Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 1, No. 8 Page 19 Aug 1999

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

   By Louis Rushmore


Does Hell Really Exist?

Why is it that those who DO emphasize Hell and run around warning people of Hell usually look mentally disturbed and unloving? They appear to be condemning and judgmental displaying characteristics more similar to the Pharisees than Christ. . . . Why is it that many who take the subject of Hell and everlasting torture in a literal burning lake seriously often go insane and many even commit suicide? One would think that the Truth would set them free, not torment their minds to the point they can no longer bear to live. Why is it that when studying church history, those times when the church taught Hell the strongest were the times when the church looked the darkest?  Why is the teaching of Hell usually most prominent among uneducated people easily swayed by superstitions, myths, and traditions of men? And why is it that leadership which uses everlasting punishment as a tool with which to control their congregation usually appear to be power-driven instead of humble like Jesus? Why is it that the more one focuses on Hell and everlasting punishment the more angry and judgmental one becomes while the more one focuses on God's love and mercy, the more one is actually able to manifest that love and mercy?

. . . the concept of Hell (and that is all it is, a false concept) seems to violate everything that is reasonable. It violates the nature of God which is conditional Love. It violates the wisdom of God, the pleasure of God, the promises of God, the oath of God, the power of God, it negates the full power of the cross of Christ, it goes against the testimony of the prophets, it violates the testimony of Jesus Christ and His apostles, it violates the Scriptures in their original languages, it violates the writings of the early church leaders who read the Scriptures in the original languages, it goes against our conscience and our hearts, Finally, it has the ring of something the subtlest of all creatures would concoct…the greatest lie ever told. . . . Certainly the greatest majority of the early church and its leadership did NOT teach the modern concept of Hell which was actually borrowed from the pagans--it did NOT come from Mosaic Judaism which is the root of Christianity. These are plain facts. ~ Gary Amirault, Hermann, MO

Please pardon the lengthy excerpt above; I assure you that it is only a brief smattering of the 13,550 word “question” that was posed.  The writer affirms that “hell” does not exist.  The reading above opens with prejudicial and subjective affirmations, which are not worthy of themselves to be weighed as evidence in the quest for biblical truth.  Statements such as the following contribute absolutely nothing to the honest search for biblical truth.  (1) “Why is it that those who DO emphasize Hell and run around warning people of Hell usually look mentally disturbed and unloving?”  (2) “Why is it that many who take the subject of Hell and everlasting torture in a literal burning lake seriously often go insane and many even commit suicide?”  (3) “Why is the teaching of Hell usually most prominent among uneducated people easily swayed by superstitions, myths, and traditions of men?”  Later, he says this of those who believe that hell and everlasting punishment are real:  (4) “Pharisees, hypocrites, control freaks, hate-mongers, and other sundry snakes always get it wrong.”

First, subjective observations (even if they were true which in this case is highly doubtful) are not evidence respecting divine doctrine.  Second, most of Christendom, as the querist concedes, does believe in the existence of hell, and the majority thereof can hardly be legitimately classified as “mentally distrubed and unloving,” “insane,” ‘suicidal,’ ‘ignorant,’ ‘superstitious,’ and “Pharisees, hypocrites, control freaks, hate-mongers, and other sundry snakes . . .”  The entire manuscript “question” is long on unsubstantiated, accusatory outbursts and short on actual evidence--biblical, historical or linguistic.

The querist lists about 14 Bible translations that he asserts are void of the usage of the word “hell” and the concept of eternal punishment.  Most or all of them are obscure and newer than the King James Version of 1611.  Additionally, he enumerates more translations, in which he says they state that “hell” and “eternal punishment” do not belong in the Bible.  In no instance does Gary Amirault cite any of his supposed evidence.

Let’s briefly note some of what the Bible does teach about “hell” and “eternal punishment.”  The New Naves Topical Bible makes the following observation:  “. . . of the Greek word gehenna, signifying the place of torment, Matt. 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; Jas. 3:6 . . .”  Especially the Mark 9 passage denotes the eternal nature of this gehenna hell:

“And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:  Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:  Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:  Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-48, emphasis added).

There is no biblical justification to doubt that the duration of eternal life is equal to the duration of eternal punishment.  John 5:28-29 speaks of the two eternities in this vein:  “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:28-29).  No distinction in duration is made respecting the two.  The eternal duration of “life” following the resurrection is seldom questioned.  “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).  The same Greek word is employed for eternal or everlasting life as eternal or everlasting punishment.  “And these shall go away into everlasting [aiovion] punishment: but the righteous into life eternal [aiovion]” (Matthew 25:46).

The charge is further made that the concept of an eternal hell is not addressed in the Old Testament and that the Jews never possessed the notion of an eternal hell.  The querist is wrong on both counts.  Admittedly, the New Testament is clearer regarding hell and eternal punishment (as it is on many things due to its nature and the fact it is God’s final, complete revelation to mankind).  However, the topic of hell or eternal punishment is not without representation in the Old Testament.  “The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” (Isaiah 33:14). “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).  Further, various historical references confirm that the Jews did understand the eternal nature of punishment.

As to the duration of future punishment the school of Shammai held that it was everlasting; while the school of Hillel inclined to the milder view of a possible redemption after repentance and purification. Some Rabbis taught that hell will cease, and that the sun will burn up and annihilate the wicked. [Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997.]

I. EVERLASTING PUNISHMENT of the wicked always was, and always will be the orthodox theory. It was held by the Jews at the time of Christ, with the exception of the Sadducces, who denied the resurrection.  [Ibid.]

The further charge is made that the early Christian writers uniformly did not believe in hell and everlasting punishment.  It is added that they were closer to the apostolic age than we and on the other side of the rampant apostasies which gave rise to Catholicism and Protestantism.  Facts, though, contradict these assertions.  Please observe the lengthy quotation following.
. . . the majority of the fathers who speak plainly on this terrible subject, favor this view.  Ignatius speaks of "the unquenchable fire;" Hermas, of some "who will not be saved," but "shall utterly perish," because they will not repent.  Justin Martyr teaches that the wicked or hopelessly impenitent will be raised at the judgment to receive eternal punishment. He speaks of it in twelve passages. "Briefly," he says, "what we look for, and have learned from Christ, and what we teach, is as follows. Plato said to the same effect, that Rhadamanthus and Minos would punish the wicked when they came to them; we say that the same thing will take place; but that the judge will be Christ, and that their souls will be united to the same bodies, and will undergo an eternal punishment (aionian kolasin) and not, as Plato said, a period of only a thousand years (ciliontaethe periodon)"  In another place: "We believe that all who live wickedly and do not repent, will be punished in eternal fire" (en aionio puri). Such language is inconsistent with the annihilation theory for which Justin M. has been claimed.  . . . Irenaeus has been represented as holding inconsistently all three theories, or at least as hesitating between the orthodox view and the annihilation scheme. He denies, like Justin Martyr, the necessary and intrinsic immortality of the soul, and makes it dependent on God for the continuance in life as well as for life itself.  But in paraphrasing the apostolic rule of faith he mentions eternal punishment, and in another place he accepts as certain truth that "eternal fire is prepared for sinners," because "the Lord openly affirms, and the other Scriptures prove" it.  Hippolytus approves the eschatology of the Pharisees as regards the resurrection, the immortality of the soul, the judgment and conflagration, everlasting life and "everlasting punishment;" and in another place be speaks of "the rayless scenery of gloomy Tartarus, where never shines a beam from the radiating voice of the Word."  According to Tertullian the future punishment "will continue, not for a long time, but forever."  [Ibid.]
In closing, hell and eternal punishment are real.  The doctrine is divine in origin.  Instead of being antagonistic to Deity, the Holiness of God demands the separation of disobedient souls from obedient souls prior to eternal assignment.  The consequence of disobedience and the duration of the same is clearly detailed in 2 Thessalonians 1:9. “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

Jesus used the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem as a figure for eternal hell.  That our Lord used such a figure does not lessen the significance of the spiritual truth taught thereby.

The Greek term geenna is derived from a Hebrew phrase meaning ‘Valley of Hinnom,’ a ravine running along the south side of Jerusalem and a place where the rubbish from the city was constantly being burned. According to late Jewish popular belief, the last judgment was to take place in this valley, and hence the figurative extension of meaning from ‘Valley of Hinnom’ to ‘hell.’ In most languages geenna is rendered as ‘place of punishment’ or ‘place where the dead suffer’ or ‘place where the dead suffer because of their sins.’  [Louw, Johannes P. and Nida, Eugene A., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains, (New York: United Bible Societies) 1988, 1989.]

Hell is the place of the future punishment call “Gehenna” or “Gehenna of fire”. This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction.  [Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1995.]

1. geenna is the Greek form of the Hebrew name for the Wadi er-Rababi. This acquired a bad reputation because of the sacrifices offered to Moloch there (2 Kgs. 16:3). Judgment was pronounced on it (Jer. 7:32), and it thus came to be equated with the hell of the last judgment . . . [Kittel, Gerhard, and Friedrich, Gerhard, Editors, The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company) 1985.]
Another figurative expression used in the New Testament to denote hell is the phrase “lake of fire” (Revelation 19:10; 20:10-15; 21:8).

Before hell and eternal punishment can be dismissed, one must re-write Greek dictionaries, produce translations of the Bible that omit the offensive doctrine, divest the Jews and the Old Testament of the doctrine, and disinfect the very teachings of Jesus Christ.  Real evidence overwhelmingly exonerates the biblical doctrine of the existence of hell and everlasting punishment.  The proposed substitute doctrine would cheapen the cross of Christ and strip the Godhead of its Divine Holiness.


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