Is Hell Forever? -- By: Millard J. Erickson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 152:607 (Jul 1995)
Article: Is Hell Forever?
Author: Millard J. Erickson


Is Hell Forever?

Millard J. Erickson

[Millard J. Erickson is Research Professor of Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas.]

[This is the third and final article in the series, “The Destiny of the Unevangelized,” delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, February 8–11, 1994.]

The view known as annihilationism holds that at some point human beings cease to exist. Annihilationism takes one of three forms.1

1. Pure mortalism is the idea that human life is inseparably bound up with the human organism. Thus with the death and dissolution of that organism, the person also passes out of existence. This understanding that annihilation applies to all persons is not commonly found within Christian theologies.

2. Conditional immortality, a view considerably more common within Christian circles, agrees with the preceding view in that humans are naturally mortal, but this second view disagrees with the first view by saying that humans can, under certain circumstances, become immortal, or as Paul put it, “put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:53–54). The essential point, however, is that human beings are not naturally immortal but must have immortality conferred by God.

3. Annihilationism proper says humans are naturally immortal, not mortal. Thus the soul, or more correctly, the person, does not pass out of existence simply because of death; he or she ceases to exist because of God’s action. This action occurs either at death, at the general judgment, or at the end of a period of punishment based on each individual’s guilt.

Warfield pointed out that these three views do not always appear in pure or unmixed form. Because their advocates are not

always careful to keep strictly within the logical limits of one of the three theories, mixed versions of the views are often held.

The overall concept of annihilation has recently received renewed interest, exposition, and defense from somewhat surprising sources. In the past decade a number of rather prominent evangelical theologians and leaders have affirmed they are annihilationists. Among these are Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Clark Pinnock, John R. W. Stott, Stephen Travis, and John Wenham. At the Consultation on Evangelical Affirmations, held at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in May 1989, debate broke out on this topic and it proved impossible to formulate an article that would articulate the overall views of those present.

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