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There have been a flurry of questions lately regarding the interpretation of Matthew 10:28 from various theological positions, primarily from those who do and who do not believe in eternal conscious torment. See here, here, here, and here to start and just follow the bunny trails of answers, comments, and chats if you dare.

Matthew 10:28 says:

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.

We are told not to fear man because he can only kill the body. The "him" which we are to fear is God because He can destroy both body and soul. If I have understood them properly, annihilationists understand this to be referring to the ability of God to render both the body and the soul of a person (including all of whatever that means) non-existent. In other words there is no eternal destruction process but every aspect of what made that person a person is utterly obliterated at some point in time. Additionally, this non-existence is total, final, and permanent with perhaps even the erasure of that individual from even the "memory" of God. It is allowed that such a one might experience varying levels of pain and conscious torment at the moment of destruction (however long that moment may last) but it is transitory in nature and comes to a definitive irreversible end.

I remember reading in C.S. Lewis (and I frustratingly cannot find the reference, so please help if you can with an edit) that "it makes no sense to talk about the benefit or detriment of non-existence." Presumably this is because every alleged benefit or detriment which might be attributed to existence is unavailable to them...because they don't exist.

For the annihilationist reading Matthew 10:28, what fear is there to hold regarding the possibility of non-existence? Put another way, what is to be feared about the removal of all benefit and detriment related to existence? Or is it the destruction process itself that is to be feared rather than the end result of that process wherein fear also ceases as a benefit or detriment?

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  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator Done. Thanks! Feb 24 at 12:31
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    "there is no eternal destruction process" This phrase is an oxymoron. "Destruction"(the act/process of destroying) has telicity(it necessarily tends to a definite end). An eternal destruction process is not a destruction process, because if it lasts forever, the thing being destroyed is never destroyed(if it was, then the process would end, and something eternal, by definition, never ends). If you want to build a house, and the construction process lasts for eternity, the house is never built, is it? There's no such thing as an eternal destruction(or construction) process; it doesn't exist.
    – Rajesh
    Feb 24 at 22:40
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    @Rajesh I'm not sure why you pushed back since this is what I wrote: "there is no eternal destruction process but every aspect of what made that person a person is utterly obliterated at some point in time. Additionally, this non-existence is total, final, and permanent." Is this not what annihilationalists believe? Feb 25 at 15:17
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    @MikeBorden "Is this not what annihilationalists believe" Yes, and the reason we don't believe in an "eternal destruction process" is because there's no such thing as it(it doesn't exist). And I actually brought it up because that(an "eternal destruction process") is what ECT proponents such as yourself believe in. But don't worry, you got our beliefs completely right! :) I was just critiquing one of your beliefs, i.e. your belief that there is an "eternal destruction process". I'm sorry for the confusion. Have a great day. :D
    – Rajesh
    Feb 25 at 18:58

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The way you phrase the question seems to indicate that you think non-existence is nothing to be feared or is somehow not a punishment, but this is exactly what is to be feared. The vast majority of humans fear death, including those (eg atheists) who believe that death is equivalent to non-existence. When a criminal is handed the judgment of capital punishment, say by firing squad, the punishment is not the brief fraction of a second of pain from the bullet, but the ending of his life and deprival of any future joy. For Christians, our future joy is infinite, and is why the chief premise of the verse makes sense: do not fear the temporary death of the body, because we will be resurrected to be with God the Father; not temporarily alive but eternally. Rather, fear destruction, whereby you will be deprived of this; not temporarily dead, but eternally.

Edit: I should note that both this answer and the question are somewhat tangential to the point of the verse, which is simply that the 12 disciples should not fear men as they spread God's word, because they serve One far more powerful.

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