by Charles H. Welch
1. THE DECLARATION.
- Sin is the negation of law, righteousness, faith, and the whole purpose of man’s creation. It was introduced into the world by Adam, through the temptation of Eve by the Devil. Sin is universal in its embrace so far as mankind is concerned, and its end is death.
- Death and destruction are the words that summarize its punishment, and eternal conscious suffering finds no warrant from Scripture. John 3:16 teaches that without eternal life men must perish.
- Hell is a misused and misunderstood term.
2. SCRIPTURAL GROUNDS.
‘Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law’ (1 John 3:4).
‘All unrighteousness is sin’ (1 John 5:17).
‘ … whatsoever is not of faith is sin’ (Rom. 14:23).
‘ … all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’ (Rom. 3:23).
‘ … the wages of sin is death’ (Rom. 6:23).
‘ … by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin’ (Rom. 5:12).
‘He that committeth sin is of the Devil’ (1 John 3:8).
3. AN EXAMINATION OF THE SCRIPTURES ON THE QUESTION OF SIN AND ITS PUNISHMENT.
There are three passages of Scripture that categorically assert the nature of sin:
- Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4).
- Sin is unrighteousness (1 John 5:17).
- Sin is anything not of faith (Rom. 14:23).
Sin is the negative of law, of righteousness, and of faith. Scripture defines sin, in the first instance, by what it is NOT. God alone is positive; evil is only able to deny, refuse, obstruct, disobey. It is darkness and death, the negatives of light and life.
There is a further negative in Romans 3:23, where sin is defined as ‘coming short’ of the glory of God. ‘Coming short’ is the essential meaning of the most important word translated ‘sin’ in the Scriptures, viz., chata. ‘Seven hundred chosen men lefthanded; every one could sling stones at an hair breadth, and not miss’ (chata – sin) (Judg. 20:16).
Hamartano, the New Testament equivalent, is derived (according to Cremer) from two words meaning ‘failure to attain or to arrive’. This tragic failure, this missing of the mark by man, has entailed all the terrible aftermath of guilt and shame. The failure that marks initial sin is soon followed by deadly ignorance and alienation from the life of God (Eph. 4:18); life and its activities become purposeless toil; vanity, iniquity, deformity, deceit, ruin and death make up the tale. These words are not strung together at random or for effect; they are but a summary of the words used in Scripture to describe sin, and the interested reader will find a fuller examination in The Berean Expositor Vol. 16, pp. 183-191.
So far as man is concerned, sin is universal: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one … all the world … guilty before God … all have sinned’ (Rom. 3:10,19,23).
Scripture declares that sin is of the Devil, who ‘sinneth from the beginning’, and that sin is abhorrent to the holiness of God. Should the reader have come into contact with a course of teaching that seeks to include sin as a part of the ‘all things’ that are ‘of God’, he is earnestly recommended to read the booklet, ‘Sin and its relation to God’ – same author and publisher.
What are the wages of sin? ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Rom. 6:23).
When the Old Testament writers speak of the wages of sin, they speak of destruction, of perishing, of being cut off, of being consumed. ‘Hell’ in the Old Testament is the translation of sheol, meaning the grave. This can be seen by referring to the following passages;
Genesis 37:35; 42:38; 44:29 and 31; Job 14:10-13; 17:13,16 (pit); Psalm 6:5; 30:3; 49:12-15. The New Testament speaks of death, destruction, perishing, punishment and torment. Where it speaks of hell, the original is either hades (the New Testament equivalent of sheol) or gehenna.
It has been taught that the words used by the Saviour ‘their worm’ and ‘the fire’ (Mark 9:44,46,48) – must imply conscious suffering. Seeing that He quoted from Isaiah 66:24, we are confident that no such implication was intended.
Throughout the whole of Paul’s recorded ministry, hell is mentioned once, and we must remember that he declared that he was ‘pure from the blood of all men’. His one reference is in 1 Corinthians 15:55: ‘O grave (margin, hell), where is thy victory?’
The references to the gehenna of fire are restricted to the Scriptures that deal with Israel and the kingdom. The Sermon on the Mount, which contains the first reference to gehenna, uses it of Christians, which hardly fits the orthodox teaching concerning ‘Hell’.
The only passage that contains the words ‘everlasting punishment’ is Matthew 25, where the judgment of the nations in connection with their treatment of the Lord’s brethren is in view. Some enter the kingdom; some are cast into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. Anyone who preaches eternal life on the terms set out in Matthew 25 can consistently use the warning of everlasting punishment as the alternative. But where the preacher announces that ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son’, the alternatives must be ‘perishing’ or ‘everlasting life’ (John 3:16). If he preaches, with Paul, salvation by grace, and declares that ‘the gift of God is eternal life’, then he must follow Paul in the omission of all reference to Hell, and plainly say, ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Rom. 6:23).
References to torment are as follows:
Matthew 18:34 Used of one that had been pardoned.
Revelation 9:5 Lasting five months.
Revelation 11:10 Inflicted by the two witnesses.
Revelation 14:9-11 Endured by the worshippers of the beast.
Revelation 18:7,10,15 Used of Babylon, which at the end ‘shall be found no more at all’.
Revelation 20:10 Used of the Devil, the False Prophet, and the Beast.
The poverty of orthodox teaching is shown by these references. If torment is preached to-day, what violence must be done to the contexts of these passages. The final word concerning the lake of fire in Scripture is that it is ‘the second death’.
Further and fuller exposition of this and allied subjects, such as the soul and the word ‘eternal’, together with a concordance of the word translated ‘Hell’ (Old Testament and New Testament) will be found in the booklet, ‘Hell, or Pure from the blood of all men’ – same author and publisher.
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This article by Charles Welch was originally published in “Things Most Surely Believed” (Chapter 6 – Sin and Its Wages).