A Brief Word on Terminology

A quick word on “conditionalism” vs “annihilationism”

On this blog I will be using the terms synonymously to refer to the view that the impenitent will one day be completely destroyed.  I prefer conditionalism over annihilationism, if you couldn’t tell already from the domain name. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Annihilationism is sometimes associated with a particular view that denies the resurrection of the lost. In other words, the unsaved are permanently and immediately destroyed at death.

2. Annihilate is not a biblical term. Scripture uses expressions such as perish or destroy to describe the fate of the lost. Most English translations use annihilate rarely, if at all. Now, while I do believe that the lost will one day cease to exist, I want to be able to avoid objections like, “perish doesn’t mean annihilate!” and focus on more substantive issues.

3. Annihilationism tends to open up my view to the caricature that the lost will simply “poof out of existence,” which seems to leave little room for penal suffering or degrees of punishment. This is possibly due to an association of the term with the view described above (in 1.) See, for instance, Alexander Pruss’s characterization of annihilationism here.

4. Conditional immortality (or, conditionalism) gets at the heart of what I think is the primary theological motivation behind the traditional view; mainly that all human beings are unconditionally immortal–either because immortality is an intrinsic attribute of the soul, or because God simply intends on sustaining all human beings forever.

None of this is to say that conditionalism is an ideal expression. If I could, I might coin my own term; “destructionism.” That, I think, would be an apt characterization of my view that could avoid a lot of the confusion caused by these other expressions.

[Edit: apparently, “destructionism” was a term that was in vogue in the 19th century 🙂 Nothing new under the sun..]

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3 Responses to A Brief Word on Terminology

  1. Brian MacArevey says:


    I arrived at your blog through the recent thread on Covenant of love about annihilationism. I hesitantly refer to myself as a conditionalist, fully realizing that I have a very limited understanding of the history of this particular doctrine in the church. I believe that this view show more continuity with the Judaism from which Christianity emerged, and understand that the source of the “immortality of the soul” is most likely platonic dualism, as opposed to understanding of the early church that we see in the NT.

    That said, one of the things that you stated was rather shocking to me. It was something to the effect of, all conditionalists believe that there will be a duration of elongated punishment, which will occur after the resurrection unto judgment. Is this true across the board, as far as you understand (I have no clue, this is a sincere question)? I’m not sure whether I buy that idea or not (though it is interesting), although I completely reject Derek’s assertion that death is not a sufficient punishment for sin, and that to see non-existence alone as the just punishment for sin equates to a “judgment-less gospel”.

    If the scriptures declare that death is a just penalty for rebellion against God, then I believe it (though obviously, this is the matter in dispute, to a large extent, from my perspective), and our demands for “something more” do not necessarily lead to the inevitable conclusion that death is not enough justice; God gets to decide that. Anyways, I did appreciate your comments over at the other blog, and I do want to know the answer to the question I asked above; it would be a great help. Peace and God bless.


    • Ronnie says:

      Hi Brian! I would definitely say this view is standard across the board. That’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions. I think I would agree that death (if by that is meant complete lifelessness) is not, in all cases, a sufficient punishment for sin (although it is the primary and necessary punishment in all cases). I don’t think your view could adequately account for levels of accountability and the corresponding severity of judgement that Scripture seems to teach.

      As to whether the levels of severity will be in the form of increased length of suffering, increased intensity, or both, is a subject for debate.

      Check out Henry Constable’s classic piece on this issue. He devotes a chapter to distinctions in punishment. http://www.lvulvu.us/pdf/constable.pdf

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