Conditional Immortality Under Fire: Identifying the Semantic Fallacies of Annihilationism

The relationship between theology and biblical languages has been a delicate one, especially since the publication of James Barr’s Semantics of Biblical Languages. In Semantics, he identified some common yet faulty methods by which theology in his day was done, namely through appealing to the biblical languages. In recent years, a theological movement, known by terms such as conditional immorality or annihilationism, has slowly but steadily grown. In opposition to the traditional view of hell as eternal punishment, conditional immortality argues that hell is a place where unbelieving and unrepentant people suffer for a time and then are extinguished. Proponents of conditional immorality strongly argue for its biblical and exegetical basis. Interacting primarily with Edward Fudge’s classic work on annihilationism, The Fire that Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment (3rd ed.; Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011), I identify three main arguments for conditional immortality, which are purportedly based on biblical exegesis: (1) the semantics of eternal punishment, (2) the semantics of immortality, and (3) the semantics of destruction and fire. This paper will show that these three arguments commit semantic fallacies that James Barr identified over sixty years ago, resulting in an inadequate exegetical basis for this view. This paper argues that while the notion of conditional immortality may be attractive, there is little exegetical basis for it. Barr continues to be cited, and yet, he continues to be ignored by exegetes and theologians alike.

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