Archive for the 'Hell & Eternal Punishment' Category

No torment forever and ever (Revelation 14:11)??

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

Image result for clip art flames public domain

By Spencer D Gear PhD

The destiny of unbelievers at death continues to bother some Christians. Some believe that the Bible confirms eternal punishment (meaning punishing with torment forever after death) for unbelievers. Others consider that this eternal damnation is false teaching.

There was a back and forth between people who believe in eternal damnation of unbelievers and those who reject this doctrine on an Internet Christian forum.

One fellow said:

Those verses [Mat 25:46 and Rev 14:11] say that their punishment/torment goes on, continues, for ever.

In order for the punishment/torment to continue forever the person being punished/tormented also must "go on forever."

A person who is reduced to a pile of ashes can no longer be punished or tormented.

I don’t understand why that is so hard for you to grasp.[1]

This person supported the eternal torment for unrepentant unbelievers after death.

1. Torment of unbelievers does not continue forever

Another had been defending no eternal punishment for the wicked on a Christian forum. He wrote:

Rev 14:11 doesn’t say their torment continues forever. It clearly says the smoke of their (Beast worshippers) torment rises forever. And furthermore this occurs in the presence of the Lamb, not in Hell or the Lake of Fire. Is it your view that the Lamb will be in Hell tormenting the lost forever?

Revelation 14:10 he himself also will drink of the wine of the anger of God that has been mixed full strength in the cup of his wrath, and will be tortured with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. ?

The Bible doesn’t say that the lost’s eternal punishment is torment forever. It clearly teaches that death (a second death) is the punishment called for.[2]

2. Proof-texts lead to wrong conclusions

Image result for proof-texts clip art

My response was:[3]

This is what happens when you pluck one verse (Rev 14:11 ESV) out of context and make it a proof-text. Let’s look at the context:

6 Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgement has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

8 Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”

9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshippers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, for their deeds follow them!” (Rev 14:6-13 ESV).

3. The teaching of Rev 14:6-13 (ESV) is that

clip_image002 John in his revelation saw angels who had an eternal gospel to proclaim to people on the earth from every nation, tribe, language and people (v. 6).

clip_image002[1] That message was to fear God and give him glory because …

clip_image002[2] An hour of judgment has come (v. 7).

clip_image002[3] Another angel proclaimed that message of the fallen Babylon the great who made nations drink the wine of the passion of sexual immorality (v. 8)

clip_image002[4] Another angel, with others following, announced in a loud voice that anyone who worships the beast and its image and receives the mark of the beast will drink of the wine of God’s wrath and will experience the full strength of the cup of God’s anger, being tormented with fire and sulphur (vv. 9-10).

clip_image002[5] This experience of God’s wrath and anger will be in the presence of holy angels and the Lamb (v. 10).

clip_image002[6] smoke%20clipartThe smoke of this torment goes up for eis aiwnas aiwnwn, i.e. for aeons of aeons. The meaning is that ‘smoke’ (a symbol) of this torment is for ‘many eons, each of vast duration, are multiplied by many more, which we imitate by "forever and ever." Human language is able to use only temporal terms to express what is altogether beyond time and is timeless. The Greek takes its greatest term for time, the eon, pluralizes this, and then multiplies it by its own plural’ (Lenski 1943/1963:48, 438).

clip_image002[7] ‘Smoke’ is parallel to ‘fire and brimstone’ and is human language to convey what is experienced in the place where the worshippers of the Beast experience torment that continues for multiplied aeons. This is hell with eternal torment, using symbolic language (v. 11).

clip_image002[8] If one wants to water down the ‘aeons’ to make it less than forever and ever, John makes that impossible in v. 11 because he adds, ‘they have no rest, day or night’. There is no rest 24/7 for the unbelieving worshippers of the Beast.

clip_image002[9] It is not surprising, therefore, that John – in light of the horrific eternal experiences of the unbelievers – calls on the saints to endure and keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus (v. 12).

clip_image002[10] In contrast to those serving the Beast, those who die in the Lord are blessed from now on. They rest from their labours (again this contrasts with the horrible experience of those drinking God’s wrath and the cup of his anger) – v. 13.

3.1 The damned experience torment forever after death

There are excellent, contextual reasons to demonstrate that Rev 14:11 (ESV) refers to the damned who experience torment for aeons multiplied by aeons – forever and ever. The verse reads, ‘And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshippers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name’.

They receive no rest day and night from this. It’s in the presence of the Lord because it is the Lord’s wrath they experience.

Coffman’s Commentary on Revelation 14:11 is:

Verse 11

and the smoke of their torment goeth up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, they that worship the beast and his image, and whoso receiveth the mark of his name.

The doctrine of the New Testament is so strong and emphatic with regard to the eternal punishment of the wicked, that we are simply not allowed to set it aside as, "sub-Christian, or to interpret it in such a way as to remove the abrasive truth of eternal punishment."[Mounce’s commentary, p. 277] Jesus spoke of this at greater length than did any of his apostles. After we have made every allowance for the figurative nature of the apocalyptic language, there still remains, "the terrifying reality of divine wrath,"[Mounce’s commentary, p. 277] to be poured out upon those who persist in following the devil. It is no light matter to abandon the holy teachings of the sacred New Testament, and to substitute the easy rules of man-made, man-controlled, and man-centered religion.

3.2 The torment of God’s wrath in the presence of the Lamb

Therefore, the context of Rev 14:11 (ESV) demonstrates that those who are serving the Beast, the unbelieving damned, will experience the torment of God’s wrath in the presence of the Lamb for aeons upon aeons – forever and ever Amen!
That’s clear Bible teaching and one has to do a lot of squirming to make it say that unbelievers do not experience eternal torment. It’s called eisegesis to impose another reading on it.

See my other articles on this topic:

clip_image003Is there literal fire in hell?

clip_image003[1]Is hell fair?

clip_image003[2]Are there degrees of punishment in hell?

clip_image003[3]2 Thessalonians 1:9: Eternal destruction

clip_image003[4]Hell in the Bible

clip_image003[5]Paul on eternal punishment

clip_image003[6]Hell and judgment

clip_image003[7]Eternal torment for unbelievers when they die

4. Works consulted

Lenski, R C H 1943/1963. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. John’s Revelation. Minneapolis MN: Augsburg Publishing House (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. edn.).


5.  Notes

[1] Christian 2016. Apologetics & Theology, ‘The soul of man’, Jim Parker#117. Available at: (Accessed 13 October 2016).

[2] Ibid., chessman#119.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#120.


Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 30 October 2016.

Is there literal fire in hell?

Monday, September 29th, 2014

By Spencer D Gear


Jonathan Edwards (painting courtesy Wikipedia)

I can’t remember the last sermon I heard on hell in an evangelical church here in Australia. Absence of such preaching seems to be part of the contemporary approach of seeker-sensitive, user-friendly Christianity in my part of the world. The inference, by the silence, seems to be that to preach on hell will scare people away from the church and that we don’t need that. We need more and more people to come to church. Forget about the hell emphasis. It’s no good for our image of popularity.

It seems to me that this is because of a number of factors:

(1) Hell is not regarded as a positive message in modern society;

(2) The holiness of God is not in the forefront of Christian’s theology of God;

(3) Why would there be a need for hell if it were not for a  knowledge of the human condition – unrepentant sinners?

Preaching the consequences of sin is not at the top of the preaching Hit Parade Down Under. The silence in these areas is deafening.

That famous sermon

Perhaps the most famous sermon ever preached on hell was by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). He delivered it to his own congregation at Northampton, Massachusetts with unknown impact, but when he preached it again in Enfield, Connecticut, 8 July 1741, that’s when he gained the nation’s attention. The impact has continued beyond the 18th century.

Part of this sermon reads:

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.

O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment (Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol 2, ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’).

I urge you to read the sermon in its entirety.

How did the listeners respond to such a sermon with hell portrayed as God’s wrath towards people burning like fire and people being cast into the fire of hell? It sure reads like a literal hell that is ‘full of the fire of wrath’ and of ‘flames of divine wrath’. This is one report of that sermon’s impact:

An eyewitness, Stephen Williams, wrote in his diary, “We went over to Enfield where we met dear Mr. Edwards of Northampton who preached a most awakening sermon from these words, Deuteronomy 32:35, and before the sermon was done there was a great moaning and crying went out through ye whole House…. ‘What shall I do to be saved,’ ‘Oh, I am going to Hell,’ ‘Oh, what shall I do for Christ,’ and so forth. So yet ye minister was obliged to desist, ye shrieks and cry were piercing and amazing” (in William P Farley, ‘Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening’).

Edwards pursued this kind of emphasis in another sermon:

The body will be full of torment as full as it can hold, and every part of it shall be full of torment. They shall be in extreme pain, every joint of ’em, every nerve shall be full of inexpressible torment. They shall be tormented even to their fingers’ ends. The whole body shall be full of the wrath of God. Their hearts and bowels and their heads, their eyes and their tongues, their hands and their feet will be filled with the fierceness of God’s wrath. This is taught us in many Scriptures (in Gerstner 1980:56, n. 37).

See another sermon by Edwards that also uses graphic imagery, ‘The portion of the wicked’, preached in 1735.


C H Spurgeon (painting courtesy Wikipedia)

Charles Spurgeon pursued similar, literal language:

Now, do not begin telling me that that is metaphorical fire: who cares for that? If a man were to threaten to give me a metaphorical blow on the head, I should care very little about it; he would be welcome to give me as many as he pleased. And what say the wicked? “We do not care about metaphorical fires.” But they are real, sir—yes, as real as yourself. There is a real fire in hell, as truly as you have now a real body—a fire exactly like that which we have on earth in everything except this—that it will not consume, though it will torture you. You have seen the asbestos lying in the fire red hot, but when you take it out it is unconsumed. So your body will be prepared by God in such a way that it will burn for ever without being consumed; it will lie, not as you consider, in metaphorical fire, but in actual flame” (Spurgeon 1856).[1]

However, I have a question: In spite of Jonathan Edwards’ reputation as an outstanding Calvinistic theologian and leader of a Great Awakening of spiritual impact, did Edwards paint an accurate picture of the nature of hell with his language? Is hell a literal place of fire where God’s wrath is experienced in literal manner? Is there a more accurate, biblical understanding? Was C H Spurgeon’s view harmonious with the biblical accounts?

A modern questioner

If you want to pick up some contemporary version of hell, go to an active Christian forum where you will find any number of agreements and challenges to the doctrine of hell. I met one fellow who stated:

Rev 20:14, ‘And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death’.
Rev 20:15, ‘And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire’.
Rev 21:8, ‘But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death’.
Sounds pretty scary some have suggested its (sic) a metaphor but for what.
Deut 4:24, ‘For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God’.[2]

I asked for some clarification: What would be one primary question you want us to address from what you have posted here?[3] His reply was:

What is the nature of the lake of fire?


(image courtesy public domain)

The primary question would be what does the lake of fire consist of is it a real fire to torment the wicked and unbelievers for eternity I don’t think so.
I believe it has a good purpose There are many references in the bible about fire of which I have chosen just a few to maybe show that there maybe another explanation.
Is God the lake of fire he is eternal the same as the lake?
Is the lake of fire a refining fire to remove the dross from the wicked?
Zech 13:9  And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried: they shall call on my name, and I will hear them: I will say, It is my people: and they shall say, The LORD is my God.[4]

Hell fire as metaphorical

My response was:[5] I consider that hell/Hades/Gehenna are real and this will be a conscious, frightful place. But I can’t conclude about its exact nature for these reasons:
I accept that the biblical writers used metaphorical and not literal language. My main reasons for such a view are:
clip_image007 Hell/Hades could not be represented as literal fire because it is also described as a place of darkness (see Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 1:13). Fire and darkness are mutually exclusive terms so hell’s description cannot be literal.

clip_image007[1] Let’s use Jude as an example. He described the after-life as ‘eternal fire’ (Jude 1:7) but that is contrasted with ‘utter darkness’ (Jude 1:13). For the angels, Jude writes of ‘gloomy darkness’ (Jude 1:6). Again, literal fire and literal darkness would be contradictory – from my human perspective.

clip_image007[2] This issue is made knotty by the ‘lake of fire’ (Rev 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8. This hardly conforms with the ‘blackest darkness’.

clip_image007[3] John the Baptist and Jesus also describe hell as ‘fire’ (Matt 3:10; 25:41) but also as ‘darkness’ (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).

clip_image008 Also Matt 25:41 describes hell as a place for the devil and his angels. They are spirit beings. How is it possible for fire to work on non-physical beings?
Therefore, I accept a metaphorical understanding of hell/Hades/Gehenna. It does involve conscious suffering/torment (cf Luke 16:23-24) , but its nature is unknown to me because of the language used. Evidence from outside the NT also supports this perspective.

See fire and darkness appearing together in Jewish writings such as Qumran (1QS 2:8; 4:13), 1 Enoch 103:7; 2 Enoch 10:2-3; Jerusalem Talmud, Shekalim 6:1, 49d. These writings also speak of the bodies of the wicked that are rotting with worms and maggots (Judith 16:17; Sirach (Ben Sira) 7:17, cf Isa 66:24). It was ‘hot as fire and cold as ice’ replacing eternal torment in 2 Enoch 14:20(12).[6]

Support for the metaphorical view


William V Crockett (photo courtesy Facebook)

I have been helped greatly in reaching this understanding by the exposition on hell, ‘The Metaphorical View’, by William Crockett. Crockett wrote:

Christians should never be faced with this kind of embarrassment – the Bible does not support a literal view of a burning abyss. Hellfire and brimstone are not literal depictions of hell’s fictions, but figurative expressions warning the wicked of impending doom…. Opinions on the nature of final judgment will always be with us, and it would be presumptuous to say that I know precisely what hell is going to be like. I do not, of course, and no one else does either. When it comes to the afterlife, only the dead know for sure. Yet we do have revelation from the Lord of the living and the dead, and that revelation – the Scriptures – must be our guide…. The words of Jesus and the apostles tell us that the final abode of the wicked will be a place of awful reckoning, but specifically what that reckoning will be, we cannot know for certain until we pass beyond this life (Crockett 1999:44, 45).

Crockett rightly calls on support for the metaphorical view from John Calvin, Charles Hodge, J I Packer, Kenneth Kantzer, and Billy Graham. Let’s check out what these Christian leaders stated.

clip_image012 John Calvin in describing the ‘eternal fire’ in texts such as Matt 3:12 stated:

Many persons, I am aware, have entered into ingenious debates about the eternal fire, by which the wicked will be tormented after the judgment. But we may conclude from many passages of Scripture, that it is a metaphorical expression. For, if we must believe that it is real, or what they call material fire, we must also believe that the brimstone and the fan are material, both of them being mentioned by Isaiah. fire] is a metaphorical expression’ (Calvin’s commentaries, vol 31, Matthew Mark, and Luke, Part 1, Matthew 3:11-12).

clip_image012[1] Charles Hodge, Calvinistic theologian, was very pointed:

There seems no more reason for supposing that the fire spoken of in Scripture is to be a literal fire, than that the worm that never dies is literally a worm. The devil and his angels who are to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire, and whose doom the finally impenitent are to share, have no material bodies to be acted upon by elemental fire. As there are to be degrees in the glory and blessedness of heaven, as our Lord teaches us in the parable of the ten talents, so there will be differences as to degree in the sufferings of the lost: some will be beaten with few stripes, some with many (Hodge 1975:868).

clip_image012[2] J I Packer wrote, ‘Do not try to imagine what it is like to be in hell…. The mistake is to take such pictures as physical descriptions, when in fact they are imagery symbolizing realities … far worse than the symbols themselves’ (Packer 1990:25).[7] Elsewhere, Packer wrote:

The New Testament views hell (Gehenna, as Jesus calls it, the place of incineration, Matt. 5:22; 18:9) as the final abode of those consigned to eternal punishment at the Last Judgment (Matt. 25:41-46; Rev. 20:11-15). It is thought of as a place of fire and darkness (Jude 7, 13), of weeping and grinding of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30), of destruction (2 Thess. 1:7-9; 2 Pet. 3:7; 1 Thess. 5:3), and of torment (Rev. 20:10; Luke 16:23)—in other words, of total distress and misery. If, as it seems, these terms are symbolic rather than literal (fire and darkness would be mutually exclusive in literal terms), we may be sure that the reality, which is beyond our imagining, exceeds the symbol in dreadfulness. New Testament teaching about hell is meant to appall us and strike us dumb with horror, assuring us that, as heaven will be better than we could dream, so hell will be worse than we can conceive. Such are the issues of eternity, which need now to be realistically faced….

The reality … will be more terrible than the concept; no one can imagine how bad hell will be (Packer 1993:261-262).

clip_image012[3] A former editor of Christianity Today, Kenneth Kantzer, was quoted in an article in U.S. News and World Report (March 25, 1991): ‘The Bible makes it clear that hell is real and it’s bad … but when Jesus spoke of flames … these are most likely figurative warnings’.


Billy Graham (photo courtesy public domain)

clip_image014 This metaphorical view is also supported by Billy Graham who stated, ‘I have often wondered if hell is a terrible burning within our hearts for God, to fellowship with God, a fire that we can never quench’ (Graham 1984:2). Elsewhere it is reported of Billy Graham:

The Orlando (Florida) Sentinel for April 10, 1983, asked Billy Graham: “Surveys tell us that 85% of Americans believe in heaven, but only 65% believe in hell. Why do you think so many Americans don’t accept the concept of hell?” He replied: I think that hell essentially is separation from God forever. And that is the worst hell that I can think of. But I think people have a hard time believing God is going to allow people to burn in literal fire forever. I think the fire that is mentioned in the Bible is a burning thirst for God that can never be quenched.”

“Hell is not the most popular of preaching topics. I don’t like to preach on it. But I must if I am to proclaim the whole counsel of God. We must not avoid warning of it. The most outspoken messages on hell, and the most graphic references to it, came from Jesus Himself. … Jesus used three words to describe hell. … The third word that He used is ‘fire.’ Jesus used this symbol over and over. This could be literal fire, as many believe. or it could be symbolic. … I’ve often thought that this fire could possibly be a burning thirst for God that is never quenched. What a terrible fire that would be–never to find satisfaction, joy, or fulfillment!” (source).[8]

clip_image012[4] Dave Hunt took a similar metaphorical view of hell: ‘The lake of fire will be torment of a burning spiritual thirst beyond description and will never end’ (Hunt 2004).

How do people get in hell forever?

I have found no better, brief explanation than that of J I Packer:[9]

Scripture sees hell as self-chosen; those in hell will realize that they sentenced themselves to it by loving darkness rather than light, choosing not to have their Creator as their Lord, preferring self-indulgent sin to self-denying righteousness, and (if they encountered the gospel) rejecting Jesus rather than coming to him (John 3:18-21; Rom. 1:18, 24, 26, 28, 32; 2:8; 2 Thess. 2:9-11). General revelation confronts all mankind with this issue, and from this standpoint hell appears as God’s gesture of respect for human choice. All receive what they actually chose, either to be with God forever, worshiping him, or without God forever, worshiping themselves. Those who are in hell will know not only that for their doings they deserve it but also that in their hearts they chose it.

The purpose of Bible teaching about hell is to make us appreciate, thankfully embrace, and rationally prefer the grace of Christ that saves us from it (Matt. 5:29-30; 13:48-50). It is really a mercy to mankind that God in Scripture is so explicit about hell. We cannot now say that we have not been warned (Packer 1993:262-263).


The NT provides a picture of heaven with gates of pearl and hell with flames and darkness. These were not meant to be taken literally. The writers were using language that was understood by the people of the day to have the greatest impact. The important emphasis is: ‘Heaven and hell are real; one a place of immeasurable happiness, and the other of profound misery’ (Crockett 1999:76).

See also William V Crockett’s article, ‘Wrath that endures forever’ (1991).


(image courtesy Wikipedia)

Works consulted

Crockett, W 1999. The metaphorical view, in W Crockett (ed), Four views on hell. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Gerstner, J 1080. Jonathan Edwards on heaven and hell. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Graham, B 1984. There is a real hell. Decision 25, No 7-8, July-August.

Hodge, C 1975.[10] Systematic theology, vol 3. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Hunt, D 2004. The Berean Call, a monthly newsletter, July. Bend, Oregon.

Packer, J I 1958. Introduction to John Owen, The death of death in the death of Christ (online). London: Banner of Truth. Available at: (Accessed 28 September 2014).

Packer, J I 1990. The problem of eternal punishment. Crux 26, 18-25, September.

Packer, J I 1993. Concise theology: A guide to historic Christian beliefs. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Spurgeon, C H 1856. The resurrection of the dead [Sermon], New Park Street Chapel, February 17. Available at The Spurgeon series 1855 & 1856: Unabridged sermons in modern language (Accessed 29 September 2014).


[1] This is the unabridged language of Spurgeon, but in modern English. A copy of the original sermon can be found HERE.

[2] Davetaff, ‘The lake of fire’, UK Christian Web, September 24, 2014. Available at: (Accessed 27 September 2014).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#1.

[4] Ibid., Davetaff#2. Dave’s language & punctuation seem to indicate this is posted from an iphone or tablet.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#3.

[6] These verses are from Crockett (1999:59).

[7] I located this quote in Crockett (1999:44-45).

[8] A Biblical Standard for Evangelists, Billy Graham, A commentary on the 15 Affirmations made by participants at the International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, July, 1983 (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Worldwide Publications, pp 45-47).

[9] I find the following statement by Packer to be incompatible with his Calvinistic belief, ‘Grace proves irresistible just because it destroys the disposition to resist’ (Packer 1958). How can there be irresistible grace AND a doctrine that ‘sees hell as self-chosen; those in hell will realize that they sentenced themselves to it’. Irresistible grace means that some are chosen by God through grace that they cannot resist. That means that the rest are chosen by God not to receive grace. So how can that be self-chosen when it was impossible for them to choose otherwise?

[10] This is a reprint in 1975.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 April 2016.

Sheol is translated as Hades

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Heaven or Hell

(courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear

Where did people go at death prior to Christ’s coming? How do the Scriptures describe what happens at death in the OT?

On a Christian forum on the Internet, a person wrote: ‘Hades is a different creature then (sic) sheol’.[1] Those who know Hebrew and Greek disagree with him.

My response was:[2]
According to OT commentators Keil & Delitzsch, ‘Sheol denotes the place where departed souls are gathered after death’ (n d:338).

One of the leading exegetical Greek word studies edited by Colin Brown states: ‘In the LXX [Septuagint] hades occurs more than 100 times, in the majority of instances to translate Heb sheol, the underworld which receives all the dead. It is a land of darkness, in which God is not remembered (Job 10:21f; 26:5; Ps. 6:5; 30:9 [LXX 29:9]; 115:17 [LXX 113:25]; Prov. 1;12; 27:20; Isa. 5:14)’ (Brown 1976:206).
So in the LXX, hades is a Greek translation of the Hebrew, sheol.

There is a further explanation of hades and sheol in my articles,

Works consulted

Brown, C (ed) 1976. The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 2. Exeter: The Paternoster Press.

Keil, C F & Delitzsch, F n d.[3] Tr by J Martin (from the German). Commentary on the Old Testament: The Pentateuch, vol 1. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.


[1] Jasonc#114. Christian Apologetics & Theology, SOUL SLEEP – TRUE/FALSE (online). Available at: (Accessed 19 September 2014).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#115.

[3] This is from a 1980 printing by Eerdmans.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 November 2015.

The Intermediate State for believers and unbelievers: Where do they go at death?

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

cemetery-pictures-public-domain-1 (4)

(image courtesy onemillionfreepictures)

 By Spencer D Gear

Christian forums on the Internet are places for provocative interaction and also promotion of false doctrine. I’ve interacted on a number of sites and found this to be so.

On one forum I met a fellow who stated:

“Where is the scripture that states Paradise as being a literal place for spirits upon death? Aside from the Rich Man and Lazarus…I believe that to be a parable…”[1]

My response was:[2] This is not the place for a detailed exposition. For that I recommend, Robert A. Morey (1984).

Before Christ’s resurrection, both believers and unbelievers went to Sheol/Hades – two separate places in that location (see Isa 14:9-20; 44:23; Ezek 32:21; Lk 16:22-23). After the resurrection, believers go to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23) which is better than Hades. According to 2 Cor. 5:6-9, believers are present with the Lord and are worshipping with the angelic hosts in heaven (Heb. 12:22-23).

We understand that Christ went to Hades at death (see Acts 2:31). When Jesus was in Hades, Peter explains that Christ was proclaiming to “the spirits now in prison” (1 Peter 3:18-22).

However, in the Gospel records (e.g. Luke 23:43), Paradise refers to the section of Hades reserved for the righteous. By the time of Paul’s writing in 2 Cor. 12:2-4, Paradise seems to have been taken out of Hades and is now the third heaven.

So, with progressive revelation, we understand that after the resurrection of Jesus, the believer who dies goes to heaven at death and there awaits the future resurrection to the eternal state.

What about unbelievers now? The Scriptures seem to teach that they go into torment in the intermediate state in Hades, awaiting the final judgment. Peter described it this way:

“Then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment” (2 Peter 2:9 NIV)

“To hold” in the Greek of this verse is a present, active infinitive, meaning that the wicked are being kept where they are, captive continuously. This verse clearly refutes annihilation of the wicked after death as there would be nothing “to hold” until the judgment day if they had no existence. Peter says the unrighteous are “continuing their punishment”, this phrase is interpreting a present, passive participle that indicates the unbelievers are being continuously tormented/punished. The Greek grammar of this text clearly states that the wicked dead are experiencing torment as they await the final judgment.

We read about the final judgment in Rev. 20:13-15 when Hades (the place for the wicked who died after Christ’s resurrection) will be emptied of the wicked dead and will face God for judgment. At that point, the wicked will be cast into hell.

That’s a very brief overview of how I understand the intermediate state for believers and unbelievers and the final judgment of unbelievers.

Works consulted

Morey, R A 1984. Death and the Afterlife. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.


[1] Big Drew #60, Christian Forums–>Theology–>Christian Apologetics, “Heaven?” #62, available at: (Accessed 23 September 2010).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #62.
Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 11 June 2016.

Ecclesiastes 9:5 and what happens at death

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

nuclear explosion by tzunghaor - atomic bomb, bomb, clip art, clipart, explosion, explosive, mushroom cloud, nuclear, nuke, weapon,

(courtesy Openclipart)

By Spencer D Gear

A Seventh-Day Adventist fellow with whom I’ve been in dialogue online for years on a Christian forum continues to push his SDA view of annihilation of the unbeliever at death. Or, he will say that there is nothing at death for the non-Christian.

This is what he wrote to me:

Eccl. 9:5 “for the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing.” and 10 “Whatsoever they hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” Refute those.[1]

We can make these points about Eccl. 9:5, based on the text: [2]

1.  There is here noted one advantage that the living have. They ‘know that they shall die’. This does not seem to be a sarcastic comment by the Preacher (the Koheleth) of Ecclesiastes. The thought is that a living human being has a distinct advantage that he/she will will day die and do you know what? He/she is then able to arrange  a lot of things in his/her life on earth to prepare to meet the issue of death.

2.   But ‘the dead know nothing’. All opportunities for them for action and achievement are gone after death. It’s a thing of the past and the dead now know nothing. They don’t have any reward in the after-life (yet) and their memory is forgotten.

3.   So is this an absolute denial of all hope for them after death? That is what his SDA church promotes for unbelievers. However, that is not what this verse teaches. We have no right to think that this is a statement about the state of the dead in the afterlife. The Preacher is only expressing the relation of the dead to this life. How do we know? The next verse tells us. That’s why it is always good to look at the verse in context and not to quote an isolated verse, as Harold have done.

4.   Eccl 9:6 tells us, ‘Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and for ever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun’ (ESV). So what the dead have experienced in this life – love, hate, envy – has gone. It has perished. And the dead are not sharing what has happened for them when they were alive on earth – their life ‘under the sun’. The dead do not have a higher reward than what they had in their life ‘under the sun’. They are out of this life, have no reward, and all of the ‘under the sun’ emphases have perished.

5.   This ‘under the sun’ emphasis also appears in this chapter in Eccl. 9:3.

6.   Harold, by taking an isolated verse like Eccl 9:5 to support his doctrine of annihilation and pushing it to the limit of his kind of extremist, negative interpretation is not satisfactory exegesis of the text. He has NOT obtained his annihilation doctrine and nothingness-after-death for the unbeliever from this text. He has imposed the SDA annihilationist view on the text. This is called eisegesis and is an illegitimate way of obtaining the meaning from any text, whether that be the local newspaper or the Bible.

7.   In fact, Eccl 12:7 presents a contrary view to Harold’s SDA interpretation of Eccl 9:5 with this statement, ‘And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it’ (Eccl 12:7 ESV).

8. Eccl. 9:5-6 demonstrates, according to the Preacher of Ecclesiastes, how hopeless life is when anyone confines herself/himself to life ‘under the sun’ for satisfaction. She/he is faced with a hopeless situation.

9.   There is not a word in Eccl 9:5 that supports his emphasis on annihilation. He gets it from his Seventh-Day Adventist church. And Eccl 12:7 clarifies the meaning of Eccl 9:5 and clearly refutes his interpretation.

At death, the dust of the decayed human body returns to the earth and the spirit of the holistic being returns to God who gave the spirit at birth.

So there you have what I consider is a careful, but brief, refutation of Harold, the SDA’s, view on this one verse.

To refute the false doctrine of annihilation, see my articles:


Grim Reaper

(courtesy ChristArt)

Works consulted

Leupold, H C 1969. Exposition of Ecclesiastes. London: Evangelical Press (This is based on a 1969 reprint by Baker Book House Company of the 1952 edition by The Wartburg Press).


[1] harold.fair#43, Christian Fellowship Forum, Fellowship Hall, ‘Soul sleep’. Available at: (Accessed 4 June 2014).

[2] This was my response at ibid., ozspen#45. Much of what I’ve written here is based on the exegesis and exposition of H C Leupold on Ecclesiastes (Leupold 1969:211-212).


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.

‘I will beat the hell out of God’

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

By Spencer D Gear



It is not unusual to read of or hear about someone who turns off or away from God after a traumatic experience.

A fellow who was hurting deeply started a new thread on Christian Forums that he called, ‘lost all faith in a god’. He wrote:

My world has crashed down like a ton of bricks these last few weeks after watching my 16 year old son die a slow painful death of cancer, he suffered so much and as i am a single parent dad i was the only one to be with him and i never left his side. my faith is smashed now as i think if there is an all loving god who saves people then why not save my son ? my son was the kindest kid in the world always thinking of others and even to the end was thinking about me.

there is just no sence (sic) to this and my feeling of anger is such that if there is a god then when its my turn to die i will beat the hell out of him and make him or her or it suffer like my son did i grew up to belive (sic) in being good kind and help others in this cruel world as it is today my son was so loved and yet this kind of thing happens to many people its just all so unfair to watch others live a good happy life never knowning (sic) what its like to suffer why on earth does this go on why carnt (sic) we just leave in a peaceful world without the suffering ? and when we die then just let us die of old age without suffering ? if god is all powerful and loving and kind then surely he would have to the power to grant that to us all ? hence my faith now is smashed as i dont have the answers and never will have.[1]

How does one respond to a hurting individual, especially when he is blaming God for his teenager’s painful death from cancer? I replied:[2]

I know you are hurting deeply and nothing I can say will ease that pain.

You say that you don’t mean to anger or upset anyone, but what did you say about my Lord God?

Please consider three points:

  1. When the Lord Almighty made the universe (see Genesis 1), did he consult with you and me as to how the world is to be run? And,
  2. When Adam and Eve fell into sin (Genesis 3), they did it for you and me. They were our representatives. If we had been there, we would have disobeyed God just as they did. And what happened?
  3. What was unleashed on your son were the consequences of sin entering into the world. I have lived with a rheumatic heart condition all of my life and have had 5 open-heart, mitral and aortic valve replacement surgeries, along with a tricuspid valve repair. I know the pain of 3 bouts of rheumatic fever as a child that left me with heart problems. I cannot begin to tell you about the excruciating pain I experienced with attacks of rheumatic fever at ages 6, 10 and 12. The pain was so bad that a hoop had to be placed over my knees and ankles to prevent a sheet from resting on them. My father dropped dead of a heart attack at age 57. My dear friend suffered a massive stroke recently and entered the presence of the Lord through death. I am not immune to pain in my life, but I am not blaspheming God like you did.

Why? It is my view of God that is based on biblical revelation. God has told us why your son could experience cancer and why I suffered attacks of rheumatic fever. It is a direct consequence of Adamic sin.

Besides, you and I spend so little time during our earthly journey when compared with eternity. Where will you be spending eternity with your current view of God? Why are you blaspheming him? Do you know God personally and do you have a relationship with him?

I then encouraged him to send me a private message on the Forum and asked if he had had any grief counselling to deal with his son’s death.

Sadly, he did not respond to what I wrote and did not engage much further with others on that Forum.

How do we explain evil in our world?

See my articles:

blue-arrow-small  Did God create evil?

blue-arrow-small Is God responsible for all the evil in the world?

blue-arrow-small Isaiah 45:7: Who or what is the origin of evil?

blue-arrow-small September 11 & other tragedies: Why doesn’t God stop it?

blue-arrow-small Sinful nature or sinful environment?


[1] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘lost all faith in a god’, desypete #1, 3 June 2012, available at: (Accessed 4 June 2012).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen #11.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.

2 Thessalonians 1:9: Eternal destruction

Monday, October 22nd, 2012



By Spencer D Gear

There are Christians active on the Internet and in churches who are promoting the doctrine of annihilation for unbelievers at death. One post on Christian Forums stated:

“Have you considered the possibility that people are annihilationists because they believe the bible supports that position better than any other position?”
Not anyone who is familiar with the Scriptures and accepts them as written.[1]

John Stott, the late evangelical scholar, ‘In Evangelical Essentials, I described as “tentative” my suggestion that “eternal punishment” may mean the ultimate annihilation of the wicked rather than their eternal conscious torment. I would prefer to call myself agnostic on this issue, as are a number of New Testament scholars I know. In my view, the biblical teaching is not plain enough to warrant dogmatism. There are awkward texts on both sides of the debate’ (McCloughry 2006).

Clark Pinnock supported annihilationism. See ‘Clark Pinnock’s thoughts on hell’. Pinnock outlined his doctrine of annihilation in, ‘The conditional view’, in Four Views on Hell (Zondervan):



Here he stated that

we are asked to believe that God endlessly tortures sinners by the million, sinners who perish because the Father has decided not to elect them to salvation, though he could have done so, and whose torments are supposed to gladden the hearts of believers in heaven. The problems with this doctrine are both extensive and profound….

I will argue that it is more scriptural, theologically coherent, and practical to interpret the nature of hell as the destruction rather than the endless torture of the wicked. I will maintain that the ultimate result of rejecting God is self-destruction, closure with God, and absolute death in body, soul, and spirit. I take the verse seriously that says: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23)….

I conclude that the traditional belief that God makes the wicked suffer in an unending conscious torment in hell is unbiblical, is fostered by a Hellenistic view of human nature, is detrimental to the character of God, is defended on essentially pragmatic grounds, and is being rejected by a growing number of biblically faithful, contemporary scholars. I believe that a better case can be made for understanding the nature of hell as termination—better biblically, anthropologically, morally, judicially, and metaphysically (Pinnock 1992:136, 137, 165).

For a response to Pinnock’s position, see the rebuttals by John F. Walvoord, William V. Crockett and Zachary J. Hayes (Crockett 1992:167-178

What’s the meaning of ‘eternal destruction’?

[2]I do not support annihilation, but some Christians who have promoted this view to me have taken the line that Scriptures that advocate ‘eternal destruction’ and ‘perish’ are supporting the annihilationist theology. Many SDAs take this line. Annihilation is the dogma of the Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and some others, even among evangelicals.

The SDA fundamental beliefs state:

The unrighteous dead will then be resurrected, and with Satan and his angels will surround the city; but fire from God will consume them and cleanse the earth. The universe will thus be freed of sin and sinners forever. (Rev. 20; 1 Cor. 6:2, 3; Jer. 4:23-26; Rev. 21:1-5; Mal. 4:1; Eze. 28:18, 19.).[3]

Here is some of my reasoning why I reject annihilation:

This is what 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (ESV) states:

They [those who do not know God, v8] will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

It is important to note that in the Greek this verse begins with the qualitative relative pronoun, oitines. which means ‘such people as’ and is not the same as ‘who’ (Hendriksen & Kistemaker 1955/1984:160).

The NT Greek of this verse is found at 2 Thessalonians 1:9 (SBLGNT)

A literal translation is:

such people as penalty will pay destruction eternal from face of the Lord and from the glory of the strength of him.

We are told the nature of this ‘destruction’ in context. Second Thess 1:7-8 says of unbelievers (those inflicting punishment on the believers at Thessalonica) that ‘God considers it just to repay with affliction…. inflicting vengeance’. That’s the language of God and he says that this is what happens when ‘they will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might’ (1:9).

To summarise what the Scriptures state in the context of 2 Thess. 1:7-9.

  • unbelievers will be repaid with affliction;
  • In this affliction, God is inflicting vengeance;
  • This vengeance is called ‘eternal destruction’’;
  • And it means being ‘away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might’.

This is the justice that all unbelievers will receive from the absolutely just Almighty God of the universe. ‘Destruction’ in 2 Thess 1:9 is a descriptive term and it tells us its content. Those who want to find destruction to mean something that is destroyed and that’s the end (as this person seems to infer) are found to be wrong because of the Greek word, aiwnios (eternal). There is no time frame here. It is timeless eternity and this destruction goes on to the aeons to come. This is what the adjective, aiwnios, means. It is true that the eternal life of the believers is as long as the eternal destruction of unbelievers.

Richard Lenski explained:

Those who find annihilation in it [destruction] would thereby abolish hell, others misunderstand aiwnios and reduce it to a long term which, however, eventually ends. There is no time beyond the last day, wither short or long, but only timelessness, eternity, “the eon to come”; this is what the adjective [aiwnios] means, which is true of the zwe or “life” of the blessed as it is true of the “destruction” of the damned. The destruction occurs “away from the Lord’s face” and thus in the outer darkness (Lenski 1937:388-389).

Second Thess 1:9 says that this will be happening ‘away from the presence of the Lord’ and from ‘the glory of his might’. Please don’t minimise the seriousness of this destruction. The saints are surrounded by the glory of the Lord God’s presence. The unbelievers are excluded from the presence of the Lord and are experiencing God’s vengeance by means of eternal destruction. You and I don’t invent the meaning of ‘destruction’. It is explained in context.

Elsewhere the experience of unbelievers after death is described as being sent to the place where it is ‘outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matt. 22:13). That is a very clear description that cannot be lightened by annihilation or metaphorical intent.

In 2 Thess. 1:9, the fact that destruction is eternal, never ending (see also 1 Thess 5:3; 1 Cor 5:5: 1 Tim 6:9) means that it does not indicate a contemporary understanding of destruction. It cannot mean annihilation or going out of existence. Instead, it means to be away from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might. When I reverse over my child’s toy and destroy it, it is not annihilated out of existence.

Everlasting destruction is the manifestation of God’s vengeance and is the very opposite of everlasting life to be experienced by the believers.

Here’s another response

This was provoked by this response on Christian Forums:

Example 3. Exegesis versus Eisegesis (Not having any thing to do with Annihilationism)

2 Thessalonians 1:9
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction,away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
Exegesis says the punishment is destruction, because it says “destruction”
Eisegesis says the punishment can’t be destruction because we “know” that the punishment is eternal torment. So even though this verse says “destruction” the word destruction can’t mean destruction, it must mean eternal torment. This is reading an existing doctrine into scripture rather than taking doctrince (sic) from what scripture says.[4]

[5]’Everlasting destruction’ (2 Thess. 1:9) means that the penalty is everlasting, never-ending. That’s what the Greek word, aiwnios means. The fact that this destruction (see also 1 Cor 5:5; 1 Thess 5:3; 1 Tim 6:9) is everlasting clearly indicates it is NOT referring to annihilation. If death of unbelievers means they are zonked out of existence, it is ridiculous to speak of it as being everlasting. I buried my dead cat and its remains are dust now. Does that mean it has an everlasting existence as dead dust? This is ridiculous thinking.

Second Thess 1:9 tells us clearly what the meaning is of “everlasting destruction”. It is being “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”. That is not a description of being annihilated out of existence. Second Thess 1:8, the preceding verse, is clear about what this absence from the presence of the Lord involves. It is “inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus”.

So eternal destruction = inflicting vengeance and it will happen “away from the presence of the Lord”. That’s biblical exegesis and it is not imposing on the text as this person on the forum  (Timothew) wanted to do.


Therefore, eternal destruction is banishment from loving fellowship with God Himself and means expulsion “from the glory (radiant splendour) of his might”. However the presence in that glory is what Christian believers will be experiencing after death.


Crockett, W (ed) 1992. Four views on hell. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hendriksen, W & Kistemaker, S J 1955 / 1984. Exposition of Thessalonians, the Pastorals, and Hebrews (New Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Lenski, R C H 1937/1946/1961/2001. Commentary on the New Testament: The interpretation of St. Paul’s epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus, and to Philemon. [Lutheran Book Concern 1937; The Wartburg Press 1945; Augsburg Publishing House 1961; Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers Inc. 2001, limited edition].

McCloughry, R. 2006, ‘Basic Stott as a precursor to my piece’, Kenyananalyst, 2 May, available at: (Accessed 22 October 2012).

Pinnock, C H 1992. The conditional view, in W Crockett (ed) 1992, Four views on Hell, 135-166. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.


[1] Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Hell’, phoenixdem #66, available at: (Accessed 22 October 2012).

[2] This is based on my post as OzSpen #70, ibid.

[3] Seventh-Day Adventist ‘Fundamental Beliefs’, #27 ‘Millennium and the End of Sin’, available at: (Accessed 22 October 2012).

[4] Timothew #71, ibid.

[5] This is my response as OzSpen #72, ibid.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 April 2018.


Hell in the Bible

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Read the Bible

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Spencer D Gear

In this book by Christopher Morgan & Robert Peterson (gen eds) 2007. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Zondervan), you will read how people within the church, some of whom know Greek, are reinventing the doctrine of hell with alternatives such as universalism and annihilationism. I found it to be a commentary on how presuppositions impose on the Greek text (I read and have taught NT Greek) and the text is not allowed to speak for itself.

Morgan & Peterson begin with this story:

A business was opening a new store, and a friend of the owner sent flowers for the occasion. The flowers arrived at the new business site, and the owner read the card, inscribed, “Rest in Peace.”
The angry owner called the florist to complain. After he told the florist of the obvious mistake and how angry he was, the florist said, “Sir, I’m really sorry for the mistake, but rather than getting angry, you should imagine this: Somewhere there is a funeral taking place today, and they have flowers with a note that reads, “Congratulations on your new location” (Introduction)

We are in a time when there are major attempts at scholarly and lay levels to redefine hell. Here are a few examples:

clip_image002[1] John Dominic Crossan, historical Jesus’ scholar of the Jesus Seminar: ‘‘What about heaven and hell, what about terminal rewards and punishments, what about eternity and the afterlife?… Let me be very blunt: I refuse to accept heaven from a God who could invent hell’. He continues, ‘The God of hell is a divinity to fear but not to love, to dread but not to worship, and it is morally necessary to say that loudly and clearly’. He is emphatic: ‘Hell is an obscenity…. For such a Supreme Being, Mrs Job had the only proper answer: Curse God, and die’ (Crossan 2000:201).

clip_image002[1] Layman: ‘I don’t believe God has condemned the majority of man to hell. Hell in the bible is described as eternal fire, bottomless pit, outer darkness, but for the most part simply as death’.[1]

clip_image002[1] John Stott, the late evangelical scholar, ‘In Evangelical Essentials, I described as “tentative” my suggestion that “eternal punishment” may mean the ultimate annihilation of the wicked rather than their eternal conscious torment. I would prefer to call myself agnostic on this issue, as are a number of New Testament scholars I know. In my view, the biblical teaching is not plain enough to warrant dogmatism. There are awkward texts on both sides of the debate’ (McCloughry 2006).

clip_image002[3] Mormon view: ‘LDS[2] do not believe in Hell as a place. The reason why is that revelation through Latter-Day prophets have revealed that there exists three levels of glory and then Outer Darkness. Hope that helps’.[3]

clip_image002[4] Layman: ‘Personally, I don’t believe in traditional concepts of either heaven or hell. I believe God is in all and all are in God. We are from God, and to God we will return. What this means, whether we are conscious of it, and what it is like, I don’t know. I honestly think that how we live here and now is more important than how we will live in an afterlife. My philosophy is “God has that covered, so I’m gonna focus on being the best me I can be here and now”’.[4]

clip_image002[4] Liberal theologian, the late Paul Tillich: ‘”Heaven” and “hell” are symbols of ultimate meaning and unconditional significance’ (1968 III:327).

So there are samples of doubt about hell among liberal and evangelical people with some association with the Christian perspective on life.

We run into a problem when it comes to understanding ‘hell’, especially if we have been raised on the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible.

The KJV translation of hell

We have a major problem with the King James Version and its translation of various Greek words with the same English word. I was preparing to provide teaching on this to expose the KJV translation weaknesses on this topic when I came across this article by J. Gibbons.

Gibbons has summarised this problem:

ALTHOUGH MANY translations of the Bible have been made into English (some good and some not as good), the King James Version (initially translated in 1611) is still widely used by many people (among them being this writer). When there are possible question marks about words that seem archaic, we try to supply parallel words that would be helpful in getting the meaning across. This term “hell” is one that needs our attention. The KJV scholars used the one word “hell” to represent several different words in the original Scriptures. This can be confusing unless one makes a background study as to which word is behind the word “hell” appearing in our KJV (or check out other translations). Consequently, some have misrepresented the Scriptures and have tried to teach that the grave is the only hell (and that there is no place of fire). What about this? What are the words in the original Scriptures, what do they mean, and why did the KJV translators represent these words by only one word in English? Following are gleanings, impressions and conclusions from our study on this.[5]

Greek words for the KJV’s ‘hell’ in the New Testament

Again, Gibbons provides the summary:

Three Words as “Hell”.

In the New Testament, the KJV translators used the word “hell” somewhat generically to represent three different Greek words. The Greek words are (1) gehenna, (2) hades and (3) tartaros (sic). Gehenna is found 12 times in the New Testament (Matthew 5:22,29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6). Hades is found 11 times (Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13,14) and tartaros (sic) 1 time (2 Peter 2:4).

Gehenna, Hell Proper.

(1) Gehenna had its origin in association with the valley of Hinnom, actually meaning this. In the Old Testament times, when Israel went into idolatry, human sacrifices took place in this valley next to Jerusalem in the worship of Molech as they would “burn their sons and daughters in the fire” (2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chronicles 28:3; Jeremiah 7:31). The valley was looked upon as being polluted and unclean, and in New Testament times was used somewhat as a city dump with continual burning, we understand. It was with that backdrop the term gehenna was adopted and applied to the place of eternal punishment. Such is its coinage and use. This is hell in what the modern usage of the term “hell” conveys.

Hades, The Unseen World.

(2) We are told that Hades, in its etymology, properly means unseen. The basic stem of the word means seen, but it has the little a privative before it, thus making it signify unseen. All behind and beyond the veil of death is unseen. Thus, it is fittingly called Hades. At death the spirit enters into the unseen world of the dead. The word itself does not necessarily specify whether this state is bad or good. By itself it is generic, but it can be more specific, according to the context and other Scripture. Interestingly, in the account of the rich man and Lazarus, it is said that in “hell” (Hades, KJV) the rich man lifted up his eyes being in torment. With his death, Jesus is said to have gone to Hades (Acts 2:27,31). (This is the word behind the KJV’s translation of “hell” here). Jesus had earlier said to the thief on the cross, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Evidently, the story of the rich man and Lazarus unveils the situation as it was (and perhaps is). The good and the bad are partitioned by a great gulf, it would seem, one being in comfort and the other in discomfort. All of this anticipates the Day of Judgment when eternal heaven and hell will begin.

Tartarus, The Abyss.

(3) Tartarus is only referred to in one place in the New Testament, 2 Peter 2:4. It is found in the words “cast them down to hell” (to send into Tartarus). It is the bottomless abyss, the confinement place of the wicked, fallen angels.

The English Word “Hell”

But what is the actual and literal meaning of the English word “hell” used repeatedly in the KJV of the Bible? This may come as a surprise to many, but the English word “hell” back in 1611 meant about the same as hades, that being covered or unseen. The Cyclopedia of Biblical Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (John McClintock and James Strong) that first came out in 1867, says this of the term, “Hell, a term which originally corresponded more exactly to Hades, being derived from the Saxon helan, to cover, and signifying merely the covered, or invisible place—the habitation of those who have gone from the visible terrestrial region to the world of spirits. But it has been so long appropriated in common usage to the place of future punishment for the wicked, that its earlier meaning has been lost sight of.” This does not negate the teaching of a place of future punishment and fire as seen in the word Gehenna and the umbrella word, Hades. It just throws more light on the use of the word “hell” in the King James Version.[6]

I’m grateful for this excellent summary and refer you to Gibbons’ article.

These brief definitions

Here is a brief summary of the meaning of these Greek words.

  • Sheol. OT believers knew that Sheol was visible to God (Job 26:6) and that they were in the presence and protection of God at death (Psalm 139:8).
  • Hades (Morey 1984:81-87). It is the Greek equivalent of Sheol, although it translates other Hebrew words as well. We run into problems with the mistranslation by the KJV of Hades and Sheol. The post-resurrection teaching in the NT is that the believer goes to heaven at death (present with the Lord) to await the resurrection and the final eternal state. But for unbelievers they go to Hades, a temporary place of torment, awaiting their resurrection and the eternal punishment. Regarding 2 Peter 2:9, ‘the grammar of the text irrefutably establishes that the wicked are in torment while they await their final judgment. When the day of judgment arrives, Hades will be emptied of its inhabitants, and the wicked will stand before God for their final sentence (Rev. 20:13-15). Thus, we conclude that Hades will be emptied at the resurrection, and then the wicked will be cast into “hell” (Gehenna)’ (Morey 1984:87).
  • Valley of Hinnom. It is mentioned in Josh 15:8; 18:16 and Neh. 11:30. It was the place where idolatrous Jews gave human sacrifices to pagan deities. In Christ’s day it became Jerusalem’s garbage dump. So, this garbage dump became a Jewish picture of the ultimate fate of idol worshippers (Morey 1984:87).
  • Tartarus. This is used in 2 Peter 2:4 to refer to angels and where they were cast. He was using a word that in Greek literature meant a place of conscious torment in the netherworld. It did not mean non-existence, but referred to their being reserved in the place of mental anguish and terror until the day of judgment (Morey 1984:135).
  • Gehenna. It’s the Greek equivalent of the Valley of Hinnom, so Gehenna is an appropriate description of the final, eternal garbage dump where idolators go after the resurrection. The wicked would suffer there forever. Even Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon concluded that it means ‘the place of eternal punishment’. Coon and Mills define Gehenna as ‘the place of  eternal punishment’. So Gehenna is the final place of punishment, the ultimate place of torment for the wicked. It will be eternal, conscious torment (Morey 1984:87-90).


The Christian believers go to be with the Lord at death, ‘Away from the body and at home with the Lord’ (2 Cor. 5:8 ESV). They await the resurrection and the final state in heaven.

By contrast, all unbelievers at death go to Hades, a temporary place of torment, and await the resurrection, at which time they will be cast by God permanently into Gehenna, the place of eternal, conscious torment.

This is the biblical teaching on hell, in spite of others wanting to change it.

Other articles

See my other articles on this topic:

clip_image004[1] Are there degrees of punishment in hell?

clip_image004[1] What is the nature of death according to the Bible?

clip_image004[1] Hell & Judgment;

clip_image004[2] Should we be punished for our sins?

clip_image004[1] Paul on eternal punishment;

clip_image004[1] Where will unbelievers go at death?

clip_image004[5]Torment in Old Testament hell? The meaning of Sheol in the OT;

clip_image004[6]Eternal torment for unbelievers when they die;

clip_image004[7]Will you be ready when your death comes?

clip_image004[1] What happens at death for believer and unbeliever?

clip_image004[1] Does eternal destruction mean annihilation for unbelievers at death?

clip_image004[10] Refutation of Seventh-Day Adventist doctrine of what happens at death;

clip_image004[11] Near-death experiences are not all light: What about the dark experiences?


Crossan, J D 2000. A long way from Tipperary: A memoir. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

McCloughry, R. 2006, ‘Basic Stott as a precursor to my piece’, Kenyananalyst, 2 May, available at: (Accessed 10 June 2007).

Morey, R A 1984. Death and the afterlife. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Morgan, C & Peterson, R (gen eds) 2007. Hell under fire: Modern scholarship reinvents eternal punishment. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Tillich, P 1968. Systematic theology, 3 vols in 1 vol. Welwyn, Herts: James Nisbet & Co Ltd.


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘Why is hell designed with fire?’ elman #18. Available at: (Accessed 11 October 2012).

[2] LDS = The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints = The Mormon Church.

[3] Christian Forums, Unorthodox Theology, ‘Why do some people think Hell isn’t real? Ran77#2. Available at: (Accessed 11 October 2012).

[4] Christian Forums, Faith groups, Whosoever will may come – liberal, ‘Liberal Hell’, Episcoboi#2. Available at: (Accessed 11 October 2012).

[5] J. Gibbons, ‘”Hell” in the King James Version’, available at: (Accessed 11 October 2012).

[6] Ibid.


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 25 January 2017.

Shouldn’t we be punished for our own sins?

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012



By Spencer D Gear

It is not uncommon to get this kind of interaction in person or on a Christian forum on the Internet:

Question is simple and I will use the Amalekite infants as an example [1 Sam 15:1-35 ESV]. Did they truely (sic) deserve to die considering they were only guilty by association? Granted some of the Amalekites deserved to die, but it seems rather cruel to kill off even the infants who were not responsible for anything. With that in mind, if infants are born with a sinful nature like all humans are, do they deserve to be thrown into hell like the rest of us according to the bible?[1]

Another replied:

The bible is not consistent. Ezekiel 18 indicates we are not responsible for our father’s sin or anyone’s sin but our own. No. Infants are not born guilty of anything and no body is thown (sic) into a place of torture by a loving God. The wages or consequences of sin is death–not life everlasting being tortured.[2]

My response was as follows:[3]

This is nothing more than your opinion. The Bible is very consistent, but our interpretations represent our major problems and your statement here is representative.
Yours is a rather short-sighted view.

Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Brauch address this matter in Hard Sayings of the Bible (1996. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, pp. 177-179). I highly recommend this source as one of the finest in dealing with tough verses in Scripture. They address this issue when responding to,


InterVarsity Press

Deuteronomy 24:16: Should Children Be Punished for Their Parents’ Sins?

The principle governing Israelite courts was that human governments must not impute to children or grandchildren the guilt that their fathers or forebears accumulated. In Scripture each person stands before God as accountable for his or her own sin.

While this principle is acknowledged in Deuteronomy 24:16, there seem to be cases where it was not put in practice. For example, the child born to David and Bathsheba died because of their sin (2 Sam 12:14-18). And Saul’s seven grandchildren were put to death because of Saul’s sin (2 Sam 21:5-9). How are we to reconcile these contradictory sets of facts?

Some will also bring up the fact that the sins of the fathers have an ill effect on the children to the third and fourth generations (Ex 20:5; Deut 5:9). Surely this is a direct contradiction of the principle in Deuteronomy 24:16.

But Deuteronomy 24:16 is dealing with normal criminal law. It explicitly forbids blaming the children for the sin and guilt earned by the parent. If the son deserves the death penalty, the father must not be put to death in his place, or vice versa. This point is repeated in a number of texts, such as 2 Kings 14:6, 2 Chronicles 25:4, Jeremiah 31:30 and Ezekiel 18:20.

The legal principle of dealing with each individual according to individual guilt is one side of the equation. The other side is that God has reserved for himself the right to render all final decisions. Not all situations can, or are, resolved in human courts. Some must await the verdict that God will give.

There is a third element that must be accounted for as well. This notion is difficult for Westerners to appreciate, since we place such a high premium on the individual. But Scripture warns us that there is such a thing as corporate responsibility. None of us functions in complete isolation from the society and neighborhood to which we are attached. Lines of affinity reach beyond our home and church groups to whole communities and eventually to our nation and the world in which we live.

There are three factors involved in communal responsibility in the Old Testament. First is unity. Often the whole group is treated as a single unit. In 1 Samuel 5:10-11, for example, the ark of God came to Ekron of the Philistines. Because the bubonic plague had broken out in the previous Philistine cities where the ark had been taken, the Ekronites cried out, “They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.” The whole group sensed that they would share in the guilt of what their leaders had done in capturing the ark of God.

Second, sometimes a single figure represents the whole group. Rather than someone who embodies the psychology of the group, this is a case of one, such as the suffering Servant of the Lord, standing in for many others.

The third factor is oscillation from the individual to the group, and vice versa. The classic example appears in Joshua 7:11, where the Lord affirms, “Israel has sinned,” even though Achan confesses, “I have sinned” (Josh 7:20).

Each situation must be evaluated to see whether it is a principle of a human court that is involved, a divine prerogative of final judgment or a case of corporate solidarity. We in the West still understand that one traitor can imperil a whole army, but we do not always understand how individual actions carry over into the divine arena or have widespread implications. Scripture works with all three simultaneously.

In the case of David and Bathsheba, it is clear that the loss of the baby was linked to the fact that David committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, though Uriah remained determined to serve David faithfully in battle. This did not involve a human court but was a matter of divine prerogative.

The story about Saul’s seven grandchildren takes us into the area of national guilt. Saul violated a treaty made with the Gibeonites in the name of the Lord (Josh 9:3-15). The whole nation was bound by this treaty made in Joshua’s day. Thus when Saul, as head of the nation, committed this atrocity against the Gibeonites, it was an act against God and an act that involved the whole nation. A divinely initiated famine devastated the land until the demands of justice were met. When David inquired into the reason for the famine, God answered, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death” (2 Sam 21:1).

Saul and his sons had already fallen in the battle at Mount Gilboa, but his household shared in the stigma. Only God knew why the seven grandchildren shared in the guilt; it is not spelled out in the text. Apparently they had had some degree of complicity in the matter. Because only God knew, it was up to God, not a human court, to settle such cases.

As for the commandment that has the sins of the fathers visiting the children to the third and fourth generations, we can only observe that the text clearly teaches that this happens when the children repeat the motivating cause of their parents’ sin—that is, they too hate God. But when the children love God, the effect is lovingkindness for thousands of generations!

Both individual responsibility and group or communal responsibility are taught in Scripture. We must carefully define and distinguish these types of responsibility. But in no case should the principle of courts be to blame children for the wrongful deeds of their forebears. And if God demanded that principle as a basis for fairness in human governments, should we think he would do any less in the running of his own government?

No one will ever be denied eternal life because of what his or her forebears did or did not do. Each will live eternally or suffer everlasting judgment for his or her own actions (Ezek 18). Our standard of what constitutes fairness and justice, after all, is rooted in the character of God himself.

The graciousness of God and his swift move to forgive and to forget every sin that we call upon him to cleanse is seen in Exodus 34:6?7. The theme of these verses is essentially repeated in Numbers 14:18, 2 Chronicles 30:9, Nehemiah 9:17, Psalm 86:15, 103:8, 111:4, 116:5, 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2 and Nahum 1:3.

But God’s grace is balanced by the last part of Exodus 34:7, which warns that “[God] does not leave the guilty unpunished.” The reverse side of the same coin that declares God’s mercy and his love speaks of his justice and righteousness. For the wicked persons who by their actions tend to second their father’s previous motions by continuing to sin boldly against God as their fathers did, with no repentance, this text again warns that the chastisement of God will be felt down to the “third and fourth generation.” However, note carefully that the full formula includes the important qualifier “of those who hate me.” But wherever there is love, the effect is extended to thousands of generations!

In this connection, it is important to note that 2 Samuel 12:14 likewise declares about David’s sin with Bathsheba, “But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.” While it true that David was thoroughly forgiven of his sin of adultery and complicity in murder (see Psalms 32 and 51), there were consequences to his sin that could not be halted, for they followed as inexorably as day follows night. To put it in another way, just because God knows that a mugger will accept him as Savior a number of years after a mugging, God does not, thereby, turn the molecular structure of the bat used in the mugging, and which is now descending on the head of an innocent victim, into limp spaghetti; it leaves permanent damage on the skull of its poor unsuspecting target. The case of David and Bathsheba is similar: the consequences of sin are as real as the creation of a new life that comes out of a sexual affair. This in turn gave occasion for the enemies of God to vaunt themselves and demonstrate even further contempt for God, his people, and their alleged different style of life. It was for this reason that God brought immediate judgment on David: “the son born to [him would] die.”


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘Do infants deserve hell since they are born in a sinful nature?’ Ultima4257 #1, available at: (accessed 22 September 2012).

[2] Ibid., Elman #2.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen #14.


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 29 October 2015.


Whytehouse designs

Paul on eternal punishment

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012



By Spencer D Gear

It is not uncommon to hear statements from uninformed or agenda—promoting ‘Christians’ that the apostle Paul did not preach on eternal punishment or hell? Here are a few examples:

  • ‘It’s an overstatement to say that the christian church has been preaching the doctrine of hell for two millennia. Paul, for one, did not preach it’ (holo).[1]
  • ‘Why not enjoy the true freedom of believing the Scriptures over traditional teaching? Why not follow Paul in a pure Grace Gospel that has no place for, nor need of a religious hell?’[2]
  • ‘This is a very curious thing. Paul, the man specifically commissioned to carry the gospel to the Gentiles, who is universally credited as the most important figure ever to interpret and expound on the gospel, never says a thing about Ghenna or Hades’.[3]

My response to ‘holo’[4]

There is little need for Paul to write on hell as he has given us enough on the “wrath of God’”. The message on hell comes from others, including Jesus. However, what Paul did write on this topic agrees with the Gospels and the Book of Revelation. Pauline verses that demonstrate the wrath of God against unbelievers include:

Romans 1:18;

Ephesians 5:6;

Colossians 3:6.

James Rosscup wrote in ‘Paul’s Concept of Eternal Punishment’,

James E. Rosscup
Professor of Bible Exposition

Paul did not deal in as much detail with eternal punishment as did Jesus in the gospels and John in Revelation, but what he did write matches with their fuller descriptions in many points. This is to be expected because of Paul’s strong commitment to Jesus Christ. In Rom 2:6-10 he wrote about God’s anger in punishing the lost and the anguish they will suffer as a result. In Rom 9:22-23 he spoke of vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, a destruction that consists of an ongoing grief brought on as a consequence of God’s wrath. Second Thess 1:8-9 is a third passage that reflects his teaching on eternal punishment. There eternal destruction represents a different Greek expression, one that depicts a ruin that lost people continue to suffer forever as they are denied opportunity to be with Christ. Paul’s failure to use a number of other words in expressions that could have expressed annihilation of the unsaved is further indication of his harmony with Jesus and John in teaching an unending punishment that the unsaved will consciously experience.

Holo has a presuppositional agenda and he doesn’t want the teaching on eternal punishment to be in the NT. It is there and that’s an embarrassment to him. So what does he do? He attempts to deny that Paul taught it. But he is wrong. Paul supports Jesus in the teaching on eternal punishment.

Holo has four major issues that come out in some of his posts, including these:

(1) He does not know his Bible very well, including the Pauline epistles;

(2) He has a low view of the Scripture when he uses his improper interpretation of the Pauline epistles to arrive at a false conclusion about Paul not teaching on hell.

(3) He engages in a hermeneutic of eisegesis. He imposes his will on the texts instead of letting the texts speak for themselves (exegesis).

(4) We gain a meaning of what happens at death for believers and unbelievers from the totality of Scripture, not only from the Pauline epistles. Even if Paul’s epistles said nothing about eternal punishment or destruction, we don’t need it as it is taught throughout OT and NT, although more specifically in the NT.

Paul on hell

For an excellent chapter on the biblical basis for hell from the Pauline epistles, see Douglas J. Moo, ‘Paul on Hell[5]. His conclusion is:

As we noted at the outset of this essay, Paul never uses the Greek words that are normally translated as “hell,” nor does he teach as explicitly about the concept of hell as do some other New Testament writers. To some extent, then, our purpose has been a negative one: to show that Paul teaches nothing to contradict the picture of hell that emerges more clearly from other portions of the New Testament. But the evidence we do have from Paul suggests that he agrees with that larger New Testament witness in portraying hell as an unending state of punishment and exclusion from the presence of the Lord. Such a fate is entirely “just,” Paul repeatedly stresses (e.g., Rom. 1:18-2:11; 2 Thess. 1:8-9), because human beings have spurned God and merited his wrath and condemnation.

Paul, therefore, presents the judgment that comes on the wicked as the necessary response of a holy and entirely just God. For Paul, the doctrine of hell is a necessary corollary of the divine nature. Negatively, Paul never in his letters explicitly uses hell as a means of stimulating unbelievers to repent. But he does—a sobering consideration!—use it as a warning to believers to stimulate us to respond to the grace of God manifested in our lives (e.g., Rom. 8:12-13).[6]

Other articles

For more of my articles on hell and eternal punishment, see:


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Philosophy & Ethics, ‘Why an eternal hell?’, holo #914, 23 August 2012. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[2] Clyde L. Pilkington Jr 2004-2007, ‘Paul’s teaching on hell’. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[3] ‘Paul, Hell & Universalism’, Running with the Lion, available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[4] OzSpen, #922, 23 August 2012. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[5] This is an updated reference, accessed 15 December 2014. Originally, the reference was, Douglas J Moo, ‘Paul on hell’, in C W Morgan & R A Peterson, R A (eds) 2007. Hell under Fire. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, ch 4. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012). Portions of this book are also available through Google Books.

[6] Moo 2007:109.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 17 April 2018.