Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hell on Trial

So another friend of mine wrote a nice blog on Hell. Sounds weird to say "nice" and "Hell" in the same sentence. Anyway. I've always been a little shy to the idea of a literal fire and brimstone-type Hell, especially given the nature of God and Jesus Christ, and what we know about Hell to be true (simply put, it is the absence of God). That said, my theory leaned more toward a metaphorical and analogous "Being in Hell (without God) would be like burning in a lake of fire" type of definition of Hell.

I don't claim to have any evidence for that idea of Hell, but my friend, Jonathan, does bring quite a bit to back up his idea of Hell.

So with that, here is Jonathan's blog on Hell titled: Hell on Trial.


Hell on Trial, by Jonathan.

(I'll be completely honest--For many months now I have had countless doubts about many things concerning God, faith, and all that kind of stuff. Many of those doubts stem from this topic. I hope this blog benefits those who share my same doubts, who raise the objections that I wish to clear up, and for those who are simply curious about the subject. My argument might be wrong--I am open to that and I am open to criticism. I just want to offer another perspective on the subject. Enjoy)

Hell. When you hear that word what comes to mind? No matter where it is said--its description among the majority is pretty consistent. Usually people think of thousands of naked people being burned by giant flames, others falling from a huge hole in the ceiling where demons are flying around like bats, demons poking all those who are screaming in pain with red pitchforks, and the Devil himself sitting on a throne in the background. These images have been promoted to us through the centuries by popular books and plays. The most famous would of course be found within Dante's Inferno where the damned read the words "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here" as they walk to meet their eternal damnation. Some have even argued that they have actually recorded the sounds of hell. In this blog I wish to argue that hell is not a place of conscious, eternal torment. I wish to argue that the fate of those who die without Christ (according to the Bible, even if it's inspired or not) is quite different. The view that hell is a place full of smoke and fire with billions of people being tormented for eternity is outright wrong, harmful, and somewhat sick. Many people ask questions similar to, "How can a loving God torment people for all eternity?" I think it's a valid question and I hope my argument offers a valid perspective on the subject (although some may find it to be heterodox). To begin, we must define some terms:


There are 3 words in the Bible that are translated as "hell" in our English versions. One of them is Tartarus. This word only appears once and it is found in 2 Peter 2:4, which reads, "God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell (Tartarus), and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment." In this scripture it states that God has already cast the angels that sinned, including the Devil, down to "hell." But the angels and Satan aren't frying somewhere right now since the Bible already states that Satan is out-and-about doing things (1 Peter 5:8). All you have to do is read the gospels and you'll read stories of Jesus casting out these fallen angels (demons). Tartarus simply means "dark abyss" or "a place of restraint." It isn't a place of torment and fire. 2 Peter 2:4 clearly states that the angels that sinned are "reserved unto judgment," which means that one day they will be punished. Obviously they aren't roasting as we speak.


This word is derived from the name of a rocky, narrow valley south of Jerusalem where trash, filth, and the bodies of dead animals were burned. Jesus spoke of this word a few times in the New Testament, as in Matthew 5:22 where he warned about the "danger of hell (Gehenna) fire." This scripture and others like them do in fact refer to fire. In Gehenna there was trash and there were bodies that were burning. Jesus was using this common, yet unpleasant, imagery to make a point about judgment and of course fire, but when will this fire burn? In one of his parables Jesus answers it quite clearly in Matthew 13:39-43:

the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares (weeds) are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

From these words we can see that there will be a "furnace of fire." When will it exactly burn? Christ said it will at the end of the world. The apostle Peter taught the same thing in 2 Peter 3:7. Jesus and Peter taught that there will be fire but that it is coming in the future and that the earth and all of the evil deeds within it are reserved for that future judgment. So those that have sinned without a remedy are not burning right now below our feet within a flaming-hot furnace. Judgment is reserved for the future; no one is burning right now.


If you take a look within the book of Revelation there is a scripture that reads, "death and hell (Hades) were cast into the lake of fire" (20:14). In this scripture hell (Hades) is cast into the lake of fire. Therefore Hades (or hell) is not a fiery place, but it is instead tossed into a fiery place. Hades literally means "the grave" (and most Bibles have this footnote somewhere in the text). In the Old Testament this word is called "Sheol." We can see this clearly throughout the New Testament, especially in 1 Corinthians 15:55, which reads, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave (Hades), where is thy victory?" This scripture is talking about God's people. This scripture is talking about God's people ascending from Hades, or the grave, when he returns to the earth. If Hades literally means a fiery place of torment, how can anyone imagine God's own people residing there? If you don't believe me then read the entire section (1 Corinthians 15:51-55).

To sum up these 3 points:
1.) Tartarus is a place of darkness of restraint; Satan and his angels are there now but they obviously aren't roasting.
2.) Hades refers to the grave, which those who are saved will one day resurrect from.
3.) Gehenna refers to a place of fire and punishment, which will come at the end of the world.

Now that we have these words out of the way, let's deal with some more scriptures that seem to pose a "problem." I believe that scripture indicates (whether we believe it was inspired or not) that those who die without Christ will not be frying for all of eternity but will instead be destroyed, annihilated, or will simply cease to exist.

Everlasting Fire

Revelation 20:15 reads, "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." Will those inside the lake of fire be burning throughout all of eternity or will they simply burn up, and therefore cease to exist altogether? Most jump immediately to scriptures that state, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). Is there a contradiction between scriptures like these according to the perspective that I am arguing? Maybe so. The Bible states in John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." So will the damned forever roast in this "everlasting fire" or will they perish? If they do in fact burn forever then they obviously also have eternal life (just a much more uncomfortable one!). The fire will burn them up forever and its result is eternal--complete destruction. Let's proceed...

Revelation 20:10 reads, "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever." That means that they'll be sizzling forever, right? Wrong. Ezekiel 28 also speaks about the fate of Satan at the judgment. After discussing the King of Tyre, the prophet looks even further to identify Lucifer himself. This is what Ezekiel says about the fate of the Devil, "I turned you to ashes upon the earth In the sight of all who saw you....You have become a horror, And shall be no more forever" (verses 18-19). So which one is it? Will Satan be frying forever or will he be burned up and be no more forever? It's important to note that the book of Revelation is saturated in imagery. We must not interpret the entire Bible from one isolated text. Let's dig deeper...

Sodom and Gomorrah

In the book of Jude it reads, "Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire" (verse 7). We all know the story. These two cities were burned up by fire and brimstone falling from heaven. The physical cities were completely destroyed. The punishment of those in the cities is "set forth as an example" of what will happen to all those who die in their sins. So this "eternal fire" destroyed them in a moment, as the book of Lamentations records, "For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment" (4:6). These two cities were destroyed by "eternal fire" but does this mean that they are still burning? No. The fire came from God and the results last forever (eternal). These two cities are an example for eternal fire, yet they burned up in a moment. How can that be? "Eternal fire" obviously doesn't mean that people will be burning forever. They will be destroyed, which lasts forever.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Many people have read this parable given by Jesus in the book of Luke. It's kind of long so I'll put it into a nutshell: There was a beggar named Lazarus who was full of sores who laid at the rich man's gate desiring to be fed. When the beggar died he was carried off to "Abraham's bosom" and when the rich man died he was buried and found himself being tormented in Hades. The rich man can see the beggar from Hades and he asks him for some water to cool his tongue. This seems to be the greatest text used to support the idea that billions of people will be frying forever. But I must make it a point that this a parable and didn't actually take place. If the rich man was really burning in Hades then how on earth was he keeping the conversation that he was? Simply try burning your finger while talking to someone. If the rich man was burning then why would he only want water for his tongue instead of his entire body? If he entered into flames right after he died then why does Jesus and the apostles teach that fire will be at the end of the world? Please consider these questions.

When Jesus gave this parable he was talking to Pharisees who were deriding him with their tongues (Luke 16:14). They believed that the rich were blessed and that the poor were cursed. Jesus flipped it entirely around. The rich man begging for water to cool his tongue was a warning pointed at them that their mouths were endangering them of hell fire. Fire will be at the end of the world, as the scriptures teach, but no one will be frying forever. Jesus wasn't formulating a theology of eternal damnation here.

Jesus and the Cross

I'll make this one short and sweet because I see it as the most important. Scripture teaches that Jesus paid the price for sin on the cross. The Bible states that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). Jesus obviously died on the cross on behalf of the world, which can't save itself. Let's assume that if someone dies without being saved that they will fry for eternity. If that is the punishment for sin then how did Jesus pay the price for sin if he only died without frying for eternity? If that is the punishment for sin and Jesus endured that punishment then it would follow that Jesus is still burning. Wrong. He died, which is the price for sin as the Bible teaches, and Jesus paid that price by dying. If the punishment for sin is frying forever then it follows that Jesus must be frying right now since he paid the price for sin. This is obviously wrong.


In this blog I don't wish to affirm anything on the nature of the soul, the fate of those who are saved and what happens to them before Jesus comes again, etc. I just wanted to focus on the nature of hell and punishment (as the Bible says, even if it's not a divinely inspired book). It's clear that words translated as hell refer to the grave, which everyone will be residing in. Others refer to a fire that will burn up the unsaved at the end of the world. It is clear that there is a fire coming, it will burn up many but that they won't be burning forever...only the results will be forever (I haven't gone completely in depth but I think this is good for now). I sure hope that God won't burn billions of people for all eternity (that idea has created countless atheists among many things). If He really inspired this book then I think it's quite clear that He won't. Trust me, I still have many doubts about The Bible, God, faith, etc. But every time I read these words I can't help but stop and wonder: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

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