Annihilation in the Psalms?

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Puritan Board Freshman
When reading through the Psalms again, I found some passages that seem to support the Annihilation of the Souls Doctrine of the STAs and the JWs in my eyes.

O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more.
(Psalm 39,13)

Like sheep they will end up in the grave. Death will swallow them up. When honest people come to power, a new day will dawn. The bodies of sinners will waste away in the grave. They will end up far away from their princely houses.
(Psalm 49,14)

Their graves will remain their houses forever. Their graves will be their homes for all time to come. Naming lands after themselves won't help either.
(Psalm 49,11 NIRV)

So God will destroy you forever. He will grab hold of you and throw you out of your tent. He will remove you from this life. Selah
(Psalm 52,5 NIRV)

How could these passages be explained when STAs start to argue with these verses?
Thanks a lot,


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
First, the verses are poetic. So, the use of vivid and extreme language, hyperbole, dramatic gesture, and like figures, are fitting for Psalms. They shouldn't be borrowed for texts that would be put to service undermining other passages that teach the doctrine of eternal punishment.

Second, descriptions of conditions often present reality as it is encountered by those who are on the earth. From the standpoint of this life, when I die I will "be no more." My body will "waste away in the grave" (which 49:11 text also shows the first rule in interpreting Hebrew parallelistic poetry, the second line and the first line are usually connected in some way, either antithetically, repetitively, or expanding the idea). The graves of the dead appear to be the "final resting places" for the slain or expired. Famous grave sites hundreds or thousands of years old remain as monuments to the dead and gone. And would appear to men on earth (according to a rule taken from 2Pet.3:3-4) that they will always be so.

Third, a text like Ps.52:5 speaks of the fact that the wicked face a destructive future. Nothing is said there concerning how that future will be experienced, what the nature of (or what the definition of) that destruction is. To the ears of the annihilationist, it sounds sudden and abrupt. But why should that be so? Why would he assume that the verse is mainly describing the echoing effects of the destruction lasting forever, and not that destruction itself is lasting forever. The action verb "destroy" is what is predicated as going on forever, not the effects of destruction.

Fourth, prior to Christ's display of power over death, both during his ministry and in his resurrection, the Old Testament saints have a more obscure view of after-life; their understanding is (quite properly) one of horror, a recognition that it is a curse. Absolute termination might seem horrible, but for many the idea seems to carry some comfort. After all, if I don't make it to the blessed presence of God, at least I don't have to worry about enduring his CURSED presence forever.

In the case of annihilation, I really don't have to experience dying unending--it just takes me, and that's it. No, but it was the OT's own maturing theological reflection on the nature of God, man, and death, that led them to realize/conclude that not only dying (and the separation of spirit and body) was a horror, but that the ongoing, conscious experience of separation of man from God was the very nature of death itself. The bitterest fruit of rebellion is to know defeat, and not to be able to get past it and move on.

Fifth, positing an end to existence/experience rather than continued, unpleasant existence is not an adequate parallel to the glories of heaven, or the new heaven and earth. Is.66:24 (the final verses of the whole book) provide the language our Lord took up, to describe the end of the wicked. It is an end that must eternally testify to the justice of God, which shall be praised forever.

The language there is both figurative, but also descriptive of a scene that lasts as long as the final state of the blessed. The presence of bodies (corpses) does not bespeak annihilation, but some kind of continued presence that may be observed (or at least known) by those who are with God. The figure of the undying worm consuming a body forever implies some sort of eternal presence for it to gnaw upon. Likewise the fire continues to have substance to burn without refueling.

And both these figures are related to "the men," the transgressors. The pronouns "their" worm and "their" fire testify to a personal property, and by extension to awareness. The descriptions here and in the Gospels call up the idea of relentless regret and despair. Whatever the body is made to suffer, the alienation of the soul (utterly alone with its hate and its regret, and the knowledge of a righteous sentence) must be as bad and worse.

The nature of God is infinite. Therefore, offenses against him are infinite. Annihilation is a finite punishment--it may be seen as complete, but it is not infinite. Our sorrow for sin, as deep as it ever gets, is swallowed up in the infinite Son of God's sorrow, borne on our behalf. Exploring his infinite joy is one of the greatest hopes of heaven. The sorrow of the wicked is as never ending as the joy of the redeemed.
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