Name that Fallacy! Robert Peterson on Annihilationism

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In the “name that fallacy” series I showcase some examples of how not to argue; cases of either formal or informal logical fallacies. The latter of these two categories covers a significant range of possibilities, and it’s sometimes a matter of some controversy whether someone’s comments really fit into any of them – especially when they’re your comments! The intent of the series is to help people (and help people to help each other) recognise fallacious reasoning when it occurs, whether it’s used in defence of a position they share or not.

For this “name that fallacy” post, let’s step into into the territory of theology. This time the topic is hell, and our subject is one Robert Peterson. Dr Peterson is a well-known evangelical opponent of annihilationism. Annihilationism is the view that those people who are not saved, or redeemed, or counted among God’s people – or call that state what you will – will not have eternal life, and will finally die and one day be no more. The following is an excerpt from Peterson’s closing comments in an article called “Does the Bible Teach Annihilationism?” It’s important that you bear the title in mind, as it sets out what the argument is about: Whether or not the Bible teaches annihilationism. Without further ado, I give you the words of Dr Robert Peterson:

Annihilationists insist that the obliteration of the wicked is a terrible destiny when measured against the bliss of the righteous. However, it is simply not that bad to cease to exist, especially in comparison to suffering in hell forever… This leads to the final implication. If annihilationism is widely accepted by Christians, the missionary enterprise may well be hindered. True, some evangelicals such as John Stott and Michael Green have consistently shown a zeal for evangelism while holding to annihilationism. Nevertheless what would be the effect on churches and denominations that once held to eternal conscious torment, if they were to shift to annihilationism? Their missionary zeal might well wane.

NOTE: This series is called “name THAT fallacy,” but bear in mind that in some cases there may be more than one.

Have fun – name that fallacy!

Glenn Peoples

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Did Jesus preach hell more than heaven?

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If you have any serious interest in the subject of hell, you will probably have either read or heard someone tell you that Jesus taught more about hell than anyone else in the Bible. In fact, you may also have read/heard people telling you that Jesus preached on the fearful idea of hell as a place of endless suffering far more than he talked about heaven. But if anyone says that this is true, then their problem isn’t theology. It’s maths.

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Hanegraaf on Annihilationism

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Hank Hanegraaf is, among other things (such as a dead ringer for David Letterman, in the right lighting), one of the writers over at the Christian Research Institute. In his very brief article “Why Should I believe in Hell” there appears a section called “Is annihilationism biblical?” Hank presents three reasons to reject annihilationism. Unfortunately, his comments turn out to be a tour de force of fallacious reasoning.

For those readers not already familiar with the terminology, “annihilationism” is the name for the view that God will not eternally torment those who are not “saved,” but will instead end their life permanently. They will be gone. OK, on to Hanegraaf’s comments:

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Norman Geisler on Annihilationism

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Does Norman Geisler’s view on hell make God into an abusive father?

Geisler wrote The Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics. It’s basically an encyclopedia of Norman Geisler’s beliefs, in the sense that it offers Geisler’s perspective on the A-Z of Christian theology and philosophy (if you think that’s not a fair summary, have a look at the encyclopedia’s rather hostile and unfair treatment of Alvin Plantinga’s Reformed Epistemology. That is not a fair summary).

In the encyclopedia there’s an entry for “Annihilationism.” It’s a very short entry, just long enough for the author to tell us in several different ways that he doesn’t think annihilationism is true or biblical, but the exegetical issues aren’t unpacked in any detail. This, however, caught my eye under what Geisler calls the “philosophical arguments” against annihilationism (remember, Norman Geisler believes the traditional doctrine of the everlasting torment of the damned in hell): Continue reading “Norman Geisler on Annihilationism”

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Jonathan Edwards Comes to the Aid of Annihilationism

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What? Jonathan Edwards comes to the aid of annihilationism? Why would I say that? We all know Jonathan Edwards didn’t believe annihilationism, right? Yes, we do all know that, but he gave us a helping hand anyway.

Some advocates of doctrine of eternal torment make the mistaken claim that just because the Bible uses the phrase “eternal punishment,” it must be taken to teach eternal torment. The falsehood of this assertion is fairly obvious and it’s not like a lengthy argument is needed to put it in its place. But what’s interesting is that Jonathan Edwards, one of the most memorable preachers on the lurid details of eternal torment and who emphatically rejected annihilationism, came to the aid of annihilationism just at this point in the argument, in a chapter entitled, “Concerning the Endless Punishment of those who Die Impenitent,” paragraph 31. Continue reading “Jonathan Edwards Comes to the Aid of Annihilationism”

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Episode 007: The Hell series crashes and burns, finally

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hell2And here it is, episode 7, the final part in the three part series on hell. This is the longest episode that I have ever done, and it is the longest I ever plan on doing. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to become a pattern, but I wasn’t about to do a fourth part, so I had to fit everything into this one.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome. Drop me a line – You can even send your comment or question as an audio clip, and I’ll play it on the show.

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Episode 006: Hell, part 2 – Tradition Strikes Back!

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hellHere’s part 2 on my series on hell. In this episode, I look at some key arguments against annihilationism and for the doctrine of eternal torment, and why those arguments fail.

As this episode ended up being longer than expected (there are plenty of bad arguments to cover!), I’ve decided to present a third episode in this series, where I will cover the remainder of the main arguments for the traditional view. But at least this time I managed to squeeze in my regular “This Week in History” segment.

The next episode will be a little shorter.

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Episode 005: It’s one Hell of an episode!

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hell2We’ve made it to five episodes! This one is part one of a biblical and theological (mostly biblical) discussion about hell, the doctrine of eternal punishment in Christian theology. It’s a two part presentation. In this part, I present my position on the subject, a view called annihilationism. In the next show I’ll be looking at argument against my view and in favour of a more traditional view of hell as a place of the eternal torment of the damned.

As I promised in the Episode, here’s a list of some prominent Christian thinkers who hold (or held – some of them are dead) to an annihilationist point of view:

  • John Stott
  • Michael Green
  • Clark Pinnock
  • Philip Edgecumbe Hughes
  • John Wenham
  • Dale Moody
  • Edward Fudge
  • Graham Scroggie
  • Edward White
  • Basil Atkinson
  • E. Earle Ellis
  • Homer Hailey

That’s what I came up with in 2 minutes. Now, come on in, the water’s lovely!

EDIT: Here are parts two and three.

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Tyndale on Hades

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Anybody familiar with the dialogue between biblical translator William Tyndale and Thomas Moore will know that one of the issues they debated was the immortality of the soul and the intermediate state (OK, that’s two issues, but they are closely related).

As a translator of Scripture, Tyndale was at times keenly aware of the mistaken beliefs that were common in the Church simply because believers only knew what they heard on Sunday, not having the means to study the Scripture in depth, and certainly not to delve into the texts in the original language as he had done. We take that ability for granted today.

At the end of his translation of the New Testament he included a final page of text, as there was some spare space. The heading for this page was: “These things I have added to fill up the leaf withal.” Writing materials were expensive, and wasting a whole page seemed like such a shame, you see.

On this final page, Tyndale offered a few helpful notes on various passages, drawing on his insights as a translator. Interestingly enough, the very first thing he wanted the layperson to know here was that they ought to be more discerning about how they understand the word “hell” in their Bibles. He comments on the differences between gehenna and infernus (infernus is the Latin translation of the Greek term hades). Gehenna in the Greek New Testament refers to the place/state of punishment at the last judgement.

In Tyndale’s age, as in ours, a number of Christians thought that hades, or “hell” as it appeared in their Bibles, was a place of consciousness in the intermediate state. As a translator of both Greek and Hebrew (hades is the word used to translate the Hebrew term sheol in the Old Testament, something Tyndale was well aware of), Tyndale knew better. Here’s the first comment he added in this the last page of his Bible:

Infernus and Gehenna differ much in signification, though we have none other interpretation for either of them, than this English word, hell. For Gehenna signifieth a place of punishment: but Infernus is taken for any manner of place beneath in the earth, as a grave, sepulchre or cave.

Tyndale then explained the origin of the term gehenna, a Greek word derived from the Hebrew Geh-Hinnom (meaning “valley of Hinnom,” inexplicably spelt “Hennon” here).

Hell: it is called in Hebrew the valley of Hennon. A place by Jerusalem, where they burnt their children in fire unto the idol Moloch, and is usurped and taken now for a place where the wicked and ungodly shall be tormented both soul and body, after the general judgement.

Of all the issues to clarify for the reader, the first that Tyndale raised was to point out the hades is not a conscious place in the intermediate state, but merely the grave or any sepulchre or cave, and that people don’t go to “Hell” (i.e. gehenna) until after the judgement.

Anyone interested in what the other issues Tyndale raised were can read that final page here.

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