The Gospel Coalition (TGC) recently published an article entitled “J. I. Packer on Why Annihilationism Is Wrong.”1 In it, TGC reproduces four arguments Packer originally offered against annihilationism in his 1997 article, “Evangelical Annihilationism in Review.”2 In Part 1 of Rethinking Hell’s response, we critiqued TGC for calling into question the motives of annihilationists and doubting our commitment to the authority of Scripture, and demonstrated that the first of Packer’s reproduced arguments fails at every point as a challenge to annihilationism.3 As we shall see, Packer’s remaining arguments fare no better.

Eternal Torment?

Packer writes that “though there are texts which, taken in isolation, might carry annihilationist implications, others can’t naturally be fitted into any form of this scheme.”4 He offers several categories of such texts.

Darkness

“Texts like , , , and ,” insists Packer, “show that darkness signifies a state of deprivation and distress, not of destruction in the sense of ceasing to exist. After all, only those who exist can weep and gnash their teeth, as those banished into the darkness are said to do.”5
In fact, however, none of these texts challenge annihilationism. In of his epistle, Jude refers neither to human beings nor to weeping and gnashing of teeth. He writes, “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.” Jude does not mention what these angels are experiencing while so bound, but even if they are experiencing distress, it does not follow that when Scripture elsewhere speaks of human beings in darkness, it likewise testifies to their distress. In , Jude himself indicates just what the final punishment of human beings will be like: “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”
The punishment of hell, then, will be like that of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, slain by fire from heaven (). Peter’s parallel is still more graphic: “By turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes [God] condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (). These texts in Jude and Peter land squarely in annihilationism’s court.
As for , and 25:30, not a single one of these texts indicates just how long the lost will be weeping and gnashing their teeth. It is true that one must exist if one is to weep and gnash one’s teeth, but one can weep in sorrow and gnash one’s teeth in anger leading up to and while being destroyed. So Packer’s view finds no support in these texts. In fact, strongly suggests that the lost will not weep and gnash forever. Two verses earlier, Jesus interprets his parable of the tares, telling his disciples, “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age” (v. 40). “Burned” translates the Greek katakaiō, which means “to burn something up, to reduce to ashes,” as one would expect fire to do to weeds.6 Jesus goes on to say, “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all lawbreakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (vv. 41–42). So the lost will weep and gnash in a furnace of fire—until they are reduced to ashes.

Death and Modes of Existence

“Nowhere in Scripture,” Packer continues, “does death signify extinction; physical death is departure into another mode of being, called sheol or hades.”4 Even assuming Packer’s dualistic anthropology, in which human beings have immaterial souls that live on after death, this statement is only partially accurate. Jesus says of the first death that bodies are killed but not souls (); James says that it is the body that dies when separated from the spirit (Jas 2:26). When people die, their bodies certainly do not depart into another “mode of being”; rather, they cease to be alive. To die, then, is to lose life; to be dead is to lack life. And whereas only bodies die in the first death, Jesus says both bodies and souls will die in the second ().7
Packer goes on, writing, “metaphorical death is existence that is God-less and graceless; nothing in biblical usage warrants the idea that the ‘second death’ of means or involves cessation of being.”4 Of course, this assumes that when the Bible speaks of final punishment in terms of death, it does so metaphorically. In fact, and 21:8 strongly suggest that it does not.
Most of Revelation consists of John recounting a highly symbolic, apocalyptic vision he received while in exile on the island of Patmos.8 In 20:14 and 21:8, however, John and God himself respectively interpret the symbolic lake of fire in John’s dream, saying it symbolizes the “second death” of human beings. And when the Bible interprets its own perplexing imagery, the interpretation it offers is much more plain and straightforward in meaning.
In the dream of Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer, for example, three branches on a vine blossomed into grapes which he pressed into Pharaoh’s cup. Joseph interpreted the dream’s meaning, saying, “the three branches are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office” (Gen 40:10–13). Similarly, in Daniel’s vision he sees a series of successive beasts that leaves him “anxious” and “alarmed” (). So Daniel “approached one of those who stood there and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told [Daniel] and made known to [him] the interpretation of the things. ‘These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth'” (7:16–17). The dreams are bizarre and highly symbolic; if it weren’t for their interpretations recorded in Scripture, no one could know with confidence what they meant. Fortunately for the cupbearer and Daniel—and for readers today!—their meaning has been revealed, but only because it was offered in plain, straightforward language. Additional symbols would not have been helpful.
Likewise, John sees a variety of creatures thrown into a burning lake of fire and sulfur, including those who, rising from the dead, do not have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life (), and some of those creatures are portrayed as being tormented forever and ever therein (20:10), but what does this imagery mean? Well, when John interprets it he says, “This is the second death, the lake of fire” (20:14). God interprets it as meaning the same thing: the fate of the wicked, he says, “will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (21:8). Torment in the lake of fire, then, is not a literal description of what awaits the finally impenitent, nor is “the second death” a metaphor. Rather, “the second death” is a plain, straightforward depiction of what awaits the resurrected lost: contrary to Packer’s view, they will literally die again—this time forever.

Fire Equals Pain?

Next Packer writes, “Moreover, Luke 16:22–24 shows that, as in a good deal of extrabiblical apocalyptic, fire signifies continued existence in pain. The chilling words of with 19:20 and 20:10, and of , confirm this.”4 This reasoning is highly problematic, however, on multiple levels.
First Packer begs the question, saying fire in Jesus’s story of Lazarus and the rich man signifies an ongoing experience of pain. But whereas “the second death” is the interpretation of the lake-of-fire symbol in Revelation, fire and pain in Jesus’s story are both elements of the story itself; neither signifies the other. To say fire in the story signifies pain is to assume that the story is either an actual historical event or a parable whose meaning in reality is that in death, the souls of the lost live on in torment. Neither assumption is shared by every conservative interpreter of the story. Even so, the most one can say given either assumption is that fire sometimes signifies ongoing pain, and that it does so when it comes to the intermediate state. After all, the scene takes place in Hades, the underworld, the realm of the dead, while the rich man’s brothers are still alive.9 Whether fire signifies ongoing pain when it comes to final punishment is another question.
Packer goes on to offer a number of texts which he alleges confirm that fire signifies ongoing pain when it comes to hell, but none of them do any such thing. As was earlier demonstrated, when Jesus said in that the wicked would be thrown into a furnace of fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, he also said the wicked would be burned up, consumed like the weeds in his parable. Fire, then, does not here signify ongoing pain; it signifies complete destruction. is no better support for Packer’s case, merely repeating .
As was also demonstrated earlier, the fiery torment of the devil, beast, and false prophet in and 20:10 serves as no support for Packer’s view, for it is imagery which, when it comes to the risen lost, is interpreted by John and God as symbolizing the second time human beings will die. When it comes to the beast and false prophet—the latter depicted as a second beastly creature in 10—the meaning of their fate in the lake of fire is not interpreted in Revelation, but the background is Daniel, whose fourth beast’s fate in the fire is interpreted for him as meaning that a kingdom’s “dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end” (). So the fiery torment of and 20 symbolizes destruction, not ongoing pain, and this is consistent with the picture of death and Hades being thrown into the fire in . As Paul says, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (), and as God says, “Death shall be no more” ().
Packer is left, then, with , but again this text does him no favors. Besides consisting of highly symbolic, apocalyptic imagery, John’s vision as recorded in Revelation also draws heavily upon Old Testament imagery and language.11 Yes, John sees beast-worshipers “tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb,” but he goes on to see that “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (v. 11), language his readers would have recognized from the Old Testament as symbolizing complete destruction.
Drawing from the Bible’s record of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction, after which Abraham saw that “the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace” (Gen 19:23–28), Isaiah prophesies that “the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into sulfur; her land shall become burning pitch. Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever” (Isa 34:9–10). Like today’s mushroom cloud rising from the carnage wrought by an atomic bomb, smoke rising forever signifies total destruction.12 Hence John sees the harlot Mystery Babylon tormented by fire () and hears a crowd in heaven cry out “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever” (19:3), but the interpreting angel tells John that the scene symbolizes the destruction of a city, saying it will “be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more” (18:21).
So the texts Packer offers as evidence teach neither that darkness and fire signify eternally ongoing distress and pain in hell nor that eschatological “death” is a metaphor for such a torturous life lived forever. Instead, upon examination that goes deeper than a surface-level reading, these texts appear to teach annihilationism. One still struggles, then, to relate to TGC’s claim that these arguments are “pithy and incisive.”

Coming Up…

Packer continues his second argument, offering one final text in support of the traditional view of hell and accusing annihilationists of special pleading. Then he levels a third and fourth challenge at annihilationism, defending the justice of God in eternally tormenting the lost and assuring the saved that their joy in heaven will not be diminished by the knowledge that others are suffering in hell. In the third and final part to our response to TGC, we will see that Packer, as he has thus far been, is still wrong.
Read Part 3 of our response here.

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  1. Gavin Ortlund, “J. I. Packer on Why Annihilationism Is Wrong,” The Gospel Coalition, posted October 7, 2015, http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/j.i.-packer-on-why-annihilationism-is-wrong (accessed October 8, 2015). Ortlund was a breakout speaker at the 2015 Rethinking Hell Conference. An audio recording of his presentation is available for free download here. []
  2. J. I. Packer, “Evangelical Annihilationism in Review,” Reformation & Revival 6, no. 2 (Spring 1997): 37-51. Online: http://www.rethinkinghell.com/research/critical/j-i-packer. []
  3. Chris Date and Nicholas Quient, “Why J. I. Packer is (Mostly) Wrong: A Response to The Gospel Coalition (Part 1),” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted October 23, 2015, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2015/10/why-j-i-packer-is-mostly-wrong-a-response-to-tgc-part-1 (accessed October 23, 2015). []
  4. Ortlund, “J. I. packer on Why Annihilationism Is Wrong.” [] [] [] []
  5. Ibid. []
  6. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (United Bible Socities, 1996), 178. If “burned” in translates the milder kaiō, as some sources indicate, it does not diminish the force of this challenge, for Jesus concludes his parable of the weeds using katakaiō in . []
  7. For evidence that “destroy” in means “slay” or “kill,” read Glenn Peoples, “The meaning of ‘apollumi’ in the Synoptic Gospels,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted October 27, 2012, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/10/the-meaning-of-apollumi-in-the-synoptic-gospels (accessed October 16, 2015). []
  8. Chris Date, “Annihilation in Revelation, Part 1: Worth a Thousand Words,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted August 6, 2013, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2013/08/annihilation-in-revelation-part-1-worth-a-thousand-words (accessed October 16, 2015). []
  9. Chris Date, “Lazarus and the Rich Man: It’s Not About Final Punishment,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted June 23, 2012, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/06/lazarus-and-the-rich-man-its-not-about-final-punishment (accessed October 18, 2015). []
  10. See G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 1999), 831. Commenting on , Beale writes, “This is the first occurrence of ‘false prophet’ . . . in the Apocalypse. The word summarizes the deceptive role of the second beast of ch. 13, whose purpose is to deceive people so that they will worship the first beast. []
  11. Chris Date, “Annihilation in Revelation, Part 2: In with the Old—in the New,” Rethinking Hell [blog], posted August 28, 2013, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2013/08/annihilation-in-revelation-part-2-in-with-the-old-in-the-new (accessed October 18, 2015). []
  12. Edward W. Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment, 3rd ed. (Cascade, 2011), 241. []

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—

12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’

Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.

24 Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.

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;

12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew 22:13

13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age.

30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

Revelation 20:14

14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

Revelation 21:8

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

15 “As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me was anxious, and the visions of my head alarmed me.

15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 13:50

50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.

13:1 And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear:

10 If anyone is to be taken captive,
to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
with the sword must he be slain.

Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

11 Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.

13 And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs.

26 But the court shall sit in judgment,
and his dominion shall be taken away,
to be consumed and destroyed to the end.

19:1 After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

Once more they cried out,

“Hallelujah!
The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.”

And the twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God who was seated on the throne, saying, “Amen. Hallelujah!” And from the throne came a voice saying,

“Praise our God,
all you his servants,
you who fear him,
small and great.”

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” 10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

As she glorified herself and lived in luxury,
so give her a like measure of torment and mourning,
since in her heart she says,
‘I sit as a queen,
I am no widow,
and mourning I shall never see.’

Revelation 18:10

10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,

“Alas! Alas! You great city,
you mighty city, Babylon!
For in a single hour your judgment has come.”

Revelation 18:15

15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,