What Does the Bible Really Say About Hellfire – Eternal Torment?

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Edward D. Andrews
EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 120 books. Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Hundreds of millions of both Catholic and Protest Christians have long held that hell is a place of eternal torment for the damned. According to the Encarta Encyclopedia, “Hell, in theology, any place or state of punishment and privation for human souls after death. More strictly, the term is applied to the place or state of eternal punishment of the damned, whether angels or human beings. The doctrine of the existence of hell is derived from the principle of the necessity for the vindication of divine justice, combined with the human experience that evildoers do not always appear to be punished adequately in their lifetime. Belief in a hell was widespread in antiquity and is found in most religions of the world today.”

However, it would seem that hellfire and brimstone have lost their spark. The same encyclopedia goes on to say, “In modern times the belief in physical punishment after death and the endless duration of this punishment has been rejected by many. The question about the nature of the punishment of hell is equally controversial. Opinions range from holding the pains of hell to be no more than the remorse of conscience to the traditional belief that the “pain of loss” (the consciousness of having forfeited the vision of God and the happiness of heaven) is combined with the “pain of sense” (actual physical torment).[1]

Probably the most famous hellfire and brimstone preacher was Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), used to put the fear of God into the hearts and minds of the 18th-century Colonial Americans with detail, explicit, lifelike, word pictures of hell.

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“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” Known for his fiery sermons, clergyman Jonathan Edwards helped start the Great Awakening, an American religious revival of the 1740s.

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.

 O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder;[2]

Like Edwards, many other Catholic and Protestant preachers, say that God has this eternal place in the offing for the wicked. However, what does the Bible really teach?

Hell

Without being bogged down in doctrinal issues, let us just deal with the facts. “Hell” is the English translation for the Hebrew word Sheol and the Greek word Hades. Therefore, we need not ask, what Hell is. However, what did the word mean when it was first placed in English translations? Webster’s Eleventh New International Dictionary, under “Hell” says: [Middle English, from Old English; akin to Old English helan to conceal, Old High German helan, Latin celare, Greek kalyptein] before 12th century”[3] The word “hell” meant to ‘cover’ over or ‘conceal,’ so it would have meant a place ‘covered’ or ‘concealed,’ such as a grave.

Sheol

Webster’s Dictionary, “[Hebrew Shĕ’ōl] 1597: the abode of the dead in early Hebrew thought”[4] Collier’s Encyclopedia (1986, Vol. 12, p. 28) says: “Since Sheol in Old Testament times referred simply to the abode of the dead and suggested no moral distinctions, the word ‘hell,’ as understood today, is not a happy translation.” Some translations choose to use a transliteration, Sheol, as opposed to the English hell, AT, RSV, ESV, LEB, HCSB, and NASB.

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Hades

Everyone knows that Hades was “the underground abode of the dead in Greek mythology.”[5] However, as far as early Christianity, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, uses the word Hades 73 times, employing it 60 times to translate the Hebrew word Sheol. Luke at Acts 2:27 write, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades or let your Holy One see corruption.” Luke was quoting Psalm 16:10, which reads, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol or let your holy one see corruption.” Notice that Luke used Hades in place of Sheol. Therefore, Hades is the Greek equivalent of Sheol, as far as Christians and the Greek New Testament is concerned. In other words, Hades is also the abode of the dead in early Christian thought. Some translations choose to use a transliteration, Hades, as opposed to the English hell, ASV, AT, RSV, ESV, LEB, HCSB, and NASB.

Gehenna

Gehenna Hebrew Ge’ Hinnom, literally, valley of Hinnom appears 12 times in the Greek New Testament books, and many translators render it by the word “hell.” Most translations have chosen poorly not to use a transliteration, Gehenna or Geenna, as opposed to the English hell, ASV, AT, RSV, ESV, LEB, HCSB, and NASB. There is little doubt that the New Testament writers and Jesus used “Gehenna” to speak of the place of final punishment. What was Gehenna?

According to the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 632), Gehenna or the Valley of Hinnom was “the valley south of Jerusalem now called the Wadi er-Rababi (Josh. 15:8; 18:16; 2 Chron. 33:6; Jer. 32:35) became the place of child sacrifice to foreign gods. The Jews later used the valley for the dumping of refuse, the dead bodies of animals, and executed criminals.”[6] We would disagree with the other comments by the Holman Illustrated Dictionary, “The continuing fires in the valley (to consume the refuse and dead bodies) apparently led the people to transfer the name to the place where the wicked dead suffer.” This just is not the case.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites did burn sons in the fires as part of a sacrifice to false gods, but not for the purpose of punishment, or torture. By the time of the New Testament period, hundreds of years later, the only thing thrown in Gehenna was trash and the dead bodies of executed criminals. For what purpose were these thrown into Gehenna? It was used as an incinerator, a furnace for destroying things by burning them. Notice that any bodies thrown in Gehenna during the New Testament period were already dead. Thus, if anything, these people saw Gehenna as a place where they destroyed their trash and the bodies of dead criminals. Thus, if Jesus used this to illustrate the place of the wicked, it would have represented destruction as the punishment.

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How Are We to Understand the “Fire”?

Mark 9:42-48 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

42 But whoever stumbles one of these little ones who have faith, it would be better for him if a millstone that is turned by a donkey were put around his neck and he were pitched into the sea. 43 “If ever your hand makes you stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than to go off with two hands into Gehenna,[7] the unquenchable fire, 44 ——[8] 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.[9] 46 ——[10] 47 And if your eye makes you stumble, throw it out, it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into Gehenna,[11] 48 where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.

Matthew 13:42 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Here is why we should use the transliteration as opposed to the English “hell.” Jesus did not use the word “Hades” in the above texts, the equivalent of Sheol, but rather Gehenna. Jesus used comparisons in his teaching, using things that his listeners could relate to. As we learned above Gehenna was a garbage dump that was used as an incinerator, to destroy whatever was thrown in, and only the bodies of criminals were thrown in after they were already dead. In other words, the fire was used as a symbol, not of torment, but rather of being destroyed, complete destruction, namely annihilation by fire.

What did Jesus mean by “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”? We can look at what he said about those, who believed they were on the right path,

Matthew 7:21-23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’

In other words, those who will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” are those who believed they had the truth but did not. Can we imagine giving our whole life to what we think to be the correct path, only to get to the edge and discover, we are on the wrong path because we chose to do our will, not the will of the Father? Now then, what about what John penned in the book of Revelation?

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Revelation 21:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

But as for the cowards and unbelievers, and the detestable, as for murderers, and the sexually immoral[12] persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.”

John speaks of a “lake that burns with fire and sulfur,” where the wicked are thrown. It would seem that if hellfire were the truth, this would be the place. However, we are simply told by John; this is “the second death.” Moreover, he had told his readers earlier,

Revelation 20:13-14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades[13] gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades[14] were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

Notice that death, which is what we inherited from our first parents Adam and Eve, as well as Hades (gravedom), is going to be “thrown into the lake of fire.” Is not death and Hades abstract, are they able to be tormented and suffer forever. No. However, the fire does picture their eternal destruction, which will take place once they ‘give up the dead who were in them.’ Note that Paul clearly said, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26.

The fire and burning within Scripture are simply representing annihilation or eternal destruction. Therefore, there is no eternal torment in Sheol (gravedom), Hades (the equivalent of Sheol) hell (English translation), Gehenna (symbol of destruction), or the lake of fire (symbol of destruction). What about the parable of the sheep (righteous) and the goats (wicked), which has the goats, or the wicked going away into eternal punishment?

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Matthew 25:46 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

46 And these will go away into eternal punishment,[15] but the righteous into eternal life.”

Kolasin “akin to kolazoo[16] “This means ‘to cut short,’ ‘to lop,’ ‘to trim,’ and figuratively a. ‘to impede,’ ‘restrain,’ and b. ‘to punish,’ and in the passive ‘to suffer loss.’[17] The first part of the sentence is only in harmony with the second part of the sentence, if the eternal punishment is eternal death. The wicked receive eternal death and the righteous eternal life. We might at that Matthews Gospel was primarily for the Jewish Christians, and under the Mosaic Law, God would punish those who violated the law, saying they “shall be cut off [penalty of death] from Israel.” (Ex 12:15; Lev 20:2-3) We need further to consider,

2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These ones will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, from before the Lord[18] and from the glory of his strength,

Notice that Paul says too that the punishment for the wicked is “eternal destruction.” Many times, in talking with those that support the position of eternal torment in some hellfire, they will add a word to Matthew 25:46 in their paraphrase of the verse, ‘eternal conscious punishment.’ However, Jesus does not tell us what the eternal punishment is, just that it is a punishment, and it is eternal. Therefore, those who support eternal conscious fiery torment will read the verse to mean just that, while those, who hold the position of eternal destruction, will take Matthew 25:46 to mean that. Considering that Jesus does not define what the eternal punishment is, this verse is not a proof text for either side of the argument. Does Jesus’ parable, The Rich Man, and Lazarus, not support the hellfire doctrine? – Luke 16:19-31.

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Interpreting Parables

Jesus gave us some 40 parables or illustrations, filling them with symbols and images that represented a message he was trying to share. Now, we get to this one, and we want to take it literally? Robert H. Stein writes,

Similarly, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31) is to be interpreted as a parable, and thus according to the rules governing the interpretation of parables. It is not to be interpreted as a historical account. (Luke reveals this by the introduction “A certain man …” which is used in the Gospel to introduce parables [cf. Luke 10:30; 14:16; 15:11; 16:1; 19:12]. This is clearer in the Greek text than in most translations, but it is fairly obvious in the NASB.)[19]

In discussing interpretation rules, stein goes on to say,

In a similar way, there are different “game” rules involved in the interpretation of the different kinds of biblical literature. The author has played his “game,” has sought to convey his meaning, under the rules covering the particular literary form he used. Unless we know those rules, we will almost certainly misinterpret his meaning. If we interpret a parable (Luke 16:19–31) as if it were narrative, or if we interpret poetry (Judg. 5) as if it were narrative, we will err. Similarly, if we interpret a narrative such as the resurrection of Jesus (Matt. 28:1–10) as a parable, we will also err (1 Cor. 15:12–19).[20]

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Step One in Understanding Parables

Read the context of the parable. You need to find out the setting of the parable, looking for the conditions and the circumstances. Why was the parable told? What prompted its being told?

Step Two in Understanding Parables

Consider the cultural backgrounds, such as the laws and customs of the setting, as well as the idioms that were spoken of earlier.

Step Three in Understanding Parables

This is a two-point step. The first point is to look to the author of the parable for the upcoming meaning of the parable. An interpreter of a parable by Jesus would see what he meant in the context it was spoken, and then consider his teaching as a whole. The second point is, do not assign subjective meanings to the elements of a parable. Generally, a parable teaches one basic point.

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Stage One: Discovering the Main Characters

In any given parable, it is highly important to find the main 2–3 characters.

Stage Two: Looking to the End

As is true with any kind of story, the end of the story carries the weight of importance. This is no different with parables. The ending is where the answers lie.

Stage Three: Who Carries the Conversation

Which character carries the conversation?

Stage Four: Who Gets the Most Press

Generally, whoever gets the most coverage in a story is the primary character, followed by the secondary person that must exist to facilitate the story and its main point.[21]

The setting of the parable of The rich man and Lazarus (Lu 16:19-31) is Jesus speaking, with the Pharisees listening in, who was well known as one who hungered for riches. What was Jesus teaching by this parable?

It had nothing to do with punishment for sin. It had to do with two different groups of people, the rich man (Jewish religious leaders) and the beggar Lazarus (poor Jewish people), as there was about to be a drastic change in their privileged and lowly positions. The Rich man, the Jewish religious leaders, opposed Jesus and the Good News of the Kingdom that he brought because he was busy sharing it with the common Jewish people. This, in fact, tormented the Jewish religious leaders to no end, to the point of their seeking to kill him. (Luke 20:19, 20, 46, 47) Conversely, the beggar Lazarus represents, the poor, common Jewish people, who were looked upon with disdain, like beggars by the Jewish religious leaders, were being given the privileged position of becoming disciples of Jesus, and the first to enter into the kingdom. – 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.

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What is the meaning of the “tormented with fire and sulfur” in Revelation 14:9-11?

Revelation 14:9-11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of his anger; and he will be tormented with fire and burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever 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.”

In the above text, those who worshipping the symbolic “beast and its image,” they will be “tormented with fire and sulfur.” The context here is not what happens after these one’s deaths, but rather what happens to them while they are alive. What is it that torments these ones while they are alive? It is the proclamations of Christians that worshipers of the “beast and its image” will experience, to such a level that it is referred to as “tormented with fire and sulfur.” Looking at the context of 14:11, it is not the torment that lasts forever; it is ‘the smoke of their torment that goes up forever and ever.’ What is smoke is a signal of their symbolic burning that will rise forever because the lesson learned will never be forgotten. Is there yet another example of this in Scripture? Yes.

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The Judgment of Edom

Isaiah 34:9-12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

And her[22] streams shall be changed to pitch,
and her soil into sulfur;
her land shall become burning pitch.
10 Night and day it will not be quenched;
its smoke shall go up forever.
From generation to generation it will lie waste;
none will pass through it forever and ever.
11 But the pelican and the porcupine[23] will possess it,
the owl and the raven will dwell in it.
He will stretch the line of confusion over it,
and the plumb line of emptiness.
12 Its nobles, there is no one there to call it a kingdom,
and all its princes will be nothing.

Was Edom thrown into some literal hellfire to burn forever? No. The Edomite nation, an enemy of God’s people, was removed, which is described in the above in poetic terms, highly symbolic language. It was as though fire and sulfur consumed Edom. If we were to go to the geographical location of ancient Edom, would we see smoke still rising? No. The smoke was and still is today, a signal of a lesson learned from the destruction that Edom faced. This smoke-filled lesson will rise forever, in that the lesson learned will live on forever through the Word of God. After Jesus destroys the last enemy death, is it believed that the Bible will no longer be needed? The Bible is a book that will stand forever, as a signal of what humanity already experienced. Let us take this one step further as we look at our next text that is often drawn on to support hellfire doctrine.

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Revelation 20:10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

The Greek word used here for “torment,” basanizo, primarily means “to test by rubbing on the touchstone” (basanos, “a touchstone”), then, “to question by applying torture.”[24] The Bible is our case law (law established by previous verdicts), which will serve as a touchstone[25] (a standard by which something is judged) that humans were never designed to walk on their own, but to live under the sovereignty of their Creator. The issues raised by Satan will have been settled by humanities walking through thousands of years of an object lesson, for which the Bible is the case law, the touchstone, which will be around forever, as a reminder of the issues raised and settled.

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The Moral Test

We know that man and woman were created in the image of God, and so when we hear of people who have tortured criminals, we call that inhumane. Would we expect that the One, whose image we are made in would see the eternal torment of sinners as humane? This would be incompatible with the very person of God. How are we to know how God views justice?

(Exodus 21:23-24) But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,

(Leviticus 24:20) fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him.

(Deuteronomy 19:21) Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

(Judges 1:7) And Adoni-bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and their big toes cut off used to pick up scraps under my table. As I have done, so God has repaid me.” And they brought him to Jerusalem, and he died there.

(Matthew 5:38-42) “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

The above texts are but a few of how God views justice, and it is all too clear that he sees it as the punishment needs to be proportionate, to be the best response to crime. In other words, if an Israelite were to steal his neighbor’s cow, he would have to replace it with the cow, and any financial loss he suffered, even some extra as punitive damages. However, would God expect that thief to have to work as a slave to his neighbor for the rest of his life, and his children and grand children’s lives as well? Note that that punishment would be way out of proportion to the crime.

Now, let us look at the punishment that God gave Adam and Eve if they were to rebel sinfully, rejecting him and his sovereignty, by choosing to eat from the tree he had commanded them not to eat from.

Genesis 2:17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,[26] for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.”[27]

Eat from the tree (i.e., reject God as sovereign) = death. The punishment for sin was death. Please go back and look at Genesis 2:17 in the Bible, in several different translations. Do we notice some footnote from God that said, “And 4,000 years from now, when Jesus arrives, I am going to change the sentence from death to eternal torment in some literal lake of fire?”

Imagine we live in some small American town. We get our driver’s licenses. Then, one day, we are pulled over for going 35-Miles Per Hour (MPH) in a 25 MPH zone. The police officer writes us a ticket and tells us to appear in court the following month, where the judge will fine us $50.00. We arrive at court the next month, and are in front of the magistrate, and he just found us guilty and sentences us not to a $50.00 fine, but to be taken outside of the courthouse and shot to death by a firing squad. Would anyone suggest that the punishment of a death sentence was proportionate to the crime of a speeding ticket? Would anyone find justice in the law enforcement officer saying the penalty was a mere $50.00 fine, and then the judge later raising the penalty to such an extreme level of capital punishment? God gave Adam the sentence of death, for committing the greatest sin of any human in history, as he had rejected God in perfection, and sentencing billions to death along with him. Would it then be justice, for God to raise the punishment bar to eternal torment in the Lake of Fire? Let us now look at imperfect humanity.

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(Genesis 2:17) but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,[15] for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.”[16]

What is the punishment for sin here in Genesis 2:17? What is the punishment for rebellion here? Was there some footnote that added eternal torment? Why would God hold back eternal torment from Adam? Was it just to not inform Adam of eternal torment? Was the serpent [Satan] right, saying God was withholding knowledge from Adam and Eve? Or, maybe … it was exactly as God said. “you eat from it you shall surely die.

(Ezekiel 18:4) Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul [person] who sins shall die.

(Romans 3:23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

(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

(Romans 6:7) For one who has died has been set free from sin.

If death is the punishment that sets one free from sin, how can one sin further so as to incur eternal torment in hellfire?

(Romans 6:23) For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)  in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These ones will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, from before the Lord[3] and from the glory of his strength,

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If Adam commits the greatest sin a human could commit, and he gets death, how is it justice that imperfect humans are supposedly getting eternal torment in a Lake of Fire?

There are five factors to imperfect humans being even less culpable (Guilty) than Adam was. (1) We are imperfect and live in an imperfect world, compounded by the fact that God’s Word says we are mentally bent and lean toward doing bad. We read, “When the LORD saw that the wickedness of man on the earth was great and that the whole bent of his thinking was never anything but evil, the LORD regretted that he had ever made man on the earth.” (Gen. 6:5, AT) (2) We have a wicked spirit creature, Satan the Devil, who is misleading the entire world of humankind. We read, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Pet 5:8) (3) We live in a world that caters to the imperfect flesh. We read, “For all that is in the world, the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions, is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:16-17) (4) We are unable to understand our inner person, which the Bible informs us is wicked: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) (5) In imperfection, man is unable to direct his own step. – Jeremiah 10:23.

Unlike Adam, we are imperfect from the start, and Adam received death for sin. Adam was perfect, with the natural desire to do good, he was mentally perfect, and he lived in a paradise, in direct communication with God. We are born mentally bent toward sin. We have Satan and demons after us. Our natural desire is toward bad. We have an imperfect, fallen world that surrounds us, which caters to our flesh desires. We have a heart (i.e., inner person) that is deceitful and desperately sick and are unable to walk on our own. Thus, who can make the case that it is right, and just that imperfect humans are to receive eternal torment in some literal Lake of Fire? If one who dies, is freed from sin, by having paid the wages of sin, which was paid for through death (Rom 6:23), not the ransom of Christ, why should he then be liable so at to have to suffer eternally in some fiery torment?

If humanity were punishing another human being with deliberate torture of fire, we would find this to be sickening and abhorrent. Our finding it so sickening and abhorrent is actually based on the conscience that God gave to man, that same man, who was made in the image of God. This same God clearly stated that such an idea would never have even come into his mind.

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Jeremiah 7:31 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

31 And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my heart.[28]

While the Israelites were engaging in the revolting practice of child sacrifice, God told his prophet Jeremiah: “They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my heart.” (Jer. 7:31) If the repulsive, offensive, detestable, monstrous practice of child sacrifice was something that could never have been considered by the God of love, how could he possibly conceive of eternal torment for humans who violate his laws?

God does not withhold his punishment, but that punishment is just. God said, “in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die,” not eternal torment. (Gen. 2:17) God said, “the soul [person] that sins shall surely die,” not eternal torment. (Ezek. 18:4) God said by way of Paul, “For the wages of sin is death,” not eternal torment. – Romans 6:23.

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[1] Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

[2] Edwards, Jonathan (2010-05-20). Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God (Kindle Locations 151-152). Old Land Mark Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[3] Frederick C. Mish, “Preface,” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003). hell

[4] Frederick C. Mish, “Preface,” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003). sheol

[5] Frederick C. Mish, “Preface,” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003). hades

[6] Chad Brand et al., eds., “Gehenna,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 632.

[7] Gehenna: geenna (Gehenna) occurs 12 times and is the Greek name for the valley of Hinnom, southwest of Jerusalem (Jer. 7:31), where the horrendous worship of Moloch took place, and it was prophetically said that where dead bodies would be thrown. (Jer. 7:32; 19:6) It was an incinerator where trash and dead bodies were destroyed, not a place to be burned alive or tormented. Jesus and his disciples used Gehenna to symbolize eternal destruction, annihilation, or the “second death,” an eternal punishment of death.

[8] WH NU א B C L W ΔΨ 0274 f1 28 565 itk syrs cop omit ; A D Θ f13 Maj, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” This verse is identical to verse 48 and is missing from the earliest and best manuscripts, as well as several text types. It is an interpolation.

[9] Gehenna: geenna (Gehenna) occurs 12 times and is the Greek name for the valley of Hinnom, southwest of Jerusalem (Jer. 7:31), where the horrendous worship of Moloch took place, and it was prophetically said that where dead bodies would be thrown. (Jer. 7:32; 19:6) It was an incinerator where trash and dead bodies were destroyed, not a place to be burned alive or tormented. Jesus and his disciples used Gehenna to symbolize eternal destruction, annihilation, or the “second death,” an eternal punishment of death.

[10] WH NU א B C L W ΔΨ 0274 f1 28 565 itk syrs cop omit ; A D Θ f13 Maj, “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” This verse is identical to verse 48 and is missing from the earliest and best manuscripts, as well as several text types. It is an interpolation.

[11] Gehenna: geenna (Gehenna) occurs 12 times and is the Greek name for the valley of Hinnom, southwest of Jerusalem (Jer. 7:31), where the horrendous worship of Moloch took place, and it was prophetically said that where dead bodies would be thrown. (Jer. 7:32; 19:6) It was an incinerator where trash and dead bodies were destroyed, not a place to be burned alive or tormented. Jesus and his disciples used Gehenna to symbolize eternal destruction, annihilation, or the “second death,” an eternal punishment of death.

[12] Sexual Immorality: (Heb. zanah; Gr. porneia) A general term for immoral sexual acts of any kind: such as adultery, prostitution, sexual relations between people not married to each other, homosexuality, and bestiality. – Num. 25:1; Deut. 22:21; Matt. 5:32; 1 Cor. 5:1.

[13] Hades is the standard transliteration into English of the corresponding Greek word haides, which occurs ten times in the UASV. (Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Lu 10:15; 16:23; Ac 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14.) It has the underlying meaning of ‘a place of the dead, where they are conscious of nothing, awaiting a resurrection, for both the righteous and the unrighteous.’ (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15) It corresponds to “Sheol” in the OT. It does not involve torment and punishment.

[14] Hades is the standard transliteration into English of the corresponding Greek word haides, which occurs ten times in the UASV. (Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Lu 10:15; 16:23; Ac 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14.) It has the underlying meaning of ‘a place of the dead, where they are conscious of nothing, awaiting a resurrection, for both the righteous and the unrighteous.’ (John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15) It corresponds to “Sheol” in the OT. It does not involve torment and punishment.

[15] That is eternal cutting off, from life. Lit., “lopping off; pruning.”

[16] W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 498.

[17] Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 451.

[18] Lit from before the face of the Lord

[19] Robert H. Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 30.

[20] IBID., 76.

[21]  Edward D. Andrews, A BASIC GUIDE TO BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION Understanding the Correct Methods of Interpretation (Christian Publishing House, Cambridge, OH, 2014), 313.

[22] I.e. Edom’s

[23] The animals rendered pelican and porcupine are uncertain

[24] W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 176.

[25] A touchstone is a hard black stone formerly used to test the purity of gold and silver according to the color of the streak left when the metal was rubbed against it.

[26] Lit eat from it

[27] Lit dying you [singular] shall die. Heb moth tamuth; the first reference to death in the Scriptures

[28] I.e. mind

14 thoughts on “What Does the Bible Really Say About Hellfire – Eternal Torment?

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  1. God confused the language of those intent on ceasing to dividing and spread out into the Earth; and form central government at the Tower of Babel…nothing would be witheld from them God said. Since the invention of the steam engine we have moved at a fierce pace to now, having nothing to with hold us. Language is no problem.The end of this long age of error (sin) is certainly not far off. there is something God’s people must come to understand before Jesus’ return…I am thinking. Revelation: …an angle puts in his sickle and the grain is harvested; another angel puts in his sickle and the grapes are harvested and thrown into the winepress of Gods anger; the grain are God’s people; the grapes are the rest. Question: why would God do this work of harvesting and pressing these grapes of wroth and then just discard them? Didn’t God say he would make his enemies his foot stool ie: get some good use out of them. I have come to believe all will get eternal life. However there are two ways to go; a life time of refining in the refiners fire; or the blast furnace which is the lake of Fire or maybe it could be called the lake of Shame.The fire coming down out of heaven…is this God taking away the ability of the wicked to hide from who they really are.These undelivered ones never got to ask God to show them their heart…not all at once which would amount to being in the lake of fire/ shame….but over a life time, and from generation to generation. I am happy with this thought. We have two choices; the refiners fire or the blast furnace. Did not Jesus suffer voluntarily the blast furnace. “My God my God why have you forsaken me”? this is just my thinking on this very important matter…to any one else it is just theory. Paul said we must be like the Bareans …do your own investigation; earnestly. Wouldn’t it be true, that if we accept things without investigation; ( merely believing some thing because we couldn’t imagine the one or group who told us, would lie to us)…could that knowledge be OUR KNOWLEDGE. There are such things as traditional lies.The Pharisees had a shed full of such. Eternal torment (literally, and anilation I recon are such inherited errors. For every thing ther is a seasion.

  2. The Bible tells us that only the saved live forever, and that it’s conditional upon a saving faith in Jesus (John 3:16, 2 Timothy 1:10, John 3:36). The Bible alls tells us that the fate of the lost is death (Romans 6:23), and that they will not have life (1 John 5:11-12), They will perish (John 3:16), they will be burned up (Matthew 3:12), they will be destroyed (Matthew 10:28).

    These verses are mere examples, there are dozens, maybe hundreds like them throughout the Bible. Yet there is not even one portion of scripture that teaches that the fate of the lost is eternal conscious torment. So why believe that?

    1. You are definitely over exaggerating the evidence. There are not dozens of verses, let alone hundreds. You are lucky if there are dozen and all are misrepresented. Matthew 3:12 is an illustration, which is not meant to be taken literally. If you want to take it literally; then, literally the fire being spoken of is used to destroy the chaff thrown in it, not torment it.

      Matthew 10:28 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

      28 Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.[7]

      What is meant by this is, man can kill the body alone, but he cannot kill “life,” as in everlasting life. The prospect of life is in the hands of God alone. He can kill both the body, which is used to represent what we have here and now, but he can also kill any prospect that we have at receiving everlasting life. Again, man can kill the body; he cannot kill the person for an eternity, as the hope of a resurrection is in hands of God.

      NOTE the word DESTROY in your own choice of verses.

      Interpretation of Scripture
      Those investigating the Scriptures must ask themselves, ‘why would God use words like “destroy, destruction, perish, death” to mean something other than their plain meaning? This seems to fly in the face of the idea that the soul goes to some place of eternal torment, but rather are terminated by their destruction.

      Psalm 1:6 … the way of the wicked will perish
      Psalm 37:20 But the wicked will perish… the enemies of the Lord will be like the glory of the pastures,
      They vanish–like smoke they vanish away.

      Psalm 92:7 evildoers flourish, … are doomed to destruction forever
      Matthew 10:28b Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
      John 3:16

      John 3:36

      … whoever believes in him should not perish (Gr destroyed) but have eternal life. …
      whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

      Rom. 6:23 For the wages of sin is death …
      Phil. 3:19 whose end is “destruction” …
      2 Thess. 1:9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction …
      Hebrews 10:39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
      James 4:12a There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy.
      Rev. 20:14 This is the second death…
      There is little doubt that the most difficult thing any human has to suffer through is death. However, for the wicked, who have rejected the sovereignty of God that is the extent of their pain and suffering, knowing that live is no more. The wages of sin is death, not eternal existence.

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