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:
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):
“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.