.
Future Age is Everlasting
While this present age is temporary, the future age is everlasting. Since the future age is everlasting, traditionalists insist torment is everlasting. Bible scholars commonly say, "You will spend eternity in one of two places . . ."
As we saw in the previous chapter, slaves sometimes chose to remain with their masters forever (Exodus 21:6, Deuteronomy 15:17). We see another example in the New Testament, where Paul says, "For perhaps he [Onesimus] departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever." (Philemon 15)
Traditionalists fail to realize that the duration of the age was not the determining factor. Instead, the mortal nature of the slave was the issue. Forever only lasted until the slave died, even though the age continued for those who were still alive. The relationship was not age-lasting; it was only until death. Just as this age ends for individuals at their first death, the next age also ends for those who die their second death.
The temporal age we live in is not the same duration for everyone. Some may die as infants while others live to be over 100. Since this age is shorter for some than for others, it is invalid to insist the next age is the same duration for everyone. Everlasting consciousness for some does not prove everlasting consciousness for all. Since some remain mortal and others become immortal, we must not fall into the trap of comparing apples and oranges.
Robert Morey (Death and the Afterlife, 1984) also denies conditionalism because the future age is everlasting. He agrees that "eternal judgment" and "eternal redemption" refer to a permanent and irreversible verdict, rather than an endless process. Morey then dismisses these examples because they deal with the present age and "everlasting punishment" deals with the future age (p. 132-133).
Morey is mistaken in his assumptions. We must let the Bible interpret the Bible. Scripture shows that everlasting can mean a verdict that is only everlasting in effect, instead of an age-lasting process. Since the action does not continue throughout the age, then it does not matter if the age is temporary or endless. Either way, only the effect is age-lasting.
Everlasting Warnings Prove the Soul is Eternal
As we have shown, everlasting warnings only mean everlasting torment if the soul is eternal. Traditionalists insist torment is everlasting because they believe the soul is eternal. When asked for proof that the soul is eternal, they claim phrases like ‘tormented forever and ever’ and ‘everlasting punishment’ prove the soul is eternal. It would be very difficult to give more obvious examples of the circular reasoning used by traditionalists to prove their viewpoint.
Distinction from Greek Views
Another appeal from traditionalists is that the writers in the Bible did not want to confuse their beliefs with the Greek views. Platonic dualism, for example, claims we had an eternal existence in the past as well as the future. Since traditionalists do not believe we existed before conception, there is a clear distinction between beliefs.
This distinction cannot explain why the Bible repeatedly says believers have eternal life, even though we did not exist in the past. It also fails to explain why Paul says believers will be changed to immortal at the resurrection. The Biblical writers do not avoid terms like eternal life or immortality; they only use these terms to describe God or believers.
The Bible is Silent
We must search the Bible to find the truth. Unfortunately, we make our minds up ahead of time and do not see the evidence. If we do not find our belief, we conclude that the Bible is silent on the subject.
When traditionalists find little evidence for their beliefs in the Old Testament, they claim it is almost silent about their subject. According to many traditionalists, only two verses in the entire Old Testament speak of final judgment (Isaiah 66:24 and Daniel 12:2).
Biblical truth seekers find plenty of evidence in the Old Testament. One example is Psalm 37. The language of this Psalm undeniably supports conditionalism. Traditionalists avoid the evidence by claiming it is only talking about the present world.
One indicator of final judgment is that believers will inherit the earth (Psalm 37:9, 11). Jesus uses the same language when He says the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). We know from the context that Jesus is speaking about final judgment.
Several statements in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) make this absolutely clear. Jesus speaks of the poor in spirit and the persecuted, then He says theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v. 3, 10). Jesus also talks about rewards in heaven (v. 12), and says the pure in heart will see God (v. 8).
Another plain indicator is that Psalm 37:12 says the wicked gnash their teeth at the faithful. Traditionalists point out examples of weeping and gnashing of teeth to show torment, yet they ignore Psalm 37:12. They also ignore Psalm 112:10, which says they will gnash their teeth and melt away.
We find more references about judgment in the Old Testament prophets. Many foretell the future age. Isaiah speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, so he is obviously talking about the future age when he says the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind (Isaiah 65:16-17).
Many also conclude in error that the Scriptures are vague regarding immortality. Traditionalists support their belief that everyone is immortal with ambiguous passages that say Jesus brought immortality to light (2 Timothy 1:10), or we were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Anyone who thinks these passages prove their claim has a very creative imagination! Why not accept plain Scripture that says only God has immortality (1 Timothy 6:15-16)?
Another example of misinterpretation is on the nature of the soul. Since the Bible never says the soul is eternal or immortal, traditionalists claim the Bible is silent on this subject. They insist this is not proof against their belief. How can this be?
God is not sloppy or careless. God did not forget to mention that the soul is eternal in the Bible. He chose to leave it out. Not only that, God made it clear, through His Word, that He can destroy the soul and inspired several writers to say the soul can die. These writings would be very deceptive if the soul is eternal. Since one of the names for the devil is deceiver, it is hard to imagine God would choose such a misleading approach.
Clearly, the Bible is not silent.
Spiritual Death is the Second Death
Death has several meanings in Scripture. Traditionalists claim the first death is physical (Hebrews 9:27) and the second death is spiritual (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13; 1 Timothy 5:6; 1 Peter 4:6; etc.). Since nonbelievers are still aware when they are spiritually dead, traditionalists claim the unfaithful will be conscious throughout eternity.
Traditionalists are correct when they say the first death is physical. They are incorrect, however, when they claim the second death is the same as spiritual death. Since people are already spiritually dead and have not yet died the second death in the lake of fire, these two deaths cannot be the same.
Just as eternal life leads to immortality, spiritual death leads to the second death. Traditionalists understand the difference between eternal life and immortality, yet they overlook the exact same difference between spiritual death and the second death. Eternal life and spiritual death are present conditions; immortality and the second death are future consequences.
The first and second death are both physical. We are all subject to the first physical death, then we will all be raised in a physical resurrection. Believers will be raised immortal, so they cannot die again (1 Corinthians 15:51-56, Revelation 20:5-6). Nonbelievers are raised mortal and die another physical death in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15).
Sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59:2), which is a temporary condition. When sin is full-grown, it brings forth death (James 1:15), the everlasting condition. The second death is the final destruction of both body and soul (Matthew 10:28).
A Question of Loyalty
Sola Scriptura is a Latin phrase used by the reformers to say they rely on Scripture alone. Amazingly, many proponents of Sola Scriptura still try to defend the doctrine of everlasting torment. Consider the evidence:
The Bible does not say:
Instead, the Bible says:
Everyone has eternal life.
Believers have eternal life (too many to list!).
Nonbelievers have eternal life.
Those who do not have the Son do not have eternal life (1 John 5:11-12).
Everyone has immortality.
God alone has immortality (1 Timothy 6:15-16).
Believers and nonbelievers will both be changed from mortal to immortal when they are resurrected.
Believers are changed to immortal (1 Corinthians 15:51-56) and the second death has no power over them (Revelation 20:5-6); nonbelievers die the second death (Revelation 20:11-15).
The soul is eternal or immortal.
God can destroy the soul (Matthew 10:28) and the soul can die (too many to list!).
Supporting Sola Scriptura and everlasting torment is impossible. Traditionalists who claim to rely on Scripture alone must either denounce their indefensible doctrine, or admit that tradition weighs heavily in their decision. If the Bible is our only authority, conditional immortality is our only conclusion.
Other viewpoints rely on questionable sources. When we examine the historical evidence outside the Bible, we see most scholars believed in everlasting torment. Tradition is on their side. Nevertheless, their case rests on the assumption that the soul is eternal, which contradicts Scripture.
During the first century, most people believed the earth was flat and the sun revolved around the earth. We do not believe this today because improved technology (telescopes, satellites, etc.) refutes these assumptions. Similarly, honest examination of Scripture refutes the assumption that the soul is eternal.
Our beliefs reflect our loyalty. God said, "You shall surely die." (Genesis 2:17) Satan contradicted God by saying, "You will not surely die." (Genesis 3:4) This was the first lie in the Bible. Unfortunately, most Christians believe Satan instead of God.
Greek philosophers and pagan religions say the soul is everlasting, and everyone possesses immortality. Most Bible scholars agree with them. Where are our loyalties? Should we be loyal to God and the Bible, or to Satan and pagans?
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Table of Contents: Title Page: The Myth of Everlasting Torment
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