Do We Want God's Word to Be a Lamp To Our Feet? A Light To Our Path?
Based on what you know about the Bible, does it teach that those who do not believe in Christ will go to Hell?
Are you interested in what the Bible really says about Hell?
Would you be surprised to find that the Bible does not teach Hell for those who do not believe in Christ?
"Saved by grace through faith, not of works lest any man should boast"... You know, we all claim to believe that, grace people and legalists alike. No one wants to own up to believing that we are saved by our works. But, if we take a literal understanding of the Hell scriptures, we must admit that they teach a doctrine of salvation by works.
In my constant search for more light on such a bleak, uncomfortable,(at least it should be uncomfortable) subject, I ran across some writings by "The Christian Heretic" on this very subject.
Does The Bible Teach That Non-believers in Christ Will Go To Hell?
"The reason for writing this is to point out that, regardless of how one thinks the word aionios should be translated or what one thinks of the arguments for Universal Reconciliation, there simply isn't a basis for arguing that the Bible supports everlasting torment in hell for non-believers in Christ in the first place without also supporting a works-based salvation." The Christian Heretic"
I've heard it said that Jesus spoke more about hell than He did about heaven. I wanted to touch on this point by taking a look at the passages in Scripture that are used to back up the idea of Everlasting Torment (ET) in hell.
Let's start with the Old Testament as it must be chock-full of warnings about ET:
"At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever." - Daniel 12:1-3
What's that? This is the only passage in the entire Old Testament that hints at the idea of ET? That can't be right. There were about 2,000 more years between Creation and the Incarnation than between the Incarnation and today, that's double the amount of time. If ET is true then it seems that God didn't bother to warn even His chosen people, much less the rest of the world, about it until many thousands of years after the fall. If we're to take the concept of ET seriously, it seems that God decided the only people worth saving are those who came after the Incarnation since He didn't even bother to tell anyone how to avoid this horrible fate in this passage beyond "being wise" and having your name written in some book. Still, nothing about "non-believers in Christ in this passage so I'm going to have to write it off as a good defence of ET for non- believers until someone can demonstrate a good exegesis of this passage that does defend the idea of non-believers in Christ going to hell forever.
Well, that was it for the Old Testament, but surely the New Testament must be full of passages that tell us that non-believers in Christ go to hell forever. After all, it's such an important part of our Protestant theology. Let's take a look:
"And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."
"I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin."
"And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven."
That's the first statement, repeated in the three Synoptic Gospels, that a traditionalist could use from the New Testament to try to back up their belief in ET. Taken at face value it seems to say that every sin will be forgiven except the "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit" (which is, literally, to say that a work of the Holy Spirit was actually done by the devil, something that very few people have ever done or will do). Matthew also seems to tell us that after the age to come ends this sin will be forgiven, so those few people who have committed this sin might just be in luck once the next age ends, presumably after the 1,000 year Millennial Reign concludes. Since that warning only applies to those who say that the work of the Holy Spirit was actually done by the devil most of us don't need to worry too much about it, so time to move on.
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 crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell."
"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 into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched."
This is the second statement that Jesus made that might be interpreted as a warning about ET. However, if someone can interpret "non-believer in Christ" out of not mutilating one's body they're a better exegete (or should I say eisegete?) than I am. This passage seems to tell us that those who go to hell are those who let parts of their body cause them to sin without amputating those parts, but it sure doesn't seem to tell us that non-believers go to hell forever. So, I guess we will have to move on to the many other warnings Jesus gave about ET.
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."" - Matthew 25:31-46
I've read and re-read this passage and the only thing I can get out of it, at least if taken at face value, is that those who help the helpless go to heaven forever and those who don't get punished forever. Just like the passages about bodily mutilation, I just don't get how one reads "non-believer in Christ (especially if we include "apart from any works")" into "those who don't feed the hungry or look after the sick," particularly since I know of many believers who don't and many non-believes who do. In fact, this passage seems to imply that more non- Christians might go to heaven than Christians and more Christians might end up in hell than Atheists. But I'm sure some good theologian out there will fill me in on why I'm reading that wrong. In the meantime let's check out all the other warnings about ET that Jesus gave us:
Wait, that was Jesus' last warning about ET in the Gospels? But I thought He spoke more about everlasting punishment in hell than He did about heaven? That was only three warnings, and none of them mention non-believers in Christ (apart from any works) at all. In fact two thirds of them seem to imply that certain works must be done to avoid everlasting damnation. Okay, well, maybe we confused Jesus with the Apostle Paul, it must have been him who gave all those warnings. Let's check them out:
"He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed." - 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10
Finally, a passage that seems to tell us that non-believers will go to hell forever. What? The passage doesn't even mention hell? It says destruction? Well, surely I could be forgiven for reading into that word based on all the other passages that talk about non-believers going to hell forever, a little eisegesis never hurt anyone, right? Oh, that's right, none of the other passages so far actually mentioned non-believers in Christ, they all seemed to refer to those who didn't do certain works. It seems that if we want to take this passage literally we'll have to become believers in Annihilation rather than ET. But I'm sure Paul must have given us lots of other warnings that we can use to defend the position. He didn't? That can't be right. The great evangelist to the Gentiles never once spoke of everlasting torment in hell? Not even in his sermons to the Jews or the Pagans recorded in Acts? Well there must be something else in the Bible that we can use to defend the idea.
Ah, here we go:"A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name." Revelation 14:9-11
That only tells us that those who worship a certain beast (could this be a metaphor for a particular person?) will be punished forever, not that non- believers in Christ will be. Of course, one would also have to justify taking the effect (the punishment) literally when we're not taking the cause (the worshipping of a beast) literally. But since this doesn't speak of non-believers we'll have to move on.
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog—to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.- Revelation 20:7-10
Well, this passages seems to say that Satan, the beast and the false prophet (and maybe the nations who marched with them against the city God loves depending on how you read the passage) will apparently be thrown into the lake of fire and will be tormented forever, but still nothing about non-believers in Christ so let's move on to the next passage:
This can't be right, I can't find any more. But that was only 10 passages. (7 if you take the fact that three of them were repeats of passages in Matthew into consideration) That was the whole foundation upon which the concept of Everlasting Torment rests? But what about all the passages that are supposed to tell us that non-believers in Christ will go to hell forever, where are they? Isn't this is one of the most important teachings of the evangelical church? Well, after comparing those passages to the multitude of passages that seem to support Universal Reconciliation I'm going to have to go with the idea that seems to actually be backed by Scripture.
If anybody wants to try to defend their beloved doctrine of ET I'd be happy to listen, but until then I'm going to have to stick with Christian Universalism.