A Review of Homer Hailey’s book, “God’s Judgments and Punishments”

by Jim R. Everett

Such is the title of the last book of brother Hailey’s illustrious career. Brother Hailey was writing excellent, resourceful material well past his 70th birthday. However, if I live to be 70, I will probably quit writing. That is not to denigrate others who write so ably when they are much older. I suspect that my mental faculties will be diminished and I would hate to put something in writing that is not a product of clear thinking.

Brother Hailey’s writings have reached far beyond his life and will continue to influence the thinking of myriads of minds. In the many years that I heard him teach and preach, he made God’s prophets come alive by a very vivid presentation of God’s justness in dealings with nations — you could almost hear the rattling of the chariot wheels and the crack of the whip. In all those years, never once do I remember him remotely alluding to a denial of individual, eternal punishment. In fact, his earlier comments on Revelation 20:10, are exactly the opposite of what he argues in this work. He makes an excellent argument on pp. 398-399, of his Revelation commentary that will be quoted later in this material. However, in the Preface to his book on God’s Judgments, he refers to his comments on Revelation 20:10 -- “The comment on Revelation 20:10 in my Commentary on Revelation is correct to an extent. But it is not the full exegesis of the verse,” (p. xv) — but he did not answer his own argument! And, it seems that he forgot what he wrote many years before as found in “Hailey’s Comments,” pp. 708-711. His thinking and reasoning on “The Nature of Eternal Punishment” there are very sound and irrefutable.

It is regrettable that in his later years he would produce a work that is being used by men like Stanley Pahyer and Edward Fudge to promote their error. And, though LeGard Smith endorsed brother Hailey’s book, he was careful to praise only the part dealing with God’s punishment of the nations and not the second part that deals with the soul annihilation theory. At least, with brother Hailey, one never had a problem knowing where he stood.

A deceased author cannot reply, so reviewing his material requires a fair and honest assessment of his arguments. However, even as one shows respect for those who have passed from this life, it is critical to expose the fallacy of reasoning. And, even as I undertake this distasteful task, I feel like “Who am I?” that I should take issue with one whose knowledge far surpassed my own? However, the greatest of men are not immune to weaknesses that affect thinking processes. Knowing brother Hailey as I knew him, I know that he believed he was right and that he taught what he taught in harmony with his conscience. Brother Hailey frequently pointed out to his audiences that he didn’t care what brother so-in-so believed or taught on a subject — it was what “The Book” taught that mattered to him. He would not want anyone to accept his position because of who he was — that would be an insult to him. In referencing his arguments in this work, he says, “On the other hand, if my reasoning or deductions are illogical, then the error will be on my part and I will gladly retract my interpretation,” (Preface, p. xv). But these remarks did not appear until after his death. His arguments are deficient and his interpretations are not true to “The Book,” but he has no opportunity to retract them. It is my conviction that if his mind had remained as reasonable as it was in earlier years, he would never have written this book.

In my judgment, denial of eternal punishment will become a real issue within a few years. Recently, I wrote a tract entitled “Watering Down Hell” which was first published in a series of articles in Biblical Insights. In that material, I answered the basic arguments brother Hailey makes because those arguments are common to all those who hold the annihilation view of individual punishment; however, brother Hailey gives a little different twist to some of the arguments. For instance, he affirmed that “their worm dieth not” (Isaiah 66:18-24; Mark 9:48) referred to the persecution of God’s people under the new covenant. And, contrary to the belief that man’s soul is conditionally immortal, he believes Luke 16:19-34 to be truth and not a myth. It seems, without realizing it, he develops a greater inconsistency than other conditional immortalists do. Men like Fudge are forced to a certain consistency upon accepting death as annihilation — Fudge’s position demands that if man’s soul is not immortal, then when he dies, he ceases to exist. And, in seeking consistency, Fudge alludes to a belief that if Christ had not been raised, then he would have ceased to exist. Brother Hailey does not go that far.

In his Introduction, he laid out what would be a two-pronged approach in his book. First, he notes that man is limited in understanding eternal things since he can only reason in a mundane, time-frame reference. To this, I would certainly acquiesce and have so affirmed in other materials. But his conclusion is that since Gehenna, eternal fire, the lake of fire, and other such expressions describe things metaphorically because they are beyond our comprehension, then we must not interpret them to mean that men will be punished eternally. If that were the case, then he should also have affirmed that since eternal life is spoken of metaphorically and is beyond our comprehension, then we could not affirm that it is eternal in duration. Brother Hailey mentions that Heaven is spoken of as having a street of gold and that is not literally true but he seems to overlook the fact that though eternal truths are conveyed in a symbolic way, it does not deny the reality of existence. Heaven is described symbolically just as Hell is described symbolically — we fathom neither fully. But to affirm that since Hell is described symbolically; then Hell cannot mean eternal existence in punishment, necessarily means that since Heaven is described symbolically; then Heaven cannot mean eternal existence in the presence of God.

Next, brother Hailey follows a procedure he said he was first taught as a young man of taking a piece of paper and noting on one side what a passage says and then on the other side what it doesn’t say — not a bad procedure for anyone to follow but care must be exercised so that one does not force an interpretation into the process. For instance, in passages that deal with figures such as the vine and branches, wheat and tares, etc., there must be consistency maintained in the figures. It would be a distortion of the figure to affirm that branches lived after they were cut off and burned or tares survived their being plucked up. The passages deal with physical vegetation and not the spirits of men. If we followed brother Hailey’s process, we would have to put on the right side of the page that the passage does not say that branches live forever. And, based on that we would have to conclude that “eternal life” is only age lasting — only as long as a disciple lives. Physical branches and wheat do not live eternally and cut-off branches and chaff are consumed by fire. His objection to eternal punishment from the parables (vine and branches, wheat and tares, wheat and chaff) by which Jesus paralleled physical truths with eternal truths demands a distortion of the physical part of the parable. Both reward and punishment are taught but the duration of neither is described in these parables.
As an illustration of the fallacy of requiring more of figures than is intended, Calvinists try to explain away passages that clearly demonstrate the fallacy of “once saved always saved.” One argument on the proverb Peter used (II Peter 2:20-22) is that dogs are always dogs and hogs are always hogs. They affirm that the reason that the sow returned to her wallowing in the mire was that she was a sow, which meant that the person Peter described only pretended to be saved, but really was not. Based on that approach to scripture interpretation, we might say, “Peter didn’t say that a sow or a dog changed into a sheep.” I realize there is other pertinent information in the whole context but in considering the “proverb” just as a metaphor, this kind of sophistry requires a twisting of the illustration. This is a common equivocation employed by those who take issue with “eternal punishment.”

God Is a Consuming Fire

After looking at passages in the Old Testament where people on the earth were consumed by the earth opening or burned by fire, brother Hailey’s conclusion under his category of “WHAT IS NOT SAID,” was, “That they all burn forever.” However, the references in context to which he referred apply to the physical existence of men while on earth — they passed from existence on the earth; their bodies being consumed either by the earth itself or by fire from heaven. Even brother Hailey’s statement verifies that truth — “These illustrations reveal the meaning of ‘consume,’ and what the scriptures mean by the phrase ‘Our God is a consuming fire.’ It meant total and complete destruction from the face of the earth,” (p. 138). Nothing, in these passages, however, addresses the eternal punishment of their souls, unless, perhaps, by implication from the teaching of other passages that deal with the eternal destiny of the wicked.

Sodom and Gamorrah (Jude 7; II Peter 2:6-10)

In his classification on the right side of the page, “WHAT IS NOT SAID”, brother Hailey wrote, “Nothing about continuous burning, or of being burned again in the future,” (p. 146), yet he contradicts that observation by affirming on p. 179 that the wicked will be raised and cast into the lake of fire. Brother Hailey does not elaborate on this passage but his conclusion conforms to others who hold that view. His position presents a necessary inconsistency. By saying that since Sodom and Gomorrah suffered the vengeance of "eternal fire" which was the annihilation of the cities and their inhabitants, it must necessarily follow that there will be no resurrection of the wicked, for if they have been annihilated by fire, and brimstone and that was their eternal punishment, then they are burned up and forever gone. On the one hand, he argues for “the vengeance of eternal fire” is the destruction of the cities that took place in just a few minutes — “If they serve as an example, what do they teach except that those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire are to exist no more?” (p. 142). On the other hand, he believes that the unrighteous will be raised to suffer “eternal punishment” when their resurrected bodies will experience the second death.

For instance, in his comments on Rev. 20:10 (pp. 178-179), he references Luke 16:19-31, as a true representation of the state of the dead and that the evil begin their conscious suffering in Hades. That necessarily means that the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah went into Hades after they were destroyed by “eternal fire.” But, if it was “eternal punishment” when fire and brimstone consumed them and they existed no more, then how can it be “eternal punishment” at their resurrection? And, if physical destruction equals eternal punishment, one can never affirm the resurrection of the wicked, for at the moment they are consumed that is their eternal punishment!!! Some annihilationists accept that conclusion. Others, however, like brother Hailey, who have a greater respect for Scripture, realize the quandary that postulation puts them in by virtue of Jesus’ affirmation in Jn 5:28-29 and other passages, so they theorize that the wicked will be raised and then cast into their physical Gehenna and killed again.

Obviously, the physical cities and people were destroyed by the fire and brimstone; however, if Jude’s picture does not reach beyond the events recorded in Genesis 18-19, then there would be no need to describe the fire as “eternal fire,” because any fire would have accomplished the destruction of physical things.

Mark 9:48; Isaiah 66:18-24; Matthew 3:12

To minimize the duration of eternal punishment as taught by Jesus, brother Hailey’s unique interpretation of Mark 9:48 is that the expression “their worm dieth not” refers to the persecution of the faithful righteous during the present reign of the Messiah (pp. 154-156). There are a couple of fallacies in the way he ties passages together in this section. For instance, he mixes Matthew 3:12 with Mark 9:48, and said, “He characterized the fire as ‘not quenched’ with the ‘unquenchable fire’ of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:12),” and from this concludes that God’s wrath “burns up.” While both passages mention “unquenchable fire” they are different in the figures presented. It would have been inconsistent with the figure Jesus used in Matthew 3:12 for him to have said that fire keeps on burning the chaff.

The plausibility of his interpretation that the phrase, “their worm dieth not,” refers to the persecution of the righteous under the present reign of the Messiah, is destroyed by one simple fact. In Jesus’ statements in Mark 9:43-48, it is Gehenna that is the anticipated, eternal future of those who live for the pleasures of the world — it is there that “their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” and not the present reign of the Messiah.

Paul on Eternal Punishment — Romans 2:6-8

I will here bypass comments on the general context of Romans and accountability to law by brother Hailey and address the particular points of controversy that are found in Romans 2:6-8. Paul here defends the justness of God. He makes a specific application to the eternal judgment of men — God will be absolutely, perfectly fair to all men in the final judgment. In Paul’s assessment of God’s righteousness, there is a balance of contrasts that must be observed. God will render to those who by patient continuance in well doing, eternal life. The balance in contrast to “eternal life” is an application to all those, both Jew and Gentile without respect of persons, who do evil — they will receive “tribulation and anguish.” “Tribulation” is a word that means “affliction,” and “anguish” is a word that is also translated by “distress.” Both words appropriately describe conscious feelings experienced. Jesus used the same kind of balance in contrasts in Mt 25:46, and by choosing the word “everlasting” to describe both, he necessarily gave a qualification, of DURATION to both. In both expressions, there are quantitative as well as qualitative concepts. But annihilation of the wicked is not an appropriate balance in contrast to eternal life for the righteous — if the righteous experience glory, honor, and peace for eternity, then by a balance of contrasts, the wicked experience affliction, and distress for the same period of time.

Brother Hailey observed here that “…the judgment of the final day will bring terrible suffering to the wicked,” (p. 162). That, within itself, is an acknowledgment of conscious anguish of some duration. But annihilation is not suffering — it is non-existence. Or, perhaps, we might conclude from his statement that God is going to lengthen, for some time, his indignation and wrath at the final judgment — that he is going to prolong life in the body of the wicked so they can suffer more — that in some way, the terrible fires of Gehenna will not immediately consume the bodies of the wicked? How long is it, theoretically, supposed to take for the wicked to suffer terribly? To argue for the lengthening of duration for the suffering of the unrighteous is to destroy the most commonly held position of annihilationism; that is, that the body will be burned up immediately and; therefore, the wicked will be extinguished forever. Brother Hailey vacillates between his studied conclusions earlier in his life and an inability to correlate information later in life — intermixing the two without being conscious of the contradictions. Here he presents an unconscious incongruity, because when God is supposed to kill the wicked, then, once they have been killed there is no consciousness because there is no existence; hence, there can be no affliction and anguish.

II Thessalonians 1:6-10

Brother Hailey’s comments here focus primarily on the word “destruction” with a brief definition and a comparison with other passages where the word is used. One simple fact he seemed to have missed is that by Paul’s attaching the word “eternal” to “destruction” it would not reasonably be interpreted as “annihilation,” for if the word “destruction” by itself, in this context, means “annihilation” then it would necessarily be eternal in nature — it would be redundant to call it “eternal” annihilation. But “eternal” destruction is associated in this context with a time when the wicked will be punished with eternal separation from the presence of the Lord (II Thessalonians 1:9). Logically, in order for them to be separated from the presence of the Lord, they must exist. It cannot be said of non-existent souls that they are separated from the presence of the Lord. Furthermore, the punishment of the wicked with eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord, is offered as an explanation of God’s righteousness in II Thessalonians 1:6. There it is said that God would recompense affliction to those who were afflicting them — affliction cannot be recompensed to the non-existent.

In I Timothy 6:9, which also contains the word “destruction” — “…hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” — brother Hailey comments, “A drowned man is no longer conscious, but is dead.” Obviously, he is no longer conscious of this world’s existence; however, brother Hailey believes that even a drowned man continues to exist. Then he connects Romans 9:22, where Paul uses the figure of men who are vessels of wrath fit for destruction and says, “A vessel destroyed in one’s wrath is no longer a vessel, but a pile of fragments.” The word “destruction” (apoleia) suggests not the loss of being but the loss of well-being — while the vessel no longer exists as a vessel it does exist in fragments.

Book of Revelation — Revelation 14:9-11

Revelation 14:9-11 — “…If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever; and they have not rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.” Brother Hailey does not refute his previous argument on the text, for it is irrefutable --

“It should be observed that “they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Torment (from basanizo) conveys the idea of torture, severe distress, and pain of body and mind. The torment of the locusts "was as the torment of a scorpion, when it striketh a man" (9:5); and those who worshiped the beast would be tormented with fire and brimstone, and the smoke of their torment would ascend for ever and ever (14:10f). And now the devil and his former helpers suffer the torment of the lake of fire and brimstone for ever and ever.

There are many who question the eternal duration of this torment, but these must explain away biblical teaching. Jesus said that at the judgment those on His left hand would be told, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels and these shall go away into eternal punishment; but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt. 25:41, 46). Both the punishment and the life are eternal. In Revelation, it is said of these two groups that those before the throne "serve him day and night" (7:15), and the wicked "have no rest day or night" (14:11), and that with the devil they are tormented (25:41, 46), a torment which is "day and night, for ever and ever." There is no day there, for it is "outer darkness" (Matt. 22:13; 25:30). Since the day is in heaven and the night in hell, and since the one group serves Him day and night while the other group is tormented night and day, it follows that the night endures as long as the day. But since God is the light of the eternal day, the day (and, consequently, the night) will never end. The period of this torment, "for ever and ever," is the same in duration as God, for He lives "for ever and ever" (4:9). If there shall be total annihilation of the devil and the wicked it is not revealed.” [Revelation Commentary, pp. 398-399].

Notice significant parts of these statements in this context:

If any man…” — There are parts of Revelation that deal with the destruction of a nation under the symbol of the beast and the harlot. However, this context deals with the eternal state of individuals who embrace the idolatry of the nation.

  1. …he shall be tormented…” — To be tormented necessarily requires existence.
  2. the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever…” — Brother Hailey’s position in his book makes a very subtle change in the wording here to explain away the time frame reference “for ever and ever.” He refers back to David’s statement about “the smoke of (God’s) nostrils and the fire out of his mouth (which) devoured,” (Psalms 18:8). Then says, “It is the smoke of His wrath that continues for ever and ever; He never changes,” (p. 175). Notice that brother Hailey’s answer shifts from what is happening to the worshippers of the beast to what comes from God — a change that significantly distorts the meaning of the text.
  3. …and they have no rest day nor night who worship the beast…” In order for this language to be accurate, there must be the existence of the wicked in eternity. It cannot be said of non-existent ones that they have no rest day or night.
  4. This is said of the same individuals of Revelation 14:9-10 who worship the beast and upon whom the wrath of God is poured out. These are the same ones who shall be tormented with fire and brimstone. The language of the angel would make no sense if the ones who worship the beast were annihilated and non-existent.

Revelation 20:10-15; 21:8

This is an interesting section in that it puts brother Hailey at odds with Fudge, though Fudge commends brother Hailey’s book for a “careful and honest hearing” and then says, “Readers blessed with a Berean spirit (Acts 17:10-11) will give it nothing less.” Perhaps Fudge is not so blessed, for brother Hailey clearly affirms, not only the existence of the evil after death, but, continued existence in torment in Hades as proven by Luke 16:19-31 (pp. 178-179). Brother Hailey says of Luke’s account, “It should be viewed as historically true for persons known only to Jesus and those of the unseen realm. However, the truth is the same, both teach the same lesson. One of the lessons learned is that the torment of the damned begins in Hades at the death of the individual. It is consummated in the resurrection and the final judgment when the individual is cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death (Revelation 20:14-15). ”

In explaining Revelation 21:8, brother Hailey says it refers to spiritual death associated with the sins enumerated in the verse (p. 179). He then explains spiritual death by referencing Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13-14 — “made alive when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins” and the woman who gives herself to pleasure as being “dead while she liveth” (I Timothy 5:6). His conclusion is that spiritual death is extinction, as will be true of death and Hades, but that conclusion does not logically follow from his premises. Notice that man is not extinct when he is spiritually dead in sins nor is the woman giving herself to pleasure non-existent. Death (thanatos) by definition means “separation.” Physical death is a separation of body and soul (James 2:26) but, as brother Hailey affirms, the soul continues to exist. Unlike what happens to death and Hades at the end of time, whose purposes have ended as time has ended, the second death is not extinction — it is eternal separation from God. And the “lake of fire” for individuals can signify nothing less than what is associated with torment and torment necessarily argues for conscious existence.


If brother Hailey is correct and hell is nothing more than a moment of suffering ending in total extinction, then eternal punishment is an irrelevant fantasy, invented by man. But everyone who sets his hand so to affirm finds himself beset by grave inconsistencies that eventually require him to question the very source of all inspired truth that he, himself, uses to defend his position -- but worse — in time, if he is logically consistent, he will deny man’s cherished hope for eternal life. Without an anchor for his soul, he is then set adrift with no nobler purpose in life than selfish indulgence and no worse anticipation of punishment for his wrongs than, in a moment, being snuffed out into non-existence.

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