The topic of Hell is not one many people, believers included, like to think or dwell on. One teaching regarding Hell that has been advanced multiple times over the history of Christianity is the teaching of Annihilationism. The basic thought of the teaching is rather simple and states that, eventually, the damned in Hell will cease to exist and their punishment will not last for eternity.
These teachings first appeared in Pentecostalism in the early days of the movement. Charles Parham, one of the original founding leaders of Penecostalism, was the first minister in the movement to promote the teaching.
What did Bro. Branham say?
Bro. Branham believed that only people who were saved and partook of the Holy Spirit had received eternal life. For someone to live forever in torment would mean that the person had to have some form of eternal life. He therefore rejected the possibility of a person remaining in Hell for eternity. He did not reject the eternal existence of the place itself, but rather the concept of eternal punishment.
Bro. Branham was uncertain about Parham’s teachings on this subject in his early ministry, but as time passed, he came to believe in this doctrine. He said that the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that it was a true teaching, and afterwards he adopted it and taught it himself. Here is a quote from a sermon he preached on the topic.
We found out that everything that is eternal has no beginning or no end. Therefore, we find out that hell had a beginning, and it has an end. And there’s only… No one can ever say that hell is forever, or forever, yes, forever, but not eternal.
“Forever” is “a space of time.” The Bible says, “Forever and forever.” And you look it up and find out if “forever” doesn’t mean “a space of time.” Jonah said he was in the belly of the whale forever. And many other Scriptures, “forever” only means “a space of time.” But Eternal, that’s forever. That’s forever and forever and forever and forever and forever; it’s the eternal. And we find out that hell isn’t eternal, but it’s forever. And the reason… You have to watch those words now. If you don’t, you get mixed up.
Now, remember, just those things which had no beginning has no end. Therefore, Jesus said, “He that heareth My Words and believeth on Him that sent Me, has Life forever?” Does that sound right? No. “Has Eternal Life.” And the word “eternal” is “God.” The word, here it is right here in the Greek Lexicon, “Zoe,” God’s Life in you. And you’re just as eternal as God is eternal, because you’ve got God in you.
Your old nature died (the nature of the world), and you become a new creation. And your desires (that old life that had a beginning when God breathed the breath into your nostrils when you were born), that life of carnal nature died. And it had a beginning and it had an end, and it died and was done away with forever (the old nature). And God came in with the new nature. Then love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, peace, patience, and meekness, and kindness, that entered and taken the place of malice, and temper, and hatred, and–and emulation, strife, and all those things. It took its place, when you passed from death unto Life. You get it real close now?
So, listen. There is only one form of Eternal Life. Find it. That is God alone has Eternal Life. The Bible said so. God alone has Eternal Life. And if a man’s going to suffer in hell forever, he’s got to have God eternal. But I say that there…
Now, remember, I’m not saying there’s not a burning hell. There is a burning hell, fire and brimstone, where the–the worm is–the fire isn’t quenched and the worm never dies, of fire and brimstone, a punishment; it may last for a hundred billion years, but it has to have an end, for hell was created for the Devil and his angels. And everything that the very God Himself, which was in the beginning, everything come off of God. When the very spirit…
Let’s take the Spirit of love, that was the great fountain of God, pure, unadulterated. From that, come in a perverted love. Then it come into human love. Then it come into sexual love. Then it come into other loves: loves and loves, and just keeps perverting down till it becomes to just filth. But all those things had a beginning. And someday it’ll wind right straight back to the original (It’s eternal.), where lust, human love, passionate love, all those loves will have to cease.
All these make-beliefs of faith will have to cease. There’s One true faith; all others will have to cease. They were perverts off of this real Fountain.
So therefore, hell, suffering… Suffering is not eternal. Suffering was brought about because of sin, and sin introduced suffering. And when sin is finished, suffering will have to finish too. And there’ll be a time where sinners that’s never accepted Christ, after they have been punished maybe for a hundred billion years… I don’t know, maybe for ten hundred million billion years, I couldn’t say. But it’ll have to come to an end sometime, ’cause it’s not eternal.Hebrews Chapter Six (57-0908E)
What does the scripture say?
The bible provides multiple scriptures to establish the fact that eventually the damned in Hell will cease to exist. Let us examine them.
In the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet is inspired of God to bring a prophecy against the most evil being that has ever exists: Satan. Who is more deserving of an eternal punishment than he? The one who is responsible for all evil and corruption is surely most worthy to burn for eternity. Let us see.
By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee. Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee. All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more.Ezekiel 28:16-16
Ezekiel prophesies that in the end, Satan will cease to exist. Other scriptures of the old testament confirm that all the wicked will meet the same fate.
When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever:Psalms 92:7
And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed.Isaiah :1:28
For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the LORD, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.Psalm 37:9-10
But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off.Psalm 37:38
For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.Malachi 4:1
While speaking to his followers, Jesus confirmed that Hell will be a place where those who are punished are ultimately destroyed.
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.Matthew 10:28
Destroy is an important key word in these verses. How is the word “destroy” defined?
destroy: to put out of existenceWebster Dictionary
The English word “destroy” is translated from the Greek word “apolesai” which has a similar meaning.
apolesai: From apo and the base of olethros; meaning to destroy fully, literally or figuratively.Strong’s Concordance – Greek 622
The Apostles of the New Testament likewise taught that those in Hell would cease to exist.
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;Apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9
(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:18-19
There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?Apostle James in James 4:12
The destruction of the wicked is implied in one of the most foundational scriptures of Christianity. Salvation is provided to prevent us from perishing, and without salvation, we lack eternal life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.John 3:16
In reviewing these scriptures, we find there is robust scriptural support for the teaching of annihilationism. The bible confirms that the damned will eventually cease to exist.
Critics of the doctrine of annihilationism have only a few verses to base their belief on. We want to examine them next.
And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.Matthew 18:8:
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.Matthew 25:41
Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.Jude 1:7
As we read these verses, it makes clear that flames of Hell are eternal, but it does not state the people burning in the flames are eternal. In other words, Hell itself is has an eternal fire burning in it. But there is no one living in Hell for eternity.
This brings us to the final verse, this is the only verse in the entire bible which seems to support the concept of an eternal and everlasting punishment for the wicked.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternalMatthew 25:46
The review of this last verse must be done carefully. First, it must be weighed in comparison to all other scriptures and not taken out of context. The bible tells us repeatedly that all the wicked, including Satan himself, will eventually cease to exist. There are scriptures which do say that the flames of Hell which are there to punish the wicked are eternal. But since there is no other scripture in the bible which supports the idea of eternal life in Hell, we must acknowledge that there is also a way to interpret this verse in such a way as to not support doctrine of eternal life in Hell either.
When reading Matthew 25:26 in light of Paul’s statement in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9, we can interpret that the wicked’s eternal destruction, is their eternal punishment. Paul said the wicked would be “punished with everlasting destruction“. Their destruction is everlasting, and so in that sense their punishment is everlasting and irreversible. Although it is everlasting and permanent, the wicked are not still in Hell being tortured. They have been destroyed; they ceased to exist.
Critics who claim the wicked have eternal life in Hell are actually introducing a concept that would make the Word of God contradict itself. Thus we find that annihilationism is found within the bible, while the false teaching of eternal punishment in Hell is without a scriptural defense.