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  • Writer's pictureBrian O'Kelly

50 - Three Views of Hell

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

2. Whatever Hell is it is designed by God and kept in existence for a purpose. Today we are going to look at the arguments of the nature of Hell and possible purposes based on the best biblical arguments.

a. Eternal Conscious Torment

b. Universal Reconciliation

c. Annihilation (conditional Immortality)

3. My own awareness of these three views came about 11 years ago when a pastor named Rob Bell published a book called Love Wins espousing the Universal Reconciliation view.

a. I had always believed and taught the traditional view of Hell. Eternal conscious torment.

b. I was quite certain that Bell was wrong, so I began to look for arguments against his position.

c. What I found was a diversity of viewpoints that surprised me. ECT was the only view I had ever heard and consequently the only one I had ever considered.

d. I had always believed the annihilation view was cultic because I knew the Jehovah’s Witnesses held it.

e. I was surprised to learn SDA are annihilationists too. While I have disagreements with SDA, they are not a cult.

f. Then I saw a video from a man named Edward Fudge that was very convincing of the annihilationist view.

g. I learned that Clark Pinnock, William Tyndale, F.F. Bruce and John R. Stott were annihilationists

h. I also learned that while not a promoter of the view, C.S. Lewis had written and spoken about universal reconciliation in a positive way. It’s undetermined if he held that view, but much of his writing suggests that he did and some claim that he had intimated this in conversations.

i. Also Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Karl Barth and William Barclay were all Christian universalists.

j. So now I’m in a real quandary. I have serious theologians who I respect that hold to each of the views. Thus began my exploration.

4. Which of these views you lean toward will be influenced by and/or have an impact on your view of God’s character.

a. Is he a God who will torture the wicked forever, torture them according to their crimes or who will ultimately bring all mankind into relationship with him?

b. We need to be careful not to choose our view of this based on our preferential view of God or of Hell.

5. Where do we get the word Hell or even the concept of Hell from?

a. It’s not from the Old Testament. The Old Testament never speaks of an afterlife of any kind, not heaven or hell.

b. A Total of four biblical words that are translated as Hell. These were translated this way by the King James translators.

c. Sheol – Hebrew word for the grave. The NKJV and all other modern translations that I know of have stopped using the word hell for this word and now use Sheol.

i. Psalm 16:10 For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,

Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

d. Hades – Nothing more than the Greek word for the grave. We know this because when the OT is quoted in the NT, they use the word Hades.

i. Acts 2:27 For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. Quoting Psalm 16:10

ii. Matthew 11:23 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. Parallel in Luke 10:15

iii. Matthew 16:18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.

iv. Rev 1:18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

v. Rev 6:8 So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.

vi. Rev 20:13-14 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

e. Tartarus – used only once. 2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;

f. Gehenna – Gehenna. Used only by Jesus and may mean something different that Hell.

i. An actual place:

1. Joshua 15:8 And the border went up by the Valley of the Son of Hinnom to the southern slope of the Jebusite city (which is Jerusalem). The border went up to the top of the mountain that lies before the Valley of Hinnom westward, which is at the end of the Valley of Rephaim northward.

2. Site of the Moloch Cult (Ahaz and Mannaseh)

a. 2 Chronicles 28:3 He burned incense in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and burned his children in the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel

b. Jeremiah 7:31-32 And they have built the high places of Tophet, 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. 32 “Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “when it will no more be called Tophet, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Tophet until there is no room.

c. 2 Kings 23:10 And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech (King Josiah, the good king)

ii. Garbage Dump outside of Jerusalem.

1. Every city of any size needs a dump or place and way to dispose of it’s refuse. If you can imagine a city the size of Jerusalem needed a large place to put their garbage.

2. It was the place where they threw the refuse of the city. Anything that would rot or stink or be diseased would go there and in this place there was always a fire burning. The fire was contained by the lack of burnable things outside of the perimeter but was always at least smoldering.

3. It was also where they put the corpses of anyone who didn’t deserve a or couldn’t afford a dignified burial. Tombs were expensive and the bodies of criminals and many others were disposed of and cremated there. The burning of dead bodies was widely practiced all over the world and most people were cremated.

4. It was a place of disease and bacteria and rats and worms and insects of every kind that feast on this kind of material.

5. It also smelled of Sulfur (Brimstone) because this was used as a pesticide and fungicide and also burns when caught on fire.

6. Eternal Conscious Torment

a. Maintains that those who reject God and His salvation through Jesus Christ will face everlasting punishment in hell.

i. There were six major theological schools in the church prior to the 4th century when the dominance of Augustine’s theology became the official theology of the Roman church. Of those, only one taught eternal conscious torment. That was the school in Rome. There was one that taught Universal Reconciliation, the school in Alexandria which was most likely influenced by Origen. The other four taught Universal Reconciliation.

b. Origins of the Doctrine:

i. The concept of eternal punishment has its roots in the New Testament.

1. Tertullian, Augustine, and Aquinas further developed and formalized the doctrine. The belief was solidified during the medieval period and became a dominant interpretation of the fate of the unsaved.

2. Let’s face it, the threat of Hell was used as a way to exert influence over the illiterate masses.

c. Biblical Foundations:

i. Matthew 5:22 But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

ii. Matthew 5:29-30If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. Parallel in Mark 9:43-48

iii. Matthew 25:46: And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

iv. Matthew 23:15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

v. Matthew 23:33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?

vi. Luke 12:5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

vii. Luke 16:23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

viii. James 3:6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

ix. Revelation 20:10: The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

d. Free Will and Responsibility: ETC underscores the significance of human free will and the moral responsibility individuals bear for their choices.

e. Implications and problems:

i. First, it relies on the idea that man is intrinsically immortal.

1. He may be as such.

2. The bible never says that the non-Christian has immortality.

3. God Alone - 1 Timothy 6:15-16 …He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone has immortality…

ii. Revelation 3:5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.

iii. Mark 9:48: And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire— 48 where

‘Their worm does not die

And the fire is not quenched.’

iv. Isaiah 66:24 “And they shall go forth and look

Upon the corpses of the men

Who have transgressed against Me.

For their worm does not die,

And their fire is not quenched.

They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

v. Matthew 18:9 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.

vi. Philippians 4:3 And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.

vii. Second, since life comes from God and is sustained by God then anyone who remains in a conscious state in the afterlife is sustained alive by God whether that life is in Heaven or Hell.

1. If they are in Hell, it is because God is keeping them alive there.

viii. Third, if Hell is forever, for billions and billions of years to come, how is it justice. After someone has been there for a billion years, they are no closer to the end than they were at the beginning.

1. This offends the sensibilities of many, including my own.

a. Is there compatibility with a God who is characterized by love and mercy. Eternal suffering seems disproportionate to temporal sin. But how long it takes to commit the sin isn’t relevant to the seriousness of it. Murder can be very quick and a robbery very slow.

b. I couldn’t sustain my worst enemy alive only for purposes of punishment.

c. Should I believe that I’m more just than God or is my sense of justice so out of whack that I just can’t understand how God sees it?

2. I used to say that it was about the intensity of the punishment, not the duration, but that doesn’t work. Any number or intensity times infinity is still infinity.

3. Infinite offense to an infinite God may require an infinite punishment

ix. Fourth, some say that if we don’t have a Hell that is eternal, we lose a powerful tool of evangelism.

1. This is wrongheaded as all three of these views include a Hell of torture and punishment.

2. The doctrine of ECT has kept many from accepting God as it offends their sense of justice and seems incongruous from a God who is loving, wise and just.

x. Fifth, if most people go to Hell forever, the devil wins.

1. Even if the devil is ultimately thrown into the lake of fire, God didn’t get what he wanted, the salvation of everyone.

2. The Calvinist would say that this isn’t what God wanted and that He delights to send people to Hell.

3. 1 Tim 2:3-4 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

4. 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

7. Annihilationism (Conditional Immortality)

a. Unlike the traditional belief in eternal conscious torment, this perspective posits that those who reject God's salvation through Jesus Christ will ultimately face destruction, ceasing to exist rather than enduring eternal suffering in hell

b. Biblical Support for Annihilation:

i. Job 31:3 Is it not destruction for the wicked, And disaster for the workers of iniquity?

ii. Psalm 37:10 For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; Indeed, you will look carefully for his place, But it shall be no more.

iii. Psalm 37:20 But the wicked shall perish; And the enemies of the Lord, Like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish. Into smoke they shall vanish away.

iv. Psalm 92:7 When the wicked spring up like grass, And when all the workers of iniquity flourish, It is that they may be destroyed forever.

v. Psalm 68:2 As smoke is driven away, So drive them away; As wax melts before the fire, So let the wicked perish at the presence of God.

vi. Psalm 104:35 May sinners be consumed from the earth, And the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul! Praise the Lord!

vii. Psalm 106:18 A fire was kindled in their company; The flame burned up the wicked.

viii. Proverbs 10:25 When the whirlwind passes by, the wicked is no more, But the righteous has an everlasting foundation.

ix. Matthew 10:28 "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."

x. John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

xi. John 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever;

xii. Romans 2:5-7 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality;

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

xiv. 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."

xv. 2 Timothy 2:9b-10 but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, 10 but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel

c. Theological Implications:

i. Divine Justice and Mercy:

1. Addresses concerns about reconciling the concept of a loving God with the idea of eternal suffering. Annihilationists argue that God's justice is served through the permanent destruction of those who reject His salvation, while His mercy is demonstrated in offering eternal life to believers.

ii. Conditional Immortality: Annihilationists believe that immortality is a gift granted to believers through their relationship with Christ. The unrepentant, by rejecting this gift, do not possess inherent immortality and will face destruction instead.

iii. Biblical Consistency: Advocates of annihilation contend that their interpretation aligns more closely with the biblical narrative, which emphasizes the inherent mortality of human beings and the promise of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.

iv. Ethical Implications: The doctrine of annihilation has implications for how Christians view evangelism and their sense of urgency in sharing the Gospel. The belief that unbelievers face permanent destruction may motivate believers to share the message of salvation more fervently.

d. Critiques and Counterarguments:

i. Interpretive Challenges: Critics argue that while annihilationist interpretations exist, they are not as explicitly evident in the biblical text as the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious torment.

ii. Theological Inclusivity: The doctrine of annihilation may be seen as less inclusive than universal reconciliation, as it maintains that some individuals will face permanent destruction without the possibility of eventual reconciliation with God.

iii. Satan is still the winner in this construction. Most people don’t accept Jesus in this life, therefore most will ultimately be destroyed.

8. Universal Reconciliation

a. God's ultimate plan of redemption extends to all humanity, resulting in the eventual salvation and reconciliation of every individual to Himself.

b. Differs from Unitarianism.

c. Hell is a place of remediation. The only reason people don’t accept Jesus as savior and God as God is they don’t clearly see who he is.

d. Deathbed conversions and afterlife conversions. Nowhere does the Bible say that people can’t repent after death.

e. Biblical Support for Universal Reconciliation:

i. 1 Chronicles 16:34 Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!

For His mercy endures forever.

ii. Luke 2:10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.

iii. John 4:42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed [a]the Christ, the Savior of the world.”

iv. John 6:33 For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

v. John 17:1-2 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, 2 as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He [a]should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him

vi. 1 John 2:2 And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

vii. 1 John 4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.

viii. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, Can it be true that the God of the universe who has ultimate power can’t get what he wants?

ix. 1 Timothy 4:9-10 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. 10 For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.

x. Colossians 1:19-20 "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.". Reconciliation is a process of “putting things right” Reconciliation of all things would include all people.

xi. Romans 5:18: "Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men."

xii. 1 Corinthians 15:22: "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive."

xiii. Heb. 8:11 “All shall know the Lord, from the least of them to the greatest of them.”

f. Theological Implications:

i. God's Love and Mercy: Universal Reconciliation highlights the boundless love and mercy of God, reflecting His desire for the restoration and reconciliation of all people to Himself.

ii. Divine Justice: Advocates of Universal Reconciliation argue that God's justice is fulfilled through the redemptive work of Christ, and that all souls will eventually be reconciled to Him, rather than suffering eternal punishment.

iii. Restoration of Creation: This doctrine extends God's reconciling work not only to humanity but also to the entire creation, bringing about a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1).

iv. Universal Atonement: Universal Reconciliation suggests that Christ's atonement on the cross is sufficient for the salvation of all people, irrespective of their actions or beliefs during their earthly lives.

g. Critiques and Counterarguments:

i. Free Will and Responsibility: Critics argue that Universal Reconciliation may undermine the significance of human free will and moral responsibility, as it implies that all will eventually be saved regardless of their choices.

ii. Biblical Interpretation: Skeptics contend that Universal Reconciliation relies heavily on interpreting certain passages in a universalist framework, while disregarding other verses that seem to support eternal conscious torment or annihilation.

iii. Theological Diversity: Universal Reconciliation is not universally accepted within Christian theology, with many denominations and scholars adhering to other eschatological views.


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