By Dick Blackford
Writers for Ensign delight in attacking “the orthodox positions of mainline Churches of “Christ” while taking the unorthodox position on nearly everything. But it may just be -that once in a while the orthodox position is the right one – a thing they would hate to admit. Michael Hall, a regular writer for Ensign, has an article on hell in the May, 1980 issue. Ensign is dogmatically opposed to dogmatism, yet brother Hall’s article is titled “The Truth About Hell.” That sounds pretty dogmatic to me.
How He Arrived At The “Truth”
The writer’s new found truth about hell was a result of “intensive personal study” because “we’ve allowed the portraits drawn by fire and damnation preachers of Calvinism to dominate our theology of hell. ” Writers for such papers as Ensign are in no position to accuse anyone of being influenced by Calvinism. However, it appears that he has allowed teachers of Russellism to dominate his theology on hell, as his position can be found in nearly any Watchtower publication. The article should serve as a warning that such brethren are not just off on a point or two regarding fellowship but are crusading for many other falsehoods.
True to Watchtower form, the article tells us that “Biblical terminology for `hell’ is vague and nebulous” and that it “probably has no other function than to arouse you emotionally. ” Hall admits that hell is horrible but then attempts to remove nearly everything that makes it horrible. We are told that hell is “absolute destruction annihilation, non-existence – the end.”
In spite of the Lord saying, “everlasting punishment,” Hall says it will end. In spite of the Lord saying “unquenchable fire,” Hall believes it will be quenched. He thinks it is a mere figure of speech “to arouse you emotionally.” It may be a figure of speech, but is not a mere figure of speech. If the terrible description we have is figurative, it does not mean things will not be quite as bad as the figures used, it means they will be worse! Bad things described figuratively are worse than the figures used, just as good things described figuratively are better than the figures used (heaven – gates of pearl, golden street, etc.). The zenith of human language is reached in describing the glories of heaven! And human language is stretched almost to the breaking point to convey the awful judgment for the wicked. The Biblical description of hell is God’s way of telling us that hell is far worse than anything we could imagine. But brother Hall believes Jesus was exaggerating and that hell is merely non-existence.
The article uses the word “destruction” and tells us it means “non-existence – non-being.” Is that what Jesus meant when he used the word apollumi? Vine says “the idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being. This is clear from its use, as e.g. of the marring of wine skins, Lk. 5:37; of lost sheep, i.e. lost to the shepherd, metaphorical of spiritual destruction, Lk. 15:4, 6, etc.; the lost son, 15:24; of the perishing of food, Jn. 6:27, . . . of the loss of well-being in the case of the unsaved hereafter, Mt. 10:28. . ., ” (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, W.E. Vine, p. 302). To utterly destroy does not mean “non-existence.” Jesus said, “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28). Citing this passage and Jas. 4:12, Thayer says apollumi means “to devote or give over to eternal misery” (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, J. Henry Thayer, p. 64). Now, did the wineskins, lost sheep, and the prodigal son all go out of existence?
The writer says, “`eternal’ does not mean forever’ in an unqualified sense, ” but means “age-lasting.” That is true when referring to things of this life. But it is not true when referring to things beyond this earthly existence. Incidently, brother Hall misunderstands one of his references. He says: “Aionos means `age-lasting.’ The determining factor therefore becomes `how long does the age under consideration last?’ And that forces us to look at the context. In Philemon 15, Philemon was to receive Onesimus back :forever.’ Do you mean he would be a slave in the eternity of heaven? Of course not. But throughout the age of his life on earth, throughout that whole age, he would always be back, not to run away anymore?”
I am amazed. The writer says we are forced to look at the context (his emphasis). Then he forgot to look at it! He needs to read the next verse. Verses 15, 16 say “For perhaps he was therefore parted from thee for a season, that thou shouldest have him forever; no longer as a servant, but more than a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but now much rather to thee, both in the flesh and in the lord.” Plainly, Paul says Onesimus would not be Philemon’s servant forever, but there was a sense in which he would have Onesimus forever – as a brother beloved in the Lord! Yes, Paul was speaking of an eternal relationship. This is what the context shows.
What About Heaven And God?
However long hell is, heaven is the same length for both are said to be eternal (Mt. 25:46). Is heaven just age lasting? Will it end like the article said about hell? We are told that “the punishment . . . is eternal `destruction. “‘ (He means one “ceases to exist.”) But taking all that the Bible says, we learn that the destruction is eternal punishment – “not the loss of being, but of well-being.”
While we are on the subject, let brother Hall tell us how long God will last. The same word that describes hell also describes God. He is said to be eternal (Rom. 16:26). Vine tells us that aionos “describes duration, either undefined but not endless, as in Rom. 16:25; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 1:2; or undefined because endless as in Rom. 16:26, and the other sixty-six places in the N. T. ” (Ibid., p. 43).
In discussing with JW’s on this subject, I usually ask them a question which brother Hall also needs to attempt to answer. The question is this: If God had intended to say that the wicked will be punished eternally, what words would He have used to describe it? Hall and the JW’s make it impossible to convey the idea in human language! If we cannot use the very words that are used in the Bible then the thought cannot be expressed at all. There are no better words or other words to describe it than “eternal punishment,” “everlasting fire,” “unquenchable fire,” “tormented day and night for ever and ever,” etc.
This brother says it is “blasphemous and slanderous” to believe in eternal punishment and that the only purpose God would have in so doing would be “to sadistically enjoy giving pain.” For shame! Hall is guilty of judging God. Only the person who knows all and is a possessor of a perfect sense of justice is in a position to even contemplate whether God is just in punishing the wicked. Who would that be? “Who hath known the mind of the Lord or who hath been his counselor?” (Rom. 11:34). Not Michael Hall. None of us know the total situation, so we have no right to judge on the matter of whether God is just. It is not as though God is saving hell to spring on us as a surprise on judgment day. Man has been thoroughly and lovingly warned (Lk. 12:4, S). No one will go there by accident. Jesus talked about hell more than anyone in the Bible. Yet we are told that God would be a torturor. The Bible does say weeping, gnashing of teeth, torment, punishment, etc. Let this scholar tell us at what point such things become torture.
Is Hell “Physical”?
The writer says “whatever `hell’ is, it is not physical!” Like the JW’s he steers clear of Mt. 10:28. Jesus said, “fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” What part of man is the body? It is the physical part. Hell will be the ruin of both the spiritual and physical part of man. Brother Hall will not take everything the Bible says on the subject.
Brother Hall’s Human Reasoning
Hall asks, “Now tell me, how long did Jesus suffer on the Cross? . . . How long did he experience that hell (a nonBiblical usage of the word hell, DB) for you and me? . . . If his destruction (note that word, DB) was less than what one person will have to bear individually, then how could his atonement fully . . . atone for everyone’s guilt? . . . If Jesus . . . had to suffer an unending torturous hell, he would still 6e there. ” The writer’s question backfires on his position. Since he believes destruction is “non-existence” and that one becomes a “non-being,” then he must believe Jesus went out of existence and became a “non-being,” for he uses the word “destruction” to refer to what happened to Jesus. Actually, brother Hall slipped up and used the word correctly here. Jesus did not suffer loss of being, but of well-being. But if we go by brother Hall’s definition of destruction then Jesus did become a “non-being” – went out of existence. If that happened then He wasn’t really resurrected; He was re-created! Brother Hall eliminates the major event of the Bible with his definition of destruction.
The truth is, one perfect innocent person (God’s only begotten Son) died for all the world. The Bible says nothing about His suffering having to be worse than what one person will have to bear in hell. That is Hall’s human reasoning. Taking his reasoning, one could as easily argue that Christ’s suffering would have to be worse than that of all humans combined since He died for all. Both ideas are foolishness.
As could be expected, the Ensign writer takes the position that man does not have an immortal soul. [Quote: “But where did the idea of an `immortal soul’ come from? Certainly not from the Bible. It came from Plato and the other Greek philosophers . : . Read your Bible and try to find one place where the Bible says that an unconverted man has an `immortal soul.’ ‘I Like the Watchtower, he wants itemization. Again his argument proves too much for his position, for where does the Bible say “mortal soul” (for which he contends)? It does not say that either. He got that from the Sadducees. So which is it? (1) Paul taught that all men are the offspring of God (Acts 17:28, 29). (2) Since the offspring partake of the Father’s nature (like begets like) and He only has immortality (1 Tim. 6:16 – a spirit has not flesh and bones, Lk. 24:39) then, (3) all men have immortality. However, this is clear from such expressions as “everlasting punishment,” etc. It is not punishment or torment if one is unaware (unconscious) when it happens.
Notice the conclusions of brother Hall’s intensive personal study. (1) He believes at death that the soul sleeps. (2) In hell, “the ‘self”‘ ceases to exist. (3) The unconverted are not immortal. When he says “the fire will utterly consume the body,” keep in mind that this is said in light of his belief that the imagery is to arouse you emotionally and that is is not physical.
The consequence of brother Hall’s theory is that it offers little incentive to do good. I have known people who would be satisfied if in hell one simply goes out of existence – in fact would welcome it considering the kind of lives they have lived. Today’s popular philosophy is that “You only go around once, so get all the gusto you can!” Millions are flocking to it.
The writer closes his article by saying “and now you know the good news.” Yes, hell is not going to be as bad as you thought it was. You won’t feel a thing. In fact, you will not even know it when it happens.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 38, pp. 616-617
September 25, 1980