It seems that there is no other Christian doctrine that is so misunderstood as Death and Hell, yet this is a vital doctrine to our faith, a foundational building block that cannot be neglected. Unfortunately, mythology, superstition, and philosophy are now often confused with the plain simple teaching of our Bible as read in its normal ordinary sense where words are allowed to be interpreted with their usual meanings.
Much of the current teaching (or assumption) about Death and Hell either paints a picture of a weak impotent God that has lost control over of his own creation, or of a vengeful sadistic God that makes the devil seem like a saint in comparison. Needless to say, this damages the faith of some, and serves as a stumbling block for many others who can see the obvious inherent contradiction between a god of Eternal Conscious Torment and the God of Love.
When the Bible speaks to us of death, it is in contrast to life, but only as a complete opposite, not life in another form, however diminished or spectral one might wish to imagine. Death is absolute.This is not only the most reasonable and rational conclusion one would reach from observing creation, but we are also plainly told this in the scripture.
(5) For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
(6) Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.
When the Bible uses the word hell, it is used as a close synonym of death, often as the gravedom or the state of destruction. It is where things are cast away, such as in pits, or crevices, or ravines, or graves, or tombs, even as into the depths of the sea or the belly of a whale. Our English word "hell" is derived from the Hebrew "sheol" and the early English words of "Hel" and "Helle" which meant "hidden" or "unseen." Peter spoke of Christ's body not being left in hell, and in the resurrection, hell shall give up its dead.
(31) He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.
(13) And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
(14) And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
Hell is not a fire in itself, but rather we are told that there will be a time when hell itself shall be set on fire, the wicked shall be consumed, as chaff, be turned to ashes, shall melt away, and shall be no more. When the Bible warns of hell, it speaks of a death most absolute and literal, not of preservation, but of destruction. Fires are universally known for their power to consume, and although people may fear the pain that precedes death, few people have any delusion that being cast into a literal fire would grant them eternal life.
(28) And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
In summary, the plainest teachings of death and hell from our common King James bible speaks of the cessation of life, the absence of thought or sensation, of a practical and literal extinction, being wiped out of existence, never again to be a blot upon creation or a burden to anyone. There will be a final victory over evil, and the former things shall pass away.
(4) And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
This is only intended to be an introduction to the subject. The scriptures are very direct and clear and in order to support what claims to be "traditional hell doctrine" one must interpret "death" as "life", "no more" as "forever", and "consumed" as "preserved." Such theology is most perverse: this is the same as defining evil as good and black as white.
(20) Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
It is hoped that the reader would endeavor to study this subject for themselves, and would be willing to consider the resources below and even challenge this author if they disagree or have any questions that require an answer.
This section shall be expanded in the near future, but for now it is hoped that these articles may help to provide some background and biblical perspective on the subject of Death and Hell.
The Testimony of the Nineteenth Century
This is an excellent tract written by Henry Constable, A.M., Prebendary of York that I highly recommend for any reader. It is somewhat lengthy and detailed, but it is also very thorough. This document is a testament to the fact that these issues were also being discussed from the scripture in the 1800's. There are later editions of this tract, but this is the best copy I have found that is in a readable condition.
A Typical Modern-Day Baptist "Hell Sermon"
A local deacon of a "Bible Believing" Baptist Church said that he felt especially led to preach a sermon on "Hell" while the pastor was away on other duties. This is both an outline of his "Hell" sermon and a written response that was delivered to the Pastor after he returned. The pastor gradually became belligerent and started ranting through email without attempting to answer what was presented. It was later sent to the said deacon in care the church office, but no confirmation was ever received that it was delivered intact.
It has yet to receive an answer from this pastor, the deacon, or anyone else that claims to agree with their position. Although the Pastor emphasized that he did not disagree with the deacon, it seems that he realized that this "Hell Doctrine" was not something that should be preached where it had an opportunity to be cross-examined or held to the light of scripture.
A non-denominational pastor wanted to convince me that the souls of the dead are currently suffering in eternal conscious torment, but rather than attempting to use words of his own, he offered an essay that was written by another in his stead. The essay in question was written by one William C. Procter and published by R.A. Torrey in "The Fundamentals" in 1917. It relied heavily upon the then-recent changes in the Revised Standard Version and typical unchallenged bluster. This original essay was titled "What Christ Teaches Concerning Future Retribution" and may be downloaded here.
Before reading his paper, I asked permission to be able to reply to it in writing. I then carefully read the essay, compared it to the scriptures, and responded in writing the very next week. The pastor was unprepared to answer for his champion that he had presented, and eventually said that he would need to be able to look down from heaven to see people being tortured or he could not guarantee that he would be able to remain obedient to God forever. His final argument was "People believe what they want to believe ... I meant me" (pointing to himself.)
What a Difference a King James Bible Makes...
A small Baptist church had weekly bible studies, where three or four verses would be the subject matter, and a representative of each different bible version they had available would stand up and read the verse aloud. On one particular night, one of the readings was from Matthew 8:12, "But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (King James Version.) I was surprised at how differently this verse was translated among the multitude of English translations that were available that night, and at how greatly the meaning was changed. Thus, this essay was written, and a complementary copy given to the local pastor. This pastor did not become mad or upset, and remains friendly to this day, although he never responded to any attempt to discuss this subject with him.
Does eternal punishment in everlasting fire cause one to "Burn On" or "Burn Up?" Robert Whitefield recently wrote a short essay strongly attacking what he calls the "Soul Sleep" and "Annihilation" doctrines as being "false teachings." We believe that attention should be focused on this issue, thus we are willing to host his essay, not only so we may evaluate the true strength of his arguments, but also so that both sides might be considered fairly and judged by scripture.
Due to the wide-angle "shotgun effect" of his original essay, this exchange has produced a very comphrensive coverage of the most common questions raised on these important doctrines of death and hell. Our readers are highly encouraged to download each essay so that they may fairly compare both sides.
Author: Robert Whitefield, January 2011
"Let me conclude by saying after further study of the soul sleep doctrine and the burn up doctrine I find them to be false teachings and not in line with Christian beliefs that are outlined by the Bible."
Author: Andrew Patrick, January 2011
"Not only does God have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but why would he intentionally torture billions of people without an end, without any hope of redemption? Anyone who would wish such a fate upon others knows not the love of God. Any one who would believe such a thing knows not the scripture."
Status of Exchange: In response to the "Burn On or Burn Up?" essay above, Robert Whitefield has since informed its author that his deacons will physically remove him from his church premises if he were to visit ever again. He seemed particularly upset that someone might be able to read the response for themselves. Although Robert has otherwise refused to comment as to the contents of the essay, this shall be recognized as an official acknowledgment. However, since he seems to have abandoned any attempt to answer from the scriptures, his form of "acknowledgment" shall be counted as his loss in the apologetic realm. No further response is expected from Robert on this subject. Joh 3:19-21 1 Jn 4:6-8 Luk 6:22-23
(19) And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. (20) For everyone one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. (21) But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
(6) We are of God; he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. (7) Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. (8) He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
(22) Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. (23) Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.
1 Jn 4:6-8
If someone would like to pick up where Robert left off, or if anyone feels that this “debate” left any unanswered questions or angles that need to be discussed, please feel free to contact our webmasters for details.
Does the Bible speak more about Hell than Heaven?
An essay by an anonymous Brother Bird that illustrates how modern preachers can oft repeat unsubstantiated statements that will not hold up under scrutiny. Should we become mindless parrots, or should we look to these things for ourselves?
Hell - A Place of Silence and Extinction
Matt Elton contrasts two differing views of death and hell and reveals their origins, discussing concepts such as immortality of the soul, soul sleep, annihilation, the death penalty, hell in the earth, hell on earth, everlasting fire, and above all, why all of this actually matters.