Previously, we’ve examined the errors of the Watchtower Society regarding death and the immortality of the inner man here and here. In this piece, their denial of the existence of Hell will be dealt with.
“As noted earlier, some religions teach that if a person lives a bad life, after death he will go to a place of fiery torment to suffer forever” (What does the Bible Really Teach? p 64).
It is sophistry to lump “some religions” together without noting the differences in their concepts of hell and what qualifies a person for it. Islam, for instance, believes in hell, but that only those whose bad works exceed the good, or the “infidels” will go there. Hinduism and Buddhism believe in temporary hells but do not believe in sin. Even when this distinction is made in their sources, JWs omit it. For example, in Reasoning from the Scriptures (p 175), the quote from the Encyclopedia Americana (XIV, 68) says:
“Buddhism which dates back to the 6th century B.C.E. in time came to feature both hot and cold hells. [page 69] The utterly reprobate, along with Death and Hell itself, will finally be cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:13-14).”
The part in bold was conveniently left out. In Bible Christianity, hell is not just for those who have “live a bad life.” The wages of sin (singular) is eternal death (Rom. 6:23). That is, Just one sin is enough to qualify a person for hell.
This teaching dishonors God. Jehovah is a God of love and would never make people suffer in this way. (1John 4:8) How would you feel about a man who punished a disobedient child by holding his hands in a fire. Would you respect such a man? (Ibid)
Notice the switch here. At first we are told “some religions” believe in Hell, now we are told it dishonors God. Which God – since religions do not believe in the same God? The love of the God is manifested in how He “wants all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Tim. 2:4). He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2Pet. 3:9). Thus, He has provided a way of salvation by which man will not go to hell. That God is love doesn’t imply that He is a passive or an indulgent father who pampers sinners or exonerate the wicked. To say “a God of love can never make people suffer in Hell” is like saying “a good lawyer can never send people to jail.”
The analogy of a man holding the hands of a disobedient child in fire doesn’t fit that of Hell at all. God doesn’t just point at some people and say, “You and you will go to hell.” The Lord Jesus said Hell was created for Satan and his angels (Matt. 25:41). People go there because they side with the devil in sin. “Whosoever committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning…” (1Jn. 3:8). They reap what they sowed.
The justice of God demands that sin be punished. He will never excuse or tolerate sin. The holiness of God also demands that sin be removed because only the holy can live with him. The natures of God act accordingly. To cling to a single attribute and form a doctrine around it, is idolatry. God’s love is as real as His justice and holiness. The same God who preserved Noah and his family destroyed the rest in a flood.
Sheol, Hades and the Grave
The Hebrew word for hell is Sheol. According to The New Bible Dictionary, “This word is used in the Old Testament for the place of the dead … In the later Jewish literature we meet with the idea of divisions within Sheol for the wicked and the righteous, in which each experiences a foretaste of his final destiny” (J. D Douglas, 1962, 518).
The Pictorial Bible Dictionary says: “While the word Sheol, does not pointedly refer to a definitive doctrine of endless retribution, but rather to a shadowy existence beyond the grave, it nevertheless reflects the belief in a future and continued existence” (Merrill Tenney, 1967, 346).
The Greek word for hell is hades and it is defined as: “The region of departed spirits of the lost (but including the blessed dead in periods preceding the Ascension of Christ)…It corresponds to Sheol in the O.T. IN the KJV… It never denotes the grave, nor is it the permanent region of the lost; in point in time it is, for such, intermediate between decease and the doom of Gehenna” (W. E. Vine, An Expository of New Testament Words, 1940, “Hades”).
Greek scholar, Joseph Thayer defines it as “the nether world, the realm of the dead… In the Septuagint the Hebrew Sheol is almost always rendered by this word … the infernal regions, a dark and dismal place … the common receptacle of disembodied spirits” (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 11).
On the other hand, the Watchtower Society teaches:
The fact that the King James Version translates the one Hebrew word Sheol three different ways shows that hell, grave, and the pit mean one and the same thing … In all the places where Sheol occurs in the Bible it is never associated with life, activity, or torment” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise Earth, 1982, 82, 83)
Sheol, or Hades, is thus not a literal place in a specific location. Rather it is the common grave of dead mankind, the figurative location where most of mankind sleep in death” (Bible Teach, p 212)
The difference is clear: Sheol/Hades is the unseen world of departed spirits while the grave is the seen world or the place of the body at death. The Hebrew and Greek words used for the grave are Qeber and Mnemeion respectively. This blows the JW’s assertions into pieces. The Bible differentiates between hell and the grave so clearly that it can only be missed by those who have dark goggles of the Watchtower Society on:
I. The body never goes into Hell. It’s always described as the place of the soul (e.g Ps. 16:16, Acts 2:25) while the grave is never the place of the soul. The body is mentioned going into the grave 75 times in Scripture.
II. Hell is never used in the plural while the grave is used in plural 38 times and singular 74 times (e.g Lk. 11:44, Jn. 5:28 etc).
III. There is not a single place where an individual’s hell is mentioned, whereas individual graves are mentioned 79 times (e.g Gen. 35:20)
IV. God alone puts men into sheol (Num. 16:30, 1Sam. 2:6) Nowhere is man said to put anyone into Hell. In 40 places, men are said to put bodies in the grave.
V. Hell is described as a place of activity (Lk. 16:19) while the grave is described as a place where there is no wisdom, thought or activity (Eccl. 9:10)
VI. The inhabitants of hell are stirred up at the coming of others (Isa. 14:9-11, Ezk. 32:27-32) while the grave is the abode of lifeless unconscious bodies.
VII. The Bible describes Sheol/Hades as being located in “the nether parts of the earth” (Ezk. 31:14) “the lower parts of the earth” (Ps. 63:9) “the heart of the earth” (Mt. 12:40).
VIII. Sheol/Hades is described in the same way a literal place is. It’s a place with gates and bars (Job 17:16, Isa. 38:10, Rev. 1:18); it enlarges itself (Isa. 5:14); it’s a place of sorrow (Ps. 18:5), torment and regret (Lk. 16:23-31), pains (Psa. 116:3) and debasement (Isa. 57:9).
IX. The language used to describe what goes on there shows it’s not the grave. Men are forced into it (Isa. 5:15), cast into it (Ezk. 31:15-17); it’s a place of unquenchable fire (Mt. 3:12) where conversations are carried on and where knowledge and memory exists (Isa 14:9-16, Lk. 16:19-31).
X. Substitute the word “hell” with the “grave” in the following passages and you would have these:
“The sorrows of the grave encompassed me about…” (2 Sam. 22:6)
“…But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the fire of the grave” (Mt 5:22)
“…It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into the grave, where the fire never goes out” (Mk. 9:43)
“And in the grave he lift up his eyes being in torments…” (Lk. 16:23).
Substitute the word “grave”/tombs with “hell” and we have:
“Jacob set up a pillar over her hell” (Gen. 35:20)
“anyone who touches a human bone or a hell, will be unclean for seven days” (Num. 19:16)
“who sit among the hells and spend their nights keeping secret vigils” (Isa. 65:4)
“You build hells of the prophets and decorate the hells of the righteous” (Mt. 23:29)
“This man lived in the hells, and no one could bind him anymore…” (Mk. 5:3).
To define hell as the grave renders many Bible verses absurd. JWs must choose which to follow – the inspired Bible or a bunch of uninspired men in New York city. The case of Lazarus and the rich man is a problem for JWs so they had to construct a load of unwarranted assumptions around the parable:
“Is it reasonable or Scriptural to believe that a man suffers torment simply because he is rich, wears good clothing and has plenty to eat?…Is hell literally within speaking distance of heaven so that an actual conversation could be carried on? Also if the rich man were in a literal burning lake, how could Abraham send Lazarus to cool his tongue with just a drop of water on the tip of his finger?” (The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life, 1968, 42-43
The false assumptions introduced into the story are:
1. That the rich man went to hell because he was rich. The Bible didn’t say so.
2. That Abraham’s bosom is heaven and it was so close to hell. The Bible never said so.
3. That the rich man was in a lake of fire. The Bible didn’t say this. No one who reads Luke 16 will come up with such silly conclusions. Notice again how Watchtower leaders concocted their own fanciful ideas about Lazarus and the rich man:
“In his [Jesus’] illustration, the rich man stood for the class of religious leaders who rejected and later killed Jesus. Lazarus pictured the common people who accepted God’s Son … A death, or change from former conditions, happened when Jesus fed the Lazarus class spiritually, and they thus came into the favor of the greater Abraham. At the same time, the false religious leaders “died” with respect to having God’s favor. Being cast off, they suffered torments when Christ’s followers after Pentecost forcefully exposed their evil works” (Ibid, 43)
These rigmaroles and doctrinal air-castles were made up for one simple reason: to avoid admitting the Biblical doctrine of Hell staring them in the face! Like a fly that gets more trapped in a web as it struggles, the more Watchtower leaders attempt to twirl away plain Bible truths about hell, the more they are forced to resort to varying degrees of inanities to cover up their lies. In that same book, an appeal is made to Job:
He prayed to God: ‘Who will grant me, this that thou mayest protect me in hell [sheol’; the grave, AV], and hide me till thy wrath pass, and appoint me a time when thou wilt remember me?” (Job 14:13,) How unreasonable to think that Job desired protection in hell if it is a fiery-hot place! (Ibid, 42)
This sophistry can only deceive those ignorant of Biblical eschatology. In the OT, hell had two compartments, the righteous compartment or paradise (“Abraham’s bosom” Lk. 16:22, 23:43) and the torment compartment where the wicked dead went (Isa. 32:12, Ps. 9:17). The righteous dead were kept in the former until Christ came to pay the ransom. It was a hiding place from God’s wrath – a place of comfort and without fire. This was where Lazarus, Christ and the penitent thief went into at death (Ps. 16:10, Eph. 4:8-10).
Since Christ had conquered death and hell and liberated the OT saints, the saved now go to heaven at death. Abraham’s bosom/paradise is now empty. It would take the height of folly for JWs to ignore the historical context of Job’s prayer. That would be theological craftiness.
What about Gehenna?
JWs believe Gehenna is a figurative place where the wicked dead who won’t be resurrected back to paradise earth would go. This seems hard to sustain, that someone will be “in a place” and still be non-existent. This is pure nonsense. But to a JW it makes perfect sense.
According to Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Gehenna is the Greek translation of the Valley of Hinnom which was used as garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem. Refuse, waste materials, and dead animals were burned here. Fires continually smoldered, and smoke from its burning debris rose day and night. Hinnom thus became a graphic symbol of woe and judgement and of the place of eternal punishment called Hell.
With a rather dogmatic tone, the Watchtower Society argues on their website:
“No living animals or human creatures were pitched into Gehenna to be burned alive or tormented. Hence, the place could never symbolize an invisible region where human souls are tormented eternally in literal fire … Gehenna was used by Jesus and his disciples to symbolize everlasting destruction, annihilation from God’s universe, or “second death…”
There is no need for living animals or humans be thrown into a literal site for it to be used to symbolize hell fire. Jesus used a physical place the people were familiar with to give them an idea of what hell is like, particularly its unquenchable fire. There is no human expression or description that can accurately explain how terrible hell is. The word “destruction” does not mean “annihilation.” It means when a thing or a person is no longer used for its original purpose.
For example, old bottles are said to be destroyed in Matthew 9:17, yet no one would say they ceased to exist. In Revelations 17:8, 11, the antichrist is said to go “into destruction” but the Bible defines what it means by this destruction:
“And the beast was taken and with him the false prophet…Both were cast into a lake of fire burning with brimestone…and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 19:20, 20:10). Therefore, the lake of fire is the final destination of the unsaved.