2. When describing hell, the word “eternal” refers to duration.
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One of the biggest problems for annihilationism is Matthew 25:46, which reads, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Annihilationists often teach that the NT words translated, “eternal” or “everlasting” do not refer to endless duration but “pertaining to the age to come” or “having eternal consequences.”
There are serious problems with this view, however. First, the assertion that “eternal” refers to “pertaining/belonging to the age to come” is an imposed rendering of the word αἰώνιον in the context of Matthew 25:46. If NT writers wanted to communicate “pertaining/belonging to the age to come,” they would have used a different phrase in Greek; something along the lines of phrase ἐν τῷ αἰῶνι μέλλοντι and not the adjective, αἰώνιον, as Jesus did.
Second, even if the word is taken as “pertaining to the age to come,” that does not further the annihilationist position. Scripture always refers to the age to come as one of unceasing duration. Thus, the age to come, whether for the redeemed or unredeemed, will be unending.
Third, Greek references predominantly render the word αἰώνιον as “eternal” and/or “unlimited duration” (e.g. DBL, Louw-Nida, TDNT).
Fourth, rendering the word “having eternal consequences” does not serve in favor of annihilationism. If the damned ceased to exist, there would not be eternal consequences. Instead, the consequences of their unredeemed state are finite: they cease to exist, therefore, the consequences cease with their annihilation.
Fifth, the parallel description of heaven and hell with the word “eternal” invalidates the annihilationist position. Outside of Matthew 25:46, heaven is frequently spoken of as unending (e.g. Matt. 19:29, John 10:28, Rev. 21:4). Matthew 25:46 speaks likewise. And, Jesus uses the same word to describe heaven and hell. Consequently, since heaven is unending, and described as such with αἰώνιον, hell must also be unending since αἰώνιον is also used. The miseries of the unredeemed in hell will last as long as the glories of the redeemed in heaven. To assert otherwise violates the plain sense rendering of the verse.
Finally, it sometimes asserted that it is the fires and/or smoke of hell which endures forever, but not punishment upon the unredeemed. However, it would not do to speak of the annihilation of hell’s occupants but the continuation of hell as a place. The purpose of hell is the upholding of justice upon unredeemed image-bearers.
Therefore, the annihilationist position does not hold up in light of the NT use of the word αἰώνιον.
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