The Bible Teaches that Hell is Eternal

“The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’” (CCC 1035)

James Tissot (1836-1902), “The Bad Rich Man in Hell”
James Tissot (1836-1902), “The Bad Rich Man in Hell” (photo: Public Domain)

One cannot deny the traditional Christian doctrine of hell and honestly call oneself an orthodox Christian. No mainline or self-proclaimed evangelical denomination denies this doctrine (Seventh-Day Adventists being a special case), and of course, Catholicism and Orthodoxy have always held to this belief as well.

It has often been noted that Jesus Himself spoke more about hell than He did about heaven. The following are the major scriptural evidences for both the existence of, and the everlasting duration of hell:

The Greek meaning of aionios (“eternal,” “everlasting”) is indisputable. It is used many times referring to eternal life in heaven. The same Greek word is also used to refer to eternal punishments (Mt 18:8; 25:41, 46; Mk 3:29; 2 Thess 1:9; Heb 6:2; Jude 7). Even in one verse – Matthew 25:46 – the word is used twice: once to describe heaven and once for hell. “Eternal punishment” means what it says. There is no way out of this without doing violence to Scripture.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses render “punishment” as “cutting-off” in their bogus New World Translation, in an attempt to establish their doctrine of annihilationism, but this is impermissible. If one is “cut off,” that is a one-time event, not an eternal one. If I am cut off the phone with somebody, would anyone think to say I am “cut off eternally?”

This word, kolasis, is defined in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament as “(eternal) punishment.” Vine (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words) says the same thing, as does A. T. Robertson – all impeccable language scholars. Robertson writes:

There is not the slightest indication in the words of Jesus here that the punishment is not coeval with the life. (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930, vol. 1, p. 202)

Since it is preceded by aionios, then it is punishment that continues forever (not non-existence which continues indefinitely). The Bible couldn’t be more clear than it is. What more could be expected?

Likewise for the related Greek word aion, which is used throughout Revelation for eternity in heaven (e.g., 1:18; 4:9-10; 5:13-14; 7:12; 10:6; 11:15; 15:7; 22:5), and also for eternal punishment (14:11; 20:10). Some attempt to argue that Revelation 20:10 only applies to the devil, but they must explain Revelation 20:15: “and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” The “book of life” clearly has reference to human beings (cf. Rev 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:11-14; 21:27). It is impossible to deny that fact.

Now on to some annihilationist “proof texts”:

Matthew 10:28: The word for “destroy” is apollumi, which means, according to Vine, “not extinction, but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being.” The other verses in which it appears make this meaning clear (Mt 10:6; Lk 15:6, 9, 24; Jn 18:9). Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament or any other Greek lexicon would confirm this. Thayer was a Unitarian who probably didn’t believe in hell. But he was also an honest, objective scholar, so he gave the proper meaning of apollumi, in agreement with all other Greek scholars. The same argument applies to Matthew 10:39 and John 3:16 (same word).

1 Corinthians 3:17: “Destroy” is the Greek, phthiro, meaning literally, “to waste away” (much like apollumi). When the temple was destroyed in 70 A. D., the bricks were still there. It was not annihilated, but wasted. So shall it be with the wicked soul, which will be wasted or ruined, but not blotted out of existence. We see the meaning of phthiro clearly in every other instance of it in the New Testament (usually, “corrupt”), where in each case, the meaning is as I have stated (1 Cor 15:33; 2 Cor 7:2; 11:3; Eph 4:22; Jude 10; Rev 19:2).

Acts 3:23 refers to simply being banished from the people of God, not annihilation. “Soul” means person here (cf. Dt 18:15-19, from which this passage is derived; see also Gen 1:24; 2:7, 19; 1 Cor 15:45; Rev 16:3). We see this usage in English when someone says, “There was not a living soul there.”

Romans 1:32 and 6:21-2, James 1:15, 1 John 5:16-17 either refer to physical or spiritual death, neither of which means “annihilation.” The first is separation of body from soul, the second, separation of the soul from God.

Philippians 1:28, 3:19, Hebrews 10:39: “Destruction” or “perdition” is the Greek apolia. Its meaning as “ruin” or “waste” is clearly seen in Matthew 26:8 and Mark 14:4 (a waste of ointment). In Revelation 17:8, when it refers to the Beast, it states that the Beast is not wiped out of existence: “…They behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.”

Hebrews 10:27-31 must be understood in harmony with Hebrews 6:2, which speaks of “eternal judgment.” The only way to synthesize all the data presented here is to adopt the eternal hellfire view.

Hebrews 12:25, 29: Isaiah 33:14, a verse similar to 12:29, states, “who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?” The metaphor of God as a fire (cf. Acts 7:30; 1 Cor 3:15; Rev 1:14) is not the same as hellfire, which is spoken of as eternal or unquenchable, within which the wicked suffer consciously (Mt 3:10, 12; 13:42, 50; 18:8; 25:41; Mk 9:43-48; Lk 3:17).

2 Peter 2:1-21: In verse 12, “utterly perish” is from the Greek kataphthiro. In the only other place in the New Testament where this word appears (2 Tim 3:8), it is translated as “corrupt” in KJV. If the annihilationist interpretation were applied to that verse, it would read, “…men of nonexistent minds…”

2 Peter 3:6-9: “Perish” is the Greek apollumi (see Matthew 10:28 above), so annihilation, as always, is not taught. Furthermore, in verse 6, where it is affirmed that the world “perished” in the flood, it is obvious that it was not annihilated, but wasted: consistent with the other interpretations above.