The Biblical Case Against Eternal Torment - Part III
gbox1: If you've read through the first two parts (which you should), you will say, 'Yes, but what about this and that bible verse that supports eternal torment? Well, let's go through some of them and see.
In taking a cursory glance at the language used in the NT that some take to support eternal torment, one might get that opinion. However, we must look further into the nature and usage of the language by allowing the bible to interpret itself. Two of the strongest texts to support eternal torment are in Revelation 14:10,11, and Revelation 20:10
And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image and whosever receiveth the mark of his name
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night ever and ever
Before we specifically analyze the language here as well as that used in Mark 9:45, it is very interesting to note where John most likely got this language from: the book of Isaiah.
And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night or day; the smoke there shall go up forever from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it forever and ever - Isaiah 34:9,10
This was describing the destruction of Edom that occurred thousands of years ago. Its not burning today is it? Notice the language used is exactly like that in Revelation and other parts of the Bible to describe the finality of the punishment of the wicked. The smoke ascending up is figurative of the totality of the destruction. It ascends up and is forever gone. The expressions "night or day" show the continuity of the punishment, not the duration. It burns continually until it is finished its work.
Look at the use of phrase “eternal fire”.
Even as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire - Jude 7
Notice that S&G are not burning now. The fire was eternal in its results, not in its duration. Even if the fire itself was eternal or everlasting, it is a stretch of logic and science to say that what is thrown in the fire is eternal as well. As we have discovered in our previous study, the wicked are mortal and do not have immortal souls, therefore they will burn for a time and then be gone. It has also been suggested that the lake of fire is symbolic of utter destruction and not a literal place. Why? Note that the beast, death and hell are cast into the lake of fire. In Revelation and Daniel, the beast is a religio-political power. Death and hell are concepts. How does one throw these into a lake of fire? How are these concepts literally ‘burned’?
‘Forever and ever’
In the scriptures, ‘forever’ is dependent on what it is referring to. Look at this verse from 1 Samuel:
I will not go up until the child be weaned and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord and there abide forever...Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord - 1 Samuel 1:22,28
This was when Samuel was given to the high priest, Eli, to serve God. Forever is a relative term. We see this reference in the OT of servants serving their master "forever". Here it means as long as life lasts. When 'forever' speaks about God or the saved, it means eternal because they have eternal life. However, when speaking about the wicked, they are mortal because of sin. Therefore, forever is temporary because the wages of sin is death. They are not immortal, therefore cannot burn eternally.
Revelation 20:10 should read like this, "They are cast into the lake of fire where they shall be tormented continually until their life ends"
‘Eternal and Everlasting’
In Matthew 25:46 the word used for eternal and everlasting is ‘aionos’. Some will say that because the same word is used to describe the fates of the wicked and righteous, they must both stand together as literally eternity. This belief does not take into account three things:
1)‘aionos’ can mean ‘age lasting’, or ‘an unspecified period of time’
2)It does not say ‘everlasting punishing’ but ‘everlasting punishment’
3)The wicked do not have immortal souls or eternal life
Notice that there is a contrast here as is used continually in the scriptures to show differences. Eternal life vs everlasting punishment. The more they are opposite the better. That punishment is death and it will last forever. There is no resurrection or redemption from it.
The wages of sin is death...BUT the gift of God is eternal life - Romans 6:23
Here we have an example of the Bible’s use of comparisons to show the complete opposites of each other. The opposite of life is death, not eternal suffering. As mentioned above, when eternal or everlasting applies to the righteous it means for eternity because they are given immortality. Even if ‘everlasting’ applied to the duration of torment the wicked suffer, we see that ‘aionos’ when applying to wicked shows that ‘aionos’ would be temporary. It would mean ‘age lasting’ as is properly translated because the wicked do not have immortality.
‘The Worm Dieth Not and Unquenchable Fire’
When the Bible uses ‘unquenchable fire’ it is to show that the fire cannot be put out and will burn as long as there is something to burn. For however long it lasts, there will be no interruption, nor any chance of quenching the fire. This does not mean that it will not go out, but that it will do its work uninterrupted as long as life lasts. See this usage in Jeremiah as well.
But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the Sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath Day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched - Jeremiah 17:27
This occurred when Babylon sacked Jerusalem. Obviously, Jerusalem's gates still aren't burning, are they? No because unquenchable does not mean that the fires will not go out, but that they cannot be put out.
Where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched – Mark 9: 44
We have seen that unquenchable fire shows the continuity and finality of the punishment. Notice that these verses are used together for the same purpose. It is logical that the phrase “the worm dieth not” is also used in the same fashion. Again, notice the OT reference.
And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me. For their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched. And they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh. Isaiah 66:24
This verse explains the finality and disgustingness of death and the obliteration of God’s enemies. To apply the ‘worm dieth not’ to mean the eternal torment of an immortal soul is to ignore the metaphorical language used by the OT writers from which John the Revelator drew his imagery. Also it is to make it seem that there will actually be eternal worms feeding on the ‘soul’. The worms would have to be immortal as well. How this is possible defies any logical reasoning. Rather, the worms are to be understood in the same concept of unquenchable fire: they will continue their work uninterrupted until the job is done. They cannot be squashed or die naturally until their work is finished. That makes this imagery support annihilation even more than eternal torment because nothing can stop the work of the fire and worm. They will completely eradicate what they are feeding on. Hence, these verses support annihilation and not eternal torment as is initially thought!
(Edited by gbox1)