WHAT THE HELL!?
The Biblical Doctrine of Everlasting Punishment for the Wicked

MARIO DERKSEN

SDA's claim that hell is not permanent. They believe that, in the end, all the wicked people and demons, incl. Satan, will cease to exist. Catholicism, and most of mainline Christianity, however, teach that hell is a state of unending torment for the wicked, those who rejected God.

Michael Scheifler, an advocate of the Seventh-Day Adventism, has provided us with some Bible passages to make his case. I'd now like to examine his essay "The Biblical Truth About Hell" and show you where the Bible indeed teaches that hell is a permanent, never-ending state of suffering for the lost.

First off, there is a huge blunder in Scheifler's essay right in the beginning. He claims that the Catholic Church teaches that Satan rules in this limited kingdom, hell, torturing the wicked. That is not at all what the Church teaches. Therefore, it is no surprise that Scheifler does not give any quotes from Church documents to back his claim up-- there aren't any.

The Church teaches that Satan himself will be tortured without end (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1035). Far from him "ruling" the underworld, he himself will be subject to pain and never-ending torment. Why will there be torment? Because those in hell rejected God, and so God leaves them be. And that is what hurts: being away from God. Besides, there will be pain of sense, inflicted by the unquenchable fire we read of in the Scriptures, both in the Old and the New Testament (e.g. Daniel 12:2; Wisdom 4:19; Matthew 3:12).

The first citation we are shown is Romans 6:23:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The SDA claim here is that this verse says that the saved will live forever; the wicked will "die." Therefore, there is no eternal life for them. Romans 6:23, however, says nothing of the damned. All it says is that we die (physical death; the FIRST death) because of sin. And we can still live forever together with God if we want. That's what Jesus came for. Now, one could claim that since the saved will live forever, this implies that the condemned will not live forever. In a sense, that is true: Being in hell forever, being tortured without end, cannot be described as "living," for that's not what it is. It is only the most lowly state of being possible. I wouldn't call it living, but being wasted away. What we could rather refer to as "living" is being together with God forever, in eternal bliss.

So Romans 6:23 does not have the meaning SDAs wish to assign to it. It refers to physical death primarily.

Next we are presented with three quotations from the Old Testament (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, Psalm 115:17, and Psalm 146:4). However, they all speak of what the dead can or cannot do after their death. Neither of them speaks of hell being everlasting or not. The reason is that the Old Testament had no clear concept of life after death. It only made a few prophetic statements at the time the coming of the Messiah was near (such as found in Daniel 12:2 and Wisdom 4:19). So these examples do nothing for the SDA case.

John 3:16 is quoted next. It talks about the wicked "perishing." Well, according to the interpretation of the Catholic Church and basically all Christianity, "perishing" means going to hell. Hell is the "eternal death." People there are "forever dead"; that doesn't mean they cease to exist; it simply means that they are in a state you cannot call "being alive," because of the torment, as I have previously shown.

In his essay, Scheifler suddenly switches to the topic of "what happens after we die." He presents some passages talking about a "sleep" after death. I do not want to get into this now and here, for this is refuted in my essay "Do Souls Sleep After Death?," but I'd like to say that the OT passages Scheifler quotes are irrelevant, since there indeed was a "sleep" in the Old Covenant: "Sheol." The NT verses and the other arguments brought forth by Scheifler I deal with in my corresponding essay on this topic.

Let's go back, therefore, to the original topic:

Revelation 20:13-15

The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire. (This pool of fire is the second death.) Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the pool of fire.

In this passage, "pool of fire" stands for hell. We read that death and Hades (the netherworld) will be thrown into hell, which is definitely to be taken symbolically, since personifications are used. All of the damned were thrown into hell, we are told next. This passage does not say hell is temporary or anything like that. Scheifler claims that this passage says death and Hades were cast into the pool of fire and destroyed, but that's not what it says. It's especially noteworthy to make SDAs aware that, in the exact same verse, we are told "this is the second death." Therefore, death still does exist, doesn't it? Now the SDA responds that those who die the second death will be obliterated, but it nowhere says that.

Indeed, there will be no more death in the sense we know it now, for there will be no more sin, and physical death is a consequence of sin, and so is the second death for those who are not Christ's disciples. But this second death will go on forever. Also, it would make little sense if all that could happen to an unrepentant sinner is cease to exist. "Why not have fun on earth now? I mean, the only "punishment" is our ceasing to exist anyway. That's not too bad. So let's enjoy life!!!" -That's what follows from unbiblical teachings like "hell is not permanent."

We are now coming to Satan's fate. He will not rule over sinners, as I have already mentioned, as Michael Scheifler claims the Church teaches. In Revelation 20:10, we read:

[A]nd the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

This clearly shows that hell, the "lake of fire and sulphur," will be forever. Now, Scheifler attempts to deny this by saying that the Greek word used in the original documents is aion, and he claims this word means "an unspecified, indefinite period of time," but it will have an end. Well, let us look more closely at the original Greek here:

Indeed, it is the word aion used there. However, the primary meaning of this word is "everlasting, without end." As a matter of fact, the EXACT same word, aion, is used in John 6:51, for example, where Jesus says that those who eat His flesh and drink His blood will live FOR EVER. Now, if aion means "unspecified ending amount of time" in Revelation 20:10, why not in John 6:51? The same goes for Daniel 12:2 (a book SDAs are usually quite fond of quoting): "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." To describe the length of both Heaven and hell, the adjective in its very same form is used each time: "everlasting" (aionion both times in the Greek; owlam both times in the original Hebrew). To be consistent, we must admit that either "everlasting"  means "some limited time" both for eternal life and for eternal fire; or that it means "without end" both in reference to Heaven and hell. We cannot credibly claim the same word in the same form in the same verse means the opposite of what it says when referring to a different noun.

There are many other examples, like Matthew 6:13, John 8:35, and 2 Corinthians 9:9, where it must mean forever; indeed, even SDA's admit that aion in those passages does mean "forever." Aion is actually a cognate of aionios, which means "everlasting, forever." There is no logical nor linguistic basis for claiming that aion in Revelation 20:10 does not mean "forever." One of the earliest Christians, St. Augustine (4th/5th century), said concerning aion

If mercy calls us to believe that the future punishment of the impious will not be punishment without end, what are we to believe about the reward of the righteous, when eternity is specified in both clauses in the same passage, in the same sentence, and with the same word? 

(quoted in Robert Sungenis, Not By Faith Alone [Santa Barbara, CA: Queenship], p.641).

I challenge the Seventh-Day Adventist to show us where the early Christians teach a doctrine of temporal hell. SDA's won't be able to come up with anything. The only person who taught something like that was Origen, and he was roundly condemned by all others.

One can agree with Mike Scheifler in saying that there will be no resurrection from the second death. However, he has failed to prove that the Bible anywhere teaches that hell and the damned will cease to exist. It is easy to see why someone would want to believe that there is no eternal punishment, but we must courageously follow Jesus' teachings (cf. John 8:31-32), not our own or some other person's merely human thinking.

Next, Ezekiel 28:16-18 is quoted:

[T]he result of your far-flung trade; violence was your business, and you sinned. Then I banned you from the mountain of God; the Cherub drove you from among the fiery stones. You became haughty of heart because of your beauty; for the sake of splendor you debased your wisdom. I cast you to the earth, so great was your guilt; I made you a spectacle in the sight of kings. Because of your guilt, your sinful trade, I have profaned your sanctuaries, And I have brought out fire from your midst which will devour you. I have reduced you to dust on the earth in the sight of all who should see you.

Michael Scheifler notes, "It is well recognized that this passage, though addressed to the King of Tyre, is actually speaking of Satan. . . ." I must disagree. Some parts of the passage are certainly identical to Satan's fate, but to say this is an exact and literal prophecy about the devil is a little far-fetched.

Can I show this? Yes, I can. For example, in 2 Samuel 7:12-15, we read:

And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. It is he who shall build a house for my name. And I will make his royal throne firm forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. And if he does wrong, I will correct him with the rod of men and with human chastisements; but I will not withdraw my favor from him as I withdrew it from your predecessor Saul, whom I removed from my presence.

I believe that we all agree that this passage is, to some extent, a prophecy of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. God the Father says to King David that "I will be a Father unto him"; now, we know that Jesus is the "ultimate" King David. He is the Son of David (Matthew 9:27). What is said about King David in this passage refers, to some extent, to Jesus. But not ALL of it. For example, it does not refer to Jesus where it says, "...if he does wrong, I will correct him..." Jesus doesn't do anything wrong! Therefore, this part of the prophecy refers to King David ONLY, not Jesus Christ.

And therefore, in that same sense, the prophecy of Ezekiel 28:16-18, does not completely refer to Satan. PART of it may and does, but not all of it.

We are next presented with a quote from Hebrews 2:14-15:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.

Here, Michael Scheifler claims that since the passage says Christ will "destroy" Satan, he will cease to exist. My answer to that is that the Greek word used in the original translation is katargeo. Primarily, this word means "to render ineffectual" or "to cause something to have no further efficiency." SDA's have to deal with this fact. After all, when Satan is burning in hell forever, he will not be able to have anymore influence on us in any way, so this would be the fulfillment of that prophecy. The Catholic case stands.

Next, 2 Thessalonians 2:8 is quoted:

And then the lawless one will be revealed, and the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by his appearing and his coming.

The "lawless one" is not Satan himself, but someone INSPIRED by Satan: the antichrist. The antichrist, physically, will surely be destroyed, so that does not contradict the Church's teaching on eternal existence and torture in hell for the wicked.

SDA apologists easily dismiss a strong argument against their position (namely, quoting Luke 16:19-31 as proof that hell is eternal and one is conscious after death until being resurrected), by saying that since it's a parable, we cannot take this so literally; not all details apply. I say that whether we take it literally or figuratively makes no difference; it says hell is eternal. It is also noteworthy to say that this alleged parable is the only one in which our Lord uses names. Many in the Church have taken this to be more than a parable, and since Jesus doesn't refer to it as such, nor does He "explain" this parable to His disciples later, one is left with the opposite impression: that it is Christ relating an actual set of people and events. Anyway, Jesus would not have used an example that completely distorts his own teaching of hell being temporary and unconsciousness after death till the Resurrection occurs, if that indeed had been his teaching.

Now let ME quote some Bible verses that directly contradict SDA thinking, namely, that hell is not permanent [any emphases added]:

 

Isaiah 66:24
And they shall go forth and look on the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.

Matthew 18:8
And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.

Matthew 25:41
Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels...

Matthew 25:46
And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Mark 9:43
And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

Mark 9:47-48
[I]t is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.

2 Thessalonians 1:9
They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might...

Jude 1:7
[J]ust as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

Here we CLEARLY read that hell is permanent torture -- "their worm shall NOT DIE" -- "ETERNAL fire," etc. Scheifler tries to deny passages like these by saying that the results of this fire are everlasting, but this is not what the passages are saying. They say that the FIRE IS ETERNAL. The fire is unquenchable. If it were only any kind of fire that will go out when everything in it is burned, then why is that not stated? Why didn't Jesus say, "The wicked will be thrown into the fire, and they will be no more" or something like that? Instead, Jesus always talked about the "everlasting fire." And why would there be everlasting fire if the souls can some day be "burned up?" The Bible says "Their WORM SHALL NOT DIE." 

To further justify his claims, Michael Scheifler has noted that "[a]n unquenchable fire clearly does not burn forever. So what does the phrase mean? A fire that cannot be quenched burns until its divine purpose has been accomplished and then it goes out. Man cannot extinguish or quench the fire, but it does indeed go out when there is nothing left to burn."

I agree to some extent. An unquenchable fire does not necessarily have to burn forever (but it could). All it implies is that no one can put the fire out. It does NOT automatically mean that the one in there cannot cease to exist; that is true. And I also agree that it is going to fulfill its divine purpose. However, what IS the divine purpose? That's the real question. And I still claim it is the divine purpose that Satan and the wicked be tortured forever and ever. They will not simply cease to exist some day. They will live on forever in eternal suffering.

How does a Seventh-Day Adventist uphold his claims in light of Matthew 25:46? Mike Scheifler has provided us with an example. He says, "The destruction of the wicked in the lake of fire is permanent. It is a punishment that cannot be reversed. The act of punishing will come to an end, but the consequences will last for eternity. Only the righteous will have access to the tree of life and so live forever, but the wicked will perish."

But this is not really what Matthew 25:46 says. It is quoted above, and it says that the wicked will receive an everlasting punishment. It does not say they will receive a punishment with everlasting effects. The punishment is the torture, and if it is everlasting, it is eternal. SDAs' theology collapses in light of the Bible.

2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 reads [emphasis added]:

[B]lazing fire, inflicting punishment on those who do not acknowledge God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal ruin, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power...

This now, SDA's claim, proves their point. But it doesn't at all. In fact, look at the part in bold print. It is talking about eternal ruin, and this ruin consists of separation from the Lord. Now, if someone is punished by being separated from God, he or she must still exist; by simply not being anymore, you cannot be separated, because there is no more "you." In light of this, then, the SDA argument fails, and the Catholic position is reinforced.

Matthew 10:28 is another passage that, if misinterpreted, favors the SDA position:

And 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 Gehenna.

Indeed, here Jesus is talking about "killing the soul." The Greek word used there, apokteino, does indeed have "kill" as its primary meaning. It is often used to describe physical death, mortal death. Now, Strong's Enhanced Lexicon, however, tells us that if this word refers to hell it means "to deprive of spiritual life and procure eternal misery in hell." This is an official definition of the word apokteino that needs to be acknowledged. And in light of all the other Bible passages that talk about hell being eternal torture, we need to interpret it that way.

What about Revelation 21:4?

[H]e will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.

We read that the "former things have passed away." But what exactly does that mean? Should this prove that the devil has ceased to exist? No, unless we are biased towards the SDA position and try to make this passage mean something it does not. This verse can simply mean that there is no more sin, temptation, death, etc., in the new world. Satan and the wicked ones are all in hell, OUTSIDE of the city of God, Heaven, where the righteous dwell. The original Greek word for "passed away" is aperchomai, and it simply means "to go away," "to depart." To say that it means "to cease to exist" is to make up a new definition.

Scheifler also quotes Malachi 4:1-3, which says that the wicked shall be burnt up, but this could simply be referring to their physical bodies, while they are on earth. It could refer to the tribulation-- they will be in physical pain and then die a horrible death....then comes hell for them.

Let's take a look at Revelation 22:3:

There shall no more be anything accursed...

Here SDAs say that this does not refer to the New Jerusalem only, but to the entire universe. But the text doesn't say this. No, indeed, the context is describing the New Jerusalem, the ultimate City of God.

Then, in summary, the claim is made that the Catholic Church describes hell as Satan's concept of Heaven. Why? Because, and this is true, the Bible often refers to God as a consuming fire. Since God is eternal, this is eternal fire. Because of his sin, Satan couldn't stand Heaven anymore. So, basically, the Catholic Church is being accused of teaching as hell what is actually Heaven. Now, this is totally untrue and also completely flawed thinking. Hell itself, whether permanent or not, is described as a pool of fire (Mark 9:43; Revelation 20:14), which Scheifler himself admits. That's point #1. The second point is that the Catholic Church herself teaches God to be a consuming fire (thus the doctrine on purgatory! Also, cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #50-54). It is utter nonsense to say the way Catholics describe hell is the biblical description of Heaven. The Bible mentions hell in a lot of ways (Matthew 5:22, 13:42, 18:9, 22:13; Mark 9:43; James 3:6), and very often, it is connected with FIRE; sure, God is a consuming fire. He is burning love. But that doesn't mean that just because of that, fire in hell cannot exist. All of God is "fire"; but not all fire is God.

Michael Scheifler also claims, "Where God is in his full glory, there is an eternal consuming fire so great that sin cannot exist. The blazing glory of Jesus will expose and consume all sinners like stubble." Now, the first sentence is correct. However, it does not follow that all sinners will be annihilated. After all, there is a big chasm between Heaven and hell (Luke 16:26).

The last quote Mike Scheifler brings up is John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

SDAs here claim that the word "perish" means "cease to exist." Well, the Greek word used there is apollumi; it does mean "destroy" primarily, but the Enhanced Strong's [Greek] Lexicon tells us that other meanings are also "fail," "be lost" and even "to devote or give over to eternal misery in hell." In light of this, and compared to the other Bible passages that say hell is eternal, it is wholly unlikely that apollumi in John 3:16 means "cease to exist."

Actually, we receive absolute confirmation of hell being eternal in Revelation 19:3:

They said a second time: "Alleluia! Smoke will rise from her forever and ever."

The denial of hell being eternal brings with it an indifference of life: "So what!? All that could happen to me is cease to exist." That's what atheists believe anyway. They believe that life ends at death. They won't be any more. And that does not keep them from sinning. Also, it would make little sense why St. Paul would warn the Christians back then so often not to commit sins!

I believe it is easy to see that SDA's have been trying to warp all passages against their belief that the wicked will cease to exist, so that they can uphold their false teaching. The passages I presented clearly show that hell will be eternal torture. That's what the BIBLE says. The Bible does not allow for SDAs' unscriptural concept of hell. They have to make all those other passages mean what they do not, and that is where they fall. Besides, early Christian history is on the side of the Catholic Church. Hell has always been acknowledged to be never-ending for the wicked.

When I have more time, I will also give a philosophical justification of why it is the very nature of a soul to be immortal, and how this requires that hell be eternal. You will be able to find this essay then in our up-coming Philosophy section on Catholic Insight.

 


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