As I stated in my introduction to this series, until last year I would never have given a second thought to this subject. I “knew” that the Bible taught what is referred to as the “Traditional View” or the “Eternal Torment” view and that any other understanding of Hell was straying into the realm of cults and theological liberalism. But when I honestly assessed what I really did know about what the Bible said on Hell, I discovered I knew a lot less than I thought.
I’m going to start with an examination of the Eternal Torment view of Hell. To be clear, this view is the common one, held by the vast majority of conservative Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, which says that those who die without accepting the substitutionary atonement of Christ will be separated from God in Hell and will suffer torment for eternity.
It should be noted beforehand that one of the primary assumptions of those who hold the Eternal Torment view of Hell, whether they know it or not, is that man is by nature immortal. The case for this belief is made by pointing out that the Bible teaches that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) and one of our shared attributes with the Creator is immortality. Thus, even when man becomes separated from God in Hell he continues to survive forever.
I’m going to spend the rest of this post quoting every passage in the Bible which is generally accepted as saying something about Hell. I won’t need to make the case for this view so much as lay out the passages that are cited for it – most of us in the West, even non-Christians, have grown up with this view so embedded as part of our shared cultural knowledge that we will immediately recognize the view from the following passages.
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land
to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire… 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 hell… And if your eye causes you to sin, tear 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.
Note that in each of these quotations the word rendered as “hell” is the Greek word "Gehenna."
What can we learn from these passages? Hell (or specifically, Gehenna) is a place for people who say “You Fool;” it is better to mutilate yourself (cutting off various body parts) than to go there; it is a place of bodies and souls; and it is a place that people are sentenced to go to. While these passages convey the idea that this place is terrible and not one any person would choose to go to, they don’t really give us any specifics, they don’t tell us about the nature of Hell. For that we need to look elsewhere.
None of the following passages explicitly mention hell, however, just because they don't use the word doesn't mean they don't have anything to teach us about it. They also represent the totality of Bible teaching on the subject. Outside of these passages the Bible has nothing else to say about damnation (that I'm aware of).
"His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'
Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30
I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth… Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth… And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew 13:40-42, 50
Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
…but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and
distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,
2 Corinthians 5:10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:3
While people are saying, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
2 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
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
…but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
2 Peter 2:12, 17
But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction…These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved.
…just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
…he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 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.
…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.
These verses refer repeatedly to separation between the righteous and the unrighteous (the lawbreakers). The unrighteous receive the due sentence for the works that they did “in the body” (that is, while they lived on earth). They will be forced to depart from Christ and be cast into a fiery furnace (called the "lake of fire" in Revelation) where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth and the devil, the beast, and the false prophet are placed to suffer torment “forever and ever.” This fire is said to be "unquenchable" or "eternal" and it has been prepared for the devil and his angels. In addition to fire, “gloom” and “outer darkness” are also referred to. It is place of torment, and the smoke of that torment ascends day and night and those who sufferer it will have no rest. Those who obey unrighteousness will suffer wrath and fury, tribulation and distress. This destruction will be sudden, is called eternal, and will consume the adversaries of God.
After all this, is there any question that the Eternal Torment view has good Biblical support? The fact is, from this list of passages, the traditional view of hell appears unassailable to many and is easily justified. However, we will examine whether this is actually the case or not in the very next post.