Billy Graham warns of fire and brimstone in ‘final’ book

"Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond," by Billy Graham. Photo courtesy of Thomas Nelson
"Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond," by Billy Graham. Photo courtesy of Thomas Nelson

“Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond,” by Billy Graham. Photo courtesy of Thomas Nelson

(RNS) In his latest book, evangelist Billy Graham declares that non-Christians are doomed to live in a fiery hell, a message his son said he has wanted to share for several years.

“There were some family members who thought that he shouldn’t do it because it was a negative subject,” said Franklin Graham in an interview Friday (Oct. 2). “And Daddy said, ‘It is a negative subject. It’ s a real subject. It’s a real place.’”

“Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity and Our Life Beyond,” released this week and billed as the “final work” by the 96-year-old, offers a vivid depiction of hell that harkens back to his youthful zeal as an emerging evangelist on the national stage.

“As a Christian and a preacher of the Gospel, I am always grieved to have to interrupt a marvelous picture, such as eternal life in Heaven, to talk about another eternal place that Jesus calls Hell,” Graham writes. “It has no similarities to what is typically called home, nor is Hell a resting place, a holding place, or a graveyard. Hell is a burning inferno.”

Scholars who have followed Graham’s ministry say his words are a significant shift from the approach he took after the first decade of his ministry, which gained prominence in a Los Angeles crusade in 1949.

MORE: Billy Graham, Louis Zamperini and the two nights in 1949 that changed their lives

“In the 1950s, especially the early years, he could be pretty specific and colorful, but as early as 1954 during the London Crusade he noted that he was not sure if fire would be involved,” said William Martin, author of a 1991 biography of Graham and a senior fellow for religion and public policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute.

Michael Hamilton, chair of the history department of evangelical Seattle Pacific University, said Graham spoke often of “the hell of the contemporary state of the world and the hell of the chaotic personal life. Those are the two hells that are really dominant through most of his ministry, though in the earlier years he talked more about an actual Bible hell.”

MORE: Why is Billy Graham so involved in the 2012 elections?

1964 File Photo of Billy Graham at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.

1964 File Photo of Billy Graham at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.

But Franklin Graham said of his father: “He’s always pictured hell as what the Bible teaches.”

In the new book, Billy Graham hedges his bets, but just a bit.

“I can say with certainty that if there is no literal fire in Hell, then God is using symbolic language to indicate something far worse,” he writes. “Just as there are no words to adequately describe the grand beauty of Heaven, we cannot begin to imagine just how horrible the place called Hell is.”

Matt Baugher, W Publishing Group’s senior vice president and publisher, said the book project included collaboration with Franklin Graham and Donna Lee Toney, who read portions back to the elder Graham, who suffers from macular degeneration.

The younger Graham said he encouraged his father but did not write the book.

“One of his concerns was that hell and heaven were being distorted by Hollywood,” said Franklin Graham. “And you have these films that have come out and books and so forth about heaven or hell. And my father wanted people to know what the Bible has to say about them.”

The younger Graham, who is now president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, was at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, when North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill requesting the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall include a statue of the evangelist to replace that of Charles Aycock, a former governor and white supremacist.

“I think for another generation it will give an opportunity for my father to reach out from the grave with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Franklin Graham said. “As people read and study his life, they’ll read and understand the message that he preached.”

In a chapter titled “Forever Separated and Forever United,” Billy Graham emphasizes his belief that individuals can choose to avoid what the Scripture describes as “unending death in a lake of fire and brimstone that burns forever.”

“God does not send unrepentant souls into the pit of darkness; those souls choose their destiny,” he said.

READ: Ferguson turmoil draws Billy Graham’s rapid response team

Franklin Graham said his father no longer has the Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms he once had but sometimes needs people to speak up so he can hear them. He watches the morning news, football and golf on his big-screen television and keeps up with current events.

The book, filled with passages from the Bible. dwells on the evangelist’s views of eternity. But it also gives glimpses of Billy Graham’s personal life, including his love for his wife Ruth, who died in 2007.

“She no longer has detours to maneuver; she has traveled the smooth highway to Heaven,” he writes. “I will join her soon.”

Here are a few excerpts of what Billy Graham wrote about heaven and hell in “Where I Am”:


“We will know morning glories that never cease because the Son will shine His eternal light upon us forever, and all of Heaven will be filled with resounding joy. Being in His presence will be our treasure. I look forward to that.”

“Heaven captures the imagination, but it is not an imaginary place. It is not a fantasyland in which to dwell. It is not a place one can travel to and come back again — at least not in our earthbound life. Heaven is a literal place.”

“We need to say either yes or no. But some of us say maybe. Some of us try to straddle the fence and live in both worlds, but Jesus will not compromise with us. The Gospel plan is all set. We must accept His Son if we are to enter into His eternal kingdom. If your answer is not yes, then the choice is made.”


“You may be thinking, ‘Billy surely you do not believe all of this Hellfire and brimstone!’ My dear friends, it is not what I say that counts; it is what the Word of God says.”

“The worst kind of death is described in Scripture — unending death in a lake of fire and brimstone that burns forever. Just as we cannot fathom the wonder of living forever in glory, we cannot possibly comprehend the alternative.”

“Every person who rejects Christ and His atoning work will be cast into this horrible pit of despair. Worse will be to remember that it was by choice — that God called you to salvation but you rejected His wonderful gift. God does not send unrepentant souls into the pit of darkness; those souls choose their destiny. You’ve heard the saying, ‘They aren’t living; they are just existing!’ There will be ‘no purposeful living’ in Hell, just an existence beyond all misery.”

“You may wonder what Hell is really like. Don’t look to comedians for answers. The Bible tells you the truth. Hell is a place of sorrow and unrest, a place of wailing and a furnace of fire; a place of torment, a place of outer darkness, a place where people scream for mercy; a place of everlasting punishment.”


About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.


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  • Threatening people with eternal hellfire is nothing more or less than the application of psychological terrorism. And psychological terror is the last resort of the intellectually bankrupt.

  • Jesus spoke of heaven. Jesus spoke of hell.

    So make your choice to accept or reject what Jesus said. There’s no “psychological terrorism” about it. You accept or reject various truth claims every day without complaining.

    So go ahead and accept or reject Jesus’ truth claims as well. Choose.

    (And, umm, don’t make the wrong choice.)

  • A classic tent and sawdust revival preacher, with but a handful of fiery sermons, Billy Graham has little scholarship and less insight. And what does that say about his success?

    “But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
    or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
    horses like horses and cattle like cattle
    also would depict the gods’ shapes and make their bodies
    of such a sort as the form they themselves have.”
    Xenophanes of Colophon

  • Bernardo,

    Jesus was resurrected back to life from death by Jesus; which you evidently don’t believe, and I do.

    Lazarus will most likely be resurrected a second time, since he experienced inherited death yet another time later in his life, due to whatever reasons (sickness, old age, etc.)

    That resurrection would take place during the upcoming millennial rule of God’s kingdom. Everyone on the planet will be eyewitnesses of worldwide resurrections taking place, as they did when Jesus resurrected Lazarus.

  • Jesus warned us more often about hell than He spoke of heaven. If He spoke of it than His disciples should do the same. The elect will hear and receive. The wicked will hear and mock and reject the warning. God is love. He also is just and must punish sin. He sent Jesus to atone for our sins on the cross so that we could be saved from eternal death and destruction. He that has ears to hear let him hear. Let Him receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and turn away from sin, and be delivered from the wrath to come.

  • Heaven is the contemplation of YAHWEH forever and He is all light.
    Hell is the total absence of YAHWEH forever and total darkness.

    As C.S. Lewis wrote, “As unendurable to the human senses, we can be banished from the presence of Him Who is everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him Who knows all.”
    (“The Weight of Glory”)

  • But Sister you failed to note the following conclusion of a contemporary Catholic theologian:

    o Regarding hell, Father Edward Schillebeeckx, the famous contemporary theologian, had a different take on hell. He reasons that the Singularity does not tolerate imperfection in the spiritual realm. Therefore, any soul dying in mortal sin will simply disappear since hell the imperfect state does not exist. (assuming that there is a Singularity and a spiritual realm).

    And the latest astrophysics view of life after death? Tis simply recycling of your body into future bodies and things in a never -ending cycle of birth, death and renewal. No heaven, no hell, no purgatory, no limbo just the beauty of Mother Nature in recycling mode. Here today, gone tomorrow eventually returning as something different, non-animated or animated in the chaotic, , stochastic life of the expanding or shrinking universe.

  • Thank God that the God of the Bible is not the monster that Mr. Graham believes in. No where in Scripture can you find eternal punish”ING”. Rather, what you’ll find is eternal punish”MENT”. Punish”ING” is continual, ongoing. Punish”MENT” eventually ceases and, afterwards, is eternal, since it has occurred and cannot be undone. “The wages of sin is death…”, not everlasting life in hellfire. Death is the absence of life.

  • Well, everything Billy Graham is now saying sounds pretty much like what Franklin Graham would say–though the two, as I understand it, were supposed to have been estranged for quite a while. And I also see that he is the one doing all the talking here, explaining his father’s intentions to everyone. I’d like to know much more about Franklin’s role in all of this.

  • God gives man the gift of ‘free will’ and then punishes him for using it? Sounds more like man than God.

  • Fran,

    I recommend perusing the studies on the historical Jesus. ex. his “resurrection”:

    A short summary:

    From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

    “Heaven is a Spirit state” as per JPII and Aquinas i.e. there can be no bodies. i.e. there was and never will be any physical resurrection/ascension of human bodies.”

    And is it not ironical that JPII along with Aquinas are the ones who put meaning to the words “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is useless.”

  • Nowhere in the Old Testament is heaven, hell or eternal life mentioned. They are inventions of Christianity.

  • Sorry,Bernardo,but since neither the late pope nor Thomas Aquinas were dead when they made those assertions,neither were qualified to make dogmatic statements concerning the afterlife,so…the speculations of mere men,no matter how supposedly spiritual and /or holy can carry any weight on this matter.ONLY WHAT JESUS SAID tells the tale,Bernardo.PEACE.

  • “Much confusion and misunderstanding has been caused through the early translators of the Bible persistently rendering the Hebrew Sheol and the Greek Hades and Gehenna by the word hell. The simple transliteration of these words by the translators of the revised editions of the Bible has not sufficed to appreciably clear up this confusion and misconception.”—The Encyclopedia Americana (1942), Vol. XIV, p. 81.
    2 Thess. 1:9, RS: “They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction* and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” (*“Eternal ruin,” NAB, NE; “lost eternally,” JB; “condemn them to eternal punishment,” Kx; “eternal punishment in destruction,” Dy.) (more to follow)

  • Translators have allowed their personal beliefs to color their work instead of being consistent in their rendering of the original-language words. For example: (1) The King James Version rendered she’ohlʹ as “hell,” “the grave,” and “the pit”; haiʹdes is therein rendered both “hell” and “grave”; geʹen·na is also translated “hell.” (2) Today’s English Version transliterates haiʹdes as “Hades” and also renders it as “hell” and “the world of the dead.” But besides rendering “hell” from haiʹdes it uses that same translation for geʹen·na. (3) The Jerusalem Bible transliterates haiʹdes six times, but in other passages it translates it as “hell” and as “the underworld.” It also translates geʹen·na as “hell,” as it does haiʹdes in two instances. Thus the exact meanings of the original-language words have been obscured.

  • This is so contrary to what Graham was preaching from the late 80s onward.
    I also know how sick he has been the last 5 years. I will not be surprised if someday we find that Franklin Graham actually wrote this book.

  • In 30+ years of studying the bible, I never ceased to be amazed by the seamless continuity between the Testaments. It seems evident to me that Paul, John, and Peter, as well as Jesus made clear that there exists a future existence, for some a world of reward, for others a world of punishment. To rehash issues of linguistics and semantics at this late date seems absurd when the traditional and orthodox view has been affirmed for centuries. If one professes Christianity and if one does not, it still does not seem wise to bet against the house.

  • amen! Franklin will have $ and a voice only as long as Dad lives…God bless Billy Graham….God help Franklin

  • Billy Graham is suffering from the same affliction as comic book artist Frank Miller. A man undoing the goodwill and reputation built up over the years by a descent into extremist curmudgeon-hood as he gets older.

    Graham would never have risen above crank preacher had he made such spiels earlier in life. Pretty much all that he was respected for is being flushed down the toilet. His stunted sapling if a son has proven to be less than useless without his father’s name to prop him up. His hand is definitely seen here.

  • PsiCop, that begs the question:

    Is there a hell or not?

    If there is, then preachers of all people obviously shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

    If there isn’t, then all talk of it is wasted time and words.

    To complain about the “psychological terror” of it misses the point.

  • Sister Geraldine has it right, as did Lewis. Hell is not fire and brimstone…..unfortunately, it is worse than that. Those are images of something that apparently is far more terrible.

    Despite the idiocy and evil we see all around us, from ISIS to the cowards who refuse to destroy it, my most fervent hope is that somehow no human being ever has to endure such a fate.

    But, as Lewis once asked, what if a human being rejects literally every other alternative to hell? What then?

    Lewis once said that the door to hell, so to speak, is locked from the inside. What holds a person there is the utter lack of will to surrender one’s will to something infinitely bigger and greater than self.

    And even though plenty of Christians are eminently capable of acting like bozos, hatred of Christians goes far deeper than hatred of their faults. It’s hatred of the God they represent, however imperfectly and sometimes foolishly.

  • Rufino, more than anything else in the world, I hope you are correct.

    I don’t agree with you, because the textual evidence suggests otherwise, but I want you to be correct.

  • There is enough evidence, in this world alone, of suffering that seems to be beyond anything that any normal human being can endure, for it to be folly for anyone to rule out hell being real and eternal.

    People who say that God would never allow it have lived very sheltered lives. The horrors that God lets happen in this life alone are often unimaginable for most of us.

    If that much can be allowed in this life, one cannot shut the door to far worse happening in the next.

    This is a core reason some people give for being atheists….It’s a psychologically satisfying way out of the dilemma of a good God allowing so much evil in this life alone.

    But it’s about as effective as closing one’s eyes in an effort to blot out the sun.

    God exists or doesn’t exist independently of our opinion on the matter. We can’t wish Him away if He’s there.

    God and His goodness will be vindicated. But for now, we’re in a world filled with great evil as well as good.

  • Graham’s not being a scholar is beside the point. The purpose of translations is to make the basic teachings of the Bible accessible to the majority of humanity that is not engaged in scholarship.

    You don’t have to be a world-class scholar to understand and communicate the foundational doctrines of Scripture.

  • And what exactly did Jesus say about his afterlife? And what he did say was historically nil if you bothered to test these passages for historical authenticity.

  • Graham is correct. Visions of hell and the damned, with Christ himself saying “depart from me!” is a major theological development and central to Jesus’ message. You might say that the spiteful, vengeful tribal chief of the Old Testament has become a living prophet in the Christ. This is indeed literal Bible Reading. (Exactly why it is absurd!) The best literary antecedent I can recommend is Jonathan Edwards’ terrifying sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.

  • Franklin “collaborated” on this book and read the final copy back to his father just to make sure. “Dad, I’m going to read you the final draft. If you agree with it, just breathe. Ok great.”

  • Bernardo, recommending that a Jehovah’s Witness like Fran consult the writings of SS John Paul II and Thomas Aquinas is akin to recommending the Reform Rabbi Salkin check the Conservative movement’s chumash. Oops, did it already.

  • I cannot comprehend the spite I read in some of these comments. Do you not understand that what you say tells us only about who you are?

  • “God is love. He also is just…”
    What B.S! The creator god made weak and defective creatures, whom he then found lacking (surprise, surprise!). It would only be “JUST” then for the creator to make amends for his failings, but NO! This creator God makes arbitrary demands on his creatures, which they can not understand ( with their limited intellects). He then proposes to reward some and punish others. Evil GOD! Stupid followers!
    Once proved incompetent and untrustworthy this god is not to be relied upon further.
    The good news is that this god is just so much speculation and tradition. One merely need act indepenently to avoid his curse. The bad news is that both gods and men are defeated by stupidity!

  • People’s belief in hell is perhaps inversely related to the measure of creature comforts they enjoy in this life and positively correlated to the amount and degree of suffering they bear or witness in the course of living.

    If your worst trial in life is having a hang nail with no ready nail clip, you have no reference point for believing in suffering that won’t end.

  • Hmmmm….I get your point, Garson, but not sure about that choice of analogue. I think the differences between Reform and Conservative have narrowed a bit over time, no?

  • Bernardo, in order to test for “historical authenticity,” the first thing you must do is ascertain what are the basic rules for such testing.

    You and I have discussed that at length — and how you are accepting rules that no professional historian worth their salt would accept.

  • Bernardo, I’ll bet you’re misinterpreting both Aquinas and JP II, because I don’t know a single practicing Catholic who denies the resurrection of the body, be it Christ’s or ours.

    And that includes theologically literate Catholics.

  • True- actually pretty much my point Jack. Telling a Reform rabbi that scholars opine much of the OT to be non-factual is like “What else is new?”

  • You;re right, it’s not the best analogue. Considering that Reform and Conservative views of theology have gotten closer over time, and JW and Catholic views are polar opposites. My broader gibe was at the robotic posting of text as though it’s going to change anyone’s mind.

  • Quite possible, Garson….or perhaps in his final years of living, Graham is reverting back to his original fire-and-brimstone rhetoric.

    Given the depredations of ISIS and other nasties, I can understand why.

  • And you as well, Owen….and me, too.

    That’s the bad-news portion of the Bible.

    The good news is that an astoundingly merciful God decided that wasn’t going to be the end of the story.

  • Doc, you’re right, but the words of the Gospel have so saturated our civilization, people are numb to the message.

    The words, “believe in Jesus and you’ll be saved” have just become sounds from people’s lips. Most people, including those who think they’ve assented to them, have no idea what they’re saying. It isn’t some magical mantra — it’s tied into concrete things like owning up to one’s sins, genuinely repenting of them, and accepting that God’s forgiveness of them is tied into somebody else paying for them long before we were born.

    By repenting, we’re saying, “God I’m wrong for my crimes but please don’t make me pay for them.” God is saying, “Fair enough, but if you don’t want to pay, someone else has to, otherwise it’s a mockery of justice.” He then says, “I have good news for you. I’ve already arranged for someone else to do so, so you lucked out. All you need to now is accept what I did in that regard.”

  • Hell, no matter how it’s defined, is horrible, but it’s not as if there’s no way out for us.

    There is….and that’s the point.

    Leaving aside for a moment the utter mystery of God’s total sovereignty over literally everything, there’s really nothing stopping anybody from a simple yes to the Gospel, if indeed that is the answer.

    The biggest obstacle isn’t what most people think it is.

    It isn’t the specifics about God or Jesus that’s the biggest problem.

    Rather, it’s something far more familiar to us all…’s the inability of us to fully own up to our own flaws and faults.

    Simply put, most of us think we’re basically okay and that it’s other people out there who’s making the world such a difficult place.

    We’re basically believing something that is demonstrably untrue about ourselves. And we need only ask those who live or have lived with us to render an honest opinion on the matter — and we will know the truth about ourselves.

  • You can argue philosophy all you like, Samuel, but in the end, either the Gospel is true or it isn’t.

    God sent Jesus to die for us or He didn’t.

    God validated that claim by raising Jesus from the dead or He didn’t.

    The many people who claimed to see Jesus alive after being crucified and buried either did or didn’t.

    You may love or hate the plan, but apart from your love or hate, it’s from God or it isn’t.

    But one thing is demonstrably true, whether we admit it or not:

    Not one of us, including you, are as good or as decent as we think. There is no greater or more widespread delusion than our belief to the contrary. And all we need do is ask people who know us and who’ve lived with us to give their candid opinion on the matter.

    Truth be told, not one of us even lives up to our own standards, let alone others or those of Scripture. Our own standards judge us and find us wanting. And that’s the starting point for the Gospel message.

  • Makes no difference. The people who believe it, and are damning people to hellfire, are showing maliciousness of their nature. It speaks badly of those who employ it.

    Towards those who believe, it is a form of psychological terrorism. Do as I say or face THE CONSEQUENCES!!!! To those who do not believe, it is in very poor taste.

  • Its amazing how often people confuse criticism with spite. Some people do not want to discuss things which may upset them and the attribute such discomfort with hate. It is a childish response to say the least.

    Fact of the matter is Graham did not get to his position of respect by engaging in these kind of theatrics and fire & brimstone messages. Had he started out with such things, he would have toiled in obscurity. Whatever goodwill he had built up over the years is being eroded away. Much of the blame goes to his son Franklin. A man with no talent or ability of his own. A man whose life has been trading on the name and reputation of his father, rather than building up one for himself.

    That is not being spiteful, that is just being honest.

  • “Graham is reverting back to his original fire-and-brimstone rhetoric.”

    Not likely. That was never his thing. Not even back in the early days. He was actually criticized in his early days for being ecumenial.

    ” [God] is calling people out of the world for his name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they have been called by God. They may not know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something they do not have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven”

    “I’m for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice. …Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left….”

    These are not the words of a fire and brimstone preacher.

  • The freedom of choice God gave to man was not unlimited freedom. It was the freedom to choose any tree of the Garden, including the Tree of Life, and all those that were pleasing to the eye and good for food, except for one, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was off limits. It’s like telling your children they can play anywhere in the yard, in the sandbox, on the swingset, etc, but they must not play in the busy street because they will get hit by a car and die. As a parent, are you giving them freedom to choose and then condemning them for making that choice? Of course not, because you never gave them the choice to play in the street; you merely informed them of the consequences should they go beyond the freedom they were given. That is what is happening in Genesis 3. Read it carefully. God wants us to choose the Tree of Life which bears fruit continuously, not in our pride to partake of knowledge outside of a relationship with Him.

  • Re: “So make your choice to accept or reject what Jesus said.”

    I have no plans ever to do so. If you want to force me to make such a choice, then you’re going to have to track me down and make me. So go ahead. Lock and load.

  • Re: “Is there a hell or not?” I don’t know if there is one. If you want me to think so, you’ll have to substantiate it with objective, verifiable evidence.

    Re: “If there is, then preachers of all people obviously shouldn’t pretend otherwise.”

    If there is, they ought first to substantiate its existence with objective, verifiable evidence.

    Re: “If there isn’t, then all talk of it is wasted time and words.”

    True, which is why terrorizing people over nothing is a pretty nasty thing to do to them.

    Re: “To complain about the ‘psychological terror’ of it misses the point.”

    It’s entirely the point! No one has substantiated Hell’s existence. Until they do they have no business threatening people with it.

  • Use a healthy human mind

    And be a Christian of a different kind

    No need to worship God above

    Far better is to know what’s love

    And build all laws on that

    And preaching will go flat

    No heaven or hell to go

    No temples there for show

    Just live the life That Way

    That’s Christianity today