Dissecting The Argument For Hell

I read an article the other day that was fairly well written in favor of hell, although wrought with false presumptions. I figured it would be good to present an opposing side for reference. I include my lengthy response which I left in the comments section. It is a little less polished than my usual articles, but gives you my basic response to pretty much all of the arguments found in the article.

Here is the article by J. Brandon Burks:

http://pilgrimandshire.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/what-does-the-bible-say-about-hell/

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MY RESPONSE:

First of all, I want to express my respect for you and your views as a fellow believer, although I disagree 100%. I will explain why. I have no doubt we both approach the subject with the highest regard for the truth. I will point out some inconsistencies in your analysis as well as some false assumptions in the article.

1) Concerning the definition of Gehenna (spoken by Jesus, translated as hell):

“[D]erived from the Hebrew place-name meaning ‘valley of Hinnom’ and came to be used in NT times as a word for hell. The valley south of Jerusalem now called Wadi er-Rababi (Josh. 15:8; 18:16; 2 Chron. 33:6; Jer. 32:35) became the place of child sacrifice to foreign gods [e.g., Moloch]. The Jews later used the valley for the dumping of refuse, the dead bodies of animals, and executed criminals. The continuing fires in the valley (to consume the refuse and dead bodies)…”

We can see that the valley itself lends itself to an annihilationist’s view. It admits that the continuing fires consumed dead bodies, not tortured live ones. And the child sacrifices would kill the child and did not include prolonged torture that I am aware of.

The definition then makes a statement and provides no facts to back it up:

“The continuing fires in the valley (to consume the refuse and dead bodies) apparently led people to transfer the name to the place where the wicked dead suffer”.

Here is provided no proof of how Gehenna came to be defined this way. It also provides no proof that this change in meaning was divinely sanctioned. It is obvious that the Old Testament did not define the name that way. So even if the name changed, we would have to assume that it was not changed by God, but men. The nature of the valley “led people to transfer the name”. Notice, that the transfer of connotation excludes divine revelation. It was changed by people, not God.

It then makes the leap of saying:

“… The NT uses ‘Gehenna’ to speak of the place of final judgment.”

This is an assumption, which also ignores the total destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. (roughly 40 years after Jesus’ ministry) as a possible object of Jesus’ warnings. I do believe the warnings of Gehenna were typological of judgment to come. However, it must be proven that Jesus directly taught that Gehenna was a place of eternal suffering, instead of merely alluding to an unscriptural (and still unproven) Jewish opinion. In fact, in the non-canonical Apocrypha, Hades, not Gehenna was used as a place of eternal punishment.

And even if Gehenna was referring to a place of eternal torment, the facts are that: 1) no gentile was ever warned of it in the Bible, 2) Jesus warned his disciples of it 9 times, and unbelieving Jews were only warned twice, 3) no one in Scripture ever mentioned Gehenna other than James, who used it figuratively, 4) no person in the Bible was ever portrayed as existing in Gehenna after death; nor was it suggested that anyone goes there in the afterlife, 5) since Gehenna was the name of a literal valley, to interpret it literally, hell would be that valley. And it is clear that most humans will not go to the valley of Ge Hinnom upon death. Would Jesus have used the proper name of a valley to define a literal place of eternal torment? That it is typological I can agree, but the immediate reference is to a literal valley.

2) Concerning the definition of Hades (translated in certain passages as hell):

Notice that:

“The Greek noun hades is used 61 times in the Greek OT (Septuagint) to translate the Hebrew term she’ol… Hades in the NT, on the other hand, can represent a place of torment for the wicked.”

This is important, because the definition you provide of Sheol refers to it as a “place of pain and distress” and “the place of the unrighteous dead”. Yet, this definition of Hades differentiates it from Sheol as a place of torment for the wicked.

The references given to prove that it is a place of torment do not prove this. Matt. 11:23 and it’s parallel Luke 10:15 contain no references to torment and could easily refer to the grave. It is clear that the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 is the only basis for Hades being a place of torment in the Bible. I have written in depth on my blog about why the parable cannot be teaching literal truths about the afterlife; and will not seek to explain here. However, the fact that it is supposedly used of hell conflicts with the idea that Gehenna was the word Jesus used for hell. What purpose would He have in confusing us with multiple terms?

The definition also confirms that Hades and Sheol are equivalent to and translated as the grave:

“Where the term hades is used as the equivalent of the Hebrew she’ol, as it is in Acts 2:27, 31 where Peter is quoting Ps. 16:8-11, it refers simply to the grave.”

This again proves that Sheol is not equivalent to hell. And the assumption that Hades refers to two totally different concepts in different places in Scripture is a matter of opinion. There is no reason it should not be referring to the same thing in Scripture. And translations have varied, some translating it as hell in places and others translating it as the grave or death in the same places.

The KJV clearly shows the confusion of terms here with Hades when it says in Rev 20:14: “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”. Indeed, Hades cannot be a place of eternal torment. This is clear.

3) Concerning the definition of Sheol (translated in some passages as hell only in the KJV):

Strong’s Concordance defines it as “underworld (place to which people descend at death)”. I have never read of it being defined as merely the abode of the unrighteous, as your definition claims. Encyclopedia Britannica states that “In Sheol, the good and the wicked shared a common fate, much as they had in the Babylonian underworld. The place did not conjure up images of an afterlife, for nothing happened there.”. Nor does Scripture state that it is limited to the wicked. We should really stick to facts, and not assumptions in our definitions.

Jacob said: “All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.” (Genesis 37:35). If you examine the Hebrew, it includes the preposition el, which means “unto”. That is why Jacob said he will go “down to Sheol to [el] my son”. He was obviously going to where he assumed Joseph was. Did he assume Joseph was in a place of torment? And he states with no reservation “I will go down to Sheol”. Was he saying that he would go to a place of torment or the abode of the unrighteous? Certainly anyone would say these days “I will go to my son in Heaven”, not to hell. At the loss of a family member no one says: “I will go down to hell”.

The statement: “separated from Yahweh spiritually and morally” is pure assumption. The verses cited (Isa. 38:18; Ps. 6:5-6) do nothing but prove that no one praises God in the grave. I don’t read “spiritual or moral separation” anywhere.

The fact that Sheol referred to here as a place of destruction (Isa 38:17) also does not help the case that it is a place of separation from God. Something that is destroyed is not preserved and tormented. This more accurately fits the grave.

You use Psalm 116:3 to supposedly show that Sheol is a place of pain. However, it is clear that the passage is a reference to the mental terrors of the psalmist in thinking of death. “The cords of death encompassed me And the terrors of Sheol came upon me; I found distress and sorrow.”. Unless the psalmist went to Sheol, he wouldn’t have felt the pain of it. And you assert that no unrighteous person goes there, which would most likely exclude the psalmist. Also notice how death and Sheol are paralleled; indicating that they are synonyms. The psalmist could be afraid of death, but not of Sheol if he couldn’t go there. 1 Corinthians 15:55 says: “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?”. This is a reference to Hosea 13:14, which reads: “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting?”. See that Hosea says: “O Sheol, where is your sting?” and Paul writes “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?”. Agreeing that death and Sheol are synonyms.

The statement “When the godly speak of going there, it is a metaphorical use of the term.” is assumption. In fact, the entire usage of Sheol is heavily metaphorical. I believe it is entirely metaphorical. Amos 9:1-2 says “Then I will slay the rest of them with the sword; They will not have a fugitive who will flee, Or a refugee who will escape. Though they dig into Sheol, From there will My hand take them; And though they ascend to heaven, From there will I bring them down.”. Is this not referring to the grave? “dig into” clearly fits the grave more than a afterlife abode of the dead. This is speaking of the wicked. It is metaphorically saying that they cannot escape God by going to the grave or to heaven. But the irony is that if Sheol was a place of torment or pain, no wicked man would try to “dig into Sheol”. That would be the place of punishment. Yet we see them trying to hide from God.

My last point on this is that one must then account for where the OT saints went (if you believe they are alive and conscious in the afterlife). Some say “Paradise” or “Abraham’s Bosom”, despite the fact that neither of those are mentioned in the OT (The NT word for paradise is of Persian origin, not Hebrew). In fact, it is more commonly believed that Sheol has two parts, one for the righteous, one for the wicked. I view all of that as presumption myself. Without Sheol, you have no place for the OT saints to go if you are inclined to think they go somewhere upon death. They never spoke of going to Heaven upon death.

4) The definition of the “second death” as “Eternal separation from God” is highly presumptuous.

Nowhere is it defined or even alluded to as such in the Bible. And the phrase is not used of the torment of the devil, the beast and the false prophet. However “the second death” refers to men (Rev 21:8). This definition you gave then uses Matt. 10:28 to refer to physical death despite the important fact that it says the word Hell. “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”. One cannot use hell to describe physical death if they view it as the place of spiritual death. The soul and body are said to be destroyed there (apollumi denotes utter destruction and complete perishing).

5) You said:

“As noted above, the Bible uses words like “Hades” (c.f. Luke 10:15; Matt. 16:18; Luke 16:23), “Tartarus” (2 Peter 2:4), “Gehenna” (Mark 9:47), and the “second death” (Rev. 20:14) to describe a place of torment”.

Where shall I ask is this explicitly taught? A place of destruction yes, but never once is it described as a place of torment.

YOU: “I will argue that it’s probably better to apply the word “Hell” to the “second death” or “Gehenna,” than it is to, say for example, “Hades.””.

Jesus apparently thought Hades was a great word to describe a place of torment; as it’s the only one He used that included torment.

YOU: “Hell, then, is the final abode of the reprobate who, after they experience bodily resurrection, will suffer consciously for all of eternity.”.

Bodily resurrection is not needed if the soul is what will be tormented forever. This fact seems insignificant in this theology. And then the statement “suffer consciously” once again is not biblical language.

YOU: “The Bible uses pictures (e.g., “Gehenna”), and metaphors (e.g., “weeping and gnashing of teeth”) to describe this eternal place of torment.”.

These metaphors are OT references. “Gehenna” was not a place of torment in the OT. “weeping” expressed sorrow in the OT. “gnashing of teeth” expressed anger in the OT. I don’t know how one can infer torment from any of those OT references.

YOU: “Also, it is important to note that the Bible revealed this place of eternal torment progressively. That is, the Old Testament is less clear about the afterlife than the New. This, however, does not mean that the reality of Hell was progressive, but only the revelation of it.”

This pretty much is an acknowledgment that no one in the OT was ever warned of eternal torment. Because they weren’t. Nor did anyone allude to it. Seems odd that no one would know about this idea until Jesus came. Did God care about the souls who were to suffer? Of course. So why wouldn’t He warn them even once or reveal this truth? I have never heard anyone attempt to prove eternal torment or hell from the OT. It can’t be done. Also, to say the revelation was “progressive”, you must first prove that there was any revelation before Christ, otherwise it was not progressive. To say the OT was “unclear about the afterlife” is an understatement. To my knowledge it never taught any form of afterlife.

6) You write:

“Hell, then, is not currently a reality, per se. What I mean is, Hell is the “lake of fire” (Rev. 20:14) the “second death” (Rev. 21:8), or the “eternal fire” (Matt. 25:41). Therefore, those who die go to a hell-like place (Hades/Sheol) until the second resurrection (Rev. 20:5-6, 12-15) when they will be judged and thrown into hell.”

The problem with this view is that one must remove Hades in Luke 16 as teaching about hell. To continue to do so is to mislead people. I also do not hear of pastors teaching about two places of torment, which is what you are suggesting. The high majority of mainstream pastors speak of hell as a present and future reality. And they use Luke 16 as proof. Even after making this statement you continue to use Hades in Luke 16 to teach about hell as “a place of agony (Luke 16:24-26)” in the next paragraph.

7) You write:

“The Bible further describes the gruesomeness: It is a place where punishment is eternal (Matt. 18:8; 25:46; Rom. 2:7-9; 2 Thess. 1:8-9; Heb. 6:2; Jude 7, 12-13; Rev. 14:11; 19:3), which is described as an abyss (Rev. 20:3), a place of darkness (Matt. 25:30), designed for Satan and His demons (Matt. 25:41; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6), a fiery place (Mark 9:43, Luke 16:24; Heb. 6:8; Rev. 14:9-10; 20:10, 14), , a place separated from God (Matt. 25:41) where one is cut into pieces (Matt. 24:51), where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched (Isa. 14:11; 66:24; Mark 9:44, 46, 48), and a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 25:30; Luke 13:28).”

The Abyss in Rev. 20:3 is obviously not hell, as Satan is brought back out of it before being thrown in the lake of fire; and fallen angels are said to be held there. This was a sloppy reference.

Eternal punishment is no different than “eternal judgment” in Hebrews 6:2. Obviously not an action of eternal duration, but a one time act with eternal consequences. Same as “eternal destruction” in 2 Thess 1:9. In fact, no word with eternal attached to it can be proved to be an action of eternal duration.

With regard to worms and unquenchable fire, they refer to consuming corpses and the unending shame of destruction in Isaiah 66:24:

“Then they will go forth and look
On the corpses of the men
Who have transgressed against Me.
For their worm will not die
And their fire will not be quenched;
And they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.”

And Matt. 24:51 is referring to one being cut to pieces AND THEN assigned a place with the unbelievers. Notice this is before he is put there. And cutting someone to pieces would kill them.

8) You wrote:

“There are some, however, that think an eternity in Hell is too extensive and unkind. To alleviate or lessen the pain of Hell, some have taught that either humans become like dumb animals in Hell—which means they are less understanding or less conscious—or that after a period of punishment, God will annihilate Hell and the people therein; thus, the impenitent will simply cease to exist. These attempts to weaken or lessen the punishment for the unbeliever in Hell are wrought with problems. First, these ideas go against the teaching of Scripture, both the former (Matt. 25:30; Luke 16:19-31) and the latter (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 19:3).”

I will avoid the philosophical argument for now, as I don’t feel it is relevant to what the Bible teaches. I believe in annihilation in the lake of fire. I notice again you use Hades in Luke 16 to support hell against your own teaching that it is not hell. To say the idea of annihilation goes against Scripture, yet not explain how our interpretations of these passages are wrong is not a concise approach. I see no exegesis presented to prove your interpretation is the only one that fits.

Rev 19:3 is another unfortunate reference, as it is speaking of the destruction of Babylon. Notice that wicked men watch it burn in Rev 18:9-10: ““And the kings of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’”. Rev 14:9-11 is another verse misunderstood to refer to hell, despite the conflict of it being “in the presence of the lamb” when 2 Thess 1:9 says eternal destruction will be “away from the presence”. As well as the fact that it is only said to be those who take the mark of the best who will be tormented in that passage. It is also 6 chapters removed from the final judgment, making it hard to relate directly to that.

9) You include this quote:

“Does the short time of punishment envisaged by the annihilationist actually pay for all of the unbeliever’s sin and satisfy God’s justice? If it does not, then God’s justice has not been satisfied and the unbeliever should not be annihilated. But if it does, then the unbeliever should be allowed to go to heaven, and he or she should not be annihilated. In either case, annihilationism is not necessary or right.”

Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”. Seems to fit. Now you must prove how Jesus’ short time of suffering and physical death paid for all of our sins if we deserve an eternal hell. He certainly did not die the death our sins deserved if we deserve eternal misery in hell.

10) You write:

“Hell is a place no one wants to go to, and is not only a necessary doctrine, but absolutely must be part of our gospel presentation in evangelism and preaching.”

I need only refer to the example of the Apostles, who never once included hell or eternal punishment in their preaching. The Apostle Paul never used the word Hell despite writing 2/3 of the NT. Every time he spoke of the fate of the wicked, it suggests annihilation. And if we only had the account in the gospel of John, Jesus never did either.

You say it is a necessary doctrine, yet forget that no one in the OT knew about it. Neither was a single Gentile told about it in all of Scripture. Nor was it included in the great commission. Nor was it said to be a condition of salvation: ‘believe in hell or perish’?? By your account we might justly condemn the Apostles unfaithful to our Lord in their delivery of the gospel to all men.

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50 Questions For Those Who Believe In Eternal Torment

Most people are unafraid to tell me point blank that I am wrong in asserting that the Bible does not teach eternal torment in hell. However, not once has anyone endeavored to answer any of the questions I pose in my articles. Yet I can’t tell you how many times people quote to me the same 6 or 7 passages  (I’m never surprised by a new proof text) used to support eternal torment which I already addressed in depth in my articles. And I repeatedly am asked to explain what they mean. Never does anyone seek to prove exactly how the passages only allow for their interpretation. I must admit, if those who believe in eternal torment in hell are correct in their view, I really need answers to questions.

For this reason I have put together a list of 50 questions that I have for those who believe in eternal torment in hell. Since conditionalists like me are expected to defend our position, I would expect nothing less from those who believe eternal torment in hell is a biblical doctrine. I have nothing but love for those brothers and sisters in Christ who believe in hell, but I do call those who are dogmatic about it to prove their assertions correct. The issue is very serious and deserves the utmost fidelity to the truth.

1) What is your definition of the word Greek word for “death” (thanatos) in Romans 6:23?

2) Does the definition you gave in reply to question 1 apply to the same Greek word used of Jesus’ death one chapter prior in Romans 5:10?

3) If the definition of death (Greek word thanatos) is different in Romans 6:23 than it is in Romans 5:10, how did Jesus die the death our sins deserved? If it is the same word, how did Jesus experience the death that is the wages of our sin if it is eternal torment in hell?

4) Insert another word in the place of “destroy” in Matthew 10:28, unless you agree that men will be utterly destroyed in hell: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”. And provide proof that the word you substituted is consistent with the usage of the Greek word apollumi.

5) If the KJV was correct in translating Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus as “hell”, I ask that it be proven that all of those words refer solely and specifically to a place of eternal misery. And then it must be accounted for that all of the words represent hell at all times in all passages in the Bible.

6) Did the Old Testament teach or allude to a place of eternal misery? If so, please provide proof that it did. And whatever word is used to mean “a place of eternal misery” must always mean that in parallel grammatical contexts.

7) If it cannot be proven that God’s people were aware of the danger of hell before Jesus taught about it, we must conclude then that the gospel brought it to light. If that is true, in what way was the arrival of Christ “good news of great joy which will be for all the people ” (Luke 2:10) if His message also revealed that most of the world will be eternally tormented?

8) Could you give a possible explanation as to why no one in the Bible specifically warned of hell other than Jesus if all men are in danger of eternal torment?

9) Could you give a possible explanation as to why Jesus spoke specifically about hell 9 times to His disciples, yet only twice to unbelieving Jews if the unbelievers were in the most danger of it?

10) Could you give a possible explanation as to why Gentiles were never once warned specifically of the danger of hell in the entire Bible?

11) Is man immortal? If so, I want proof that God specifically gave man immortality. Otherwise it must be concluded that Jesus “alone possesses immortality”  (1 Tim 6:16).

12) If all the dead are raised “imperishable” (1 Co 15:53-54), it would contradict the Bible’s teaching that the wicked will perish (2 Thess 2:10Luke 13:3). Please provide proof that the wicked will receive imperishable bodies.

13) If our souls are always conscious, we would be awake during sleep. When people go into a state of coma, outside stimuli cannot awaken a person. Please provide proof that the soul is always conscious when we are in these states if you affirm that the soul is always conscious.

14) The Hebrew word for soul (nephesh) was used to describe animals (Gen 1:24; Lev 24:18Job 12:10). And to speak of dead men (Num 9:6, Num 19:13Lev 21:1). Deuteronomy 24:7 says the soul can be kidnapped. Please provide proof that the soul is always alive and is different than that of animals, and also cannot be kidnapped.

15) Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 uses the Hebrew word for spirit (rauch), and says that ours is the same as the beasts. It also says that no man can know whether our spirit ascends and the beast’s descends. If man’s spirit is what is immortal, please provide proof that animals are not also immortal; since we have the same spirit.

16) If the parable of Luke 16 was literally describing a rich man in hell (Greek word Hades used here), what will happen when hell (Hades) is thrown in the lake of fire in Revelation 20? “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:14 KJV).

17) If Lazarus was in a real place called Abraham’s Bosom, could you give a possible explanation as to why is it never mentioned elsewhere in Scripture?

18) If the parable of Luke 16 was given to teach literal truths about the afterlife, is it not arbitrary to decide that he is not literally in Hades, but literally in torment? Should not all of the parable be literal if any of it is?

19) If the word Gehenna used by Jesus and translated as hell originally referred to a place of eternal torment, it did not come from Scripture, since the Old Testament did not teach it. Please show exactly how the word came to mean a place of eternal torment and that this meaning was divinely sanctioned.

20) If the book of Revelation reveals that hell is a place of eternal torment, it must be explained how it could have had any effect on words spoken 30 to 60 years prior. Revelation was the last book of the Bible written.

21) If the lake of fire is hell, why did the Bible not call it hell or vice versa?

22) In Revelation 20:14 Death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire. Do they exist in torment or are they destroyed and cease to exist?

23) If Death and Hades will not exist in eternal torment in the lake of fire, can you definitively say that men will?

24) Can you provide a verse that explicitly says that men will be tormented in the lake of fire?

25) Please provide a passage in the Bible that uses the phrase “eternal torment” if you say I must believe in it.

26) How does the “second death” have anything to do with the first if it is eternal torment?

27) All flames produce light. So if Jesus was not using figurative language to express sorrow and anger on judgment day, but making literal statements, please explain how the place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” can be both a “furnace of fire” and “outer darkness” at the same time? (Matt 22:13Matt 13:50).

28) If “eternal punishment” in Matthew 25:46 is referring to an eternal process of punishment in hell, is “eternal judgment” in Heb 6:2 referring to an eternal process of judging at the Great White Throne?

29) Is “eternal destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 referring to an eternal process of destroying something?

30) If “eternal judgment” and “eternal destruction” cannot be proved to be eternity-long processes, why must eternal punishment necessarily refer to an eternity-long process and not a one time act with eternal effect?

31) How is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah an example of eternal torment in hell?  (Jude 1:72 Peter 2:6)

32) Are there any examples of God tormenting men by fire and not destroying them?

33) If destruction means anything other than destruction, should the types and examples of the destruction of men and nations throughout all ages have no influence on how we are to interpret the word?

34) Does God have a way of measuring our sins that submits to mathematical fairness, in order to determine proportional punishment in hell?

35) If God does not have a mathematically fair way of measuring our sins, how can we assume the punishment will be fair by any standard of justice known to man?

36) If God does have a way of measuring our sins that submits to mathematical fairness, eternal punishment defies this logic. Any punishment multiplied by infinity would eventually exceed finite wrongs. Since man only commits a finite amount of wrongs in life, how can he be punished infinitely and it be mathematically fair?

37) If the sin of rejecting Christ requires infinite punishment, how can you suggest that some sin less than others and incur a lesser degree of punishment?

38) If punishment must be infinite in duration, can you say with certainty that it does not require infinite intensity?

39) Proverbs 11:1 says that God delights in a “just weight”, and Jeremiah 17:10 says that He will repay everyone according to the results of their deeds. Can this be true if God does not use a mathematically fair measure to determine punishment?

40) If misery in hell must be equal in duration to joy in Heaven, is this not using the mathematical concept of symmetry to argue for eternal torment?

41) If God is supposedly obligated to the mathematical concept of symmetry, would He not be equally obligated to mathematical laws of fairness?

42) If we believe God will abide by the laws of time when He says punishment will be “eternal”, should we not also believe He will abide by the laws of mathematical fairness when He says He will judge the peoples with equity? (Psalm 98:9).

43) If no one got around to sharing the gospel with you, would you have been more worthy of hell than if you heard and received the message?

44) How can God say His “mercies are over all His works” (Ps 145:9) if He eternally torments the majority of mankind; many of whom because they were not fortunate enough to hear the gospel?

45) Is God at the mercy of men to share His gospel and save mankind from His own wrath which results in eternal torment in hell?

46) If there is an age of accountability as some suggest, is the youth who passes it by one day less fortunate because God did not take his life prior to that time?

47) How is the picture of an undying worm eating a corpse or an unquenchable fire burning one as seen in Isaiah 66:24 a picture of eternal torment (mental or otherwise)?

48) If hell is merely eternal separation from God, how can He “destroy both body and soul” with separation anxiety (Matt 10:28)?

49) Ezekial 18:23 says that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. How can it be justified that God would go infinitely beyond the laws of mathematical fairness to torment men eternally unless He takes pleasure in it?

50) Can you prove that the word for destruction (apollumi) is a synonym for torment?


Proportional Punishment

Despite the varying beliefs about the nature of divine punishment, most Christians agree that it will be proportional. However, in admitting this, we admit our sensitivity towards the fairness of punishment in hell. This presents some problems for the doctrine of eternal torment; which I will highlight in this article. If you haven’t already read it, check out my nearly exhaustive piece on Why I No Longer Believe In Hell. I explained in depth what the Bible teaches about eternal punishment.

1) Mathematics affirm that infinite punishment is an inequity.

In order to believe in proportional punishment, we must acknowledge that God has a way of measuring our sins in life. And if this measurement cannot be reconciled with mathematical fairness, it will not be fair by any definition known to man. Humans live finite lives, and therefore can only commit a finite amount of sin. And Christians almost unanimously affirm that some will sin to a greater degree than others, and thus incur greater punishment. And to believe that, we must acknowledge that the lesser sin of some is decidedly finite. Therefore, the punishment in hell must be finite if it is to be equal to the crimes committed. Any number multiplied by infinity will always exceed a finite amount.

For example, if our sins can be measured, let’s imagine my sin debt reached a level of 80 in my life. And let’s imagine my punishment was incredibly soft and only repaid me 0.001% of my sin debt per year in hell. I had lived 80 years, amassing 1% of my total sin debt per year. The punishment would then be less intense than the results of my sinning if I was punished yearly for less than 1% of my total sins. Now after 100,000 years my sin debt will have been fully paid, even if my yearly punishment was only equal to 0.001% of my total sin debt.

However, the descriptions of hell seem much more intense than my analogy suggests. I am being far too kind. I would venture to say that somewhere between 90-95% of humans will never commit a violent crime. And no one directly does violence to God unless they were one of the conspirators against Jesus. So it can be admitted that an estimated 90-95% of mankind will instantly experience a level of pain they themselves never inflicted upon another being. I won’t attempt to put a number on such a punishment but I imagine it would far exceed the 1% per year mark and repay men at a faster rate than they amassed their sin debt in life.

Let’s apply this to the analogy. I am now not being repaid for 0.001% of my sins per year, but well over 1%. I would be repaid at a rate that will result in full repayment of the sin debt before 80 years has passed. This would make any continued punishment a divine inequity which would amass a new debt that God would owe to me. This would be using dishonest and unbalanced scales to determine man’s punishment.

Proverbs 11:1 says:

“A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, But a just weight is His delight.”

God’s delight is in a “just weight”. Would the God who created mathematics bypass them in order to torture men infinitely for finite wrongs? We would accuse any judge of being unfair if they did not use just means of determining punishment. Yet we seem to think God is below using accurate weights, not willing to reward men “According to the results of his deeds”.

Jeremiah 17:10 says:

“I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.”

It must be admitted that mathematical fairness must be forfeited in order to uphold the doctrine of eternal torment in hell.

2) The admittance that the punishment of eternal torment could never be mathematically equal to the sins of man requires us to lay aside all assumptions that proportional punishment would be fair.

If we admit that no amount of eternal torment can be reconciled with mathematical fairness, it is hard to assume proportional punishment within hell would be mathematically fair. To believe that eternal torment is unfair, yet proportional punishment within hell is, we must assume that God uses two different measurements for man’s punishment.

The first measurement would defy mathematical fairness and damn all who do not believe to an eternity of misery.

The second measurement would submit to mathematical fairness and proportionally assign fair amounts of pain tolerance to the damned.

I would encourage anyone to provide biblical proof that the measurements used by God to determine the degrees of punishment in hell submit to the laws of mathematical fairness when eternal torment does not. If this cannot be provided, all those who embrace the doctrine of eternal torment must relinquish their presumptions that the degrees of punishment in hell will be mathematically fair. And if the punishment is not mathematically fair, man can find no peace of mind in assuming that God will repay proportionally in hell. Since eternal punishment does not conform to any human concept of fairness.

3) The argument that the sin of rejecting Christ requires eternal torment has no biblical evidence to support it.

Some Christians appeal to Mark 3:29 to prove that there is eternal sin:

“but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”

However, most Christians believe that all men are deserving of hell, not just those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit. If hell is what we all deserve, we all must be guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. But notice that whoever does this “never has forgiveness”. We would then have to conclude that if all are guilty of this eternal sin, no man can ever be forgiven.

I then ask anyone to prove that there is an eternal sin listed in the Bible besides this one? And if this sin truly is the only eternal sin, we must conclude that all other sins are not eternal. The eternality of this sin, like all things spoken of as eternal, is referring to effect. The effect of this sin results in eternal unforgiveness and condemnation for that man. In the previous verse Jesus says:

“Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter;” (Mark 3:28)

The argument that rejecting Christ’s sacrifice makes men worthy of unending torment is simply not biblical. And further, if this sin results in eternal torment, what about those who lived before Christ? How did they reject Christ before He came? Is the sin rejecting God then? It seems that many cults believe in God, but not Jesus. This is what sets Christianity apart from many false religions who reject Christ.

Romans 6:23 says:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As I showed in my previous article, the word death here cannot mean eternal torment unless Jesus Himself experienced eternal torment. The wages of sin is death. The weight is on those who believe this doctrine to prove from Scripture that God requires eternal torment as repayment; and that death is not the wages of sin.

4) If the sin of rejecting God requires an infinite duration of punishment, who can say it does not require infinite intensity?

If the sin of rejecting God is so serious as to incur infinite duration of pain, who can dismiss the claim that the punishment also requires infinite intensity of pain? The claim that rejection of God incurs infinite duration of torment has no more biblical evidence than the latter. There is no reason why both cannot be true. In fact, to borrow a common traditionalist argument, it would seem more fitting that if the amount of joy in Heaven is to be beyond our imagination, that the pain in hell would also be beyond imagination.

5) The symmetrical argument is merely philosophical deflection without any biblical evidence to back it up.

The argument is often made that “if joy in Heaven is eternal, torment in Hell must also be eternal.”. This is an attempt to prove that God must work symmetrically. It is the belief that all good must be equally mirrored with bad. However, in affirming this, traditionalists quickly find themselves in a contradiction. They are using a mathematical concept to prove eternal torment. And if God is then at the mercy of one mathematical concept, would He not then be equally accountable to mathematical fairness as shown in my first point? However, it is clear that God is not accountable to this, since symmetry is not a law but a “regularity that is possessed by mathematical object” (dictionary.com). The world is not symmetrical, and this can easily be proven. Your body is not symmetrical either.

Some may ask me how I can hold God to the law of mathematics if God is above all laws. In reply, I would point out that Christians seem very comfortable with holding Him to the laws of time, in the sense that when He says something is “eternal”, we believe He means forever. Is He bound by time? No. But He is bound by His character, which cannot lie.

Titus 1:2 says:

“in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago,”

Therefore if God says He is just, and affirms that He delights in “accurate scales” (Proverbs 11:1), and says that He will “give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:10), would it not naturally follow that God would have some sort of fair measure of our deeds to determine the punishment? And would it not also follow that to show His glory, the fairness of His measures would exceed that of any human judge?

Psalm 98:9 says:

“for He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness And the peoples with equity.”

The Hebrew word translated here as “equity” is defined by NAS Exhaustive Concordance as “evenness, uprightness, equity”. Would it not be logical to assume that “evenness” implies a mathematically reasonable system of fairness? Or did God simply create us with a higher sensitivity towards fairness than He possesses?

It seems that when contemplating eternal torment in hell, not a soul finds it to be more fair than the human justice systems that exist today. For example, in America the highest form of punishment is death. We do not subject men to lifelong torture because we believe that would be unjust. So I appeal to all: how would God gain glory for Himself if He did that which most wicked men do not dare to do?

6) The means of proportional punishment is hidden from those who believe in eternal torment as well as  those who believe in annihilation.

One common objection to the doctrine of annihilation is that exceedingly wicked men will get off easy on judgment day. However, this is not simply a difficulty for annihilationism, as traditionalists also must account for how the exceedingly wicked will be punished more. God’s Word is silent on how He proportionally punishes men. However, the concept is clearly alluded to in multiple passages, such as Matthew 11:21-24 and 2 Peter 2:20-21.

Hebrews 10:29 says:

“How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

Luke 12:42-48 says:

“And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”

The phrase “assign him a place with the unbelievers” clearly shows that this servant will not inherit the kingdom of God. Jesus then says that the wicked servant who has greater knowledge of the will of God will receive “many lashes”. Yet the one who has less knowledge will receive “but a few”. This requires proportional punishment in order to fulfill the truth of this parable. I also find it interesting to note that the punishment is not said to be less intense, but of limited duration.

The great white throne judgment in Revelation 20:11-15 contains no mention of proportional punishment, however it does say that all will be judged according to their deeds prior to being cast into the lake of fire.

Annihilationists can suggest at least three possibilities:

a) the wicked are punished proportionally during the Great White Throne Judgment before the destruction of being cast in the lake of fire.

b) the wicked are punished proportionally between the Great White Throne Judgment and the destruction of being cast in the lake of fire.

c) the wicked are punished proportionally within the lake of fire before being destroyed.

Given the fact that the lake of fire is figurative, we don’t have to assume it treats everyone equally. In fact, we are required to assume that it destroys Death and Hades, yet torments Satan and his angels. (Revelation 20:10-14). I don’t think it is overly presumptive to suggest that God has prepared the lake of fire to recompense men with proportional punishments.

All of the above options seem to be plausible, although they lack any direct statements from Scripture. Traditionalists also must presume that there is a unspecified method for proportional punishment. Generally the belief is that each man will be given a different body with unique sensitivity to pain, therefore allowing some men to feel less pain in hell. This also is an assumption, but a fair one if the lake of fire were a place of eternal torment.

7) The concept of proportional punishment suggests a sensitivity towards the damned that seems to be at odds with the doctrine of eternal torment.

Calvinists (I am not one) suggest that all who sin are equal in moral standing before God. No one is more deserving of grace than another man. They even go so far as to say that the non-elect are born as “vessels of wrath” and have no ability in themselves to choose to accept salvation (Romans 9:22). I ask then: why this sensitivity regarding proportional punishment in hell? If all who go there are merely “vessels of wrath”, why would it matter if they are tortured to the same degree as Satan himself? Does it not bring God more glory to torture them with all the intensity possible? Why should some be designed to be more wicked than others to incur greater punishment? Why would all not be worthy of the full measure of wrath?

But no, even Calvinists are sensitive to the fact that this is not justice. If an adult child turns away from Christ and dies in an auto accident, no one would dare bring up the possibility that this child will be tormented eternally to the same degree as Satan himself. This would be unspeakably cruel to suggest such a thing to a parent who has experienced a loss as this. But if the child was non-elect and it was done for God’s glory, why not rejoice in the justice of God? Rather, it seems we are ashamed to even speak of such a punishment.

For Arminians and those who embrace free will, it is easier to fall back on the idea that man “chooses” to go to hell. Yet I would encourage you to ask yourself if anyone actually chooses hell out of faith in it’s existence. It would seem to me that those who reject Christ also reject the idea that hell is real. The people who talk about going to hell seem to view it as a eternal party with Satan as the DJ. They mock it because they don’t believe it. If all did believe it to be a real place of eternal torment, I would imagine that no intelligent soul would be found in opposition to God.

People don’t choose hell and reject Christ. They choose their sin over Christ. They love their lives too much to lose them for the gospel. So we now must account for the fact that most men likely do not choose hell, but rather out of disbelief in it’s existence fall into it’s outstretched arms. I can’t name one person who seriously believes they are destined to go to hell. Can you?

Does every man in hell deserve the same punishment? If not, you affirm that not all who go there are equally sinful. Which then requires one to ask why every unbeliever deserves endless torment. You can attempt to believe that some will feel less pain than others, but the Bible’s descriptions still must be accounted for. It serves man no good to imagine all of the biblical descriptions of fire and torment as being eternal, yet pretend that for some it won’t be “that bad”. It seems an uphill battle. Indeed, the great champions of the doctrine such as Jonathan Edwards spoke of hell in the most shocking ways they could conjure. If it really isn’t “that bad”, one must still acknowledge that most of the historical church leaders who taught this doctrine continually emphasized the horrors of it for all men. If you want proof of this, check out this article from a friend of mine: http://conditionalism.net/blog/2012/10/torture/#more-316 .

At the very least it would be a miserable and never ending existence for even the least wicked man in hell. The Arminian can try to argue that punishment will be proportional and just (against the logic of point #2), but they still must grapple with the eternality of it for all.

8) The stark contrast between the believer and unbeliever’s fate reveals the illogical nature of the doctrine of eternal torment.

If we are sensitive to the fact that not all men sin equally and deserve equal punishment, how can we agree that all unbelief should result in such an unspeakable punishment as eternal torment? It seems the man who simply believes would receive unspeakable eternal blessings, while the man who simply rejects receives unspeakable eternal horrors. Yet we all know that many of us have been on both sides at one point in time. Most Christians are saved from the world that they were once a part of. I ask you to imagine yourself pre-salvation as being deserving of eternal torment in hell and post-salvation being deserving of eternal blessings in Heaven. Does it seem right that the difference between your being damned to eternal suffering in hell and salvation was partly in the hands of a mere man’s ability to share the gospel with you? If no one got around to sharing it with you, would you have been more worthy of hell than if you heard and received the message?

Think for a moment about the people who will never hear the gospel. If we believe the only way for them to escape hell is through the preaching of the gospel, their existence is nothing but the cruelest gift God could’ve given. Calvinists might as well abandon the doctrine of common grace if hell is true.

Psalm 145:9 says:

“The LORD is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works.”

Psalm 30:5 says:

“For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning.”

I ask any sober minded man to reconcile this mercy of God towards all He has made if He eternally torments the majority of mankind because they were not fortunate enough to hear the gospel. Is God at the mercy of men to share His gospel and save mankind from His own wrath? Is He in Heaven watching us and crying over souls that are not saved from hell because we failed to reach them with the gospel? Is God unable to act in justice towards all men? What happened to God’s sovereignty?

And if there is an age of accountability as some suggest, is the youth who passes it by one day less fortunate because God did not take his life prior to that time? If this were the case God would be more merciful to take the lives of all men before they become accountable. In fact, the reason we continue to bring children into the world if hell is a possible destination for them escapes me. Certainly God should have wiped out all mankind long ago in the flood if this were true. It reminds me of a friend who once told me she was not too concerned with abortion since the babies would go to Heaven. Think about that for a second. If this doctrine were true, I can’t argue with that logic. I stand on the authority of God’s Word however that this is not what God intends or desires.

9)  “Eternal separation from God” is a unscriptural euphemism used to describe the punishment of hell.

I believe this is the most common belief in the modern church. It’s easier to imagine a place that is simply devoid of God in which man will exist for eternity. Those unbelievers would dwell in sadness as they contemplate what they forfeited. The torment here is that of “undying worms of conscience”, and not that of literal torment by fire. Here there are differing levels of mental anguish based on a person’s memories of their wrongs.

This “worm of conscience” as designated by John Calvin is the result of taking a biblical metaphor, stripping it of any biblical meaning, and inserting one’s own idea of what it signifies. Nowhere in the Bible are worms used to refer to the conscience, or even torment for that matter. But they are used together with “unquenchable fire” in reference to corpses (Isaiah 66:24), which we can assume they devour; not torment. The sloppiness which some men exhibit in their handling of the Word of God utterly astounds me. No one in their right mind should believe that the picture of an undying worm eating a corpse or an unquenchable fire burning one is a picture of eternal torment (mental or otherwise). If this were so, we may wish to rethink how we dispose of corpses. Cremation could be incredibly painful for the deceased!

There is no scriptural proof that hell is simply the result of God being absent or that the punishment is separation. Will God “destroy both body and soul” with separation anxiety (Matt 10:28)? If He is absent He is not even destroying. Who then is responsible for man’s anguish? It would seem that man is left to punish himself mentally. And what is happening to the body? Will God “destroy both body and soul” but in actuality only harm the mind?

Matthew 5:30 says:

“it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Here we have seen the body is in hell, and apparently destroyed. So how is the destruction purely separation anxiety?

Job 34:14-15 says:

“If he should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.”

Here it is shown that if God removes “his spirit and his breath” (not man’s but God’s), all flesh would perish and return to dust. If God is fully absent in the punishment of hell, it must be proven how man’s existence could be sustained.

Even if one could get around these objections to the concept of eternal conscious separation, one still must ask how the damning of a soul to an eternally miserable existence can be mathematically fair. The dilemma of point #1 still applies to this view.

10) The argument that man can sin in hell disregards the finality of the Great White Throne judgment.

Some suggest that the reason torment in hell is eternal is because man will never stop sinning in hell. However, God’s final judgments are pronounced at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). It would seem to me to be a waste of time for God to be continually judging men in hell after the final judgment. And if He was, would that not leave room for good behavior as well? If He is judging evil, He would be obligated to judge good as well. This would make hell into something that more accurately resembles purgatory. It’s presumptuous to assume that man could have no inclination to be repentant in the fire but rather just keep sinning if this were the case.

And further, man will be repaid according to their deeds in this life. Never is it said that the wicked will be punished for the sins of “this age, and the one to come”. Judgment and punishment is always retrospective, just as man cannot be rewarded for good deeds done after the resurrection.

11) Upon further research, I have found there is a case to be made that even Satan and his angels will eventually be destroyed.

While Satan and his angels’ destiny has no effect on the fate of humans, the elephant in the room is the question of whether God would torture any created being eternally. I will present some reasons for believing that even fallen angels can and will be destroyed. The evidence does not seem conclusive to me, but it certainly should be contemplated. I wrote previously about my belief that they will be eternally tormented, but I now have doubts that this is true.

First, we have the sovereignty of God. He is all powerful, and alone has immortality (1 Tim 6:16). He is therefore bound by no created being. Therefore, even when it is said that angels “cannot die” (Luke 20:36), we can assume this is because God won’t let them die. While man dies from decay and natural causes, angels do not decay and can only be destroyed by God. It should also be noted however that the angels who cannot die are described in a parallel passage as those who are “in heaven” (Matt 22:30). These cannot die because God will not allow them to die.

Isaiah 14:12-15 is generally attributed to Satan, and verse 15 says of him:

“Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit.”

Sheol and “the pit” are Hebrew metaphors for death.  Implying that Satan will die.

In Mark 1:24, evil spirits who possessed a man said to Jesus:

“Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are– the Holy One of God!”

The word for destroy here is apollumi, which is the word used of man’s utter destruction. It is the strongest word for destruction in the Greek language; denoting annihilation. This implies that fallen angels can be destroyed.

When Revelation 20:10 says that they will be tormented “forever and ever”, we must also note that this phrase was used of the smoke of Babylon’s destruction in Revelation 19:3:

“Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.””

Babylon is believed to be the world system in the end times; controlled by Satan and his demons. Does anyone believe literal smoke from the destruction of this world system will go up forever and ever? This seems to be a hyperbolic statement indicating the enduring shame of fallen Babylon; as smoke always indicates in the Bible. Those who have used enduring smoke to indicate eternal suffering are mistaken because this smoke is coming from something that is destroyed. In fact, it is shown that wicked men will look upon the city as it burns.

Revelation 18:8-9 says:

“For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong. And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning.”

We know that not long after this there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

Revelation 21:1 says:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.”

If the first earth is destroyed, how can there be any smoke still rising from Babylon’s destruction? This is a case where forever and ever does not literally mean “forever and ever”, but refers to the enduring shame of destruction. So when Satan’s torment is said to last “forever and ever” it is fair to suggest that it could be hyperbolic, speaking of the substantial amount of torment he will receive in recompense for all his crimes. It would seemingly last “forever and ever” in comparison with the torment of man.

It is also worth noting that the word eternal in the Bible was never used to describe a never ending process, but always a never ending effect of an action (e.g. “eternal judgment” in Heb 6:2). So even if we were to find the phrase “eternal torment” in our Bibles, we would be forced to assume that it is referring to the eternal effect of the torment. This possibly suggests that there is no such thing as a never ending process of torment.

This also applies to “eternal fire”. It is very easily deduced that it is the effect of the fire that is eternal, not necessarily the fire itself. Jude 1:7 says that Sodom and Gomorrah “are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire”. And they were destroyed by it. Obviously their fire did not endure forever.

Isaiah 33:14 says:

“Sinners in Zion are terrified; Trembling has seized the godless. “Who among us can live with the consuming fire? Who among us can live with continual burning?””

This rhetorical question implies that no one can live with “continual burning”.

Jeremiah 7:20 says:

“Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, My anger and My wrath will be poured out on this place, on man and on beast and on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground; and it will burn and not be quenched.””

Here unquenchable fire is spoken of as coming on the entire earth; devouring not just men, but beasts, trees and fruit. We obviously do not assume they would be tormented forever, or that the fire would never end. But rather that it would not end until it accomplished it’s purpose.

Jonah 2:6 says:

“I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, But You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.”

Jonah was obviously not imprisoned forever in the earth. So we must admit that the Bible does make use of hyperbole at times with regard to time spans. For although it could’ve been said that the smoke of Babylon’s destruction rises “for a long time”, it simply does not have the same linguistic appeal as “forever and ever”.

We then have to ask where the lake of fire would be when the new heavens and new earth appear? If the old universe is destroyed, it is fair to suggest that the lake of fire, being mentioned before the new heavens and new earth might not exist at that point. Otherwise, it must exist outside of the old heavens and old earth. 2 Peter 3:13 says that we are looking for “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells”. If righteousness dwells in the new heavens and new earth, we can assume that nothing unrighteous will dwell in them. Which seems to suggest all unrighteous beings will be done away with. Why would fallen creatures be needed once they have been justly repaid for their wrongs? The power of Satan will be destroyed, so he would no longer be needed for any purpose.

2 Peter 3:10-13 says:

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”

This description makes me think that the lake of fire could be the destruction of all these things. For this would make perfect chronological sense. God would throw all that is impure (wicked men and angels) into the destruction of the old earth and old heavens by fire in Revelation 20:15 and then the new heavens and the new earth are revealed in the very next verse (Revelation 21:1) as well as the passing away of the old things.

Revelation 21:8 does speak of the lake of fire after the old heavens and old earth are done away with:

“He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”” (Revelation 21:7-8)

The whole statement however, cannot be a clear description of the chronology of these things after the New Jerusalem is established. If we take it all literally, those in the New Jerusalem would not have yet been God’s children, and God would not yet have been their God. And even more, those in the lake of fire would not yet have been thrown in: “their part will be in the lake”. So we must view this passage as narrative.

In the end, it’s harder to fully conclude that Satan and his angels will be destroyed than it is to conclude that men will. However, it is logical to suggest that they will be, given the evidence. In fact, other than the statement in Revelation 20:10, all evidence points to their eventual destruction. And even within the lake of fire, they are the only things assumed to be able to survive in it. Death, Hades and men are all to be destroyed within the eternal fire. It seems that to have these spirits tormented for eternity would be inconsistent with the overall theme of the end of the age, which includes the final elimination of all that is impure and the eternal preservation of all that is pure.

I’d encourage everyone to weigh my thoughts against Scripture and make their own decisions. I’m just a man like you, so don’t take me at my word, take God at His Word. If you have any substantive objections to what I’ve written I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Defining Death

In my previous article Why I No Longer Believe The Bible Teaches Hell, I presented a nearly exhaustive case from Scripture against the traditional doctrine of Hell. I attempted to cover all of the difficult passages presented by traditionalists, while also highlighting the many passages in support of my view. But I didn’t discuss the definition of death in depth. There is great inconsistency in the definition of death for those take the traditional view on Hell.

Romans 6:23 says:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Whatever death is here, it is contrasted with eternal life, and therefore defines the destiny of the wicked. Christians have been taught that the word death means “separation from God, resulting in eternal misery”. However, it does not take a rocket scientist to notice the lack of logic in this definition. The verse would have to read like this:

“For the wages of sin is an eternal life of misery, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

And even worse, using that definition we would have to conclude that Jesus experienced a life of eternal misery:

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death [eternal misery] of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10)

The same Greek word thanatos is used in both passages. No distinction is made between the two, and there is no modifying clause to suggest the words have different meanings. They are only one chapter apart, leaving no room for doubt that Paul was referring to the same concept of death.

If I were to say “Tommy is dead”  you would not assume that I meant “Tommy is alive and miserable”. A corpse can’t feel pain or be miserable. So why do we read Scripture this way? We have been taught to distinguish between “physical” and “spiritual” death when the Bible never makes the distinction.

The truth is, Greek philosophy and mythology influences our thinking more than Scripture. Plato popularized the concept of the immortal soul, not the Bible. Compare the Greek Tartarus to the Hebrew Sheol. I can guarantee Tartarus is closer to the church’s idea of Hell than Sheol.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tartarus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheol

I’m amazed at how annihilationism is often called “unscriptural” when it relies on biblical terms such as death and destruction. Meanwhile traditionalists rely on terms like “eternal conscious torment” or “eternal separation from God” (good luck finding those phrases in your Bible). It is rarely said that “the wicked will die in Hell” or “the wicked will be destroyed in Hell”. Yet Christians use words like “torment” and “separation” that are never once used to describe man’s eternal state. Revelation calls it the “second death” for a reason. Not the “first torment” or “first separation”. If it is either of those it would have nothing to do with the first death.

Matthew 10:28 says:

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”.

The word for destroy here is apollumi; the strongest Greek word for destruction. For those who believe in eternal misery I ask: how could Jesus have made it clearer? I don’t think there exists a word strong enough that theologians can’t twist. Imagine if the roles were reversed:

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who will never destroy either soul or body in hell.”

Do you think annihilationists could get away with saying that “never destroy” actually means “kill”? We would be deemed the most ignorant heretics that ever existed.

Complex Definitions

The annihilationist’s (those who believe the ungodly will be annihilated in the lake of fire) definition of death is simple. I attempted to define it here:

DEATH: 1) properly the loss of life; i.e. the state of having been returned to dust; the condition man was in before God breathed His spirit (rauch) into him to create a living soul (nephesh). (see Gen 2:7Eccl 3:18-21; Psalm 146:4). 2) metaphorically existence characterized by the fulfillment of the desires of the flesh; resulting in an inevitable death apart from God’s intervention. (see Eph 2:1; 1 Tim 5:6; Rom 8:13).

The traditionalist’s definition of death is much more confusing, as it varies depending on the righteousness of the person who dies:

DEATH: 1) properly the death of the body; resulting in the transportation of the righteous soul to a state where it can exist with God2properly the loss of life; i.e. spiritual separation of the unrighteous soul from God resulting in eternal misery; defined in Revelation 20 as “the second death”. 3metaphorically existence characterized by the fulfillment of the desires of the flesh; resulting in an inevitable death apart from God’s intervention. 

Now if my definition of the traditionalist’s view of death is flawed, feel free to write a better one in the comments. Since I am not of that viewpoint, I cannot speak for those who hold that view.  This is rather my observation from how the word is used by those who believe in eternal misery. I decided not to link applicable verses to bolster that definition, since I do not believe it is biblical.

To prove that a word acquired a connotation, one cannot look to future usage. One must provide evidence that the word gained the connotation by the time it was spoken; not after. Unless the word is clearly redefined by the speaker. In that case, it assumes a new connotation for future use.

For example, if I were to say that the modern slang word “sick” meant “cool” in the 1970’s,  I would have to prove that it was defined as such by the speakers in that time era. If I could not prove that this modern connotation of the word was prevalent in the 1970’s, then my statement is false. I would have to conclude that the modern connotation was developed at a later date. This would mean that when I see the word “sick” written by someone in the 1970’s, I cannot attach the modern meaning to it. The same is true with Bible interpretation. The phrase “the second death” was not recorded in the Bible any earlier than roughly 96 a.d. in the book of Revelation; which was the last book of the Bible to be written. Therefore we cannot admit this as evidence of a new connotation of the word death in earlier passages.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24)

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death.” (John 8:51)

“and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death [thanatos], and crucified him.” (Luke 24:20)

The metaphorical sense of the word is not applicable in these passages, otherwise we would already be paying the price for our sins right now; and would have no need for further punishment.

Romans 7:13 says:

“Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death [thanatos] for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death [thanatos] through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.”

Obviously, the wages of sin is not existence with God. So we must cross that out. Did Paul experienced separation from God resulting in eternal misery? No. He is metaphorically referring to “existence characterized by the fulfillment of the desires of the flesh; resulting in an inevitable death apart from God’s intervention.He was referring to his pre-conversion state. The commandments of the law produced sin, which put him to death, so to speak. Just as Romans 8:13 says:

“if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

To prove that the meaning of thanatos can be “an eternal life of misery”, it must be proven that this connotation existed before it was used to describe man’s eternal state. If you wish to search yourself, you can use this search tool: http://biblehub.com/greek/strongs_2288.htm.

The Old Testament does not contain any concepts such as this either. If anyone can find the word death defined as separation from God resulting in eternal misery within any part of Scripture, let me know. Further than that, it must be proven that death only affects the unrighteous, for to my knowledge no distinction is made. We all experience it according to the Bible (Heb 9:27).

Jesus’s Death and the Wages of Sin

For those who claim that we all deserve Hell, I must ask: did Jesus pay the full price of our sins? If it is eternal torment in Hell or separation from God, He did not experience it. So how can we say He took what we deserved if we deserve Hell? If the sense of the word is different in Romans 6:23 than it is in Romans 5:10, we are forced to conclude that Jesus did not taste the death our sins deserve. One would have to argue that it was simply His suffering prior to death and/or the sacrificial nature of it that paid the price.

Hebrews 9:15 says:

“For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death [thanatos] has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” 

Jesus paid the full price to redeem us, taking the punishment our sins deserve. And that is obviously death (thanatos). I ask again, can anyone prove that Jesus’ death was any different than the death that is the wages of sin? And if it is the same death, then we have proven that sin does not make us deserving of Hell, but deserving of the death Jesus experienced. And since death in Romans 6:23 stands opposed to eternal life, what can we assume will happen to the wicked? Will they burn eternally in Hell? No. Because the Bible says the wages of sin is the death Jesus experienced.

If Hell is not the wages of sin, what is it the result of? Existence? One would have to conclude that man did nothing to deserve Hell. I realize that in some more extreme Reformed circles that is unfortunately already the case. But I think it would be odd for God to say He is punishing sin and evil when in reality He would be intentionally not giving us what we deserve.

I think the better route would be to try to argue that Jesus did not suffer the “wages of sin”. But how one can make that case seems to escape me. I don’t know what evidence one would use to show that thanatos means something different in Romans 6:23 than it does in Romans 5:10. Nor do I know how one can say Jesus paid the full price for our sins, when He only paid part of it.

The only other option is to believe that Jesus actually did pay for our sins in Hell. If this is so, then I guess we can agree that He did pay the full price, if that is what we deserve. This however lacks Scriptural support, given He is never said to have visited Gehenna (the only word translated as hell in the NASB and ESV). And one cannot assume He will partake in the lake of fire in Revelation 20.

 The Biblical Definition of Death

The annihilationist’s definition of death is the biblical view of death. Let’s revisit it:

DEATH: 1) properly the loss of life; i.e. the state of having been returned to dust; the condition man was in before God breathed His spirit (rauch) into him to create a living soul (nephesh). (see Gen 2:7Eccl 3:18-21; Psalm 146:4). 2) metaphorically existence characterized by the fulfillment of the desires of the flesh; resulting in an inevitable death apart from God’s intervention. (see Eph 2:1; 1 Tim 5:6; Rom 8:13).

Now let’s interpret these passages:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death. [the loss of life; i.e. the state of having been returned to dust; the condition man was in before God breathed His spirit (rauch) into him to create a living soul (nephesh)]” (John 8:51)

“and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death [the loss of life; i.e. the state of having been returned to dust; the condition man was in before God breathed His spirit (rauch) into him to create a living soul (nephesh)], and crucified him. ” (Luke 24:20)

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death [the loss of life; i.e. the state of having been returned to dust; the condition man was in before God breathed His spirit (rauch) into him to create a living soul (nephesh)] of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10)

“For the wages of sin is death [the loss of life; i.e. the state of having been returned to dust; the condition man was in before God breathed His spirit (rauch) into him to create a living soul (nephesh)], but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 6:23)

Notice how death is never paired with the word eternal; even when contrasted with eternal life. This is because death is only final if God does not raise us from the dead. God has power over death. And that is how Jesus was able to pay the price of our death. He did not have to suffer eternal death, but just death. And when the phrase “the second death” occurs in Revelation, it is saying that this death is eternal destruction (2 Thess 1:9). There is no returning from the dead. It is the same death, but it is different from the first, because it is irreversible. God has chosen not to raise those who will die the second death.

We can see this concept at work with the tree of life in the garden.

Genesis 3:22 says:

“Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever “–“

Notice how God does not say “he cannot eat of it and live forever”. He was concerned that He would eat of it.

Genesis 3:24 says:

“So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.”

God kept Adam from eating of the tree of life. Why? Because He would “eat, and live forever”. If Adam and Eve would have eaten, they would have been immortal. Apparently that would’ve been a problem. Only God knows the exact reasons why. But we who are redeemed will eat of it in the New Jerusalem:

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:14)

And death will be no more for those who belong to Christ:

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”” (Revelation 21:4)

This is my hope. Make sure it is yours. Death has no hold on those who love God and are in Christ Jesus.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)


Why I No Longer Believe The Bible Teaches Hell

The doctrine of hell is one that is widely accepted, preached and defined as an essential belief of all Christians. It is rarely challenged in our churches despite the general admittance that it is hard to swallow, if not utterly inconceivable. There is something in our heart that struggles to connect our view of a loving and just God with the idea of eternal conscious torment. This does not mean that if true, the two cannot be reconciled, but I readily admit that it does not seem humanly possible. If we learned that a country was punishing even the most vile of murderers by severe and unending torture we would call it injustice. Much less if we found out that the majority of them never committed a violent crime.

Deuteronomy 25:2-3 says:

“if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt. He may beat him forty times but no more, so that he does not beat him with many more stripes than these and your brother is not degraded in your eyes.”

Exodus 21:23-25 says:

“But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”

Knowing God’s prescriptions for justice in the Old Testament, I find it hard to believe that eternal torment would fit any crime a human could possibly commit. For even if a man spent his entire life torturing an individual without ceasing, even that would pale in comparison to an eternity of unending torment as a result of God’s wrath. Some may argue that it is not God who does the punishing, but would that be any different from a mob boss having someone else do his dirty work? I am in no way making this charge of God, but pointing out the logical error of that line of thinking. God is in control, and He will cast into the lake of fire as an act of justice. Satan and his demons aren’t the tormentors, as they will be tormented themselves. God is ultimately responsible for making sure the punishment fits the crime. Let’s all acknowledge that no one forces God to torment men forever if it can be proven that He actually does.

Knowing that our Father’s reputation is on the line, we should take every precaution to teach exactly what the Bible teaches. And if we are going to proclaim from the rooftops that our God tortures men forever, we have a solemn duty to assure we are not in error. Many would say it is dangerous to challenge such a doctrine. For if I am wrong, will I not pay dearly for this mistake? Will I not be liable for the souls who believe me if I teach that divine punishment is less severe? I contend however, that to err on either side is to either defame the Holy nature of God or possibly lead men through the gates of hell. Both of which are extremely serious consequences. However, I do believe God’s grace is enough to help us when we err in good conscience. I pray that the man who teaches Hell and is thoroughly convinced it is biblical will find grace. And I pray if I and those who agree with me are wrong we will receive grace as well. There is however no excuse for the man who is not thoroughly convinced in his doctrine, yet teaches it dogmatically. If anyone perverts Scriptures for any reason other than conviction, he will be judged severely.

I assume my readers will agree with me that Scripture is the ultimate authority on all matters.  Yet ironically, the usual response I get from people when I challenge this doctrine is philosophical. For example: “If men are annihilated in the lake of fire, why should anyone be afraid of punishment?”. I find it ironic that the church has become so entrenched in the doctrine of hell, that our first response is not “what is your proof from Scripture?” but a weak attempt to defend the rational purpose of hell. As if we need hell in order to fear God. I believe that all men will be judged and punished or rewarded appropriately, as their deeds deserve, at the end of the age. This should be enough to make men fear.

I recently mentioned to a friend that I believe men will be “destroyed” in the lake of fire. His response was “I don’t believe that”. Yet I was using biblical language.

To quote 2 Thessalonians 1:9:

“These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,”

And 1 Corinthians 3:17:

“If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.”

I don’t expect you to believe these verses describe annihilation just because I quote them. However, it is important to note that when using biblical language, some object. As if I somehow am redefining  Scripture to fit my agenda. And if I were to continue using only the language that the Apostle Paul used to describe future punishment, I would risk being labeled unorthodox. Any fair minded person can deduce that these passages refer to the final punishment of the wicked. Is it not a warning sign when biblical language no longer suffices to describe our beliefs?

Let’s imagine for a moment that I did not say “destroyed” and instead said that the ungodly will be “eternally tormented in the lake of fire”.  To this I would earn a resounding “amen” from the masses, a “hallelujah” from the minister, and a somber “truth is truth” from those who hesitantly believe the doctrine. Yet any studied man of the Word knows that the phrase “eternal torment” is never found in the pages of Scripture.

Many people are very kind and humble when I talk to them about the issue, and admit that they have never really studied it. I must admit, I did not study it in depth until this month. And in the course of this time my whole view turned upside down. How foolish we are to not examine closely the things which pertain so directly to our very existence that we cannot avoid them.

And this leads me to write about some of the reasons why I no longer believe the Bible teaches hell. I will attempt to present a substantial list of objections. If you can disprove any of my reasoning, feel free to do so.

1. Scripture never once warned people of eternal torment, but always warned of destruction.

The Greek word used for Satan’s torment in the lake of fire in Revelation 20:10 is basanizó. This word is never once used to describe any human’s eternal state. However, it is used to describe the disciple’s struggle in rowing their boat in Mark 6:48:

“Seeing them straining [basanizó] at the oars, for the wind was against them”

The next time someone tells you the word “destroy” can mean “ruin without destruction”, tell them that “torment” can mean “rowing a boat across the lake of fire” and refer them to Mark 6:48. You will no doubt be given a blank stare.

Obviously grammatical context is important. This is not the same use of the word as in Revelation 20. Yet traditionalists can cite “destroy”,”destroyed” and “destruction” in all the non-parallel grammatical contexts and get away with it.

New Testament translator R. F. Weymouth said:

“My mind fails to conceive a grosser misinterpretation of language when the five or six strongest words which the Greek language possesses, signifying “destroy,” or “destruction,” are explained to mean maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence. To translate black as white is nothing to this.”.

As I said before, if I mention the word “destroy”, people instantly sense I’m not talking about hell. Torment is still considered the superior description of the second death. However, I have biblical weight in my favor. I did some word searches on BibleHub and found that the word “destruction” occurs 734 times in the Bible, “destroy” 379 times, and “destroyed” 377 times. A grand total of 1,490 occurrences between the three terms. The word “torment” in contrast appears only 19 times, and “tormented” 17 times. And never do they reference man’s eternal state.

If God was trying to warn the world about something, it was destruction. And this can be seen in the fact that nearly every reference to eternal punishment is connected to destruction or death. And indeed, this is the only consistent punishment that God warned of throughout the entire Bible. If you do a study of metaphorical fire in the Bible, it is always shown as consuming, leaving nothing but ashes. Never is it shown as means of endless torture.

Jude 1:7 says that Sodom and Gomorrah “are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”. This could not get much clearer. Although it actually does get clearer.

2 Peter 2:6 says “and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter;”.

I ask any traditionalist to prove how the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is an example of eternal torment in hell. Fire of judgment is always destructive and deadly. Peter notes that they were reduced to ashes.

2 Peter 2:1 says that those who teach heresies are “bringing swift destruction” on themselves. How is the destruction of eternal torment swift? And if torment is such a part of God’s nature, why is there no example of God punishing someone by prolonged torment? Can any of those who support eternal torment provide even one example of God tormenting people and not destroying them? If destruction means anything other than destruction, one must prove that the types and examples of the annihilation of men and nations throughout all ages has no influence on how we are to interpret the word.

One problem with redefining the word destruction is that none of the possible definitions make any sense in most verses. For example, let’s look at Matthew 10:28:

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

The Greek word for “destroy” here is apollumi. HELPS Word-studies defines it as:

“622 apóllymi (from 575 /apó, “away from,” which intensifiesollymi, “to destroy”) – properly, fully destroy, cutting off entirely(note the force of the prefix, 575 /apó).

622 /apóllymi (“violently/completely perish”) implies permanent(absolute) destruction, i.e. to cancel out (remove); “to die, with the implication of ruin and destruction” (L & N, 1, 23.106); cause to be lost (utterly perish) by experiencing a miserable end.

[This is also the meaning of 622 /apóllymi dating back to Homer (900 bc.]”

The NAS Exhaustive Concordance defines it as: “to destroy, destroy utterly”.

If a pastor were to say from the pulpit that souls will “completely perish” in hell, the outcry would be enormous. However, this is exactly what the word means in Matthew 10:28.

Some are quick to point out that the word can also mean “lose”. However, they do not consider the grammatical usage. Whenever the word is used in the aorist tense and the infinitive mood (such as in Matt 10:28) it is always translated as “destroy”, and never as “lose” (such as in Mark 8:35). But for the sake of argument, let’s pretend it can mean “lose”.

Now read Matthew 10:28 with “lose” inserted:

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to [lose] both soul and body in hell.”

Would people really be afraid of a God who can “lose” us in hell? Is God forgetful? Is God’s punishment passive? Is it the result of His failure to save us from it? Not at all. God doesn’t “lose” people in hell. He punishes evil with destruction. If anyone wishes to propose a different meaning for the word apollumi, let him choose from any of the NASB’s translations of it and insert it in Matthew 10:28 without changing the form of the word:

“bring (1), destroy (17), destroyed (9), dying (1), end (1), killed (1), lose (10), loses (7), lost (14), passed away (1), perish (14), perishable (1), perished (4), perishes (1), perishing (6), put to death (1), ruined (3).”

The only possible options that fit the grammatical context are: “destroy”, “end”, “lose”, “put to death”.  This makes it a rather pointless argument. If the soul is not destroyed in hell, then Jesus used the wrong word.

However, let’s venture even beyond all reason and suggest that the true meaning of destruction is “a state of being rendered useless” as traditionalists suggest. If this was the true meaning, God has the ability to render souls useless as seen in Matthew 10:28. The soul is the most personal part of man shown in the Bible. It refers to the sum of man’s inmost thoughts, emotions, personality, and mental state of being. If that is “rendered useless”, as opposed to being destroyed, how can we have any consciousness? For it seems our mind would be useless. You can’t render it partially useful. After all, this is the harshest word in the ancient Greek to describe destruction. Yet we would have to turn the useless soul into a vague concept of one that is “utterly useless, yet able to think and feel pain”. I ask anyone to prove how being rendered utterly useless implies any sense of life for the soul? Further than that, I want specific examples of where this is taught or shown in the Bible.

Some may point out that Revelation 17:8 refers to the Beast as “going to destruction”, when in fact he will be tormented forever in the lake of fire. However, the Greek word used for the Beast is the one traditionalists would need in the rest of the Bible. It is the word apóleia .

HELPS Word-studies elaborates:

684/apṓleia (“perdition”) does not imply “annihilation” (see the meaning of the root-verb, 622/apóllymi, “cut off”) but instead “loss of well-being” rather than being (Vine’s Expository Dictionary, 165; cf. Jn 11:50; Ac 5:37; 1 Cor 10:9-10; Jude 11).”

Notice that this word “does not imply “annihilation””. The fact that this is mentioned proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the intensified word apollumi means annihilation. However, some, such as John MacArthur say that the use of the word in Matthew 2:13 proves  that it does not:

“Apollumi is the word to destroy. But it is not its only meaning. That’s not the only possibility. But they say that word says that the ones who are under the judgment of God will be destroyed both soul and body in hell, so that they would go to hell and then be wiped out and exterminated, annihilated forever, non-existence.

Is that the correct understanding of that word? Fortunately we have that word 80 times in the New Testament so we get a good breadth of understanding about how the verb apollumi is used. It has very broad meaning. In Matthew 2:13 it is the word used where it says in that verse, “Herod desired to destroy the baby.” Herod wasn’t thinking about soul annihilation, he was thinking about murder.” (John MacArthur, The Truth About Hell)

However, he errs here because he references a verse about destroying the body. Man’s soul in Matthew 10:28 is destroyed, in contrast with the body. Jesus says that men can kill the body (physical), but cannot kill (permanently) the soul. Herod could kill the body, but could not kill the soul of Jesus, because God has the power to raise the dead. The soul was not the object of Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus. But the soul is the object in Matthew 10:28. You can’t simply ignore tough passages without giving an alternate interpretation.

2. The English word translated “hell” does not occur in the original manuscripts.

Hell is not of Hebrew or Greek but Germanic origin. It is unnecessarily and clumsily used in our Bibles to refer to four different Hebrew and Greek proper nouns. Some of which differ substantially in meaning.

“The Old English hel belongs to a family of Germanic words meaning “to cover” or “to conceal.” Hel is also the name, in Old Norse, of the Scandinavian queen of the underworld. Many English translations of the Bible use hell as an English equivalent of the Hebrew terms Sheʾōl (or Sheol) and Gehinnom, or Gehenna(Hebrew: gê-hinnōm). The term Hell is also used for the Greek Hades and Tartarus, which have markedly different connotations. As this confusion of terms suggests, the idea of hell has a complex history, reflecting changing attitudes toward death and judgment, sin and salvation, and crime and punishment.” (hell, Encyclopedia Britannica).

The King James Version is deceptively translated so that the Hebrew word Sheol was translated as hell when it referred to the unrighteous, yet  grave or death when referring to the righteous. This is a monumental error that has been partially rectified by the removal of the word hell from the Old Testament in all modern translations I am aware of; with the exception of the KJV and the modernized New King James Version.  Even the NKJV eliminated 12 occurrences of the word in the Old Testament.

I would suggest that in actuality these were not errors, but intentional mistranslations. But what motive would there be to do this? I don’t want to assume that the translators were not committed to the truth. But such blatant mistranslations cannot be attributed to mere sloppiness. The interchange of terms depending on the righteousness of the person going down to Sheol must have been intentional. I would suggest two reasons: doctrinal conformity and church authority.

The two intersect perfectly with the “Thirty Nine Articles”, established in 1562. The Articles form the basic summary of belief of the Church of England at that time. And this includes the word “Hell” in Article III:

“As Christ died for us, and was buried, so also is it to be believed, that he went down into Hell.”. (The 39 Articles of Religion, Victorian Web)

I believe this is mostly due to Richard Bancroft; who was the

“74th archbishop of Canterbury (1604–10), notable for his stringent opposition to Puritanism, his defense of ecclesiastical hierarchy and tradition, and his efforts to ensure doctrinal and liturgical conformity among the clergy of the Church of England. He also played a major role in the preparation of the King James Version of the Bible.”. (Richard Bancroft, Encyclopedia Britannica)

You can see that Bancroft was heavily involved in both the doctrinal conformity of the Church of England and the preparation of the King James Version. He was also responsible for establishing a new canon law for the church:

“In April 1604, two months after Whitgift’s death and with the backing of King James I, Bancroft secured the acceptance by a convocation of the clergy of a new canon law for the church. On Dec. 10, 1604, Bancroft was installed as archbishop of Canterbury. He used the power of his position to institute doctrinal and liturgical standards for priests and bishops and to establish guidelines for the compilers of a new English translation of the Bible; the King James Version, as it was subsequently known, was published in 1611, after Bancroft’s death.”. (Richard Bancroft, Encyclopedia Britannica)

Let’s examine Article V of the 1604 Canon Law, the acceptance of which Bancroft secured:

“Whosoever shall hereafter affirm, That any of the Thirty Nine Articles agreed upon by the Archbishops, and Bishops of both Provinces, and the whole Clergy in the Convocation holden at London in the Year of our Lord God, One thousand five hundred sixty two, for avoiding diversities of Opinions, and for the establishing of Consent touching true Religion, are in any part Superstitious or Erroneous, or such as he may not with a good Conscience subscribe unto: Let him be Excommunicated ipso facto, and not restored but only by the Archbishop, after his Repentance and publick Revocation of such his wicked Errors.”. (1604 Canon Law, Anglican.net)

Here we have substantial motivation for conformity to the doctrine of Hell. Since Article III of the Thirty Nine Articles references hell, the King James translators would’ve been careful to affirm this doctrine in their translation. For they would risk excommunication if they were found to be opposed to it according to the new canon law. Not including the word hell in the Bible would’ve been grounds for allegations of dissent. Not only that, but the direct guidance and influence of Bancroft alone would be enough to secure the inclusion of the word in the KJV.

Even with these glaring errors, the KJV remains a fairly accurate translation. Especially given the time era in which it was created. However, these errors are very serious. One should carefully study the original Hebrew and Greek words that were so carelessly translated as “hell” before drawing conclusions as to the doctrine.

3. The Old Testament contains no teachings on or allusions to eternal misery in the afterlife.

It is clear that the Old Testament never taught the doctrine of hell. And since Israel was never warned by God or the prophets of the danger of eternal torment, many would have no doubt descended blindly into the depths of hell unaware that it existed.

Walter Balfour writes in An inquiry into the Scriptural import of the words sheol, hades, tartarus, and gehenna : all translated hell, in the common English version:

“The man who can find similar ideas, and similar language in the Old Testament, as are in common use in our day about a place of eternal misery, must have read his bible with more attention than I have done. After repeated and careful perusals of it, I frankly confess my inability to find, either such ideas or language. I ask then, if the Old Testament writers had any such ideas, why did they not express them ? I ask further, if they never expressed such ideas how do we know that they had them ?… If the doctrine of eternal misery was known and believed in those days, is it not very unaccountable, that so many ages should pass away, before God commanded the Gospel to be preached to every creature, and before those who knew the danger, to which men ignorant of it were exposed, should use exertions to save them from it. If the doctrine be false, we may cease to wonder at this, but if it be true, it is not easy to reconcile these things with the well known character of God, and the feelings of every good man.” (p. 29, 31)

Yet some still unfortunately use the Old Testament to support the doctrine of hell. Despite the fact that if all occurrences of the word Sheol were translated as hell, we would have to conclude that righteous men such as Jacob, David and Job among others had either descended to hell or believed they were going there upon death. For they spoke of it as their destination. (Gen 42:38Job 14:13; Psa 16:10, 88:3Isa 38:10). Both the righteous and the wicked were believed to go down to Sheol. However, popular Bible teacher  John MacArthur seems to use this translation error to support hell:

“This is not new. This is what the Bible has said. You can go back to Moses. You can go back to the Pentateuch, the first section of books in the Bible. In Deuteronomy 32:22, it reads this way in the Authorized Version, “A fire is kindled…says God…in my anger and burns to the lowest part of hell.” The 1611 King James version made it clear even that early that the anger of God reached into hell.” (John MacArthur, The Truth About Hell)

Notice he is careful to say “The 1611 King James version made it clear”. I dare say this comes very close to using deliberate deceit to convince people of hell. Someone with as much knowledge as him should know better. If the 1611 King James Version made the doctrine of hell clear, the original Hebrew texts certainly did not. Deuteronomy 32:22 uses the word Sheol. If a fire was literally kindled in Sheol, it would’ve been burning all the dead of Israel. This is not careful handling of the texts.

To quote Balfour:

“Since neither Sheol nor Hades, nor even the word hell, in English, originally signified a place of endless misery, we have a few questions to put to those who believe in this doctrine. We ask, then, is it not a perversion of the divine oracles, to quote any of the texts in which Sheol or Hades occurs, to prove it ? It is well known that such texts are often quoted for this purpose. But I ask again, is it not a very great imposition upon the ignorant, to quote such texts in proof of this doctrine? The simple, honest-hearted English reader of his Bible, sees the word hell often used by the sacred writers. He has been taught from a child, that hell means a place of endless misery for the wicked. Every book he reads, every sermon he hears, all tend to deepen his early impressions, and confirm him in this opinion. Those who know better, are not much disposed to undeceive him about such mistaken views and wrong impressions. On the one hand, they are perhaps deterred from it by a false fear of disturbing public opinion, and on the other, by reluctance to encounter the odium of the Christian public, in being looked on as heretics. Select the most celebrated preacher you can find, and let him frankly and fully tell his audience, that neither Sheol, nor Hades, nor even our word hell, did, originally, mean a place of endless misery, and his celebrity is at an end. He would from that moment be considered as an heretic, and his former admirers would now be his most warm opposers.”.  (p. 68, 69)

If God’s people were given no Word from God about the danger of hell before Jesus taught about it, we must conclude then that the gospel brought it to light. The arrival of Christ was said to be “good news of great joy which will be for all the people ” (Luke 2:10). Yet if the doctrine of hell is correct, the overwhelming truth Jesus brought was that the vast majority of all men from the beginning of time have been and will continue to be eternally tormented. If “the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matt 7:14), how could this have been “good news of great joy which will be for all the people “? It would’ve been the most terrible word anyone could’ve ever received! Then it must be proven by traditionalists (those who believe in a literal hell) that God’s people not only knew about hell in the Old Testament, but that God specifically revealed it to them.

4. The NASB and ESV bibles both contain a mere 13 occurrences of the word hell; all in the New Testament.

The NASB uses the word “heaven” a overwhelming 457 times, yet “hell” only 13 times. The NIV includes one more to make 14. The gospel of John does not include the word hell at all. Outside of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, only James used the word, and he used it figuratively. I would argue that if Matthew, Mark and Luke were not included in the Bible, no one would believe in the doctrine of hell.

The Apostle Paul, who was at one time a Pharisee “of the strictest sect” (Acts 26:5), was no doubt acquainted with the concept of the afterlife. The Pharisees, as opposed to the Sadducees, believed in the resurrection of the dead. He was arguably more studied in the Hebrew Scriptures than any other New Testament writer. He was also the most prolific writer in the Bible. 13-14 of the 27 books of the New Testament are attributed to him. Yet he never made a single reference to hell or a final habitation of the wicked. You would think an eternal destination in which men are mercilessly tormented forever would at the very least deserve a passing reference by the apostle.

5. There is no evidence that the apostles ever preached or taught about hell or alluded to a place of eternal misery; and Jesus only spoke of it twice to unbelievers.

I will quote Balfour again:

“If Gehenna means a place of endless misery for the wicked, it is a fact that the apostles never preached it, either to Jews or Gentiles. The history of the Acts of the apostles, contains an account of their preaching for thirty years, but not once is the subject of hell or Gehenna torments, mentioned by them. They were commanded to preach the gospel to every creature, and they did so, but to no creature under heaven, did they ever preach this doctrine. No living being did they ever threaten with such a punishment. They addressed the worst of characters, but to none of them did they ever say, ” how can ye escape the damnation of hell ?” They did threaten men sometimes with punishment, but never with eternal punishment in hell.”. (p. 182)

Jesus Himself is the only person in the entire Bible who is believed to have taught directly about hell. Yet Balfour narrows that down even further:

“So far from this, in nine instances out of eleven, where Gehenna is used by him, he was addressing his disciples. It is of no use to observe, that his apostles never made use of the punishment of hell to induce men to repentance, for they do not once name it in all their writings. James is the only exception, who mentions hell once, and that only in a figurative sense. Nothing is said in our Lord’s commission to his apostles about hell, and as little is said of it by them in their execution of it. To Jew and Gentile, bond and free, they are all silent about it. It is never mentioned by them to any persons, on any occasion, or in any connexion, or on any subject.”. (p. 226)

This fact makes it hard to take John MacArthur seriously when he says:

“Yes, Jesus was a hell-fire preacher… Jesus spoke more about hell than anybody else in the Bible. In fact, He spoke more about hell than everybody else in the Bible combined…. He continually spoke about hell and He warned sinners to escape hell because of its horrible reality.” (John MacArthur, The Truth About Hell)

Yes, it is quite easy to speak about hell more than anyone else when no one else is recorded as speaking about it. I refer again to Balfour:

“It is certain our Lord was faithful to him who appointed him. The apostles were also faithful, in declaring the whole counsel of God. But can all this be true, if they knew that hell was a place of eternal misery, and that all the world stood exposed to it, yet said nothing to them about it ? It is true, the Saviour mentions hell nine times to his disciples, and twice to the unbelieving Jews, but we have seen that he did not refer to such a place of misery.— Neither he nor his apostles ever use the word in speaking to the Gentiles. Now I ask, is this like being faithful? Is this being half so faithful as most preachers are in our day ? We think every candid man must say no; it is rather being very unfaithful, if they indeed believed this doctrine as it is commonly received among us. Let it then be accounted for, how preaching hell as a place of endless misery now is so much a duty, since it was not so accounted by the apostles, nor even by our Lord him self. The fidelity of preachers in these days, both to God and the souls of men, in preaching the doctrine of endless misery in hell, far exceeds that of the apostles or of Christ, the Saviour.” (p. 228, 229)

6. The doctrine of eternal torment is based on the idea that man possesses an immortal soul; which is never taught in the Bible.

Even the strongest supporters of the immortal soul know that the Scriptural validity of their argument rests on implied evidence. In fact, it owes more to the Greek philosopher Plato.  It contradicts the Bible’s teaching that Jesus “alone possesses immortality”  (1 Tim 6:16); as well as the rampant descriptions of man’s mortality in 1 Corinthians 15. In Romans 2:5-8 Paul taught that God will give eternal life to those seek immortality. And these who receive it are contrasted with those who do evil and receive wrath and fury. The great reformer Martin Luther rejected the notion that man is immortal and believed that souls would be in a sleep like state until the resurrection.

Jesus said that God can “destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matt 10:28). The Hebrew word for soul, nephesh, is the word used of Adam when he became a living “creature” as the result of God breathing life into Him (Gen 2:7). This word was also used to describe animals (Gen 1:24; Lev 24:18Job 12:10). And it is used to speak of dead men (Num 9:6, Num 19:13Lev 21:1). Deuteronomy 24:7 says the soul can be kidnapped.  It is obvious that the soul is not referring to what people think it is.

At this point some will argue that it is the spirit (Greek word pneume, Hebrew word rauch) that is eternal and not the soul. But Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 quickly shoots that down:

“For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath [rauch] and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. Who knows that the breath [rauch] of man ascends upward and the breath [rauch] of the beast descends downward to the earth?”.

Scripture has shown that:

1) The soul can die and be destroyed,  and every soul dies the first death.

2) If the the spirit of man is immortal, the spirit of animals must also be immortal. For no distinction is ever made between the two in Scripture. And according to Solomon, we have “the same breath [rauch]” as animals.

The spirit (rauch) is described as God’s, not ours, and He can remove it at will, leaving us dead (Gen 6:3; Psalm 104:29-30). Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 12:7:

“and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit [rauch] returns to God who gave it.”

Man’s spirit (which is actually God’s) returns to God at death. This means that it cannot go to hell. And not only that, the spirits of wicked men would have to exist consciously with God in Heaven if the spirit is always conscious. The spirit is obviously not the man, but the breathe of life God puts in Him. The Bible says that God raises the dead. But we would have to redefine that as: ‘God transports living souls in and out of mortal and immortal bodies as well as intermediate states where they have no body’ if man is intrinsically immortal.

The human equation from Scripture is:

Flesh (basar) + Spirit (rauch) = Living Soul (chay nephesh)

Flesh (basar) – Spirit (rauch) = Dead Body (muth nephesh)

1 Corinthians 15:45-46 expresses this by contrasting Adam with Christ:

“So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL [psuché].” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit [pneume]. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual.”

Psalm 136:3-4 says:

“Do not trust in princes, In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit [rauch] departs, he returns to the earth; In that very day his thoughts perish.”

From this verse we learn that:

1) Man is “mortal”.

and

2) Man’s “thoughts perish” when his spirit departs; indicating a loss of consciousness.

Encyclopedia Britannica says:

“In classical Judaism death closes the book. As the anonymous author of Ecclesiastes bluntly put it: “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward” (Eccles. 9:5). The death of human beings was like that of animals: “As one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts . . . all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again” (Eccles. 3:19–20). Life alone mattered: “A living dog is better than a dead lion” (Eccles. 9:4). Even Job, whose questioning at times verges on subverting Yahwist doctrine, ends up endorsing the official creed: “Man dies, and is laid low . . . . As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up, So man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake, or be roused out of his sleep” (Job 14:10–12)” (death, Encyclopedia Britannica)

Some claim that 1 Corinthians 15 teaches that all men will receive immortality at the resurrection, but it is clearly speaking of the righteous receiving it:

“in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?”” (1 Co 15:53-54)

If all the dead are raised “imperishable”, then no one would perish or die. Yet the Bible teaches that the wicked will perish:

“and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.” (2 Thess 2:10)

“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3)

2 Timothy 1:10 says that Christ “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”. Here it is shown that immortality is a part of the gospel. Certainly no one will live forever apart from the gift of salvation from God. This fact contradicts the doctrine of eternal torment. In order to prove hell is a place of eternal torment, it must be proven from Scripture that wicked men will be granted immortality. For if the righteous need to “put on immortality”, would not the wicked have to as well?

7. Not only is hell built on man’s presumed immortality, but it is also built on the assumption that the soul is always conscious.

The Hebrew word for soul, Nephesh, is defined by Strong’s Concordance as

“a soul, living being, life, self, person, desire, passion, appetite, emotion”

If the soul is dead (which I’ve shown to be possible), we can assume consciousness dies. We are not conscious before God puts his spirit in our bodies, so why would we be after? The spirit (rauch) that God breathed into our bodies created our soul (nephesh). Remove one of the ingredients (spirit or body) and you no longer have a soul.

Even if our souls could survive death,  I will point out that the average person is unconscious for 8 hours a night. If our souls are always conscious, we would be awake during that time. When people go into a state of coma, outside stimuli cannot awaken a person. Jesus referred to Lazarus’ death as sleep (John 11:11) . The Old Testament refers often to death as sleep (Job 3:13; Job 14:12Psalm 90:5), as does the apostle Paul (1 Co 15:20; 1 Thess 4:13Eph 5:14). I think it is fair to assume that unless God actively raises us from the dead, we are not conscious. And that is not universally promised until the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age (1 Co 15).

It is important to note that the Old Testament authors did not believe that they were going to ascend to Heaven at death; but rather they spoke of going below to Sheol (the grave). The examples of Elijah and Enoch are used to support the idea that the righteous go to Heaven at death. However, the Israelites knew about these men and still did not believe that they were going to Heaven at death. And it makes sense that they wouldn’t, otherwise Jesus’ sacrifice wouldn’t have been necessary. And to press this further, if man could go to Heaven and no longer be separated from God before Christ came, why did he come? Since death is defined by most traditionalists as separation from God, this would prove that Christ’s death was unnecessary, unless it was to actually free us from death AND separation.

In the third chapter of his book, Job laments being born. He wished he would’ve died at birth:

“For then I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept; then I would have been at rest, with kings and counselors of the earth who rebuilt ruins for themselves, or with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver. Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners are at ease together; they hear not the voice of the taskmaster. The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master. Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures, who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave?” (Job 3:13-22).

Job’s sentiment agrees with the Jewish view of death:

“In Sheol, the good and the wicked shared a common fate, much as they had in the Babylonian underworld. The place did not conjure up images of an afterlife, for nothing happened there.”. (death, Encyclopedia Britannica)

8. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man (used to support hell) cannot be taken literally without creating conflict with the rest of Scripture.

Most modern preachers don’t follow fair rules of interpretation and arbitrarily choose what is literal in this parable. What I mean by this is that we should either agree that all of it is to be taken literally or none of it is to be taken literally. Let’s examine the parable in Luke 16:

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)

Some try to reconcile this parable with Scripture by claiming that Sheol has two parts, one for the righteous and one for the wicked. As you can see from the visual below:

This is an incredibly complicated mess that shows how difficult it is to reconcile this parable with the rest of Scripture. I will show however, that it is not possible to reconcile the literal implications of this parable with the rest of Scripture.

First of all, do we really believe Jesus intended on giving totally new revelations about an afterlife of eternal torment that the Old Testament never taught? And did He believe that a parable of all things was the best way to do so? Did He really mean to redefine the Greek and Hebrew words for “grave” and reveal a new, separate destination called Abraham’s Bosom?

Hades is the word used here to describe where the rich man was in torment. It is widely known that Hades is the Greek equivalent of Sheol. If Hades is a place of punishment, then as I previously said, you must throw all the Old Testament saints in there with the rich man to be in torment. If Jesus was teaching literal truths about the afterlife, He sure was making things confusing. Why would He not have just used one word to describe hell?

In Acts  2:27 Peter quotes the Psalmist to refer to Jesus as being in Hades (translated from the Greek word Sheol):

“YOU WILL NOT ABANDON MY SOUL TO HADES, NOR ALLOW YOUR HOLY ONE TO UNDERGO DECAY.”.

It is well known that some have believed that Jesus went to hell. And here is the reason why. If Hades meant hell, then Jesus was in hell. Job 17:16 refers to the “gates of death [Sheol]”, and in Matthew 16:18 this is repeated as “the gates of Hades”, although the KJV translated it as hell.

Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire.  This is a perfect example of the translation error of the KJV, because it translates Hades as hell:

“And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:14 KJV)

Even if one could prove that all the details of this parable are literal, it would only be temporary. If Hades is hell, then hell is not eternal. I urge traditionalists to stop using this parable to support hell unless they are willing to add the disclaimer that hell is not eternal.

John MacArthur makes the leap to say that the poor man is in Heaven, indicating that he believes the reference to Abraham’s Bosom is figurative:

“Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. That’s kind of an Old Testament reference to a place of comfort, a place of peace where Abraham is and Abraham, of course, was a true believer as the father of faith who received righteousness because he believed. So this would be heaven.”. (John MacArthur, The Truth About Hell)

I reiterate that we should not pick and choose what is literal and what is figurative in this parable based on what can be conveniently explained. If Jesus meant to teach truths about the afterlife here, our theology must account for every detail.

The phrase Abraham’s Bosom is never found anywhere else in the Bible. Notice how he says “That’s kind of an Old Testament reference to a place of comfort”. Kind of? How about not at all? John MacArthur not only cannot say for sure that it is an OT reference, but he also rejects the literal interpretation that Abraham’s Bosom is a real place by saying it is Heaven. Why did Jesus not call it Heaven then? And if it is Heaven, is it close enough to Hell that people can hold conversations? If hell is below and earth is above, the world is in the middle blocking it. It also says that the poor man “was carried away” (another expression unique to the parable), which would contradict the Jewish understanding of going “down” to Sheol in death.

And if this is Sheol, we must account for the fact that the equivalent word is Hades. And since the rich man is shown in Hades, the poor man cannot also be in Hades (or Sheol). Unless Hades is unfortunately termed as a subcategory of Hades; which seems unlikely. If it is not a subcategory of Hades/Sheol we must to conclude that Jacob, Job and David, and even our Lord Jesus went to Hades, while the poor man was miraculously transported elsewhere to be with Abraham.

We see that this parable cannot be teaching literal truths about the afterlife. The parable from the context was given:

1) To condemn the love of money (which the Bible says the Pharisees loved).

2) To show that even if someone came back from the dead they would not be convinced about Jesus because they did not believe Moses and the Prophets

3) To debunk the common Hebrew notion that wealth indicated God’s favor, while poverty meant lack of favor. The context is so obvious it cannot be missed.

At the start of Luke 16 Jesus gives The Parable of the Unrighteous Steward. This deals with stewardship of resources. It begins with the same phrase that is used to begin the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man: “There was a rich man”. At the end of the parable he says “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.”.

Verses 13-14 say: “You cannot serve God and wealth. Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. “.

Then in verse 16 Jesus says: “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.”.

Then in verse 19 the parable begins.

Here we have noticed that two topics are addressed previously in the chapter:

1) Worldly wealth, shown related to Heavenly dwellings. (Verses 1-13).

and

2) The testimony of the Law and the Prophets, which they did not believe. (Verse 16). Which is said to be the reason no one could come back from the dead and convince the Jews in the parable.

Balfour makes an important point about this parable:

“If Moses and the prophets had testified, that Sheol was a place of torment, there was indeed no necessity for one being sent from the dead to testify to men about this; but if they had not, it was very necessary that such a messenger should be sent; for no divine revelation had been given about it. Either, then, it must be proved that Moses and the prophets had taught Hades or Sheol to be a place of torment after death, or the common interpretation of this parable must be abandoned.”. (p. 58)

Jesus used the liberal Pharisee’s own Greek influenced theology against them in this parable. They were the ones who came to believe in a two-part Sheol, one part for the righteous and one part for the wicked; where the wicked could be in torment. The Sadducees however did not believe this. Jesus tailor made this parable for the Pharisees here. And we should not assume it extends any farther than what the rest of the passage separate from this parable teaches. Jesus was not in the middle of a discourse on the end times or eternal punishment. And it shouldn’t be presumed that His use of their erroneous theology is equivalent to teaching it. The Apostle Paul quoted Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Acts 17:28 to teach about God. This despite the fact that the quotes in their original contexts did not teach about the one true God. Paul used language that was familiar to his audience to teach the truth. Yet he did not teach what the philosophers taught. And Jesus did the same here.

9. Metaphors such as “unquenchable fire” and “worms that never die” refer clearly to the shame of death and destruction as seen from Isaiah 66:15-24.

On this I will quote from Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges:

“This verse is the basis of the later Jewish conception of Gehenna as the place of everlasting punishment (see Salmond, Christian Doctrine of Immortality, pp. 355–360). Gehenna is the Hebrew Gê-Hinnôm (Valley of Hinnom), the place where of old human sacrifices were offered to Molech (Jeremiah 7:31 f., et passim), and for this reason desecrated by king Josiah (2 Kings 23:10). Afterwards it became a receptacle for filth and refuse, and Rabbinical tradition asserts that it was the custom to cast out unclean corpses there, to be burned or to undergo decomposition… If this passage is of too early a date, as Dillmann thinks, to admit of a reference to the horrors of the Valley of Gehinnom, the double figure of the worm and the fire may be due to the two ways of disposing of the dead, by interment and by cremation. The immediate object of the description of the worm as never dying and the fire as never being quenched, appears to be to mark the destination of those men as a perpetual witness to the consuming judgements of God, and one which all flesh may see.”.

It is well noted that the concept of Gehenna being a place of torment did not come from the pages of Scripture. And here it is acknowledged that this passage is the basis for the “later Jewish conception of Gehenna as the place of everlasting punishment”. This conception was heavily influenced by Greek mythology and apocryphal writings such as the fanciful book of Enoch, which seemingly blended elements of Greek mythology with the Jewish religion. Until someone can clearly show that any changes in the connotation of the word Gehenna (translated as hell in the NT) were sanctioned by God, then we must understand that the references to it mean what Isaiah intended it to. And since Gehenna is the only word Jesus used to teach of hell, we now have proved that Jesus was not teaching about eternal torment.

Now let’s examine the reason behind these warnings of Jesus to his disciples specifically about Gehenna fire. The historian Josephus records the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. (just under 40 years after Christ’s ascension) in THE WARS OF THE JEWS The History Of The Destruction Of Jerusalem Book VI . This destruction was accomplished by the Romans, and it’s estimated that around 600,000 Jews were slain. Josephus wrote in chapter 5:

“The flame was also carried a long way, and made an echo, together with the groans of those that were slain; and because this hill was high, and the works at the temple were very great, one would have thought the whole city had been on fire… Yet was the misery itself more terrible than this disorder; for one would have thought that the hill itself, on which the temple stood, was seething hot, as full of fire on every part of it, that the blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain more in number than those that slew them; for the ground did no where appear visible, for the dead bodies that lay on it; but the soldiers went over heaps of those bodies, as they ran upon such as fled from them.”. And in chapter 7 he writes: “Accordingly, as the people were now slain, the holy house was burnt down, and the city was on fire, there was nothing further left for the enemy to do . . .  Nor was there any place in the city that had no dead bodies in it, but what was entirely covered with those that were killed either by the famine or the rebellion; and all was full of the dead bodies of such as had perished”.

If this does not sound like the punishment of Gehenna-fire Jesus was referring to, I don’t know what does. It is a type of the lake of fire to come for all the wicked and ungodly; where they will be destroyed.

As Daniel 12:2 prophesies:

“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”.

This obviously refers to the shame of destruction and being made a spectacle in death. The destruction of Jerusalem fulfilled many prophesies at least in a temporary sense, but we will not examine all that now. However, it reveals why Jesus directed his remarks on Gehenna to his disciples 9 out of 11 times. He was warning them so they could escape the judgment on the city. Matthew 24 prophesies of the end times, but was also a escape plan for the disciples when the signs of the city’s destruction took place.

10. By the time the lake of fire is introduced in Revelation 20, it is far too late for it to have had any direct influence on the prior meanings of words.

John wrote Revelation around 90 a.d. Roughly 30 years after the latest epistle of Paul; and 60 after Christ’s ascension. It is well understood that a passage in the Bible can have typological meaning which can be reflected upon at a later date; but words cannot assume new meanings based on future use. Knowing this, our interpretation of allusions made in the Bible should be based on prior usage. Jesus would not have spoken to the Jews about things that no one could understand.

It is interesting to note that the lake of fire is not a proper noun. It is simply a description given by John of the ultimate means of destroying the ungodly. Never is the term “lake of fire” observed outside of Revelation. If this was a location, and one of such importance, you would think that God would have given it a proper name and called it by that name alone. We would also think He would have warned all men about it repeatedly.

It would seem the church has tried to do what God has not. That is, create a final habitation for the ungodly, give it a name, give it a history, and give it power to torment men forever and ever.

11. The eternal fire is said to have been prepared for Satan and his angels.

Revelation 20:10 says

“and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”.

This brings us back to our Lord’s statement:

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;” (Matt 25:41).

This is the clearest type used by Christ of the lake of fire. There is no doubt He was alluding it it. Let me ask you for a moment to wonder why God would say it was prepared for Satan and his angels. Was he somehow saying He didn’t originally intend for man to be cast into it? God, with all foreknowledge would have known everyone who is destined to be thrown in. Do you think He went ‘Oops! I created this fire for wicked angels, and here are these wicked men with no place to inhabit. I guess I’ll throw them in as well and they can suffer the same exact punishment as the ones who have been leading the entire world astray since the beginning of time. After all, it’s not like I have any power to create another place to punish them that would be more just.’. I don’t think God is either ignorant or impotent with regard to wicked men’s final punishment.

For a little more background, let’s examine Luke 20:35-36:

“but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”

God can bestow His immortality on whom He wishes. But notice those who will be “equal to the angels”. They are “those who are worthy to attain to that age”, defined further as “sons of God”. The term “sons of God” is never used of wicked men. And “those who are worthy” always speaks of the righteous. So this cannot be in reference to the resurrection of the wicked. These who are sons of God will be made like the angels because they “cannot die anymore”.

If our definition of “die” means:

1) to consciously exist separate from God,

2) to consciously exist in a sinful state,

or

3) to consciously exist in eternal torment,

Lucifer and his angels would be able to die by all of those definitions.

But Jesus said they “cannot die”. He says that we, who are the “sons of God” will be made like the angels in the sense that we will not die anymore.

And thus the definition of death for us cannot mean

1) conscious existence separate from God,

2) conscious existence in a sinful state

or

3) conscious existence in eternal torment.

Those three options are the only ones that could fit hell or any form of conscious afterlife that can be characterized as “death”. If the soul is immortal and conscious in the afterlife we have a contradiction. We have to believe this passage is speaking of death as a state of non-existence. Since Satan and his angels cannot cease from existing, the lake of fire in Revelation 20 is eternal. And the fact that this distinction is made in Matthew 25:41 is important. For if the eternality of it was not designed for us, than we were not designed to survive in the fire as the angels will.

12. The lake of fire is to be viewed figuratively.

The book of Revelation is one that no good Bible teacher believes should be taken literally as a whole. The imagery is incredibly figurative and should be interpreted based on the typology of the Bible. As I proposed in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we should follow the laws of logic in a way that avoids arbitrary interpretations. With that said, I will proceed to point out another critical flaw in the interpretation of the lake of fire.

In Revelation 20:10 Satan and his angels are cast in. Then verse 14 says:

“Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.”.

If we are to interpret this according to logic, we must conclude that either

1) everything cast into the lake of fire  is tormented,

2) nothing cast into the lake of fire is tormented,

or

3) some things cast into the lake of fire are tormented.

We can eliminate #2, as Satan and his angels will be in torment. That leaves #1 and #3. If #1 is true, then we have to conclude that “Death and Hades” will be tormented in the lake of fire. I will quote Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges here:

“They are enemies of God, 1 Corinthians 15:26, and to be destroyed at Christ’s triumph, ib. 54. But though no doubt presented to St John as individual demon figures (see Revelation 6:8), we are probably not to understand that they are real persons, like the Devil and those represented by the Beast and the False Prophet: and hence we are not told that, like them, they continue to exist in torment in the lake of fire.”.

It is assumed that Death and Hades are not real persons, but figures. And furthermore, it is universally thought that they will cease to exist! And I will insist that everyone who believes the lake of fire strictly represents eternal torment should be consistent, and acknowledge that Death and Hades will be tormented forever and ever. Also, if the “unquenchable fire” of Gehenna used by Jesus is literal, we must be consistent and also cast in eternally undying worms that will eat people alive while never destroying them. For worms are mentioned with the fire (Mark 9:48). Also we must agree that there is day and night in the lake of fire, as the Bible says they will be tortured “day and night”.

Traditionalists also might as well acknowledge that Death and Hades will never cease to exist. But if they don’t, it proves that the lightweight word used for the destruction of death spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15:26 actually results in the object ceasing from existence. And when the Bible speaks of men, it uses intensified versions of the word destroy that mean “to destroy utterly”, as if to emphatically make it clear that it is total destruction. There is more evidence in the Bible that man can cease to exist than there is that Death and Hades can. For Death and Hades are never shown to be mortal, and appear as seemingly immortal metaphors of the universe.

We can conclude that only some things cast into the lake of fire are tormented, and that some are destroyed and cease to exist. Now let’s add humans to the mix in the next verse:

“And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15)

The chapter ends on this note. Nowhere does it say they are tormented like Satan and his angels. In fact, they are shown as being thrown in directly after Death and Hades; which are destroyed. And this is a good five verses separated from Satan and his angels. In fact the phrase “this is the second death” is used of Death and Hades, but not of Satan and his angels. And then in the following chapter it is used of the men cast in:

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

Why include the word death if it had nothing to do with death, but rather an eternal life of misery?

Some may attempt to use Revelation 14:9-11 to prove eternal torment, but should quickly see the folly in it.

“Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”” 

A few observations on this:

1) This is referring only to those who received the mark of the beast during tribulation.

2) This does not refer to their torment as lasting forever, but the smoke of their torment; which indicates enduring shame and destruction.

3) It says they will be tormented “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.”, which contradicts every idea of hell being away from the presence of the Lord. It blatantly contradicts 2 Thessalonians 1:9: “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,”.

4) The context is so far removed from the final judgement (6 chapters) that it can only viewed as referring to the immediate context of destruction on earth before the Millennial kingdom.

13. The phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” can only be understood as figurative language, and therefore does not contradict annihilation.

Matthew 22:13 says:

“Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”

Here “outer darkness” is referred to as the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Yet in Matthew 13:50, Jesus calls it a furnace of fire:

“throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”.

In order to interpret these two passages logically, we must acknowledge that since fire produces light, either one or both is figurative.

I’ll quote the University of Illinois Department of Physics:

“We usually keep the name “flame” for something that’s burning and giving off light. If we use the word that way, there can’t be a black flame, since “black” means that no visible light is coming from it.”.

The concept of darkness and flames is in stark contrast. The lake of fire cannot be a place of darkness if these passages are to be taken literally. They should both be viewed as figurative. To take the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” and attempt to prove conscious torment from figurative language as this is a stretch. Jesus used it to express the intense sorrow of the ungodly on the day of judgement.

But let’s continue to take the literal line of thinking farther. If we look at the context of Matthew 13, we see that it supports annihilation:

“Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.” (verse 40)

Let me ask you what happens to a weed when it is burned?

Let me quote Malachi 4:1:

“For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.”

I’ll leave it to the traditionalists to explain how the furnace burns men as chaff and leaves them “neither root nor branch”, yet never destroys.

14. When the Bible refers to things as being eternal, it is referring to effect, rather than process. 

To prove this, I will use the phrase “eternal destruction” found in 2 Thessalonians 1:9. The word destruction obviously describes a state of having been destroyed. If destruction here is referring to an unending process of destroying something, it defeats the meaning of the word. For destruction always carries a sense of completion. If I said “I am going to destroy my computer forever”, would you believe I was committing to an unending process of destroying my computer or that the effects of the destruction would be final?

And moreover, let’s say for argument’s sake that God will commit to an ongoing process of destroying wicked men. Will God never see this through? Is God incompetent to the level that He cannot execute “swift destruction”? And if it’s a process, He cannot truly destroy at all. Which would contradict Jesus’s teaching that God can “destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matt 10:28). In fact there are a multitude of references to God destroying wicked men that would be nullified if “eternal destruction” is not referring to effect, but rather a process. All should agree that eternal destruction is referring to the effect.

So now let’s examine Matthew 25:46:

“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Here “eternal punishment” is directly contrasted with “eternal life”.

Traditionalists  often hail this verse as the Achilles Heel of the doctrine of annihilation; pointing out how eternal means forever. But I would argue that “eternal life” is not an eternal process, but an eternal effect. Eternal life is the effect of being reborn. For if “life” here is referring to an ongoing process, then God must be continually in the process of making us alive, and never completing it. Eternity will be like a Divine maternity ward, with the righteous continually in the process of being born, but never quite made alive. And if “eternal life” does not refer to a process, then neither does “eternal punishment”.

Eternal punishment means that the ungodly will be punished with destruction, and the effect of that punishment is eternal. This presents ZERO interpretive issues for the doctrine of annihilation. But rather, the weight is on the shoulders of traditionalists to prove that eternal life is a process, else they should surrender this passage as mute on the subject.

15. The lack of common knowledge about even basic aspects of the doctrine of hell lead me to believe that it is not a commonly scrutinized doctrine; nor one that is taught in detail to churchgoers. 

I’d imagine that the majority of people reading this were not previously aware of the facts I have presented. Here are the generally undisputed myths about hell among Christians:

  • The word hell is in the original manuscripts.
  • All the words refer to the same place.
  • The Old Testament teaches it.
  • The rich man went there and is in torment.
  • Most of the world is going there.
  • We are saved from hell, not death.
  • The Bible directly teaches eternal torment.
  • Jesus talked more about hell than heaven.
  • It was a part of the apostle’s doctrine and their preaching.
  • Hell has a proper name.
  • No one will be destroyed in hell.
  • Souls can be conscious and alive apart from a body.
  • God cannot destroy the soul.
  • The Bible teaches man’s immortality.
  • Everything thrown in the lake of fire is tormented.
  • Hell will never be cast into hell, although in the King James Version it is.
  • Eternal punishment refers to an ongoing process as opposed to a one time act that has eternal consequences.
  • All men deserve hell.
  • Eternal torment in hell is a necessary doctrine for Christians to believe.
  • Those who reject hell do so for philosophical reasons in order to avoid the harsh truth of the Word.
  • The only people who believe in the doctrine of annihilation are Jehovah’s Witnesses or Universalists.
  • We either go to heaven or hell instantly upon death.
  • There is literal fire in hell, but not literal man-eating worms which never die, or Hades and Death, who would be writhing in torment with them.
  • The fire of hell never consumes anything.
  • Many friends and relatives either have gone or are going to a place of torment which Scripture never even designates as a single location.
  • It is heresy to reject the doctrine of hell.
  • Death figuratively means “separation from God” despite any clear evidence that it had assumed this meaning when it was spoken by God, the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles.
  • An eternal God requires eternal torment, as if His justice alone is not the gauge of proper punishment.

And this concludes my lengthy list of reasons why I no longer believe the Bible teaches hell.  I know that some will be displeased with my conclusion, but I hope all examine the issue and make up their own minds. I am not infallible, and no one should reject something just because I say so. However, I find it almost impossible to believe that the doctrine of hell cannot crack under the weight of evidence. In my eyes it’s plain to see how far we’ve fallen from truth on this issue. However, I would list myself among everyone else as one who was totally oblivious to the enormous amount of evidence against it. In my studies I had never taken the time to examine the doctrine in depth; and am certainly to blame for my prior ignorance.

I am convinced that if I never once warned a single person of hell for the rest of my life, I would be following the direct example of the apostles. And in that, I am confident that I will never again teach the terrible doctrine that has plagued man’s conscience for centuries. For that would be the safest course in reality. If I were to teach what the Bible does not say, I would err. But if I remain silent where our examples remained silent, I believe I shall be approved as a faithful steward of the Word of God.

Some helpful resources I’ve found on the topic:

The Hell Debate, A Consideration of Annihilationism by David Servant

The Hell Debate, Part 2, A Continued Look at Annihilationism by David Servant

The Hell Debate, Part 3, Annihilation or Eternal Torture? by David Servant

An inquiry into the Scriptural import of the words sheol, hades, tartarus, and gehenna : all translated hell, in the common English version by Walter Balfour [I will add the disclaimer that Balfour was a universalist, and I do not condone his view on salvation. However, I do agree with his conclusion that the words translated as “hell” in the KJV do not refer to a place of eternal misery]