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Eternal Torment In Hell: Is It Biblical?
by Henry Bechthold
1/26/2011 / Bible Studies
Is eternal torment in hell the final fate of lost sinners? Although the wicked will indeed be cast into hell, the Bible is clear that they will not suffer in hell's flames throughout eternity. The Scriptures plainly state that lost sinners will die in hell, not agonize in eternal torment. At the end of this article, I will provide a "link" that presents dozens of texts that prove beyond question that this eternal torment doctrine is contradicted by the overwhelming weight of biblical evidence.
Throughout the Bible the final fate of the wicked is stated to be death, not a miserable, eternal life of pain and agony. The Bible declares that the soul who sins shall die, not that he will be tortured forever (Ezekiel 18:4; Ezekiel 18:20). It also states that the wages of sin is death, not eternal torment (Romans 6:23).
In Psalm 145:20, God states that He preserves all who love Him, but that He will "destroy" the wicked. The Hebrew word used for destroy in this text is "shamad". This word, shamad, is also used in Psalm 37:37-38, where God declares that a wonderful "future" awaits the honest and good, but He also states that the wicked will be "destroyed" (shamad), and will have no future. According to the "Strong's Expanded Exhaustive Concordance", shamad means to utterly be brought to naught, perish or annihilate. It goes on to emphasize that shamad always expresses complete destruction or annihilation. Therefore, the precise rendering of these two passages in Psalm 145:20 and Psalm 37:37-38, is proclaiming that the honest and good people who love God will be preserved and will have a wonderful future, whereas the wicked will be completely destroyed and annihilated, and will have no future whatsoever! They do not live on forever in torment. They are destroyed, annihilated and gone! As it also states in Psalm 37:20, "they are no more".
It is significant that the Bible clearly states that "only God" possesses immortality (1st Timothy 6:16). Man does not possess immortality apart from the "new birth" experience in Christ. Without that new birth experience, there is no immortality for man. Lost people, of course, have not become born again in Christ; consequently, they have no immortal soul to "live forever" in hell. These are not my words, but rather are precisely what the Bible teaches. As previously stated, the Bible declares that "only God" has immortality (1st Timothy 6:16). Because man does not have it on his own, Romans 2:7 states that he must seek for it (in Christ, of course). The Apostle Paul plainly states that immortality for human beings is only "brought to light" (made available) through the gospel of Christ (2nd Timothy 1:10). In other words, only those who place their faith in Jesus Christ have access to immortality. This undeniable truth is demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt in 1st John 5:11-12, where it states that God has given us eternal life "in His Son"; furthermore, this passage goes on to state that he who has the Son has eternal life, but he who does "not" have the Son of God does "not have eternal life" (Case closed!). Therefore, according to the Bible, it is impossible for people without Christ to possess immortality and live forever in hell!
This fact, that "fallen mankind" does not possess immortality apart from Christ, becomes obvious immediately after man's fall, as recorded in Genesis chapter three. God found it necessary to ban Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and also to station angels to keep them from accessing the "tree of life". The Bible clearly states that God did this so that they could not eat from the tree of life and live forever (Genesis 3:22-24). Therefore, the now sinful couple obviously had become "mortal beings" as a consequence of their sin, and God did not want sinful beings to become immortalized by eating from this supernatural tree of life. It is clear from this text, as well as many others that could be cited, that there was "no immortal nature" inherent within human beings after they had fallen into sin. And, according to the Bible, it is also apparent that the only means to receive immortality was by eating from the tree of life or by faith in Christ. Of course, the Bible records that God immediately cut off access to the supernatural tree, which left only "one means" to receive immortality, which is faith in Christ. The Bible plainly teaches that, without faith in Christ, there is nothing immortal within mankind. Eternal life is only for those who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. However, according to the "eternal torment" doctrine taught by most preachers and theologians, the wicked also have eternal life. Their eternal life is a terrible and painful one, but it is still an eternal life. This is a blatant contradiction of Scripture!
Another important point to be considered is that the Bible teaches that we will be rewarded "according to our works", both for those whose deeds have been good, and for those who have done evil (Matthew 16:27; Revelation 22:12; 2nd Corinthians 5:10). In fact, the Bible specifically states that God will reveal His wrath towards the wicked on the day of judgment, by rendering to each one "according to his deeds" (Romans 2:5-6). If God is going to render to those who have done evil, according to their deeds, would He punish them for lives of seventy years of disobedience, with pain and torment for trillions of years without end? That would not be punishment based upon people's works, but would be billion-fold and trillion-fold punishment.
It is also obvious that, if we are rewarded or punished "according to our works", then the rewards and punishments must necessarily vary based upon those works. Sadistic, murderous tyrants like Hitler and Stalin, who were responsible for the torture and murder of millions of innocent people, cannot receive the same sentence of torment in hell throughout the trillions of years of eternity, as a sixteen year old boy or girl who died before placing their faith in Jesus, but who had never done anything to harm another human being.
In Luke 12:42-49, Jesus Himself illustrates this principle. He clearly states that unfaithful servants are punished differently according to their personal measure of guilt. Some will be beaten with "few stripes", whereas others will receive "many stripes". After stating this, Jesus immediately refers to the "fire" He will send on the earth. Is this a coincidence? Probably not, because it is in that fire where the wicked will receive their punishment, or "stripes", so to speak; some will receive a few and others will receive many. However, it is interesting to note that "none" of them will be "beaten forever". This agrees with what David says in Psalm 28:4, where he tells God to measure out punishment in "proportion to their wickedness".
There are dozens of other scriptures that I could share which clearly refute this teaching that God torments lost sinners in hell throughout eternity. However, I will share just three more at this time. These texts all use the Greek word "apollumi" to refer to the final fate of the wicked. This is significant because Scripture always uses this Greek word to mean destruction, perish, kill, die or fully destroy. The only exception to this rule is in a few instances when apollumi is translated as lose or lost, describing things that are lost and can be found, such as sheep, coins and people. However, this word is "never" used to depict eternal torment or suffering.
In Luke 17:27-30, Jesus said that the wicked in the days of Noah and Lot were destroyed (apollumi). Of course, we know that in both instances the wicked were not punished forever, but were killed. And, Jesus said that it will happen likewise when He returns. In other words, once again, the wicked will be destroyed or killed (apollumi); they will not be subjected to eternal torture.
In 2nd Peter 3:5-9, we're told that the floodwaters in the days of Noah caused the wicked to perish (apollumi). Did the wicked continue to drown in the floodwaters forever? No! They were killed in the floodwaters. Then Peter goes on to compare that destruction of the wicked with the destruction that will occur in the hell fire. He uses the same Greek word, "apollumi", in verse nine for those who will perish in the hell fire, as he did for those who perished in the flood in verse six. In other words, the wicked destroyed in the hell fire will experience the same fate as the wicked did in the flood, which was death, "not eternal torture".
Finally, Jesus eliminates all doubt in Matthew 10:28. After telling us not to fear men, who can only kill the body, He tells us instead to fear God, who will destroy (apollumi) "both soul and body" in hell! Remember, "apollumi" means to perish, be destroyed, kill or caused to die. It is "never" used to describe eternal torment! Therefore, Jesus is unequivocally stating that "both body and soul" will be destroyed, killed or caused to die in hell, not suffer throughout endless ages.
We know that the God of Christianity is a fair and just God. Keeping this in mind, I ask you to "do the math" regarding hell. If hell's duration was limited to one trillion years, based on a seventy-five year average lifespan, our fair and just God would be punishing people 30,000 years for each and every moment that they lived on earth. And, remember, this is not a light and easy punishment; this is agonizing torment in hell's flames that produces wailing and gnashing of teeth. Furthermore, this 30,000 year per minute punishment is based on a one trillion year duration for hell. However, teachers of this doctrine say that the torment of lost sinners in hell is not limited to one trillion years, but will continue throughout the trillions of trillions of years of eternity. Therefore, the torment will eventually become millions and billions of years for each and every moment lived on earth.
Romans 2:4 states that it is God's "goodness" that leads people to repentance. Would the average person, who has not been previously indoctrinated with the Christian eternal torment teaching, consider it a revelation of God's goodness and equitable justice for Him to punish "every minute" of disobedience with millions of years of painful torment and agony? I ask you to honestly ask yourself the following questions, and try to answer them from an unbiased perspective.
If you heard about some parents who locked their children in a hot dark room for six months each time they had been disobedient; furthermore, that once each day they placed their children's hands on a hot stove during the entire six months of punishment; could anyone convince you that the punishment was justifiable, because the parents said that rebellion and disobedience were so offensive and repulsive in their sight, which is the reason given by eternal torment advocates to justify God's supposed eternal torture of the lost? You would totally reject and denounce such reasoning, and you know it! Yet, Christian preachers present a Heavenly Parent (God), who supposedly punishes "billions of months" for each act of disobedience; moreover, this Heavenly Parent doesn't just burn the hands once each day, but He burns the entire body non-stop, every second of every minute of every hour of every day throughout the trillions of years of eternity! Is it logical and consistent to declare the parents' conduct in my illustration to be unjust, unloving and sadistic, but to simultaneously declare that the conduct of a God, whose punishment is a billion-fold more severe and painful, is somehow just and loving? Such an assertion defies reason, logic and any sense of equitable justice.
If your child, spouse or sibling was caught shoplifting a few DVD's, then was brought before a judge, who gave your loved one the same lifetime prison sentence that he gave to brutal murderers; would you accept the judge's argument that all violations of the law are deserving of the same punishment, because they all reflect the same selfish and disobedient spirit, which is the argument used by eternal torment advocates to justify their "one-size-fits-all" eternal punishment of the lost? You know that you would absolutely and vehemently reject and oppose this irrational argument, and you would denounce the judge's sentence as being grossly unjust. Yet Christian preachers present a Heavenly Judge (God), who gives your lost loved ones the same sentence of eternal torment in hell that He gives to genocidal maniacs like Hitler and Stalin. Wailing and gnashing of teeth throughout the trillions of years of eternity shall be the fate of your lost loved one, just as it shall be for these mass-murderers and "even for the devil himself", according to eternal torment advocates.
Eternal torment preachers say that your lost loved one deserves the same eternal punishment because God views all sin in the same manner. This is not only ridiculous, but it also contradicts Scripture. God does not view all sin as being the same. Jesus told Pilate that the sin of the religious leaders was greater than Pilate's sin (John 19:11). Paul told the Corinthians that they were tolerating a sexual sin in their church that was worse than the gentiles would allow (1st Corinthians 5:1). And, it is common knowledge to any good Bible student, that there were many varying penalties for many different sins recorded in the Old Testament. Some sins bore the death penalty, but not all. Some sins were classified as being abominations, but not all. The Apostle John states that there are sins which are "not onto death", and he also says that there is sin which "is onto death" (1st John 5:16-17). Anyone who contends that God views all sin in the same manner is either dishonest or seriously lacking in biblical knowledge.
The Bible says that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and that He asks them why they will die (Ezekiel 33:11). The kind of God who takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, does not punish them throughout the trillions of years of eternity, as supposed justice for a life of seventy-five years of disobedience. It is also significant that God asks them why they will "die" in this passage. He does not ask them why they will suffer torment forever. Throughout the entire Bible the final fate of lost sinners is called "death", not an eternal life of pain and agony.
For a thorough discussion of hell, which presents the scriptures on both sides of this issue, and which proves beyond question that God does not torment lost sinners throughout eternity, read my article titled, "Hell", on my website address listed below.
I am an evangelical, non-denominational, Christian pastor. You can research other interesting and provocative topics at my website: http://www.godormen.com.
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