Charles Fox Parham: “Father of Modern Pentecostalism”–and Annihilationist!

At Rethinking Hell we’re not exactly Pentecostal. Then again, we’re not exactly not Pentecostal! Evangelical is exactly what we are, and that covers both bases. As we note in our official statement, “Evangelical conditionalists are uniform in our belief that the unsaved will not live forever, and yet we are as theologically varied as evangelicals holding to the majority view of hell, concerning various in-house debates over the nonessentials of Christian doctrine. We belong to many diverse denominations and faith communities: non-denominationalist, Baptist, Churches of Christ, Episcopalian/Anglican, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, and to many evangelical organizations. We are scholars and laypeople, pastors, teachers, overseers, missionaries and ministry workers.”

But among Pentecostals in particular, the name Charles Fox Parham commands a degree of respect. He is known as “The father of modern Pentecostalism,” having been the main initiator of the movement and its first real influencer. It was his student, William Seymour, who established the famous Azusa Street Mission. Parham would soon become critical of what he saw as emotional excesses at Azusa Street, which led to a growing rift between the two. Seymour’s influence kept rising, while Parham’s dwindled.

One of the main reasons for Parham’s waning influence was his declared annihilationism. That’s right: the early founder of modern Pentecostalism was an annihilationist! In the inaugural issue of Parham’s newsletter, The Apostolic Faith, he presented scriptural answers to 37 questions on the topic of conditional immortality. Among his main points were that sin brings death (Rom 6:23), that both the body and soul are destructible (Matt 10:28), and that immortality belongs to God alone but is imparted to the saved (1 Tim 1:17; Rom 2:7).

At the time, the controversial nature of this doctrine helped to give Parham’s detractors the extra ammunition they needed to argue that he was unfit for enduring leadership. When Parham was invited to Azusa Street in 1906 many there were just as repulsed by what they termed his “no eternal hell” teaching, as he was by some of the practices he witnessed. The mission subsequently ended its association with Parham’s Apostolic Faith, and continued their newsletter of the same name under a new publisher.1“The Apostolic Faith Movement Headquarters, Los Angeles.” Parham continued to publish his newsletter from Baxter Springs, Kansas, and to teach conditionalism to his followers. But in the January 1907 issue of the Azusa periodical, Seymour would strongly denounce Parham’s views (based on a blatant conflation of final punishment with the intermediate state setting of Luke 16:19-31) and even hint that annihilationists themselves might wind up in hell:2“Annihilation of the Wicked,” The Apostolic Faith, January 1907.

Many people today do not believe in an everlasting hell; but we read in the precious Word of God that the Lord Jesus taught it . . . We can see that there is no annihilation in God’s Word for the wicked, but there is a blazing and burning hell awaiting them . . . Hell, no doubt, is millions of miles from heaven, but yet the rich man, we find, had good clear eyesight. He had the sense of hearing, taste, feeling, and his memory was perfect. He could recognize Lazarus and talk with Abraham and beg him to let Lazarus come with a drop of water for his tongue. If the doctrine of annihilation were true, then this rich man would have been burned into ashes, and there would be no more of him. But we see in the Word of God, that Jesus taught a burning hell . . . Many who have preached a no-hell Gospel will find out better when they die and come to the judgment, just as this man died, and in hell lifted up his eyes . . . This man may have been like many today that do not believe in everlasting hell, but in the annihilation of the wicked; but he now sees that there is a burning hell.

Despite his waning influence and succession to Seymour, the role that Parham played remains important today. According to one source, “However historians may view Charles F. Parham, he holds a very significant place in modern church history, and to those within the rank and file of the Apostolic Faith, will always view him as the original projector of the modern movement.”3See the Apostolic Archives, http://www.apostolicarchives.com/articles/article/8801925/173160.htm, accessed on July 1, 2019. It’s not the purpose of this brief article to delve any further into that history, or to measure Parham’s precise historical importance or weigh his credentials. Those things aren’t of any direct relevant to our movement today. Instead, we hope to simply make more widely known the fact of Parham’s annihilationism, for whatever that might be worth to our fellow evangelicals. At the very least, we know that our Pentecostal readers will appreciate hearing about this largely forgotten fact.4I am indebted to my friend Gerald W Beene Jr. for pointing out to me that Parham held to annihilationism.

What did Charles Fox Parham believe about hell and immortality?

Let’s take a look at what Parham believed, in his own words.

Firstly, we should note that Parham’s openness to experiencing manifestations of the Holy Spirit was not at odds with a strong commitment to biblical teaching and the centrality of Christ and the gospel. On the contrary, the early Pentecostal movement maintained an apostasy narrative regarding mainstream churches that drove interest in recovering not only the experiences of the early church, but also its teachings.

For Parham, one significant error of church tradition was “the native immortality of the soul instead of immortality through Christ alone, as clearly set forth in the Scriptures,” which he was dismayed to see creeping in to the movement he generally celebrated:5Charles F. Parham, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, Author’s Preface to the Second Edition, 1910.

The Apostolic Faith Movement has circled the globe . . . many multiplied thousands have not only heard the old time gospel of saving grace, but have witnessed a return in great measure to the apostolic faith . . . Nevertheless there is much to be regretted . . . remnants of dead creeds and worn out doctrines of men that have deluged the people from the beginning of the dark ages until now, have been dragged into this movement and made to receive the stamp, Apostolic. Eminent men who have been converted from their creed bound, earth-born religious organizations have been instrumental in this. The preaching of the native immortality of the soul instead of immortality through Christ alone, as clearly set forth in the Scriptures, unbalances the scales of God’s justice, in distributing rewards and punishments . . . The redemption of the body for which we who are in this tabernacle do groan, has been glossed over and neglected almost to rejection entirely.

Parham was all the more dismayed at this because he had been buoyed by the return and rise of conditional immortality in his day:6Charles F. Parham, The Everlasting Gospel, p135.

The teaching of conditional immortality and destruction of the wicked is taught by . . . thousands of Christians, including many ministers, in all the churches . . . A noted English clergyman says, “I do not know an intelligent clergyman of the Episcopal Church, in England, who believes in the eternal torment of the wicked.” The Bible does not teach such an unbelievable lie, and no one can charge God with having such a revengeful attributed of character. The Bible everywhere teaches death, destruction, etc. To give the sinner eternal life, in any condition, destroys the necessity of Christ.

By this last point, Parham shows that he understood the deep connection between conditional immortality and the saving work of Jesus Christ:7ibid., p109.

If eternal torment is the wages of sin, then Christ has never paid the penalty, and we are all lost, but if death is the wages of sin, Christ has made full and complete propitiation for our sins. If all men have eternal life, whether in Heaven or Hell, it would be impossible to receive it as a gift through Jesus Christ, our Lord. The teaching that all men have immortal souls denies the Divinity of Christ, makes Him a liar and an imposter, and all His claims to bring life and immortality to men through His death are false.

Parham here alludes to the important text of 2 Timothy 1:10, which teaches that the good news of “life and immortality” was made possible since Christ abolished death. To him, the undermining of such a clear teaching justifies strong condemnation, and was also associated with the ongoing reformational dispute of grace versus works:8ibid., p109-110, 129

The teaching that all men have immortal souls has rendered possible the deplorable state of modern churchanity. Formerly, all evangelical Christians demanded of each candidate, that they be truly born again . . . Now they have also fallen in with the Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian methods, taken into membership any who are willing to subscribe to their creeds, who promise to be faithful in their attendance and in financial aid. As they are already immortal beings all they need is a respectable moral life and doing the best they can . . .

If a man possesses inherent immortality, Christ’s life and sacrificial death were entirely unnecessary. If God so loved the world that He desired all men to enjoy Heaven with Him in Eternity, He need not have given His only begotten Son, but sent them godly or moralizing teachers, who could have instructed them, how to be too good to go to hell, so that God would be compelled to take them into Heaven. At the judgment, God could have simply separated the good ones from the bad ones, taken part to Heaven and sent part to hell. In a word, the teaching that everyone has an immortal soul denies Christ and makes Him an unnecessary factor in the plan of Salvation.

Orthodoxy freely admits that we only have eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord, but immediately gives a lie to the whole thing by telling the sinner that He has eternal life and can never die . . . Orthodoxy would freely admit most of the claim of those who believe in Conditional Immortality, that man only has life in Jesus Christ, but when this teaching would necessitate the destruction of the wicked, all Rome and her daughters set up a howl, for since the days of early Catholicism down to the present time, the theologians of all churches have rejoiced in the thought that God would eternally torment all who did not accept their interpretations of the Scriptures . . . By no possible twisting of the English language could you make the words death, destruction, perish, used universally in the Bible relative to the wicked, to mean eternal torment.

While we at Rethinking Hell don’t express such concerns in the same harsh terms, Parham’s essential point is worth noting: if eternal torment rather than death is what Christ rescues us from, how can this account for Christ’s death being the penalty that he took upon himself as our substitute? Parham’s and our criticism that eternal torment tends to minimize or ignore the central role of death in the gospel, applies equally to the minimizing of resurrection, or as Parham lamented in a quote further above, to neglecting the need for bodily redemption (Rom 8:23). He saw that belief in eternal torment and inherent immortality logically affected other doctrines, and hoped that Conditional Immortality might yet establish itself as the biblical remedy:9ibid., p107-8.

The doctrine of “Conditional Immortality” is not a new theory but if adopted, would revolutionize all so-called Orthodox creeds and doctrines. Unless you accept this doctrine as the basic foundation on which to build the superstructure of all other doctrines, the whole Bible becomes a maze of contradictions and lies. Orthodoxy teaches that all men have Eternal Life, either in Heaven or Hell, but we teach that man can only obtain Eternal Life and Immortality through the “new birth” . . .  Conditional Immortality teaches that Adam was a perfect human being, without Immortality, that had he obeyed God, He would have continued to live forever, a human being in Eden. When Adam fell, he lost his physical life, and the privilege of everlasting existence. The entire Scriptures agree that Christ died to restore the human race to what was lost in Adam . . . Everlasting Life in the new Earth to all that are found worthy in the judgment. He is especially the Savior for those that accept Him in the new birth and obtain His life for their life, for spirit, soul, and body, making them worthy of Immortality at the resurrection and the glorified elect in eternity.

Parham’s understanding of Conditional Immortality thus included what today is called New Creation Theology, which places the emphasis on God liberating creation from decay, leading into a new heavens and earth, rather than a final split into heaven and hell (and transportation of people to those respective locations). He therefore understood the physical resurrection of the unsaved and their subsequent judgment to lead into the biblical teaching of Gehenna, which references an earthly location:10ibid., p127, 9; 131-2.

Orthodoxy teaches that multiplied millions, unjudged, are already in Hell. This is impossible; no one is cast into the lake of fire and brimstone until after the Resurrection and the White Throne Judgment . . . The lake of brimstone will cease to exist when it has consumed the wicked, for the ashes of the wicked are to be trodden under foot of the meek, who shall inherit the new earth. The wicked will be destroyed on this earth at the close of the judgment. The fires that purify this old world will destroy the wicked and make this world a Paradise for the righteous . . . After the final judgment the wicked are cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, which is the second death. The first death causes cessation of life in this world, the second death will cause a cessation of life in eternity. Hell, as a place of destruction, will be right here upon the earth. The purifying fires will burn them as rubbish, paving the way for the Paradise of God.

With continuing life in the world as a reference point, Parham responded to his critics who charged that such a destruction at Gehenna would not count as an eternal punishment. He rightly noted that eternal punishment is to be understood as the denial of the reward of eternal life, and therefore a final punishment of destruction is properly eternal since destruction denies life in an ongoing manner:11ibid., p129.

Another much used Scripture to prove eternal torment, is the sentence pronounced by Jesus, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous to life eternal.” This passage does not read punishment everlasting, as the orthodox would teach it, but everlasting punishment. When a man is hung for a crime, he receives everlasting punishment, as far as this world is concerned. When the wicked are destroyed in the lake of fire and brimstone, that is everlasting punishment, as far as eternity is concerned.

There is much in Parham’s approach to this subject that we as Evangelical Conditionalists might agree with. Despite his strongly-stated criticisms of the traditional/orthodox view of eternal torment, he was also able to temper his views for the sake of unity and dialogue. He had more to say than we are able to cover in a brief survey, but given the charge of his critics that he denied hell altogether, which is a charge we also sometimes face, it will be fitting to end with how he responded:12ibid., p127.

It is not my purpose to enter into any lengthy discussion regarding this subject; everywhere it is being discussed, pro and con, and those who are unprejudiced or teachable will be able to weigh both sides of the question and form their own conclusions. Among the awful charges that have ever been brought against me, perhaps the one most vehemently announced and maliciously peddled is that I am a “no-Hellite,” which is absolutely false, for I believe in a Hell hotter than orthodoxy teaches. One that utterly destroys the wicked. Destruction would satisfy all that justice demands, and God, if He be a God of Love, Justice, and Mercy, could ask no more than the wages of sin, which is death.

1. “The Apostolic Faith Movement Headquarters, Los Angeles.”
2. “Annihilation of the Wicked,” The Apostolic Faith, January 1907.
3. See the Apostolic Archives, http://www.apostolicarchives.com/articles/article/8801925/173160.htm, accessed on July 1, 2019.
4. I am indebted to my friend Gerald W Beene Jr. for pointing out to me that Parham held to annihilationism.
5. Charles F. Parham, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness, Author’s Preface to the Second Edition, 1910.
6. Charles F. Parham, The Everlasting Gospel, p135.
7. ibid., p109.
8. ibid., p109-110, 129
9. ibid., p107-8.
10. ibid., p127, 9; 131-2.
11. ibid., p129.
12. ibid., p127.

Death or Eternal Suffering—Which One Reveals How Much Jesus Loves You? (A Response to Timothy Keller)

Timothy Keller is a widely respected Christian pastor and much-needed public voice. But even our best and brightest are prone to saying questionable things due to the implications of their doctrine of hell. A case in point is Pastor Keller’s recent tweet: “Unless you believe in Hell, you will never know how much Jesus loves you.” This statement proved to be quite controversial, leading Keller in subsequent tweets and comments to seek to clarify what he had meant.

Now, to those like myself who believed for decades that the Bible taught a hell of eternal torment, Keller’s statement doesn’t seem controversial at all. It hits all the right notes for conservative evangelicals, and just feels appropriately pious and true. It’s one of those statements you whip out when you want to defend hell from its liberal or postmodern detractors. There are many variations on the theme—to do with God’s love, glory, holiness, or even His willingness to defer to the sinner’s own desires—but in each case the basic formula is the notion that the worse hell looks, the better God looks by contrast.

For example, if you think that the idea of a loving Creator tormenting people should cause us to raise at least one eyebrow, simply realize that people in hell are tormenting themselves, and you’ll soon feel much better about the whole thing. In time, you will see that God is really being magnanimous for giving them a separate place to do so. You know, forever.

Continue reading “Death or Eternal Suffering—Which One Reveals How Much Jesus Loves You? (A Response to Timothy Keller)”

The Neglected Doctrines of Resurrection and Bodily Transformation

Today in Protestant circles we still hear a lot about the immortality of the soul, despite this doctrine being passionately rejected by Martin Luther 500 years ago.1 Martin Luther, “Assertio Omnium Articulorum M. Lutheri per Bullam Leonis X. Novissimam Damnatorum,” article 27, Weimar edition of Luther’s Works, Vol. 7, pp. 131,132. But we rarely hear of the immortality of the body, an important feature of resurrection, nor do we even hear that much about resurrection in general!2 For example, the otherwise commendable Reforming Catholic Confession fails to include the resurrection of the unsaved, and only alludes to a resurrection of the saved by mentioning “glorified bodies” (even this much requires additional understanding to link the two concepts). Will all rise physically from the dead, like Jesus did—or only the saved? And if all rise in physical bodies, will the bodies of all be fitted with immortality, never to die again—or only those of the saved?

These kinds of questions are essential for assessing any doctrine of salvation and damnation, and yet they are often absent from the hell debate, and from broader discussion. Both heaven and hell are widely seen as ethereal destinations, to be arrived at immediately upon dying. But this truncated version of the biblical schedule of events renders resurrection and final judgment superfluous, even incoherent. Why were the unsaved sent straight to hell before Judgment Day, the very point at which they will be sentenced to hell? And if the saved and the unsaved already reside in the place where they’ll spend eternity, why bring them out? If they are brought out in resurrection, only to be shortly sent back there but this time in a physical form, how can those realms be suited to both physical and nonphysical habitation?

Continue reading “The Neglected Doctrines of Resurrection and Bodily Transformation”

1. Martin Luther, “Assertio Omnium Articulorum M. Lutheri per Bullam Leonis X. Novissimam Damnatorum,” article 27, Weimar edition of Luther’s Works, Vol. 7, pp. 131,132.
2. For example, the otherwise commendable Reforming Catholic Confession fails to include the resurrection of the unsaved, and only alludes to a resurrection of the saved by mentioning “glorified bodies” (even this much requires additional understanding to link the two concepts).

Three Biblical Arguments Against Universalism

Below are three biblical arguments against universalism (and an extra one for further reading!). While they offer more than simple proof texts, it would take a much longer article to develop them more fully. Even so, I trust that you will find them useful and persuasive. Let’s first look at some relevant context, and then dive into the arguments themselves.

Personal eschatology—the study of the final fate of human beings—should be embedded within cosmic eschatology, the study of the final state of God’s created order. God is redeeming the cosmos, and human beings within it (see Rom 8:18-25). Universalists and conditionalists both agree that God will redeem the cosmos as a whole. But universalists also claim that God will eventually redeem every human being that will have ever lived, while our claim as conditionalists is that God’s work of “new creation” purposefully excludes some human beings. Despite knowing enough about the immortal God and realizing that they ultimately deserve death they still reject him (Rom 1:18-23; 32). They disobey the gospel (1 Pet 4:17; 2 Thess 1:8; Rom 10:16), and so fail to respond obediently in repentance and faith to the knowledge of God and his offer of salvation (Acts 6:7; Rom 1:5; 16:26). They love sin rather than goodness, themselves rather than God, and are “disqualified regarding the faith” (John 3:20; 2 Tim 3:2-8).

Continue reading “Three Biblical Arguments Against Universalism”

Warned of Sin’s Wages: A Concise Explanation of Death in Genesis 2:17 and Romans 6:23

In Genesis 2:17, God’s warning “you will certainly die” (מֹות תָּמֽוּת) refers to the penalty or consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin, should they disobey God’s command. They had been given the ongoing privilege to “live forever” by accessing the Tree of Life (Gen 3:22 cf. 16), but this would be forfeited and their lives would be cut short by death—death as normally and universally understood; sometimes called “physical death.”1I do not recommend using the term “physical death” (or “biological death”) unless deemed necessary. If further clarity than simply “death” is needed, I suggest “ordinary death.” The term “physical death” implies an unhelpful dichotomy between physical and spiritual death, and/or prejudices an interest in mechanisms that might attend death, in terms of things like bodies and souls. The more obvious way to define death is through its operation upon life, which is, simply, to bring life to an end. Death at any time does this, so we should also be mindful not to think of “the second death” as categorically different from “the first death” (terminology the Bible never uses). It might be complete and permanent (Matt 10;28), unlike ordinary death where resurrection follows, but it is still an end to life. Romans 6:23 simply says “death” for good reason. The universal wages of sin is not first death, second death, physical death or spiritual death. It’s just death, the ending of life.

The main objection to this view is that Adam and Eve did not die “in the day” that they ate (Gen 2:17), if in fact ordinary death was in view. But this is to misunderstand the Hebrew idiom, as Walter Kaiser et al. explain:3Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Baruch, “Hard Sayings of the Bible” (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), p. 92, emphasis in original.

It is just as naive to insist that the phrase “in the day” means that on that very day death would occur. A little knowledge of the Hebrew idiom will relieve the tension here as well. For example, in 1 Kings 2:37 King Solomon warned a seditious Shimei, “The day you leave [Jerusalem] and cross the Kidron Valley [which is immediately outside the city walls on the east side of the city], you can be sure you will die.” Neither the 1 Kings nor the Genesis text implies immediacy of action on that very same day; instead they point to the certainty of the predicted consequence that would be set in motion by the act initiated on that day. Alternate wordings include at the time when, at that time, now when and the day [when] (see Gen. 5:1; Ex. 6:28; 10:28; 32:34).

In other words, “you will certainly die” became true instantly, as a kind of death sentence or curse. But the timing of the death event is not specified in the warning. This is clear in the Aramaic translation of Genesis 2:17 found in Targum Jonathan, which suffices to show that at the time of Jesus this was viewed as ordinary death. It reads, “in the day that thou eatest thou wilt be guilty of death.”2See J. W. Etheridge, “The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch,” 1862, 1865.

Continue reading “Warned of Sin’s Wages: A Concise Explanation of Death in Genesis 2:17 and Romans 6:23”

1. I do not recommend using the term “physical death” (or “biological death”) unless deemed necessary. If further clarity than simply “death” is needed, I suggest “ordinary death.” The term “physical death” implies an unhelpful dichotomy between physical and spiritual death, and/or prejudices an interest in mechanisms that might attend death, in terms of things like bodies and souls. The more obvious way to define death is through its operation upon life, which is, simply, to bring life to an end. Death at any time does this, so we should also be mindful not to think of “the second death” as categorically different from “the first death” (terminology the Bible never uses). It might be complete and permanent (Matt 10;28), unlike ordinary death where resurrection follows, but it is still an end to life. Romans 6:23 simply says “death” for good reason. The universal wages of sin is not first death, second death, physical death or spiritual death. It’s just death, the ending of life.
2. See J. W. Etheridge, “The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch,” 1862, 1865.
3. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Baruch, “Hard Sayings of the Bible” (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), p. 92, emphasis in original.

“Fixing John 3:16”—500 Years After the Reformation

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

The most famous verse in the Bible is broken.

What the Bible says is not the problem, of course. But—and here’s the scandal—the message of John 3:16 has been dramatically changed.

What’s actually broken is the popular understanding of the verse. It turns out, this towering text has been widely and wildly misunderstood. For a long, long, time.

That’s quite a problem! And it’s not going to just fix itself. According to a growing number of Bible scholars and teachers around the world, something must be done to set the record straight.

Continue reading ““Fixing John 3:16”—500 Years After the Reformation”

The Annihilation of Hell? A Response to Alan Gomes

Back in 1991, when hardly anyone had discovered the internet, anti-cult author and Biola university professor Dr. Alan W. Gomes wrote “Evangelicals and the Annihilation of Hell,” a two-part article (see Part 1 and Part 2) for The Christian Research Journal.1Alan W. Gomes, “Evangelicals and the Annihilation of Hell,” Christian Research Journal, Spring 1991, pp. 14ff. and Summer 1991, pp 8ff. Those familiar with the debate over hell will recognize that things have moved on since then. Responding now could seem a little anachronistic. After all, Dr. Gomes can hardly be faulted for not interacting with more recent writings by evangelical conditionalists.

However, like J. I. Packer’s critical review from 1997, Dr. Gomes’ article is still doing the rounds, suggesting that a belated response may be warranted. My intention will not be to find fault with Dr. Gomes himself, but for practical reasons I will proceed as if Dr. Gomes had been apprised of the clear statements and arguments of today’s evangelical conditionalists. He at least had access to the pre-1991 contributions of evangelical conditionalists such as Edward Fudge and the late John Stott, with whom we are in substantial agreement. This interaction with a decades-long dialogue then should hopefully be instructive, perhaps even taking us all a little further. Continue reading “The Annihilation of Hell? A Response to Alan Gomes”

1. Alan W. Gomes, “Evangelicals and the Annihilation of Hell,” Christian Research Journal, Spring 1991, pp. 14ff. and Summer 1991, pp 8ff.

Annihilation in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (Part 1): Destroyed by the Glory of His Manifest Presence

Note: This article is part of a series. Here, Part 1 presents a consistent, straightforward conditionalist understanding of 2 Thessalonians 1:9. Since conditionalists question the NIV’s interpolation (“and shut out from”)—practically the only time we would quibble with any modern English translation—Part 2 will cover the more complex issues raised by a traditionalist reading, showing that the simple face value reading is correct. All references are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

2 Thessalonians 1:9 is one of those texts which first convinced me to take the idea of annihilation seriously. Not just in isolation, where it seems obvious that destruction due to Christ’s coming is the point, but in the context of what is being said in the first couple of chapters of the epistle. (The NRSV even uses the word “annihilating” a mere eleven verses later concerning the “man of lawlessness,” which is intriguing enough on its own!) The overall impact of the passage I think should give anyone pause about this issue, since it portrays the day of judgment and the fire of judgment differently from familiar expectations from Christian tradition. Too often, our critics treat a single word of this verse as an isolated proof-text, or suggest that’s how we treat it, when of course each side must give due consideration to the fuller structural context.

“Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power”—2 Thessalonians 1:9, KJV

The conditionalist reading is that the glorious presence and power of the Lord causes the punishment of destruction, which is everlasting because it is God’s permanent judgment. Let’s explore how this makes the best sense. Continue reading “Annihilation in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (Part 1): Destroyed by the Glory of His Manifest Presence”

“Conditional Immortality”—What it means and why it’s the best label (Part 3)

In Part 1 of this series, I clarified what we mean in calling our view “conditional immortality.” In Part 2, a doctrine of proto-conditionalism was identified and elucidated, providing important historical context. Now in Part 3, I’ll complete the overall justification of our chosen label, giving due attention to convention, and also further explain our view and its relevance today.

As we’ve now seen, in the plainest terms immortality means “will live forever” and conditional means “subject to a condition.” Narrowly expressed, that’s primarily what we mean by the words conditional immortality. There is more involved theologically, but at the level of words, it remains for us to appreciate the secondary sense of conditional that we are also invoking.

A second sense of conditional, denying universal and absolute

In theological labeling convention, conditional is a technical term implying that conditions will not be universally met (i.e. rendered absolute). The reason for this is that it’s not merely the fact of a condition that is in view, but rather the interesting question of scope. If you wanted to announce a universal scope, you would call your position universal or unconditional. If you wanted to refer to a limited, nonuniversal scope, you would refer instead to “conditional” matters. In this sense, something can’t be both universal and conditional.

Continue reading ““Conditional Immortality”—What it means and why it’s the best label (Part 3)”

“Conditional Immortality”—What it means and why it’s the best label (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, I clarified what we mean in calling our view “conditional immortality.” Now, in Part 2, we will continue with some important historical background. In Part 3, I’ll complete the overall justification of our chosen label with due attention to convention and further explain our view and its relevance today. If you prefer, you can read the entire article as a whole.

What “conditional immortality” meant before it was cool

Did you know that the Christian church has always held to conditional immortality? Well, not necessarily in a way that implies annihilation, but perhaps more consistent with today’s usage than you might expect.

For purposes of testing that claim, let us suppose that, at base, the term conditional immortality refers to the idea that humanity was not created mortal or immortal per se, but rather conditionally immortal or conditionally mortal, depending on emphasis.

More fully expressed, this would mean humans are mortal yet capable of immortality (after meeting qualifying conditions), or alternatively, immortal yet capable of mortality (after meeting disqualifying conditions).

Writing in the late second century, Theophilus of Antioch spoke this way explicitly:

Continue reading ““Conditional Immortality”—What it means and why it’s the best label (Part 2)”