Does eternal destruction mean annihilation for unbelievers at death?

Spencer D Gear

Hell is Real

(image courtesy ChristArt)

It is not unusual to hear these kinds of explanations of the meaning of ‘destruction’ when it is applied to unbelievers after death:

  • ’The fire of the final punishment is “eternal” not because it lasts forever, but because, as in the case of Sodom and Gomorra, it causes the complete and permanent destruction of the wicked, a condition which lasts forever’ (Samuele Bacchiocchi);
  • ‘Morally, the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is incompatible with the Biblical revelation of divine love and justice. The moral intuition God has implanted within our consciences cannot justify the insatiable cruelty of a God who subjects sinners to unending torments. Such a God is like a bloodthirsty monster and not like the loving Father revealed to us by Jesus Christ’ (Samuele Bacchiocchi).
  • ‘the only consistent way to interpret God’s Word on this subject is to believe in the ultimate annihilation of unbelievers in the Lake of Fire’ (Jeremy Moritz).

When I presented an exposition of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 on Christian Forums, I got this response:

Could hardly mean eternal annihilation? How about eternal destruction? Tell me again why destruction cannot possibly mean destruction. How is something eternally destroyed if it is NOT destroyed but kept around to be tortured for the tormentor’s apparent amusement?[1]

This person’s problem is that he engages in eisegesis. He imposes his personal meaning on the text.

This is what 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (ESV) states:

They [those who do not know God, v8] will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

We are told the nature of this ‘destruction’ in context. Second Thess 1:7-8 says of unbelievers (those inflicting punishment on the believers at Thessalonica) that ‘God considers it just to repay with affliction…. inflicting vengeance’. That’s the language of God and he says that this is what happens when ‘they will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might’ (1:9).

Let’s summarise what the Scriptures state in the context of 2 Thess. 1:7-9.

  • unbelievers will be repaid with affliction;
  • In this affliction, God is inflicting vengeance;
  • This vengeance is called ‘eternal destruction’’;
  • And it means being ‘away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might’.

This is the justice that all unbelievers will receive from the absolutely just Almighty God of the universe. ‘Destruction’ in 2 Thess 1:9 is a descriptive term and it tells us its content. Those who want to find destruction to mean something that is destroyed and that’s the end (as this person seem to be inferring) are found to be wrong  because of the Greek word, aiwnios (eternal). There is no time frame here. It is timeless eternity and this destruction goes on to the aeon to come. This is what the adjective, aiwnios, means. It is true that the eternal life of the believers is as long at the eternal destruction of unbelievers.

Second Thess 1:9 says that this will be happening ‘away from the presence of the Lord’ and from ‘the glory of his might’. Please don’t minimise the seriousness of this destruction. The saints are surrounded by the glory of the Lord God’s presence. The unbelievers are excluded from the presence of the Lord and are experiencing God’s vengeance by means of eternal destruction. You and I don’t invent the meaning of ‘destruction’. It is explained in context.

Elsewhere the experience of unbelievers after death is described as being sent to the place where it is ‘outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matt. 22:13).

In 2 Thess. 1:9, the fact that destruction is eternal, never ending (see also 1 Thess 5:3; 1 Cor 5:5: 1 Tim 6:9) means that it does not mean this person’s understanding of destruction. It cannot mean annihilation or going out of existence. Instead, it means to be away from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

Everlasting destruction is the manifestation of God’s vengeance and is the very opposite of everlasting life to be experienced by the believers.

When he imposes his personal and contemporary understanding of destruction on 2 Thess 1:9, he engages in eisegesis (imposing his meaning on the text). That view cannot be supported by this Scripture.

See my articles:

Also, see Robert A. Peterson, “The Hermeneutics of Annihilationism“.


[1] Timothew #159, 27 June 2012, Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘the debate on eternal hell fire’, available at: (Accessed 27 June 2012).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 June 2016.