In the absence of specific instruction, I will give an answer consistent with the Church of England Commission (1995) position which is the official organ of the Anglican and Episcopal churches.
I note the following:
- Mortal man is just that, and the soul can die. Eze 18:4, 20, 24, Gen 6:3, 1 Tim 6:15, 16.
- Man is unconscious in death. Eccl 9:5, 6, 10, Ps 6:5, Isa 38:18, Ps 88:10.
- The soul can be destroyed in hell. Matt 10:28, Eze 18:4, 20, 24, Mal 4:1, 3.
- The soul cannot think after death. Ps 115:17, Job 14:2, 21, Ps 146:3, 4 “their thoughts perish, KJV).
- Man becomes immortal at the resurrection, not before. 1 Cor 15:51 – 54.
- Man only has the life given by Christ; man does not have life of himself. 1 John 5:11, 12, 1 Cor 15:21, 22, John 5:24, 25, 6:51, Luke 13:3, 2 Peter 2:12. Rom 2:7, 1 Cor 15:12-49. Man cannot have eternal life in hell! Rom 6:23.
- Man waits in the grave until the resurrection. Acts 2:29, 31, 32, John 11:11 – 14.
- The wicked will be ultimately completely destroyed and will perish, Ps 37:20, 92:7, Eze 18:20, Mal 4:1-3, Matt 10:28, Phil 3:19, 2 Thess 1:9, Heb 10:39, James 4:12, 2 Peter 2:6, 3:7.
The idea of the soul being separate from the body is not found in the Bible but is a relic of Platonic philosophy and Greek mythology. In fact, a “nephesh” is given to humans (Gen 2:7, 9:5, etc) as well as air-breathing animals (Gen 1:30, 2:19, 9:4, 10, 12, etc) and all things (Num 16:22, 27:16, etc).
The New Testament Greek word for soul is psuche which occurs about 102 times and is translated “soul”, “life”, “mind”, “heart”; again, it never indicates anything which is separate from, or can exist independently of the person.
Therefore, the eternal life inherited by the righteous is conditional upon their acceptance of Christ as their Savior (1 John 5:11, 12). We mortals can never have eternal life in any other way!
The words for hell in the Bible are: Hebrew - she’ol, which, in the NIV is uniformly translated grave, or pit. It never suggests a place of torment nor eternal punishing but rather a place of darkness, just like an ordinary grave or crypt.
In the New Testament there are just three words sometimes translated hell (but not always) and together they occur a total of only 33 times. If the idea of eternal punishment is in the New Testament it must be found in one of these places. These three words are:
Gehenna occurs 12 times - Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6. In none of these cases is eternal punishment mentioned or implied. On the contrary, Matt 10:28 speaks of the destruction of the soul in hell. In fact, gehenna was the city dump outside Jerusalem where people disposed of their rubbish. Fires were kept burning there to destroy the garbage - nothing ever returned from gehenna because it was destroyed by incineration. The unquenchable fire of Mark 9:43, 45, 47 will go out when there is nothing left to burn. (See appendix below)
A few other references do mention the idea of eternal fire: Matt 18:8 (which is identified as hell in v9), Matt 25:41, and Jude 7. Now, allowing the Bible to interpret itself, the last of these, Jude 7, clearly explains what is meant by eternal fire by providing a concrete example of Sodom and Gomorrah – the eternal fire is not still burning these wicked cities – it lasted as long as there was something to burn. That is, eternal fire is eternal in its consequences and is unquenchable while there is something to be consumed (see Matt 10:28). Therefore, the hell of gehenna is intended to destroy, not to keep souls alive in torment as per 2 Thess 1:9.
Hades occurs 10 times - Matt 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14. Again, in none of these places is eternal punishment mentioned or implied. Hades is simply the Greek word for grave or crypt being the place of the dead.
Tartaroo occurs only in 2 Peter 2:4 where no punishment, let alone eternal torment is mentioned. (There is some debate about how the Greek of this verse should be translated, but we will not discuss this here.)
There remain just two texts, which could be construed as implying eternal torment: let us examine these in context to see what they say. Neither talks about hell.
Matt 25:46, “Then they [the wicked who did not minister to the needy] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Paul tells us what this eternal punishment means in 2 Thess 1:9, “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” That is, eternal punishment is everlasting destruction! Further, notice that this verse talks only about an eternal punishment, not an eternal punishing. That is, while the punishment has eternal effects, it does not last forever.
Rev 20:10 “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” Before allowing the Scripture to explain itself here, we should note three things: (a) no person is mentioned as being eternally tormented – it is only the three beasts of Revelation, the devil, sea beast and land beast (false prophet); and (b) these beasts are clearly figurative beasts, that is we must be careful not to interpret this passage too literally or we will have mythical beasts in a literal hell – an inconsistent interpretation; and, (c) the fate of the wicked is completely clear and unambiguous – in v9 they are destroyed or devoured by God’s consuming fire. The idea of symbolic language used here is further reinforced by what is described in v14 where death and Hades are also thrown into the lake of fire. Clearly we are reading highly symbolic language if two abstract ideas like death and Hades can be thrown into the lake of fire! If the common idea that the lake of fire is Hell and Hades is also Hell, then how can Hell be thrown into itself?
However, the Scripture explains itself: in Jude 7, “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” This clearly states that the punishment of eternal fire does not mean fire that never goes out else Sodom and Gomorrah would still be burning! Rather, eternal fire is eternal in its consequences - Sodom and Gomorrah have never been rebuilt. This is emphasized in 2 Peter 2:6, “if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly.” Eternal fire only burns while there is something to burn - when the fuel (the cities in this case) is reduced to ashes and completely (eternally) destroyed, the fire goes out. Thus, the lake of fire in Rev 20 will completely destroy anything thrown into it (see v9).
Thus, if someone is consigned to hell and completely destroyed, the they will be in "outer darkness" eternally.
APPENDIX "Burn with fire"
The expression, "Burn with fire" is a quintessentially Hebraic expression. While it is true that "burn with fire" is technically redundant, it was an expression used to convey a feeling of intensity and complete destruction, ie, not merely scorched. Here is a sample:
- Ex 12:10 - And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire [= completely destroy it]
- Ex 29:14 - But the flesh of the bull and its hide and its refuse, you shall burn with fire [= completely destroy it] outside the camp; it is a sin offering
- Lev 8:32 - The remainder of the flesh and of the bread you shall burn in the fire [= completely destroy it].
- Lev 13:57 - and if it appears again in the garment, whether in the warp or in the woof, or in any article of leather, it is an outbreak; the article with the mark shall be burned in the fire [= completely destroyed].
- Lev 16:27 - But the bull of the sin offering and the goat of the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall be taken outside the camp, and they shall burn their hides, their flesh, and their refuse in the fire. [= completely destroy it]
- Deut 7:25 - The graven images of their gods you are to burn with fire [= completely destroy it]; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, or you will be snared by it, for it is an abomination to the LORD your God.
- Josh 11:6 - Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow at this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel; you shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire [= completely destroy them].
- Ps 46:9 - Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow at this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel; you shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire [completely destroy them].
- Jer 43:13 - He will also shatter the obelisks of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt; and the temples of the gods of Egypt he will burn with fire [= completely destroy].
- Eze 23:47 - The company will stone them with stones and cut them down with their swords; they will slay their sons and their daughters and burn their houses with fire [= completely destroy them].