Is Hell Eternal?
A number of cults teach either that hell does not exist or if it does the punishment is not eternal. This matter cannot just be looked at subjectively because most want to say that God is love and that would involve no punishment. We need therefore to look at the revelation of Scripture to answer the matter.
The Bible teaches that there is a fiery hell, a place that Jesus warned people about.
“And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire.” – Matthew 18:8.
Jesus says that eternal fire is real and indeed Jesus spoke more of hell than He did of heaven. The reason being that Jesus came here to save us from going to hell. If there is only annihilation or partial punishment from which we will be released it does not seem to be much point of the dire warnings that Jesus gives in this verse and others. The warnings Jesus gave were of a very real place that needed to be avoided.
The Bible teaches about a Day of Judgment and we read of the two types of people,
“And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” – Matthew 25:46
It is important to note that in this verse, the same word “eternal” is used to describe the punishment of the wicked as well as the eternal life of the believer.
The punishment is endless as is the eternal life of the believer. The Greek phrase aionas ton aionon, translated “forever and ever,” occurs 18 times in the New Testament and is used both of describing God’s eternal worth and the duration of eternal damnation. The exact same Greek phrase is used in each of the verses.
Forever and ever – Greek aionas ton aionon – “ages of the ages”
“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen,” (1 Tim. 1:17)
“. . . To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Rev. 5:13).
“And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! Her smoke rises up forever and ever” (Rev. 19:3).
“And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever,” (Rev. 20:10).
Whether eternal life or eternal death the Scripture uses the same word.
We also need to understand the different words used in the Old and New Testament especially as the AV does not translate them consistently.
The Hebrew word sheol appears 66 times in the Old Testament. The Greek word hades appears 10 times in the New Testament and the Greek word gehenna appears 12 times in the New Testament. The Greek word tartarus only appears once in the New Testament, at 2 Peter 2:4. This last word need not concern us, as it is a special abode for disobedient angels.
Greek scholar W.E.Vine sums up the use of sheol, hades and gehenna, in the Scriptures, as follows: Hades …the region of departed spirits and the lost (but including the blessed dead in periods preceding the Ascension of Christ) …It corresponds to ‘Sheol’ in the O [ld] T [estament]. In the A [uthorised] V [ersion] of the O [ld] T [estament] and N [ew] T [estament], it has been unhappily rendered ‘Hell,’ …or ‘the grave,’ …or ‘the pit’ … It never denotes the grave, nor is it the permanent region of the lost; in point of time it is for such, intermediate between decease and the doom of Gehenna. – Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol.2, pp.187/8.
Hell …Geenna represents the Hebrew Ge-Hinnom (the valley of Tophet) …’the eternal fire’ is mentioned as the doom, the character of the region standing for the region itself. – Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol.2, p.212.
The Bible shows that the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek word hades refer to the same place but the Greek word gehenna refers to a different place.
Gehenna represents the valley of the Son of Hinnom southeast of Jerusalem. Here during Old Testament times children were offered to the false god Moloch and later Jews used the valley to dispose of their rubbish, dead animals and unburied criminals. To consume all this a fire burned continuously and gnawing worms abounded. It was a vile place.
Matthew 25:46, Acts 4:21, 2 Peter 2:9, 1 John 4:18 all speak of punishment and in each case the Greek word is kolasis. Matthew 25:46 is therefore talking of eternal punishment.