The Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth and Fiery Furnace Passages
As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (matt 13.40) (also matt 22.13; matt 24.48ff; matt 25.28ff; and Luke 13.28ff)
Taken literally, this passage supports the hypothesis because it suggests that the damned will be thrown into fire. The con is that this passage is in a parable and given the often symbolic and hyperbolic nature of parables, it cannot be taken for granted that Jesus meant for it to be taken literally. It is possible that Jesus was talking pandering to Jewish beliefs in which the fiery furnace described God’s wrath. A rejoinder could be that the surrounding text sounds very literal, which it does.
A problem with the passage is its description of the damned as “weeping”, not “screaming” or any of its synonyms. Unless it’s some strange form of torture, people being tormented will scream, not weep. Weeping is something people do out of sorrow and loss. Screaming is what they do when they are in great pain. Sometimes people do both (like when they are in pain due to the loss of a loved one) but they are not being tortured. The pain they experience is one that comes with loss. It seems quite obvious to me that you scream, not weep during torture. You only get to weep in moments when you are not in great pain or pain at all. What makes this so serious is that ‘weeping’ is used consistently throughout passages like this but ‘screaming is never used. Consequently, the passages give the impression that the damned feel a great sense of loss and grief, but are not in torment. In fact, passages like Luke 13.28 give great ammunition to the suggestion that the damned weep and gnash their teeth because the find themselves excluded from the good things of God’s kingdom. In conclusion, the description of the state of the damned given in these passages is not one consistent with the claim that they will be in torment.
The More Bearable Passages
“I say to you, it will be more bearable in that day for Sodom, than for that city. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. “But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment, than for you.
And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. “Nevertheless I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the Day of Judgment, than for you.” (Matt 11.20-24)
Basically this passage just suggests that some people will be worse off on the Day of Judgment than others. This neither supports nor opposes the hypothesis. It just means that if the hypothesis is true, some people will be in more torment than others. Some might be in very great torment and some in very little torment.
A passage from Revelation
“‘A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.’ Revelation 14: 9 – 12”
I suspect that this is the passage most often used to support the claim that people in hell undergo physical torment. It definitely supports the contention that some people in hell undergo physical torment if you read it literally. Given the manner in which the book of Revelation is written, I try not to take anything in it too literally. However, if we are being literal I can point out that this does not say anything about the rest of the damned. Given the passages that say that those in hell experience it differently, – the ‘more bearable’ passages do this and Revelation 20: 11 – 14 has death and hades (who definitely will not be tortured) being thrown into the lake of fire – it is quite obvious that the fate of these people does not determine the fate of the rest of the damned.
- 1. A literal reading of two parables furnished the claim that those in hell are thrown into literal fire, which, lasting eternally, would count as torture. But those passages could be read as metaphors and would not necessarily imply torture then.
- 2. One passage in the book of revelation describes certain inhabitants of hell as being tormented day and night, but says nothing about the rest.
- 3. The description of those in hell as ‘weeping’ rather than ‘screaming’ is consistent with the hypothesis if they either are not in torment most of the time or are in very little pain on average. Another way to put it is that the absence of the word ‘screaming’ suggests that they are not in any significant amount of pain. It would definitely exclude mid-numbing torture (at least for most of the inhabitants of hell).
4. The fact that those in hell experience it differently suggests that the same punishment is not given to all of them.