I've always heard that the wicked would be punished in Hell for eternity. Let's look at some verses:
"Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." (NIV)
What is the context of the word perish here? Perish like the people who had a tower fall on them?
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (NIV)John 10:28
"I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." (NIV)Note that Jesus said 'perish' not eternal punishment.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." (NIV)What does 'not see life' mean? Not live for eternity?
"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." (NIV)How is this an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire? There could be an eternal fire that destroys the wicked in the same way that the people from Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. An eternal fire does not necessarily mean the wicked survive in the fire eternally.
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (NIV)Again eternal life is contrasted with death - not an eternity of punishment.
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (NIV)What does destruction mean?
Verses used to support eternal punishment
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matt 25:46 NIV)This does say eternal punishment. One explanation used to fit with the perish side is this: Consider someone getting multiple life sentences for a crime. It does not mean the person will live as long as the sentence. Is it possible that the punishment is eternal, but the life of the person is not eternal?
"They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power" (2 Thes 1:9 NIV)Could everlasting destruction mean they are destroyed forever?
"And if thy foot may cause thee to stumble, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into the life lame, than having the two feet to be cast to the gehenna, to the fire -- the unquenchable --where there worm is not dying, and the fire is not being quenched. " (YLT)We also need to consider that Jesus is quoting Isaiah 66:24 here:
"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." (NIV)Note the reference to dead bodies, not living bodies. Also Gehenna was a burning garbage dump near Jerusalem. Things thrown into the burning garbage dump would be destroyed. The fire burned forever, but the things thrown into it perished.
Either way eternal life with Jesus is still the obvious choice. I'm just questioning if the doctrine of Hell, that most denominations support, is true to scripture. To be destroyed or perish may simply mean that those who do not choose life with Christ do not get to live eternally.