Section 9B .. The Future
The Problems With The Traditional View of Hell


003white  Index to Section 9B... The Future     >      Index to Hell     >      Hell Part IV... Lazarus


The Problem of Hell Part IV...

Carol Brooks
Edited by Vicki Narlee

Introduction and Main Index

PART I...  SHEOL AND HADES. Why Are We ‘Translating’ Proper Names? Sheol and Hades Are Exactly The Same Place. Roots of The Word "Hell". Inconsistencies In Translation. Additional Reasons Sheol/Hades Is Not "Hell".... Jacob Expected to Go To "Hell"?, People went Down Alive Into "Hell", No One Can Be Rescued From, Or Be Returned to "Hell". Location of Sheol/Hades, Duration of Sheol/Hades, Affliction in Sheol/Hades? Tartarus.

PART II... GEHENNA. Gehenna, Mentioned in The Old Testament and The New, Was An Actual Physical Location. Jesus and Gehenna. That Deafening Silence. People Who Have Already Received A "Just Recompense".

PART III... ETERNAL LIFE IN HELLEternal Life vs. Eternal Death. Clarifying the Phrase “Eternal Punishment”. John 3:16. Eternal Life Vs. Death. Eternal Life Vs. 'Decay. Immortality of The Soul?. Eternal Life... a Result of Redemption. I Corinthians 15. Jesus "Died" In Our Place. The Second Death. Symbolism of Revelation. Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth.

PART IV... Difficulties with the Traditional Interpretation of The Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus. A Biblical Interpretation of This Parable. Where The Idea Of The Torments of Hell Originated. "Choosing" Hell and The 'Joys' of Heaven. Infinite Punishment and The Character Of God. Not “Choosing” Eternal Life. Summary and Conclusion.



The Rich Man and Lazarus
Difficulties with the Traditional Interpretation of This Parable
A Biblical Interpretation of This Parable

Where Did The Idea Of The Torments of Hell Originate?
The Various Apocalyptic Texts, Dante’s Inferno and Augustine

Additional Considerations
"Choosing" Hell
The 'Joys' of Heaven
Infinite Punishment and The Character Of God
Not Choosing Eternal Life

Summary and Conclusion
Summary and Conclusion


The Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus
The word parable comes from the Greek parabole, which means a likeness, illustration, or comparison. In other words a parable is a short and simple story, generally featuring human characters, that uses the familiar to illustrate a spiritual point. Although parables are often colorful and easily remembered, the ones told by Jesus often remained a mystery to those who's hearts were hardened, because His parables required the listeners to put themselves in the appropriate place in the story. The Pharisees were anything but self critical, or willing to learn, therefore they, as Jesus told them, heard but never understood, saw but never perceived.

One of Jesus' parables, that of the rich man and Lazarus, is found only in the book of Luke. It says...

     [19] Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day: [20] and a certain beggar named Lazarus was laid at his gate, full of sores,  [21] and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table; yea, even the dogs came and licked his sores. [22] And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into Abraham's bosom: and the rich man also died, and was buried.  [23] And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments (Gr. basanos), and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. [24] And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish (Gr. odunao) in this flame.  [25] But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things: but now here he is comforted, and thou art in anguish (Gr. odunao). [26] And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that they that would pass from hence to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from thence to us. [27] And he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house;  [28] for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment (Gr. basanos ).  [29] But Abraham saith, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.  [30] And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one go to them from the dead, they will repent. [31] And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead. [Luke 16:19-30]

This parable is usually believed to be Jesus' vivid, and very graphic, description of conditions in hell. That He was warning unrepentant sinners that they would be sentenced to extreme torment, engulfed forever in a unquenchable fire. But is this so?

Difficulties with the Traditional Interpretation of This Parable
1) The Greek
Jesus' use of the Greek word basanos, is probably the only point in the parable that is in line with traditional interpretation. Basanos was  a black, silicon-based stone used as "a touchstone" to test the purity of precious metals (like silver and gold). While it can be used in terms of examination by torture, it has to be noted that it is used only one other time in the New Testament... in relation to sickness

    And the report of him went forth into all Syria: and they brought unto him all that were sick, holden with divers diseases and torments (Gr. basanos), possessed with demons, and epileptic, and palsied; and he healed them. [Matthew 4:24]

By contrast, the Greek verb odunao translated "torment" literally means grief, sorrow or distress and conveys mental anguish, rather than physical pain. Young's literal translation, renders odunao "distress", which seems very appropriate, considering the only two other uses of this words in the New Testament. In Luke 2:48, odunao is used to describe the distress felt by Mary and Joseph, on their way home from the Passover feast in Jerusalem, when they discovered that the young Jesus was missing. And, in Acts 20:38, odunao is used of the sadness felt by the elders of the Ephesian Church when they realized that they would probably never see Paul again.

    And when they saw him, they were astonished; and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I sought thee sorrowing (Gr. odunao). [Luke 2:48]

    sorrowing (Gr. odunao) most of all for the word which he had spoken, that they should behold his face no more. And they brought him on his way unto the ship. [Acts 20:38]

2) Literal or Allegorical?
We have to decide whether this story told by Jesus is literal or not. Because if it is literal, we are faced with numerous serious difficulties.

    a) A man is condemned to hell, with no other reason given other than he is rich, well clothed, and well fed. Another man (Lazarus) is sent to Heaven, with no other reason given other than he was poor, hungry, and covered with sores. Nothing is said about the rich man being a sinner, or the poor man being a saint. There is not even a hint that the suffering of the rich man was a punishment for sins, or the comfort given Lazarus was a reward for righteousness. It is simply stated that the rich man had received good things in his lifetime, and Lazarus nothing but misfortune in his.

      (If this parable is meant to be literal, then all of us who look forward to the coming of the kingdom, need to get rid of all our possessions and go live under a bridge somewhere. It would serve us even better if we manage to acquire some horrible disease in the process. This particularly applies to believers in the West who have so many material goods).

    b) Good people are carried away by angels into Abraham's bosom, where they stay.

      Jesus did not come to bring about people's reconciliation to Abraham, but to God.

    c) Although the "great gulf" is impassable, it is not so wide that people in Paradise cannot hear the entreaties of those in hell. In fact, they can even look across this chasm and see their loved ones in torment, and hold conversations with them. Let me very blunt.. it could not possibly be "Heaven" in any sense of the word, if one is able to watch and hear ones loved ones suffer for all eternity. Thanks, but no thanks.

    d) After they die, people in hell can pray to Abraham, who actually answers instead of directing the person to pray to God.

    e) The rich man does not plead with Abraham to help him get out of the terrible situation he found himself in, but simply for a drop of water to cool his tongue... for all the good that would have done.

I can almost hear the reader protesting that, of course none of the above points are literal. Jesus, as He always did, was using a parable in His endeavor to teach His hearers something.

My point exactly.

    If people do not go to heaven or hell based on their financial status in this world

    If good people do not pray to Abraham, nor reside in his bosom

    If people can not converse, or see each other, across the gulf between heaven and hell

Then how exactly are we justified in claiming that the rest of the story is factual?

The fact is that we are using preconceived ideas as a basis to decide which parts of the story are literal, and which are not. Preconceived ideas that, as shown in this article, have absolutely no foundation in the Scriptures.

Biblical Interpretation of This Parable
The Overall Context
So how do we interpret the parable? The answer lies, as always, in the immediate context. Neither Jesus, nor any other of the Biblical authors, were given to stringing together a bunch of thoughts, totally disconnected from one another. Each verse is an integral part of a particular point the author was trying to make, therefore, we have to make the effort to understand what overall message the section is intended to convey. In this case, bearing in mind that there were no chapter and verse divisions in the original manuscripts, which were added later for convenience, we have to go back at least as far back as the beginning of chapter 15.

Chapter fifteen starts with Jesus speaking to publican, and sinners, which caused the scribes and Pharisees to "murmur" against Him for associating with these undesirables. Jesus then tells the parable of the lost sheep (15:3-7), the parable of the lost piece of money (15:8-10), and the parable of the prodigal son (15:11-32), all of which were designed to bring home the fact that he had come to save sinners. The Pharisees, of course, felt themselves in no need of instruction, or forgiveness.

Chapter sixteen, begins with another parable, the point of which, was that if a person is dishonest, and not faithful in small matters pertaining to this world, they cannot expect that God will commit true, and much larger riches, to their keeping. That this parable is directed at the Pharisees is obvious from the fact that the very next verse (16:14) says... "the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things; and they scoffed at him". 

Jesus then tells them that, although they justified themselves in the eyes of men, God knew their hearts, and it was an abomination to Him. (16:15)

    Jesus' next statement is particularly instructive. He tells the Pharisees that the law and the prophets were until John (the Baptist). In other words, Jesus is announcing the end of the law and the futility of following it, although not one tittle of the law would fall (16:17) [See Jesus And The Law]. He then says that, since John, the "gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every man entereth violently into it" (16:16). In other words, although the Pharisees considered the Gentiles no better than dogs, all men would have the opportunity to seize the proffered mercy of the Gospel, and so take the kingdom as by force from those who thought it was reserved for them. Jesus also spoke of the Gentiles coming to faith in Matthew 8. Note His wording [Emphasis Added]

    "Many shall come from the east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven." [Matthew 8:11,12]

But, for their hypocrisy and their rejection of the Messiah, God would literally exclude the Pharisees from the kingdom. As Paul later said...

    "But I say, Had Israel no knowledge? First Moses says, You will be moved to envy by that which is not a nation, and by a foolish people I will make you angry," (Romans 10:19):

Summary of the Development of Thought... The Pharisees murmured against Jesus for associating with sinners, which led to three parables about the value of a saved sinner. He then told another parable about how God does not entrust His riches to someone who is not faithful in small matters, followed by the comment about how a person cannot serve God and mammon, which led the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, to scoff at Him. Jesus then told them that every man now has the opportunity to enter into the kingdom. Finally, after a brief comment on divorce and adultery (16:18) also directed at the Pharisees, Jesus, without further ado, immediately launches into the Lazarus parable.

Are we really to believe that Jesus simply flitted from one subject to another, without the slightest indication that He was about to do so.

Or, does it make more sense that He was continuing with His line of thought begun in chapter fifteen, and that He was not speaking of an after life, but continuing His indictment of the Pharisees. (I have no idea whether the statement that the rich man died and was buried, signifies the end of the law of Moses with all its accompanying rituals, but it is an interesting thought).

But let us first consider the nationalities of the two people in the parable.

That the rich man was a Jew is evident from the fact that he recognizes Abraham and calls him "Father Abraham", in response to which, Abraham calls the rich man "Son".

Also, the fact that the rich man has five brothers, overlooked by most people, may be a clue to his identity. Judah, one of Jacob's twelve sons, was the head of the tribe of Judah, which was named after him.

    Originally, the term Yehudi referred specifically to members of the tribe of Judah, as distinguished from the other tribes of Israel. However, after the death of King Solomon, the nation of Israel was split into two kingdoms: the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel (I Kings 12; II Chronicles 10). After that time, the word Yehudi could properly be used to describe anyone from the kingdom of Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi, as well as scattered settlements from other tribes.

    In the 6th century B.C.E., the kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria and the ten tribes were exiled from the land (II Kings 17), leaving only the tribes in the kingdom of Judah remaining to carry on Abraham's heritage. These people of the kingdom of Judah were generally known to themselves and to other nations as Yehudim (Jews), and that name continues to be used today. [8]

What is interesting is that Judah had five full blooded brothers...Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. [See Genesis 30:20, 35:23]. The significance of this detail would not have escaped the notice of the Pharisees and scribes to whom Christ was speaking. They were very well acquainted with their history, and extremely proud of their heritage.

That the rich man was a Pharisee is evident from the fact that they...

    1) Were literally clothed in purple and fine linen, and, being very wealthy, ate sumptuously every day. [See Footnote 4 for more on the colour purple in the Bible]. Jesus was also turning on it's head, a common belief of the day, which was that wealth was a sign of God's blessing and approval. The very fact that they were wealthy caused the Pharisees to think they were esteemed by God and would occupy a place of honour in the Kingdom.

    2) Did Not Care About The Poor: As said earlier, the Pharisees did a great job at keeping the ceremonial aspects, or letter of the Law, but ignored the spirit of it. For example, they seemed to completely overlook the fact that one of the basic precepts of the laws of Leviticus was that the widows and orphans be protected. As Jesus told them...

      "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation" (Matt. 23:14).

    So the parable, indicating that the rich man who had little but crumbs for Lazarus, fits the lifestyle of the Pharisees perfectly.

Finally, when Abraham tells the rich man that he would not go to warn his five brothers, because, as he said, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them". In other words, there was ample evidence in the Old Testament writings that clearly pointed the way to Jesus as the Messiah. And if they did not heed all the prophecies that had been fulfilled in the birth and life of Jesus, then they would not believe even if one rose from the dead.. be that person Abraham, or even Jesus Himself.

Lazarus was, Very Possibly, a Gentile
While Lazarus was a Hebrew name, this Lazarus may not have been a Jew.

The name "Lazarus" is a transliteration of the Hebrew Eleazar, which means "God has helped". One of Aaron's sons was called Eleazar, but there was also a Gentile of the same name (Eliezer of Damascus)  who was in charge of Abraham's household (Genesis 15:1-2). He was actually Abraham's heir until Abraham had children of his own [Genesis 15:2–3], and the person to whom Abraham entrusted the task of finding a wife for Isaac [Genesis 24], which Eleazar carried out with all faithfulness. 

The story of the woman who came to Jesus asking for help for her daughter who was demon possessed (Matthew 15: 22-28) supports the idea that Lazarus was a Gentile. Jesus told her that He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel, and it was not fitting that He take their bread and feed it to dogs. To which she answered that "even the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." While His choice of words may have been a great test of her faith, the point we are concerned with here, is that, at that point in time, the Gentiles did not even have the crumbs from the table of the children, a situation that was to change very soon.

One can but imagine the chagrin of the Jewish religious leaders when they realized that Jesus was portraying them, who unreservedly believed that they were the children of the promise, as being cast out, while a poor man and possibly a Gentile was in "Abraham's bosom". 

Related Verses

    Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness. Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all the nations be blessed. So then they that are of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham. [Galatians 3:6-9]

    But if some of the branches were broken off, and thou, being a wild olive, wast grafted in among them, and didst become partaker with them of the root of the fatness of the olive tree; glory not over the branches: but if thou gloriest, it is not thou that bearest the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; by their unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by thy faith. Be not highminded, but fear: for if God spared not the natural branches, neither will he spare thee. [Romans 11:17-21]

    I say then, Did God cast off his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. [Romans 11:1]

So, if not from the Bible, where did the idea behind eternal torment come from?

Origins of The Concept of The 'Torments of Hell'

The Apocalypse of Peter (Revelation of Peter)
is a text dating back to at least the 2nd century, written under an assumed name. It is supposedly a vision of heaven, and of hell, granted to Peter by the Risen Christ. The text goes into lurid detail about the punishment in hell for each type of crime, and briefly touches on the pleasures of heaven. For example, in the vision, people in heaven have pure milky white skin, curly hair, are generally beautiful, and wear shiny clothes made of light. The earth blooms with everlasting flowers and spices, and everyone sings in choral prayer. On the other hand, the punishments of hell closely correspond to the past sinful actions, in a version of lex talionis, an "eye for an eye".

Blasphemers are hung by the tongue.  Women who "adorn" themselves for the purpose of adultery, are hung by the hair over a bubbling mire. The men that had adulterous relationships with them are hung by their feet, with their heads in the mire, next to them. False witnesses had flaming fire in their mouths. While those that trusted in their riches, had no pity for orphans and widows, and despised the commandment of God, rolled about on pebbles sharper than swords, clad in tattered and filthy raiment.

And so on, and so forth.

The Apocalypse of Peter exists in two incomplete versions of a supposed lost Greek original. While the Ethiopic translation has been known since 1910, the Koine Greek version was discovered in the grave of a Christian monk in the 19th century. What is interesting is that both versions frequently diverge from each other.  [9]

Although the book was eventually excluded from the Canon, it apparently had significant influence on Christian thought, being quoted by several ancient writers, including Clement of Alexandria, who twice quoted chapters 4 and 5.

The Apocalypse of Paul
This 4th-century text was supposedly found in the basement of Paul's own house in Tarsus, sealed in a marble box. It is essentially a description of a vision of Heaven and Hell, and appears to be an elaborate expansion and rearrangement of the Apocalypse of Peter, although it adds a prologue describing all creation appealing to God against the sin of man, a detail that is not present in Peter's Apocalypse. The Ethiopic version of Paul's Apocalypse features the Virgin Mary as the receiver of the vision in the place of Paul (the Apocalypse of the Virgin).  At the end of the text, Paul manages to persuade God to give everyone in Hell a day off every Sunday.

"In the Ethiopic Apocalypse of the Virgin, which copies that of Paul very literally, the end comes at ch. 44, when the Virgin procures rest from Friday evening to Monday morning for the lost". [10]

 Paul's apocalypse was immensely popular in Western Europe, and by the Middle Ages....

    the concept of a fiery underworld had become a dominant element in people's minds. To the medieval faithful, hell was a place of suffering and despair, of wretchedness and excruciating pain. The medieval Church used fire-and-brimstone rhetoric to its fullest to keep believers under control. The Church considered hell a useful prod to piety, a strong incentive to refrain from evil. [2]

 Besides which, the Apocalypse of Paul, may have helped inspire Dante's Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy..

Dante's Inferno
Allegorically, the Divine Comedy represents the journey of the soul towards God, with the Inferno describing the recognition and rejection of sin.

In the Inferno (Italian for "Hell") Dante is guided through the nine circles of Hell by Virgil the Roman poet. "The circles are concentric, representing a gradual increase in wickedness, and culminating at the centre of the earth, where Satan is held in bondage. Each circle's sinners are punished in a fashion fitting their crimes: each sinner is afflicted for all of eternity by the chief sin he committed.

In the First Circle (Limbo) are found the un-baptized, and the virtuous pagans, who, though not sinful, did not accept Christ. Whereas, people who sinned but prayed for forgiveness before their deaths, are found not in Hell, but in Purgatory, where they labour to be free of their sins. Those in Hell are people who tried to justify their sins and are unrepentant". [Wikipedia]

Dante's fertile imagination which portrayed hell as a nightmarish place of eternal torment presided over by Satan continues to represent the thinking of some Christians to this day, who mistakenly assume that Dante's frightful imagery comes from the Bible.

Interestingly, I have heard that although the position on hell was taught before his time, it was Augustine who apparently systematized and popularized the traditional viewpoint. Figures!

Other Considerations

In view of the hard Biblical evidence against the traditional ideas of hell, it seems unnecessary to even address the more philosophical issues such as... why a just God would see the need to punish all sinners so severely, or if "hell" fits in with the Scriptural picture of a loving and merciful God. However, some of the ideas advanced in support of the eternal torment concept are so ludicrous that it is difficult ignore them completely.

"Choosing" Hell
One completely ridiculous statement that Christians often make, goes something like this...

    Everyone makes a choice as to where they will spend eternity.

It is completely absurd to let these trite phrases roll off our tongues, without thinking them through.

Most of the decisions we make in our lives eventually boil down to making our lives, or the life of another person more comfortable. We seek the good things, not the bad... pleasure, not pain. There are many, many, people who have made the conscious decision to follow Christ, and receive eternal life, but, apart from a very tiny minority who actively choose to worship Satan (but who obviously do not believe in the traditional understanding of hell), there is, as far as I know, no one in the history of the earth, who has ever deliberately chosen an eternity of endless torment and suffering, especially after weighing all the pros and cons.

Many people go through their lives never hearing the Gospel, or, if they have heard it, they, for one reason or another do not believe it, or even choose to disregard it. However, none of this means that they have made a conscious decision to spend trillions of years in torment.

Christians also often claim that if a person has not made a conscious choice to follow Christ, they have, in fact, chosen to spend eternity in hell. In other words, choosing hell is the 'default decision'. Again this is patently ridiculous. But let us look, for a moment, at the idea of Heaven and Hell co-existing simultaneously for all eternity.

The ‘Joys’ of Heaven?

Another point that seems to be rarely thought about, if at all, is that the Bible is very clear that not many will find their way to Heaven.

    Enter ye in by the narrow gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby. For narrow is the gate, and straitened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few are they that find it. [Matthew 7:13-14]

Therefore, it stands to reason that virtually everyone in Heaven will know someone, or even many people, in the eternal torments of hell, whether they be a spouse, parent, sibling, child, friend or acquaintance. And, if as many believe, the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is to be taken literally, then when you are in Heaven, you will be able to see and hear the torments (whether mental or physical) of a person, or persons, you care about, who is now in hell.

Someone is going to have to explain to me how, under these circumstances, it will be possible to, 1) Even get a good night's sleep, much less enjoy the rewards of Heaven and, 2) spend an eternity praising the God who you know is responsible for the suffering of people you care about, and who could, at any time, end their suffering, yet chooses not to do so.

Tell me which of you would not willingly give up their eternal life in order to save the person, or persons, you love from this fate. I imagine that most would not give it a second thought, especially since Heaven would be so not worth it.

There is no amount of happiness that could ever make up for the knowledge, much less the sights and sounds, of what is going on in hell, which brings us to the topic of ...

Infinite Punishment
Most Christians believe, on the one hand that God is all loving and merciful, not only because the Bible clearly states that He is, but also because it tells us that He loves us enough to have sent His Son to die in our place. But, on the other hand, they also accept the traditional doctrine of hell, because they believe that this too is taught in the Bible. One is not sure whether to commend them for accepting both doctrines, in spite of the fact that most probably are not happy about the hell issue, or decry them for using so little common sense.

Quite simply, it is impossible to equate love and mercy with unending torment.

Claiming they fit together is the same as saying "God loves you, but He is quite prepared to torture you in hell forever"! Is this the "good news", we are supposed to share with others?

However, Christian theologians through the ages have had such a strong belief in the existence of hell as a place of unending torment, that they have had to come up with some justification for their own misinterpretation of the Scriptures. In the effort to defend their concept of an eternal hell, they have had to invent reasons as to why a supposedly loving, merciful, God would punish people forever. Therefore, they argue that all sin is an offense against God, and since God is infinite, all sin is infinitely evil. In fact, many contemporary theologians have all thrown their hats into the same ring as famed "Puritan theologian and philosopher" Jonathan Edwards, who said...

    "... sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations, must be a crime infinitely heinous, and so deserving of infinite punishment". [11]

Theologian William G. T. Shedd offered his idea as to why endless punishment makes sense

    "Endless punishment is rational, because sin is an infinite evil; infinite not because committed by an infinite being, but against one....To torture a dumb beast is a crime; to torture a man is a greater crime. To steal from one's own mother is more heinous than to steal from a fellow citizen. The person who transgresses is the same in each instance; but the different worth and dignity of the objects upon whom his action terminates makes the difference in the gravity of the two offenses." [12]

    God’s justice demands eternal punishment. “The heinousness of any crime must be gauged according to the worth or dignity of the person it is committed against” (Davidson, 50). Thus, a murder of a president or pope is deemed more heinous than that of a terrorist or Mafia boss. Sin against an infinite God is an infinite sin worthy of infinite punishment (Edwards, 2.83)....To punish a person eternally for what he did for a short time on earth seems at first like a gigantic case of overkill. However, on closer examination it turns out to be not only just but necessary. For one thing, only eternal punishment will suffice for sins against the eternal God. The sins may have been committed in time, but they were against the Eternal One. Furthermore, no sin can be tolerated as long as God exists, and he is eternal. Hence, punishment for sin must also be eternal. " [13]

These statements, and others like them, are widely quoted in spite of the fact that they not only defy all logic and common sense, but also do not have a shred of Biblical evidence to support them (note that not a single Bible verse has been referred to). In fact these rationalizations are meager in the extreme.

While it is true that most of us will not shed a single tear over the death of a mobster, and much of the world mourns a president, is this attributable to our feelings, or is the death of one really more heinous than the other? If the latter, then where do we draw the line? Is the murder of a homeless man less hateful than the murder of the man who lives in a three bedroom house in suburbia? Or perhaps taking the life of a school teacher is worse than taking the life of a janitor.

William Shedd said "To steal from one's own mother is more heinous than to steal from a fellow citizen". But, is this true? Shouldn't we consider other circumstances? Perhaps one own mother is very well to do, and could easily replace what was stolen, while the other person has trouble keeping body and soul together. In which case, which of the two instances of theft would be deemed more despicable? The fact is, that, more often than not, the circumstances that dictate how bad we judge a crime to be, not just the person against whom the crime is committed.

But what saith the Scriptures?

While it may be true that the principal purpose of 'an eye for an eye' was, at least in part, probably intended to prevent excessive punishment at the hands of either an avenging private party or even the state, the law of Moses clearly taught that, no matter who a person was, they could not kill, or intentionally injure another human being, without consequence. Regardless of the status of the victim, a person who killed another, was to be put to death, a rule that equally applied to both the Israelite and the foreigner who dwelt in their midst.

    And he that smiteth any man mortally shall surely be put to death. And he that killeth a beast shall make it good: and he that killeth a man shall be put to death. Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the sojourner, as for the home-born: for I am the Lord your God. [Leviticus 24:17, 21-22] [Also See Exodus 21:14-36]

The New Testament also comes out strongly against any kind of favoritism

    For if there come into your synagogue a man with a gold ring, in fine clothing, and there come in also a poor man in vile clothing; and ye have regard to him that weareth the fine clothing, and say, Sit thou here in a good place; and ye say to the poor man, Stand thou there, or sit under my footstool; Do ye not make distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? [James 2:2-4]

In other words a sin is a sin, and a crime is a crime, and the status of the victim or the perpetrator doesn't matter.

Besides which, I have to wonder whether the theologians who, speaking from a position of 'safety', claim that all sin merits an eternal hell, would still consider the Lord as loving, if they found themselves facing an eternity of torment, with no way of escape, for the smallest sin they had ever committed. In other words, if God had not provided a way out, and released them, and us, from the demands of eternal justice, on the basis that Jesus Christ paid our fine.

Dr. Norman Geisler says

    Annihilation of the wicked is contrary to both the nature of God and the nature of humans made in his image. It is not consistent with an all-loving God to snuff out those who do not do his wishes. [4]

I find it difficult to recall when I have heard a statement so lop-sided and ridiculous. It is, according to Dr. Geisler, contrary to the nature of God to annihilate the wicked, but apparently it is not contrary to the nature of God to let people be eternally tormented. He says... "It is not consistent with an all-loving God to snuff out those who do not do his wishes", but does Dr. Geisler really consider it consistent with the nature of an all loving God to have people suffer forever?

And, I just have to ask.. Does Dr. Geisler's Bible not contain the account of the great flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah etc, or did he simply manage not to read those accounts of the annihilation of the wicked?

As Jeremy Moritz says in his article on hell

    Secondly, the above argument fully avoids the real issue. Yes, God is an infinite God. I certainly don't argue against that point. He is infinitely loving, infinitely holy, omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, and eternal. He's all of those things, but what does it mean? Does God's being infinitely holy really mean that even one small sin (the kind that Christians commit many times a day) is so offensive to Him that the only thing that can make it right is to suffer agonizing cruelty for trillions upon trillions upon trillions of years? Let's just think for a moment about the logic behind this. After the first billion years or so, would an infinitely loving God really think "No, that's not quite enough"? What practical meaning could the description "infinitely loving" even have if God can allow the never-ending anguish of billions of people and still deserve the title? Do we just call Him all of those nice things because we have to? Or is it because God really is loving, holy, etc.?...

    When people use these arguments, I'm sure their intentions are good. But by employing all of this jargon about the infiniteness of our creator, what they are doing is clouding up simple God-given logic. Sin is sin. A crime is a crime. It doesn't matter how nice and loving the victim is. Most people have no trouble understanding this because they already know it in their hearts to be true. Let's suppose for a moment that a kind, holy, loving man had his wallet stolen. After a day, they found the criminal and allowed the victim to choose his offender's sentence. Imagine if the kind, loving man used the argument "Because I am kind and loving, your sin against me was much worse than stealing from someone else. Therefore, the only punishment fitting for you is to spend 40 years in my torture chamber." Wouldn't that raise some doubts as to the loving nature that this man claims to have? How much more so, if the man could make the sentence 40,000,000,000,000,000 years or more? [14]

Besides which, what would be the point of eternal punishment? Even our jails are known as correctional facilities, because the hope is that criminals will be rehabilitated. The "Three Strikes and You're Out" law basically means that people who are convicted of three felonies may end up facing life in prison, under the assumption that the felon is not going to mend his ways. However, regardless of how terrible a convict may be, in every civilized society on earth, the worst that can happen is they receive the death penalty.

Keeping people in endless torment serves absolutely no purpose, since they cannot repay their debt, nor be rehabilitated. Besides which, endless torment without any practical purpose behind it does not fit in with...

The Character Of God
When believers speak of God's goodness, they are usually referring to the fact that, although none of us deserves Heaven, He loves us enough to send His Son to die in our place so that we would not have to. That He has granted us this wonderful opportunity to live in a new world in which there will be no death, no tears, "neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain" [Revelation 21:4].

That this inheritance is so marvelous that it is almost unbelievable is certainly very true. But let us examine the other side of the coin for a moment. Christians who actually believe that hell is a place of physical pain, in a fire that burns forever, but never consumes, have apparently never given the matter a modicum of thought, or choose to ignore the facts.

If hell is, as so many Christians believe, a place of eternal torment, then they have to know that Satan did not invent this hell. God did. And, even if one were to argue that somehow hell is of our own making, regardless of who physically inflicts the pain, it is indisputable that God could put an end to it in an instant, but chooses not to do so.  In which case, we simply cannot ignore the fact that Hell does not contradict the character of God in any way. So what does this say about Him?

This concept of hell actually places this 'loving' God far beyond the league of the most notorious human beings that have ever lived. What Hitler did to some six million Jews will seem like a walk in the park compared to the never ending suffering, and, possibly, conscious pain, of billions of people, for countless zillions of years. Under what pretext can we still call Him loving or merciful? As Jeremy Moritz goes on to so rightly say...

     In speaking of the compassion of God, we can point to all of the nice things He is doing for the saved race, but how can we ignore what is going on in Hell? What if Adolf Hitler was responsible for donating millions of dollars to charitable causes? What if he, between periods of overseeing his concentration camps, spent his Saturday afternoons working at a homeless shelter? What if he was a generous father and a loving family man? Would that make up for his treatment of the Jews? How much good would Hitler have to do to be considered a sympathetic, loving, caring man in spite of the millions of the decent people he enslaved, tortured, and put to death? Surely there is no amount of good that can account for that!

    Now, to add one more element to this scenario, remember that not everyone whom Hitler put to death would be declared righteous in God's sight. We think of Hitler's actions as absolutely horrendous, but if the church's traditional view of Hell is correct, his victims hadn't even experienced a taste of what was coming to them. They thought life at the mercy of the Nazis was bad enough, just wait until they are at the mercy of God... then they won't be so lucky... [15]

The only thing that makes this doctrine of unending punishment worse, is that there are those that actually believe that God, from the foundations of the earth, personally chose those who would be saved. The remaining majority were either, chosen to be forever punished in hell, or by default, will find themselves there.

From such a God spare us.

And no, this is not blaspheming the God of the Bible, but the monstrous caricature invented by humans.

Not Choosing Eternal Life
Since the wages of sin is death, there is not a soul on earth that deserves Heaven, but God has offered us more than we deserve... eternity in His kingdom to those who turn to Him for salvation, and who choose His paths.

    henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day; and not to me only, but also to all them that have loved his appearing. [2 Timothy 4:8]

On the other hand, those that disbelieve, or ignore, the Gospel, get exactly what they opt for. While it is ludicrous to say that anyone consciously selects the option of an eternity of torment, the fact remains that they live life on earth as though there is nothing beyond it. Anyone who lives for themselves and for this short and temporary life here on earth, will find that is all they will get.

God is under no obligation whatsoever to allow anyone into His kingdom who has not chosen to be in His kingdom.

At the end of their lives they will be consigned to Sheol/Hades until the first thousand years of Christ's rule are over. Then they will be raised to face a formal judgment for their sins which were not atoned for by Christ's death on the cross. This means that since the wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23), they will have to pay this price themselves, which the Bible calls the second death. And no, we cannot complain that God did not warn us that our sin would cost us our lives because He did... over and over again. Hades itself, having outlived it's purpose will be destroyed.

This includes those people who call themselves Christians, but refuse to become disciples of Christ, refuse to follow the path of holiness, and either focus on what their God can do for them, or live their lives exactly as they please, assuming that their one time profession of faith will save them.

Idolatry is singled out in the Bible as the most abominable of sins. Very strongly worded warnings about idols extend from one end of the Bible to the other, starting with the first two commandments. Therefore, people who worship idols and/or walk down occult paths, have to consider themselves lucky that the popular version of hell does not exist, and they will not forever be at the mercy of the demons they have chosen to venerate, in one way or another.

[See Idol Worship... The Spirits Behind The Idols and Literal Doctrines of Demons in the Church]   

Summary and Conclusions

Anyone who takes the time to do an in-depth study of the subject will find that the Scriptures provide no support for the case for eternal torment.

The Bible versions most people rely on are extremely misleading, simply because several separate and distinctive Hebrew and Greek proper names have been  translated into the single English word 'hell'. The Greek Hades is the New Testament counterpart to the Old Testament Sheol, which is presented in the Old Testament, not as a place of fire, brimstone, and torment but as place of darkness, silence, and forgetfulness, where there is no work, knowledge nor wisdom. Besides which the duration of Sheol/Hades is made clear in 2 Peter 2:9, where the apostle very clearly says that the unrighteous are being held until the day of judgment. [Emphasis Added]

Even if convinced that Sheol and Hades do not denote a place of torment in the future world, most traditionalists claim that the word Gehenna does convey that meaning. However, apart from five or six uses by the Saviour, the rest of the New Testament authors, with the sole exception of James, never even once mentioned Gehenna. If it is a future place of punishment for all sinners, why were the warnings pertaining to Gehenna directed almost solely at the Jews? Did someone forget to tell the Gentiles, or did the early apostles conspire amongst themselves to not warn the Gentiles about the terrible punishment that awaited all sinners?

Most of the church believes that the soul is immortal, assuming that the idea has it's origins in the Bible. It does not. The idea of an afterlife or an immortal soul predates Christianity, and was very common among the ancient Egyptians, and popular with the Greeks. Of the many references to the spirit in the Bible, never once is it said to be immortal, imperishable, or eternal. Instead, it is made very clear that only God has eternal life, and  immortality is conditional, depending upon one's acceptance of Christ. It is a gift of God which He gives to the redeemed when they are resurrected.

Over and over again, the words "life" and "eternal life" are strictly associated with the righteous. Eternal life is contrasted with death, which is reserved for the unrighteous. In fact there are some fifty New Testament verses that speak of "death" as being the fate of the unsaved. Even John 3:16, one of the best known, and most comforting, verses in the Bible says "whosoever believeth on him should not perish". The word perish has been translated from the Greek apollumi which means to 'destroy fully' or "kill". If an everlasting hell were true, then perish would actually mean "never perish".

The fact is that the wages of sin is death, not eternal life in hell. Besides which, if the wages of sin is an eternity of pain and torment, then Jesus' comparatively short, and very temporary, suffering did not come anywhere near the suffering an unrepentant sinner will experience. How then can we claim that He took on the penalty for our sins? But, as the book of Hebrews says [Emphasis Added]

    But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God he should taste of death (Gr, thanatos) for every man. [Hebrews 2:9]

We have to go through some astounding verbal and theological gymnastics to take the word “death”, and make it mean ‘eternal life in hell, away from God’.

Most Christians believe, on the one hand that God is all loving and merciful, not only because the Bible clearly states that He is, but also because He loves us enough to have sent His Son to die in our place. However, the concept of hell actually places this 'loving' God far beyond the league of the most notorious, cruel, human beings that have ever lived. I have absolutely no idea under what pretext we can still call Him loving or merciful, but Christian theologians through the ages have had such a strong belief in the existence of hell as a place of unending torment, that they have had to come up with some justification for their own misinterpretation of the Scriptures. These arguments not only defy all logic and common sense, but also do not have a shred of Biblical evidence to support them.

Sadly all the unbiblical inventions about hell as a place of eternal torment have done untold damage to the message of salvation, since it has significantly altered the way many view the Almighty God. Who can blame people for being completely incredulous when they hear conflicting messages... God loves them, but has no problem with them being forever tormented in hell. Many of them understandably come to the conclusion that Christians are a gullible and rather stupid bunch, and the God they serve is a horrendous monster, light years away from being "loving".

So let's at least try and stick to the message taught by the Scriptures... there is no such place as Hell, but if anyone continues to ignore God's offer of salvation, and continues to live life on earth as though there is nothing beyond it, they will find that is all they will get. They will, eventually, face His judgment of eternal death..

As said before, God is not going to allow anyone into His kingdom who has not chosen to be in His kingdom. [See The Message of The Bible and The Warning of The Bible]

One Question:

All of which leaves us with one unanswered question.. While one can imagine how it is possible that saints will be rewarded "according to their individual deeds." it is not equally clear how one will receive greater condemnation than another at the judgment. For example, in Matthew 11:21-24, where the Lord, speaking to the cities Chorazin and Bethsaida, said ..

    "But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you" .

In the parable of the wicked servant (Luke 12:42-48), Jesus said

    “...And that servant, who knew his lord's will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes..”


    For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the last state is become worse with them than the first. For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered unto them. [2 Peter 2:20-21]

This problem is not answered by the traditional view of hell, as it is not possible to multiply or worsen ‘eternal’ torment. Nor is the problem solved by the total annihilation view, which renders the same punishment to all regardless of offense. There are some things we simply do not know.


End Notes

[9] Greek Version... http://www.21stcenturysaints.com/resources/APOC_PETER.pdf. 
Ethiopic version... http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/apocalypsepeter-roberts.html

[10] Apocalypse of Paul. Scanned and Edited by Joshua Williams Northwest Nazarene College, 1995. Wesley Center Online.

[11] Jonathan Edwards. The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners. http://www.biblebb.com/files/edwards/je-justice.htm

[12] William G. T. Shedd. W. G. T. Shedd, The Doctrine of Endless Punishment (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1886; reprint, Minneapolis: Klock and Klock, 1980),

[13] Dr. Norman Geisler in Hell— Part 2. (from Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Book House, 1999).

[14] Jeremy K. Moritz  HELL: Eternal Torment or Complete Annihilation?

[15] ibid.


Footnote 4.. The Colour Purple
The color purple has long been associated with royalty.

And Mordecai went forth from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, and with a great crown of gold, and with a robe of fine linen and purple: and the city of Shushan shouted and was glad. [Esther 8:15]

But I have heard of thee, that thou canst give interpretations, and dissolve doubts; now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with purple, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom. [Daniel 5:16]

In Acts 16:14, the "purple" which Lydia sold was cloth that had been stained with a dye obtained from a shell fish found in the Mediterranean… expensive, difficult to produce and undoubtedly a prized commodity .

Jesus therefore came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple garment. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold, the man! [John 19:5]

Not only was it one of the predominant colors in the Temple decoration (Ex. Exodus 27:16, 28:5-33, 35:35, 36: 35-37 etc) but the garments worn by the high priest Aaron were of blue, purple, and scarlet (Exodus 39).

The Pope, in his palace, has a crown on his head and is surrounded by Cardinals and Archbishops decked out in scarlet and purple, but is probably experiencing what the rich man in Luke 16 experienced. [See Death Of A Pope]  [PLACE IN TEXT]


Hell Part I


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