Perdition This word is never used in the Old Testament and but rarely in the New, but the idea which it conveys runs through the whole of Scripture. Various Hebrew words, and especially the word אָבִד, "to destroy," are translated by the Greek words ἀπώλεια and ὄλεθρος, and the primary meaning in most cases is waste, loss, disappearance, or physical dissolution; sometimes, however, the meaning appears to be sorrow, shame, or degradation.
I. Let us examine in what sense nations and cities have been subjected to perdition. God it. the ruler of the nations of the world, and if they provoke him to anger they are threatened with destruction. Thus God determines to destroy man (Ge 6:7) for his wickedness, and only Noah and his family are saved. Sodom and the neighboring cities are destroyed (Genesis 19), and only Lot and his daughters are permitted to escape. In these cases apparently supernatural means are taken for carrying out God's purpose, but in other cases man is made the instrument of destruction, as in the case of the Canaanitish nations. Sometimes the prevalent idea is the desolation of the country when the people have left it (Eze 6:14; Jer 48:3). Often it has reference to great national calamities and reverses (Ob 1:13; Es 8:6; Isa 47:11); and occasionally it expresses the extinction of a single family (1Ki 13:34). Sometimes the nations who have been thus "destroyed" rise up again, and sometimes they seem to come to an end altogether.
II. We now pass to the case of individuals; and here we have to distinguish several kinds of destruction or perdition.
1. There is present perdition, or the lost state of the soul until it partakes of a present salvation. The Son of Man came to seek that which was lost (Lu 19:10). The idea here presented is that of a soul which has fallen from its high estate and has become a wreck, but it is capable of renovation and restoration by the power of Jesus Christ; and the idea is well illustrated by the story of the son who "was lost and is found," and by the parables of the lost sheep and the lost piece of money.
2. Temporal calamity and death are often included under the term destruction (Pr 1:27; Pr 11:10; Ro 9:22; and perhaps 1Co 15:18). But when we read of the destruction coming on the wicked (Ps 145:20), and that they are "reserved unto the day of destruction" (Job 21:30), we perceive that there must be a third meaning given to the word before us. We read in four passages of "Hades and destruction," as if this involved something beyond death (Job 26:6; Job 28:22; Pr 15:12; Pr 27:20). We find that some are to be destroyed "forever" (Ps 52:5); he read of him who after death can "destroy both soul and body in hell" (Mt 10:28), and that men may gain the whole world and lose their own souls, and he rejected or cast away. We find that there is a broad road leading to destruction and trod by many, which however may be avoided; this cannot be mere physical death, for no man can avoid that. It must thereto e be something beyond death, and must be the end of a misspent existence, and so we read of some that their "end is destruction" (Php 3:19), and that while some men are σωζόμενοι, or in the way to be saved, others are ἀπολλύμενοι, or in the way to be destroyed (1Co 1:18; 2Co 2:15; 2Co 4:3). The author of this final destruction is God (Jas 4:12); whereas the two kinds of perdition previously named seem connected with the power of Satan, who is called Abaddon or Apollyon. Final destruction is the alternative to salvation, and appears to be especially set forth in the New Testament as the lot of those who deliberately reject or recede from the Gospel (Php 1:28; Heb 10:39; 2Pe 2), and it will be awarded in the time of judgment (2Pe 3:7).
III. Taking it then as proved that perdition is the final destiny of certain persons, it remains for us to consider the passages which give us hints as to the nature of this terrible judgment. First, is it annihilation? The word which looks most like annihilation in the Old Testament is בִּלָּהָה, "nothingness," and its cognate forms, used by the prophet Ezekiel with reference to Rabbath-ammon, Tyre, and other cities (Eze 25:7; Eze 26:21; Eze 27:36; Eze 28:19). Yet even in these extreme cases the exact and philosophical meaning of the word can hardly be pressed. For in truth the nature of destruction will vary according to the nature of the object to be destroyed, and it is not necessarily that utter extinction to which we give the name "annihilation," if indeed there be such a thing. There is a physical destruction, to which the material buildings of great cities were doomed, as Tyre and Jerusalem; but in all such cases there are ruins, or stones, or fragments enough left, to show that the idea intended to be conveyed is that of a wreck rather than that of non-existence. There is a corporate destruction of nationalities and of families, yet even from these ruins there have been some that have escaped, and who have been merged into other nations. There is individual destruction — death and something more — and no doubt in these cases the man thus destroyed is in one sense no longer the same man, with the same powers and faculties which he had before his final doom came upon him, yet there may be sufficient remaining to him to enable him still to preserve an identity and to recognize the justice of his doom. The only passage in the New Testament which at all favors the idea of annihilation or absolute extinction is Re 20:14, where we are told that "death and hades were cast into the lake of fire." Now it might be argued that we cannot suppose that death and hades suffered eternal punishment, and that as being "cast into the lake" means extinction in their case, so it is to be understood in the case of the reprobate. But the argument cuts both ways, for as death and hades are here personified, so their end is personified; but as they are not really persons, so their end will not really be the same as the end of personal human beings who would not come unto Christ that they might have life. Whether annihilation is a conceivable idea in relation to a being in whom God has breathed the breath of life we cannot tell; nor do we know whether it would be a just recompense for the rejection of Christ as Lord and Savior; but we may rest assured that if it were in accordance with God's character and design it would have been so ordered.
Proceeding with our investigation, we note that perdition is set forth in the New Testament as involving the final ruin of the spirit. This may be inferred from 1Co 5:5, where we are told that the spirit may be saved hereafter at the cost of the destruction of the flesh here, which implies that otherwise the spirit would be unsaved or lost. Again, St. Paul tells us that perdition is the drowning of the soul, following from the love of money or erroneous belief (1Ti 6:9), and St. Peter uses the word in reference to the fate of Simon Magus, who was in the bond of iniquity (Ac 8:20). In two passages which bring the subject before us (1Th 5:3; 2Th 1:9), the primary reference is to the fate of the enemies of Christ who shall be destroyed at his coming — an event which seems to be portrayed in figurative language at the end of Revelation 19. Perhaps we are not warranted in drawing any direct inference as to the fate of all the ungodly from these passages. But in whatever light we regard them, they evidently form part of the great revelation of God's wrath against sin, which we find fully confirmed by the words of our Lord himself. For if we take the one word Gehenna, the scene or abode of perdition (Mt 10:28), as used by Christ, we gather that it is to be the fate of the angry and revengeful (Mt 5:22), of the carnal (ver. 29, 30), of hypocrites and persecutors (Mt 23:33); and from several of the parables we see that punishments described in almost similar terms are to be inflicted upon faithless and unprofitable members of Christ's Church. Perdition is described as "the second death" in Re 21:8, and a terrible list is given setting forth the real character of those who shall share it; and this list is almost the same as that which St. Paul set before his Galatian converts more than once, as marking the characteristics of those who are finally excluded from the kingdom of God (Ga 5:19-21; comp. 1Co 6:9-10).
Another idea connected with perdition is that of corruption. The body of the saint is sown in corruption, but it springs up and the harvest is incorruption. But it is not so with those who are treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. Their harvest is corruption — ten times more corruptible than that which takes place at the first death (Ga 6:8). St. Peter tells us of some who have turned from the truth that they have become "servants of corruption," and in that state they enter the world to come (2Pe 2:19). If we try to comprehend the nature of final spiritual corruption, we find it impossible to say more than that it implies the utmost degradation and loathsomeness of which the human spirit is capable, and that it probably will be wrought out by natural laws in God's spiritual kingdom, as in the case with physical corruption now.
Gathering up into one view a few other solemn statements about the ruin of the unbelieving, which we find in Scripture — and apart from Scripture we know absolutely nothing of the matter, as we know neither the nature nor the results of sin — we see that there are persons who "die in their sins" (Joh 8:24), who "have no forgiveness" (Mt 12:31), "God's wrath abideth on them" (Joh 3:36), they rise to "the resurrection of damnation" (Joh 6:29), they "depart" from Christ (Mt 7:23), "into outer darkness" (Mt 8:12), and into a "furnace of fire" (Mt 13:50). There they reap the fruit of their actions done here, being accursed and utterly degraded. We know nothing about the nature of their sufferings, and we have no right to indulge in exaggerated and glowing descriptions of their future misery. All such attempts are based upon the supposition that their physical constitution will be the same then as now. But this is a most unsafe hypothesis. Physical pain now depends on the exquisite sensitiveness of the nervous system, which is devised for man's benefit. Man suffers more than other animals because he has perverted his nature which was constituted for him to enjoy more. The accursed will "rise with their bodies," but the constitution of those bodies may be far less sensitive. They are described as "carcasses" in Isa 66:24, and the word (פֶּגֶר) literally means that which is faint or exhausted, and so excludes the idea of strong nervous sensibility. They are in "outer darkness" — this seems to shut them out from spiritual and physical light and knowledge. They are "bound hand and foot," which appears to exclude the idea of any physical activity. In fact their punishment should be represented as the extreme of degradation rather than the height of suffering, though it is true that they suffer the bitterness of remorse, described as "weeping and gnashing of teeth," and that "the smoke of their torment" will be a lasting memorial of God's wrath against man's pride and ingratitude. Though we know so little about perdition, one thing is clear, that not a gleam of hope is given in Scripture to those on whom this awful sentence shall be pronounced. Their condition is represented as one from which there can be no recovery. It is sometimes argued that God's threats are eternally conditional, and that the destiny of no man even in the world to come is hopeless. Attempts have been made to defend this hypothesis by reference to God's temporal threatenings, the accomplishment of which has been modified by the repentance of the persons threatened. But before this idea can be entertained it must be shown, first, that the finally lost are even capable of repentance or of any good thought; secondly, that God will set a way of return-another sacrifice for sin — before them; thirdly, that any indications can be found in Scripture that any or all of those who shall be cast into Gehenna shall be restored to favor; and, lastly, those passages must be explained, or explained away, which reveal the perdition of the lost as eternal. SEE PUNISHMENT.