This term has a wide semantic field, which has caused great confusion in relation to the theological concepts of eternal judgment vs. annihilation. The basic literal meaning is from apo plus ollumi, to ruin, to destroy.

The problem comes in this term's figurative usages. This can be clearly seen in Louw and Nida's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Based On Semantic Domains, vol. 2, p. 30. It lists several meanings of this term.

1. destroy (e.g., Matt. 10:28; Luke 5:37; John 10:10; 17:12; Acts 5:37; Rom. 9:22 from vol. 1, p. 232)

2. fail to obtain (e.g., Matt. 10:42, vol. 1, p. 566)

3. lose (e.g., Luke 15:8, vol. 1, p. 566)

4. unaware of location (e.g., Luke 15:4, vol. 1, p. 330)

5. die (e.g., Matt. 10:39, vol. 1, p. 266)

Gerhard Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1, p. 394, tries to delineate the different usages by listing four meanings:

1. to destroy or kill (e.g., Matt. 2:13; 27:20; Mark 3:6; 9:22; Luke 6:9; 1 Cor. 1:19)

2. to lose or suffer loss from (e.g., Mark 9:41; Luke 15:4,8)

3. to perish (e.g., Matt. 26:52; Mark 4:38; Luke 11:51; 13:3,5,33; 15:17; John 6:12,27; 1 Cor. 10:9-10)

4. to be lost (e.g., Matt. 5:29-30; Mark 2:22; Luke15: 4,6,24,32; 21:18; Acts 27:34)

Kittel then says, "in general we may say that #2 and #4 underlie statements relating to this world as in the Synoptics, whereas #1 and #3 underlie those relating to the next world, as in Paul and John" (p. 394).

Herein lies the confusion. The term has such a wide semantic usage that different NT authors use it in a variety of ways. I like Robert B. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, pp. 275-277. He relates the term to those humans who are morally destroyed and waiting eternal separation from God versus those humans who know Christ and have eternal life in Him. The latter group is "saved," while the former group is "destroyed."

Robert B. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, p. 276, points out that there are several places where this term cannot be translated annihilation, "but such injury as makes the object practically useless for its original purpose."

1. the waste of ointment, Matt. 26:8

2. destruction of old wine skins, Matt. 9:17

3. destruction of hair, Luke 21:18

4. destruction of food, John 6:27

5. destruction of gold, 1 Pet. 1:7

6. destruction of the world, 2 Peter. 3:6

7. destruction of the physical body, Matt. 2:13; 8:25; 12:14; 21:41; 22:7; 26:52; 27:20; Rom. 2:12; 14:15; and 1 Cor. 8:11

This term never refers to the annihilation of the person, but the end of bodily existence. It is also commonly used in a moral sense. “All men are regarded as morally destroyed, i.e. they have failed to carry out the intention for which the race was called into being” (p. 276). God’s response to this sin problem was Jesus Christ (cf. John 3:15-16 and 2 Pet. 3:9). Those who reject the gospel are now subject to a further destruction, which does involve body and spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15; 4:3; 2 Thess. 2:10). For the opposite opinion see Fudge, The Fire That Consumes.

I personally (cf. R. B. Girdlestone, Synonyms of the Old Testament, p. 276) do not think that this term denotes annihilation (cf. E. Fudge, The Fire That Consumes). The term "eternal" is used of both eternal punishment and eternal life in Matt. 25:46. To depreciate one is to depreciate both!


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