The Watchtower Gospel (Part II):
Hell and Punishment
Ronald D. Howes
Eagle River, Alaska
Deep within the framework of Jehovah's Witness belief is an unreasonable and unrelenting opposition to the idea that God will punish the wicked eternally. This drives them to wrest the scriptures beyond our wildest imagination.
". . . when Jesus said that persons would be thrown into Gehenna for their bad deeds, what did he mean? Not that they would be tormented forever." (Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, p. 44)
A. . . The heartwarming prospect is that then hell, man kinds' common grave, will be emptied of its unconscious dead. Some receive a resurrection to heavenly glory as spirit creatures . . . . the vast majority of mankind will be brought back to enjoy life on a restored earthly paradise." (op. cit., p. 45).
There are two separate parts to this problem which must be exposed. First, this is how they will present it to you, "Is it reasonable to suppose that God would go to all the trouble of making this a paradise for Adam and Eve, just to burn it up the last day?" And secondly, does the Bible bear out the idea that God will torment the wicked dead? The first problem works like this. "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever" (Eccl. 1:4). "Who laid the foundation of the earth, that it should not be removed forever?" (Ps. 104:5). With some small amount of satisfaction they will guide the unsuspecting prospect through these two scriptures and loudly proclaim "Now, your Church may not teach this . . . but this is what the Bible says." Anyone hit over the head with these two verses for the first time will feel the bruise for a long time.
The solution to this is seen in the fact that the Bible does not always use the term "forever," and "everlasting" or combinations of these words, to mean what we think of in the word "infinity." The New World Translation which was put out by the Watchtower for the Witnesses is the very best thing to use in this case. Their translation of the Hebrew word for "eternal" or "everlasting" or "forever" is generally given with this phrase, "till time indefinite." A few comparisons of this term will clear the air..
Subject How Long? But
The priesthood of Aaron(Ex. 30:21) "till time indefinite" It ended Heb. 10:9-12
The sacrifices of the Law(Lev. 16:34 NWT) "till time indefinite" They ended Heb. 10:9-12
The Earth (Eccl. 1:4, Ps. 104:5) "till time indefinite" Will End Heb. 12:27 2 Pet. 3:10-12 Ps. 102:25-26
The phrase "till time indefinite" catches the sense of the original word. According to God's word, the sacrifices, the priesthood, and the earth were established in their respective areas, "to an indefinite time" but we can see that they all did or will end.
Jehovah's Witnesses like to make fine distinctions in definitions, and build whole systems of belief on those fine definitions. Note that in 2 Peter 3 is a comparison of the first destruction of the world, with the impending destruction of the earth. Just skipping, through these verses, a Witness would be quick to point, out to the unsuspecting prospect that God is going to destroy the world which they define as "this system of things," meaning of course the civilization and works of man on the face of the earth. But Peter bears out a distinction here, fine enough; to make even the Witnesses tremble. He says God destroyed the "World" (that system of things) by water. But, He is going to destroy the earth (the planet, the earth, the dirt) with fire, and the works therein, to the surprise of some.
Having firmly established the impending destruction of this planet, one needs to progress to the problem of life after death. Remember though that the Witnesses do not believe in the existence of an immortal spirit or soul. There are enough scriptures on the prospect of pain and suffering of the wicked after death to silence the objections of even the Watchtower servants. The Witnesses say, "There is no life after death, therefore there can be no Hell." The parables of our Lord abound with direct statements about the future state of the wicked. Matt. 8:11, 12: "the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Matt. 22:13: "bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Rev. 14:9-11: "if any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God . . . and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angles . . . and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night . . . ."
The classic illustration of the future state of the dead is Superior To A n found in Luke 16:19-31, where the Lord tells the events surrounding the lives and deaths of the Rich Man and Argument? Lazarus. Witnesses are quick to point out that this is an illustration, or parable and that it does not mean what it says.
. . . Jesus was giving a parable or illustration and was not speaking of a literal place of torment .... In this illustration the rich man stood for the class of religious leaders who rejected and later killed Jesus. Lazarus pictured the common people who accepted God's Son . . . this illustration does not teach that some dead persons are tormented in a literal fiery hell." (The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, p. 42.)
There are several problems with what they say about these verses though, and the first one is that what they say is wrong. Unless Jesus gave the parable to confuse everyone, it will be like the other parables and teach the truth about some moral question or problem. In verse 30 even the Rich Man admits that he is in the place of the dead; why then won't the Witnesses? We can readily admit that some parts may be figurative, like Abraham's bosom or the cooling water, but Jesus does not lie or try to deceive men. Do not allow the opposition to erase this teaching off the page of inspiration by just saying that it is figurative. Whether literal or figurative, it is the truth and must be accepted.
The proponents of Watchtower theology object to a God who would torment and punish, but the basis for this belief is not found in Luke 16 ". . . work out your salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). Why? Certainly not to escape a paradise earth, but the flames of a terrible hell.
Next: The Watchtower Gospel (Part 111): Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:25, p. 8-9