Is there a Hell? Some people have a horrible time accepting the Bible’s teaching concerning an eternal place of conscious torment–Hell. Therefore, one should consider their arguments. In one case, some people believe the passages about Hell are not inspired. On the other hand, others believe Jews did not believe in a place of eternal conscious torment. Another argument says Jews and Greeks did not have a concept of eternity. Therefore, one must answer “Is there a Hell?” by looking at the Scriptures in their context.
Where Does the Bible Teach on Hell?
The concept of Hell is derived from different passages of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments. One needs to inspect both Testaments to formulate a doctrine on Hell.
- 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. (Daniel 12:12).
- 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:5-6, ESV).
- 30 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. (Matthew 5:30, ESV).
- 47 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, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9:47-48, ESV).
- 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. (John 5:28-29, ESV).
- 10 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. 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:10-15, ESV).
There are plenty of other passages one could study; however, this is an appropriate sampling of the passages which talk about Hell.
Did the Jews Believe in Hell?
Since the Bible talks about Hell, many critics deny its existence saying the Jews did not believe in a concept of forever. Instead it is suggested that they believed in simply long ages of conscious torment. The problem with this kind of thinking is it goes against what scholarship has revealed about Jews in the 1st century.
Jew and Greek alike came in contact with Persia; the Jews at the time the postexilic writers were composing their books (e.g., Malachi, Daniel, and some psalms) and the Greeks somewhat later (they fought the Persians 520–479 bc. and conquered them 334–330 bc). Whether because of Persian influence on these groups or not, during this period, the idea of reward and punishment after death developed, and Sheol/Hades changed from a shadow-land to a differentiated place of reward and punishment for both Greeks (and Romans) and Jews. Josephus records that the Pharisees believed in reward and punishment at death (Antiq. 18.1.3) and a similar idea appears in 1 Enoch 22. In these and many other cases in Jewish literature, Hades stands for the one place of the dead, which has two or more compartments. In other Jewish literature, Hades is the place of torment for the wicked, while the righteous enter Paradise (Pss Sol 14; Wis of Sol 2:1; 3:1). Thus by the beginning of the NT period Hades has three meanings: (1) death, (2) the place of all the dead, and (3) the place of the wicked dead only. It is the context which determines the meaning an author intends in a given passage.
It is important to note that Jesus never corrected their views on Hell but instead made it clearer that there was a place of blessing and eternal life for those who trust in Him and a place of torment for the wicked who reject Him.
Does Eternal Mean Eternal
It is also important to note that the Hebrew word “olam” and the Greek word “aionios” have very similar meanings. The Septuagint even translates “olam” to “aionios.” These correspond with the English word “everlasting.” All three of these words carry the definition of “without foreseeable end,” or “forever.” These Greek and Hebrew words are used in the same way about Hell as Heaven. Therefore, if one is to deny a literal eternal conscious torment, then one would have to deny a literal eternal pleasure in the presence of God’s goodness. It would be insulting to the Hebrews and Greeks to say they did not understand abstract concepts like eternity.
Is Hell Just?
Some people consider Hell to not be fair. Yet, that kind of thinking brings God’s word down to the level of humans or–at worst–below humans. When one is a child and punches his sibling, he might get a time-out. Yet, as an adult, if one punches a child, he could go to prison for a few years. If one punches the president, he could be killed for treason. The punishment must fit the crime, yet the same crime is increased when it is against someone greater than the offender.
While that line of reasoning can apply to God–since He is the greatest–it is also appropriate to remember that God is also infinitely innocent. The only thing that can humanly come close to God’s innocence is an infant’s innocence. If one were to hurt an infant by maiming, torturing, crippling, or killing the infant, there is no punishment too severe that could be dealt out. The death penalty for that crime should just be a mere starting place.
Yet, God is greater, more innocent, more holy, and the source of all good. The only worthy punishment for someone who sins against God is eternal conscious torment. That is why when it says, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” that is not a good thing (Romans 3:23). It means everyone deserves to go to Hell and God is a just judge to throw people there.
God’s rich Mercy
Yet, God is rich in mercy. He has sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to live a sinless life, do mighty miracles, and perform the acts of God. Being fully God and fully man, Jesus is the perfect sacrifice to die in the place of sinners and satisfy God’s wrath. When Jesus died on the cross, He took on the wrath of God for all who would repent and trust in Jesus. Therefore, God can legally dismiss the case of all who repent and trust in Christ. Jesus also rose from the dead and defeated death so all the redeemed can live holy lives to God (Romans 6:1-5).
Therefore, yes, there is a Hell. Hell is a place of eternal conscious torment. It is the place where every human being deserves to go. Also, the Jews believed in a Hell, the Old Testament teaches it in progressive revelation. Jesus also did not correct the first century Jews on this theology but instead expounded on it in His teaching. Therefore, one must turn away from his or her vain pride and trust in the revealed Word of God.
More from Striving for Eternity
If you want more information on studying the Bible and how to interpret it correctly, check out the store section at strivingforeternity.org/store. There are tons of resources to help you get started on your journey to interpreting the Bible better. Also invite Andrew Rappaport and Aaron M. Brewster to come to your church and teach you biblical interpretation with their Biblical Interpretation Made Easy Seminar. Andrew Rappaport, Aaron M. Brewster, and other guests on Apologetics live would also enjoy answering your questions on the live show on Thursdays from 7pm–9pm CST with the link to the stream yard at strivingforeternity.org/apologeticslive. Lord bless you and strive to make today and eternal day for Christ Jesus.