Hell

Contents

Summary

Hell is a real place of intense pain: the punishment for our sins (II Peter 2:9). The Judeo-Christians from Moses to the 5th century as well as 21st century Orthodoxy teach total restoration, that hell is correction for a second chance at hearing the Gospel (I Peter 4:6) to “get out” (Matthew 5:22,26). “Everlasting” never describes hell in the Bible (Luke 1:33). Hell is a temporary age of punishment (Matthew 25:46) because the Greek word “aioniou” cannot mean eternal (Jude 1:7). Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), and every tongue “under the earth” in hell will confess “Jesus is Lord” (Philippians 2:10-11), proving their allegiance (Isaiah 45:23), salvation (Romans 10:9), and life (I Corinthians 15:22). God does not forsake anyone (Hebrews 13:5): He is always with those in hell (Psalms 139:7-8). Jesus wills [boulomenos] no one to perish (II Peter 3:9), and no one can escape His will [boulemati] (Romans 9:19).

Endorsements

All agree hell is a place of pain and punishment. Catholics and Orthodox believe in purification. Although there is no debate that originally eternal damnation was a Judeo-Christian heresy, many Christians now believe it. The Orthodox, modern sites (BibleHub, Rethinking Hell), and the majority of early Christians (150-550 AD) believed in temporary damnation. See what the earliest Christians believed:

  1. Clement of Alexandria (150AD): “God’s punishments are saving and disciplinary (in Hades) leading to conversions, and choosing rather the repentance than the death…
  2. Theophilus (168AD): “He did not suffer him to continue being in sin forever…having punishment expiated within an appointed time…he should afterwards be recalled…”
  3. Origen of Alexandria (184AD): He is one of the largest proponents of Apocatastasis (Acts 3:21) who actively fought Gnosticism (I Timothy 6:20) and defended the Trinity.
  4. See Didymus, Jerome, Gregory of Nyssa, Isaac of Ninevah, Theodore of Mopsuetia, and Olnmpiodorus

Concepts

Creation of Hell

Hell is a place of intense pain.

Most all theologians agree that hell is the worst place imaginable, and you wouldn’t want to spend a single second there. There is no order and very little light (Job 10:22). Gehenna is a place where the worms and fires afflicting you do not end (Mark 9:48). There will be weeping and agonizing gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42). The lake of fire is literally that. It feels worse than 3rd-degree sulfuric burns (Revelation 20:10). One of the worst pains of hell is being able to see those you know enjoying paradise (Luke 16:23). Christians should understand that whatever our views on the length or nature of hell, no one is saying that hell should be downplayed.

Hell is a place of punishment.

In God’s first covenant with humanity, He said that a person’s punishment for his sins is equivalent to the measure of evil he caused on another (Leviticus 24:17-21). God will pay for your sins if you accept Jesus in faith (Romans 3:25); but otherwise, you’ll have to pay for it yourself in a spiritual prison, not a penny more or less (Matthew 5:25-26). The degree of your pain is based on your understanding of God (Luke 12:47-48).

Hell is a prison.

Hell is also a place to safeguard the good from the bad (Matthew 5:25; I Peter 3:19). Like earthly prisons, society can only function if bad people are temporarily placed in a separate place for punishment (II Peter 2:9) and reform (I Peter 4:6).

Hell is an example to those considering evil.

To those born on earth and those who will be born in heaven, hell is an example of what happens to those who disobey God (II Peter 2:6). Just like the demons didn’t truly believe God would punish them harshly, so too humans need a reminder that God is still a God of justice (Romans 9:22-23).

Hell is referred to in many ways.

Many have been taught that you either go to heaven or hell when you die, but the word “hell” isn’t in the original Greek New Testament. It’s derived from the Old English pagan word “hel” around 725 AD. Instead, Jesus talked about Gehenna (Matthew 5:22), originally Geennan or Geenes. All Christians equate Gehenna with Hades (Luke 16:23), and Paul equates Hades with Sheol (Acts 2:27; Psalms 16:10). Jesus equates Gehenna with “prison” (Matthew 5:22,25). Tartarus (II Peter 2:4), the abyss (Luke 8:31), and the pit (Revelation 9:1) are likely parts of Gehenna. After Judgment Day, Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15). Both Gehenna and the lake of fire, though, have the same purpose.

Hell is literally inside the earth.

The phrase “under the earth” describes where hell is located (Philippians 2:10; Revelation 5:3,13). Moses said that Sheol is located by opening the ground (Numbers 16:30). People were swallowed by a supernatural earthquake (Numbers 16:31-32) and they “went down alive into Sheol…and they perished” (Numbers 16:33).

The ruler of hell is Abaddon.

Abaddon is the king of hell (Revelation 9:11; Proverbs 27:20). Although “angel” is used to describe him, “angel” can also used to describe demons (Revelation 12:7). Some think he’s a demon because he commands tormenting locusts (Revelation 9:10), but it is God who created hell and these plagues (Revelation 8:1). God wants to judge the earth with Abaddon’s locusts, so it’s illogical to say Satan is now siding with God (Matthew 12:26). Others say he’s loyal to God, but he’s locked in hell (Revelation 9:1), does not have the character of contentment (Proverbs 27:20), likely desires to kill but isn’t allowed (Revelation 9:5), and we see another example of “angels” who are locked up (Revelation 9:14). The description of Abaddon’s army do not generally fit the description of good angels (Revelation 9:7-10). Therefore, Abaddon is likely someone who wants to destroy humanity while also not wanting to submit to God or Satan.

Damnation

Hell is for those who don’t obey Jesus.

God knows the only way to have a loving society is with people who confess all known sins (I John 1:9), forgive everyone (Matthew 6:14-15), and reconcile with everyone (Matthew 5:23-24,25). Hell is for those who know what’s right but deliberately choose to sin out of pain or pride (Hebrews 10:26-27). Accepting Jesus as Lord and obeying Him is the only way to escape hell (Matthew 7:21) because otherwise we’d only be serving our feelings, not God’s law (Matthew 7:23).

Those you harmed will send you to hell.

Although God is our Judge (Hebrews 12:23), it is actually those you hurt who’ll be sending you to hell (Matthew 5:25). It’s like the court system: someone must accuse someone to be sent to jail. Hell is for those people who know they hurt someone but refuse to reconcile with them out of pain or pride (Matthew 5:22,23-24).

Most go to hell.

Jesus said that most people will go to hell (Matthew 7:13-14). This even includes Christians who think they are obeying God (Matthew 7:21) because they have bad character (Matthew 7:19).

Damnation is so all will be under God’s control.

Although Christ is all (Colossians 3:11), God is patiently enduring the evil free will of many (Romans 9:22). The last evil is death (I Corinthians 15:26) which will be thrown in hell (Revelation 20:14) and abolished (I Corinthians 15:55) on Judgment Day: the day God judges all people as good or evil (Matthew 25:32; Matthew 12:36; James 1:12). On that day, every evil spirit will be subjugated (I Corinthians 15:24), and everything will be under the control of the Father (I Corinthians 15:27-28).

Purification

Jesus is always with you in hell.

Many have been taught that hell is the absence of God, “but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). There is no place that you can run from the Spirit of God and that includes Sheol, what we call hell (Psalms 139:7-8). Jesus Himself will be preaching to those in hell (I Peter 3:18-19; I Peter 4:5-6). This is because death, hell, and our own choices (included in “all of creation”) cannot separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

Time in hell is temporary, not endless.

Similar to purgatory, God actually provides a way for you to be saved through fire (I Corinthians 3:15; Isaiah 22:14). Jesus literally says that you can “get out” of hell once you’ve paid for, or atoned for, your sins (Matthew 5:22,26; Luke 12:59). He also said a person’s time in hell is temporary, based on how much he has sinned (Matthew 18:34). This is why Job asked to be sent to hell for an appointed time (Job 14:13). Both he and Naomi knew the kindness of God extends to the dead (Ruth 2:20) and that no one willingly swears allegiance to another if they are sentenced to burn forever (Isaiah 45:23; Philippians 2:10-11).

Every spirit in hell will repent.

Those “under the earth” shall bow to Jesus and confess He is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11; Romans 10:9). This confession is not out of a desire for less pain, as we know the fires in hell are eternal (Matthew 25:41). It’s not a forced confession because God doesn’t force anything (I Peter 5:2). This knee bowing is a reference to Isaiah’s prophecy that literally “every tongue” shall swear allegiance to Jesus Christ (Isaiah 45:23). One day, “every tongue” shall confess praise to God (Romans 14:11), and this praise proves that they are “from God” (I John 4:2-3).

Every spirit in hell will be saved.

God has mercy on all (Romans 11:32), and God’s mercy always leads to salvation (Romans 11:30-31; Titus 3:5). Peter literally says that God preaches to the spirits in prison (I Peter 3:19), the same prison of hell (Matthew 5:22,25-26), because they did not obey in their earthly life (I Peter 3:20). The reason “why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead” is that “they might live in the spirit” (I Peter 4:6), because God saves even those who don’t believe in their first life (I Timothy 4:10; Catholic verse: 2 Maccabees 12:45). Those banished from God’s presence won’t be an outcast forever (II Samuel 14:14). After their “appointed time” in hell, God will renew their spirits (Job 14:13-14; I Samuel 2:6) because He longs to cover their trespasses (Job 14:15-17). Even the demons roaming in heaven (Job 1:6-7) will be reconciled (Colossians 1:20) and saved (Romans 5:10).

All spirits will eventually live in heaven.

There is a difference between the body, soul, and spirit (I Thessalonians 5:23). Our physical bodies are destroyed once (Hebrews 9:27), and our souls’ “second death” happens in Hades or the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14; II Peter 3:7). Jesus wills, though, [boulomenos] no one to perish (II Peter 3:9; I Timothy 2:4), and no one can escape His will [boulemati] (Romans 9:19; Isaiah 46:10). Because of this will, Jesus preaches to those lost in Hades so that each spirit might live (I Peter 3:18-19; I Peter 4:5-6) and be returned back to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7). In the same way that all men die, whether or not they choose Christ in their earthly life, “shall all be made alive” (I Corinthians 15:22). This is because Jesus owns all things (Hebrews 1:2), and all things given to Him shall have eternal life (John 17:2).

Purification is so God can become “all in all.”

All of this is for the purpose of God becoming “all in all” (I Corinthians 15:28; Ephesians 1:23); and, because Christ is literally everything (Colossians 3:11), it’s impossible for part of Him to be eternally damned, unless that part gave itself over to pure evil, which is just Satan and his unholy trinity (Revelation 20:10). Instead, every other being and place will be filled with the love of God (Ephesians 3:18-19).

FAQ

Death

What is death?

The Bible uses many different words for death:

  1. Apothanein” is the physical body’s inability to recover to an alive state (Matthew 9:24).
  2. Thanatos” is the act of killing another (Luke 21:16; I Peter 3:18; I Corinthians 15:26).
  3. “Sleep” is a soul disconnected from his physical body (Matthew 9:24; I Corinthians 15:51). This state is neither alive nor apothanein.
  4. Nekrois” is a soul disconnected from the Spirit of God, either alive or sleeping (Ephesians 2:1-2; Luke 9:60; Hebrews 9:17).
  5. Eteleutēsen refers to those who recently have apothanein (Matthew 9:18; Matthew 2:19).
  6. Destruction [katargēsē] is about nullifying or severing power (Galatians 5:4), not thanatos.
  7. Perishing [apolētai] is about losing something valuable or glorious (Luke 15:8; John 3:16), not annihilation or thanatos, because it’s used in conjunction with “finding” (Luke 15:24). Perishing can be used to refer to the act of dying (Romans 2:12; Mark 4:38).
  8. Ruin [olethron] is about taking something which is good and turning it bad (I Thessalonians 5:3; I Corinthians 5:5), not katargese or thanatos.

What happens immediately after death?

Your soul immediately gets judged (Hebrews 9:27) to either paradise (Luke 23:43) or Hades (Revelation 20:13). While some believe in “soul sleep,” the belief that the soul is unconscious until Judgment Day, there are no examples of this in the Bible. Instead, people immediately go to Hades or paradise (Luke 16:22-23).

Can spirits die or be destroyed?

Although the body and soul can die and be destroyed (Matthew 10:28), nowhere in the Bible does it say a spirit can die or be destroyed. Our spirit literally is the breath of life (Isaiah 57:16; Job 33:4), coming from God. Nothing of God can be destroyed because He is immortal (Romans 16:26).

Do we die once (Hebrews 9:27) or twice (Revelation 20:14)?

Hebrews 9:27 uses apothanein for death, while Revelation 20:14 uses thanatos for death. See the other FAQ that explains the difference. Our physical body dies once, but God reconnects those souls to their spirits who were in Hades to be judged on Judgment Day; but, if they are condemned, they are killed again, separating their soul and spirit.

How can people be saved if after death comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27)?

A man cannot come back to his fleshly life (Job 14:13), but he will be restored (Job 14:14-16,17). They are judged in the flesh, but they will live in the Spirit (I Peter 4:6).

What can people do when they’re dead?

There is “no work or [reasoning] or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol” (Ecclesiastes 9:10), but people are aware of their earthly life and can speak (Luke 16:23-24; Isaiah 14:9-10). Reasoning, knowledge, and wisdom is given in the context of learning new things for doing in their earthly life (Ecclesiastes 9:1,9). This won’t happen in hell, but they are given the choice to repent of their rebellion (I Peter 4:6).

Can I pray for the dead?

Praying for the dead makes sense, but don’t pray that they won’t be in pain or will have peace, for that is the main reason they are there. Prayers for the dead are meant to help them accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ (I Peter 4:6).

How should I view near-death experiences (NDEs)?

Many have claimed to have died and gone to hell. These near-death experiences (NDEs) are not biblical, so should be taken lightly. Nonetheless, we believe it’s important to consider the fact that many people claim that Jesus rescued them from the place they deserve after they called out to Him (see video 3:05). An atheist (1:14) went to a place like purgatory and came back to become a Catholic Reverend. There are many other Protestant examples of NDEs, too.

Eternal

Is the word “eternal” properly translated?

Oftentimes the English Bible translators attempted to translate the meaning of the Greek word “aionios,” “aionos,” “aioniou,” or “aionion ” to fit their understanding of the Gospel, but it’s illogical to sometimes translate this word as “age” and other times as “eternal,” as there are no examples of Greeks speaking this way.  “Aionios” literally means “age.” The time of an age is like the theory of relativity or a video game simulation: it’s just a way for humans to experience cause and effect of matter but it itself doesn’t affect either God or our future in heaven (II Peter 3:8). Here is evidence that “aionios” can’t be translated “eternal”:

  1. Christ’s secret was only kept for long ages (Romans 16:25).
  2. Jesus didn’t die at the end of eternity (Hebrews 9:26).
  3. Marriage is not for eternity (Luke 20:34; Matthew 22:30).
  4. The chains aren’t eternal (Jude 1:6).
  5. Sodom and Gomorrah’s fires stopped burning (Jude 1:7).
  6. Being conformed to “eternity” is illogical (Romans 12:2).
  7. We aren’t living in eternity now (Ephesians 1:21).

Which Greek phrases mean eternal?

Anytime the Bible says “aionos,” it’s talking about a temporary age (Luke 20:34). Anytime the Bible says “eis tous aionas” (to the ages; John 6:51) or “ouk telos” (not an end), then it’s talking about an everlasting age (Luke 1:33). Both “to the ages” and “not an end” are never used to reference hell except for the unholy trinity (Revelation 20:10).

How can death be temporary and life is eternal when Jesus compared the two (Matthew 25:46)?

The words “go away” and “into” tell us that “eternal punishment” and “eternal life” are locations or eras, not the status of a person. “Eternal” is actually “age” because of an incorrect translation of “aionios” (Jude 7). A literal reading of the sentence is “these will go to an age of punishment, but the righteous to an age of life.”  These ages are not required to be equal in time: one can be longer than the other. Other verses tell us that the age of life is everlasting (Luke 1:33), while not a single verse in the Bible describes hell as everlasting, with the exception of the unholy trinity (Revelation 20:10). For example, a judge could say, “These are sentenced to a time in prison, while these may go free.” No person would see this as equating the times but comparing the morality of the 2 groups. The comparison of morality, not time, is the actual context of Jesuspreaching (Matthew 25:31-45).

How can “aionios” be temporary if it’s used to reference God?

“Aionios” describes God in 2 places in the Bible (Romans 16:26; Deuteronomy 33:27), and this is literally translated as “ages God”. Not one place in Greek writings or in the Bible does just “aionos” mean everlasting. This tells us that God is “the ages”. God is everlasting (Isaiah 40:28) solely because He is eternity (Revelation 1:8).

Is Satan punished forever or for a long time?

The only place in the Bible where eternal [eis tous aionas] refers to hell is only for the devil, beast, and false prophet; they truly will burn forever (Revelation 20:10) because they are the only Beings who literally are evil incarnate (Matthew 13:38; I John 3:8). Unlike humans who choose to sin but have the ability to choose God, the devil not only chooses to sin but became sin itself, by removing himself from all truth (John 8:44).

Isn’t destruction eternal (II Thessalonians 1:9)?

The word “destruction” is olethron which is just ruin, not death or ceasing to exist (I Corinthians 5:5).

Isn’t shame eternal (Daniel 12:2)?

Shame and contempt will be eternal for those who had to accept Jesus after being punished, in the same way a divorced, adulterous man eternally will be known as not being faithful.

Goodness

How could a good God send people to hell?

A “good” God by definition would create a painless society because any amount of pain in that society would cause the people to think their God was bad (Revelation 21:4). People cause pain, and the only way to get people to stop doing bad is to discipline them (Hebrews 12:11). Many argue that hell is too much discipline for sin, yet God knows the bare minimum amount of pain needed to both account for their evil (Leviticus 24:19-20) and cause them to turn from hurting others (Luke 12:48). No lighter system on earth has ever been able to eradicate pain (Job 40:2,8); therefore, hell is the only answer.

Why would God allow so many to believe in eternal damnation if it was wrong?

Despite all Jews believing eternal damnation was a heresy for the 1600 years from Moses to Jesus, God allows sinners to sin (Psalms 1:1). For millennia, people thought enslaving other races is God’s will (Exodus 21:20-21), but this shows us how depraved humanity can be (Romans 3:10-11). In the same way, the root of desiring eternal damnation is hypocrisy about God’s grace, like how the founder of eternal damnation demonically laughed at those suffering in hell. For example, Jonah was very angry that God was merciful (Jonah 4:1,2). To show this hypocrisy, God gave him shade (Jonah 4:6), took it away (Jonah 4:7), and made him suffer (Jonah 4:8). Jonah pitied the plant that he didn’t work for (Jonah 4:10) and should’ve be pitying those spiritually ignorant (Jonah 4:11). For those who believe in eternal damnation, if God is perfectly merciful, why does He ignore the dead who repent” (Philippians 2:10-11; Romans 10:9)?

Can a person leave hell in a rebellious state?

Many have wrongly been taught that those in hell are in a constant state of rebellion. Not only does the Bible never say this, it says the exact opposite: that eventually “every tongue shall swear allegiance” under the earth (Isaiah 45:23; Philippians 2:10-11).

Does God forsake those in hell (II Thessalonians 1:9)?

Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you (Psalms 139:7-8; Hebrews 13:5; Psalms 16:10) because “Christ is all and in all” (Colossians 3:11). The Greek translation of “away from” in many footnotes translates it as “comes from.” Looking to the Greek word “apo,” it can mean either one. Even if it means “away from,” it must be talking only about the Rapture because of II Thessalonians 1:10, and we know Jesus will be preaching to those in Hades (I Peter 3:18-19; I Peter 4:5-6). Alternatively, it means the punishment “comes from the presence of the Lord,” more directly denoting He is still with you. At the same time, God forsakes those who don’t want Him, like any gentleman would (II Chronicles 15:2).

Punishment

What happens to those who never heard of Jesus?

For those who don’t have the laws of God, if they do what the law says, they are saved (Romans 2:14). This depends on their conflicting thoughts, which will accuse or pardon them (Romans 2:15) on Judgment Day (Romans 2:16).

Is it fair the evilest can “accept Jesus” and escape hell?

Sometimes we see serial killers, rapists, and murderers as worse than us, yet “no one is righteous” (Romans 3:10). Because no one seeks God (Romans 3:11) without Him intervening (Romans 9:16), even our anger would eventually turn into murder (Matthew 5:21-22). Therefore, your sin is no lighter than the evilest because all sin falls short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), a glory that is in every way perfect (Matthew 5:48).

If the wicked reap punishment on earth (Galatians 6:8), why should they be punished in hell?

The Bible never says the wicked are guaranteed to be punished fairly on earth, just that they will reap what they sow (Galatians 6:8; Proverbs 11:31). For example, a man who steals something will reap spiritual decline in faith and joy, but there’s no guarantee he’ll be punished accurately by the government because life on earth is unfair (Habakkuk 1:13). We see this all the time, when the innocent die, such as in the Holocaust, but God will make all things right on Judgment Day (Proverbs 11:21).

Do the spiritually ignorant (babies, special needs, etc.) go to hell?

People only go to hell if they are willfully disobedient (Hebrews 10:26-27). First, you have to understand what is right or wrong (Hebrews 10:28; I Corinthians 15:56), sometimes referred to as the “age of accountability.” Not all sin leads to death (I John 5:16-17), and this separation is the ignorance of knowledge of right and wrong (I John 5:18). This is why children receive blessings from God (Deuteronomy 1:39; Matthew 7:11). Therefore, little children, special needs adults, and anyone else who genuinely never did wrong while understanding it was wrong will not go to hell (Matthew 19:14).

Sins’ Payment

Doesn’t a temporary period in hell mean Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough?

Some argue that if people are purified in hell, then Christ’s sacrifice isn’t powerful enough to purify (Hebrews 9:14), but the Bible doesn’t say there’s only one way to be purified. Originally, the spilled blood of animals purified people of their sins (Hebrews 9:13). Jesusgift of purification isn’t given to those who don’t accept it as a gift (Ephesians 2:8). After they are temporarily purified in hell (I Corinthians 3:15), they will be given the opportunity to accept the Gospel (I Peter 4:6) and be permanently purified through faith (I John 3:3).

Shouldn’t sin against an infinite God warrant infinite torment?

The Old Covenant says that punishment should be equal to the amount of injury caused: an “eye for an eye” (Leviticus 24:19-20). It doesn’t say that the punishment should be equal to the righteousness of the man or of God. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and He is lowly in spirit (Isaiah 57:15; Philippians 2:3,5).

How can everyone be saved if some sins aren’t forgivable (Matthew 12:32)?

Salvation comes only by believing in Jesus (John 14:6), whether our sins our paid via Jesus’ death or torture in hell. This means that people can be saved after their sins weren’t forgiven because God preaches to them in hell (I Peter 4:6). Moreover, while some believe the unpardonable sin is not having faith in Jesus before you die, Jesus literally says you can disbelieve Him and be forgiven of this (Matthew 12:32). Saying that the Holy Spirit is evil or unclean is gravely unforgivable and will last for a long age [aioniou], not eternally (Mark 3:29-30). Jesus didn’t condemn the Pharisees of this because the Pharisees didn’t even believe Jesus had the Holy Spirit, and Jesus did not condemn in His earthly life anyways (John 8:15). Humans can’t even sin in this way, besides some Old Testament prophets, because one can’t “speak against” someone if he has not met him (I Corinthians 13:12). Humanity has met Jesus but not the Holy Spirit yet.

How can a person pay in jail (Matthew 5:26)?

Some say punishment in hell is endless because when Jesus said we can pay for our sins in the jail of Hades, the implicit meaning is that it’s impossible (Matthew 18:34; Matthew 5:22,26). The context of the payment of Matthew 18:34 was not implicit: Jesus said the literal payment for the servant’s debt came by being sold (Matthew 18:25). Historically, what Jesus was referencing was debtor’s prisons, a place where the wicked are forced to work to pay off their debts because God always gets what He’s owed. The Old Covenant says the way to pay for one’s sins comes through torture equal to the amount of pain they caused: an “eye for an eye” (Leviticus 24:19-20) and not a penny more or less (Matthew 5:26). 

Early Church 

What did most of the earliest Christians believe?

St. Augustine said that “indeed the vast majority” believe in total restoration. There were 6 primary Christian institutions (source 1, source 2). Ephesus believed in Annihilationism, Carthage/Rome/North Africa believed in eternal damnation, Alexandria and Caesarea believed in Origen’s version of total restoration, and Antioch and Edessa/Nisbis believed in Theodore of Mopseutia’s version of total restoration. While these were the 6 primary, there were various other informal beliefs.

What did the church fathers before 150AD believe?

Concepts such as eternal damnation or purification were not written about at this point, as the main focus of the early church was spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ and combating more important threats such as Gnosticism or anti-Trinity views. It’s impossible to say what they believed, but we can analyze the earliest known texts:

  1. Ignatius of Antioch (150AD)–depart into unquenchable fire: We agree that the fires are eternal in the sense that they don’t stop (Jude 1:7).
  2. Clement of Alexandria (150AD): God’s punishments are saving and disciplinary (in Hades) leading to conversions, and choosing rather the repentance than the death…
  3. Justin Martyr (151AD)
    1. receive the eternal punishment:  We agree the damned will go to a place of eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46).
    2. eternal sentence of fire: We agree the sentence is eternal in the sense that it cannot be taken back, yet is not endless time (Romans 16:25).
  4. Polycarp (155AD)–eternal and unquenchable fire: We agree that the fires are eternal in the sense that they don’t stop (Jude 1:7).

What was Gehenna originally referring to in the beginning?

Jesus often uses the word “Gehenna” to refer to hell (Matthew 5:22), and most scholars agree that Gehenna refers to the Valley of Hinnom where constantly putting trash meant the fire never went out. This gives evidence that hell was known as a place of eternal fire, not the state of a person being thrown in there being eternal (Jude 1:7).

When did eternal damnation enter the church?

Although there were 4 schools that taught total restoration, the Latin (West) North African Tertullian (160–220 A.D.) was the only person at the time to teach it, mainly because he couldn’t stand the thought of reconciling with those who disagreed with him (Matthew 5:24-25). He laughed at his opponent’s suffering in hell. St. Augustine of Hippo popularized it around 354-430 A.D., yet he openly said he hated studying Greek, probably not understanding the 8 different words used to describe death nor the biblical meaning of “aionios” as “long ages” (Romans 16:25-26). They taught unborn babies deserve hell, yet this is irrational as sin is knowing you are disobeying (I Corinthians 15:56).

Catholicism & Orthodoxy

Wasn’t apocatastasis condemned in a council?

There is currently a debate as to whether apocatastasis and Origen were condemned or not in the Second Council of Constantinople. It’s first worth noting that if you are a Protestant or don’t rely on the authority of others, it doesn’t matter what they said because we believe in sola Scriptura. If you are Catholic or Orthodox, note that most likely the condemnation of Origen was forged primarily by Emperor Justinian in an attempt to control 5th-century political power, some historians don’t believe Origen was condemned in the first place, and its authority as a true council is being questioned. Even if it was condemned, it only applied to Origen’s version, probably because he believed in the pre-existence of souls, but saints such as Gregory of Nyssa and Isaac of Ninevah are revered and hold to apocatastasis.

Does Catholic and Orthodox dogma allow for total restoration?

Yes because they have traditions that can be corrected and dogmas that can’t be corrected. As far as we know, eternal damnation is not a dogma and is only a tradition. To Catholics, Origen’s version of total restoration may be false, but not others’ views of it. Catholics and Orthodox revere Isaac of Ninevah, and he believes in total restoration as well. He says, “It is not the way of the compassionate Maker to create rational beings in order to deliver them over mercilessly to unending affliction in punishment for things of which He knew even before they were fashioned, being aware how they would turn out when He created them and whom nonetheless He created.” In addition to Isaac, they also revere St. Gregory of Nyssa, who taught similarly to Origen about hell.

What are meritorious, congruous, mortal, and venial sins?

We agree that there are 2 categories of sin: mortal and venial (I John 5:16), based on the intent of the sin (I John 5:18). If the Catholics believe meritorious congruous works are required to skip purgatory, we disagree with that, as going to Hades is solely about choosing to disobey God or not (I John 3:7; Hebrews 10:26).

What are indulgences?

Some believe you can earn your way out of hell, but this is false. Some people spend more time in hell than others (Luke 12:48), yet the Bible never says you can pay your way out. The only way to reduce your time in hell is to, on earth, more deeply determine if you really forgave (Matthew 6:14) and repented of all sin (I John 1:9). Any biblical examples of people being punished for their earthly sins is an example of reaping what they sow (Galatians 6:8), but it does not reflect how well their soul was purged of evil (Titus 3:5).

Is purgatory real?

We generally agree that most of the Catholic purgatory is similar to what we see as Hades, such as the purification aspect (I Corinthians 3:15), although we may disagree on who goes to purgatory and do disagree that some souls are eternally damned. We do not believe purgatory is a part of heaven, because suffering only happens in Hades, which is under the earth (Numbers 16:30-33).

Is limbo real?

The Catholic Limbo is essentially the same as what most Protestants believe about paradise: the holding place of dead Christians until heaven is ready (Luke 23:43; 16:22).

Hell Belief Systems

Metaphorical hell

Because metaphors are there to help us understand something more complex (John 3:12), the implication is the real thing must be even worse, not better. For example, ripping out your eye is better than living a life of sin (Matthew 5:29). Most would agree, though, that annihilationism is better than hell, so it’s more likely that hell is a literal place where people burn. Also, unlike most of Jesus’ unexplained metaphors which use a singular example, with hell there is many: worms, fire (Mark 9:48), weeping, and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42). It’s unlikely that this is the only case of a multi-object metaphor.

Universalism

The typical foundation of universalism that all religions lead to God is false. All religions, even some forms of Christianity, will lead you to hell because they ignore submission to Jesus Christ. Truths of Jesus can be found in all religions, but only by accepting Jesus can you go to heaven (John 14:6). It is true that all of Hades will eventually praise Jesus as Lord (Philippians 2:10) because Jesus will be preaching to them (I Peter 3:18-19; I Peter 4:5-6). “Universal Salvation,” then, is true if they accept that people can “get out” of hell (Matthew 5:26) but false if they don’t accept Jesus (John 14:6).

Annihilationism

Annihilationism is false because “destruction” is katargēsē (Galatians 5:4), defined as nullifying or severing power, but this severing doesn’t mean that the person ceases to exist: it’s talking about severing the body from the soul (Matthew 10:28).  The metaphors commonly used (Malachi 4:1,3) are talking about the destruction of power, not the life (Malachi 4:6).

Conditionalism

Yes, conditional immortality is true: that without the tree of life, immortality cannot be achieved (Genesis 3:22; Revelation 2:7), giving further evidence to the fact that one’s time in hell is temporary (Matthew 5:26; Matthew 18:34). There is no biblical support that any soul can or has achieved immortality without the tree (known as universal immortality), and we know that those in hell don’t eat of the tree’s fruit (Revelation 22:19). Immortality is given only through the Gospel (II Timothy 1:10).

Sheol the resting place

Some believe Sheol is just a resting place and not hell itself, but Sheol is Hades because Paul equates the words (Acts 2:27Psalms 16:10). Those in Hades are in torment (Luke 16:23). 

Sheol as both paradise and Hades

Some believe Sheol is a term used to refer to both paradise and Hades, but Jesus was in paradise (Luke 23:43) and there is no wisdom in Sheol (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Both paradise and Hades, though, are next to each other, in the earth (Numbers 16:30), because the rich man saw Abraham and Lazarus “far away” (Luke 16:23) and because Jesus said paradise was also in the “heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). There is no verse that speaks positively about Sheol: the grave or pit (Proverbs 23:14; 7:27).

Abyss or bottomless pit

Hell is also known as the abyss (Revelation 9:11). Some translate the Greek “abyssou” as “bottomless,” but there is no reason to do that. Hell is finite and fixed inside the earth (Numbers 16:30).

Other terms for total restoration

Some other terms for total restoration are Total Reconciliation, Apocatastasis, Apokatastasis, Universal Salvation, and Universal Reconciliation. Note that these phrases necessitate the worship of Jesus as God and the only way to the Father (John 14:6) while “Universalism” erroneously thinks of Jesus only as a moral teacher.

I Peter 4:6

Is the Gospel preached to the physically dead or just spiritually (I Peter 4:6)?

“Spiritually dead” is an oxymoron because a spirit cannot die, being of God (Isaiah 57:16; Romans 16:26). While “nekrois” can be used to refer either to those alive without God’s Spirit (Ephesians 2:1-2) or sleeping dead without God’s Spirit (II Corinthians 1:9), the previous verse uses the phrase “living and the nekrous” (I Peter 4:5), which elsewhere is used to signifying when nekrōn is referring to the sleeping dead (Acts 10:41-42). The word “even” signifies that the intended audience is not only the obvious physically alive but also physically dead.

Isn’t I Peter 4:6 talking about those who recently died?

Some say the dead in I Peter 4:6 is talking about those “now” dead because of the dispersion, but the verse says “nekrois euēngelisthē.” “Nekrois” never means “recently or now dead”: it always means “currently dead” (Hebrews 9:17). “Recently dead” always uses the word eteleutēsen (Matthew 9:18). The main reason I Peter was written is that the elect was not fully following the Gospel of having a renewed heart (I Peter 2:1; 3:9,12), not even understanding what baptism really is about (I Peter 3:21). It’s impossible to say that the preaching was to the alive and that’s why they live in the Spirit for the alive were given this letter because they were so uncontrolled that their prayers weren’t even answered (I Peter 3:12; 4:7). Therefore, Peter is reminding them that even though the evil maligned them (I Peter 4:4) and many die failing to love their persecutors, God doesn’t give up on them (I Peter 4:6; Psalms 139:7-8).

Isn’t the preaching of I Peter 4:6 once in the past?

Some say the aorist euēngelisthē means it happened once in the past, but most scholars of aorist tense agree that it gives an undefined impression. Even so, past preaching to the dead doesn’t negate future preaching to the dead.

I Peter 3:19

Are the “spirits in prison” physically alive or dead (I Peter 3:19)?

Physically dead

  1. The immediate context of this verse is physical death (I Peter 3:18).
  2. Although spirits are prisoners to Satan (Isaiah 14:17; Hebrews 2:14-15), the word “prison” [phylakēn] always is a place, either physically (Matthew 14:3) or spiritually (Matthew 5:22,25), never a people group. Therefore, we can deduce this prison is Hades because spirits can’t be held by physical prisons.
  3. If this was talking about alive spiritual imprisonment, the word synekleisen would’ve been used (Galatians 3:22-23).

Was God preaching the Gospel or proclaiming victory to the imprisoned spirits (I Peter 3:19)?

Proclaiming victory is about the death of those spirits, but the context is the Gospel’s life-giving power. Peter wanted the dispersed to share in the defense of the gospel (I Peter 3:15) through their suffering (I Peter 3:17) in the same way Christ’s suffering led Him to preach to those spiritual imprisoned (I Peter 3:18-19). The reason why sharing through suffering logically makes sense is because just as the Flood saved the earth, so too baptism “now saves you” (I Peter 3:20-21), via a shared death and resurrection (Romans 6:3,5). We further know that the context is about saving not boasting because Peter says that Christ already subjugated these spirits, winning them over (I Peter 3:22; Ephesians 6:12). 

Was Christ preaching through Noah (I Peter 3:19)?

See our other explanation on “spirits in prison.”

II Peter 3:9 

Is it God’s will or wish that none perish (II Peter 3:9)?

Jesus wills [boulomenos] no one to perish (II Peter 3:9), and no one can escape His will [boulemati] (Romans 9:19). Some say this “will” is more like a “want” or “wish,” but that’s not how the Greek word is used. Besides whether it’s will or wish, still no one can resist Jesus (Isaiah 46:10).

How can God “will” no one to perish when people die (II Peter 3:9)?

Some believe “perish” is a synonym for death, but this is impossible because it’s used to refer to a lost coin (Luke 15:8). When the Bible says a person perished (Jude 1:11; I Corinthians 1:18), it’s talking about their glory (I Corinthians 9:25; 15:42), not their life (Luke 15:24). Jesus is saying that His will is that no one gets lost from His presence, because not only do we share glory (John 17:22), He wills to never leave us (Hebrews 13:5).

Isn’t the promise of not perishing only for the elect (II Peter 3:9)?

Peter is addressing the healthy (II Peter 1:1) and unhealthy (II Peter 2:20). If they claim to be Christians, whether truly or not, they are “beloved” (Matthew 7:21; Romans 14:4; II Peter 3:1). He wanted to address the church’s concern that Jesus hasn’t come back yet (II Peter 3:3-4). Peter reminded them that Jesus did enact judgment once through the Flood (II Peter 3:6) and will do it again with fire (II Peter 3:7). So even though we wait thousands of years, that’s nothing to God (II Peter 3:8), and He is waiting patiently because He wants the whole church to be fully repentant (II Peter 3:9). Jesus won’t come back until the church attains maturity in unity and knowledge (Ephesians 4:13). This proves that Jesus promise of all reaching repentance doesn’t apply only to the elect but also to the hellbound.

I Corinthians 15:22

Isn’t only those “in Christ” will be made alive (I Corinthians 15:22)?

In the same way there are no exceptions to those “in Adam” dying a mortal death, it is true with those who’ll live. The word “as” shows us that the first clause is like the second; so, the second “all” means” that for everyone who died, they shall be made alive through Christ’s power. “In” is referring to power; just as “in adam” we inherited a sinful nature (Romans 5:12), so “in Christ” we’ll inherit a spiritual nature (Romans 5:17). This use of the word “all” is used again in Romans 5:18: “justification and life for all men.”

Aren’t they alive in hell (I Corinthians 15:22)?

Everyone in hell is “dead,” as shown in the previous verse (I Corinthians 15:21). It’s previous verse clarifies “dead” is those “fallen asleep” (I Corinthians 15:20). The phrase “will be made alive” is zōopoiēthēsontai, which always refers to eternal life in Christ (Romans 8:11; I Peter 3:18).

Other

Did Jesus spend 3 days in hell?

Although some think Jesus was referring to hell in Matthew 12:40, He was actually referring to paradise (Luke 23:43).

Are Satan and demons ruling in hell?

This belief was popularized by an old book-like poem Dante’s Inferno, but it has no biblical evidence. Quite the opposite, both King David and John say an angel of God, Abaddon, is king of hell (Revelation 9:11). Some demons are actually already in hell (II Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6).

Can a person in heaven go to hell?

Some say there’s no sin in hell, but biblically, there’s only no pain (Revelation 21:4). There are currently beings in heaven in rebellion against God (Colossians 1:20), and God doesn’t take our free will away, as the freewill offering was a prototype of heavenly practices (Exodus 35:29). This means similar to how angels rebelled and became demons before the Curse, so this will likely continue for eternity because outside of the Pearly Gates are all kinds of evil (Revelation 22:14-15). Therefore, if they choose to stay in rebellion, it’s likely their name will be taken out of the book of life (Exodus 32:33). If a Christian truly conquers instead of just being lazy or selfish (Matthew 7:21; Revelation 3:16), only then will his name securely be confessed before the Father (Revelation 3:5) because his faith from grace was proven (James 2:22).

Doesn’t a non-eternal hell detract from evangelism?

Scaring people into hell is ungodly (I John 4:18). We do not see any examples of biblical figures scaring people into salvation, yet we do see examples of explaining why we should fear God from a knowledge point of view (Matthew 10:26-28; Proverbs 1:7). On the contrary, a non-eternal hell will drastically improve evangelism rates because many are falsely told the contradiction that God is loving and merciful, yet He will send you to hell forever for disobeying. The truth always sets men free (John 8:32).

How can a body burn in hell for a long time if they aren’t given eternal life?

The righteous and wicked are given new mortal bodies when they are resurrected for Judgment Day (Matthew 10:28), but the wicked do not have eternal life because they’re not allowed to eat of the tree of life (Revelation 2:7). Some believe that God somehow has their body constantly regenerating in hell, but there is no biblical evidence to support this. The most likely case is that the fires are spiritual, even more potent than physical fires (I Corinthians 3:15). Jesus said hell can destroy the soul (Matthew 10:28), and no physical object can do that. God often uses analogies to represent something that we cannot understand (John 3:12). These fires, worms, sulfur, etc. all look to their fleshly eyes like the earthly equivalent, and they will cause the same mental damage (Matthew 13:42). Thirst, for example, is a pain caused by the brain (Luke 16:24). While there isn’t a biblical example of physical harm in hell, be warned that spiritual pain is far worse.

How can people be restored if there’s a chasm (Luke 16:26)?

While humans can’t cross the chasm, God has all power (Romans 1:20) and is literally everywhere (Ephesians 4:6). Some think that doesn’t apply to hell, but God says He is with all those in hell, only not suffering but watching (Psalms 139:7-8). This chasm is small enough for those in Hades and paradise to talk (Luke 16:26), and this is short enough for God to fly over to save those who repent and accept Jesus Christ (I Peter 4:6).

Isn’t progressive revelation why eternal damnation isn’t mentioned in the Old Testament?

Progress revelation in the Bible is only about justice and salvation because God wanted to first show why justice is faulty (Hebrews 8:7) when compared to mercy (James 2:13). There is no logical reason why God would keep eternal torment from the people of the Old Testament; in fact, God would have more reason to tell them because the Old Covenant was a system of punishment (II Corinthians 3:9), like hell. Moreover, Job directly says that damnation is not eternal (Job 14:13).

Does God or one’s own will choose hell?

Many Christians say, “God never sends anyone to hell: people choose to go there,” but this is unbiblical. While it’s true Jesus’ incarnation was not meant for judgment (John 3:17), His second coming is meant for judgment (Matthew 25:31-32). Jesus is the one who forces judgment on the evil (Matthew 25:41), even though the wicked try to get out of their sentence (Matthew 25:44). Some say people choose hell because they can’t stand to be with Him, yet no one can escape God’s presence (Psalms 139:7-8). They do not walk into hell on their own free will: they are forcibly thrown (Revelation 20:15).

How does total restoration better show the glory of God?

  1. Justice–It’s not just to punish someone based on who the crime was done against (Leviticus 24:19-20).
  2. Mercy–Withholding punishment always shows God’s glory more than enacting it (James 2:13; Romans 11:32).
  3. LifeLife has more glory than death (Romans 8:2; I Corinthians 15:55).
  4. Kindness–Burning forever doesn’t help a person, but teaching them the Gospel is kinder (Ruth 2:20; I Peter 4:6).
  5. Faith–Believing in humanity has more glory than giving up (I Corinthians 13:7; Hebrews 13:5).
  6. Love–Saving someone shows more love than leaving them to their own evil (Romans 5:8).
  7. God’s Will–If His will is that none should perish (II Peter 3:9), then the most glorious thing is when that happens (I Corinthians 15:22).

I want to believe hell is temporary, but I don’t. What should I do?

If your head and heart aren’t aligned, it means there’s something wrong (Mark 12:30). Humans have a tendency to believe what they’re taught because they don’t want to be seen as a heretic (Mark 7:9). Yet God commands us to always seek the deepest truths (John 17:17). Chances are if your heart is telling you that mercy really is for all (Romans 11:32) but your head is afraid of others thinking you’re a heretic, you’re letting the “fear of man” overcome your love for God. Truly study the Bible for yourself (Acts 17:11), and don’t quit until your heart and mind are in logical unity. If Jesus Himself said we can “get out” of hell (Matthew 5:22,26), that is what we should believe.