Eternal torment has come to be seen as one of the most foundational doctrines of the Christian faith, but do the scriptures really teach eternal suffering for those without Christ? As Christians we should always be pursuing truth and try to understand the Bible better and if we find something in the scriptures that goes against what we believe we need to let that belief go and favor of what the scripture is actually saying no manner how popular that belief maybe.
Allow me to share with you what I’ve discovered in my own studies and search for truth. Not many realized this, but the scriptures to say that death is the result of sin and in the final end of the unrighteous far far more often than it could seem may suggest eternal suffering.
For example, Job 6:18 says about the godless, “the part of their course wind along, they go up into nothing and perish.”
Psalms 37:20 says “But the wicked will perish and the enemies of the Lord will be like the glory of the pastures; they vanish — like smoke they vanish away.”
Proverbs 11:19 says “He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life and he who pursues evil will bring about his own death.”
Notice these verses say perish, vanish, and death. These directly contradict eternal suffering. These are just some of many verses in the Old Testament that speak of death for the ungodly.
As for the New Testament, Matthew 18:14 says “So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.”
John 6:48-50 says “I am the bread of life. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven so that one may eat of it and not die.”
John 10:27-28 says “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me. And I give eternal life to them and they will never perish.”
So again all of these verses say die, death, and perish. What Jesus is saying also directly contradicts eternal suffering.
As for the word ‘hell’ in the Bible, most translations today don’t have the word ‘hell’ in the Old Testament unless you have a version like the King James. But the word in Hebrew that sometimes gets translated to ‘hell’ in the Old Testament is the word ‘Sheol’ which just means the unseen realm of the dead or the grave, nothing to do with the eternal torment. In the New Testament, the Greek word ‘Hades’ is translated ‘hell’ a few times, but ‘Hades’ is just used in place of Sheol and has also just referring to the unseen realm of the dead or the grave. But the most common word we see in the New Testament translated to hell most often used by Jesus is the word ‘Gehenna.’ Gehenna is a literal valley on the south side of Jerusalem. Why would Jesus be warning about a valley? Well, in the Old Testament, Gehenna is called the valley of the son of Hinnom or the Hinnom valley. And if we read in Jeremiah 7 and 19, we see that whenever Jerusalem was destroyed by another army the dead bodies were thrown into this valley Gehenna, the word translated ‘hell.’
The Lord names this valley the “Valley of Slaughter” so Gehenna becomes a symbol of slaughter, of death and destruction. Jesus makes this more clear, in Matthew 10:28 says the body and soul would be destroyed in Gehenna, not tortured forever, destroyed.
As for the terms like “unquenchable fire,” “fiery furnace,” and “eternal fire,” there’s a well-established rule of biblical interpretation —that we should interpret word, terms, and phrases we find in scripture mainly by how they are used in other parts of the scripture. In other words, interpret scripture with scripture.
And if we look at all the verses that mention “unquenchable fire” like Isaiah 34:10, Jeremiah 7:20, Ezekiel 20:47, and all these other verses, they all show that “unquenchable fire” is death and destruction, not eternal suffering, “unquenchable” just means the fire will not stop until it burns everything up.
If we look at Isaiah 31:8-9, Ezekiel 22:20, and Malachi 4:1, we see that “fiery furnace” also describes destruction, not eternal suffering. As for “eternal fire,” Matthew 18: 8-9, Jesus says “eternal fire” is Gehenna. As we just saw, Gehenna represents death and destruction. If we look at Isaiah 33:14, we see the term “everlasting burning” describing destruction, not eternal torment. In Jude 7, it says that Sodom and Gomorrah are an example of what eternal fire is. In other words, eternal fire is what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. What happened to Sodom and Gomorrah? They were destroyed.
This is what eternal fire is. The ‘fire’ means destruction and ‘eternal’ means that it is eternally destroyed or forever destroyed, never to return.
“What about the Lake of Fire?” you might ask. Well, firstly, we need to understand that Revelation is a book of symbols and hyperbolic imagery that represent other things. We have four apocalyptic horsemen, a beast with seven heads and ten horns, a giant woman that sits on the beast, and giant golden-faced grasshoppers with scorpion tails. We can’t say that’s all metaphorical, but the Lake of Fire is one hundred percent literal, no, it’s imagery that represent something else. So what does it represent?
Well, in Revelation 2:11, 20:6, 20:14, and 21:8, the Lake of Fire is called the “second death.” Death means death, not eternal torture. If we use the approach of interpreting scripture with scripture as we’ve already seen ‘fire,’ when used metaphorically, is consistently used throughout the scripture to describe death and destruction, not eternal torment of the soul.
The Lake of Fire is also called “fire and brimstone” multiple times. Deuteronomy 29:23, Isaiah 34:9, Ezekiel 38:22, and every other verse where “fire and brimstone” is mentioned, it never speaks of eternal torment. It is always speaking of destruction.
In Revelation 14:10, the Lake of Fire is described as “drinking the wrath.” In Isaiah 63:6, Jeremiah 25:15, Lamentations 4:21-22, and other verses, all consistently show that “drinking the wrath” is always speaking of destruction, not eternal suffering.
And as for Revelation 20:10 where it says “tormented day and night, forever and ever,” this cannot literally mean “forever and ever” because the majority of verses about the Lake of Fire describe it as death and destruction. This completely contradicts eternal suffering.
The word ‘forever’ in scripture doesn’t always mean forever the way we think of it today. For instance, in the Old Testament, the priesthood, the sacrifices, the ceremonies and festivals were to last forever and ever, but they aren’t still going on today, are they?
In Isiah 34:10, it says that the ‘smoke’ would rise from the city of Edom forever, it would burn forever, no one could pass through it forever and ever. But Edom isn’t still burning today and people can walk through there today. Jeremiah 17:4 says “a fire would burn in Judah forever,” this happened when Babylon destroyed Judah but it isn’t still burning today.
So, probably, a better way to interpret ‘forever’ is it will last as long as God has appointed it to. And again, since we all have the verses speaking of death and destruction, we know that ‘torment’ eventually comes to an end.
You may ask, “Aren’t they consequences to sin and to rejecting Christ?” Absolutely!
Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sin is death.” Death means death, not being tormented forever and ever.
The scriptures clearly say “eternal life is a gift from God only through Jesus Christ.” We are not immortal on our own. Only through Jesus Christ can we have immortality.
Consequences of sin and being without Christ is death, having no hope of eternal life, no hope of life after death, no hope of being with our Father, with our loved ones in a Paradise forever.
Remember when God warned Adam and Eve in the Garden “not to eat the fruit of the tree”? All he warned them of was death. That’s it. Now, if it’s true, that by them eating the fruit, then everyone who lived after them would be doomed to burn for eternity. How cruel and twisted was it of God to not warn them of such grave consequences, to not warn Noah, to not warn Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the Israelites, and not tell any of the prophets of the Israelites? No Sir, he only warned them of death because death was the only consequence. And death means death, nothing more, nothing less.
All we need to know about the afterlife can be found in the words of Jesus in John 3:16. We all know this verse so well, but yet we miss the simplicity and, apparently, what it says.
“God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish.” It doesn’t say “should not burn forever and ever in torment.” It says “should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Micah J. Stephens shares his unconventional yet liberating thoughts about God and the Bible in his personal blog, Micah Stephens Theology.
You don’t have to gnash your teeth at God
nor be afraid of your soul’s destiny.
Just call the Hellbusters hotline!