I’ve been exploring the debate between annihilationism and eternal conscious torment (ECT) in a series of blog posts.
One of the disagreements between the two views is over the meaning of death.
Many proponents of annihilationism understand death to mean the cessation of existence, especially conscious existence. They say that when someone dies, the whole person dies. They stop existing. Hence, they say that eternal conscious torment is impossible, because after death, there is nothing left to torment. That person has ceased to exist. When the Bible speaks about death and the second death, death should be understood as ceasing to exist.
By contrast, ECT holds that death is the separation of the soul from the body (or soul & spirit). After death, your body decomposes, but you continue to exist as a spirit in either heaven or hell.
Which definition of death is supported by the Biblical evidence?
First, consider the book of Ecclesiastes:
Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it (Eccl 12:7).
Your body turns to dust, but your spirit returns to God. The assumption here is that death occurs when the two are separated.
Second, this is confirmed by James, in an off-hand comment:
For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead (James 2:26).
What is the definition of death, according to James? It is when a body lacks a spirit. Without it, the body has no life and is dead.
Third, we see that process of separation of the soul from the body in the death of Rachel. Here is how the author of Genesis describes her death:
When she was in severe labor the midwife said to her, “Do not fear, for now you have another son.” It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem) (Gen 35:17-19).
How does the author describe the process of Rachel’s death? As her soul departing from her body.
Fourth, consider the Lord’s death. When, exactly, did Jesus die? Here are His final words:
And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last (Luke 23:46).
When did Jesus die? After He committed His spirit to the Father. At that moment, His spirit left His body and the Lord died.
It seems clear to me that Biblical death is the separation of the soul from the body. But let’s look at the evidence from the other side.
Fifth, consider the time when Jesus resurrected a religious leader’s daughter. Here is how the Biblical author describes her coming back to life:
And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately; and He gave orders for something to be given her to eat (Luke 8:55).
When did the girl come back to life? When her spirit returned to her body. The implication is that she died when the two were separated.
I believe this evidence supports ECT over annihilationism.
The dead are dead, not because they have ceased to exist, but because their souls were separated from their bodies.
But where did their souls go? And are they still conscious?
Follow this blog for answers to those questions.