Let’s discuss the truth about hell. In light of the overwhelmingly clear biblical support for literal everlasting destruction and the lack thereof for eternal torment, adherents of the latter view have had to resort to all sorts of bizarre religious theories and objections. This chapter and the next one are devoted to looking at the truth about hell and these various extra-biblical arguments.
‘Death Means “Separation” ‘
Let’s start with the strange theory that death doesn’t really mean death, but “separation.” Consider Paul’s unmistakable statement in this passage:
For the wages of sin is death (thanatos), but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As we’ve already seen in Chapter One, “death” here is translated from the Greek word thanatos (THAYN-ah-tohs), which simply means “death” (Strong 35) — the absence of life or opposite of life, hence, the cessation of conscious existence. The Greek scholar E.W. Bullinger states that thanatos refers to “The natural end of life” (207). Although this is simple to understand and commonly understood, adherents of eternal torment “explain” that death in this passage does not really mean death but rather “separation from God.” When you press them for details as to exactly what they mean by “separation from God,” it turns out that what they really mean is never-ending conscious life in fiery torment. Do you see the obvious problem with this theory? Under the guise of “interpretation” they would have us believe that death actually means the exact opposite of what it really is! In other words, since “the wages of sin” to them is not death at all, but rather immortal life in conscious torment, their definition of death means something entirely opposite to literal death! If this is not a blatant example of subtracting from God’s Word and adding to it, I don’t know what is. This religious theory must be rejected for a number of obvious reasons:
1. If we take “eternal life” literally, we must also take “death” literally. God clearly declares in Romans 6:23 above, as well as numerous other passages, that the wages of sin is death and that eternal life is a gift to those in right-standing with him. So death is promised as a punishment for ungodly sinners and life is promised as a gift for the righteous. In such a context as this, every law of language and common sense agrees that if we take the promise of life literally we must also take the punishment of death literally. If one is literal then both are literal. If there is to be no real death for unrepentant sinners there will be no real life for repentant saints.
Adherents of eternal torment can insist that death only means “separation” all they want, but the simple fact is that the opposite of life is death. What word could better describe the end of life than ‘death’? The only way a person can accept the view of eternal torture is to believe that death does not mean death, that die does not mean die, that destroy does not mean destroy, that perish does not mean perish and that destruction does not mean destruction.
2. Physical death is death of the body. While most Christians believe the soul (mind and spirit) survives the body, we cannot ignore the biblical fact that “the body without the spirit is dead” (James 2:26). The body is not itself separated; it is dead. It no longer has life in it because death is the opposite of life. Death means death, it’s not complicated. Thanatos, the Greek word translated as death in Romans 6:23 above, is used most often simply in reference to this death, the first death. For example:
“I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him [Paul] that deserved death (thanatos) or imprisonment.”
The Roman commander speaking in this verse is merely attesting that Paul committed no crime worthy of execution or imprisonment. Thanatos here simply refers to physical execution — the cessation of physical life. When a person is executed his/her conscious life expires, at least as far as physical life is concerned. Believe it or not, adherents of eternal torture suggest that “death” refers to separation even in this context. Their theory is that death here would refer to separation of the inner being (mind and spirit) from the outer being (body) (Dake 619). According to this theory the Roman commander really meant to say, “There was no charge against Paul that deserved separation of the inner being from the outer being or imprisonment.” Did the Roman commander really mean to say this when he used the word thanatos? Of course not, the idea is ludicrous. The use of thanatos here refers to literal physical death, the expiration of conscious life in the body. This is how James 2:26 above defines physical death: the body without the spirit is dead, that is, void of conscious life. Whether or not a person’s consciousness exists on a spiritual plane after physical death is a separate issue (touched on in the appendix Understanding Human Nature: Spirit, Mind & Body and thoroughly examined in SHEOL KNOW).
3. The same biblical words used in reference to the second death are also used in reference to the death of animals. In his popular lexicon (a dictionary of biblical words), W.E Vine admits that thanatos — death — is indeed “the opposite of life,” but then completely contradicts this statement by stating that “it never denotes non-existence” (Vine 149). With all due respect, Mr. Vine would do well to forsake his sectarian bias and honestly dig a little deeper in his biblical studies as the Scriptures blatantly disagree with this statement. Case in point: the equivalent Hebrew word for death*, maveth (MAW-veth), is used in reference to the death of animals in the Old Testament:
Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: as one dies (maveth) so dies (maveth) the other.
As dead (maveth) flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
Would anyone ludicrously argue that the equivalent Hebrew word for death in these verses refers to “separation” or never-ending torment? Of course not. Animals and flies that experience death (thanatos/maveth) literally die — their life ceases. They of course leave behind a dead, decaying shell, but their conscious life expires. That’s what death is. It’s plain and simple. This completely disproves Vine’s unscholarly theory as animals definitely cease to exist when they die, that is, their conscious life expires. If “death” (thanatos/maveth) literally means death when used in reference to animals, why would its definition mysteriously change to something completely different — actually opposite — when applied to human beings? It doesn’t, but adherents of eternal torment are forced to interpret the Bible in this bizarre manner because of their unbiblical theology (their reasoning is: “If people have an immortal soul, and hence can never actually die, then death can’t really mean death when used in reference to people”).
4. Numerous other biblical words besides thanatos describe the second death in strict terms of death and destruction. As we’ve plainly seen throughout this study, thanatos is supported by many other Hebrew and Greek words which are variously translated as “die,” “death,” “destruction,” “destroy” and “perish” in reference to the fate of those cast into the lake of fire. As we have also seen in chapters Two, Three and Four these words are, in turn, backed-up by numerous crystal clear examples of literal destruction. In light of these facts, even if thanatos had a secondary definition of “separation” — which it doesn’t — it still would not refer to separation in reference to the second death of human beings.
5. If the fate of ungodly sinners is to be some sort of life or “existence” in undying “separation” from God in utter misery and torment, God would have certainly expressed this repeatedly in the Bible. He could have easily chosen words to describe damnation in explicit terms of “separation,” “existence in torment” or “perpetual life in misery,” but He did not do this. Instead, as we’ve clearly seen in the first chapter (and other chapters), He consistently chose words that have for their general, usual or basic meaning “die,” “death,” “destruction,” “destroy,” “perish,” “consume” and “burn up.” God couldn’t possibly use a better choice of words to describe literal death. He also made sure to back-up all these unmistakable words with a multitude of easy-to-understand examples of literal death and incineration, as shown in the second chapter.
Consider also that if thanatos really meant “separation” then why should English Bible translators even bother translating thanatos as “death” at all (which they all unanimously do)? Why not rather universally translate it as “separation”? Wouldn’t this simplify matters and spare us all a lot of confusion? The obvious reason Bible translators don’t do this is because thanatos literally means death, the opposite of life, and therefore non-existence or, we could say, the state of non-being. Death is not a different form of life; it is the opposite of life. Thus the first death, which is physical death, refers at least to non-existence in the physical realm; and the second death — which entails the everlasting destruction of soul and body — refers to absolute non-existence with no hope of resurrection.
6. “Death” and “separation” are two completely different words in Hebrew and Greek, just as they are in English; these words have different meanings. The Hebrew badal (baw-DAWL) and the Greek chorizo (koh-RID-zoh) are two Old and New Testament words for “separation” (see, for example, Isaiah 59:2 and Romans 8:35,39). If the wages of sin is not really death, but separation, then God would have used these Hebrew and Greek words to describe the ultimate wages of sin. For example, Romans 6:23 would read, “For the wages of sin is separation (chorizo)” and Ezekiel 18:4 would read, “The soul who sins will separate (badal).” But does the Bible teach this anywhere? No, “the wages of sin is death” and “the soul who sins will die” (NASB).
It is true that one of the results of sin is separation from God (Isaiah 59:2). This is spiritual death, which simply means that one’s spirit is dead to God. Those who are spiritually dead cannot have a relationship with God because God is spirit, and those who worship and know him can only do so in spirit and in truth (see John 4:24). That’s why Jesus taught that we need to have a spiritual rebirth in order to know God (John 3:3-6). Jesus experienced separation from the Father when he bore our sins on the cross. He even cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). He also experienced severe suffering when he was crucified. While it was horrible for Jesus to experience this separation and suffering, it ended in death. The penalty Jesus paid for our sins was separation from God, temporary suffering, followed by death. This was an example of the second death to all humanity. Those who are already separated from God (i.e. spiritually dead) and reject His offer of reconciliation can likewise expect suffering that ends in death on judgment day.
The bottom line is that the second death is consistently described in terms of literal death and utter destruction in the Bible, not “separation.” We’ve seen this throughout this study.
7. To suggest that death means something entirely opposite of its actual definition is nothing more than a blatant case of subtracting from God’s Word and adding to it. In this case adherents of eternal torment subtract the word “death” (thanatos) from the numerous passages which describe the wages of sin strictly in terms of literal death, and supplant it with “eternal life in separation from God” — a definition that is, once again, completely opposite to the actual definition of death. This practice is all done under the noble mask of “interpretation,” but notice how the Bible strictly condemns this practice:
Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.
Every word of God is flawless;… (6) Do not add to his words or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. (19) And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
As you can plainly see, it’s a grave offense in God’s eyes to subtract from his Word and add to it something else. As it states in the Proverb text above: the God-breathed Scriptures are flawless. There’s simply no reason to make any changes. But adherents of eternal torment are guilty of this very transgression in regards to the Bible’s repeated declaration that the wages of sin is death.
8. The scriptural arguments above are certainly proof enough that ‘death’ simply means death in the Bible not “separation,” but a comparison of New Testament words for “death,” “perish,” “destruction,” etc. to other well-known Greek writings of the same general period offers additional support.
For example, Plato argued that the human soul is immortal and can never die or cease to exist. What Greek words did Plato use to express this denial? He used the exact Greek words that Paul used to describe the everlasting destruction of unbelievers in the New Testament: Plato taught that the human soul would not die (apothnesko), Paul taught that it could die (e.g. Romans 8:13); Plato taught that the human soul would never experience death (thanatos), Paul taught that it could experience death (e.g. James 5:20); Plato taught that the human soul would not suffer destruction (apoleia and olethros), Paul taught that it could suffer destruction (e.g. 2 Peter 3:7 and 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Plato used these various Greek words to describe absolute extinction of being, not separation of being. Since Paul used these very same words to describe the eternal fate of those who reject God’s message of reconciliation in Christ, we must conclude that he too was referring to absolute extinction of being (Constable 42).
Furthermore, there were people in Paul’s era who adhered to universal extinction, that is, they believed that when people died they simply ceased to exist, with no hope of resurrection for either the righteous or unrighteous. The Epicureans were Greeks who advocated this view and the Sadducees were Jews who supported it. What words did these sects use to express their belief in absolute extinction of conscious life? Why, the very same Greek words used in the New Testament to describe the everlasting destruction of the ungodly (Constable 48).
So, death simply meant death in uninspired writings — the cessation of life — just as it does in the biblical Scriptures.
In light of these eight reasons, we have no recourse but to take God at his Word and conclude that the second death will be a literal death—utter, awful, complete and final. The religious theory that death means “separation” must be categorically rejected.
‘What About Spiritual Death?’
This next objection goes hand in hand with the objection just examined. Under the guise of “interpretation” many sincere Christian people add the word “spiritual” to the numerous plain statements which promise death to unrepentant sinners. For instance, these people believe Romans 6:23 should read: “For the wages of sin is spiritual death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ our Lord.” They would then translate spiritual death here to mean eternal “separation of man from God because of sin” (Dake 619). The obvious problem with doing this is that none of the multitude of biblical texts which promise death and destruction as the ultimate wage of sin contain this word “spiritual.”
God wrote the Bible through men by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21 & 2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible is truly “God’s Word.” If He really meant to say “spiritual death” in all the many passages we’ve looked at throughout this study, then He would have surely said so. I don’t think the Almighty needs our help in writing a book, do you?
Actually, adding the word “spiritual” to the many passages which simply promise death to unrepentant sinners is another case of adding to God’s word and subtracting what it really says. Again, this practice is a serious offense in God’s eyes.
As briefly mentioned in the previous section, spiritual death is indeed a legitimate doctrine. To understand what spiritual death is we must understand that it is the spiritual side of human nature that actually “connects” with God. Thus spiritual death simply means that the spirit of a person is dead to God, that is, the capacity of his/her spirit to unite or commune with God is dead. “Original sin” is the reason this capacity does not exist. In order for a person’s spirit to unite with God he or she has to be spiritually born again. This explains why Jesus taught that our spirit must be born again for us to “see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3-6).
NOTE: The doctrine of “original sin” suggests that humanity’s fallen nature — our inclination to commit sin — was naturally passed on to all of us by our primeval parents, Adam and Eve.
So spiritual death is a present state of the non-Christian. This is why Paul described the Ephesians as “dead in transgressions” before their spiritual rebirth (Ephesians 2:5). The second death, by contrast, is a future event entailing the complete destruction of soul and body in hell. Spiritual death ultimately results in the second death, which is an absolute death described in the Bible as “everlasting destruction.”
All the texts that we’ve examined in this study apply to the second death—a future event. None of them refer to spiritual death, which is a present state in the non-believer’s life.
For a more detailed biblical examination of human nature and spiritual death see the appendix Understanding Human Nature: Spirit, Mind & Body.
‘When you Burn Something, It Simply Changes Form’
H. Buis pointed out that adherents of literal everlasting destruction place great emphasis on the fact that the figure of “fire” is used in the Bible to describe the second death, “and fire, they point out, always destroys… But the fact is that when you burn something it is not annihilated, it simply changes form” (Buis 125). I guess what Mr. Buis is trying to say is that when, say, a log is burned up, it technically isn’t wiped out from existence, it turns to smoke vapors and ashes. While this is true, the simple fact is that the log itself is destroyed — it no longer exists. The smoke vapors and ashes are merely the remains of the log.
The same is true when God “destroys both soul and body in hell (Gehenna).” In regards to the body, when it is destroyed the remains will simply return to the dust from which it came (Genesis 3:19 & Psalm 146:4). As for the soul, no one knows from what spiritual materials God creates a soul but, whatever they are, when the soul is destroyed it will return to such. The simple fact is that the soul is destroyed, just like the log above, regardless of what materials it reverts to after its destruction.
Incidentally, in light of the creation text, Genesis 2:7, which states that the soul and body are animated by a “breath of life” from God, some might wonder what happens to this “breath of life” when the soul is destroyed. Well, according to this creation text, it is the breath of life from God which makes the soul “a living soul.” When the soul is destroyed, the breath of life simply returns to God who gave it (see Ecclesiastes 12:7, Psalm 146:4, Job 34:14-15 & 1 Maccabees 2:62-63). Naturally, a soul without God’s animating breath of life is a dead soul. See the appendix on human nature for details on this issue.
Throughout this study we have seen that the only words biblically used to describe the destruction of soul and body in hell (Gehenna) are “die,” “death,” “destruction,” “destroy,” “perish,” “consume,” and “burn up.” The meaning of these terms can be comprehended by children; we don’t need to become advanced physicists to understand their obvious meaning.
Let me emphasize that literal destructionism is not the belief that the remains of body and soul cease to exist when people suffer the second death; it is the belief that their conscious life expires. The conscious life of their being is what is annihilated not whatever substances God used to create their being.
The simple fact is that God is the Creator of all things, including human beings; and whatever he creates he can just as easily de-create, that is, destroy. Why do religionists find this simple concept so difficult to grasp?
NOTE: The only exception to this, as already pointed out in Chapter Four, would be beings that willing accept God’s gift of intrinsic immortality, such as all angelic beings. This will include redeemed human beings after their resurrection unto eternal life; see Luke 20:34-36.
‘Torment is Not Torture’
You may have noticed in this study that I regularly refer to the view of eternal torment as eternal torture. Both obviously apply to the same position — that of never-ending conscious suffering.
Norman Geisler, a staunch adherent of eternal torment, objects to using torment and torture interchangeably. His contention is that hell, the lake of fire, is indeed a place of torment, but it is not a torture chamber for “unlike torture, which is inflicted from without against one’s will, torment is self-inflicted” (Geisler 34, from Everything You Wanted to Know about Hell). With all due respect to the great Mr. Geisler, this is utter nonsense and completely unbiblical.
I have no idea where Geisler got this definition for torment (that it is always self-inflicted), but it certainly wasn’t from the Bible. For example, Revelation 11:10 mentions how two prophets “tormented those who live on the earth.” The torment spoken of here is not self-inflicted at all; it comes from an outside source. Also, consider the fact that the King James Version and the New International Version both use “torment” and “torture” interchangeably. See for yourself by looking up these passages in both versions: Matthew 8:29, Mark 5:7 and Revelation 9:5.
Obviously Geisler has a problem with the word “torture” being used to describe his belief in the never-ending conscious misery of unredeemed people. The reason I use the word “torture” to describe this belief is to honestly expose it for what it really is. Let’s be truthful and candid enough to call a spade a spade!
Consider this simple illustration: If I took a man, tied him to a chair, and tormented him for five minutes with a lighter, would this not be a form of torture? Of course it would. Subjecting a person to torment is torture. How much more so the prospect of subjecting a person to everlasting fiery torment?
But Geisler argues that eternal torment in the lake of fire is self-inflicted, living with the consequences of one’s bad choices, therefore it’s not torture. This argument is more unbiblical mumbo jumbo. In the first chapter we firmly established from Scripture that God Himself is going to forever destroy people who choose sin and reject his gift of salvation. Regardless of what “destroy” really means — whether literal destruction or eternal torment — the fact is that it is God Himself who is doing the destroying (or authorizing the destroying). Therefore everlasting destruction is not self-inflicted at all; it is executed by God himself as the just consequences for a person’s bad choices.
This is actually a merciful action on God’s part. How so? If a person unrepentantly rebels against God and makes himself or herself miserable through sin (usually spreading misery to others as well), the kindest, most merciful thing God could do is to let such a person die. Then this stubborn, foolish person would be unable to bring further misery to his/her self or others.
Why does Geisler have such a problem with the word “torture” as a descriptive term for his belief in never-ending conscious torment? What has compelled him to create his own personal and unbiblical definition for “torment” (i.e. that it is only self-inflicted)? The answer to both of these questions is obvious and offers proof that the idea of eternal torment is indeed a profoundly disturbing concept which naturally offends our God-given moral and judicial instincts: The only way Geisler and like-minded people can accept this idea and live with themselves is by convincing themselves that their good, loving God is not the one carrying out or authorizing this sadistic sentence.
Is Endless Torture Better than Merciful Death?
Let’s observe another one of Mr. Geisler’s arguments in defense of eternal torture:
Annihilation would demean both the love of God and the nature of human beings as free moral creatures. It would be as if God said to them, “I will allow you to be free only if you do what I say. If you don’t, then I will snuff out your very freedom and existence!” This would be like a father telling his son he wanted him to be a doctor, but when the son chose to be a park ranger the father shot him. Eternal suffering is eternal testimony to the freedom and dignity of humans, even unrepentant humans (22, from Christian Apologetics).
There are a number of problems with Geisler’s argument. First of all, he states that the view of literal destruction (which he refers to as “annihilation”) snuffs out the very freedom of people. Is he ludicrously trying to convince us that locking people in a colossal chamber of endless torments is freedom? Need I say more?
Secondly, Geisler’s parable of the son who goes against his father’s wishes by deciding to be a ranger instead of a doctor is completely unfitting. The son is supposed to represent a rebellious sinner worthy of eternal damnation. Since when is simply deciding on an occupation an evil thing? How can this be comparable to a person whom the Almighty justly deems worthy of eternal death? Rejecting God’s gift of reconciliation and eternal life in favor of sin bears absolutely no resemblance to merely choosing an occupation. Also, the symbolism of God as a father who damns his son simply because the son chooses an occupation against his wishes is wholly inappropriate. For one thing our heavenly Father is an absolute authority whereas earthly fathers have very limited authority. They have the right to advise and influence their children on their occupational choices but they certainly don’t have the authority to assign them an occupation and kill them if they refuse. I could elaborate but it’s not worth the bother.
Thirdly, notice that Geisler fails to apply his little parable to the traditional notion of eternal misery. Disregarding the inappropriate symbolism, let’s go ahead and do this for him here:
If the doctrine of eternal suffering were true it would be like a father telling his son he wanted him to be a doctor, but when the son chooses to be a park ranger the father locks him in a large oven and subjects him to ceaseless torture day and night. The father is sure to never allow his son to sleep or mercifully die; he makes sure to keep him alive and awake enough to always feel the painful torment and cry out in agony, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, on and on and on and on.
Why did Geisler fail to share his parable in this manner? After all, if he can apply the story to the view of literal destruction it’s only right that he should apply it to eternal torture as well. The obvious reason he failed to do this is because it exposes his belief as the sham that it is.
Now, once again, I completely reject the symbolism of this story; our Almighty Creator should not be compared to a father who savagely punishes his son because he merely decides on an occupation against his will. But, supposing the symbolism is valid and just, which scenario is more sadistic — to mercifully execute or to torture endlessly? Which scenario is the depth of human perversion? Executing a person is a severe enough punishment, but to ceaselessly torture a person is horribly twisted and repulsive — moral degeneracy of the lowest depth. This is regardless of how guilty the individual is.
Lastly, Geisler is attempting to prove that subjecting people to never-ending conscious torment is more just and moral than putting them to death. Eternal torture is better than merciful death? I find it hard to believe that anyone would even attempt to convince people of this.
‘Hell is Where You Can Do Your Own Thing—Forever’
Let’s examine Mr. Geisler’s most ridiculous argument in defense of never-ending torment, albeit you’ll be hard-pressed to find any torment or suffering in this description of damnation:
One of the reasons there’s a hell is because God is so loving that He won’t force people to do anything against their will… He loves people so much that He will say to them, “You don’t want to worship me? You don’t want to praise me? You don’t want to come to my place? Do your own thing.” In other words, hell is a place where people can do their own thing forever.
How’s this for a completely watered-down version of the traditional concept of damnation? If people are truly free to “do their own thing” in the lake of fire, as Geisler suggests, then they’d at least have to have as much freedom as they do here on earth. So basically we’re talking about a life very similar to the life we know on earth with the exceptions that God and death will be of no concern. So hell according to Geisler is doing whatever you want forever without ever having to worry about God, judgment, aging or dying. This sounds like a pagan paradise more than anything else. If Christians described damnation to people like this do you think they’d ever care to get saved? No, they’d more likely get excited about going to hell and having a never-ending party with their buddies (which is how many non-Christians joke about the notion of eternal damnation). Jesus solemnly declared that hell is a terrifying reality and that we should fear God who has the authority to cast us there:
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. (5) But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell (Gehenna). Yes, I tell you, fear Him.”
Geisler’s idea that hell is a place where people can do their own thing forever doesn’t remotely fit the solemn biblical warnings of the second death; in fact, his belief makes an utter absurdity of it. To illustrate, let’s interpret Jesus’ statement in verse 5 according to Geisler’s view:
“Fear Him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell where you’ll be free to do whatever you want for all eternity without any moral responsibility to your Creator. Yes, I tell you, fear Him.”
It simply makes no sense to fear God if his ultimate punishment for sinners is to merely allow them to do their own thing forever. Do you see how ridiculously off-track people can get when they veer from the plain truth of God’s Word? It’s utter heresy.
One might argue that I’m taking Geisler too literal here, but if he doesn’t really believe this is an accurate description of damnation then why would he teach it? This is especially so considering he made the statement on a television program that would reach millions of people — A&E’s Mysteries of the Bible segment “Heaven and Hell.” Watch the program yourself and you’ll see that he’s absolutely serious. Geisler does go on to briefly mention the torment that people will endure while “doing their own thing forever” but, as previously pointed out, his idea of torment is merely living with the consequences of one’s bad choices.
Geisler is naturally forced to come up with unbiblical mumbo jumbo like this because the traditional concept of never-ending conscious torment is so monstrously evil and unscriptural that he has no other choice. When theologians have to resort to such ridiculous and unscriptural arguments as this it’s a sure sign that a doctrine is in its death throes. Our study on the nature of the second death has clearly shown that this fantastical image of damnation is foreign to the Scriptures.
‘A Human Being is a Spirit, and a Spirit, By Definition, Cannot Die’
Some oppose literal destruction by resorting to the reasoning that people are spiritual beings, and “By definition, a spirit cannot die. A spirit is an immortal being” (Robertson 72).
You’ll notice that anyone who makes such an argument will fail to quote any biblical passages to support this definition. That’s because there are none. Nor does a standard English dictionary support this definition. The Funk and Wagnall’s dictionary defines ‘spirit’ as “A supernatural and immaterial being.” A spirit is an immaterial being, that’s all. This doesn’t mean an immaterial being is unable to die.
It’s as simple as this: Whatever creature God gives life to he can bring death to. Whatever he creates he can also de-create. The human mind or disembodied soul did not always exist; it was created by God out of immaterial substances and given consciousness by God’s “breath of life.” And the simple fact is that whatever is created can be de-created, that is, destroyed. If God justly decides that a human being is worthy of death — soul and body — he certainly has the power to do it, after all, he’s the One who created human beings. Jesus Christ Himself declared that this is exactly what God will do to people on judgment day when they’re cast into the lake of fire (Matthew 10:28).
The exception would be creatures who willingly accept God’s gift of unconditional immortality, specifically the devil and his angels. God will one day grant unconditional immortality to people, but only those who have been redeemed through spiritual rebirth in Christ. Such people will have “the right to the tree of life” and live forever (see Revelation 22:14,19 and 2:7). As for unredeemed human beings, God refuses to grant such people this right because they’d have to exist forever in a miserable fallen state, like the fallen angels. Needless to say, unconditional immortality as such would be a curse. This is why, after Adam sinned and spiritually died, God said: “He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever” (Genesis 3:22). God therefore denied Adam access to the tree of life (verses 23-24). See Chapter Four Immortal Soul: The Great Lie for more details on this matter.
Human beings presently have yet to attain unconditional immortality and therefore are mercifully subject to literal death and destruction as justly deemed by the Almighty.
‘Cults Teach Everlasting Destruction—It Just Doesn’t Look Good’
Some have opposed the view of everlasting destruction on the grounds that it is adhered to (in one form or another) by various cult/borderline cult groups like the Jehovah’s False Witnesses, the Seventh-Day Adventists, Christadelphians and the Armstrongite sects.
NOTE 1: Although the Seventh-Day Adventists are an evangelical sect, many consider them a “borderline cult” or even cultic because of their legalistic views regarding the Saturday Sabbath and Old Testament dietary laws, as well as their rigid allegiance to their prophetess Ellen White and their “all or nothing” mentality.
NOTE 2: Herbert W. Armstrong founded the Worldwide Church of God, a sect that was legalistic, exclusive and adhered to various strange doctrines (like Anglo-Israelism). In the mid-90s, about ten years after Armstrong’s death, this group reformed to a more orthodox perspective, but there are numerous groups that splintered off — some adhering to Armstrong’s teachings (e.g. the Philadelphia Church of God) and some not (e.g. the United Church of God). The reformed group decided not to officially adapt the eternal torture doctrine; they instead left the issue open, urging Christians to biblically seek the matter out for themselves and draw their own conclusions.
Some Christian people I know, who openly admit that literal everlasting destruction seems to be biblical, have pointed out that the fact that cultic groups or borderline-cultic groups adhere to it in some form “just doesn’t look good.”
I would counter that the view of everlasting destruction is so blatantly obvious in Scripture that anyone who has a high regard for God’s Word and is not blinded by religious tradition is able to plainly see it. In short, these groups adhere to literal everlasting destruction simply because they know how to read.
We must understand that God is not prejudiced with knowledge and truth. Whoever humbly, honestly and diligently seeks knowledge and truth will find it, regardless of what sectarian tag they prefer to go by. Such groups as these have been able to clearly see the biblical validity of literal everlasting destruction because they decided to step outside the blinding influence of religious tradition. Once this is done, the truth is plain to see for anyone who is literate.
The bottom line is that it is not a fair or valid argument to oppose a view simply because it is adhered to by a group that one objects to. The groups mentioned above, and similar such sects, have a high regard for Scripture (which is different than saying their theology is wholly sound). Consequently, we all naturally agree with them on some things (e.g. adultery is a sin, prayer is important, etc.). Are we wrong on these issues simply because these objectionable groups adhere to them too? Should we reject what the Bible clearly teaches on these issues merely because these objectionable groups agree? Of course not. The argument holds no water.
Adherents of never-ending roasting torture resort to such weak arguments because of the abysmal lack of biblical support for their position. Their goal is to divert attention from the scriptural facts. The argument is nothing more than an avoidance tactic with the implication that people who believe in literal destruction are “guilty by association.” This is fine as long as we understand that guilt by association works both ways. We could ludicrously argue, for instance, that since adherents of eternal torture believe in the immortality of human souls, and pagan religions and philosophies believe the same thing, then supporters of eternal torture are pagans. Or we could argue that since false religions like Islam believe in eternal torture, then Christians who believe in eternal torture are false religionists as well. Need I go on?
Furthermore, we lose credibility with members of cultic organizations like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians because of our official adherence to such doctrines as the immortality of the soul apart from Christ and eternal torture. Since members of such groups usually know the Bible fairly well, it is impossible to ever convince them of these doctrines because they’re not taught in the Bible. These people naturally reason that if we are wrong on these important issues, we’re likely wrong on other doctrinal matters as well. We thus close the door on rescuing them from the cults (or borderline cults) they’re trapped in.
It goes without saying that members of cultic or borderline cultic organizations will be more open to authentic Christianity if we humbly admit that Church tradition has grievously erred in regards to the immortality of the soul apart from Christ and eternal torture.
‘You Should Forget All this Deep Stuff and Just Preach the Gospel’
Some people, after seeing how thoroughly the subject is addressed in this study, have criticized that I should quit spending so much time “rocking the boat” with all this (so-called) deep theology and just concentrate on preaching the gospel, feeding the poor and other such noble works.
First of all, I’m not sharing “deep” theology. My teaching is no deeper than what, say, Galations 6:8 plainly states: “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” On the contrary, as we have witnessed, it is the proponents of eternal torture that pervert this easy-to-understand subject with ludicrous theological mumbo jumbo.
Regarding the specific argument, people who resort to this kind of reasoning usually do so because they’re upset in view of the overwhelming evidence for literal everlasting destruction and the consequent realization that it may be true. In fact, the evidence might even intimidate them. It’s understandable that they initially become upset like this because religious beliefs are often very dear to people and it can understandably be discomforting for them to discover that the way they’ve always believed something may in fact be false. Unable to properly defend their position they resort to this kind of avoid-the-issue argument.
Regardless of what spurs such a contention, let’s go ahead and consider if there’s any validity to it: Should we just focus on preaching the gospel, giving to the poor and similar noble works and forget the thorough study of the Scriptures? — Forget about what is true and what is heresy? — Cop a tame air of false humility and not risk disrupting the dead, unbiblical waters of religious tradition? Never.
God wants his children to lead balanced lives led by his Spirit. Such acts as sharing the gospel and feeding the poor are indeed commendable services in God’s kingdom, but this does not make other practices any less commendable. In regards to having a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures and the willingness to boldly refute error, doing such is praised throughout the Bible. For instance, Apollos is extolled as “a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures” who “vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:24, 28).
It must be understood that the body of Christ is a group of people with each person doing his or her part for the furthering of God’s kingdom on earth. God may call one person to work in a soup kitchen, in which case she would naturally have to sacrifice hours of her time daily to feeding the poor. Another person He may call to be a teacher of the Scriptures, in which case he would have to sacrifice hours of his time regularly for the serious study of God’s Word (after all, one can’t very well teach the Scriptures if he or she hasn’t spent ample time thoroughly studying them).
Yet, even in such cases as this where God specifically calls a person to do something according to his/her talents, He still expects the individual to lead a balanced life as led by his Spirit. For instance, those who work in soup kitchens should regularly set aside time for reading the Scriptures; and those called to be teachers should be willing to evangelize or give to the poor as the Spirit leads.
The key, once again, is balance. As commendable as evangelizing and feeding the poor are, Christians have countless other obligations they have to juggle — work for a living, raise kids, love spouses, clean house, maintain schooling, bathe, do yard work, eat, sleep, keep fit — the list goes on and on. The idea that a Christian must spend time 24-7 on the streets evangelizing and feeding the poor in order to be a good Christian is ridiculous, not to mention unhealthy.
Hardcore street evangelizing is not the only way to share the gospel anyway, nor is it necessarily the most effective way. Christians should maintain a spirit of evangelism in their daily lives, sharing the gospel as the Spirit leads. Neither is working in a soup kitchen the only way to feed/give to the poor; Christians can give directly to people in their daily lives as the Spirit leads or indirectly by supporting ministries that regularly help the poor. The latter examples happen to be my usual practice.
‘What About “You Will Spend Eternity in Either Heaven or Hell”?’
We’ve all heard the religious expression which goes something like this: “You will spend eternity in either heaven or hell.” I hear it all the time in one form or another. Some of you may be surprised to know that this expression isn’t found anywhere in the Bible. Although I’m sure the people who use the expression for evangelical purposes are sincere and have good intentions, they’re sincerely wrong nevertheless. If you disagree, I challenge you to find such a passage anywhere in Scripture.
Regarding the latter assertion, that ungodly people will “spend eternity in hell,” we’ve already thoroughly covered this issue and have determined that foolish people who stubbornly reject God’s gift of reconciliation and eternal life in favor of following sin will literally be destroyed — both body and soul — in the lake of fire (“hell”). If these people are executed in this manner, they can’t very well “spend eternity” anywhere, can they? We’ve plainly observed that life and immortality are only available through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). Since people who reject the gospel lack eternal life and immortality, how could they possibly spend eternity anywhere? The Bible plainly states that “whoever rejects the Son will not see life” (John 3:36). People cannot very well spend time anywhere if they lack life itself.
As for the former assertion, although many Christians believe that Jesus died for them so that they may “spend eternity in heaven,” this simply isn’t so. This expression, and similar such expressions, can be heard quite often in Christian circles. Once again, I’m sure the people who use this expression are good, sincere folks who love the LORD, but the simple fact is that they’re sincerely wrong. The truth is that Jesus died so that we may have eternal life. Eternal life is forever. Forever is a long, long time. So the question must be raised: What does the Bible specifically teach regarding where partakers of this eternal life will spend it? Will we sprout wings and sit on a cloud playing a harp for all eternity? Will we have to sit through a never-ending church service? No, the Bible has some interesting things to say on this issue:
Revelation 20:4-6 shows that after the first resurrection in which all believers will be blessed with an immortal, glorified body, we will reign with Christ on earth for a thousand years. After this the white throne judgment of all unredeemed people will take place (Revelation 20:11-15) and then God will create a new earth (21:1-4), which should simply be interpreted as a renovated version of our present earth minus, of course, the stain of sin, death and decay.
On this new earth our Creator will establish the new Jerusalem which will come “down out of heaven from God” This is specifically stated three times in Scripture: Revelation 21:2,10 and 3:12.
We’ve all heard the gates of heaven described as “the pearly gates,” yet in the Bible this is actually a description of the twelve gates of the new Jerusalem which, once again, will be established on the new earth for all eternity (by all means, look up Revelation 21:21 for yourself and observe how the verse describes the pearly gates of the new Jerusalem). This is the eternal home of all who partake of God’s gift of eternal life, not heaven. As it is written:
“Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”
The righteous will inherit the land [i.e. the new earth] and dwell in it forever.
As you can plainly see, the redeemed of the LORD — described here as “the meek” and “the righteous” — will inherit the new earth and dwell in it forever. Notice clearly that nothing is said about “spending eternity in heaven.” That’s because God did not create heaven — the spiritual dimension where God’s throne is located — for human beings. He created the earth for human beings to inhabit; this would naturally include the whole universe in which the earth resides. As it is written:
The highest heavens belongs to the LORD, but the earth he has given to man.
This passage makes it clear that the earth was created for and given to humanity, not the “highest heavens,” which is a reference to God’s heaven. Heaven belongs to the LORD.
In 2 Peter 3:13, Peter states that Christians are to be “looking forward to a new heaven and new earth, the home of righteousness.” Notice that we’re not looking forward to God’s heaven as our eternal home, but the new earth and universe. The “new heaven” in this passage cannot be a reference to the spiritual dimension where God’s throne is located because God’s heaven is, and always has been, perfect and has no need to be made new. Often the term “heaven” (or “heavens”) is used in the Bible simply in reference to the skies and universe; for example, Psalm 19:1, 57:10 and Isaiah 40:22. The spiritual dimension where God’s throne is located is described in 2 Corinthians 12:2 as “the third heaven.” My point is that we must be careful to “rightly divide” the Scriptures in order to properly determine which “heaven” a passage is contextually referring to.
NOTE: If the third heaven is where God’s throne is located, and the first heaven is the physical universe, the second heaven would have to be the spiritual dimension encompassing the earth (and space) where the devil and his angels dwell—see Ephesians 6:12 and Isaiah 24:21 for verification. This is elaborated in this section of SHEOL KNOW (scroll down to Understanding the Three Realms – Heaven, Earth and the Underworld).
In the case of 2 Peter 3:13, “new heaven” refers to the universe and no doubt the “heavenly realms” wherein dwell the “spiritual forces of evil” as well — see the above NOTE.
Allow me to point out that the new Jerusalem is a really big and unimaginably glorious city — 1400 miles long, wide and high! (See Revelation 21:9-27). This magnificent city and the new earth will only be our home base. We’ll be able to explore the vast unfathomable reaches of the new universe. One thing’s for sure: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
After the new Jerusalem is established on the new earth, Revelation 21:3 states, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” Since this verse states that the dwelling of God will be with humanity on the new earth, some describe this as “heaven on earth.” I don’t think there’s a problem with this phrase, though it would be more accurate to say that the kingdom of heaven will be established on earth. Yet one rarely hears it spoken of this way, most ministers seem content to misleadingly preach that Christians will “spend eternity in heaven.” In any case, the Scriptures do not say that heaven comes down to the new earth along with the new Jerusalem, but rather that the new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven.
The bottom line on the matter is this: Jesus didn’t die for us so that we might “spend eternity in heaven,” he died for us so that we might have eternal life; and those who have eternal life will “inherit the earth and dwell in it forever;” this also includes the new universe. As the Bible plainly teaches “we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”
I realize that when many people use the term ‘heaven’ in the context of “spending eternity in heaven” they’re actually referring to the new earth and universe. This is fine, but the Bible itself never defines the new earth and universe as “heaven.” More importantly, when most people hear the word “heaven” they automatically picture an ethereal spirit realm with clouds, blue skies and angels playing harps; no one pictures a magnificent and tangible new earth and universe. Because of this it’s simply bad communication to refer to it as “heaven.” Christians must be careful to use terminology that properly reflects the truth of Holy Scripture because one of the most important duties of a Christian is to accurately communicate God’s Word. This is why Paul instructed Timothy to “Watch [his] life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16).
In summary, the expression “You will spend eternity in either heaven or hell” is not supported by the Bible. The people who habitually use this phrase do not have an accurate understanding of the subject. There’s no need to resort to such clichéd, religious expressions when we can just simply quote what the Bible plainly states about the two separate destinies of the righteous and unrighteous, such as Matthew 7:13-14, John 3:16, Romans 6:23 and 8:13.
For a more detailed look at what the Bible teaches about the eternal life of the redeemed see the epilogue of SHEOL KNOW The Nature of Eternal Life.
Since the remaining extra-biblical objections to literal destruction pertain to Judeo-Christian history we’ll address them in the next chapter.