By Tom O’Neal
Everyone believes in hell; no one at his funeral wants the preacher to indicate he went to hell, nor does the family of any deceased want the preacher to preach their love one there.
However, there are many people who deny the reality of hell. They think God is too good to send people to hell, that people don’t do enough bad to be sent to a place of punishment and that the place called hell in the Bible is only a figment of man’s fertile imagination.
Survey on Hell
When I was a young preacher there was a survey made concerning hell. George H. Betts surveyed 700 preachers and 200 theological students to find only 53 percent believed in hell. Those theological students are filling pulpits today! Of 1,309 ministers and students in five theological seminaries, 53 percent of the preachers and I percent of the students believed in hell. Of 100 theological students surveyed only 29 percent believed in hell. The late Episcopal bishop, James A. Pike said hell was a “myth.” (All information in this paragraph from Redbook Magazine, August, 1961.)
The Jehovah Witnesses think hell is the grave. “Hell, sheol and hades means mankind’s common grave” (Let God Be True, p. 99). “Hell means the grave” (Where Are The Dead? by J.F. Rutherford, p. 21).
We should weep as we read the words of the former preacher for the Broadway Church in Lubbock, Texas, and former President of Pepperdine University in California when he said, “A man can stand many stresses from within if he has harmony within his soul. For years I have lived with a developing pressure because of my intellectual conflict with the fundamentalistic dogmas and doctrines of the Church of Christ. For years, it has been increasingly difficult for me to accept the simplistic assumptions of the hellfire and brimstone fundamentalists which most preachers in this church teach” (Los Angeles Times, January 28, 1976, pp. 1,24,26).
Among us we should not forget Ed Fudge who departed the faith a few years back and wrote a book that denies the Bible teaching on hell.
U.S. News Article
The March 25, 1991 issue of U.S. News and World Report devoted several pages to the subject of hell. Some statements from this article are significant.
(1) “By most accounts it (hell, TGO) has all but disappeared from the pulpit rhetoric of mainline Protestantism” (p. 56).
(2) Kenneth S. Kantzer, a former Christianity Today editor confessed “he hadn’t preached a sermon on hell in more than three decades” (p. 56).
(3) Martin Marty, University of Chicago professor said, “Hell has disappeared and no one noticed. . . If people really believed in hell, they wouldn’t be watching basketball or even the TV preachers. They’d be out rescuing people” (p. 56).
(4) C.S. Lewis is quoted as saying, “Hell was not made for men” (p. 60).
(5) Mary Kraus, pastor of Dumbarton Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. said, “My congregation would be stunned to hear a sermon on hell” (p. 60).
(6) John D. Crossan of Chicago’s DePaul University said, “Once we discovered we could create hell on earth it became silly to talk about it in a literal sense” (p. 60).
(7) Avery Dulles, professor of theology at Fordham University in New York said, “It’s quite possible that no one will really go there” (p. 60).
(8) “In modern Judaism, the idea of a literal hell has been widely rejected since the 18th century Moses Mendelssohn, an influential German philosopher, propounded the idea that eternal punishment is inconsistent with God’s mercy” (p. 63).
In response to the above, letters were published in the April 8, 1991 issue. In one letter, one said they had “given very little thought to hell” and a preacher said “a burning everlasting hell has no redemptive purpose at all” (p. 8).
Christ and Universalism
Universalism teaches all will be saved, none will be lost in hell. However, this is not what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, said. One can not deny hell and be a Christian, a follower of Christ. He taught (1) there is such a place and, (2) people will go there.
The King James Version translates the Greek words hades, gehenna and tartaroo with the one word – “hell.” The American Standard Version makes a distinction in the uses of these words.
(1) Hades. In Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15 and 16:23 the King James says “hell” while the American Standard says “hades.”
In Acts 2:27 and 31 the King James Version says Christ went to “hell” while the American Standard Version says “hades.”
In Revelation the word is used four times (1:18; 6:8; 20:13,14) and is translated “hell” by the King James and “hades” by the American Standard.
Of hades, Vine says “signifying all-receiving” (v. 2, p. 187) and Thayer says “the nether world, the realm of the dead . . . the common receptacle of disembodied spirit” (p. 11).
From Luke 16:19-31 we learn of two men in hades, yet the beggar was in “Abraham’s bosom” (v. 22) where he was “comforted” but the rich man was in “torments” (vv. 23,25). In hades separating these two was “a great gulf fixed” (v. 26). Abraham’s bosom is the same as “paradise” (Lk. 23:43).
(2) Tartarus. The place in hades where people are “tormented in this flame” is called “torments” or “tartarus” (2 Pet. 2:4).
(3) Gehenna. This is the word translated hell twelve times in both the King James and American Standard Versions. Eleven of those times it is used by the Lord. See Matthew 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47 and Luke 12:5 for the Lord’s usage and then James 3:6 for the one other usage in the New Testament.
Jesus Speaks of Hell
Jesus said “hell fire,” people will be “cast into hell,” that people can be a “child of hell,” that people will receive the “damnation of hell” and that the fire of hell “shall never be quenched.”
Jesus said, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me” (Jn. 7:16); “the truth, which I have heard of God” (Jn. 8:40); “I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him” (Jn. 8:26); “as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things (Jn. 8:28). “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak . . . . Whatsoever I speak therefore even as the Father said unto me, so I speak” (Jn. 12:49-50).
Jesus further said, “Whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that went me” (Mk. 9:37).
Therefore, when one rejects the teachings of Christ about the place he called hell, one also rejects the voice of God, his Father in heaven.
In the hereafter there are only two places all men will spend eternity – heaven or hell. Which will it be for you . . . and me?
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 19, pp. 580-581
October 3, 1991