We continue from our last paper with Pastor Russell’s response to the San Francisco Monitor. That publication challenged Pastor Russell’s credentials and authority and defended the doctrine of eternal torment. The Monitor presented three texts which supposedly proved eternal torment.
After establishing his authority to expound God’s word, Pastor Russell began to explain the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, pointing out that the rich man represents the Jewish nation and Lazarus, the poor man, represents Gentiles. We now continue with Pastor Russell’s rebuttal:
THE RICH MAN IN HADES
All scholars are aware that in the Bible the Greek word hades in the New Testament is the equivalent of the Hebrew word sheol in the Old Testament. All are aware that these words signify the tomb, the state of death, and not a place of suffering or torture, at all. The word that is rendered hell fire in our English Bibles is a different word, namely, gehenna, which we will consider later.
If hades signifies the state of death, the tomb, how could the “rich man” suffer there? We reply that the rich man is to be viewed from two different standpoints – national and individual. Nationally the Jew went into hades – their kingdom and nationality have been buried for eighteen centuries; but individually the Jews are very much alive, and for all of these eighteen centuries that their nationality has been buried, they have been suffering injustices and tortures, and, alas, chiefly from those calling themselves Christians, but denying both the power and the spirit of Christianity.
There is an impassable gulf between the saintly Lazarus class (represented by the beggar) and the Jews. God has not wished that the Jewish nation should amalgamate with other nations nor with Christendom. He has a special work for the Jews to do in the near future, and for this very purpose He has preserved them as a people for now thirty-five hundred years. In his sufferings the Jew at times has made an appeal, desiring that the Lazarus class might give a symbolical drop of water – of comfort and refreshment; but this has been denied. As an illustration of such an appeal, many of us remember the Jewish protest against Russian persecutions and their request of Mr. (Theodore) Roosevelt, when President, that he intervene. President Roosevelt expressed sympathy, but declared compliance with the request impossible, as it would be a violation of the comity of nations.
The Jewish nation consisted of twelve tribes. Some of all were at Jerusalem in Palestine, the center of their national life. But two tribes, mainly, were represented there – Judah and Benjamin. These two, therefore, may be specially considered as the “rich man” in the parable. His five brethren mentioned would correspond to the remaining ten tribes residing in the countries around. The parable shows that no special favor would be shown to those brethren – “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” (Luke 16:29) These words clearly identify the rich man and his brethren as the twelve tribes of Israel to whom God’s favors and blessings came through Moses and the Prophets.
Cannot all see clearly that this parable, which is the mainstay of all the eternal torment doctrines and teachings, has been misunderstood? Its teachings are beautiful and in entire accord with the facts of history and revelation.
2. THE GOATS IN EVERLASTING FIRE – Matt. 25:31-46
This, also, is a parable, and not a literal statement. Besides, it applies not to people now living, but to people who will be living in the world during the thousand years of Christ’s reign following His second advent. The context tells us this. We read, “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations.” (Matt. 25:31-32)
The Son of Man has not yet come in His glory. He is waiting for the development of the Church, His saintly Bride class, which is to sit with Him in His Throne and share His glory, and participate with Him, in the judging of the world – “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?” (1 Cor. 6:2) This parable, then, belongs not to the Church, nor to this Gospel Age, but to the world’s Judgment Day or trial time in the coming Age, the thousand years of Messiah’s reign. Mankind is represented by sheep and goats. Surely these are symbolical. Surely mankind will not turn into sheep and goats! We must interpret it symbolically.
Like a shepherd the great Messiah will, during the thousand years, instruct, uplift and enlighten humanity. Such as receive the instructions and come into full accord with Him are styled sheep, symbolically, of course. And they are placed at His right hand, symbolically, of course, signifying a place of favor. The others, the wayward, not developing the graces of character under these instructions, will be goats, in a symbolical sense, of course, and will be gathered to Messiah’s left hand of disfavor. At the conclusion of that glorious thousand years of Divine favor, uplifting, restitution (Acts 3:19-21), the consummation of the matter will have been reached. The sheep class, perfect, glorious, will be ushered into life everlasting. The goat class, willful rejecters of Divine favor on the Divine terms, will receive death everlasting, their everlasting punishment.
But what kind of punishment will it be? St. Paul answers, they “shall be punished with everlasting destruction.” (2 Thess. 1:9) Destruction will be their punishment. St. Peter says they “shall be destroyed from among the people.” (Acts 3:23) Again, he tells us that they will perish like natural brute beasts. (2 Pet. 2:12) What could be plainer or simpler than this? The word used by our Lord, in the Greek rendered punishment (Matt. 25:46), is kolasis. It signifies restraint, cutting off. It has no thought of torment connected with it.
The question may arise: Why did our Lord use the words, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt: 25:41)? Fire is here used as a symbol of destruction, and the word everlasting gives its full significance, as St. Paul expressed it, “everlasting destruction.” Is not fire as good a symbol of destruction as a sheep is a symbol of a child of God, or a goat a symbol of a follower of Satan? We can think of no better symbol of destruction than fire – nothing more destructive.
But the Monitor raises the suggestion that matter is indestructible. Very true. The burning of a human body in a literal flame or the burning of the same body by the chemical action of the atmosphere, more slowly, would reduce it to dust and gases. Nothing would be lost. But man is more than a body. The intelligent will, thought, etc., which constitutes a human soul or human being, is something more than a body, and is not subject to the same conditions. The soul can be destroyed. Intelligence can be blotted out. The human will perishes when the spark of animal life quits the body. And it is the soul that the Bible declares is responsible for sin, and not the body. It was Adam, a soul, that was condemned to death. It was Adam and the souls of all his children that were redeemed by Jesus’ sacrifice: “Who redeemeth thy life [soul, being] from destruction.” (Psa. 103:4)
The death or destruction of Adam’s soul would have meant annihilation had not the Almighty provided the redemption. The redemption price was the death of Jesus’ soul; as we read, “He hath poured out his soul unto death;” He “shalt make his soul an offering for sin.” (Isa. 53:12,10) Likewise it was Jesus’ soul that was raised from the dead; as we read, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell” (hades, sheol, the grave). (Acts 2:27) This is St. Peter’s explanation not ours.
Because Adam, a soul, and all his children’s souls have thus been redeemed (not from torment, but from sheol, hades, the tomb, the state of death), therefore we have the Master’s own words, “All that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth.” (John 5:28) The First Resurrection will consist only of the holy, the saintly, whose trial is in the present time, and who will be awakened to their reward to sit with Messiah in His Throne. During the thousand years all the remainder of the dead will be awakened and given the opportunity of resurrection or raising up out of sin and death. That will be a resurrection of judgment, or trial, or testing for them, because only those who will conform to the tests of that time will ever be fully raised up. The others, the goat class, will be destroyed in the Second Death.
3. LOOKING UPON THE CARCASSES – Mark 9:42-48
The Monitor’s third proof-text of eternal torment is found in St. Mark 9:42-48. The Lord advised all to cut off their right hand or pluck out their eye rather than to go into gehenna fire “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”
We read recently of a poor man in Sweden who took the Monitor’s literal view of this step and chopped off his right hand. He thought the statement literal and acted according to his faith. We doubt if the Monitor’s editor has done the same, or would be likely to take this passage literally if the conditions were ever so favorable.
It is worthy of note that the word here rendered hell fire, is not the same Greek word that is generally rendered hell and which signifies the tomb. The word here is gehenna. It refers not to some place beyond the bounds of time and space, but to a valley just outside of the walls of Jerusalem. As Jerusalem typically represented the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom of God, and harmony with God, so this Valley of Hinnom, called in the Greek gehenna, symbolized the utter destruction of all finally unrepentant and willfully disobedient sinners in the Second Death – “everlasting destruction.” This is acknowledged by the Monitor, which says:
“Gehenna originally stood for ‘the valley of the sons of Hinnom.’ It was notorious as the scene in earlier days of the horrible worship of Moloch. Later, when the Jews fell away from the true worship of God, they even went so far as to burn their own children to the demons of that region. It was a place that had been defiled by Josiah, cursed by Jeremias, and for these associations held in abomination by the Jews, who according to the course of time, used it to signify also the fiery and cursed abode of the damned. This is the very usage of the term that Christ Himself adopted.”
The Monitor styles it the abode of the damned. But what is the real meaning of the word damned? All will agree that it signifies condemned. So we say that gehenna will be the abode of all condemned to the Second Death as the filth and offscouring of the earth, unfit for the Divine favor and blessing of life everlasting.
The Valley of Hinnom (gehenna), in our Lord’s day, was deep and was used as a garbage place for the destruction of valueless things. No living things were ever cast into it – only dead carcasses, rats, mice, dogs, etc. Many of these, falling along the sides of the Valley would gradually decompose. Maggots would breed in them and speedily reduce them to dust. These are the worms mentioned by Jesus, that “dieth not.” These worms are not alive now; they were like any other worms. Jesus meant that, as the worms surely accomplished the destruction of the refuse cast therein, complete destruction so awaits the willfully wicked. No one thought of killing those worms or stopping their ravages. They were doing good work.
When Jesus spoke of the fire that was not quenched, He referred to the burning of brimstone in the bottom of this gehenna. Its use was intended to destroy bacteria, the germs of disease, and help to preserve the health of the city. Those who heard Jesus had no thought that He meant for them to cut off their hands or their feet, or pluck out their eyes. Neither did they understand Him to mean that the wicked would be literally cast into that or any similar gehenna. They interpreted the parable properly to mean that any sin we may cherish, be it as precious to us as a right hand, a right foot, or a right eye, would be too costly to continue if it were to lose for us the everlasting life and harmony with God symbolized by the New Jerusalem – if it would win for us the Second Death, symbolized by gehenna and its worms and fire.
The Monitor evidently knew about the prophecy which corresponds exactly to Jesus’ words, but it does not cite it. We will do so. It is found in Isaiah 66:24. The context shows us that the prophecy relates to the future – to the period of Messiah’s Kingdom, when all will be expected to worship God and to obey, under the assistance of the great Mediator between God and men. Then, however, transgressors will perish, and the righteous will look (figuratively) upon the carcasses of them that transgressed against God, whose worms shall not die, whose fire shall not be quenched. It will be the carcasses that will be in evidence, and the worms and the fire, and the people will see these. (All shall see the justice, as well as the wisdom of the utter destruction of the incorrigible, willful enemies of right.) It will not be a roasting of souls by devils with pitchforks to all eternity! A little Scripture helps to dissolve much of the confusion of the “dark ages.”
THE MONITOR AGREES
The Monitor agrees that the literal meaning of the word sheol, the only word translated hell in the Old Testament, is the grave. It says:
“Pastor Russell thinks to do away with the Biblical reason for a hereafter of punishment by calling attention to the fact that the word sheol, the Hebrew term for hell, literally means, the grave. It is to be remarked first that the origin of this word is doubtful. The general agreement among Hebrew scholars is that it comes from another Hebrew word meaning to be sunk in or to be hollow; accordingly signifying a cave or place under the earth, and hence a grave. But as in all other tongues, so in Hebrew, words have several significations related or connected with their original meaning.”
Very good. No scholar would think of questioning that the primary meaning of sheol is the grave, and that the word sheol in the Common Version of the Old Testament is translated grave and pit more times than it is translated hell, but means grave or pit every time. The Monitor thinks, however, that it sees an objection, and that sheol does not always signify the grave. It cites us to Jacob’s lament over the supposed death of Joseph. Jacob said, “I will go down into the grave [sheol] unto my son mourning.” (Gen. 37:35) The Monitor argues that, since he thought his son had been devoured by wild beasts, he could not refer to going to the grave. The Monitor must take a broader view of the word grave and consider it the tomb, the death state. Otherwise he would be forced to the supposition that Jacob expected the same wild beast to devour him, so that he could go to his son.
In order to understand the Bible we must approach it with free minds, unbiased, and seek to be taught by it instead of seeking to make it support our own theory or irrational theories of the past. In old English literature the word hell was freely used as signifying grave or pit or any covered state or condition. Thus a man might speak of the helling of his house and mean the thatching of it with straw, the one-storied buildings of olden times being buried under the thatch. Farmers in olden times wrote, telling how many bushels of potatoes they helled in the fall – buried in pits to keep them from sprouting that they might be dug up for use in the spring.
Whoever will take the trouble to look up every one of the sixty-five occurrences of the word sheol in the Old Testament may satisfy himself without a doubt respecting the meaning of the word, that it refers to the death state, the tomb. Hades in the New Testament corresponds to this, and is used to translate sheol in Acts 2:27 (a quotation of Psa. 16:10), “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell,” and in 1 Cor. 15:55, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” As before stated, the only word translated hell which has fire connected with it in any sense is gehenna, which is a metaphor.
Whatever sheol is, it is to be destroyed. It is not to last forever, for the Lord so declares, “O grave [sheol], I will be thy destruction.” (Hos. 13:14) The grave, the tomb, the state of death is to be destroyed. The death penalty which came upon the race through our Father Adam’s disobedience is to be cancelled, obliterated, as a result of Jesus’ sacrificial death, the Just for the unjust. The thousand years of Messiah’s reign will be devoted to this very work of destroying Adamic death – the death which has come upon the human family because of Father Adam’s disobedience. From the Bible standpoint, the whole human family are dead, in the sense that they have no right to life because imperfect.
Thus Jesus speaks of them, saying, “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the Kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60) During Messiah’s reign, the knowledge of the Lord will fill the whole earth. Every creature will be enlightened. All the blind eyes shall be opened. All the deaf ears shall be unstopped. All that have gone down into sheol (the tomb) will come up; thus sheol will be destroyed, to be no more. (Isa. 11:9; Isa. 35:5; John 5:28-29)
St. Paul confirms this, declaring that ultimately a great shout will go up, “O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor. 15:55) Hades now is having a great victory; its captives number ninety thousand every day. But soon Emanuel’s Kingdom will be established, and instead of the reign of sin and death will come in the reign of righteousness unto life – the turning back of the tide – the recovery of the race. By the close of Messiah’s reign He will have accomplished a great victory over sin and all opposition, including death, the last enemy to be fully destroyed. (1 Cor. 15:25-26) “Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Cor. 15:54; Isa. 25:8)
The Monitor closes with an appeal to believe in eternal torment based on its final text on the subject, St. Luke 12:4-5:
“And I say unto you my friends, be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.”
Strange to say, the Monitor does not perceive that this, its last thunderbolt, shatters its own argument! The argument is that the Lord’s disciples should not fear men in their loyalty to principle, because men could merely kill the body, could merely take away the present life and could do no more. Men could have no power to vitiate or render inoperative that privilege of everlasting life which God has provided for all mankind through Jesus. On the contrary, all should know that God is able to destroy the soul, the future life, in gehenna.
He, and He alone, is to be feared. The present life is of minor consequence, anyway. It can last but a few years at most. The life we are most interested in is the eternal one, which Jesus has secured for all who will accept it on His terms, but which will be missed by all those who fear and obey men rather than God. Compare Matthew 10:28, remembering the Monitor’s definition of gehenna, to which we agree, with supplemental explanation respecting the future, antitypical gehenna (the Second Death).
THE MONITOR’S IMPASSIONED APPEAL
The Monitor closes with the following old-fashioned appeal, which many erroneously suppose to be Scriptural – “To doubt is to be damned.” It says:
“What a mad act it is to close one’s eyes on the edge of an abyss, only to fall into it the more surely! Better hard truth than false security.”
The difficulty with the Monitor and with many others of us in the past has been that we kept our mental eyes closed and imagined hobgoblins and dreamed nightmares respecting fireproof devils with horns and forked tails and cloven feet, etc., which are not only unknown to the Scriptures, but thoroughly contrary thereto. If the Monitor is still blind, notwithstanding the eye-salve of exposition which we have endeavored to apply as gently as possible, we shall consider its case hopeless and leave it with the masses of the world for that blessed future time declared through the Prophet when all the blind eyes shall be opened.
Then they will see the hitherto undiscovered length and breadth and height and depth of the love of God. Then they will see that Satan and his fallen angels, instead of being afar off stoking fires, have been right here with humanity, posing as angels of light and doctoring our theology to make it picture the Almighty God as the most horrible and monstrous Being of the Universe, and His Plan of dealing with humanity the most diabolical and unjust possible for the human mind to conceive.
These “doctrines of devils,” as St. Paul calls them, have had a good, long trial, and the result is, that those who believe these things most thoroughly are very generally the worst people in the world. Rarely do we hear of a murderer being executed who has not professed faith in these monstrous theories of the past, still advocated by the Monitor.
If preaching bad tidings of misery to nearly all the people has brought so little good fruitage in so long a time, would it not be well for the Monitor and all who claim to be ambassadors and mouthpieces for God and for Christ, to preach for a while the blessed Gospel first announced to Abraham?: “In thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 28:14) The same message was heralded by the angel who proclaimed Jesus’ birth, saying: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” – all people from thenceforth and all people who had died during the four thousand years prior to Jesus’ birth. (Luke 2:10)
It was the full belief in these “doctrines of devils” which led our forefathers, as Catholics and Protestants, to burn each other at the stake. And it is partly because these doctrines are less believed today than then that we have a better, safer, saner religion, more in accord with the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. It is the Gospel of God’s love and mercy that is proving now a blessing to the saintly few who have ears to hear and hearts to fully respond. And it will be the Gospel of Divine mercy toward mankind in general, throughout Messiah’s Kingdom, which will bless, uplift and captivate the hearts of mankind in general during the Millennium.
Whether the majority of these thousands of millions will become sheep at the right hand of Messiah and gain eternal life, or whether the majority will be of the “goat” class, who will fail to get that eternal life, and instead get everlasting destruction, is not for us to determine. We can, however, declare with the eye of faith, “Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.” (Rev. 15:3-4)
The righteous dealings of God will bring a sure penalty to everyone in proportion to his degree of knowledge and willfulness, but it will bring a just and not an unjust penalty, and it will be remedial – with a view to the recovery of the penitent and his everlasting blessing. Otherwise it will terminate in his everlasting destruction. (2 Thess. 1:8-9)
From What Pastor Russell Wrote for the Overland Monthly, pages 164-170, with minor editing.
SEVEN AXIOMS FOR BIBLE STUDY
Many Christians take symbols, parables and types literally, but they are not literal statements. There are many texts in the Bible that are literal, however. Our Bibles are only the translation of God’s inspired Word – the real Bible. We believe that most of our translators were sincere in their efforts. But all of them were prejudiced because of their belief as to how it should be translated.
The Emphasized translation by Dr. Rotherham is one of the best. The King James Version is one of the most beautiful, although it contains many mistakes. Most all of the translations contain some of God’s inspired Word – enough that we will find God has a Plan of Salvation for all mankind, as pointed out in Eph. 3:11. The Diaglott translation of this verse renders the text “Plan of the Ages,” while the King James translation renders it “eternal purpose.”
When a text does not harmonize with God’s character of Wisdom, Love, Justice and Power, it is either misinterpreted or spurious. The mistakes are not inspired. Only God’s Word is inspired.
There are seven axioms we should follow in Bible study:
A doctrine must harmonize (1) With itself; (2) With all Truth; (3) With all Scriptural doctrine; (4) With God’s character; (5) With the Ransom; (6) With facts; (7) With the purposes of God.
There is much confusion on the interpretation of the Bible. God is not the Author of confusion – man is. He is a God of Truth and harmony. We are thankful for these texts:
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (1 Tim. 2:3-6) These texts are literal. God is faithful that promised. (Heb. 10:23)
 Hades is translated hell in the King James Version except for one instance where it is translated grave:
“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory.” (1 Cor. 15:55)