Hell: Is the Wages of Sin Death? Or Eternal Torture?
(Christian Universalism vs. Eternal Torture vs. Adventist Theology)
Hell has become a very touchy subject within our present culture. The doctrine of hell advocated by many protestants has primarily imitated the Catholic viewpoint of entailing eternal torture. However, the question that continues to permeate the minds of many bible students is: Is Hell Forever?
Based on our article “What Happens When You Die?” we addressed the central question to this issue: is the human “soul” innately immortal?
The doctrine of hell is based upon the idea that the “soul” is the indestructible ether of the human that cannot die.
Therefore, if the “soul” cannot die then how is one punished for sin? Well, according to this logic the wicked must burn forever since the “soul” can never be destroyed.
Out of such an inhumane concept many have chosen to pendulum swing in the other direction believing that since God is too benevolent and kind to eternally torture his creatures because of a few short years of sin, then He must save every one regardless of their deeds here on earth. This is called Christian Universalism. Universalist believe that the wicked are “purged” for a period of time and then brought into a eternal bliss to inhabit eternity forever.
Adventist strike a balance between these two extremities. Seventh-Day Adventist do not believe that hell is eternal torment and they also do not believe that all the wicked will one day end up in heaven. Rather, based on their understanding that the “soul” is just another word for “animate being”, they believe that the “soul” can indeed die and that the wages of sin is death. Adventists believe that the wicked are destroyed “forever”, destroyed for eternity, not that their punishment continues forever. Seventh-Day Adventist use the following verses to show that the wicked are punished in just measure and then they are eternally destroyed.
There are two main questions we will explore through these verses:
- What is Hell?
- How long is hell?
What is Hell?
When exploring the concept of hell we can look at the Old Testament references to “sheol” and the New Testament references of “gehena” or “hades” to really gain a proper understanding of what exactly is being described.
The word “Sheol” (Strongs H7585) is used in the Old Testament to describe the “grave”. In some verses this word is translated as “hell” in others it is simply “grave.” The same word really should be used in each instance, or even a transliteration would be nice, in order to remove any Catholic concepts that the term “hell” often conjures. Here are two verses that use the exact same word, but one is translated “hell” and the other “grave”.
“And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave (H7585) unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.” Genesis 37:35.
“For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (H7585) neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” Psalms 16:10.
In the first verse, the patriarch Jacob is mourning for his son. Would it make sense to say that Jacob, the father of the nation of Israel, would “go down into ‘hell’ unto [his] son mourning”? No. In the second verse, we can see that the “grave” would have been a more preferable translation than “hell” since David is speaking about the resurrection of the Messiah from the “grave”.
DO a word study on “hell” to really understand that when a bible translation uses the word “hell”, it is not in reference to the Catholic construct of “hell” (a place of eternal torture), but is merely speaking about the grave and destruction.
In the New Testament, Jude gives an example of those who are destroyed with “eternal fire” by saying that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is an example of “hell”.
“Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Jude 1:7
Sodom and Gomorrah was completely destroyed by fire. Therefore, Jude understood “eternal fire” to be the complete destruction of the wicked, not eternal torture in a place called “hell”.
How Long is Hell?
The next question that we should reasonably explore is “how long is hell?” What about those verses that say that hell is “forever”? What do Adventists make of that?
Well, it depends on the verse. Some verses describe God’s vengeance as “eternal fire”, meaning fire that comes from eternity, not fire that lasts throughout eternity and some verses describe the memorial of the wicked’s destruction to last for ever, while others use the word “for ever”, when really the interpretation should be “the end of the age.” Let’s take a look at some examples.
In Revelation 14, regarding the wicked it says, “And the smoke of their torment ascends up for ever and ever” Revelation 14:11.
In this verse the highlight is smoke. The “smoke” is what is left after a person is all burned up. The “smoke” is then a memorial of a thing that was once living, but now is not. Therefore, this verse is clearly a reference to remains of the wicked, which is their “smoke” or ashes that are for ever a memorial of the end of the wicked.
In Matthew 25:46, Jesus said, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment but the righteous into eternal life.”
“And if your hand makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched.” Mark 9:43
In these verses the highlight is “punishment” and “fire”. The results of the “punishment” is everlasting and the fire that burns up the wicked is a fire that will not relent and will not be put out until it has accomplished the consummation it has been set out to perform.
There is really only one single verse that directly references the wicked burning “forever”.
“And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Revelation 20:10.
However, even in this verse the Greek word for “for ever and ever” is “aion” and is often translated, “end of the world” or “end of the age“. “Aion” is in reference to a specific time frame. It is not in the sense of continuing forward for ever, but is in referencing to the ending point of a specific age.
“As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.” Matthew 13:14.
Therefore, “for ever” really means until the end of the age. Look it up for yourself! Strongs G104.
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