One of the most active religious groups in existence call themselves Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are a very zealous and active group of people. It is unlikely that anyone who reads this has not at one time or another been confronted with this particular religious group. Along with the zeal and activity of the Jehovah’s Witness organization comes also blatant and egregious doctrinal error. There are many things professed Christians can tolerate in others with whom they differ, but the doctrines taught by this particular group are diametrically opposite the teaching of God’s word. It is a duty of faithful Christians to expose and oppose such erroneous doctrines.
The Jehovah’s Witness organization is probably known doctrinally best for their denial of the existence of a place of eternal punishment that the Bible calls Hell. The official Jehovah’s Witness doctrinal position is stated in clear terms by one of their founders, J.W. Rutherford. He wrote: “For a long time men have been taught that the punishment for the wicked, those who disobey God, is everlasting torment or torture in a hell burning with unquenchable fire and brimstone. Many have been frightened away from studying the Bible because of this terrible doctrine. Many have refused to believe in God and the Lord Jesus because of it. It is another doctrine of Satan, used to blind the people.” Rutherford rejected the doctrine of eternal torment because he declared it to be entirely unscriptural. (The Harp of God, International Bible Students Association Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, Brooklyn, New York, page 49).
Rutherford also wrote: “Hell is not a place, but a condition. Those who go into the grave are not conscious there; but they have gone into the death condition. Their bodies decay and return to the dust.” (The Harp of God, page 52). Again, “The doctrine of eternal torment is a wicked defamation of Jehovah. It is a foul stain upon his lovable name.” (Ibid., page 55).
The denial of hell and eternal punishment by Jehovah’s Witness scholars is based on nothing more than pure human bias. Many of us would very much like to believe there is no place of punishment reserved for the wicked, but the Bible clearly teaches there is. Hell is not merely a grave where the body of a dead person is buried. But to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the grave is the only hell there is. They read the word hell in the Bible and claim that it is translated from a Hebrew word sheol and a Greek term hades. Both words refer to the place of departed spirits, to the “unseen state.” Both words could refer to a grave or a pit, but when the death of a human is involved, the grave is merely the resting place of the body. It is very important for us to remember that the words translated “Hell” in the King James Version do not express the status of any particular individual who has gone into this unseen world.
When the Jehovah’s Witness people use the term “Hell” as meaning only the grave where the body is buried they are deceitfully handling the word of God.
“Gehenna” is another word in the original language translated Hell. This New Testament term expressly signifies a place of everlasting punishment for the wicked. One writer for the Jehovah’s Witnesses wrote: “In all places where hell is translated from the Greek word Gehenna it means everlasting destruction. … It is a picture or symbol of complete annihilation, and not of eternal torment.” (Let God Be True, pages 96,97). As a proof text they misuse Matthew 10:28 which reads: “And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.” They erroneously contend that when something is destroyed it no longer exists. Thus hell, in their view, is complete annihilation.
Destroy does not always mean complete extinction. We speak of those who destroy their reputation, or their health, or their influence. We do not mean that these are totally extinct. In fact the word from which “destroy” comes is the Greek term apollumi. W.E. Vine, one of the finest standards of authority on word meanings said, “The idea is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well being.” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Volume II, page 164). Jesus spoke of a “lost” sheep. The word lost is from apollumi – destroyed. The lost sheep of Luke 15:4 was not annihilated or extinguished for it was “found.” The Jehovah’s Witness application of the words destroy in hell (Gehenna) is totally wrong.
Here are passages that establish there is an awful place of torment called hell (Gehenna) and that it awaits all who are wicked and rebellious to God Almighty. Read carefully.
Paul said Christ would give those who were troubled “rest” when Jesus returns with His mighty angels, “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thes. 1:7-9). Destruction here is the loss of one’s state of well being. It is an eternal loss. There is no appeal from the final sentence of one who is consigned to the infernal regions of torment.
Jesus said: “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46). Here are two destinies — eternal punishment and eternal life. Here are only two classes of mankind — the righteous and the wicked. The righteous go to eternal life — the wicked to everlasting punishment. The word that is translated eternal is the same word for everlasting. The truth is: eternal life endures as long as everlasting punishment. Jehovah’s Witnesses take the everlasting part out of punishment but keep the eternal part in life. Such is neither possible nor honest. The Bible is clear that there is an everlasting punishment for the wicked and calls it Hell.
In the very graphic language of the Book of Revelation we read:
“Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength 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 ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name” (Rev. 14:10-11).
The smoke of torment the unfortunate wicked suffer for their ungodliness ascends forever. Jehovah’s Witnesses, who claim to take passages from the Book of Revelation literally, refuse to take this one at all.
Jesus warned His disciples, “If your hand makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. And if your foot makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. And if your eye makes you sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire – where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:42-48). The Jehovah’s Witnesses deny there is any such torment for a human who has acted wickedly and who has rebelled against Almighty God, yet Jesus said even the worm does not die in this awful place. It is a place where the fire is never quenched. It is the final and eternal destiny of all the wicked, Jehovah’s Witnesses to the contrary notwithstanding.
“And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). The punishment Jesus mentioned in Matthew 25:46 is the very same thing as being “tormented day and night for ever and ever” in Rev. 20:10. The word for “tormented” here comes from a word that means “to vex with grievous pains, to torment.”
Jesus spoke of two men who died and gave the following description of what happened to them after death.
“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich mans table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then 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 in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us. Then he said, I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my fathers house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment” (Luke 16:20-28).
Our Lord taught that when men die they do not cease to exist. They are separated by a great gulf. One group is tormented in the flame; the other is in complete happiness and bliss. Jehovah’s Witnesses can not allegorize or explain away the simple and straight forward teaching of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:12-14).
These thoughts are presented in opposition to the Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrinal error that is misleading and deceitful. My friends, may you miss hell and may you enjoy eternal bliss in heaven through all eternity. Jesus said “you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). Belief that obeys Christ is the way of everlasting life. “Though he was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:8-9).