12 Reasons why Hell is not eternal conscious torment
When an unsaved sinner dies he will at some later date be raised from the dead by God and face the Judgment. He will then be condemned and cast into Gehenna Hell. He will be punished with either many stripes or few depending on the life he lived. After he has been punished for all his sins he will experience a second death in which his entire self, body and soul, will be totally destroyed and annihilated without any possibility of future resurrection. That is eternal death.
Many people believe that instead of being annihilated the sinner will be tortured forever by God. Here are eleven reasons why Hell is not eternal conscious torment…
1. Hell is not eternal conscious torment because the Bible consistently states that the punishment for sin is to perish or to be destroyed or to experience death. John 3:16 says that whoever believes in Christ “shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Matthew 10:28 says to fear God “who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.” Romans 3:23 says “for the wages of sin is death.” If my soul perishes and if my soul is destroyed and if my soul experiences death then I am not going to continue forever in misery in hell.
2. Hell in not eternal conscious torment because the Apostle Paul told the people in the 1st century that the wages of sin is death and in the 1st century the word death did not mean eternal torment… it simply meant death. In the literature of the day death just meant death. The greek word for death is Thanatos and it was used to mean death plain and simple. Also to perish and to be destroyed simply meant to perish and to be destroyed. When Paul told the Romans that the wages of sin is death was he trying to confuse them? Paul knew that the Roman people had always used the word Thanatos to simply mean death. Knowing that Paul told them that the wages of sin is Thanatos (death). Why would he do that if he wanted them to understand that the wages of sin is eternal conscious torture? As serious as this issue is, why would Paul not choose a word that they would understand? He did. He chose death because the Romans knew what the word death meant. Again, the word death did not mean to be separated from God as some say. It is certainly true that if my soul is destroyed in hell that I will be separated from God. However the word Thanatos does not mean to be separated. That is a later invention of some church teachers. To perish doesn’t mean to be separated either. Neither does destroyed.
3. Hell is not eternal conscious torment because the word death cannot mean an eternal existence where you cannot die, and perish cannot mean existing forever and not being able to perish and destroyed cannot mean living forever in misery without ever being destroyed. This is ridiculous double-talk.
4. Hell is not eternal conscious torment because when Jesus speaks of Hell he never says that sinners will be tormented forever. Surprised? Jesus teaches that the fire into which the sinner is cast cannot ever be put out or quenched. He doesn’t want us to believe that if we get cast into the fire of hell that we will escape death by putting out the fire… so he tells us that the fire cannot be quenched. He never says that the sinner cannot die. Notice Mark 9:43 “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:” If the fire cannot ever be quenched then no one who is cast into it can survive. That is Jesus’ point. Jesus never says that the sinner cannot be destroyed. He only says that the fire cannot be quenched. In fact in Matthew 10:28 he specifically says that God is able to destroy both the body and the soul in hell.
5. Hell is not eternal conscious torment because only believers in Jesus are given immortality. If you aren’t a Christian your soul is mortal and, thus, when you are cast into hell your soul will die. I bet you have been taught that the soul is immortal and, therefore, must live forever either in heaven or hell. The greek philosophers taught that the the soul is immortal but the Bible never teaches such a thing. Only God is naturally immortal. 1st Timothy 6:16 says God “alone has immortality.” God naturally has immortality. We humans are mortal beings but we can get immortality as a gift from God if we become believers in Christ. If we naturally have immortal souls then why does Paul say that we are seeking for immortality? Romans 2:7 says that God will grant eternal life to those who seek for immortality. Now why does a person seek for immortality if that person already has an immortal soul? It is only through Christ and the Gospel that immortality is possible. 2nd Timothy 1:10 plainly states that very thing. It says that Jesus Christ, “has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel..” So only God is immortal but life and immortality come through the Gospel to those who believe. If you don’t get saved you don’t get immortality. Without immortality when you get thrown into hell your soul will be destroyed.
6. Hell is not eternal conscious torment because in the story of the rich man and Lazarus the rich man is not cast into hell, rather, he is in Hades and hades is not eternal. The greek word is not gehenna which represents hell. The greek word is Hades which is the temporary place of the dead. The rich man was tormented in Hades but it is never said that he was there forever. In fact, no length of time whatsoever is mentioned. Also the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable. Parables are not to be taken literally. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus was told for many years before Christ was even born by the Jewish rabbis. Jesus put a new twist on the story though, because the Jews were in the habit of saying that the poor man went to Hades and the rich man went to paradise. Jesus flipped the story around and had the poor man go to paradise and the rich man go to Hades. Jesus wanted to show that the rich lawyers and Pharisees were the ones who were in danger instead of the poor followers of Christ. That was the point of the parable.
7. Hell is not eternal conscious torment because the Old Testament consistently teaches that the wicked will be destroyed and utterly done away with. Surprised? The Old Testament teaches over and over that the sinner shall perish, that he shall be cut down like the grass, that he shall be destroyed, that he shall be cut off, that he will be no more so that he cannot be found, that he will vanish like smoke, that he shall be torn to pieces… etc, etc. Psalm 145 is typical, “… The Lord watches over all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy.” From the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were told that if they ate of the forbidden fruit they would surely die. Moses taught Israel that “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” That is the consistent teaching of the Old Covenant.
8. Hell is not eternal conscious torment because it would be hard to imagine that God in His love and mercy would have the entire Old Testament world believe that the wages of sin is death and that the soul that sinneth it shall die… and then after their physical death to tell them on judgement day, “Guess what? I know I never warned you about this but what I really meant when I said that the sinner would die and be destroyed was that you are going to be tortured in fire for eternity and not be able to die or be destroyed.” God is not so cruel as to mislead all of the world for thousands of years over something as serious as that. Instead, He told them even from the Garden of Eden that the penalty for eating the forbidden fruit would be that they would die. If it was really plain that to die actually meant eternal torture then why did the concept of eternal torture not arrive among the Jews until almost New Testament times. It is not until the Apocryphal book of Judith in the intertestamental times that eternal torture is clearly mentioned for the first time. Besides the Apocrypha is not inspired scripture.
9. Hell is not eternal conscious torment because the one time that the Old Testament does teach that sinners will be resurrected to be judged, it doesn’t say that they will live forever in conscious suffering. Now it is true that the sinner will be awakened from the dust of the earth to be judged. It is also true that the sinner will feel shame until his soul is destroyed. It is also true that saints in heaven will have contempt for sinners for all eternity. We do not doubt any of this. In Daniel 12:2 it says, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Now notice that this verse does not say that the wicked will awake to everlasting shame and contempt, but rather that they will awake to shame and everlasting contempt. The shame is not said to be everlasting but the contempt is. Before Hitler died he had a few days of shame and now he has everlasting contempt. That is possible. Since he died it isn’t possible for him to have everlasting shame as well as contempt because you have to be alive to experience shame. A person doesn’t have to be alive to be the subject of contempt. Contempt comes from others toward a person… the wicked person does not have contempt for himself. However, shame must be experienced by the person himself. So the wicked will awake from the dust to experience shame and then they will be destroyed and be the subject of everlasting contempt. Now if the book of Daniel would have said that the wicked will awake to everlasting shame and contempt then the concept of everlasting conscious torment would be proven. But it doesn’t say that. The wicked will have shame. Then they will be destroyed. Then they will have everlasting contempt from others. So the wages of sin is the death of the soul. But before the soul dies it will experience shame and torment. Then it will die. But the wicked as a group will always be the subject of everlasting contempt. So this verse cannot be used by anyone to say that the wicked will have eternal existence.
10. Hell is not eternal conscious torment because if the wages of sin is death then it makes perfect sense that Christ had to die to pay for our sins. If, however, the wages of sin is living forever in fire, then Christ did not pay the penalty for our sin because He certainly did not burn and suffer for eternity in fire. It makes no sense to say that the penalty for man’s sin is to burn for eternity in fire and Jesus paid that penalty by being nailed to a cross and dying. Those are two completely different punishments. This is a very, very serious theological problem for believers in eternal torment. Now in order to try and explain this away some have said that since Christ is so important and worthy… for Him to suffer even a short while is worth as much as if a regular man had to suffer for eternity. That is like saying that if I am caught robbing a bank and am sentenced to 75 years in prison someone else can pay my penalty, and if he is a regular person the penalty for him will be 75 years… but if the Governor wants to pay my penalty, since he is such an important person, the penalty will be changed to a much lesser penalty. The penalty for someone as important as the Governor will be to stand in the corner for 5 minutes. Imagine that I owe a penalty of 75 years in prison and the Governor stands in the corner for 5 minutes and then says, “There! I have paid the penalty you owe!!! You may now go free.” That is utter foolishness. Adam and Eve were told the the penalty for sin would be death and ever since then we were told the same thing. So when Jesus came he became a man (a regular person) so that He could take our penalty. Jesus agreed to take our penalty…not a different one! The wages of sin is death! Now if you want to believe that Jesus paid a different penalty than the one man owed because He is so worthy he doesn’t have to pay the same penalty we do, you can do that, but just realize that that is a very different gospel than what we find in the Bible. The Gospel teaches that humans owed a penalty for sin and God became one of us so that He could pay our penalty. The Gospel is not that humans owed a penalty but God is so important that he paid a different one. Try preaching that and see how far it gets you!
11. Hell is not eternal conscious torment because if we say that it is we are breaking the rules of Biblical Hermenutics. Hermenutics are the principles of interpretation. One of the most important principles of Biblical interpretation is that literal passages should be interpreted literally and figurative passages should be interpreted figuratively. The Poetry in the book of Pslams should not be taken literally and the Epistles of the New Testament should not be thought of as just being figurative poetry. Now in the literal sections of scripture such as Romans we find the Apostle Paul teaching that “the wages of sin is death.” In other literal sections like the book of John we hear Jesus saying that whoever believes in Him will not perish. In other literal sections we hear Jesus say that we should fear God because He is able to destroy the soul. In the figurative and highly symbolic passages like the book of Revelation the Apostle John says that the Devil will be cast into the lake of fire with the beast and the false Prophet and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. It is really ironic that many people say that we must take the words from the literal sections of scripture figuratively and we must take the figurative sections of scripture literally. For instance, they say that when Paul said that the wages of sin is death, even though the book of Romans is a literal section of scripture, we must take the word death figuratively. Death, they say, doesn’t really literally mean death it really means to be separated from God in torment for eternity in a place where you can never die. In other words death should be taken to have the opposite meaning of it’s literal meaning. Also, even though the word perish is found in a very literal section of Scripture, namely, the book of John, we are to take it figuratively to mean to suffer forever in a place where you can never actually perish. And again, in a very literal section Jesus tells us plainly that God is able to destroy body and soul. Nevertheless, we are told to take that figuratively to mean that the soul will suffer forever in a place that it can never be destroyed!
However, when we come to the book of Revelation, which is Apocalyptic literature and is highly figurative and symbolic we are told that we must take it totally literally when John sets forth a terrible picture of the beast and false prophet and the Devil being tormented day and night forever and ever. Let me ask you a question. Does it seem right to insist on taking the words from literal passages figuratively so that you can take the figurative passage literally? You want to take the figurative passage from Revelation literally but the words like death and perish and destroy from the literal passages are a problem. So you say that those words from those literal passages should be taken figuratively. How foolish and how totally improper from the standpoint of Biblical hermenutics. Stop taking literal passages figuratively so that you can take the figurative passages literally. This is totally wrong.
Besides all of that the beast and the false prophet and the Devil are not human. The devil is a fallen angel. If you want to take the beast and false Prophet literally, which I don’t suggest, the beast and the false prophets are the demons that possess the emperor Nero and the High Priest. I know this because the beast and false Prophet are not born of woman. Revelation 11:7 says, “the beast that ascends out of the bottomless pit will make war with them and overcome them…” The Devil isn’t human and the beast comes out of the bottomless pit. Now actually the beast isn’t Nero. It is Rome headed by Nero. That is why the beast has seven heads and ten horns and on it’s horns ten crowns. The beast actually represents Rome and the False prophet represents the apostate Jewish religion. John is encouraging Christians in the Apocalyptic, figurative language of the book of Revelation that Rome and apostate religion will be utterly defeated and Christ will have the victory! The only passage in the entire Bible which speaks of creatures being tormented forever is from a symbolic apocalyptic book which uses extreme figurative language to convey concepts about Christ overcoming his enemies. Don’t take that figurative language so literally that you have to take the literal passages of scripture figuratively in order to make them fit.
Now conservatives, when dealing with most doctrines, know to take figurative passages figuratively and literal passages literally. But when it comes to the doctrine of hell they have a problem when they do that. Therefore they become totally inconsistent and reverse the process. When it comes to hell they take literal passages that talk of death and tell us that we must take death figuratively to mean eternal suffering in a place where death is impossible. When it comes to figurative passages like the book of revelation that give us symbols of beasts and creatures being tormented forever they say we must take them literally to mean that people will be tortured eternally. Why are conservative teachers so inconsistent in their hermenutics? The answer: Because they have to be. Otherwise their entire system comes crashing down.
12. Hell is not eternal conscious torment because when Jesus had the opportunity to say that it was… He chose not to! Allow me to explain…
Hell is a punishment…it is the suffering and death of the sinner both body and soul. Also it is an eternal punishment because the death of the soul is a permanent death. When a man dies here on earth that is only a temporary hardship due to the fact that God is going to raise him up at the resurrection. Death here on earth is just a temporary punishment. However, the suffering and eventual death of the sinner in hell is an eternal punishment because the sinner will never be resurrected, and thus, can never have life. The wages of sin is death and death is an eternal punishment since you are going to remain dead forever.
Now since hell is an eternal punishment it is not surprising that Jesus referred to it as precisely that. In Matthew 25:46 when speaking of the judgment day Jesus said… these shall go away to eternal punishment but the righteous to eternal life. Unsaved sinners will receive the eternal punishment of permanent death. And so we are not surprised whatsoever to see Jesus calling hell eternal punishment.
Now many people say that hell is eternal torment. If that is true why didn’t Jesus take the opportunity here in this passage in Matthew to say so? Why didn’t Jesus say that these shall go away into eternal torment but the righteous into eternal life? He could have done that if He had wanted to because there is a Greek word that means precisely that. The Greek word for torment is Basanizo. So if Jesus had wanted to, He could have used the word Basanizo and made it plain that hell is eternal torment. However, He chose not to. Why? Did Jesus forget that that particular word was available? Or is Jesus trying to muddy the waters on this point in theology? Is He trying to be vauge so that He can confuse us? No. Not at all. Jesus chose the Greek word kolasis which means punishment because hell truly is eternal punishment because it is the permanent death and annihilation of the soul. I have enough faith in Christ to believe that if He wanted to say that hell is eternal torment He knew enough about the Greek language to choose the correct word. So for those of you who believe that hell is eternal torment let me ask you a question. Are you disappointed in Jesus for missing the perfect opportunity to support your doctrinal viewpoint? Now it is true that in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus the rich man was in torment. However, in that case we are never told that the torment was eternal. Besides, we have seen previously that man is mortal not immortal, and God is able to destroy the soul in hell. So if God destroys the soul and the soul is mortal then torment cannot be eternal. The punishment of death is eternal however.
Now some people say that eternal death isn’t a punishment if you suffer and then are eventually annihilated and remain dead for eternity because you have to be conscious to be punished. We have two things to say about that. First, How would you react if you were arrested today and sentenced to death by hanging? Would you feel like you were being punished? To have to suffer and hang by the neck and then to give up your life is a terrible punishment even if it is true that after you are dead you are unconscious. And it is an even worse punishment if you are young. If you are only 19 years old you are being deprived of 50 or 60 years of life. How awful. Now hell is even more awful because your soul suffers and dies and you are deprived of eternal life in heaven where you could have been with loved ones and family and friends. Second, you are conscious until all of the sins you committed on earth are paid for. In Luke 12:47 we read, “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48 But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few.” Before the sinner’s soul is destroyed he will be beaten with many stripes or few depending on how many sins he committed. Now that is a terrible punishment. To be beaten and then die is a terrible punishment even if it is true that after you are dead you will not know anything else. So it isn’t true to say that eternal death isn’t a punishment since after you are dead you are unconscious
Now notice that some people will be beaten with many stripes and some few. But either way it is a limited number. No one is beaten with infinite stripes. The sinner will suffer just exactly the correct number which the sins he committed deserve and then he will cease to exist. God is just. He remembers exactly how many sins a sinner has committed and exactly how bad they are and he will deliver just the right amount of stripes. He will not give more than is deserved and He will not give less than is deserved. God is not so unjust as to give infinite stripes to all the unsaved regardless of how they lived. Yet that is what many accuse him of. Don’t be guilty of doing that.
Now this is just a parable but the point of the parable is that the punishment to be given in hell differs in quantity. This is not a question about quality. All receive stripes. The difference isn’t that some stripes are hard and some are soft. The difference isn’t quality. The difference is quantity. The difference is that some receive many and some receive few. Some will suffer consciously for a long time and some for just a little time. Once the exact number that is deserved has been administered there will be no more. But according to some people the quantity of stripes is unlimited. God will give infinite lashes and stripes. He will continue lashing forever. That is the view of most Christians but that is not the teaching of Jesus Christ.
So hell is not eternal torment because Jesus never said that it was. It is, however an eternal punishment because God will destroy the soul and will never resurrect it.
Now in conclusion, I realize that the idea that hell is eternal torment is a doctrine that many Christians hold dear. I’m not sure why. Perhaps they feel that they have had to make a lot of sacrifices for Jesus and so those who haven’t should have to suffer forever. Like Jonah they are not wanting salvation for their enemies and they want to make sure they suffer to the uttermost. Let’s hope this is never our attitude.
Thanks for reading this article….. Brother John.