Introduction: The Modern Concept of Hell in the Old Testament doesn’t exist
Verses are in the KJV unless otherwise stated. Hell is never mentioned in the Hebrew Old Testament, but only “the grave” (“sheol” in Hebrew). Some translations will translate sheol as “hell,” but it is without basis. For example in the KJV here Sheol is the inevitable destiny of all mankind and in Job 14:13 and Amos 9:2 a place where one would hide from God’s wrath” (if that were possible)
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.
What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? H7585 Selah.
O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, H7585 that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!
Though they dig into hell, H7585 thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down:
The Old Testament and the New Testament do not contradict, so it’s hard to believe that the foreign concept of eternal torment would be introduced into the NT without any precedent in the OT. However, the OT goes further and contradicts this concept. Take these verses for example that say God’s wrath is only temporary:
Psalm 30:5 NKJV
For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning.
Isaiah 54:8 NKJV
8 With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment;
But with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,”
Says the Lord, your Redeemer.
Lamentation 3 NKJV
31 For the Lord will not cast off forever.
32 Though He causes grief,
Yet He will show compassion
According to the multitude of His mercies.
33 For He does not afflict willingly,
Nor grieve the children of men.
And these verses show that the wicked will be destroyed or consumed, not tormented:
Psalms 37 NKJV
10 For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more;
Indeed, you will look carefully for his place,
But it shall be no more.
20 But the wicked shall perish;
And the enemies of the Lord,
Like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish.
Into smoke they shall vanish away.
Psalm 68:2 NKJV
As smoke is driven away,
So drive them away;
As wax melts before the fire,
So let the wicked perish at the presence of God.
Psalm 104:35 NKJV
May sinners be consumed from the earth,
And the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Praise the Lord!
Malachi 4 NKJV
4 “For behold, the day is coming,
Burning like an oven,
And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble.
And the day which is coming shall burn them up,”
Says the Lord of hosts,
“That will leave them neither root nor branch.
2 But to you who fear My name
The Sun of Righteousness shall arise
With healing in His wings;
And you shall go out
And grow fat like stall-fed calves.
3 You shall trample the wicked,
For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet
On the day that I do this,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
Isaiah 1:16 NKJV
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.
Cease to do evil,
Ezekiel 28 NKJV
18 “You defiled your sanctuaries
By the multitude of your iniquities,
By the iniquity of your trading;
Therefore I brought fire from your midst;
It devoured you,
And I turned you to ashes upon the earth
In the sight of all who saw you.
19 All who knew you among the peoples are astonished at you;
You have become a horror,
And shall be no more forever.”
The New Testament Does Not Change from the Old Testament
We must keep this in mind when we investigate the NT. As Yeshua (Jesus) states KJV:
44 And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled,G4137 which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.
Mat 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.G4137
18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
19 Whosoever therefore shall break G3089 one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
The same greek word G3089 for “break” is used here when talking about making rules in the church and makes the undeniable connection that the rules it says not to “break” or “loose” are the rules in the old testament.
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose G3089 on earth shall be loosed G3089 in heaven.
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose G3089 on earth shall be loosed G3089 in heaven.
Hence we see the word “fulfilled” as meaning the accomplishment of something, but not the passing away of something. The Law of Moses, and The Prophets, and The Psalms, remain after they have been fulfilled in Christ, for example:
Mat 8:17 KJV
That it might be fulfilled G4137 which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses.
This is just to point out that everything remains unchanged by their fulfillment. (they are indeed not destroyed as Yeshua says) My point is that if the OT speaks against the concept of eternal torment, then that cannot change in the NT. However, let us examine some of the verses commonly used to argue for the modern concept of hell in the NT anyway. It is not my intent here to provide a full proof argument for an alternate interpretation but just give evidence for and provide a possibility for an alternate interpretation. This will be sufficient to resolve the contradiction and provide people with options for interpreting the Bible that are not contradictory.
New Testament Words Translated As “Hell”
The words that are translated into english in the NT as “hell” are “Hadēs,” “Tartarus,” and “Gehenna.” Hadēs is the mythological Greek underworld and is also the greek word which is used for “sheol” in the new testament e.g.
Act 2:27 For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.
Psa 16:10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.
Probably the closest word in the Greek language to what we think of as hell is Tartarus (the reason I say closests, is because it is the bad part of Hadēs where people were punished) Hadēs is a more neutral concept but Tartarrus is only used once in the new testament here:
2 Pe 2:4 KJV
For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, G5020 and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;
And notice it isn’t even used as a place of judgement but a place to be stored until judgement.
Gehenna is a real place: gehinom
And the lake of fire is also probably a real place on earth. (see: http://www.askelm.com/secrets/sec106.htm and see: https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/lake-of-fire/ ) Rico Cortes argues that the lake of fire symbolically corresponds to ancient legal devices to determine innocence or guilt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2V-Uf3v0aE )
With these three concepts, none on their own
“Hell” Didn’t Mean Hell Originally
In fact even the english translation of hell may have meant something different in older meaning of the word:
Another interesting thing to note is that webster’s 1806 dictionary:
Hell, n. the place of the damned, the grave, prison
Here hell has the meaning of Sheol included. In addition from the Watchtower online library, they quote another version of webster’s dictionary:
“It is, in fact, because of the way that the word “hell” is understood today that it is such an unsatisfactory translation of these original Bible words. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, unabridged, under “Hell” says: “fr[om] . . . helan to conceal.” The word “hell” thus originally conveyed no thought of heat or torment but simply of a ‘covered over or concealed place.’ In the old English dialect the expression “helling potatoes” meant, not to roast them, but simply to place the potatoes in the ground or in a cellar.”
“Hell.” Watchtower ONLINE LIBRARY. Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. http://m.wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200001978.
Interestingly enough both the Online Etymology Dictionary, and Google Entymology backs up part of their assertions:
“Old English hel, hell, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hel and German Hölle, from an Indo-European root meaning ‘to cover or hide.’”
Old English hel, helle, “nether world, abode of the dead, infernal regions,” from Proto-Germanic *haljo “the underworld” (cognates: f. Old Frisian helle, Dutch hel, Old Norse hel, German Hölle, Gothic halja “hell”) “the underworld,” literally “concealed place” (compare Old Norse hellir “cave, cavern”), from PIE *kel- (2) “to cover, conceal” (see cell).
The English word may be in part from Old Norse Hel (from Proto-Germanic *halija “one who covers up or hides something”), in Norse mythology the name of Loki’s daughter, who rules over the evil dead in Niflheim, the lowest of all worlds (nifl “mist”). Transfer of a pagan concept and word to a Christian idiom. In Middle English, also of the Limbus Patrum, place where the Patriarchs, Prophets, etc. awaited the Atonement. Used in the KJV for Old Testament Hebrew Sheol and New Testament Greek Hades, Gehenna. Used figuratively for “state of misery, any bad experience” since at least late 14c. As an expression of disgust, etc., first recorded 1670s.”
“cell (n.) Look up cell at Dictionary.com
early 12c., “small monastery, subordinate monastery” (from Medieval Latin in this sense), later “small room for a monk or a nun in a monastic establishment; a hermit’s dwelling” (c.1300), from Latin cella “small room, store room, hut,” related to Latin celare “to hide, conceal.”
The Latin word represents PIE root *kel- (2) “to cover, conceal” (cognates: Sanskrit cala “hut, house, hall;” Greek kalia “hut, nest,” kalyptein “to cover,” koleon “sheath,” kelyphos “shell, husk;” Latin clam “secret;” Old Irish cuile “cellar,” celim “hide,” Middle Irish cul “defense, shelter;” Gothic hulistr “covering,” Old English heolstor “lurking-hole, cave, covering,” Gothic huljan “cover over,” hulundi “hole,” hilms “helmet,” halja “hell,” Old English hol “cave,” holu “husk, pod”)…”
So we see that hell, is related to cell, which is in turn related to cellar: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=cellar which is an interesting connection to the fact that helling potatoes could mean just putting them in a place like a cellar.
Verses Used to Argue for Hell
If we don’t get any of this stuff about hell from the words themselves, where do we get it? Well we probably get it from the Greeks and their teaching that the human soul is nessesarilly immortal. (Judaism was quite Hellenized at the time of Jesus, no pun intended) The Bible specifies no such thing universally (you can get the idea that if some people have eternal life, then their souls must be immortal, however this is not true by nessesarilly for everyone)
Now let’s look at some common verses used to argue for the modern Christian concept of “hell.”
Matthew 25:41 (NKJV)
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:
… 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Notice we have an immediate problem with the modern christian reading. Eternal life is contrasted with everlasting punishment, but that would mean the wicked would also attain eternal life. If you search for the word used for “punishment” “κόλασιν” in the septuagint you come up with these results:
Search result: κόλασιν
Jeremiah 18:20 Ezekiel 14:3 Ezekiel 14:4 Ezekiel 14:7 Ezekiel 18:30 Ezekiel 43:11 Ezekiel 44:12 Matthew 25:46 I John 4:18
The corrosponding hebrew words used in Jeremiah 18:20 is H2534 which means “wrath”.
for all but one of the passeages in Ezekiel it is H4383 which means “stumbling stone”
for Ezekiel 43:11 it is H3637 which means “ashamed”
So we see the majority usage in the septuagint is the Hebrew for “stumbling stone.” This might even remind us of the word used in Romans 9:32 where christ is refered to as a stumbling stone. The words are however different.
In addition Liddle and Scott bring out a different possiblity for the meaning in the greek, which is:
“kol-a^sis, eôs, hê, checking the growth of trees, esp. almond-trees, Thphr.CP3.18.2 (pl.).”
So thus far, we have an implication of not nessesarilly torment or punishment but prunning, shame, stumbling, but what about the eternal part? Even if we take the fire literally here (which I don’t) that just means the fire here is said to be eternal but not the time people are in the fire. Also This passage from Daniel needs also to be considered:
Daniel 12 NKJV
2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
Some to everlasting life,
Some to shame and everlasting contempt.
3 Those who are wise shall shine
Like the brightness of the firmament,
And those who turn many to righteousness
Like the stars forever and ever.
So yet another punishment is mentioned, that of contempt. The only other time this word is used is in this passage.
And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring H1860 unto all flesh.
Now here we have two types of consuming forces mentioned. “Fire” and “worm.” One should notice that both of these things together are not possible: worms cannot survive in fire. When we have incompatible statements we can resolve the statements by taking them metaphorically and see what is common between them. The thing in common seems to be consumption, both worm and fire consume and destroy. The shame can be read as eternally shamed or that their memory is looked on with contempt, so this can coincide with their consumption. Although I find it quite interesting that the Bible would even bother mentioning shame and not mention eternal torment, since the latter is of so much more import than the former. I see a tension there that can be resolved by a metaphorical reading.
Anouther example of these coinciding metaphors appears in the passages where Isaiah is quoted:
Mk. 9:43-48 NKJV
43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— 44 where
‘Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’
45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— 46 where
‘Their worm does not die,
And the fire is not quenched.’
47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire— 48 where
‘Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched.’
I mention these passages so we can kill two birds with one stone: If Isaiah is not talking about the afterlife, then neither are the passages that quote it. Keil and Deilitzch comment on Isiah 66:24 passage thusly:
“The prophet had predicted in Isaiah 66:18, that in the last times the whole multitude of the enemies of Jerusalem would be crowded together against it, in the hope of getting possession of it. This accounts for the fact that the neighbourhood of Jerusalem becomes such a scene of divine judgment. בּ ראה always denotes a fixed, lingering look directed to any object; here it is connected with the grateful feeling of satisfaction at the righteous acts of God and their own gracious deliverance. דראון, which only occurs again in Daniel 12:2, is the strongest word for “abomination.” It is very difficult to imagine the picture which floated before the prophet’s mind. How is it possible that all flesh, i.e., all men of all nations, should find room in Jerusalem and the temple? Even if the city and temple should be enlarged, as Ezekiel and Zechariah predict, the thing itself still remains inconceivable. And again, how can corpses be eaten by worms at the same time as they are being burned, or how can they be the endless prey of worms and fire without disappearing altogether from the sight of man? It is perfectly obvious, that the thing itself, as here described, must appear monstrous and inconceivable, however we may suppose it to be realized.”
Keil and Delitzsch don’t suppose instead that the passage could be metaphorical but say that it must be realized. And they imply (correctly in my view) that the passage has to do with the battle for Jerusalem also known as armegeddon in revelation.
John Gill also observers:
“… these are not the carcasses of the camp of Gog and Magog, the Jews so call, as Kimchi interprets it; though it may have reference to the carcasses of Gog’s army, the Turks, that will be slain in their attempt to recover Judea, Ezekiel 38:1 or else the carcasses of those that will be slain at the battle at Armageddon, Revelation 16:16 or the army of Gog and Magog, at the end of the thousand years, Revelation 20:8.”
So whichever way you take it (casualties of Armegeddon or the army of Gog and Magog) it is a reference to something happening on earth in the future, which makes the worm and fire almost certainly incompatible.
Rashi comments here:
“their worm: The worm that consumes their flesh.
and their fire: in Gehinnom.
and abhorring: Heb. דֵרָאוֹן, an expression of contempt. Jonathan, however, renders it as two words: enough (דֵּי) seeing (רְאִיָה), until the righteous say about them, We have seen enough.”
A Look at Revelation:
Revelation 14 NKJV
9 Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
While their torment is continual here, it does not specify how long a duration it is. The smoke rises forever, but that is metaphorical language also used elsewhere. See for example the parallel description in Revelation 18:18 and Revelation 19:3, the smoke of Babylon is described in both places to be rising forever even though Babylon is ultimately destroyed, and doesn’t burn forever. The smoke be a hyperbole that the destruction was very great or that it symbolizes an eternal remembrance of the destruction by the smoke being an eternal memorial. The lake of fire (which this may refer to) is probably a real place. (as we’ve seen before) In addition the fire here is used metaphorically. Look at:
Revelation 21 (YLT)
4 and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and the death shall not be any more, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor shall there be any more pain, because the first things did go away.’ 5 And He who is sitting upon the throne said,
Lo, new I make all things; and He saith to me,Write, because these words are true and stedfast;’
Since the fire is on earth and he is making all things new it makes no sense for it to last forever.
In fact Revelation 14 is a quote from Isaiah 34:9-10 about the judgement of Edom, in NKJV:
Isaiah 34 NKJV
9Its streams shall be turned into pitch,
And its dust into brimstone;
Its land shall become burning pitch.
10 It shall not be quenched night or day;
Its smoke shall ascend forever.
From generation to generation it shall lie waste;
No one shall pass through it forever and ever.
And this verse relates this future Judgement of Edom to the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorah in NKJV:
Jeremiah 49 NKJV
17 “Edom also shall be an astonishment;
Everyone who goes by it will be astonished
And will hiss at all its plagues.
18 As in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah
And their neighbors,” says the Lord,
“No one shall remain there,
Nor shall a son of man dwell in it.
Deuteronomy 29 NKJV
23 ‘The whole land is brimstone, salt, and burning; it is not sown, nor does it bear, nor does any grass grow there, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in His anger and His wrath.’
Genesis 19 NKJV
24 Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens. 25 So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.
The reason I point this out, is that Sodom and Gomorah is said to be destroyed by eternal fire:
Jude 1 NKJV
7 as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
One way to resolve this problem of “why aren’t the fires of Sodom still burning?” is to say that the fire is not actually eternal, but infact a metaphor for eternal consumption. Sodom and Gomorah were destroyed, and that destruction was eternal (the people never came back or were revived), it was consumed, and that consumption wasn’t reversed (eternal consumption). That is why I think it is said to be destroyed by eternal metaphorical fire or… eternal consumption.
There are other examples of hyperbolic or metaphorical language in scripture such as this. When the word “hated” is used in the old testament it often means “loved less.”
Genesis 29 KJV
30 And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.
31 And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.
This is to show that hyperbolic language is often used. Eternal fire could be the same way. Now for Revelation 20:
Revelation 20 NKJV
9 They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. 10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
At first glance, you may see a problem for my argument especially when paired with the previously mentioned Matthew 25
Matthew 25:41 NKJV
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:
… 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
However, observe that the devil and his angles aren’t nessesarilly made of the same stuff as others. Hence, they may indeed be tormented forever but others may be consumed instantly. In addition this is an expounding upon revelation 14:9-11 and not describing something new so we can’t read something contradictory to Revelation 14 here. (read Revelation 19:17-20:10 to see the parallel) This is similar to how Revelation 18:1-19:3 expounds upon Revelation 14:8. Also it says the beast, the false prophet, and the devil are tormented, and the beast is probably an abstract concept such as an empire, or a world system. (using the metaphors of beasts in the book of Daniel) So the implication here is that the torment may be abstract as well. The devil and his angels also seem to be treated differently by the lake of fire than humanity is, consider these verses:
Rev 20 NKJV
“12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”
When it says this is the “second death” we have to include this verse in our analysis:
Mat 10:28 KJV
And fear not them which kill G615 the body, but are not able to kill G615 the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
This indeed sounds like a second death: destruction of the soul, not eternal life with torment. Again we have the concepts of Death and the Hades (read “grave”) thrown into some physical place like Gehenna or The Dead Sea, this has to be metaphorical (probably for destruction) especially since the word second death is used. Hebrew words used for death here in the septuagint are: H01698, H04194, H06913, H01565, H04191
They all mean death or destruction. The first one H1698 which may be a little different is often translated as pestilence or plagues, but it is used to mean destruction as well. For example:
Hos 13:14 NKJV
I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; H1698 O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.
1Pe 1:7 NKJV
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, G4442 might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
One also needs to recall the material we have already reviewed regarding Isaiah 34 noticing that the terms “day” and “night” are again used and notice that with regards to Matthew 25. In addition to all this, the word for torment here may imply to test for quality or to destroy as well.
Taking the greek definition:
G928 βασανίζω – Strong’s Greek Lexicon Number
Derivation: from G931;
KJV Usage: pain, toil, torment, toss, vex. G931
1) to test (metals) by the touchstone, which is a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold or silver by the colour of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal
2) to question by applying torture
3) to torture
4) to vex with grievous pains (of body or mind), to torment
5) to be harassed, distressed
5a) of those who at sea are struggling with a head wind
Encyclopedia Britannica: Alternate titles: Lydian stone; Lydite
Alternate titles: Lydian stone; Lydite
Touchstone, black siliceous stone used to ascertain the purity of gold and silver. Assaying by “touch” was one of the earliest methods employed to assess the quality of precious metals. The metal to be assayed is rubbed on the touchstone, adjacent to the rubbing on the touchstone of a sample of a metal of known purity. The streaks of metal left behind on the touchstone are then treated with nitric acid, which dissolves impurities, and thus, when the streaks are compared, the contrast between pure and impure metal is heightened. Because other metals, such as copper, can be alloyed to silver without significantly changing its colour, the touchstone method is not usually employed now to assay silver. It is still used, however, to assay gold and provides a reasonably accurate guide to quality.”
Or taking the corrosponding Hebrew definition that is often translated to mean “make desolate” or “destroy.”
G928 appears in the old testament:
But the hand of the LORD was heavy upon them of Ashdod, and he destroyed H8074 them, and smote them with emerods, even Ashdod and the coasts thereof.
So whichever definition we take, either from the Greek or the hebrew, both have alternate definitions to torment. However, I must admit the way the word is used in this verse adds some difficulty to this possibility:
Revelation 9 NKJV
5 And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment G928 them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. 6 In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them.
However, revelation is a highly metaphorical book in general. The rider of the horse that has the sword his mouth may be a symbol of the word of God going out to convert people. Hence revelation may use a militaristic metaphor to talk about spiritual warfare. See the previous series on Herb Montgomery Knowing this, it is interesting that a good number of the verses used to argue for the modern concept of hell (with eternal torment) come from revelation.
Check out the usage of fire in revelation 19 in NKJV:
Rev 19 NKJV
19 And I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. 20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire G4442 burning with brimstone 21 And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh.
http://studybible.info/search-interlinear/strongs/G4442 Here are a couple corrosponding hebrew words to this greek one:
With the first you will notice the usage in KJV:
And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire H784 out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, H784 and the bush was not consumed.
And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. H784
What fire does is consume things, if it doesn’t, it is a miracle like the burning bush.
Also the word Brimstone Rev 19:20 is most often used to describe destruction, here in NKJV:
Job 18 NKJV
15 They dwell in his tent who are none of his;
Brimstone is scattered on his dwelling.
16 His roots are dried out below,
And his branch withers above.
17 The memory of him perishes from the earth,
And he has no name among the renowned.
Isaiah 30 NKJV
27 Behold, the name of the Lord comes from afar,
Burning with His anger,
And His burden is heavy;
His lips are full of indignation,
And His tongue like a devouring fire.
28 His breath is like an overflowing stream,
Which reaches up to the neck,
To sift the nations with the sieve of futility;
And there shall be a bridle in the jaws of the people,
Causing them to err.
29 You shall have a song
As in the night when a holy festival is kept,
And gladness of heart as when one goes with a flute,
To come into the mountain of the Lord,
To the Mighty One of Israel.
30 The Lord will cause His glorious voice to be heard,
And show the descent of His arm,
With the indignation of His anger
And the flame of a devouring fire,
With scattering, tempest, and hailstones.
31 For through the voice of the Lord
Assyria will be beaten down,
As He strikes with the rod.
32 And in every place where the staff of punishment passes,
Which the Lord lays on him,
It will be with tambourines and harps;
And in battles of brandishing He will fight with it.
33 For Tophet was established of old,
Yes, for the king it is prepared.
He has made it deep and large;
Its pyre is fire with much wood;
The breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone,
Ezekiel 38:22 And I will bring him to judgment with pestilence and bloodshed; I will rain down on him, on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.
To summarize some of what is said here and in http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/eq/2001-1_021.pdf Revelation describes destructions:
Revelation 6:12-17, 11:15-18, 14:6-20, 16:17-21, 17:1-19:5, 19:6-20:21
There are many mappings from short to long descriptions of things:
Revelation 14 is the Judgement of Babylon (14:8) and expanded in 18:1-19:3
14:9-11 is expanded in 19:17-20:10.
14:12-13, is expanded in 20:11-21:8.
18 and 19 is of destruction and the expanded form in 14:6-11 cannot contradict this.
You will notice that the order in the Isaiah 34 is:
1 burning and brimstone
2 not quenched (no rest) day and night
3 ascending forever
Some argue that since 2 and 3 are reversed in revelation John is switching the emphasis to them having no rest day and night. However, there is another reason why John would modify the order and that is to preserve a certain structure. To quote Ralph G. Bowles:
“To see how John has structured this description of judgement
against the worshippers of the Beast, it is necessary to examine the
whole unit, Revelation 14:9-11. It can be set out in its inversion as follows:
(A) If anyone worships the beast and its image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, (9) (B) he also shall drink the wine of God's wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, (lOa) (C) he shall be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. (lOb) (Ci) And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever, (l1a) (Bi) and they have no rest, day or night, (l1b) (Ai) these worshippers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name. (l1c).
This pattern conforms to the recognised structure of introverted
parallelisms in the Bible. This structure has been described thus:
‘There are stanzas so constructed that, whatever be the number of
lines, the first line shall be parallel with the last; the second with the
penultimate; and so throughout, in an order that looks inward, or to
borrow a military phrase, from flanks to centre.’21 Using the marks of
this figure listed by K. Bailey, it is possible to trace the structure of
Revelation 14:9-11. The climax ofthe unit is found in the centre (the
tormenting destructive judgement by God’s fire)…”
Now lets look at Matthew 18
Matthew 18 NKJV
34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
This one is in fact a parable, which cannot at all be read literally, hence the argument for hell here is especially weak, and one should note that hell is not portrayed as a torment that motivates you to pay back any sort of debt. However, even more prominent is the observation that this torment may not be in the afterlife at all but a consquence of the human conscience.
There are in fact just 4 texts that are used mainly for these types of arguments: Matthew 18:34-35; Mark 9:43-48; Revelation 14:10-11 and Revelation 20:10
The last thing we should deal with is the parable of lazarus. It is indeed a parable but some still use it to argue for a literal interpretation.
Luke 16:19-31 New King James Version (NKJV)
19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”
I contend that this parable is directed at the hellenized Jews using their worldview to get a message across. Other problems that this parable brings up if taken literally is that there you will literally be able to see your relatives tormented while you are relaxing in heaven or “Abraham’s bosom.” Also why wasn’t this place called “Abraham’s bosom” mentioned before in the Bible?
Citation taken from Herb montgomory “Do I have to Believe in Hell?” https://renewedheartministries.com/sermons/2015jesusdialogue/outlines/12doihavetobeleiveinhell.pdf
Concentric Circles - Free to Think and ask
“In order to understand the parable in detail
and as a whole, it is essential to recognize the
first part derives from a well-known folk-
material . . . This is the Egyptian folk-tale
of the journey of Osiris, the son of Setme
Chamois to the under-world . . . Alexandrian
Jews brought this story to Palestine, where it
became very popular as the story of the poor
scholar and the rich publican Bar Ma’Jan.” -
J.Jeremias, Parables p. 183
From what I know this was common in early hellenized Jewish literature:
Other early Jewish works adapt the Greek mythical picture of Hades to identify the righteous dead as being separated from unrighteous in the fires by a river or chasm. In the pseudo- epigraphical Apocalypse of Zephaniah the river has a ferryman equivalent to Charon in Greek myth, but replaced by an angel. On the other side in the Bosom of Abraham: “You have escaped from the Abyss and Hades, now you will cross over the crossing place… to all the righteous ones, namely Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Enoch, Elijah and David”http://www.talentshare.org/~mm9n/articles/wait/3.htm
Herb Montgomery makes the connection that since God is an all consuming fire, and in the Song of Songs it says love is a fire
Song of Songs 8 (NKJV)
6 Set me as a seal upon your heart,
As a seal upon your arm;
For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy as [am]cruel as [an]the grave;
Its flames are flames of fire, A most vehement flame.
Since it says that God is love that being in the presence of God is the real fire that is spoken of. For instance Isaiah 33 talks about the everlasting burnings being the destination of all, but that only the righteous survive: (NKJV)
14 The sinners in Zion are afraid;
Fearfulness has seized the hypocrites:
“Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire?
Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?”
15 He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,
He who despises the gain of oppressions,
Who gestures with his hands, refusing bribes,
Who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed,
And shuts his eyes from seeing evil:
Isaiah 43 says something similar about the fire being for all and in this life:
1 But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
Here is the link to Herb Montgomery’s series. The ones I have drawn from are “Do I Have To Believe In Hell? Part 1″ and Do I Have To Believe In Hell? Part 2”