Negative Argument continued
Part 1 here, Part 2 here, this post is Part 3
In my prior post, I offered definitions of 4 key terms, reviewed relevant parallel passages, and demonstrated 2 contradictions in a competing interpretation.
In this post, I will offer responses to Rajesh’s rebuttal (see here)
I have suggested that in the Jewish mind, Gehenna was a symbol of death & punishment, and I have argued that separation from God is a culturally plausible meaning of death & destruction. My disputant argues that Gehenna could not be used as a symbol for separation from God, because Gehenna is a place of utter desolation, with no conscious survivors, and nothing but oblivious, lifeless corpses.
This is a disagreement on definitions, not symbols. The plausibility of our interpretations of Gehenna then, depends on our definitions of life & death (discussed in the next section). My interpretation of Gehenna as a symbol is not ruled out unless my definition of death is ruled out.
Rajesh also argues that I commit an error of false equivalency in my reference to the use of the grave in other passages. I have not suggested equivalency between Gehenna and the grave, rather, I have responded to the original post made by Rajesh which indicated:
What Gehenna DOES fit with is notions of complete desolation and utter destruction, where there are no conscious survivors(nothing but unconscious, lifeless bodies rotting out in the open until there is nothing left)
(This after showing the association with dead, lifeless corpses through multiple passages)
If Gehenna’s association with lifeless corpses means it can only refer in metaphor to things that are thoroughly lifeless and oblivious, then if I show an association between the grave & lifeless corpses, the same reasoning indicates that the grave can only be used in metaphor to refer to things that are thoroughly lifeless and oblivious.
I demonstrated that this is not true with respect to the way the grave is used in metaphor, meaning the original Gehenna reasoning is not sound. The comparison between Gehenna & the grave is their association with lifeless corpses, not a claim of equivalence.
In my prior post I applied a reductive argument to the claim Gehenna eliminates the wicked; a related comment was made in my disputant’s rebuttal: the people who go into Gehenna WILL stay in their state forever.
Rajesh’s response to the reductive argument is reasonable if his definition of death is assumed:
Ge-hinnom is symbolic of the final judgment of the wicked because in the final judgment of the wicked there will be the complete destruction of the life of the wicked(just as how there was complete destruction of life in Ge-hinnom); and because the judgment is final(permanent, everlasting), said destruction of life will last ad infinitum(and hence be the annihilation of life[the permanent/everlasting cessation of life]) (emphasis mine)
But this assumes the very definition of death the argument seeks to prove. I do not believe, however, that he has satisfactorily demonstrated that death & consciousness are mutually exclusive. I will argue below that death does not imply unconsciousness or annihilation.
Furthermore, this fails to acknowledge a significant piece of historical context: this is not how Gehenna was understood by Jesus and the majority of His audience, who believed in the resurrection. Gehenna did not eliminate people from existence, and those who died there would not stay in that state forever.
Additional comments to respond to:
that is the most preposterously absurd notion I've ever heard.
This is not an argument, but may be an example of what debaters refer to as “table pounding”, from the adage “when the facts are on your side, pound the facts; when the facts are not on your side, pound the table”.
There's no competition here.
See competing definitions of life & death below.
Life & Death
I have argued that Biblically, death describes a separation, that this is the historically & culturally appropriate understanding of the term.
My thoughts on death as separation:
- For a Biblical basis on CSE, see here
- For a Hermeneutic review on BHSE, see here
- For a Patristic basis, see here
- For a Macro-theological argument, see here & here
I’ll cite just 3 examples–see links above for more:
The Bible describes mortal life as a coming together of spirit & body (Genesis 2:7), and it describes mortal death as a separation of spirit & body (Eccl. 12:7). The Bible describes eternal life in terms of a relationship with God (John chapter 17, see esp. vss. 3, 19-26), and it describes eternal destruction in terms of separation from God (2 Thess. 1:9).
The parable of the prodigal son demonstrates this worldview very effectively (see Luke 15:24,32). The son never physically dies in the story--but his father describes him as having been dead. His father isn't killing the fatted calf for a dia de los muertos celebration & dressing the boy up for a viewing at the morgue--he knows his son is alive. His son was separated (from his family, from his faith) and he has now rejoined. The son's anguish during the story clearly demonstrates that he's conscious.
From Irenaeus of Lyons (grandson in the faith of the Apostle John):
He that believeth in Me is not condemned," that is, is not
separated from God, for he is united to God through faith. On the
other hand, He says, "He that believeth not is condemned already,
because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of
God; "that is, he separated himself from God of his own accord
(Against Heresies 5.27.2)
In these passages and others, there is no implication that death means unconsciousness or annihilation–such an implication is not only absent but actively rejected in multiple Biblical examples (see links above) and in numerous early Patristic writings.
Rajesh argues that I have conflated definitions:
In the first paragraph, you define literal killing as depriving the body of life; so, to literally die would mean to have your body deprived of life. And yet, in your second paragraph, you define literal death as a separation of body and spirit.
On the contrary, in the first paragraph I quoted Rajesh’s definition from his original post; in the second paragraph I offered my own.
There has been an extended exchange on the use of literal vs. figurative definitions of death–I am not suggesting that Matthew’s use of “to kill” or “to destroy” in Matt. 10:28 is figurative, or that “death as separation” is figurative. I am suggesting that in culturo-historical context, this is what death meant.
Modern Merriam-Webster definitions were cited. However, in interpreting a first-century text, Merriam-Webster definitions from the 21st (or 20th) centuries are not the focus: what counts is how the people of the time and place understood the words.
Rajesh defines two types of life as follows:
To kill a living thing would be to deprive them of the quality that distinguishes them from something dead/lifeless(something inert, inactive, and inanimate). We'll refer to this as life_1. But it also refers to a living person's period of existence(on earth). For example, "I've experienced many things in my life[period of existence on earth]." We'll refer to this as life_2
He further argues:
The reason a living person has existence is because they hold the quality that makes them functional and animate beings(life_1) (emphasis mine)
The latter quote is the critical link used to argue later that existence cannot be retained upon death. I do not grant this description of existence–it assumes an annihilationist concept of existence; since annihilationism is what my disputant seeks to prove (or at least prove beyond reasonable doubt), it cannot be assumed.
One could argue that the “living soul” generated when spirit & body come together (see Genesis 2:7) is no longer a functioning entity upon death (but the reason it isn’t is that there has been a separation! See Eccl. 12:7), and that the body decays, but this in no way requires that the spirit lacks existence (or consciousness).
My disputant’s argument…
I believe that consciousness is a product of the harmony between the physical body and the breath of life, that is, that consciousness is dependent on the unity between body and spirit; a dissolution of the unity[via death] correlates to a dissolution of consciousness
…is stated but not defended. This is not the only plausible definition of consciousness, and competing definitions are offered in the passages (and linked posts) I have cited. As my argument on Matt. 10:28 is defensive––it serves to show that annihilationism is not a necessary conclusion from this passage–I need only show that there is more than one viable definition to render my disputant’s claims unproven.
The literal(primary, basic) definition of "destroy" is put an end to the existence of (something) by damaging or attacking it.
On what basis? Many counterexamples could be offered (one particularly frustrating case is a car that is totaled even though only the front end sustains any damage–most of the car remains intact–and certainly still exists–but the car has been destroyed and will never again do what is was meant for. Lest I be accused of anachronism, a parallel argument could be made for a wagon or chariot)
Separating the wicked from God where they remain conscious and alive for eternity is NOT literal destruction of the wicked, because they have not ceased to exist.
Rajesh thereby argues that my interpretation is figurative. I suggest that this proposed definition of “destroy/apollumi” is much too narrow. The NAS Exhaustive Concordance translates forms of apollumi 17 different ways into English, none of which say anything about a cessation of existence (to argue for cessation of existence because apollumi can refer to death would simply collapse this discussion into the discussion of life & death above).
I propose that an understanding of apollumi which is able to more fully encompass the breadth of usage of the term is that “to destroy” is to prevent something from doing what is designed/intended to do. This understanding maintains consistency with all 17 of the NAS English renderings of the word, and encompasses animate or inanimate direct objects:
- A wine container is destroyed by preventing it from holding liquid
- Wisdom is destroyed by being outsmarted
- A son is destroyed by throwing away his future in riotous living
- A person is destroyed by being barred from what he/she was made by God to do (further discussion later in this post)
Indeed, this latter definition is just how apollumi is used in James 4:12: to destroy is presented as the opposite of to save (and the context is sin, not physical death).
I suggest that apollumi is not a word (like, for example, psuche–see here) which contains multiple mutually-exclusive meanings. Unless we assume annihilationism in advance (which would be to argue in a circle), none of Thayer’s 5 definitions of the term are mutually exclusive (see Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).
The prodigal son is a particularly applicable example because in the parable the son is both “dead” and “destroyed”, yet not non-existent. I’ve offered an understanding of the word that fits all Biblical usages of the term, including the prodigal son.
The argument for applying apollumi to non-existence based on usage by classical authors was not sustained.
ἀπόλλυμι indisputably refers to the literal cessation of life countless times; it never indisputably refers to the spiritual cessation of life.
See a direct spiritual application in Romans 14:15:
But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
Paul is not telling the Romans not to kill each other with their dinner, nor to avoid eliminating anyone’s existence. Paul is telling them not to be a spiritual stumbling block to their brothers & sisters.
Hence, there is no basis to say that Jesus is talking about the person(which is NOT an inanimate, lifeless object) being rendered useless(unable to fulfil their purpose) in Gehenna.
This is ironic, because my disputant has argued that Gehenna was a place where inanimate, lifeless bodies were destroyed in the Old Testament. If a corpse is destroyed in Gehenna (a point that is central to Rajesh’s argument), then destruction is being applied to humans & inanimate objects simultaneously. My point with the lost coin example in the prior post is that Jesus was quite capable of using what happens to objects to describe what can happen to people.
It appears, then, that there is overlap between how apollumi can be used to refer to animate objects & inanimate objects–I’ve offered an understanding of the word above that does just that.
There appears to be a developing consensus (or near-consensus) in our discussion that the “spirit” or the “breath of life” is a plausible understanding of “psuche” in this passage. This is consistent with the arguments I have presented.
Silent or Synoptic?
Rajesh suggests that my comparison between Matt. 10:28 and its Lukan parallel commits an argument from silence; it need not do so, but the relevance of the Synoptic Problem to this comparison deserves more attention.
Under 3 of the synoptic theories I cited, Luke copied this passage from Matthew. On the Two-Source theory, Luke & Matthew both copied it from Q. Even on the most popular theory of Lukan Priority (see the Lindsey hypothesis), Luke & Matthew still relied upon a common source.
Comparisons across the Synoptic Gospels show that when the evangelists are narrating the story, they are more willing to tell the story in their own words, versus when they are quoting the words of Jesus, they tend to agree much more closely in wording (neither of those statements are absolute, agreement in wording will vary from pericope to pericope, but the pattern is striking; see my work here). This indicates a mentality among the synoptic authors that the words of Jesus were significant and had to be treated with care: the authors are trying to preserve Jesus’ message.
I have argued that Luke repeatedly exhibits a careful “Septuagint-style” translation from a Semitic language into his written Greek. He is not just trying to preserve the general idea; he, like the Septuagint translators before him, seeks to preserve the original structure of the message. This can be demonstrated by observing the Hebrew structure that has been meticulously ported over into the written Greek of the Gospel of Luke. That it sometimes makes for odd reading in Greek, and demonstrates Luke’s reliance upon a written Hebrew source, is argued extensively by Tresmontant in The Hebrew Christ.
Given that Luke either copied this story from Matthew, or that they both copied the story from the same source, and given Luke’s demonstrated efforts to preserve what Jesus said and what it meant, Luke’s relation of this pericope without undertones of annihilation indicates that he did not understand annihilation to be the message of this teaching.
It would be a bold claim indeed to suggest we understand this passage in Matthew better than Luke did.
Rajesh grants that the passages cited from Luke 17 do not teach annihilationism, but suggests my interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:17-18 validates his position.
That without the resurrection the dead would be dead forever is fully consistent with both of our views. That apollumi (“destroyed”) is in this passage referring to a death that lasts forever is also entirely consistent with both of our views.
Whether the second death refers to annihilation, unending torment, unending separation, or unending ruin (or variations on any of those), what is described is permanent. This verse then can be used in an argument for any of those views, but does not favor one over the others.
Rajesh offers an intriguing discussion of “the body”, a portion of which is, I believe, the strongest part of his argument:
Jesus uses one word(ἀπόλλυμι) to refer to what God does to BOTH ψυχή and body(σῶμα). What God does to the ψυχή in Gehenna, He also does to the body. If ἀπόλλυμι means "render unable to fulfil the purpose", then God renders BOTH the ψυχή and body unable to fulfil their purpose. And according to dualists, the purpose of the body is to hold the soul/spirit/self(or in your case, "eternal self"), thus the purpose of an immortal body(which ECT/ECS proponents believe the wicked are resurrected with) would be to hold the soul/spirit/self for eternity. If in Gehenna said body is rendered useless(unable to fulfil its purpose), then it CANNOT hold the spirit/soul forever, meaning the wicked cannot live forever(meaning they eventually die)
Although I confess I found some portions of my disputant’s post discourteous, I nonetheless upvoted it for the above-quoted statement. Rajesh has not only brilliantly flanked my Contradiction A argument, but has proposed a contradiction in the opposite direction.
This contradiction may possibly be inescapable for ECT/ECS proponents who believe the purpose of the body is to hold the soul/spirit/self–I don’t know, because that is not my view. The shortcoming, then, that this argument has against my view specifically, is that I believe the body has a much greater purpose. Let us consider an analogy:
Cars have a purpose (if not, they’re egregiously over-priced). A car is something that holds people–when they use a car, people usually sit in them. This may well-describe part of the function of a car, but it falls far short of describing the overall purpose of a car. A rocking chair can hold a person…should we replace our cars with rocking chairs? No, because a car is a conveyance to get us from one point to another–holding a person is a means of fulfilling its purpose, but not the purpose in and of itself.
I believe the purpose for which God endowed us with physical bodies is for our progression–getting us from one point in our development to another: it’s all about what are we becoming. Potent descriptors of our journey to become are found in Matt. 5:48, Romans 8:16-17, and 1 John 3:2, to name a few. A more detailed discussion of these passages would merit a post all its own. The spirit & body given by God–and joined together by Him (see Genesis 2:7)--are neither of them ends in themselves–their purpose is to enable us to do what the above-cited passages describe.
A few other statements I’d like to respond to:
bodies are alive(though not exactly as people are)
Here Rajesh (accurately) acknowledges that it is possible for something to be alive without being conscious, but also demonstrates the presupposition that has found its way into his earlier arguments, that alive = conscious. I maintain that alive & conscious are separate characteristics.
what do humans do to the body? They deprive it of life…They do not eternally separate the body from God
This counterargument misrepresents my view. Humans can separate the body from the thing that gives it life–the spirit.
But those who believe in ECT/ECS do not believe that the ψυχή becomes nonfunctional; merely that it cannot fulfil its primary purpose. The ψυχή of a person(operating under the notion of the soul[immortal inner-being]) still retains consciousness/awareness …hence not entirely inoperative(a dead body, however, is fully inoperative; incapable of doing anything at all whatsoever)
This makes a comparison between what man can do and what God can do–that’s the opposite of Matt. 10:28, which contrasts what man can do and what God can do.
My disputant also makes the following 4 statements, which–collectively–I believe are incompatible with an annihilationist interpretation of Matthew 10:28:
men have the capacity to shut down our bodies, that is, to cause our bodies to be fully powerless and insentient, unable to perform anything at all
what do humans do to the body? They deprive it of life; make it powerless and lifeless, unable to do anything
they cannot make the ψυχή inert and lifeless
men do not have the ability to make the life-breath permanently powerless/nonfunctional
This falls into the same dilemma I outlined in Contradiction B in my prior argument. Rajesh has suggested that men can temporarily shut down the body (making it inert), but cannot permanently shut down the psuche (making it inert). But this is not the contrast the verse is making: if the psuche is inert/inoperative/unable to do anything between death & the resurrection, men can temporarily render inert both psuche & body!
This fails the test of contradiction B from my prior post.
All this to say that God can cause the two components(body and spirit) necessary to create a living being to become eternally nonfunctional(essentially, destroyed), making resurrection(which demands a functional body AND spirit) an impossibility in perpetuity, thereby rendering the person dead(and unconscious) for eternity
This statement also draws an unproven correlation between death & unconsciousness, which I suggest is neither supported by the New Testament text nor was it understood that way by its early readers.
It is not entirely clear to me what position Rajesh is taking on the resurrection–I gather he is suggesting that the wicked will be resurrected, but not into immortal bodies. This is contradicted by 1 Cor. 15:52-54. If, on the other hand, he is suggesting that resurrection is only granted to the righteous, this is contradicted by 1 Cor. 15:22. I’ll offer what I believe these passages from 1 Cor. 15 (combined) indicate:
Only God gives bodies immortality–even to Xerxes–from Goliath to Gideon–whether powerful, wicked, righteous, simple, or anywhere in between, all are powerless on their own to be raised from death, but God will grant a resurrected, immortal body to all of them. If God did not do this, then men really could bring about a permanent end of the physical body. The reason that men cannot do this, is that God in His power intervenes and resurrects. If God then proceeded to destroy the physical body through annihilation, what was the point of saying men cannot destroy the physical body? They did destroy it, and it would have been permanent without Divine intervention. I do not believe God resurrects the dead simply for the purpose of showing off His ability to destroy things better than wicked men do.
We could probably go on for many more rounds, each cogently defending his viewpoint and comparing ad infinitum different analogies & word-meanings. In an effort to avoid an eternal debate, which could be perceived by readers and/or writers as conscious torment, I suggest the following concluding thoughts:
- Neither Rajesh nor I have annihilated the other’s interpretation of the verse–both of us have shown how Matt. 10:28 can be read consistently with our respective viewpoints–thus, the verse constitutes proof for neither
- There is a clear & conscious separation between our viewpoints–upon which much of the argument hangs–we hold different understandings of the meaning of “death”
I’ll end with my concluding thoughts from my earlier post: Matthew 10:28 is thereby neutralized as a prooftext for either view.
Humorous addendum not directly tied to my argument above
Given the ambiguity clearly evident in this passage, wouldn't it be nice if God had more to say on the subject, that could clear things up?