Entered into electronic format by
Matt Thomas, 1997.
ORIGIN AND HISTORY
THOMAS B. THAYER
Prove all things. Hold fast that
which is good --- PAUL
according to Act of Congress, in the year 1855, by
Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts
HOBART & ROBBINS,
New England Type and Stereotype Foundry,
This little work is written for the purpose of
furnishing a sketch of the argument by which it is shown that the doctrine of
Endless Punishment is not of divine origin, but traceable directly to a heathen
It is not intended as an elaborately philosophical
or critical discussion of the subject, as the size of the volume will show; but
only as a popular presentation of the method of proof, and of the leading facts
and authorities on which the argument rests.
Those having time and sources of information at
command, will enter into a more thorough investigation for themselves. For such
this work is not designed; but for those who, not having the opportunity, nor
the books, necessary to a complete and critical examination of the question,
wish a brief statement of the facts and arguments on which is grounded the
assertion that the doctrine of endless torments is of heathen origin.
This will account for the absence of many things
which the reader might justly expect to find here, and which rightfully claim
place in a work bearing the title of this.
The subject treated is one of very great
importance, and equally concerns the purity of Christian doctrine, and the
happiness and virtue of those believing. It is every day commanding more and
more attention from serious and thoughtful minds. And on all sides, and in the
churches of all sects, there is increased inquiry into the foundations of the
doctrine, and rapidly growing doubts of its divine origin and authority. It is
possible the following pages may help to answer some of the questions growing
out of this state of mind, and to show how a doctrine, thoroughly heathen in
origin and character, came to be adopted by the Christian church.
The sale of the first edition of nearly two
thousand copies in the space of three or four months, without being advertised
in any form, has encouraged me to believe that the work meets an actual want,
and will be serviceable to the cause of Truth. In the preparation of the present
edition, therefore, I have made considerable additions; and, I trust,
improvements also, in the hope of making it more worthy and more useful. Two
chapters and two sections entire have been added, and chapters three, four and
six, have been greatly enlarged, and the argument illustrated and fortified by
new facts and authorities.
Still the book is far from what I could wish, or
what it might be made, if time, and all the means of investigation, were at
command. Yet, such as it is, I send it forth again, to do what work it may;
believing that, in the conflict of opinions, Truth only is immortal, and
cheerfully confident, therefore, that, at last, all error and all evil will
Since the above was written, this work has passed
through several large editions. The present issue has additional testimonies
strengthening the argument in its various branches. Most of these, with the
exception of those pertaining to Chapters III and IX., which are inserted in the
body of the text, are gathered into a single chapter at the end of the book; and
to facilitate reference, notes have been added to the chapters and sections to
which they severally belong.
Boston, January, 1871.
PERIOD BEFORE THE LAW.
No Law announced to our First Parents with the Penalty of Endless Punishment
Not revealed in the History of their Transgression, nor in that of Cain, the
Deluge, or Sodom and Gomorrah
PERIOD UNDER THE LAW.
SECT. I. - Endless Punishment not taught by Moses in the Law; - nor is it
mentioned anywhere in the Bible
History of the Jews
SECT. II. - Testimony of Orthodox Critics and Theologians to this Point
SECT. III. - Old Testament Doctrine of Hell, Sheol
SECT. IV. - General Application of the Argument
SECT. V. - Objections to the foregoing Argument answered
PUNISHMENT OF HEATHEN ORIGIN.
SECT. I. - Description of the Heathen Hell, its Location, Inhabitants and
Punishments; compared with Church Doctrine
SECT. II. - The Doctrine Invented by Heathen Legislators and Poets; Shown by
their own Confession
Its Egyptian Origin
JEWS BORROWED THE DOCTRINE FROM THE HEATHEN
The Historical Argument on this Point
PUNISHMENT NOT TAUGHT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
SECT. I. - Salvation of Christ not from this
SECT. II. - New Testament Doctrine of Hell
SECT. III. - Unquenchable Fire; how used in the Scriptures; how used by
SECT. IV. - Everlasting, Eternal, and Forever, not Endless
Testimony of Lexicographers and Critics
Usage of Greek Authors
SECT. V. - The Second Death
INTRODUCTION OF THE DOCTRINE INTO THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH.
The general Corruption of the early Church
First Appearance of the Doctrine - its Form
The Wicked not raised from the Dead, or Under-world
Raised and Punished
Future Punishment ending in Annihilation
Condemnation of Universalism, and Endless
Punishment decreed Orthodox, A.D. 553
DOCTRINE CREATES A CRUEL AND REVENGEFUL SPIRIT - ILLUSTRATED FROM HISTORY.
Influence of Faith on Character
Catholic Crusades against the Albigenses
Massacre of St. Bartholomew
The Catholic Inquisition
The Spanish Inquisition; its Influence on Society; Note
The Influence not confined to Catholic Believers of the Doctrine
COMPARATIVE MORAL INFLUENCE OF BELIEF AND DISBELIEF OF ENDLESS PUNISHMENT -
Its Influence on the Morals of the Heathen;
Greeks, Romans, Burmans
The Character of the Pharisees and Sadducees contrasted in reference to this
INFLUENCE OF THE DOCTRINE ON THE HAPPINESS OF ITS BELIEVERS - ILLUSTRATED FROM
THEIR OWN CONFESSIONS.
Testimony of Saurin, Stuart, Barnes, Henry Ward
ADDITIONAL TESTIMONIES ON THE QUESTIONS DISCUSSED IN THE PRECEDING CHAPTERS.
ORIGIN AND HISTORY
DOCTRINE OF ENDLESS PUNISHMENT
PERIOD BEFORE THE LAW.
The following two positions will be admitted
without question, it is believed, by all Christians.
1st. If the doctrine of endless punishment be, as
affirmed by its believers, absolutely and indispensably necessary to the
preservation of virtue, and to perfect obedience to the laws of God; if this be
the salutary and saving influence of the doctrine, then it constitutes one of
the strongest possible reasons for its being revealed to man at the very
earliest period of the world's history.
2d. If endless punishment be true,
it is terribly
true to all those who are in danger, - wherein is found another powerful reason
why it should have been made known in the clearest manner, on the very morning
of creation! In the clearest manner: it should not have been left in
doubt, and obscurity, by the use of indefinite terms; but it should have been
proclaimed in language which no man could misunderstand, if he would.
Rather than that there should even be the possibility of a mistake in a matter
of such vast and fearful moment, it should have been graven by special miracle
into every soul that God sent into the world.
Let us, then, proceed to inquire if we have any
such revelation of the doctrine. When God created Adam and Eve, and placed them
in the garden of Eden, did He announce to them any law for their observance,
having attached to it the penalty in question? Surely justice demanded, if He
had forced them into being subject to this awful peril, that He should set out
before them both the law and its punishment in the most specific manner. Did He
do this? Where is the record of it? Read diligently the first and second
chapters of Genesis, and see if anything of this sort is recorded there, in
connection with the creation of man.
In chapter ii 15-17, we have this statement: "And
the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and
keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden
thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou
shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely
This is the only record we have bearing on the
subject; but there is no moral law here, which is declared as the future rule of
life for them, and for all their posterity. They are simply commanded not to eat
of the forbidden tree. Now, whether this is understood in a literal or
allegorical sense, we cannot suppose that we have here the formal announcement
of a divine law, which claimed the obedience of all mankind on the penalty of
endless torment. We certainly cannot believe that God would open the great drama
of our life on this earth, involving such infinite consequences, in such brief
and doubtful language, and with so little specification where so much was
As regards the penalty of disobeying the
commandment, do we find any statement which can be mistaken for endless
punishment? God says, "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die;"
but this is very far from saying, "Thou shalt, after the death of the body, be
subjected to the torments of an endless hell."
We are told, to be sure, that this means "death
temporal, death spiritual, and death eternal;" but where is the proof of it? So
terrible a doctrine must not be assumed, but demonstrated by unquestionable
evidence. Who can believe that God would reveal so frightful a punishment in
language so easily misunderstood - by the single word "die," a term employed in
such a variety of senses, capable of such a wide latitude of usage?
Would any earthly parent, if the immortal
salvation of his children were at stake, have been so careless of his speech?
Would he have chosen language so liable to be mistaken? Would he not rather have
announced the awful truth in words which would admit of no possible doubt?
Beside, if the terrors of this punishment are so effectual in preventing
transgression, this was another reason for a specific declaration of the
consequences of disobedience. If the argument on this point is good, a plain,
open threat of endless woe at the very gate of Eden, as they entered, might have
kept them back from the forbidden tree, and saved them and our race from the
dreadful evils which followed the introduction of sin into the world.
But let us now turn to the record of their
transgression, and of some other examples, where, if the doctrine is of divine
origin and authority, we may surely expect to find it announced, and the weight
of its awful curse brought down upon the guilty victims.
1. The first transgression. Gen. iiI 1-16.
As this is the beginning of the sorrowful tragedy of evil, we may look for some
distinct revelation of the doctrine in review, if it is of God; yet not one word
is said in reference to it, nor is there any threat of punishment that can be
mistaken for it!
The serpent is cursed, and the ground is cursed;
but neither the man nor the woman! And observe carefully all the words of the
sentence, and while mention is made of evils to be endured in this life, not the
most distant allusion is made to any evil or punishment beyond this life. Now,
if the doctrine of interminable torment after death be true, how are we to
account for this? Can it be possible that God would be so careful to mention all
the lesser evils, and wholly omit all mention of the terrible woes that are to
have no end?
Who can believe that a just lawgiver and ruler
would deal thus with his people? And of all things who can believe that the
divine Father would deal thus treacherously with His own children?
But how differently the case stands, when we come
to the doctrine of a present retribution for sin. In the very outset God warns
our first parents against transgression, and in the most positive terms declares
to Adam, "In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die."
Is not this clear enough? In the very day of transgression they should die, or
suffer the punishment of their sin, and this surely, beyond question or
doubt. And was this assurance of God fulfilled? Most certainly; for they had no
sooner sinned, than the retribution began, and they died to the peace and joy of
innocence. The day of transgression was the day of judgment. They found that the
wages of sin were death, or, in other words, misery, fear, anguish, and all the
direful consequences of wrong. And that their case may profit their posterity, a
careful statement of the mournful consequences of the transgression is made up,
and put on record as a warning to future generations.
2. Cain; or the murder of Abel. Gen. iV
1-16. Here we have an example of the greatest of all crimes, murder - the
murder of a brother! Surely we may now expect the doctrine of endless punishment
to be revealed; and it would seem that, if true, there is no possible way to
avoid mention of it. This was the first instance of this awful crime, and, Cain
standing exposed to the fearful penalty, this was the time to roll the thunder
of its terrors through the world, as a warning to all coming generations! This
must have been done, if true; and yet in the whole account we have not a
single word on the subject, not the slightest intimation that any such
punishment was threatened.
The whole record is as follows: "And the Lord said
unto Cain, The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground! And
now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy
brother's blood from thy hand. When thou tillest the ground, it shall not
henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be
in the earth."
This is all we have in the way of punishment or
threatenings; and is there anything here that looks like endless torments beyond
this life? anything that would suggest the idea of such a judgment? Nothing at
all; the guilty man is cursed from the earth, which is to refuse her fruits to
his culture, and is driven out a vagabond; and there is the end of the account.
And it is evident that Cain did not understand the
threats of judgment as implying endless woe, for his fears are all confined to
the earth - the dread of revenge, of being killed, and the horrors of the life
of an outcast and a vagabond. "And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is
greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face
of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a
vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass that every one who findeth me
shall slay me." These are all the evils of which Cain makes mention; and in view
of them he exclaims, "My punishment is greater than I can bear."
Now, we put the question, can it be that, beside
the punishments here named, Cain was to be subjected to endless torments after
death, and yet be left wholly ignorant of the dreadful fate that awaited him?
And if the guilty and wretched man thought the punishment actually denounced
greater than he could bear, what would he have said, if, in addition to this,
there had been threatened the agonies of an endless hell?
And is it possible to believe, if this was the
purpose of God, that He would be wholly silent in regard to it? Was it right
to be silent, if the terrible fate of Cain could have served as a warning and a
restraint to all who should come after him?
In verse 15, "Therefore, whosoever slayeth Cain,
vengeance shall be taken on him seven-fold." If infinite, endless torment is the
punishment of Cain, how can seven-fold more than this be inflicted on
another? Yet so it is written, and, therefore, either Cain's punishment was not
endless woe, or there can be such a thing as seven-fold endless woe!
3. The deluge, or the destruction of the old
world. Gen. vi - viiI Here we have one of the most remarkable examples of
wickedness and judgment recorded in the Bible; and if ever anything is to be
said on the subject of endless punishment, we may look for it here with the
certainty of finding it. The description of the exceeding wickedness of the
people who were destroyed in the flood may be seen in verses 5, 11, and 13, of
chapter vi The heart was given to evil, and "only evil continually;" "the earth
was filled with violence, and all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth."
Here, then, was precisely the time, here the circumstances, which required the
revelation and preaching of endless punishment, if, as affirmed, its influence
is retaining and saving. This was the occasion, of all others, to make it known,
that, through its terrifying and subduing power, the depraved and corrupted
people might be turned from their sins, and the world thereby saved from the
overwhelming horrors of the flood.
And yet here, too, not one word is said on the
subject in the whole account. Noah, who was "a preacher of righteousness," was
not a preacher of endless punishment. No mention is made of his ever having
breathed a syllable in reference to it; nor is there a single line in the record
of this event, showing that God threatened this, or that any attempt was made to
restrain or reform the people through its influence. If the doctrine exerts the
favorable influence ascribed to it, did God do all He might have done to
reform and save them?
But again; in the account of their judgment we are
told that they were destroyed by the flood from the face of the earth,
everything that had breath; and with this the record closes. - vi 11-17; vii
10-24. Now if, as asserted, they were not only destroyed by the flood, but were
afterwards subjected to the tortures of the world of ceaseless woe, is it not
passing strange that no mention is made of this - not even an allusion to it? Is
it possible that everything else should be carefully related, even to the height
of the waters above the mountains, and the number of days they prevailed, and
yet that the endless and indescribable torments of hell, the most terrible part
of the judgment, and the most important to the world and to us, should be wholly
omitted, and that without one word of explanation?
4. Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Gen. xviiI,
xix. Here we have another instance of remarkable wickedness, and of terrible
judgment. Yet, on examination, we find no warning given to the Sodomites of an
endless fire, to which the soul would be subjected, after the fire by which the
body should perish. The extreme wickedness of the people is set forth with
graphic power, in the scene described in chapter xviiI 23-33; and it would seem
a proper occasion for a revelation of endless punishment, if true; for such, if
any, must certainly be its victims. But if we turn to the record, chapter xix.
24, 25, we find it contains no hint of the matter, neither in the way of warning
to the Sodomites, nor of history for restraining future transgressors. If true,
how is this omission to be explained in harmony with the acknowledged principles
of justice, to say nothing of mercy?
What would we say of a ruler who should publish a
law, affixing to it the penalty of ten stripes forevery transgression; and then,
having inflicted this, should proceed to burn the offender over a slow fire,
till he sank under the torture and died? And what should we think, if, with
devilish ingenuity, he should contrive to keep every one of his victims alive
for a whole year, for ten years, in order that the slow torture might be
lengthened out that time; and all this kept secret when the law was published,
and the trivial penalty of ten stripes declared as the punishment?
Yet this is precisely the state of the case in the
judgment under review, if the Sodomites were sent into endless torments.
The difficulty is not removed by reference to Jude
7. For, in the first place, the expression, "suffering the vengeance of eternal
fire," does not establish the point of endless suffering, - "eternal" fire and
endless fire being two things, quite distinct from each other. The
original word means simply indefinite time. In the second place, it is said,
they are "set forth as an EXAMPLE, suffering the vengeance," &c. Now the very
argument is based on the fact, that the history of the overthrow of Sodom does
not furnish an example of endless torment, since not one word is said on
the subject by Moses, from beginning to end of his account! Where, then, is the
Admitting the common interpretation of Jude to be
correct, it is involved in inextricable difficulty; for, 1st. It states a
falsehood, since the Sodomites were not set forth as an example of
endless punishment in the invisible world, as no record of it is given by Moses,
or the prophets, or any sacred writer. 2d. How is it that all mention of the
matter should have been omitted until the time of Jude, and then be introduced,
as it clearly is, incidentally, in the way of illustration? If there is any
restraining power in the example, why was it concealed from the world more than
two thousand years? Why was not the awful fate which awaited them revealed to
the victims in the first place? It might have saved them. Why did not the sacred
historian give account of it, that the millions who lived and perished between
the event and the time of Jude, might have had the benefit of the example? If he
was inspired, did he not know it? and if so, why was he silent?
But, as an example of divine judgment on the
wicked here, in this world, visible to all future generations of men, the
destruction of Sodom was worthy of special note, and exactly to the point of
Jude's argument. And it is under this light that it is seen by some of the
best-informed orthodox commentators.
Benson, in his note on the place, says: "By their
suffering the punishment of eternal fire, St. Jude did not mean that
those wicked persons were then, and would be always, burning in hell-fire. For
he intimates that what they suffered was set forth to public view, and
appeared to all as an example, or specimen, of God's displeasure against vice.
That fire which consumed Sodom, &c., might be called eternal, as it
burned till it had utterly consumed them, beyond the possibility of their ever
being inhabited, or rebuilt."
Whitby's remarks are similar: "They are said to
suffer the vengeance of eternal fire, not because their souls are at present
punished in hell-fire, but because they, and their cities, perished by that fire
from heaven, which brought a perpetual and irreparable destruction on them...
Nor is there anything more common and familiar in Scripture, than to represent a
thorough and irreparable visitation, whose effects and signs should be still
remaining, by the word aionios, which we here render eternal."
Gilpin says: "The apostle cannot well mean
future punishments, because he mentions it as something that was to be a
visible example to all." And others to the same effect: - see Paige's
Selections on the place.
And thus we might follow out the inquiry in regard
to every case of exceeding wickedness, or of great crimes; and we should find a
specific statement, in every case, of the judgments inflicted on earth, up to
the article of death, but the same marvelous silence in regard to the additional
judgment of endless torment after death. We have accounts of the Builders of
Babel, Joseph's Brethren, the Destruction of Pharaoh and his Host, Lot's Wife,
&c., but not a word in any of these of any judgment kindred to endless woe - not
a word of any judgment after death. If these sinners were given over, after
suffering the punishments recorded in the Bible, to infinitely greater
punishments to be perpetuated without end, then the most studied concealment has
been purposely maintained in regard to the subject by the Scripture writers, or
else they were as utterly ignorant of the whole matter as we are.
But no conceivable reason can be imagined for
concealing this tremendous fact, if it were a fact, but every reason for
revealing and affirming it to all the world. If they had known or believed
anything of the sort, they could not have been silent. The only possible
inference is, that the people before the Law certainly knew nothing about the
doctrine of endless torments after death. If true, it had not been revealed in
the long period of two thousand five hundred years, from the creation to the
giving of the Law on Mount SinaI It is impossible to believe that, if true, God
would have kept His children in the dark all this while; that no hint of it, no
allusion to it, should have found place in His revelation to the Patriarchs;
that He should never have threatened anything bordering upon it, in such cases
of extreme wickedness as that of Cain, the Sodomites, and the corrupt
inhabitants of the old world.
The just and inevitable conclusion then, is, that
for twenty-five centuries, God had no design or thought of inflicting so
dreadful an evil as endless punishment on His children. And, therefore, if we
find it revealed in any subsequent portion of the Bible, it will be evident that
it is a purpose which He has formed since the Patriarchal period; that it was
not a part of His original plan of the world, but something which He has
incorporated into it since.
The next step, therefore, in this inquiry, is to
make examination of the Law records, in order to ascertain if we have any
revelation of the doctrine there.