My take on what the Bible says about hell is not the traditional take, but it’s the view I sincerely believe the Bible holds, in spite of strong opposition. I wanted to write this earlier, a few years back, but I decided I needed to do more biblical research. What I have found has astonished me! I’m excited to share about this view.
Firstly I would like to say that I hold the Bible as the true Word of God. There exists no other book or thing in the world that holds the authority that the Bible holds. The Bible is the book that God spoke through and God uses to speak to people everyday. I take no other view than this, I involve no other book or website or institution in the view I take on hell and every other spiritual matter.
So, there exists 3 views of hell. *(I cannot speak on the Catholic idea of purgatory. I have never read anything in the bible about purgatory).
1. Eternal Torment (Traditional) – the view that humans who do not put their faith in Jesus will be kept alive forever to be tormented in hell by God. This is the dominant take on hell in both the Catholic and Protestant churches.
2. Annihilation/Extinction- eternal separation from God by death that occurs when a human does not accept the free gift of God.
3. Universalism – this view cannot be found in the Bible, but it is the view that all will be reconciled and with God in the end.
I side with number two, and it’s not because I’m a softie. It’s not because I’m too emotional to believe God couldn’t torture us forever if he wanted to. Anything God would do would be just. He is God. Nevertheless, the Bible just does not teach Eternal Torment! Not once in this blog will I discuss the character of God because I do not believe my arguments should rest on something unknowable.
So then why is Eternal Torment the popular view among Catholics and Protestants? This question kept me doubting what I had discovered! How did this view make it this far and stay so popular if it isn’t the correct one? I will unpack all of this for you. But keep in mind that just because something is the traditional view does not mean that it is correct. If Martin Luther had kept to himself, we would still be reading the Bible in Latin!
And so, firstly, I would like to present biblical evidence for my view, these being biblical themes and scriptures and also share a bit about the history of it along the way. I will also discuss Hermeneutics and Opposing Texts in the Bible and I’m going to explain how Eternal Torment made it’s way into the church today. And we will also discuss why it matters, because in my opinion, it does. This is not a salvation issue or a fellowship issue. But there still exist implications!
Before we start: I like to read the Bible as it is! Not creating meanings to words that aren’t there! So read with me as it is. I’ll be explaining the relevancy of the scripture I choose as I go! First, let’s lay the groundwork with key biblical themes.
3 Biblical Themes that Clearly Suggest Hell is Death (along with implications for believing otherwise)
#1- Atonement. Jesus died and rose again, (taking our place) so that we did not have to die. He did not suffer eternal torment on our behalf. At least, the Bible makes no claim that he did. John 3:16- “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.” To believe that Eternal Torment is our punishment suggests that Jesus did not take our exact punishment, considering he is not still eternally suffering. To believe that our punishment is death means that the sacrifice of Jesus was sufficient. We give more glory to what Jesus did on the cross when we accept the view of annihilationism- that Jesus was a substitute for what we deserved. The bible literally says Jesus died and rose again (nothing more) and that is all. In the Old Testament, atonement was achieved through the death and blood of a lamb or other sacrificial animal, not the eternal torment of an animal. It has always been by death.
#2– Sin. When sin entered the world, so did death. Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.” Adam and Eve had access to eternal life before they sinned. Death was literally the curse put over them by God after they sinned. Death affects the whole world and the only way we can escape it is through the gospel. Everyone tries to prolong their lives, but no one can. Our punishment is death. 1+1 is 2 here, folks.
#3- The Gift of God vs. Mortality. Humans are mortal and the gift of God is eternal life (immortality). This is outlined in Genesis after the fall all the way to Revelation. To believe that sinful people can somehow live for eternity (even suffering) not only does not make sense but takes away from the crazy awesomeness of God’s gift for those who believe! Whatever way you spin it, saying that sinners are somehow resurrected after death to be tormented for eternity still means immortality, which God preserves only for those who believe. Consider 1st Corinthians 15:50-57 (and all of Paul’s other epistles… lol) “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Now onto scriptural evidence. I’m going to start with the Old Testament. The first examples of the nature of sin start in Genesis.
Genesis 2:17 – “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
And what do we know happened to Adam and Eve after they disobeyed? Did they die a fleshly death immediately No! Why not? The Lord said they would surely die, what does this mean? Think with me. If God said that they would surely die when they eat from the tree, then they ate from the tree, and then they didn’t die right then and there, what kind of death must have occurred to Adam and Eve? Spiritual death. As in, death entered the world and man became mortal.
Genesis 3:19 – “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you will return.”
God put a curse on man because of his sin! “To dust you will return.” And so we have it, death entered the world. The wages of sin is truly death!
Genesis 3:22- “He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” Here we have the eternal life being taken away, 24- “After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden an angel and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” And here we have a lock and key placed in front of eternal life so than man could not get to it!
God literally placed an angel in the way of Adam so that he could never receive eternal life! What am I getting at? God is the only being who is immortal and eternal life is his gift. Man cannot live forever, in any sense, because of sin. This was established in Genesis. The wages of sin has always been death.
Side-note on the Immortality of the Soul
People who accept the view of eternal torment also accept the view that the soul is immortal, but the Bible teaches that the only being who is immortal is God and that God gives eternal life as a gift to those who love him. Platonism and Stoicism heavily influenced the thinking in the time of the early church. If you look closely at the bible, you can see there is no reason to believe that humans have immortal souls, especially not in the writings of Paul. But, the scholars of the time, Plato and Socrates, did believe in an immortal soul. This influenced the Church Doctrine. “Christians found two philosophical traditions particularly attractive and helpful: Platonism and Stoicism…. furthermore, both Socrates and Plato believed in the immortality of the soul” (The Story of Christianity, Gonzalez, page 22). Many annihilationists point out that Greek culture/Hellenistic viewpoints were read into the scriptures because of the heaviness of these views within early Christian culture.
Continued Biblical Evidence:
Listen to the language God used with Noah.
Genesis 6:3 – “My spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal…”
Genesis 6:13 – “I am going to put an end to all people… I am surely going to destroy both of them and the earth.”
Genesis 6:17 – “I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.”
God used words like “blotted out,” “destroyed,” “put an end to.” When did God say torment for eternity? And why would God give immortality to mortal beings just to torment them, corrupting his own gift?
But that’s just Genesis. The Bible has a lot more to say about the nature and consequences of sin.
Psalm 1:6- “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.”
Psalm 9:16-20- “the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands. The wicked go down to the realm of the dead, all the nations that forget God. But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish. Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph… let the nations know they are only mortal.”
Psalm 21:9- “When you appear for battle, you will burn them up as in a blazing furnace. The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and his fire will consume them.”
I’m not hearing anything about eternal torment, only God destroying people who have sinned. Words like “consuming, perishing, destroying” are words that, when read for what they are, imply eternal death, not eternal torment. It’s not like these people are coming back! They are dead, forever. God eternally defeats death, he doesn’t eternally torment it.
Psalm 37:20 – “But the wicked will perish: Though the Lord’s enemies are like the flowers of the field, they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke.”
Psalm 37:28-29 – “Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed, the offspring of the wicked will perish. The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.”
Side-note, Jewish Perspective of Hell
This couldn’t be more obvious to me. “Completely destroyed.” I mean, really. There’s no sign of eternal torment so far in the Old Testament, and if you wont take my word for it, google it! Or ask a Jew! The Jewish word of God is only the OT, which they refer to as the Torah, and what do they believe about hell? Some of them believe in a place to “cleanse your sins” after death, called “Gehinnom,” and most of them do not believe in hell at all. Although, we should not take the exact same view as them because they don’t believe in the gospel or the resurrection, but, it means something that in all of their book they don’t find evidence for the same hell we hold as the traditional view.
Continued Biblical Evidence:
Isaiah 13:9 “Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy sinners from it.”
Isaiah 26:14 “They are dead, they will not live; they are shades, they will not arise; to that end you have visited them with destruction and wiped out all remembrance of them.”
Rule #7 of Hermeneutics and Opposing Texts
What are hermeneutics? These are the 8 rules used for biblical interpretation. While all of them relate to this topic, number 7 is perfect to talk about in this paper. It is: The parts of Scripture being interpreted must be construed with reference to the significance of the whole. An interpretation must be consistent with the rest of Scripture. Basically, there’s about 3 verses in the bible about hell that opponents interpreted as describing an Eternal Torment rather than Eternal Death. These are in Revelation 20:10, Revelation 14:11, and Matthew 25:41. Before I get into these, I want to say this: Whenever something appears to have a certain meaning, do we isolate it and create some wild ideas? No! Well, hopefully not. We look at the rest of the bible for consistency. An example would be when Paul, in 1st Corinthians, says that women should remain silent in the church, even though chapters before that he talks about women prophesying and praying as if it is a normal thing! Therefore, though these verses seem to undoubtedly preach Eternal Torment, we have to take off our cultural lens and look at the context of the whole bible. Let’s go!
Rev 20:10- “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.”
Rev 14:11- And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.
Matt 25:41- “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.'”
Other verses in Matthew and Revelation that clearly are inconsistent with Eternal Torment: Matthew 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Revelation 20:14- “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” Revelation 21:1 and 4- “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more… He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Basically, what I am saying is that the entire bible teaches an Eternal Death, not Eternal Torment, so why isolate these few verses to mean something drastically different? Let’s look for explanations. If you want to hear an even better argument against these verses, click the video I link at the end of the blog.
Continued Biblical Evidence- New Testament:
Romans 2:7 “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for the glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal-life”
Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned- for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.”
Romans 6:4 “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
My personal favorite here:
2nd Thessalonians 1:9 “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”
2nd Thessalonians 2:8 “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.”
You hear that?! Kill with the breath of his mouth. Hallelujah!
The History of Annihilationism
Many who oppose this view see it as a “modern” take on hell, arising late 1900’s. Actually, this stance dates back to not only Paul’s writings and the Bible, but 1st Century onward. Eternal Torment was not the official church stance on hell until the 6th Century. In the Didache, a First-Century church writing, there is a clear view on hell that one can see has not been influenced by neither Greek culture nor Augustine, yet. The Didache talks about the two ways. “There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways.” It clearly describes the same parallel that Paul makes. I have already discussed the Hellenistic influences that Platonism and Stoicism had on the early church, influencing the way we interpret the soul (immortality). We also see heavy influence from Augustine in “The City of God” when he writes, “I have said that, in a deeper sense, we may speak of two
cities or two human societies, the destiny of the one being an eternal kingdom under God while the doom of the other is eternal punishment along with the Devil.” There are endlessly more talks about this, but basically, annihilationism has always been a viewpoint, just not the main one, and only since the 6th Century has it not been the “official” one.
So who else views hell this way?
Some popular names would be John Stott, Edward Fudge, N.T. Wright, Michael Green, and many many more christian scholars. There are some good books, articles, and sources I will link up at the end of this blog for you to further your research if interested. Many liberal Christians within Protestant denominations hold this viewpoint but do not mention it as to not spark controversy. Even still, the view is taking ground as more and more people dive deeper into what the bible actually has to say about hell.
Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.”
These links below are to some of my favorite articles/videos that changed my mind about hell. Yes, a few years ago I was very critical of this view and saw it as heretical. Now, I am fully convinced. What helped me navigate this belief more than any other source? The Bible. Not my head, not an article, not a video. The Living, Breathing Word of the Lord.