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 42:38; Job 14:13; Psa 16:10, 88:3; Isa 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 24:18; Job 12:10). And it is used to speak of dead men (Num 9:6, Num 19:13, Lev 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”.
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 14:12; Psalm 90:5), as does the apostle Paul (1 Co 15:20; 1 Thess 4:13; Eph 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).
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,
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
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,
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]