and “Eternal Contempt”1

Few passages from the Old Testament are cited as evidence that hell is a place of eternal torment. Given the Old Testament’s emphasis on death and destruction, this shouldn’t surprise us. If I believed that the unsaved live forever in torment, I wouldn’t run to passages about the wicked withering and dying like grass,2 or that call for them to melt away like slugs,3 or that describe them being burned to ashes and left without root or branch at the final judgment (like Malachi 4:1-3 does) either. But one passage stands out as an exception. One passage is a commonly cited as proof of eternal torment. That passage is :

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt (NASB).

Basically, this passage speaks of the resurrection of both the saved and the unsaved. But aside from the fact that this does not speak of inherent immortality, it doesn’t say anything about eternal conscious existence for the damned, period.

I am not questioning the eternal duration of the contempt for the wicked, nor do I disagree with the following:

“Grammatically, there is no difference here between the length of time mentioned for life and that for punishment; rather, there is simply eternal life and eternal death.”4

But while both the life and contempt are eternal in duration, that does not mean that both groups of people consciously exist for eternity.
Put simply, it is perfectly reasonable to read Daniel’s description of the unsaved as describing not what they feel (which would require consciousness), but rather, how others feel about them. They rise to everlasting contempt because at their resurrection they discover that they will always be viewed with contempt by the righteous who, unlike them have risen to eternal life. Although the wicked will not live for eternity, the contempt held for them will.
Consider this: Adolf Hitler is dead, yet don’t we still revile his name? Even if his soul is conscious in some intermediate state,5 he probably can’t hear us or read our minds when we scorn his memory. Does this mean that when we think of Hitler we don’t think of him with contempt, since he is gone? Of course not! Even an atheist who does not believe that Hitler exists in any form would still say that he is looked upon with contempt. His contempt is ongoing, even if he himself is not (though he will certainly be resurrected). Just in terms of common sense, being disgraced and a subject of contempt does not by any means prove conscious existence.
Furthermore, consider the significance of :

And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” (KJV).

At first, it may not be apparent why I quoted this passage. But this passage sheds light on once we understand the Hebrew behind the word for “an abhorring.” The Hebrew term deraon, translated “an abhorring” in , is the same word translated as “contempt” in .6 is also the only other passage in the Old Testament that uses this term.7 For this reason, we can look at Isaiah for some guidance as to what the term means and how it applies to Isaiah.
Isaiah uses the same rare Hebrew term that Daniel does to describe what is often translated in English as “contempt.” It is assumed in the case of Daniel that the “contempt” is an emotion that conscious, living people are experiencing in hell. But notice that Isaiah says that carcasses, dead bodies, are what will be loathsome or abhorrent. How conscious is a dead body? How much shame can a dead body feel? None, obviously. These corpses are an abhorance, i.e. they are subject to contempt, because even though they have no conscious existence, other beings that do have conscious existence abhor them.
I suppose one could try to say that in Isaiah, the carcasses of God’s enemies are actually conscious living people (as opposed to carcasses). Even then, however, the term deraon is not describing the experience of God’s enemies, but how others view them. Those whom Isaiah describe as looking upon those dead bodies will look upon them with contempt.
Now, if one is said to rise to contempt, as describes it, it is perfectly logical to think of the situation in similar terms. The unsaved rise to everlasting contempt because even after they are destroyed and all that remains of them is inert matter, they will still be an abhorrence to all flesh.
Facing contempt does not require one to be alive to be scorned. It does not necessarily mean that one can actually feel the scorn. As a matter of common sense, it just simply doesn’t. Dead people like Hitler face contempt whether they know it right now or not. Even concepts and non-personal entities can face contempt. Who doesn’t hate death with a passion? Who here has at least some degree of ill will towards the now defunct Soviet Union? To this day the non-existent, non-living Soviet Union is disgraced and looked at with contempt, yet obviously it never could feel anything in the first place!
The same can be said for shame. Shame can be an emotion that a conscious person experiences, but it can also describe the fact that such a person or entity is viewed with contempt, regardless of their knowledge of it. Glenn Peoples gives us an example of this occurring even now:

It makes sense to talk this way even today. In preparing this part of the presentation, I did a quick look on the internet to see if any of this type of language was out there, and one of the first results I found was an example of a person condemning the integrity of a certain political figure, saying (and I quote) that “after he and his kind are dust, only their shame will remain.”8

Although it is true that the unsaved who awake to disgrace and everlasting contempt will not always be awake, the disgrace and contempt outlives them. Absolutely nothing is said in about endless life or conscious existence for the damned. The scripture only tells us that they rise, not that they remain risen forever.9 does not prove eternal torment, because it does not mention anything about eternal conscious existence for the unsaved.

The Significance of “Life”

One last thing to consider is this: the fate of the wicked is contrasted to those who have “eternal life.” On its face, contrasting them with those who have life sure doesn’t sound like they have conscious existence forever.
What about “life” in ? It is said, in defense of the traditional view, that “life” has a special meaning in the Bible that refers to consciously knowing God, as opposed to death, which is consciously being separated from God. Is Daniel using “life” to mean “knowing God,” following the paradigm that everyone is conscious (i.e. alive) and “life” vs. “death” is just a matter of the quality of life?
This special Bible-only meaning of the word life is problematic to say the least.10 But even beyond problems with this overall approach that one might point to, it is quite clear that at the very least, many times the Bible speaks of “life” it means it in the normal sense of the term. One can be alive without being conscious (at least for a time), but one cannot normally be conscious and yet be considered to not have have life. They may be living a miserable life, but they still have life regardless of the quality of it. We cannot, therefore, just assume that Daniel means life in a metaphorical sense of knowing God (in contrast to being physically alive but not knowing God).
Of course, this would not be to deny that Daniel ultimately envisions eternal life as a glorious life of knowing God. It’s just that the phrase itself would be referring first and foremost to conscious existence (as opposed to lack thereof). In the world to come, according to evangelical conditionalism, all who consciously exist will live in a glorious new heavens and earth. The term “eternal life” itself does not tell us this, but we know from the rest of the Bible that our eternal life will be absolutely incredible. Therefore, even if “eternal life” does not itself mean “glorious life of knowing God,” in practice, when Jesus and others tell us we will have eternal life, we know what kind of life we will have for eternity.
But regarding the use of life in , it is worth noting that the sense of life having a more standard, dictionary meaning is clearer in the Old Testament than it is in the New.11 The Hebrew scriptures do, after all, put much more focus is put on earthly things (which is not to belittle the Old Testament at all, it’s just a matter of what God, in his perfect wisdom, knew best to focus on at a given time). A lot of different words are translated as life. Like “life,” they certainly could be used metaphorically, but at times, they clearly aren’t.
The word chay, which is what says the saved awake to, is used in many such contexts. It refers to all the living creatures created throughout . It is used to describe the earthly life of human beings in . It describes how God lives forever in . In , it describes those left alive after being captured by the army of Judah. says, “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life [chay], My lips will praise You” (NASB). In that context, I think it is safe to say the David isn’t saying that God’s love is better than knowing God! He’s saying that even the most important thing man knows, staying alive, can’t compare to how great it is to be loved by God. Such a statement obviously has a figurative element (you literally can’t experience God’s love if you are not alive), but that figurative element is based on “life” having a literal, biological meaning.
Although it can be used figuratively,12 it is not the major theme of the word. It usually just means being alive.
With that in mind, if anything, this passage helps the case for evangelical conditionalism. The saved get to have “eternal life,” using a term for life that is primarily used to describe not quality of life, but rather, life itself. The fate of the unsaved is contrasted with this glorious fate of eternal life. Therefore, this passage teaches that the unsaved will not have eternal life. On its face, especially in a Hebrew context, that sure doesn’t sound like two groups consciously existing (which requires living) for eternity, does it?

Conclusion

As is the case with passages like , a rush to judgment is made that since a passage mentions eternality, and is even paralleled with “eternal life,” it must therefore be speaking to the eternal conscious experience of the unsaved in hell. However, as you can see after just a brief examination, fails to prove the eternal conscious existence of those who do not rise to eternal life, and therefore, it fails to disprove evangelical conditionalism.
Why then does seem to mean eternal torment to so many people? Perhaps there is something to the idea that, because of tradition, we assume that everyone lives forever somewhere. If we take it for granted that everybody lives forever somewhere, then of course those who arise to eternal contempt will live in that state forever – despite the fact that the passage says that they do not rise to eternal life in the first place.

  1. Adapted From The Bible Teaches Annihilationism by Joseph Dear, Section XX. []
  2. . []
  3. . []
  4. Driscoll, Mark and Gary Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Crossway, 2010), 430. []
  5. Or even if, unbeknownst to anyone, he repented and genuinely accepted Jesus right before his death and will end up rising to life in the end… []
  6. Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? A Biblical Study on Human Nature and Destiny (Biblical Perspectives, 1997), 199. []
  7. “1860. דֵּרָאוֹן (deraon),” Bible Hub, n.d. http://biblehub.com/hebrew/strongs_1860.htm (accessed July 26, 2017). []
  8. Glenn Peoples, “Why I Am an Annihilationist,” 26, Right Reason, n.d., http://www.rightreason.org/article/theology/annihilationist.pdf (accessed July 26, 2017). []
  9. As to why God would resurrect the unsaved just to destroy them, I have written some about that in the article “Double Jeopardy: Why Raise the Dead, Only to Destroy Them?” []
  10. For a few of the problems with this approach to the meaning of of its many problems, see the “Traditionalism and the (Not So) Second Death” and “Obfuscating Traditionalism: No Eternal Life in Hell?” by Chris Date. []
  11. See the Merriam-Webster learner’s dictionary definition here. []
  12. James Strong, “A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible,” The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Thomas Nelson, 1983), 38. []

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.

Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,
like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

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.”

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

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.”

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

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.”

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

10 how on the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, the Lord said to me, ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’

40 For I lift up my hand to heaven
and swear, As I live forever,

12 The men of Judah captured another 10,000 alive and took them to the top of a rock and threw them down from the top of the rock, and they were all dashed to pieces.

Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.

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

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.