Annihilationism and Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death

by Matt Slick
10/11/2018
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Rom. 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Conditionalists often use this verse to support annihilationism by presupposing that the word "death," means nonexistence in the final eternal judgment. But, the verse doesn't say that. Let's look at the context to see if it supports the annihilationist assumption.

Romans 6:21–7:2, "Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 7:1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? 2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband."  

So, nothing in the context demands the annihilationist interpretation. They contrast eternal life with death and say that death means nonexistence where eternal life means being saved and enjoying eternal existence only with God. One of the things they say is that eternal life is never spoken of in reference to the unbelievers, but only the believers. Well, yes, of course. Eternal life is life eternal with Christ Jesus in heaven. Eternal death is eternal separation (Isaiah 59:2) that consists of eternal torment (Jude 6-7; Rev. 14:10-11). So there is no problem with understanding this verse from the traditionalist point of view.

Furthermore, the word for "death" in Romans 6:23 is θάνατος, thanatos.  It occurs 120 times in the Greek New Testament.  Following is a breakdown of how the word is used in every occurrence.  The information is taken from the article Word Study on 'death,' thanatos, sorted by meaning.

  • Idiom, 14 occurrences
    •  Matt. 4:16; Luke 1:79; Rom. 7:24; 8:2, 6; 2 Cor. 2:16; 3:7; 1 John 3:14; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:6, 13, 14; 21:8
  • Pestilence, 2 occurrences
    • Rev. 9:6; 18:8
  • Physical and Spiritual death, 26 occurrences
    • Romans 1:32; 5:12, 14, 17, 21; 6:16, 21, 23; 7:5, 10, 13; 1 Cor. 15:21, 26, 54, 55, 56; 2 Cor. 1:9, 10; 4:11; 4:12; 7:10; 2 Tim. 1:10; Heb. 2:15; James 1:15; 1 John 5:16; Rev. 21:4
  • Physical death, 62 occurrences
    • Matt. 10:21; 15:4; 16:28; 20:18; 26:38, 66; Mark 7:10; 9:1; 10:33; 13:12; 14:34, 64; Luke 2:26; 9:27; 22:33; 23:15, 22; 24:20; John 8:52; 11:4, 13; 12:33; 18:32; 21:19; Acts 2:24; 13:28; 22:4; 23:29; 25:11; 25:25; 26:21; 28:18; Rom. 5:10; 6:3, 4, 5, 9; 8:38; 1 Cor. 3:22; 11:26; 2 Cor. 11:23; Phil. 1:20; 2:8, 27, 30; 3:10; Col. 1:21; Heb. 2:9, 14; 5:7; 7:23; 9:15, 16; 11:5; 1 John 5:17; Rev. 2:10, 23; 12:11; 13:3, 12.
  • Spiritual death, 4 occurrences
    • John 5:24; 8:51; James 5:20; Rev. 2:11

 Conclusion

Romans 6:23, does not necessitate the annihilationist view that death means eventual, eternal nonexistence. The Greek word 'thanatos' used in it is used in different contexts such as the "shadow of death," (Matt. 4:16), "this body of death," (Rom. 7:24), physical death (Matt. 10:21; Luke 2:26; Rom. 5:10; Rev. 1:18), either spiritual or physical death (Rom. 1:32; James 1:15; 1 John 5:16), pestilence (Rev. 9:6; 18:8), etc. It has a variety of meetings. Just place your mouse over the Scriptures above and you'll see the verses pop up so you can read them. Or, go to the above link and see all the verses listed. Whichever the case is, words me with a meeting context and Rom. 6:23 does not necessitate that the death spoken of there means nonexistence. To say that it does is to force into the text of the reading that the text itself does not necessitate. It is only the annihilationist presuppositions that lead them to say the verse supports conditional immortality.

 

 

 

 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.