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One of the common tenets of Christian Universalism (as well as Annihilationism) is the non-existence of Hell as an eternal punishment for non-Christians, that everyone has been granted salvation through grace (regardless of actual belief). This is often supported by referencing issues of translation in the creation of the word "Hell" altogether, in the form of the claims that all places that "Hell" occurs in translations of the Greek refer to:

  • Sheol/Hades: the unknown, afterlife, underworld, or a grave
  • Gehenna: either a physical place in Israel, or a representation of burning (referred to by Universalists as a place of spiritual purification - of the Greek puros, a "refining fire")
  • Tartarus: warrants it's own discussion - a place where the fallen angels are kept, also present in Greek myth
  • Grave or pit

As a reference, there's a chart of some words selected in various translations here. Additionally, there are often challenges of the usage of the word "eternal" in translations, as well as the concept of fire (or the Lake of Fire) being synonymous with "Hell."

Is there a basis in scripture for the concept of an eternal "Hell" for non-Christians, and how do particular denominations and groups approach the idea of an eternal "Hell"?

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This may obviously have limited answers given that I (like most SE, I suspect) can't read Greek. Some related questions: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/144/…, christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/968/…, and christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/525/… –  Ian Pugsley Aug 31 '11 at 0:30
    
The question sounds argumentative and subjective. A better question might be "How do Presbyterians defend the concept of hell?" or "Why do Jehovah Witnesses not believe in a hell?" –  djeikyb Aug 31 '11 at 0:38
    
A good point, @djeikyb - I rephrased a little. –  Ian Pugsley Aug 31 '11 at 0:53
    
@Flimzy, I can see this maybe not relating specifically to the [heaven] tag, but how is it not [universalism]? –  Ian Pugsley Aug 31 '11 at 0:54
    
This is still a bad question. The question "is there Biblical support for Hell?" is deeply controversial. There is no One Biblical Answer judging by the length and breadth of the dispute. You can't answer this question adequately without addressing every single viewpoint in existence. Narrowing the focus should help save the question. –  djeikyb Aug 31 '11 at 1:26

4 Answers 4

Jesus Christ provides us a glimpse of Hell in Luke 16:20+. The Bible shows us that there are two entirely different realms, viz. Death and Hell [Rev 20:13]; as for the sea, Rev 6:8 reveals that Death and Hell are confined to a part of the earth during the end times, so the sea temporarily holds souls [Rev 8:9] in it during those times.

Death, Hell, and the souls therein are not eternal. All are destroyed after judgement, in the lake of fire. It is only after judgement and the creation of the new universe that God gifts immortality to the survivors [Rev 21:4]. So the souls in Death and in Hell are still mortal in the lake of fire. The angels were already immortal [Luke 20:36], so the torment of the immortal fallen ones in the lake of fire is eternal [Rev 20:10].

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I have done some research on this and I have been dwelling on the same question a bit. I have found translation to be a definite challenge to this question. I think a better question would be to ask "What is Hell?" I think Richard answers that question very well by quoting Matthew 25:41 (NIV)

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."

I found that the best definition for Hell is separation from God. You don't even need biblical evidence to see that kind of Hell, it is on earth before our very eyes.

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This is what we know of "Hell".

It's a place of darkness

Jude 1:13 (NIV)

They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.

It's a place of torment

Luke 16:28 (NIV)

for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

It's a place of fire

Jesus says in Matthew 13:42 (NIV)

They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It is eternal

Mark 9:48 (NIV)

where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

It is separation for God

Matthew 25:41 (NIV)

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

God does not want you to go to Hell

John 3:17 (NIV)

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Those are the highlights. There are many other places that support each one of those facts. I just picked a nice representative of each verse.

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Jude 1:13 uses aiōna for "forever." Luke 16:28 is a good one, actually (I'll +1) - torment (the Greek basanos) is interesting. The "fire" is puros again in Matt. 13:42, Matt. 25:41, and Mark 9:48, but the "worm" in 9:48 is skōlēx - either "worm" or "gnawing anguish," interestingly. John 3:17 can be interpreted a number of ways - you could call that a support of universalism as much as support of Hell. –  Ian Pugsley Aug 31 '11 at 1:44

Whenever folks don't like something in the Bible, there is the temptation to redefine it. History gives us so many examples of this. It is becoming quite the popular thing these days especially. I find that for those folks who are not trying to read something into the Bible, the Bible is plain on most topics. Hell is no exception:

Mat_25:46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

Rev 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Mar 9:43 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: Mar 9:44 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. Mar 9:45 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: Mar 9:46 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. Mar 9:47 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:

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"The Bible is plain on most topics" is indicating a big amount of subjectivity; interpretation is everything. That part of your answer isn't relative, and is somewhat argumentative. As far as Matthews 25:46, there's a good challenge to the translation of that here. As far as Rev 21:8 and the Mark passages, "fire" is puriand "brimstone" is theíon. –  Ian Pugsley Aug 31 '11 at 1:29
    
@Ian Pugsley - if your response "fire" is puriand "brimstone" is theíon" is intended to make it all seem a bit more palateable, I'm thinking most folks will not be persuaded. If you have to get out a special book to make your case for something that is otherwise clear to everybody, you just might be one of those redefiners I was talking about. –  The Preacher Aug 31 '11 at 1:40
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None of this is meant to persuade, and "otherwise clear to everybody" is, again, entirely subjective. I'll entertain and investigate any suggestions as far as translations of these passages that lend themselves to the concept of an eternal Hell, but as far as dismissing this question as redefinition of what the Bible means isn't really fair - that's what translations are, and it's why different denominations exist. –  Ian Pugsley Aug 31 '11 at 1:52

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