Responding to Arguments for Annihilationism

Annihilationism is the belief that the wicked will one day cease to exist and pass into non-existence rather than being tormented in the lake of fire for all eternity. Annihilationism has become a popular alternative to the traditional and orthodox doctrine of hell in spite of the biblical evidence to the contrary (Matt 25:46; Rev 14:9-11; 20:10-15). Saying that unbelievers will only be destroyed or extinguished softens the blow of the Christian doctrine of hell and the offense of the gospel. In annihilationism, God is simply giving unbelievers what they want and what they expect will happen to them when they die. Annihilationists can quote many passages of Scripture to attempt to support their view, and at first blush, can make a strong sounding argument.

The verse that is quoted most often by annihilationists is 2 Peter 2:6: “If by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly.” They argue that since Sodom and Gomorrah were completely destroyed, the wicked will be destroyed and cease to exist. There are many passages in Scripture that speak of the enemies of God being destroyed or facing destruction. Hebrews 10:39 says, “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 that unbelievers “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction.” Matthew 3:12 declares that “the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

While I could respond to each text individually, it is much easier to point out the categorical fallacy and false assumption that is at play behind such argumentation. The key to answering the arguments for annihilationism is found in the book of 4 Maccabees. The book of 4 Maccabees was written in-between the Old and New Testaments and describes the sufferings of the Jews under Antiochus IV from 167-164 BC. In 4 Maccabees 10:15 we read: “No, by the blessed death of my brothers, by the eternal destruction of the tyrant, and by the everlasting life of the pious, I will not renounce our noble brotherhood.” This verse, if removed from the context of the entire book, can be made into an argument for annihilationism. The author speaks of “the eternal destruction of the tyrant” which could be interpreted to mean that the tyrant will be annihilated and cease to exist. The same expression is used in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 when Paul speaks of “eternal destruction” demonstrating a theological link in the thought of both authors.

But the author of 4 Maccabees was no annihilationist. In fact, 4 Maccabees has the strongest theology of eternal torment in Judaism. The author writes: “But you, because of your bloodthirstiness toward us, will deservedly undergo from the divine justice eternal torment by fire” (9:9); “Because of this, justice has laid up for you intense and eternal fire and tortures, and these throughout all time will never let you go” (12:12); “Let us not fear him who thinks he is killing us, for great is the struggle of the soul and the danger of eternal torment lying before those who transgress the commandment of God” (13:14-15). If the author of 4 Maccabees can utilize destruction language while still believing in the eternal torment of the wicked, why can’t the authors of the New Testament do the same? Therefore, the use of destruction language does not prove annihilationism any more than it proves that the author of 4 Maccabees was an annihilationist because he used such language. We must interpret Scripture in light of Scripture just as we interpret 4 Maccabees 10:15 in light of the rest of the book.

The problem with annihilationist arguments is that they misinterpret analogical statements as univocal ones. The wicked will be destroyed, but in the sense of eternal punishment. The fate of the wicked is analogous to that of Sodom and Gomorrah, but not in every sense. Trying to find a one-to-one correspondence between the destruction of those cities and the fate of the wicked contradicts the larger testimony of Scripture. 2 Peter 2:6 is parallel to Jude 1:7 which describes their punishment as one of “eternal fire.” Jude interprets Peter’s earlier statement as teaching eternal punishment, not annihilation. Otherwise, why would the fire need to be eternal? He says later that “the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 1:13). Why is this darkness reserved for them forever if the wicked will be annihilated? For more on this subject, I recommend Robert Morey’s book Death and the Afterlife.

Should Women Wear Head Coverings Today?

Are Christian women required to wear head coverings today as they were in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16? My answer would be that it depends on whether or not the culture in which the Christian lives requires women to wear head coverings. Christians have an obligation to “become all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22). But Christianity is unique in that it is adaptable to all cultures. The truths of the Christian faith transcend culture whereas Islam always brings with it Arabian culture wherever it goes in order to maintain the traditions of Muhammad.

To properly understand 1 Corinthians 11, we need to understand the historical context behind the wearing of head coverings. Head coverings were only worn by married women in order to signify that they were already taken to the men around them. Plutarch in his Moralia writes concerning the Spartans: “When someone inquired why they took their girls into public places unveiled, but their married women veiled, he said, ‘Because the girls have to find husbands, and the married women have to keep to those who have them!'” In the same book, Plutarch speaks of the marriage ceremony as “veiling the bride” when the woman who was to be married donned a veil to signify her married status. Tacitus in his Annals writes that in marriage a woman “assumed the veil.” The poet Juneval describes the bride in a wedding ceremony as wearing a veil. Paul confirms this understanding of the head covering in 1 Corinthians 11:10 where he calls a head covering “a symbol of authority.” The head covering symbolizes the authority of the husband over his wife. The angels are watching to make sure that men dress like men and women dress like women and submit to their husbands. Those who insist that all women must wear head coverings today do not understand that head coverings were only worn by married women to signify their married status. By making unmarried women wear head coverings, they are going beyond the text of Scripture. Ironically, their practice of wearing head coverings is not the same as it was in first century Corinth.

On the other hand, in Hebrew culture, prostitutes wore head coverings to identify themselves as prostitutes. Tamar wears a head covering to disguise herself as a prostitute in Genesis 38:15-19. In Song of Songs 1:7, we see another reference to prostitutes who veil themselves to attract the business of shepherds. That means Paul would never have demanded that women who are members of the church in Jerusalem cover their heads. If he had, unbelievers might claim that Christians were forcing their wives into prostitution! God never commanded women in the Old Testament to wear head coverings because they did not signify the same thing that they would later signify in Greek culture. It was the men who wore head coverings in worship, not women. This is the exact opposite situation that is found in Greek culture. The following chart summarizes the historical data:

Men Women Prostitutes
Greek Culture Did not cover their heads. Covered their heads to identify themselves as being married. Did not cover their heads as unmarried women.
Hebrew Culture Covered their heads in worship gatherings. Did not cover their heads in worship gatherings. Covered their heads to identify themselves as prostitutes.

What a head covering signifies today is completely different from what it signified in first century Corinth. Whereas in Greek culture, when a man saw a woman wearing a head covering, he immediately knew that it was a sign that she was married and not available. But when a woman wears a head covering today, people in America assume that she is a Muslim. It would make her stand out in the crowd bringing humiliation and shame in contrast to Greek culture where it was normal for a married woman to wear a head covering.

Our approach to head coverings should be the same as our approach to Paul’s command to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Rom 16:16). We do not disregard this text or cast it aside as a relic of the past, but we accommodate or translate it into our culture. Greeting one another with a holy kiss in our modern context means that we greet one another warmly. 1 Corinthians 11 in our modern context means that men dress like men and women dress like women in whatever culture we live in (Deut 22:5). But what counts as a man’s clothing and hairstyle versus a woman’s clothing and hairstyle differs from culture to culture. If we live in a culture that requires women to wear head coverings, they should do so in order to not put a stumbling block before the gospel.

The principle of male headship and the distinctions between men and women are the creation ordinances Paul appeals to. The head covering was simply how these creation ordinances were expressed in first century Corinth. Creation ordinances are binding on all people at all times. But how male headship and the distinctions between men and women are expressed look different from culture to culture. Adam had authority over his wife Eve, but Eve did not wear a head covering to express this. This demonstrates that head coverings are not a creation ordinance, but the application of the creation ordinance through a pre-existing cultural norm that distinguishes men from women and married women from unmarried women.

The existence of such distinctions between men and women betrays the fact that man is created in God’s image and therefore knows even apart from special revelation that men and women are to act and dress differently from one another. Since those creation ordinances were expressed through the head covering, to reject head coverings for married women would be to reject the creation ordinances themselves. But since we do not express the creation ordinances of male headship and the distinctions between men and women through head coverings, they are not necessary to distinguish men from women because the message they communicate in our culture is completely different from the one they communicated in first century Corinth. We must not confuse the creation ordinance with the cultural means by which that ordinance is expressed.

Trying to implement Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians where long hair was highly valued in a woman would not work in Maasai culture where the women shave their heads. Paul’s statement that “it is disgraceful for a wife to cut off her hair or shave her head” (1 Cor 11:6) makes no sense in their culture because they live in a completely different one. The solution is not to turn the Maasai people into westerners who value women with long hair and demand that they grow out their hair now that they are saved, but to recognize that such a demand would only create a barrier to reaching them with the gospel and give a reason for them to reject the Christian message as a foreign and imperialist tool for destroying their culture. Demanding that all married women today wear head coverings would create a barrier to reaching people with the gospel by forcing people to live as the Greeks do.

What the modern head covering movement is trying to do is make Greek culture normative for all cultures just as Islam makes Arabian culture normative everywhere it goes. The end result of demanding that all women wear head coverings is that Christ’s body is divided and we misunderstand the background of the text of Scripture. The missionaries of the past made the same mistake by demanding that people first learn English and dress and act as they do in order to be good Christians. The result was that people did not know the Bible in their heart language or comprehend the worship songs. By making the gospel for only those who live as Englishmen do, the reach of the gospel was restricted. We must be faithful to Scripture, not our misunderstanding of Scripture. For more information on this topic, I recommend Robert Morey’s article on the subject. Benjamin Merkle’s paper on 1 Corinthians 11 is also helpful.

Sunday Meditation – True Preaching

“A man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul. And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us.”

“To preach the word . . . and not to follow it with constant and fervent prayer for its success, is to disbelieve its use, neglect its end, and to cast away the seed of the gospel at random.”

John Owen

What Is the Glory of God?

In recent years there has been a revival of discussion on the glory of God and its centrality in the Christian life. This is largely due to the increasing influence of Reformed Theology or Calvinism and the writings of John Piper. After all, the first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” This is a good summary of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 10:31 that we should “do all to the glory of God.” But what exactly is the glory of God and how do we live for God’s glory each day of our life?

The term “glory” derives from the Hebrew word kavod  which describes the weightiness, costliness, or worth of something. The more glory that something has, the more valuable it is. This idea of weight alludes back to the practice of weighing coins or precious minerals on scales to determine their value. The price of an object for sale had a certain weight and the coins offered to pay for it had to match that weight in order for it to be sold. This is why Scripture repeatedly condemns “Unequal weights” and “false scales” (Prov 20:23). To say that God is glorious means that God is infinitely worthy of worship. Only God is of infinite worth because he alone is our creator and redeemer.

The concept of glory also comes with overtones of splendor and majesty. It is God’s radiance and beauty that attracts the saints to love and worship him. God is infinitely glorious because of who he is intrinsically apart from creation, not because we assign glory to him. Only the saints see the glory of God for what it is and love him in response. This is why 1 Peter 2:7 says “you who believe see his value” or “to you who believe, he is precious.” The saints cry out in response to God’s glory, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev 5:12).

We have been created to worship God and declare his glory. Our identity as human beings is tied to our role as worshipers of God and if we do not worship God, then we will fall short of the purpose for which we have been made. We have been redeemed that we might “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet 2:9). God says that Israel is “the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise” (Isa 43:21). That is why unbelievers will be forever miserable until they find the purpose for which they have been made. To live for any lesser end will always bring sorrow and anguish because we are not living out the identity for which we have been made. Worship is an identity before it is an activity. We glorify God both through believing the gospel message and living it out every day of our lives. A life lived for God’s glory means that we worship God in all that we do and live for and invest in eternity instead of for the here and now which is passing away.

My Harmony of the Gospels

In college I created my own harmony of the Synoptic Gospels to try to discern the relationships between them.  It can be found here in my OneDrive account.  It is color-coded and in chronological order.  The significance of the colors is as follows: Black: all three gospels; Green: Matthew only; Orange: Mark only; Blue: Luke only; Red: Matthew and Luke; Pink: Matthew and Mark; Brown: Mark and Luke.  Based on the fact that only the four stories of the parable of the growing seed, the healing of a deaf man, the Bethsaida blind man, and the account of the young man fleeing are found in Mark alone, I concluded that Mark was written first and Matthew and Luke both used Mark as a source for their gospels.

Sunday Meditation – Live near to God

“Get your texts from God — your thoughts, your words, from God. In great measure, according to the purity and perfection’s of the instrument, will be success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.  A word spoken by you when your conscience is clear, and your heart full of God’s Spirit, is worth ten thousands words spoken in unbelief and sin.”

“Live near to God, and all things will appear little to you in comparison with eternal realities.”

“A man is what he is on his knees before God, and nothing more.”

“Rose early to seek God and found Him whom my soul loveth. Who would not rise early to meet such company?”

“If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”

Robert Murray M’Cheyne

Evidence for Jesus Outside the Bible

Is there any extra-biblical evidence for the life of Jesus?  When I was first researching this subject, I was surprised by how many references to Jesus there are in non-Christian sources.

I knew about Josephus’ reference to Jesus and John the Baptist, but I had no idea he is referred to on multiple occasions in the Babylonian Talmud.

I would like to briefly distill that evidence for you in this article.

These twelve references that I have given do not include the writings of the apostolic church fathers or the gospels.

1. Pliny the Younger:

“They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food – but ordinary and innocent food.”

2. Cornelius Tacitus:

“But all human efforts, all the emperor’s gifts and propitiations of the gods, were not enough to remove the scandal or banish the belief that the fire had been ordered. And so, to get rid of this rumor Nero set up as culprits and punished with the utmost cruelty a class hated for their abominations, who are commonly called Christians. Christus, from whom their name is derived, was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. Checked for the moment this pernicious superstition broke out again, not only in Judea, the source of the evil, but even in Rome, the place where everything that is sordid and degrading from every quarter of the globe finds a following. Thus those who confessed (to being Christians) were first arrested, then on evidence from them a large multitude was convicted, not so much for the charge of arson as for their hatred of the human race. Besides being put to death they were made objects of amusement; they were clothed in hides of beasts and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others were set on fire to illuminate the night after sunset. Nero threw open his grounds for the display and put on a show at the circus where he mingled with the people dressed like a charioteer and driving about in his chariot. All this gave rise to a feeling of pity, evens towards these men who deserved the most exemplary punishment since it was felt they were being killed, not for the public good but to gratify the cruelty of an individual.”

3. Lucian of Samosota:

“It was then that he [Perigrinus] learned the wondrous lore of the Christians by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine. And – how else could it be? He made them all look like children; for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world. . . . The poor wretches have convinced themselves first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody, most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another, after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods, and by worshiping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property–receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence. So if any charlatan or trickster able to profit from them comes along and gets among them, he quickly acquires sudden wealth by imposing upon simple folk.”

4. Suetonius

“Since the Jews were continually making disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome.”

5. Thallus

“This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.”

6. Phlegon

“Jesus, while alive, was of no assistance to himself, but that he arose after death and exhibited the marks of his punishment, and showed how his hands had been pierced by nails . . . the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in who reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquake which then took place.”

7. Mara Bar-Serapion:

“What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that their Kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; He lived on in the teaching which He had given.”

8. Jewish Talmuds:

“On (Sabbath eve and) the eve of Passover, Jesus the Nazarene was hanged and a herald went forth before him forty days heralding, “Jesus the Nazarene is going forth to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and instigated and seduced Israel to idolatry. Whoever knows anything in defense may come and state it.” But since they did not find anything in his defense they hanged him on (Sabbath eve and) the eve of Passover.”

“Ulla said: ‘Do you suppose that Jesus the Nazarene was one for whom a defense could be made? He was a mesit (someone who instigated Israel to idolatry), concerning whom the Merciful [God] says: Show him no compassion and do not shield him (Deut. 13:9). With Jesus the Nazarene it was different. For he was close to the government.'”

9. Josephus (Arabic Version)

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.

10. Galen

“If I had in mind people who taught their pupils in the same way as the followers of Moses and Christ teach theirs – for they order them to accept everything on faith – I should not have given you a definition.”

11. Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius

“When Augustus heard that Herod king of the Jews had ordered all the boys in Syria under the age of two years to be put to death and that the king’s son was among those killed, he said, ‘I’d rather be Herod’s sow than Herod’s son.'”

12. The Alexamenos Graffito

An inscription found in Rome which mocks the beliefs of Christians and says, “Alexamenos worships (his) God.”