The Teaching of Jesus Concerning Hell
R. C. FOSTER
Volume III--Number 1
All Rights Reserved
Cincinnati Bible Seminary
THE MYSTERY OF DEATH
The mystery of what lies beyond the grave is in every age and, soon or later, in every life the object of the most intense interest and reflection. Some may try to avoid consideration of such a subject, but the hard facts of life have a way of thrusting it into the foreground with an irresistible gesture. God has seen to it that the wages of sin is death and the fact of death is so undeniable, so omnipresent, so inescapable that while a person in thoughtless days of youth or in the midst of good health and prosperity may fend off consideration of the future life, the time must inevitably come when he can no longer avoid it. Although some may contemptuously brand such a statement as a trite commonplace, yet death somehow refuses to be a commonplace when it becomes a personal matter. When Adam and Eve were driven forth from the Garden of Eden and from the tree of life, they must have meditated deeply upon all that was to be experienced in that fateful warning: "Thou shalt surely die." As they looked at the crumpled form of Abel lying cold in death, they must have shuddered in anguish and wonder at what this thing called death could mean. Nor has man through all the intervening centuries found it possible to avoid such reflections. The imaginations and speculations of man concerning the future life not only fill all the pagan religions of earth, but even in Christian circles with the divine light of God's revelation in our hands, men are continually tempted to speculate and to straight-way exalt their imagination above the revelation of God.
THE TEACHING OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
The Old Testament does not speak of the future life with the frequency or the clarity that is found in the New Testament. It was the preliminary revelation; God's final word was to be delivered by His Son who in His own Person brought life and immortality to light. If, however, you scratch the surface of the Old Testament at almost any place, you will find that it bleeds and that the very life-blood of the Old Testament is the belief in the life after death and the fact that we must finally face God to answer for our lives here. The cases of translation and resurrection in the 0. T. together with the repeated, direct declarations or implied conclusion that there is a life after death make this fact concerning the teaching of the O. T. indubitable, even though it does contain the record of the struggles with doubt concerning the future life. Of the many shallow positions which the modernists have advanced perhaps none is more flimsy than their effort to show that the 0. T. does not teach the future life.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE THEME
Since the New Testament is God's final revelation and is so much fuller and clearer in its declarations, it is essential that we concentrate our attention upon what is revealed in the New Testament. The deliberate selection of the fate of the wicked in eternity as the subject of study seems so very unpleasant that we may need to remind ourselves that we are sent to preach a Gospel of Salvation and that the very elemental proposition of salvation is that there is something from which we are saved as well as something to which we are saved. If we need to supplement such a conclusion with hard facts of life we will not have to go far to find the results of sin in life and the stark reality of death itself staring at us and warning us of something more terrible than mere physical destruction which lies beyond the grave. Since the subject is so distressing, for this very reason we are tempted to avoid it and should brace against such a betrayal of our commission. In exactly the same measure that those who are defying God's offers of mercy would like to forget about hell, they need to be warned in the same spirit which our Master used-He who knew whereof He spoke.
THOSE WHO AVOID THE TOPIC OF HELL
It is characteristic of man's folly that when he insolently casts aside God's gracious revelation of mercy and salvation and undertakes to concoct "a new gospel" to suit what he conceives to be the desires and needs of people about him, the very first thing which he does is to throw out the proposition of hell or future punishment of the wicked. He undertakes to create a "pleasant message" and he indignantly retorts to objections: "Why should not the gospel be pleasant?" Of course this is natural; this is drifting with the tide and following the course of least resistance. But a gospel that is to have power must be a gospel that deals with facts instead of fancies, and the man who tries to remove hell from the gospel simply shuts his eyes to the facts of the world about him. Man's rebellion and sin against God is not pleasant. That is a fact-an unavoidable, supremely important fact. Man's suffering as a result of his sin in this world is a fact and a very unpleasant one. It cannot be overlooked. A gospel that is to have power or to deserve the title "good news" cannot shut its eyes to the facts, else it is only a cruel delusion. A gospel that is to have power in the presence of death must be a gospel which gives assurance (from God, Himself) of what follows death. Man cannot pierce the veil. Of what value are our guesses? The fundamental question is what has God revealed to us.
RADICALS WHO DENY THE EXISTENCE OF HELL
Confusion has arisen in the minds of many Christians as to the doctrine of hell. This has resulted largely from the modernistic attacks on the teaching of Jesus upon this subject. It is natural that those who ridicule the teaching and claims of Jesus should especially concentrate their opposition upon the proposition of eternal punishment since the continual warnings of Jesus confront them in their hostile attitude. It seems strange that so many preachers should be found in American pulpits who do not believe either in heaven or hell; many of them do not even believe in the existence of a personal God. They preach "a social Gospel" for the reform of society. A questionnaire among all the Protestant preachers in Chicago indicated that fifty percent did not believe in a heaven and that seventy percent did not believe in a hell. The larger percentage of skeptics concerning the latter subject shows again how people like to believe what is pleasant and to disbelieve what is unpleasant. Having surrendered any divine foundation for their convictions, they wander about in a darkened wilderness of their own creation. Since they have shut their eyes to the facts and the proofs of the gospel, they seem blind also to the facts of life about them. It is not surprising with so many blind leaders of the blind in places of leadership in the nation, the darkness of unbelief and misery that accompanies such hopelessness should increase.
SECTS WHICH DENY ETERNAL PUNISHMENT
A further source of confusion on this subject is to be found in two sects which are very active in the dissemination of their views by tracts. The Russelites (followers of Pastor Russel of New York City who was succeeded by Judge Rutherford) have always made the denial of eternal punishment one of the capital points of emphasis in their proclamation. This sect now calls itself "Jehovah's Witnesses"; and they have been much in the news because of their fanatical zeal in propagating their views on the street corners and from house to house. Several decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States were handed down concerning their methods of propaganda by phonograph records, tracts, and solicitation of funds on the streets and from house to house. A great number have been arrested for violating laws and ordinances.
Pastor Russel predicted the end of the world in 1914 and when the first world war broke out, his followers were in a frenzy over the expected fulfillment of their leader's prophecy, but when 1915 rolled around, Pastor Russel had to look for a hole in the fence to crawl through. He then began to claim that Jesus had really come the second time in 1914 only the world did not know it; this, in spite of his printed predictions that the rule of all earthly rulers would cease in 1914, that the end of the world and the second coming would then occur! This phase of their propaganda has continued and rose again to a furor in the midst of the second world war. We are interested, however, in this essay only in the proposition of their widespread circulation of printed matter arguing against the plain New Testament teaching as to the eternal punishment of the wicked. The Seventh Day Adventists also maintain this same idea and advance the same arguments with very intensive use of tracts. It is little short of amazing how many people who once believed the simple New Testament Gospel have allowed themselves to become bewildered and led astray by these tracts. Neither of these sects is modernistic in temper. They argue strongly for the Bible as the Word of God and fill their tracts with appeals for sound doctrine. They claim that this is the very teaching of the Scripture which they are advocating.
The thinking of Christian people on the subject of hell has been caught in the pressure of "pinchers"-a steady pounding of skeptical preachers and writers on the one side and of misguided but well-meaning fanatics on the other. The result has been so extensive among people who do not know the Scripture and do not think very deeply into that which they hear and read, that it is a very appropriate time to examine the New Testament on the question and to focus attention on the subject as to just what does Jesus say and what do the apostles say as to the fate of the wicked in eternity. The general view underlying this double propaganda is that annihilation is the fate of the wicked. Both the modernists and the two sects mentioned above come to approximately the same view on this point, although approaching it from opposite angies and with different arguments for the logic of their conclusion. Modernists who go so far as to deny the existence of heaven and God, completely blot out any sort of future existence for anybody as well for the wicked. The two sects place strong emphasis on prophecies, such as Malachi 4:1-3, which are full of figurative language. "For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. (v.1) . . . And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts" (v.3). One of the best known evangelists of the Seventh Day Adventists carried on an evangelistic campaign in Cincinnati. Over and over again he quoted these two verses from Malachai and then used them to try to destroy the plain teaching of Jesus about hell. The emphasis was upon the statement that the wicked would be burned up like stubble and would be ashes under the feet of the righteous and the argument was advanced continually that while the wicked would be cast into hell they would immediately be annihilated and that the only ones to suffer eternal punishment would be the devil and his angels. Now this reduces the proposition of hell as far as man is concerned (and the Bible was written to guide and warn man-not the devil) to nothing more than death-a second death, but nothing more than death for many people die by burning in this world and if all there is to the repeated warnings of Jesus concerning hell is just death, nothing more than annihilation, just what are we to think of Jesus? What did He actually say about hell? If He did actually declare that there would be an eternal punishment of the wicked in eternity and no such thing as everlasting suffering in hell awaits them, then was Jesus ignorant of the facts? or did He practice a cruel deceit upon the world, predicting something not true? What sort of a Christ is left for those who hold this view?
Those who turn back to read this paragraph from Malachi will notice the highly figurative character of much of the prophecy. Why take the burning just exactly like stubble and the ashes literally, and not take the righteous walking on the ashes literally? And how about the second verse which joins the two? Shall the righteous act exactly like "the calves of the stall" that "gambol"? Is such an interpretation of this passage a sufficient basis for denying the plain teaching of Jesus? Another interesting feature of this propaganda is that the modernists are accustomed to attempt to array the teaching of Jesus against that of the apostles and to argue against the validity of the doctrine in the epistles because it cannot be duplicated in the gospels, or in such sections of the teaching of Jesus as they choose to accept as binding. But in this attempt to deny the existence of hell, reversing the attack, the effort is continually made to array the teaching of the apostles against that of Jesus and to advance the claim that the apostles do not mention or emphasize the existence of hell as does Jesus. Our investigation is to cover the range of these two fields as to just what Jesus says about hell and what the writers of the New Testament have to say about it. When the effort is made to use Paul against Matthew and Luke on the doctrine of the virgin birth on the ground that they carefully record this event and that Paul does not, the question immediately arises as to whether what he does say presupposes and builds upon the doctrine of the virgin birth. The same proposition confronts us in this inquiry concerning the eternal punishment of the wicked. A characteristic argument of this whole group is to affirm that Paul said that he declared the whole counsel of God, yet he never mentioned eternal torment. Are we to conclude that we are to accept what Paul says and reject as false what Jesus says? or to interpret away what Jesus says by the alleged silence of Paul? And is the statement true that in all the epistles the doctrine is not found?
IS HELL A PLACE OR A CONDITION?
A question that is often thrust into the discussion is this: "Is hell a place or a condition?" It is easy to become too specific and too dogmatic about matters concerning which we have no direct knowledge and concerning which the scripture is compelled to use much figurative language because matters so far beyond our present knowledge are being described. But when it is insisted that hell is not a place but only a condition, this carries an implied denial of the survival of personality. In fact those who hold that eternal punishment is only such in its effect and not in its infliction, that hell is not a place but a condition, that the fate of the wicked is simply annihilation, this is a flat denial of the immortality of the soul. All that these can maintain is that the soul is immortable; that there is only conditional immortality. The immortality of the soul has been from the beginning one of the fundamental tenets of Christianity. Is this now to be discarded? The proposition is urged: If hell is a place, where is it located? This, of course, is none of our business. This is God's domain. J. W. McGarvey used to like to quiz some new student about the location of heaven. The student would usually point upward and perhaps defend his location by the ascension of Christ or some such reference. Then McGarvey would gradually get the student to admit that if they both were at the moment in China and the same question and answer given, he would be pointing in exactly the opposite direction for the location of heaven. Then McGarvey would close the discussion by pointing out that God rules the universe and God will provide the place and the fulfillment of His promises in His own wisdom. It is not for us to be disturbed about such matters. The argument of the annihilationists is that since God is omnipresent then there could not be any place in the universe where a wicked person could be absolutely separated from His presence. This is manifestly absurd. The power and presence of God is able to exert itself in the eternal punishment of the wicked as well as the blessedness of the righteous.
"HADES" AND "HELL"
As we open the New Testament to assemble the pertinent passages on the subject of hell, we are immediately met with the striking differences in translation in the King James and the Revised Versions. Many passages which contain the word "hell" in the King James Version are found with the word translated "Hades" in the American Standard Version (ASV). The word "Hades" was coined by changing the Greek letters of the word over into English letters-transliteration instead of translation. This served the double purpose of enabling the translators to discriminate between the Greek words Gehenna ("hell") and Hades; and also to allow freedom in interpreting the word "Hades," which its two meanings require. Hades (Hebrew equivalent is "sheol") means (1) The grave or place of the departed regardless of whether good or bad, blessed or doomed; (2) The intermediate place of punishment where the wicked dead endure punishment such as Jesus described in the case of, the rich man (Luke 16:22ff). A good example of the use of the word with the former meaning is in Acts 2:27: "Because thou wilt not leave my soul unto Hades, Neither wilt thou give thy Holy One to see corruption." The parallelism of Hebrew poetry shows clearly that Hades is used here to mean the grave. The declaration of Jesus on the cross: "This day shalt thou be with me in Paradise," confirms the fact that Jesus was in that part of Hades which is the intermediate place of blessedness for the righteous. The statement "And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20: 14) indicates the temporary character of this section of Hades where the wicked endure punishment. This place is called Tartarus in II Peter 2:4 where this word is used in the verb form; the ASV translates: "For if God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell"; but offers the marginal note: "Greek, 'Tartarus.' " The proposition as to whether Paradise is still in existence and will be the abode of the righteous until the judgment day or ceased to exist at the time of the ascension of Jesus when he led the righteous dead to heaven with Him, has been a moot question among Bible students for many generations.
A further interesting illustration of the change from the translation "hell" to "Hades" is in Matt. 16: 18: "And the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it." The ASV thus transliterated the word exactly and the passage is variously interpreted with the two meanings of Hades (the grave shall not hold Jesus and prevent the founding of the church; or the forces of Satan, typified by Tartarus or that section of Hades where the wicked are, shall not overcome the church).
FIGURATIVE OR LITERAL FIRE?
The casual reader of the two versions might get the conception that hell has been left out of the American Standard Version, but a careful study will show the close discrimination of the revisers only makes more clear and impressive the declarations concerning hell: thirteen times the word hell is found in the New Testament-twelve of these translating the word Gehenna and the passage cited above where it translates the verb "to cast into Tartarus." Gehenna is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew "Valley of Hinnom"-the deep, dark crevice in the mountain just south of the city of Jerusalem where the Canaanites had offered human sacrifice burning their own children alive on the heated brazen image of Moloch and which the Israelites had made the crematory garbage dump of the city where the refuse was cast and kept burning. This is so plainly a figure of speech when Jesus speaks of "Gehenna" or "hell" that we are immediately confronted with the problem of just how much literal or how much figurative content is to be given to the interpretation. There always has been difference of opinion as to whether "the lake of fire" and "the furnace of fire" is to be taken literally, but the conclusion is not to be avoided that the declaration of Jesus must either be taken literally as meaning fire, or be taken figuratively to mean suffering a good deal worse than burning by fire which is the worst physical suffering we know. There is no escape from the conclusion that Jesus is a deceiver if He chose such dreadful language in which to reveal the eternal punishment of the wicked, when that language really has no significance. The proposition as to whether the fire is literal or figurative is an entirely different thing from the denial of the fact of hell and of eternal punishment. Because there are only these thirteen times that the word "hell" is used, does not mean that the evidence is slight. One passage would be enough. One declaration from the lips of Jesus is all-sufficient for any one who accepts Him as the Son of God. Moreover, to number the times the word "hell" occurs in the New Testament does not at all exhaust the weight of evidence on this question. The assertion that Paul does not present the doctrine of eternal punishment is absolutely false: it will not bear the slightest investigation. Both Peter and John present the teaching and the book of Revelation is very specific on the subject.
THE PERTINENT PASSAGES
The first declarations on the subject from Jesus are found in the Sermon on the Mount: The very sermon which the modernists claim to exalt as the basis for religion and morals; and then start to pick to pieces as soon as its teaching is presented! "And whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire" (Matt. 5:22). "And if thy right eye cause thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body be cast into hell" (Matt. 5:29). A similar statement follows in verse 30. "And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28). "It is good for thee to enter into life maimed or halt, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into the eternal fire" (Matt. 18:8); "into the hell of fire" (v.9). The similar passages in Mark 9:43,45,47 and Luke 12:5 are particularly interesting because of the language which Mark quotes from Jesus: "It is good for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (9:47). The passages in Matt. 23:15,33 and James 3:6 do not add any further descriptive phrases to the passages cited above. Of additional importance are passages in which the word hell is not used, but the doctrine of the eternal punishment of the wicked is clearly taught. "But the sons of the kingdom shall be cast into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 8:12). "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 13:41,42;cf. also Matt. 22:13). "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels . . . And these shall go away into eternal punishment; but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt. 25:41,46). "And the rich man also died, and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame . . . for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment" (Luke 16:22-24,28). "These are they who are hidden rocks in your love-feasts when they feast with you, shepherds that without fear feed themselves . . . wandering stars for whom the blackness of darkness hath been reserved forever" (Jude 12,13). "If any man worshippeth the beast and his image, and receiveth a mark on his forehead, or upon his hand, he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is prepared unmixed in the cup of his anger; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and the smoke of their torment goeth up forever 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" (Rev. 14:9-11). "And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death, even the lake of fire. And if any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire." (Rev. 20:14,15). "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Rev. 20:10). "But for the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8).
ARGUMENTS OF THE ANNIHILATIONISTS
Such a number of explicit declarations of the eternal punishment of the wicked should be calculated to convince any one who honors Jesus as the Son of God and who believes the Bible to be the Word of God. Of course, the radicals greet these statements with a loud guffaw. Their very unbelief which is pointedly condemned by Jesus and the New Testament writers, causes them to turn in a fury upon these predictions of eternal torment. The antics of the so-called conservative annihilationists in the face of this evidence is something wonderful to behold. They try to persuade themselves that they are still believers even while denying this fundamental teaching of Christ. They argue that the only passage where eternal torment is explicitly declared is in Rev. 20:10 "They shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever" and they argue that the only ones declared to be thus punished are the devil, the beast and the false prophet. Such a claim is an absolute contradiction of the passages just quoted above where it is continually affirmed that those who make common cause with the devil in this world shall share his fate in eternity. This is from the lips of Jesus in Matt. 25:41. The annihilationists attempt to meet this by saying that the wicked are cast into hell with the devil, but that they are immediately annihilated, whereas the devil suffers on through eternity. This is a curious imagination which contradicts many of the passages quoted above. Read again the passage from Rev. 14:9-11 where it is declared in the most explicit language possible that those who serve the devil are to be "tormented with fire and brimstone; and the smoke of their torment goeth up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day and night." The language has such figurative coloring that we need to beware dogmatic declarations as to the exact nature of the punishment, but the fundamental fact of eternal punishment of the wicked is so clearly taught that it is hard to see how anybody could possibly persuade himself he can deny this doctrine and yet be a believer. "Their torment" goes on for ever and ever. The annihilationists cannot even find an exit from their dilemma by affirming that the smoke of their torment goeth up for ever and ever from the ashes which once were the wicked for the very next words dedare: "they have no rest day and night"-"they" means they are still in existence; they have not been annihilated; they still can experience and realize no rest.
CASE OF THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS
The case of the rich man and Lazarus is one of the clearest passages, even though the punishment the rich man suffered was in Hades and only a beginning of the final punishment in hell. The annihilationists try to meet this by saying: "A parable!" Just as they try to say concerning the quotations just analyzed: "The Book of Revelation!" Does the Book of Revelation teach falsehood instead of truth because it has much figurative language? Did Jesus not teach the actual truth when He used parables to make clear His meaning? Who says this is a parable? Jesus does not. In no parable recorded do we have the name of a person given as the name of Lazarus is given in this discussion of the fate of the rich man and Lazarus. If the wicked are not punished in eternity then Jesus was guilty of the most pernicious deceit in so representing the fate of the rich man. Here enters a twisted pervert of an argument by the annihilationists who say this was Hades and not Hell, and the wicked who die before the final judgment suffer such punishment, but the wicked alive at the second coming of Christ are immediately annihilated in hell along with the wicked who have been suffering in Hades. And they talk of justice and humane arrangements in this new program they arrange for the Lord on the judgment day! A person then is to be punished after death if he happens to have been born early in the history of the race, but not so if he entered life late in the existence of the world! And good Christian people to the right and left are being deceived by silly propaganda like this! This supposition of the annihilationists turns upside down the declaration of Jesus: "It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee" (Matt. 10:24). This certainly indicates degrees of punishment in hell, but the reason that the fate of Capernaum is to be worse even than that of Sodom is not on the caprice of time of birth, but on the justice of judging each man according to his opportunities. Much will be required of him to whom much has been given; great will the punishment be of those who have scorned the greatest of God's gifts.
A DECISIVE DECLARATION OF JESUS
One of the most powerful declarations of Jesus closes the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew: "And these shall go away into eternal punishment; but the righteous into eternal life." He had just declared in verse 41 that the wicked were to be cast "into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Again the cry "Parable!" is raised, but Jesus does not say that it is a parable. And if the reality of eternal punishment and its eternal character is to be denied, then the reality and the eternality of the life in heaven must be denied; the two are coupled together and exactly the same Greek word is used to describe the unending character of life for the blessed, as punishment for the wicked. Objection is made that in this picture of the judgment Jesus does not outline the plan of salvation, but it is quite plain that Jesus could not have declared at that time the full Gospel of redemption through His death and resurrection. It would not have been understood. Moreover, the fact is that Jesus represents Himself as the Judge of the universe in this passage and that the righteous and wicked are judged upon the fundamental basis of their attitude toward Him (service to one of the least has been service to Him and implies the gospel of redemption by Jesus). Some have even tried to suggest that this passage does not represent the end of the world and the judgment day, but some preceding judgment upon "nations." This is most absurd for not nations, but individuals, are blamed or praised, punished or rewarded in the scene. It is also a flat contradiction of the opening verses: "But when the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then shall He sit on the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all the nations: and he shall separate them one from another" (Vv. 31,32). We do not read of two comings of Christ at the end of time; but one great coming on the clouds of heaven, even as He ascended, and the judgment of all the world.
MEANING OF "KOLASIS"
The only other resort to escape from the plain teaching of the above passage is to operate on the Greek word translated "punishment" and try to show that kolasin means not punishment, but death-annihilation-and that it is eternal in its effect; therefore, that hell is a condition and not a place; and punishment eternal in its effect, but not its infliction. Unfortunately for this argument the Greek verb koladzo is the word constantly employed by classical Greek writers like Xenophon for punish or chastise. The verb means prune or cut off in some passages, but it is not the word used of putting persons to death, but of punishing them. Eternal punishment is described as a second death, but it is an entirely different thing from mere physical death as we know it in this world; it is an unending, eternal death of punishment.
BARNES' DISCUSSION OF THE WORD
In commenting on Matt. 25:41, Barnes says: "The main truth intended to be taught refers not to the manner of punishment, but to the certainty and intensity of it. All the truth that Christ intended to convey appears to be expressed in the certainty, intensity, and eternity of future torment." Commenting on the Greek word kolasin in 25:46 he remarks: "The original word here translated punishment means torment, or suffering inflicted for crime. The word is used but in one other place in the New Testament-I John 4:18: "Fear hath torment." The verb from which the noun is derived is twice used-Acts 4:21, II Peter 2:9. In all these places it denotes anguish, suffering, punishment. It does not mean simply a state or condition, but absolute, positive suffering; and if this word does not teach it, no word could express the idea that the wicked would suffer. It has been contended that the sufferings of the wicked will not be eternal or without end. The literal meaning of the word (aionion) expresses absolute eternality-always being. The word used here is the same in the original as that used to express the eternal life of the righteous." Barnes is one of the older commentators, but this does not alter the force of his citations of the use of the Greek words. It rather indicates that this attack on the doctrine of hell which is being exploited as "A new idea" and "a new discovery of truth," etc., is really only another very ancient heresy which can be traced far back in the history of the church.
Turning from older commentators to one more recent, The International Critical Commentary on Mark by Gould, we find some interesting comments on Mark 9:48: "Into hell; where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." Gould tends strongly to modernism, although there are some remarkably conservative passages in the book. He is not enough of a skeptic to deny the existence of hell or the reality of eternal punishment. He does attempt to argue that Jesus predicts natural rather than imposed penalties, but agrees it is actual eternal punishment. "Of course, it is the soul that undergoes punishment, and the punishment consists in the forces that prey upon it and destroy it. o skoleks auton-their worm; the worm, i.e. that preys upon the inhabitants of this dread realm. It is the permanence of the retribution that is expressed in these material figures. This is characteristic of natural penalties as distinguished from imposed penalties. Whippings and imprisonments are subject to limitations of time, but the wounds inflicted on the man himself by his sins, the degradation and deterioration of his being, having no such limitation. The worm that gnaws, and the fire that burns inwardly have no limits. They propagate themselves." Thus while Gould attempts to affirm natural rather than positive penalties, he does affirm eternal punishment. His assertion that positive punishment necessarily is limited by time, needs examination.
Natural punishments are those arising inherently out of the wicked lives of the lost: privation of eternal happiness; the evil fruits of sin in the very character of the person; propensities to sin and evil passions now in full bloom, but unsatisfied and unsatisfiable; the company of the base and vile. James Barrie has the atheist, Cruickshanks, say, as he incites the elder of the church to revolt against the Little Minister, that it will be better playing cards in hell than singing psalms in heaven; to which Gavin Dishart grimly replies that there will be no card playing in hell. In other words, Dishart was turning into ready repartee the warning of Rev. 14:11: "The smoke of their torment goeth up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day and night."
NATURAL AND POSITIVE PUNISHMENT
Gould's assertion that positive punishments are limited by time is a pure dogmatism and without support in the scripture. The imagery which is constantly used in the New Testament certainly suggests positive punishment rather than natural, although the exact nature of what is meant by fire, the furnace of fire, the lake of fire, and brimstone, we cannot now discern. There is some suggestion of natural punishment in the case of the rich man enduring the torments of Hades: "Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivest thy good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things: but now here he is comforted and thou art in anguish . . . I have five brethren . . . lest they also come into this place of torment" (Luke 16:25,27). Memory will be retained as indeed the very survival of personality compels. Since conscience will be rectified, memory and conscience will light the fierce fires that burn within the soul. If this is true of that which is experienced in Hades before the judgment, how much more after God publicly justifies before all His judgment upon all.
PAUL'S TEACHING CONCERNING HELL
The question as to whether Paul presents the doctrine of eternal punishment should be settled by the citation of such a tremendous declaration as is found in II Thess. 1:6-9: "If so be that it is a righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict, and to you that are afflicted with the rest of us, at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might." Instead of praying for the vengeance of God upon those brutal, godless men who persecute and destroy the innocent Christians, Paul calmly says that such judgment is in the hands of God: it is for God to decide if it be a righteous thing to afflict those who afflict the righteous. Then he issues the fearful warning that as sure as there is a God there is to be a judgment day and that men will have to answer for their lives. In that day when Christ shall come, it will be with terrifying power and the wicked "shall suffer punishment, even everlasting destruction." The annihilationists try to evade this passage by claiming that the Greek word used here for "destruction" (olethros) really means the extinction of life. Upon this point McKnight says: "Everlasting destruction (olethros) properly signifies that extinction of the animal life which is called death; but is nowhere used to denote the extinction of the thinking principle. When, therefore, the wicked are said to be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, it cannot from that expression be certainly inferred that they are to be annihilated; but they are to lose the animal life, which some of them possessed who were alive on the earth at Christ's coming to judgment, and which the rest regained by the resurrection of their body, in order that they might be judged and punished in the body."
MEANING OF "OLETHROS"
This word olethros is a very interesting word. Liddel and Scott give the meanings as "ruin, destruction, death." Notice they do not list "annihilation" as even a possible meaning. They also give its use "as a curse"; such as, "ruin seize thee." "Loss" is given as one meaning: "by loss of money." Most important is their rendering with classical citations in proof: 'that which causes destruction, a pest, plague, curse." Now if ever a word was fitted to convey the terrible import which hell contains, this word otethros which Paul uses is that word. The first light which comes upon the meaning of a word comes out of the very context in which it is used. Notice the words associated with it in the above passage: "affliction"; "flaming fire"; "vengeance"; "punishment"; eternal destruction." The second source of light comes from the use of the word in other passages by the same author or by other authors in the Bible. Paul uses the word in the following passages: 'to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus' (I Cor. 5:5). The Church at Corinth was commanded to withdraw fellowship publicly from the member guilty of the horrible sin of incest. They were to deliver him publicly over to the Devil-not to annihilate the man-but in order that the continual suffering which resulted might lead him to repent, the spirit triumphing over the flesh which had been "destroyed" in the sense of affliction. Discussing the fate of the wicked at the second coming of Jesus, Paul says in I Thess. 5:3: "When they are saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction (olethros) cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall in no wise escape." The figure which he uses does not suggest annihilation at all, but agony of suffering. Again Paul uses the word in I Tim. 6:9: "But they that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction (olethros) and perdition." The verb rendered drown is buthidzo-"to cause to sink." The lust for earthly treasures causes men to sink into everlasting punishment. Again the use of the word fits the whole teaching of the New Testament.
A further source of help in determining the shades of meaning in a word is the use which is given to the word in classical writers. This may not help for the New Testament writers sometimes give a word a meaning which is peculiar, or one writer in the New Testament may give a particular shade of meaning to a word. But if the meaning given throughout the New Testament is the same meaning which the classical writers of Greek give, then the evidence is simply overwhelming.
One of the most famous writers of Greek drama was Sophocles and perhaps the most famous of his tragedies is Oedipus Rex. So famous is it that the very word Oedipus has worked its way into English. The story is horrible in its details. An ancient king of Greece attempts to defy the gods and reject the warnings of the oracle; he is so confident of his own wisdom and might that he feels he can disregard all else. But he finds himself caught in a terrible maelstrom of events; everything he does turns into dreadful tragedy; every way he turns he finds himself sinking deeper into mire and misery; those associated with him suffer from the contact. A group of famous American scholars held one of those fascinating round-table, impromptu discussions over the radio concerning this drama. The focal point of their discussion was this: Why did not Sophocles have Oedipus commit suicide in the fearful denouement of the play? Why did he have Oedipus blind himself instead, putting out his own eyes? A variety of views was uncovered, but general agreement resulted on the main question: Oedipus had been so arrogant, so self-sufficient, so sure he did not need the help of the gods; it was therefore particularly fitting that as everything collapsed in his little world, he should have put out his own eyes. The scholars all agreed that the punishment and the suffering was much more terrible by having to live on, blind, and helpless, in the midst of the moral muck and mire which he had entered, than it would have been to have simply committed suicide and ended it all.
In the light of our discussion of eternal punishment, it is of startling importance to find that Oedipus in his agony cries out "I am the great otethros" ("ton me gan otehtron"). In other words, Oedipus is not saying that he is the great annihilation, but he is the supreme example of endless suffering. Out of the midst of one of the most famous of all Greek dramas comes powerful evidence as to the meaning which this word carried and it fits perfectly with the use that Paul gives and is in harmony with the entire New Testament teaching.
MEANING OF "APOLEIA"
Exactly the same conclusion confronts one in the study of the other important Greek word "apoleia." Paul speaks of "the son of perdition" (I Thess. 2:3); the beast is "to go into perdition" (Rev. 17:8,11). The verb from which the noun arises is appotumi and means "to destroy, to bring to nought, to put to death, to lose"; in the middle and passive-"to perish, to die, to be lost." Sufficent for our discussion is the citation of the fact that this is the word which in both verb and noun forms is repeatedly used in Luke 15 describing the lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost boy. In none of these cases was the object, the animal, or the boy annihilated-they were lost. When the adjective everlasting is attached to the word "lost," then again we come to the doctrine of hell.
THE LOVE OF GOD
Certainly no man can find any pleasure in the discussion of such a theme; at least, a Christian cannot. We know that God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. He desires so greatly that all should come to repentance that He endured the agony of death itself in the person of His Son, sent to warn, and to die to save lost men. And God has given us the most repeated and the most solemn warnings of the terrible fate that awaits those who defy Him. No friend of man is he who muddies the stream of revelation with vain, human speculations. No true humanity can rule the heart of him who, contradicting God's truth and the horrible facts that await, attempts to assure his fellows that there is no such place as hell and no such thing as everlasting punishment. Love of God and man should lead us to shout from the housetops, as our blessed Master commanded, the warning of the awful fate of those who defy God. As we warn, we have God's own gracious invitation to plead that men and women lost in the darkness of earth may yet find their way to the heavenly home whence gleams the beckoning, eternal light of God.
Scanned: Michael Riggs
Edited: Shelley Wozniak