by George Sidney Hurd
The following is an excerpt from the book, Extermination or Restoration.
The definition of death is important, both to the Traditionalist and to the Annihilationist. Traditionalists define it as separation, with the second death consisting of an eternal death or separation from God. The Annihilationists on the other hand, must argue that the second death simply means physical annihilation or cessation of being, after being resurrected and condemned at the White Throne Judgment.
As a Universal Restorationist, I see the second death – not as the cessation of existence, nor eternal separation from God, but a death or separation eonian from the carnal and soulish self-life in the purifying lake of fire. [i] It is the death to self that even we as the sons of God must undergo now in this life through the afflictions which sanctify us or separate us from that which is carnal and soulish, producing in us that holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14).
Those who do not die to the flesh and the soulish self-life now in this life - denying themselves, will not take part in the first resurrection and will be hurt by the second death. However, the second death is eonian rather than eternal and results in the final restoration of all (Acts 3:21; Rev 20:6; Rom 11:36, etc.). Ultimately all death – both the first and the second, will be done away with - not by means of a mass extermination comparable to Hitler’s infamous death-camps, but by bringing all into subjection to Christ and making them alive. Death is not the ultimate answer to death, as Annihilationist affirm. It is the resurrection life of Christ which will finally swallow up all death, resulting in God being all in all (1Cor 15:22,26-28, 2Cor 5:4).
Under normal circumstances we would simply consult the lexicons for an accurate biblical definition of any given word in the Scriptures since they have been compiled by scholars who have extensively examined the different meanings of words in their original languages, not only in the New Testament but also in the secular literature of that time.
Thayer defines death (thanatos) as “properly, the death of the body, i.e. that separation (whether natural or violent) of the soul from the body by which the life on earth is ended.” Vines expository Dictionary of Biblical Words defines death saying: “thanatos “death,” is used in Scripture of: (a) the separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust, e. g., John 11:13; Heb 2:15; 5:7; 7:23. In Heb 9:15). (b) the separation of man from God; Adam died on the day he disobeyed God, Gen 2:17, and hence all mankind are born in the same spiritual condition, Rom 5:12,14,17,21).” Vines defines the verb form, apothnesko saying: “lit., ‘to die off or out,’ is used…of the separation of the soul from the body, i. e., the natural "death" of human beings.”
These are some of the most accurate and authoritative lexical sources for Greek definitions available. However, admittedly even some of the best of scholars can be so influenced by their own traditional bias that they unintentionally nuance their definitions of certain words according to their beliefs. Therefore, whenever there is doubt, we should make use of a concordance and examine each context in which the word appears in order to confirm their findings. Upon examining the context where death is referred to in Englishman’s Greek and Hebrew Concordance, I was able to confirm the existence of an underlying idea of separation expressed by the words for death. The Bible refers, not only to physical death, but to at least four other deaths as illustrated below, and we can see that in each case the word death does not refer to cessation or annihilation but to separation:
God warned Adam saying: “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). Or more literally, “dying you shall die.” Hence, the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) renders it: thanato apothaneisthe - “in death you will be dying.” Also, Young’s Literal Translation says: “dying thou dost die” and the Concordant Literal Version renders it: “to die shall you be dying.” Whatever the correct rendering should be, one thing is clear – Adam died that very day, even though he didn’t physically die for another 930 years.
In what sense then did Adam die on that very day? By his act of independence from God - partaking of the forbidden fruit, he broke communion with God, becoming separated from God or dead towards God. Neither Adam nor God ceased to exist on that day. What happened was that Adam died spiritually in the sense of becoming separated from God.
Those Annihilationists who are Physicalists (those who deny the distinction between the body or outer man, and the soul or inner man), understand the rendering “you shall surely die” to be referring to the death of the whole person in the sense of ceasing to exist. They believe that, for one to say that the soul continues existing in a conscious state after physical death, is to fall for Satan’s lie: “you shall not surely die.”
However, God clearly said that they would die that very same day. So obviously, according to God’s warning, a death actually occurred on that same day, but it obviously wasn’t a physical death. The evidence that this death was spiritual separation from God is seen by the fact that they suddenly became aware that they were naked and hid from God.
In reality, by denying that Adam and Eve’s death occurred the same day that they partook of the forbidden fruit, Physicalists fall into agreement with Satan’s statement that they wouldn’t really die the same day they ate of the fruit. Satan still presents man with the lie that sin doesn’t result in spiritual death (James 1:13-16). While sin also shortens physical life, Satan’s ploy isn’t normally to claim that we won’t die physically, since we all already know that we will eventually die.
When God created Adam, He breathed into him the breath of lives (Heb. plural) (Gen 2:7). What lives did Adam receive at that moment? First of all, he became alive in union with God, while at the same time becoming alive in his newly formed body. Before the fall, Adam was predominantly spirit in essence. His body was formed of the dust of the ground, but God breathed a spirit into his body. He then became a spirit inhabiting a flesh-suit. However, the part of Adam which died or became separated on that very day was his spirit which enabled him to have communion with God who is spirit. God, before destroying mankind in the flood, lamented saying: “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh” (Gen 6:3). Adam’s race ceased being predominately spirit and became carnal flesh. From the day of Adam’s fall, all are born after fallen Adam’s own kind – spiritually dead or separated from God. Instead of being a spirit clothed in a flesh-suit, our spiritual life was gone - being separated from God, leaving only flesh.
Neither man’s spirit nor God ceased to exist when this death took place. Indeed, we are not entirely separated from God. In Him we all live and move and have our being, including the unregenerate (Acts 17:28). Nevertheless, all of us in Adam are born dead towards God, who is spirit, since the spirit which God gave us is dead or separated from Him. Paul says that we were alienated from the life of God (Eph 4:18). We were all spiritually dead until our spirit was born again or regenerated:
“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins… Even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:1,5,6)
Notice that both our death and vivification here is presented in the past tense. For those in Christ, the spirit or inner man has already been made alive. In Adam, not only will all eventually die physically but, in him, we are born into this world with dead spirits inherited from him due to his one offense and resulting spiritual death (Rom 5:15). We are not sinners because we sin, but rather we sin because we are born sinners through Adam’s inherited sin. Adam’s spirit died towards God the moment he committed that one independent act. And all of us, as his seed, are also born with a dead spirit: however, not in the sense of being nonexistent but rather separated from God, the source of life.
That which must be born again of the Spirit in order to see the kingdom of God is the human spirit (John 3:3-6). God’s remedy for spiritual death is regeneration and His remedy for physical death is resurrection unto immortality. Both spiritual and physical death came upon all mankind in Adam. But both deaths will ultimately be reversed for that same “all” who died in Adam, in Christ - the last Adam and the Savior of the whole world (Rom 5:15, cf. 1Cor 15:21-23; John 1:29; 1John 2:2).
When Christ shed His blood on the cross, it accomplished a universal reconciliation for all of His creation, whether visible or invisible (Col 1:16,19). The moment we respond to this reconciliation, becoming reconciled in our hearts, He causes us to be born again, thereby becoming partakers of the divine nature, in union with Him through Christ (2Cor 5:19-21; John 1:12-13; 1Cor 6:17). In Christ there is no longer separation (or death) because we who were once afar off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph 2:13; Col 1:21-22). Having received His eternal life, nothing nor anyone will ever be able to take away that life which we have received - separating us from Him again (Rom 8:35-39; John 10:28-29).
So, we see that death in relation to God does not speak of cessation but of separation. The same can be said concerning to our death to sin (Rom 6:10-11). We continue to exist as individuals and sin will also continue for a time. Neither we nor sin have ceased to exist, but we have been sanctified or separated from sin in Christ and therefore are dead to sin. Only in the sense of separation can we be said to have died to sin since both we and sin still exist.
The same is true of the Law. We exist, and the Law also exists, but we have died to the Law – having been freed or separated from it, in order that we may live in relationship with God through Christ who is now our very life (Rom 7:1; Gal 2:19-21). The second death, which we shall consider in more detail at a later time, is also referring to a death which is the separation or sanctification of the spiritual from that which is fleshly and soulish. It is a death which all must die - either now in this life or later, receiving one’s part in the purifying lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death (Rev 2:11; 21:8).
Having already seen in the previous chapters that our spirit and soul are distinguishable from our bodies; that the rebirth of our spirit unto eternal life takes place at the moment we receive Christ and is distinct from the birth of our physical bodies, and that our soul and regenerated spirit have a conscious existence apart from the body, it becomes much easier to understand that physical death is not the cessation of our existence but merely the separation of our inner-man from our outer-man.
As cited earlier, the Old Testament saints who died before Christ’s ascension were said to have been “gathered unto their people” (Gen 25:8,17; 35:29; Nu 20:24,26; Deut 32:50, etc.). That it is not referring to a common grave is evident since they often died and were buried far from the graves of their ancestors. Also, David’s expectation is clearly an immediate reunion with departed loved ones when he said of his son who had just died: “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Sam 12:23). Therefore, the gathering cannot be referring to their cadavers in a mass grave but rather to the gathering of souls which are reunited at death.
Also, dying is often referred to as departing from the body which speaks of separation rather than cessation. For example, when Rachael was dying after giving birth to Benjamin it says: “As her soul was departing (for she died)…” (Gen 35:18). We also see that when God raises someone from the dead, as He did through Elijah when he raised the widow’s child, the soul leaves with death but comes back upon being brought back to life:
“And he (Elijah) stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the Lord and said, "O Lord my God, I pray, let this child's soul come back to him." 22 Then the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived.” (1Kings 17:21,22)
Those who deny conscious life after death commonly respond by saying that by “soul” is meant simply the “life force” rather than a conscious individual soul that leaves or returns to the body. However, that is not the language of Scripture. When it is prophesied of Christ saying: “You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 2:27), did He mean to say, “you will not leave my ‘life force’ in seol?” Of course not! What He was saying is that He was confident that God would not leave him in a state of death or separation from His body while it was lying in the tomb and He Himself was in hades or the unseen realm of the dead souls. When Jesus told us not to fear those who can kill the body but not the soul, did He mean by that they could kill the body but not the “life force?” The answer should be obvious. While man may kill the body, separating it from the soul, the soul continues existing. Such examples could be multiplied but this should be sufficient to demonstrate that the soul does not cease to exist when one’s body dies.
Since the essence of our soul is spirit, both terms are sometimes used interchangeably. When Jesus rose Jairus’ daughter it says: “Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately” (Luke 8: 55). The spirit was separated from the body in death. Once again, Annihilationists often respond, saying that “spirit” (Gr. pneuma) can also mean “breath” and therefore it simply means that she stopped breathing when she died and then began to breathe again when Jesus raised her from the dead. However, it is evident that “spirit” here is referring to the human spirit and not simply to one’s breath.
Jesus, after declaring “it is finished,” said: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” and then “He yielded up His spirit” (Luke 23:46; Matt 27:50; Ps 31:5). Are we to believe that Jesus was actually saying: “into Your hands I commit my ‘breath” and then “yielded up His ‘breath?” Also, Steven, when he was dying said: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). Obviously, by saying “spirit” they were referring to their conscious inner man. Paul, referring to the entire man as spirit, soul and body, clearly presented them as real aspects of our personhood which were in the process of being sanctified. Certainly, Paul wasn’t saying that God was sanctifying our breath, life force and body! (1Thess 5:23)
Also, all the references to one being in the body or leaving the body, not only indicate a conscious existence apart from the body but also make it clear that death is a separation – not a cessation of existence (2Cor 5:6-9; 2Peter 1:13-15). Additionally, both Jesus and Peter referred to their death as a decease or departure (Gr. exodos), a term which clearly speaks of a separation at death (Luke 9:31; 2Peter 1:15).
Paul speaks of his soul as “departing” (analuo – lit. “to be loosed upwards”) (Phil 1:23-24), and his body or “tent” as being “destroyed” (kataluo – lit. “to be loosed downwards”) (2Cor 5:1). Paul understood that at death his soul or conscious self would go upwards, whereas his body would go downwards. This clearly speaks of death as the separation of the soul from the body.
While this is by no means an exhaustive treatment of the nature of death, I believe it presents sufficient and conclusive evidence that conscious existence does not come to an end at death but is merely the separation of our spirit and soul from the body. Therefore, Annihilationists must look elsewhere for evidence that life for the unjust is terminated at the second death. Since they argue that “destruction” is often synonymous with annihilation, we will examine that claim in the following chapter.
The Inerrency of Scripture
The Love of God
The Fear of the Lord
The Question of Evil
Understanding the Atonement
Homosexuality and the Bible
Answers to Objections:
Has God Rejected Israel:
God's Glorious Plan for the Ages
The Manifest Sons of God
The Trinity and the Deity of Christ
Eternal Preexistence of Christ
Preterism vs. Futurism
The Two-Gospel Doctrine Examined