All of the Bible verses on the nature of hell and the destiny of the wicked

I’ve received some very good questions from folks who have had a chance to listen to podcast #10 on the state of the dead and the nature of hell.  This is a pretty hot topic!

Let’s take the Bible passages one by one and observe what I think is the only way to harmonize all of the relevant biblical texts. We’ll mainly be dealing with the topic of hell, since that is what has sparked the most discussion.

First of all, a review of the content from podcast #10:

1. The Bible clearly teaches that human beings in their sinful state are not immortal, but God alone is immortal (1 Timothy 6:16).  Satan’s lie to Eve was that she would continue to be immortal in a sinful state (“you will not surely die”).  The Bible says that only the righteous put on immortality, and that even we are mortal and perishable until the resurrection clothes us with immortality (1 Corinthians 15:53).

2. It is not merely the body of the wicked that will die, but the soul of the wicked will die. While the righteous will put on immortality, the wicked will experience the second death, a complete soul death, after their resurrection.  Unlike the righteous, the wicked do not put on immortality at the resurrection.

3. The lake of fire (hell) is the second death (Rev 20:14, 20:8). The nature of the hell experience is not an eternally conscious hell. The notion that the wicked live forever in hell presupposes the untrue belief that human beings are naturally immortal (a pagan, Greek notion that slipped into the church after the first century). The following is what the Bible says about the fate of the wicked. Rather than eternal existence in hell,

  • They will be ashes and stubble (Mal 4:1-3)
  • Neither root nor branch will be left (Mal 4:1-3)
  • They will be no more (Ps 37:10)
  • They will vanish like smoke (Ps 37:20)
  • They will perish (Ps 37:20)
  • They will be burned up like chaff (Matt 3:11-12)
  • They will be stubble (Is 47:14)
  • The soul will be “destroyed in hell” (Matt 10:28)
  • Their destiny is destruction (Phil 3:19)
  • They will be devoured by the fire (Rev 20:9)
  • Sin pays its wage, and its wage is death (Rom 6:23)
  • The soul will die (Ez 18:20)
  • The opposite of eternal life is to perish (John 3:16)
  • Everything will melt with fervent heat (2 Peter 3:12-13)
  • The fire of God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29)
  • They will melt like wax (Ps 68:2)
  • They will be blown away like smoke (Ps 68:2)
  • Where righteousness leads to eternal life, sin leads to corruption/destruction/decay (Gal 6:8)

4. Isaiah 33:14-15 asks the question we’re asking, which is about dwelling in the fire.  Isaiah asks, “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?” The Bible’s answer surprises those who have heard the popular teaching on hell.  Most of us would say the wicked dwell in the everlasting burning.  The Bible says the following are those who will live in the eternal fires for eternity: “Those who walk righteously and speak what is right” are those who dwell in the consuming fire, the everlasting burning.  It is the righteous, not the wicked, who will live forever in the fire. So, yes, the Bible says there will be a group of people who are eternally conscious in the fire; but it is not the wicked, it is the righteous. Only the righteous can dwell in the fire, the Bible says; the wicked cannot dwell in the fire.

All of the above is clear enough.  But there are passages that need to be discussed in light of the above.  They are important passages to account for in our understanding of the nature of hell.

1. The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).

This passage paints a strange picture of immortal human beings who live during death in “Abraham’s bosom” and “Hades.”  Aside from this one parable, this picture of an “afterlife” is entirely absent from the Bible. So, what do we make of it? Do we conclude that the wicked are burning in hell right now from this one parable alone? I think that would be imprudent and hasty. Let every matter be established by the testimony of 2 or 3 witnesses. The way I understand this is that it’s simply a parable, a dramatic story. It wasn’t meant to teach about the state of the dead, but was meant to be a spiritual lesson about greed and poverty.  It’s important to note that those who believe the dead are in heaven and hell right now do not picture it as this parable does anyway – a situation where people talk to each other from heaven to hell and where heaven is not called heaven, but Abraham’s bosom. This passage is simply a parable that pulls from strange Greek understandings about death that were prominent in Jesus’ day and thus familiar to the people of his day to be used as a teaching tool, and this parable was not intended to instruct on the matter of death, but an entirely different matter altogether.

2. Matthew 25:41 calls hell “everlasting fire.”

To some, this sounds like the wicked will burn for eternity.  But, reading closely, notice that the passage says that the fire itself is what is everlasting, not the experience in the fire. The fire is everlasting, because it is God himself who is the consuming fire.

Also, we have an actual example of everlasting fire, so let’s let scripture interpret scripture: Jude 7… “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” As the everlasting fire consumed the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, so also it will consume the wicked in the end. Peter also says the same thing … 2 Peter 2:6 “if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly.”

3. Revelation 20:10 says that the devil will be tormented “forever” in the lake of fire.

The problem with taking Revelation 20:10 literally is that if we do, the Bible contradicts itself. Consider Ezekiel 28:18, speaking of Lucifer or Satan: By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching.” How can the devil be CONSUMED/reduced to ASHES AND be tormented “forever and ever?” The only way to harmonize these is to do a careful word study of the use of the word “forever” in the Bible. (See below)

4. Revelation 14:9-11 says that the smoke of the torment of the wicked will rise “forever.”

Again, if we take this literally, we have the Bible contradicting itself. As we’ve seen in many passages above, the Bible teaches that the wicked will be consumed, be ashes, no more, be stubble, be dead, perish, be destroyed etc. Consider Isaiah 34:9-11, which Revelation 14:9-11 is a direct reference to. (Most of Revelation is citing Old Testament passages that can help us understand the difficult passages of Revelation.) Isaiah 34:9-11 gives more detail than Rev 14:9-11. Notice that it says that the land will be “DESOLATE” after the smoke of their torment rises “forever.” NOT that it will be heavily populated with souls that burn forever and ever for eternity. Desolate. This sounds a lot like ashes, be no more, dead, perish, destruction, etc., which the many passages clearly teach us.

How do we understand this thing about the devil and the wicked burning “forever” before becoming ashes? That doesn’t make sense in our English language to say that they burn forever and then are destroyed!  But that is what the Bible very clearly says; there’s no way around it.  Either we have a contradiction, or…  The answer comes when we realize that the term “forever,” as used in the Hebrew and Greek language and mindset, means simply a period of time, limited or unlimited.The phrase “forever” is used 56 times in the Bible in connection with things that have already ended.  In Jonah 2:6, “forever” means “three days and nights.” (See also Jonah 1:17.) In Deuteronomy 23:3, this means “10 generations.”  In the case of man, this means “as long as he lives” or “until death.”  (See 1 Samuel 1:22, 28; Exodus 21:6; Psalm 48:14.)  So indeed, the wicked will burn “forever” in the biblical sense: the wicked will burn in the fire as long as they live, or until death, until they are consumed.  No doubt, this fiery experience will vary according to the degree of wickedness for each individual, as Jesus said with regard to the stripes each will be “beaten” with.  But while some will indeed receive “many” stripes, nobody will be beaten with stripes endlessly for the ceaseless ages of eternity.

[It should be noted that our our confidence in the belief in the literal eternal/forever nature of God and the literal eternal/forever nature of our heavenly experience do not rest solely on the use of the ambiguous word “forever” in the Bible. The Bible clearly says that the righteous will put on immortality and not die and that God is immortal. These are unambiguous, unlike the Greek word for “forever.”]

5. Matthew 25:46, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I affirm the fact that the punishment of the wicked is truly eternal in the sense that it is irreversible. The consequences of the punishment are eternal. But as we’ve seen, the Bible explains that the experience of the punishment is not eternal, but that the wicked are destroyed.  Also, consider this treatment of the Greek used in the passage:

The entire concept of eternal or everlasting punishment hinges primarily on a single verse of Scripture–Matthew 25:46. This is the only place in the entire Bible where we find these two words together AND only in some Bibles. There are over a dozen English translations which do NOT contain the concept of “eternal punishment” on ANY of their pages, NOR the pagan concept of Hell.

The Greek form for “everlasting punishment” in Matthew 25:46 is “kolasin aionion.” Kolasin is a noun in the accusative form, singular voice, feminine gender and means “punishment, chastening, correction, to cut-off as in pruning a tree to bare more fruit.” “Aionion” is the adjective form of “aion,” in the singular form and means “pertaining to an eon or age, an indeterminate period of time.” (Note: the two words in many, not all translations become reversed changing the Greek into English.)

Aionion,” as shown above, is the singular form of the adjective of the Greek noun “aion.” Many people unfamiliar with the Greek do not realize that the endings of the same word change (inflection) to indicate its mood, case, gender, etc. Therefore, “aionion” may appear with different endings. “Aionion, aioniou, aionios,” for example, are all different inflections of the adjective form of the noun “aion.”

The noun “aion” in Greek literature has always meant “an indeterminate period of time. It could be as short as the time Jonah spent in the belly of a fish (three days or nights), the length of a man’s life, or as long as a very long age.

[It should be noted again that recognizing the limited duration of the “aion” of the punishment of the wicked need not undermine our confidence in the unlimited duration of the “aion” of the reward of the righteous, since we have clear biblical teachings on our future immortality whereas we have clear biblical teaching on the destruction of the wicked.]

6. “Worm will not die”, “weeping and gnashing of teeth” and “outer darkness.”

These are three biblical statements referring to the hell experience, which have been raised. None of these indicate that the wicked will live forever in the fires of hell. The presence of weeping and gnashing of teeth does not imply that the weeping and gnashing of teeth goes on and on for eternity. Indeed, the experience of hell will be blackest darkness. And the worm, which is pictured as a consuming agent, will not fail of completing its task of decomposing the refuse. Notice that worms are not the object of punishment, but are the means of destruction. So, the fact that the worm doesn’t die shouldn’t be taken to meant that immortal souls live on forever in the fire. [UPDATE… Isaiah 66:24 says that the worms are eating “dead bodies,” not tormenting immortal living souls in hell.  The picture given is that the wicked are destroyed, dead, and consumed by unstoppable fire and (perhaps figuratively) unstoppable worms.  See the comments for further discussion on the worms and unquenchable fire.]

CONCLUSION:

To sum up, we have two categories of Bible verses.  One category says that the wicked will be ashes, stubble, no more, vanish like smoke, nothing will be left, will perish, burn up like chaff, souls will be destroyed, destiny is to be destroyed, will be devoured, will die, will melt, will be consumed, and will be blown away like smoke, will experience a second death, will reap decay/destruction/corruption.  This is a huge amount of testimony teaching annihilation.  The other (very small and using ambiguous Greek) category of verses use the phrases, “everlasting fire,” “eternal punishment” and “forever.”  At face value, these two sets of verses do contradict each other.  Above, I’ve tried to explain the only logical way I have found to harmonize the two sets of verses.  If there is another way to harmonize the verses, I am open to that.  Above we’ve seen how “forever,” “eternal,” and “everlasting” can mean something different in the Bible than what we suppose in English and according to church tradition.

Here’s the challenge and the invitation for those who presently believe in an eternally burning hell experience: take each of the descriptions of what happens to the wicked (ashes, stubble, being consumed, being destroyed, perishing, death, a second death, being no more, vanishing like smoke, burn up like chaff, soul destroyed, be devoured, decay/destruction/corruption, etc.) and show in the Bible where we get permission to re-interpret each of these to mean eternally conscious existence.  In other words, do with those passages what I’ve attempted to do with the forever/eternal/everlasting passages. Just as I haven’t been able to find an answer to the question, “how can love torture people for eternity?” I also have not found an explanation for how all of those descriptions that speak of annihilation are really meant to point to eternal consciousness.  But I am open to it, just as I assume you’ve been open and perhaps convinced by the biblical testimony pointing to the complete destruction of the wicked.

I want to be clear on something, because several people have accused me of having a bias, looking to find what I wanted in the Bible in order to support my preconceived view of a benevolent God.  THIS IS EXTREMELY UNTRUE!!  At the time when I was first confronted with these Bible verses many years ago, I had a bias in favor of established tradition on hell, and I did NOT have the view of God as a kind and loving Father, which I have today.  The whole “a loving God wouldn’t burn people in hell” argument didn’t interest me when I first explored this topic and came to believe as I do on hell.  I simply wanted to know what the Bible said.  I searched it out and found only one way to reconcile the two different sets of verses that seemed to contradict.

If you also set aside your bias and preconceived notions and you come to a different conclusion after objectively and fairly analyzing the above verses and finding your own way to harmonize them, then I respect your honest pursuit of biblical truth.  I am not looking to argue or fight or get people riled up.  This is what I see in the Bible.  I will not accuse you of looking for what you want to find in the Bible.  I also ask for the same respectful understanding from those who disagree with me.  Unfounded accusations need to be set aside as we engage in healthy Christian dialogue, seeking biblical truth together.

In the comments under this post please list any other passages that need to be addressed in order to have a full biblical picture of the nature of hell in case I have neglected to write about them here.

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About Scott

God has given me a glimpse into his character of love, and it has changed me. My deep desire for every person is that they see Him as he truly is, forsake destructive habits of thought and living, and become a disciple of Jesus.
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13 Responses to All of the Bible verses on the nature of hell and the destiny of the wicked

  1. Mark says:

    Nicely put. You assembled the evidence very well. The idea of an ever burning hell, and it’s implications for the kind of God we serve, seems to me to be hinged on the assumption that the soul is immortal. Most folk assume that since that’s what they’ve been taught and what most of Christianity believes, it must be “biblical.” But that’s not really its source. In the Old Testament, for much of the time, they hardly believed in a hereafter, let alone an immortal soul. The idea that the “soul” is something separate from the body an can exist on its own is a Greek notion (specifically Platonic). Some of the early Christian church “fathers” were highly influenced by Greek philosophy and imported the immortality of the soul in along with some other nonsense (like the rather fatalistic notion of a fixed and unchangable future – but that’s another argument!) The bible never says that the soul is immortal – just the opposite as you have noted. But, having imported the notion of an immortal soul, one has to either go with “universalism” and suppose that God will eventually win everyone (not supported by the bible as far as I can tell) or suppose that there is some “hell” in which such immortal souls will have to live for eternity (which is also not supported and says terrible things about our God to boot).

    So I think that following the truth wherever it leads should convince us to re-examine our assumptions about the immorality of the soul. Better to give up a cherished (why?) belief than to try to understand and love a God who would create a universe in which some of his children lived in torment throughout eternity. I know that I, for one, simply could not love such a being. I might obey out of fear. But I would never love a god like that.

  2. David says:

    Mr. Ritsema, perhaps you could address my concerns over Jesus’ words that “their worm will not die.” Assuming that the worm is the consuming agent, and that those in hell are the source of its consumption, you say that because it “will not die,” this shows it “will not fail of completing its task.” But doesn’t this show the exact opposite? If the worm completed its task, wouldn’t we expect it to die because it would run out of a source of consumption? The fact that it “will not die” seems to indicate that it will never run out something to feed on, because that which it feeds on will never be fully consumed.

  3. Scott says:

    Good question, David! Does the fact that the “worm will not die” imply that the bodies it is composing will not die?

    Well, a first observation is that it is actual bodies, actual physical flesh that is being decomposed. So this rules out the eternal ethereal immortal spirit/soul that lives in hell, since a worm would have no impact on that.

    But I think a more thorough answer would come by comparing the “worm will not die” with the “unquenchable fire.” These are the two destructive agents described in the Bible and both are described in the same endless way.

    The “unquenchable fire” comes from Matthew 3. John the Baptist says that the destiny of those who do not repent is that they will be cut off or cut down (like a branch or a tree) and then will be subject to the fire that is unquenchable (compare with the worm that is un-die-able). But notice here this important detail about those who are subjected to the fire that does not go out: they will be “burned up.” (See Matthew 3:13 and Luke 2:17.)

    So here we have a pattern that we can apply to the worm situation, since no details are given about the bodies the worm is destroying. The destructive agent is unstoppable. The fire is unquenchable; it will not be quenched or stopped…until…it burns up the object of destruction. When chaff is burned up the fire is not quenched, but it naturally stops burning the chaff when it’s consumed. I would apply this approach to the worm. Just like the “fire will not die” since it’s unquenchable and yet it completely consumes its object, its object thus dying, similarly, the worm will not die and yet it consumes its object, its object thus dying.

    Another example could be shown in Sodom and Gomorrah. They were burned by “eternal” fire (compare unquenchable fire and worm not die), yet they also were completely destroyed.

    The un-dying worm, the unquenchable fire, and the eternal fire are all unstoppable destructive agents; it is the destructive agent that does not die prematurely, but it finishes its course and lasts for it’s proper aion until it is no longer relevant. The Bible says that the object of destruction does get burned up/perish/die/get consumed/vanish/become ashes, stubble, etc. at the hands of these unstoppable destructive agents.

    I hope this was helpful!

    • Scott says:

      I neglected to cite the verse where the worm doesn’t die. It’s Mark 9:48, and it reads, …”thrown into hell, where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’” Here you see that there is a connection between the unquenchable fire and the worm that doesn’t die. And we see in Matthew 3:13 that the unquenchable fire completely burns up its object. Similarly, we can conclude, the worm completely eats up its object.

      But further and conclusive evidence is provided as to whether the wicked are alive or dead when the un-dying worms are eating them. In the “worm not die” passage in Mark 9 Jesus is quoting Isaiah 66:24, which is a passage on the dead bodies of the wicked. “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” The key phrase here is “dead bodies.” The wicked are dead not alive for eternity.

  4. David Showalter says:

    ■They will be ashes and stubble (Mal 4:1-3) – The language here is clearly that of victory and defeat. That is the main point of this passage. They will be delivered from their enemies.
    ■Neither root nor branch will be left (Mal 4:1-3) – Again, totally defeated, which the wicked are, compared to the deliverance of the faithful.
    ■They will be no more (Ps 37:10) – Will the wicked be in the presence of the righteous? No.
    ■They will vanish like smoke (Ps 37:20) – There will be no wicked amongst the righteous.
    ■They will perish (Ps 37:20) – Those who persecute and seek to slay the righteous (v.32) will no longer persecute them; they will be gone from them.
    ■They will be burned up like chaff (Matt 3:11-12) – Analogy, showing the salvation of the righteous and the fiery fate of the lost.
    ■They will be stubble (Is 47:14) – The language of a purge, which Babylon had inflicted on other nations including Israel, used to instill the fearful reality of God’s judgment.
    ■The soul will be “destroyed in hell” (Matt 10:28) – Already bringing more light into the reality. It is not just a physical matter. It is body and soul that are being killed here. We may be familiar with what it means for a body to be killed, but who knows how a soul is destroyed, or wrecked.
    ■Their destiny is destruction (Phil 3:19) – In Greek, more naturally understood as “wrecking,” that is, being made non-functional rather than being annihilated. Also goes for 2 Thess 1:9.
    ■They will be devoured by the fire (Rev 20:9) – Again, harkening back to the military defeat language of the Old Testament. For, though they are defeated, they are also thrown into the lake of fire, that is, hell, with Satan and his angels to be tormented.
    ■Sin pays its wage, and its wage is death (Rom 6:23) – True life is knowing the Father. All who are not in Christ are dead already, even as they breathe. True life is what believers have, and unbelievers will not have that, so whatever else they have is death.
    ■The soul will die (Ez 18:20) – While everyone in the OT understood that everyone dies, God is speaking of something more profound here. Not physical life and death; spiritual life and death. Those who have spiritual life are righteous. Those who are wicked are dead.
    ■The opposite of eternal life is to perish (John 3:16) – Lacking eternal life means perishing. Those who do not have life are perishing right now (1 Cor 1:18), but we may not physically see it that way.
    ■Everything will melt with fervent heat (2 Peter 3:12-13) – The current world will melt with fervent heat. Purpose is to show the passing away of this world and that it will be made new.
    ■The fire of God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29) – He is Holy!! Ex. 24:17
    ■They will melt like wax (Ps 68:2) – David expressing a desire for justice against his enemies
    ■They will be blown away like smoke (Ps 68:2) – They will be driven away like smoke is driven away, out of His glory.
    ■Where righteousness leads to eternal life, sin leads to corruption/destruction/decay (Gal 6:8) – He who sows in the flesh reaps corruption, not complete cessation of being.

    Matt. 25:46 is a verse that contrasts eternal life and eternal hell. The word for eternal, “aionious”, means “belonging to the age to come,” However, the New Testament writers are universal in their belief that the next age will be eternal. It does not follow that there will be two different ages; an unlimited one for the righteous and a limited one for the wicked. Jesus said there would be one age to come, in which the wicked will not be forgiven (Matt 12:32). Matt 25:46 is not the only verse the doctrine of hell rests on, but it is a powerful one.

    The use of “forever and ever” is frequent in reference to the worship of God, the punishment of the wicked, the glory of God, etc. “Age upon age” is a proper understanding of the original Greek of this statement. But is this word ambiguous? Does it speak of a definite eternal existence for the righteous but an undetermined time for the wicked? Well another verse that gives light into the experience of the wicked is Rev. 14:11, “And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” That phrase, “they have no rest day or night,” does not even use any of the “ambiguous” language of forever; it simply gives the real experience of the wicked. Their existence is that, in this eternal age to come, they will be tormented day and night with no rest, which is why their smoke will rise forever. The fire never goes out. This parallels the existence of those who praise His name, who “do not rest day or night, saying: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!”

    All of this is not a contradiction but a fulfillment of the passages analyzed earlier. God has, throughout history, spoken of the righteous being delivered form their enemies, of the wicked being taken from their presence, and the righteous being glorified with God, with the wicked being punished by God. This is the ultimate revelation of what the eternal life and the everlasting punishment actually are.

    Additionally, in 2 Thess. 1:9, when Paul says that the wicked will be punished with eternal destruction, he says that they are “shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” This rules out annihilation as being the point of Paul’s words because only things that exist can be excluded. In Mark 9:48, similarly, only beings that exist can experience weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    But is this just the temporary pain, the kind experienced for varying periods of time depending on the person’s wickedness, before being annihilated. The problem with this is that it abandons the claim that New Testament imagery of eternal loss naturally implies extinction. When that assumption is abandoned for the purpose of explaining passages that clearly speak of a sustained experience, then this opens up reality for the other verses that speak of the event having no end.

    In the Bible, this principle of expressing a reality in different manners that initially appear contradictory is certainly present. In the OT, the Messiah is described as both divine and conquering, as well as the suffering servant who dies for sin. The Christian life is described as freedom in some places and slavery in others. It would appear that these could not both be true at the same time, but the Bible makes it clear that they are. Jesus’ true victory was victory over sin and making peace between us and God. True freedom is being a slave of Christ. In the same way, true death is experiencing God’s righteousness judgment for an eternity. Taking the entire revelation of the Bible into account, it is clear that the references of destruction/ashes are actually talking about the conscious eternal punishment in which people will have no rest day or night from the cup of God’s wrath.

    So while the Bible never uses the words “man’s soul is immortal,” it is overwhelmingly clear that the righteous will consciously experience eternal happiness with God, while the wicked consciously experience eternal torment.

  5. Scott says:

    Can you point out to me where in the Bible it is “overwhelmingly clear” that the wicked have immortality? You and I will put on immortality at the resurrection. Will the wicked also put on immortality at the resurrection? Other than your interpretation of the Greek word “aion”, which Greek scholars would take issue with, where do we get the idea that the wicked are immortal? The Bible says only God is immortal (1 Timothy 6:16). The serpent said you will not surely die in a sinful state.

    I can definitely say that we’re living on totally different intellectual planets right now; maybe I’m wrong, but at this point I’m completely baffled that you see eternal torment as “overwhelmingly clear”, given the loose, liberal interpretations of all of those verses necessary to sustain the doctrine of an eternally burning hell. I hope this doesn’t sound harsh, but I’m going to challenge your interpretations of those verses a bit. “Burned up” really means “live forever in the fire”? These are opposites. “Destroyed” really means “wrecked forever without being destroyed or completely wrecked?” Again, opposites. “Devoured” means “defeated and burned for eternity without being devoured?” The consuming fire doesn’t consume the wicked, even though the Bible says they will be “consumed?” “They will melt like wax” means justice will be served by them not melting away, but rather staying in tact for eternity in hell?” “Decay” means “to never cease being?” These are opposites.

    Several of your interpretations of those verses rest on the idea that since the wicked will be some place else, far from the righteous, that they will be AS IF they are “no more,” “vanished,” etc. You asked, “Will the wicked be in the presence of the righteous? No.” But doesn’t this contradict what the Bible says about where hell is? Read the verse prior to the one you cited: Revelation 14:10 says that they will be burned “in the presence of the holy angels and the lamb” (because God’s presence is to them a consuming fire). Hell is where God is and where the righteous are. All throughout the Bible God is pictured as a fire. Where there’s fire in the Bible, there’s God. Don’t forget about Isaiah 33:14-15. The Bible says there indeed IS a group of people who live eternally in the fires (the presence of God), while some are burned up in those fires. I want to be one of the people who lives literally forever and ever in the fire! =) “The sinners in Zion are terrified; trembling grips the godless: “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?”  He who walks righteously and speaks what is right, who rejects gain from extortion and keeps his hand from accepting bribes, who stops his ears against plots of murder and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil.” So, the wicked will be, as Paul says, “shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”, but that will be by their death, their destruction. The wicked will be shut out of the presence of God (i.e. the fires), while the righteous get to live on in the fires. When you concluded that shutting somebody out from the presence of God has to mean they stay alive in doesn’t make sense to me; they’re shut out by their death; and again, they DON’T get to dwell in the fire, as we do. Isaiah 33:14-15 says only the righteous get to dwell in the fire.

    As far as the weeping and gnashing of teeth goes, the Bible doesn’t say the wicked will be weeping and gnashing their teeth; that’s what the dogs did in the garbage dump that Jesus used as an object lesson to teach about the destroying fires of hell.

    Regarding your view of the aion (age) of punishment, the fact remains that the Greek word does not imply eternal, as we understand it. And the entirety of the doctrine of the eternally burning hell rests on a disputed interpretation of that one Greek word used in the couple places you mentioned. Yes, the wicked will burn day and night (Rev 14:11) for an age, for a time. But what scriptural evidence outside of the use of that word do we have that hell will be burning alongside heaven (in the presence of the lamb) or anywhere else for literal eternity? The whole conclusion rests just on that word, just within these couple verses, and no other scriptural evidence exists to support the literal eternal nature of the hell experience. That’s dangerous hermeneutics. However, many, many, many verses speak of the literal end of the wicked, which have been shown above, indicating that the finite use of the word aionios or aion is the only option if we are to let those verses speak for themselves and maintain our hermeneutical integrity. This statement isn’t true: “the New Testament writers are universal in their belief that the next age will be eternal” (for the wicked). They didn’t even have a clear conception of or a word for eternal as we understand it. They could say “immortal” as in “doesn’t die,” which they used to describe God and the righteous. But they had no word for eternal or literal forever, as we do.

  6. Andy B says:

    Scott,

    Interesting thoughts. I’m an old school eternal damnation kind of guy.
    Never really thought about it all too much until I had an altercation/conversation with some JW’s (man I need more grace..). This encounter spurred me on to read the New Testament again in the real version (aka NKJV), which is always a good thing.

    Apart from the CRAZY stuff the JWs prophesied that never happened, it turns out their doctrine is also.. completely off the chart !

    One of their teachings is that when we die, whether good or bad, we are literally no more and cease to exist – except that the Father keeps us in His memory. A slice of spiritual DNA as it were saved on His hard drive. Then at judgement He can choose to resurrect the goodies to eternal life or leave the baddies in the vault. My recollection from here on is a bit fuzzy. I’m not sure if God re-formats His hard drive after its all over..

    Now I’m not suggesting that you believe the same as the JWs or that I even correctly understood and conveyed their belief, but there are some interesting parallels.

    I look at this whole question in terms of how does a belief of eternal hell link in with the gospel ? And breaking it down even further – how does this belief affect my life as a Christian ?

    If you ask the average Christian ‘are you saved’ ? they will say ‘yes – Amen’.
    But what are we saved from ?

    If we believe we are saved from death and eternal hellfire then our response will be one of thankful joy and we will be compelled to share this good news with as many people as we can.

    Yet if we are saved from nothing (literally nothingness) then what will our response be ?

    Why would God bother sending Jesus at all if at the end our eternal life or immediate (or delayed) nothingness is a consequence of what ‘principals’ we lived by ?

    Jesus didn’t come to give us principles – God already did that when He gave Moses the Law. Jesus came to give us Himself.

  7. Scott says:

    Thanks for the contribution, Andy! I think we will see this a little bit differently, but I respect your point of view. My take on what we’re being saved from is that we’re NOT being saved from God and what he’ll do to us; I feel that paganism has really slipped into Christianity there. Jesus doesn’t save us from God torturing us for eternity, but he saves us from our own self-destructive nature. “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction” (Gal 6:8). In other words, he saves us from our sin, our condition that would otherwise bring forth death (James 1:15). I was never really motivated to share a “gospel” about a God who will torture you for eternity if you don’t answer right on the gospel tract, but I’ve been totally pumped to share with people the truth about God in the gospel as I understand it – truly good news about what kind of a person he is, and how he wants to really save us from our sin and the destruction that it will bring. I’m not really into the idea of using fear of eternal hell as a motivator for people to follow God; perfect love casts out all fear. Anyway, that’s where I’m at with all that.

    The JWs are correct that the doctrine of the immortal soul and the eternal hell experience came in after the first century and is not biblical. It slipped in from paganism as those schooled in Greek philosophy began running the church, and the eternal hell doctrine became very prominent in the dark ages. So I guess if you’re “old school” on eternal damnation, I’m REALLY old school, lol. Anyway, the idea of souls living on after death in hell is based on a fallacy that the wicked possess immortality, which I’ve never seen in the Bible. Only the righteous do, and only then at the resurrection when “this mortal is clothed with immortality.” I think the JWs are terribly wrong on some things, but we need to be objective enough to recognize truth even in those with whom we disagree on other matters. I think the Bible really does say that we sleep in death, as they teach, and that the memory of your life and character is recorded in the books in heaven. There will be a resurrection of the righteous and a resurrection of the wicked. For more on the state of the dead, check out this:
    http://seehimasheis.com/2011/01/30/256/

  8. Andy B says:

    Hi Scott

    Sounds like you’re a closet JW ! 🙂

    Yes the wrath concept is a difficult one to swallow. It does seem incomprehensible that a loving God would act so ‘unlovingly’ in towards His creation.

    As much as we might not like it the whole ‘wrath’ thing is quite prevalent in the OT. God was prepared to destory the whole earth at one point, if it were not for the righteousness of Noah. He was grieved that He made us at all !

    Thankfully in the end He settled for a world wide flood – a re-boot if you like. But that’s not quite the end is it ? We know the rest of the story ! The flood wasn’t enough of a purge and ultimately the earth will be destroyed completely by fire. (But until our ship goes down God graciously throws us a life saver in the form of His Son).

    God’s wrath is poured out on many occasions to purge sin from Isreal, or even to wipe out entire people groups. This is uncomfortable to talk about in our politically correct post modern world, however, ‘God changeth not’. Its hard for me to comprehend the justice of these events of wrath given the collateral damage on innocents, yet ultimately as brutal and destructive as these events seem to us, God acted out of mercy – knowing that He was protecting His people from sin, and ultimately to show that He is Holy. After all He is God, He gives life and He takes life.

    The interesting thing about this however, is that ultimately God knows that humanity is not capable of following a set of rules or even of administering such rules justly. .

    Probably more uncomfortably we see ‘wrath’ make a guest appearance in the NT particularly in Romans Chs 1 – 5, and in Rev. One might fairly interpret these passages as being linked to the final destruction of the earth by fire – or as in the present tense, a giving over to God’s immediate wrath as a result of individual sin.

    The mortal v immortal reference you allude to is from 2 Cor. The context is mortal bodies. At stake here in our discussion is the mortal v immortal soul, and more importantly whether the soul (or spirit) can be destroyed (as can the body) and whether or not this soul exists in a state of awareness, ‘sleep’, is annihilated altogether, or is ‘purged’ to a point that it obtains absolution.

    I see a lot of the OT references to the afterlife (take Job for example) as being a bit vague. The grave is certainly an end to earthly life as in Ecc. Yet the Psalmist is almost pleading for a hope in a Redeemer to rescue him from the grave. So whatever the grave, or decay is, the implication is that we still need to be rescued from it and that its a nasty place.

    The full revelation of Hell in scripture as a Christian is concerned is demonstrated most capably by the words of Christ himself. I would not take lightly the warnings of outer darkness, fire etc even if expressed in parables. It might be acceptable to dismiss one such reference but there are too many to comfortably (and justifiably) do this. We must assume that Hell is a real place, that it is not very nice, and that ultimately it is a part of God’s nature to pour out His wrath on sin.

    To be honest we could probably go round in circles on these issues, and make little progress. In a controversial move I offer you another thought that may actually help your argument..

    When we are born again we have already been born physically so this ‘second birth’ is actually the birth of our spirits (in Christ). This implies our spirits are in fact dead until Christ makes them alive. So if an un-regenerate person physically dies then they are already spiritually dead anyway. Again – what does this actually mean ? Are they conscious ?

    Slightly off topic – can an un-regenerate person be credited with righteousness just as the OT heroes of faith were ? Again Romans has some interesting thought on those living outside of Christ..

  9. Scott says:

    Interesting theory about the spirit acquiring immortality upon regeneration while still in this body. I’d never considered that one. Upon thinking about it, I don’t see support for it. Man’s spirit is just breath; no different from that of the animals (Ecc 3:19). That’s man’s spirit, not exclusively unregenerate man’s. Sometimes man’s spirit or breath is poetically vested with personality traits just like the heart is, but that doesn’t mean the breath has life outside this present body any more than the heart would go on living after death.

    I do believe in and take seriously the warnings of outer darkness, fire, etc. that you mention. Hell is indeed a real place as you mention, though it is future, not present, and its duration is misunderstood by most of the Christian world. It is more an event than a place.

    The distinction you draw in 2 Corinthians between the body and the soul is unwarranted, I believe. The Bible says the soul dies (Ez 18:20) just as the body. Paul doesn’t teach that the human soul is immortal, but that God alone is immortal (1 Tim 6:16). It doesn’t say “I have a soul” that is immortal and lives on upon my death, but rather, I AM a soul (Adam BECAME a nephesh – living soul). It seems Paul is dealing with the whole human person in 2 Corinthians, body, soul, everything. I don’t see him drawing the distinction there that you’ve drawn.

    God’s wrath is indeed a reality in the Bible. But we must not clothe God with fallen, human characteristics and view his wrath through the wrath of our own sinful experience. God doesn’t lose control, get angry, and abuse his children like so many human fathers. He exhibits “little wrath” (Is 54:6) often in the Bible, as you’ve mentioned, and that little wrath is calculated to protect the innocent from the aggressor (the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, 185,000 Assyrians) and discipline his beloved children (snakes in the desert, exile, etc). Sometimes it is active discipline out of love with the purpose to teach, and other times it’s removal of his protection, which is called in the Bible “wrath.”

    The BIG wrath, then, in the end, is when God finally and fully gives over sinners to the consequences of their choices. This very act of giving over is demonstrated in Jesus on the cross when he is forsaken or given over by the Father: my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Paul in Romans 1 defines God’s wrath as giving sinners over to their way. He uses the same Greek word in 8:32 do describe the experience of Jesus. He was delivered up or given over. This is God’s final act of wrath in the destruction of sin and sinners in the end.

  10. Andy B says:

    Re Gods wrath – I believe we are living in the ‘times of the gentiles’ in a period of (relative) grace, where the full wrath of God is restrained and yet to be poured out.. something to think about..

    If we apply some logic to the finite vs eternal Hell argument we end up with a series of paradoxes.

    Lets assume that Hell is real and exists outside of time as we know it – yet the wrath or punishment endured is not eternal. From here depending on your beliefs the soul in Hell is either destroyed or eventually reconciled to Christ.

    Lets also assume that Heaven is real and exists outside of time as we know it – and exists for ever.

    Paradox 1 – Eternity
    In this mortal life we are bound by time. It governs everthing from birth to death.
    There are seasons in a day, a year and in a life – a season for everything.
    Our understanding of eternity is tainted by our time-bound existance.
    The only way we can try and understand eternity is to think of time continuing indefinately.
    It is implied in Rev that redeemed souls in eternity comprehend time when the marters cry out “how long” ? However, this may be due to the earth not yet being destroyed – at which point time as we know it may or may not exist.

    I suspect we will never know exactly how eternity works until we experience it.
    So for now lets draw comfort in the time-bound thought that eternity is like the longest time we can comprehend multiplied by infinity – a number we cannot comprehend !

    Paradox 2 – Eternal Judgement and Equity
    We believe that the consequences of sin is death and that the free gift of God is eternal life.
    We know that every soul will be judged and the sheep separated from the goats.
    So then some will receive eternal life in Heaven and then others will be sent to Hell – lets assume again for a finite period of time before their soul is destroyed or they are reconciled to God.

    If this is true than there has been a grave miscarraige of justice.
    This implies the consequences of judgment (for this present life) are skewed heavily in favour of those experiencing Hell ! A finite period of suffering is a spit in the ocean of eternity. There may as well be no judgement. The only equitable way for judgement to be administered outside the confines of time, is for both reward and punishment to be equitable – that is to say eternal.

    Paradox 3 – Fairness of Eternal Suffering and Eternal Life
    Just as we cannot fully understand eternity, we cannot conceive that God would send a sinful human soul to Hell to suffer for eternity.
    It seems callous, unloving – unfair.
    Why would the sins of a single lifetime be judged for an infinite number of lifetimes ?
    Wouldn’t that soul be punished enough within a year or so ?
    Perhaps our understanding of eternity has blurred our sense of equity ?

    Yet equally we CAN accept that the same God would send a regenerate soul to Heaven for eternity. I suggest that this is equally if not more ‘unfair’ than the concept of an eternal Hell.
    After all our own righteousness is as filthy rags and if it were not for Christ there would be nothing we could do to be counted worthy.

    Why would a Holy sinless God, on the basis of our trust in Him during this ‘vapour’ of a life, grant us, a sinful soul, not only peace and joy here on earth, but access to the limitless wonders His presence for all eternity !

    This is grocely ‘unfair’ – yet we all accept eternal Heaven because its such a nice thought.
    Lets not let our opinion of the ‘unfairness’ of eternal Hell cloud our understanding of scripture on the basis that Hell is not a nice thought.

  11. Scott says:

    Interesting thoughts. I am puzzled by the assumption that heaven and hell exist today outside of time. I don’t see that in the Bible. I don’t take the souls crying out from underneath the altar literally; Revelation is a highly symbolic book; I don’t think very many people envision heaven as being a place where you live trapped under an altar crying out.

    I don’t why you assume in paradox 2 that the time periods of punishment and rewards have to be equivalent in order for fairness to be met. Let’s say you have two children and you’ve given them consequences for obedience and disobedience, namely, for obedience, the child gets to go to Chuck E Cheese for two hours, and for disobedience, the child get a spanking. One child obeys and goes to Chuck E Cheese for two hours, and the other disobeys and gets a spanking. Would the spanking have to last for two whole hours in order to meet the demands of justice? If it’s not two whole hours, would we be left with the statement “there might as well be no spanking”? Regarding the punishment of the wicked, why does the length of time of the punishment have to be equivalent to the length of time of the reward? Wouldn’t a better measure of fairness be that the punishment fits the crime, rather than parallels the reward? Which leads to the question: sins for a 70 year lifetime are at some point sufficiently chastised, are they not? Maybe a few days of torture in hell, maybe a few weeks or months, depending on the sinner? But eventually, punishment has been fulfilled.

    I’m speaking in human terms right now. We strongly believe that there needs to be a punishment. We call it justice. We say that somebody must justly suffer in return for suffering that has been dealt out. However, I might question this whole notion of so-called justice. Biblical justice means rightness or righteousness, or depending on the context, it means setting things right, leveling the social order, defending the defenseless by eliminating their oppressors, etc. I don’t see God as a God of eye-for-an-eye. Jesus taught that there is a higher ideal. So my argument on the destruction of the wicked really doesn’t rest on the flawed human conception of justice in the penal sense. I do appeal on those terms to those who believe in this form of justice that even according to their own justice concepts, an eternally burning hell is highly unjust.

    Your paradox 3 seems to be acknowledging that it’s unjust for God to torture people for eternity, but that God just isn’t a fair God, so we should just accept the doctrine without any concerns about justice. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood you. If not, then I’m troubled by this idea. It is true that God’s grace isn’t “fair” on human terms (e.g. the workers hired at the 11th hour paid the same as those who worked all day). But the point of God contradicting our petty, human bean-counting justice is to demonstrate his overabundance of GRACE not to manifest some divine ability to to subvert justice in pursuit of becoming an infinite master of torture and pain-infliction. While there exists a parable pointing to the “unfairness” of grace, there is no parable suggesting God is unjust in the punishment of the wicked. Rather, we see that the punishment will fit the crime (Luke 12:47-48, beaten with few/many stripes).

    This could raise a whole different discussion on the nature of this punishment. Is it intrinsic or externally imposed? I don’t view God as the executioner of the wicked doling out sufficient pain and suffering to sinners to settle the score he’s got against them. Love keeps no record of wrongs. But this is a whole different discussion.

    • ronald hackel says:

      Hell is exactly what the Bible says it is. Sheol the Jewish word for grave or Hades the Greek word for grave are substituted with the word hell. The dump outside of Jerusalem was also substituted with the word hell in the KJV. It is where the wicked ( the untrusting) end up at the second coming. Those that refuse to trust in God will be left on a planet that is in the process of imploding.
      2 PETER 3 : 10 “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire” Peter repeats the scene in verse 12. “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.”

      God was not destroying the earth at the time of the flood, we were. God simply held it together until Noah had time to build an ark and save anyone that would come on the ark.
      PSALM 75 “When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm.”
      God does let go though, giving us our freewill, the Bible calls it God’s wrath. But, if you read Romans 1, God is simply giving us what we demand. If you read 2 Peter the third chapter Peter tells us the world is going to explode in the end the same as it did at the flood. God does come back to save us again, just as he did at the flood and at Sodom and Gomorrah.
      He raises all from the grave and any that look to him and ask to be saved will rise to meet him. There is a lot more detail, but it would take several pages.
      Jesus told the people of Capernaum that they would have to eat his flesh to rise at the last day(JOHN 6:54). Jesus was of course talking figuratively. You would have to know him so well it would be like eating his flesh. He clarified what this meant in LUKE 10 :15. “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the skies? No, you will go down to the grave.” The people of Capernaum were grossed out when Jesus told them to eat his flesh and the Bible said that most left him from that day on except for the apostles. By leaving him, they never got to learn how loving he was. They have been in the grave for 2000 years for them to go to the grave at the second coming means they have to raise at the second coming and then return to the grave. Psalm 9 tells us the same truth.
      PSALM 9 : 16,17 “The Lord is known by his justice; the wicked return to the grave, all nations that forget God.” They forget how loving our Father is and run from him at the second coming. The earth is going to explode just as it did at the flood. The first time the the fountains of the deep over-heated and caused the earth to rupture. Since the fountains of the deep are now on the surface of the earth (our present day oceans) now the overheating will not cause the world to explode until the solid materials are heated to the point that they explode the world. It will be a much more violent explosion because the water blew at 212 while it will take thousands of degrees to make the solids gas.
      Is this all fantasy on my part? A French study on mind control had students concentrate on negative thoughts and they were able to alter the decay rate of a substance. Major Universities have found that the decay rate of all materials has started to increase (May 2012). On the 6th day God said everything was very good. Radio-active materials could not have been on the surface of the earth. They cause cancer and were used in the atomic bomb. Place them in the core and their decay heat the fountains of the deep which water and heat the entire world. Everything bad is a direct result of the cataclysm we call the flood. I’ve written a paper on all the ramifications of the world exploding.

      If you read 2 TIMOTHY 3:1-5 it describes what we are like today. It describes a people who’s minds are evil continually, just as God said they were before the flood. God created us in his image that the Universe could see what he was like. He gave us dominion over this earth, allowed us to procreate and gave us His Spirit. The Universe would be able to look at us and see that Satan was a liar. The Bible said there was war in heaven. The word war was the Greek word polemia, which is an aggressive refuting of one’s principles. If God made us for this purpose and they were suffering before the flood as we now are, God would indeed be grieved that he had created us. Satan always supplies our minds with a negative slant for all scripture. The earth according to the Bible is 6000 years old. Jesus told us all scripture must be fulfilled. God said the land must be rested every seventh year. It has never happened. If you read Hebrews 3&4 Paul tells us that there is going to be a rest and not to lose it like the Jews did by unbelief. This is all about losing the 1000 year rest in heaven and not eternally being lost. God cannot create a new earth until the old earth has its rest (scripture must be fulfilled). He can then come back after the thousand years and resurrect all the doubters. God cannot do this at the second coming because Satan must be proven to be a faulty leader. When his way of ruling has caused the world to blow and 2/3 of humanity lost in the explosion, Satan is proven wrong. God then is free to interfere and restore the rest of his children. He says in Revelation 15:1 that his wrath is completed at the seventh plague when the world explodes. And, wrath is letting us go. I’ve let out a ton of specifics obviously, but I can answer any question that you might have. Satan has done such a great job of deceiving everyone that few will believe this as Jesus warned. Basically everything the churches teach are blatant lies. God said in Revelation that he would not allow the destruction until he sealed the minds of the remnant (144,000) and they don’t defile themselves with women(Rev 14:4) (which is symbolic for God’s churches). He warns us in Isaiah 4:1-4 that the churches are all wrong as well as in Revelation 3:17.
      Peter said the elements were going to be melting. The earth from space would resemble a lake of fire. The ones not raised that run from God would die a second death in the lake of fire.

      P

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