There are basically three soteriological positions one can hold to (meaning there are three different scriptural understandings of salvation and the ultimate destiny of all humanity that one can believe in). These three positions are: A) Universalism (the idea that everyone will be saved and reconciled to God in the end), B) Annihilationism (the idea that some people will cease to exist forever in the end), and C) Infernalism (the idea that some people will suffer conscious torment without end).
The truth is that, at least upon first glance, all three of these soteriological positions appear to be supported by Scripture:
|A) Universalism||B) Annihilationism||C) Infernalism|
|Romans 5:18-19||Isaiah 66:23-24/Matthew 18:8-9/Mark 9:43-48¹||Daniel 12:1-3|
|1 Corinthians 15:20-28||Matthew 10:28||Matthew 25:46|
|Colossians 1:15-20||Romans 6:23||Jude 1:5-13|
|1 Timothy 2:3-6||2 Thessalonians 1:9||Revelation 14:11|
|1 Timothy 4:9-11||Revelation 20:14||Revelation 20:10|
There are other passages that both Annihilationists and Infernalists use to support their respective positions as well, of course, but they don’t necessarily speak of the duration of the judgement, nor do they necessarily specify whether the ones being judged are conscious or not, so they weren’t included because they can’t really be used to support either of these two positions particularly definitively. (To be fair, the Matthew 25:46 reference in Column C only says the fire itself is “everlasting” — depending on your version of the Bible; not all versions translate it with a word that means “never-ending” — not that anyone’s suffering in the fire is “everlasting,” so it could be used in Column B as well, but I put it in Column C because it is one of the Infernalists’ favourite passages to support their position.)
Now, if one only looks at the passages in the column that seems to support the position they’re looking to defend, it’s easy to see why someone would come to the conclusion they do. Of course, Infernalists generally do also look at the passages in Columns A and B, and they generally are able to interpret them in ways that seem to support their position as well. However, something that few of these Infernalists ever seem to realize (I’m picking on them here partly because they’re currently the largest of the three groups within “Christendom” — although, historically, that hasn’t always been the case — but also because those in the other two groups tend to already be aware of this fact) is that both the Universalists and the Annihilationists also look at the passages in the columns that seem to support the two views that go against their own soteriological perspectives and have no problems interpreting them in ways that seem to support their respective positions as well.
Simply put, it isn’t that Universalists and Annihilationists are ignoring the passages the Infernalists believe prove Infernalism, as most Infernalists seem to assume (at least in my experience), but rather that each of the passages in all three columns can be interpreted in ways that work within the soteriological framework of all three positions. Now the point of this post isn’t to prove that Universalism is the position which seems to have the most scriptural support (even though that’s what I do see in Scripture myself), but to point out to Infernalists that, even if they might be misinterpreting the passages in question, Universalists and Annihilationists do have scriptural reasons for the positions they’ve landed on as well, and it isn’t that they’re just cherry-picking Scripture and ignoring passages they don’t like. Instead, they’re doing the exact same thing you’re (hopefully) doing: interpreting Scripture as a whole, which means interpreting the passages in the two columns that don’t seem to support their position upon first glance in such a way that ultimately doesn’t contradict their position, just as you yourself do with the passages in Columns A and B. So while, upon first glance at the passages in Column C, it might seem obvious to you that Infernalism is the only soteriological position supported by Scripture, both Universalists and Annihilationists see it as being just as obvious that their own perspective is the only soteriological position supported by Scripture.
So the next time you hear a Universalist or Annihilationist discussing their viewpoint (and this goes for Annihilationists hearing the Universalist or Infernalist viewpoint as well), please show some humility and acknowledge that, even if they’re wrong, they aren’t simply ignoring the passages you think support your viewpoint, but that they have what they believe are legitimate interpretations of those passages, and that they truly believe these interpretations work perfectly within their own soteriological framework with no contradictions or problems.