Monday, May 23, 2022

Where are all the ashes?

 If Annihilationists were right, one might expect to see the end of the wicked more often equated with non-existence.  Of course, not all Annhilationists say that man ceases to exist, sometimes they will say he is reduced to ashes.

One nice thing about the ashes argument is that there is a Biblical "ashes" motif that it can be drawn from.  For example, at Genesis 18:27, Abraham calls himself "dust and ashes" (עָפָר וָאֵֽפֶר).  The Hebrew word for ashes, transliterated 'epher, is used about two dozen times in the Old Testament.

The first is Abraham's usage.

The second/third is in the ordinance of the red heifer, which is burned up, reduced to ash, the ashes are gathered up, and then placed in a clean place outside the camp.  Even the person who touches the ashes is considered ceremonially unclean.  The purpose of the sacrifice is the purification of sin. (Leviticus 19:1-10)

Many are ashes that are applied to the body as a sign of mourning (2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1, 3, Isaiah 58:5, 61:3, Jeremiah 61:3, Ezekiel 27:30, Daniel 9:3, Jonah 3:6)

Several are in the book of Job.  In Job 2:8, Job sits down amongst the ashes with a potsherd.  In Job 13:12, Job compares his friends to ashes and bodies of clay.  In John 30:19, Job complains that he has become like dust and ashes.  In Job 42:6, Job repents in dust and ashes.

The afflicted person in Psalm 102 complains that he has eaten ashes like bread (Psalm 102:9).

Psalm 147:16 compares the hoarfrost to scattered ashes.

Lamentations 3:16 describes a person having their teeth broken with gravel and covered with ashes.

The main two places of interest to annihilationists are two places where they are described in ashen terms.  

The first is Ezekiel 28, regarding the destruction of the King of Tyre.  In this passage, a picture is painted of the King of Tyre that describes him in lofty terms, but then calls for his destruction in terms of a fire coming from inside of him, devouring him, turning him to ash, and him becoming nothing more than a terrifying experience for those who saw it, concluding with "never shalt thou be any more."  (Ezekiel 28:19)  This end is similar to those described by Ezekiel 26:21 (where it is about the city of Tyre) and Ezekiel 27:36 (also about the city of Tyre).  The most natural understanding, therefore, of this pericope is that it is about the destruction of the city of Tyre as such.  Interestingly, one of the defensive strategies that the men of Tyre used was to set their own ships on fire and kamikaze attack Alexander the Great's causeway.  It was initially effective, apparently, but ultimately they suffered a humiliating defeat.

The final reference is Malachi 4:3, where the wicked are describes as being "ashes under the soles of your feet" in the day that comes that burns the proud like stubble in an oven.  If this were the only, or the dominant description of the afterlife, then annihilationism would be a lot more tempting. 

I would be remiss if I did not point out that another word for ashes was used in Exodus 9:8&10 to describe the ashes that Moses sprinkled toward heaven, resulting in the plague of boils. Likewise, there is a further word for that can mean fat or the ashes thereof (deshen), which is used of sacrificial ashes in Leviticus 1:16, 4:12, 6:10-11, 7:10, and 1 Kings 13:3&5.  The only place where deshen might be of particular interest to annihilationists is in Jeremiah 31:40, describing a valley of dead bodies and ashes.  This may be awkward, though, as that valley is described as being holy to the Lord.

The New Testament refers to the same sackloth and ashes practice (interestingly in reference to a hypothetical preaching of the gospel to Tyre) at Matthew 11:21 and Luke 10:13.  Likewise, the New Testament mentions ceremonially cleansing ashes (apparently of the red heifer) Hebrews 9:13.    

Finally, the English word "ashes" is typically used as part of the translation of the verb in 2 Peter 2:6, which refers to the incineration of Sodom and Gomorrha.

While the Old Testament speaks of some kind of annihilation of the city of Tyre, there is not any closely similar statement made regarding unbelievers.  The closest would be 2 Peter 2:6, which we may consider under a separate post.

In short, if annhilationism were correct, one would expect the Scriptures to be more full of ashes than they are.  They are not ash-free, but certainly the few mentions of ashes are not really enough to justify annihilitionist reliance on them over against explicit didactic teachings on the subject.