Why the King James Version doesn’t teach Everlasting Torment

Something most people don’t realize is that the KJV (the King James Version of the Bible), also known as the AV (the Authorized Version), doesn’t teach everlasting torment in hell for non-believers in Paul’s Gospel (which is the Good News that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again the third day) as most people assume it does, and that it in fact actually teaches Universal Reconciliation (the doctrine that, because of what the Good News proclaimed in Paul’s Gospel means, everyone will eventually experience salvation).

Before I explain how this could possibly be the case, I should say that this post isn’t about whether KJV-Onlyism is a correct theological position to hold. Whether KJV-Onlyism is true or not is irrelevant to the point I’m making here, which is simply that every single consistent KJV-Onlyist out there is a Christian Universalist because the King James Version of the Bible clearly teaches Universal Reconciliation rather than everlasting torment in hell (although you can apply what I wrote in this post to nearly any translation of the Bible and come to the same conclusions; while I wrote this post from the perspective of what the Authorized Version says, it technically applies to pretty much all Bible translations, so even if you’re not a KJV-Onlyist, please continue reading). If you’re now thinking that all the KJV-Onlyists you know aren’t Universalists, that just means the ones you’ve met so far aren’t interpreting all of the Bible consistently yet. But send them a copy of this post and hopefully they will be by the time they’ve finished reading it.

Now, when discussing the topic with most Christians, one would normally get into the Hebrew and Greek behind the words that are translated as “hell” and “for ever” and other words that are normally used to defend the doctrine of everlasting torment in hell (and, for those who are interested, I have done so elsewhere on this site, using its original languages to prove that Scripture definitely does not teach everlasting torment, or even Annihilationism). In the case of KJV-Onlyists, however, they tend not to be swayed by these points because it’s generally believed (at least by all the KJV-Onlyists I’ve ever conversed with) that the English clarifies, if not outright corrects, the text in its original languages, and that what Scripture said in the original manuscripts isn’t all that relevant now that we have the perfect Word of God in English. So, while there are multiple Hebrew and Greek words that are rendered as “hell” in English (sheol [שְׁאוֹל], hades [ᾅδης], gehenna [γέεννα], and tartarus [τάρταρος]), most of the KJV-Onlyists I’ve spoken with believe they’re all referring to the same place since they’re all called “hell” in the KJV, which one should not fault them for believing since that is consistent with their general hermeneutic (although, even if they don’t believe that the different references to “hell” mentioned in the KJV are all talking about the same place, it won’t actually make a difference as to any of the arguments I make in this post). Likewise, there are technically three different Greek words (and one Hebrew word) that are translated as “for ever” or “everlasting” or other variations of words that most people assume mean “never ending” in the KJV ( olam [עוֹלָם], aión [αἰών], “aiónas” [αἰῶνας], and aiónios [αἰώνιος]). And while these words don’t technically mean the exact same thing in Greek (since one is a singular noun, one is a plural version of that noun, and one is the adjective form of said noun), they are all connected to each other, and I want you to take the KJV-Onlyist mindset as you read this post and assume that they should all be translated as variants of words that would normally mean “never ending” in English (outside of the cases where they’re sometimes also translated in the KJV as words with finite meanings, such as “world” or “age” [or “worlds” or “ages”], rather than the words with apparently infinite meanings that they’re rendered as in the verses generally used to defend everlasting torment). But while I believe there is value in looking at these words in their original languages, it isn’t necessary to prove the point I’m making in this post, because even if there are passages which appear to say that some people will spend eternity in hell (presuming they’re translated correctly in the Authorized Version, which is what we’re going to presume here), one doesn’t have to resort to looking at Scripture in its original languages for this study. In fact, it’s extremely easy to prove, using nothing more than a copy of the King James Version of the Bible, that not only is everlasting torment in hell (as well as Annihilationism) not actually taught anywhere in the Bible, but that the Bible also tells us everyone will eventually experience salvation as well.

So how can passages that seem to tell us that people will be in hell forever not actually mean they’ll be in hell forever? Well, let’s start with the meaning of the words “for ever” and “everlasting” in the Bible, and determine whether we should be interpreting these words literally or figuratively when we read them in the Authorized Version, beginning with the Hebrew Scriptures (meaning the books of the Bible most people refer to as the Old Testament). When one looks at some of the passages in the Hebrew Scriptures that use these words, it becomes apparent pretty quickly that these words can’t always mean “never ending” as most people assume they must.

For example, in Exodus 21:6 we read about Hebrew servants who choose to remain as servants rather than going free on the seventh year, as was their right: “Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.” If we take “for ever” literally there, it would either mean that the servant (or slave) in question can never die, or that the servant will have to remain a slave to his master perpetually, even after both of their physical resurrections in the distant future (as well as in any afterlife, if one exists, in the meantime, even if they both end up in different places while dead). Since I doubt anyone believes either of these options to be the case, it seems that the “for ever” there actually means “for a specific time period, even if the end date (the time of the servant’s death) is currently unknown,” which means that “for ever” in the Bible doesn’t necessarily mean “without end.”

Similarly, in 1 Chronicles 16:17 we read: “And hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant,” which seems to tell us that the Old Covenant can never come to an end and be replaced by a New Covenant since it’s everlasting, but we know from many Scriptures that there is a New Covenant, and that the Old Covenant in fact began to decay when Christ died (and will indeed eventually vanish away entirely if it hasn’t already). So this tells us that “everlasting” can’t always mean “never ending” when we read that word in the King James Bible any more than “for ever” does.

But does that mean that the translators of the King James Version were confused about the meaning of the words they rendered as “for ever” and “everlasting” in their translation? Based on this next passage, it seems to me that they were actually quite aware of the fact that these words didn’t necessarily mean “never ending” at all, and that passage is Isaiah 32:14-15, which says: “Because the palaces shall be forsaken; the multitude of the city shall be left; the forts and towers shall be for dens for ever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks; Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest.” Unless we’re meant to believe that Jerusalem will be left forsaken and desolate forever, as verse 14 seems to say, yet which we know won’t be the case, we have to interpret that “for ever” as meaning a specific period of time again, just as we had to do with the last two examples. And, indeed, verse 15 tells us when that “for ever” ends, stating that Jerusalem will be left deserted “for ever,” until the spirit be poured from on high. So unless the translators were having a very off day when they translated these various verses, they obviously never intended for their readers to believe that “for ever” or “everlasting” should always be taken to mean “never ending.” And if the Hebrew words translated as “everlasting” and “for ever” don’t actually mean “without end” or “never ending,” as we can see they clearly don’t, it stands to reason that the Greek words wouldn’t either, which means it’s now time to take a look at the only passages in the King James Bible that might imply the idea of everlasting torment in hell for those who don’t believe Paul’s Gospel:

Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. – Matthew 18:8-9

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. – Mark 9:43-48

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. – Luke 16-19-31

That’s it. Those are the only three passages which we can say for certain might imply everlasting torment in hell. I know, there are probably at least half a dozen other verses popping into your head right about now, but the fact of the matter is that none of the other verses you’re likely thinking about discuss the duration of one’s stay in hell (not that any of these three actually do either, but we’re purposely not reading them carefully here yet, and are assuming they must mean the duration is without end as most people also assume), and some are actually referring to something (or some place) other than hell altogether (it’s also important to note that nobody who was warned about hell in those three passages could have possibly believed Paul’s Gospel because not only hadn’t Christ died for our sins and been resurrected yet, no human other than Jesus Himself even understood that it was going to happen at all — even His disciples didn’t understand this fact when He told them that His death was impending — so we should remember that the only three passages in the Bible that might be said to warn about everlasting torment in hell weren’t even told to people who could believe Paul’s Gospel anyway, which also causes trouble for the traditional doctrine. However, we’re going to ignore that fact for now as well and move on). But, either way, don’t those passages say that the rich man will be stuck in hell forever, and that people who don’t mutilate their bodies will be also? Well, this is where a very important passage that begins to derail the whole traditional doctrine comes into play, and that verse is Revelation 20:14, which says: “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

From that verse in Revelation we know that hell and the lake of fire are two different things (or places), since John tells us in this verse that hell itself is eventually going to be cast into the lake of fire, and something can’t be cast into itself. Before we continue with this train of thought, however, let’s look at the passages that are presumably referring to the lake of fire that also might suggest that certain people will spend eternity there (although the first one actually might not be, but I’m including it here anyway because most people assume it does, and also because it does take place during the same future time period when some people will be cast into the lake of fire):

And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. – Daniel 12:1-3

And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. 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 for ever and ever. – Revelation 20:7-10

These two passages are both referring to the general time period of the Great White Throne Judgement, at the end of the 1,000 year Millennial Kingdom on earth, at which point some people (and certain spiritual beings) will be cast into the lake of fire, but you’ll soon see that neither of them means what most people assume they do (and yes, I know you’ve still got other verses in mind, and I will get to them, but these two that I just listed are actually the only two passages that clearly refer to the time period when the Great White Throne Judgement occurs and that might also hint that some people will be in the lake of fire forever).

Now, as we’ve already covered, hell and the lake of fire are two different things or places, but this brings up a major problem because, if the first three passages I listed are to be taken literally (and as most KJV-Onlyists I’ve spoken to believe at first, at least before I make this next point), nobody can ever leave hell. And yet, Revelation 20:13 says: “the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

At this point it’s probably becoming clear to most of you what I’m getting at, but I’ll continue for the sake of everyone else. Remember, it’s hell, not the lake of fire, that most people assume (and which the first three verses we covered seem to say) that non-believers will not only spend eternity in but that in fact they can never possibly ever even leave, but we’ve just read that hell is going to be emptied (and then cast into the lake of fire itself), so it’s now clear that people not only can, but in fact will, leave hell after all, contrary to what most believe and those first three passages seem to imply.

So, not only does this completely destroy the concept of everlasting torment in hell, since we know for a fact that nobody actually stays in hell forever because everyone in there needs to be freed from it in order to be judged, it destroys the concept of everlasting torment in the lake of fire after the Great White Throne Judgement as well, since the same words which are used to say that the time spent in the lake of fire might be forever are the same words which were used to tell us that time spent in hell is also forever (and if the so-called “for ever” spent in hell isn’t actually without end, there’s no basis for claiming the “for ever” in the lake of fire is without end either; although, as we’ve already discovered, the Hebrew Scriptures made it clear that “for ever” and “everlasting” don’t necessarily mean “never ending” anyway, so this isn’t really a problem if we just interpret these words figuratively rather than literally).

Of course, if you were paying close attention, you probably also noticed that none of the “Great White Throne Judgement” passages actually outright said any humans would spend eternity in the lake of fire either. One just said certain people would be resurrected to shame and “everlasting” contempt, and shame and contempt aren’t even remotely the same thing as torture in fire. And the other passage only mentions two possible humans who might actually end up in there forever (the beast and the false prophet), and I personally believe that these are references to two evil spirits who will inhabit two humans rather than referring to the actual possessed humans themselves. Either way, though, the only thing we can say for sure from the “Great White Throne Judgement“ passages is that two particular humans might end up in the lake of fire for eternity (presuming that this “for ever” is any more literal than any other “for ever” we’ve already covered, which is seeming less and less likely, all things considered), but there are no other passages that tell us anyone else who ends up in it will be in it forever, so what I’ve now explained to you should make it clear that nobody will suffer in either hell or the lake of fire forever.

Now, some people will probably bring up the point that these passages also say “and ever” after the “for ever” part of the verses, but if “for ever” just means a long period of time with a definite end, as we’ve now learned it does, “and ever” in the English couldn’t be anything more than an emphasis on that “for ever,” just making that period of time mean a really long period of time, but still with a definite end (while the original Hebrew and Greek text actually adds a little more nuance to what it means [and also helps one learn about the doctrine of the ages, which few seem to know about], the end result is still the same in any of the languages, so it isn’t necessary to dig into the original languages here for this point).

It should also probably be pointed out that not once did the Hebrew Scriptures threaten never-ending torture while dead as a punishment for breaking the Mosaic law or even for sin in general — at most it threatened physical death for certain capital crimes (or, in the case of Adam, simply to “surely die,” which just meant to gain mortality leading to eventual physical death, although that’s a whole other topic for another post) — and even if this passage in the book of Daniel could somehow be interpreted as saying that certain people will tortured in fire forever, there’d never been a threat of a never-ending conscious punishment before this passage, so there’s no good reason to assume it’s suddenly being proclaimed here centuries after the giving of the Mosaic law when no Israelite had ever heard of it before, and you’d think that, at the very least, God’s chosen people would be given this warning (for that matter, nobody prior to Israel was warned about it either; not even Adam and Eve were warned about it, much less anyone who lived from their time to the time Daniel was supposedly warned about it), not to mention be told who would be experiencing such a thing or why (or how to avoid it). Besides, the passage is talking about physical resurrection on Earth anyway, not to a spiritual existence in an afterlife realm while dead — the negative part of this passage is referring to those resurrected to life at the Great White Throne judgement before they’re sent to their second death, when their bodies are tossed into the lake of fire — so it seems safe to say that this passage isn’t actually saying what most people have read into it.

Of course, there are those other passages you’re likely still thinking of, which most people believe should be included in the defence of everlasting punishment as well, but none of them are even talking about hell or the lake of fire, nor do any of them even remotely support the traditional doctrine at all when one studies them in any depth, but for the sake of completion, let’s discuss each of them as well anyway:

Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. – Matthew 12:31-32

Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation. – Mark 3:28-29

And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven. – Luke 12:10

These are parallel passages that are all talking about the same thing, the so-called “unforgivable sin.” On first glance it might appear to imply that perhaps somebody might suffer forever somewhere if they blaspheme the Holy Spirit, but when we consider what we’ve already covered, that “for ever” and “eternal” don’t necessarily mean “never ending” in the Authorized Version, and the fact that we now know that none of the passages which we previously assumed told us people would spend eternity in hell or the lake of fire actually mean anyone is really going to spend eternity in either location anyway, it becomes clear that we have to consider the possibility that this passage probably doesn’t mean what most have always assumed it does either. It’s also important to note that the passage in Matthew tells us how long “hath never forgiveness” as mentioned in Mark will actually last, which is this “world” and the “world” to come. You see, the word “world” there doesn’t mean planet or earth. Instead, it just means “age” (or “a long period of time”), and there are at least two ages or “worlds” to come still. This means that, while someone who is guilty of this sin won’t be forgiven in this world/age (which began with the end of Noah’s flood and concludes at the end of the Tribulation), or even the next world/age (which refers to the 1,000 year kingdom), there’s no reason to believe they won’t be forgiven by the world/age after that (which will be when the New Earth begins). In addition, none of those passages actually mention what the sentence or punishment actually is (“damnation” only means “condemnation,” and is the judgment, not the sentence; neither eternity spent in hell or in the lake of fire is implicitly implied by the word “damnation”). Besides all that, even if one really does “hath never forgiveness” (presuming “never” is meant to be taken any more literally than “eternal” is in that verse, which is not a safe bet to make based on everything else we’ve already discussed), people don’t necessarily need forgiveness in order to be saved anyway. That might sound like a strange statement, but there’s something even better than forgiveness, and that’s justification. Forgiveness implies guilt, and just means that the forgiver is overlooking the sin of the one being forgiven, whereas justification means “not even guilty“ (it’s sometimes well explained as, “just as if I’d never sinned at all”), so even if somebody does miss out on forgiveness, justification is far superior to it anyway, and that passage doesn’t even hint at the idea that they won’t eventually be justified.

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: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. – Matthew 25:31-46

If you read that passage over without taking the time to break it down and think about three important factors one needs to consider when interpreting Scripture systematically (context, chronology, and consistency), it’s sort of easy to see why people might assume it’s talking about Christians going to heaven and non-Christians going to hell for eternity. But before jumping to the conclusion you’ve likely already jumped to, you should really be taking some time to ask yourself a few questions about it:

  1. Who are the sheep supposed to represent and who are the goats supposed to represent in that prophecy?

  2. When are the events in the prophecy supposed to take place in the future, and where?

  3. How is it the sheep gain eternal life according to that passage?

  4. Where is it the goats are apparently going to spend eternity according to that passage?

Now, most people will quickly say that the sheep represent true Christians and the goats are everyone else. As for when and where this takes place, very few people have ever even thought of that, but if people are being judged and going into fire for eternity then it’s obviously talking about the Great White Throne Judgement and the lake of fire, right? But wait… are there going to be any Christians at the Great White Throne Judgement? As most Christians are aware, but seem to forget when they read this passage for some reason, there won’t be any true believers being judged at that particular judgement (the body of Christ has already been judged over 1,000 years earlier — at the Judgement Seat of Christ — and have been living in the heavens for all that time), which means the sheep can’t actually represent Christians at all, can they? Instead, one needs to take a look at the verse which says it takes place “when the Son of man shall come in his glory,” and look at the context of the rest of the chapter, as well as the chapter before it, which makes it obvious that it’s talking about the time immediately after Christ returns to the earth, so this must be talking about a judgement that takes place on earth among the living (and not the dead) at the beginning of the Millennium, shortly after the Great Tribulation ends, rather than the Great White Throne Judgement which takes place 1,000 years later. But that just brings up other problems. If every single human living on earth is going to be judged and sent to heaven or hell for eternity immediately after the tribulation ends, who is going to live on earth for the next 1,000 years and reproduce, as many passages throughout Scripture say they will (not to mention live on the New Earth, after the Millennium ends and this planet is destroyed, and stay alive and healthy as mortals by partaking of the fruit and leaves of the tree of life on that new planet until the final end of the “ends of of the world” finally occurs physically)? The Bible teaches that Christians are going to be made immortal like the angels so they’ll no longer reproduce when Christ returns, and if all the non-Christians are going to be killed and sent to hell at that point, that doesn’t leave anybody else to fulfill the prophecies about the New Covenant, not to mention the New Earth, that are supposed to take place after the tribulation ends.

Not only that, but hopefully you’re also now beginning to wonder why there’s nothing in there about the sheep “accepting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour” in the prophecy, or even about them believing that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and was raised the third day (which is the Gospel that Paul taught), and also why it seems like everlasting life appears to be dependent on good works rather than on grace through faith (the same concern also applies to the first two passages we considered, which seem to tell us that we have to mutilate our bodies while we’re still alive if we want to avoid hell after we die, rather than accept Christ or His sacrifice in order to avoid it). Most people just brush those concerns aside because they “know” it has to be talking about what their preachers have always said it is and decide that, even though it doesn’t actually say so in the passage, the reason for salvation in this passage has to be figurative and be talking about works as the fruit of faith rather than good works being the actual cause of the sheep’s salvation as the passage says they are when taken literally (and then push the thought that “many non-believers do the very things Jesus seemed to say would result in everlasting life while many believers don’t” to the back of their minds and try to forget that fact as well), because if one were to read it literally it would become obvious pretty quickly that this passage can’t be talking about what one has always assumed it is at all (although one is then also forced to push the thought that, “if the cause of salvation and damnation is figurative, then there’s no reason to believe that the actual reward and punishment, or even their duration, aren’t also figurative,” and that “the reward and punishment could then really mean anything at all,” to the back of their mind as well, but most successfully do so). But even if this passage could somehow be twisted into meaning the sheep are Christians who will go to heaven for eternity and the goats are non-Christians who will go to hell for eternity (and if we ignore the fact that this passage takes place on earth among the living and not in some afterlife realm among the dead), we already know from what we’ve previously covered that nobody is going to stay in hell or the lake of fire forever, so mangling the passage in such a manner doesn’t actually help defend the traditional doctrine anyway.

As for what this actually is talking about (as well as what some of the other passages mentioned in this post actually mean), explaining that here would make this post far too long. For now, the most important thing to know is what they don’t mean; but don’t worry, I will explain what they do mean in my next post.

In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day. – 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10

This passage could technically be referring to either hell or the lake of fire, and while I’d personally say it’s more likely hell if it is actually talking about one of the two, we can’t be 100% certain which it’s referring to (if it’s even referring to either one at all, and based on the fact that Matthew 25:31-46 can’t be referring to hell or the lake of fire, there’s good reason to believe this passage isn’t either), although I really don’t believe it even matters since we’ve already determined that “everlasting” doesn’t always mean “forever” and that nobody is going to spend eternity in either location anyway. Besides, almost nobody takes the word “destruction” in this verse literally, since otherwise they’d have to believe in Annihilationism (the doctrine that non-Christians will be completely destroyed in the lake of fire rather than suffer there forever in a conscious state) instead of Infernalism (the doctrine of everlasting torment), and if that word is figurative and not literal, there’s no good reason to believe that the word “everlasting” before it is any more literal than it is (especially since we already know that it often, if not always, isn’t anyway).

I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, 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. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. – Jude 1:5-13

The everlasting chains in this passage don’t help defend the traditional doctrine, because this passage tells us they only lock up the fallen angels until (“unto”) their judgement. And the reference to Sodom and Gomorrha suffering the vengeance of eternal fire doesn’t help because neither of these cities are currently still burning, and we know that Sodom will also eventually be returned to her “former estate” anyway (and if it’s just referring to the citizens of the city, we’ve already learned that nobody will be burned in the fires of hell or in the lake of fire without end as well). And as far as the “wandering stars” go, hell and the lake of fire don’t seem like they could be described as places of “blackness of darkness” (the rich man couldn’t see Abraham in the darkness if it were referring to hell, and a lake of fire would be anything but dark unless we aren’t taking the “fire” part of its title literally), and I’m assuming I don’t have to recapitulate everything I’ve already said about “for ever” here again, so this very figurative passage doesn’t seem to help the traditional doctrine either.

And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name. – Revelation 14:9-11

This takes place long before the Great White Throne Judgement and before anyone is cast into the lake of fire, and it only applies to those who worship the beast during the tribulation anyway (and it also appears to apply to people who are still living, not to anyone who is dead), so it’s obviously representative of something else. And, again, we already know that “for ever” doesn’t mean “without end,” so I can’t see any way this obviously symbolic passage can be used to defend everlasting torment in hell (and it has to be hell since it begins long before the lake of fire becomes inhabited, and we already know that nobody stays in hell forever anyway).

And that’s it. No other passage I’m aware of (although please correct me if I’m wrong and missed one, but please also first consider whether anything I wrote above would apply to it as well) that one thinks might be talking about hell or the lake of fire refers to the duration of one’s time spent in either location, so they don’t actually help defend the doctrine. Which means it’s time to begin reading the words “for ever” and “everlasting” and “eternal” in the Bible qualitatively rather than quantitatively and give up on the idea that God is going to torture anyone (or allow anyone to be tortured) forever in fire as the tradition most of us have been brought up to believe teaches.

I should say, by this point, some people who really don’t want to accept what they’ve learned here because they really don’t want to lose their beloved doctrine of everlasting torment will start to look to the Hebrew and Greek (mostly the Greek) to see if it’s possible that the different words translated as “hell” in the Authorized Version might help defend the doctrinal bias they just don’t want to let go of, but since we know that “everlasting” and “for ever” don’t actually seem to mean “never ending” in the KJV anyway, it doesn’t matter whether it’s hades or gehenna or tartarus that’s being referred to, at least not from the KJV-Only perspective. Besides, ending up in either hades or gehenna or even tartarus can’t possibly refer to being cast into the lake of fire after the Great White Throne Judgement anyway, as becomes clear when one considers the context of the passages where these are the original Greek words, since hades is the Greek word used in the passage in Revelation that tells us hell will be emptied and then cast into the lake of fire, the passages where gehenna is used are references to a prophecy of Isaiah about a time during the Millennium that Jesus was pointing back to when He used the word (it also referred to carcases, or dead bodies, and not to anyone who is consciously suffering, if we’re taking the passage literally, which is fine to do but actually makes the traditional doctrine even less tenable), and tartarus is used only in reference to the place the fallen angels mentioned in Jude are being kept chained up in, but everyone in all three of these locations (if we’re not just taking the English word “hell” in the KJV at face value and assuming they’re all talking about the same place) will have to be freed from them at some point to be judged and then sent to the lake of fire.

Of course, in response to all this I’ve sometimes been asked, “but where does it say that people can ever leave the lake of fire?” Well, the better question is, where does it say anyone (other than, perhaps, the beast and the false prophet) can’t leave the lake of fire? If there aren’t any passages that say they’re stuck there forever, there’s no reason to assume they can’t leave it at some point any more than they couldn’t leave hell after being stuck in there “for ever.” But if you really want to know the answer to that question, the apostle Paul’s epistles are where it says that.

Now, before I get into these particular passages, I should say that most people read them with the assumption that the good parts of them (the “rewards,” so to speak) are only talking about people who have chosen (or, depending on one’s level of lapsarianism, have been elected) to believe Paul’s Gospel, and that everyone else will suffer in hell for eternity. But, since we’ve already discovered that there are no verses to back up the idea that anybody will suffer in hell (or even in the lake of fire) for eternity, the only reason for making that assumption is preconceived doctrinal bias. So, with that in mind, let’s try to look at what these writings of Paul actually say without trying to force any preconceived doctrinal bias into them.

The first passage to consider is when Paul wrote, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” It’s important to note that this passage doesn’t say, “even so shall all in Christ be made alive.” If it had, one might be able to assume that it only applied to a specific group of people (only those “in Christ”). Thankfully, that’s not how it was worded. Instead, Paul was using a parallelism there to tell us that everyone affected by the action of the first Adam is also affected by the action of the last Adam, and completely outside of their own desire or will. Just as nobody had any say in experiencing the effects of the first Adam’s action (mortality and, in most cases, physical death [aside from the relative few who will experience the rapture or second coming without dying], as well as sinfulness because of that mortality — take note of the word “that” in the verse I linked to if you don’t know what I’m getting at there), they also have no say in experiencing the effects of the last Adam’s action (eventual immortality and sinlessness), and just as judgement to condemnation came upon all men because of the offence and disobedience of one, and not because of their own offences or disobedience, righteousness and justification of life will also come upon all men because of the obedience of one, and not because of their own obedience. This is another parallelism, something Paul seemed to love using to prove this particular point in various epistles, where the “all” and the “many” in the first part of a sentence have to be the same “all” and “many” in the second part or else the parallelism would fall apart. Most Christians mistakenly believe that only those “in Christ” will be made alive (completely missing the significance of the order of the wording in this verse), but the whole point of the parallelism in this passage is to make it clear that Christ has at least the exact same level of effect on humanity that Adam had, meaning Christ’s action changes the exact same people that fall into the categories of “all” or “many” that Adam’s action did. If you’re still finding this confusing, try thinking about it in mathematical terms: “For as in Adam x die, even so in Christ shall x be made alive.” The variable x remains the same in both parts of the sentence since it didn’t say, “For as in Adam x die, even so in Christ shall y be made alive,” where x equals all humanity and y would equal only a subset of that variable — specifically, believers — which could only be the meaning of the passage if Paul actually said, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall believers be made alive” (or if he wrote, “For as in Adam all die, even so shall all in Christ be made alive,” as already discussed), and the same applies to when Paul uses the word “many” instead of “all” in his parallelism (go ahead and put an x in place of the word “many” in the passage in Romans to see for yourself).

Likewise, Paul also told us that Christ Jesus gave himself a ransom for all, and when a ransom is fully paid, all those who are held captive are set free (unless the one paying the ransom has been lied to). So, if Christ gave Himself as a ransom for all humanity, as we know He did, and any humans at all are not released, we’d then have to conclude that God has deceived His Son (which I trust nobody reading this believes to be the case). In other words, since Christ gives Himself a ransom for all, all must be saved, or else God and the Bible stand discredited as dishonest.

But while Paul tells us that everyone who experiences mortality because of what Adam did will also eventually experience immortality because of what Christ did, he also tells us that there’s an order to when each person will be made fully alive (meaning, made immortal). Basically, there are three different orders of humans to be made fully alive, and these three orders combined consist of all humanity (even though each order will be made alive in its own times).

The first order mentioned is “Christ the firstfruits,” which I believe refers to the body of Christ (meaning Jesus Himself, of course, but also His entire body) “made alive” (zōopoieō [ζῳοποιέω] in the Greek, meaning brought beyond the reach of death/made fully alive [simply put, made immortal] — not to be confused with resurrection [anastasis {ἀνάστασις} in the Greek], which only the dead experience; both the resurrected dead and the still living in the body of Christ will experience immortality [the dead first, then the remaining living], and will no longer sin because they’re no longer in the process of dying) at the rapture (which should also not be confused with the Second Coming), when God withdraws His ambassadors (as one does before declaring war), who then go on to fulfill their purpose in Christ in heavenly places (but that’s a whole other topic for another post).

The second order is “they that are Christ’s at his coming,” referring, I believe, to those made immortal at the time of the resurrection of the just, near the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom, 75 days after Jesus returns to Earth and the Tribulation period has concluded (people such as “Old Testament” saints, for example, and those who are saved under the Gospel of the Circumcision [the resurrected dead saved under this Gospel, as well as those saved under this Gospel who are still living at the end of the tribulation]. While some group the body of Christ in with this order as well and say it applies to everyone saved under both Gospels — even if some are made immortal three-and-a-half to seven or more years apart from each other — and believe the first is just speaking of Christ Himself, I tend to think placing the body of Christ in the first order rather than the second makes the most sense, but since by the end of this second order everyone saved [relatively speaking] under both Gospels will have been made immortal anyway, it doesn’t really make a huge difference to the rest of my point, so I’ll just leave it at that).

Now, most people assume “they that are Christ’s at his coming” in verse 23 is the final group of resurrections and vivifications (vivification simply means the process of making one immortal) mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15, but if Paul isn’t referring to the “telos” or end of humanity — meaning a final group of humans being resurrected and made immortal — when he says, “then cometh the end” (eita to telos [εἶτα τὸ τέλος] in the Greek) in the next verse when this final vivification occurs, it would have to mean “the end of the world” or “the end of the age (or ages)” or something similar instead. Okay, yes, this verse technically does have a double meaning, and it is also referring to a time known as the end of the ages or the end of the “worlds,” but it can’t only mean that since the verse would then make no sense considering Paul’s whole point in chapter 15 is resurrection and vivification; he didn’t just suddenly go from discussing the order of resurrections/vivifications among humanity to arbitrarily discussing a whole other topic (the triumph of Christ over His enemies at a time in the distant future with no connection to the topic he was already discussing), then suddenly go back to discussing resurrection and vivification again as he does a few verses later. And since he explains that this “end” (or final group) exists at the time when Christ has put down all rule and all authority and power (referring to rulership by spiritual, celestial beings in the heavens, including by evil ones) and gives up the kingdom to His God and Father, and that it occurs when all His enemies are finally put under His feet, and the final enemy — death — is finally destroyed altogether, it would make no sense to only be referring to the time of the last Christian being resurrected and vivified (which he’d have to be talking about if this wasn’t referring to a third group of people) since we know from the rest of Scripture that there will still be enemies of Christ, as well as much more death happening, after that (and that there is well over 1,000 years to go [a lot more, in fact] between the vivification of “they that are Christ’s at His coming” and “the end” at the time when Christ does defeat all enemies and turns over the kingdom to His Father since, at the very least, there is still a final [even if somewhat one-sided] battle between Him and those who consider Him to be their enemy [including both humans and Satan] a whole millennium after that). And it can’t be referring to the supposed “spiritual death” that most Christians mistakenly believe in (and which some of them also mistakenly assume the death in verse 22 is referring to, and which is also a whole other topic for a whole other post) either because verse 24 tells us that his enemies and death are defeated at a point in time after the last Christian has been vivified, not that they are defeated by the last Christian being vivified (and remember, death is the last enemy to be defeated, yet there will still be more death and enemies after the final Christian’s vivification), so if this part of the chapter is just talking about a so-called “spiritual death” (whatever that means; it’s certainly not a scriptural term) rather than physical death (I haven’t gotten into it in this post, and have really only hinted at it so far, but it’s physical death — more specifically, mortality — not spiritual death, that Paul is talking about in most of these passages), and it’s only talking about Christians being given some sort of “spiritual life” (or “going to heaven” after they die), the same problem applies since it tells us that the end of “death” doesn’t occur until after both the last Christian is given life and all the rest of Christ’s enemies have been defeated as well. So, unless someone has a better explanation of what these verses are referring to (and so far one hasn’t been forthcoming when I’ve brought it up), it would seem this would have to mean the final group, or the rest of humanity (including both those who are dead [meaning those whose bodies are in the lake of fire, which is the second death], as well as those who are still living [thanks to having partaken of the fruit and the leaves of the tree of life to keep from dying] but not yet vivified, referring to those whose names were written in the book of life at the Great White Throne Judgement after their resurrection for said judgement who hadn’t already been vivified previously, as well as those, and the descendants of those, still mortal humans who didn’t join Satan and die during his final rebellion at the end of the Millennium), fully vivified after the fifth and final age (known as the age of the ages, or the eon of the eons, but that’s also a topic for a whole other post) is completed and Jesus’ reign over the Kingdom comes to an end because He’s defeated all enemies (including death) and turns all rulership (including rulership over Himself) over to His Father, and God will finally be “All in all” (yes, in all; not just in a lucky few — If Paul had not pointed out that the “all” he was writing about doesn’t include God, people could then turn around and say that “all” doesn’t actually mean “all” because it obviously couldn’t include God so it could then also exclude people who die as non-believers as well if it doesn’t actually mean “all,” but because Paul does point out that God isn’t included in the “all” but doesn’t mention anyone else as being excluded from the group, we know that everyone other than God is included in the “all,” even those who die as non-believers).

This means, by the way, that people who use passages that seem to tell us Jesus will reign forever to prove that “everlasting torment” in hell (or, for Annihilationists, that destruction or annihilation) also lasts forever because those passages use the same words (in both the English and the Greek texts) are actually basing their argument on an obvious misunderstanding since Paul is clear that He won’t reign forever, but rather only until He’s defeated the final enemy, meaning He reigns for the final two, and greatest, ages — we’re currently living in the third, and perhaps most evil, “world” (meaning “age,“ but that’s also another topic) — but stops reigning after they’re over. This also demonstrates just how few people are aware that A) all of the passages that are translated as “everlasting” or “for ever” in the KJV have to be interpreted qualitatively rather than quantitatively based on this fact and the fact that Paul was clear everyone will eventually be vivified, as well as that B) Paul saw much farther into the future than John did in the book called Revelation (John only saw into the beginning of the fifth age, whereas Paul saw all the way to the end of the “ages” or “worlds”]).

And since many Christians often make a similar mistake when they try to insist that “if ‘eternal damnation’ isn’t actually forever then ‘eternal life’ wouldn’t be forever either,” I’m forced to point out that they really aren’t thinking things through when they make this assertion. While this can be explained in a much more clear way to someone who isn’t a KJV-Onlyist by using the literal meanings of the Greek words in question, even if we come at it from the perspective of KJV-Onlyism, that’s still faulty reasoning. Remember, we’ve determined that the “forever” words have to be interpreted qualitatively rather than quantitatively in the KJV, so we have to assume they aren’t talking about how long one lives (or how long one is punished) so much as the form or quality of their life and punishments. But just because one’s time experiencing “eternal damnation” will come to an end, it doesn’t stand to reason that anyone with “eternal life“ will eventually die because it isn’t verses about “eternal life” that promise us we’ll live forever anyway, but rather it’s verses about our impending immortality. So, when people eventually leave the lake of fire, believers will still be alive forever, although not because of any passage that speaks of “eternal life” but rather because of passages that tell us we’ll have already been made immortal. Basically, when someone reaches the end of “forever” or “everlasting life” (whatever “for ever” is meant to symbolize in the KJV), they’ll still remain alive because they’ll have bodies that can’t die. Similarly, the claim that “the everlasting God” would eventually die if “everlasting” doesn’t mean “never ending” is just as misguided. This verse isn’t trying to tell anyone that God lives forever. Everybody already knows that God will live forever. As Psalm 102:27 told us many millennia ago, His years shall have no end, and the idea that Paul would be trying to tell his readers something that everybody already took for granted would just be silly. So just because “everlasting” isn’t a quantitative word, it can certainly mean something very qualitative, even when it speaks of God (and I’ll leave it to you to see if you can figure out what it actually means for yourself).

But in case anybody is still skeptical, Paul later confirmed the salvation of all humanity beyond any shadow of a doubt when he outright wrote “the living God, who is the Saviour of all men” (it doesn’t get any clearer than this), even if those who believe this Good News have a special, earlier salvation than everybody else does. If a teacher were to say at the end of the school year, “I’ve given everyone a passing grade this year, especially Lisa who got an A+,” we’d know that while nobody else got an A+, they still all passed, since “especially” doesn’t mean “only” or “exclusively” (or “specifically,” as some claim; those who think so should look up each time the Greek word translated “specially” here — malista [μάλιστα] — is used in the Bible in a concordance to see for themselves). In fact, if the word did mean “exclusively” or “specifically,” the part of the verse that tells us God is the Saviour of all men would be a lie (since it didn’t say “God is the potential Saviour of all men, but really only of those who believe,” but instead plainly tells us that He actually is the Saviour of all men — and Calvinists who insist that Paul is only claiming “God is the Saviour of all kinds or sorts of men,” and that God only desires “all sorts of men” to be saved rather than that He actually “will have all men to be saved” [meaning He desires to have all men to be saved, although we all know that what God wills or desires, He gets, or else it couldn’t be said that He “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will,” so anyone He wills or desires to be saved will be saved] are ignoring the second part of the verse where Paul says “specially of believers” rather than “specifically: believers” [if that’s what God really wanted Paul to get across, you’d think He would have just inspired Paul to simply write “the living God, who is the Saviour of believers” to avoid confusion], so they’re just reading their own preconceived doctrinal bias that not everyone will experience salvation into these passages because they have no other choice if they don’t want it to contradict their theological beliefs [seriously, if a Calvinist makes this claim, ask them to show you one single Bible translation that says anything even remotely close to the idea that God is just the Saviour of all kinds of men, or that He only desires all sorts of men to be saved, instead of saying than that He actually is the Saviour of all men and desires all men to be saved as every Bible version I’ve ever read plainly says. I’m highly doubtful that any of them can, which means they’re guilty of some serious eisegesis there], just as Arminians do in their own way), which means this passage once again verifies that the soteriology of Paul throughout his epistles is indeed that every human who is affected by the curse will also be equally (if not more so) affected by the cross, even if it doesn’t happen to everyone at the same time.

And in the interest of coming to a conclusion at some point, I’ll try to wrap up with one final passage where Paul also used a similar sort of parallelism, in the first chapter of his epistle to the Colossians, to tell his readers that all of the rest of creation will be reconciled as well (and not just humans, I should add). In fact, I don’t know how someone can read verses 15 through 20 of that chapter and not end up a believer in Universal Reconciliation, although it seems most people somehow miss the fact Paul is using a parallelism here (more specifically, an Extended Alternation) — likely because they probably weren’t familiar with Paul’s consistent use of parallelisms throughout his epistles to prove Universal Reconciliation until they read this post — to tell us that the same “all” created by Him are also the same “all” that are reconciled to Him by the blood of Christ’s cross, and that this passage tells us that not only are all humans (meaning all the things created in Earth, as mentioned in both verses 16 and 20) both created and reconciled by Him, but all the creatures in heaven (as also mentioned in both of the same two verses, referring to a list of celestial beings that overlaps with another list of celestial creatures who are described in Ephesians 6 as being the spiritual wickedness in high places) are also both created and reconciled by Him, and there would be no need to reconcile celestial beings in heaven who didn’t sin, so it can only be the “fallen” celestial beings in the heavens who are being reconciled, and if all of them are going to be reconciled as Paul says there, we know that all the creatures on the Earth will be as well, as he also says there (but, if you’re having trouble with this parallelism, replace the word “all” with the variable x again in both verses 16 and 20 — in fact, do it in all the verses from verse 16 to verse 20 — and it should become clear what it means).

Again, I know that it’s difficult to resist the temptation to try to insert words into these verses that aren’t there, such as the word “believers,” for example, into the second parts of the various parallelisms I’ve covered, but there’s no justification for doing so, particularly when we consider the facts from the beginning of this post, that there’s no basis for believing in actual never-ending punishment in the first place. Yes, there are passages that seem to tell us only believers will be “saved” or experience “everlasting life,” but when we consider the qualitative meaning of those words, we can come to understand that everyone who doesn’t get “everlasting life” (and who might even have to spend time in hell and/or the lake of fire) will still eventually be made immortal according to Paul, even if not for a very long time.

But why did God seem to hide this truth from so many? To that I simply repeat the proverb, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.

Of course, at this point you’re wondering, if none of those judgement verses are actually talking about never-ending punishment in hell (or is it the lake of fire?), then what in the world are they talking about? Well, to find that out, you’ll just have to read the next post on this site, since I do answer that question there. So go check that out now.