Will Wicked People Be Annihilated in Hell?

By Wayne Jackson

Why do you believe that those who die lost will be consciously punished eternally, when the Bible says they will be “destroyed” (Matthew 10:28)?

The question clearly indicates that the author is a conditionalist. A conditionalist is one who believes that at some point following death, those who die estranged from God will be annihilated, i.e., cease to exist. This is the dogma of the Seventh-day Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a few other misguided religionists.

In one of his discourses Jesus declared: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 NASB).

The Greek word for “destroy” is apolesai, which derives from the verb form apollumi. The verb occurs about ninety times, and a noun form is found some eighteen times. I do not know of a single reputable English translation that renders the term in any instance, “to go out of existence.” It is translated by such common English words as “perish,” “destroy,” “lose,” or “lost.”

The term is employed of physical items that lose their usefulness. A wineskin that cracks open and is no longer usable is said to “perish” (Luke 5:37). A sheep that wanders away from the safety of the fold is described as “lost” (Luke 15:4, 6), i.e., separated from the shepherd. The wayward prodigal son was “lost” to his father (Luke 15:24), though certainly not annihilated. Food that spoils is said to have “perished” (John 6:27).

When the disciples were fearful of drowning in a storm on the sea of Galilee, they awoke the sleeping Lord, and exclaimed, “[W]e are perishing,” employing a present tense form of apollumi (Matthew 8:25). Surely they were not saying, “Lord, we are in the process of going out of existence.”

Regarding apollumi, W. E. Vine comments: “The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (1991, 211).

Renowned scholar J. H. Thayer defined apollumi, with reference to Matthew 10:28, in the following fashion: “metaphorically, to devote or give over to eternal misery” (1958, 64).

Professor Oepke argues that apollumi does not suggest a mere “extinction of physical existence”; rather it involves the hopeless desperation of eternal separation from God (1964, 396).

Of apollumi in Matthew 10:28, A. T. Robertson writes: “‘Destroy’ here is not annihilation, but eternal punishment” (1930, 83).

It is hardly necessary to pile up additional testimony from respected New Testament scholars.

Finally, the Scriptures themselves clearly give the true sense of apollumi. In Revelation 17:8, 11, John describes the wicked beast who so opposed God as going into “perdition” (apoleian). However, in 20:10 the same writer, alluding to the same beast, describes his destiny as one of being “tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Clearly, that is not utter extinction.

The conditionalist dogma of eventual annihilation for the wicked is false, and those who advocate this view are doing a great disservice to the cause of truth.

Sources/Footnotes
  • Oepke, A. 1964. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 1. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  • Robertson, A. T. 1930. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Vol. 1. Nashville, TN: Broadman.
  • Thayer, J. H. 1958. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh, Scotland: T. & T. Clark.
  • Vine, W. E. 1991. Amplified Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers.
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.