(WDGR Lesson 11: “Beliefs and Customs That Displease God”)
Are the dead unconscious in the grave or are wicked souls tormented in a fiery hell? When the Bible uses the term “eternal destruction” to refer to the punishment of the wicked, does it mean annihilation? What about the human soul? Does it live on in eternity?
KAREN: Cindy, we’ve been reading the section on “Beliefs and Customs That Displease God” in the Watchtower brochure What Does God Require of Us?, and it says: “The dead cannot do anything or feel anything. …The soul dies; it does not live on after death.”1.But I don’t understand how this can be the case. Doesn’t the Bible say at Matthew 25:46: “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life”?2. If the dead are completely unconscious and cannot feel anything, how can the righteous dead enjoy “eternal life” while the wicked endure “eternal punishment”?
CINDY: Well, Karen, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in the resurrection of the righteous dead. So while we believe they are unconscious in the grave now, they won’t stay that way. But as far as eternal punishment for the wicked, your Bible says something different than my Watchtower Bible, The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. At Matthew 25:46 it states: “And these will depart into everlasting cutting-off, but the righteous ones into everlasting life.” You see, Karen, many people believe the wicked will suffer eternally in a fiery hell because as the Watchtower Society explains in their book Reasoning from the Scriptures: “Translators have allowed their personal beliefs to color their work instead of being consistent in their rendering of the original-language words.”3.
KAREN: Cindy, are you saying that my New American Standard Bibleis biased to teach that wicked people will suffer in hell after they die? If so, why is it that nearly every Bible translation I read on this verse at Matthew 25:46 says “eternal punishment” while yours says “everlasting cutting-off”? Are all the other Bible translations biased? Or is yours the one that is biased?
CINDY: Karen, my New World Translation is not biased. The Watchtower Society goes on to explain: “For example: … The King James Version rendered she’ohl’ as ‘hell,’ ‘the grave,’ and ‘the pit’; hai’des is therein rendered both ‘hell’ and ‘grave’; ge’en×na is also translated ‘hell.’ …Thus the exact meanings of the original-language words have been obscured.”4. So, Karen, since the Greek and Hebrew words translated “hell” in most Bibles mean the grave, this is one of the reasons why we, Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not believe people will suffer after they die. It is also why my Bible translates the Greek word Kolasin as “cutting-off” instead of “eternal punishment.” The Watchtower Society explains: “Kolasin… is derived from kolazoo, which signifies, 1. To cut off; as lopping off branches of trees, to prune. 2. To restrain, to repress…. 3. To chastise, to punish. To cut off an individual from life, or society, or even to restrain, is esteemed as punishment;hencehas arisen this third metaphorical use of the word. …The righteous go to life, the wicked to the cutting off from life, or death.”5.
KAREN: But, Cindy, I don’t agree. How can the simple act of cutting a wicked person off from eternal life be true righteous punishment if that person doesn’t want to live in the first place? Just think of how many times you hear on the news about a wicked person committing suicide in an attempt to avoid judgment. Isn’t that what every vicious criminal wants to do to escape the consequences of his actions? How can God be righteous to grant these wicked people their desire of wanting to be eternally annihilated? You call this “eternal punishment”? This seems to be more like eternal escapism of judgment, if you ask me! Just think about Hitler–a man who authorized the torturous murder of 11 million people. Are you going to tell me that God is going to give him the exact same judgment of annihilation that He will give my neighbor Joe who has never murdered a single person but simply refuses to acknowledge Jesus Christ as God’s way of salvation?
CINDY: Well, Karen, I wouldn’t say Hitler and your neighbor Joe are going to have the exact same punishment. If your neighbor is a nice guy, he will likely be “resurrected with the opportunity to live forever” while “those whose memory was blotted out in Gehenna because of unforgivable sins”6. will not be resurrected at all. “The Bible does not answer all our questions as to whether certain specific individuals who have died will be resurrected.”7. But, I think it is safe to say that Hitler will be one who will be eternally annihilated.8.
KAREN: But, Cindy, that’s my point. If my neighbor still refuses to accept Christ as His Savior and is therefore unworthy to live forever, in the end, if annihilation is the only punishment God has available to give unworthy people, wouldn’t my neighbor end up in the exact same annihilated state as Hitler? You call this type of judgment righteous — to give every non-worthy person the same treatment?
CINDY: I see your point, Karen. I agree that it wouldn’t be right for God to give them the same punishment.
KAREN: Cindy, let’s look at Hebrews 10:26-27 and verse 29: “For if we go on sinning willfully…there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. …How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God.”9. Did you notice how this passage specifically says that there will be a more “severer punishment” for the people who trample under foot the truth about the Son of God than for others who didn’t do this? Can you see why “eternal punishment” has to be some form of a measurable degree of torment? Otherwise, it wouldn’t make any sense because it is impossible to create a more severer degree of annihilation served to one person over another.
CINDY: OK, Karen. I see what you’re saying, but what kind of father would torment his children with fire?
KAREN: You’re right. A good father wouldn’t punish his children with fire, but he might torment his enemies with it. Consider this Scripture here at Matthew 25:41. Will you read it for me in your Bible, Cindy?
CINDY: OK. It says: “Then he will say, in turn, to those on his left, ‘Be on YOUR way from me, YOU who have been cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. ’”10.
KAREN: Cindy, God did not prepare “everlasting fire” to torment His children. He prepared it for His enemies–the Devil and his angels. At John 8:44, the Bible calls those people who reject Christ, children of the Devil and says that those people who do Satan’s works do so because he is their father. So, we are not all God’s children, Cindy. Rather, we are born as children of the Devil destined for “everlasting fire” until we repent and are adopted by Christ’s grace out of Satan’s family into God’s family as Scripture describes here at John 1:12-13: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”11.
CINDY: But, Karen, I don’t believe that God’s act of throwing His enemies into “everlasting fire” means they will be tormented in a fiery hell forever. There is no way that God would torment people FOREVER for deeds they did over a limited period of time here on earth. Does that seem right to you? Even the Bible points out that “hell” has an end when is says in the King James Bible Version at Revelation 20:14 that, “death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.”
KAREN: Cindy, if a human judge were to grant a murderer only five minutes in prison because his dreadful act took only five minutes to complete, would you think that judge is very righteous?
CINDY: No, I wouldn’t.
KAREN: Of course, you wouldn’t. And even after a long period of time in prison, if you could detect that the criminal has not changed, would you want him to be released back into the public where he could commit his crimes again?
CINDY: Well, no.
KAREN: Cindy, at Revelation 22:11, the Bible says that at the end of time, once everyone has undergone judgment: “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and the one who is filthy, still be filthy…”12. You can see that by this point, the wicked will be unable to change from their wickedness. That is why God has to make the fires of “eternal punishment” everlasting. Since these people will not change, Revelation 14:11 says: “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night…”13. Can you see why God is righteous to keep these wicked people locked up in a fiery torment “forever”? And just because Revelation 20:14 says that “death” and “hell” or “Hades” as my Bible translates it, are cast into the lake of fire, that doesn’t mean that the torments of eternal punishment will stop. As you can see, quite the opposite is the case.
CINDY: OK, I understand what you’re saying, but I’m still not convinced that God will not simply annihilate the wicked. Doesn’t the Bible say the wicked will be destroyed at 2 Thessalonians 1:9? How can they suffer eternally if they will be destroyed?
KAREN: Cindy, the word translated “destruction” at 2 Thessalonians 1:9 does not mean annihilation. I can understand why you find it difficult to believe in eternal torment, but the Scriptures have a lot more to say on this topic. Can we discuss this again next week?
CINDY: Sure. I’ll be here.
1. What Does God Require of Us?, 1996, p. 23:5
2. New American Standard Bible
3. Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1989, p. 171
4. Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1989, p. 171
5. Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1989, p. 171
6. Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1989, p. 339
7. Reasoning from the Scriptures, 1989, p. 340
8. Here Cindy correctly describes the Jehovah’s Witness teaching that some of the wicked people are so wicked that they will never be resurrected. Space does not allow for a full rebuttal of this false doctrine, but Scripture clearly teaches against it when it claims that the wicked will be resurrected just as the righteous are at Acts 26:15 and Revelation 20:12-15. There is not a single Scripture in the Bible that indicates that some of the wicked will not be resurrected at all.
9. New American Standard Bible
10. New World Translation
11. New American Standard Bible
12. New American Standard Bible
13. New American Standard Bible