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 Many churches teach the doctrine of an eternally burning hell, with its inmates in perpetual torture for ever. 
      If this is the case, there are two possibilities:
(1) Mankind is immortal and MUST live forever.  God cannot destroy him.  
(2) God is all powerful and could destroy mankind if He wanted to; but chooses to keep sinners in torment for eternity. 

This is either cruel and unusual punishment and makes God a vindictive sadist, or He lacks the power to do away with evil.  It is no wonder that the contemplation of this doctrine has created so many atheists!

               What does the BIBLE say?

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 God would never do anything unjust or unmerciful:
1 John 4:8-16 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.  16And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
Ezekiel 33:11 Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
      God did not create man immortal, so why should man be immortal AFTER the fall?  
When man sinned, God said:
Genesis 3:22-24  And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."  So the LORD God
banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
      Hell is not burning now:
Matthew 5:30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
(A person’s body stays in the grave until the resurrection, therefore it is not burning now.)
2 Peter 2:9  then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment,
Job 21:29-30  Have you not asked those who travel the road?   And do you not know their signs?   30 For the wicked are reserved for the day of doom; they shall be brought out on the day of wrath.
Even devils are not burning now.  And if they were, who would carry on their work?
Jude 1:6 And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day;
Matthew 8:29 And suddenly they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”
      And we will judge angels, so their judgment is yet future:
1 Corinthians 6:3 Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?
      Justice demands that Hell is not burning now.  If Cain, who killed his brother Abel, went to hell when he died, then he would be burning for 6,000 years longer than Hitler, who committed far worse crimes!
      The punishment of the wicked is called God’s “strange act.”  There WILL BE a hell and it will be painful.:
Revelation 6:15-17 And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, 16 and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
Isaiah 28:21  For the LORD will rise up as at Mount Perazim,  He will be angry as in the Valley of Gibeon—  That He may do His work, His awesome work, And bring to pass His act, His unusual act.
Luke 13:28 There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.

      There will be DEGREES of punishment:
Romans 2:5-6 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6God "will give to each person according to what he has done."
Luke 12:47-48 That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
       God is so fair, He even takes into account where a person was born:
Psalm 87:4-6 "I shall mention Rahab and Babylon among those who know Me; Behold, Philistia and Tyre with Ethiopia: 'This one was born there.'"  5But of Zion it shall be said, "This one and that one were born in her";
And the Most High Himself will establish her.  6The LORD will count when He registers the peoples, "This one was born there."
(If God punished sinners by throwing every one into hell at death, there would be no degrees of punishment.)
      ALL sin will eventually be destroyed, completely annihilated.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, [not eternal life in hell!] but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
James 1:15  …and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

      Is this referring to the death of the body or the death of the soul?
Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to DESTROY BOTH SOUL AND BODY in hell.
The soul is not immortal, or a conscious entity that can survive apart from the body. 
“Soul” comes from the Greek “psuche” meaning, “life” “living being” or “living creature”. 
Matthew 16:25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.   26For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
(Matthew wrote ‘psuche’ four times; it was translated ‘life’ twice and ‘soul’ twice.)
Ezekiel 18:4 “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die.”
(Souls can die.)
Proverbs 24:20 For there will be no prospect for the evil man; The lamp of the wicked will be put out.
John 3:16  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish [Greek = cease to exist] but have everlasting life.
Isaiah 1:28, 31  The destruction of transgressors and of sinners shall be together, And those who forsake the LORD shall be consumed.  31 The strong shall be as tinder, And the work of it as a spark; Both will burn together, And no one shall quench them.
Psalm 37:38  But the transgressors shall be destroyed together; The future of the wicked shall be cut off.
Psalm 37:10, 20  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.  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.
 Malachi 4:1 “For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” Says the LORD of hosts, “ That will leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out And grow fat like stall-fed calves. 3 You shall trample the wicked, For they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet On the day that I do this,” Says the LORD of hosts.

      Fear is an unworthy motive.  Fear drives away.  Loves draws the sinner:
1 John 4:18  There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

      The destruction is “forever”:
Psalm 92:7  that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be forever destroyed.
Obadiah 1:16 For as ye have drunk upon my holy mountain, so shall all the heathen drink continually, yea, they shall drink, and they shall swallow down, and they shall be as though they had not been.
2 Thessalonians 1:9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power
Matthew 7:13-14 "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 25:46 "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
      Everlasting punishMENT not punishing.  This is not playing with words:
Hebrews 5:9 teaches not an ongoing process of endless saving, but a final result of “eternal salvation”.
Hebrews 6:2 teaches not an ongoing process of endless judging, but a final result of “eternal judgment”.
Hebrews 9:12 teaches not an ongoing process of endless redeeming but a final result of “eternal redemption”.
2 Thessalonians 1:9 teaches not an ongoing process of endless destroying but a final result of “everlasting destruction”.
Matthew 25:46 teaches not an ongoing process of endless punishing but a final result of “everlasting punishment”.
      Jesus says the punishment will be eternal, but what is the punishment?  If it is “torment” then there is no question, the torment will be eternal.  But if the punishment is death, then the death will be everlasting. 
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death
      What is the “eternal fire” that Jesus speaks of?
Matthew 25:41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

      “Aionios” is the Greek word used for “eternal.”  The same word is used here:
2 Peter 2:6 if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;
      It does not take long for eternal fire to reduce what it attacks to mere ashes, for Jesus said,
Luke 17:29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.
Lamentations 4:6 For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.

      The fire is also “unquenchable”:
Mark 9:43-45 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—
      Also translated as: “where the fire never goes out.”
Even Jerusalem was burned with a fire that could not be quenched.  God warned:
Jeremiah 17:20- then I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem that will consume her fortresses.' "
      This prophecy was fulfilled:
2 Chronicles 36:19  They set fire to God's temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.
      But Jerusalem is not still burning!  The fire that burns the wicked MUST be unquenchable, for if it were quenchable the wicked would put it out.
      What about “their worm dieth not”?
Mark 9:47 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 than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48where " 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'
      “Their worm” is a maggot, feeding upon a dead body, not inhabiting a living one.  Jesus draws on the Old Testament here:
Isaiah 66:24 "And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind."
V 17 "Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following the one in the midst of those who eat the flesh of pigs and rats and other abominable things—they will meet their end together," declares the LORD.
      The picture is of carcasses being consumed by worms and fire.  Jesus is unmistakably alluding to the ghastly scenes of the ancient Valley of Hinnom, a ravine south of Jerusalem, just outside the city wall.  It was a place of fire and destruction used as a vast refuse pit.  All that was worthless was thrown into the Gehenna fires: refuse, animal carcasses, even corpses of criminals considered so wicked as to be unworthy of burial.  Here fires were kept burning to consume the corruption and worms preyed on the putrefying flesh.  Whatever the fire failed to consume along the outer edges of the pit, the worms would devour.  The Valley of Hinnom in Hebrew is “Ge Hinnom” which Greek translates into Gehenna, the term for Hell that Christ used here.  Jesus, the Master Teacher, knew His listeners were familiar with this place where refuse was burned up, having seen it with their own eyes.  So in using “Gehenna” to describe the final fires of God’s destructive judgments, He achieved instant communication.
      There was no support for the doctrine of eternal torment, for the ancient fire of Gehenna was not a fire into which living people were thrown, to be kept alive under torture, but one into which corpses were cast to be consumed.  Anything unburned was devoured by worms.  The “worm” like the “unquenchable fire” is a symbol of death and destruction.

      How long is “forever”?
Revelation 20:10-15 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
       How do we know that “forever and ever” does not mean “without end”? 
Revelation 20:9 And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
Revelation 20:14 This is the second death.
     “Forever” (Hebrew olam and Greek ainios) are idioms which don’t always mean what we think they mean.  Ask the Bible ITSELF what it means by “forever”:
Exodus 21:6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.
1 Samuel 1:22 But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD, and there abide for ever.
Philemon 1:15 For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges comments that “forever” in Bible usage “tends to mark duration as long as the nature of the subject allows.”
      The Scripture puts it simply:
1 John 5:12  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
1 John 3:15 Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.
      At least 56 times the Bible uses “forever” for things that have already come to an end.  “Forever and ever” means literally “to the end of the age”, “to the end of life” or “to the end of any particular experience”.
Revelation 14:11 And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name."
      It’s true that no night’s rest will interrupt the suffering of the wicked; it will continue until they’re annihilated.  But the verse does not say that their torment will continue forever; it says the smoke of their torment will continue forever.
       The Psalmist wrote:
Psalm 37:20 But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.
      This is not endless burning because the same expression is used about mystical Babylon, called “the great whore”. 
Revelation 17: 1  One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, "Come, I will show you the punishment of the great prostitute, who sits on many waters. 16The beast and the ten horns you saw will hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin and leave her naked; they will eat her flesh and burn her with fire.

Revelation 19:3   And again they shouted: "Hallelujah!  The smoke from her goes up FOR EVER AND EVER."
      This means complete and utter DESTRUCTION:
v 21: “Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said: "With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, NEVER TO BE FOUND AGAIN.”
Revelation 18:8 Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be CONSUMED by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.
     Bible scholars know that the phrase “smoke rising for ever and ever” comes from Isaiah 34, where the “sword of the Lord” would fall upon Bozrah, an idolatrous city twenty miles southeast of the Dead Sea:
 Isaiah 34:6 The sword of the LORD is bathed in blood…for the LORD has a sacrifice in Bozrah  9 Edom's streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! 10 It WILL NOT BE QUENCHED night and day; its smoke will rise FOREVER.  From generation to generation it will lie DESOLATE; no one will ever pass through it again. 12 Her nobles will have nothing there to be called a kingdom, all her princes will vanish away.  13 Thorns will overrun her citadels, nettles and brambles her strongholds.   She will become a haunt for jackals, a home for owls.
Obviously fire causing smoke that “ascends forever and ever” does NOT BURN forever.

      It’s fitting that the sinner will be punished on earth, for here the sins were committed. 
Revelation 20:9 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and DEVOURED them.
      Describing Satan’s doom, God says:
Ezekiel 28:18-19  By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made a fire come out from you, and it CONSUMED you, and I REDUCED YOU TO ASHES on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. 19 All the nations who knew you  are appalled at you;  you have come to a horrible end  and will BE no more.' "

      Peter describes Hellfire:
2 Peter 3:10-13 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be DESTROYED by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. 11Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.  That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13  But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.
      Since the Bible teaches that
1. The place of hell-fire punishment is this earth and
2. God’s people shall inherit the earth, it follows that
3. The burning must come to an END.
      It does come to an end:
Isaiah 47:14  Surely they are like stubble; the fire will burn them up. They cannot even save themselves from the power of the flame. Here are no coals to warm anyone; here is no fire to sit by.
      God will have a clean universe.

      If sinners lived eternally in flames, God would not have destroyed evil; He would merely have segregated it.  

      The last argument against this doctrine is this:
The concept of Jesus dying in the sinner’s place is basic to the teachings of Christianity.  As our divine substitute Christ had to suffer the penalty to which man was sentenced at the beginning.  If that penalty is endless suffering in fires of hell, then the Savior must have known that and accepted it as His fate.  In that case, Jesus must suffer the penalty before we can go free.  But in fact, the Lord would forever be paying that penalty and never satisfying its claims!
      Did Jesus pay the full price for the sins of everyone on this earth?  Of course He did!  Then how can we say that one sinner who refuses to accept that sacrifice will have to burn forever! 

      Burning forever can NOT be the price for sin, because Jesus’ suffering for the whole race only took one day and one night.  Then He said, “IT IS FINISHED”.  The debt was PAID for those who accept His sacrifice.  Those who do NOT accept His sacrifice will have to pay their own debt.  The same payment.  No more, no less, but NOT for eternity.  Without doubt their punishment must be limited to only a few hours.

      The wages of sin is death.  Jesus paid it all in full.  He suffered our punishment and took our penalty, but he did not burn forever.  Calvary forever settles the question!

      Hell was never intended for you and me.  The Bible says it was prepared for the devil and his angels. 
Matthew 25:41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
There is no reason for anybody to suffer the second death, except by their own choice. 
Hebrews 2:3 How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? 
     

 

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