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.




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)




18 thoughts on “What does the Bible actually say about Hell and eternal punishment?”

  1. I have been researching conditional immortality for several years and believe it to be a true interpretation of the Scriptures. This is the most concise and well-written article on this topic that I have found. Thank you for writing this essay! I plan to share it with many of my Christian family and friends who believe in the traditional view of hell as a place of unending torment.

  2. “WOW,” I was taught and believed that multitudes upon multitudes of humans will suffer “eternal torment” for 100 trillion years, and then another 100 trillion years, and then another 100 trillion years, and it goes on and on with no hope of it ever ending.

    I am certain that each one of us, deep inside of our very being, know that something just does not add up concerning this picture. But, we just can’t quite figure out what is it that we are not understanding correctly.

    The true biblical teaching is neither the traditional Christian view of hell, nor the view of annihilation. Our great God is neither a great torturer nor a great annihilator, but He is the great Saviour of the world.

    I have written upon this topic, but it is much too lengthy to post on this site. Below is a sample. If anyone would like a copy in it’s original Word Document Format,

    ………. What is the “GOOD NEWS” of the Gospel of Christ? ……….
    (Re-examining the widely held belief of “eternal torment” in “Hellfire”)

    There are some Biblical topics which in order to get a better and clearer understanding of, require a lengthy Biblical explanation. This Biblical topic is certainly one of them. After all, there is certainly NOTHING MORE IMPORTANT than “our eternal purpose” & “our eternal destination!” Therefore, it is of the utmost importance for us to have a better and clearer Biblical understanding concerning this most important topic.

    My purpose for this writing is to Biblically “expound” upon (1) is there really going to be “eternal torment?” (2) is there really going to be “eternal annihilation?” (3) to give a Biblical answer to the question “If there is no “eternal torment,” and if there is no “eternal annihilation” of our very being, then what are we being saved from, and what is our being here during this present time on earth really all about?”

    I was a Christian for 38 years before the Lord opened up my Spiritual understanding to see more clearly some Biblical truths that I had not properly understood in regards to the finished work of Christ on the Cross.

    1. Hmmmm, that’s an interesting statement to make if I understand it correctly. So you are saying from a Biblical perspective you believe there is no eternal suffering and no destruction of the souls of those who are unsaved?

      From a Biblical perspective I would have to disagree based on the numerous passages that discuss this topic (many of which are mentioned in the article), as they do quite clearly, at least from what I can see, indicate that, 1. There IS indeed a permanent/eternal consequence for denying Christ and choosing evil, and 2. The consequence is being cast into Hell (aka, eternal fire, destruction, etc.). As the article discusses, I believe that Hell is the ‘destruction’ of the souls, not the eternal ‘torture’ of the souls as is the popular Christian belief, but I do certainly believe the souls will be thrown into Hell as the Bible states…

      I’d be quite careful claiming that God has ‘revealed’ to you some ‘truths’ which contradict what the Bible says and really examine those. God gave us His Word so that we would have a guide to verify what the Holy Spirit teaches and corroborate that teaching so we could know His voice from the Devil’s. When you run into something that conflicts like this I’d say it strongly points to deception not truth.

      The ‘everyone will be saved in the end because God is good and loves them’ theology is not Biblically sound. Yes, God IS good and does love them, that doesn’t mean they can live in sin and reject God and be part of God’s kingdom though. God cannot ‘force’ them to choose Him. The Bible is quite clear on this, so if you are trying to claim that this part of the Bible isn’t true, then that also brings up the question of… Well what else of the Bible then isn’t true and what else can we bend and interpret liberally and change to our liking and to fit our lifestyle and what we think God should be like or do, etc, etc, etc.

      Dangerous territory to get into because then it becomes a man-made ‘religion’ with rules and regulations thought up by men and not God. Either God is God and the Bible is His Word in it’s entirety, or He is not God and the Bible is not His Word in it’s entirety… There isn’t a middle of the road so to speak.

      – Timothy

      1. Timothy,

        Unfortunately, this website removed my e-mail address which I included in my comment, so that if anyone was interested in my 17 page article, they could request a copy.

        Here is just a small sample of what is in my article, which is also on my website.

        When I first wrote this article in May of 2014, I did not have the information that is printed below. Two years later, in September of 2016, I came across the information that is below, which is published by the Pittsburg Bible Institute.

        Published by the Pittsburg Bible Institute: “The Lake of Fire and Brimstone signifies a fire burning with brimstone; the word ‘brimstone’ or sulphur defines the character of the fire. The Greek word THEION translated ‘brimstone’ is exactly the same word THEION which means ‘divine.’ (emphasis mine) Sulphur was sacred to the deity among the ancient Greeks; and was used to fumigate, to purify, and to cleanse and consecrate to the deity; for this purpose they burned it in their incense.

        In Homer’s Iliad (16:228), one is spoken of as purifying a goblet with fire and brimstone. The verb derived from THEION is THEIOO, which means to hallow, to make divine, or to dedicate to a god (See Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon, 1897 Edition).

        To any Greek, or any trained in the Greek language, a ‘lake of fire and brimstone’ would mean a ‘lake of divine purification.’ The idea of judgment need not be excluded. Divine purification and divine consecration are the plain meaning in ancient Greek. In the ordinary explanation, this fundamental meaning of the word is entirely left out, and nothing but eternal torment is associated with it.”

        Charles Pridgeon; Is Hell Eternal, or Will God’s Plan Fail; pgs 116 & 117.

        Here, Brother Pridgeon makes a vital point: brimstone is for purification, not punishment. This thought went unquestioned until the Dark Ages. His purpose was understood to purify and consecrate, not separate and punish. This Lake of Divine Fire will purify, refine, restore and consecrate til there is nothing left that is contrary to Him.

        1. Thanks for the comments/discussion Alan, it’s appreciated. Yes there are no email addresses/phone numbers, etc. allowed to be posted in the comments sections just fyi for various reasons.

          So you certainly raise an interesting point, however even if that one translation instance can be substantiated and is indeed correct, I still can’t see that negating the other references to death being the ultimate outcome of choosing to live life apart from God, nor how there could be anything left to ‘redeem’ if a person lives under Satan for their entire life and chooses to ignore God… So what I mean is, if a person, born into sin with their ‘father’ as the devil, doesn’t choose to accept Christ, what could there be left from a purification anyway?… So even if the Greek does in fact mean purification and not explicitly ‘destruction’, the end result would be destruction. The Bible says that the demons and Satan himself will also be cast into the fires does it not? Are you saying Satan and the demons will also then be ‘redeemed’? This train of thought doesn’t line up from what I can see and understand of the Bible…

          That being said, neither option should really be paramount to someone’s faith. Those that are called to God are going to follow God or not regardless of whether non-believers are ‘redeemed’, destroyed, etc. It’s not our responsibility to deal with them it’s God’s, and at the end of the day we have to trust that God IS good and fair and merciful and will do what is best. All we can do is try to live according to His will and follow where He leads.

          HOWEVER, I’d personally really be cautious about teaching this type of doctrine even if I believed it true, particularly to non-believers and new believers, because this type of theology tends to encourage ‘luke warm Christianity’ or pseudo Christianity, coming back to that ‘everything is good and okay as long as it’s not hurting anyone’, ‘I believe in God but don’t need to follow His commandments because He loves me and will forgive me anyway…’ type of ideal that is becoming so popular in North American culture…

          – Timothy

          1. Timothy,

            In order for a person to hopefully get a much better understanding of the overall picture of this topic, they would need to read my entire article, which can be found on my website. It is lengthy, because I have gone into great detail on this most important topic. It is the longest article that I have ever written.


          2. As to your question of what is left to be redeemed from? You are not being redeemed from hell when the Bible says that you Christ redeemed you. You are being redeemed from the law of Moses and redeemed from the curse that comes along with that and the curse that was brought on our entire species through Adam and Eve. You see this is the problem with most Christians today is that they believe that being Christian is only about being saved from hell. When in reality it’s about a lifelong relationship that is every day every second of your life and relationship with the father. It is not religion to go to church on Sunday and do whatever you want 6 days a week. It is the reason Jesus came and gave his life was to reunite God and man. I am driving down the road right now so I’m sorry that I cannot cite the many many scriptures that back up what I’m saying. Do a quick Google search on it and you will see 1000 verses that will tell you what you are redeemed from. I assure you being saved is not just being saved from Hell although that is part of it. Good luck and God bless.

          3. Hello again Chad,

            Yes I completely agree, redemption through Christ is not just redemption from hell but redemption from sin. I’m not sure what in my previous comments caused you to believe I was saying redemption is from hell only but I certainly didn’t intend them to be taken that way. I feel also that the articles I’ve written and found on this site all support that redemption is from sin and an opportunity for a relationship with God, and don’t focus on ‘Hell’ as you point out.

            In the specific point I was making to Mr. Finch though, I was referring to the possibility of God ‘redeeming’ someone who didn’t accept the sacrifice Jesus made for them… I don’t really understand how someone could be ‘redeemed’ persay if they intentionally reject their redeemer… So what would God be redeeming in someone who choose to serve Satan instead of accept Christ? To me it doesn’t make any sense, and I can’t find anything scriptural to support this line of thought, I can only find many verses that seem to oppose it (the many ‘Accept Jesus and be baptized and you will be saved’ type verses).

            Again though just to clarify, I’m not trying to ‘contradict’ or argue or create dissension or anything, I’m just saying in honesty with an interest for knowing the truth from a spiritual perspective that based on my understanding that doesn’t seem correct to me. I’m not saying you nor Mr. Finch are wrong or bad or anything of the sort…

      2. Did you even read the article that you are so quick to contradict? The guy who wrote this article that you’re commenting on did not say any of the things that you are claiming he’s saying. He did not say that everyone will go to heaven. He did not say that no one will be thrown into hell. What he said was that people are not in Hell screaming and torture for eternity. Which is absolutely 100% correct sound Biblical teaching. He cited many many verses in scripture to show that he was pulling his teaching from scripture. So please do yourself a favor and go back and actually read the article before you start leaving comments on this man’s brilliant take on hell and eternal torment.

        1. Hello Chad, thank you for your comments.

          I believe you may be confused about what was under discussion. We were not directly discussing Mr. Finch’s article that you cited, nor was I ‘contradicting’ said article. He had mentioned he had written an article on the subject in question and cited some quotes, but we were discussing the points he made in these comments, which is where my questions/thoughts came from.

          People are free to leave comments as they wish providing they are civil and relevant to the discussion/topic. As such, I’d request you not attempt to instruct anyone on whether they should or should not leave comments as all are welcome to, even if you or someone else feels they are incorrect.

          I did request some clarification on Mr. Finch’s comments regarding does he believe all then will be saved/redeemed, etc. and go to heaven, but he choose not to respond clearly and just recommended reading his articles. I did look at the cited article yes, and from what I can see it does indeed indicate that all will be redeemed, as such it would stand to reason all would go to heaven… However again without Mr. Finch’s clarification/interpretation on that which he as of yet hasn’t provided, it’s still unknown whether or not that is his belief or stance for sure, but from what I see in the article that is in fact the case yes.

          Stating that a ‘teaching’ or ‘interpretation’ of Scripture is 100% correct and sound is a bit presumptuous and I’d caution against it. I certainly can agree you BELIEVE this particular teaching is correct, however that doesn’t make it or any other teaching ‘correct’. There are a lot of other teachings that people can show are being ‘pulled from scripture’, however that doesn’t make them true or right.

          Again, I’m not saying this particular teaching IS wrong/incorrect, I was bringing up my thoughts/points on this subject about why I believe it isn’t correct or has some potential problems, again based in scripture… I’m not trying to discredit Mr. Finch or say he doesn’t know what he’s talking about or anything of the sort, and I apologize if that’s how it came off to you. I was just attempting to discuss the points he brought up from my own views/understanding as a fellow believer which is what this site is all about.

  3. I wonder what happened to Deuteronomy 28 and all the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament?
    Now add in the utter, abject misery of human existence documented in history books from all the nations on Earth from the last few thousand years.
    Now add in the global news, documentaries and footage from just the last 12 months for a snapshot of what this life is like in a world that has rejected its Creator.
    This is what hell looks like.
    This is what living death looks like.
    Let’s not confuse our (human) narrow definition of death with the Biblical use of that word.
    Get that part right and then we can understand more clearly what happens when someone passes away.

  4. Hell is one of those topics that has been so influenced by opinions, culture, and misinformation that it’s hard to tell what’s true and what’s made up. Many of us probably grew up picturing hell just as a place of fire. But the problem is the doesn’t give us an exact answer of what hell will be like. But it does paint us a picture.

    I’ve written several articles on hell, you can read one here: https://rethinknow.org/2018/07/10/what-the-bible-says-about-hell/

    1. this is the best article i have ever seen on torture by fire eternally. my view is jesus paid for my ticket. if he didn’t i will not be there. if i make it all will make it. if christ requires anything but the price of jesus, i have no hope. i was a holiness preacher for over 30 years. my baggage is to great to say i know this is right but its the only peace i can find. i have sinned to much before, during and after my conversion to be so naive to think there is something i could do. thank you jesus i choose to believe you paid it all in full

  5. Thank you for this.
    I have been involved as a Christian Radio Broadcaster for over 30 years working as a board operator, daypart host (DJ), audio guy, radio station manager. This work has been for Christian preaching and teaching programs for the entire time and man I have heard it all. Yet this is the most concise explanation I have ever heard.
    Again thank you.

  6. What do you say to the traditionalist argument that this text is talking about SAVED BELIEVERS who will just be temporarily punished by God? Some say that saved Christians can lose their salvation. I know that is NOT true.   We were “sealed with Holy Spirit” and so on. So don’t talk about that belief.

    As you can see, MANY of these verses ARE addressed to saved believers.

    Hebrews 10:26-36
    26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has ignored the Law of Moses is put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severe punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly by being made a public spectacle through insults and distress, and partly by becoming companions with those who were so treated. 34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better and lasting possession. 35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

    In Christ, James Preston

    1. Well, I’d ask how you reconcile verses like Hebrews 6:4-6 for example if you do not believe that a Christian can lose their salvation? I think the common misconception there is that people argue that God does not withdraw His salvation from someone once they are saved, which I absolutely agree with and there is much Biblical backing to support that which you are likely aware of and would refer to. However what people perhaps don’t recognize on this topic is that WE as humans still have free will and can remove ourselves from God’s salvation if we choose too.

      I also think there is a lot of confusion and misconception about what being a Christian is and means. A lot of people believe if they pray the ‘sinner’s prayer’ or something along those lines then ‘boom’ they are sealed for eternity/saved, etc. and there’s nothing that can take that away, they are good to go! I also don’t think that’s true, as being a ‘Christian’ is following God in word, deed, and with a right heart, not just saying words and doing some good things or something along those lines. If you look at the passages in Matthew 25 for example where God separates sheep from the goats, do you not think the ‘goats’ who cast out Demons in Jesus’ name, etc. etc. thought they were assured salvation? Do you not think they prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and all those things?

      I’m fully aware in my own heart/life things that are needing to be changed/transformed, and I pray constantly that God continues His work in me and that I don’t miss the marks He has set out for me. If I took on the mindset of “It doesn’t really matter what I do as I’m ‘saved’ so, sure I’ll try here and there but at the end of that day I don’t need to really be concerned with my spiritual condition as the outcome is the same.” that would at least in me breed habits of complacency and disingenuousness in my spiritual walk. I’d be content (as many seem to be) to sit in a pew on a Sunday morning once in a while and give a bit of money to an organization calling itself a church and be satisfied with that.

      I firmly believe the call of God is a life-long and life-changing experience that is renewed constantly, and leads to works of repentance through God’s Spirit working in me. I know I’ve done nothing and can do nothing to ‘deserve’ salvation, and I believe if I choose to NOT follow God and turn back to a life of sin that I can indeed disqualify myself from the salvation that God has freely given me.

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