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I've heard particular denominations claim that although hell is definitely a real place and hell itself will burn forever, people who are condemned to hell don't actually exist forever in hell but instead are eventually destroyed, wiped out of existence. They claim that the soul being naturally immortal is a pagan idea, and that only those given eternal life will live forever.

As far as I know most mainline denominations affirm that if you are not saved then you will indeed exist forever in Hell.

My question is, what is the biblical basis to support the doctrine that people who are condemned to hell will actually continue to exist in hell for eternity (as opposed to being annihilated)? Alternatively, what is the biblical support for the soul itself being naturally immortal?

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There are indeed many verses that speak of Hell as being eternal although there aren't so many that make the clear that the punishment is also eternal. Here are a couple:

Matthew 25:46 (NIV)
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 (NIV)
8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might

(Emphasis mine.)

A look at Matthew 25:46 on Blue Letter Bible shows that the same word is used for both usages of "eternal" (and for "everlasting"). This word is also used in all the instances of "eternal life", of which there are about 40. Hence, one can safely infer that the two verses I referenced above make it clear that Hell is not a temporary suffering, but that anyone who is sent to Hell will burn forever.

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    Unfortunately it's these scriptures that they are using to support their claim. They say that the punishment being eternal means that it wont be undone, and that the everlasting destruction points to being completely eradicated from existence so that the destruction is in fact everlasting as it cannot be undone.
    – 2tim424
    Aug 29 '11 at 7:16
  • Funny about your first point; that's not what the Greek word means at all. It just means that there's no end. Yet another example of humans twisting words to support their viewpoints... Aug 29 '11 at 7:28
  • I Agree with you, by the way.
    – 2tim424
    Aug 29 '11 at 7:32
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    @El'endiaStarman How do you counter this stance about the words used "The Hebrew word "olam," and its Greek counterpart "aion," and its adjective, "aionios." Jul 30 '12 at 23:09
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    "eternal" or "everlasting" implies that the punishment will never end, not that the punishing will continue forever. If someone is punished by say branding or by amputating a hand, the punishment is permanent, it can't be ended. But it in no way implies that the recipient of this punishment will live forever. ¶ Similarly, "everlasting destruction" means just that, permanent destruction, never again to be rebuilt or repaired. ¶"‘Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched" doesn't mean that the worms are immortal or the fire will burn forever. It means they will never be killed. Jul 19 at 0:16
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The error is confusing destruction with ceasing to exist. If I destroy my car in a road smash, it will still exist.


There is no biblical basis for the view that unsaved souls are destroyed, also known as annihilation-ism.

Many use verses which in context are talking about physical death, then apply these to spiritual death. Revelation gives a good description. In Rev 19:20 we are told that the Beast (here the AntiChrist is distinct from the devil - see Rev20:10) are thrown alive into the fiery lake. Rev20:10 then says that the devil, beast and false prophet will be tormented for ever and ever. There is no suggestion of annihilation.

In Rev 20:6 we are also told that the second death has no power of those who went to eternal life in Heaven. In Rev 20:15 we are told that those who were not saved/born again Christians were also thrown into the lake of fire. Again, there is no suggestion of annihilation.

annihilation-ism is simply another way of saying that people will escape any punishment which follows the judgement and so can live as they please, because there is no punishment. You'd also have the problem explaining away the concept that Jesus bore our punishment if the punishment was annihilation. Jesus was not annihilated, but did go to Hell, and did suffer separation from his father. The devil just didn't figure on a resurrection.

Elsewhere in revelation we are told that those who during their earthly life professed faith in Jesus would be acknowledged by him before his father - ie accepted by the father into Heaven on account of Jesus's recognition that they identified themselves as accepting the sacrifice Jesus made for their sins.

Surely a no-brainier - a free pass to Heaven or eternity enduring the second death.

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  • I'm not sure I agree that dying (ceasing to exist) isn't a punishment, especially when compared to the alternative. Besides, the way I understand annihilationism is that souls will be shut out of heaven knowing exactly what they're missing, subject to despair and self-hatred until they slowly fade away into nothing (which sounds pretty horrible!). That is, they will die. If the second death has no power over believers, that implies it does have power over unbelievers. (Con't...)
    – Matthew
    Jul 29 at 15:02
  • (...Con't) However, you do bring up a good point about Christ not suffering annihilation... and you yourself provided the answer; annihilation isn't a punishment but a mercy. Unbelievers will undergo a horrible punishment, but while it is everlasting in the sense of there being no reprieve, it is not endured for eternity. Nor did Christ endure hell for eternity. Arguing that Christ's suffering must not be less than that to which unbelievers stand condemned might be an argument for annihilationism!
    – Matthew
    Jul 29 at 15:09
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The false prophet of the book of Revelation was a human being. Of him it is written:-

"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." (Rev 20:10)

There is no escaping this verse.

In God's love Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, and were designed to live in fellowship with God forever. It is part of our human make up that we will live forever, either in heaven or in hell. Between these two there is a great gulf fixed so that none can pass from one to the other (Luke 16:26). Those who start in hell will spend eternity there.

In Revelation we again read about those "who worship the beast and his image and receive his mark in his forehead or in his hand"

"they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” Revelation 14:9-11.

Revelation was written by the Apostle John, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and who heard the ministry of our Lord. And we can truly say Jesus was a hell-fire preacher: in one parable he speaks of the King saying to those on his left hand

"Depart from me ye cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt 25:41).

Jesus said if your hand, foot or eye offend you or leads you into sin then you should cut it off/out: "it is better to enter life maimed, than... to go into Gehenna"

"into the fire that never shall be quenched, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:39-50). He says these words three times.

Also he spoke of casting the unprofitable servant "into the outer darkness where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt 25:30, see also Matt 8:12) and of "eternal life" and "eternal punishment" (Matthew 25:46).

And Jesus said of Judas Iscariot that it would be better if he had never been born (Mark 14:21). But why, if after he dies he is annihilated and ceases to exist?

He also said that it "will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgement than for (Capernaum)" (Matthew 11:24). But if both Sodom and Capernaum are simply going to be annihilated, then how can one punishment possibly be more tolerable than another?

He said that we should "fear him who after he has killed has power to cast into Gehenna" (Luke 12:5). But annihilation is the desire of the unbeliever: none of them fear it, it is what they hope for - it makes no sense to warn them to fear annihilation.

Jesus was a hell-fire preacher and one day he shall return "with his mighty angels in flaming fire to take vengeance on them that do not know God and that do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (2 Thess 1:8,9).

But Jesus was not the stereotype of a hell-fire preacher: the stereotype is harsh and is portrayed as delighting that unbelievers will burn in hell forever. When Jesus saw the judgement that would come on Jerusalem he wept over it (Luke 19:41). Paul likewise felt great sorrow for the lost (Rom 9:1-3).

Jesus died that we might look to him for salvation. He took our punishment and paid all our debts.

Most are going to spend eternity in hell-fire; they are on the broad road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).

Jesus was a hell-fire preacher and requires that those who are saved must also be hell-fire preachers (Ezekiel 3:17-19).

Some say the Scriptures mean by "the second death" that unbelievers shall be annihilated. But our understanding of the word "death" must not come from a dictionary written by unbelievers, it must come from the Scriptures. On the day Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit they died (Genesis 2:17). The Holy Spirit from the very beginning of Scripture wants us to know his definition is not the unbelievers definition.

Some say that the Scriptures teach unbelievers are "destroyed" and this means "annihilated". Walter Marshall tells us "there is no Greek or Hebrew word for "annihilate"" (see link).

Bill Mounce has written a very useful article on the meaning (see links at end of this article):-

So what does apollumi mean? The gloss in my grammar lists, “I destroy, kill,” and in the middle “I perish, die.” My dictionary gives a wider range, from “to destroy, kill,” to “to make void” (the wisdom of the wise, 1 Cor 1:19), “to lose” (one’s reward, Mt 10:42), “to be lost” (referring to the lost sheep of Israel, Mt 10:6). The Bauer-Danker Lexicon lists these glosses: “1. to cause or experience destruction”; “2. to fail to obtain what one expects or anticipates, lose out on, lose”; “3. to lose something that one already has or be separated from a normal connection, lose, be lost.” This is the same range of meaning I follow in the main entry in my Dictionary (page 423).

Quite a range of meaning. You can see the general idea is one of loss and destruction, but it does not necessarily mean the utter and permanent destruction of something. Now comes the hard work. What does it mean in a particular context. (The following citations are all from the ESV.)

The demons say to Jesus, ““What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24).

Paul tells the Romans, “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (14:15).

The demons quoted in Mark 1:24 did not mean have you come to annihilate us? They would have been very happy with that. They meant "Have you come to cast us into the lake of burning sulphur (Rev 20:10), where the smoke of their torment ascends forever, and where there will be no rest day or night forever?" (Rev 14:11). This is the place where evil (Luke 11:13), cursed, unbelievers will go, "into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt 25:41).

But why does scripture speak of hell as being a place "prepared for the devil and his angels"? Maybe it is because it was prepared for them because God has given them no opportunity to avoid it: Gospel mercy has nothing to do with them. Unbelievers, on the other hand have, while they are in this life and before they stand before God in judgement, a chance to escape: if they repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, as God and man, and put their trust that he died taking the full punishment for their sins, and call on the name of the Lord, and turn away from their unbelief and sins and turn back to God, then they shall escape the everlasting flames of hell. "Turn ye, turn ye! For why will you die?" (Ezekiel 33:11) - or as C. H. Spurgeon once ended a passionate sermon crying out "Turn or burn! Turn or burn! Turn or burn!".

Some few think that unbelievers will be annihilated: they think that Jesus goofed it up and that he couldn't express himself clearly... he failed to communicate properly, if he had been a better communicator then he would have left us in no doubt. But he has left us in no doubt: there is an everlasting torment for those who do not obey the Gospel.

Articles for further study

https://www.billmounce.com/monday-with-mounce/does-apollumi-mean-%E2%80%9Cdestroy%E2%80%9D Does apollumi mean “destroy”? - By Bill Mounce (chair for the translation committee producing the ESV, and also on the committee for the NIV)

Videos for further study

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVzbh_dLq3s "The Truth About Hell (Selected Scriptures)" - by "Grace to You". A very helpful hour long sermon by John MacArthur.

https://www.metropolitantabernacle.org/Interested-in-the-Christian-Faith/Answers-to-Questions/How-could-a-God-of-love-possibly-send-people-to-he "How could a God of love possibly send people to hell?" - 13 minute video; text written by Dr Peter Masters

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YT4AqFaUDnY "Is hell conscious, continual, eternal punishment?" - 5 minute video; questions put to Walter Marshall

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