I thank God for John Piper and the work God has done and continues to do through him. I have been one of many to benefit from Piper’s books, sermons, and articles. I was blessed with the opportunity to serve the Lord in the world’s largest Muslim nation for fourteen years. During those years my coworkers and I were often encouraged and strengthened to continue in a very difficult ministry by things Piper wrote or said. And just last night, not knowing that I would be writing this article this morning, I used an article of Piper as part of a Bible study at the church where I serve.1 And if I had known that I would be writing this article this morning, I still would not have hesitated to use Piper’s article last night.
Having said all that, I believe that Piper is simply wrong about the nature of hell and the fate of the unrighteous. A good, godly man who God uses mightily can occasionally be just plain wrong. An excerpt from a message he gave on the topic of Hell was just posted this morning at the Desiring God website.2 I won’t be quoting every word of Piper’s article, so I encourage you to read it for yourself, it’s not long.

Why I’m Convinced that John Piper’s Message is Wrong

Here I’ll go point by point through the transcript of the excerpt from Piper’s message. Piper is defending a view which is often called Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT). I believe in a view called Conditional Immortality (CI) or Annihilationism. As an evangelical conditionalist, I’m convinced that the Bible teaches that the unrighteous will be raised to face judgment, experience a finite amount of conscious suffering, and then perish (), be destroyed in body and soul (), and burned to ashes ().

1. Piper Quotes –48 as Support for ECT

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” (–48)

When Jesus spoke these words he included quotes from the last verse of Isaiah: “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” ().
Notice that the fire that is not quenched and worms that do not die are not torturing living people. They are being used to consume “dead bodies” after judgment. That makes a lot of sense because all over the world and all throughout history the vast majority of dead bodies have been disposed of either by worms turning them into dust or fire turning them into ashes. So the words Jesus speaks in actually support CI, not ECT.3

2. Piper Quotes as Support for ECT

 . . . but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin. ()

Annihilationists and traditionalists both agree that there is sin that will never be forgiven. Piper is probably using this verse to refute Universalism. I agree that this verse refutes Universalism. It says nothing one way or the other about whether those not forgiven will be tormented forever or be permanently destroyed in both body and soul () forever.

3. Piper Quotes as Support for ECT

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. . . . And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. ()

Piper is correct in insisting that eternal punishment will last as long as eternal life. Again, this is a strong argument against Universalism. However, it is not a strong argument against CI. As the punishment conditionalists believe awaits the lost, eternal death is a form of eternal punishment. Once people are completely destroyed, they will never, for all eternity, return to life and enjoy the pleasures of knowing God and being with Him.
Many people wrongly think that “eternal punishment” must refer to a process of punishing which continues forever. That is simply not true. Consider the use of the same word “eternal” in Hebrews: “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (–2). “Eternal judgment” does not refer to a process of judging which goes on forever. It refers to a judgment consisting of the eternal, permanent consequences of a judging process finite in duration. Similarly, this same author writes, “[Christ] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (). “Eternal redemption” does not refer to a process of redeeming which goes on forever. It refers to a redemption consisting of the eternal, permanent consequences of a redeeming process finite in duration—one completed “once for all.” In the same way, “eternal punishment” does not refer to a process of punishing which goes on forever. It refers to a punishment consisting of the eternal, permanent consequences of a punishing process finite in duration.4
As far as the phrase “eternal fire” goes, it should be noted that the fire being eternal does not mean that what is cast into it must remain alive and conscious. God’s glory is presented in terms of intense, glowing, burning, fiery light throughout the Bible. “Eternal fire” may refer to this manifestation of His glory. This fire of God will be glorious to behold when we are made perfect. But the same fire destroys all who are impure. Notice that the same phrase “eternal fire” is used in to refer to God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet fire is not currently burning there. Peter Grice provided this excellent explanation: “Fire from heaven—the consuming fire of God—may be considered eternal at its source, without this meaning that any manifestation or emanation of it must continue to burn forever.”5 Perhaps this is why Jesus had earlier set up “eternal fire” as a parallel to Gehenna (–9), the “Valley of the Son of Hinnom” which the Old Testament promised would become “the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury [there], because there is no room elsewhere. And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away” (–33).

4. Piper Quotes from –9 as Support for ECT

 . . . and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might . . . (–9)

It has always seemed strange to me that defenders of ECT have thought that the phrase “eternal destruction” supports their view. “Destruction” does not mean “torment” in English, nor do the Greek words translated “destruction/destroy” mean “torment”.
For excellent, detailed discussions of this passage, see the article by Peter Grice quoted from above, together with part 2 of the article.6 See also Reese Watt’s fine article on the text.7

Piper Quotes from Revelation to Support ECT

The only book of the Bible which actually mentions eternal torment is the book of Revelation. This is a book full of visions which use a lot of symbolism. Piper fails to note that John gives us the interpretation of the lake of fire symbol: “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire” (; cf. 21:8).
The lake of fire is a symbol for dying a second time. John tells us so. There is a lot of evidence which supports the view that the lake of fire and the “second death” refer to the annihilation of the unrighteous, not their eternal torment. I have written a series of blog posts on this specific topic.8

What Piper Leaves Out

In the excerpt provided by Desiring God, Piper does not address the many Bible passages which give strong support to CI. Here are just a few:
: In this Psalm, David says the wicked will wither and die away like grass (v. 2), be destroyed (v. 9), “be no more” (v. 10) so that even if you go looking for them you cannot find them, will perish (v. 20), will go up in smoke like grass consumed in a fire (v. 20), will be “completely destroyed” (v. 28), will pass away and be no more (v. 36), and will have no future (v. 38). That sure sounds like annihilation!
: “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.”
: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
: ” . . . 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;”

How Piper Helped Me Become a Conditionalist

After receiving a call from the Lord to go overseas and share His Good News among unreached people groups, I read Piper’s excellent book, Let the Nations Be Glad.9 I highly recommend the book, despite a section where Piper defends ECT. Ironically, it was while reading this section of Piper’s book that I began to think that CI might be correct. Piper kindly includes some comments from John Stott in footnote #15 on page 120. God has blessed John Piper with a brilliant mind and a gift to passionately and rationally explain God’s truth. Yet, as I read this section, Piper’s arguments supporting ECT felt so weak and did not seem to have biblical support. Stott’s short comments in the footnote made sense to me. I began to think that CI might be true. It was quite a few year later, however, until I studied this topic in more depth and become convinced of CI and began to teach it. I hope some of you reading this will likewise be motivated to study this topic in more depth. I certainly don’t expect this one short post to convince you.
May God continue to bless the ministry of John Piper. This issue (ECT vs. CI) should never divide Christians. We agree that a terrible fate awaits the unrighteous and that seeing them saved from this fate is one of the motivations we have to take risks and make sacrifices to share God’s Good News and spread His love in Jesus’ Name all over the world.

Resources for Further Study

Part 1 of my two-part sermon introducing CI (external)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBpVLaf7hzQ
Part 2 of my two-part sermon introducing CI (external)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gR9Pf6ag2pU
My recent blog post, “Downburned and Ashified, The Annihilation of the Unrighteous” (external)
http://parresiazomai.blogspot.com/2017/05/downburned-and-ashified-annihilation-of.html
Part 1 of my series on “Second Death” in Revelation (external)
http://parresiazomai.blogspot.com/2017/02/what-is-second-death-part-1-symbols-and.html
“Their Worm Does Not Die: Annihilation and
http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/07/their-worm-does-not-die-annihilation-and-mark-948
“The Fire Is not Quenched: Annihilation and (Part 2)”
http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/11/the-fire-is-not-quenched-annihilation-and-mark-948-part-2
“‘Punishment’ and the Polysemy of Deverbal Nouns”
http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/06/eternal-punishment-and-the-polysemy-of-deverbal-nouns
“Annihilation in (Part 1): Destroyed by the Glory of His Manifest Presence”
http://rethinkinghell.com/2016/11/annihilation-in-2-thessalonians-19-part-1-destroyed-by-the-glory-of-his-manifest-presence/
“Annihilation in (Part 2): Separation or Obliteration?—The Present Controversy”
http://rethinkinghell.com/2016/12/annihilation-in-2-thess-1-9-part-2-separation-or-obliteration/
,” by Reese Watt (external)
http://www.gentlegod.org/ii-thessalonians-19.html
  1. John Piper, “Biopsy Blows and the Helmet of Hope,” Desiring God, July 28, 2009, accessed July 20, 2017, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/biopsy-blows-and-the-helmet-of-hope. []
  2. John Piper, “Unforgiven: The Eternal Tragedy of the Lost,” Desiring God, July 20, 2017, accessed July 20, 2017, http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/gods-wrath-vengeance-is-mine-i-will-repay-says-the-lord/excerpts/unforgiven-the-eternal-tragedy-of-the-lost. []
  3. See also Chris Date, “Their Worm Does Not Die: Annihilation and ,” Rethinking Hell [blog], July 17, 2012, accessed July 20, 2017, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/07/their-worm-does-not-die-annihilation-and-mark-948; and Chris Date, “The Fire Is Not Quenched: Annihilation in (Part 2),” Rethinking Hell [blog], November 20, 2012, accessed July 20, 2017, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/11/the-fire-is-not-quenched-annihilation-and-mark-948-part-2. []
  4. See also Chris Date, “‘Punishment’ and the Polysemy of Deverbal Nouns,” Rethinking Hell [blog], June 19, 2012, accessed July 20, 2017, http://www.rethinkinghell.com/2012/06/eternal-punishment-and-the-polysemy-of-deverbal-nouns. []
  5. Peter Grice, “Annihilation in (Part 1): Destroyed by the Glory of His Manifest Presence,” Rethinking Hell [blog], November 14, 2016, accessed July 20, 2017, http://rethinkinghell.com/2016/11/annihilation-in-2-thessalonians-19-part-1-destroyed-by-the-glory-of-his-manifest-presence/. []
  6. Ronnie Demler and William Tanksley Jr., “Annihilation in (Part 2): Separation or Obliteration?—The Present Controversy,” Rethinking Hell [blog], December 5, 2016, accessed July 20, 2017, http://rethinkinghell.com/2016/12/annihilation-in-2-thess-1-9-part-2-separation-or-obliteration/. []
  7. Reese Watt, “,” The Gentle God [blog], accessed July 20, 2017, http://www.gentlegod.org/ii-thessalonians-19.html. []
  8. The series begins with “What is the Second Death? Part 1, Symbols and Meanings,” παρρησιαζόμαι [blog], February 18, 2017, accessed July 20, 2017, http://parresiazomai.blogspot.com/2017/02/what-is-second-death-part-1-symbols-and.html. []
  9. John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, 2nd ed. (Baker Academic, 2003). []

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

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.

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;

43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

9:1 And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean. 11 And they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 12 And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.”

14 And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. 15 And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. 16 And he asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”

29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”

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.

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Matthew 25:46

46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Matthew 25:46

46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,

12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.

just as 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.

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.

32 Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere.

and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels

and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

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

37:1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.

12 The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming.

14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose way is upright;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.

16 Better is the little that the righteous has
than the abundance of many wicked.
17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous.

18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless,
and their heritage will remain forever;
19 they are not put to shame in evil times;
in the days of famine they have abundance.

20 But the wicked will perish;
the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;
they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.

21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back,
but the righteous is generous and gives;
22 for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land,
but those cursed by him shall be cut off.

23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.

25 I have been young, and now am old,
yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
or his children begging for bread.
26 He is ever lending generously,
and his children become a blessing.

27 Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.

30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.

32 The wicked watches for the righteous
and seeks to put him to death.
33 The Lord will not abandon him to his power
or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

34 Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.

35 I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
36 But he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
though I sought him, he could not be found.

37 Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
for there is a future for the man of peace.
38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;
the future of the wicked shall be cut off.

39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.

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.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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;

48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,