Clark Pinnock has set forth his case bluntly. For this I am grateful. His honesty may have its risks, but it would be a sad day for all of us if interpretations of Scripture such as his could not be debated publicly.

Pinnock’s case for annihilation rests on two assumptions. First, he believes that words such as death, perish, and destruction should be taken literally to mean the permanent loss of spiritual existence. His references to judgment need to be interpreted in this light (e.g., Matt. 3:10, 12; 5:22; 10:18; 25:46).

Second, Pinnock argues that annihilationism has morality on its side. It refuses to accept that God is “vindictive,” forever punishing unbelievers in his “torture chamber.” For an evangelical, however, this second argument has validity only to the extent that the first is a correct reading of Scripture. Paul, after all, can speak of unbelievers as objects of divine wrath, “prepared for destruction” (Rom. 9:22) and, without blinking, he dismisses the moral outrage that follows by asking, “who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” (Rom. 9:19). Pinnock’s expressions of moral horror, therefore, need to be heard, but then set on one side so that we can concentrate more clearly on the biblical data.

The weakness of Pinnock’s case is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in his handling of Matthew 25:46. In this text, the existence of believers and that of unbelievers are set in parallel. Both forms of existence are said to be “eternal,” the same word (aiōnion) being used in both instances. Pinnock arbitrarily claims that in the case of believers, the text is talking of eternal effects, but in the case of unbelievers, only of eternal actions. ...

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