What The Scriptures Say About Hell
When I left the Witnesses I had to examine all that I had learned as a Witness as well as many of the beliefs Christians hold dear. After considering all this, I either kept or gave up my former beliefs and accepted or rejected any new beliefs that I felt were without Scriptural backing. My desire was to find the truth regardless of who had it. Hell was one of the beliefs I examined.
It is not my purpose here to convince anyone to believe as I do. I merely wish to share a point of view, one I have found to be Scriptural and in line with the character of God. If nothing else, consider the following "food for thought."
The words commonly translated "hell" come from the Hebrew word "sheol," the Greek word "hades" (the equivalent of "sheol"), "tartarus," and "gehenna
The Greek word "tartarus" is used only once at 2Peter 2:4. It is the place where the angels that sinned in Noah's day were imprisoned. Jude chapter 6 describes those disobedient angels as "kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment of the great day."
Sheol and Hades
The Hebrew word "sheol" and the Greek word "hades" simply mean the world of the dead, the grave, or pit. They are not connected with torment in any way. Jesus himself was in Hades after his death and before his resurrection.
Seeing what was ahead, the writer of the book of Acts spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave (hades) nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. (Acts 2:31,32)
Jesus was given the keys to Hades showing that it is to be unlocked and people released from it.
I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. (Revelation 1:18)
The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. (Revelation 20:13)
I will ransom them from the power of the grave (sheol), I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave (sheol) is your destruction? (Hosea 13:14)
Hades or "hell" will give up its dead at the resurrection. For it is simply the common grave of all mankind. In this place there is no pain or consciousness at all.
For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing at all. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave (sheol) where you are going, there is neither...knowledge or wisdom." (Ecclesiastes 9:5,10)
No one remembers you from the dead. Who praises you from the grave (sheol)? (Psalms 6:5)
It is not the dead who praise the LORD, those who go down to silence. (Psalms 115:17)
The Soul Is Not Immortal
In the Bible it says the penalty for sin is death. God told Adam, "In the day you eat of it In (the fruit) you will surely die." (Genesis 2:17) After Adam and Eve sinned, God told them:
By the sweat of your brow you will eat food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return. (Genesis 3:19)
King Solomon also spoke of death in this way.
Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both; as one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. (Ecclesiastes 3:19,20)
Man is not immortal. He does not have an "immortal soul." Man is a soul just as the animals are souls.
God formed man from the dust of the ground and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7)
The Hebrew word for soul is "nephesh." Its meaning is "a breathing creature," Its Greek equivalent is "psyche." Nowhere in the Bible is the soul referred to as immortal. But many times it is referred to as mortal and subject to death.
The soul that is sinning shall die. (Ezekiel 18:4)
The wages sin pays is death.... (Romans 6:23)
There is nothing in death that suggests torment. Torment is for the living. In order to be tormented eternally one must be immortal, unable to die. How can that be if the penalty for sin is death?
In the Bible immortality is given as a reward, not a curse. The word immortality (from the Greek "athanasia") occurs only three times in the entire Bible. At 1 Timothy 6:16 it refers to God as "the one alone having immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom not one of men has seen or can see," and at I Corinthians 15:53,54 where Paul speaks of those who inherit the Kingdom as being changed and "this which is mortal puts on immortality."
Notice, they do not have immortality, they are given it as a reward. There are also a few other Scriptures that contain similar Greek words, "aphthartos" (the noun) and "aphtharsia" (the adjective) which mean "incorruptible." Some translations use the words "immortality" and "immortal" in translating these Greek words. However, in all cases it is only through Christ that it is possible for those in him to put on immortality or incorruptibility. Immortality is not something every man has and where he spends it depends upon his righteousness or unrighteousness.
In light of the foregoing, you might wonder, on what Scriptural basis does the doctrine stand that teaches those who don't know of or except Christ will burn forever in torment? The idea comes from three sources--a parable Jesus gave at Luke 16:19-31, the use and translation of Greek word "gehenna," and from "the lake of fire" spoken of in Revelation.
The word "gehenna" is the Greek form of the Hebrew "Geh-Hin-nom'," or Valley of Hinnom. The Valley of Hinnom was a deep narrow valley South and South West of Jerusalem. The Judean kings Ahaz and Manasseh were guilty of carrying out idol worship and human sacrifice by fire to Baal there. Later, faithful King Josiah had this place of idol worship polluted. God prophetically decreed this valley would serve as a place of mass disposal of dead bodies. (Jeremiah 7:31,32)
In Jesus' day this valley was like a great garbage dump where waste from Jerusalem was thrown and burned up. The bodies of dead animals and vile criminals not worthy of a normal burial were also disposed of there. The purpose of the place was to destroy by fire all that was thrown in there. It was a place from which nothing came back. Jesus used this condemned place to symbolize complete destruction, a place from which there was no resurrection. Nothing was ever tormented in Gehenna. As John wrote in the book of Revelation, Gehenna symbolizes the second death, a death with no resurrection. There is no basis from which to translate this word "hell" or "hellfire." It should be translated as it is, "Gehenna." This Greek word is found at Matthew 5:22,29,30; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5 and James 3:6. All other places the English word "hell" is used in the New Testament, with the exception of "Tartarus" (used once), come from the Greek word "hades" which means grave or pit.
Jesus' Parable of Lazarus
Jesus' parable in Luke chapter 16 verses 19-31 is a story of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. Because the rich man received good things in his lifetime, while Lazarus received bad things, the rich man was sent to Hades where he was in torment and Lazarus was sent to Abraham's' bosom to be comforted. To take this parable literally would mean that one believed:
1) that Hades is a place of torment when the Scriptures say it is the common grave of all mankind
2) that receiving good things in one's lifetime puts one in Hades
3) that receiving bad things in one's lifetime puts one in the bosom position of Abraham;
4) that Abraham was in heaven at the time Jesus spoke when heaven was not open to mankind at that time. Jesus had not yet died and the ransom had not been paid. For Jesus said at John 3:13, "No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven, the Son of man." Abraham was still in his grave (Hades).
5) that the dead are conscious and able to speak and experience pain when the Scriptures state the dead are unconscious and cannot speak.
6) that men other than those who are "in Christ" can put on immortality.
Jesus was using this parable to make a powerful point but it was not that the rich die and are tormented forever and the poor are comforted in Abraham's bosom.
The Lake of Fire
The expression "lake of fire" is used in Revelation 19:20; 20:10,14,15; 21:8. The ones thrown into the lake of fire are:
1) the "seven headed, ten horned beast" of Revelation 13:1;
2) the "two horned false prophet" of Revelation 13:11,13;
3) death and Hades (after having given up its dead) in Revelation 20:14,15;
4) the cowardly, unbelieving, vile, murderers, sexually immoral, those who practice magic, idolaters, liars in Revelation 21:8;
5) the Devil himself in Revelation 20:10.
In reading these accounts some questions come to mind. The seven headed, ten horned beast and the two horned false prophet are not real beasts. They symbolize political systems such as the beasts in the book of Daniel. (Daniel 7:17,23,24; 8:20-22) How can symbolic political systems be tormented by fire?
Death and Hades (after giving up all its dead) are thrown into the lake of fire. If Hades is a place of burning fire, why is it thrown into a lake of fire? And who is being tormented if all the dead have come out of Hades? And how can death, a state, and Hades, a place, suffer torment by fire?
It would seem clear that the lake of fire symbolizes something other than eternal torment. For Revelation 21:8 says, "...their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This means the second death." Verse 14 says, the lake of fire is the second death." The lake of fire is not a place of eternal suffering in burning fire. It is a place of destruction, a place where those thrown into it never come back. Symbolic beasts, death, the grave, incorrigible mankind, and Satan himself will be no more. They will be completely destroyed forever with no hope of life.
The Second Death
He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death. (Revelation 2:11)
Who have part in the first resurrection, the second death has no power over them. (Revelation 20:6)
This is because these are the ones who are in Christ and have "put on immortality." (1 Corinthians 15:53,54) They have proven themselves faithful and worthy in this life. They have no further need to be tested. They are given immortality at the time of their resurrection. Because of their immortality, they are not subject to the second death.
After this first resurrection, there is another resurrection, one for the rest of mankind. Man dies because of Adam's sin. With Jesus' death the way was opened for men to have a second chance. For many, this chance will come after their resurrection during the thousand year reign of Christ. Unrighteous mankind will have a time and place to learn of God unhindered by Satan and this wicked system he controls. If, after that time, any still choose to follow him, they will be thrown with him into the "lake of fire," the second death, a place of no resurrection. (Revelation 20:7-10)
Considering the last part of verse 10 of Revelation 20 where it says, "They will be tormented day and night forever and ever," I would honestly say there must be another meaning to this word "torment" other than what we understand. This is due to the fact that things such as symbolic beasts, death and the grave cannot be tormented in that sense. Also, the evidence is so overwhelming for destruction rather than "torment" that this Scripture alone cannot turn the tide in that direction.
In summing up, I challenge those who support the teaching of eternal torment for the "unsaved" to answer the following:
1) What is the difference between life and death?
2) What Scriptural evidence is there that the soul is immortal?
3) How can a soul that sins die if it is immortal?
4) How can death be a penalty if one cannot die?
5) If the dead know nothing, how can they know they are being tormented?
6) How can things such as symbolic wild beasts and empty graves be tormented?
Eternal Torment And The Character of God
You might wonder how the above fits in with the character of God. I believe, God’s character is a paramount issue when it comes to believing one way or the other concerning the fate of the wicked.
Deuteronomy 32:4 says of God, "...all his ways are just...." The meaning of "just" is to be fair in one's dealings and actions. It is true that as humans we cannot dictate to God what is fair or unfair but, because we have been created in his image, we have an inborn sense of basic right and wrong. Paul alluded to this in Romans 2:14,15 when he wrote:
“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness...."
We also have the Bible to reveal to us what God considers just and unjust. It shows us God's justice requires like for like, the punishment befit the crime, the eye for an eye principle. Man's very salvation is based on this principle.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.... Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:12,18,19)
To sentence a man to eternal torment for crimes committed during his short lifetime is not punishment equal to the crime. It is not just.
To penalize those who, because they have never even heard the name Jesus let alone accepted him as God's son, is not just.
To favor some with a heavenly reward because they had enough time and access to the Word of God to accept Jesus before they died and to condemn to eternal torment (or even isolation from God) those guilty of lesser crimes because they died too soon or were incapable of comprehending (such as those who are insane, mentally retarded, senile, infants or very young children), is not just.
To condemn ignorant, imperfect men to the same judgment as a perfect angel who fell and is responsible for every evil ever committed on this earth, is not just.
Rather, is it not more like a God whose "all his ways are just," who is "the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort." (Deuteronomy 32:4, 11 Corinthians 1:3) that every man receive from God an equal chance to know and accept his son--not just a relatively privileged few?
Ever since the days of Adam, mankind has been suffering under a curse that they themselves came by through no fault of their own. They have been walking in darkness and ostracism from their Creator, victims not only of their own imperfection, but of the unseen wicked spirit forces that control the system in which they live. To say that God condemns such ones to eternal torment is inconsistent with the very reason God sent his son to die for such ones. For Jesus died that all might have the chance to know him and become reconciled to God.
"For in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:22)
The time for this reconciliation is not in this lifetime; for this system is not, and never has been, conducive to reconciling men to God. The Bible indicates this time of reconciliation to be during the thousand year reign of Christ.
“He seized...Satan and bound him for a thousand years. ...to keep him from deceiving the nations any more until the thousand years were ended.” (Revelation 20:1-3)
In his dealings with men God either disciplines or destroys. He does not cause suffering without the goal of reconciliation. If reconciliation is not possible, he does not torture, he destroys.. He does not cause suffering for the sole purpose of seeing men suffer. Rather it is God's will that "all men be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:3)
God wants to bring men to a place of repentance. If a man is beyond the place of repentance, there is no place for him in all of God's creation. This is the fate of the individuals, organizations and systems along with Satan and his demon angels in the books of Revelation and Hebrews. (Revelation 16:9-11; Hebrews 6:4, 10:26-29.) They will be eternally wiped out of existence; To torture or to cut off such ones serves no purpose. It is sadistic, a characteristic of Satan, not God.
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