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Table of Contents

Section 1: Is Salvation for All Biblical?

Section 2: Is the Doctrine of Hell Biblical?

Section 3: Symbolism

Section 4: Biblical Judgment: a Consistent Theme of Redemption

Section 5: Philosophy and Scripture

Section 6: History and Tradition

Section 7: Addressing Objections

Section 8: Strongholds

A Few Other Parables and the Narrow Gate

Now let’s look at a few more examples of misinterpreted Scriptures that have been used to wrongly support the doctrine of endless punishment.

Parable of the Sower

Matthew 13:3-9

And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

Shortly after, he explains the parable to his disciples. Let’s see what it means, according to Jesus.

Matthew 13:18-23

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”

Now it must be asked, is there anything at all in this parable or its explanation to suggest that it is about hell or eternal suffering for the lost? How then is it used as support for the doctrine?

The answer is that the doctrine is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we assume that any other person, besides the one who has good soil, is damned. This is not implied by the parable at all.

Instead, the parable is about our hearts and how we respond to the words of Christ. Notice that none of the people described haven’t heard the gospel.  Instead they all hear it and have different responses. Here they are:

1. They hear it but don’t get it. It isn’t understood so Satan prevents it from growing in them.

2. They hear it and accept it joyfully but crack under pressure. If times get tough, they flake.

3. They hear it but get distracted by wealth and other worldly pursuits.

4. They hear it, understand it, and bear fruit.

Notice that the point of the parable is that those who have “good soil” bear fruit for God’s kingdom. There is no mention of any punishment in the parable at all, and the only reward mentioned is that we get to participate in God’s work on earth by bearing fruit for His kingdom. That should be reward enough if we really understand the incredible goodness of the God we serve.

Tares among Wheat

Matthew 13:24-30

Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

Notice that Jesus is describing the kingdom of God in this parable, saying that “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…” So in the parable, Jesus is describing God’s kingdom, right? Nod your head if you agree (you don’t really have to if you don’t want to).

So with this in mind, we see that God’s kingdom is like a kingdom in which there are people represented by “good seed” and people represented by “tares” or bad seed. Notice that initially, you can’t really tell the difference, so he lets them grow up together. But as the seeds grow, a key difference becomes apparent. The wheat bear fruit (grain) and the tares do not.

According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary , tares are “Lolium temulentum, a species of rye-grass, the seeds of which are a strong soporific poison. It bears the closest resemblance to wheat till the ear appears, and only then the difference is discovered. It grows plentifully in Syria and Palestine.”

So tares aren’t just weeds, but dangerous, poisonous weeds.

Now, consider the fact that the Church is supposed to be the kingdom of heaven. Without a judgmental attitude, can you recognize that there are people in the church that poison it, and that such people have been part of the church throughout history?  Haven’t we seen atrocities carried out by alleged Christians throughout the Church’s history, things like burning people at the stake, robbing the poor in the name of God, and abusing children? We have indeed. Those who poison the church internally while pretending to follow Christ are the tares.

Now, just as in the parable of the sower, Jesus explains the parable of the tares of the field to his disciples, confirming what we have just discussed.

Matthew 13:36-43

Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” And He said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Notice that Jesus confirms that the tares are part of the kingdom when he says the angels “will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness.” So we clearly see that Christ is not referring to unbelievers as tares. Rather the tares are those who say they believe, but do not bear fruit. Furthermore, they poison the kingdom by causing people to stumble or by living in a lawless way that perverts the truth of the gospel.

Now, you may be thinking that this simply shows that false Christians will also be burned forever in hell along with unbelievers. You may argue that this is confirmed by the fact that the tares are thrown into the “furnace of fire” where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” But I would challenge you to find any confirmation in the passage we just read that the furnace of fire is a place of eternal torment, or that the weeping and gnashing of teeth will never end. I’ll save you some time: you won’t find it because it isn’t there.

If the image of fire is still tripping you up, don’t let it. We will soon discuss in detail that the symbolism of fire has deep Biblical roots, and that it practically always refers to refinement and purification, not endless torture. If you can’t wait, you can jump ahead to the section on symbolism. But before you do, let’s make one final point on this parable.

The end of the parable is that “the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” This is the good purpose that the parable ends with. And it is worth remembering that light dispels darkness. As Jesus said, people do not “light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:15-16). What is the purpose of “shining forth as the sun”? Like a lamp on a stand or a city on a hill, the purpose is to light the way so that others can also come to righteousness and glorify God.

The Narrow and Wide Gates

The following statement by Jesus is often cited as proof that many people will go to hell.

Matthew 7:13-14

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

For some reason, people assume that destruction means hell.  In one Bible translation, in this case ironically called the Good News Translation, it is even translated as “hell.” Now, if you still doubt that bias about hell has profoundly influenced Bible translation, this fact can put that doubt to rest. There is no basis whatsoever for translating this word as “hell.” At best, this indicates an ignorance of biblical Greek or an inability to accurately and objectively translate it.  At worst, it is intentional deception. I don’t know which it is (or if it’s something in between the two extremes), but this translation is absolutely unjustifiable.  To be accurate, it is not a translation at all but rather a faulty interpretation masquerading as a translation. 

The Greek word that most versions correctly translate as destruction is apōleian (ἀπώλειαν). It actually means destruction or loss (NASB Lexicon), not endless hell. It is further clarified to imply "loss of well-being" (HELPS Word-Studies).

Now, if we honestly look at ourselves, we must admit that we often go down the wrong path, a path that leads to destruction and loss of well being. Sin is easy, and there are many different types of it. Ways to sin aren’t hard to find and are easily accessible.

And they lead to destruction in our lives.

Think about the news. Think about history. Think about all of the brokenness in humanity. Isn’t it obvious that the path to destruction is wide and many go down it?  This is the destruction that Jesus is speaking of.

To confirm this point let’s examine just a bit more context surrounding these verses. Below, I have included the verse that immediately precedes Jesus’ statements about the narrow and wide gates.

Matthew 7:12-14

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

Now we can see clearly why the narrow gate is small. We are inherently self-centered, but Jesus is calling us to be others-centered. It is difficult to choose to live this way but it leads to true life. Relatively few people choose to abandon self-centeredness, even though this leads to freedom and joy. I would argue that it is difficult even for those of us who are trying to follow Christ to do so on a daily basis. That is why Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).

That is a narrow road, but it is worth traveling because it leads to abundant life, for Jesus came “in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). It is a high and beautiful calling and should inspire us to live “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).

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