The Final Fate of the Wicked

Section II.

By Reverend George Lindley Young, Newburyport, MASS


According to the Dictionary, destroy, when used of living creatures (save, of course, when used figuratively), means to kill, slay, put to death. So the Greek άπόλλυμι is defined by Liddell and Scott, to destroy utterly, kill, slay. Souter gives it: “(a) I destroy; (b) I lose: (mid.) I am perishing (the resultant death being viewed as certain).” So when used in Bible it has like meaning; and no amount of its figurative application can get rid of its signification as thus used. For instance, when the Bible refers to some temporal judgment, or visitation, coming upon people and destroying them, the meaning is that they were slain, killed, lost their lives. “The flood came and destroyed them all. . . . It rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all” (Lu. 17:27, 29). “Were destroyed of serpents . . . were destroyed of the destroyer” (1 Cor. 10:9, 10). “The Lord, having saved the people out of Egypt, afterwards destroyed them that believed not” (Jude 5; see its use in Deut. 2:21–23; 7:22–24; Josh. 24:8; 2 Sam. 24:15, 16; Am. 2:9; Heb. 12:28).

This does not mean that they were kept alive but unhappy. It clearly indicates that they met death, had an end put to their present life. So when finally the wicked are destroyed “forever” and “without remedy,” when they are punished with “eternal destruction,” the thought is not that they shall be kept alive forever in some most miserable plight. Instead, their future life comes to an end and that forever. The righteous alone are preserved, while all the wicked are destroyed (Ps. 145:20). And in view of what we have seen the Bible so harmoniously and continually to declare concerning the utter consuming, burning up, cutting off of the wicked, it seems impossible that the word destroy can properly have put upon it any such artificial signification as that essayed by some at the call of a theory, so that, instead of taking the life of the wicked, their life is eternally sustained in misery. Had we space, it could be shown from a study of the word apollumi as used of man in the N. T. that it has meaning like to that which we have set forth. And in this it is perfectly accordant with many other Scriptures where other terms are used.

Slay.—”But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither and slay before me” (Lu. 19:27).

That we are generally correct in our interpretation thus far seems indicated by the fact that God’s final judgment visitation is to slay the wicked. What sort of thinking would it be to consider that to slay means to preserve alive? Would it not be mal-usage of language to force the word slay to signify to continue the living existence of? To slay is to kill, put to death. It is to take the life of, and so to leave in a lifeless state. It does not signify to torture, to put in pain. To be sure, infliction of pain might precede the slaying and even lead up to it. Yet the infliction of the pain, with its attendant continuance in life, would not be the slaying. That would only come with the taking of life.

And if the Bible can be relied on, the wicked are to have their life taken away. In fact, to use Bible language, they are to be “despoiled of life” (Prov. 22:23, R. V.), be slain, as a result of their evil. “Evil shall slay the wicked” (Ps. 34:21). “With the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked” (Isa. 11:4). Certainly, as to what actually occurs to the wicked, the statements are plain enough. And if slay does not mean slay, who is wise enough to say what it does mean? Yet the fact of their being slain is utterly at variance with the idea that they shall be kept alive to suffer through all eternity.

Cut off.—”But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it” (Prov. 2:22).

When the O. T. speaks of the cutting off of a people or nation (Deut. 12:29; 19:1; Josh. 11:21; 23:3, 4), what is intended is not the continued existence of said people or nation. It is their discontinuance, even their racial or national extirpation, that is intended. So when individuals were cut off (Num. 15:30, 31; 1 Sam. 28:9; 1 Kin. 11:15, 16), the idea is not that they were continued in life, but rather that they had their life taken away, were cut off from life or “from the land of the living” (Isa. 53:9; Jer. 11:19). Thus “when Jezebel cut off the prophets of Jehovah,” it states that she “slew” them (1 Kin. 18:4, 13).

Of the wicked in the future, it is said that they shall be cut off. And if to cut off a man during historic time means to slay him, take away his life, so when in the judgment day the wicked are cut off, it will be, as we have seen, a slaying, such a taking of life as shall put them out of living existence. For “they that are cursed of him (God) shall be cut off.”

“For Jehovah loveth justice,
And forsaketh not his saints;
They are preserved for ever:
But the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.”
“As for transgressors, they shall be destroyed together;
The end of the wicked shall be cut off” (Ps. 37:22, 28, 38).

Let us, by actual example, see what was meant by the term cut off when applied to a house or family.

“Therefore behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam and will cut off from Jeroboam every man-child . . . and will utterly sweep away the house of Jeroboam, as a man sweepeth away dung, till it be all gone” (1 Kin. 14:10).

“And it came to pass that, as soon as he (Baasha) was king, he smote all the house of Jeroboam; he left not to Jeroboam any that breathed, until he had destroyed him; according to the saying of Jehovah,” etc. (1 Kin. 15:29).

As here the threat to cut off this kingly family was accomplished by its total obliteration as a family, so it may be said that the threat to cut off the wicked will meet final accomplishment in their total extirpation as personal beings. It is not, as some would have us think, the mere cutting off of their hope or peace or joy or divine fellowship, whilst they themselves continue through eternity in a most miserable condition. The Bible declares instead that the evil-doers, the transgressors, the wicked, shall themselves be cut off, cut off as living personalities.

Blot out.—To blot out a thing is expressive of its obliteration or extermination. For instance, God said: “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground; both man, and beast, and creeping things, and birds of the heavens” (Gen. 6:7). “Every living thing that I have made will I blot out from off the face of the ground” (7:4). This signified so complete a work of extermination that it would sweep the earth clean of the living presence of those thus mentioned. This is seen from the historic fulfilment: “And every living thing was blotted out that was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and creeping things, and birds of the heavens; and they were blotted out from the earth; and Noah only was left, and they that were with him in the ark” (7:23).

The blotting out of sins (Ps. 51:1, 9; Isa. 44:22; Acts 3:19) does not mean their retention, but their effacement, expungement, obliteration. Again, when the name of a person or thing is Biblically spoken of as being blotted out, it signifies the blotting out of the thing or person itself for whom the “name” stands. For in the Bible the “name” often stands for the person named (see Hastings’ D. B., iii. 478f ). When therefore God said: “Let me alone that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven” (Deut. 9:14; see 2 Kin. 14:27), this signified the extermination of Israel, the nation referred to. Again, when it is said, “Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Deut. 25:19), the language signified the utterness of the blotting out of the Amalekite nation. When therefore it is said, concerning a person, “The Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven” (Deut. 29:20), his complete blotting out as a person seems intended. So to have one’s name blotted out of the book of life (Rev. 3:5) or to “be blotted out of the book of the living” (Ps. 69:28) would seem to signify the same. Such expressions are compatible with the final and total obliteration of the persons of the wicked, but they assuredly do not comport with their retention in living personality to suffer forever.

The light of life extinguished.—Life in the Bible is sometimes metaphorically represented as a light (candle or lamp) that is burning. The extinguishment of the light is the putting out of life (Job. 18:5, 6; 21:7). There are some passages of this sort that apparently look ahead beyond natural death to the final issue. “The candle of the wicked shall be put out” (Prov. 24:20), “Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness” (20:20).

Here, seemingly, we behold the total putting out of the sinner’s light, i.e., the complete extinguishment of his life. So complete is this that he goes into utter darkness, the darkness of non-being. For the wicked are compared to “wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever” (Jude 13).

We would not press this point nor the one preceding. Indeed, we do not have to. For numerous other things testify to the utter extinguishment of the life of the lost. Yet in view of those other things, the present passages are corroboratingly significant. No one, certainly, would ever have the temerity to consider such sayings as predicative of an eternal continuance of being amid the pains of Gehenna. The weight of their testimony falls on the side of an ultimate cessation of individual existence.

Cease to be.—If, as we have seen, the wicked are to be destroyed, consumed, burnt up and so cut off and blotted out, it seems impossible that their personal existence can continue. In fact, such violently destructive treatment will so fully put them out of living existence that as living personalities they cease to be. Though the Bible may not use this exact term, yet it does use terms and make statements that teach exactly this. The wicked, instead of abiding in suffering existence forever, are to be remanded back to individual non-being. They then shall possess no more personal being than they did before they come into existence. Into such utter non-entity shall they go as to become personally extinct forever. For the face of Jehovah is so against them that do evil that it is his intent to “cut off the remembrance of them from the earth” (Ps. 34:16), which seems a rather strong assertion of their complete extirpation. For “the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it” (Prov. 2:22). Thus though “the wicked spring as the grass, and all the workers of iniquity do flourish,” yet “it is that they shall be destroyed for ever” (Ps. 92:7). “For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be; yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and he shall not be” (37:10). But let us note yet farther: —

“Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered;
Let them also that hate him flee before him,
As smoke is driven away, so drive them away;
As wax melteth before the fire,
So let the wicked perish at the presence of God” (Ps. 68:1, 2).
“Let sinners be consumed out of the earth,
And let the wicked be no more” (Ps. 104:35).

At the best, smoke does not have any great coherence. But when it is “driven away” by the wind, it becomes so dispersed that it ceases to be even smoke. If some scattering, dissipative experience comparable to this is said to await the unsaved, it surely is a strange way to affirm their indestructible, imperishable nature. Again, if the wicked, at the judgment presence of God, are to “perish” even as wax melts before the fire, it speaks not very strongly for their eternal continuance of being. Rather it is then fulfilled that sinners are so “consumed out of the earth” as to “be no more.”

Should we turn to Plato’s use of language, we discover that when he would express the idea of the soul’s complete dissipation or dissolution, he used language very like the above Bible language. Said Cebes: “Socrates . . . what you have said respecting the soul will occasion much incredulity in many from the apprehension that, when it is separated from the body, it no longer exists anywhere, but is destroyed and perishes on the very day in which a man dies; and that immediately it is separated and goes out of the body, it is dispersed and vanishes like breath or smoke and is no longer anywhere.

Later Socrates asks if the soul can, “when separated from the body, be immediately dispersed and destroyed, as most men assert?” Still later he asserts that “the soul has no occasion to fear . . . lest, being torn to pieces at its departure from the body, it should be blown about and dissipated by the winds, and no longer have an existence anywhere” (Phaedo, trans, by Cary, sec. 39, 68, 75).

If now, in Plato, this vanishing as smoke or being dispersed by winds (or other means) is clearly intended to indicate the utter and final dissolution of the soul, then why, when we come to Bible language of like import, do we not give to such language a like meaning? Can we not be as candid with Bible language as we are with that of Plato?

In the apocryphal book of Wisdom the writer sets forth the belief of certain ungodly men who held to no future life at all, but to one’s complete dispersal as resultant from natural death:

“Because by mere chance were we born,
And hereafter we shall be as though we had never been;
Because the breath in our nostrils is smoke,
And while our heart beateth reason is a spark,
Which being extinguished, the body shall be turned into ashes,
And the spirit shall be dispersed as thin air.
And our life shall pass away as the traces of a cloud,
And shall be scattered as is a mist
When it is chased by the beams of the sun,” etc. (2:2–4).

It will be observed that this language is expressive of a complete passing away from life at the first death. Language of similar import is Biblically used concerning the second death. Is it used to express endless continuance of life? Is it not used, rather, to express a dissolution as complete as that which these unbelievers thought to take place at the first death? Indeed, what other meaning can be candidly given to such language?

Dr. G. E. Horr, in The Christian Faith and Eternal Life, seems to look upon Bible immortality as more of a “conviction” than a revelation. He deems that, along with “the strong conviction that there is a blessed future for loyal spirits,” so “the conviction deepened that the moral rule of God is inconsistent with the extinction of the personality of those who have done evil” (p. 51).

How vague and uncertain all this is. We would say instead that God has plainly declared the eternal being of the righteous, and that, not conviction, but revelation declares as plainly “the extinction of the personality of those who have done evil.” They shall “be no more.”

Why not believe God?

The cessation of Jehovah’s anger.—We have seen somewhat of what the Bible teaches as to man’s final fate if unsaved. The language is not that of perpetuity of being. Instead, it is that of consumption, dispersal, dissolution, loss of being or of living personality. Yet if the doctrine of eternal torment is maintained, then this clear-cut language of Scripture must be contradicted and some means of reconciliation sought—and far-fetched and desperate have some of these attempts been. But before we go farther in our discussion, we note another outstanding Bible fact that stands squarely with what we have already seen the Bible to teach but that stands squarely against the idea of the eternal retention of sinners in life, while “the Almighty shall blow the fires of hell through them forever” (Isaac Ambrose). This other Bible fact is that of the terminableness of the divine anger or wrath.

The true Bible teaching on this line is very different from the following blasphemous outbreak: God’s “face shall be red in his anger; his eyes shall not pity, nor shall his soul spare for their crying. The day of vengeance is in his heart. It is what his heart is set upon. He will delight in it. He will tread that rebel crew in his anger. . . . The cup of his fierce wrath shall contain no mixture of mercy. All this, and more and worse, do the Scriptures declare; and that preacher who hesitates to proclaim it has foresworn his soul and is a traitor to his trust. And all this shall be FOREVER” (Wm. Davidson; quoted by Pettingell). We purpose to show that this “forever” of God’s anger is not only blasphemy, but is directly contradictory to the plain wording of Scripture.

Be it known that God’s anger or wrath is no fiction. It is a terrible reality. And it is not in the O. T. alone that it is mentioned. It is equally a N. T. doctrine. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom. 1:18; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6).

It is not necessary here to discuss the word wrath itself (or indignation or anger) as applied to God. Sufficient to know that it is Biblical and conveys a real Bible teaching. It is held before us that the impenitent man is treasuring up against himself “wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom. 2:5). Only through Christ may we be delivered from “the wrath to come” (1 Thes. 1:10).

That divine wrath brings positive infliction of punishment is Biblically certain. But is that infliction of such a nature that its blows fall on a conscious and agonized sinner forever? Does the doctrine of divine wrath indicate the doctrine of eternal torment?

So much is this not so that (especially in view of things already noted) we may say the exact opposite is true. God, though stirred to holy indignation by man’s persistent sin, is yet revealed as “gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great mercy” (Ps. 145:8). So gracious is he, indeed, that his wrath (his punishing, inflictive anger indignantly going forth in strokes of judgment) is not of endless continuance. His anger ceases in the vindication of his perfect holiness and absolute justness in the proper punishment of the sinner.

“The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger and plenteous in mercy.
He will not always chide;
Neither will he keep (his anger) forever” (Ps. 103:8, 9).
“He retaineth not his anger forever” (Mic. 7:18).

When, therefore, “Jehovah cometh forth out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity,” he is prophetically represented as calling to his saints: “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee; hide thyself for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast” (Isa. 26:20, 21). And again: “For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth; for the spirit would fail (faint, R. V.) before me, and the souls that I have made” (57:16).

If the working out of what is here indicated be put in operation either in the present or at the judgment day, the issue would be the same. For two facts here confront us. One is that God’s wrath is not “forever.” The other is that weak, puny man, “whose breath is in his nostrils” (Isa. 2:22), could not sustain the perpetual power of divine anger. Man, either as a bodily being, or in spirit and as a soul, has not a nature that could endure before divine anger perpetually operative. So overwhelmingly terrible and destructive would such be that living existence would fail, unless miraculously sustained. And of such miraculous sustenation the Bible breathes not a word. The being of man, therefore, even his spiritual being, would not abide the fearful ordeal. It would fail, go out of being, so that, as we have seen, the sinner “shall not be.”

And this is in perfect agreement with all that we have found the Bible to teach. The horrid doctrine, that doctrine that so long has covered the benign face of Deity with a black cloud of human creation, the doctrine of eternal torment, is not true. It is extra-Biblical and utterly false. In succeeding sections this will become even more apparent.

Section II.—The Bible Doctrine Of Death

In any adequate discussion of the fate of the wicked as Biblically revealed, the word death (with its cognates) must have due recognition. In view of the large place which the word has in this connection in the Bible, it may not well be evaded. Nor can it be disposed of by some superior wave of the hand because of its sometime metaphorical meaning. The word is repeatedly used in the Bible. And it is there to be candidly and sanely treated. Its real intended Bible meaning is to be ascertained. And when it is ascertained, the fate of the lost stands out with sufficient terribleness, as well as with sufficient perspicuity.

Some scholars seem strangely uncertain that the Bible teaches anything definite regarding the end of the wicked. Here is a sample: “It surprises careful students that the fate of the wicked is left in such obscurity in the Scriptures,” etc. (Horr, l. c, p. 38). On the other hand, in view of the dozens of times in which the Bible plainly states that the wicked shall die, suffer death, be slain, be destroyed, etc., it is surprising that any thoughtful man should make a statement like the above. For if the plain meaning of plain words was not industriously explained away in the interest of an extra-Biblical theory, no such obscurity would be found to exist. This is so especially as regards the word death.

We have seen that the wicked are to be slain. That this slaying is a slaying of them as persons, and not some artificial, metaphorical or theological slaying, may be further seen from the perspicuously stated Bible teaching that the wicked are to die (Prov. 15:10; Rom. 8:13), be put to death. This death, mentioned often in the Bible, is in Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8 specially designated as “the second death.” As the first death is a real death, completely laying man aside as to his present mode of being and effectually annulling his life, so the second death is no less a real death, laying lost man aside from whatever mode of being may be his at the judgment day and effectually annulling its life, quenching it to the last spark.

When it is Biblically said of the wicked that they shall die, suffer death, the word death is then penally employed. And there is no reason in the nature of the case nor in the usage of Bible language why it should be understood otherwise than as literal death, what Pollock has termed “utter death,” meaning the complete quenching of life. Though death, like so many other Bible words, is frequently used metaphorically, yet its metaphorical usage in other passages and in other connections does not condition its meaning when penally employed. When penally employed its meaning is naturally non-figurative. But whether so or not, its meaning is to be ascertained by the analogy of its actual use in the Bible. So it becomes our task to look into the Bible to discover, if possible, just what is the signification of death when penally employed therein. The submission of a number of passages may be a little tedious; nevertheless it seems necessary. The interested student may look up text and context.

“Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death” (Ex. 22:19).

“The man that lieth with his father’s wife . . . both of them shall surely be put to death” (Lev. 20:11).

“He that killeth a man, he shall be put to death” (Lev. 24:21).

“The stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death” (Num. 1:51; 3:10, 38).

“Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman and shalt stone them with stones, till they die. At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death” (Deut. 17:5, 6).

“Whosoever he be that doth rebel against thy commandment . . . he shall be put to death” (Josh. 1:18).

“He that will plead for (Baal), let him be put to death” (Judg. 6:31).

“They shall die of grievous deaths; they shall not be lamented, neither shall they be buried; they shall be as dung upon the face of the earth: and they shall be consumed by the sword and by famine, and their carcases shall be for meat for the fowls of heaven and for the beasts of the earth. . . . Both the great and the small shall die in this land” (Jer. 16:4, 6).

“Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death; that the saying of Jesus might be fulfilled which he spake, signifying what death he should die” (Jn. 18:31, 32).

“And there were also two other malefactors, led with him to be put to death” (Lu. 23:32).

Such passages might be multiplied, but these are enough. And they need no special comment. They speak for themselves. In them it is manifest that death is here used in no figurative way. The death imposed is not spiritual. If is plain death, violently inflicted (in most of the passages above cited) because of flagrant transgression. It was as much actual death as that which now takes place when capital punishment is pronounced and the criminal is hanged till he is dead.

Final penalty.—It becomes apparent, then, that in the Bible the word death as penally employed has its plain and literal signification. But this same word is Biblically employed to designate the penalty to be inflicted upon the loat at the last day. Death is the ultimate punishment; and, as such, it is not an infliction arbitrarily imposed. It is imposed for cause. And that cause is sin. It is not inflicted for imaginary sins; nor yet for sin that might possibly (or theoretically) be committed in the future—as some, in their attempts to invent an impossible theodicy, have repeatedly argued. But death is God’s punishment for wrong-doing as actually and individually committed. It is the doom that befalls one because of unrepented sin.

“For his iniquity that he hath done shall he die” (Ezek. 18:26).

“He that hateth reproof shall die” (Prov. 15:10).

“If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die” (Rom. 8:13).

“For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

“Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (Jas. 1:15).

“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolators, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8).

Now, were it not for something previously existing in the mind, there would be no more reason to deem die and death as thus used of the final fate of sinful man to be something different from the infliction of actual death, the putting out or cutting off of life, then when penally employed in civil law or in the Bible during this mortal state. When thus applied in the Bible to designate man’s final doom, death, unless otherwise so stated, could mean nothing else than such cutting off of life. And certain it is that not anywhere in the Bible is it stated to have a different meaning. Nevertheless, the exigencies of a belief previously existing in the minds of many did for long generations prevent them from giving to death, when penally used, its natural and sensible meaning. Many years ago, therefore, its penal signification was altered to fit said exigencies. The result of that alteration being widely accepted, that new and special theological meaning long since passed into the channel of theological tradition. In this way the plain wording and the plain meaning of the Scriptures as to the final death penalty come down to us with an altered significance. That process of alteration we may set forth as follows, though all the time remembering that the grave theologians engaged in the alteration were going about the task seriously and honestly. For, holding the view that they did concerning the deathless nature of man, it was plain to them that any death pronounced upon a deathless being could not be real death but was a death that must be figuratively or spiritually understood. And as, in the Bible, outside the language of penalty, the words die, dead and death were certainly used figuratively, why should they not impart to the language of penalty the import of those words when used in a non-penal sense or connection? A deathless sinner could no more be killed by death than could a deathless saint. It became necessary, therefore, to change the meaning of death.

Now as to the process, putting it in the first person. And if a bit of irony runs through it, it is of the bantering and not of the venomous kind.

In the Bible it is death that is pronounced against sin. But views previously accepted prevent us from accepting death in its literal penal sense of the taking of life. What, then, are we to do? Indeed, what can we do? We are at our wit’s end. Nought remains but that we play fast and loose with the Bible’s penal terminology. But how shall we do this with any show of reason? Ah! we have it. Does not the Bible often use words in some figurative way? It surely does. It even uses the word death (and its cognates) in various tropical or spiritual senses. Can we not, then, take some one of its figurative senses, the one that fits best, and put this figurative meaning in the place of its penal meaning? We can. And shall we not do it? We shall. For, if we continue to hold our previously accepted view as to man’s deathless nature, there is absolutely nothing else for us to do—unless we believe the Bible as it reads. But in this latter alternative our case is gone. And we cannot let it go. We must hold on to that at all hazards. Is it not founded on good classic authority? Did not Plato and Socrates and Cicero and other classic heathen teach this doctrine of man’s deathless nature? Surely. And shall we desert such good heathen authority? By no means. We must stand by them to the bitter end, even to that hypothetical end of the wicked that is founded thereupon, even their deathless existence amid the pains of hell; and this even though the Bible says death where the heathen say deathless. Did not our good heathen brethren insist on this immortal, this undying, nature of the soul? And is it not the logical outcome of that doctrine that the unsaved be deathlessly miserable? (Indeed, have we not today, in Dummelow’s Commentary, read these words? “In the view of the present writer, the eternity of future punishment, as of future reward, is a necessary deduction from the doctrine of the immortality of the soul,” p. 708).


No matter, then, what the Bible says. To be sure, it says death. And the classics say deathless. Yet the “doctrine of the immortality of the soul” will not allow the soul to die—even though God’s Word says as plainly as it says anything, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). And as though this were not enough, as though it looked ahead to medieval and modern doubt founded on a heathen base, it repeats, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (20).

But no! it cannot be. “Plato, thou reasonest well.” And we must accept thy reasoning as superior to the plainest of plain statement in God’s Book. Those plain statements say death. But thine, O Plato, say deathless. For in the Phaedrus thou dost say: “Every soul is immortal; for whatever is in perpetual motion is immortal.” And in thy Phaedo we read:

“But what do we call that which does not admit death?

“Immortal,” he replied.

“Therefore, does not the soul admit death?


“Is the soul, then, immortal?


And between the two, O wondrous Plato, we prefer thee to the statements of the Bible. For, thou knower of divine and eternal mysteries, thy statements are more accordant with human pride in our fallen state. Moreover, O matchless Reasoner of heathendom, thy statements are more consonant with what we read in at least one place even in the Bible. For there, too, it says: “Ye shall not surely die” (Gen. 3:4).

True, we are not quite so sure of the veracity of the author of this last statement as we are of thee, O Plato! But it is a statement that accords so perfectly with thine own, that, if we accept thine, we must accept his also. And even though our Savior denounced him a liar, even as the very father of lies (Jn. 8:44), yet in this one thing he must surely be believed. And this is so, even though therein he was deliberately and directly contradicting God himself. For God had said exactly the opposite, viz., “Thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:17; 3:3). But, O Plato, wise one of the ancients, there is no alternative. Thy dictum we have accepted. By it we must stand, even though it make the devil true and God untrue. Carrying with us, as we do, two full mules’ burden of the Lord’s good earth, may we in this one thing be pardoned, when we enter the house of Rimmon and bow ourselves there. As, however, by a little play on words, a little skillful philological manipulation, we can so verbally reconcile things as not to rub our conscience, we will let it go at that. For in this way it can be made to appear that the death divinely threatened has nothing at all to do with the extinction of life. It rather signifies the extension of life, life extended through all eternity. Only, of course, it is a very inferior sort of life. So miserable is it, indeed, that it is “hardly worthy to be called life.” It is, in fact, a kind of living death, or dying life, yet which never really dies— even though the Bible says otherwise.

“A never-dying death, a never-living life” (Williams, quoted by Sadler).

“Through all that dungeon of unfading Are,
I saw most miserable beings walk,
Burning continually, yet unconsumed;
For ever wasting, yet enduring still;
Dying perpetually, yet never dead”—(Pollock).

Presto! it is done.

It is this life that the Bible means by death.

Why then, O why, did it not say life? Some of us ordinary people might then be able to understand what is meant. But if north is south, and bad is good, and cold is hot, and death is life, how can we ever know—save as we shall come in contact with some very great theologian or some very learned philologist who know all about these words which mean exactly the opposite of what they say? Only so may we ever know that when God says death he did not mean death at all, but life, a miserable life in hell through eternity.

How The Marvelous Change Is Made

The Bible passages which, because of their tropical use, are relied upon as teaching death to mean endless life in torment are chiefly the following (or their like):

The dead burying their dead (Lu. 9:60); passing from death to life (Jn. 5:24; 1 Jn. 3:14); sin revived and I died (Rom. 7:9); dead in (or through) trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13; awake, and rise from the dead (Eph. 5:14); dead while she liveth (1 Tim. 5:6); my son was dead and is alive again (Lu. 15:24).

The idea is that, because death is applied to a state of sin in this life, therefore when penally applied at the judgment day it is of a similar nature—a rather decided non sequitur. Let the reader take his Bible, read these passages and all others of like character that he can find, and we think he must agree that it will take considerable violent twisting to make any such passage bear the weight thus theoretically put upon it, even the weight that death connotes an agonized life everlasting. Such passages have, in fact, not a thing to do with the penal signification of death. They are mostly expressive of a present state of ethical or religious deadness. That they show die, dead, death, to be used in a non-physical sense is clear. But that this use of them gives license to extend, or alter, their meaning into what is virtually eternal misery does not in any way follow. Men physically alive may be destitute of spiritual life, be in a state of complete religious torpor. Yet this proves not that the penal death threatened, and which is to befall them at the last day, is a mere state of spiritual torpor; nor that it is spiritual torpor plus agony in body and mind.

It is said that comparisons are odious. And certainly a comparison of Bible teaching with some of its so-called expositions may be odious. Yet in the interest of divine truth such may sometimes be instituted. Note the following: “Death is (signifies) to be undone, to be in ruin, to miss everything that can be called well-being; but it is not to vanish in extinction. Thus one of the main pleas of annihilationism, that to call death what is a kind of suffering life is absurd, will not bear scrutiny for a moment in the light of Bible teaching. Even common speech refutes it. We speak of a dead tree, or dead flesh, because these things have parted with all that constituted their value or charm; but they have not ceased to be. What has happened is a rupture of the tie linking them to life” (H. R. Mackintosh, Immortality and the Future, p. 215).

Rich reasoning this! True, a dead tree” may not “have ceased to be;” yet it has ceased to be—alive. Its functional activity, aye, its vitality, is gone forever. And soon it will be gone forever, scattered to the four winds. As a tree, a definite, individualized, organized thing, it has passed away never to return. And the Bible does not say that the wicked will ever be any “deader” than this. That would be impossible. But they will be as dead as a dead tree—and so not allowed to suffer forever.

Truly there is a marked paucity of sane arguments to refute God’s truth that “the wages of sin is death.”

Says another: “Death is not extinction. It is not the annihilation of the soul’s elements, any more than natural death is the annihilation of the elements of the body. With a deeply spiritual meaning the Scripture tells us that he who lives in a state of sin is dead; and, accordingly, perdition is to be taken as the antithesis of life and is called death. It does not denote an annihilation of substance,” etc. (H. Johnston, Beyond Death, p. 281).

Whoever, we wonder, ever considered natural death to be an “annihilation of the elements of the body”? Nevertheless, the body after death is as dead as the proverbial doornail. And whoever said, or thought, that the second death is “the annihilation of the soul’s elements”? or of any other “elements”? Yet as the body is literally dead without the annihilation of its elements, so it is possible that when the soul that sinneth dies, as the Bible says it will, it may be as dead as the body, even though its “elements” be not annihilated.

On the next page we are profoundly informed that “the Scripture usage lays hold of the notions of life and death in their innermost depths.” And then: “The death of the body is not reckoned as death any more than the life of the body is reckoned as life. What is the death of the body? It is the stagnation of the bodily organs,” etc.

Well, this is staggering. But as the subject treated is a Bible subject, all one has to do is to turn to that much neglected Book, look up the words life and death; and he will find abundant corroboration of the exact opposite of the above position. For, Biblically, both the life and the death of the body are reckoned life and death.

But the above profundities had paved the way for more profundities to come. So next we read: “What is the death of the soul? It is the collapse of its powers, the darkening of the mind, the hardening of the sensibilities, the searing of the conscience, the paralysis of the will, the corruption of the whole nature.” Wonderful! Rom. 6:23 would therefore mean: “The wages of sin is the collapse of (the soul’s) powers, the darkening of the mind, the hardening of the sensibilities, the searing of the conscience, the paralysis of the will, the corruption of the whole nature.” Why, O why, did not the Bible put it that way so that all might know, and not mystify, the common mind by calling it—death?

To make death mean all the above inanities shows how hard-pressed one may become when he has a theory to support that stands in opposition to the plain wording of the Word of God. Hardly anything then remains but to resort to some violent misuse of plain language and to some violent non-use of reason. But even after all this has been done to one’s own satisfaction (if not to the satisfaction of reason and common sense), God’s Word still remains unchanged. It still affirms sinners to be “worthy of death” and not of everlasting life in any form.

We are told that “‘eternal death’ is to miss the prize of all human experience. It is to lose blessed and fruitful relationship to God. It is to be a branch severed from the vine; to wander in a desert far from the springs of water; to be in darkness, shut out from the warmth and light of the sun” (Horr, l. c, p. 39). That is, it is to be anything and everything but death.

Rather, if it is to be defined by way of what one “misses,” eternal death is to miss eternal life; to miss living forever, that blest boon mediated alone through the great Lifegiver. It is not “to lose blessed relationship to God,” for that, to the impenitent, is already lost, if ever it was had. It is not to “wander in a desert,” etc., for power to wander expresses life, vital functioning, animate being, which is the very antithesis of death. For death, real death, is the negation of all this. It puts one in “darkness” indeed; but it is the eternal darkness of non-being, when in obscure darkness the light of one’s life is put out forever. Why, when considering so important a matter as the eternal destiny of the lost, will not men talk—well, at least common sense?

It is utterly beside the mark to argue that, as “θάνατος (death) is used concerning the soul in this life under sin, in which case it clearly cannot mean annihilation or extinction,” therefore death (and other words) “do not signify the annihilation of the wicked but the utter ruin and loss of the soul” (King, l. c, p. 137). But we say (and no real proof to the contrary has ever been produced), because the word death is used to denote what we call spiritual death in the present life is no reason why, when the word is used to announce the ultimate penalty of sin at the last day, it then likewise has a spiritual sense. Indeed, if the sinful soul is now called dead because of its utter absence of spiritual life, will not death when used of the entire person (in all that constitutes it a personality), will not that death so take hold on his entire being as to result in an absence, not of spiritual life only, but of all life? There is no reason in the use of the word itself, there is none in the analogy of its penal use in Scripture, to indicate otherwise. But everything demands, seemingly, that the language of penalty, especially when a plain word is used, should have a plain meaning. And as the word death and its cognates (as well as many other terms) all tend to this one end, viz., the utter death, the complete extinction of life, the total obliteration of being, of the lost, it is but good scholarship as well as good common sense and good Christianity to accept them at their face value. Such, certainly, is the logical way to handle such language. Anything else would seem to be but a subterfuge, an attempt to evade what the penal language actually implies. We do not say that it is an evasion, but that it seems like such.

Worthy Of Death

Sometimes in the Bible we read of those who are said to be “worthy of death” (Deut. 17:6; 21:22; 1 Kin. 2:26; Acts 23:29; 25:11; 26:31), those so guilty of some wrong as to deserve, or be liable to, the punishment of death. So in what we may term the realm of probation, there are those said to be “worthy of death” (Rom. 1:32). Note, it does not say “worthy of eternal torment” but worthy of “death.” Sin is so heinous a thing in the sight of an all-holy God that its practice does not call for a prolongation of life through eternity where sin (attended ever by suffering) may persist eternally. Instead, it calls for the cutting off of the sinner’s life by a death so real that it will effectually cut off sin forever.” The candle of the wicked” shall thus be put out so thoroughly that he will “be no more.” Such, at least, is what the Bible says. And the probability is that, even with the aid of Plato, we cannot improve upon the divine plan. Certainly eternal life in internal sin and misery would be anything but an improvement.

Mere spiritual death not applicable.—But here our good friends of the opposition meet with a new difficulty. Their practice is to make the penal death into some sort of metaphorical death. They have, possibly, some show of reason for this in that, in the Bible, death is sometimes in other connections figuratively employed. Yet they find not a single analogy in all the Bible for the special sense which they give to penal death. For spiritual death applies to the spiritual or religious nature. A man here may be destitute of spiritual or religious life, be spiritually dead, as we say, and yet on the whole may enjoy life. Yet if death, as penally employed in the Bible, means the same as does spiritual death, and no more (for no one has a right to add to the Biblical significance of spiritual death), then spiritual death when penally applied would mean merely that in the sinner’s endless future life he would simply be destitute of religious or spiritual life. All his other faculties might be alert and even in a state of enjoyment. And many such men are pleased rather than otherwise at the utter deadness of their religious natures. Such a spiritual death (and does the Bible speak of any other?) would be considered no punishment to such but rather the reverse. Whereas, on the other hand, to die, actually to lose living existence, to come to an end of conscious being, this is considered among the greatest of all evils. Moreover, if the sinner is thus actually put to death, such death must necessarily include the cessation of all his faculties, spiritual and all else. So he would be dead spiritually as well as in all other ways. But for the paradox termed “living death,” thereby meaning not death, but miserable life, the Bible furnishes no precedent.

Adamic death.—In pursuance of the policy that makes penal death mean a low and miserable sort of life, and because of the dilemma presented through the later doctrine of the soul’s deathlessness, it became necessary to introduce into the historical account given in the opening chapters of the Bible a definition of death devised many centuries afterwards. Yet there, in Gen. 2 and 3, under circumstances where a special theological sense of death is the most incongruous, even there must this later theological definition be read into the historical account. So the death threatened to Adam becomes a most marvelous threefold thing. It means death physical; death spiritual; death eternal—by which last, however, is not meant death at all, but life forevermore, life in misery. What wonderful exegetical acumen is this! How profound is the penetrating gaze that thus sees so far, far beneath the surface, beyond the real meaning of death as the ending or cessation of life, and brings to light from the deep dark mines of truth (?) this wonderful, and for centuries unheard-of, meaning of death.

But it is right here that we are to remember that one whom our Master branded a liar (Jn. 8:44). Was it not in this connection that he, the devil, said, “Ye shall not surely die”? It was. And, as we have noted, Plato and multitudes of other heathens (and Christians) have through long centuries been repeating the serpent’s denial of what God so plainly said—and of what he still says through his Holy Word. For his word says, “Ye shall die.” But Satan’s word is, “Ye shall not die. Penal death is not death. It is life, to live on endlessly forever.”

And we must take our choice between these two utterly antagonistic and irreconcilable teachings. God is merciful, it is true, and in sincere hearts he will overlook much. Yet would it not be better in this matter to side with God than with the serpent? So some of us think.

Section III.—Unbiblical Presuppositions

In pursuance of our task thus far we have kept to the Bible. We have presented what the Bible actually says and teaches. To Bible language we have tried to give its real and intended meaning. And, so far as the real wording of the Bible is concerned, we have seen that dozens of passages are in perfect accord in pointing to the utter extinction of the lost. For if they are to be consumed, destroyed, burnt up, perish, die and be no more, it seems impossible to think of the Bible, if it is the Word of God, as at the same time teaching the contrary doctrine of their everlasting continuance in misery.

We have seen the Bible to assert, and to agree on consistently, the utter consumption of the wicked, until we have a cumulative body of evidence all pointing this one way. Yet there are those who deny all this, who say the wicked are not to be consumed, burnt up and cease to be. They hold, instead, that no human being is ever to be put out of existence; for all men, wicked included, are deathlessly constituted. We say, however, that the doctrine is not Biblical. Instead, it rests on unbiblical pre-suppositions. And unbiblical pre-suppositions are not to be taken as measuring rods whereby to measure what the Bible says or what it means.

Live Forever

The chief reason why so many take the position that eternal punishment means eternal misery is because they pre-suppose man to be of a deathless nature. Once in existence, always in existence; once in life, never any escape from life; once alive, never dead. All men, good and bad, are to live forever.

A good sample of this may be seen in the article by J. O. Buswell, Jr., in Bibliotheca Sacra for October, 1925. This article opens with these italicized words

We shall live forever with God’s eyes upon us.

Will this be Heaven or Hell for you?”

Again: “The sinner lives forever.” “The sinner lives forever, as opposed to the teaching of annihilation.” All the lost “must live through all eternity,” etc. (p. 403, 410, 446, 461).

Many others have taken a like position. They are fully convinced that all men are to live forever. Yet such convincement never came from the Bible. For the view is directly contradictory of as plain language as the Bible ever uttered. True enough the Bible uses the expression “live forever.” Yet never does it use it as do these men. To be sure, in the Bible, as above it signifies endless personal existence, to “live through all eternity.” Yet never in the Bible is it a universal term, is never applied to all men. Should any reader think differently, all he has to do is find and produce the passage. But no! what we really find in the Bible is that the term is restricted; restricted to those coming in vital contact, into life union, with the Son of God. The term is conditionally employed, the promise of ceaselessly living being conditioned upon a personal faith in Christ. Instead of stating that all men are to live forever, it is a certain class only who are so to live. Thus we read: “I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever. . . . As the Living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven; not as the fathers did eat manna and died; he that eateth this bread shall live for ever” (Jn. 6:51, 57, 58).

Here, then, in the Bible we have an expression like to that used by those who say that all men are to live forever. But whereas they make it to include all men, not so however is it in God’s Word. By our Savior the term is definitely and categorically limited. He limits it to those who partake of him, become vitally united to him by faith. Never does he say that any others shall forever live. Indeed, by his very language he excludes all others.

Such writers, then, by their use of the term, live forever, do not agree with our Saviour. Furthermore, in this matter they stand directly (though unintentionally) antagonistic to that Saviour. There seems no possible way to deny this. The proper thing, then, for them to do is to alter their view until it shall agree with our Divine Master. This would greatly honor him who is our Saviour and Lifegiver.

(Final Fate of the Wicked, Sec. III.)