Is There an Eternal Hell?

Wm. E. Wallace
Indianapolis, Indiana

"For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, cloth kindle it" (Isaiah 30:33)

There is a place of eternal torment. Some assert that it is not l harmonious with the good character of God to allow a place of torment to exist, a place where sinners are punished eternally. But God has arranged for the punishment of the wicked, as he has arranged for the blessing of the faithful -- so teaches the Bible. God could not be known as a just and righteous God were it not that he provides for the faithful in the way of blessings, and for the unfaithful in the way of punishment (Isaiah 1:19, 20). He has provided the opportunity through Christ for men to be saved, to dwell with him in an eternal state of bliss and happiness. It is in keeping with His eternal goodness and justice, that a place be provided also for those who despise or neglect his offer of salvation.

Live or Die

In Ezekiel 18:20-30 there is a lesson in the justice of God. We are told in verse 25 that God's ways are equal and the ways of man unequal. In God's way each individual is held responsible for his own sins, and the wicked ones shall "die" in their own sins. Man's ways are unequal when he denies hell and when he scoffs at the idea of eternal punishment. The righteous man who turns from his righteousness, "and committeth iniquity for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die." In verse 27 it is said that if the wicked turn away from his wickedness that he has committed--"he shall save his soul alive." In verse 30 God asks the question: "Are not my ways equal? Are not your ways unequal?" He teaches that each one will live due to his own righteousness, or will die for his own sins. The idea of the righteous being permitted to live, would be senseless if the wicked also be permitted to "live." God is just only to the degree that he punishes, or rewards, according to the deeds of each individual (Rom. 2: 6-8).

The Meaning of Death

When the Bible speaks of death in this way, it is speaking of separation between God and man, a disfellowshipping. As proof of this we refer to Isaiah 59:1-2:

"Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear."

What Isaiah called "separation" is called "death" in Ezekiel. Isaiah said iniquity separates men from God; Ezekiel records, "for his iniquity that he hath done shall he die." This separation from God is spiritual death; it is eternity in Hell.

The Bible teaching regarding a place of torment is not unreasonable. It is in keeping with the idea of a just and righteous God.

Greek Words

There are three Greek words translated hell in the King James translation of the New Testament. The first is, Hades, a Greek word which has the meaning "the realm of the dead" or "the common receptacle of disembodied spirits."] This word is used in Acts 2: 2 7 as the place where the soul of Jesus went when he died--a place the Lord called paradise in Luke 23:43.

The second word is tartaroo, or tartarus. Tartarus, in the understanding of the ancients, was that part of Hades where the wicked are confined and tormented.2 Thayer defines the word as being the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds. 3 It is used in 2 Peter 2:4 as the place where evil angels have been cast to await the judgment day.

The third word is gehenna. In the Old Testament, according to Thayer, the word was used in reference to the "valley of Hinnom" or "the son of Hinnom" or the valley of lamentation. 4 The Jews abhorred this valley, later called Gehenna, because of the sacrificing of the heathen god Moloch. This name, Gehenna, was used to designate most appropriately that place where the wicked after death will suffer punishment. 5

Some Bible students endeavor to do away with the idea of gehenna by saying that all references have to do with the Valley of Hinnom. But is the fire of the Valley of Hinnom everlasting? In Matthew 10:28 the Greek is coupled with apolesai, which means, "to be delivered up to eternal misery." 6 The word gehenna as used in Matthew 5:22 and Matthew 10:28 is "a symbol of separation in conscious torment by flame which is unquenchable." We have no record of anyone being cast into the Valley of Hinnom as a means of torment. Refuse and animals, and unburied criminals were burned there, 7 but not as a means of torment. But Jesus speaks of the possibility of being "cast into hell fire" saying, "into the fire that never shall be quenched" (Mark 9:43, 47). Verse 48 adds "where their worm (gnawing anguish) dieth not."

We dislike hearing of a place of eternal fire, and of the wicked being tormented forever. We do not like to read such passages as Revelation 20:10: "And the devil that deceiveth them was cast into the Jake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever." But our aversion gives us no reason, much less the authority, for attempting to destroy or to delete such teaching out of the New Testament. "I care not how differently one may teach, or how hard he may try, it isn't any more possible to eliminate the fact of hell, than it is to do away with the reality of heaven. Maybe if all of us would be busy trying to evade that place of torment, as some are trying to eliminate it from the Holy Scriptures, we would be sure to escape its torments." 8 Listen to Paul speak of God's justice and wrath:

"But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile: " (Romans 2: 8-9)"Some teachers will admit the place of separation called hell, but deny that there will be anything eternal in the way of torment. It is a dark picture all right for us to read and discuss the awful realities of that terrible place, but these same teachers do not hesitate to emphasize the beauties and blessings of heaven as being eternal. They need to be reminded that the very same word used to describe the length of the one is used to tell how long the other will be. In Matthew 25:46, we have a very good example: 'and these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.' The Greek reads 'Eis kilasin ainonion' -- 'Into punishment (torment) eternal (or everlasting.)' This describes the period of punishment." 9 With regard to saved people the Greek reads "of de kikai eis zoan aionion," "But the just (or righteous) into life eternal (or everlasting)." This describes the length of reward for the righteous. This is enough to prove to anyone willing to be guided by what is written that if the righteous are to receive eternal life, then the wicked are to receive eternal punishment, or torment. "Now if this said 'eternal destruction,' rather than 'eternal punishment,' there would be room for the argument of some to the effect that this will be a destruction of the wicked, and since that would be forever thus no eternal punishment. But the word 'kolasin' is used which means, 'punishment, torment,' and of course, if the wicked shall be completely annihilated, then the element of torment will not be there.''10 You cannot punish or torment that which is not conscious. So it depends upon whether or not we are willing to be guided by what the word teaches, as to whether or not we believe in eternal torment.

Hebrew Words

As to the Hebrew word Sheol, which is translated hell in many instances, materialists tell us it always means the grave. Thus when hell appears in our English version as a translation of Sheol they say it always means the grave. But this is not true. Sheol in the Hebrew is a "subterranean place, full of thick darkness.''11 It is true that Sheol is translated grave in some instances, but it is also translated "hell" and "the pit.''12 We are told by the materialists that a word cannot have that many meanings. But it can. For an example the Hebrew word "Lechem is translated 'bread' 238 times, one time as 'feast,' 21 time as 'food,' one time as 'fruit,' 5 times as 'loaf,' 18 times as 'meat,' one time as 'provision,' twice as 'victuals' and once as eat.'" 13 The precise meaning of Hebrew words must often be decided from the context of the passage in which they appear. The meaning and usage of the word sheol is found in a study of the state which we call death. "First there is the tomb, or sepulchre, the local habitation of the physical frame, which is called kever (Gen. 50:5); secondly, there is the corruption whereby the body itself is dissolved which is represented by the word shachath (Gen. 6:13, 16; 9:11, 15), and thirdly, there is sheol which represents the locality or condition of the departed.''14 You can see that to limit the meaning of the word sheol to the grave is to do violence to the Hebrew.

Death Not Annihilation

One fatal error of the materialists results from their idea that death means extinction or annihilation. In Exodus 3:6, 16 and in Matthew 22:32 we are told that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is declared that God is not the God of the dead but of the living. Are not Abraham, Isaac and Jacob dead? Yes, physically speaking, but not spiritually speaking. They are dead in that they are separated from physical life, but they are alive in that they are not separated from God. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive in that they are united with God in some way. Those who die in the Lord (Revelation 14:1) are with God. He is the God of the living. Sinners who die are dead physically, of course, in that they no more have physical existence, but they are also dead spiritually, in that God is not their God, they are separated from him. The truth of this is seen in the story of Luke 16:19-31. Jesus in this account portrayed the condition of a lost soul (the rich man) who rejected God, and the beggar who partook of the Lord's mercy. "The rich man went into conscious torment after physical death, verse 24, and even proclaimed his spiritual conscious anguish. There can be no doubt, he was suffering and knew it.''15

Condemnation and the Wrath of God

God condemned Sodom and Gomorrah with an "overthrow" (II Peter 2:6). This was bad enough, but when you think of what happens to those sinners in the hereafter it appears even worse. When in hell they look forward, they will face an endless forever in everlasting punishment.

"And I say unto you my friends, 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; yea, I say unto you, fear him." (Luke 12:4, 5).

God is patient, but after patience comes wrath: "What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction . . ." (Romans 9:22). Consider the fierceness of God's wrath:

"According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay fury to his adversaries, recompense to his enemies . . ." (Isaiah 59: 18).

"And he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God" ( Revelation 19: 15) .

"They shall also gird themselves with sackcloth, and horror shall cover them; and shame be upon all faces ...." (Ezekiel 7: 18)."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: . . ." (II Thess. 1:7-9).

Perhaps Jesus experienced the feeling of such hopelessness of condemnation momentarily when on the cross he cried, "My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me."

Horrors of Hell

The Valley of Hinnom, the ravine South of Jerusalem, was the horrible scene of an idolatrous worship involving the "passing" of children through the fire (2 Kings 23.]0, 2 Chron. 28:3, 33:6, Jeremiah 7:31, 32:35). Hell is the place of eternal horrors. A figure of speech representing denotes the place of eternal horror suffering as from fire --gehenna--it had to be called something and this term is most appropriate.

The fires of hell are far worse than the material flames of Nebuchadnezzar's furnace! "Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with the everlasting burnings?" (Isaiah 33:14).

Is it possible that some who read these lines will be fuel for the eternal fires of hell?

"For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God. And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (I Peter 4:18)

Who Is Going to Hell?

A reading of the following passages will let you in on the information as to who is going to hell: Galatians 5: 19-21, Revelation 21: 8, II Thessalonians 1:8-9, Matthew 23:33, Matthew 7:21, Matthew 25:32-46, I Corinthians 16:22. You can escape hell if you will do what the Lord wants you to do. "Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." (Ephesians 5:14). Sleep and death are figures of speech symbolizing the condition of the individual separated from Christ. In sleep you are inactive, in death you are rigid. Arise from your sleep of death and "purify your souls in obeying the truth" (I Peter 1:22).

"The use of this awful subject may be for awakening to unconverted persons.... That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell's wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon' nor anything to take hold of. There is nothing between you and hell but the air; . . . And let every one that is yet out of Christ and-hanging over the pit of hell, whether they be old men and women or middle-aged or young people or little children, now hearken to the loud calls of God's word and providence. ''16 "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins . . ." (Acts 2:38).

1. Thayer's Greek English Lexicon, American Book Company, NY, 1889, p. 11

2. Analytical Greek Lexicon, Harper & Brothers, p. 398

3. Thayer, p. 615

4. Ibid. p. 111

5. Ibid. p. 111

6. Thayer's p. 64

7. Ibid., p. 111

8. Clarence C. Gobel, "Is There An Eternal Hell?," Firm Foundation LXVIII, no. 36, p. 1, 2

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Hebrew and English Lexicon, Gesenius, Wm. B. Eerdman's Pub. Co., 1950.

12. Robert Baker Girdlestone, SYNONYMS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT, Wm. B. 13erdmans Pub. Go., Grand Rapids, 1951, p. 281.

13. Walter R Martin, Norman K. Klann, JEHOVAH OF THE WATCHTOWER, Biblical Truth Pub. Society, NY, 1953, p. 76

14. Robert Baker Girdlestone, SYNONYMS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., Grand Rapids, p. 281

15. Walter R Martin, Norman K. Klann, JEHOVAH OF THE WATCHTOWER, Biblical Truth Pub. Society, NY, 1953, p. 82

16. Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God

Truth Magazine IX: 11, pp.16-20
August 1965