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The Resurrection of the Body

Accoding to Jehovah's Witnesses, there is no hell. Those who are not saved will be annihilated–they will cease to exist.

According to Scripture, the unsaved "will be tormented in burning sulfur . . . the smoke of their torment shall rise forever and ever. There shall be no relief day or night for [them]" (Rev. 14:10-11); "They will be tortured day and night, forever and ever" (Rev. 20:10) in an "everlasting fire" (Matt. 25:41). The rich man in the parable of Lazarus was "tortured in these flames" in this "place of torment" (Rev. 16:24, 28). The unsaved go to an "everlasting fire" (Matt. 18:8) "where the worm dies not and the flame is never extinguished" (Mark 9:48), and where there will be "wailing . . . and the grinding of teeth" (Matt. 8:12). It is obvious that the wicked will experience this punishment because they will still exist, and for all eternity.

In support of their beliefs, Witnesses cite Matthew 25:41, 46, which reads in most translations "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire . . . and they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life". However, in the NWT, "eternal punishment" is replaced with "everlasting cutting-off". But this phrase makes no sense because "cutting-off" cannot be "everlasting", because cutting-off is a momentary occurrence. Witnesses also cite 2 Thessalonians 1:9: "They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might". They think the word "destruction" means annihilation. But when compared to all the Biblical support for hell, it is clear that "destruction" does not mean what Witnesses think it means.

Related to this is the Witnesses' belief that people do not have souls; rather, the soul and the body are one, so when the body dies, so does the soul. But men are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), and this must refer to a spirit (and therefore a soul), because God is a spirit and is without a body (John 4:24). Proof lies in the fact that Samuel, who had died, spoke with Saul (1 Sam. 28), while Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus and spoke with him (Matt. 17:1-8). This would have been impossible if these dead patriarchs had been annihilated. We see in Revelation 6:9-10 the martyrs pleading to God to avenge their death, which is contrary to Witness teaching. Jesus, upon His death, "went to preach to the spirits in prison" (1 Pet. 3:19), which would have only made sense if the people in the "world of the dead" (Is. 14:9-11) were conscious.

In their defense, Witnesses use passages that describe the dead as being unconscious: "As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all" (Eccl. 9:5). But passages like this simply indicate the fact that the dead are no longer aware of the affairs of this world, and are no longer involved in it. The soul means many things in the Bible, but one meaning is definitely the spiritual dimension of the person: "Do not fear those who can destroy the body but cannot destroy the soul" (Matt. 10:28). Here we see a contrast between the body and the soul, which would make no sense if they were one and the same.

Witnesses appeal to reason, and say, "Would a merciful God send people to a place of everlasting torment?" Their answer is, of course, "No". But besides being all-loving, God is all-just. It would not satisfy the justice of God if the souls of the wicked escaped punishment by being annihilated (think here about some of the most heinous of sinners). Furthermore, if God's love prevented him from allowing people to suffer in hell, then it logically follows that God would not allow people to suffer here on Earth. But that is not the way it is. The fact is, those who go to hell choose to go there, by misusing their free will. They get exactly what they want–eternal separation from God.

Witnesses maintain that the concept of hell comes from the ancient pagans, who had a similar belief. Of course, these same pagans believed in an eternal paradise, but it is just as illogical for one to believe that Christians adopted hell from the pagans as it is to believe that heaven was adopted by them.

What about the number of the elect? Some believe that most people will be damned, while others believe that the majority will be saved. The former cite the words of Jesus in Matthew: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few." (Matt. 7:13-14); "‘Lord, will only a few people be saved?' He answered them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough'" (Luke 13:23-24). Notice that Jesus did not answer "yes" to the question, "Will only a few people be saved". This passage could be interpreted literally, or could be interpreted to mean that many people do travel the "broad road" to destruction (meaning they live a sinful life), but that somehow, God's grace does, in the end, save most of them. It could also mean that "salvation" is synonymous with entry into the Church, and that few Jews at the time were entering the Church. Whether few or many are saved, this is a question that has never been answered, and the Church leaves the believer free to accept either view.

Catholic Tracts


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