Questions About Hell

Those of universalist/annihilationist persuasion inevitably resort to emotional appeals about eternal torture in hell (as do atheists) as an "argument" against eternal punishment. Our rethought view understanding hell as eternal shame deeply undermines this standard appeal; thus far though we have received no renewed arguments or comments about it from either atheists or universalists/annihilationists (other than the brief, positive comment from our friend on the Skeptical side, Kyle Gerkin).

We would now like to evaluate a list of questions offered by a leading advocate from that group, from within an item titled, "Is Salvation A Deliverance From Hell or Eternal Death?" by Gary Amirault of tentmaker.org -- though we assume others of his view may ask similar questions, and so Amirault will not be mentioned again in this article, as this is not about his particular views.

Certainly it is true, as is said, that "Hell must be thoroughly understood". And it may be right that in some cases it can be found that "church leaders...have almost NO answers to ANY of the questions." But can annihilationists and universalists now respond to our replies?

  • If Hell is real and describes a real place, why does the English word "Hell" come from a pagan source instead of the ancient Hebrew writings of the Bible? Why is the word "Hell" not found in the Jew's Bible which is the Christian's Old Testament? Furthermore, the word "Hell" has completely disappeared from the Old Testament Scriptures in most leading Bibles. Why? Because the best scholarship demands it. (The word "Hell" comes from the Teutonic "Hele" goddess of the underworld "Hell" of northern Europe. The description of this ancient mythological place has very little resemblance anymore to the modern Christian image of Hell. See any Encyclopedia or dictionary for the origin of the word.) Seeing that the Bible is supposed to be "Holy," why have pagan religious words been added to our modern English Bibles? Please understand, the English word "Hell" and its concepts are NOT in the Hebrew nor Greek. They come into the English through Northern European mythologies, NOT from the roots of Christianity.

    This question is oddly misplaced. Numerous English words come from "pagan sources" (having their roots in pagan languages); the question is apparently meant to prove somehow that because the word "hell" came out of a pagan root, so likewise did the concept. In and of itself, this is a fallacious argument.

    Nevertheless, we are more concerned about concepts than words; and here, our concept of "hell" (we will use the word for the purpose of clarity) is rooted in the honor and shame background of the New Testament era, as understood widely by Jews in particular, but also pagans to some extent. If Hell as a place of everlasting tortures was the real fate of all mankind unless they did something here on earth to prevent it, why didn't God make that warning plain right at the beginning of the Bible? God said the penalty for eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was DEATH. He did NOT define death as eternal life being forever tortured in burning fire and brimstone.

    Since we don't hold the "tortures" view the question for us is moot. That said, if honor/shame was a paradigm of the earliest persons (as the cultural data indicates), then a "warning" would likewise be moot. Men would already know that shame in proportion to their deeds was the result. Indeed, the Adam and Eve account shows that the couple were shamed because of what they did.

    We skip therefore a question that asks why Moses never mentioned hell (the same answer applies) and go to:

  • If Hell is real and it is a place of eternally being separated from God, why does David say in the King James Bible, "Though I make my bed in Hell (Sheol) lo, Thou art there?

    Of course, since David himself would be regarded as "saved" the question is moot in terms of non-believers. But beyond this, "separation" in an honor-shame system means the person is shunned and not communicated with; it is less about location than it is about relation. God could be present in Sheol -- and that doesn't mean He communicates or has any dealings with the unsaved there.

  • If Hell is real and if good people go to heaven and bad people go to Hell, why does EVERYONE, good or bad, go to the same place in the Old Testament? They ALL go to Sheol which the King James Version translated "Hell" thirty-0ne times, "grave" thirty-one times and "pit" three times? Are we all destined to go to Hell or did the King's translators make some gross translational errors?

    No, but per Johnston's word Shades of Sheol, a detailed study on the subject, Sheol is primarily a destination for the ungodly. The righteous only envisage Sheol as their destiny at times when they are afflicted or in great danger, or face an unhappy or untimely death. However, mention of Sheol is conspicuously absent from accounts of those who die at the end of a full and happy life. [81-2] The location, abilities, and destiny of such persons after death is not specified; so it is wrong to say that even good people go to Sheol in the OT.

  • If Hell is real, why don't the Jews, many who know the Old Testament better than most Christians, not believe in the modern Christian concept of Hell? They say they don't believe it because it is not in their Scriptures. Most scholars today can not find Hell in the Old Testament. Most leading Bible translations no longer contain the word Hell in the entire Old Testament. (Genesis through Malachi.)

    This is rather a vague question, given no support as needed (that Jews say there is no hell in the OT; and then, what of the authority of NT era Jews who came to believe in it? -- and I find that this is not what is said by modern Jewish commentators: here a rabbi, though leaving most people out of it, says, "A handful of people are too evil for Gehenom, and they are punished eternally. Pharaoh is one example.") and a Jewish site here says, " Hell is a place of fire where sinners are punished after they die. Certain classes of people who deny religion receive eternal punishment there (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Teshuvah 3:5-6), but most sinners are punished there for only (up to) a year (Mishnah Eduyos 2:9; Talmud Shabbos 33a).")

    Nevertheless, Sheol as a place of silence and as a place for the wicked is found; and with honor and shame already part of the social world, the OT has all the information that our view requires.

    The next question assumes that hell is not in the OT; so we skip it. The question after asks about translation of the word "hell" and assumes torture, so is misplaced/moot for our position. Several questions then ask about positions of patristic writers. This is outside our scope and we will skip them. The next applicable question:

  • If Hell was real and a place of no escape, why did the early church teach Jesus went to Hell (Hades), preached to them and led captivity captive? (Eph. 4:8,9; Psalm 68:18; 1 Peter 3:18-20)

    This position is not taught in the Bible anywhere, in fact (the texts are not saying any such thing -- see here), so the question is misplaced.

  • If Hell was real and the grave settled the matter forever, why did the early Christians offer up prayers for the dead?

    Reference here is given to the work of a Universalist named Hanson, but with no page number; so we must guess what the writer has in mind from Hanson. It seems to be a section that says: Perpetua begged for the help of her brother, child of a Pagan father, who had died unbaptized. In Tertullian the widow prays for the soul of her departed husband. Repentance by the dead is conceded by Clement, and the prayers of the good on earth help them. No cites are offered for any of these, but I did find some interesting points that show that Hanson was not fully honest with the data. Perpetua's brother who died a pagan was merely seven years old when he died (see here) and so his case is not useful for universalism concerning unsaved adults accountable for their actions.

    For Tertullian, I can only find that in his work On Monogamyhe said that a good widow prays for her husband's soul; the passage (see here) is not clearly about a widow whose husband was not a Christian; but even if it were, would only just as well say that Tertullian wrongly taught universalism. Indeed that wayward persons like Tertullian, Clement, and Origen are used to represent "the early Christians" as a whole, bespeaks the nature of this commentary.

    Many questions following are essentially arguments from silence: "If hell is real, why didn't X or Y say so, or say this or that about it?" Since many of these 1) are patristic issues, beyond our scope; 2) give only as reference a full book title (!) with no page number to check, we will bypass them as unprofessional references not warranting investigation as they stand. We would only comment that such claims as, "[t]hose who advocated Hell got it from the Latin, NOT from the original Greek and Hebrew" would be irrelevant to our own views, since honor and shame was a concept shared by speakers of all three of these languages.

    Several questions also ask why universalism was not declared a heresy. The question is not as powerful as one may think. Certain teachings widely regarded as false today (such as open theism) are not called "heresy" and the mere fact that the word was not ascribed to universalism does not mean it was not regarded as wrong; at best it is as well to say that it means only that it was not regarded as widespread, serious, or threatening enough to thus be labelled.

  • If Hell was real, since the early church was closest to the apostles and since they were closest to the original manuscripts of the Bible, why did the vast majority of the early Christian believers NOT believe in Hell as a place of everlasting burnings?

    The reference given is to whole books (!) with no page numbers, but is moot for us anyway, since we reject the "everlasting burnings" for "everlasting shame". We will skip all further questions that assume the "burnings" understanding.

  • If Hell was real and all died NOT because of their transgressions but because of Adam's transgression (Rom 5:18), why do many Christians not see what is plainly written, that "even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to ALL MEN, resulting in JUSTIFICATION OF LIFE!" (Rom. 5:18) This Scripture declares the FACT that all are justified due to Christ's righteous act. No one "decided" to die in Adam, it was "reckoned" to us. Equally no one "decided" to "receive eternal life," it is also "reckoned" to us. (A thorough understanding of Romans Chapter five carefully comparing several English translations would be a very good exercise. The omission of the definite article "the" in Rom. 5:15 before the word "many" in some translations has caused some great misunderstanding of this most important chapter of the Bible.)

    This doesn't directly touch on our points, but deserves comment. It posits the unreasonable idea that the results of justification are brought even on those who reject God's offer of grace.

    The missing key here is the background concept of patronage. A patron (God, here) offering X benefit to a group of potential clients does not give the benefit to all, even those who reject his gracious offer.

    It may be added that nowhere does it say that "eternal life" is "reckoned" to anyone. Grace nevertheless is an offer than "can be refused." Thus the next question:

  • If Hell is real, in Romans 5:19, the "many" who were made sinners were actually "all" of the human race. Why is the "many" who were made "righteous" not equally be "all" of the human race? "For as by one man's disobedience MANY were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience MANY will be made righteous."

    ...is also misplaced. This means no more than that the offer of salvation is open to all men, not that it is given to all without consideration. The contractual/patronage elements cannot simply be ignored.

  • If Hell is real and everlasting, why does Psalm 30:5 say His anger is but for a moment?

    If hell is not anger expressed, but rather the experience of shame and from God, indifference, as in our view, it would make no difference.

  • If Hell is real one would never know it by the actions of most Christians. They go through life pretty much like atheists, pagans, etc. If they really believed in Hell, they would spend their entire life trying to snatch their friends and relatives from the burning flames. If Hell is real, why don't they do this?

    At best this may set out some guilt for lack of evangelism, and show that we don't act consistently; but it isn't an actual argument against hell itself.

  • If Hell is a real place of merciless endless torture, since God knows the beginning from the end, why didn't God just kill Adam and Eve and end the long terrible chain of misery that passed to their offspring before it began? After all, the Scriptures say that all died BECAUSE of Adam. (Rom. 5:18)

    Since we don't adhere to the "merciless" and "torture" parts, the question is not for us; but otherwise one may as well check this item. The question is the same as the child asking why the cookie jar was not put out of reach so he would not steal from it.

    We skip a translational question that is essentially the first above reworded; we will also skip other such "translation" questions as diversions from conceptual issues which are far more important. We move to:

  • If Hell was real, and if Paul was commissioned by God to preach the gospel to the nations, why did Paul not mention Hell even once except to declare victory over it? (1 Cor. 15:55, the word death in this passage is the word "Hades" which some translations of the Bible also translate Hell.)

    Why should he have done so? Paul wrote to Christians whose salvation was already assured; the place to check is preaching to unbelievers, as in Acts, and there, it is clear that warnings of punishment (Acts 2:40) could be part of the package. However, once again, the universal presuppositions of honor and shame meant that there was no need to be any more explicit. The concepts of honor, shame, and limited good meant that no one needed to be told that shame would be the result of their sin.

  • If Hell was real and the belief that there is no Hell is a deception from Satan, why is it that those born from above Christians who DON'T believe in Hell seem to manifest more of the nature and fruit of the Spirit than those who teach Hell?

    They do? May we have some statistics backing up this point? Unfortunately, personal anecdotes like these are statistically without use.

  • If there is a Hell and salvation is the deliverance from it, why does the word appear only a dozen times or so in most leading selling Bibles like the NIV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV, etc. as compared to the word Heaven which appears hundreds of times?

    This is illogical. Number of times a word is used means absolutely nothing. "Justification" appears only 3 times in the NRSV; so does that mean justification is less real than Hell?

  • If Hades is Hell and there is no escape from it, why is it emptied and cast into the Lake of Fire along with death. (Rev. 20:14)

    So a fish in a bucket of water that is picked up and poured into another bucket, is able to escape from the bucket? This must be some use of the word "escape" with which we were previously unfamiliar.

  • If there is a Hell and all who have sinned are destined to go there (which is everyone) unless they figure out how to avoid it, does that not consign all aborted babies and most children to Hell? (Dear Reader, while some denominations teach a so-called "age of accountability," it is NOT found anywhere in the Bible. It is just some people's way of trying to make God more humane than the Hell teaching makes Him out to be.)

    What of that David knows he will see his infant son again? And since this writer likes the patristics, what about Perpetua's seven year old brother? But even so, under our view, babies and children have nothing to be "ashamed" of; for shame comes of what others think of what you do. No one thinks badly (in terms of moral wrongdoing) of an aborted baby, infant or young child who errs.

    Indeed, the agonistic paradigm only makes it more apparent that some sort of idea of personal accountability (not by numerical age, but by personal maturity) must be part of the equation.

    In light of this as well, the question we next consider is of some effect:

  • If there is a Hell and according to most denominations of Christianity the majority of mankind will go there, could you really enjoy heaven knowing your mother or father or children or best friend are suffering everlasting tortures the likes of which would make the Holocaust seem like a picnic? If the Rich Man and Lazarus story (Luke chapter 16) is real and NOT a parable, then we will be able to converse with our loves ones who did not make it into heaven. Would heaven really be paradise if this were true?

    Actually, even under the standard view, the rate of infant and child mortality over history and even today in most nations means that the vast majority of mankind has NOT gone to hell, and will not; the opposite is true. But viewing the rest through the shame paradigm, not torture: The feeling would be the same as one would have for any shamed relative or friend -- it is regrettable, but it is their choice; practically, why should this take us away from our heavenly responsiblities and obligations? (This also has a misguided view implied of heaven as a grand "party all the time" place...but that's another issue.)

  • If Hell is real and a place of eternal separation from God, why would Paul the apostle say the goal of God's creative plan was to ultimately be "all IN all?" (1 Cor. 15:28)

    And where do we get the idea that this phrase means, "and all will be in heaven"? It doesn't; the section is about God's imperial rule and overcoming of rebellion. At best it means all will be as it should be, and has nothing for or against hell particularly.

  • If Hell is real since there is only one name under heaven by which men might be saved (Acts 4:12), why did God wait thousands of years and millions of souls after Adam's fall to provide the name and means of salvation? Are all those before Jesus' birth damned forever because they never heard of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ? Would that be just? (Remember the Mosaic Law can never "save" anyone and it was only for Israel. Rom. 3:20)

    On that matter we repeat what we have said elsewhere. The Bible makes two assertions which may be paired here for an application:

    1. The evidence for God is clear, so that men are without excuse (Ps. 19, Rom. 1-2). The heavens aleady declare God's existence and majesty. Broken Vector of course would disagree with this, but within the context of the present discussion this is not relevant.

    2. He who seeks, finds (Matt. 7:7//Luke 11:9).

    My own answer to the question, "What about those who never hear the Gospel?" is, "Those who want to know it, will be given the knowledge needed for salvation. Those who seek God will have God sufficiently revealed to them." There is also anecdotal evidence from the missionary field that may support this point; but such is currently beyond our discussion. Nevertheless, it is not lack of hearing the Gospel that causes condemnation; it is sin that causes condemnation, and it is not hard to arrive at a deduction that sin is offensive to whatever powers one may suppose to be at hand (indeed, the religious history of sacrifice and penance suggests a broad awareness of this) and that there needs to be some connection or bridge in order to achieve a reconciliation.

  • If Hell is a real place of everlasting punishment and if Jesus died in our place to save us from this fate, wouldn't Jesus have to be eternally punished if in fact He took our punishment upon Himself?

    Not under our paradigm, certainly; as we said, the issue turns now from one of quantity (amount of pain) to one of quality (honor versus shame). Jesus' divine identity made him a personal being due the highest honor by nature (what Malina and Rohrbaugh call "ascribed" honor, such as that one has by being born into a noble family) -- not infinite of necessity, but the highest.

    The reversal of this value upon Jesus, and the experience of status degradation -- his public humiliation in the eyes of others, and thereby loss of ALL honor status -- undermines and makes irrelevant the question, "Could he have suffered enough for all sins?"

  • If Hell is real why is it that those who preach it the most look more like Pharisees and the devil, while those who believe in the salvation of all mankind seem to be more loving and merciful than strong Hell-fire believers?

    If this is more than an anecdotal argument we'd like statistics to back it up -- even if it were not fallacious at its core.

  • If Hell is real and everlasting, why is it thrown into the Lake of Fire to be destroyed? And why is Hell never called the Lake of Fire nor the Lake of Fire ever called Hell if in fact they are the same thing?

    Viewing these metaphors in terms of honor and shame means that the question is misplaced. The equation now is that the Lake of Fire mean final exclusion or shunning in a judgemental sense.

  • If Hell is real and the devil and all his works and people are to be thrown into it to stay alive forever, doesn't that violate Jesus' statement that He came to "destroy" the works of the devil? (1 John 3:8)

    And "destroy" means "annihilate"? It does not. The word used in John has meanings ranging from "undo" to "subvert" to "dissolve into parts"' it is used by Jesus to refer to those who "break" commandments, and is used to refer to the colt being untied so he can ride it.

  • If Hell is real and the greatest part of mankind eventually goes there, wouldn't Jesus be considered a great failure considering the fact He was sent to save the whole world? And if He failed so miserably this time to accomplish the will of the Father, can one really trust that He won't fail again? (1 Tim. 2:3,4 KJV; Heb. 10:9) We who believe that Jesus will save the world obviously do NOT believe He failed…He will save all of us.

    If the greatest part of mankind don't go there, as noted above, then the question is moot (and we will skip further questions that assume this). But as we note in another context, a patron is not considered a "failure" when ungrateful potential clients refuse his grace; in such cases, the mere offer of grace brings honor to the patron, and he is a success.

  • If Hell is real it must have been created at some time. Why doesn't the Bible tell us when Hell (as traditionally taught) was created? Could it be that the Bible fails to mention its creation because it was never created in the first place?

    If hell is more of a state than a place, then there is nothing to mention; the state existed since honor and shame existed.

  • If Hell is real and Matthew chapter 24 says and means that the goat nations will go to "everlasting punishment," how can God promise to Abraham that "all the nations of the earth shall be blessed by him? (Gen. 18:18) Does God not keep His promises?

    And this means that every member of every nation must be blessed? So does this mean if I stub my toe, God hasn't kept His promises, because I wasn't blessed when that happened? The question is misguided and assumes that blessing must be universal and individual for all nations (corporately) to be blessed.

  • If Hell is real, is justice being served considering the fact that finite crimes would receive infinite punishment?

    We highlight this one, though what we have already contains answers, simply to note that under our view, because it is a matter of quality and not quantity, and is an "either-or" rather than a mathematical-value proposition, it is no longer necessary to argue that a sin is an "infinite offense" or to even deal in terms of quantity.

  • If Hell is real, since all is out of Jesus Christ, does that mean Hell comes out of Jesus Christ? (Rom. 36:11)

    Unfortunately Romans ends at Ch. 16. I don't know where Romans 36:11 is.

  • If Hell is real and all the different types of crimes committed here on earth receive the same punishment (endless torture) does "justice" not suffer?

    Under this paradigm, there is no torture; but someone with greater sins has more to "be ashamed of" than someone with lesser sins, so their punishment is equitable to their deeds. Thus as well:

  • If Hell is real and a person gets caught stealing and goes to jail for it and does his time, is it just for God to still punish him eternally for that crime? Is this not "double indemnity?"

    No, because sins are against persons and against God. Jail time pays for the sins against persons. It does not pay for sins against God. To say otherwise means to deny not only a doctrine of hell, but also the doctrine of atonement.

  • If Hell is real, since some people receive many chances to "get saved," some receive only a few chances and billions have never even received one chance, does that make God a respecter of persons? (Acts 10:34, James 3:17)

    The error is the same one atheists make, to which we reply here.

  • If Hell is real and is the fate of all mankind because of Adam's transgression, if all are not saved through the last Adam, Jesus Christ, does that not make the transgression of the first Adam greater than the redeeming act of Jesus? (Rom. Chapter 5)

    The question assumes the value-proposition that "greatness" lies in the particular proposition of "all being saved" as opposed to "performing the act which made salvation available to all." In purely agonistic terms, Jesus' honorable act is indeed far greater than Adam's shameful act of transgression.

  • If Hell was real and you went there, would you consider that good? (Psalm 145:9 says all will praise Him.)

    No comment is needed -- it is misguided as it is to use poetry in such a literalistic sense. We will skip other questions which abuse Psalms in the same way.

  • If Hell is real and most find their way to it, was Jesus lying when He said that He would "draw" ("drag" in the original Greek) all mankind unto Himself? (John 12:32)

    See here.

  • If Hell is real, since Jesus ultimately fills ALL things, will Jesus fill Hell as well? ((Eph. 4:10) How can Hell be eternal separation from God is Jesus fills Hell with Himself?

    This is one of several questions that misuses the phrase "all things" in a way that atheists do as well. Atheists would also ask such questions as, "Does this mean that when I go to the bathroom, Jesus fills the toilet?" We must not define "things" in terms of overliteralistic particulars, as opposed to broad categories.

  • If Hell is real, since God will have all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:3 KJV), does that mean God's power is not strong enough to have His will fulfilled? Is man's will more powerful than God's?

    This is like asking if God is "powerful" enough to make 2 + 2 = 5. This is not a "power" issue, but a logical one: A God who grants freedom cannot withdraw that grant and coerce those who refuse His truth. We skip other questions that confuse "power" with logic this way.

  • If Hell is real and God were human, we would give Him a death sentence for all the cruel things we say He is going to do to most of mankind?

    Presumably the questioner finds no distinction of position between God and man. We'd also punish a person who sentenced another to death...if they were not a judge with the credentials and authority to do so. We skip further questions that fail to recognize this dichotomy.

  • If Hell is real, since "love thinketh no evil," can God design the ultimate evil of a single soul? (1 Cor. 13:5)

    Since this (and questions that follow, which we will skip) begs the question of hell as "evil" it is circular; but it would be interesting to know if these would regard a hell of shame as "evil".

  • If Hell is real, if God loves His enemies now, will he not always love them? Is God a changeable being? (James 1:17)

    Love and shame are not mutually exclusive expressions, especially when "love" is understood in terms of the greater good for the whole (not individuals).

  • If Hell is real, is it just for God to be "kind to the evil and unthankful," in their present life? (Luke 6:35) Would it be unjust for God to be kind to all men in a future state?

    Only if the punishment did not fit the crime, which is the very matter at issue. The question once more begs the question.

  • If Hell is real, would it be merciful in God to inflict endless punishment--that is, merciful to the sufferer?

    For this we would like to add (besides what is already noted about the nature of punishment) that "mercy" is also erroneously defined -- it means obligation fulfilled within a relationship of personal obligation; not just letting any person at all out of warranted punishment or penalty. Thus also we skip questions that misdefine "mercy" in this fashion.

  • If Hell is real and created by God, does it not stand against God's DESIRE the salvation of all men? (1 Tim. 2:3-4) Since God is righteous, must not the desire for universal salvation be a RIGHTEOUS desire? Is it true, that "the desire of the righteous shall be granted?" -- (Prov. 10:24)

    The use of a proverb is no more valid than the use of a poem in this context. As for 1 Tim. 2:3-4, it is just as well to say that God also desires us to be perfect (as we are sure would be agreed), yet we are not.

  • If Hell is real, would endless misery benefit the Almighty, as the INFLICTOR? Would endless misery benefit the saints, as SPECTATORS? Would endless misery benefit the sinner, as the SUFFERER?

    In this agonistic paradigm, God inficts nothing whatsoever; but even so, why any of this needs to "benefit" anyone is a begged question in context. A question after this is directed to Calvinists, which we are not; so, we go to the last question that is unique or not based on prior errors:

  • If Hell is real, will you judge your mother, son, or other non-believer to Hell? "Do ye not know that the saints "shall judge the world"? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?" 1 Corinthians 6:2-3

    Jesus is the one who will judge all men; we may judge angels, but angels are not men. Of course even if we did, does this mean a judge can't sentence a relative to a just sentence, practically speaking?

    So ends our response.

    -JPH