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ETERNAL TORMENT

Does the Bible really say that people will burn in hell forever?

How can that kind of God be loving and just?

Or does the Bible say something else?

Answer
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! - Random thoughts for thinkers

BIBLE

The Bible didn't create Christianity.

Christianity (death and resurrection of Jesus) created the Bible.

The Bible came 30-70 years later.

The Bible is the record of what Jesus said and did.

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V - Random videos of doubters
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ORIGIN 1.4
Garden of Eden
First time God speaks to man
Tradition
What traditional Christians think

Adam ruined the whole world

The world was perfect before Adam sinned – no pain, no disease, no death. Then Adam wrecked God's paradise by eating forbidden fruit, and ever since the earth has been under God's curse as punishment for that sin.

Everyone is held guilty for Adam's sin

Everyone is a descendant from Adam and has inherited Adam's sin and guilt (known as original sin). Every human being of all times and places is born guilty of that sin.

Everyone (without Christ) will burn in hell forever

The penalty for Adam's sin is the harshest possible torment, burning in hell forever without being able to die. Everyone will be sent to hell after bodily resurrection and judgment except those who accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, even the people who lived before Jesus or never heard about Jesus.

Big bang in bible
Doubters
What doubters think

God must not be wise

If one man could thwart God's plan, God cannot be all-wise and all-powerful. It seems like lack of foresight and defective design.

God must not be just

It is certainly not justice to punish people for the offense of another person at another time and place for which they had no part or knowledge.

God must not be loving

Burning forever is the worst kind of torture conceivable. It may be loving to offer some people a means of salvation from this torture, but it certainly is not loving to withhold this offer, or knowledge the offer, from most people who have ever lived.

Big bang in bible
Questions
Barriers to faith

• Was the world perfect before Adam sinned?

• Does everyone inherit Adam's sin and guilt?

• Is sin the cause of death?

• Will all people without Jesus as Savior burn in hell forever?

Big bang in bible
Investigate
See what the Bible actually says

First human encounter with God

The earth had been billions of years in the making. Then God comes! And starts establishing personal relationships with humans!!

He chose one man – Adam – to make the first move from physical life to spiritual life. Man had never encountered God before, and now a whole new quality and dimension was added to human life.

People outside the Garden of Eden lived and died completely unaware of what was happening inside the Garden. As it is even to this day, for reasons we don't understand, God chooses to reveal himself to some people but not to others, mostly a consequence of historical time and geographic place (see 1.6).

When and where

The story of the Garden of Eden – man's first encounter with God – is told in Genesis 2:8 - 3:24.

'The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the Garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.' (Genesis 2:15-17).

The Garden of Eden is both a time and a place.

According to Bible genealogy (see 1.3.3), and general agreement among Bible scholars, the time was approximately 4000 BC.

The Bible says that the Garden of Eden was at or near the headwaters of four named rivers. Even though the names of two of the rivers have changed and are now impossible to identify precisely, it appears that this garden (special place) was in Iraq (formerly Mesopotamia, known as the cradle of civilization).

The Eden story

In the Eden story, God came to earth in person, for the first time ever, and talked to man, establishing a personal relationship and setting rules. The almighty designer-creator God of the universe coming to man! Almost inconceivable!

The Garden of Eden was a paradise, but not perfect. God said this garden (special place) needed people to work it, presumably because of the normal aging, death and re-birth that was occurring throughout the earth. God placed Adam (already created) into this garden. Satan was already there.

In ancient times – before writing and books – information was transmitted as stories that could be remembered and passed on from generation to generation. Each part of the story was packed with meaning and was explained over and over again by elders to youth, with stern rebuke and correction for even the most trivial deviation. To the ancients, the meaning was the most important part of the story.

See 1.4.1 for major elements of the Garden of Eden story.

Adam's sin

A quick reading of the story indicates that Adam's sin was that he ate forbidden fruit, but a careful study shows that eating the fruit was just the outward manifestation of the real sin. God looks through the action, into the heart, to see the motives.

'You will not certainly die, the serpent said to the woman. For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized they were naked [God saw their motive] ...' (Genesis 3:4-7)

Adam's sin was that he wanted to be his own god and follow his own rules, no longer subject to God's rules.

The consequences of Adam's sin are discussed at length in the Bible study of Romans 5 (see 1.4.3).

Real or myth?

Many Christians believe that the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden is a parable rather than actual fact.

Jesus used parables often in his teaching, and people are not troubled by whether or not the event actually happened. Was the Good Samaritan an actual person? The injured man a real person? The words spoken to the innkeeper an exact quotation?

Effective teaching can be accomplished by telling an illustrative story (an allegory) as well by reporting an actual event.

Whether actual event or allegory, the teaching in this story is clear either way. undefined

THE VIEWPOINT ON THIS SITE is that the Garden of Eden was a real place at a real time with real people, for these reasons:

  • No clues. The story gives no clues that it is anything other than a historical account.
  • Jesus' family tree. The Bible's family tree goes back as far as Eve, where the recorded history begins. The genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 (see 1.3.3) link the life of Jesus in a whole line of male succession from Eve through Seth, Abraham, Joseph, David, dozens of others, and ultimately to Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. It would make no sense for Luke to name real person after real person but have it all start with a mythical person.
  • New Testament references. The New Testament refers to Adam extensively in Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15 and contrasts him to Jesus. It is clear that this is a contrast between two real persons, not just two literary figures.
  • Location. Genesis 2:8-14 describes the location of the 'garden in the east, in Eden' where there are four rivers (Piston, which winds through Havilah where there is gold, aromatic resin and onyx; Gihon, which winds through land of Cush; Tigris, which runs along the east side of Asshur; and the Euphrates.) After six thousand years, the smaller rivers Piston and Gihon are no longer recognizable, but the Tigris and Euphrates are still flowing the course to the Persian Gulf. This seems to be a description of a real place, not a mythical place.

The Eden story is written in the simple way of ancients, not the way we report events today with sophisticated language. Back then, ethereal concepts were often represented symbolically, a type of shorthand:

  • Serpent represented evil. There may not have been an actual talking snake, but a strong temptation to violate God's rule.
  • God walking in the garden may not have been actual movement on legs and feet, but God's spirit present throughout the garden (can't hide from Him).
  • Angel with flaming sword guarding the entrance may be a way of saying that God will no longer let anyone have access to the Tree of Life in the garden.

These symbols have visual impact that aid comprehension and memory retention.

Whether or not the story contains symbolic elements or figurative people, the essential meaning is clear. Satan's temptation resulted in the first deliberate act of defiance to God – 'the trespass' of Romans 5, trying take God's place – and punishment was denial of access to eternal life. (See 1.4.3)

Q&A about the story

There are many questions about what happened in the Garden of Eden that require discussion too long to include on this page, including:

  • Who wrote Genesis?
  • Who initially recorded the words and events?
  • Was Eve the first miracle?
  • Was this the first marriage?
  • Who sinned first?
  • Was Adam doomed to hell?
See 1.4.2 for discussion of these questions and more.

Doctrinal issues

The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden raises some of the most fundamental and controversial issues of the Christian faith, including age of earth, first human, cause of death, original sin and people burning in hell forever.

These issues – and more – are covered in the first four topics of this site, complete with Thinkers Bible Studies which display all relevant Bible passages bearing on each subject, so you can read and decide for yourself what you believe the Bible teaches.

Most Bible studies elsewhere use the fill-in-the-blanks method to affirm the theology and wording the author intended, to reinforce what most in the group already believe and to dispel conflicting interpretations.
Thinkers Bible Studies here use the Socratic method of asking any and all hard questions, gathering all relevant facts possible, and searching for answers that are intellectually honest and align with real life experience.

Some conclusions here may be upsetting to some traditional Christians who have been taught certain church doctrines without question from childhood.

This site is not affiliated with any religious groups and has no statement of faith to squeeze people into. Each reader here is simply encouraged to study – really study – what the Bible says and to able to converse intelligently and confidently about spiritual matters with other people.

Sin is not inherited from Adam

See for yourself what the Bible says

Original sin

The story of Adam and Eve raises an important theological question: Does God ever hold a person guilty for the sins of another?

How we answer that question here sets the pattern for how we understand sin and eternal life in all parts the Bible.

A majority of Christians – Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox – have been taught that the guilt for Adam's sin has been placed on everyone ... that everyone is born with this 'original sin' ... and that, without salvation through Jesus Christ, everyone will burn in hell forever because of Adam's sin.

This is also known as 'inherited sin' or 'transmitted sin.'

None of these terms, or anything similar, appear anywhere in the Bible.

THE INTERPRETATION ON THIS SITE regarding sin is that everyone has a sin nature but NOT original sin ... that we are NOT guilty for Adam's sin ... that we are guilty only for our own sins. See 1.4.3 to see why this interpretation is the clear conclusion from a deep Bible study.
ORIGINAL SIN
Trace to Saint Augustine 400 AD
The concept of original sin was originated long after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and formation of the early church. The doctrine did not originate from Jesus' teachings but rather from the way some theologians began interpreting the words of the Apostle Paul in the 5th chapter of Romans.
The first known mention of this concept was by Irenaeus in the 2nd century. In the 5th century it was popularized by Saint Augustine and gradually became church doctrine. Luther and Calvin retained it in the reformations of the 16th century.
Predestination and purgatory are also doctrines from Saint Augustine not taught by Jesus.
See 1.1 for reasons why we are able to interpret scripture more accurately today than Saint Augustine was able to interpret it sixteen hundred years ago ... and why we come to different conclusions, all based on the same original Greek text.
1.1.1 Saint Augustine

Jesus didn't teach original sin

Jesus did not teach that everyone bears the guilt of Adam's sin and is destined to hell because of it. In fact, there is no record in the Bible of Jesus ever even mentioning Adam's name.

Jesus' teaching was all about our own choices and our own sin. He never said we get sin or guilt from another person. The doctrine of original sin didn't come from Jesus but from theologians hundreds of years after Jesus' death and resurrection.

Problems with 'original sin'

  • GOD SAID EVERYTHING IS GOOD. 'God saw all he had made, and it was very good' (Genesis 1:31). It is blasphemous to say that God didn't know what he was doing, couldn't foresee the future, or that one man could completely foul His master plan.
  • FREE WILL. Responsibility and punishment for personal choices as taught throughout the Bible are meaningless if we are born with maximum guilt and already subject to maximum punishment.
  • JUSTICE. We can no longer claim that God is just. It is difficult to conceive of anything more unjust than to condemn billions of people to eternal torment for something they did not do and not to offer a means of salvation known and understood by them.
  • GOD'S WILL. 'He [God] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance' (2 Peter 2:9). Then why would God design life so that everyone is doomed to perish from the moment of birth? And how do we repent for something we did not do or even know about?
  • REPRESENTATIVE OF HUMAN RACE. Many Christians argue that Adam was the first person and federal head of the entire human race, and therefore all of his descendants must also bear the guilt for his sin. Actually, Adam was not the first human (see 1.3B), and nowhere does the Bible say that God apointed him to be head of the human race. Furthermore, nowhere does the Bible say that people are individually guilty (even though they may suffer worldly consequences) for the sins of their leader.
  • GUILT OF PARENTS. 'The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father' (Deuteronomy 24:16). 'The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers' (Ezekiel 18:20). The Bible teaches that people will stand before God at judgment for their own sins, not for sins of their fathers.
  • JESUS. Sin was the main point of Jesus' ministry, but nowhere in scripture does Jesus teach that our sin nature is the result of Adam eating forbidden fruit. To the contrary, Jesus said, 'If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin' (John 15:22-23).
The logic (or illogic) of 'original sin'

God claims to be just and loving,

so

If Adam's guilt is placed on everyone (original sin),

then

Most people will be sent to hell as punishment for something they knew nothing about,

and since

Over 100 billion people have lived on earth so far (table above),

and

The great majority of people have never had an opportunity to hear clearly about God's offer of salvation through Jesus Christ,

then

Torturing 100 billion people forever for a wrong they never committed, and knew nothing about, would be the most monstrous injustice and lack of love that anyone can image,

therefore

GOD IS NOT JUST AND LOVING, BUT A CRUEL MONSTER.

Other 'proof texts'

Many people over-reach with these additional 'proof-texts' to support the concept of original sin:

  • 'For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive' (I Corinthians 15:21-22). That is the same as what Paul wrote in Romans 5 and what is answered in Deep Bible Study above. That doesn't make a case for inheriting the guilt for Adam's sin or burning forever in hell. Those verses simply say that people die, but through Christ can be resurrected to new life.
  • 'Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me' (Psalm 51:5). That doesn't make a case for the universal guilt of Adam's sin. The verse simply says that King David was born into a sinful world and that his mother, like everyone, was a sinner.
  • 'Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies' (Psalm 58:3). That doesn't make a case for the universal guilt of Adam's sin. The verse simply says that people have free will and a sin nature which become evident at a very early age (obviously not at birth because newborn babies don't spread lies).
  • 'Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath' (Ephesians 2:3). That doesn't make a case for the universal guilt of Adam's sin. The verse simply says that everyone has a sinful nature (necessary for free will) ... the sinful nature is why everyone sins ... for which everyone deserves punishment.

See Bible study on original sin

The concept of original sin is built primarily on a few verses written by the Apostle Paul in the fifth chapter of his letter to the church in Rome.

What Bible says, not tradition ...

A THINKERS BIBLE STUDY
Original sin
All the major Bible passages used to support the doctrine of original sin are pulled together here so you can read and decide for yourself what you believe the Bible teaches about inheriting guilt of another person's sin. This is primarily a verse-by-verse study of Romans 5:12-21.
BIBLE STUDY 1.4.3
THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT WE HAVE A SIN NATURE: 'For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.' (Apostle Paul, Romans 7:15-18)

Sin is not
cause of death

See for yourself what the Bible says

Death preceded sin

There is ample evidence that the cycle of life-and-death was functioning in the world long before 4000 BC, the time the Bible says sin first entered the world 'through' Adam' (not 'because' of Adam;' see 1.4.3 for study of Romans 5). Apparently there has always been death on earth.

Cause of death

Since there was death before sin, sin cannot be the cause of death.

See 1.3 (People before Adam) for proof death on earth before Adam sinned.

An often quoted phrase in Romans 5:12 ('and death through sin'), when lifted out of context, seems to say that sin came first, but see 1.4.3 Bible study of Romans 5 for explanation.

Many say 'spiritual death'

Jesus and the New Testament writers spoke often about 'eternal life.' Church people today often use another term, 'spiritual death,' to connote the opposite of eternal life, a term that communicates well to insiders (traditional Christians) but is an oxymoron to everyone else.

Traditional Christians use 'spiritual death' to mean burning in hell forever. They are saying that, after bodily resurrection and judgment, death doesn't really mean death but really means living forever, in torture, unable to die. And how can one become spiritually dead if one was never spiritually alive? The language is contrary both to normal usage and to the character of God.

The term and concept spiritual death is contrived and not found in the Bible.

What does 'die' mean?

God said to Adam: 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.' (Genesis 2:16-17)

How we interpret 'die' in this story sets the pattern for how we interpret death and eternal life in other parts of the Bible.

THE INTERPRETATION ON THIS SITE is that 'die' means simply what it says: final end of existence (after physical death, resurrection, judgment and punishment). No body. No consciousness. Nothing.

The only exception to final death is eternal life, offered through Jesus.

People who don't choose eternal life will die in hell. Not live forever in hell. But die in hell. Duration and severity depending upon each person's sin and judgment. Then end of existence. Period.

This is contrary to what most traditional Christians have been taught, but it becomes a clear conclusion from careful Bible study. See 3.5.1 for a Bible study showing every passage of scripture that speaks directly about future death and hell.

Problems with 'spiritual death:'

Here are some problems with the common interpretation:

  • OXYMORON. It doesn't make sense to redefine 'death' to mean 'doesn't die.' The concepts of no existence and burning forever are mutually exclusive.
  • LIFE PRECEDES DEATH. It doesn't make sense to say that a person can have spiritual death without first having spiritual life.
  • COMPREHENSION. Adam could not have comprehended anything other than the ordinary death he observed before he sinned.
  • DEATH IS NOT PUNISHMENT. Birth-aging-death is the natural order of all life, existing before sin, a necessity to make room for new growth and improvement. Even stars and planets die, unrelated to decisions about good and evil (see 1.3).
  • COMPLETE IGNORANCE. There were many millions of people who lived before Adam sinned (see table above). On what basis would they have eternal life in heaven? On what basis would they burn forever in hell? They simply didn't know anything about what God was doing. Who can say with scriptural certainty that they don't just die (end of existence)?
The logic (or illogic) of 'spiritual death'

God claims to be all-good,

and

If, at time of Garden of Eden, God holds all people outside the Garden guilty for a sin Adam committed inside the Garden,

and

If God condemns them to eternal hell for something they knew nothing about,

and since

God had not appeared to them or given them any means of salvation,

then

God is NOT GOOD, and is a liar,

therefore

NOTHING THAT GOD SAYS IS TRUSTWORTHY.

Confusing Christian vocabulary

Over the centuries, theologians have developed an exhaustive vocabularly of terms and concepts that has become almost unintelligible for most ordinary people to understand. Theological language often sounds like gobbledygook to doubters ... vague and ethereal ... usually too couched and complex than necessary. Conversation is often like two ships passing in the night.

'Spiritual death,' discussed above, is an example of confusing double-talk.

We should make every effort speak to doubters with clear and direct language, the way ordinary people talk, using words with generally accepted meanings.

Final death
in hell

See for yourself what the Bible says

See Bible study on hell

When someone says that everyone inherits at birth the guilt of Adam's sin, that triggers questions about our punishment for his sin.

Most traditional Christians say that we will burn in hell forever if we die without having accepted Jesus Christ as Savior.

Even people who never heard of Jesus? Burn forever?

Even though Christianity is documented by the Bible (New Testament)‚ and these are enormously important questions, most traditional Christians have never done a Bible study to get answers for themselves.

A THINKERS BIBLE STUDY
Sin and hell
All the major Bible passages used to support the idea of people burning in hell forever are pulled together here so you can read for yourself and decide for yourself what you believe the Bible teaches.
BIBLE STUDY 3.5.1
Big bang in bible
Summary
Ready for conversations
  • First encounter with God. The Garden of Eden is the first time and place that man encounters God.
  • First law. God gives his first commandment (law) to man, very clear and simple.
  • First culpable sin. Man commits the first sin for which there is accountability and punishment, a clear violation of God's law, with intent to become like god. There was no guilt before the law.
  • First punishment. Man is punished for his sin by being denied access to eternal life.
  • First marriage. Man and woman are united as one flesh in marriage.
  • First promise. Satan's punishment contained a promise about Jesus, who would come as Savior.
  • First themes. This Eden story introduces the major themes of Christianity, to be understood later from the life and teachings of Jesus.
  • First theology. This story raises controversial issues about basic Christian theology – as the difference between spiritual death and final death, between original sin and sin nature – which can only be resolved by careful study of New Testament scriptures.
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