Hell in the Bible

Hell Bible
Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

Hell, as described in the Bible, is a place only for people worse than myself, right? Or is it a place at all? We should know what the Bible says about hell. This is critical in relation to the character of God because the common concept of hell is a place where God sends people He doesn’t like or who have not met some standard of His. And that could make Him kind of scary and, frankly, not very lovable.

Traditional Legal Model – a literal place where God sends the unsaved to be punished by fire for (in most beliefs) eternity.

Biblical Healing Model – the place (the grave) of the dead – both saved and unsaved – where they await, without consciousness, the resurrection.

Modern Definition

Hell (noun)
“The place or state of punishment of the wicked after death; the abode of evil and condemned spirits; Gehenna or Tartarus.” (https://www.dictionary.com/)

Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

Hell (noun)
The place or state of punishment for the wicked after death. Matthew 10:28. Luke 12:5.

The common understanding of hell has been around for a long time thus there is no real difference between 1828 and now. Here is one passage that could contribute to that sort of thinking:

“The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.” (Rev 14:10-11)

Hell in the Bible
This is NOT the Hell of the Bible.

That passage has “fire and brimstone,” “for ever and ever,” “torment” and “the wrath of God.” While most people would readily associate that with hell, to correctly understand hell in the Bible, we need to look at how the Bible itself uses those key words. The popular understanding of “hell” is connected to the wrong definitions of those and other terms.

Here we will focus on the meaning of “hell” as the Bible itself uses it after a brief look at the other terms. You may see detailed definitions for “fire,” (link coming) “torment” and God’s “wrath in this glossary. The definition for “forever” is coming.

Hell – Everlasting, Eternal and Forever and Ever?

 The meaning of eternal and similar terms depends on the context of the use of the word. When used in reference to God it can literally mean without end because He is eternal. Applied to others,  it can mean a limited time. An example:

“And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: 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.” (Exo 21:5-6)

In this case, the slave is opting to stay with his master and serve him for as long as he lives and it is termed “forever.” Another example:

“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.” (1 Sam 1:22)

Of course, Hannah’s son Samuel only lived there for a limited period of time.

“Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:7)

The fire is described as “eternal” yet it has been out for many centuries. You can see those cities today – just piles of ash and not even a wisp of smoke. It is only the effects of the fire that are eternal.

In the Bible, “forever” and “eternal” do not always mean never-ending. Those terms can also mean that the consequences of an action/event last through eternity. They will never be reversed. A good example:

“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.” (Rev 20:10)

Is the devil to be tormented forever? No, in fact the Bible gives details of his end:

“Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee.” (Eze 28:18)

Compare to this use:

“If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Pet 4:11)

Is God to be praised for ever? Yes

Unquenchable Hell Fire?

“And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch. 10 It shall not be quenched night nor day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever: from generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever.” (Isa 34:9-10)

There have been fires that man could not quench such as the fires at the twin towers in New York City on 9/11. However, once the fuel is used up, a fire always goes out.

Hell and God’s Wrath

This verse suggests there is a difference between the wrath of man and that of God:

“For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)

God’s wrath is to allow the consequences of man’s free-will choices to occur without interference from Him. Read more about the wrath of God.

The Torment of Hell

The torment that the lost will suffer in the lake-of-fire experience will be primarily emotional rather than physical. That is well described in the booklet The Lake of Fire and the Second Death.

Hell Correctly Understood

 In light of those understandings, here is Revelation 14:10-11 again with some words crossed out and words added in bold print which more accurately state the meaning of the terms substituted:

“The same shall

experience final separation from God drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is

going to be total (complete or undiluted separation) poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation;

and he shall be mentally afflicted tormented

with the awareness of God’s love and his rejection of it fire and brimstone

in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:

And the remembrance of their affliction smoke of their torment

Is before God ascendeth up for ever and ever: (He will never forget them)

and that process will be continual for those they have no rest day nor night,

who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.”

(Revelation 14:10- 11, clarified)

Does that give a different picture of the experience normally thought of as hell?

What About Satan?

“Yet thou [Satan] shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” (Isa 14:15)

Is Satan going to burn in or at least be confined to hell?

“Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee.” (Eze 28:18)

Satan will not be in charge of hell; in fact He will be destroyed by mental anguish and guilt coming from within himself as a result of his choices and his resistance of God’s love.

The same shall happen to the lost:

“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” (Mal 4:1)

This and other scriptures were written to show the completeness of the destruction. They are not to be taken literally.

Sheol, Hades = the Grave


The Hebrew word “sheol” is translated as “hell” 31 times and means “the grave” as it was translated in many other verses such as:

“And all his [Jacob] sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.” (Gen 37:35)

Of course, Jacob did die and go into the grave but he did not go to a place of punishment.

“What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave? Selah.” (Psa 89:48)

Implied is that no man (saved or lost) can be delivered from the grave.


The Greek word “hades” is also translated as “hell” as in:

“And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (Rev 20:14)

Most versions of the Bible just use the word “hades” in that verse rather than “hell.” Other uses of “hades” can be understood as meaning the grave and the KJV does translate it that way:

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor 15:55)

Destroyed in Hell

Here is a verse that might induce fear of God into people:

“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:28)

But we need to have a correct understanding of the use of the word “him” in that verse. See a detailed explanation of Matthew 10:28.

The word translated as “hell” in that verse is from the Greek “Gehenna” which was originally the valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem which was basically the city dump with a fire continually burning to consume the waste. It is used in a figurative sense in scripture to refer to final destruction.

Hell and Justice

Is burning people in hell forever an appropriate form of justice? What crime would justify society today condemning someone to die by burning at the stake? What about by burning them in such a way that it would take a week to die? A year? Forever?

What kind of justice is it that burns someone for eternity who did not even ask to be born, who did not commit any violent crime? It does great damage to the reality of a God of love to believe such concepts.

Is “hell” or punishment a good motivator to obey? How many people today are fully obedient to God despite the popular understanding of hell?

The wages of sin is death, not some process of dying that never ends.

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 6:23)

Death comes from the sin itself, not from God. Further evidence:

“For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” (Gal 6:8)

“Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” (James 1:15)

No Consciousness in Hell

The popular idea of hell involves consciousness, yet:

“For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” (Eccl 9:5)

“Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.” (Eccl 9:6)

“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” (Eccl 9:10)

The Lesser of Two Evils

Some people have replied as in a recent article I read:

“I think that I would actually like to know nothing through all eternity. Being nonexistent means I would have no more worries, no more problems – I would be at rest.”

People think this way because they see it as a better alternative than burning forever which it certainly is. Compared to the traditional, never-ending hell, it is much preferred. However such people’s motivation, in this case, is fear of torment. They are looking for the lesser of two evils.

But what a terrible loss – to miss eternity. Don’t make a choice or do something you might later regret.

Rather, we need to weigh the alternatives – eternal death in oblivion or eternal life with God. The key is to get to know His character properly and to really fall in love with Him.

But What About?

There are two parables spoken by Jesus that would seem, on the surface, to support the common concept of hell. However, a closer look reveals that this is not so and that His teaching on the subject was consistent with a God of love. See discussions of those parables at The Rich Man and Lazarus and The Unforgiving Servant.

HellFor an entertaining and true story of one man’s struggle to learn the truth about hell you might like to watch the movie Hell and Mr. Fudge.

Or support the production of this and other fine Christian films by renting or buying it here https://vimeo.com/ondemand/hellandmrfudge.

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