Gehenna and “the Society’s” Dark Lenses

In 2015, the Watchtower Society published a simplified edition of What Does the Bible Really Teach? named What Can the Bible Teach Us? In one of its end notes on Gehenna, it says:

Gehenna is the name of a valley near Jerusalem where garbage was burned and destroyed. There is no evidence that in Jesus’ time animals or humans were tortured or burned alive in this valley. So Gehenna does not symbolize an invisible place where people who have died are tortured and burned forever. When Jesus spoke of those who are thrown into Gehenna, he was talking about complete destruction. – Matthew 5:22; 10:28. (Chap. 6, par. 5; Chap. 15; 1: 17)

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.

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 two Bible texts cited are:

Matthew 5:22 “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Matthew 10:28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Both verses refer to eternal judgement and are not “symbolic”. Now, there are different Greek words rendered as “hell” in the New Testament and the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament), but I will discuss only two which are germane to this topic: Gehenna and Hades.

Gehenna is a place of punishment, torment and destruction. It is associated with fire (Mt. 18:9, Mark 9:43; James 3:6) and from the verses cited by the Watchtower Society, it’s clear that those that will be there will have bodies. It is a place of eternal punishment after the general resurrection of the damned and their judgement at the Great White throne (John 5:28-29; Rev. 20:11-12).

From the way the lake of fire is described in Revelation (19:20; 20:10, 14, 15 etc.) it suggests it’s one and the same with Gehenna. This is different from Hades (hell), the current abode of the wicked after death (Luke 10:15).

Those that are currently in hell are disembodied so to speak, but in Gehenna they will be in their immortal bodies, and the punishment will be far, far worse than hell, because hell will be thrown into the lake of fire. So we can say hell – as terrible as it is – is like jail where the damned are held until the judgement, while the lake of fire/Gehenna is the prison – their final destination.

It should also be pointed out that it is in Gehenna that Satan, the antichrist and his demons will be tormented as well. The Bible calls it “the second death,” a death which is the final outcome of a life of sin and unbelief resulting in a place of torment (Rev. 21:8).

The Bible also used the term “destruction” to describe it. The Greek word here is apoleia which actively refers to utter destruction of vessels (as in Romans 9:22) and passively refers to perishing, ruin, loss of eternal life, eternal misery and perdition (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Electronic Database, 2011).

The term “destruction” does not mean it ceases to be, but that it is so ruined that it no longer serve the use for which it was designed. The Greek word apoleia is also used in Luke 19:10, 2 Peter 3:7,16 and Philippians 3:19 and not once does it mean becoming non existent or annihilation. For example, old bottles are said to be destroyed in Matthew 9:17, yet no one would say they ceased to exist.

In Revelation 17: 8, 11, we read: “The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction … The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction

The Bible later defines what it means by this destruction:

“But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur (Rev. 19:20)

“And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” (Rev. 20:10).

The Watchtower leaders have horribly deceived Jehovah’s Witnesses in the most crucial area they ought to be seriously concerned about: their eternal destination. This is a tragedy.

Hell Fire and “the Society’s” Dark Lenses

Previously, I’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 that only those whose bad works exceed the good, or the “infidels” will go to hell. Hinduism and Buddhism believe in temporary hells but don’t believe in the concept of 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. (1 John 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 don’t believe in the same God?

As for the God of the Bible, His  is manifested in how He wills “that all sorts of people should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).

He is “he does not desire anyone to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Thus, He has provided a way of salvation by which man will not go into eternal perdition.

That God is love doesn’t imply that He is a passive or an indulgent father who pampers sinners or exonerates the wicked. .

To say that “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.

“The one who practices sin originates with the Devil, because the Devil has been sinning from the beginning” (1 Jn. 3:8).

Those in hell 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 in accordance. 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 argues:

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)

But 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 assertion 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 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)

This rigmarole was 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 is classic theological craftiness.

The Afterlife and Watchtower Lies (2)

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In part one, I pointed out how Jehovah’s Witnesses use specious arguments to spread their annihilation beliefs. Here I will proceed to examine their errors regarding the human soul and spirit.

The Human Soul

When writing about the soul, the Bible writers used the Hebrew word ne’phesh or the Greek word psy-khe’” (Bible Teach, p. 208).

This is true. A reference work says:

“Usually the nephesh is regarded as departing at death (e.g Gen. 35:18), but the word is never used to mean the spirit of the dead. Since Hebrew psychology lacked precise terminology, there is some overlapping in the uses of nephesh … and ruach … one of the main differences between the OT and NT usage is the application of both psuche and pneuma to human existence beyond death” (The New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962, “Soul”, p. 1208).

JWs teach that when the Bible speaks of souls, it’s referring to people, animals, or the life that a person or animal enjoys. This is a selective definition.

In the New Testament, the primary Greek word used for the soul is psuche, and it’s defined as:

1. Breath;
a. The breath of life; the vital force which animates the body;
b. Life;
c. That in which there is life; a living being; a living soul;
2. The soul;
a. The seat of the feelings, desires, affections, aversions, (our soul, heart etc.)
b. The (human) soul in so far as it… can attain the highest end and secure eternal blessedness, the soul regarded as a moral being, designed for everlasting life;
c. The soul as an essence which is different from the body and is not dissolved by death” (Thayer’s Greek- English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 677).

In Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, six definitions are provided for “soul”: Actual life of the body, the invisible part of man, seat of personality, seat of the sentient element through which man perceives and reflects, the seat of will and purpose and that of appetite.

The Watchtower Society trades on the ignorance of JWs by giving a word that has a variety of different meanings only 3 definitions.

For example, the definition of the soul as people or the actual life of the body when applied to passages like Gen. 1:20, 46:18, Jos. 11:11 1Pet. 3:20 fits in and is reasonable. But to apply that definition to the following passages is absurd:

Genesis 35:18 “And her soul [nephesh] was departing (for she was dying)…

1 Kings 17:22 “And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.”

Job 14:22 “But his flesh upon him shall have pain, and his soul within him shall mourn.”

Psalm 106:15 “And he gave them their request and sent leanness into their soul.”

The context of a passage determines which of the meanings of the soul is being referred to.

It’s just like the English word “stone.” It can refer to an object, an action or a name. It can also be used metaphorically. You can’t dogmatically restrict its usage to mean an object.

So when JWs say, “The soul is not something inside a person; the soul is the person himself,” know that they didn’t derive this idea from the Bible, but from the Watchtower Society.

“…nowhere in the entire Bible are the terms ‘immortal’ or ‘everlasting’ linked with the word ‘soul.’ Instead, the Scriptures state that a soul is mortal, meaning that it dies. (Ezekiel 18:4, 20)” (Bible Teach p 210).

At this point, they have hopped from one error to another. Earlier, they (mis)defined death as “non-existence,” so here they are applying that wrong definition onto the soul.

This argument fails for the simple fact that it was the immortal breath from God that made Adam “a living soul.”

Only the body was made from dust and it is the only part of man that dies at physical death and goes back to the dust, when the inner man (soul and spirit) leaves the body (Gen. 2:7, James 2:26).

A Bible scholar points out that,:

“When God created man He created Him in His own image (Gen. 1:26-27). The question is: What is the image of God in man? The image of God in man cannot be physical because God is a spirit (John 4:24) and does not have a body. The image, then, must be non-material…” (Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, Moody Press 2008, 318).

The inner man has immortality because it came from God who is eternal and immortal. The fact that God “only has immortality dwelling in light” (1Tim. 6:16) does not negate the fact that the inner man is immortal or that Believers dwell in the light.

JWs use 1 Timothy 6:16 to show that only God has immortality but this argument collapses when one goes to the linguistical context.

There are two words in the Greek text that are translated as ‘immortality.’ The first is athanasia – it appears three times and it’s translated ‘immortality’ each time.

The other term is aphthartos – it is translated ‘immortality’ twice and ‘imperishable’ or ‘incorruption’ four times.

The former term is used in 1 Tim. 6:16 while both terms are used in 1 Cor. 15:53-54:

“For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable (aphtharsian), and the mortal with immortality (athanasian).  When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable (aphtharian), and the mortal with immortality (athanasian) then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

We see it clearly stated here that immortality will be given to man’s physical bodies in the future, but this is not a present possession (see also Romans 2:7 and 1 Peter 1:4). But when immortality or incorruptibility is used in reference to God, it is in present tense.

When it’s used for man, it’s in a future tense – it will be given to saints at some future date.

When the Bible speaks of the soul dying (Ezk. 18:4) being lost (Mt. 16:26) or destroyed (Acts 3:23) it’s referring to its separation from God, not non-existence. The physical body is mortal while the inner man (soul and spirit) is immortal (Eccl. 3:19-21).

The Bible says “your hearts [soul] shall live for ever” (Ps. 22:26). The soul is called the “hidden man of the heart … which is not corruptible” i.e it is immortal (1 Peter 3:4).

Moses died and was buried by God (Deut. 34), yet centuries after his death, he spoke with Jesus (Mt. 17:3). If he became non-existent after death, that means God re-created him that moment and made him non-existent again after then. But that didn’t happen. Jesus said God “is not a God of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:38). He is not the God of the non-existent.

2 Corinthians 4:16 says “but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” The outward man is the physical body which is seen while the inward man is the unseen inner man.

Apostle Paul desired “to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” He didn’t say “absent from the body and becoming non-existent” (2Cor. 5:8)

Jesus says “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul” but that the destruction of the soul is eternal separation in hell, not “non-existence” (Mt. 10:28).

In Revelation 6:9-11, “the souls of them that were slain for the word of God cried out… And white robes were given to them” and they were  told to rest for a time until their brethren “that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.”

There is no justification for minimizing, de-emphasizing or ignoring these verses unless one is committed to Watchtower leadership.

The human spirit

The human spirit is the seat of knowledge, conscience, intuition and worship and has the soul (which is the seat of emotions, will etc). Notice how JWs defined it:

Spirit’ thus refers to an invisible force (the spark of life) that inanimates all living creatures…like electricity, the spirit has no feeling and cannot think. It is an impersonal force” (Bible Teach, pp. 201-11)

This is where the Watchtower missed its mark. The Bible shows that the human spirit is in the body and is not made of physical material.

Job 32:8 “But it is the spirit in a person, the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding.”

Zech. 12:1 “… The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person, declares”

1Cor. 2:11 “For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? …”

Furthermore, the human spirit rejoices (Luke 1:47), receives witness (Romans 8:16), perceives (Mark 2:8), groans (John 11:33), can be stirred (Acts 17:16) and possess knowledge (1Cor. 2:11).

It’s outright rebellion to say that human spirits lack feelings or thinking. Try and substitute the word “spirit” in these verses with “electricity” or “life-force” and see how absurd they sound.

The unchristian and unethical methodology that the Watchtower Society is forced to utilized to uphold their belief in annihilation is very telling.