Hell is eternal conscious punishment and is what Jesus taught multiple times. If hell is not eternal, eternal life is not eternal. This is traditional doctrinal teaching and beliefs of the majority of Christians and scholars. Jesus’ beliefs did not come from the surrounding culture (Plato, philosophy, pagan religions, etc.) but from the Old Testament prophets of old (since He believed exactly what was taught in the OT). Olam (Hebrew, used in OT) and aion/aionios (Greek used in Septuagint, the Greek OT, and the Greek NT) mean eternal, eternity, forever, forever and ever, endless, and all the various ways our modern translations translate them today. Universal salvation is not true because Jesus taught eternal punishment in hell (he refuted that hell, translated from the term Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom, was merely a burning garbage dump outside Jerusalem, but instead said it was, at Jesus time, known as a place where the wicked dead go forever). Annihilationism (wicked dead are annihilated in the end, they merely cease to exist at all) is false because Jesus taught eternal punishment in hell. It is sheer heresy and must be stopped, this growing trend of not believing in hell as a place of eternal conscious punishment (what I have called ECT). These heretics are promoting a God and eternity of our own choosing and wresting away from God what He established from eternity, heaven for the saved and hell for the lost.
What I Have Said (and Believe)
To fully understand what Jesus taught we must drop our presuppositions and church traditions or denominational teachings and open our eyes and ears to what is actually being said in the Bible. A word cannot mean one thing and its opposite at the same time. It is true that words can change meaning over time and that context dictates the meaning of words. I believe that for anyone to believe in eternal conscious torment in hell, one must see through a lens of doctrine that sees Jesus’ salvation as limited to only this life, limited to only a select few, where more are lost than are saved, and where God’s love and justness are held in opposition to one another, especially when listening to people make comments like, “God is love BUT He is also just.” I believe if one comes to these texts of Jesus with the understanding of what the Hebrew word “olam” means (hidden, obscure, age), and the Greek words aion/aionios whose primary meaning is age, both these words having to do with time of some limited sort.
Because the Hebrew language has no word that means eternal or endless, they used repetition to exhibit long durations of time, such as olam of olams (age of ages) or olams of olams (ages of ages). Though pagan cultures had the concept of eternal (unending, without beginning or ending), this teaching did not find its way into Jewish life until, as we see in the Apocryphal writings of the Intertestamental Period, those writers spoke of such things. However, there is a reason that they are not regarded as inspired by God. I believe this is one of the reasons that the concept of ECT was not believed by Jesus and the early believers. It wasn’t until the time of Jesus when some Jewish groups began accepting this belief, but they were not mainstream and the teaching was not prevalent. Think about it, if this doctrine of ECT was so important, and was truly the only place the unbeliever could go to after death, why wouldn’t Jesus and His apostles CLEARLY calling people at every turn to avoid hell and believe in God? Why would they not have, in every recorded sermon and teaching by Jesus, Peter, Paul, Luke, James, John, Matthew, Mark, the writer to the Hebrews, all of the teachers after Jesus, not been laser-focused on the terrors of hell (more like the Puritans were) and the grandeur of heaven in all they said and did, AND why don’t we have a record of that to show us the importance.
Biblically, hell is nothing more than a place of the unseen, a holding place for the dead, all of them. Yarbrough’s concept of hell came from pagan society to keep the common person under the obedience of the ruler/governmental system that was in place. In the early church days after the apostles, a system of governing the church was put in place that ended up hundreds of years later becoming what we know as the Roman Catholic Church. This system of subservience, the threat of going to ECT, hell, if you did not follow and obey the church leaders was instituted and has been there ever since.
I do not believe in the annihilation of the soul. I believe everyone will eventually be saved because that is what Jesus came to do, to seek and save the lost, to be a joy to the WHOLE world, not just some. I believe God is love is the best description of all that He is, and that any other “attributes” we may use to describe God are all subsumed within “God is love.” He cannot be loving at some points, but just at other points. He is love, and because He is love, His justice is loving, merciful, gracious, etc. I believe that the early believers right after Jesus all believed in universal judgment as well as universal salvation. I believe the heresy foisted upon Christ’s Body, the Church, has not been universalism nor annihilationism, but eternal conscious torment in hell.
Sorry this has gotten longer than I anticipated, so I will end it here. For more proof of my position, one website worth checking out, run by Gary Amirault, is : Tentmaker Ministries
Soon I will put up links to other sites on my home page. There you will be able to begin studying these things for yourself from a different perspective than you have held before. Remember, it should always be about God’s truth, not our own. We must follow God’s truth wherever it leads, and never apologize to any man for where that truth takes us.
Yours in Christ,