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Hell -how long will it last?

 

 

And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
Matthew 25:46

And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever 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 14:11

and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever
Revelation 20:10

 

Introduction

Most Christians throughout history have understood Scripture to teach clearly that those who die unrepentant sinners will suffer eternally in hell. However, some reject this teaching.

What is the evidence that supports this doctrine?

The evidence all points clearly to one conclusion: the pains of hell are eternal.

 

What terminology does Scripture use regarding hell and its duration?1,2

 

 

"Sheol"

7585 sh@'owl {sheh-ole'} or sh@ol {sheh-ole'}; TWOT - 2303c; n f AV - grave 31, hell 31, pit 3; 65 1) sheol, underworld, grave, hell, pit 1a) the underworld 1b) Sheol - the OT designation for the abode of the dead 1b1) place of no return 1b2) without praise of God 1b3) wicked sent there for punishment 1b4) righteous not abandoned to it 1b5) of the place of exile (fig) 1b6) of extreme degradation in sin

[Gen 37:35] All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, "No, I shall go down to Sheol [7585] to my son, mourning." Thus his father wept for him.

[Num 16:30] But if the LORD creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth, and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol [7585], then you shall know that these men have despised the LORD."

 

"Gehenna"

1067 geenna {gheh'-en-nah} of Hebrew origin; TDNT - 1:657,113; n f AV - hell 9, hell fire + 3588 + 4442 3; 12 1) Hell is the place of the future punishment call "Gehenna" or "Gehenna of fire". This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction.

[Mat 5:22] But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, `You fool!' shall be liable to the hell [1067] of fire [4442].

[Mat 5:29] If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell [1067].

[Mat 23:15] Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell [1067] as yourselves.

[Mat 23:33] You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell [1067]?

[Mark 9:43] And 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 to hell [1067], to the unquenchable [762] fire [4442].

[Mark 9:47] 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 with two eyes to be thrown into hell [1067],

 

"Hades"

86 hades {hah'-dace}; TDNT - 1:146,22; n pr loc AV - hell 10, grave 1; 11 1) name Hades or Pluto, the god of the lower regions 2) Orcus, the nether world, the realm of the dead 3) later use of this word: the grave, death, hell In Biblical Greek it is associated with Orcus, the infernal regions, a dark and dismal place in the very depths of the earth, the common receptacle of disembodied spirits. Usually Hades is just the abode of the wicked, Lu. 16:23, Rev. 20:13,14; a very uncomfortable place. TDNT.

[Luke 16:23.6] and in Hades [86], being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom.

[Rev 20:13] And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death [2288] and Hades [86] gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done.

 

"Tartarus"

5020 tartaroo {tar-tar-o'-o} from Tartaros (the deepest abyss of Hades); v AV - cast down to hell 1; 1 1) the name of the subterranean region, doleful and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds; it answers to Gehenna of the Jews 2) to thrust down to Tartarus, to hold captive in Tartarus

[2Pet 2:4] For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell [5020] and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment;

 

 

"eternal"

126 aidios {ah-id'-ee-os} 1) eternal, everlasting

[Jud 1:6] And the angels that did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling have been kept by him in eternal [126] chains in the nether gloom until the judgment of the great day;

[Rom 1:20] Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal [126] power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse;

 

"forever"

165 aion {ahee-ohn'}; TDNT - 1:197,31; n m AV - ever 71, world 38, never + 3364 + 1519 + 3588 6, evermore 4, age 2, eternal 2, misc 5; 128 1) for ever, an unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity 2) the worlds, universe 3) period of time, age

[Rev 14:11] And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever [165]; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name."

[Rev 20:10] and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire [4442] and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented [928] day and night for ever and ever [165].

[Rev 22:5] And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever [165].

 

"eternal"

166 aionios {ahee-o'-nee-os}; TDNT - 1:208,31; adj AV - eternal 42, everlasting 25, the world began + 5550 2, since the world began + 5550 1, for ever 1; 71 1) without beginning and end, that which always has been and always will be 2) without beginning 3) without end, never to cease, everlasting

 

[Mat 18:8] And 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 lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.

[Mat 19:29 NAS] "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life.

[Mat 25:41] Then he will say to those at his left hand, `Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal [166] fire [4442] prepared for the devil and his angels;

[Mat 25:46] And they will go away into eternal [166] punishment [2851], but the righteous into eternal [166] life.

[Mark 3:29] but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin

[Joh 3:15] that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.

[Joh 3:16] "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

[Joh 3:36] "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

[Joh 4:14] but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life."

[Joh 4:36] "Already he who reaps is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for life eternal; that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.

[Joh 5:24] "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.

[Joh 5:39 NAS] "You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me;

[Joh 6:27 NAS] "Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man shall give to you, for on Him the Father, even God, has set His seal."

[Joh 6:40 NAS] "For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him, may have eternal life; and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."

[Joh 6:47 NAS] "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.

[Joh 6:54 NAS] "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

[Joh 6:68 NAS] Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.

[Joh 10:28 NAS] and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.

[Joh 12:25 NAS] "He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.

[Joh 12:50 NAS] "And I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me."

[Joh 17:2 NAS] even as Thou gavest Him authority over all mankind, that to all whom Thou hast given Him, He may give eternal life.

[Joh 17:3 NAS] "And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.

[2 Thess 1:9] They shall suffer the punishment of eternal [166] destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,

[Heb 6:2]with instruction about ablutions, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

[Jud 1:7] just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal [166] fire [4442].

 

"unquenchable fire"

762 asbestos {as'-bes-tos}; from 1 (as a negative particle) and a derivative of 4570; adj AV - unquenchable 2, never shall be quenched 2; 4 1) unquenched, unquenchable 1a) of eternal hell fire to punish the damned

4570 sbennumi {sben'-noo-mee} a prolonged form of an apparently primary verb; TDNT - 7:165,1009; v AV - quench 7, go out 1; 8 1) to extinguish, quench 1a) of fire or things on fire 1a1) to be quenched, to go out 1b) metaph. to quench, to suppress, stifle 1b1) of divine influence

4442 pur {poor} a root word; TDNT - 6:928,975; n n AV - fire 73, fiery 1; 74 1) fire

[Mark 9:43] And 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 to hell [1067], to the unquenchable [762] fire [4442].

[Mark 9:48] where their worm does not die, and the fire [4442] is not quenched [4570].

[Luke 3:17] His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable [762] fire [4442].

[2Thess 1:8] In flaming fire [4442] taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: KJV

[Rev 14:10] he also shall drink the wine of God's wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and he shall be tormented with fire [4442] and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

[Rev 21:8] But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire [4442] and sulphur, which is the second death."

 

[Isa 66:24] "And they shall go forth and look on the dead bodies of the men that have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh."

[4 Macc 9:9.17] but you, because of your bloodthirstiness toward us, will deservedly undergo from the divine justice eternal torment by fire."

[4 Macc 13:15.14] for great is the struggle of the soul and the danger of eternal torment lying before those who transgress the commandment of God.

[Dan 12:2] And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

[Jdt 16:17.26] Woe to the nations that rise up against my people! The Lord Almighty will take vengeance on them in the day of judgment; fire and worms he will give to their flesh; they shall weep in pain for ever.

[Mat 8:12.19] while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth."

[Mat 13:42.14] and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

[Mat 22:13.25] Then the king said to the attendants, `Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

[Mat 25:30.15] And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

[Luke 16:23.6] and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom.

 

Early history of dissent against the doctrine that hell is a state of eternal punishment

The history of the early Church demonstrates that the early Church clearly believed that hell is a state of eternal punishment. Only with the teachings of Origen in the third century did dissent from this doctrine arise. This dissent was opposed and condemned by the Church Fathers on scriptural grounds.

"…before the controversy with the Origenists, the Fathers teach the existence and the eternity of the pains of hell."3 These include Ignatius of Antioch, Justin, Ireneus, and Hippolytus.4

The Origenists taught that the demons and the damned are finally converted and restored to grace, and that therefore the pains of hell are not eternal.

"…most of the Fathers combat the error of the Origenists on the non-eternity of the pains of hell." These include saints Methodius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, Basil, Chrysostom, Ephrem, Cyprian, Jerome, and Augustine.

The Athanasian Creed (of the fourth or fifth century) teaches,

"But those who have done evil will go into eternal fire."5

The Origenist rejection of the existence of the eternal punishment of hell was condemned at the synod of Constantinople, confirmed by Pope Vigilius.6

 

Objections

Some believers, notably Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses, reject the doctrine that hell exists eternally. Seventh Day Adventists believe that those in hell will be annihilated and cease to exist.

Biblical Evidence for an Eternal Hell, by David Armstrong6, addresses a number of scriptural texts used by annihilationists to support their viewpoint. Below is an excerpt from Armstrong:

Armstrong quotation begins:

Mt 10:28: The word for "destroy" is apollumi, which means, according to Vine, "not extinction, but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being." The other verses in which it appears make this meaning clear (Mt 10:6, Lk 15:6,9,24, Jn 18:9). Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament or any other Greek lexicon would confirm this. Thayer was a Unitarian who probably didn't believe in hell. But he was also an honest, objective scholar, so he gave the proper meaning of apollumi, in agreement with all other Greek scholars. The same argument applies to Mt 10:39, Jn 3:16 (same word).

 

1 Cor 3:17: "Destroy" is the Greek, phthiro, meaning literally, "to waste away" (much like apollumi). When the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., the bricks were still there. it was not annihilated, but wasted. So shall it be with the wicked soul, which will be wasted or ruined, but not blotted out of existence. We see the meaning of phthiro clearly in every other instance of it in the NT (usu. "corrupt"), where in each case, the meaning is as I have said (1 Cor 15:33, 2 Cor 7:2, 11:3, Eph 4:22, Jude 10, Rev 19:2).

 

Acts 3:23 refers to simply being banished from the people of God, not annihilation. "Soul" just means a person here (cf. Deut 18:15-19, from which this passage is derived; see also Gen 1:24, 2:7,19, 1 Cor 15:45, Rev 16:3). We see this usage in English when someone says, "There was not a living soul there."

 

Rom 1:32 and 6:21-2, James 1:15, 1 Jn 5:16-17 either refer to physical or spiritual death, neither of which means "annihilation." The first is separation of body from soul, the second, separation of the soul from God.

 

Phil 1:28, 3:19, Heb 10:39: "Destruction" or "perdition" is the Greek apolia. Its meaning as "ruin" or "waste" is clearly seen in, e.g., Mt 26:8 and Mk 14:4 (a waste of ointment). In Rev 17:8, when it refers to the Beast, it states that the Beast is not wiped out of existence: "...They behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is."

 

Heb 10:27-31 must be understood in harmony with Heb 6:2, which speaks of "eternal judgment" (mentioned above in discussion of aionios). The only way to synthesize all the data presented here is to adopt the eternal hellfire view. The counter-arguments, on the other hand, almost always have simple contrary explanations.

 

Heb 12:25,29: Is 33:14, a verse similar to 12:29, says, "... who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" The metaphor of God as a fire (cf. Acts 7:30, 1 Cor 3:15, Rev 1:14) is not the same as hellfire, which is spoken of as eternal or unquenchable, within which the wicked suffer consciously (Mt 3:10,12, 13:42,50, 18:8, 25:41, Mk 9:43-48, Lk 3:17).

 

2 Pet 2:1-21: In v.12, "utterly perish" is from the Greek kataphthiro. In the only other place in the NT where this word appears (2 Tim 3:8), it is translated as "corrupt" in KJV. If the annihilationist interpretation were applied to that verse, it would read, "...men of nonexistent minds..."

 

2 Pet 3:6-9: "Perish" is the Greek apollumi (see comment on Mt 10:28 above), so annihilation, as always, is not taught, by virtue of the simple meaning of the Greek word. Furthermore, in v.6, where it is said the the world "perished" in the flood, it is obvious that it was not annihilated, but wasted, consistent with the other interpretations above.

Armstrong quotation ends here.

 

86 hades {hah'-dace}; TDNT - 1:146,22; n pr loc AV - hell 10, grave 1; 11 1) name Hades or Pluto, the god of the lower regions 2) Orcus, the nether world, the realm of the dead 3) later use of this word: the grave, death, hell In Biblical Greek it is associated with Orcus, the infernal regions, a dark and dismal place in the very depths of the earth, the common receptacle of disembodied spirits. Usually Hades is just the abode of the wicked, Lu. 16:23, Rev. 20:13,14; a very uncomfortable place. TDNT.

126 aidios {ah-id'-ee-os} 1) eternal, everlasting

165 aion {ahee-ohn'}; TDNT - 1:197,31; n m AV - ever 71, world 38, never + 3364 + 1519 + 3588 6, evermore 4, age 2, eternal 2, misc 5; 128 1) for ever, an unbroken age, perpetuity of time, eternity 2) the worlds, universe 3) period of time, age

166 aionios {ahee-o'-nee-os}; TDNT - 1:208,31; adj AV - eternal 42, everlasting 25, the world began + 5550 2, since the world began + 5550 1, for ever 1; 71 1) without beginning and end, that which always has been and always will be 2) without beginning 3) without end, never to cease, everlasting

762 asbestos {as'-bes-tos}; from 1 (as a negative particle) and a derivative of 4570; adj AV - unquenchable 2, never shall be quenched 2; 4 1) unquenched, unquenchable 1a) of eternal hell fire to punish the damned

928 basanizo {bas-an-id'-zo}; TDNT - 1:561,96; v AV - torment 8, pain 1, toss 1, vex 1, toil 1; 12 1) to test (metals) by the touchstone, which is a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold or silver by the colour of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal 2) to question by applying torture 3) to torture 4) to vex with grievous pains (of body or mind), to torment 5) to be harassed, distressed 5a) of those who at sea are struggling with a head wind

1067 geenna {gheh'-en-nah} of Hebrew origin; TDNT - 1:657,113; n f AV - hell 9, hell fire + 3588 + 4442 3; 12 1) Hell is the place of the future punishment call "Gehenna" or "Gehenna of fire". This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction.

2288 thanatos {than'-at-os}; TDNT - 3:7,312; n m AV - death 117, deadly 2; 119 1) the death of the body 1a) that separation (whether natural or violent) of the soul and the body by which the life on earth is ended 1b) with the implied idea of future misery in hell 1b1) the power of death 1c) since the nether world, the abode of the dead, was conceived as being very dark, it is equivalent to the region of thickest darkness i.e. figuratively, a region enveloped in the darkness of ignorance and sin 2) metaph., the loss of that life which alone is worthy of the name, 2a) the misery of the soul arising from sin, which begins on earth but lasts and increases after the death of the body in hell 3) the miserable state of the wicked dead in hell 4) in the widest sense, death comprising all the miseries arising from sin, as well physical death as the loss of a life consecrated to God and blessed in him on earth, to be followed by wretchedness in hell

2851 kolasis {kol'-as-is}; TDNT - 3:816,451; n f AV - punishment 1, torment 1; 2 1) correction, punishment, penalty

4442 pur {poor} a root word; TDNT - 6:928,975; n n AV - fire 73, fiery 1; 74 1) fire

4570 sbennumi {sben'-noo-mee} a prolonged form of an apparently primary verb; TDNT - 7:165,1009; v AV - quench 7, go out 1; 8 1) to extinguish, quench 1a) of fire or things on fire 1a1) to be quenched, to go out 1b) metaph. to quench, to suppress, stifle 1b1) of divine influence

5020 tartaroo {tar-tar-o'-o} from Tartaros (the deepest abyss of Hades); v AV - cast down to hell 1; 1 1) the name of the subterranean region, doleful and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds; it answers to Gehenna of the Jews 2) to thrust down to Tartarus, to hold captive in Tartarus

7585 sh@'owl {sheh-ole'} or sh@ol {sheh-ole'}; TWOT - 2303c; n f AV - grave 31, hell 31, pit 3; 65 1) sheol, underworld, grave, hell, pit 1a) the underworld 1b) Sheol - the OT designation for the abode of the dead 1b1) place of no return 1b2) without praise of God 1b3) wicked sent there for punishment 1b4) righteous not abandoned to it 1b5) of the place of exile (fig) 1b6) of extreme degradation in sin

 

Endnotes

1. All scripture quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version, except where noted.

2. The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon

3. Garrigou-LaGrange, Fr. Reginald. Life Everlasting and the Immensity of the Soul, p. 104. Translation c. 1952, B. Herder Book Co, St. Louis, Missouri.

4. Hardon, Fr. John. The Catholic Catechism, p. 270. 1981, Doubleday.

5. Ott, Dr. Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, p. 480. 4th edition, 1960. Tan Books and Publishers, Rockford, Illinois.

6. Ott, p 105.

7. Armstrong, David. Biblical Evidence for an Eternal Hell, 1998. http://ic.net/~erasmus/RAZ128.HTM

 

John Robin
2002.07.25