Some annihilationists argue that the words translated “perish” or “destruction” imply the cessation of existence. For example, the use of the words translated “perish” in John 3:16 and “destruction” in Philippians 3:19 and 2 Thessalonians 1:9 are said to indicate annihilation.
This is a case where some texts taken on their own might appear to teach a doctrine. But, we must examine the whole counsel of God from the 66 books of Scripture to understand a doctrine.
Regarding the terms “perish” and “destruction,” both terms are often used in the NT in ways which do not mean cessation of existence. For example, the word translated “destruction” in Philippians 3:19 is used elsewhere to describe the idea of wasting something of value (Matt. 26:8).
interestingly, the same word is also used in Revelation 17:8 to describe the punishment of the beast. Then, in Revelation 20:10, the beast is said to be “tormented day and night forever and ever.” Clearly, though the beast is said to be destroyed, that does not mean he ceases to exist, since his torment is unending. Therefore, the word translated “destroy” need not speak of annihilationism. In fact, in the context of hell as in Revelation 17 and 20, it is consistent with the eternal punishment.
In the case of John 3:16, the word translated “perish” often does not refer to cessation of existence. For example, in Johannine literature, the word frequently refers to loss, in the sense of no longer in one’s possession (e.g. John 6:12, 39; 17:12; 18:9). In Matthew 9:17, for example, the word is used to describe damage (“the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined”).
The word translated “destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is a different NT word. Elsewhere, for example in 1 Corinthians 5:5, Paul uses the word to describe the destruction of an individual’s body in the case of church discipline. The purpose of that destruction is repentance and restoration. Thus, the meaning cannot mean annihilation of the individual’s body, for then, he would be unable to repent and be restored. There is no repentance and restoration in the next life. The meaning of “destruction” there has the idea of damage. Paul desires that the disciplined experience physical suffering in order that they might be moved to repentance.
Further, we should step back for a moment and allow plain sense to speak. If cessation of existence was meant in places like 2 Thessalonians 1:9, then the modifier, “eternal,” would be useless. To paraphrase, the rendering would be, “eternal ceasing to exist.” If NT writers wanted to communicate cessation of existence, they would have not included the term “eternal” to describe hell.
Thus, to conclude annihilationism from the NT words “perish” and “destruction” is a forced interpretation which imposes upon the greater context of the respective passages and additional verses which speak of the eternality of hell.
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