Criticism of Mormonism/Video/Search for the Truth DVD/What is Hell


Jesus Christ/Joseph Smith or Search for the Truth DVD

Special Features: What is Hell?

Claim: "We see that here [Revelation 20:11-15] is what happens to people that are judged according to their works. They do not go into heaven. If you read this carefully and look at the words, it says 'and death and hell,' not death, part of death, not part of hell—all of them, kit and kaboodle. All the huge vast people that are on that broad road that leads to hell the Bible tells us about—all of them were cast into hell because they insisted on being judged according to their works. It breaks my heart to think people think they're going to be good enough to get to heaven. We're not good. We're lost. We desperately need Jesus. You must realize you're a lost sinner before there's any hope for you." - Floyd McElveen, Author and Lifetime Evangelist

John tells us:

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Revelation 20:12)

Mr. McElveen is telling us that this isn't all the dead, only those that insisted on being judged "according to their works." But does the scripture actually say that? John speaks of "the dead, small and great" being judged from "the book of life."

Judgment is inescapable, whether anyone insists upon it or not. Our actions, our works will be judged by Christ. He and only He will determine if our works are righteous or evil. We must remember that not everyone who saith, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of the Father. (Matthew 7:21) Certainly keeping the commandants of God have value. Otherwise there would be no purpose in God giving commandments to His children.

But, what is this book of life?

Paul refers to the book of life and tells us that those who labor for the Lord are listed in it:

And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phillippians 4:3)

John is told that those who overcome the world will be kept in the book of life:

He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. (Revelation 3:5)

John further says that a person that alters his book of Revelation will have his name removed from the Book of Life:

For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book...if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life.... (Revelation 22:18-19)

Moses in his pleading on Israel's behalf asks the Lord to blot his name from the Lord's book if God will not forgive Israel. The Lord tells Moses that those who sin against Him are the ones who will be blotted from His book:

And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin—; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. (Exodus 3:31-33)

So how do we get into God's book of life?

  • By serving God (Paul).
  • By overcoming the world (John).
  • By believing God's prophets and apostles and not misquoting what they say (John).
  • By trying to live as righteously as we are able (Moses).

True, we will fail to live a perfect life, but we trust in the redemptive power of Christ and His atonement to cleanse us from our imperfections, when we have done our best to follow Him. Paul expresses this well to the Romans:

What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?
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Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
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Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
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But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:1-2,6,12-16,22-23)

LDS Christians recognize that their works cannot save them, but believe that by trusting in Christ, who is mighty to save, they can, through their good works, honor Christ, and serve their fellowman. They believe that their names will therefore be written in the Lamb's book of life, and that they will "be found on the right hand of God" at the last day (Mosiah 5꞉9).

Claim: "We have a beggar [in Luke 16:19-24]. He laid at the gate of the rich man. Dogs licked his sores. Nobody cared whether he lived or died. I can imagine a huge parade when the rich man died. But the rich man was in hell. He'd sold his soul for a mess of porridge, for goods, so many do that today. And yet, the poor man, the man who was starving, the man who was sick, went to be with Jesus because he knew Him—he believed in Him. That's the end of every person that doesn't know Jesus—a place called hell.... Lazarus had nothing. He was poverty stricken, he was sick, he was hurting, he was miserable, probably partly because of malnutrition because he wasn't fed by the rich man. I would think God would give (inaudible) atrocious thing the rich man did. My friend (inaudible) is atrocious when you see somebody in need and let them suffer. And that Lazarus was in heaven forever because he trusted Jesus. But the rich man is in hell." - Floyd McElveen, Author and Lifetime Evangelist

The story of the rich man and Lazarus was told by Christ to teach humility, love, and compassion. Certainly it also references the inability of the unrepentent to change.

There is a certain irony in Mr. McElveen using this story. For the rich man had all he needed, while the poor man was willing to accept whatever the Lord would give him. Similarly, Biblical inerrantists believe they have all they need and won't allow for modern prophets and revelation, while the LDS are willing to "...believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God." (Articles+of+Faith 1꞉9)

Even more telling is his condemnation of the rich man for failing to do works, such as caring for his poor neighbor. Latter-day Saints also consider such works to be an essential act of someone who is following Christ, and so many of them engage in acts of charity and service to people, in and out of the Church, who need assistance.

Claim: "And yet hell has an end too. Not that people get out of hell, they never do, but in the 20th chapter of Revelation you find out. You see the body has not yet joined the part of man that goes to be in hell—the spirit. But that's going to happen in the resurrection—the second resurrection we spoke of. That body, which will be resurrected, the unsaved dead, will join that soul already in torment and then body and soul both will be cast into hell. And here is that awful picture. Thank God the resurrection of the just! The resurrection of the saved! And they will go to be with Jesus Christ forever." - Floyd McElveen, Author and Lifetime Evangelist

Latter-day Saints teach the same doctrines. That Mr. McElveen believes they need to learn these truths demonstrates once again that he does not understand LDS doctrine.

Alma2 taught:

...the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil—for behold, they have no part nor portion of the Spirit of the Lord; for behold, they chose evil works rather than good; therefore the spirit of the devil did enter into them, and take possession of their house—and [after death] these shall be cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this because of their own iniquity, being led captive by the will of the devil.
Now this is the state of the souls of the wicked, yea, in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.
∗       ∗       ∗
The soul shall be restored to the body, and the body to the soul; yea, and every limb and joint shall be restored to its body; yea, even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame.
And now...this is the restoration of which has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets—
And then shall the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of God.
But behold, an awful death cometh upon the wicked; for they die as to things pertaining to things of righteousness; for they are unclean, and no unclean thing can inherit the kingdom of God; but they are cast out, and consigned to partake of the fruits of their labors or their works, which have been evil; and they drink the dregs of a bitter cup. (Alma 40꞉13-14,23-26.)

Claim: "Now let's talk for a moment about that place called hell—hell itself being cast into the lake of fire. There will be torment for ever and ever. James 1:17 says, 'Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.' What it is saying in this verse is that everything that's good, its source is God—everything. There's nothing that's good that didn't come from God. The reason you can breathe is because every moment God gives you breath. The reason your heart is beating is because every moment God propels that heart to beat. Everything." - Floyd McElveen, Author and Lifetime Evangelist

Again, Latter-day Saints teach these same doctrines.

In the Book of Mormon, King Benjamin explained:

I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the thanks and praise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and preserved you, and has caused that ye should rejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—
I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own will, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants. (Mosiah 2꞉20-21.)

Mr. EcElveen labors under the false idea that Latter-day Saints believe that their own righteousness and goodness is what qualifies them for exaltation. As we have attempted to explain in this response, Latter-day Saints do good works because the Lord asks them to and because they love the Lord and their fellow man. We do not believe it is our works that resurrect us and bring us back into the presence of God—only Jesus' atonement can do that. We simply seek to follow his counsel to love and serve others, as true disciples should.

One area where we would disagree with Mr. McElveen is in his characterization of hell as a literal lake of fire and brimstone. The Bible and other LDS scriptures certainly describe it that way, but the Book of Mormon makes clear that the "torment [of the wicked] is as a lake of fire and brimstone" (2 Nephi 9꞉16)—that is to say, it is a torment, but the "fire and brimstone" imagery is metaphorical. (More on this below.)

Claim: "Now, you have refused God. You have counted it of no account and you've thought that other things were much more important and so you (inaudible) into living for yourself. You may even be a professing Christian. You may be a Mormon. You may be one who is in a true Church. You may be depending on other things. But according to God if you have not been born again, if you've not been cleansed through the blood of Christ, you are not a child of God." - Floyd McElveen, Author and Lifetime Evangelist

Latter-day Saints teach the doctrines of adoption through Christ, despite Mr. McElveen's claims.

Speaking to the righteous, the Book of Mormon says:

And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters. (Mosiah 5꞉7; compare Mosiah 27꞉25)

Speaking to the wicked who die in their sins:

But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head. (Helaman 13꞉38; compare Alma 34꞉35)

Saying someone is "not a child of God" is misleading unless one uses precise definitions. This is examined in the next heading.

Claim: "You see? Many people think everybody is a child of God. The Bible says that's not true. You have to be born again, receiving Jesus in order to become a child of God. He said 'to as many received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God' (John 1:12)."

The Bible—and the Latter-day Saints—teaches two distinct concepts about our relationships to God. Mr. McElveen is incorrectly conflating them.

The universal Fatherhood of God

All mortals are children of God in the sense that God is the creator of their spirit bodies:

Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? (Hebrews 12:9)

Note that God is "the Father of spirits" even if we are not in subjection to Him (though we are encouraged to be). Paul also described God as:

One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:6)

Adoptive Fatherhood of God and Christ

All mortals squander their inheritance, as it were. By committing sin, they forfeit any right to God's blessings and kingdom. Only Jesus lived a sinless life; only He is a worthy heir. Through the grace of Christ, the rest of us may be adopted as "children of God"—we are readmitted into the family of God.

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Romans 8:14-17).
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son...
To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)
Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters. (Ether 3꞉14)

It is interesting that Biblical scholars consider Paul's teachings about adoption through Christ as sons ("filial adoption") to be his way of teaching the doctrine of human deification:

Deification (Greek Theosis) is for orthodoxy the goal of every Christian. Man, according to the Bible, is 'made in the image and likeness of God,' is possible for man to become like God, to become deified, to become God by grace. This doctrine is based on many passages of both O.T. and N.T. (Psalms 82:6; 2 Peter 1:4), and it is essentially the teaching both of St. Paul, though he tends to use the language of filial adoption (Romans 8:9-17, Galatians 4:5-7) and the fourth gospel (John 17:21-23).
—Alan Richardson (editor), The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1983). ISBN 0664213987. (emphasis added).

Thus, Mr. McElveen distorts the Bible's teachings on this point. Everyone is a child of God in terms of spiritual parentage; no one lives worthy of that heritage without adoption into the family of God through Christ.

To read more:

Claim: "Now, here you are, you're in hell. What is the situation? The Bible calls it a lake of fire, a furnace of fire, everlasting fire. There are some who say, well surely it couldn't fire. It really is fire. God doesn't kid about things like that. He's not a 'scare God.' He simply tells you the truth. And this is not a parable we read in Luke, the 16th chapter—God never used proper names in a parable. Even (inaudible) a picture of something worse, but here we are now, here's what happens. Every good and perfect thing remember that's a gift from God is gone. Gone is gone. You refused Him, you turned Him down. You turned down Jesus, you turned down His word or if you professed to accept Him and you still went your own way and did your own thing. Isaiah 53:6: All we like sheep have gone astray, we've turned everyone to his own way and the Lord has laid on him the sin of us all."

It is true that the Bible refers to Hell as a place of fire, but it is also true that the Bible uses other symbolic language to describe Hell. For example, three times in the gospel of Matthew the destination of the unsaved is described as "outer darkness." (See Matthew 8:12, Matthew 22:13, and Matthew 25:30.) Jesus employed much of the imagery and symbols of the Hebrew Scriptures in His teaching, and in particular He frequently alluded to the last verse of the Book of Isaiah. (See Isaiah 66:24 and Mark 9:43-44.)

And Jesus did, in fact, use proper names in parables. Jesus frequently used proper names for places, such as Jerusalem and Jericho (see the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-35). Note also that in the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus used the proper names of various groups, such as Levites and Samaritans. We also have an instance where Jesus used a proper name of a person—it is found in Luke 16:19-31 as referenced by Mr. McElveen. It may be that some Bible readers may want to take this parable to be a literal story, but to do so wrests the verses in Luke from their cultural and literary environment.

And despite Mr. McElveen's suggestion that he is avoiding scare tactics, he evokes images of eternal burning and torment for anyone who rejects his preaching.

To read more:

  • "Hell," in True to the Faith (Intellectual Reserve, 2004), 81. [{{{1}}} LDS link] direct off-site

Claim: "Here's what happens [in hell]. You will never again hear beautiful music. You will never again see a beautiful cloud. You will never again feel the soft touch of wind on your face. You will never again have a lover's embrace. You will never again have one moment of (inaudible). There will no moment of pleasure, not ever. Eternity rolls on. And the Bible also says you're in outer darkness, you're in (inaudible) darkness and yet in a burning fire. No one can explain that, but God can do it. He had a bush burn and not be consumed that Moses saw.

"Listen my friend, hell is so awful that when I think of hell, many, many times I've wept as I think of people going there—and Mormon friends, LDS friends, that's just the beginning. You hear of doctors treating people for depression. You'll have the worst depression the world has ever seen. Nobody will treat. No psychiatrist will be there treating you. No doctor will be giving you aspirin. No doctor will give you something to alleviate the pain. You're there. And interminably it goes on. Every day it seems to be worse than the day before. One minute is like an hour. One hour is like a week. One week is like a month. One month is like a year and still you burn and you scream like the rich man, you'd give everything you ever owned for one drop of water to cool your tongue. Oh my God, oh my God what a fool I've been. I'm in hell. I didn't believe. I knew many of the things in the Bible came true. I don't know I didn't believe hell would come true. You're in hell. You're in hell, you're abandoned by God and man." - Floyd McElveen, Author and Lifetime Evangelist

Mr. McElveen runs into problems here by interpreting figurative language, symbols, and metaphors as being literal descriptions. He does a disservice to the Gospel of Jesus Christ when he appeals to follow Jesus with lengthy, fearful warnings rather than as an invitation to come to Jesus and partake of the waters of Life. This sort of presentation has the unfortunate result of casting the beautiful gift of the Savior as merely the absence of horrific, eternal punishment.

For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7 {NET})

Many of his assertions about the conditions of hell also have no biblical basis. They are generally derived from medieval and Renaissance depictions of hell, not God's revelation.

Most interesting is that McElveen rejects the Latter-day Saint doctrine of eternal marriage and eternal families, and yet claims here that, in hell, "You will never again have a lover's embrace." Presumably this means that in heaven one will experience a lover's embrace. If so, is this love within the bounds of marriage and family? If not, how is Mr. McElveen's hell any different from his heaven when it comes to this particular point?

Latter-day Saints admittedly have a different interpretation of the nature of hell than Mr. McElveen does. We believe that God is a loving father who wants the very best for all of His children. It is not consistent to think a loving Father would condemn his children to the kind of place described above. Those who do not receive the fullness of salvation will experience disappointment and limitations on future growth that will be a source of pain and grief suggested by the Bible's symbolic descriptions of hell. There are consequences for failing to follow Christ, but they are tempered by the love of the Father for all of his children.

Claim: "My friends, quit pitying yourself. Hell is awful and God is warning you and warning you—he's warning you through me. I say with all my heart and all my soul I don't want one Mormon to go to hell. I don't want anybody to go to hell. I want you saved by the blood of Jesus and I want to enjoy heaven with you forever." - Floyd McElveen, Author and Lifetime Evangelist

Likewise, Latter-day Saints wish with all their hearts that Mormons, Evangelicals, and every other person will return to live with God in heaven. Latter-day Saints firmly believe that salvation lies in Christ alone (Mosiah 3꞉17) and that anyone who has faith in Christ, truly repents, and follows the example of Jesus will be lifted up at the last day by the grace and mercy of God (for example, see 3 Nephi 27꞉19-22, Mosiah 23꞉22, Ether 4꞉19). Latter-day Saints invite all men and women of all religions to hear the restored message of the Gospel and to accept the atoning blood of Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation.

To read more:

LDS Beliefs about the Atonement of Christ

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