Is the Soul of the Unbeliever Annihilated at Death?
The answer to this question is very simple and it is based on the same reasoning given to those who believe they can lose their salvation. How is the life that a Christian receives from God described? What is it’s description or quality? This life is described as eternal or everlasting. Can you lose something that is everlasting? If you can, whatever kind of life you may have is certainly not everlasting life if it can cease to be.
The same reasoning applies to annihilation of the soul. How does the Bible describe the torment or punishment applied to those who reject Christ? It is described as everlasting. If one’s soul ceases to exist, how can an unbeliever experience eternal punishment or eternal torment? In order for an unbeliever to experience eternal torment, there has to be a conscious existence.
Then shall he say also unto them (unbelievers) on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: Matthew 25:41
Then shall he answer them (unbelievers), saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. Matthew 25:45&46
Note: The same word used to describe the type of life for the righteous is used to describe punishment for the wicked. Both are described as eternal.
And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt (abhorrence). Daniel 12:2
In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction (ruin) from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; II Thessalonians 1:8&9
Note: The same word for destruction is used in I Timothy 6:9 speaking of the consequences of the indulgence of the flesh, referring to physical ruin…….WE Vine pg 165 #3, olethros. This word for destruction is not referring to obliteration of the soul.
The same (unbelievers) shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:
And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. Revelation 14:10&11
Note: In order to experience everlasting torment, there has to be conscious existence.
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. Revelation 20:10-15
Note: The torment of the devil and his angels lasts forever and that punishment includes the punishment of those whose names are not found written in the book of life.
There are other concerns regarding the teaching of annihilation of the soul. Many unbelievers already believe that when they die, that is it. They already believe that they will cease to exist. What is to be feared about death (separation from God), if the soul ceases to exist?
This false doctrine is also widely held by the cults. Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah Witnesses both endorse this teaching. If we didn’t have any other argument, this should be a red flag to warn us away.
The Scripture teaches that there are degrees of reward in heaven and that there are degrees of punishment in hell. If the unregenerate soul ceases to exist, the unregenerate cannot experience degrees of punishment in hell.
Most importantly, this false teaching minimizes the suffering of Christ on the cross and the payment He made for our sins. This is a price that sinners cannot pay and is shown to be such by the eternal nature of unbelievers paying it themselves. Rejecting God’s provision for our sin will one day unleash His wrath against all ungodliness. Those who would minimize the payment Christ made for the sins of mankind lack a biblical understanding of the holiness of God and the consequences of sin.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:31
…let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…
Note: The Scripture references are from John MacArthur’s NKJV Study Bible notes on Matthew 25:46.
The following is a comment that I received a few weeks ago concerning this article:
You don’t seem to be aware of the Biblical language of what a “soul” is. The Hebrew word (sometimes translated soul) is nephesh. Its Greek equivalent is psuche. Both words are applied Biblically to both humans and animals. In fact animals are called living creatures (nephesh) before humans are in the Genesis account. So whatever you argument contains about “souls” you need to take that into account. Next scripture speaks of nephesh and psuche that die. Jesus himself speaking of his own death says he came to give his psuche as a ransom. Biblically speaking “souls” (nephesh or psuche) do not live on after their deaths. In addition to this scripture repeatedly states that man is mortal, he dies. God describes what death is in Genesis 3:19 a return to the dust from which we came. Scripture also states that only God is immortal. Even if the teaching of annihilationism was false (which its not) your argument does not logically follow. You argue everyone will live forever after the resurrection either in heaven or hell. Even if I granted that this was true this does not necessitate an intermediate state of existence because as Christians we believe in the resurrection of the living.
My response: The answer is still very simple. Everlasting is the same word used to describe the believers reward of eternal life.
The torment reserved for the devil, his angels and unbelievers is described in Scripture as lasting forever and ever. The unbeliever’s reward is everlasting fire, everlasting punishment, everlasting contempt and everlasting destruction. An unbeliever can only experience this kind of punishment through conscious awareness.
More could be said, but the guiding principle here is that God’s Word never contradicts itself. If an interpretation of Scripture results in a contradiction, the interpretation is incorrect.
If an unbeliever’s soul ceases to exist, then he or she will not experience everlasting torment, everlasting fire, everlasting punishment, everlasting contempt, or everlasting destruction as the Scripture states.