An overview study (The Traditional View of Hell - Is It Biblical?)

by Theresa Gomes

The truth found in God’s word is a treasure so rich and beautiful and deep - it is like a vast, unstoppable, breath-taking ocean where there is no end to discovery. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Rom. 11:33) The Lord has revealed knowledge about the hope of the Gospel - and the final judgment. May we look carefully and thoroughly to the Scriptures (and them alone) concerning such awesome - and grave - topics.

The traditional doctrine of hell includes the belief that those who die without accepting Christ in this life will suffer eternal and conscious separation from God in hell. Please be patient as we take an in-depth second look at this doctrine that claims God keeps millions of people alive for the purpose of tormenting them forever in a fiery place of punishment. Consider the full counsel of God on this difficult subject. Seek for yourself to see if these things be true.

Point one: What does the Old Testament teach about final punishment?

Traditionalists teach that the OT is mostly silent concerning hell. It is true that you will not find eternal conscious torment taught there, but there is plenty mentioned about the fate of the wicked and God’s enemies. Their end is routinely described as perish, be destroyed, come to a complete end and be no more. “...behold, these are the wicked...Then I perceived their end... You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away...For behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.” (See Psalm 37. Also Ps. 9:5, 21:9, 37:38, 112:10, 59:11-13, 68:2)

Point two: Examples of God’s judgment (including prophecy of the final judgment) always illustrate a complete destruction

“ the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” (See 2 Peter 3)

“And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.”  Luke 17:26-30

“...the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe... just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, ... are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire." (See Jude)

“He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter.”  2 Peter 2:6

Point three: Eternal conscious torment is birthed from the notion of the human immortal soul. However, that notion is not found in the Bible.

Scripture states that God alone possesses immortality (1 Tim. 6:16). God will give His people (those being saved, never spoken of concerning the lost) immortality as a gift. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.” (1 Cor. 15:54) This concept is called conditional immortality. [Side note: Research about where the immortal soul idea crept into church doctrine points to Greek philosophy entering Christian theology as early as the 2nd century.]

Point four: Jesus taught that God can destroy souls in hell (Gehenna/lake of fire) and that those who don’t have eternal life will perish

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (lit. Gehenna)." (Matt. 10:28)

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life". (John 3:16)

Point five: Well-known verses (i.e. John 3:16) if taken at face value and in plain language teach that punishment of the unredeemed is the second death (irreversible annihilation/destruction)

“He who believes Him who sent Me has eternal life, and...has passed out of death into life.” John 5:24

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction...” Matt. 7:13

“...what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin ...the outcome is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:21-23

“These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”  2 Thess. 1:9

“The Lord is not slow about His promise...not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

Traditional hell doctrine proof texts are largely symbolic/allegorical verses that have OT origins which reveal the meanings that point to ultimate (eternal) destruction/death.

E. Fudge states, “It is not proper to interpret dozens of clear statements throughout the Bible to fit one or two symbolic passages in the Book of Revelation. It is a well-established rule of interpretation that one should read symbolic or unclear texts in the light of texts that are non-symbolic and clear, not the other way around. Nor is it appropriate to choose an opinion supported by a handful of texts at best and to discard an alternate view that has the support of many multiples more of scripture passages from Genesis to Revelation. The preponderance of evidence favors conditional mortality.” 

Point six: The apostle Paul wrote a large part of our NT by the Holy Spirit. He never mentions eternal conscious torment (hell).

Paul has many warnings to the unfaithful about the wrath of God that will come on the disobedient “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness...and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Romans 1:18,32 (Also Rom. 2:8,12, 5:9-21, 12:19, Eph. 5:6, Col. 3:6).

There will be punishment. It will be eternal (1. of the age to come and 2. effects that are final, irreversible, forever) Rom. 6:16, 8:6,13, 1 Cor. 3:17, 2 Cor. 7:10, Phl 1:28, 3:19, 2 Thess. 1:9. Peter also taught that destruction awaits the ungodly (Read all of 2 Peter, particularly 2:1,3,6,12,3:7,16) James also stated, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy.” (4:12)

Point seven: We hear over and over that Jesus took our punishment. He paid the price of our sin. So, just what was that punishment? It was death.

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.”  Isaiah 53

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”  1 Cor. 15:3

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly...God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rom. 5:6,8 (Remember Romans 6:23)

Point eight: What is the lake of fire?

“Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  Rev. 20:14-15

I pondered what it meant that Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire (which is the second death). Through studying the Scriptures I found that it meant they were annihilated forever (1 Cor. 15:26).

And then I pondered what it meant when a person is thrown there. “...for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29) and for His enemies “...a terrifying expectation of judgment...THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.” (Heb. 10:27) That judgment lines up with what John the Baptist taught: “He [Jesus] will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  (Matt. 3:12)

This was prophesied in Malachi 4:1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” And Jesus spoke a parable with a similar illustration: “... in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matt. 13:30) and also “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”  (John 15:6)

“Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched; And they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.” (Is. 66:24) This verse has been twisted to mean eternal suffering. It is actually about worms and fire consuming dead bodies. Both agents are unstoppable as God wills. This is an image of complete destruction, which was Jesus’ point (Mark 9:48 - 44 and 46 were not in early manuscripts).

I also realized that Hades is not the same as ‘hell’ (Gehenna/lake of fire) even though it is translated as such in many translations. (Even many traditionalists recognize that the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, which takes place in Hades, is not ‘hell’. See ‘Erasing Hell’ by Francis Chan, for example.) The word ‘hell’ has at times been used to translate 5 different words in the Bible when they are not all the same thing. Needless to say this is very misleading and the word ‘hell’ should be omitted altogether. (See post "Erasing hell - what a good idea") Instead we should use the transliterated Hebrew words Abaddon and Sheol and the Greek words Hades, Gehenna and Tartarus. This would clarify much.

If it is error, how could it last for 2000 years?

“The Protestant Reformation was based on the principle that the church was wrong about the most central doctrine of Christianity, the atonement and justification for a thousand years. So unfortunately, the church can go astray.”

(I would also propose that only recently (in Church history) have believers been able to read and study the Scriptures themselves.)

So, how did the traditional view come into the church? “In the 2nd century, Tertullian and other converted Greek philosophers called apologists, began to teach the traditional view.

If you come down to the 4th century, St. Augustine endorsed Tertullian’s view which when he did that, basically made that the orthodox view of the Western church for the next thousand years.

In the Reformation, [Martin] Luther was questioning the idea that every soul is immortal. But [John] Calvin was very much against the Anabaptists, who were teaching that human beings are naturally mortal and immortality is only God’s gift to the saved. Because the Anabaptists were teaching that, Calvin, who hated them worse than anyone on the face of the earth, wrote his first theological book against the Anabaptists, defending the teaching that Tertullian had put out – the soul is immortal and people are tormented forever.

When Calvin did that, Luther kind of backed off and didn’t want to divide the Reformation over what he considered a minor point. And when Luther got quiet, that left the Anabaptists on one side and the Catholics and Calvins on the other side. And you can guess who won. Calvin’s teaching was written into Protestant confessions of faith. The first one was called the Second Helvetic Confession. That became a model for later English confessions of faith, like the Westminster confession, and so the teaching on eternal torment slid into Protestantism and became a central doctrine in fundamentalism and a modernist controversy in America until this day.” - Quoted sections from E. Fudge


This study is an overview of the Scriptural evidence for conditional mortality which carries the weight in its favor concerning verses and concepts of final punishment. Please consider this study carefully and if there be a reasonable chance that the traditional view is in error, please respond with great care. “No matter how far you’ve traveled down the wrong road, turn back.” Thank you for weighing these matters and may God give you wisdom and discernment in all these things.

1 comment:

  1. Mary writes: "This is such a well thought out and clear presentation of an issue I have always had questions about! After reading the overview study, it definitely seems that the weight of scripture seems to support the viewpoint of destruction of the ungodly. I plan to spend time examining the scriptures and further ponder the ideas. Thanks for all your effort to present such a wealth of information on such a difficult topic! As always, I enjoyed your artwork too:)"


I understand this is a difficult subject and there are different views from folks who all value God's inspired word. I value your feedback, corrections and questions. Please leave a comment!