What does the Bible actually say about Hell and eternal punishment?

The Question: What does the Bible actually say about Hell and eternal punishment? Would God really send someone to Hell for an eternity of torture, because that just seems the absolute opposite of goodness and love regardless of what those people did to ‘deserve’ punishment in their lifetimes.

This is an excellent question that many Christian’s struggle with, and for good reason. Doug Barron wrote an outstanding article examining this issue and he has provided permission for it’s use on the site.

 

Conditional Immortality, Hell, and the Soul

By Doug Barron

 

The traditional Christian belief about hell is that unbelievers suffer there for eternity after they die. This doctrine of eternal torment became the prominent view by the fifth century.

 

I spent most of my life believing this view of hell and never gave much consideration to what the Bible said on the topic. I was taught that the soul was immortal and incapable of dying. Therefore, an eternity of torment was the only possible conclusion for those who did not choose to follow Christ.

 

However, after reading a few articles written by a number of reputable Christian men who presented the view that immortality was a gift of God and not something we automatically have, my curiosity was piqued. I soon discovered that throughout the centuries, many well known Christians such as William Tyndale, John Huss, John Wycliffe, and Martin Luther have challenged this assumption, believing rather in conditional immortality (that a person’s soul is not immortal and that hell is the final destruction of all evil, not an eternal torture chamber).

 

I began a lengthy study examining what the Scriptures said about immortality and the final judgment. I attempted to set aside my preconceived ideas and let the scriptures speak for themselves. The questions I asked revealed some eye-opening information about conditional immortality, hell, and the soul.

 

Is the soul really immortal?

 

The belief that the soul is immortal gained a foothold early on in the church. Even though there is not one reference in the Bible to support it, the belief in the immortality of the soul became cemented firmly in church doctrine around the fifth century, during the time of Augustine. It appears that the belief in the immortal soul had its roots in Greek philosophy and worked its way into the church early on.

 

So what does the Bible really say about the immortality of the soul?

 

In Genesis 2:16 we read:

 

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

 

This is the first indication in the Bible that the soul is not immortal and that the penalty for sin is death. Satan was the first one to suggest that the soul of man was immortal. Satan told Eve that if she ate of the forbidden fruit “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4).

 

And then God said:

 

“Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever...” (Genesis 3:22)

 

And so God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden. He did not want them to be immortal.

 

More verses that speak about immortality:

 

 He who is blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality…(1 Timothy 6:15)

 

This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and had brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:9-10)

 

The perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality…

(1 Corinthians 15:53)

 

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. (Romans 2:6-7)

 

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 6:23)

 

As I studied this topic, I realized that if I hold to the pre-conceived idea that the soul is immortal, then it colours how I view the rest of Scripture.  If I believe that the soul is immortal, then the wages of sin is death must mean something other than death. And perish, destroyed, burned up must be redefined or simply ignored to fit the doctrine. However, without immortality-coloured glasses, the scriptures show a much different picture than what I had always believed. What if the wages of sin is death really means precisely that – death?  These verses suggest that the soul is not immortal after all.

 

What do the Scriptures say about final punishment?

 

There are hundreds of verses that talk about the final fate of the wicked and many speak directly of destruction and death. In the Old Testament, we see God’s wrath or punishment being poured out on people for two reasons:

1) to discipline, as we see in His dealings with the people of Israel.  

2) to punish in the form of death and destruction, such as with Sodom and Gomorrah or the flood. Never is there any indication of God torturing people, and yet the majority of the church has believed for centuries that God would allow people to be tortured for eternity.

 

What does the Bible says about the destiny of the unrepentant?

 

…but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. (Genesis 2:17)

 

You will make them like a blazing oven when you appear. The Lord will swallow up in his wrath, and fire will consume them. (Psalm 21:9)

 

As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God. (Psalm 68:2)

 

Behold, all souls are mine, the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine; the soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:4)

 

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. (Malachi 4:1)

 

His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:12)

 

John the Baptist preached that the unrighteous would be burned up like chaff. An unquenchable fire is not one that burns forever but one that will not be put out until the job is done and reduced what it was burning to ashes. I look at the term “unquenchable fire” later on in more detail.

 

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

 

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Hell. (Matthew 10:28)

 

The above verse is one of the clearest passages concerning the destiny of the lost.  Here we see Jesus stating that the soul is not indestructible, but rather can be destroyed by God.

 

Let both grow together until harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, gather together the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn. (Matthew 13:30)

 

The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:38-42)

 

This passage in Matthew 13 gives another clear description of the final destruction of the wicked. Jesus had just finished telling the disciples the parable of the wheat and the tares.  Now He gives them the interpretation. The words He uses are plain and easy to understand. The Greek word (katakaiō) used here indicates that the wicked will be completely and utterly destroyed.  I always assumed that the phrase weeping and gnashing of teeth meant torment forever and ever, but on further examination there is nothing to indicate that the weeping and gnashing of teeth will go on forever.

 

But on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all – so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.(Luke 17:29-30)

 

Here we have another example from Jesus that couldn’t be much clearer. He uses the example of Sodom to show what will happen at the final judgment.  Just like Sodom was destroyed, so will it be at the end.

 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

 

I have recited this verse so many times and yet I completely missed what was said.  In this famous verse we see a clear contrast between two destinies—life or death.

 

I tell you the solemn truth, if anyone obeys my teaching, he will never see death. (John 8:51)

 

Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32)

 

Many times I have read or heard people arguing that death is not enough of a punishment to satisfy God’s anger. And yet Paul tells us that God decreed that death was a just and deserving punishment.

 

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

 

In this passage, Paul gives a plain and simple contrast between death and life. Eternal life is a gift from God and not something that we possess outside of Him.

 

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)

 

This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. (Philippians 1:28)

 

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27)

 

This passage in Hebrews speaks of adversaries being consumed at the judgment. There is no indication here whatsoever of ongoing torment. Throughout the Old Testament we have examples of God’s wrath and fury that often resulted in destruction by fire of the ungodly.

                                                          

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:39)

 

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,   let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)

 

 …by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly. (2 Peter 2:6)

 

Peter is using an example from history and saying “this is what the end is going to be like.” Like Sodom and Gomorrah that were reduced to ashes, so too the ungodly will be completely wiped out. There is no talk here of eternal torment.

 

But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction. (2 Peter 2:12)

 

For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3:5-7)

 

These verses in 2 Peter 3 give us one of the most direct and convincing examples from history that the wicked will be wiped out. The same Greek word is used to describe the perishing during Noah’s time and the destruction of the ungodly.

 

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)

 

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day – just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:6-7)

 

This passage demonstrates that punishment of eternal fire does not mean unending torment. The “punishment of eternal fire” completely destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. The people in Sodom and Gomorrah did not burn forever in an eternal fire. They were burned up. The phrase “eternal fire” does in no way indicate that what is in it will burn forever.  Rather, it indicates that what is destroyed in that fire is gone forever.

 

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them.  And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15)

 

If any passage in Revelation can give us some insight, this is probably it.  Unlike most of the book of Revelation that deals with imagery that is hard to understand, John interprets the imagery here. He tells us that the lake of fire is the second death. We know what the first death was. Our mortal bodies died. What Jesus said in Matthew 10:28 was pointing directly to this second death:  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. The second death is the final death of both body and soul.

 

As I read through the New Testament over and over again it became clear to me that death is indeed the punishment that God will mete out on the unrighteous. And that was precisely what He told Adam and Eve back in the Garden. “If you eat this fruit you will die.

 

Are there Scriptures that support eternal torment?

 

There are only a handful of Scriptures that people point to in support of eternal torment. When I examined these verses, I discovered that either they do not support the view of eternal torment or they can just as likely be interpreted to support the final death of the wicked. I should note that there is not a single reference in the Bible that speaks directly of eternal torment of the lost.

 

  1. Eternal punishment

 

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’…And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:41, 46)

 

According to those who support the eternal torment view, this passage in Matthew is one of the most convincing arguments for eternal torment. For most of my life I believed without question that the phrase “eternal punishment” meant that the punishing was unending torment. But there are several things that I missed. First, we are not told the nature of the punishment. The punishment could be eternal torment but it could also be an endless variety of punishments such as forced to eat burned toast or breaking up rocks with a small hammer. The passage does not tell us what the punishment is.  

 

Second, “eternal punishment” does not necessarily mean “eternal punishing,” although that could be a possibility. It could also refer to how long the effects of the punishment last. I believe, based on the evidence elsewhere in Scripture, that the eternal punishment is death. That is what God told Adam and Eve and also what Paul confirmed in Romans 6:23: The wages of sin is death. I believe that eternal death is God’s divine capital punishment. The effects of that punishment last for eternity. In my reading and listening to messages and debates, many of the traditionalists have the strong belief that God’s wrath and punishment must involve the infliction of pain and suffering forever and ever. I believe this is a misguided assumption. The very worst form of punishment that we have on earth is capital punishment and yet it involves little or no pain in the meting out of that punishment. What makes it so severe is what is taken away from the one being punished. A life is taken away and the effects are eternal. God’s eternal capital punishment lasts forever. Life can never be restored. It is gone. It should be noted that there are degrees of punishment mentioned in the scriptures. We are given no clue as to how that punishment is meted out or what the punishment involves, but the final end appears to be the end of a person’s existence.

 

  1. Eternal destruction

 

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. (2 Thessalonians 1:9)

 

In this verse we are told what the punishment is—destruction. The traditionalist would argue that it means eternally destroying.  I believe that interpretation is incorrect as something cannot be continually destroyed.  Destruction harmonizes perfectly with other examples such as perishing, death, consumed and burned up.  In any case this passage speaks of destruction and not eternal torment.

 

  1. Eternal fire

 

Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41)  

 

There are many instances where Jesus talks about being cast into the eternal fire, fiery furnace, or hell, but He never once says there will be unending torment in that fire. This passage does not tell us what will happen in that fire, but there are other places that do tell us—like weeds being incinerated, burned up like Sodom and Gomorrah, branches pruned and burned up.  An eternal fire does not mean that what is thrown into it is continually burning for eternity.  As was mentioned earlier, in Jude verses 6 and 7, Sodom and Gomorrah were punished with an eternal fire that wiped them out. 

 

  1. Weeping and gnashing of teeth

 

“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…. “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:40-42, 49-59)

 

Although I commented on this verse earlier, it bears repeating. I find that this passage is one of the clearest passages that point to the permanent death of the unrighteous. Jesus says that just like the weeds are burned up, so it will also be at the end of the age.  During that process of judgment and the execution of that judgment there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, but there is no indication that it will go on forever and ever. There is no mention of eternal torment in this passage, but rather the end of life.

 

  1. An unquenchable fire

 

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:47-48)

 

Here again we see the phrase ‘thrown into hell’, but like the above verses, there is no mention of torment. The word that Jesus often used and that we translate to “hell” is the Greek word “Gehenna.” Gehenna was a valley outside of Jerusalem that was used as a garbage dump. Dead carcasses were dumped there and fires smoldered continuously. The mention of maggots and fire indicates that Jesus was not talking about eternal torment but rather eternal death or destruction of those thrown into Gehenna.  Maggots eat dead flesh and fire destroys what is thrown into it. Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 66:24, which says:

“They [the righteous] shall go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against me. For their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched; and they shall be an abhorrence to all mankind.”

 

Just a few verses earlier in Isaiah 66:15, 16 we are told the complete picture:

 

For behold, the Lord will come in fire, and his chariots like the whirlwind, to render his anger in fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment, and by his sword, with all flesh’ and those slain by the Lord shall be many.

 

God has destroyed His enemies and the dead bodies are being consumed by maggots and by fire. The maggots and fire are not tormenting living people in this imagery.  The fire is not an eternal fire in this case but rather an unquenchable fire that no one will put out.  

 

Every spring, I burn the dead grass in a ditch beside my lawn. It is an unquenchable fire. I do not put it out but rather let it burn itself out when the job is completed. Nothing is left but ashes. The people of Jesus’ day would have understood exactly what Jesus was saying. Those thrown into Gehenna (hell) will be burned up like garbage and destroyed—they will be no more. And the imagery of worms and fire point to the complete and utter destruction and not to everlasting torment.  

 

Here are two examples of unquenchable fire that did not burn forever:

 

I am about to kindle a fire in you, and it will consume every green tree in you, as well as    every dry tree; the blazing flame will not be quenched. (Ezekiel 20:47)

 

 I will kindle a fire in its gates and it will devour the places of Jerusalem and not be quenched. (Jeremiah 17:27)

 

  1. Everlasting contempt

 

Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise.  And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:1-2)

 

Advocates of eternal torment cite this verse quite often because it mentions the unrighteous being raised to “disgrace and everlasting contempt.” Again it does not mention anything about eternal torment. The identical word for “contempt” is found in the Isaiah 66:24 passage that we looked at above. Here the word is translated as “abhorrence,” and it is the righteous people who are coming out to look at the dead corpses and view them with contempt. This passage in Daniel speaks nothing about eternal torment but rather points again toward the death of the unrighteous. Only the righteous are said to be raised to everlasting life.

 

  1. The Rich Man and Lazarus

 

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’” (Luke 16:25-26)

 

Some people point to the story of the rich man and Lazarus in defending the doctrine of eternal torment.  This parable takes place in Hades before the resurrection and judgment and therefore I don’t find it relevant to the topic. 

 

  1. Tormented with fire and sulfur forever

 

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying in a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9-11)

                                                                    

This is one of the passages used most often in defense of eternal torment.  In it, we have the imagery of fire and sulfur that is used a number of times in the Bible previously, probably the most familiar being the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. That imagery always symbolizes destruction. Then we have the imagery of smoke rising forever and ever.  Notice that it is smoke rising forever and not ongoing torment.   This is imagery from the Old Testament.  Isaiah 34:9-13 reads:                                            

 

And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into sulfur; her land shall become burning pitch. Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it forever and ever. But the hawk and the porcupine shall possess it, the owl and the raven shall dwell in it. He shall stretch the line of confusion over it, and the plumb line of emptiness. Its nobles – there is no one there to call it a kingdom, and all its princes shall be nothing Thorns shall grow over its strongholds, nettles and thistles in its fortresses.

 

In this passage, we see Edom completely destroyed. Nothing would quench the fire and we see the imagery of smoke rising forever, a symbol of its complete and permanent destruction.

 

Later, in the same book of Revelation in chapter 19:3 we read the following statement concerning the utter destruction and burning of the great prostitute, Babylon: Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.

 

Babylon had been destroyed and utterly laid waste and this symbol illustrates the permanence of that destruction. It was never intended to be a picture of Babylon burning forever and ever.

 

These passages are simply very powerful imagery that points to the permanence and finality of the destruction. They are not referring to eternal torment. The imagery of no rest also indicates the permanence of the judgment.  (See Hebrews 3:16-19)

 

  1. Tormented day and night

 

...and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:10)

 

This is the passage that “absolutely proves” eternal torment according to those who hold the theory of eternal torment in hell. First, it says nothing about humans being tormented. Second, there are at least two other passages that refer to the same beast. But in both these verses the beast is destroyed. Daniel 7:11 reads:

 

I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to the fire.

 

In 2 Thessalonians 2:8, Paul tells us about the fate of the lawless one, who is thought to be the same as the beast of Revelation.

 

And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.

 

In the book of Hebrews we are told that the devil will be destroyed.

 

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

 

Which are we to believe? Were Daniel, Paul and the author of Hebrews correct in saying that the devil and the beast would be destroyed or was John right about eternal torment? The point is that these passages are imagery and should not be interpreted literally. We cannot take one line of imagery (and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever) and treat it as literal, yet ignore other imagery. Here is some of the imagery we are dealing with, things that Revelation says will be cast into the lake of fire:

  • Satan
  • A seven-headed, ten-horned beast (Revelation 13:1-4)
  • a two-horned beast that spews frogs out of its mouth (Revelation 13:11)
  • Death and Hades (Revelation 20:14)
  • Those whose names are not written in the book of life (Revelation 20:15)

 

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15: 26 that the last enemy to be destroyed is death. And John’s interpretation of the lake of fire as being the second death seems much more likely to indicate that what is thrown in will be destroyed. In the end sin and death will be no more and God will be all in all.

(1 Corinthians 15:28)  And the passages in Daniel 7, 2 Thessalonians and Hebrews chapter 2 would support this.

 

The imagery and symbolism of the book of Revelation makes it impossible to interpret literally. It is not meant to be viewed as a smorgasbord where we pick and choose the imagery that best supports our view.  Trying to find support for either the traditional view of hell or conditional immortality from this book is not wise. It is a book of symbolic imagery and not a doctrinal text.

 

Conclusion

 

Having looked at many passages of scripture concerning the fate of the wicked, I am convinced that the case for eternal torment is extremely weak, if not non-existent.  Nowhere in the Scriptures can there be found a single direct reference to the eternal torment of human beings. On the other hand, there are dozens of direct references to death and destruction following the judgment.

 

Here are some of the words and phrases used to describe the fate of the wicked:

destroy, burn up, perish, die, death, be no more, vanish, be like smoke that vanishes, a slug that melts, dashed to pieces like pottery, slain by the Lord’s breath, die like gnats, destroyed like a flood, destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah, consumed, wax melting, stubble that is burned up, leaving neither root nor branch, burned up like chaff, destroy both body and soul in hell, condemned to extinction, the second death

Do these words and phrases evoke images of eternal torment or of destruction?

 

How is it possible that a doctrine that has been the dominant view for so many years could be wrong?  It seems like it all began with the acceptance of the Greek belief in the immortality of the soul.  If you begin by believing that the soul is immortal, then all of your interpretation of scripture must be viewed in light of that belief.  If Paul says the wages of sin is death, then a different interpretation of death is necessary to reconcile your belief.

 

Tradition also plays a huge role in our beliefs.  Somehow, we have the idea that if a doctrine has been held for hundreds of years, it cannot be wrong.  Fortunately, Martin Luther did not believe this and was willing to stand against tradition.  And even Jesus was quick to condemn the Pharisees concerning their traditions.  If our traditions are not supported by scripture then it is the tradition that must be abandoned and not the altering of the meaning of scripture in order to support our tradition.

 

The burden of proof rests with the supporters of eternal conscious torment to explain why the overwhelming Biblical evidence for death and destruction as a penalty for sin should not be taken at face value. I am convinced that these simple, direct words of the apostle John need no other interpretation:  

 

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)

 


 

 

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