Over time I intend to cover other related doctrines on Hell, however this post will be focused on answering only a few basic questions. As a Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) I was taught and believed that hell didn’t exist. I was taught that it was a fictitious imaginary doctrine concocted by the Pope centuries ago, and that all early Christians were Annialationists. SDA do teach that there will be a lake of fire for a short period of time after judgement day, but that once the fires conclude burning the damned will cease to exist body and soul. For myself, studying this topic and finding out what the Bible really teaches was a big deal. Which is why I am going to focus my first Hell post on the following questions:
- Does Hell Exist today and in the future?
- Is Hell eternal or temporal?
Question 1: Does Hell Exist today and in the future?
I believe that it does and this is largely due to the clarity of language in the following verses, for example, we can see that angels exist in Hell now.
For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; 2 Peter 2:4-6 KJV
Notice the words “but cast them down to hell”. This string of words is in the past tense, and to cast someone or something into a noun implies that said noun exists.
We can also see that people, not just angels, are currently in Hell now:
” By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” 1 Peter 3:19-20 KJV
The “He” in the above verse is speaking of Christ. This is why I believe the Apostles Creed states “He descended into Hell”. I don’t believe we are to speculate on what specifically Christ was doing in Hell beyond the words in this short verse. That said, its clear that he went there and preached to them. No matter what you take from that, the fact that this “prison” or Hell exists as a location cannot be soundly refuted, also the fact that people who lived in the days of Noah are there now is also beyond question. I believe it follows logic that other souls after the days of Noah would be there as well because it cites their disobedience as cause.
“And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Matt 13:50 KJV
Again, notice that they are being “cast..into the”. Therefore it follows basic logic that the definite article refers to a noun which would have to exist. It doesn’t say they are being cast into nothing.
Though I will not post it here in its fullness as its rather long, I encourage you to read Luke 16:19-31 by clicking HERE. This is the famous Rich man and Lazarus story recorded by Luke. I have read compelling conservative arguments for this text being either a parable or a literal story.
Those who argue for this to be a literal story will cite that Lazarus is a named individual, which is irregular among the parables of Christ. Those who argue it is a parable cite how the rich man “lifts his eyes” in verse 23, the argument being that a spirit does not have eyes to lift therefore parable.
I would argue that whether this be parable or literal it is still true. Why would Christ use a falsehood to teach a truth? Nobody takes the Parable of the Good Samaratin and argues that it’s not about helping your neighbor because it’s a parable, that would be silly. There are truths clearly conveyed in any parable, you simply look at the language and see what Christ is talking about.
I searched high and wide and found no sane reading of Luke 16 that can possible assert that it is not about hell. If its not about hell then what is it about? The language is just too vivid to be ignored:
“being in torments”…
“cried… have mercy on me”…
“I am tormented in this flame”…
Go ahead and try to make that about something else without leaving the text and importing outside ideas into it. Clearly, we can assert that at the very least this teaches Hell exists even in the time of Christ, which was many years after Noah. This would place the burden of proof that it does not exist today on anyone making the claim.
What of the different names of hell? for an article on this please click HERE as it is beyond the scope of my post and is in my opinion irrelevant to the issues of primary concern. Based on the passages quoted above, I would argue that no matter what name is being used for “hell” in the new or old testament the same people are going there and the torments are always described as being similar in nature.
One can make a strong argument that there is a distinction between the hell that exists now and the one that exists after Judgement Day. That said there is no Biblical reason to distinguish between the torments of the two, instead the more relevant point is that you don’t want to go to either. If anything, I would argue the only Biblical distinction with any meaning is that one precedes the Judgment and the other follows.
Question 2: Is Hell eternal or temporal?
There is a strong argument out there today, not just in SDA, that Hell is temporal. This argument is called Annialationism, they call Hell the consuming fire and state that it burns up the wicked entirely and that they cease to exist, at which point the fire snuffs out. I confess this is a tempting view, I once held it and my argument was why would a loving God burn sinners forever and ever? That question though is more a reflection on my own depravity and a want of understanding than it was as an argument against the eternal conscious torment of hell.
The following scriptures are very clear, just read them as very little commentary is necessary:
“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.” Revelation 14:11 KJV
“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.” Revelation 20:10 KJV
Some will argue that the above verses don’t say “forever and ever” but actually only say ‘for an age’. They argue that the above is a miss translation of the original Greek. I find it telling that every Bible version I look this up in says “forever and ever”. Even the message paraphrase is consistent with this and that is supposed to be the favorite of the universalists.
For me it is enough to trust all of the Bible translators that ever existed. But for some who wish to rebel against the text this isnt the case so I will quote an analysis of the original Greek. My source is Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.
“Is the English phrase, “forever and ever,” a proper translation of the Greek? Does it mean without end? Is it ever used of something not eternal? Does it refer to eternal torment? These questions are important because the universalist position denies the eternality of Hell fire. Universalists take the literal Greek phrase of “eis tous aionas ton aionon,–into the age of the ages” which is commonly translated as “forever and ever,” “forevermore,” and state that it refers to an age of time, a finite period of time.
It is true that the basic root of “aion” means age. But it is not true that all words derived from that root mean a finite duration of time. The phrase means “unlimited duration of time, with particular focus upon the future–‘always, forever, forever and ever, eternally.”‘
Additionally, the phrase is used to describe both God’s eternal attributes and His eternal nature as well as eternal torment.”
Follow the link to their article above if you are interetested. What I quoted is just their analysis, they also provide scripture references to other times that the Greek phrase is used. The closest English translation is certainly “forever and ever”.
“And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” Mark 9:43-48 KJV
The above verses forced me to believe in an eternal conscious torment of hell. They are very vivid, and one has to practice eisegesis to force them to say anything else. Also, when I compared these to the verses that Annialationists use, what i find is that they quote verses off the topic of hell. This I believe is poor theology, if you are going to make an argument for a belief on something you need to assemble all of the clear verses that are speaking on topic. That forms the hermenuetic for how you are to understand unclear verses, or ones that only make a passing reference to the issue at hand.
The most convincing verse in the whole Bible, for me though, in the eternal nature of Hell is the following:
“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” Matt 25:41 KJV
The reason this is so compelling is the word “Everlasting” or αἰώνιον (aiōnion) in Greek is the same word used to describe the following:
Matt 29:19 “and shall inherit everlasting life”
Mat 25:46 “but the righteous into eternal life”
1 Tim 6:16 “and power everlasting. Amen.” [Speaking of God]
Rev 14:6 “having the everlasting gospel”
1 Peter 5:10 “unto his eternal glory by”
Simply put, if hell can be temporal then so can everything else above. I am not prepared to assert that God is temporal, or that his glory is temporal, or that everlasting life is temporal, or that the gospel is temporal….. etc etc
The only logical conclusion, is that Hell and its associated torments exist, and are as eternal as everything else on that list. Some try to use the word “age” or epoch to deny this. I would argue that this would mean the eternal nature of God only exists for an age, or that the everlasting life of the elect is for an age. You can’t have it both ways, if one is eternal they all are. The most important part is, it doesn’t matter how you interpret this either. Hell is still hell defined by the Word and will remain as such regardless of what anyone asserts.