Previously, we looked through all the Old Testament for
hell, and all associated concepts. Now, we will dig through the New Testament and do the same.
Warning: This will be a 3 part series, each consisting of a very long, exhaustive study of the subject. I am doing my best here to present as much evidence as I can and explain my reasoning for believing the way I do, so that at the end there will be little to no room for misunderstanding my position, or the logic I'm using to ground it. Ultimately, my hope is that the only disagreement possible would be that of interpretation.
At the end of our OT analysis, we could summarize and define our understanding of hell as: "A low place for the dead, particularly the wicked, for everlasting shame." There were concepts of destruction and even fire associated, but they were not concrete enough as the rest of the items in our definition, so we'll just keep them aside for now. Now, the NT translates
hell from three different words, versus the OT's one.
- Hades - which appears 10 times as hell
- Gehena - which appears 9 times (3 as
hell firein combination with
- Tartarus - which appears once
We will go through all of these verses (some of which are repeats among the gospels) and extract the concepts we see, just like we did previously.
One thing I'd like to point out before looking at the Hades verses is the single instance of it translated as
grave in Corinthians:
This is a cross-reference that goes back to a verse in Hosea 13:14, which also translates to
sheol. Personally, I don't see why both instances aren't translated to
hell as well, as the context matches the patterns of everything else we've seen used as hell so far. When you look in depth into the verses in Hosea, it turns out that both of the preceding statements are rhetorical. The NET makes this a little more clear:
So note, this judgment is happening to sinning Israel, it involves
destruction along with
death and when tied to 1 Corinthians, we see all of this is what is avoided thanks to Christ. This wraps up very nicely with the original OT verses in regard to hell (being a place of
destruction for the
wicked) and other verses about Hades translated to
hell too. So in my opinion, this verse would have more accurately been translated as such too.
In addition to the above, the Greek already has a separate word for the more typical understanding of "the grave":
mnēmeion. We see it translated as grave (8x), sepulchre (29x), and tomb (5x), so unlike the OT which would have used
sheol for hell or a "normal grave", the Greek does have a way to distinguish it. I believe that if this was "truly" meant to translate to grave, it would have used the more appropriate word. Instead, Hades (hell) was used and context between both testaments even maintains the coherency of the concepts we've established.
I bring all of this up for the simple reason that annihilationists will frequently point out that
hades "actually" means
the grave, and despite the fact that it's translated only once as such in the NT, even that single instance would probably be better off translated as hell, and so the argument really seems like a case of faulty induction. Moving on though, let's look at the other 10 verses:
The contrast to heaven and judgment of sinners highlights more than a simple grave in my opinion, but admittedly, nothing is very specific. Luke 10:15 is a repetition of this.
The "gates of the grave" doesn't really fit the idea here, as even Christians will die. It is more likely that it is in reference to that specific location for the wicked we were beginning to see in the OT.
This is one of the clearest illustrations of hell in the NT; however, I will highlight this separately later on.
Verse 27 (actually all of 25-28) is a cross-reference to Psalm 16, and is elaborated from 29 onward. The reading here is very similar to what I had elaborated earlier in regard to Hosea/Corinthians, except now Peter himself is actually explaining it! Peter confirms that David is dead, which he points out to clarify that the abandoned soul and corruption is not in reference to his literal death and physical corruption on Earth. Rather, this was actually a prophecy about Christ who experienced the resurrection (escaping corruption). Also, as we saw in the OT, it is generally the wicked who are abandoned in Sheol, and despite the fact that Christ carried our sins and paid for them, since He is perfect, He was not abandoned.
Now, it could be argued that it just means he was not abandoned in the grave again, since He was physically resurrected. I can accept that it is a possibility and the text isn't clear enough for me to definitively say my interpretation is 100%. However, I do lean away from the
grave interpretation for the reasons stated earlier: there is a better Greek word for the grave/tomb and we're seeing a specific contrast of David's natural death/corruption to Christ's supernatural miracles.
Here, Death and Hades are both personified, but looking forward:
We can see that it's more of those contained by death (state) and Hades (location) are judged, then thrown into another location (lake of fire). Not everyone "in the grave" is tossed into the lake of fire, only the (dead) wicked sinners. Now remember this is the exact duo (Death and Hades) which are referenced in Hosea/Corinthians, with the same context (judgment of the wicked).
In other words,
hades is very much in line with the OT concept of
hell, and cannot be easily dismissed as simply referring to a grave. Doing so would be throwing out the context of a myriad of verses for no good reason.
Originally the valley of Hinnom,
Gehenna was basically a burning ground for trash and corpses of the dead. However in the NT, we see some more spiritual references using Gehenna as an illustrative example.
These are actually the very first instances of
hell in the NT, and they are spoken by none other than Christ Himself. As such, it is Christ Himself who first solidly connects the concept of fire with hell, not just as He speaks of its danger, but also in His usage of Gehenna.
Also worth noting is the usage of
perish here. When you pluck/cut off a member of your body and it perishes, it does not cease to exist, it merely has been separated from the rest of the body, "destroyed" in its typical nature and left to rot on its own. This will be important to note later on.
Now let's look carefully at this verse as it is one of the supporting verses used in annihilationism. The claim is "God (absolutely) destroys body and soul in hell", i.e. it will cease to exist. However, there are some issues with the claim.
For starters, the verse never says that God does destroy anything in hell, it just says He's capable. Admittedly, it certainly would seem it is alluding to that possibility, but then we run into a second, much tougher problem:
destroy does not mean
I will dive further into that after we've completed looking at all the main Scripture first, suffice to say the word here used is
apollymi, which is the same word used just 5 chapters earlier as
perish in the "members of the body" portion.
Luke 12:5 is a repetition of this portion, but stated in a way which I think makes the point more clear:
Here the "destruction" is less about what is occurring to the soul, and more about the fact that humans can only "destroy" you at the physical level while God governs the fate of what comes after. This is not a detailed dissertation on the properties of the soul or the power of hell, it's about God's destruction being the main concern.
Knowing Christ's disgust with the Pharisees, I think it's clear "son of hell" is indicative of the wickedness and fate (as said in v33) of said proselyte and teachers.
Following the pattern of many of the previous examples, I want to point out something unique in this one in regard to the fire: it shall never be quenched. It is crucial to point out, as it is central to annihilationism, that an "unquenchable fire" does not mean the fire will burn out on its own. I believe any objective reader will have a default understanding that an unquenchable fire will just burn forever, at the very least, at an initial read.
Secondly, I don't see why an unquenchable fire has some unspoken exception that it can quench itself. Now, I understand how this conclusion can exist, and that's because of references to an unquenchable fire in Jeremiah, in reference to Jerusalem, which received judgment. Because Jerusalem clearly is not burning today, that unquenchable fire was simply too big to be quenched by man, yet burns out eventually, or so the claim goes.
Once again, I believe this to be faulty induction since a single example of a physical judgment does not (and should not) redefine every other spiritual application of the term. Hell is not meant for this physical realm, but for the realm to come. Why would we assume that fires in this realm behave exactly like those on Earth? We'll even see later on that the Bible actually says the opposite. For what it's worth, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia also states (emphasis mine):
The language is obviously highly metaphorical, conveying the idea of an awful and abiding judgment, but is not to be pressed as teaching a destruction in the sense of annihilation of the wicked. An unquenchable fire is not needed for a momentary act of destruction.
I think it is important to note (and we'll see this again in other parts) that when we are given earthly examples of spiritual things, they are only that, examples. We cannot extrapolate the exact same properties and effects of what happens in our observable universe with what we cannot observe. We'll see this again when we discuss the portion in Jude.
This is the final instance of Gehenna, and I believe at this point it is clear that the sparse allusions to fire in the OT were most definitely a property of hell. Finally, our single instance of Tartarus:
Here we actually see sinners that aren't human beings cast down to hell, bound for a future judgment as well. Now, the NET notes informs us:
“Tartarus [was] thought of by the Greeks as a subterranean place lower than Hades where divine punishment was meted out, and so regarded in Israelite apocalyptic as well” (BDAG 991 s.v.).
I don't see any particular reason to think of Tartarus as something separate from hell. That Peter uses a different word shouldn't mean much, we've already seen two others being used for what really seem to be the same destination.
I suppose it is possible that there could be a special portion in hell where these fallen angels are chained, but seeing as how we already saw those contained in hell being cast into the lake of fire, I assume everyone who receives that final fiery judgment (lake of fire) is all in the same spot (hell) to begin with, and so it is translated as such. Ultimately, even if you were to discard this verse completely under the interpretation of Tartarus being some other location, it would have no impact on everything else we've studied so far.
That wraps up the
hell word study, but not all the hell verses. There are a handful of very important ones still to cover:
This parable alludes to end time judgment. Here
hell is described as a "fiery furnace" where the occupants clearly are showing distress of some kind.
I found this one interesting since Annihilationists frequently equate
annihilation, and yet we have this verse in Hebrews where we are clearly only meant to die once. Obviously, if we read Revelation, we have to then coincide this with what we see there called "the second death." From my understanding, the contradiction only occurs if we use an Annihilationism-style definition of
death and assume that we are first "annihilated from Earth" and then "annihilated in hell." At that point, yes, something is clashing in the Scripture.
However, this may be a strawman on my part, as I don't recall reading any actual claims that this verse doesn't mean "we are only meant to physically die once." Moving onward then...
This verse has intense allusions to Daniel 12. Here we don't see the
eternal vocabulary used, but we do see to fates of those who are resurrected. Also interesting to note, although possibly figurative, is that those in the grave will hear his voice. That is very strange terminology to use if one assumed that those souls were simply asleep.
Matthew 25 really shakes up Annihilationist doctrine with 2 key verses. Recall how I stated earlier that unquenchable fire is redefined incorrectly by Annihilationists because of the physical example in Jeremiah. Well, here we see that same fire (the one of hell) with a new, clear and simple adjective applied to it:
eternal. Before I get into how powerful that is, let us continue down a few more verses:
This is Daniel 12:2 again, stated by Christ himself. Remember, this is still the same context as the verse above, which is talking about a day in the end times when the Lord will bring judgment to the resurrected. Some are resurrected into eternal life, and some to eternal punishment (the latter which we'd assume includes the contempt and shame paralleled in Daniel). Fire, punishment, and life are all using the same word for
eternal, that is
aionios in the Greek. Why is this important?
Annihilationists will frequently assert that this word means something like "an age" or something much "less" than eternity. So I did a word study on this too, and the results should speak for themselves:
- It is translated once as for ever
- 4x in reference to eternity past, before the world began.
- Every other instance is
Of those for the latter 2 instances:
- 52 of those are in reference to the life, salvation, or redemption we receive
- 2 are in reference to God himself
- 10 are in reference to attributes of God or his gifts (power, glory, kingdom, etc.)
- and 8 are in regard to the punishment, destruction, or fire
In other words, not once in the NT is
aionios ever used in a way that is not "forever and ever and ever", i.e. eternity. With the sheer strength and consistent grammatical usage of this single word, I have trouble understanding how anyone could exegete the idea that this fire will stop at any point (which by proxy, inherently links to the punishment ceasing, and culminates to the conclusion that the souls of those receiving that judgment will be "annihilated").
aionios makes on its own should, in my honest opinion, suffice in completely destroying the mere notion of "less than eternal" (which isn't to disregard everything already discussed from the OT and NT so far). It is really hard to express in words how powerful I found this revelation to be, as I also figured that perhaps (as is the case with
owlam in the OT) there was at least one verse somewhere that would use it in a figurative sense, but no. Absolutely every instance is
Unfortunately, the fact Annihilationism is even a thing clearly indicates that this realization has not hit everyone the same way, but we can and will continue piling the evidence against the doctrine.
Luke 16:19-31 contains the story of two men, one rich, the other a beggar, who die. Interesting to note is that the angels who carried the beggar took him "to Abraham's presence". I do not believe this to be heaven, as Christ could have simply said so. I'll circle back to this in a moment, but for now let's focus on the rich man's fate: hell.
The annihilationist seems to either want to completely discard this whole portion of the chapter as a mere parable, or conclude that the whole story is "simply" meant to show how unbelievers may not even be persuaded by the dead.
I find this to be a careless position to take, as it ignores so much that is packed into the story. For starters, when has Christ ever used a parable with a false reality?
The prodigal son, the sowing of the seeds, lost sheep and coin, although the exact situation may have been created for the parable's sake, not one element is fake. Settings, characters, objects, everything is based off reality, and yet simply because of the spiritual nature of this parable, and the strong disruption it causes to Annihilationism, suddenly this parable needs to be challenged for being something more? If there's anyone who can speak with authority to the (super) nature of such a place, it would be Christ, He created hell!
On top of that, why would Christ fabricate such a detailed story full of falsehoods. Surely, if hell was not a place where wicked souls are tormented in flames after death He would have not mentioned all of this. It's like instead of the lost sheep He would have used some other Greek mythological creature, perhaps the pegasus. Sure, the "lost pegasus" would ultimately have the same moral/teaching, but the natural question to ask is "Wait, so are pegasi real? Why is Jesus talking about them?"
Which brings us to the next question: Why didn't the Pharisees or disciples question anything in the story? In fact, the Pharisees interjected after the first parable mentioned in this very chapter! Meanwhile the apostles, after another saying in chapter 17, are just eating it all up with no concerns, simply the request "to increase their faith." If soul sleep was as prevalent and strong of a doctrine in that time as annihilationists may claim it was, then surely the first thing a Pharisee would have shot out was a "now wait a minute, how is he awake in hell!?" I believe that Christ can only speak truth and power, and it is why no one, even the Pharisees, could ever do anything but mumble to themselves and scheme on how to kill Jesus.
Lastly, what is the point of the story, and why go into such detail? We can agree that one teaching that arises from the story is that Scripture should suffice to persuade someone to believe. However, that is still directly tied to the consequence of what happens if you don't, as well. We can't just grab one part of the story, we have to take it as a whole. Would it not be a more complete message if we understood that all the detail of the torment, flame, separation, and helplessness is a warning of what's to come for the unrepentant sinner? So much so, that the sinner in the story, that arrives at his destination (after death) pleads to save his family by sending a risen dead man, which we are told wouldn't even work if they can't believe Moses and the Prophets.
Ignoring all the detail of hell in this chapter effectively weakens the whole consequence of the sinner, and therefore, weakens the point of the story too. If they were actually asleep, then why does any of this matter? Why not mention something regarding the final judgment like is done in so many other places (like Matthew 25)? If they were just going to be annihilated, why not mention that detail here, and clarify it once and for all?
It is all these inconsistencies that led me to believe that this story is indeed important to the doctrine of hell, and not something we can simple disregard as some sort of fable.
Returning to the "destruction" we see throughout the NT, let's do another word study. The primary word used when we see
destroy is the Greek word
apollymi. It should come as no surprise that this word very much emulates the Hebrew
abad. I counted about 14 instances where the word is used in reference to eternal things, so to properly define the usage in those instances, we should look at every other instance to get a clearer idea of how it is used.
For starters, we have a split among the majority where 31 times, the word is translated as some form of
lost, while another 31 times it is used as a replacement for a death or kill. Nine other instances are more along the lines of
ruined, and then two other instances (which just seem to be synonymous with one of the previous words).
With this usage of the word, it would be a much safer assumption that the 14 other instances are not in reference to anything related to
If you remain unconvinced, then once again let me point out that the Greek also has better words to denote
annihilation. The two words are actually only used a total of three times in the NT. First we have
analisko which is used as
consume in Luke 9:54, which is talking about summoning a fire like Elijah's (which we may recall completely destroyed Baal's prophets) and again as
consumed in Galatians 5:15. The latter verse actually uses it figuratively, as it's talking about the fighting within brothers in Christ.
Lastly, we have
exolethreuo which is translated as
utterly eliminated in Acts 3:23, where the annihilationist may jump to point out the mention of a soul, only for the verse to indicate the elimination being "from the people," i.e. he is figuratively eliminated from a group, not that the immaterial soul will cease to exist.
With neither of these two words (
exolethreuo) used in reference to any of the 14 "eternally related" destructions, and the fact that every other instance of the word actually used (
apollymi) isn't in reference to annihilation, the logical conclusion seems to be that neither
destroy means annihilation. The stronger (or at the very least, a completely valid alternative) definition seems to be along the lines of "bringing to loss or ruin," which fits perfectly with the OT usage of
abad as well.
With only Jude left, this finally completes our analysis of the NT words and concepts. We will see that everything remains coherent with the OT, and if anything a few of the concepts are strengthened, particularly the eternality and fire properties of hell.
Likewise, we continue to see the complete lack of evidence for
annihilation being associated with anything.
Therefore, I think that our definition of
hell can now be updated to something like:
A low place for the dead, particularly the wicked, for a fiery, everlasting punishment.
Another popular argument made by annihilationists, similar to the
unquenchable fire argument, is based off Jude:
Sodom and Gomorrah was punished with fire. Jude calls it eternal fire. Sodom and Gomorrah is not on fire at the moment, therefore the fire is/was not literally eternal. Admittedly, the logic followed here is simple and straight forward; however, there is more than meets the eye.
For starters, a keyword in this verse is
example. Annihilationists seem to be too quick in comparing the (physical) example as some perfect, exact recreation of what will happen in the next, spiritual realm. On top of this, annihilationists are effectively locking out the possibility of
eternity through an impossibility.
Let's assume that Jude just needed another example, something that was truly eternal, and then compare the judgment to that. What would he have chosen? There is nothing in this physical realm that is eternal. Even the "heavens and earth" are going to be recreated, so barring a comparison to God himself (something which I personally do not see Jude doing) Jude basically has no options.
Putting all that aside though, it turns out there are some historical facts that completely flip the argument back at the annihilationist. Perhaps today, in 2018, Sodom and Gomorrah isn't burning anymore, but what if it was in Jude's time?
“The fire which burns beneath the ground and the stench render the inhabitants of the neighboring country sickly and very short lived” (Book II, 48).
Diodorus Silicus, 60 - 30 BC
Diodorus was a Greek historian who noted burning fire beneath the ground of the region where Sodom and Gomorrah was. This observation was made about a century before Jude was written, and nearly 2 millenniums after the events of Sodom.
It is full of asphalt. The asphalt is blown to the surface at irregular intervals from the midst of the deep, and with it rise bubbles, as though the water were boiling; ... Many other evidences are produced to show that the country is fiery; ... and drops of pitch that emit foul odours to a great distance, and ruined settlements here and there;
(Book XVI, Chapter 2)
Strabo, 7 BC - 24 AD
Strabo, another Greek historian and geographer also noted the "boiling waters" of a "fiery country," a few decades after Diodorus.
“The fire is most difficult to extinguish, and creeps on pervading everything and smoldering. And a most evident proof of this is to be found in what is seen to this day: for the smoke which is still emitted, and the brimstone that men dig up there” (On Abraham XXVII).
Philo, 5 BC - 50 AD
Philo, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, noted the fire and smoke of this land during Jude's lifetime. Jude was written approximately between 65AD and 80AD, which pegs Philo's observation during the early life of Jude.
... although it be now all burnt up. It is related how, for the impiety of its inhabitants, it was burnt by lightning; in consequence of which there are still the remainders of that Divine fire, and the traces [or shadows] of the five cities are still to be seen, as well as the ashes growing in their fruits; which fruits have a color as if they were fit to be eaten, but if you pluck them with your hands, they dissolve into smoke and ashes. And thus what is related of this land of Sodom hath these marks of credibility which our very sight affords us." (The Wars of the Jews, IV.8.4).
Josephus, 75 AD
Most people who study the Bible will probably have heard about the historian Josephus at some point, as he is well known for being an external source who confirms various events throughout the Bible. Here we see him confirming at least the evidence of the fire, although he does not state he saw it himself. Although Josephus's observations are precisely within the writing period of Jude, it is the least clear from the set in regard to the "current" state of the land. However, we have one more...
“The south of Syria, that is, the hollow through which the Jordan flows, is a country of volcanoes: the bituminous and sulfurous sources of the Lake Asphaltis [the Dead Sea], the lava, the pumice stones thrown upon its banks, and the hot baths of Tiberius, demonstrate that this valley has been the seat of subterranean fire, which is not yet extinguished. Clouds of smoke are often observed to issue from the lake, and the new crevices to be formed upon its banks” (Travels, vol.1, pp.28l, 282)
Comte de Volney
Volney was a French historian/philosopher, who once again confirms the same things as everyone else. The amazing thing is:
Volney wrote this in 1787.
Sodom and Gomorrah had been burning for almost 4000 years. This was truly mind-blowing to read about, putting aside this whole discussion about hell and annihilationism, but knowing this now and hearing the argument that "Sodom and Gomorrah isn't burning", it really just doesn't work anymore.
As far as Jude is concerned, this fire has been burning eternally. Not even in a figurative sense, or a "the effects of the flame will be seen forever", but the literal land itself had been burning through all his life, and for way beyond too.
Going back to my previous statement about examples he could use, this was definitely the best example Jude could give to his readers. If Jude wanted to denote annihilation, he could have easily used the example in 1 Samuel 15 where Saul is commanded to
utterly destroy (
charam in Hebrew, one of the words mentioned last post would be way better for
annihilation) everyone and everything in Amalek.
Alternatively, if you require an example with fire, why not use the Baal prophets that were
consumed (which again, uses a Greek word that actually can imply annihilation)? When reading it in a historical context it is very clear now why he chose this example and would use
aionios to describe this fire as well.
After having gone through the whole Bible now, I wanted to point out something in our timeline. The last OT book, Malachi, is dated to somewhere around 420 BC. This is about a century before the Greek empire really kicked off, and yet our concept of hell has been fairly well established, with the NT basically affirming the same concept and associated attributes a few centuries later. In reality, no new ideas were added to hell, only those mentioned in the OT were elaborated or detailed more. I mention this because a common claim by those in the annihilationist camp is that our modern understanding of hell as "an eternal place of punishment" has some sort of Greek origins, when we can clearly see that idea begins in the OT.
I think it's also worth pointing out the majority of references to Hell in the NT are made by Christ himself, and I think it'd be blasphemous to think He is somehow assimilating Greek theology into his teaching.
Alternatively, if not the Greeks, then blame is placed on the Catholic church which doesn't show up for another 3 centuries after the NT is finished. Although it is true the Catholics have added/twisted doctrine to that of the Bible (by assuming Purgatory exists and that sins can be paid off through some other means but sacrifice), all of that is completely irrelevant to the clear picture we are given through Scripture.
Lastly, and probably most inaccurately of all, blame is also placed on the Dark Ages and/or Dante's Inferno a whole millennium later. Remember, everything we have looked at and stated up till now is based on Biblical truths dated no later than 60 AD. None of the doctrine (or additions, that admittedly these days may appear in some sermons) that came afterward have any bearing or relevance to what we've discussed.
So with that, we have completed our look through all of Scripture in regard to what it says about
hell. For the final part of this 3 part series, I will address some specific annihilationist arguments, both Scriptural and not, and hopefully wrap up any missing pieces so we have a thorough, complete case for anyone who wants to understand the basis for the traditional view of an eternal hell.