Is There Hell In The Bible

God and Eternal Punishment

The Bible does not supply a totally unambiguous answer regarding the existence of hell. It does, however, demonstrate that an eternity of punishment is established by God. According to a Gallup survey conducted in 2011, the vast majority (seventy-eight percent) of Americans consider hell to be a real place. The common perception of hell is an underground place of fire and torment. However, the Bible does not distinctly refer to this place by that name.
In the Hebrew Bible, it is referred to as the Pit Sheol and in the Greek Bible as Hades and Gehenna. Sheol and Hades are both viewed as places of darkness, grief, and sorrow. Gehenna is also known as ‘the Valley of Hinnom’ and is synonymous with ‘hell’. In the book of Matthew, Jesus is recorded as referring to Gehenna a number of times to convey the image of an eternity of torment and punishment.
So-called ‘hell-fire’ is referenced in the Bible as a place of punishment for God’s enemies and non-believers. It is stated in passages like this one from Revelation that hell is where sinners will go after Judgment Day: “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
The idea of hell-fire being a place of torment and punishment may not be the literal scriptural interpretation, as it is thought by some theologians that hell-fire may represent judgment rather than an actual fiery atmosphere as is so often assumed. Similarly to how Purgatory is said to represent a place of purifying before heaven, hell-fire may represent the judgment and purifying for non-believers.
C.S. Lewis suggests in The Great Divorce, that hell “is not the driest state of being in which a soul that despairs of God could possibly exist.” This implies that it is a place of correction and renewal rather than a place of eternal suffering as is commonly assumed. Catholic writer, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, similarly claims that hell is not “the imprisonment forever of souls that have never returned to God.”

7th-day Adventism and Hell

The 7th-day Adventist Church is the only branch of Christianity to deny the existence of an eternal hell, citing scripture to this effect. They suggest that when the Bible speaks of ‘hell’, and ‘eternal punishment’ it is merely metaphor, and damage limitation, rather than a literal description of an afterlife.They believe that it is a mistake to regard ‘hell’ as a place, since all scriptural references to a fiery and dark place of sorrow are figurative.
It is questioned whether a burning, violent hell is an adequate image of the way in which God deals with the people He loves. It is argued that it is not in accordance with a loving God to punish people for eternity and thus, cannot be correct.
In contrast, the Catholic Church holds that hell is the ultimate fate for individuals who reject the truth of God’s divine law. Thus, hell must be taken as a reality, or result of God’s judgment upon unrepentant sinners. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, hell “cannot be considered an act of vengeance on God’s part, but rather the natural consequence of attitudes and actions which resist the extreme love of God.”

Eternal Separation

The idea of hell-fire as a place of eternal separation from the presence of God is conveyed in scripture in the Christian bible. This ‘second death’ is mentioned in Revelation 20:14, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.”
It can be argued that this is not ‘hell’ per se, simply a separation from God, as opposed to being condemned to an eternity of torment. Theologian, CS Lewis, suggests that separation from God would constitute a greater punishment than anything else. “The torments of hell correspond to nothing other than the withdrawal of God’s presence.”
In the context of divine judgment, this verse from Matthew 8:12 is often cited, “ But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This can be seen as implying an eternity of being separated from God’s glory.

Heaven and Hell

Christian tradition teaches that both heaven and hell are the result of one’s life choices on Earth. Heaven is an eternity in the presence of God and Hell is an eternity of separation from the presence of God. Most traditional Religious beliefs hold that decisions made on earth will be judged in the afterlife.
As stated in Romans, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” It is believed that ones life of righteousness will be rewarded in the afterlife, resulting in an eternity of blessed life in the presence of God.
However, those who have failed to accept the call of Christ during their lifetime may receive the ultimate punishment; an eternity of separation from the presence and love of God, which many refer to as ‘hell’.

Interpretations of Hell

The concept of hell is interpreted differently by various Christian denominations and sects, who rely heavily on scripture to provide evidence for their argument. Some scholars propose that ‘hell’ is simply an image of our lives in this world, rather than an actual physical place.
Many Churches and movements consider the ‘hell’ of scripture to be merely an expression of the judgment and wrath that all sinners must face, rather than an actual, physical place. Furthermore, some believe that the torment of hell, if at all real, is only for a period of time, rather than forever.
Campaigns have been conducted in recent years to reduce the stigma associated with the concept of ‘hell’ and associated words, so as to present a message of God’s love, redemption and mercy. One such campaign, ‘Hell is not Forever’, campaigns to draw attention to a more merciful interpretation of ‘hell’, as seen in the writings of influential theologians like C.S. Lewis.

Biblical References to Hell

The main Scriptural references to hell come from the New Testament; Mention of Hades, Sheol, Gehenna and the ‘lake of fire’ appear throughout the Gospels and the Book of Revelation.
Hades appears in scripture mainly in the Greek text, Jesus expresses his fear of Hades in Luke 16:23: “In Hades, where he was in great torment.”
References to Gehenna occur in Matthew 5:22 and Mark 9:47-48, Jesus compares Gehenna to a place of punishment for those who chose not to repent.
The Book of Revelation contains multiple references to the ‘lake of fire’, which can be interpreted as either a physical or spiritual place. Regardless, the ‘lake of fire’ is used to suggest an eternity of torment; “And the smoke from their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”

The Human Factor

The existence of ‘hell’ as a physical place is not generally accepted as fact, and with advances in scientists understanding of the universe, it can be argued that there is little room for a place of eternal torment.
Many theologians view ‘hell-fire’ is an expression of God’s wrath and judgement, rather than an actual place. It is argued that, by choosing not to accept God’s grace and mercy, the sinner isolates themselves from the Presence and the love of God, thereby condemning themselves to an eternity of separation from the divine.
Within this framework, even if hell exists as a place, it would be a condition or a state of being, rather than a particular location. What some might think of as a physical hell could in fact just be a representation of a spiritual or emotional state of suffering and illness.

The Power of Choice

Nowhere does the Bible suggest that a person must remain without the loving presence of God for eternity; On the contrary, scripture provides multiple examples of God’s love for sinners, and His willingness to forgive.
In the end, the fate of an individual’s soul is within the individual’s own control. The idea of an eternity of suffering, while plausible within some interpretations of the scriptures, is not reflective of the Holy God of love described throughout the Bible.
Ultimately, the power to choose one’s eternal destination lies in the hands of the individual. Hell can be accepted yes, but more importantly, heaven can be attained through faith, repentance and acceptance of the free gift of salvation that is provided by the grace of God.

Marcos Reyna is a Christian author and speaker. He is dedicated to helping create disciples of Christ through spreading the power of the gospel to others. He has written several books and articles on a variety of theological topics, including matters of faith, worship, biblical studies, practical ethics, and social justice. A trained theologian and devotee of spiritual writing, Marcos has a mission to spread Christian love everywhere. He lives with his family in Nashville, TN where he spends his days encouraging others to seek Christ's grace in all things.

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