The 3 Biblical Options for a Theology of Hell

The 3 Biblical Options for a Theology of Hell September 3, 2015

theologyofhell

Many of us grow up hearing hell, fire, and brimstone messages in our churches from a very early age. In fact, many of us perhaps became Christians not so much out of a sincere desire to follow Christ, but out a fear of what he’d do to us if we didn’t. Hell is a powerful motivator—and Christians have been using it as a motivator for countless years.

This traditional view of hell is better described as “eternal conscious torment” because it teaches that God is going to torture the lost for all of eternity and that they will never die, lose consciousness, or obtain any sort of relief in their suffering. While as kids we either didn’t think to question the doctrine of traditional hell, or perhaps were too afraid to, there are a growing number of Christians today—both liberal and conservative—who are questioning the traditional view of hell, and for good reason.

First, our word for hell and all of the imagery that comes with it is a relatively new word in history, and certainly was not present in Old Testament times or the first century when the New Testament was written. In the Old Testament, there is only one word used when referring to the place of the dead, and this is the word sheol. The word simply means the “place of the dead” or the “grave” and is where Old Testament writers believed everyone went when they died—both the righteous and unrighteous. These ancient writers by and large did not share our modern concepts of heaven and hell—they believed that when people died, they died. However, over the course of time there did develop a hope among God’s people that one day the righteous would be resurrected—a hope still shared by nearly all Christians today.

In the New Testament, we find a few different words that often get translated into English as hell. Koiné Greek was a more precise language than English, so a variety of words- each with their own meanings and nuance, often get translated simply as “hell” and therefore adopt our modern concepts of hell- importing these concepts into the text. One of the more common words we find is the word hades, which is perhaps a functional equivalent to sheol- it is the place of the dead where everyone goes when they die. At times hades is described as a place of paradise (Luke 23:43) and other times a place of punishment (Luke 16:23), so it is a flexible word. Second, we find the word tartarus used only one time in reference to rebellious angels, and has the nuance of a deep, dark pit where they await the judgment of God. Thirdly, we find a common word used by Jesus that is often translated as hell, and this is the word Gehenna.

Gehenna is different than the other New Testament words for hell as it was an actual geographic place during the life of Jesus (the word actually means the Valley of the Son of Hinnom). Described by some as a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem, it was a place of historic weeping and gnashing of teeth because it is where children were previously sacrificed to Pagan gods.  This was also a place where bodies were cremated, and where there was likely a fire continually burning. In many cases where Jesus uses this term, he is often referencing the coming destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70) and warning his generation as to how they could avoid having their bodies thrown into Gahenna. 

Out of all these words, none of them have the exact same nuance that our English word hell tends to convey. Our modern concept of hell did not exist in ancient Judaism and is often more flavored by Dante’s Inferno than what actually occurs in the biblical text. Neither the ancient Jews nor the early Christians believed in our modern version of hell, as we see in the book of Acts (the story of the early church) the concept of hell is completely absent. This is not to say they were universalists; the early Christians believed that every human who ever lived would one day be judged and that we must be reconciled to God through Christ—but they did not use fear of hell to convey that message.

As a result of the nuance in the biblical text, there are three positions on hell, which are all considered part of orthodox Christianity: Eternal Conscious Torment, Annihilationism, and Christian Universalism.  Here is a brief description of these positions and why they are all considered part of the orthodox Christian faith:

Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT)

ECT is perhaps the position most of us know well, because it is the dominant position of our day. This position teaches that the human soul is immortal and does not/cannot die. As such, the soul will exist eternally either with God or being tortured in hell for all of eternity. 

This position uses the following texts in support of their position (this is not an exhaustive list): Matthew 25:41, 46; Mark 9:42–48; 2 Thessalonians 1:5–10; Revelation 14:9– 11; and Revelation 20:10, 14–15. This position was not the dominant position of the early church but has been the dominant position of the church since the post-Constantine era.

Annihilationism (also called Conditionalism)

The second orthodox position is Annihilationism/Conditionalism. This position disagrees with ECT in that it rejects the concept that human souls are immortal, arguing that God alone is immortal, as stated in 1 Timothy 6:16. Further, this position believes that souls can die as Jesus stated in Matthew 10:28. As such, Annihilationist believe that the “wages of sin is death,” meaning those who refuse to be reconciled to God are destined for eternal death (their soul ceases to exists), but that “the gift of God is eternal life” in that those who are reconciled to God are given the gift of immortality of the soul—eternal life. In short, those who fall into this category believe terms like the “wicked will be destroyed” are to be taken literally, whereas the ECT believes the terms “die” and “destroyed” are simply metaphoric for “will live forever in torture.”

This position uses the following verses to support their claim (not an exhaustive list): Psalm 1:6, Psalm 37:20, Psalm 69:28, Psalm 34:16, 21, Psalm 92:7, Proverbs 24:20, Dan 2:35, Isaiah 1:28, 30-13, Obadiah 1:16, Mal 4:1, Matthew 10:28, John 3:16, Matthew 7:13, 13:40, John 15:6, Phil 3:19, 2 Thess 1:9, 1 Cor 3:17, 2 Cor 2:15-16, Romans 6:23, Hebrews 10:39, James 4:12, 2 Peter 2:3, Revelation 20:14.

The position of annihilationism was the predominant position of the early church but has since become a minority view. However, this movement is gaining ground with both liberal Christians and conservatives.

Christian Universalism (Universal Redemption)

The third and final position on hell included under the umbrella of orthodox Christian positions is Christian universalism. This position is not the same as Unitarian Universalism, which would claim that “all flights go to Rome” or “every trail leads to the top of the mountain.” Christian Universalism, or the Universal Redemption Theory, remains an orthodox Christian view as it claims that Jesus Christ is the only way to be reconciled to God. Where it differs from the other orthodox views however is that it views the “fire” seen in scripture as being for the purpose of refinement instead of punishment. Under the Universal Redemption model it is believed that Christ will either refine everyone in the fires of his love- thus making them fit for heaven, or that Christ will continue to invite sinners to repent and be reconciled to God even from hell (postmortem repentance). This view still leaves room for a purgatorial hell of some sort, but argues hell will ultimately (one day) be empty, as all will ultimately choose to be reconciled to God through Christ. 

This position uses the following passages to support their position (not an exhaustive list): John 12:32, John 3:17, Luke 3:6, Romans 5:18, Romans 11:32, 1 John 2:2, 1 Tim 4:10, Col 1:20, 1 Cor 15:22,  Phil 2:11, 1 Cor 5:19, 1 Peter 4:6.

This position was held by some in the early church, but like annihilationism, fell out of favor—but is now gaining ground along side annihilationism. 

Far too many of us grow up with a singular concept of hell—often one that seems to paint God as one who delights in torturing people. Thankfully, there are other options one can hold while still keeping one’s feet firmly planted in the historic, orthodox Christian faith.

(This piece originally appeared on the Christian Left, and can be found here.)

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  • acidcasualty

    If you don’t mind an atheist who is curious about the religious beliefs of many cultures joining in:

    What about hell as being “the absence of God?” The Catholic Catechism defines hell as “the state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed.” I know the Catholics are kinda wacky – I was raised one – but I’ve read and heard that some sects of Christianity believe hell is simply lack of God’s divine presence. Any thoughts?

  • Johannes Richter

    I try to resist the temptation to return to the “historic orthodox” positions, since just having those options suggests that none of them was a conclusively orthodox position – and to arrive at anything like a conclusively orthodox position will require simplification or flattening through a (most likely anachronistic) hermeneutic lens. That’s the fundamentalistic fallacy.

    I have accepted that the Bible is multivocal, and I’m comfortable with the fact that the biblical authors were probably also taking logical routes through theological woods using their own prejudices/presuppositions/theological predilections as compass. But despite fundamentalistic fears, that does not imply we lose the hope certainty promised to provide, since walking those routes has historically led somewhere: from slavery to emancipation, from exile to holy land, from death to life… and from the valley of the shadow of sheol to the green pastures of the good shepherd.

    What I’m trying to say is that those three options might be valid maps, but they’re not the territory, and we probably miss something if we translate the nuance (as you point out) of the ancient moral and metaphorical arithmetic that arrived at those maps directly into a modern (or future) lived experience.

    As theological extensions of present and immediate realities (death, justice, sin, redemption etc.), these images are clearly meant to express multiplying forces in our lives and circumstances, even as they embody hopes generated by those conditions.

    Anyone watching the news today cannot deny that hell is a real place for many people, and that all refugees looking for a promised land seek something way beyond what human borders can enclose… a place that most certainly only lies somewhere beyond the experience of death, and in the welcoming arms of God.

  • Johannes Richter

    Maybe that falls more under universalism, which suggests ways to avoid the traditional concepts of hell altogether? It was being discussed on the Atheology blog: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/atheology/2015/08/reinventing-hell-for-the-21st-century-2/

  • Herm

    Are you talking an absence from all social communion, as alone, or just from God?

    In both my heart and mind, if the self indulgent find great pleasure in pursuing party time in total disregard of others, except only regarding those who too pursue the same in the same way, consciousness would get old and stale pretty quick. For me life would then certainly be like ever slipping deeper into an Eternal Conscious Torment for the vast remaining time left to party hardy with only uncaring self indulgent others.

    Without parents willing to give outside themselves, the sacrifice of nurture, children are obviously thrown into a living hell today on this earth.

    Thank you for an excellent question forcing all of me to need to answer!

  • otrotierra

    Ah, the “fundamentalistic fallacy.” I’ll have to remember this one. Hell is indeed very real in the present moment for the poor, the oppressed, the colonized, the occupied of the world, those at the receiving end of Western “Shock & Awe” terrorism.

  • Neil Carter

    You left out Passive-Aggressive Hell, which I’ve taken to calling Hell 2.0. It’s all the rage these days among my evangelical friends. They take one single verse about “outer darkness” and forget all other language about being thrown into a lake of fire because that makes God mean, and shows him too intimately involved in our torture.

    Hell 2.0 is less horrific because it’s akin to sitting in a dark room alone forever (with no cell service), and best of all: You send yourself there. God has nothing to do with it and his hands are completely clean of the whole affair. It’s a brilliant repackaging of an ancient fear tactic, and somehow allows the proponent to feel benevolent for telling you about it.

    I touched on it in this article, but intend to expand on it in one of my next couple of posts:

    Read “Absolving God From Hell.”

  • Janice Brantner

    Needing to define hell as anything is not necessary, since the word hell has no business being in the Bible. The words translated as hell all have their definitions as explained very clearly by Ben in his post. The worst possible punishment allowed by God is death, and even that is not permanent as all will be resurrected to have a real opportunity to learn righteousness before being subject to the lake of fire (second death, not torture) if they truly wish evil upon others even after all their opportunities.

  • Thanks Neil! Been meaning to reach out and invite you to come on That God Show sometime. Just message me if that’s something you’d be interested in.

  • Janice Brantner

    I would say that horror is very real for those people. But with the actual meaning of hell being a pagan belief that the souls of people can be tortured after death, I prefer not to use that word at all.

  • Herm

    I write, today, with all the sincerity I can muster sharing a vivid picture developing ever clearer in my heart and mind. Not ever having satisfied my predilection for instant gratification each pixel seems to take much too long to add to the focus. I am even more studied and exposed to a much greater wealth of knowledge than the sincere early chroniclers of the Christ’s life. I must testify that the filling of the Spirit of Truth does not instantly clear any of us to share completely free from the “prejudices/presuppositions/theological predilections” instilled in us from our carnal birth communities. The Bible has been pretty good in giving us a history of most authors and scribes to get some clue as to their baggage they had to begin from. Paul, throughout his letters, alludes to this as a concern for him. John, in Revelations, could only write to the seven churches what they might understand (and the Romans would not) and came from his past experiences.

    What most of the New Testament writers testified to according to their recognition of something referred to as “the good news” is that our spiritual creator God was now readily available for each person of mankind to relate to directly as a little child had once related directly with their carnal parents. I testify that God can work from the sandy foundations beginning from each of our carnal births, of no choice, to an eternal foundation based on the Rock of Truth in relationship with all of God if we each so choose to accept to move outside of ourselves into Them.

    The love and justice I know of my Father in my heart and mind just simply makes Eternal Conscious Torment inconceivable. In the image of God loving parents may punish their child but only to stop them from going further in their destructive behavior where the natural consequences would be far worse. No parent of love forces their charges to any polar extreme, which they have the power to do. I could have actually beat any spirit out of my children because they just really pissed me off … ultimate wrath(?). I could have preserved my children in a germ free rubber room as my trophy from my loins … ultimate valuing(?). Upon reflection their mother and I were never once, nor are today, out of love for our children who by the grace of God we were able to responsibly nurture them to their own freedom of will, in an environment of bountiful opportunity to exercise that will and with a foundation of love that tempers their will to be constructive and productive for all others. We are just an image of God. God will not punish even His worst most destructive creation eternally because that’s just not love. He would die first.

    Love you! Thank you very much!

  • otrotierra

    Great point, Janice. I agree we should be attentive to pagan concepts and ideas that inform evangelical fundamentalism in all forms, no matter how politically popular they are.

  • Herm

    To embrace conservatism, as versus progressionalism (I think I may have coined that word, sorry but it stays), actually means to frugally remain right where we’re at or to go back to the good old days when things were right with the world.

    To live evangelically means to live and share according to the teaching of the gospel or the Christian religion (you know, the good old days).

    Fundamentalism is a strict adherence to some belief or ideology.

    I cannot find any quote of the Messiah that did not speak to change away from the good old days. He spoke as though there was very little we should even be holding on to, for our own good, from the religious traditions of His own religion of carnal birth and moving ahead into the new (to us) kingdom under our Lord God’s authority and starting out as little children. In no instance do I hear our Rabbi saying go back to when everything was just right.

    The Spirit I know gives me hope for the future as an eternally satisfying change in adventure with all the time ever to savor with neighbors and family who know how to love others. I want so much to share the reality of the Spirit, I know and trust to lead, with my conservative evangelical fundamentalist friends.

    God loaned us this life as an opportunity to choose between future or past without an option to remain in an unchanging present. The future has no end of constant change. The past for us ends at just before our beginning. All still loaned and we earn nothing but the consequences from our free will choices in the image of our Creator.

    How can we get that across to those we love so much who want to go back before the womb and fear eternal damnation?

  • otrotierra

    Herm, amazing as always! So glad you’re here.

  • Neil Carter

    Would love to. I’ll message shortly.

  • John

    Hey Ben,

    I love this: “At times hades is described as a place of paradise (Luke 23:43) and other times a place of punishment (Luke 16:23), so it is a flexible word.”

    But I don’t think it is actually the case it looks to me like the word in 16:23 – is hades and the word in 23:43 is actually paradise … what exactly were you driving at in that sentence? Is there a textual variant?

  • Ben, thanks for this terrific summary. For me, the question in all of this is, “Will individuals and/or groups be brought into account on the other side?” Hell has indeed been used both as a practical tool for motivation and pragmatic scheme for conversion–as weapons, if you will. With that being said, we still will be held “accountable” in all these views. Our actions–and apparently even our thoughts–all matter.

    If our motivation is to come out right as to not be burned in a refining process, or to get a “ticket” to exempt us from eternal torture, we have indeed “part” of the story. It is the balance of God’s grace and justice that allows these views to be honest and appropriate. To bring fear of judgement as a conversion tactic is indeed wrong. But, that does not necessarily mean the viewpoint has no veracity.

    Our heresy is in our misunderstanding of the entirety of the gospel. Regardless which view of the three is held, how do we apply “truth” if we truly love people? And, if we wish people to not burn in the after life, do we have this same passion for them as they are today?

  • Hi John- I worded that sentence poorly, but great question. In Luke 23:43 it does use the word παράδεισος, but here’s where that gets interesting: the primary use of that word is for a well-watered field, garden, etc., where animals are kept. The way some of the ancient Jews used the word however, was in reference to “the part of Hades which was thought by the later Jews to be the abode of the souls of pious until the resurrection.” So even though it is the word paradise, the word itself is speaking to an area of hades where they believed people went to wait the resurrection.

    Hope that helps, thanks for the question.

  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    It should be mentioned that “Hades” literally means “the unseen,” and that the term was commonly used to refer to not only the realm of the dead but everything buried beneath the surface of the earth. Miners extracted mineral wealth from Hades. Farmers planted their seeds in Hades. Mourners buried the bodies of their loved ones in Hades. It was very much a physical place primarily, with the mythological realm of disembodied spirits emerging as a metaphorical extension of the grave.

    In Greek mythology, Tartarus was a place even lower than hell that was used to imprison the rebellious Titans. A few of the most evil mortals who ever lived wound up there too, but to qualify a man would pretty much have to be worse than Hitler. Its denizens in their folklore were subject to tortures, unlike almost anyone in Hades.

    The bible does not contain the noun Tartarus. It merely uses a closely related verb. That verb would literally mean “to cast down into Tartarus,” but there are some ancient examples of it being used for those imprisoned in more mundane cells.

  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    One problem with this is that the bible very explicitly states that God is present even in Sheol/Hades.

    Another issue arises from the Catholic doctrine that God is not merely the a Supreme Being but Being Itself. Separation from Being is non-being, not existence. Thus, the only way to be completely separated from God would be to not exist.This supports the Annihilationist view, but Eternal Conscious Torment.

  • Jon-Michael Ivey

    The word hell is a very good Germanic equivalent of the Greek Hades. Hades literally means “the not seen.” Hell literally means “the concealed.” (Hell is a cognate of the word “cellar,” from the same Proto-Indo-European root.)

    Both terms were also used in pagan folk religions in a very vague way to denote mythological realm of the dead, which clearly derived from the custom of burying dead bodies.

    The problem with the word hell is the more recent mythology that has been built up around it, and of course the horrible decision of some translators to use the same term to refer to unrelated concepts like Gehenna, Outer Darkness, Tartarus, or the Lake of Fire.

  • Tracy

    I found this to be a much better read than yesterdays one. It laid out different options, without making people feel they were ignorant if they failed to believe in the ideas the writer shares. Good article, and great that the scriptures are provided for the different streams of thought on the subject.

  • acidcasualty

    Herm – thanks for the reply and the compliment! I was talking absence from God himself, from God’s grace. That, in some beliefs (or so I was taught) is supposedly worse than any fiery torture ever could be. As John-Michael Ivey mentioned, I thought that might be a contradiction because God is present everywhere…but what’s a religion as complicated as this without its share of contradictions? :)

  • acidcasualty

    I’m starting to get the idea that hell as a word, a concept, and a place are three very different beasts.

  • Brian Jardine

    Great work!
    It is important to make a distinction between shame and grace based religion. Having been exposed to the WOP cult in the 70s and 80,s I can attest that the doctrine of punishment after the wages of sin has already been paid, is nothing more than a manipulation, not unlike the kind done by an abusive gaslighting spouse or parent. I am attracted to jesus in spite of the cults of christianity that so warped the definition of love it is unrecognisable and irreconcilable with the gospel example.
    Keep it up, it is refreshing to hear a theologian take on the most repellent aspects of christianity. ;-)

  • I sometimes wonder if the real heaven or hell consists of being able to finally see into the minds of others and know what they really think of us.

    I deeply resent people who think they only behave because of the fear of hell, and then think I’m immoral because I don’t believe in hell.

  • Jeanne Fox

    The belief in eternal conscious torment existed long before Constantine . Check out this Coptic Church article about a council held in Alexandria, Egypt, in 243 AD: http://copticchurch.net/synaxarium/1_3.html

  • There is a movie that occasionally makes the Netflix rounds called “Hellbound” that was a very critical movie for me.

    It did not change my mind about Hell (at the time, I held the traditional view), but what it did do was demonstrate:

    1) Traditionalists, Annihilationists, and Universalists have serious scholars who love the Bible, take it and scholarship seriously, and are not just trying to get out of an unpleasant doctrine. All sides also have some unimpressive representatives (although some are more tolerable people than others).

    2) The fact that others have different “governing” passages that are just as clear and compelling to them as mine are to me.

    Cracking this shell was the first step in an ongoing journey of biblical discovery. I highly recommend the movie to anyone regardless of position for that reason alone, regardless of which position you come away with.

  • In fairness, that council just quotes Daniel about rising to “everlasting contempt,” so I guess it’s debatable whether someone considers that to mean torture or not.

    However, in 4 Maccabees, we have some pretty clear statements about the tyrant suffering in eternal fire after death. Since this punishment is reserved for Antiochus Epiphanes, though, I’m not sure we can conclude the traditional doctrine of Hell from it.

  • Mark Rich

    Please don’t forget about the whole of 1 Cor 15 for the argument of universalism. And I think the Apostle is no small authority.

  • Don Lowery

    Have been reading the series and one aspect hasn’t been covered. What happens to the angels who went with Satan and Satan himself? Are these three theories usable for these creatures or will they be getting their own punishment separate from whatever happens to humans by whatever theory someone subscribes to?

  • pookdesignz

    I would suggest everyone watch the movie “Lucy” – would like to know people’s thoughts…

  • pookdesignz

    Wondering if anyone could elaborate for me on the views of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch – the belief is that everyone will end up in Heaven, yet those who are not saved or in relationship with Christ will simply find being in God’s presence unbearable. They feel this will be eternal as well, which in my mind, is just as horrific as the traditional view.

  • Gabe Gaskins

    Crappy movie. Poor attempt at explaining Transhumanism. The anime Neon Genesis Evangelion(original series, not the reboot) if you tolerate anime, is a very good dystopian view of the topic. 2001 Space Odessey has a more positive tone.

  • Jeanne Fox

    Pope Dionysius said that the spirit neither dies nor perishes and abides forever in that it is spiritual, immutable, and incorruptible.That would definitely be an argument for eternal conscious torment.

  • Tim

    Yes, Paul uses some rather clear language in various places that would seem to indicate that he understood that at the proper times/ by the end, All would be redeemed.

  • Tim

    Opinions vary on this at least under universalism, some of which are predicated on whether the satan is an actual individual being or not. I think a strong scriptural case can be made that the satan is not an individual, personal being.

  • Tim

    This may be true; however if you trace the source of the belief back far enough, it is always pagan in origin.

  • Tim

    One of the common mistakes that is made in levelling charges against these ‘alternative’ views is that they eliminate judgment. However I have not found truly biblical proponents of them to actually promote that idea. I think that even on universalism, scripture is quite clear that people will be held to account in some fashion, and that there will be some price to pay/ loss/ etc. for missing the mark. The problem is that the details are too murky and convoluted to be able to say exactly what form this will take, and when it occurs, precisely.

  • JP

    If Satan is not a “individual, personal being” then how do you explain the temptations of Christ by Satan in Matthew 4:1-11?

  • Artistree

    The statement, “The position of annihilationism was the predominant position of the early church but has since become a minority view”, is unfounded and false. Obviously Ben has not read the Ante-Nicene Fathers such as “Barnabas”, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Cypria, ect. ect.
    Ben, please be more honest in your research.

  • Maybe there is a 4th view, too? Eastern Orthodox theologians and some other Christian leaders such as C.S. Lewis (in The Great Divorce) state that Hell is self-chosen evil repeatedly without change.

    Hell isn’t a literal place, but the continual refusal to live for love, truth, and goodness.
    That very refusal leads such a person to experience love, truth, and goodness as hell–something they hate.

    For instance, why doesn’t an ISIS member value tolerance, compassion, empathy, kindness, but instead highly values
    killing infidels including other Muslims, Jews, Christians, etc.?

    To the ISIS member “hell” is modern civilized society.

    One very powerful study on Hell was The Fire That Consumes by Edward William Fudge.

  • Tim

    That’s a bigger question to answer than would really fit on a comment board. But let me ask you this, just to get you to start thinking about it a bit differently. When you are tempted, does someone named Satan (dressed however you might want to imagine) come to you and physically sit there and tempt you in the way this scene was described in scripture? The fact is that scripture also says that Christ was tempted the same way that we are. So the story in Matthew clearly uses literary devices that are not meant to be taken literally, as though a visible person named Satan was standing there talking to him and doing those things. It was more likely a spiritual vision than a physical event, in other words, and would not require an actual personal being to be present.

  • JP

    Christian can be tempted by the world, the flesh and the devil. The temptation of Christ in Matthew 4 is not in the context of a vision. In fact in Luke 4:13 which is the same event as we see in Matthew 4 is that after the devil tempted Him it says of the devil that “he left Him until an opportune time”. This is not the language of visions. We also have a number of incidents in the gospels of demon possessions that manifest themselves in the real world.

  • Andrew Bernard Kanonik

    I would totally agree Daniel, Fudges book is the finest explanation on the subject of hell and eternal torment.

  • Andrew Bernard Kanonik

    Yes Jon many fellow Christians I know lump every single occurrence of the word hell in our translations together but when you check the original languages there are obvious differences which just cannot mean one and the same place/state.
    Thank you for your explanation.
    Andrew

  • Don Lowery

    This explanation and the one you continued below certainly does give you something to chew on. With angels have taken physical form several times in the Bible…it would also stand to reason that Satan and the demons could take the same physical form. Am wondering if taking physical (human) form…would said beings be subject to the physical laws and rules which govern all of us…except for transforming back/forth between forms?

  • pookdesignz

    Thanks for the comment – I had to look up “transhumanism” as I have never heard the term before. I remember 2001 Space Odyssey but was so young when I watched it – will have to rent it out again – and no, I don’t watch anime – but i am sure You Tube will have a clip floating around somewhere – thanks for introducing me to the concept:)

  • Debra B. Stewart

    Even as a child, I wondered about what I was taught – if you didn’t believe in Jesus, you were going to hell. Didn’t seem fair that people who never heard had to go to hell. Then I moved to Chicago where I learned to know people who were living in hell on earth. Didn’t seem fair that they had to live in hell and then die and go to hell. I did some reading and studying and came to agree with Gulley and Mulholland (“If Grace is True”) who convinced me my God is a god of mercy and love and to doubt that is to limit his grace. I’m no theologian or Bible expert, but life and time and experience make this view seem fair to me!

  • silicon28

    I think that Lewis’ view here is about as close to my own personal belief as anything can get. I’m not ready or prepared to see that all self-chosen (and repeatedly reinforced) evil will simply be “washed clean” or refined. (E.G. Hitler, Caligula, Stalin, Pol Pot.) But also not wiling to toe the old Calvinistic line that only the “elect” make it in. Lewis was a genius of a writer (and a theologian) that is seriously overlooked, IMO.

  • Very inspiring article, Benjamin! I actually never knew that there were more than just one view on this topic. I grew up as a Christian believing in the ECT-version. Though, I know that some people even in the old testament believe that you would cease to exist.
    Thanks for the post!

  • Readers may also find this book review helpful: http://www.davidmatthew.org.uk/rvlieofhell.html – where my friend David Matthew reviews a book by established Christian author Roger Harper, who is an Anglican minister, where the development of the concept of Hell is discussed. Even in that simple review I have linked to, there are many points that will challenge your thinking – as it did mine – on the concept of eternal torment. In fact, Harper even puts forward the idea that Hell is more of an Islamic concept than a Christian one – an interesting concept for the hellfire-preaching, anti-Muslim churches to take a look at. Not that they will, of course…. But anyway this is a brilliant review of a book which I am almost certainly going to buy myself. Certainly it deserves serious attention!

    Oh and here’s the link to the Kindle version: http://tinyurl.com/ofnjjpk

  • Just bought it. Great book so far – *not* a shameless plug as I don’t know the author :)

  • SamHamilton

    I agree! Much better written and more helpful.

  • SamHamilton

    Thanks, this is helpful.

  • Debra B. Stewart

    Don, how about a Debra Story? My husband had a bilateral lung transplant in 1994 and is still going strong, one of the 15 longest living survivors of that surgery in the world! As you might imagine, his success is the result of a huge team of folks, folks I call my Army of Angels. Are there angels in physical form? Oh, my, yes indeedy there are. And I know about 90 – that’s 9-zero – of them; 90 angels who know my voice when they answer the phone; 90 angels who, for 22 years, have stuck by us, have performed way beyond their job levels, have gone around the rules on their way to the 187th and 188th and 189th miles for me . . . as we all work together to keep The Man healthy. Sorry, it’s just plain life – I’m not big on theological stuff – my life is my theology! There ARE angels!

  • In the spirit of considering alternate views: As i see it, this lack of consensus about such would-be critical issues, thousands of years after the supposed revelations, paints the Christian god as an ineffective communicator.

  • MNb

    As a hardcore atheist I’m totally OK with Annihilationism. For me eternal existence is a punishment anyway, so afterlife in Heaven won’t be essentially different from Hell.

    “their soul ceases to exists”
    My soul never has existed in the first place, so there is no need for any fuzz.

  • Nerdsamwich

    Read what the OT has to say about Ha-Satan. Notice that he’s not painted as some great enemy of all that’s holy until after the advent of Zoroastrianism. In the early parts of Scripture, The Adversary is a highly-placed member of the council of Elohim(the gods), who acts as a sort of prosecuting attorney: he scours the Earth for evildoers, then reports them to the rest of the gods for probable smiting. That’s the Satan with whom El Elyon makes the bet in Job. It wasn’t until Christianity came around that the story was changed to one of a renegade angel and all that. For that matter, Lucifer isn’t even a Hebrew word; it’s the name of a pagan Italian sun god, the first of many local deities to be literally demonized by the Church.

  • Nerdsamwich

    the “incorruptible” part would imply Universalism, wouldn’t it?

  • Jeanne Fox

    No. It means the spirit does not decay and lasts forever.

  • Nerdsamwich

    So irredeemable descent into evil doesn’t count as corruption? Seems…non-standard.

  • Molly Griffith

    With great fear and trepidation, I’m going to go out on a limb here and offer yet another orthodox view. Two genealogies. Genesis 3:15 – . . . between her SEED (offspring) and your SEED (offspring), meaning two families – Eve and the Serpent (Satan). Satan was in the garden when God promised to send a redeemer. Satan polluted the bloodline (Genesis 6 – Nephilim, Anakim, Rephaim, etc.) in an attempt to wipe out the pure blood line to the promised Messiah. Thus the choosing of Abram and the command not to intermarry. Ruth and Rahab (Gentiles) were fused in to the bloodline of Jesus – they were women and it was always by faith – which they both had. Also why circumcision was required prior to the risen Lord. God’s children whose names are written in the lamb’s book of life from the foundation of the world – Divine Election – are ALL redeemed thru Jesus. Heb. 2:16 states that Jesus did not come to help angels (fallen). In the parable of the wheat and tares, Jesus took the disciples aside and told them clearly that the tares were sown by Satan and they should be left alone to grow alongside the wheat. In the end the angels will sort them out. We are commissioned to share the gospel to all creatures, so there’s no room for prejudice here. The Lake of Fire was created for the devil and his angels – that is who will go there. Will it be eternal, conscious torment? Don’t know. God is good and always does what is right.

  • Charlie Sutton

    I never heard of the idea that God tortures those in hell. They are in torment, to be sure, but that is because they rejected God, God honored their choice, and then they discovered, too late, that they need God – and yet, the last thing that they want to do is admit to God that he is worthy of all worship. They cry out, “You’re not the boss of me!” Yet, they are inadequate to bring satisfaction to themselves, and too self-centered to offer help to anyone else.
    God does not torment the damned. They torment themselves. They got what they wanted, but don’t like it, and won’t admit they were wrong.

    Who teaches that God torments those in hell? I am asking in all seriousness; that is a statement I have never heard a pastor make in a lifetime spent in church.

  • Rex

    “Koiné Greek was a more precise language than English, ” This statement is simply wrong. There isn’t one language that is more “precise” than another. You misunderstand how language works.

  • Nimblewill

    If I placed you in a pit filled with rattle snakes and they tortured you, would I be held responsible or the snakes?

  • Charlie Sutton

    The essence of sin is rebellion against God. When God consigns a person to hell, he gives them what they want, freedom from him. However, as CS Lewis said, “All get what they want, but not all like it.” Those who love and trust God enjoy his presence and peace forever, for we were created for fellowship with God. Those who fear and distrust God are relieved of his presence – but, since they too were made to have fellowship with God, they will be miserable. The Bible speaks of fire and sulfur, and that may indeed be literally so – but its pain will be nothing to the pain of eternal regret, loneliness, and defiance that those who have refused God will have.

  • Evan

    Interesting read. I’m an atheist, but it’s rather fascinating to see how many different ways the bible can be interpreted. To think that “Word Of Dante” extended further than just levels of hell and ironic punishments.