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Steve Sansoucie wrote:

Hi, guys —

I have many friends who are Seventh-Day Adventists, who believe that man does not have an immortal soul and that, at the end of time, the wicked will be destroyed, that is, will cease to exist. They use the following verses, among many others, to substantiate their views:

  • Luke 13:2-3: Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."
  • John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
  • 2 Thessalonians 1:9: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
  • Philippians 3:19: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.

They say these verses use the words perish and destruction which mean to exterminate so as to be no more, not to subject to forever torment. I looked up the Greek version of these words and, sure enough, that's what they mean.

My question is:

  • How does the Catholic Church explain these verses if, in fact, the wicked do not die, but instead, suffer eternal punishment?

After contacting Catholic Answers, I realized there are other verses that give support to Catholic doctrine on the soul and eternity in Hell but I want to know how to explain these verses to Seventh-Day Adventists. It's not sufficient to just say,

"Well, you have to compare them to many other verses in Scripture that deal with this topic and that will give you the answer."

This is actually a tactic used by Seventh-Day Adventists and Fundamentalists. To them, if a whole bunch of verses on a specific topic have one meaning, then the one isolated verse, which seems to suggest a different meaning automatically, means the same as the others. (An example would be assuming that 1 John 5:16-17 does not distinguish between mortal and venial sin because all of the other verses in Scripture (that talk about sin) do not.) So . . .START HERE

  • Is there a Catholic explanation for these verses other than:

    • "The wicked won't be exterminated because the Church says they won't", or
    • "There are numerous other verses that indicate eternal torment and not extermination; therefore, the four verses I started my e-mail with automatically mean that, too?

Steve

  { Is there a Catholic view of these verses (used by Seventh-Day Adventists to disprove our faith)? }

Eric replied:

Steve,

  • I guess the first question to ask is, who needs convincing, is it you, or your friends?

You are unlikely to convert your friends based on this particular point. I would choose another battle because they are likely, so fully convinced of the correctness of their belief, that they are not going to believe what you say about this verse no matter what.

That said, if I were to address this verse, I would point out the following. You said you looked up the Greek and that it indeed said that perish means to die or be destroyed. This ignores the use of imagery and metaphor. Jesus portrays the spiritual life in terms of death and life so that people will understand them.

  • When Jesus says that Lazarus has fallen asleep (John 11:11), no amount of Greek vocabulary study will give you the correct interpretation that Lazarus has died, because it's a metaphor.

Likewise, when Jesus refers to perishing, He is speaking of spiritual death, a separation from God, not annihilation of the soul.

  • In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the son is portrayed as dead even though he was in fact alive. He was dead with respect to the father, not literally annihilated. So those who are condemned, are dead with respect to God, separated from God, not annihilated.
  • Likewise, when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, God had said that the day they ate of it, they would die but they were not annihilated on the day they ate of it. Rather, they were estranged from the Father and became spiritually dead.
  • In John 8:51, Jesus says, "If anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death."
    Obviously, people who keep His Word do die; what is referred here is spiritual death.

The fact that this death is spiritual and not an annihilation is demonstrated when St. Paul says:

"Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure." (Romans 7:13)

By death, St. Paul is not referring to annihilation but to a condition of separation from God. Similarly in Romans 7:24 and Romans 8:2, 6, 2 Corinthians 2:15-16, James 1:15, 1 John 3:14, and 1 Corinthians 15:53.

You said:
It's not sufficient to just say,

"Well, you have to compare them to many other verses in Scripture that deal with this topic and that will give you the answer."

This is actually a tactic used by Seventh-Day Adventists and Fundamentalists. To them, if a whole bunch of verses on a specific topic have one meaning, then the one isolated verse, which seems to suggest a different meaning automatically, means the same as the others.

Comparing Scripture with Scripture is a standard method of exegesis, especially dealing with Sola Scriptura Protestants. Scripture is consistent. You can't take a single Scripture, or a subset of Scriptures, out of the context of Scripture; that is what Fundamentalists and Seventh-Day Adventists do.

If one Scripture says where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:48), and another says And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night (Revelation 14:11), and a third refers to perishing, you can't interpret perishing in a fashion that contradicts (worm does not die or smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever), because one's worm cannot not die if someone has been annihilated, nor can their torment go up for ever and ever, but if you understand perishing as a separation from God, then they are consistent. (It's not a matter of automatically means the same as the others, it's a matter of finding a plausible interpretation that fits both Scriptures.)

Hopefully this sheds some light on the issue.

Eric

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