There is no evidence for everlasting torment in the Bible.

One of the traditional doctrines of the church is that the lost (the people who are not saved) will suffer everlasting torment in the lake of fire. The purpose of the current article series is to show that this is not what the Bible teaches. Rather, the lost will be annihilated, which means that they will be put out of existence.

The current article is a summary of the four articles in this series. It first presents the case for annihilationism and then responds to the arguments for everlasting torment:

The Case for Annihilationism

This section is a summary of the article, Annihilationism.

After God created man (Gen 2:7), God told Adam that he would die if he eats from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:17). Man, therefore, after he was created, was not an immortal being.

After man sinned, God drove him out of the garden to prevent him from eating from the tree of life “and live forever” (Gen 3:22). In the context of the creation account, this was a death sentence. Unless something changed, man’s death would be his final end. But something did change:

God so loved the world,
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him shall not perish,
but have eternal life
” (John 3:16).

One profound principle from this verse is that God loves this world so much that He gave “His only begotten Son.” Below, we elaborate on the following two other profound principles from this verse:

      • Those who do not believe in Jesus Christ will “perish.”
      • Whoever believes in Him shall have “eternal life.”

Non-believers will perish.

The Cambridge dictionary explains perish as “to die, especially in an accident or by being killed, or to be destroyed.” The Greek word translated “perish” in John 3:16 is apollumi. Strong’s concordance explains this as “to destroy, destroy utterly.” Consistent with these definitions, the New Testament frequently describes the fate of non-believers as dying or destruction. For example:

The gate is wide and the way is broad
that leads to destruction
the gate is small and the way is narrow
that leads to life

(Matt 7:13-14).

The wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23).

Those who do not know God …
will pay the penalty of eternal destruction

(2 Thess 1:8-9)

The day of judgment and destruction
of ungodly men
” (2 Peter 3:7);

When sin is accomplished,
it brings forth death
” (James 1:15).

There are so many texts in the New Testament that describe the end of the lost as death or destruction that I found it difficult to limit myself to the five above; one from Jesus, two from Paul, and one each from Peter and James. For other such statements, see Matt 3:12; 10:28; 13:40-42; Rom 1:29-32; 6:16, 21; 8:13; Phil 1:28; 3:18–19; 1 Cor 3:17; 1 Thess 5:2-3; 2 Peter 2:1, 3, 6; and James 4:12; 5:19.

Death is the opposite of Eternal Life.

In many of the examples above, the fate of the lost is described as “death.” That is not the first and temporary death that faces all people. Rather, it is that awful and irreversible death which only sinners will suffer, which Revelation refers to as “the second death” (Rev 20:14; cf. 20:6; 21:8). The contrast between “death” and “eternal life” in these verses indicates that this is the meaning of “death:

He who … believes Him who sent Me,
has eternal life, and …
has passed out of death into life
” (John 5:24).

The wages of sin is death,
but the free gift of God is eternal life
” (Rom 6:23).

Our Saviour Christ Jesus abolished death
and brought life and immortality to light
” (2 Tim 1:10).

For other such statements, see Romans 6:16, 21-22; 8:13; 5:21 or Galatians 6:8).

The contrast in these passages between “death” and “eternal life” is quite incompatible with the contrast between eternal life in happiness and eternal life in torment which the traditional doctrine presents.

Traditionalist Response

This article refers to people who teach everlasting torment as traditionalists.

The traditionalist response to such verses is that “destroy” should not be taken literally. However, everywhere else the verb apollumi (destroy) is used in the synoptic Gospels, it always refers to someone literally killing another (e.g., Matt 2:13, Mark 9:22). And, as another example, Peter used the same word to describe the destruction of people during the flood and the destruction of the lost in the end (2 Peter 3:6-7). Literal destruction, therefore, is indicated.

Conclusion

The Bible is literally packed with affirmations that the lost will be destroyed. However, Bible readers have become so accustomed to these statements that we simply don’t notice them anymore. We should allow these texts to say what they say, and not subconsciously edit them out.

Whoever believes in Him
shall have Eternal Life

We have now confirmed the principle from John 3:16 that non-believers will “perish.” We now come to another profound principle from that verse, namely that ONLY believers will inherit eternal life.

Scripture sees immortality as something that belongs to God alone (1 Tim 6:16); NOT something that people already have. Immortality is a gift that God will give only to those who believe in Jesus. For example:

You (the Father) gave Him (the Son) authority over all flesh,
that to all whom You have given Him,
He may give eternal life” (John 17:2).

We believe in Him FOR eternal life“ (1 Tim 1:16).

Christ Jesus … has destroyed death and has
brought life and immortality to light
” (2 Tim 1:9-10)

For other such statements, see also John 10:28; Rom 2:5-8; 6:23; 1 Cor 15:42, 50, 53, 54; Gal 6:8; 1 John 5:11; Titus 1:2; 3:7 and 1 Tim 6:12. Only God’s people will receive eternal life. The tragic consequence is that a person who rejects Christ will not receive immortality, but die the second death which God warned Adam about.  

Traditionalist Response

Traditionalists may agree that people do not have inherent (essential) immortality independent of God. However, based on texts that seem to teach everlasting torment, traditionalists argue that God will keep sinners in existence endlessly in order to punish them, as per the Belgic Confession:

The evil ones … shall be made immortal – but only to be tormented in the everlasting fire” (Belgic Confession; article 37).

But this is the opposite of what the Bible teaches, for the Bible makes it clear that sinners will be put out of existence and that only the saved will receive immortality. Therefore, the traditional interpretations of verses that seem to teach everlasting torment must be wrong, as is discussed below.

The Biblical Vision of Eternity

Above, two broad biblical themes that support annihilationism have been presented, namely:

    • The lost will be destroyed, and
    • Immortality is available but ONLY through Christ.

The current section presents a third theme in support of annihilationism, namely that a time will come when evil will NOT exist anywhere in the universe:

The fullness of the times, that is,
the summing up of all things in Christ,
things in the heavens and things on the earth
” (Eph 1:10)

Then comes the end,
when He hands over the kingdom to the God …
so that God may be all in all
” (1 Cor 15:24, 28).

In Revelation 21, God promises:

In “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1),
He will “will wipe away every tear.”
There will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain;
the first things have passed away
.” (Rev 20:4)

When God is “all in all,” His enemies will no longer exist.

Conclusions

Perversely, instead of a glorious universal kingdom unblemished by any stain, defenders of the doctrine of everlasting torment teach that creation will forever be divided into an ugly dualism of happiness and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8:12) as multitudes suffer endlessly. 

It’s not clear how heaven could ever truly be happy if it co-exists alongside an eternal hell. How could we enjoy our new existence when we know that fellow human beings — and perhaps even our loved ones — are being tormented with no hope that the pain will ever stop? 

The central revelation of God in the New Testament is that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). How could a loving God keep the damned in existence for the sole purpose of torturing them?

The warning of the Third Angel
symbolizes Permanent Destruction.

This section is a summary of the article: The warning of the third angel.

Above, we presented the case for annihilationism. The remainder of the article discusses the evidence for everlasting torment.

The warning of the third angel in Revelation 14:9-11 is one of the Bible passages that are most frequently used to justify the teaching of everlasting torment.

At the time when the image of the beast kills people who refuse to accept the mark of the beast (Rev 13:15-16), God, through His people on earth, sends three powerful messages to the people of the world, symbolized as three angels (Rev 14:6, 8, 9). The third angel (Rev 14:9) warns that any person who accepts the mark of the beast:

Will drink of the wine of the wrath of God,
… and he will be TORMENTED with fire and brimstone
in the presence of … the Lamb.
And the smoke of their torment
goes up FOREVER AND EVER;
they have no rest day and night

(Rev 14:10-11)

The only thing that is described as eternal in these verses is the rising smoke. Traditionalists argue that, if “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever,” then the lost must burn forever. We object as follows to this interpretation:

Revelation is a Symbolic Book.

First, the book of Revelation is replete with symbolism. For example, in the third angel’s message, God’s wrath is symbolized as wine that people will have to drink, and Jesus is symbolized as a Lamb. We should, therefore, expect that other aspects of the third angel’s warning are also symbolic.  

Tormented in the Presence of the Lamb

Second, the worshipers of the beast “will be tormented … in the presence of … the Lamb” (Rev 14:10). Literally interpreted, this means that the Lamb and His angels will remain in hell forever, which is ridiculous. The fact that the lost “will be tormented … in the presence of … the Lamb,” implies that they will not be tormented forever.

Language of the Judgment on Edom

Third, the warning of the third angel contains one of the strongest allusions in Revelation to the Old Testament, namely to the prophecy against Edom (Isaiah 34:9-10). Both the third angel and the prophecy against Edom predict:

      • Punishment
      • With fire and brimstone,
      • Causing smoke to rise up forever.

But the prophecy against Edom interprets its own symbols as extinction, namely that Edom “will be desolate; none will pass through it forever and ever.

Babylon’s smoke goes up forever.

Fourth, as stated, the only thing that is eternal in the third angel’s message is the rising smoke, but the smoke of the harlot Babylon also “goes up for ever and ever” (Rev 19:3). Babylon symbolizes false religion that has ruled over the kings of the world of all ages (Rev 17:3, 18). (See the article series on Babylon.) Although “the smoke from her goes up for ever and ever,” she will NOT be tormented forever because:

    • False religion is not a personal being that can be tormented.
    • Revelation states explicitly that Babylon will be completely and utterly destroyed (Rev 18:21; 17:16).

The Immediate Context

Fifth, the third angel’s warning of “the wrath of God” (Rev 14:10) is followed in chapter 14 by the outpouring of God’s wrath at Christ’s return (Rev 14:14). At that time, “the great wine press of the wrath of God” (Rev 14:19) “was trodden … and blood flowed from the wine press, as high as a horse’s bridle” (Rev 14:20). Since a warning of wrath is closely followed by a description of the execution of wrath at Christ’s return, the context requires that the warning refers to Christ’s return.

The Seven Last Plagues

Sixth, the seven last plagues are “the last, because in them the wrath of God is finished” (Rev 15:1). This implies that the wrath of God, about which the third angel warned (Rev 14:10), will be “finished” when the seven last plagues are finished. Since the seven last plagues conclude with Christ’s return (see the explanation in the detailed article), when He will put the lost to death (Rev 19:21), the wrath of God, which the third angel warns about, will be concluded with Christ’s return. It will not continue forever.

Conclusion

Read superficially, the third angel’s message does seem to talk about everlasting torment, but the following indicates that it actually teaches annihilation:

    • They are tormented in the presence of the Lamb.
    • This warning uses language from the destruction of Edom.
    • The smoke of false religion also goes up forever.
    • God’s wrath is finished with Christ’s return.

The Lake of Fire – Revelation 20:10

This is a summary of the article: The lake of fire.

The description of the lake of fire in Revelation 20:10 is also one of the main arguments for everlasting torment:

And the devil who deceived them
was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone,
where the beast and the false prophet are also;
and they will be TORMENTED day and night
FOREVER AND EVER” (Rev 20:10, NASB).

This verse has all the necessary elements for the traditional doctrine of everlasting torment – the lake of fire, conscious suffering, and eternal duration. And, only a few verses later, the lost are also thrown into the lake of fire:

If anyone’s name was not found
written in the book of life,
he was thrown into the lake of fire
” (Rev 20:15).

However, once one understands the meaning of the symbols, Revelation 20:10 is a symbolic description of annihilation:

Revelation is a book of symbols.

First, as already stated above, Revelation is replete with symbols. Examples from Revelation 20:10 are that the beast, which is tormented in the lake of fire, has seven heads and ten horns and comes up out of the sea (Rev 13:1). And the false prophet, which is tormented with it, is also a beast but it comes “up out of the earth” and has “two horns like a lamb” (Rev 13:11). (See the explanations of the beast and the false prophet below.) Given the symbolic nature of Revelation, any literal interpretation is probably wrong.

Death itself is annihilated in the Lake of Fire.

Second, at the end of Revelation 20, after the final judgment (Rev 20:11-12), death itself is also “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14). Revelation 21:4 explains this as that “there will no longer be any death.” If throwing death into the lake of fire symbolizes the annihilation of death, then all things thrown into the lake of fire are annihilated.

The Lake of Fire is the Second Death.

Third, the lake of fire is twice explicitly explained as “the second death:

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.
This is the second death, the lake of fire
” (Rev 20:14).

But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable …
their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death
” (Rev 21:8).

Referring to this death as the second death means that it is different from the first death. Some people have died twice (e.g., Lazarus in John 11:44 and the little girl in Mark 5:41) but they did not die the second death.

All dead people will be resurrected from the first death (Rev 20:5; John 5:28-29). It is only after the final great judgment (Rev 20:11, 12) that the lost are “thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15), which is the second death. This is the final and irreversible death.

The Beast is not a Personal Being.

Fourth, the beast is not a person. It comes up out of the sea and has seven heads and ten horns (Rev 13:1). Both its seven heads and ten horns are explained as “kings” (Rev 17:10, 12). Revelation 13:2 says that the beast receives something from a lion, a bear, a leopard, and a dragon. These are the four beasts of Daniel 7. Revelation 13:2, therefore, identifies the beast as a continuation of the beasts of Daniel. And Daniel’s beasts are also explained as kingdoms that exist on earth (Dan 7:17, 23). Interpreters right across the theological spectrum agree that the beast of Revelation is not a personal being that can be tormented, but a kingdom, a “system:”

    • Reformed preterist Kenneth Gentry sees the beast as representing Rome, with Nero Caesar in particular as its representative.
    • Dispensationalist/futurist John Walvoord sees it as the revived Roman Empire in the last days.
    • Idealist Sam Hamstra sees the beast representing “the spirit and empires of the world.
    • The current website interprets the beast as the eleventh horn of Daniel 7, which is the Antichrist in the Book of Daniel, and which is the church of the middle ages.

For a discussion of the identity of the beasts, heads, and horns, see:

The False Prophet is also not a Person.

Fifth. the false prophet is also a beast, namely the “beast coming up out of the earth” (Rev 13:11). To see that they are the same, compare Revelation 13:12 and 19:20. The false prophet, therefore, is also not a personal entity.

“Since the beast and the false prophet are figures for systems rather than individual persons, the permanent destruction of evil is evidently meant” (F.F. Bruce, “Revelation,” in The New Layman’s Bible Commentary, 1708.). Neither of them will exist forever, nor could they suffer conscious, sensible pain.

The Beast will be destroyed.

This is explicitly stated in Revelation:

The beast that you saw …
go to destruction” (Rev 17:8).

The beast … goes to destruction” (Rev 17:11).

We also see this in Daniel 7. As stated, the beast in Revelation is a continuation of the beasts in Daniel 7 (cf. Rev 13:2). The most important character in Daniel 7 is the eleventh horn that grows out of the fourth beast: Most of the chapter is dedicated to this evil power (cf. Dan 7:25). However, a time will come when it will be “annihilated and destroyed forever” (Dan 7:26). Since this horn is the successor of the fourth beast, when it is “annihilated and destroyed forever,” the same applies to the fourth beast itself.

To make the link to Revelation’s beast even stronger, another article shows that that evil eleventh horn is the beast of Revelation. In other words, since the horn will be “annihilated and destroyed forever,” the beast of Revelation will be annihilated.

We also see in Daniel 2 that the beast will be annihilated. That chapter describes the same four kingdoms as in Daniel 7 and confirms that, once Christ has returned, “not a trace of them was found” (Dan 2:35). God’s kingdom “will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms” (Dan 2:44).

Conclusions

Again we discover that, what superficially seems to be evidence for everlasting torment, actually is evidence for annihilation, for death itself and the systems symbolized by the beast and the false prophet are annihilated in the lake of fire. Describing this lake as the second death also implies annihilation.

The devil is cast into the lake of fire with the beast and the false prophet (Rev 20:10). He is a personal being and could suffer everlasting torment. But if impersonal or corporate entities, such as death, the beast, and the false prophet, can be thrown into the lake of fire to be annihilated, then, when Satan is thrown into that lake, he is also annihilated.

But why does the apocalypse use such awful symbols? I propose that Revelation states that the lost will be “tormented day and night forever and ever” because the utter annihilation of people, who have been created in God’s image, is a truly horrifying concept; both for God and for His people. Just think of the people around you. Every one of them is a miracle created by God. To lose even one person is an eternal tragedy. For that reason, God paints a truly frightening picture of the end of the people who accept the mark of the beast.

Other Evidence for Everlasting Torment

This section is a summary of the article, Eternal Torment. It shows that the other arguments for everlasting torment are equally weak.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Jesus told the story of a rich man who lived in splendor and a beggar named Lazarus who laid at his gate, covered with sores (Luke 16:19-20). Both men died. The rich man was “in agony in this flame” (Luke 16:22-23). This parable is often but mistakenly used to support the doctrine of eternal torment;

Firstly, this is a parable and the purpose of a parable to convey a single message. In this parable, the message is, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). The details of parables are not to be taken literally.

Secondly, it is important to note that the rich man is “in hades” (Luke 16:23). Hades is the temporary holding place where the dead are kept until the final destruction (cf. Rev 20:14). In other words, this parable says nothing about hell; the place of the ultimate destruction of the lost (Matt 10:28).

Eternal Punishment

This is possibly the most powerful argument for everlasting torment, namely that the Bible describes the state of the lost with phrases such as “eternal punishment” and “the eternal fire.” For example, Jesus said:

Then He will also say to those on His left,
‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire
These will go away into eternal punishment,
but the righteous into eternal life
” (Matt 25:41, 46).

However, for the following reasons, this also does not prove eternal torment:

ETERNAL FIRE
Jude uses “Sodom and Gomorrah” as “an example” of “the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7). In other words, Sodom and Gomorrah serve as “an example” of the “eternal fire” about which Christ warned. But the fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah but has gone out long ago.

ETERNAL PUNISHMENT
Paul wrote that “those who do not know God … will pay the penalty of eternal destruction” (2 Thess 1:8-9). This explains what type of “eternal punishment” Jesus warned about, namely destruction.

2 Thessalonians 1:8-9

These verses are often used in debates around eternal torment. Therefore, let us consider them more closely:

When the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven …
8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God …
9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction,
away from the presence of the Lord

Traditionalists argue that, since destruction cannot be an “eternal” process, the destruction here cannot be literal. However, this is a weak argument because “eternal” describes the consequence of the literal action of destruction.

Traditionalists also attempt to show that the destruction is not literal by using the NIV which translates this verse as “eternal destruction, and shut out from the presence of the Lord,” as if the “and shut out from the presence of the Lord” is a second thing which these people must suffer, which would require their continued existence.

But this is simply a wrong translation, reflecting the theology of the translators. There are no words in the Greek of this verse that can be translated as “and shut out.” Young’s Literal Translations, for example, simply reads, “destruction age-during — from the face of the Lord” (Biblehub). In other words, these people will be removed from the presence of the Lord BY being destroyed with everlasting destruction.

Daniel 12:2

Daniel 12:2 also has a phrase that contains the word “eternal” and that is used to justify eternal torment:

Many of those who sleep
in the dust of the ground will awake,
these to everlasting life,
but the others to disgrace
and everlasting contempt
” (NASB).

Traditionalists argue that, for the lost to experience “disgrace and everlasting contempt,” requires that they will always exist and be aware of their condition. However, Isaiah 66 shows that it is those who will receive “everlasting life” who will think of the lost with contempt. In Isaiah 66:

    • Those slain by the LORD shall be many” (Isa 66:16).
    • Then, the saved “will … look on the corpses of the men … and they will be an abhorrence (same word as “contempt” in Daniel 2:2) to all” (Isa 66:24).

Their worm does not die,
and the fire is not quenched.

Jesus also said:

It is better for you to enter life crippled,
than … to go … into the unquenchable fire,
[where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE,
AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED]

(Mark 9:43-44; cf. Matt 18:8-9).

This also does not prove eternal torment:

Firstly, in this warning, Jesus contrasted “life” with “the unquenchable fire,” which implies that “the unquenchable fire” is death.

Secondly, and much more importantly, Jesus here quoted the key phrase, “THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED” directly from Isaiah 66:24, which refers to corpses, and not to conscious eternal torment:

Then they will … look on the corpses of the men
Who have transgressed against Me.
For their worm will not die
And their fire will not be quenched.”

When people attempt to destroy corpses by fire, a portion of the body might remain due to a lack of fuel. And due to dry conditions, corpses sometimes dried up and the worms died before the corpse was fully consumed. That “their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched” (Isa 66:24) means that these bodies will be completely consumed. There is no suggestion in Isaiah 66 of eternal torment. Rather, it supports annihilation. Since Jesus quoted from these verses, that is how we should understand His words.

The Unquenchable Fire

In Mark 9, as quoted above, Jesus also referred to “the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43). An “unquenchable fire” is not one that will never go out. For example, in Ezekiel 20:47-48, “the blazing flame will not be quenched” but will “consume every green tree in you.” In other words, an unquenchable fire is one that is not quenched until it has fully consumed the object being burnt. In other words, “the unquenchable fire” also implies annihilation.

Summary of the Evidence

I would like to classify the arguments in this article as follows:

Evidence Supporting Annihilation

      • Man, after he was created, was not an immortal being.
      • After man sinned, God denied him access to the tree of life.
      • The NT frequently states that the lost will be destroyed.
      • Only believers will inherit eternal life.
      • In eternity, God will be all in all.
      • The third angel (Rev 14:9-11) teaches annihilation.
      • The lake of fire (Rev 20:10) also symbolizes extinction.

Once one understands the meanings of the symbols, the passages from Revelation support annihilation rather than eternal torment.

Neutral Evidence

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus speaks about hades, and not about Gehenna; the place where souls are destroyed (Matt 10:28).

The eternal fire, eternal punishment, everlasting contempt, “their worm does not die, the fire is not quenched,” and the unquenchable fire do seem to support eternal torment when read superficially, but when one considers the Old Testament background and explanations of these passages in the New Testament, these statements can also be interpreted as evidence for annihilation. For this reason, I regard these statements as neutral in this debate.

THIS MEANS THAT I FIND NO EVIDENCE IN THE BIBLE FOR EVERLASTING TORMENT.

Origin and Consequences

The idea of eternal torment results from the concept that man has an immortal soul.

At the time when non-Jews were first allowed to become Christians without first becoming Jewish proselytes (See Early Church History), it was generally accepted in the Hellenistic (Greek) philosophical tradition that people have immortal souls. Although this view is foreign to Judaism, with the influx of Gentiles, this was one of the Hellenistic ideas that crept into the church and became one of the traditional teachings of the church

Since it was thought that people have immortal souls, the church had to develop an understanding of what will happen to the immortal souls of the lost in eternity. To solve this question, the isolated texts that seem to support eternal torment provided a solution. Thus, the dominant view of hell (Gehenna), throughout Church history, is that the lost will suffer unending torment.

But behind this, we must see Satan’s hand. Continuing his first lie to the human race; “You surely will not die!” (Gen 3:4), Satan managed to convince the church that God will keep people alive for all eternity with the sole purpose of tormenting them. This presents God as the cruelest being that we are able to conceive; retaliating on his foes with an unmitigated, insatiable vengeance.

Added to that, some propose that God decides who will suffer eternal torture in hell, irrespective of what kind of people they are, and they call it the doctrine of God’s grace! How the church has become corrupted!

Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great,
she who has made all the nations drink
of the wine of the passion of her immorality” (Rev 14:8).
See, Babylon the great.)

But this deception is not without its consequences:

Firstly, how does one put your faith (trust) is such a god? Many people have become rebels due to the teaching of eternal torment.

Secondly, since man becomes like the god he worships, this teaching has helped Satan to convert the bride of Christ into the antichrist. Over the centuries, the church has killed millions of God’s true people, namely those people who resist the church’s blasphemous teachings.

Other Articles and Podcasts

For further information, see Glenn Peoples’ article, Why I am an Annihilationist (rightreason.org). That article and Glenn’s podcasts have helped me a great deal. His podcasts include the following:

On this website, the evidence for and against everlasting torment is discussed in five articles:

Related articles

Other articles series

For further reading, I recommend Jon Paulien’s commentary. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

The Biblical evidence for eternal torment actually supports annihilation.

EXCERPT

To a lay person, the evidence for eternal torment may sound convincing, but once one is informed of the meanings of the symbols, then the same evidence becomes evidence against eternal torment and for annihilation. For example, the phrase “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” may sound convincing until you learn that it is a direct quote from the Old Testament referring to dead people. Then the same phrase becomes evidence for the irreversibility of their destruction. The same applies to concepts such as the ever-rising smoke, the eternal fire, everlasting contempt, and the unquenchable fire.

PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE

Annihilationism stands in contrast to the traditional belief in eternal torture or torment and suffering in the lake of fire. Annihilationism asserts that God will eventually put the wicked out of existence, leaving only the righteous to live on in immortality.

A separate article discusses the case for annihilationism and has shown that the support for it is strong. Two other articles discuss two passages often used to argue against annihilationism (Rev 14:9-11; 20:10) and shows that:

The purpose of the current article is not to prove annihilationism but to discuss other arguments for eternal torment and to show that such arguments are weak.

THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS

Jesus told the story of a rich man who lived joyously in splendor every day and a poor man named Lazarus who laid at his gate, covered with sores (Luke 16:19-20).

Both men died. The poor man was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man “was buried.” “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22-23).

In spite of being “far away,” the rich man was able to plead with Abraham that Lazarus would bring him some water “for I am in agony in this flame.” Abraham then gave two reasons to refuse this request:

Firstly, while the rich man, during his life, had “good things,” Lazarus had “bad things.” But Lazarus is “now … being comforted here,” while the rich man is “in agony.

Secondly, between the places where Lazarus and the rich man are, there is a great chasm … so that … none may cross over.” (Luke 16:24-26)

The rich man then begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers. He said, “if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (Luke 16:27-30). But Abraham responded:

If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets,
they will not be persuaded
even if someone rises from the dead
” (Luke 16:31).

WHY THIS DOES NOT PROVE ETERNAL TORMENT.

This parable is often used to support the doctrine of eternal torment but, for the following reasons, it does not support that doctrine:

PARABLES MUST NOT BE INTERPRETED LITERALLY.

Firstly, the main point of this story is contained in verse 31, namely that that only “Moses and the Prophets” are able to lead people to repentance. That is how parables work; Jesus told a parable to convey a single message. In this case, Jesus didn’t want to speak about the afterlife. He wasn’t telling His audience what would happen in the future when they had died. That was just the ‘backdrop’ to what he wanted to say. We should not interpret the details of the parable literally.

This is confirmed by the details of the parable. While they are dead and their bodies have decayed and they are supposed to exist as spirit beings, Lazarus and the rich man still have eyes, fingers, and tongues (Luke 16:23, 24) and there is a physical “chasm” between them. Since these things are not to be taken literally, the agony which the rich man suffers “in this flame” must also not be taken as literal suffering.

Virtually all commentators will acknowledge that this was a popular story told in Jesus’ time which He adapted to His own purposes. See Glenn Peoples for details.

THIS STORY IS ABOUT HADES; NOT ABOUT HELL.

Secondly, the rich man is “in hades” (Luke 16:23). This term refers variously to the grave, to the state of death, or to the intermediate state. In Greek mythology, it refers to the underworld. According to Revelation 20, at the end of the Millennium, after the lost have been put to death (Rev 20:9) and after the great final judgment (Rev 20:11-12), “Hades were thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14). Hades, therefore, is the temporary holding place where the dead are kept until the final destruction. In other words, this parable says nothing about hell (Gehenna); the place of the ultimate destruction of the lost (Matt 10:28).

ETERNAL PUNISHMENT

Possibly the major argument for eternal torment is the fact that the Bible describes the state of the lost with phrases such as “eternal punishment” and “the eternal fire.” For example, Jesus said:

Then He will also say to those on His left,
‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire
These will go away into eternal punishment,
but the righteous into eternal life
” (Matt 25:41, 46).

Traditionalists interpret such phrases as referring to eternal torment in hell.

ETERNAL FIRE

However, Jude uses “Sodom and Gomorrah” as “an example” of “the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7) of those who “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:5). That fire destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah but has gone out long since.

Those events are recorded in Genesis 19:24-28. The LORD rained brimstone and fire upon Sodom and Gomorrah from the LORD out of heaven. The smoke went up as the smoke of a furnace. But, today, the fire is no longer burning. If that is what “eternal fire” did to Sodom and Gomorrah, then we should not assume that the “eternal fire,” which Jesus mentioned, will torment people forever.

ETERNAL PUNISHMENT

We should also not assume that the “eternal punishment,” which Jesus mentioned in Matthew 25, suggests eternal torment. Torment is one kind of punishment, but it is hardly the only thing that could be called punishment. The Bible never expressly refers to “eternal torment” or “eternal suffering.”  Another possible form of punishment is destruction. Paul wrote that “those who do not know God … will pay the penalty of eternal destruction” (2 Thess 1:8-9). This is similar to “eternal punishment,” but it’s more specific in that it actually specifies what type of punishment is in view, namely destruction.

2 THESSALONIANS 1:8-9

Let us consider these verses in more detail:

when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven
with His mighty angels in flaming fire,
8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God …
9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction,
away from the presence of the Lord
and from the glory of His power,

10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day,

DESTRUCTION CANNOT BE AN ETERNAL PROCESS.

Traditionalists argue that, since destruction cannot be an “eternal” process, the destruction cannot be literal. But this is a weak argument. If “eternal” describes the consequence of the action of destruction, then that destruction is literally “eternal destruction.” If the person has been destructed (annihilated), he no longer exists. If the person ever came back into existence, then it would not be annihilation; the consequence wouldn’t be eternal.

AND SHUT OUT FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD

Traditionalists also attempt to show that the destruction is not literal by noting that “those who do not know God … will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord.” This quote is from the NASB. Other translations are more sympathetic toward the traditional view. The NIV, for example, reads, “and shut out from the presence of the Lord” (Biblehub). 

Traditionalists then interpret this verse as saying that “eternal destruction” and “shut out from the presence of the Lord” are two different things which the lost suffers. Then “shut out from the presence of the Lord” implies their continued existence, which means that such people have not been destroyed in the literal sense.

However, the NIV perhaps reflects the view of the translators, for the Greek of this verse does not contain words that can be translated as “and shut out.” The only preposition found here is apo, which is translated as “from.” Young’s Literal Translations, for example, simply reads, “destruction age-during — from the face of the Lord” (Biblehub).

This verse, therefore, does not say that they shall suffer eternal destruction AND ALSO be shut out from the presence of the Lord, as the NIV misleadingly suggests. Rather, they will be removed from the presence of the Lord BY being destroyed with everlasting destruction. It is exclusion by means of destruction, which is how the verse reads in the AV, the NASB, the ESV and others, following the Greek much more literally than the NIV at this point.

DANIEL 12:2

Traditionalists also use Daniel 12:2 to justify their view that the lost will be tormented eternally. That verse reads as follows:

Many of those who sleep
in the dust of the ground will awake,
these to everlasting life,
but the others to disgrace
and everlasting contempt
” (NASB).

The terms “everlasting” and “eternal” are translated from identical Greek and Hebrew words.

Traditionalists argue that, for the lost to experience “disgrace and everlasting contempt,” requires that they will always exist and be aware of their condition; parallel to the “everlasting life” of the righteous.

However, Isaiah 66 shows that the person’s shame and contempt will continue to exist after the person has been annihilated because it is those who will receive “everlasting life” that will think of the lost with contempt. In Isaiah 66:

First, “the LORD will come in fire … to render His anger with fury … and those slain by the LORD shall be many” (Isa 66:15-16). This may be compared to Revelation 19:21, which says that the lost will be put to death when Christ returns.

Next, Isaiah 66 mentions “the new heavens and the new earth” (Isa 66:22), which is also mentioned in Revelation (Rev 21:1). This shows that what Isaiah is going to describe in the next verses are the conditions in eternity; similar to Daniel 12:2.

Then, in “the new heavens and the new earth,” THE SAVED:

will … look on the corpses of the men
Who have transgressed against Me.
For their worm will not die
And their fire will not be quenched;
And they will be an abhorrence to all mankind
” (Isa 66:24).

What has happened to the lost? Simple: They are dead. The word “abhorrence” is the same word translated “contempt” in Daniel 12:2; dara’ōn. Isaiah shows that it is the SAVED who will think of the lost with “disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:2). 

Please let me add immediately that this is symbolic language. Both God and God’s people will be extremely sad over the lost. It will not be contempt of the lost, but horror when they think of what sin has done to the people they loved.

THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE,
AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED

MARK 9

Jesus said:

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off;
it is better for you to enter life crippled,
than, having your two hands, to go into hell,
into the unquenchable fire,
[where THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE,
AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED]

(Mark 9:43-44; cf. Matt 18:8-9).

The next four verses repeat the same principle using different words (Mark 9:45-48). In these verses. Jesus contrasted two possible outcomes, namely “life” and “hell … the unquenchable fire.” Then He added the words in capital letters, which is a direct quote from Isaiah 66:24:

ISAIAH 66

“Then they will go forth and look
On the corpses of the men
Who have transgressed against Me.
For their worm will not die
And their fire will not be quenched;
And they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.”

Since the “life” which Jesus mentioned is the opposite of “hell … the unquenchable fire,” one might suggest that Jesus implied that “hell … the unquenchable fire” is death. Nevertheless, these verses from Mark 9 are often used to support the doctrine of eternal torment.

JESUS DID NOT TEACH ETERNAL TORMENT.

As stated, Jesus here quoted the key phrase, “THEIR WORM DOES NOT DIE, AND THE FIRE IS NOT QUENCHED” directly from Isaiah 66:24, which, as discussed above, refers to dead bodies, and not to conscious eternal torment. In that passage, God’s enemies having been killed off (Isa 66:15-16). All that remains is a pile of “the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me.” Then Isaiah wrote of these corpses:

Their worm will not die
And their fire will not be quenched
” (Isa 66:24).

There is no suggestion in Isaiah 66 that these evil persons will suffer eternally. Isaiah’s words imply that their corpses will remain indefinitely as a reminder.

Unfortunately, people that teach the traditional view of eternal torment, often quote these verses from Mark 9 without discussing the context from Isaiah 66. That is misleading. Since Jesus quoted directly from the Old Testament, and we must assign to His words the same meaning that they had in the Old Testament.

Of course, their corpses will not literally remain indefinitely. Literal worms cannot literally live eternally in fire. This is symbolic language to stress permanence and irreversibility.

GEHENNA

The Greek word which Jesus used in Mark 9, which is translated as “hell,” is Gehenna. (The Hebrew for this word is Geh-Hinnom.) This word is perhaps better left untranslated because it is a proper noun, referring to the rubbish dump outside Jerusalem where fire was always smouldering, consuming rubbish in the flames; the perfect picture of final destruction.

Jesus used Gehenna as a symbol of the final state of those who have rebelled against God. He warns us that we may find ourselves amongst them, unless we enter God’s kingdom (Mark 9:47), which He equated with “life” (Mark 9:43, 45).

THE UNQUENCHABLE FIRE

In Mark 9, in addition to the quote from Isaiah 66, Jesus referred to “the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43). That is a rephrase of the phrase from Isaiah 66:24: “their fire will not be quenched.” This is interpreted by traditionalists as, “the fire that never goes out.” But that changes the meaning of the verse. In Ezekiel 20:47-48, God used the same phrase when He said:

I am about to kindle a fire in you,
and it will consume every green tree in you,
as well as every dry tree;
the blazing flame will not be quenched

(Ezek 20:47).

This fire that “will not be quenched,” will destroy the forest, and nobody is going to save the forest, because the fire will not be quenched by anyone. An unquenched fire is simply one that is not quenched until it has consumed the object being burnt. It does not mean that the fire will never go out. It will go out when everything is consumed. Nothing is said here about eternal torment: On the contrary, the image is one of annihilation. Therefore, “the unquenchable fire” is correctly understood as death, for Jesus contrasted it with “life” (Mark 9:43).

CONCLUSION

To a lay person, the evidence for eternal torment may sound convincing, but once one is informed of the meanings of the symbols, then the same evidence becomes evidence against eternal torment and for annihilation. For example, the phrase “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” may sound convincing, until you learn that it is a direct quote from the Old Testament referring to dead people. Then the same phrase becomes evidence for the irreversibility of their destruction. The same applies to concepts such as the eternal fire, everlasting contempt and the unquenchable fire.

This article discusses the Biblical support for the doctrine of eternal torment. The two other passages used to argue for eternal torment are Revelation 14:9-11 and Revelation 20:10. Those two articles also show that, once one has a proper understanding of the symbols, such as that the beast is a symbol for the world systems that oppose God and that the ever-rising smoke symbolizes total annihilation, then these passages become support for annihilationism rather than for eternal torment.

TRANSVERSAL CONCLUSIONS

Conclusions in this article that are relevant to other discussions:

    • The Bible does not teach eternal torment.
    • Jesus’ statement that “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” is a direct quote from Isaiah 66:24, which refers to the corpses of dead people. Therefore, effectively, this statement proves annihilation.
    • An unquenched fire is one that is not quenched until it has consumed the object being burnt. It also implies annihilation.
    • The rich man, in the parable about Lazarus and the rich man, is in hades, which is the temporary holding place where the dead are kept until the final destruction.

OTHER ARTICLES AND PODCASTS

For further information, see Glenn Peoples’ article, Why I am an Annihilationist (rightreason.org). That article and Glenn’s podcasts have helped me a great deal. His podcasts include the following:

On this website, the evidence for and against eternal torment is discussed in five articles:

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