Is Hell Eternal?
The teaching that there is an eternal hell in which hordes of mankind will suffer eternal punishment can be a difficult doctrine to accept. We hear so much about God's infinite love and how He desires that all men be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). However, those who develop their theologies based upon the "gentle" side of God do so with an incomplete picture. Not only is God loving (1 John 4:8-10), gracious (Exo. 33:19; 1 Pet. 2:3), and merciful (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 67:1; James 5:11), but He is also holy (Isaiah 6:3; Rev. 4:8), just (Neh. 9:32-33; 2 Thess. 1:6), and hates sin (Psalm 5:5-6; Hab. 1:13). God punishes the sinner (Jer. 50:31; Ezk. 44:12; Matt. 25:46; 2 Thess. 1:9; 2 Pet. 2:9; Heb. 10:29).
The Bible teaches that there is a fiery hell, a place that Jesus warned people about.
"And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire," (Matt. 18:8).1
Eternal fire is real. Jesus said it was. In fact, Jesus spoke a great deal about hell. It is what Jesus came here to save us from.
There will be a Day of Judgment when all people will face God. Those who are not covered by the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross will be cast out into hell where they will undergo eternal punishment. "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matt. 25:46). In this verse, the same word "eternal" is used to describe the punishment of the wicked as well as the eternal life of the believer. The punishment is endless as is the eternal life of the believer. That is why the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4) is so important, because it saves people from eternal damnation:
"Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,"
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life," (John 5:24).
Following are a few verses that show the eternality of the hell and punishment. God uses different phrases to describe the same thing.
- "And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power," (2 Thess. 1:9).
- "Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example, in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire" (Jude 7).
- These men are those who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever," (Jude12-13).
Is "forever and ever" without end?
The phrase "forever and ever" is used both of describing God's eternal worth and the duration of eternal damnation. The exact same Greek phrase is used in each of the verses in the table below.
The Greek phrase aionas ton aionon, which is translated "forever and ever," occurs 18 times in the Greek New Testament. In 17 of them, the phrase means without end, extending into infinity. In Rev. 19:3, the phrase is used to describe the destruction of the great whore of Babylon (Rev. 17:1,4) whose smoke ascends forever and ever. It too is eternal and it signifies the beginning of the eternal judgment that comes upon her.
Also worth examining is Rev. 14:11: "And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name."
The Greek in Rev. 14:11 is only slightly different. In the table above, "forever and ever" is translated from the Greek, aionas ton aionon, which is literally "ages of the of ages." In Rev. 14:11, the Greek is aionas aionon which is literally, "ages of ages." In the latter, the single Greek word "of the" is missing. But it is not necessary and does not change the meaning of the text. Therefore, the scripture teaches the smoke of their torment goes up forever, without end.
Some believe that the fires of hell are symbolic and/or temporal. But the following verses show that they are not.
Matt. 3:12 says, "And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (See also Luke 3:17.)
Mark 9:43 says, "And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire." The word "unquenchable" is asbestos in the Greek. According to the enhanced Strong's lexicon, it means "unquenchable, the eternal hell fire to punish the damned."
The following citations are from Greek dictionaries and Lexicons. They show that the word "unquenchable," which is asbestos in the Greek, (which occurs only in Matt. 3:12, Luke 3:17, and Mark 9:43) means unquenchable, without end.
- "unquenchable, inextinguishable"2
- "not quenched"3
- "pertaining to a fire that cannot be put out" - "unquenchable."4
- "unquenched, unquenchable"5
- "that cannot be put out"6
Is hell eternal? Yes it is. Are its fires without end? Yes they are. Is it a pleasant doctrine to discuss? Not really. But, hell is real. This is all the more reason to preach the gospel. Jesus said,
"And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire," (Matt. 18:8).
- 1. All scripture quotes are from the NASB.
- 2. Liddell, H. G., and Scott, Abridged Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992. Available Online: Logos Library System.
- 3. Vine, W. E., Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1981. Available: Logos Library System.
- 4. Louw, J. P. and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, New York: United Bible Societies, 1989.
- 5. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1995. Available: Logos Library System.
- 6. Wigram-Green, The New Englishman's Greek Concordance and Lexicon, Peabody MA: Hendrikson Publishers, 1982, p. 771.
- 7. Arndt, W. A., F. Wilbur Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 2nd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979, p. 114.
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