Is There a Burning Hell?

Grover Stevens
Louisville, Kentucky

A few years ago Mr. Hal Boyle, a writer for the Associated Press, had an article in the Louisville Times entitled, "Any Chance of Me Going to Hell? Only 12 of 100 in U. S. Think So." Mr. Boyle based his article on the figures furnished by the Catholic Digest that had made a series of surveys. The surveys showed that 99 per cent of Americans over 18 years of age believe in God, but only 77 per cent believe that their souls will live on after death. 72 per cent believe that there is a heaven, but only 58 per cent believe there is a hell. But the thing that Mr. Boyle found comfort in was that only 12 out of 100 think there is any real possibility of their going to hell.

Ladies and Gentlemen, all that such surveys show is that 42 adults out of 100 in the United States do NOT believe what GOD says about Hell, and that an additional 46 out of that 100 think they have complied with God's law of pardon, hence 88 out of 100 do NOT believe that THEY are going to hell. No doubt some of this number actually have obeyed the gospel of Christ and are therefore "born again" (I Pet. 1:22-23), and are truly acceptable unto God. But many of this number will be in that class of people who think they should be saved, BUT THEY ARE NOT, for they have not done the will of God. The Lord Jesus said, "Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt. 7:21-23). You will notice that these people had acknowledged Jesus as Lord, they had taught in His name, cast out devils in His name, and done many good works in His name. Yet, in spite of all these, the Lord Jesus said, "Depart from me, ye that work iniquity, I never knew you." Hence, they thought, yea, even insisted that they should be saved, but still the Master said, "I never knew you, depart from me." And, there, Mr. Boyle, is the explanation of your problem -- that there is a growing interest in religion, church membership has increased, religious books often hit the best seller lists, and yet the people have an "overly complacent attitude toward the afterlife." Jesus Christ answered it by saying that not all of those who think they are going to heaven will do so, but only those who have done the will of God.

Certainly we should all cry out against such infidelity and complacency. Souls are in danger of being lost forever in the narrow confines of perdition. Let us warn them of their peril. How about YOU, my friend? Do YOU believe there is a hell? The Bible teaches that there is! This question is not settled by counting noses in a survey, but by the word of God. It isn't a question of what I think, nor what you think, but what does God say? To a study of this question we respectfully invite your attention.

There are two classes of men in this world. They are distinguished from each other in various terms. They are called the righteous and the wicked; they are called saints and sinners, the holy and the unholy, the good and the bad, the lost and the saved. One class is said to be "in Christ," justified, sanctified, saved, children of God, heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ, an elect race, a royal priesthood, a peculiar people. The other class, of course, are NOT in Christ, they are NOT justified, NOT sanctified, NOT saved; they are the children of the devil, children of wrath, NOT an elect race, NOT a -royal priesthood, NOT a peculiar people, they are NOT the people of God. These have NOT been reconciled to God through the propitiation of his Son. They are still enemies of God in heart. They have loved darkness rather than light, and would not have God's Son to be their Saviour. They are allies of Satan in his rebellion against God, and have spent all their energies and fortunes on his side of the question. Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask, is it unreasonable to conclude, that, therefore, they should have their ultimate portion with him? And HIS ultimate end is to be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10).

Let us examine the word Hell and its meaning. The word hell occurs 54 times in the King James Version of the Bible. 31 times it is from the Hebrew word "sheol" in the Old Testament. And in the New Testament, 10 times it is from the Greek word "hades," 12 times it is from the Greek word "gehenna," and 1 time from the Greek word "tartarus." The Hebrew word "sheol," and its equivalent in the Greek "hades," both refer to "the realm of the dead," or "the place of disembodied spirits." (See Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, p. 11). The Hebrew word "sheol" is used 65 times in the Old Testament, and of course, none in the New since the New Testament is written in Greek rather than Hebrew. Of the 65 times the word "sheol" is used, 31 times it is translated "grave," 31 times it is translated "hell," and 3 times it is translated "pit." The Greek word "hades" occurs 10 times in the New Testament, and all 10 times it is translated "hell." These two words, do not of themselves, teach anything about the punishment of the wicked. They simply denote the world of disembodied spirits. The apostle Peter declares that the soul of Jesus Christ was in hades between the time that He died on the cross and was resurrected 3 days later (Acts 2:27-31). Those who do not believe in a "burning hell" turn to the scriptures where these words occur and think that they prove their point because the English word "hell" in this passage obviously means "grave" -- something different from a burning hell.

But there is another word in the New Testament from which the word "hell" is translated, and it uniformly carries with it the idea of eternal punishment for the wicked. The word is "gehenna." It is used 12 times in the New Testament, and every time, without exception, refers to the place of punishment of the wicked beyond this life. I invite your attention to these 12 passages of scripture.

Matthew 5:22, ". whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."

Matthew 5:29, "And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell."

Matthew 10:28, "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

Matthew 18:8-9, "Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire."

Matthew 23:15, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves."

Matthew 23:33, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

Mark 9:43-48, "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: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."

Luke 12:4-5, "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell."

James 3:6, "And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell."

It is sometimes urged that the word gehenna simply means "the Valley of Hinnom." Lest any of you be deceived by such, I would like to read a brief explanation of the Valley of Hinnom by J. W. McGarvey, who was at one time the President of the College of the Bible of the University of Kentucky:

"The Valley of Hinnom was a deep, narrow valley southeast of Jerusalem, and lying immediately to the south of Mt. Zion. The Greek word gehenna is first found applied to it in the Septuagint translation of Joshua 18:16. (For the history of the valley see the following passages of Scripture: Josh. 15:8; II Chron. 28:3; 33:6; Jer. 7:31; 19:1-5; II Kings 23:10-14; II Chron. 34:4-5). The only fire certainly known to have been kindled there was the fire in which children were sacrificed to the god Moloch. This worship was entirely destroyed by King Josiah, who polluted the entire valley, so as to make it an unfit place for even heathen worship. There is not the slightest authentic evidence that in the days of Jesus any fire was kept burning there; nor is there any evidence at all that casting a criminal into fire there was ever employed by the Jews as a punishment. It was the fire of idolatrous worship in the offering of human sacrifice that had given the valley its bad notoriety. This caused it to be associated in the mind of the Jews with sin and suffering, and led to the application of its name, in the Greek form of it, to the place of final and eternal punishment. When the conception of such a place was formed it was necessary to give it a name, and there was no word in the Jewish language more appropriate for the purpose than the name of this hideous valley."

Now friends, let's notice a couple of these passages. Notice Matthew 10:28, "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." This passage clearly teaches that when your body has been killed that your soul has not been killed! Your soul lives on alter your body has been killed! When your body is dead your soul is NOT DEAD. But our attention is called to the word "destroy" in the latter part of the verse, "fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Some think that this teaches that one's soul will be extinguished or annihilated, and therefore cannot be "cast into hell fire." But the Greek word which our Saviour used here for "destroy" is the very same Greek word that He used in Luke 15:4 when referring to the sheep which is "lost." In other words the Greek word translated ''destroy in Matthew 10:28 is the very same Greek word that is translated "lost" in Luke 15:4, and we know that in Luke 15 the lost sheep was not annihilated or extinguished for it was "found" and brought home. So that which was lost or destroyed was found and brought home. Hence the words "destroy" used in Matthew 10:28 regarding the soul of man being cast into hell does not teach that the soul is annihilated or extinguished.

Next let's consider Mark 9:43-48. This passage speaks of being "cast into hell fire, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched." In this passage the corruption of the soul is compared with the corruption of the body. In the case of the body, it is eaten with worms until it is consumed and then the worm dies; but in the case of the soul "their worm dieth not." Hence the soul is never consumed. This teaches the eternal existence of the soul. This passage clearly teaches that the disobedient will be cast into hell lire and that the fire is never quenched and that the soul never ceases to be -- never dies -- but exists eternally.

I now invite your attention to Hebrews 10: 28-29, "He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" This passage speaks of a punishment inflicted upon the sinner that is sorer than death without mercy. This cannot be mere physical death or extinction of life, for it is to be worse than death. Now I raise the question: What kind of a punishment is sorer than death without mercy?

In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus Christ tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus said,

"And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift 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 tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented."

Some people refuse to believe the plain, simple facts that the Lord Jesus Christ sets forth in this discourse by claiming that this is a parable. I do not believe that this is a parable, but if I were to grant that it is, I fail to see how that this would change the facts in the case. A parable is simply taking facts that are already well known and understood and using them to illustrate something that is not understood. Take the parable of the sower for instance: The facts of sowing and reaping were true facts and already well known and understood by the people. Jesus then used these well-known and understood facts to illustrate other facts that they did not know or understand. So, if this is a parable the facts in the case are still true facts, well known and understood by both the speaker and the people; and if it is not a parable, then it is an account of true facts that the Lord Jesus is making known in terms too plain to be misunderstood. And let me add that the fact that the word "hell" in this passage is from the word "hades" does not change these facts in the least.

Now let's look at these facts. Jesus Christ here represents to an audience of people how that a man, after he had died and was buried -- after his lifetime was over, how he lifted up his eyes (he moved), and seetk (he could see) Abraham and Lazarus (men who were dead but still existed), and he cried and said (he could talk), I am tormented in this flame (he could feel and he said that the feeling was "torment in flame.") And Abraham said (he could hear and carry on a conversation) -- And Abraham said, Son remember (he could remember) that thou in thy lifetime -- this was after his lifetime was over and he could remember back in his lifetime -- he remembered his father and brothers and their manner of life back in his lifetime and was conscious of the fact that if they continued in that manner of life that they would, after their death, come to this place of torment. Ladies and Gentlemen, how could language be plainer? Jesus Christ here teaches that the unrighteous will be punished after their death from this lifetime, and describes the character of that punishment as being "tormented in flame," and also suggests that the duration of the punishment is never ending by saying "neither can they (the ones in torment) pass to us."

In Daniel 12:2 God has Daniel to say, "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt." Observe please, that there are two classes to be rewarded at the resurrection, one to have "everlasting life," and the other "shame and everlasting contempt." The life of the one, and contempt of the other are equal in duration, each being everlasting; hence as long as the righteous live, the wicked will suffer everlasting shame and contempt.

In this same connection, the Lord Jesus said in John 5:28-29, "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."

Read with me II Thess. 1:7-10: "And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." And now let's read Romans 2:8-9, "But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, (God will render, verse 6) indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil." Now notice, in the Thessalonian passage it is stated that the wicked will be punished with "everlasting destruction." But in the Roman passage it is stated that the punishment will be "tribulation and anguish." Therefore, "destruction" when referring to the punishment of the wicked means "tribulation and anguish." How long will they suffer "tribulation and anguish?" Let Paul answer: "Punished with everlasting destruction," or substituting his own meaning of the term, it is "everlasting tribulation and anguish."

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have shown you that the Bible clearly teaches that the unrighteous will be punished after death from this lifetime, and that the, character of that punishment is described as being "tormented in flame," and that the duration of that punishment will be everlasting -- never ending. To close your minds to these facts will not help you escape. You need not be lost. The Lord Jesus said "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." The Apostle Peter said, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." Let me say to you, Do not go to this place of torment, but rather turn to the Lord in humble obedience to His will, and He will save you in Heaven at last.

Truth Magazine VIII: 4, pp. 5-8 January 1964