Dr. William Lane Craig was asked why he rejected the conditional immortality
Dr. Craig’s response to Brantley’s questions was not very detailed. He did not even get the questioner’s name right. One gets the impression that Craig didn’t feel it necessary to spend too much time preparing his response. He suggested that arguments in favor of conditional immortality stem from emotional abhorrence to eternal conscious torment or to non-cogent philosophical objections to ETC. But Brantley made no such arguments.
Brantley Support of Conditionalism
His first argument centered on the Old Testament prototypes — specifically the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah. Brantley reasoned that these Old Testament examples of God’s judgment against sinners resulted in their death.
Brantley’s second argument relates to terms used in the New Testament for the fates of the lost and saved. The lost are said to experience death (Romans 6:23), while the saved experience eternal life (John 3:16).
Brantley is not arguing against eternal conscious torment at all. He is arguing that both testaments provide a consistent answer to the question of what God does to those who deserve his punishment. Those who reject God and his ways will die.
Interestingly, Craig agrees! He wants us to believe that both the death experienced by those who died in the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah and the death experiences of those who will suffer perpetually in hell is “exactly the same thing.”
Craig argues conditionalism failings
Craig argues that conditionalism’s “most fundamental failing” is the inability to “appreciate that everlasting existence is not the same thing as everlasting life.” He makes a distinction between physical life (which he claims is represented by the Greek word bios) and spiritual life (which he claims is represented by the Greek word zoe). He does not mention the other Greek words in the New Testament which can be translated by the English word life. He also does not verify his claim that Zoe refers to spiritual life. He merely refers to the fact that bios is the root of our English word biology. He apparently does not know the Zoe is the root of our English word zoo. If his etymological argument were true, it would suggest that all the animals in the zoo have spiritual life.
Craig envisions an afterlife which consists of two groups: one group contains people who continue to exist, even though they are dead. These zombies have bios. The other group contains people who have been given eternal life. They have zoe.
But can such an argument be sustained by the scripture?
Do all the references to zoe in the New Testament refer to spiritual life?
Luke 16:25 (CSB) ” ‘Son,’ Abraham said, ‘remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony.
The rich man in hades was told by Abraham that during his physical life (en te zoe sou) he received good things. His zoe was not an immortal spiritual existence after death . It was his life before death.
Acts 8:33 (CSB) In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who will describe his generation? For his life is taken from the earth.
Philip quoted this Old Testament prophecy about Jesus, and showed the eunuch why it was necessary for Jesus’ physical life (he zoe autou) to be taken. Was Jesus robbed of his immortal spiritual life? No. Zoe refers here to his physical life before death.
Acts 17:25 (CSB) “Neither is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things.
Paul claims that God has given everyone life (didous pasi zoen). Either the universalists are correct, or the life Paul refers to is normal physical life before death.
1 Corinthians 15:19 (CSB) If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.
When Paul speaks of a hope for this life only (en te zoe taute) he refers not to a future immortal life, but to the present physical mortal one. So unless Paul is guilty of misuse of language, he does not make the theological distinction that Craig does.
1 Timothy 4:8 (CSB) For the training of the body has limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
The physical rigorous conditions I am presently enduring as a long distance hiker are preparing me to live in better health in this present life (zoes tes nun). The same kind of discipline towards godliness will prepare me for the life to come (tes melloses). Once again, Paul refuses to agree with Craig that zoe refers exclusively to a future spiritual life.
James 4:14 (CSB) Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring — what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes.
James, likewise does not seem to have gotten the memo. He speaks of a person’s life (he zoe humon) as something temporary and fleeting. It is not eternal, but appears for a little while, then vanishes.
Revelation 16:3 (CSB) The second poured out his bowl into the sea. It turned to blood like that of a dead person, and all life in the sea died.
John speaks of an incident in which every living soul (pasa psuche zoes) dies. He obviously cannot be referring to people losing their immortality. In fact, he is referring to the creatures in the sea.
All of these references to zoe in the New Testament show that the term is not used exclusively in contrast to bios. It can refer to a future immortal life, but can just as easily be used of this present physical life.
So, Dr. Craig’s lexical argument is proven unsubstantiated.
Dr. Craig’s only other argument is that he quotes 2 Thessalonians 1:9.
2 Thessalonians 1:9 (CSB) They will pay the penalty of eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence and from his glorious strength.
Dr. Craig puts forth this one verse, not as a possible defense of his position, but as an actual statement of what he calls eternal conscious torment doctrine.
Does this verse claim that when Christ comes, he will torment his enemies perpetually? No, it does not.
In context, Paul is assuring the persecuted and afflicted Thessalonians that when Christ comes, he will punish their persecutors. Christ will take “vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
What is the nature of this vengeance? One noun is used to describe it: destruction (olethros). Paul uses the term three other times (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:3; 1 Timothy 6:9) but it is the author of Hebrews who gives us a clue to the nature of olethros.
Hebrews 11:28 (CSB) By faith he instituted the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn might not touch the Israelites.
Moses instituted the Passover in order to protect the Israelite firstborn males from suffering the fate of the Egyptian firstborn males. At midnight, the angel of death (not the angel of perpetual torment) would enter each household not protected by the blood on the doorposts. The result would be that the destroyer (ho olothreuon) would permanently destroy the unprotected firstborn.
One of the reasons Dr. Craig is so misinformed about the meaning of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is that he misreads the word translated eternal (aionios). This is not an adverb, describing a perpetual process, but an adjective, describing a permanent event. The event is the destruction of God’s enemies. The nature of the destruction is that it will be permanent (aionios) rather than temporary.
Some translations obscure the meaning of the verse by treating the phrase “from the Lord’s presence” (apo prosopou tou kuriou) as an ablative rather than a genitive. These render the phrase as “away from the Lord’s presence” which suggests that the victims continue to live somewhere.
The Greek preposition apo can mean either separation or origin. Since the Lord’s presence and strength are the source of the destruction, context favors origin in 2 Thessalonians 1:9.
So, rather than being a statement of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment, 2 Thessalonians 1:9 refutes the doctrine.
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