3 Perspectives on Hell

heaven and hellWe’ve seen a lot of discussion and debate in recent years on the nature of heaven, hell, and what happens after we die. But these discussions are nothing new. The church has been debating eschatology (the study of last things) ever since the time of Christ, and the Jews before Christ were discussing the same.

Scripture provides many insights about the afterlife. But when theologians combine these insights into a coherent whole, they come to some very different conclusions about what the Bible teaches. The nature and duration of hell is one such example.

late-victorian-eschatologyThe church throughout history has consistently taught that everyone dies, that they will be raised again, and that they will be judged. But Christians have never reached full agreement about what happens to the unrepentant after judgment. The three broad streams of thought on this matter are eternal torment, conditional immortality, and universal reconciliation.

Eternal torment (also called traditionalism) has been the most widely held belief about the nature of hell. According to this view, the unsaved will suffer in hell for eternity. Many who hold this view teach that hell is a place with literal fire that burns but never consumes. Others suggest that the fire should be interpreted metaphorically, representing the anguish of separation from God.

Conditional immortality (also called annihilationism) is based on the idea that human souls are not inherently immortal. Conditionalists teach that only God is immortal and that human immortality is only possible through union with Jesus Christ. Thus those who have rejected Christ will not continue living in any sense. They believe that hell is a place of complete destruction.

Universal reconciliation (also called Christian universalism) teaches that people in hell can still repent and place their faith in Christ. Unlike the pluralist version of universalism, Christian universalism affirms that Jesus is the only way to God. Adherents to this view believe that God never stops pursuing the lost, even after their judgment. So in theory, everyone can eventually be saved.

These descriptions of course are generalizations, and theologians have held any number of variations on these views. And hell is not the only debated topic—just as much discussion surrounds the nature of heaven, the New Jerusalem, and the intermediate state between death and resurrection.

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Don’t miss your chance to get a great deal on resources to study the end times, heaven, and hell. Explore all resources in the eschatology sale!

Editors note: A version of this post originally appeared on April 30, 2014.


  1. says

    This is really weird. Yesterday I published an updated version of John Wesley Hanson’s Universalism in the Early Church (http://amzn.to/1rHiAbe), also from the 19th century. I had actually had this work completed for around a year now, but had been uncertain about publishing it – and finally decided to do so yesterday…and then today not only do you guys announce a product on the same subject but also written during the same era!

    Some good selections there – I’d especially like to reread Farrar (I’ve only read some of his) and Pusey (I know by name only). I am currently working on Hanson’s The New Covenant (a universalist translation of the New Testament) and looking forward to starting W.G.T. Shedd’s work (from a traditionalist perspective) as well as Plumptre’s peace-making volume (The Spirits in Prison).

  2. says

    To understand the viewpoint of the writers of the NT it is not enough to read the OT. The OT had no daemons or eternal torment. That came in from the Scrolls of Enoch a few hundred years BCE with the concept of the prison for the angels (sons of God) mentioned in Genesis 6 that “left their first estate” to purse the American dream: marrying the daughters of men and having giant babies.

    • says

      I must disagree with Ruminator on the validity of the Scrolls of Enoch for at least three reasons.

      The righteous line of Adam’s son, Seth, taught his offspring to love and obey El Almighty (the title our Creator was known by at that time). The unrighteous line of Adam’s son, Cain, taught his offspring to hate and disobey El Almighty. Men from the righteous line began choosing to disobey El Almighty by taking beautiful wives from Cain’s unrighteous line. Their unrighteous wives exposed their children to idols and evil practices. The righteous line was dying out and disobedience grew like yeast in warm water, until the only righteous men left were Noah and his three sons.

      I have one question for all who subscribe to the sensationalist translation of Genesis 6. What is the point of angels marrying the daughters of Cain’s unrighteous line? Angels are not human and cannot be in the human righteous line of Seth regardless of who they are said to marry. Satan’s sole purpose was to defile the human righteous line of Seth, aka sons of El Almighty, so the promised seed could never come against him. (Genesis 3:15)

      Satan had already caused a third of the angels of heaven to rebel against YaHavah. Besides, angels cannot become human neither can they procreate. Jesus stated that in the end the resurrected will be like the angels, neither marrying or given in marriage proving angels do not marry. One last point I wish to make is that the Book of Enoch shows Noah’s father practicing necromancy which is very much against YaHavah.

  3. says

    I am a first time user here, but not in the Bible. Thirty-five years of study has shown me not to go beyond the parameters of what the Bible actually states and to use the Bible for testing of all doctrines and opinions. There is more to it than that, which I have stated in my books.

    On eternal torment: Does it matter what or how the separation is manifested? The important thing is that of separation from YHVH and Jesus.

    On conditional immortality: The Bible states that sinners will suffer torment, suggesting life not annihilation. It is an eternity with the knowledge that a wrong choice was made when given the chance to make the right one. Choice was given to Adam and he made the wrong one. Choice was evident in the temptation of Jesus and he made the right ones.

    On universal reconciliation: Jesus came to finish the law and prophecy. When prophecy is finished opportunity of salvation is finished.

    The house of YHVH is built to exact specifications. All of these various opinions are Satan’s attempt to alter YHVH’s plan and cause the house to be unstable and fall. It sells books though.

    My books maintain the context of the Bible without going over those parameters. They are available on my website for free in .pdf documents. http://www.fireofthelord.com

    • Wm Tanksley says

      The Bible doesn’t say that “the most important thing is separation from YHVH and Jesus.” I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that it is.

      The fact that sinners will suffer torment does not distinguish between life and annihilation. Torment can lead to death. The fact that sinners are told that they will NOT receive life suggests that you’re wrong that torment suggests life.

    • says

      After careful Bible study for a couple of years, I have found that conditional immortality has the weight of Scripture behind it – not eternal conscious torment.

      Read any of the studies I have posted and let me know if any of them stray from the truth of God’s word. If you would ignore tradition for a moment and let God’s word speak, you will see that a handful of verses does not constitute a true doctrine.


      • Steve Spearing says

        I have visited your website and thank you for it. For those to whom Conditional Immortality is a new concept to you let me encourage you to listen to Edward Fudge’s address on the subject. He also has two books that I would recommend to you as well. “The Fire That Consumes” and a book that he co-authored with Peterson, “Two Views of Hell. Fudge presents the view from Conditional Immortality and Peterson from the Traditional view.

    • Thad says

      Actually this is a First Century held view. I would rather, hold to a view from the 1st Century than a view of the line of Seth..

  4. Michael Wharton says

    I tend to agree with Ms. Lewis. Humans were made in the image of God, that image would seem to be intended to exist permanently after creation, ergo, no annihilation. Also, being made in the image of God, we have been given with the ability to choose freely. Animals operate on instinct, and humans, as physical creatures also posses instincts, such as the instinct for survival. However, can consciously choose to make moral decisions based on their desires and beliefs. In small and twisted way, then, when a human beings chooses hell over salvation he is in an odd way fulfilling his nature as a being in God’s image by exercising that God-given ability. Surely it is not the result the Lord would prefer, but I believe He allows it, just as He allows evil and rebellion to exist. But He can use even these things to bring about His ultimate will. To annihilate a sinner after death would be to destroy He own creation. By allowing the sinner to choose hell, humans exercise the gift of free will given us by God. Clearly that rejection does not please God, and is certainly not His wish, but it does exercise the ability that God gave us to love Him or reject Him. Love cannot be forced or programed or it ceases to be love. “God so loved that He gave…”. But He chose to give and could have chosen otherwise. We have that same awesome and terrifying ability.

    • Wm Tanksley says

      The Bible does not teach that being in the image of God implies that humans will live forever; that’s pure speculation, and it’s contradicted by the fact that murders are punished on the grounds that the people they murdered were in the image of God.

    • Jameson says

      If we are made in the image of God, I would imagine that we would, therefore, have the same attitude towards sin and other things. So, how do you feel about a person really trying to please God, but never quite trusting the “salvation through grace” message, being eternally tortured in unimaginable ways because they could never wrap their brain around that, even though they were “good” people and tried to please God?” My “image of God” self finds it repugnant.

      Also, does God have sex too?

  5. Dennis Caldwell says

    Very good observation! Concise yet including all the information one needs to reflect on the differing views. A good preparation before taking on this study in greater depth. It is a good idea for everyone to realize these are all believers in the Word of God and Salvation by Grace through Faith in Christ Jesus. Thanks

  6. says

    After looking a few days on the dilemma of how and when the human race was born, I gave birth to these hypotheses, thanks also to the differences found in Genesis between two stories that seem different, namely the creation of man on the sixth day and then the telling of the story about Adam and Eve. If we read the part of the genesis which explains the creation of man on the sixth day, and then the creation of Adam and Eve, you may notice a detail that differs between the two parts, suggesting that they are two completely different stories. In fact, in Genesis 1:26, we can see that man was created on the sixth day in the image and likeness of God, as in Genesis 5:1 (referring to Adam and Eve after 7 days of creation) the text of the Bible omits "image", the fact that "image" and "likeness" indicate two similar concepts but different. I think "image" means human nature able to conceive the evil, so the suffering too, instead "likeness" denotes the inherited attributes of God as love, reason and they are both still together. Hypothetically speaking, the man of the sixth day is a creature evolved from animals or some other thing, then, over time has developed the reason as we know it today, while Adam and Eve were created in the Garden of Eden and as the Bible says in Genesis 2:7 (And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground) this means that God took their dust from the young earth and has created them in the Eden where the concept of time did not exists or was limited to the 7 days, this event happened before the creation of trees as written in Genesis 2:4,5,6: (These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground and God formed man of the dust of the ground).
    In this perfect reality there was no concept of evil, so they were only a "likeness" of God. After that they were created, were expelled from Eden, only to find themselves in this situation where had passed perhaps millions of years (because in the Eden the time for them had not passed), a situation in which the man who was created in the image and likeness did not exists anymore because of a mass extinction caused by some natural catastrophe or by "something else", or perhaps still he existed, and the descendants of Adam and Eve hybridized this species, confirmed in Genesis 6:1,2,3,4, in which it says that the sons of God married the daughters of men (but may also be refers to the descendants of Cain, who turned away from God). The spirit of God will not dwell forever with the man because he also is flesh, living up to 120 years (mean that men of God who lived up to 900 years later live up to 120 years because of the fact that hybridizing with the daughters of men they are "contaminated" at the genetic level, partially losing genes that enabled him to live a lot longer).

    According to the Bible, Adam and Eve were the first humans created by God, who lived approximately 6,000 years ago. According to the science, humans existed a long time before. The two lines of thought can be easily united, thanks to the omnipotence of God, who in the beginning created humans in a reality where there was no concept of "evil". Metaphorically speaking, Adam and Eve were expelled from this heavenly reality, find himself in another reality, namely in today's reality that we all know, where there is the concept of evil, as well as that of the well, a reality where they were the first humans who experienced firsthand the life God had reserved for them (so they were the first humans in the "perfect" reality). From here it is clear that the story of Adam and Eve does not upset in the least bit the evolutionary linearity, and the seven days of creation relate to a creation took place in the reality of Adam and Eve, where everything was possible, even just create the stars, animals and everything else, without the scientific method and the time needed to have their share. In practice, they were the first men of God, whereas prehistoric man lived before Adam and Eve was a man, but it could be considered as an animal evolved from animals or by something else, which had two arms and two legs, and that may have hybridized with the descendants of Adam And Eve after they were "moved away" from the "perfect reality". God has endowed man about the concept of "infinity" and "eternity", as well as other questions can not be explained through the use of the scientific method, thus making humans free to believe in God or not, in a reality for us tricky and necessary for the construction and continuation of his project.

    • Jameson says


      I think your speculation about that stuff is as good as anybody else’s and better than many. I don’t necessarily agree with most of it, but it demonstrates just how intentionally ambiguous and vague the bible is on some subjects.

      I had an argument with someone at a grocery store who said they could not sell “near beer” to a minor because it had “less than .05% alcohol” in it. When I explained to them the simple fact that the same lable could be stamped on a coke can and be accurate, they said, “No. Coke doesn’t have ANY alcohol in it.”

      When explained that “0” is less than .05%, they could not understand what I was trying to say. She thought the label was saying it had alcohol in it, so minors could not purchase it.

      Same thing here. You’ve pointed out a lot of things Genesis does NOT say that people infer. Actually, the bible is rife with it. Smoke rising forever is interpreted to mean that the cause of the smoke is happening forever. However, An ET a few dozen light years from here with a very powerful TV antenna can watch the original episodes of I Love Lucy as I type this, though the show has been off the air for a LONG time. The broadcast, however, will go on “forever”.

  7. Fred Littlefield says

    Conditional Immortality is what the Bible supports. How could a God of Love condemn the unsaved to eternal torment? That would not be Love. This is a difficult subject, but the weight of the Bible rests on Conditional Immortality. E. Fudge did an exhaustive study on this and stood on his conviction and the church put him out for it. If the sinner is not to receive eternal life, then isn’t eternal torment eternal life? Eternal torment is against the teachings of the Bible is every way.

    • Jameson says

      I’ve seen Fudge’s video. I was pointed there from a person at Rethinkinghell.com a week or so ago. Very powerful.

  8. Jameson says

    This is a great discussion, but I must confess, regarding this and so many other controversial subjects about the bible, science, or pretty much anything else the words written by Peter Gabriel while in the band “Genesis” come to mind, and they apply to me as much as anyone else:

    “They’re trying to find themselves an audience. Their deductions need applause.”

  9. Jameson says

    So, here are my “deductions”:

    I’ve discovered something interesting: If you want to really, REALLY irritate an “anti-Christian troll” on the internet, when they say a “loving God” would not send people to eternal torment, say to them, “Where does the bible suggest such a ludicrous thing?” Next thing you know, they are arguing vehemently that that is what the bible teaches, even though their arguments are extremely easy to refute.

    I think preaching the concept of an evil and vindictive god torturing his creation for pleasure has done more damage to the spreading of the gospel than any other false teaching. It is a worldwide catastrophe.

    One of the reasons it is so hard to take is Romans 9. And the message on the fate of the lost is absurdly simple. It is all over the bible regarding worms not dying and unquenchable fire. The lost are exterminated. And the message is simply related in these two verses for anyone to see:

    John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
    Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Whoever came up with this torturous creator meme may have meant well, and hoped to “scare” people to God, but is that what God seeks? His personality is very clear in His word. We are made in His image. We have the same reaction to evil (only not as pure) as He does. It’s why the god of eternal torture is so repugnant to us. His answer is what it has been in every OT story about Him dealing with the wicked. The saved have eternal life. The lost don’t. They die. They are removed, forever, from the game board. They are no more. For all of them it would have been better if they had never been born for they would not have had to suffer the pain and humiliation of knowing what they missed out on, just before they are forever snuffed.

    • Glenn Hawkins says

      Jameson, I read your comment. Let me give you food for thought. Jesus Himself said that torment was everlasting. In Matthew 25 when He spoke about the “sheep and the goats”, He said that the sheep would be on His right and they would have eternal lift, and the goats would be on His left and He would tell them “depart from Me into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Further, the terrible scene in Revelation 20:11-15 clearly describes a place of eternal burning.

  10. Jameson says

    Why are some comments dated April of 2014 and the article dated April of 2016? Have I entered a time warp?

    • Ryan Nelson says

      Jameson, you have not entered a time warp. This is still the year 2016, and everything is going to be okay :)

      A discrete editor’s note at the bottom of the post says the post was originally published in April 2014. We do occasionally update and republish older posts that have led to interesting conversations (though we don’t do it often).

  11. says

    Scripture mentions the “Lake of Fire” five times. Two of those times it tells us what the lake stands for in symbolism. That goes along nicely with the real meaning of John 3:16. To emphasize the actual meaning of John 3:16 I like to make the point in the following way.

    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not have everlasting life in torture, but have everlasting life.” (in peace, joy and love)”


    • Jameson says

      I’m gonna hazard a guess that that was a sarcastic post, but since I don’t know you, I’m not entirely sure. :-)

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