My Reply to a Jehovahs Witness Concerning
Belief in the Eternal Torment of Unbelievers
(Copyright © 2023 by Daniel B. Sedory)
"Hell" (which is the word most English speaking people use when discussing this subject) is one of a number of topics that human beings, if they were able to change the reality of Gods Word, the Scriptures, would likely do so; well, many true Believers that is, would probably change it if given a choice. But mankind does not get to "vote" on what God does or commands us to do! So, if you truly believe in Him and what He has told us in Scripture, then that is what we must believe; no matter how difficult it is for us to accept those things due to our sinful minds.
Please read through my reply until the end, where Ill have more to say about what I believe the final state of unbelievers might be like.
The following concerns the words of Scripture regarding what "Hell" will be like (and how long non-believers will remain there).
[Note: This is not an exhaustive list. If a word is used in many verses in the same exact way, I havent listed all of its occurrences.]
βασανίζω (basanizō) is the Greek word for what is most often translated as "torture" or "torment" about a dozen times total in the NT; torment being used more often for the figurative use of the word in Scripture: Yes, there are times when it does not refer to a "physical torture" but rather what a person is "mentally" going through or experiencing. For example, in 2 Peter 2:8, it describes what the righteous man, Lot, felt like while living among many unrighteous men! (Another completely figurative use is in Matthew 14:24, where it applies the word to an inanimate boat being "beaten" by the waves of a storm.) The nouns, βάσανος (basanos) and βασανισμός (basanismos) add a handful more times that "torture" or "misery" or some other translation are used in the Bible.
In regards to its use concerning physical pain, in Revelation 12:2 it describes the "agony" a woman has when giving birth and in Revelation 9:5 about the stinging pain from a scorpion bite. (Revelation 11:10 might be describing both mental and physical pain being endured by people still living on the earth.) Do you believe that demons will be "tormented"? Matthew 8:29 ("And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?") shows they are aware that God has stated they will be. And there obviously must be some amount of time that passes for a being to be "tormented"; making it impossible for them to be annihilated instantly! (Mark 5:7 and Luke 8:28 are two other examples of a single demon saying basically the same thing.)
In Revelation 14:9-11 (and later) we read about what is going to happen to all the "demons" and those who worship the beast during the last days:
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented [basanisthēsetai, verb, indicative future passive, 3rd person singular, from basanizō] with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment [basanismou, noun, genitive masculine singular, from basanismos] goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name. (ESV)
Lastly (in regards to the Greek word βασανίζω; basanizō), we read in Revelation 20 (verses 10-15):
and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were [Not had been, but still "were"], and they will be tormented [basanisthēsontai, verb, indicative future passive, 3rd person plural from basanizō] day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyones name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (ESV)
I'll point out here (for those who may need this) that "the lake of fire" is not a literal physical lake of burning sulfur. It should be obvious that "Death" in this passage is neither a person nor a place, but either represents the fact that there will never again be any dying or death, or is simply a synonym for all the dead in Hades. Like many other things in the Book of Revelation, "the lake of fire" is symbolic of there being a place (for lack of a better word) of torment that the devil, all demons and non-believers will finally be confined to; unable to enter into the presence of God or His elect ever again. However, note this: Its quite clear from the context in both of those passages above that the phrase "forever and ever" is a good English translation of the Greek words αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων (aiōnas tōn aiōnōn). Why? Because Revelation 14:11 states that "they have no rest" from their "torment"; and both use the phrase "day and night" (clearly descriptive of a continuous passing of time). Even the NWT (New World Translation by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society; the "Bible" of Jehovahs Witnesses) uses the translation: "tormented ... forever and ever" because there is no other possible meaning here in Scripture! What the "torment" here may mean, Ill get into further below, but there is no way that something or someone or even a spirit, can be said to be in "torment" "forever and ever" if they were no longer conscious or had ceased to exist. In light of the above passages, one cannot logically conclude that the Lake of Fire referred to by Jesus as the "eternal fire" in Matthew 18:8 and 25:41 [τὸ πῦρ τὸ αἰώνιον (to pur to aiōnion)] simply means that it has an eternal effect; that is, claiming this refers to being annihilated and never being able to exist again due to its consuming effect. No! The fire is eternal, because those in the Lake of Fire will remain conscious for all eternity!
Again, this is something I very much dislike as a fallen human being and is rather repugnant to most, but it is what God in His just and righteous nature has declared as reality. Lets look at some passages that speak directly about "eternal life" and what faces those who do not have it:
Matthew 25 contains a description of what will happen at the end of everyones lives here on earth. It begins with a parable, similar to many of Jesus other teachings, beginning in verse 14: Verses 14 through 30 are often referred to as "The Parable of the Talents" though some verses, such as the end of verse 30, could be applied to the reality of what will happen in the future ("In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."). And in verses 31 and following, Jesus clearly states what will happen "when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him,...." At the very end of this section, we get to Matthew 25, verse 46: "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Notice the structure of the original Greek for that verse:
"καὶ ἀπελεύσονται οὗτοι εἰς κόλασιν αἰώνιον, οἱ δὲ δίκαιοι εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον;" (or transliterated:
"kai apeleusontai houtoi eis kolasin aiōnion, hoi de dikaioi eis zōēn aiōnion.")
My point in displaying the words of Matthew 25:46 as I did above was to show the parallelism in both the structure and thought of Jesus words there: That the phrases eis kolasin aiōnion ("into punishment eternal") and eis zōēn aiōnion ("into life eternal") have the continuation of both the righteous and the unrighteous into eternity as the common thread, and the contrast between the two groups (the "but" in the passage) is due to the difference in what they will experience (between the "torment" of that first group, and living in the presence of the Lord in Heaven for the second); not in having the first group simply cease to exist.
Every reputable Greek lexicon, dictionary and Bible translation, translates the Greek noun there (κόλασιν, kolasin) as "punishment" (or even "torment"). The only exception being the NWT, which translates it as "cutting-off" (or, lopping off). Why? Well, their main reason for doing so (whether ever stated or not) was their preconceived notion that those who do not have eternal life must cease to exist. But, they did happen to find that acceptable meaning for them ("cutting-off") had sometimes been used for the verb (κολαζω; kolazō) in other literature. And their explanation for being able to use it that way here was because it appears only twice in the NT (here and in 1 John 4:18); yet in Acts 4:21 even the NWT translates it ("κολάσωνται"; kolasōntai, verb, subjunctive aorist middle, 3rd person plural form of kolazō) as "punish". Though in 2 Peter 2:9 which talks about "the judgment," they decided they had to use "to be cut-off" there, in spite of the fact that most Bible translators would see the Greek word there (a present passive participle, accusative masculine plural) as describing the unrighteous as already being in a state of punishment before The Judgment. But, due to their beliefs, the Watchtower couldnt even consider that meaning a possibility. What did the Watchtower do with 1 John 4:18 you might wonder? Well, in their Interlinear Translation, they did put "lopping off" under the Greek word kolasin, but in the English text they paraphrased the verse to the point of never even translating kolasin there!
However, nowhere in the Greek Scriptures do we find any kind of statement that "the unrighteous"; let alone the righteous, will ever have their spirits cease to exist. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society changes the meaning of words in Scripture (or even adds words to it!) in order to make their "translation" conform to what they teach, and then they use what they have changed in the NWT to support their views! On the contrary: The Apostle Paul clearly stated in Philippians 1:23, "... having the desire to depart and be with Christ," for which the Watchtower has very long notes in some NWT editions that go on and on about why they translate the Greek word here as Pauls "releasing" rather than his "departing" (though in the final analysis, it makes no difference, since they provide no Scriptural support for their teaching that Paul couldnt have meant that he would immediately go into the presence of the Lord; in spite of Jesus Himself said in Luke 23:43b (for which Ive both transliterated the Greek and placed my own English translation of those words in parentheses): "amēn (Truly) soi (to you) lego (I say) sēmeron (today) met (with) emou (me) esē (you will be) en (in) tō paradeisō (Paradise)." (The actual Greek text being: "ἀμήν σοι λέγω σήμερον μετ᾽ ἐμοῦ ἔσῃ ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ.")
Yet just as they have attempted to wiggle out of what Thomas said to Jesus near the end of the Gospel of John, the Watchtower once again throws up a smoke screen by quibbling about the placement of a comma (",") in the English translations, rather than allowing their readers to see what Jesus obviously meant. They put a comma after the word "today" as if Jesus had to tell the thief that He was speaking to him on that day. Ridiculous! If that was what Jesus had wanted to say, while he was in pain, hanging there and fighting for each breath, do you really believe He would have included a word that made no difference? No! The point of Lukes Gospel here in using the word "today" was to show us that just as Paul wrote to the Philippians, when Believers in Christ as their Messiah (Christians) die here on earth, their "spirits" will immediately be in the presence of Christ.
In James 2:26, James points out that a body without its "spirit" is dead. Its not a clear answer on this topic, but it does show that a "spirit" can be separated from a body; that human beings are not comprised of only a physical body and mind. And in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, Paul points out that "he" could be "absent from his body" and still be his own conscious self with the Lord; of course, the Watchtower disputes this, saying that Paul would first have to go out of existence and only after The Judgment would he be able to be with the Lord.
Part Two of this Letter continues here.
1[Return to Text] Most people in the English speaking world use the word "Hell" as a reference to the final state of the unrighteous dead; which is how Im using it here. In the 1611 KJV (or Authorized Version) of the Bible and its direct descendants, "Hell" was used not only to describe that final state, but was also used to translate the Greek word "Hades" (ᾁδης; hadēs) wherever it occurs, as well as "Gehenna" (γέεννα; geena, literally The Valley of Hinnom, which in this case, was used figuratively in the Gospels and the Book of James as the final state of the ungodly). "Hades" is the current state of the unrighteous dead, which is why Revelation 20:14 states that "Hades" will be "thrown into the lake of fire." For those who wish to read more about the differences in words translated as "hell" in the KJV, I recommend taking the following links to the Expository Dictionary of NT Words, by W.E. Vine: On Hell (γέεννα) and on Hades (ᾅδης).
2[Return to Text] If youd like to study the meaning of the phrase "forever and ever" not only in Revelation 14:11 and 20:10 but elsewhere, this is for you:
The words again are aiōnas (noun, accusative masculine plural, from aiōn) and aiōnōn (the same noun, but this time genitive masculine plural with the definite article, tōn, in front of it) and the literal meaning of the phrase would be: "ages of the ages".
And its meaning can clearly be derived from the context of Scripture itself in the following 18 verses where its used:
Galatians 1:5, Philippians 4:20, 1 Timothy 1:17, 2 Timothy 4:18, Hebrews 13:21, 1 Peter 4:11, Revelation 1:6, 18; 4:9, 10; 5:13; 7:12; 10:6; 11:15; 15:7; 19:3; 20:10 and 22:5.
The first seven verses and Revelation 4:9-10; 5:13; 7:12; all talk about glorifying or honoring, etc. either God the Father or Jesus Christ, forever and ever. Revelation 1:18 shows that Jesus who was once dead is now alive forever and ever. Revelation 10:6; 11:15 and 22:5 talk about God and/or Jesus living or reigning forever and ever. Thus, when we read in Revelation 20:10 that beings (including all human beings whose names are not found in the Book of Life) are in the Lake of Fire "forever and ever" that cannot be anything short of "eternity" or "eternal" which brings us to the simpler use of one of the same Greek words in the phrase above:
αἰώνιος, ον (aiōnios sometimes ος, ία, ον; os, ia, on) eternal, everlasting, the opposite of πρόσκαιρος (proskairos, temporary, transitory). Uses:
1) of God without beginning or end, eternal (example: Romans 16:26),
2) without beginning (example: Romans 16:25),
3) without end, everlasting (example: 2 Corinthians 5:1) and
4) in its neuter singular form, αἰώνιον (aiōnion) as an adverb for all time, forever (but in Philemon 15 its clear from the context that it means only for as long as he would be alive on earth; it's not about "eternal life" as so many other passages in Scripture are concerned with). [Return to Text]
3[Return to Text] Roman Catholics who believe in their doctrine of "purgatory" would prefer to translate this as there already being punishment in Hades, since the end of this verse isnt very clear about what happens to each individual who is there after "The Judgment". But there are some fundamental, conservative, Bible believing Christians who have translated this verse differently; specifically the NET Bible: "...and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment at the day of judgment" though they obviously believe in an eternal torment in the Lake of Fire. To read the reasons why the NET Bible translates the phrase as "...and to reserve the unrighteous for punishment33 at the day of judgment," take this link to 2 Peter 2, find verse 9 and click on the "33" there to see Translation Note #33 at the right side of the page; it begins with: "The adverbial participle κολαζομένους (kolazomenous) can refer either to contemporaneous time or subsequent time."
4[Return to Text] The following photo snip comes from Archive.org's Copy
of the 1985 Edition of The Kingdom Interlinear Translation Of The Greek Scriptures, (©1985) by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, page 1045, which clearly shows they did not translate kolasin into the English text, but rather paraphrased their own
choice of what that part of the verse was supposed to mean ("because the fear lopping-off is having") as, "because fear exercises restraint" (dropping the fear of ceasing to exist [in their beliefs] or "punishment" from the verse and replacing it with
something that is not there! This phrase should, however, be translated as: "For fear has to do with punishment," [ESV] "because fear involves punishment," [NAU] or other similar English translations):
I have no idea why they actually did that. Its only one of many verses the NWT has not translated accurately. It never answers the question: Fear of what? The motivation for living your life as a Christian is "love" is clearly pointed out in the context surrounding this phrase. So one would hope the Watchtower meant that "fear" is what "exercises a restraint" (NWT) in the lives of the lost (unbelievers, nonchristians). However, what is the point of a Jehovahs Witness telling the world that if they do not confess their sin and accept Jesus as the only One who can "save them," that they will cease to exist when they die; except possibly for a very brief time at The Judgment? Thats really not much different than what all atheists already believe; and will likely motivate them to to do whatever they feel like doing even more, since youve confirmed for them that there really isnt anything to fear after death! [Return to Text]
5[Return to Text] Its a known fact that the Watchtower does whatever they can to deny the God-nature of Jesus in Scripture. Yet even the NWT has no possible way to mis-translate what Thomas said in John 20:28: "In answer Thomas said to him: 'My Lord and my God!' "; (NWT). This is no different than the majority of all English translations; which also include an exclamation mark ("!") after Thomas words, even though John never used the vocative case here (Ill explain that further below), and there are no punctuation marks in Greek manuscripts.
The only way that the Watchtower can call into question what the Apostle John wrote there is to say that Thomas was basically cursing when he said "my God" (as
if he were in such an emotional state that he couldnt control what he said to Jesus). Heres the Greek text; which Ive put into parentheses with a transliteration after a translation for each word:
"the (ὁ, ho) Lord (κύριός, kurios) of me (μου, mou) and (καὶ, kai) the (ὁ, ho) God (θεός, theos) of me (μου, mou)."
If Thomas had really said something like: My Lord, my god! (do you think he would have said "and" in between them?) and there are no punctuation marks in the Greek, then how would a writer express something like that? Quite easily! In Matthew 27:46, Jesus is quoted at saying "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani" (a transliteration of Jesus Aramaic words into English from Matthews transliteration into Greek); which means: "my God my God why you have forsaken me" to which we can obviously add a ("?") question mark due to the word "why" being there. Matthew then translated those words into Greek as: "θεέ μου θεέ μου ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες" ("the้ mou the้ mou hinati me engkatelipes"). Well the word for God in both of those beginning phrases ("θεέ μου"; the้ mou; "God of me") is in what we call the vocative case (used for expletives or exclamatory speech, to which an English writer would add an exclamation mark), and you can clearly see that it ("θεέ"; the้) is not spelled the same as the noun for God in John 20:28 (θεός, theos). So if that is what Thomas had really said, then John could have easily written: "ho kurios mou the้ mou" ("the Lord of me, my god!"). So why do English translations of this verse use an exclamation mark after it? Simply because of the importance of that statement. It is a proclamation by Thomas that Jesus is just as much God as He is human in nature. Another place where many English translations use an exclamation mark is at the end of the words used by the angels to praise God in Luke 2:14; even though none of the Greek words are in the vocative case there, while proclaiming the birth of Jesus, the Messiah.
But just as important is what follows (or, I should say, what does not follow) in verse 29: "Jesus said to him: 'Because you have seen me have you believed? Happy are those who do not see and yet believe.' " (NWT). Why is that important here? Because unlike the many places in Scripture which point out anything unbecoming or unrighteous of anyone (such as what Paul said about Peter; see Galatians 2:11 and following), Jesus simply accepts what Thomas says of Him, without any kind of correction or admonishment, because Thomas words were true: That Jesus is just as much his God as is God the Father.
First Posted on: 27 JUL 2023 (2023.07.27).
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