Q I was reading your article about “Hell, Sheol, Hades, Paradise, and the Grave” by W. Edward Bedore, Th.D. At the end of the article he mentioned the immortality of the soul. I want you to clarify two verses for me, which to me seem to imply that the soul can die or God can destroy it in hell.
Ezekiel 18:4- “Behold, all souls are Mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
Matthew 10:28- “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
by Pastor Matt Ritchey, Managing Editor
Estimated Time to Read: 8 Minutes
ANSWER: I want to begin by thanking you for stating your appreciation toward Dr. Bedore for his article that has clarified this subject for many people. Regarding your question, it would seem that it is asking if Ezekiel 18:4 and Matthew 10:28 open the door for Annihilationism, which is a soul paying for a person’s sins until it ceases to exist. In this teaching, the person stops existing or living in any way.
Dr. Bedore, in his book The State and Place of the Dead, after quoting Matthew 10:28, wrote:
“The words soul and spirit are sometimes used in Scripture in what seems to be an interchangeable manner in reference to the inner man. This is because the soul and the spirit are both immaterial in nature and the two are intricately tied together. But, there is a difference between them. In Scripture, they are clearly shown to be two different parts of that which makes up the whole man… We believe that man is body, soul, and spirit and that the soul of man survives the death of the body as a spiritual entity in a conscience state of being. The saved go to be with the Lord while awaiting their resurrection unto glory, and the unsaved go to Sheol/Hades to wait for their resurrection unto condemnation.” [Bedore, The State and Place of the Dead pages 101-102, 104-105.]
Problems with Annihilationism
There are many glaring Scriptural problems with the teaching that a person will one day cease to exist. For example, Isaiah 66:22-24 describes the yet future time when the heavens and earth are renewed. It describes those who rejected the Lord in this way: “for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched” (v. 24). While not giving as many details as we will find in the New Testament, this is obviously a death involving eternal torment. Daniel 12:1-2 speaks of a time after the Tribulation when resurrection and judgment is meted out. Some will go to “everlasting life” and others to “shame and everlasting contempt.” Everlasting contempt is an abhorrence that will last forever.
Turning to the New Testament, Matthew 18:8-9, warning against the tendency of the flesh toward sin and the punishment it brings, speaks of “everlasting fire” (v.8) and “hell fire” (v.9). Putting these two together, we can say that hell fire is everlasting fire. Mark 9:42-48 is in the same context; the consequence of the sinners is “to be cast into hell fire: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” An undying worm and an unquenchable fire denotes forever torment.
Another relevant passage in Matthew is what has been commonly called the “Sheep and Goat Judgment.” The reward for the faithful is “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (v.34). Just as this is not a temporary reward, neither is the punishment for the unfaithful temporary. The unfaithful are told, “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (v.41). Those who reject the way of God will eternally dwell in the same place originally created for Satan and his fallen angels. Matthew 25:26 sums it up: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
Our Apostle Paul refers to those “who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (II Thess. 1:9). The Kingdom believer Jude mentions “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (v.7) and “to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever” (v.13).
Finally, Revelation gives the warning, “And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name” (14:11) before showing the warning proves true in Revelation chapter 20 stating the “lake of fire and brimstone” is where those within “shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). In Revelation 20:15 we are told, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire,” meaning those who are unsaved will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire.
All of these passages mentioned clearly speak of an unending existence of torment for those who reject God’s message, whether that they had an opportunity under Prophecy or Mystery. The teaching that the souls of those who go to Hell will one day wink out of existence is utterly unscriptural.
Ezekiel 18:4 and Matthew 10:28
The two passages mentioned in the question are not contrasting these clear Scriptures when we properly understand the words and keep the verses in their context.
Because we experience death as the end of the physical life, we tend to think of death as a stoppage. The Bible does not limit the word “death” in this way. It would be better to think of death as a separation. In the physical death that we experience, our soul and spirit separate from our flesh. But there is a greater death. In the case of Adam and Eve, they died at the moment Adam ate of the forbidden fruit when they were spiritually separated from God. When Revelation 20:14 uses the term “second death,” it is not saying someone died twice physically; it is stating that this “second death” is the final, eternal separation from God for those who rejected Him.
So, as we focus on Ezekiel 18:4, we understand the word “death” in the verse is not speaking of a ceasing to exist. The Lord is correcting a misunderstanding being taught in Israel that “the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” meaning the people had concluded that the children were being held directly accountable for the sins their fathers committed. Now, it is definitely true that the children may be affected by the consequences of their father’s sin, which was the case with Israel, but the Lord wanted to clarify that every individual is accountable for his or her own transgressions. This is why Ezekiel 18:4 exists; to state that the soul that will be eternally separated from Him (Ezek. 18:9). Ezekiel 18:4 is not speaking of anyone ceasing to exist. It is giving two options of where they will exist: separated from God for eternity (death) or living forever with Him in the Kingdom.
The words “kill” and “destroy” used in Matthew 10:28 may concern us initially. These words are actually somewhat related: “kill” can mean destroy while “destroy” goes even further to mean destroy fully; perish. Yet, destroy does not mean cease to exist. Our upright freezer recently went kaput, but it did not cease to exist. To illustrate the verse, it is currently “killed.” On the day I remove it from my garage and leave it at the dump, it will be “destroyed fully,” but it will still not cease to exist. While all illustrations break down when you pick them apart, Jesus is using the killing of the body to illustrate what is really important. They were not to fear the death of the body because the Lord would take care of those Kingdom saints who were faithful by confessing them before His Father in Heaven (Matt. 10:32). They needed to be concerned about eternal life rather than living longer in their physical shell because the consequences of denying Him (Matt. 10:33) was the death of the soul, which would be fully destroyed when it was removed to Hell, existing in eternal separation from Him. To read the annihilation of the soul in this verse is to miss the context and the heart of what Jesus was teaching: Persevere through the threat of physical death deriving from service to Him, resulting in eternal reward, or turn back from Him and be separated from Him in the second death.
Faith in Christ Alone
It should not surprise us when we are troubled by the thought of someone spending eternity in a place of torment. God does not desire this result for people (I Tim. 2:4) and was “not willing that any should perish” (II Pet. 3:9. Additional note, “perish” is the same word as “destroyed” in Matt. 10:28). God was concerned enough and loved us so much that He did everything, short of forcing us to believe, to fully provide the way to be connected to Him for all eternity (Rom. 5:8). He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sin, satisfying God’s wrath and allowing Him to be just in declaring us righteous (Rom. 3:24- 26). It is only by faith alone in the work of Jesus Christ – His death, burial, and resurrection – that we pass from eternal death/separation/torment to eternal life/connection/bliss. The one who spends eternity in everlasting punishment will only have himself to blame. Please, if you have never trusted in Christ alone for salvation, do so today.
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