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Hell (2): Eternal Torment, Eternal Fire, Eternal Death?


In Part 1, I looked at every New Testament verse that refers to “hell” (Gehenna) and I showed that none of these verses mentions eternal torment. I also pointed out that Paul, James, and other biblical authors wrote that unrepentant sinners would die, life and death being the culmination of the two paths of humanity.

There is very little in the Bible that might be taken to imply that all unrepentant sinners will be punished with eternal conscious torment. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the verses that contain the ideas of “eternal” and “fire” regarding the future judgment. These verses have been used by Christians who believe in the eternal torment of the unredeemed.

Eternal Punishment and Destruction

Matthew 25:46 mentions “eternal punishment” for those who have not fed, clothed, and visited “the least of these.” This eternal punishment is contrasted with eternal life. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 mentions the disobedient who “pay the price (or suffer the punishment) of eternal destruction (olethros).” Both these passages could well be referring to death rather than some kind of continuing torment.[1]

The devastating punishment of death (or the “second death” mentioned in Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8) means that the disobedient are eternally excluded from the everlasting life that Jesus offers to every human being on the planet (Matt. 25:46; John 3:16). Death or destruction is an irreversible, eternal punishment because, for all eternity, there is no escape or an opportunity for a second chance at life.

Some read the idea of eternal torment into Matthew 25:46 and 2 Thessalonians 1:8–9 even though the text doesn’t plainly mention it.[2] Other verses used to support the idea of eternal torment are equally tenuous and even less compelling.

Eternal and Unquenchable Fire

Several verses in the Bible refer to an eternal or unquenchable fire in regards to judgment (e.g., Matt. 3:12; Mark 9:43, 48; cf. John 15:6). In Matthew 25:41, Jesus tells a parable that includes this line:

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.”

This verse seems to support a traditional understanding of hell as a place of eternal fire, and yet Jesus may be using “eternal fire” rhetorically here. We need to keep in mind that Jesus is telling a story, a parable. He used parables to teach, illustrate, or highlight spiritual and moral principles, not to narrate actual or future events.[3] Nevertheless, eternal torment is not mentioned here either.

Note especially that Jesus says the fire is for the devil and his angels. This may indicate that “hell-fire”, whether metaphorical or real, is for fallen angels and not for torturing people (cf. 2 Pet. 2:4).

Jude 1:7 is another verse that is used to support the idea of eternal torment, and yet again it is fire, not torment, that is described as eternal.

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (NIV)

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were punished by being killed. They did not suffer prolonged torment but were reduced to ash (2 Pet. 2:6). So if they do indeed serve as an example, then it seems the ungodly will be destroyed. They will die. Moreover, an “eternal fire” no longer burns in Sodom and Gomorrah, and a fire was not burning when Jude wrote his letter, indicating that “eternal fire” may be a metaphor rather than a reality.

Fire’s Ferocious Force

The imagery of fire is used in the Bible for God’s wrath and judgment because of fire’s spectacular, terrifying, and deadly power (e.g., Matt. 13:40–42; 2 Thess. 1:7b–8; 2 Pet. 3:7). Adjectives such as “eternal,” “unquenchable,” and “raging” have been used by some of the biblical authors to highlight and strengthen the imagery of fire’s ferocious force at the judgment.

Though I use the word “imagery,” I do not discount that a terrifying cataclysmic fire may be a feature of the final judgment. It could very well be that God uses fire to bring about the death and destruction of the unredeemed.

In the letter to the Hebrews, the fire of judgment is described plainly as “a raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Heb. 10:26–27 cf. Heb. 12:29). In Malachi 4:1 we are told that the fire of judgment will set evildoers ablaze like flammable chaff. Thus, the fire of God’s judgment kills and consumes and reduces its victims to ash (cf. 2 Pet. 2:6).

Here is another example of this image of fiery devastation.

. . . fury will be shown to his foes. See, the LORD is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the LORD will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the LORD. Isaiah 66:14b–16 (Italics added)

The Bible tells us that the redeemed are spared from God’s wrath and his judgment of death.

Eternal Worms

Mark 9:48 is yet another verse sometimes used to support the idea of eternal conscious torment for unrepentant sinners. This verse quotes from Isaiah 66:24 and mentions both unquenchable fire and worms that never die. Isaiah 66:24 does not indicate, however, that people are eternal or that they suffer eternal torment. On the contrary, in this verse, the worms are eating the dead bodies, the corpses, of people God has killed in judgment.

The Greek word used in Mark 9:48, and in Isaiah 66:24 in the Septuagint, is σκώληξ (skōlēx). Thayer notes that, in biblical literature, this word  refers specifically to a worm “which preys upon dead bodies.” (See also LSJ definitions A.2 and A.3.) These “worms” are maggots, and maggots typically hatch from eggs laid by flies on rotting corpses.

Both maggots and fire are symbols of utter destruction. The death and destruction of the unredeemed will be horrific and complete.

At the final judgement there will be weeping (a display of sorrow and regret) and gnashing of teeth (a display of anger and indignation), but weeping and gnashing of teeth do not necessarily continue for all eternity.[4] Nowhere does the Bible say that the people who have been judged and condemned are eternal or live forever.[5] The consistent description of their fate is death and destruction.[6]

Eternal Torment

As far as I can make out, there are only two passages in the Bible that explicitly mention eternal torment as a punishment. One of these passages concerns the torment of fallen angels. (Hellfire, or the lake of fire mentioned in Revelation, can be thought of as a place reserved for fallen angels. See Matt. 25:41 and 2 Pet. 2:4). In Revelation 20 the devil and the demonic figures of the beast and the false prophet are thrown into “the lake of fire and brimstone” where “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). This verse clearly refers to eternal torment.

A few verses later, still in Revelation 20, the unredeemed are thrown into the lake of fire, but so are Death and Hades, marking the end of an era (Rev. 20:14–15). Torment is not mentioned here.

Revelation 14:9–11 is the only passage in the Bible that explicitly mentions people who are tormented and “have no rest day and night” as part of God’s judgment. These people are those who worship the beast and receive his mark. I do not know precisely who these people are, or were, but it is unlikely that they represent the whole of unredeemed humanity. Furthermore, strictly speaking, it is the smoke of their torment which goes up forever (Rev. 14:11). This eternal smoke seems to be metaphorical like the eternal fire discussed above.

It is important to acknowledge that the only two passages in the Bible that clearly mention eternal torment are found in Revelation. Revelation typically uses cryptic symbols, and not plain facts, to convey its message. We need to take care how we interpret these symbols and not presume to take their imagery and symbolism at face value.

Furthermore, it is unwise to suppose that one or two passages from Revelation satisfactorily uphold the notion of the eternal conscious torment of unredeemed humanity, when many more verses simply state that death is the consequence and punishment for disobeying God and rejecting Jesus as Saviour (e.g., Rom. 5:12; 6:16b, 23; 7:5; Jas 1:15).

The verses that speak about God’s judgment on unrepentant sinners are vivid and horrifying. They are written in such a way as to convey the devastating seriousness and lasting consequence of judgment. The scriptural support for eternal conscious torment, however, is meagre, tenuous, and ambiguous at best.

Eternal Life

As Jeremiah wrote in a more immediate context, “This is what the LORD says: ‘See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death.’” (Jer. 21:8).[7] For many reasons, I’m choosing life—the gift of the wondrous new life in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17; 8:2; 2 Tim. 1:10; 1 John 3:14). My earnest hope is that you have accepted Jesus’ words and chosen life also.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (Italics added)

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. John 5:24 (Italics added) [8]


[1] (This footnote is also included in part 1.) E. Earle Ellis has noted that nouns for the judgment of the unrighteous connote obliteration. They include annihilation (apōleia): Matt. 7:13; John 17:12; Acts 8:20; Rom. 9:22ff; Phil. 1:28; 3:19; 2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim 6:9; Heb. 10:39; 2 Pet. 2:1; destruction (olethros): 1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 1:9; 1 Tim. 6:9; death (thanatos): Rom 1:21; 6:21ff; 7:5; 8:6; 1 Cor. 15:21f; 15:56; 2 Cor. 2:16; 7:10; Jas 1:15; 5:20; 1 John 5:16; Rev. 2:11; 20:6; 20:14; 1 Pet. 4:17; end (telos): Rom. 6:21f; 2 Cor. 11:15; Phil. 3:19; 1 Pet. 4:17; and disintegration or corruption (phthora): Gal. 6:8; 2 Pet. 1:4; 2:12.
“The most important and frequent terms for the punishment of sin are death and destruction or annihilation and their corresponding verbs.” E. Earle Ellis, Christ and the Future in New Testament History (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 193 & 195.

[2] Matthew 25:46 says that the righteous enter eternal life while the cursed enter eternal punishment. This is another verse that gives the two options of life and death, though it is not stated as clearly here as in many other verses.

[3] The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man: I have not discussed this story in these posts so far because it is not about hell or the final judgment. The story mentions Hades which is regarded as an intermediate state. Hades, a Greek word, is equivalent to the Hebrew Sheol and refers to the grave, or possibly the “first death.” I have written about the story of Lazarus and the Rich man in part 3, here.

[4] The seven mentions of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” in the New Testament (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28) do not mention an eternal process. Rather in each of these seven verses, it says (word for word, with no variation) ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων: “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (See the 7 verses here.) Luke 13:28 indicates a specific occasion when the “weeping and gnashing” will happen, with no indication that it is of continuous duration. I have more on weeping and gnashing of teeth in part 3, here.

[5] Only God is immortal and eternal (1 Tim. 6:16). We, on the other hand, are mortal and perishable (1 Cor. 15:53–54). Yet God has graciously bestowed immortality on believers, through Jesus Christ:

[God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:9–10.

[6] “Outer darkness” seems to be a metaphor of exclusion. It is used in Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:13. There’s more on “outer darkness” in part 3.

[7] The widely circulated early Christian text The Didache (c. AD 100) opens with: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death!” (Did. 1:1).
“Ignatius (c. AD 35–10), Justin Martyr (c. AD 110–165), Arnobius (303–330) and Athanasius (c. AD 296–373) are prominent examples of [Patristic writers who believed in and wrote about] conditional immortality, that is, immortality given only to those in Christ, and of its corollary, a punishment that is everlasting in its effect, i.e. an extinction of being.”
E. Earle Ellis, Christ and the Future in New Testament History (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 179. See also pages 181–185 for quotations from these writers, and Irenaeus and Theophilus of Antioch, about conditional immortality. (Google Books)

Some eminent scholars who hold the view of conditional immortality include John Stott, I. Howard Marshall, David Instone-Brewer, Richard Bauckham, and Michael Green.

[8] Like Paul (mentioned at the beginning of part 1), John, the Gospel author, and John, the author of the three letters that bear his name, never mention hell or anything like eternal torment. Life and death are given as the two options for humanity. John frequently spoke about “life.” In his Gospel, he states his reason for writing: “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31, italics added).

© Margaret Mowczko 2016
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The Great Day of his Wrath, John Martin, c. 1853 (Wikimedia)

Explore more

Hell (Part 1): Paul, James, and Jesus on Gehenna
Hell (Part 3): Lazarus, Tartarus, and Teeth-Gnashing
The Kingdom of Heaven in the Here and Now and Future
Who are the 144,000 and why are they all men?
Are the branches lifted up or taken away in John 15:2a?

Further Reading

For more on the subject of hell, I recommend the website Rethinking Hell.

47 thoughts on “Hell (2): Eternal Torment, Eternal Fire, Eternal Death?

  1. Added for clarity.

    Jesus saves us from sin, condemnation, and death, and offers us life. This is the repeated message of the New Testament. John 3:16 is one verse, among many, that tells us that our two options are (1) perish or (2) have eternal life.

    Paul never mentions “hell,” Gehenna, or Hades at all in his letters. These ideas are also completely absent in the letter to the Hebrews, John’s Gospel and John’s three letters.

    Furthermore, Acts, James, Jude, and Peter say nothing about people suffering in “hell.”

    I suggest Christian teachers, especially in the past, have misunderstood Jesus’s use of Gehenna and the metaphor of “fire” in his messages, and they have misunderstood and misapplied imagery used in Revelation.

  2. I would also recommend Edward Fudge’s book Hell a Final Word as well as the movie Hell and Mr. Fudge. He has also written a more scholarly book, The Fire That Consumes (3rd edition released in 2011).

    1. Thanks for the recommendations, Louis. I’ve heard great things about Edward Fudge’s work on “hell.”

  3. Great post, this is a vital subject that deserves our attention. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Mark. It is indeed vital. It affects our view of the nature of God and humanity. And it makes us appreciate the love and sacrifice of God and Jesus even more when we realise what we are saved us from: not eternal torment for a million trillion years and counting, but a violent cataclysmic death resulting in annihilation. Jesus chose to die to spare us from death.

      1. Let us not forget the scripture of Lazarus and the rich man and How God sent the Sons of God to be chained up in the abyss for a time. Peter says if he didn’t spear the angels what makes us think he will spare us those who refuse to obey his word and satisfy the flesh. There is a hell! for God does not lie he is truth. man lies. we are to not only believe in heaven but hell as well.

        1. Hi Diana, I’ve written about the Rich Man and Lazarus in part 3 here.

  4. Thanks for the two posts on the doctrine of hell and punishment, Marg. The lake of fire and eternal fire symbols seem to be subject to being understood not as a place where there is eternal suffering but where there is eternal judgment.

    What I mean is that if someone is thinking that it may be burning in hell (Gehenna) now but perhaps the fire will have died out by the time they get there, they are out of luck. God’s judgment awaits those who choose to oppose him. The judgment of an eternal fire means the fire is waiting for the person, not necessarily that the person will consciously burn forever.

    1. OK, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of it from that angle. Thanks Tim.

    2. Hello am grateful for the understanding of the brethren here as the 2nd death is the finality where not only has the body which can not attain immortality being they had died apart from Christ, but when thrown in the Lake of Fire the 2nd death burns up the soul that is in Hell awaiting this finality. It bothers me greatly when ministers continue to misalign the scriptures especially in this regard. Our God is a loving and compassionate God people currently suffering in Hell only to be thrown in the Lake of Fire to have eternal suffering makes our Heavenly Father a preposterous monster. Our Father is no such God!!!

  5. Hi Marg,

    I’m still confused on at least one passage, though. Luke 16:22-26 deals with the “rich man” and Lazarus, which scholars say is told not in the style of a parable (for one, parables don’t use first names) and could be a true story. The rich man is said to be tormented in Hades. What do you make of this?

    1. Hi Jessica,

      I briefly refer to the story of Lazarus and the rich man in footnote 3. While it is true that all his other parables contain names, it is likely that Jesus used an existing story that was well-known to first-century Jews to make his point, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

      The point of Jesus telling the story is not to tell us the nature of Hades. And Hades is neither Gehenna (“hell”) or the Lake of Fire.

      1. Thank you, I found the footnote. That is helpful. I like how you’ve boiled it down. I’ve long had trouble with the idea of eternal torment for any unbeliever, and especially troubled by scriptures that didn’t mesh with that philosophy. This has given me a lot to ponder!

  6. Dear Marg,
    Though I’ve appreciated much of your teaching, this is where our paths differ.

    I do see the concept of some form of consciousness existence and suffering after the physical life has ended, represented in scripture, though I wish it were not so. The eternal fire is to be considered as a metaphor for whatever this state will be like. I do see God as gracious, kind and loving. I think CS Lewis’ representation of ‘hell’ as one that is locked from the inside, best describes to me the nature of clearly having chosen to exclude God’s life from theirs and a gracious God respecting their wishes to do so, needs
    to result in a place where eternal creatures might reside but God is no longer present (as he still is on this earth). This place would of course be unpleasant. God is life so the place where he is excluded would be one of death, even though some form of existence may still be present.

    I guess for me the bigger question is are we eternal creatures? If we indeed are eternal creatures then some sort of eternal place where those who have not chosen God, must exist. The Bible talks about several types of life and several types of death, fires that are physical, metaphorical etc.

    But perhaps we are not eternal creatures and those who have not chosen God (or life which is what He is) will ultimately be completely extinguished, though I am not sure that is clearly supported in scripture.

    I do think there are so many things that we can not fully understand in this life, being yet in our mortal bodies. Questions around the ultimate nature of eternity (seeing as it is existence in a different dimension that we can not yet fully understand….like explaining a symphony to a deaf man) being chief among them. Paul speaks often of the mystery. Jesus said eye has not seen, nor ear heard and neither has it entered into the heart of man. I do not think this is a poetic description but an acknowledgement that we just can’t fully grasp, what’s to come.

    But I do see God as respectful and kind, honouring people’s wishes to self determination, not as punitive unleashing tormenting judgement (though that is what it would look like from the outside).

    Anyhow, just some of my thoughts on the subject.

    1. Hi Karen,

      I think 1 Corinthians makes it plain that we are not intrinsically immortal, but mortal and perishable. Immortality is a gift from God who alone is immortal. I mention this briefly in endnote 4.

      This idea of mortal humanity spans the Bible from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22. Adam and Eve were banished from the garden so that they would not eat from the Tree of Life and have immortality. In the new Jerusalem redeemed humanity have access to the Tree of Life (Rev 22:2).

      If the only verses which referred to our eternal destiny were the ones I focus on in this article, then I could understand why people believe in some kind of continued existence for the unredeemed, but there are many, many more verses which simply mention death and destruction for the unredeemed. But I fully respect your concerns and your caution on this matter.

      1. Did you mean to state in the first paragraph, “… God who alone is **immortal**”

        1. Thanks for picking up that error, which has been sitting there since July!


          I appreciate you letting me know.

  7. Generally speaking most christians and many non believers know of John 3:16 and many if not most christians can rattle it off without a second’s thought, but not many would know the meaning of the Greek word ἀπόληται translated as ‘perish’ in this verse.
    HELPS Word-studies defines it’s meaning as:
    622 apóllymi (from 575 /apó, “away from,” which intensifies ollymi, “to destroy”) – properly, fully destroy, cutting off entirely (note the force of the prefix, 575 /apó).
    622 /apóllymi (“violently/completely perish”) implies permanent (absolute) destruction, i.e. to cancel out (remove); “to die, with the implication of ruin and destruction” (L & N, 1, 23.106); cause to be lost (utterly perish) by experiencing a miserable end.
    …that sort of spells it out pretty well I think!
    Have really enjoyed your post/s Marg, well done for hosting and researching this hot topic! Blessings in Yeshua!

    1. Thanks for your interesting comments, Christine.

    2. This verse spells out eternal conscious torment?
      How can you be permanently and utterly destroyed perpetually….its either you’re destroyed meaning cease to exist or you’ll in hell forever…and besides Jesus didn’t come to save the world or his people from hell

      The Jews or Hebrews had no concept of a place of eternal torment

      1. Q. “How can you be permanently and utterly destroyed perpetually?”
        A. You are completely destroyed, dead, with no hope of redemption and ever regaining life at a later stage.

        John 3:16-18
        “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Anyone who believes in him is not condemned, but anyone who does not believe is already condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.”

  8. Hi again.
    Just wanted to add to my other comments. Realized I misquoted saying Jesus said…. Eye has not seen. That was Paul.

    To sum up my thoughts, it seems to me that scripture does speak of eternal consequences for choosing not to love God and follow his ways. I do not think we can understand fully the nature of eternity in this life, despite our wish to define it and land in one camp or the other. I think it is safe to say that there is some ambiguity on the subject. Trying to reconcile a loving God with the concept of eternal suffering poses challenges for sure. I can live with the difficulty of this tension but do not want to try to make the scriptures say something they do not, because perhaps it makes me feel uncomfortable, which it does.

    I think these questions, while great to grapple with are a work in progress that we won’t fully understand until farther along. But I think it is safe to say Biblically that there is an eternal consequence to choosing death, even though we don’t fully understand the nature of it. As we don’t fully understand the eternal consequence of choosing life either.

    1. These questions are certainly a work in progress for me. :)
      And I completely agree that we have no real understanding of our eternal life, let alone death.

  9. If unbelieving loved ones are ultimately destroyed forever, how can we be eternally happy in heaven? God is supposed to wipe away all tears, but I’m pretty sure if my unbelieving friends and family members are annihilated then I will be crying for all of eternity.

    1. It does sound awful that unbelievers will be annihilated. Nevertheless, the Bible is pretty clear that those who do not believe in Jesus will die (e.g. John 3:16, 36; Rom. 6:23).

      Several verses in the New Testament state that unbelievers stand condemned already (unless, or until, they change their mind.) Perhaps the time to cry, and pray, is now!

      1. Hi Marg,

        First time commenting, I just newly found your site (3 days ago). You have well spoken that perhaps the young lady would do well to cry and pray now for her unbelieving friends and relatives. Because we are all already heading for the second death UNLESS we have a pardon. That pardon is Jesus. We are all reading his last WILL and TESTAMENT.

        1Th 5:18  In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 
        Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

        Of course the Bible itself is the Testament, both old and new.

        I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.

        Nice to meet you Marg.

        1. Hi Katrina. 🙂

  10. Hello Marg, the Bible shows that human beings can “visit” heaven or hell. Apostle Paul speaks about being taken up into heaven and Jesus went down to hell. Moses and Elijah appeared back on earth with Jesus, centuries after their death.

    So the Bible I believe, shows that human beings (or their spirits) can indeed move within the three places of heaven, earth and hell.

    I said that, to ask this: There are many people who have given testimonies of being caught up to hell, and what is to come. I’m sure some of us have read/seen their testimonies. Never once have I heard any of them give the description of hell you have put forth.

    My question is what do you say of numerous testimonies from people who saw or went to hell, that say that hell will in fact be literal fire, and do you have any link/book of someone who went to hell and described it as you have, as a place where people die and simply cease to exist? I would appreciate it.

    1. Hi Michelle,

      I don’t doubt or minimise the “outer body” experiences or visions of someone who has suffered a serious traumatic episode. But I imagine they interpret what they experience by what they have previously learnt. What does heaven really look like? What does the new earth look like? What does judgment look like? Having an out-of-body experience may or may not be related to any of these places or states. The Bible is our guide, not people’s experiences, no matter how wonderful and real.

      I can’t think of a person in the Bible who visited “hell.” Let me know if I’ve forgotten someone. Also, Gehenna (“hell”) and the lake of fire are not the same as Hades or Sheol.

      In regards to heaven, another factor to consider is that the Greek word “heaven” is exactly the same word for “sky.” And the verses about the one or two people in the Bible who visited heaven are not 100% clear.


      Did Paul really visit heaven? Paul is speaking about visions and revelations of the Lord in 2 Corinthians (2 Cor. 12:1). And he calls the third heaven “paradise” (2 Cor 12:4). Paradise is not the same as heaven.

      Did Paul simply have an amazing vision of paradise which seemed very real? This is entirely possible.


      The Bible says nothing about Moses going to heaven. Rather, it says that when Moses died, God buried him.

      “Then Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-Peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died …” (Deut. 34:5-7; cf. Jude 1:9).

      Just because Moses appeared at the transfiguration (a prophetic vision of the resurrection) does not necessarily imply that Moses was in heaven. Jesus’ connection and conversation with the figures of Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration are intended to signify that Jesus is the end time prophet who will not experience (permanent) death, and will usher in the kingdom of God in the eschaton (or end time).

      Intertestamental Jewish literature, such as the Assumption of Moses, have a different story than what is in the Bible. Unlike the Bible, they say that Moses did not die, but was translated into heaven. I accept the biblical account.


      Elijah is the only person who the Bible states did not die and went to heaven (2 Kings 2:1, 3, 5, 11-12). But the actual information in these verses about heaven is scant. All we really know is that Elisha saw Elijah going up in the sky in a fiery chariot until Elisha couldn’t see him any longer. We don’t know what happened to Elijah after that.

      All in all, the biblical evidence that people can actually visit heaven, or that heaven is the destiny of believers, is minimal. And I don’t know of any biblical account of a real person visiting “hell”.

      The accounts of Paul, Moses and Elijah say very little, if anything, about heaven in regards to believers. The New Testament, however, repeats the message many times that sin leads to death and belief in Jesus leads to eternal life.

  11. The existence of ‘Hades’ does not logically mean that there Has to be “eternal torture” after the resurrection.

    1. I agree.

  12. Marg, it seems throughout you assume “death” means non-existence in contrast to life meaning perpetual existence.

    1) This is an unwarranted assumption because Adam and Eve died the same day they sinned, so many times death just means separation from relationship with God.

    2) Just because a portion of a verse is hyperbolic, does not mean that the whole verse is figurative (im referring to Matthew 25 and Revelation 14)

    3) Luke 16 rich man lazarus – Jesus says “there was a rich man clothed in purple linen” so either there was, or there wasn’t. In other words, this is not a parable. He gives names of real people unlike his parables + does not give a “moral of the story” after telling it, so its a real event.

    4) You did not go in depth into how you would explain Matthew 25 and Matthew 13 where he contrasts “the righteous entering eternal life [God’s kingdom] as opposed to the wicked going to eternal punishment [furnace of fire where there shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth]”

    5) Daniel 12:2 “Multitudes of those who sleep in the dust will awake – some to everlasting life and others to shame and everlasting contempt”
    How can the unrighteous go to eternal contempt if they wont exist? Can you experience shame if you have been annihilated?

    6) Just like not all sin is equal, not all punishment is equal – Mark 12:40 “The scribes defraud widows of their housed and for a pretense make lengthy prayers, they will receive *greater* condemnation” see also luke 12:47-48 “That servant who knew his masters will but did not prepare or do it will be beaten with many stripes. But the one who did not know but did things worthy of punishment will receive few stripes”
    How does annihilation make sense in light of this? Wouldnt the punishment be the same?

    7) Jude 6-7 “the angels who did not keep their own domain have been kept in eternal bonds under darkness for judgment just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities indulged in immorality, going after strange flesh, they are exhibited as an example undergoing the punishment of eternal fire” see the contrast? The angels who sinned are currently and consciously being held under bonds in tartarus *just as* the sodomites are currently undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. The present active participle (undergoing) and present tense verb (exhibited) means continued action when Jude wrote this epistle.
    Thoughts on that?

    8) Genesis 25:8-9 notice the order – “Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age and he was gathered to his people. His sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah”
    This suggests his soul went to abraham’s bosom like the theif on the cross because abraham’s people did not live in Machpelah nor were they buried in the field of Ephron because Abraham had to buy that field from the Hittites.
    Contrasted with the sinful men of Numbers 16:33 “they went down alive into sheol” so that suggests sheol is a realm of the dead with a place of retribution for the unrighteous and a place of rest for the saints. This necessitates man is created immortal like angels.

    See also Moses – Deuteronomy 31:16 “Behold you will rest with your fathers” but this cant be his body because he was buried in a valley in Moab.
    And note David said “I will go to be with my son (not solomon)” (2Samuel 12:15-23) assuming infants go to paradise in the horrible event of their death [this cannot mean physical body going to the grave with him because he also says “he shall not return to me” so its not speaking about his body going to the grave or a ressurection]

    Thanks for your time again,

    1. Hi Pk, it seems I overlooked your comment. Here are a few quick, belated thoughts.

      Adam and Eve began dying on the day they disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit: they were cast out of Eden and no longer had access to the Tree of Life (Gen. 3:22-24; cf. Rev. 2:7; 22: 1-2ff; 14-15).

      I appreciate you bringing up the other Bible passages as they add to the discussion. However, I can’t see that they contradict anything I’ve said in this article or the previous one. I suspect your interpretation of them is different from mine.

      I believe the ultimate destiny of the righteous is life and the ultimate destiny of the unrighteous is death. The disgrace and shame of the unrighteous will never be taken away. And they will never have another chance of life. In that way, it is eternal.

      Some of the things you’ve mentioned I’ve brought up in my articles, and other things are not about our final destiny.

  13. Good article, thanks.

    I see the Revelation 14:9-11 verses as referring to the judgment of the worshippers of the beast in history and not in Gehenna. If you try reading Revelation chapter 14 and go on to chapters 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 you can see the punishments announced by the angels in Revelation 14 come to pass in the following chapters: for example Babylon is destroyed, the gospel is preached, and the worshippers of the beast are tormented by God’s judgments. For example go and see the torment the wicked suffer in chapter 16 and whether it corresponds to what was described in 14:9-11, they appear to be tormented day and night but it occurs in history not in eternity:

    1) “The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly, festering sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped its image”.

    2) “The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. 9 They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him”.

    3) “The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony 11 and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done”.

    4) “From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds,[a] fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible”.

    On the other hand this is a great explanation for Revelation 20:10 and how it’s symbolic for the second death not for eternal torment, i.e the lake of fire symbolises the second death NOT that the second death represents the lake of fire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gM8SCh7W3M

    Blessings in Christ

    1. Thanks for the link, M85.

      I take most of Revelation as being figurative and as referring to a time that has long passed.

      Phil Long is currently doing a blog series on Revelation. He’s up to chapter 16.

  14. I enjoy this article, and its antecedent, greatly Marg. Thank you for writing clearly on the scriptural accounts of Hell/Gehenna and torment/fire/death.

    You mention that, scripturally, eternal torment is reserved for fallen angels. While this question is more philosophical-leaning, what are your thoughts on the character of God if Creator is willing to subject *any* creature to eternal conscious torment? If God is Love, why would that love/grace not extend to spiritual beings as well? In your view, does this also fit into the category of “Revelation is metaphorical and cryptic”?

    I just struck me as interesting that we’re fine with eternal suffering, so long as it is aimed at angelic and not human beings.

    Again, I really enjoyed both articles, and your work in Christian egalitarianism.

    1. Hi Brandon, I’m glad you like my work. 🙂

      I don’t imply that I’m fine with anyone or anything being tortured. Rather, I am reporting on what Revelation says. However, as you say Revelation is metaphorical and cryptic. I do not take Revelation literally.

      Also, when commenting on Matthew 24:41, I state, “Note especially that Jesus says the fire is for the devil and his angels. This may indicate that “hell-fire,” whether metaphorical or real, is for fallen angels and not for torturing people (cf. 2 Pet. 2:4).”

      I don’t comment on the ethics of angels being tortured, assuming it’s even a real thing. What I do say, however, is that God doesn’t torture people in hell-fire.

  15. I appreciate your detailed study. You will be accused of liberalism, but I get where you are going in your quest for the truth rather than church dogma or tradition. We underestimate just how much a mediaeval, corrupt catholic church used fear of hell as propaganda (H Bosch etc) and a control mechanism. The reformers inherited some of these traditions and in turn as their reforms turned from ‘grace’ to control mechanisms and religious forms they too used fear of hell. It literally is a moment in history where we have the analytical resource to cross reference scripture quickly and within a lifetime, that enables us to pull down entrenched dogmas in this way. These are exciting times and thank you for your work.

    1. Thanks, John. Very few people have accused me of liberalism. Even those who disagree with me. Perhaps I’ve been lucky.

      And as you probably know, there is a considerable number of early Christian theologians and more recent biblical scholars who hold similar views as mine.

      It makes me very angry and breaks my heart that the concept of hell has been used to terrify and control people. It’s despicable!

  16. Hi Marg, tormented day and night in Rev. 14:9-11 doesn’t have to be neverending as lots of people believe. It could mean the days and nights they exist and smoke going up forever. As you know forever can be just a period of time. If you go back to the article, about what you said about Rev 14:9-11, you will see what I am saying. Just sounded like you were not sure about that one.


    1. Thanks for this, Roy.

  17. Hi Marg, I’ve recently found your site and am loving your academic approach to all topics.

    Regarding ‘eternal punishment’ in Matt 25:46, what do you think about the idea that ‘eternal’ is ‘aionios’ which denotes an age (a long age – like an eon), and in this case, ‘punishment’ is ‘Kolasis’ which indicates a disciplinary procedure, with benefit to the receiver, instead of being penal (satisfying the one inflicting the punishment). To me this word goes with the Old Testament discussion of God’s judgement being like launderer’s soap – a refiner’s fire, and the New Testament of fire burning up the chaff.

    I see you lean towards a type of annihilationism, whereas from my study I am more open to the possibility of God actually using judgement in a positive way, to purify and refine, and as unbelievers ‘see God’ who made them, without all the distractions and misunderstandings in the world around them, they can turn to Him and call Him Lord, fulfilling many prophecies of this happening.

    Anyway it comes back to your take on the ‘kolasis’ word used here for punishment. I’d appreciate hearing your opinion. Thank you.

    1. Hi Mary, Kolas- words are not used in any Bible passage that refers to God’s refining.

      The noun kolasis sometimes refers to chastisement that brings correction (e.g., Ezekiel 43:11 LXX), but it can also refer to punishment with no hint of correction for those being punished (Wisdom 11; Wisdom 16; 2 Macc. 4:38).

      It can even refer to capital punishment (Ezekiel 18:20 LXX; 4 Maccabees 8:6 & 9). (The context of Ezekiel 18 is the death of sinners).

      Further, kolasis can refer to unjust, abusive behaviour on occasion (e.g., Jeremiah 18:20 LXX). And there are still other senses. In Ezekiel 14 it’s used a few times for a punishment or stumbling block that leads to ruin (Ezekiel 14:3, 4, 7, 18:30; 44:12 LXX).

      The related verb kolazō has a similar range of meanings (e.g. 3 Maccabees 7:3ff).

      I see no glimmer of hope for the unjust in 2 Peter 2 who are “being punished” (participle of kolazō) until the Day of Judgement (2 Peter 2:9).

      The adjective aiōnios can mean “age-long” or “eternal, everlasting.”

      I’m open to other ideas; however, I see little evidence for the idea of age-long corrective punishment for the unredeemed. On the other hand, there are lots of verses that speak of life versus death and destruction.

  18. I’m not sure how I’ve followed you for 2 years and never seen this. This is what I’ve become to believe about hell and eternity. My 13-year old was just asking about this very topic and I’m pretty sure I botched my explanation, so I’m thrilled to have him read this so he and I can discuss. Thank you!

    1. I’m so glad this article is useful to you and your son, Shannon.

  19. Hi Marg,
    I have been trying to understand this: –
    Rev 20:14  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
    Rev 20:10  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.

    I believe Death and Hell are two Demons; / Fallen Angels, / Spirit Beings.
    They along with the Devil and the Beast and False Prophet were cast into the Lake of Fire.
    Including: –
    Rev 20:15  And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

    This sounds that, if anyone’s name is in the Book of Life —-they will have Eternal Life!
    And if their name is not in the Book of Life —-then they will be thrown into the Lake of Fire!
    The Lake of Fire is the Second Death!
    Yet it says they will be “tormented Day and Night forever” ???
    I can’t find anything to say the Second Death is permanent!
    If they are Tormented Day and Night forever —-surely the must be alive?
    I have tried to find where it says there will be no Resurrection, no coming back from the Second Death.
    I haven’t found anything to confirm that!
    What are you thoughts on this?
    Best Regards, Bill.

    1. It’s past midnight here, Bill. So I’ll have to look at your comment tomorrow.

      Update: I think what I’ve written in the article covers your queries.

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