A Cool Hell
A FIERY hell of excruciating torments has been envisioned, for centuries, by religious leaders of Christendom as the certain destiny of sinners. From pulpits and in religious publications they have used unrestrained imaginations to describe in gruesome detail the awful torments that the “damned” are thought to suffer eternally in hell. This they have done without having been eyewitnesses of a fiery hell and without having found in God’s written Word the descriptions of it that they have given. The subject is still popular among some religious groups, but the growing tendency among clergymen is to think of a cool hell rather than a literally hot one.
Commenting on how theologians are beginning to view hell today, clergyman John Mellin of New York’s First Presbyterian Church remarked: “Today, most theologians define hell as being shut off from God. It is a present experience and a continuous process, true now as well as after death. More and more people are getting away from the idea of a physical realm of crackling fires.” Clergyman P. M. Dawley of the Episcopal General Theological Seminary said: “The medieval picture of hell as a place of flaming torment which held the minds of men for some generations was inadequate.” More than “in adequate,” the concept of a fiery hell is unscriptural. But Mellin’s saying that hell is “a present experience,” while he is expressing a common worldly view, is not an improvement from the standpoint of the Bible. People ought to know what God’s Word teaches about hell.
There are passages in the Bible that speak of hell, torment and fire, but these passages do not state that unrepentant sinners are confined eternally in a fiery hell where they experience conscious torment as punishment for sins. The Bible states that death, not torment, is the punishment for sin. (Rom. 6:23) The often-quoted verses in the sixteenth chapter of Luke that tell about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus speak of hell or Hades, flames and torment, but this is an illustration or parable and not a real-life or afterlife experience, as shown by the fact that Jesus opened this illustration with the same expression that he used to open other illustrations, namely, “a certain man.” Compare Luke 16:19 with Lu 16 verse one and with Luke 19:12.
If Jesus had been teaching by his illustration of Lazarus and the rich man that conscious torment in a fiery hell awaits unrepentant sinners, it is very strange that he made no mention of sin in the illustration. All that is said about the rich man is that he was rich and enjoyed himself with magnificence. That in itself can hardly be regarded as grounds for confining him for eternity in a place of fiery torment. Nothing more is said about Lazarus than that he was a beggar who sat at the gate of the rich man hoping to be fed the things that dropped from the rich man’s table. In itself that does not recommend Lazarus for better treatment than the rich man.
Jesus was teaching something by this illustration that had no connection with punishment for sin. It had to do with classes of people and a change in their spiritual positions. On more than one occasion Jesus gave illustrations that applied to the Jewish religious leaders of his day who opposed the truths he preached to the common people. His preaching so tormented them that they finally had him killed. They well fit the rich man of his illustration. (Luke 20:19, 20, 46, 47) On the other hand, the common Jewish people, who were treated like beggars by the religious leaders, experienced a great spiritual change when they became disciples of Jesus; they were pictured by Lazarus.—1 Cor. 1:26-29.
At Mark 9:47 and 48, Jesus warns of Gehenna, “where their maggot does not die and the fire is not put out.” What he says in these and the surrounding verses gives no suggestion that those who are pitched into Gehenna are conscious and suffer torments there. His mention of maggots links Gehenna with decaying flesh and not with immortal souls in hell. The valley of Hinnom (Greek: Gehenna) near Jerusalem was a place where dead bodies were cast. Sulphur-fed fires were kept burning to destroy the refuse, and maggots ate dead flesh not reached by the flames. Jesus used Gehenna to symbolize eternal destruction for the wicked. It was from this valley by Jerusalem that the symbol of the “lake of fire and sulphur,” at Revelation 20:10, was drawn.
Although Revelation speaks of the lake of fire as the place where the Devil and his beastly organization are thrown and says that they “will be tormented day and night forever and ever,” we cannot conclude that this is the fiery hell envisioned by certain religious leaders. In their hell the Devil is the one who is doing the tormenting, not the one being tormented. Furthermore, this lake of fire is identified in verse fourteen. There we are told that hell or Hades is thrown into it. “And death and Hades [hell] were hurled into the lake of fire. This means the second death, the lake of fire.” The throwing of death and hell into the lake of fire indicates their end or destruction. This is confirmed at 1 Corinthians 15:26, which says: “As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing.”
When Adamic death, the death we all have inherited from Adam, ceases to have power over mankind, it will have been brought to nothing as if cast into the destructive lake of fire. Its companion, hell, which also is brought to nothing by being cast into the symbolic lake of fire, has always been inseparately linked with death. It, too, will become a thing of the past.
The word “hell” is translated from the Hebrew word “Sheol” and the Greek word “Hades.” Peter showed that these two words have the same meaning by using Hades, as recorded at Acts 2:27, when he quoted Psalm 16:10, which uses Sheol. These words do not convey the thought of a fiery place of torment. The King James Version translated Sheol as hell, grave and pit. At Job 14:13 this Bible version translates Sheol as “grave,” whereas the Catholic Douay Version uses “hell.” The fact that this text tells of Job praying to be hidden in hell gives further evidence that hell is not a place of torment, but the common grave of mankind.
A close examination of how the Bible words for hell are used makes it evident that they do not refer to a fiery place of eternal torment for “damned souls.” Being the common grave of mankind, hell contains dead persons. Revelation 20:13 speaks of hell as giving up the dead in it. The common grave of mankind, where all humans go because of Adamic death, is actually the Bible hell from which multitudes of sleeping dead will be brought back to life.—John 5:28, 29.