If you missed Part One of this research paper it might be helpful to understand the Annihilation view (click to view) before reading this post. Again, for clarification, I hold to the traditional view. I firmly believe that Hell is a real place and the damned will experience this punishment from God eternally and consciously. I intentionally did more research on Annihilationism because I find that understanding what another person believes is the best way to defend my own view. I am not saying at any point whatsoever that an Annihilationist is a nonbeliever because John R.W. Stott, author of The Cross of Christ, later in life turned to this view and I respect a lot of what he wrote/preached. What I am saying is that the topic of Hell is a hot topic (pardon the pun). So, I am trying to tread lightly. Again, I SUPPORT the view that Hell is real.
Now that it is clear where I stand allow me to continue….
So, what is the problem with the traditional view? To the Annihilationist there is a lot wrong with this view. But, let us explore the traditional or literal view of the final punishment.
Hell seems to be thought about less and less as history has continued to unfold the past few decades. Sermons will seldom mention the fiery place but will focus the congregation’s attention on God’s salvation. Salvation from what though? John F. Walvoord offers a convincing argument for the traditional view and his arguments are going to be the focus of the literal view’s teaching.
If there is an eternal heaven, what is the need of an eternal hell? How do the two realms coexist? “The problem is how to harmonize an eternal heaven with that of eternal punishment” (Walvoord). The length of hell is really what the issue comes down to. This thought has been on the minds of believers, Jews, and even the unrepentant’s mind. Like the Annihilationist, the literalist must begin with the Old Testament in order to argue for an eternal conscious punishment of the lost.
Walvoord explains that the word sheol in the Old Testament is used 65 times. There is an uncertainty to the actual translation of the word, but it is usually used to refer to the grave or a place where a dead body is put. Yet, it does have, in some passages, a connotation of Hell. William G. T. Shedd sees that there is a connection with the word sheol and a saint in the Old Testament. Whenever the word is used of saints, sheol only means the grave. When the word is used of the unrighteous it means a place of judgment and punishment. However, this view is difficult to prove. Charles Hodge responds to this view in his Systematic Theology by saying, “ Sheol is represented as the general receptacle or abode of departed spirits, who were there in a state of unconsciousness; some in a state of misery, others in a state of happiness. In all points the pagan idea of hades corresponds to the scriptural idea of Sheol” (Walvoord).
Job describes sheol as a place of darkness. David in many of his psalms mentions the grave or sheol. This is contrasted with the light that the righteous live in. Life after death too is one full of blessing for the righteous. Where the unrighteous are cursed with eternal darkness, which is associated with unpleasantness, the righteous are blessed with eternal light. Light has the connotation of goodness, blessing, and hope. It is a glorious hope of the saint in the Old and New Testament to be in Heaven. The wicked will be punished as seen in Isaiah 14, where divine judgment is greeted by the grave.
Deuteronomy 32:22, “For a fire has been kindled by my wrath, one that burns to the realm of death below.” This verse shows how there is a fire that will punish the wicked. God’s wrath demands punishment of the wicked. If the wicked were to go unpunished God would cease to be a Just God. Psalm 94:23 is a helpful verse that shows that the LORD will destroy the wicked. This is not just a single moment in the future where God blots out the souls of the wicked. This is the eternal conscious torment that the wicked must experience. What of the word eternal or forever? What meaning do these words carry? Walvoord says that some do not view forever as an infinite duration of time in every circumstance in the Old Testament. However, the context limits the duration of time. However, neither the Old or New Testament mention the duration of time relating to the punishment of the wicked. There is life after death for both the wicked and the righteous says the literalist. A life of blessing and joy for the righteous, but a life of despair and torture for the wicked.
The New Testament uses more words with regard to life after death for the lost. Hades, gehenna, and tartaros are all words relating to hell in the New Testament. Hades in general seems to be equal in definition to sheol. It seems again like there is no clear understanding of what the state of Hades is. However, it is clear that this word is used of the “temporary place of the unsaved after death”, yet has no relationship to the lake of fire and eternal conscious punishment as seen in Revelation 20. Gehenna on the other hand does have the implication of Hell and with it eternal punishment. This word is used in three out of the four gospels as well as in James. Matthew 5:22, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the gehenna of fire.” Jesus uses this word to show that there will be a punishment for sin, specifically in this case, anger. This punishment will not be on the earth because Jesus already describes the consequences on the earth. He describes a supernatural punishment for the sinner.
Tartaros is only used once in the New Testament. This word is found in the second epistle of Peter in the second chapter of the fourth verse. It seems to be associated with the word gehenna. The New Testament unmistakably shows that there is a literal Hell and it is the place for sinners who will have to face eternal punishment for their sins.
Jesus refers to Hell most of the time by using the word gehenna. The emphasis that he puts in this word is the punishment of the wicked after death. This punishment is eternal with the use of gehenna. As referred to in the Annihilationist’s view, this word is in reference to the valley just outside of Jerusalem where offerings were giving to Moloch. These offerings were human sacrifices. The valley was used to bury criminals and trash (Walvoord). Christ makes it clear that it would be better for a person to lose an appendage than to be thrown into Hell. Obviously, there is more to Hell than a simple destruction of the wicked. Christ must mean that Hell has an everlasting sense of terror on a man.
Paul in the first epistle to the Thessalonians states that the wicked will suffer punishment on the Day of the Lord and then will suffer later eternal destruction in 2 Thess. 1:9. Peter too, points to an everlasting punishment of man and a punishment for a time for angels. Tartaros is the Greek word here and is used in much of the non inspired writings on the apocalypse. This word was used to denote a place much worse than Hell where the wicked are to be punished (Walvoord).
Revelation 14 offers helpful evidence for the literal interpretation. “he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger; and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name” (Rev. 14:10-11). Clearly, this points to a definite point in time where the wicked will be cast into the lake of fire and tormented forever and ever. This torment is a physical pain, not a spiritualized version of a life without hope, but a life after death with eternal pain. Again in Revelation 20 the devil too will be cast into the lake of fire. The world leader and the false prophet are already there. Then the devil will be cast into it. Then the wicked who were dead will be resurrected and cast into the lake along with those already there. There was not instant destruction. The three evil characters are still being tormented and now the wicked will join forever and ever.
The real question now is, can the concept of an eternal punishment in hell be harmonized with the love and grace of God? Walvoord says, “Yes!” while Pinnock says, “Of course not!” Since good exegesis is the final factor, eternal punishment is the only proper conclusion (Walvoord). The Bible teaches this from cover to cover. The attributes of God too are displayed throughout Scripture as consistent. We humans have a “lack of understanding of the infinite nature of sin as contrasted to the infinite righteousness of God,” says Walvoord. So, even though God grants infinite grace to those who receive his truth, he must pour out eternal punishment on those who will not receive his grace.
This fire is proven throughout the Bible to be a literal fire. The story of the rich man and Lazarus for instance describes just a shadow of the true nature of man in hell. We cannot fully comprehend what hell is like, but this parable gives us a small taste. This taste should cause us to run to Christ and the salvation that he provides. This salvation is from this eternal punishment that man rightly deserves because of sin. We can harmonize the eternal punishment of sinners with God’s perfect attributes because he is God. He has the right to either destroy sinners or let them suffer everlasting punishment because of their rejection of him. He is Just in dealing with sin. He even offered a way out through Christ. Yet, these men and women ultimately reject him and his ways. This should cause us to preach the gospel with a greater desire to see more souls “won” and saved from such a treacherous destiny.
In conclusion, I agree with John Walvoord that Hell is a literal place, which is everlasting. I believe this because when reading Scripture, when it is read plainly, I clearly see that Hell is not a desirable place to end up in. If hell were just an instant destruction of the sinner what is the purpose of even following Christ? If the consequence to my sin is that I no longer have to exist and feel anything why try and live a holy life? Sin has consequences. In this life we see that death is one of the consequences, but in the next life sinners will not be rewarded with an easy way out of their bad choices. The wages of sin may be death, but in the after life the wages of sin is everlasting anguish because they rejected the One who offered them hope. They reject the Almighty because he is inconvenient to their wants and desires of this life. The next life will not be a life where they get to do what is convenient for them. It is to be a life where “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Rev. 14:11).
I believe there must be a Hell, not because God is only full of Wrath for sin, but because God in the Bible is a Holy, Righteous, Just, and Sovereign God. Since God is infinite in all of his attributes the punishment for sin must be infinite.
This is in no way a comprehenive list of arguments, but a means to begin diving into this subject.
Works used for Part One and Two:
Dixon, Larry. The Other Side of the Good News: Confronting the Contemporary Challenges to Jesus’ teaching on Hell. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1992.
Pinnock, Clark H. “The Conditional View.” Walvoord, John F., et al. Four Views on Hell. Ed. William Crockett. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. 143-166.
Walvoord, John F. “The Literal View.” Walvoord, John F., et al. Four Views on Hell. Ed. William Crockett. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. 11-28.