HELL AND THE PUNISHMENT OF SINNERS

For centuries, in order to motivate converts and prospective converts to strive to 'go to heaven' when they die, religious leaders have  tried  to frighten them  with the  threat  of eternal  punishment in a place called hell. As fearful  as  many  are of going to hell, most people do  not  have  the slightest understanding  of what the Bible really teaches  about this subject. This study investigates the myth of hell as a place were people are tormented with fire for eternity and what the Bible really says about hell.

In most Christian theologies, Hell is a place of  punishment after death. Although there are many different and confusing explanations  as  to exactly what and where hell  is,  there  are three widely accepted beliefs surrounding punishment in hell:

Although   Catholic and Protestant theology differ  radically  in many  respects, the foundation for the Protestant belief in 'hell-fire' is firmly fixed in early Catholic theology.  The  main difference between the  two is that Catholics  believe  in  an interim  conditional  stay in Hell, which they  call 'purgatory', but Protestants  believe that the wicked go straight to Hell  and  stay there for eternity.

The translators of the Authorized King James Version of the Bible lived at a time when the doctrine of 'hell-fire' and damnation was generally  accepted. When it came to translating the original Hebrew meaning  of  the  word 'sheol' (i.e., grave or pit) they used the English word 'hell' (i.e., to conceal, cover; hide); thereby, they effectively concealed the true meaning of  scriptures while confirming their preconceived belief in a place where unrighteous people would be punished forever.

However,  the translators found  it impossible to use the word 'hell' in  every instance  as a translation of the Hebrew 'sheol', because to do  so would  place some of the most righteous individuals in the Bible in a place of torment with the wicked. Therefore, whenever necessary, they used other words in place of 'sheol' that would not conflict with their belief system.  Had these translators simply left the word 'sheol'  untranslated,  the  concept and meaning of each verse where it  is  used  would have been readily understood by any serious reader.

In order to expose the false teaching of hell as a place  of eternal torture and fiery torment, it is important to  review many of the  scriptures  in  which  the Hebrew word 'sheol' and the  Greek word 'hades'  are translated into the English word 'hell.'

The Word Sheol

The Hebrew word 'sheol' appears 65 times in the Old Testament and is translated  many times as 'hell', which confuses the meaning of the text in which it is used. The word  'sheol' simply refers  to a hole in the ground, a pit, or a grave. Many times 'sheol'  is  also translated  as  'grave' which makes its meaning  clear.  See Gen.37:35; 42:38; 44:29-31; 1.Sam.2:6; 1.Kg.2:6; Psa.49:14-15.

The Biblical Sheol

Both Job and the Psalmist indicate that 'sheol' is  a place where  the body resides to rot and decay in the dirt of the earth. Job also says that God has the power to bring one out of sheol and back to life:

"Are  not my days few? Then cease, and set me alone, that  I  may take  little comfort before I go; and I shall not return; to  the land  of darkness, and the shadow of death; a land of obscurity, the darkness of the shadow of death, and not any order; even  the shining is as darkness" (Job 10:20-21 Para.).

"But  man dies and is cut off, and expires; and where is  he?  As waters go from the sea, and a river wastes away and dries up,  so man  lies down and does not rise. Until the heavens are no  more, they shall not awake, nor be roused out of their sleep. Who  will grant  that you would hide me in sheol; You would hide  me  until your  anger  turns back; that you would set a limit  for  me  and remember me? If a man dies, will he revive? All the days  of  my warfare will I wait, until my change comes. You shall call, and I will  answer you; you shall long to the work of your hands"  (Job 14:10-15 Para.).

"If I wait for sheol as my house; I have spread out my bed in the darkness;  I have said to corruption, you are my father,  to  the worm my mother and my sister. And where is my hope? they shall go down  to  the bars of sheol, when our descent together is  in  the dust" (Job 17:13-15 Para.).

"Like sheep, they are appointed to sheol [the grave]; death shall reign for them; and the upright ones shall rule over them in  the morning;  and their form is for rotting; Sheol is home for  them. But  God will redeem my soul from the hand of sheol; for he  will take  me.  Selah" (Psa.49:14-15 Para.). See  also  Psa.6:5;  30:3; 89:48.

When  Korah  and his sons rebelled against Moses and  Aaron,  God opened the earth and they descended into  sheol (Num.16:20-30):

"For my soul is full with evils; and my life touches sheol. I  am counted  with  those who go down to the pit; I have been  like  a feeble  man,  free among the dead, as pierced ones lying in  the grave, whom you remember no more; yea by your hand they are  cut off.  You have laid me in the lowest pit in the dark  places;  in the deeps" (Psa.88:3-6 Para.).

The Condition of Death

There is nothing throughout the entire Bible that  indicates  humans have an immortal soul or that any human life  function  continues after death. The Bible indicates just  the  opposite;  it  clearly shows that the physical life of a human  is  a temporary condition that can be terminated forever.

At  death, the cerebral functions cease, the brain dies and  there are  no more thought processes, no reward, no memory, no  knowledge, no access to this world; the dead are simply dead, not alive:  

"For  the  living  know that they shall die; but  the  dead  know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of  them is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long  since vanished; never again will they have a part in  any  thing that happens under the sun" (Ecc.9:5-6 NIV).

"All  that your hand finds to do, do it with your  strength.  For there is no work, or planning, or knowledge or wisdom, in  sheol, where you go" (Ecc.9:10 Para.).

"The  dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down  in  silence"  (Psa.115:17 KJV).  The reason they cannot praise  God  is that they are no longer alive; their life has been  silenced. In death there is no thought process:  "Return, O  Lord, deliver my soul: oh save me for your mercies' sake. For in  death there is no remembrance of you: in the grave who  shall give you thanks?" (Psa.6:4-5 KJV).

"Put  your trust not in princes, nor in the son of man,  in  whom there is no help. His breath goes forth, he returns to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" (Psa.146:3-4 KJV). See also Isa.38:17-19.

Where is Sheol?

Although  the Bible does not indicate  a  specific  geographical location  on earth for sheol, there are many  descriptions of the location of sheol. It is said to be under the  mountains,  the earth,  the waters,  and it is  a  place to where people descend. See Num.16:30;  Psa.104:29; Job 26:5; 34:14-15; Pro.1:12; Isa.14:14-19; Ezk.32:23; Jon.2:6.

Sheol  is a place of darkness, silence, and rest; moreover, it is a condition  of unconsciousness.  It is a place where there is  no  communication between  God and man (Psa.6:5; 31:17-18;  94:17; 115:17; Ecc.9:5-6;10; Job 10:21-22).

Sheol is also a place where only the  physical element of man resides, but not the spirit of man (Ecc.12:70). It is a place where both the righteous and the wicked go to await a  resurrection to immortality, an opportunity for salvation,  or the second death.

From  the context of the many scriptures that speak of sheol,  it is evident that sheol is not limited to one specific geographical location  on  earth. Instead, it is often used to describe a physical  resting place for a dead body. It is also used to described a condition  of  rest.  In the broadest sense, sheol simply means 'where dead bodies are.'

In  most English translations, 'sheol' has been  translated 'hell' with the conceptual meaning of a place of torture and suffering. However, 'sheol' does not even remotely denote a place of fiery torment.

There  is no contradiction in the usage of the word sheol in  the Bible; the contradiction is between what people believe and  what the Bible actually teaches.

HADES

The  Greek  word 'hades' refers to the same place as  the  Hebrew word 'sheol' (i.e., the realm of the dead, a hole in the  ground, a pit or grave).

Jesus Went to Hell

If hell is a place of eternal torment for the wicked as is  commonly  taught, we have a  problem of monumental  proportions, because the Bible clearly shows that Jesus went to hell after he was crucified and before he was resurrected:

"Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices: my flesh also shall  rest  in  hope. For you will not leave my  soul  in  hell; neither  will  you  suffer  your  Holy  One [Jesus Christ] to see corruption" (Psa.16:9-10 KJV).

Both Peter and Paul spoke of this prophecy in reference to Christ's  resurrection:

"Because you will not  leave  my soul  in hell, neither will you suffer your Holy One [Jesus Christ] to see  corruption."He [David] seeing this before  spake of the  resurrection  of Christ, that his soul was not left in  hell,  neither his  flesh  did  see corruption" (Acts 2:27; 31 KJV).  See also Acts 13:35-37.

 In Psalms 16:9-10, the King James translators  used the  word  'hell' instead of the Hebrew word 'sheol',  which  can  mean grave or pit. In Acts, they used 'hell' for the Greek word 'hades', which means grave.

In these  statements by King David, Peter, and  Paul, there is  irrefutable  proof that hell (sheol), or hades (grave) is not  a place  of  eternal fiery torture. Was Christ sent to a  place  of torture before his resurrection? Of course  not!  Christ  was buried in a tomb, which is the equivalent of the Hebrew word 'sheol' and  the Greek word 'hades'. He did not go to a place of torture;  his body  lay in a tomb and his spirit went back to God the  Father until  his body was resurrected and his spirit was placed back  into it.

When translating the prophecy of Christ's death and resurrection, the translators found themselves in a doctrinal dilemma. A  correct  translation of the  words  'sheol'  and 'hades' as 'grave' would not harmonize with current theology concerning  the immortality of the soul. It would have  shown  that Jesus did not have an immortal soul, but that he was dead in a grave  on earth  until God the Father resurrected him. In order to  solve  their problem  they used the word 'hell' to obscure the true intent of the scriptures.

"Therefore  will  I divide him a portion with the great,  and  he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he has poured out his soul to death: and he was numbered with transgressors. . ." (Isa. 53:12 KJV).

Jesus went to hell. Moreover, Jacob said  that he too would go to sheol (hell) where he  thought his son Joseph was (Gen.37:31-35). Even righteous Job requested to go to sheol (Job 14:13-15).

If hell is a place of fire and torment for the wicked, why  would Jesus and other righteous individuals be found there? The  simple fact revealed in scripture is that all humans who die go  to the  same place at death.

Resurrection From Hell

God will resurrect those in the grave. If the King James translators  had been consistent with their usage of the word  'hell'  in place of 'sheol', it would have caused a problem with their  doctrine of hell being a place of eternal torment.

The prophetess Hannah says,

"The Lord kills, and makes alive:  he brings down to the grave [sheol], and brings up" (1.Sam.2:6 KJV). See also Job 21:23-32; 30:23; Psa.30:3; 49:15; 86:13;  Hos.13:14; Nah.1:14; Rev.1:18.

"And  when  I saw him, I fell at his feet, as dead.  And he  put his  right hand on me, saying to me, do not fear. I am the  first and the last, and the Living One; and I became dead; and behold, I am living forever and ever. Amen. And I have the keys to Hades, and of death" (Rev.1:17-18 Para.).

Jesus has the authority and power to unlock the grave and  resurrect those who reside there. See Acts 10:42; Rom.14:9.

In  1.Corinthians 15:55 KJV 'hades' is translated as 'grave',  "O death, where is your sting? O grave (hades), where is your  victory?"

"And  the  sea gave up the dead which were in it; and  death  and hell [hades]  delivered  up the dead which were in them:  and  they  were judged every man according to their works" (Rev.20:13 KJV).

This is an important scripture because it contradicts the traditional teaching of the immortality of the soul and that hades is a place of eternal torment from which there is no escape.

A  short study into the references where the word 'hades' is  used will  easily  show that it means the 'grave' and not  an 'ever-burning place of eternal torture'.

GEHENNA/GEHINOM

The Greek word 'gehenna' and the Hebrew word 'gehinom' are translated as 'hell' in the New Testament and come  from the Hebrew phrase 'Gay Ben Hinnom',  which  means 'The Valley of the Son of Hinnom'. This small valley was located south of  Jerusalem  on one of the borders between the territories  of Judah and Benjamin (see Josh.15:8). Periodically,  during the times of the Kings of Israel,  the  sacrificial burning of children was practiced there:

"Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he  reigned sixteen  years in Jerusalem: but he did not that which was  right in the sight of the Lord, like David his father: For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images  for Baalim. Moreover  he burnt incense in the valley of the  son  of Hinnom,  and burnt his children in the fire, after  the  abominations of the heathen whom the Lord had cast out before the  children of  Israel" (2.Chron.28:1-3 KJV).  See also  2.Kg.23:7-10; 2.Chron. 33:1-6; Jer.7:31;32:35.

These sacrifices were a part of the worship of Molech.  Jeremiah and  many other prophets condemned this practice and  prophesied that  the valley would be called 'The Valley of Slaughter' because  of the events that would transpire there (see Jer.19:5-6). The  location  in the Valley of Hinnom where  the  children  were burnt  in sacrifice to pagan gods was called 'topet', which means 'a burning place'.

The Gehenna  of Christ's day was the name of a  deep  ravine about a thousand yards south of the temple area just outside of the city of Jerusalem. This ravine was used as the city's  garbage  dump. It is said that all sorts of things  were disposed of  there, such as bones and the bodies of animals and criminals. Fires were kept continually burning in the Valley of Gehenna in order to consume whatever was thrown there.

Because  of the circumstances associated with Gehenna,  the Hebrew word 'gehinom'  became  an idiomatic expression for 'a place of fiery destruction.'  When Jesus spoke of Gehenna  it  was for the purpose of describing destruction, not torture:

"Fear not them which kill the body, but  are  not able  to  kill  the soul: but rather fear him which is  able  to destroy  both  soul  and body in hell [gehenna]" (Matt.10:28 KJV). See also Gen.6:1-7;  Lk.12:4-5  KJV.

The Greek word for 'destroy' is 'apollumi', which means 'to destroy fully', 'to kill', 'to perish', 'to completely do away with.' The usage of the  word  'apollumi' in the New Testament always indicates complete destruction. Both the Hebrew and Greek words for  'destroy' mean 'the destruction and cessation of existence'.

There  is  no doubt that Christ's audience knew exactly  what  he  was referring  to  when he spoke of gehenna. His  symbolic  usage  of gehenna in portraying destruction was a very graphic  illustration and an unmistakable reference to total destruction.

"Woe  to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are  like whitened  graves  which outwardly indeed  appear  beautiful,  but within  are full of bones of the dead, and of all uncleanliness. So you also indeed outwardly appear righteous to men, but  within are  full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Woe to you,  scribes  and Pharisees,  hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the  prophets, and adorn the tombs of the righteous. And you say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. So you witness to  yourselves, that you are the sons of those who murdered the prophets. And you fill  up  the  measure of your fathers. Serpents,  offspring  of vipers!  How  shall you escape the judgment of gehenna?" (Matt.23:27-33 Para.).

Here,  Jesus gives a powerful rebuke and warning to  these  wicked religious leaders. Notice that, if they do not repent, there is  no escape from the punishment for sin, which is utter, final destruction by fire.

The  destructive  power of fire was used many  times  to  destroy those who opposed God or his people. There are many warnings in  the  Bible, which show that those who  oppose  God,  his prophets,  and his  people  will be  destroyed  with  fire.  See Gen.19:24; Deut.4:23-24; 9:3; Isa.9:18-19; 30:26-23; Matt.3:10; 5:21-22; 2.Thes.1:7-8.

The Gehenna fire that Jesus warned of is not a place of  eternal torture; it is a place where the death penalty will be administered.  It is a place of the final destruction of wicked humans and spirits.

Every time Jesus referred to gehenna, those listening knew exactly  what  he was saying. They did not imagine a  place  of  fiery torture under the earth or anywhere else. They visualized a foul, stinking  garbage  dump where refuse and unwanted  waste  of  all kinds was thrown to be destroyed by fire.  

The Worm of Gehenna

In another reference to Gehenna, Jesus makes the picture of destruction more graphic by referring to the ever-present worms that  infested the garbage and dead bodies that were thrown there:

"And  if your hand offend you, cut it off. For it  is  profitable for  you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands  to  go away  into the fire of gehenna that cannot be put  out: Where  their worm does not die, and the fire is not put out.  And if your foot causes you to offend cut it off, for it is well for you  to enter into life lame, than having two feet to  be thrown into gehenna, into the fire that cannot be put out:  Where their worm does not die, and the fire is not put out. And if your eye offends  you, cast it out. For it is profitable for  you to enter  into the kingdom of God one-eyed, than having two eyes  to be thrown into the fire of gehenna: Where their worm  does not die, and the fire is not put out" (Mk.9:43-48 Para.). See also Matt.5:29-30;18:8-9.

Somehow  many think that these scriptures say  that  wicked  people will be tortured forever. However,  Jesus uses the city dump  where garbage was burned as an example of the destruction of the wicked.

But  what  about the worm that does not die?  Some  feel that because Jesus says 'their worm does not die', there must be eternal  punishing for sinners? However, Jesus  is using the city dump and its fires as a symbolic representation of final punishment.

The English word translated as 'worm'  is the Greek word  'skolex', which refers  to 'a  grub', 'maggot',  or 'earth worm,' which fits perfectly into the  symbolism  of the  Gehenna-fire  garbage dump. When a carcass was  thrown  into Gehenna, but it was not totally consumed by the fires or did not  reach the fires to be burned,  it would be consumed by animals, birds, insects, maggots, and/or worms.

When  dead  flesh is infested with  worms/maggots,  their  endless reproductive  life  cycle (e.g., egg, pupa, larva,  insect)  will eventually  totally consume the flesh. This is what Jesus meant when  he said 'their worm does not die'. He did not mean that the worm was eternal, he was using the city dump and its destructive nature as an allegory for the finality of the punishment for sinfulness.

The prophet Isaiah also used the symbolism of a worm and fire when he  foretold the total destruction of the wicked during the  millennial reign of Christ:

"For  as  the new heavens and the new earth, which I  will  make, shall  remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your  seed  and your  name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from  one  new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come  to worship before me, says the Lord. And  they  shall  go forth,  and look upon the carcasses of the men that  have  transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither  shall their  fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh" (Isa.66:22-24 KJV).

When  Jesus spoke of Gehenna and worms that did not die,  he  was giving a graphic description of the finality of the destruction of the wicked to his audience. They  knew  he was  speaking  of  a most foul and  miserable  destruction  in  a Gehenna  type garbage dump where worthless things were disposed of.

TARTAROO

The  Greek word 'tartaroo' appears only once in the Bible:  "For God  spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them  down  into hell [tartaroo], and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved to judgment;" (2.Pet.2:4 KJV). See also 1.Pet.3:19-20; Jude 6.

The beings who will be sent to hell (tartaroo) are not people; they are wicked angels. Tartaroo is neither gehenna nor hades; it is a place of darkness and restraint and its literal  meaning is 'incarceration' or 'restraint'. It does not necessarily mean a place at all. Moreover, in no way whatsoever can this word be applied to a place of punishment for humans. See our study paper about immortality for a detailed explanation of tartaroo.

SUMMARY

The  Bible  is  very clear in stating that the  wicked  will  not inherit  the  Kingdom of God:

"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom  of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor  idolaters  nor adulters nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves  nor  the greedy nor drunkards  nor  slanderers  nor swindlers  will inherit the kingdom of God"  (1.Cor.6:9-10  NIV). See also Gal.5:19-21.

The Incorrigibly Wicked

What will happen to the incorrigible sinners?  Are they all to be tortured with fire forever?  No, they will not be tortured forever.  The wages of sin is death (Rom.6:23)—not eternal life  in torment.  

Those  who willfully disobey and reject God will receive  eternal punishment,  not eternal punishing. They will be cast  into  a fire that will terminate their existence forever (Matt.13:38-42; Rev.20:15), and they will be ashes under the feet of  the  righteous (Mal.4:3):

"But  for the cowardly and unbelieving, and those  having  become foul,  and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and  idolaters,  and  all the lying ones, their part will be  in  the Lake burning  with  fire  and brimstone, which is  the  second  death" (Rev.21:8 Para.).

Hell Fire

It  is  evident  that the popular concept of hell  as  an  ever-burning place of torture for the wicked cannot be  substantiated by honestly translating the Bible. Because it cannot be proven from scripture, it is obviously a false teaching and a deception  of Satan who is the God of this world's religions. The traditional teaching of an eternal 'hell-fire'  torture that is reserved  for  the wicked is false. Such a place  simply  does  not exist as a teaching of the Bible. Although Jesus and the prophets did  not teach ever-burning torture, they did teach a final  punishment for the wicked.

The wicked  will  be punished by fire. However, this fire is far  hotter  and more  permanent than most believe. The fire that will be used  to punish  the wicked will consume both body and spirit; therefore, it will terminate the totality of their existence forever:

"For, behold, the day comes, that shall burn as an oven; and  all the  proud, yes, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble:  and the  day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord  of hosts, that it  shall leave them neither root nor  branch . . .. And  you shall  tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes  under  the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, says the Lord of hosts" (Mal.4:1;3 KJV).

By B.L Cocherell, file b7w12