OK, one more summary post on this 'Hot Topic' of Hell. Most Christian denomination teach that Hell is a place of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked. There are some verses that when read alone can make a good case for this belief. There are other verses that imply the consequence for not seeking to live in God's kingdom, is death, perishing, being destroyed, a second death, or not getting to live for eternity.
Either way, eternity with God is a better choice.
If you are of the opinion that you don't understand, and that there are more important things to focus on while living this life than trying to figure out exactly what eternity will look like.. read no further... do not waste another moment on this debate... I agree with you 100%.
Still reading? Then I also want to say that I'm not sure getting this correct is as essential to ones faith as maintaining unity and love. I strongly believe scripture is crystal clear that unity is essential, and love is essential for all in the body of Christ. If attempting to dialog on less essential topics like this causes harm to unity and love, then we should take a break from the dialog and agree to disagree until the Holy Spirit prompts further growth in us.
OK, enough of a preamble... If you think it is important to have a firm position on the eternal conscious punishment in hell, and hold a high view of Scripture, I'd suggest it's worth looking at verses on either side of this issue. I confess I had strong beliefs on this issue for years without searching the scriptures for myself.
Verses That Don't Sound Like Eternal Punishment
Ezekiel 18:4 (NIV)
For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son—both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.(Do all souls live forever? - Ezekiel 18:20 repeats "The soul who sins is the one who will die")
Matthew 3:12 (NIV)
"His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."('burning up the chaff' - does this sound like the chaff keeps burning, or burns up.)
Matt 7:13-14 (NIV)
"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."(Destruction for some... life for others)
Matthew 10:28 (NIV)
"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy(destroy both soul and body in hell)
both soul and body in hell."
Matthew 19:16 (NIV)
Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"(doesn't everyone get eternal life? what does eternal life mean? will those in hell live forever?)
Matthew 19:29 (NIV)
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.(again what does eternal life mean? will those in hell live forever?)
Luke 10:25 (NIV)
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"(again eternal life for some... implies some won't have eternal life.)
Luke 13:1-5 (NIV)
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 to will all perish."(what kind of perish? Like having a tower fall on them? Not very eternal. If Jesus wanted to say "unless you repent, you to will all be punished eternally in Hell", I think he could have said it, and also found a better analogy.)
John 3:15 (NIV)
that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life(again eternal life for some... implies some won't have eternal life)
John 3:16 (NIV)
"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."
John 3:36 (NIV)
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."(some get eternal life... and others will not see life)
John 4:14 (NIV)
but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."(again eternal life for some... implies some won't have eternal life)
John 5:24 (NIV)
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.(here eternal life means they have crossed over from death to life)
John 6:40 (NIV)
For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."(again not everyone will get eternal life? will those in hell live forever?)
John 6:47 (NIV)
I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.(everlasting life? will everyone live forever, even those in hell?)
John 6:50 (NIV)
But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die(who will not die? everyone?)
John 6:51 (NIV)
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world."(who will live forever? will those in hell live forever?)
John 6:54 (NIV)
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.(not everyone will get eternal life? will those in hell live forever?)
John 6:58 (NIV)
This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever."(who will live forever? will those in hell live forever?)
John 8:51 (NIV)
I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death."(who will not see death? will those in hell live forever?)
John 10:28 (NIV)
"I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand."(not everyone will get eternal life? will those in hell live forever?)
John 12:25 (NIV)
The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.(not everyone will get eternal life? will those in hell live forever?)
Romans 2:7 (NIV)
To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life(Do we all possess immortality? Will everyone live forever?)
1 Timothy 6:15-16 (NIV)
which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.(Do we all possess immortality? Will everyone live forever?)
Romans 5:21 (NIV)
so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.(not everyone will get eternal life? will those in hell live forever?)
Romans 6:13 (NIV)
Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.(what could it mean to be brought from death to life?)
Rom 6:23 (NIV)
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."(death for sinners - eternal life is the gift God is offering)
Romans 8:13 (NIV)
For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live,(sinners will die - those living by the Spirit will live)
1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV)
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.(some will perish, others are being saved)
2 Thessalonians 2:10 (NIV)
and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.(some will perish, others are being saved)
Galatians 6:8 (NIV)
The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.(some will be destroyed, others will receive eternal life)
Philippians 3:19 (NIV)
Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.(some will be destroyed)
1 John 2:17 (NIV)
The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.(will everyone live forever?)
1 John 3:15 (NIV)
Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.(will murderer's have eternal life in Hell?)
1 John 5:11 (NIV)
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.(Is God giving everyone eternal life? Some get good eternal life, some bad eternal life?)
2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 (NIV)
"He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power."(what does destruction mean? Are they destroyed for eternity?)
2 Peter 2:12 (NIV)
But these men blaspheme in matters they do not understand. They are like brute beasts, creatures of instinct, born only to be caught and destroyed, and like beasts they too will perish.(perish and destroyed)
2 Peter 3:7 (NIV)
By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.(ungodly men are destroyed?)
2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.(what does perish mean?)
James 4:12 (NIV)
There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?(some are saved, some are destroyed)
James 5:20 (NASB)
let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.(can a soul die?)
1 John 3:14 (NIV)
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.(contrast is death vs life... not eternal torment vs eternal bliss)
Jude 1:7 (NIV)
"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."(What kind of example was Sodom and Gomorrah? Are they still being punished? The fire may be eternal, but we know that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.)
Revelation 2:11 (NIV)
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.(What could second death mean? To die a second time, after the final judgment?)
Revelation 20:6 (NIV)
Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.(What could second death mean? To die a second time, after the final judgment?)
Rev 20:12-15 (NIV)
"And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."(What could second death mean? To die a second time, after the final judgment?)
Rev 21:8 (NIV)
"But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."(What could second death mean? To die a second time, after the final judgment?)
Other Explanations for some of these verses
Some have argued that the word destroyed and perish in some of these verse don't actually mean they die. Some say some of the words would be better translated lost. Others explain that what is meant in some of these verses is that it is simply describing a bad thing that happens to the wicked.
I've read a few of these arguments, but sorry I can't do a good job repeating them. There are simply too many verses here, and they are consistently translated using destroy, perish, death, etc, contrasted with life, eternal life, etc. If we can't trust most of our translations on all these verses, we've got another problem. If there was just one or two obscure verses, I'd consider these arguments...
It's Greek to Me
You may be used to reading these verses in non-literal ways. Not thinking that
- perish could mean perish or die
- destruction could mean destruction or die
- destroy could mean destroy or kill
- death could mean death
- eternal life could mean living forever
Here is some greek if that helps as you try to sort out what the above verses could mean.
Destruction in Matt 7:13, Phil 3:19, 2 Pet 3:7
apoleia ap-o'-li-a: ruin or loss (physical, spiritual or eternal) -- damnable(-nation), destruction, die, perdition, perish, pernicious ways, waste.
Perish from verses like Luke 13:3-5; John 3:15, John 10:28, 1 Cor 1:18, 2 Thes 2:10, 2 Peter 3:9
apollumi ap-ol'-loo-mee: to destroy fully (reflexively, to perish, or lose), literally or figuratively -- destroy, die, lose, mar, perish.
Perish from 2 Peter 2:12
Destruction from Gal 6:8
phthora fthor-ah': decay, i.e. ruin (spontaneous or inflicted, literally or figuratively) -- corruption, destroy, perish.
Destruction in 2 Thess 1:9
olethros ol'-eth-ros: a prolonged form); ruin, i.e. death, punishment -- destruction.
Destroy in Matt 10:28
apokteino ap-ok-ti'-no: to kill outright; figuratively, to destroy -- put to death, kill, slay
Death in Rom 6:23
thanatos than'-at-os: (properly, an adjective used as a noun) death -- deadly, (be...) death.
Eternal from John 3:16
aionios ahee-o'-nee-os: perpetual (also used of past time, or past and future as well) -- eternal, for ever, everlasting, world (began).
Life from John 3:36 (both times)
zoe dzo-ay': life -- life(-time).
(all greek definitions from http://scripturetext.com )
Ok... I could spend another day looking at the greek and checking if 'the' means 'the'.
I guess if someone wants to believe that in all these verses destroy, death, perish, die are not literal but mean "bad stuff happens - like being tormented for eternity" that is up to them.
I find it interesting that the same people who would argue that death and annihilation are not just and fair enough... that the wicked deserve greater punishment than death... will tone down verses that say perish to mean "a loss". Perish is too strong in these verses, because they want the wicked to survive to be tormented for eternity. (???)
Verses That Support Eternal Torment
Matthew 18:8 (NIV)
If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.Matthew 25:30 (NIV)
And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'Matthew 25:41 (NIV)
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."Matt 25:46 (NIV)
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."Luke 16:22-24 (NIV)
"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'Revelation 14:9-11 (NIV)
A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name."Revelation 19:3 (NIV)
And again they shouted: "Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever."Rev 20:10 (NIV)
"And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Other Possible Explanations for these verses
Matthew 18:8 - does not state if the person would survive in this eternal fire or if they would perish in it.
Matthew 25:30 - people would also weep and gnash their teeth on their way to being destroyed. Again this verse does not state eternal torment.
Matthew 25:41 - again does not state if the person would survive in this eternal fire. It could be similar to Gehenna. Gehenna (translated hell in our Bibles) was a burning garbage dump near Jerusalem which burned forever. Things thrown into the burning garbage dump would be destroyed. The fire burned forever, but the things thrown into it perished.
Matt 25:46 - This one is a bit harder to explain away... it does say "eternal punishment".
For myself I'm fine giving a point to the eternal punishment side. :)
There are some who have alternate explanations for this verse, you can try these:
Luke 16:22-24 - Not sure if this fits the doctrine of Hell - where the wicked go after the final judgment. This story continues describing how the rich man wanted to send someone back to warn his family members who were still alive on earth. If anything this is a description of some abode of the dead before the final judgment - or some purgatory like place.. ???
Revelation 14:9-11 - tormented in the presence of the angels and the Lamb... forever and ever?? Are they being tormented in Heaven or in Hell? This may not be after the final judgment but a separate punishment for those who took the mark of the beast. If you continue reading Revelations there are still people on earth... I don`t have a great understanding of Revelations, but I`m not sure this passage speaks of final judgment for all the wicked.
Revelation 19:3 - again I'm not sure if this great prostitute refers to all the wicked after the final judgement.
Rev 20:10 - The devil, the beast and the false prophets may be eternal beings... they may possess eternal life - and spend it in Hell. This verse may not say anything about eternal punishment for mortals.
Used for either Side
Mark 9:43-48 (NIV)
This passage is often used to support the idea that hell is eternal. But we also need to consider that Jesus is quoting Isaiah 66:24 here:
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where " 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'
"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 (translated hell in our Bibles) 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.
Two Sides, Which Side To Pick?
There are some verses above that do not fit well in the 'Hell is eternal punishment' box.
There may be some verses above that do not fit well in 'God will annihilate them' box.
I see four options when confronted with a passage that doesn't fit in my box:
- ignore the passage
- re-word and re-explain it to force it to fit the box (playdough scripture)
- Get a different box
- admit I don`t understand it, don't know what box to use, and just keep collections of truths and questions scattered around like an unfinished puzzle for now... when/if I need to understand it, I believe the Holy Spirit will guide me to understand the truth.
I'll conclude the belief in the eternal nature of hell is not an essential part of following Christ. If understanding this issue was a requirement of being a Christ follower, I think Jesus would have spent more time describing it.
Maybe, just maybe, we can agree to disagree on this one.
What difference does it make?
Here are some questions to consider:
- If God chooses to destroy (or allow to perish) those who do not choose to love Him.. is it not just and fair ? The death penalty is pretty severe... why do some think it is not harsh enough?
- Would God find pleasure in torturing the wicked for eternity? (Does God hate sinners?)
- A loving parent will often use forms of punishment or consequences because they want their children to learn something and make better choices next time. Our choices sometimes bring consequences that last forever. But what would be the benefit to an eternal conscious punishment in hell? There may be a difference between a consequence lasting forever and punishment lasting forever.
- Why the threat? Does God need to threaten us with eternal punishment to win our love and devotion?
- Does the way we view Hell come from the Scriptures alone, or from the Christian traditions we have inherited?
- Is Christianity about getting and selling fire insurance?
- Is Jesus going to hell?
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 clearly 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.