Herbert W Armstrong Library
Sign In  |  MyHWA  |    
HELL Man's Idea vs. the Bible
Plain Truth Magazine
January 1986
Volume: Vol 51, No.1
QR Code
HELL Man's Idea vs. the Bible
Roderick C Meredith   
Church of God

Born: June 21, 1930
Member Since: 1949
Ambassador College: 1952
Ordained: December 20, 1952
Office: Evangelist

Is God an "angry Judge"? A God who tortures helpless sinners ages without end?

   You have probably never heard the truth about what "hell" really is!
   Or where your ideas about "hell" came from.
   So open your mind to some startling truth you may not have understood before.
   You probably have heard of the idea of a horrifying, nightmarish place of never-ending torture for lost sinners. Atheists say religious people use this concept of "hell" as a means of playing upon the emotions of people who are sincerely trying to find God's will.
   But where did they — and where did you — learn these ideas?

Man's Idea of Hell

   As in nearly everything else of a spiritual nature, mankind is confused and divided as to the kind of future punishment the wicked will receive. Even most churches have changed or modified their beliefs on this subject over the years.
   However, the common present-day belief on hell is given in the Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 14, page 81. Here are some excerpts from its article titled "Hell": "Hell as generally understood is the abode of evil spirits; the infernal regions, where the devil rules supreme, and where lost or condemned souls go after death to suffer indescribable torments and eternal punishment either for wickedness inherited from the sin of Adam or for more or less serious infractions of the divine law."
   Notice that the devil is supposed to rule supreme in hell. He is often pictured with a tail, a pitchfork and a fiendish smile — delighting himself in inflicting these "indescribable torments" on lost sinners.
   Continuing the article: "Hell, in the theological sense, has no place in most primitive religions, nor has heaven... There was no thought of dividing the future state into separate and distinct conditions of existence. Even so late a writer as the author of Ecclesiastes declares that 'all [men and beasts] go unto one place' (Eccl. 3:20) and 'there is one event to the righteous and [to the] wicked' (Eccl. 9:2)."
   The men who compiled this encyclopedia found that the early religions — which they term the "primitive" religions — had no idea of "heaven" or "hell" as we know them.
   Note, too, their comment that even so recent a writer as the author of Ecclesiastes believed that all living things went to one place — the grave! It might interest these learned gentlemen to know that GOD ALMIGHTY inspired the author of Ecclesiastes! But perhaps, they reason, God didn't know what he was talking about. He wasn't "educated" yet. Is that the way you reason?
   But let's continue with another excerpt from this encyclopedia article on "The popular idea of hell as a place of punishment — either redemptive or rigidly retributive in character — did not come suddenly and full-formed into existence. It is the product of centuries of thinking on the great problem of reward and punishment which, instinctively almost, man associates with human deeds."
   So today's concept of hell is admittedly a product of man's instinctive thinking. It did not come fully revealed from God, but rather "is the product of centuries of thinking" — using human reason to decide what only GOD can reveal!

God's Purpose

   The primary reason so many men and organizations of men have a false conception of hell is that they view it just as an isolated doctrine. They fail to look at the overall purpose of God in putting man on this earth, of offering him the gift of eternal life for obedience, or of everlasting punishMENT (not punishing) for disobedience.
   God created man in his own image and likeness (Gen. 1:26). In the Garden of Eden, he told man the way that would lead to eternal life. Then he told man that going the wrong way — the way of selfishness and greed — would lead to DEATH (Gen. 2:17).
   But Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), told the woman, "Ye shall not surely die" (Gen. 3:4). "You have an immortal soul."
   Man has been believing that lie about the immortal soul ever since!
   God's purpose is to develop holy, righteous character in man which would make him fit for eternal life. God gave ancient Israel his Ten Commandments, "that it might be well with them, and with their children forever" (Deut. 5:29).
   God's decrees are always for man's good. They are not designed as arbitrary decrees which God uses as an excuse for plunging men into flames of fire! Notice that God offered Adam and Eve life on the one hand, and death on the other. Adam and Eve would not have been offered LIFE if they already were immortal souls. Man was created mortal and in need of eternal life from God through his Spirit.
   If man rebelled against God and made himself miserable through sin, then the kindest thing that God could do would be to let man die. Then, stubborn, sinning man would be unable to bring any further misery on himself or others by his wrong ways. He would just cease to exist, and would thus not interfere with the happiness of others who sought eternal life. That is why we read that the soul that sins shall die (Ezek. 18:4).
   But men have disagreed with God and his Word, and have come to believe in an entirely different reward for the wicked. So, where do men get their ideas of "hell"?

What is "Hell"?

   You will be surprised to learn that Jesus Christ himself went to "hell" when he died! In Peter's inspired sermon on the day of Pentecost, he said, "He [David] seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption" (Acts 2:31).
   So — according to your Bible — Jesus went to hell!
   The "hell" where Jesus was for three days and three nights (Matt. 12:40) after his crucifixion is translated from the Greek word hades. Hades simply means "pit" or "grave." When the King James translation of the Bible was made, Englishmen commonly understood that "hell" could mean a grave, pit, or hole in the ground. They often spoke of burying their potatoes in hell for the winter.
   So the "hell" where Jesus went was simply the grave — the rock hewn sepulcher where he was buried. Unless you live until Christ comes and are changed from mortal to immortal (I Cor. 15:53), you will go to this same "hell."
   The second Greek word translated "hell" is tartaroo. It is used only once in the Bible (II Pet. 2:4) and refers to the condition of restraint of the fallen angels. It never refers to men.
   Gehenna is the third Greek word translated "hell." Gehenna, or the Valley of Hinnom, was located outside of Jerusalem. It was a place where trash, filth, and the dead bodies of animals and despised criminals were thrown. It was like some of our city dumps today. Ordinarily, everything thrown in this valley was destroyed by fire — completely burned up.
   In Jewish thought, this burning, smoking Valley of Hinnom was associated with the future punishment of the wicked. So it was natural for Jesus and the apostles to use the word gehenna — derived from the Valley of Hinnom — when referring to the lake of fire which will be the fate of the wicked. This lake of fire is described in Revelation 20:14-15.
   These, then, are the three Greek words which are translated into the word "hell" in our Bibles. In the Old Testament, which was written in Hebrew, there is only one word which is translated "hell." That word is Sheol. It corresponds to the Greek word hades, meaning the grave, or pit.
   Before we consider the scriptures where these words are used and find the astonishing truth about what "hell" really is, let's briefly inspect some of the theories of men on this subject.

Example of "Hell-fire" Scriptures

   A familiar passage to most "hellfire" preachers is found in Mark 9:43-48. Jesus was showing that it was better to rid ourselves of anything — even a job, an association or a habit which we loved as much as our right arm — than to let it cause us to disobey God and thus be cast into hell (gehenna), "into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."
   The "hell" to which Jesus referred was gehenna — deriving its name from the Valley of Hinnom. There were ledges along the edge of this valley.
   Smith's Bible Dictionary gives a description of this valley. If anything, especially a dead body, landed on a ledge above the fires, it would be devoured by many worms or maggots which were kept alive by the animal and vegetable substances deposited there.
   It was to these worms that Christ was referring when he said, "their worm dieth not." But Christ didn't mean that each individual worm continued to live forever! He wasn't teaching the immortality of worms!
   Actually, these worms, or maggots, are the larvae which develop from eggs deposited by flies. They continue for only a few days in this larvae form, then pupate and finally emerge as flies, later dying.
  The Greek word that was inspired and translated into the English word "worm" in this passage simply means a grub or maggot. It is a collective expression for all the worms that devour dead matter. These worms do not die, but pupate and become flies. Later, these flies like all other animals will return to the dust from which they come. "All are of the dust, and all turn to dust again" (Eccl. 3:20).
   The "fire that never shall be quenched" is a description showing that God will permit nothing to put out or quench this fire. It will simply burn up the bodies of the wicked.
   Naturally, those who preach "hell-fire" use this passage to frighten unthinking people into believing that sinners will suffer eternal torment in hell-fire — evidently with worms chewing on them at the same time!

What to Fear

   Instead of fearing what some misguided preacher may tell us about hell, let us see what Jesus said to fear. "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him [God] which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [gehenna]" (Matt. 10:28). Here we find the clear statement that God can destroy both our body and soul in gehenna the lake of fire. There is no mention made of burning forever and ever, and yet never quite burning up. But it does speak of destruction.
   Recall that God told Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed him, they would surely DIE. Their lives would be cut off — destroyed. Jesus told his disciples: "... wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction [not eternal life in "hell-fire"], and many there be which go in there at" (Matt. 7:13). Then he said, "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (verse 19). What happens to a tree when it is cast into the fire? Why, it is burned up — destroyed.
   Speaking of the harvest of the righteous and wicked, Jesus said he would tell the reapers, "Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn" (Matt. 13:30). The tares, of course, refer to the wicked, and the wheat to the righteous. When literal tares are burned, they are BURNED UP. What about these types of sinners which are burned up? Was Jesus using wrong examples, or did he mean what he said?
   The obvious answer which any honest person can find is that Jesus meant exactly what he said. The fate of the wicked will be gehenna, or the lake of fire which the Bible mentions. But this fire is a lot hotter than most people think!
   The wicked are human, mortal beings. Flesh and blood is subject to burning up. When the wicked are cast into the lake of fire, they will be burned up — destroyed!
   From Genesis to Revelation, life and death are set as the two opposites — the fate of the righteous and the wicked respectively. God told Adam, "... dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" (Gen. 3:19). No mention here of being plunged immediately into "hellfire." The reward for disobedience was death.
   Later, David wrote of the wicked, "... into smoke shall they consume away" (Psa. 37:20).
   Still later, Malachi speaks of the fire that will burn the wicked: "For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall BURN THEM UP, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this..." (Mal. 4:1, 3).
   Can anything be plainer than that the wicked are to be burned up — completely destroyed? That is why Jesus said, "... fear him which is able to DESTROY both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28).

Wages of Sin

   The apostle Paul summed up the whole matter of man's reward for sin when he wrote, "For the wages of sin is DEATH; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). If you believe this scripture means what it says, then you know the truth. But, unfortunately, theologians often fail to understand what Paul said.
   Could anything be more clear than this scripture? The wages, or reward, of sin is shown to be death, and eternal life is stated to be a gift from God — not something we already have.
   Death means just that — the cessation of life and consciousness — total oblivion! In spite of the vain attempt of many preachers to make death mean separation from God, you cannot reconcile this with scripture. Neither does death mean eternal life in the horrifying, nightmarish torments of an imaginative "hell."
   This "hell-fire" doctrine which is used to frighten so many ignorant human beings is a LIE. Its author is the father of lies — Satan the devil! If you are one who has gullibly swallowed that doctrine and suffered mental agonies from the fear of a man-made "hell-fire," God help you to study all the scriptures on this subject and find his truth.
   But remember that the penalty of death will be caused by fire. Paul warns in Hebrews 10:26-27, "For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall DEVOUR the adversaries." Here we find that those who, knowing the truth, sin willfully or deliberately, will be devoured by fire — they will be totally burned up and consumed.
   This is a FEARFUL WARNING to those who know God's truth and still refuse to obey it! This is not an unreasoned fear of a harsh, stern God who delights in punishing sinners. Rather, it is the sober realization that unless we surrender to God's will and his way of love, and refuse to let anything turn us aside, God will take away the life he has given us.
   Yet this same passage shows God's infinite LOVE. He will not take away anyone's life because of ignorance or weakness, but because they willfully and knowingly refuse to obey their Creator. This rebellious attitude in itself would bring them, and those about them, nothing but eternal trouble and misery if they were allowed to live forever. So God in his mercy and supreme wisdom has decreed the penalty of DEATH for such people.

The Lake of Fire

   When the Bible says, "The wages of sin is death," it is not referring to the death we see around us every day. This death is referred to in I Corinthians 15:22, which says, "in Adam all die," and in Hebrews 9:27, which says, "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." These passages describe the first death — a death caused by a person wearing out physically and from which he can be resurrected.
   Revelation 20 shows the time of later resurrections, and when the wicked are cast into the lake of fire. Study it carefully. The first three verses describe Satan being bound for a thousand years, and the resurrected saints, who are in the first resurrection, ruling the world under Christ.
   The first part of verse 5 is an inserted thought which tells us, "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." So the heathen, the atheists and all who were not called to a full knowledge of God's truth, are not resurrected until after the thousand-year reign of Christ. This is the second resurrection. For them the book of life is opened for the first time (Rev. 20:11-12).
   But just before then, at the end of the thousand years of peace in the world tomorrow, the devil will go forth to deceive the nations who were not imbued with God's Holy Spirit. He will be overcome and "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever" (verse 10). Notice that the word "are" is in italics in the King James Bible. It is an inserted word to complete the meaning, and should be rendered "were cast" — because the beast and false prophet are human beings who will be burned up when they are cast into the lake of fire just before the thousand years begins (Rev. 19:20).
   At this point, some of you may be thinking about the parable of Lazarus and the rich man — and wondering if the rich man wasn't pictured as being in eternal torment. He definitely was not! But for the full and interesting proof of this, write immediately for our free booklet titled Lazarus And The Rich Man.
   Now continuing in Revelation 20, notice in verse 13 that the remaining dead are raised in a third resurrection and are judged "according to their works." These are the wicked who were called in this life and who rebelled. Verse 14 continues, "And death and hell [hades, the grave] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death." Here is a plain statement revealing that gehenna, or the lake of fire, is the SECOND DEATH.

Truth Makes Free

   The Bible reveals a very different God from the one so often preached today.
   It seems that men either try to do away with God's power altogether by preaching as though God had gone "way off" and left man to work things out according to human reason, or they go to the opposite extreme and look upon God as an "angry Judge" who is just waiting for an opportunity to punish helpless sinners throughout all eternity.
   The Creator of heaven and earth is now permitting man to sin and suffer in order to learn certain lessons. If man will accept God's truth as it is revealed, and learn these lessons God intended, he will be given eternal life in God's kingdom. But if he stubbornly persists in going the way that leads to wretchedness and misery for himself and others, God in his mercy will cut off his life by casting him into the lake of fire — which is the second death.
   Untold suffering and mental anguish has been caused by the false doctrine of an angry God plunging everyone who did not follow certain denominational teachings into a terrifying "hell-fire."
   Most people have been bound by denominational teachings, and too few have been willing to study all the scriptures on the subject to see what the Bible really said. But Jesus said of those who were willing to continue in his word, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).

Back To Top

Plain Truth MagazineJanuary 1986Vol 51, No.1
|  Fundamental Doctrines of the Church of God  |  Comments or Suggestions?  |  FAQ  |   Holy Day Information   |   Site Map   |   Donations   |
|  Sabbath & Holy Day Services   |   Weekly Bible Study Services   |   Video Groups   |   2016 Feast of Tabernacles   |
Follow Us: HWALibrary - Mobile Site
Copyright © 2016 Herbert W Armstrong Library
Important Notice

Please Note:

The address and phone number for the Worldwide Church of God given for material are no longer valid for obtaining the material offered in booklets, magazines, telecast and radio broadcast.

HWALibrary.com has all material offered on this site 100% free. You do not need to call or mail your requests, simply do a search for the material offered on our site.

The Worldwide Church of God dissolved after Mr. Armstrong's death in January 1986.

Visit our FAQ page for instructions on downloading audio and video files.

Sabbath Services

Sabbath Services:

Hello, and welcome to our Sabbath and Holy Day service tab. The services provided are selected from the recorded library of this website HWALibrary.com.

Services are posted every Sabbath or Holy Day. Our service consists of 3 hymns, a Sermonette, a hymn, the Sermon and a final hymn.

Continue to the Sabbath Service page.

Bible Study Services

Bible Study:

Hello, and welcome to our Bible Study service tab. The services provided are selected from the recorded library of this website HWALibrary.com.

Bible Study services are posted each Wednesday. Our service consists of an opening hymn, a Bible Study and a final hymn.

Continue to the Bible Study Service page.