Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #771 MP3 Audio File Video File

The Bible on Hell

Jude 7b

Delivered 08/23/15

We have been going verse by verse through the little book of Jude, and we have made it to verse 7 which says:

just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. Jude 1:7 NASB

We have already done two messages on this verse, one on "The Judgment of Sodom" and a second one on, "The Bible on Homosexuality & Same Sex Marriage." In the first message on "The Judgment of Sodom" we talked briefly about the phrase, "undergoing the punishment of eternal fire" and the doctrine of Hell. This morning I want to go back to the phrase and attempt to discuss more fully the doctrine of Hell. I have never done a message on Hell, and due to the many questions I get about it, I thought it would be good to take a deeper look at it. So that is what we are going to do this morning. As always, I ask that you not believe what I have to say, but that you be a Berean and study this out for yourself from the Scriptures and come to an informed decision.

To tell you the truth, I have kind of avoided this subject of Hell. Why would I avoid this you ask? Well I'm already a Preteristic Supralapsarian Calvinistic non-lordship geocentric preacher who uses Yahweh and Yeshua, and now I must add annihilationism to the list of doctrines that push me farther and farther from main stream Christianity. I don't like being different, but the more I read and study Scripture the more I am convinced that main stream Christianity is wrong about many things.

I want to begin this morning with a profound quote from J. I. Packer. This quote is worth our understanding and meditation. To understand this quote is to gain a huge advantage in your study of the Bible:

We do not start our Christian lives by working out our faith for ourselves; it is mediated to us by Christian tradition, in the form of sermons, books and established patterns of church life and fellowship. We read our Bibles in the light of what we have learned from these sources; we approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and viewpoints with which we have come into contact, in both the Church and the world. . . . It is easy to be unaware that it has happened; it is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition in this sense has molded us. But we are forbidden to become enslaved to human tradition, either secular or Christian, whether it be "catholic" tradition, or "critical" tradition, or "ecumenical" tradition. We may never assume the complete rightness of our own established ways of thought and practice and excuse ourselves the duty of testing and reforming them by Scriptures. (J. I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God, [Grand Rapids, MI, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1958], pp. 69-70.)

Believer, we must test everything we believe by the text. The beliefs you hold must come from the text. And we must be open to allowing the text to shatter our false ideas.

Most Christians think there is a place of eternal fire and torment called "Hell" which will be the ultimate fate of the wicked. But what does the Bible say about Hell? Nothing! The word "Hell" is not in the original language of the Bible, and if you see it in your Bible, it is a bad translation. In the KJV "Hell" is mentioned 54 times. When we read the word "Hell," all kinds of ideas come to our minds. We may think of the abode of condemned souls; a place of eternal fiery punishment for the wicked after death. We may think of a place of fire and brimstone, where the damned undergo physical torment eternally. "Hell" is found 31 times in the KJV Old Testament where it is translated from the Hebrew word "Sheol."

The Tanakh uses the word "Sheol" to refer to a place in the depths of the earth. The expressions "go down" or "brought down" are used twenty times in connection with Sheol. The "depths of Sheol" are mentioned six times (Deut. 32:22; Ps. 86:13; Prov. 9:18; 15:24; Isa. 7:11; 14:15). Four times Sheol is described as the farthest point from Heaven (Job 11:8; Ps. 139:8; Isa. 7:11; Amos 9:2). Often Sheol is parallel with the "pit" (Job 17:13-14; 33:18; Ps. 30:3; 88:3-4; Prov. 1:12; Isa. 14:15; 38:18; Ezek. 31:14-17). Nine times it is parallel with death (2 Sam. 22:6; Ps. 18:4-5; 49:14; 89:48; 116:3; Prov. 5:5; Isa. 28:15,18; Hos. 13:14; Hab. 2:5). Sheol is described in terms of overwhelming floods, water, or waves (Jonah 2:2-6). Sometimes, Sheol is pictured as a hunter setting snares for its victim, binding them with cords, snatching them from the land of the living (2 Sam 22:6; Job 24:19; Ps. 116:3). Sheol is a prison with bars, a place of no return (Job 7:9; 10:21; 16:22; 21:13; Ps. 49:14; Isa. 38:10). People could go to Sheol alive (Num. 16:30,33; Ps. 55:15; Prov. 1:12).

But nowhere do we see Sheol as a fiery place of torment. So why did the KJV translators translate it as Hell? It is because the wording of the KJV is more "interpretation" than "translation."

In the KJV New Testament the word "Hell" is found 23 times. It is translated from the word "Hades," which is the Greek equivalent of Sheol (the place of the dead), 10 times. It is translated from the Greek word "Tartaroo" once, and 12 times from "Gehenna." We looked at "Gehenna" in our study of Jude 7. We saw that Gehenna was a place that had become identified in people's minds as a filthy and accursed place where useless and evil things were destroyed. It was a defiled place, and it became the garbage dump of Jerusalem. Fires smoldered there continuously; repulsive and ugly worms ate at the garbage. That becomes the symbol of judgment.

Gehenna is used 12 times in the New Testament, 11 in the Gospels and once in James, which says the tongue is set "on fire by Gehenna." The 11 in the Gospel are not speaking of final punishment, but of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70. Every use of Gehenna (except for the one in James) is from Yeshua speaking to Jews that live in or around Jerusalem. It is never used of Gentiles and never used outside the Gospels because Gehenna was the city dump outside Jerusalem.

So none of the KJV's uses of "Hell" have anything to do with a fiery place of torment. So as I said earlier, the word "Hell" should not be in your Bible. The NASB has the word "Hell" 13 times. ESV has it 14 times and Young's Literal Translation does not have the word "Hell" in it, not once. So to answer my original question," What does the Bible say about Hell?" The answer is nothing! The word "Hell" is not in the original translations of the Bible.

So the better question to ask is, "What does the Bible say about the destiny of the wicked?" What happens to people at death who have not trusted Christ? Now this the Bible talks about. The two main views of the end of the wicked would be that they go to a place of eternal conscious torment, what traditionally is known as "Hell." The other view, the one I hold, is that they cease to be, they perish. Let's look at the Tanakh and see what it has to say about the destiny of the wicked, and then we'll look at the intertestamental literature and then the New Testament.

What does the Tanakh teach about the end of the wicked? Let me just say that you will never get the traditional view of Hell from the Tanakh. It just isn't there. Let's look at some verses that talk about the end of the wicked:

Do not fret because of evildoers, Be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass And fade like the green herb. Psalms 37:1-2 NASB
For evildoers will be cut off, But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land. Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; And you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there. Psalms 37:9-10 NASB
But the wicked will perish; And the enemies of the LORD will be like the glory of the pastures, They vanish—like smoke they vanish away. Psalms 37:20 NASB

The word "perish" here is the Hebrew word "abad." Brown-Driver-Brigg's Definition is:

"perish, vanish, go astray, be destroyed, die, be exterminated." And the word "vanish" is from kalah, which, according to Brown-Driver-Brigg's Definition, means: "to accomplish, cease, consume, determine, end, fail, finish." Do you see any hint of eternal conscious torment in these verses?

I have seen a wicked, violent man Spreading himself like a luxuriant tree in its native soil. Then he passed away, and lo, he was no more; I sought for him, but he could not be found. Psalms 37:35-36 NASB

Notice that the wicked "passed away" and was "no more." The words "no more" are from the Hebrew word ayin, which is from a primitive root meaning: "to be nothing or not exist." The psalmist doesn't say they pass away and are tormented, but they "are no more":

"According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity And those who sow trouble harvest it. "By the breath of God they perish, And by the blast of His anger they come to an end. Job 4:8-9 NASB

Speaking of the wicked, Job says:

He perishes forever like his refuse; Those who have seen him will say, 'Where is he?' Job 20:7 NASB

The word "refuse" here is from the Hebrew gelel, which means: "dung, a ball of dung." He perishes forever like his dung.

For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You. Psalms 73:27 NASB
The dead will not live, the departed spirits will not rise; Therefore You have punished and destroyed them, And You have wiped out all remembrance of them. Isaiah 26:14 NASB

The Tanakh says the wicked are like: "grass that quickly withers; the green herb that fades; like refuse; like chaff":

Let them be as a snail which melts away as it goes along, Like the miscarriages of a woman which never see the sun. Psalms 58:8 NASB
As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; As wax melts before the fire, So let the wicked perish before God. Psalms 68:2 NASB

There are at least 70 metaphors or similes of what the end of the wicked will be like in the Tanakh. What do these pictures tell us? Will reality resemble the picture? If the wicked are to be eternally tortured in flames, shouldn't the pictures some how reflect that? Shouldn't some of the pictures be the wicked will be like meat on a skewer roasting over the fire, or like those boiling in a caldron of oil? Do you see eternal conscious torment even hinted at in any of these pictures?

Let's look at how they viewed the end of the wicked in Second Temple Judaism or Intertestamental Literature. Apocrypha-is synonymous with the fourteen or fifteen books in the Catholic Bible. These writings are not found in the Hebrew Tanakh, but they are contained in some manuscripts of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanakh, which was completed around 250 B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt. Most of these books were declared to be Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent (1545-1563), though the Protestant Church rejects any divine authority attached to them.

All references in the Apocrypha to the end of the wicked is that of perishing except for one in Judith 16:17, which talks about eternal torment. This is our first picture of eternal torment in literature associated with the Bible.

Pseudepigrapha—the word "Pseudepigrapha" literally means: "falsely ascribed writings," and it refers to a work that falsely claims to be written by a specific author. This literature is equally split between the teaching of the wicked perishing and being eternally tormented.

Dead Sea Scrolls—in 1947, a Bedouin shepherd tossed a stone into a cave close to the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, in Qumran. Rather than the sound of rock or earth, he heard the sound of breaking pottery. They found a collection of some 981 different texts in eleven caves from the immediate vicinity of the ancient settlement at Qumran in the West Bank. The Dead Sea Scrolls include three types of documents: the earliest existing copies of books from the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh; copies of other early works that are not part of Tanakh; and works related to a specific sect that existed at Qumran among the Jews at the time of the Second Temple.

The Dead Sea Scrolls give a consistent picture of the total destruction of the wicked, they perish. No idea of eternal conscious torment is found in these documents.

Rabbinical LiteratureBabylonian Talmud, Jerusalem Talmud and Mishna. This literature seems to support both views; that of the wicked perishing and that of eternal torment. So there was not a single Jewish view.

So through out the Hebrew Scriptures we have no hint of the end of the wicked being eternal conscious torment, but once we get to the intertestamental period we start to see some indication of it. Why? We'll talk about this is a few minutes.

What does the New Testament say about the end of the wicked? Where did the New Testament writers get their information? The teaching of the apostles was based on Moses and the Prophets; therefore, their writings reflect the truths found in the Tanakh.

"As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. "His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." Matthew 3:11-12 NASB

What is John talking about here, is this a reference to Hell? No, he is talking about the fiery destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. John is warning the religious leaders of Israel. The fact that the axe was already laid at the root of the tree (God's covenant people) indicates the nearness of the judgment.

John the Baptist comes on the scene as a Prophet of Yahweh after 400 years of silence. The Tanakh closes with the book of Malachi. The book of Malachi is one long and terrible impeachment of the nation Israel. Malachi is the Prophet of doom. Coming judgment is the burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi:

"Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me," says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:5 NASB
"For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze," says the LORD of hosts, "so that it will leave them neither root nor branch." Malachi 4:1 NASB

Well this verse sounds like Hell, doesn't it? No, he says the evildoer will be chaff. The reference to "burning like a furnace" is speaking of judgment on Jerusalem. This verse points to an approaching crisis in the history of the nation when Yahweh would inflict judgment upon His rebellious people. "The day" was coming—the day that shall "burn like a furnace." This period is more precisely defined as "the great and terrible day of the Lord" in Malachi:

Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. Malachi 4:5 NASB

That this "day" refers to a certain period and a specific event, is clear. Yeshua tells us that the predicted Elijah that was to come before "the great and terrible day of the Lord" was, in fact, John the Baptist:

And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. Matthew 11:14 NASB

This enables us to determine the time of the event referred to as "the great and terrible day of the Lord." It must be in the time period of John the Baptist. It seems clear that the allusion is to the judgment of the Jewish nation in A.D. 70, when their city and Temple were destroyed, and the entire fabric of Judaism was dissolved.

What is "unquenchable fire" that John talks about? The key to understanding the phrase unquenchable fire is found in:

"But if you do not listen to Me to keep the sabbath day holy by not carrying a load and coming in through the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem and not be quenched."'" Jeremiah 17:27 NASB

Israel did not heed the warning, and as a result, Jerusalem and the Temple of God were burned to the ground by Nebuchadnezzar (See II Kings 25:8,9). Is Jerusalem burning today? Obviously not. An unquenchable fire clearly does not burn forever. So what does the phrase mean? A fire that cannot be quenched burns until its divine purpose has been accomplished and then it goes out. Man cannot extinguish or quench the fire, but it does indeed go out when there is nothing left to burn.

"But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Matthew 5:22 NASB

The word "Hell" here is Gehenna. We looked at Gehenna in our last study. Gehenna is used 12 times in the New Testament, 11 in the Gospels and once in James, which says the tongue is set "on fire by Gehenna." The 11 in the Gospel are not speaking of final punishment, but of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Every use of Gehenna is from Yeshua speaking to Jews that live in or around Jerusalem. It is never used of Gentiles, and never used outside the Gospels, because Gehenna was the city dump outside Jerusalem.

Yeshua taught His disciples:

"Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 NASB

Notice that Matthew did not use the words "punishment," "torment," or "eternal." He used "destroy," which means: "to annihilate." Yeshua was speaking here to "Jews" that were living under the Law of Moses. Throughout His ministry, He made continual references to the judgment (wrath) of God that was soon to come upon them. The unfaithful "Jews" (those who rejected Him, as the Anointed of God) would be destroyed, while those of the faithful remnant would be spared.

As the disciples went out, they were not to fear death at the hands of their unbelieving brethren, as they could only rob the body of life. They were to fear God, who could permanently extinguish their life force (psuche), by denying them the resurrection unto everlasting life.

"I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:18 NASB

Yeshua is telling His disciples that even His death (passing through the gates of the grave (death) could not prevent the Church (the faithful remnant of God) from becoming a reality.

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16 NASB

The clear contrast here is "perish" and "eternal life." Those who trust in Christ don't perish. The Greek word "perish" is used literally of death. Paul taught the same thing as Yeshua in:

For the wages of sin is the death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Yeshua our Lord. Romans 6:23 NASB

Note the wages for sin is death, not eternal punishing and torment in some place called Hell. In the context of Paul's dissertation in his letter to Rome, "the death" refers to the sentence given to Adam who was guilty of "the sin." Paul's message was that a life in Adam would result in "the death," while a life of faith in Christ brings everlasting life. Again the contrast is death and eternal life, not eternal torture or eternal life.

The Greek scholar and New Testament translator, R. F. Weymouth, wrote, "My mind fails to conceive a grosser misinterpretation of language than when the five or six strongest words which the Greek tongue possesses, signifying 'destroy,' or 'destruction,' are explained to mean maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence. To translate black as white is nothing to this."

"These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Matthew 25:46 NASB

Here we have a comparison between eternal punishment and eternal life. The word "eternal" is the same in both cases. "Eternal" is from the Greek aionios from aion, which means: "existing at all times, perpetual, pertaining to an unlimited duration of time." So people argue if the righteous get eternal life then the wicked get eternal punishment. This is true, but what does "eternal punishment" mean? As we have seen from other Scriptures, the punishment is death. So what the wicked get is eternal death. It is talking about the result of the action and not the action itself. The punishment is death and that is eternal. The destruction of the wicked in the lake of fire is permanent. It is a punishment that cannot be reversed. The act of punishing will come to an end, but the consequences will last for eternity.

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 NASB

Here, those perishing are the non-elect:

but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:24 NASB

So the contrast is, those who are "perishing" and those "being saved."

The Bible teaches that the reward of believers is everlasting life, while the punishment of the wicked is just as the Scriptures state—death, which is the opposite of life. As the wicked will have no escape from death, it is indeed an eternal punishment:

Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. Jude 1:7 NASB

Notice that the punishment is "eternal fire"—is this a reference to Hell? Who or what is it that "are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire"? Isn't this a reference to the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah? It is the cities that are an example of the punishment of eternal fire. Are the cities still burning? No, but the fire is said to be eternal because its destruction is eternal, permanent, never ending.

he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. "And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." Revelation 14:10-11 NASB

At first glance this passage may seem to confirm the traditional idea of a seething, sulfurous hellfire, mercilessly and eternally tormenting helpless immortal souls. But notice the setting for this passage. From the context we see that the events it describes occur in Jerusalem amid earth-shaking events and disasters occurring immediately before or at Christ's return, not in Hell or the afterlife at all. This warning describes the punishment that will befall all the Jerusalem's inhabitants "who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." This is another passage that is speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem.

I had a person ask me, "If you don't believe in Hell, how do you evangelize?" I don't believe we can scare people into heaven. "Turn or burn" is not good evangelism. If we go to the book of Acts which records the evangelistic efforts of the early Church, what do we find? Do they warn of the fires of Hell? No, there is only one passage in the book of Acts that talks about the punishment of the wicked: The apostles talking about Yeshua said:

'And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.' Acts 3:23 NASB

Those who reject Christ are destroyed, not tortured. The apostles never talked about a place like the traditional view of Hell:

And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 1 John 5:11-12 NASB

The fate of mankind cannot be stated any simpler than this. His brethren that accept Yeshua as the Son of God will receive the reward of life. The opposite lay in store for those who refused Him—they would not receive life. If they do not receive life, which Paul declared to be victory over death, then we must conclude that they will remain subject to the power of death.

Translating the terms "Sheol," "Hades," "Gehenna," or "Tartarus" in a manner that denotes a place of "eternal punishment" is a perversion of God's Word. The insertion of the word "Hell" into any Bible verse can only be for the purpose of leading the reader into the falsely held perception of the translator. As with all other pagan concepts, "Hell" must be pre-determined prior to coming to the Scriptures, as the original language does not use the term; nor does it present any evidence to support the existence of a place of eternal torment.

Where did the traditional view of Hell come from?

A study of early Church history will reveal that the teaching of Hell was foreign to the earliest followers of Christ. The doctrines of "eternal torment" and "Hell" are the product of a domino effect that began with the acceptance of the pagan doctrine of the "eternal soul." Once it was accepted that man had a nature that could not die, it naturally followed that his punishment must also be "eternal." As the "souls" of the wicked were eternal, punishment must be eternal; so, "Hell" became a place of "eternal torment."

The concept of the "soul" originated with Greek philosophers some three hundred years before the time of Christ. In the second century, it found its way into the early "Church" where it became a fundamental truth of the Roman Catholic Church, through the Nicene council of 325 AD, and reinforced by other councils that convened over the next 100 years.

So where did the teaching that man has an eternal nature that transcends death come from? Historical evidence reveals that it first appeared among the ancient Egyptians. With the expansion of the Greeks under Alexander, the Egyptian philosophy of life and death became a subject to be examined by Greek philosophers. Plato is credited with modifying the Egyptian philosophy of man having two natures so that it could be incorporated into the religion of the Greeks. Plato taught that man had a nature that lived on after death and went on to a higher plane of being:

"The soul, whose inseparable attitude is life, will never admit of life's opposite, death. Thus the soul is shown to be immortal, and since immortal, indestructible…we believe there is such a thing as death? To be sure. And is this anything but the separation of the soul and body? Being dead is the attainment of this separation, when the soul exists in herself and separate from the body, and the body is parted from the soul. This is death…death is merely the separation of the soul from the body." Plato, 428-347 BC.

The Greeks prided themselves on their superior intellect and philosophy. Their philosophers had been teaching an undying nature of man. The teaching of the Greek philosophers found its way into Jewish society 300 years prior to the birth of Yeshua, through the Pharisees and the Hellenization movement.

Then early converts to Christianity brought the Greek philosophy of the eternal "soul" into the early Church. Origen (ca. 185-254) was the first person to attempt to organize Christian Doctrine into a systematic theology. He was an admirer of Plato and believed in the immortality of the soul and that it would depart to an everlasting reward or everlasting punishment at death.

In Origen De Principiis he wrote: "… The soul, having a substance and life of its own, shall after its departure from the world, be rewarded according to its deserts, being destined to obtain either an inheritance of eternal life and blessedness, if its actions shall have procured this for it, or to be delivered up to eternal fire and punishments, if the guilt of its crimes shall have brought it down to this …" ( Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, 1995, p. 240).

For Augustine death meant the destruction of the body, but the conscious soul would continue to live in either a blissful state with God or an agonizing state of separation from God. In The City of God he wrote that the soul "is therefore called immortal, because in a sense, it does not cease to live and to feel; while the body is called mortal because it can be forsaken of all life, and cannot by itself live at all. The death, then, of the soul takes place when God forsakes it, as the death of the body when the soul forsakes it" ( Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, 1995, p. 245.)

Richard Tarnas, in his book, The Passion of the Western Mind, points to this influence: "… It was Augustine's formulation of Christian Platonism that was to permeate virtually all of medieval Christian thought in the West. So enthusiastic was the Christian integration of the Greek spirit that Socrates and Plato were frequently regarded as divinely inspired pre-Christian saints …" (1991, p. 103).

Centuries later Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1225-1274) crystallized the doctrine of the immortal soul in The Summa Theologica. He taught that the soul is a conscious intellect and will and cannot be destroyed.

A few centuries later the leaders of the Protestant Reformation generally accepted these traditional views, so they became entrenched in traditional Protestant teaching. So for the most part this is what the Church today believes, but is it biblical?

The Jewish Encyclopedia states, "The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical and theological speculation rather than of simple truth, and is accordingly nowhere taught in Holy Scripture… " Jewish Encyclopedia, Immortality of the Soul, 1925.

"We are influenced always more or less by the Greek, Platonic idea that the body dies, yet soul is immortal. Such an idea is utterly contrary to the Israelite consciousness and is nowhere found in the Old Testament." International Bible Encyclopedia, Page 812, 1960.

Does the Bible teach that man has an immortal soul? Is man created immortal? In the Hebrew Scriptures, the term rendered as "soul" is "nephesh." Which, according to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, means: "A breathing thing; by extension, a living creature, any animal of vitality."

The Hebrew word translated "soul" in the Tanakh is nephesh, which simply means: "a breathing creature." Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words defines nephesh as: "the essence of life, the act of breathing, taking breath … The problem with the English term 'soul' is that no actual equivalent of the term or the idea behind it is represented in the Hebrew language. The Hebrew system of thought does not include the combination or opposition of the 'body' and 'soul' which are really Greek and Latin in origin" (1985, p. 237-238, emphasis added).

The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible makes this comment on nephesh: "The word 'soul' in English, though it has to some extent naturalized the Hebrew idiom, frequently carries with it overtones, ultimately coming from philosophical Greek (Platonism) and from Orphism and Gnosticism which are absent in 'nephesh.' In the OT it never means the immortal soul, but it is essentially the life principle, or the living being, or the self as the subject of appetite, and emotion, occasionally of volition" (Vol. 4, 1962, "Soul," emphasis added).

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (nephesh). Genesis 2:7 NASB
Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, (nephesh) that was its name. Genesis 2:19 NASB

The terms "living being," verse 7 and "living creature," verse 19, are both from nephesh. But the translating committee of the King James Version rendered "nephesh" as "soul" in 2:7, while rendering the same term as "living creature" in 2:19. In the writings of Moses, the Hebrew term "nephesh" is used in reference to the life that was given to both man and animal, without implying any distinction between the two.

While most believe Adam to have been created as an eternal being, the Bible does not teach this. If he were eternal, what was the purpose of the "tree of life"? Absolute proof that Adam was created mortal is found in:

Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"— therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. Genesis 3:22-23 NASB

Adam was created mortal and was always subject to death; however, in establishing the "tree of life," God had given him the means to procure everlasting life. Adam sinned in eating the fruit of the forbidden tree and for this was subject to condemnation, which is eternal death.

For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 NASB

At the Second Coming immortality was given to believers and only to believers. The mortal put on immortality. All non-believers perish.

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown write, "Nowhere is the immortality of the soul, distinct from the body, taught: A notion which many erroneously have derived from the heathen philosophers." Commentary by Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, 1 Corinthians 15:53.

Canon Gouge writes, "When the Greek and Roman mind instead of the Hebrew mind came to dominate the Church, there occurred a disaster in doctrine and practice from which we have never recovered"

The Rich Man and Lazarus—many will try to use Luke 16:19-31 as proof that there is conscious life after death, and that there is a place of eternal torment (Hell). This is a Parable and parables are designed to teach great moral principles. Do people actually have conversations between Heaven and Hell? Can those in Heaven see people burning in Hell? Can they hear their screams? Would a finger dipped in water actually lessen the torment of another? See Glenn Hill's message on this subject.

It is my opinion that the Church's doctrine of Hell comes more from Dante's Inferno than from the Bible. It is an invention of the Catholic Church to keep people in fear and bondage. Dante taught that the lowest lever of Hell, which was reserved for the worst of sinners, was freezing cold. Ever heard the expression, "Cold as Hell"?

Hopefully, this study has shown that the Scriptures do not support the teaching of the traditional view of non-believers suffering in flames of fire for eternity. Man was not created immortal. Man is mortal until he trusts in Christ, and at which point he puts on immortality. So if the Bible doesn't teach a doctrine of eternal conscious torment, why do so many believe it? I think that S.W. Foss gives us the answer in his poem the "Calf Path":

For men are prone to go it blind, Along the calf-paths of the mind;

And work away from sun to sun, To do what other men have done.

They follow in the beaten track, And out and in, and forth and back,

And still their devious course pursue, To keep the path that others do.

(This is an excerpt from The Calf Path by S.W. Foss)

Some men who have broken away from this "Calf Path" of eternal conscious torment are F.F. Bruce, John Stott, Clark H. Pinnock, N.T. Wright to name just a few.

Continue the Series

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322