When evil people die, are they sent alive to a place called hell where they will writhe in agony forever in eternal flames? The doctrine of hell-fire is largely based on the assumption of an immortal soul (being eternally alive in the death condition), but our previous issue of The End Times established that there was no Biblical foundation for that commonly held doctrine. The dead are really deadnot aliveawaiting the promised resurrection. Indeed, there is no consciousness or pain or any feeling whatever in the grave.
God tells us the penalty for sin: "the soul that sinneth, it shall die." God sentenced Adam to death for the sin of disobediencethere was no mention of an immortal soul and burning eternally for sin. So how, then, did this doctrine of a burning hell enter church doctrine? Three factors led to the wrong interpretation of Scripture: 1. The Dark Age churches found the fear of hell to be a strong incentive to keep people in the Church, and to make new converts; 2. Pagan ideas of an underworld were mixed into Christian doctrine; 3. Parables and symbolic passages in the Bible were taken literally, distorting the true intent of the scriptural message.
Torment: The Ultimate Fear Factor
The fear of eternal torment has terrified Christians for nearly 1,700 years. History records that every device of tyranny, persecution and torture in the name of God and religion, has flourished to frighten the uneducated church goer into believing. Harold O.J. Brown, a theology professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, declares the effectiveness of the fear of hell-fire compared to that of simple non-existence at death: "...annihilationism [non-existence as a penalty for sin] takes some of the punch out of Gospel preaching. To tell the unrepentant that the worst fate that could befall them is extinction makes continuing in sin seem less risky."
Is God honored by such fear tactics? "Their fear toward me is taught by the precepts of men...." (Isa. 29:13) His desire is a willing and obedient heart motivated purely by love for Him and His righteousnessnot motivated by fear. Pagans built sacrificial altars to their false god, Baal, where they burned their children alive in the fire. But God Himself declares that such a concept "never did enter My mind." (Jer.19:5) The idea of torture is abhorrent to God. He forbade it in the Law of the Jews. The Apostle John states that "God is love... perfect love casts out fear because fear hath torment." 1 John 4:16-18
Entire congregations have been held captive to this fearsome interpretation of Scripture for centuries, because they have been unable to deny such a claim without the privilege of owning a Bible. Today, in this time of enlightenment, with free access to Bibles and study materials, investigation is not only possible, but also a necessity to understanding the true character of God and His loving plans for allincluding those who do not accept Christ now. Indeed, for a Christian today to subscribe to such a doctrine without thorough investigation would be dishonoring to a God of love.
Compromise with Pagan Ideas
Pagan ideas of a fiery underworld date back as far as Egypt's Nimrod. By the third century AD, many distortions of Bible doctrine had resulted from the church carelessly allowing pagan beliefs to mix with Apostolic teachings. For example, in the sixth century BC, Zoroaster taught the Persians of a Lord of Lies who lived in the dark reaches under the earth recording the deeds of men as debits and credits. When the body died, the soul went to be judged, and if found to be evil, it would be doomed to torment. Eager to win pagan converts, the church adopted this philosophy by associating Zoroastic meanings to highly symbolic scriptures.
Soon this compromise developed into a firmly held church creed. The Catholic Encyclopedia states: "The church professes her faith in the Athanasian Creed [fourth century AD]: 'They that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire...' the church expressly teaches the eternity of the pains of hell as a truth of faith which no one can deny or call in question without manifest heresy."
Originally, the old English word hell simply meant to conceal, to hide, to cover. In old English literature, records may be found of the helling of potatoesputting potatoes into pits; and of the helling of a housecovering or thatching it. The word hell was therefore properly used if the translators were using the word hell as the hidden condition of death. However, because of the blending of truth with pagan error, the word hell became associated with Zoroaster's underworld of torment, and thus, the word hell was re-defined as a punishment more ominous than just the grave.
The Word Hell as Used in the Old Testament
Understanding the Bible definition of the word hell is key to establishing a proper doctrinal position on the subject. The Old Testament Scriptures were written in the Hebrew language. The words hell, grave and pit were selected by the translators of the King James Bible to express the sense of the Hebrew word sheol. The same translators chose the word grave or pit in the Old Testament when sheol was to be the resting place for good people, and translated it as hell when referring to a bad person. This clearly shows the bias of these translators.
An example of this bias is evident in the case of the patriarch Job. "O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave [sheol]... until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!" (Job 14:12-13) Here, righteous Job is speaking of hiding from his pain in the grave, sheol, waiting in sleep until the resurrection. How absurd it would have been for Job to have prayed to God to hide him in a hell of eternal torture, and so, the translators used the word grave and not hell.
Now compare Job 14:13 with Psalm 86:13, which reads: "Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell [sheol]." The Hebrew word sheol, being the same in both cases, there is no reason why the same word, grave, should not be used in both. Indeed, sheol does not mean torment, but quite the reverse: instead of a place of blazing fire it is described in the context as a state of darkness (Job 10:21), and instead of representing in any sense pain and suffering, in each case, the context describes sheol as a place or condition of silence (Psa. 115:17; Psa. 88:11,12) "There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, in the grave [sheol] whither thou goest." Eccl. 9:10
Examples of Hell [Hades] in the New Testament
In the New Testament, the Greek word hades corresponds exactly to the Hebrew word sheol. In Acts 2:27, for example, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hades," is a quotation from Psalm 16:10, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in sheol [the grave]." In 1 Cor. 15:54,55, "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave [hades], where is thy victory?" is an allusion to Isaiah 25:8, "He will swallow up death in victory" and to Hosea 13:14, "O death, I will be thy plagues; O sheol [grave], I will be thy destruction."
Even though hades is defined in these scriptures as the grave, biased translators still rendered the same word, hades, as hell in Luke 10:15. "And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell [hades]." Again, since the Greek word hades is the same in both cases, there is no reason why the word grave should not be used consistently.
A key to understanding Scripture is knowing when something is to be interpreted literally or as a symbolic picture of something else. Often, God will tell the reader in Scripture what the symbols mean. An example is the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel Chapter 2 where the symbols in the dream are interpreted. At times, however, the reader must recognize symbolisms without the aid of Divine interpretation to find the true meaning of a scripture. This is true with the symbolic language the lake of fire in Revelation 20, the chains of darkness of 2 Peter 2, and the everlasting fire of Matthew 13 and 25.
In the New Testament two highly symbolic words are translated as hell; namely, gehenna and tartaroo. Cultural anthropology gives an important clue as to the real meaning of these words. The Valley of Hinnom, called gehenna, lay just outside the city of Jerusalem, and served the purpose of garbage burner to that city. Its fires were kept continually burning to completely consume all things deposited there, brimstone being added to assist combustion and insure complete destruction. But no living thing was ever permitted to be cast into gehenna. God's Law to the Jews prevented torture of any kind to any creature.
In addition to garbage, certain very detestable criminals, being refused a dignified burial, were thrown into gehenna after death. These were cast with the carcasses of dead dogs, the city garbage, etc., into gehenna, there to be totally consumed. Thus, in symbol, gehenna illustrated the future dealings of God in committing to destruction all the impure elements of this earth, thereby preventing them from defiling His holy city, the New Jerusalem. This symbolic burning of all evil elements is termed in Scripture the Second Deathfinal and complete destruction. From this there can be no recovery, for after that, "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins," but only "fiery indignation which shall devour [destroy] the adversaries." Heb. 10:26-27
We also find it stated that those not found worthy of life are to be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15)fire here, as elsewhere, being used as a symbol of destruction, and the symbol, lake of fire, being drawn from this same gehenna. Thus, the trial of the Millennial age of judgment is a time of fully proving and separating, with unerring accuracy, the sheep (those who hear and obey the Master's voice) from the goats (those who rebel in disobedience). (Matt. 25:31-46) Then all the righteous will see the justice as well as the wisdom of the utter destruction of the incorrigible, wilful enemies of righteousness, as it is written: "They shall be an abhorring unto all flesh." Isa. 66:24
The Greek word tartaroo occurs but once in the Scriptures, and has been translated hell: "God spared not the angels who sinned, but cast [them] down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment." (2 Pet. 2:4) In this quotation, all the underlined words are translated from the one Greek word tartaroo. The fall of the angels who sinned was from honor and dignity, into dishonor and condemnation, and the thought seems to be that "God spared not the angels who sinned, but degraded them, and delivered them into [symbolic] chains of darkness."
This verse is frequently used to support the idea of a nether world where the disobedient angels and other sinners, are held foreverbut a careful examination reveals that the term chains of darkness only refers to a temporary restricted condition imposed by God on the fallen angels. This restricted condition does not allow them to be visible, and the only way they can manifest themselves is by entering into the mind of a human or animal. Appearances of this kind are well documented by the Apostles, who, like Jesus, cast out many demons.
Parable ofthe Rich Man and Lazarus
"There was a certain rich man... clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom." Luke 16:19-31
Though most will admit that this scripture is a parable, they mistakenly draw conclusions from it as though it were a literal statement and use it to prove the doctrine of eternal torment. However, in a parable the thing said is never the thing meant. We know this from our Lord's own explanations of other parables. When he said wheat in Matthew 13, he explained that he meant children of the kingdom, and tares he explained were children of the devil.
To regard the Rich Man and Lazarus parable as a literal statement involves several absurdities; for instance, that Lazarus was blessed, not because he was full of faith, but simply because he was poor and sick. If this be interpreted literally, we can assume that only the poor and sick will be saved, and Abraham's bosom must be a literal place where millions of the earth's poor will reside.
As a symbolic lesson, this parable becomes much more reasonable. In symbol, Abraham represented God and His promise to Abraham that his seed would bless all nations of the earth. (Gen. 22) The rich man represented the Jewish nation who inherited this promise through Isaac and Jacob and then to Jacob's twelve sonsIsrael. In Jesus' day the Jews had "fared sumptuously"being the special recipients of God's favors. Paul said that the Jews enjoyed great advantage: "... every way: chiefly, because to them were committed the oracles of God [Law and Prophecy]." They were a royal nation of God as represented by the rich man's purple. Their typical sacrifices of the Law constituted them a holy nation, represented by the rich man's fine linensymbolic of righteousness.
Lazarus pictured not only the publicans and sinners of Israel estranged from God, but also truth-hungry Gentiles who were feeling after God. These, at the time of this parable, were outcasts from divine favor under the Law, and whosin-sickhungered and thirsted after righteousness. They lay at the gate of the rich man. No promises of royalty were theirs, but in moral sickness and sin, they were companions of dogs. Dogs were regarded as detestable creatures in those days, and the typically clean Jew called outsiders heathen and dogs, and would never have any dealings with them. (John 4:9) As to how these ate of the crumbs of divine favor which fell from Israel's table of bounties, the Lord's words to the Syro-Phoenician woman give us a key: "It is not meet [proper] to take the children's [Israelites'] bread and to cast it to dogs [Gentiles];" and she answered, "Truth, Lord, but the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their master's table." (Matt. 15:26,27) Jesus healed her daughter, thus giving the desired crumb of favor.
After Jesus' death there came a great dispensational change in Israel's history when, as a nation, they had rejected and crucified the Son of God. Then, their typical righteousness and the promise of royalty ceased to be theirs. The kingdom was taken from them to be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereofthe Gospel Church, "a holy nation, a peculiar people." (1 Pet. 2:9; Matt. 21:43) Thus the rich man died to all these special advantages, and soon he (the Jewish nation) found himself in a cast-off conditionin tribulation and affliction. In such a condition that nation has suffered from that day to this.
Lazarus also died: the condition of the humble Gentiles and the God-seeking outcasts of Israel underwent a great change, being carried by the angels (messengersapostles) to what is symbolized by Abraham's bosomrecognition as the heirs of all the promises made to Abraham: "if ye be Christ's, then are ye [believers] Abraham's seed [children], and heirs according to the [Abrahamic] promise." Gal. 3:29
"In hell [hades, the grave] he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off...." This illustrates that great sufferings or torments would be added to the Jews after their national dissolution; and that they would plead in vain for comfort at the hand of the formerly despised Lazarus class. For nineteen hundred years the Jews have been relentlessly persecuted by all classes, including professed Christians. The veil (2 Cor. 3:13-16) of prejudice still exists, but it will be gradually taken away as the light of the Millennial morning dawns. Paul assures us that when the full number from among the Gentiles necessary to make up the bride of Christ is complete, then "The deliverer shall come out of Zion [the glorified Church], and shall turn awayungodliness from Jacob [natural Israel].... As concerning the Gospel, they are enemies for your sakes; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes.... For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all." Rom. 11:25-32
God's Compassions Fail Not - Lam. 3:23
As the contents of this issue have shown, there is a hell, hades, sheol to which all our race were condemned because of Adam's sin, and from which all are offered redemption by our Lord's death. That hell is the gravethe death condition. God said that in the day Adam disobeyed His commandments, "Dying thou shalt die." Gen. 2:17
Jesus died, the just for the unjust (Adam and his race), and this payment for sin is called "the ransom for all to be testified in due time." (1Tim. 2:3-6) God's plan calls for a full and fair opportunity wherein the majority of all who have ever lived will come forth in the resurrection to learn and choose righteousness under favorable conditions: "...for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." Isa. 26:9
Yes, God's compassions are far more generous than man has accepted through their false interpretation of Scripture. His merciful plan has been the golden thread woven throughout His Word. He has provided that the sin of man will "...be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord... Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.... him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people." Acts 3:19-23
Gehenna, the picture of Second Deathutter destructionis the final penalty upon all the disobedient who, after being redeemed and brought to the full knowledge of the truth, and to full ability to obey it, shall choose a course of opposition to God and righteousness. These incorrigible will be only a few by comparison, and who "will be destroyed from among the people." Thank God that the majority of the world will choose life everlastingwhen they finally see for the first time, with eyes unhindered by false doctrines, the beautiful harmony of the Scriptures.