The Christian Doctrine of Hell


The doctrine of hell refers to the future place of punishment for the enemies of God, namely Satan, his minions, and the unregenerate dead. The concept of hell is mentioned throughout the Bible. In some cases the word hell is used to describe the concept, but this is not always true. Other words and phrases are used, such as the Greek word tartaroo.[1] Moreover, English translations of the Bible render several words as hell, one Hebrew and two Greek.[2] Yet, some of these words regard merely the grave or the abode of the dead,[3] while others regard the place of future torment for the enemies of God. The scope of this article will be limited to those references which regard eternal punishment of the damned. This will be discussed in the first section of the article.

The practical implications of the doctrine of hell rely heavily upon one’s view of hell, and upon one’s greater theological framework. Universalists, for example, deny the need for hell.[4] Hell is generally rejected by antisupernaturalists.[5] Annihilationists also see problems with a literal hell.[6] This article will discuss primarily the practical implications of belief in a literal hell. This will be discussed in the second section of the article.

Section I: Description of the Doctrine of Hell


Gehenna is perhaps the New Testament word which best describes the idea of eternal torment. South of Jerusalem lays the Valley of Hinnom.[7] King Solomon built an altar there to the pagan god, Molech.*  In this place the idolatrous Israelites offered their children as live burnt “human sacrifices…in the days of Ahaz and Manasseh.”[8] Old Testament prophets warned Israel about such terrible sin. [9] Thus, the valley “came to be a symbol for eternal judgment.”[10]

The Reality of Hell

Jesus taught that hell was a reality when He said “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.[11] He also stated “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.[12] Again, Jesus said to the scribes and Pharisees “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?[13] Jesus also 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.[14] In each case, it is clear that Jesus viewed eternal judgment in hell as a reality. The apostles Peter, John and Paul also taught the reality of hell in their writings. [15]

“worm” – (Gr. – skolex) a worm which preys upon dead bodies – Strong. The idea conveyed here is that there is torment throughout eternity.

If there is no Hell, then God is not just – What justice is there if the wicked have no punishment. God is a worthless judge if every soul, wicked or righteous, receives eternal life. Where is the justice for the millions slaughtered in the holocaust of Adolph Hitler, if there is no Hell? Every time a person sins, he or she is rejecting God. This rebellion against God cannot go unpunished or God is not just. But, God is just. He is pure and cannot tolerate sin. He is the righteous judge.

Hab 1:13 Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor…

Ps 7:11 God is a righteous judge, And a God who has indignation every day.

Rom 2:1-16

If there is no Hell, then God is not loving – God’s love demands the existence of Hell. True love does not coerce, but persuades. The great Christian scholar C.S. Lewis noted that God does not force us to love Him. rather, He woos us. God does not merely override human will, he draws us to Himself. But, not everyone accepts His calling. God is loving, and God is love. The highly regarded Christian apologist Norman Geisler argues that because it is God’s nature to love, He allows people the freedom and choice to not love Him. Those who do not accept His calling, who disobey His command to love Him, who reject the wooing of His Holy Spirit, must be allowed to separate from Him. “Hell allows separation from God.”

1Jo 4:16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

Mt 22:14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

2Th 1:7-9 the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,

If there is no Hell, then man has no dignity or free will – Man must be allowed the freedom to choose or reject God. If man has no choice, man has no dignity and no free will. But, man is made in the image of God. Man is a free agent with a dignity AND a free will. God has allowed man a measure of sovereignty. In the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis wrote “There are only two kinds of people in the end, those who say to God ‘They will be done’ and those to whom God say, ‘Thy will be done.’”

Ac 7:51 “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.

Mt 23:37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.

If there is no Hell, then God is not sovereign – If there is no Hell, God has no victory over evil. If evil is allowed to continue throughout all eternity, with no judgment or punishment, then God is not in ultimate control, and He is not sovereign. But, God is sovereign. He is in control. For good to triumph over evil, there must be a Hell.

Ex 15:18 “The LORD shall reign forever and ever.”

Ne 9:6 “You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You.

Ps 93:1 The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty; The LORD has clothed and girded Himself with strength; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved. Ps 93:2 Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting.

1Co 15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 1Co 15:21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 1Co 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 1Co 15:23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 1Co 15:24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 1Co 15:25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 1Co 15:26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 1Co 15:27 For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 1Co 15:28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.

Finally, if there is no Hell, the crucifixion of Christ was meaningless – If people are not being saved from something (Hell), there is no need for a crucifixion. The incarnation of Christ was a waste of time if there is no Hell. What would be the purpose of the second person of the Trinity, Christ, coming to earth and taking upon himself human flesh, living a perfect life, and then offering that life as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for man’s sins, if there was, in fact, no penalty to be paid? But, the crucifixion was the penalty for our sins. And, that penalty is Hell.

Eze 18:4 …The soul who sins will die.

Ro 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.


What is your view of Hell? Is it offensive to you? Is it a myth? To reject Hell is to reject the Bible, to deny the sovereignty of God, His justice and His love. To reject Hell is ultimately to reject Christ. Everyone must take a position on Hell. I pray that your position is that Hell is a present reality that must be accepted and addresses by a relationship with God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the name by which we must be saved, through faith in His sacrifice on the cross. Your eternity hangs in the balance.

Nature of Hell

Where exactly is Hell?

Jer 32:35 “They built the high places of Baal that are in the valley of Ben-Hinnom to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I had not commanded them nor had it entered my mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. {#Jer 32:35}

In ancient Israel, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest made a sin offering of a bull and a goat. God instructed the priests that the carcasses of the bull and the goat were to be burned outside the camp of Israel. The reason for this was that spiritually speaking, the sins of the people had been transferred to the bull and the goat, thus making the animals’ carcasses ceremonially “unclean.” Anything considered ceremonially unclean had to be removed from the camp of Israel because God was in the midst of the camp. God’s holiness demands that uncleanness be removed from his presence. God cannot sustain fellowship with uncleanness.

Le 16:27 “But the bull of the sin offering and the goat of the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall be taken outside the camp, and they shall burn their hides, their flesh, and their refuse in the fire. {#Le 16:27}

Scripture teaches that we will spend eternity with God in the New Jerusalem. Hell is outside the heavenly city, away from the presence of the Lord.

Re 22:14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Re 22:15 Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.

2Th 1:7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, 2Th 1:8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 2Th 1:9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power, (Rev 22:14-15). C.S. Lewis called Hell the “Great Divorce” in his book of the same title. Hell divorces the wicked from God and from the righteous. Jesus explained that there is a great chasm fixed between Paradise (Abraham’s Bosom) and Hell.

Lu 16:26 ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ {#Luke 16:26}

Is God cruel? – Some imagine that Hell is a torture chamber where God exacts his revenge on the wicked. While Hell is a place of torment, it is not a place of torture. A torture chamber is a place where people are forced into torture against their will. But, Hell is the choice of those who will spend eternity there. The torment the wicked will experience will come from the realization that they are guilty and are receiving what they deserve.

The French Nobel Laureate and atheist who developed the philosophy of existentialism, Jean Paul Sartre, even noted that “the door of Hell is locked from the inside.” We are all victims of our own decisions. We have no one else to blame.

Some argue that a loving God would not allow the suffering that Hell suggests. But, God allows suffering in the world even now. Remember, suffering is not the result of God’s decisions, but man’s. Man sinned in the Garden by rejecting God when he ate of the forbidden fruit. He was cast out of Paradise and lost the presence and fellowship of God by his own choice. This “Fall of Man” brought suffering and pain into the world. Man chose suffering and man has a choice to choose eternal bliss. Man now has a way back to Paradise by partaking of the fruit of another tree, the Cross. If man rejects that fruit, he is choosing suffering in Hell for eternity.

Is Hell permanent? – Some hold a view of Hell which is known as Annihilationism. This view of Hell argues that people only suffer in Hell for a period of time, and then they simply cease to exist. But annihilation would not be punishment, but rather the relief from punishment. However, this view of Hell is not supported in Scripture. The Bible states that Hell is an eternal condition without relief.

Da 12:2 “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.

Mt 18:8 “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.

2Th 1:9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power,

Heb 6:2 “…the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.”

Jude 1:7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. {#Dan 12:2, Mt 18:8, 2Th 1:9, Heb 6:2, Jude 1:7}

Since God is eternal, and the purpose of Hell is to provide a place that is away from the presence of God, Hell must necessarily exist for all eternity.

Scripture Reading: Psalm 71

What about Purgatory? – The concept of a Purgatory is mythical, not biblical. The concept suggests that people who are not bad enough to go to Hell and are not good enough to go to Heaven when they die are instead sent to a place called “Purgatory” to be “purged” (or purified) of their sins. They receive punishment for a period of time and then they enter heaven. There are 4 problems with this concept:

First, the concept of a Purgatory implies that people fall short of heaven because of their sin. But, the Bible teaches that it is not the sin per se that disqualifies a person from entering Heaven, but rather the person’s failure to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. God has made provision for our sin, but it is up to us to embrace his provision (Christ the Lord).

John 12:48 “He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.

Matt 10:32-33 “Therefore everyone who confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven.”

Luke 9:23-26 And he was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

Second, the Bible teaches only two departments, Heaven and Hell. Jesus explained that a person in one department may not transfer to the other. This argues against a Purgatory.

Lu 16:26 ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ {#Luke 16:26}

Third, the Bible teaches that there is no repentance in Hell. Repentance and salvation is a gift and requires the active operation of the Holy Spirit in regeneration.

Ac 5:31 “He is the one whom God exalted to his right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.

2Ti 2:25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 2Ti 2:26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

John 16:8 “And he [the Spirit of Truth], when he comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment;

Tit 3:5 he saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to his mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.

Yet, Hell is “away from the presence of the Lord.”

2Th 1:9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power,

God’s presence is unknown in Hell, His Spirit is not active there. He does not redeem there. Let’s examine the story of Lazarus and the rich man again more thoroughly, with an eye to the notion of repentance and conversion in Hell. Is there repentance in the heart of the rich man, or is it regret? Does he ask for forgiveness? Does he ask to be saved? Is he mainly concerned with the harm done to God because of his sin against God or is he mainly concerned with the harm done to himself because of his sin? There is no repentance, no forgiveness and no salvation.

Luke 16:20-31

Fourth, if Hell could convert sinners, then we could be saved apart from faith in Christ. If this were true, then the crucifixion would have been meaningless. But, Jesus’ death on the cross was fully sufficient for our salvation. His work is complete in every sense of the word.

John 19:30,14:6

What is Limbo? – Limbo is a now defunct doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. It was abandoned by the current Pope, Benedict 16th on April 20, 2007 (Catholic News Service). The false belief, which was held by Catholics since the middle ages, was the basic concept that just or innocent people who died prior to baptism (infants, for example) went to a place between Heaven and Hell called “Limbo.” The word limbo comes from the Latin word which means “fringe” or “edge.” Limbo was thought to be a permanent place of rest on the edge of Hell. Persons who entered Limbo never got “promoted” to heaven or “demoted” to Hell. They simply lived there in eternity.

Why is this belief a myth? – Two reasons: first, the concept is based on a flawed theology. It was invented to answer some difficult questions, such as “What happens to an infant child who dies before being baptized?” Catholics believe that salvation is the result of two things: faith in Christ + doing good works. These good works consist of observing the “sacraments” (rituals which produce salvation) such as communion and baptism, and avoiding “mortal sins” (sins which produce condemnation), such as blasphemy and murder. If a person fails to observe the sacraments, such as would be the case for an infant child who died prior to baptism, that person cannot be saved and enter Heaven. Limbo was offered as a solution to this seeming problem, and to give comfort to those who lost a child in child-birth, for example. But a proper biblical theology is that salvation is produced by faith and not works – thus, baptism is not a requirement for salvation, and the concept of limbo has no real value.

Eph 2:8-9

Tit 3:5

Second, Limbo is a myth because there is no biblical basis for the belief. In fact, the Scriptures present a completely different concept altogether. Consider the thief on the cross. He was an unregenerate criminal up to the last few moments of life. He believed that Jesus was the Christ and asked Him for salvation. He believed and asked – that’s all he did. No baptism, no communion, no works of any kind. Only faith.

Luke 23:38-43

How can I have joy in Heaven when my loved ones are in Hell? – There are several responses to this question:

First, we are not more merciful than God are we? When we ask this question, we are really questioning God’s mercy. We are suggesting that we are more merciful than God. We indict God and place ourselves in the judgment seat against him. But, the Bible presents this picture of God:

Lam 3:21-25

Ex 34:6-7

Second, we can certainly enjoy a meal, even when we know others are starving, if we have tried to give them something to eat but they refused. Those in Hell were offered Heaven but have rejected God and His salvation. They received what they requested.

Ro 6:23

We’ll also forget the things past

Third, in eternity God will heal our broken-heartedness by opening our eyes to the full truth. We will understand sin and its consequences and our part in choosing our destiny far better than we do now. We will know all things and he will remove our pain.

1Co 13:9-12

Re 21:4

Practical Applications:

For the most part, man rejects God’s mercy through Christ and then denies the very idea of judgment and punishment, though he himself judges and punishes. The arrogance of man finds fault with God’s justice, and yet sees his own judgment as faultless. Jonathan Edwards said “If we had a true spiritual awareness, we would not be amazed at Hell’s severity, but at our own depravity.”

How should the Christian view Hell?

Practically speaking, Satan’s future is fixed. He will be damned. Christians need not fear him.


Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Company, 2001.

[1] 2 Peter 2:4

[2] Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Company, 2001), 547-548.

[3] Gehenna, Sheol, Hades, etc. – this needs more work and some Scripture references.

[4] Universalism holds that Christ’s atonement was unlimited. Since all sins have already been paid for through Christ’s death on the cross, every person will ultimately receive salvation. Thus, Universalists deny that anyone actually goes to hell.*

[5] Antisupernaturalism denies the possibility of the supernatural. Since Hell is not visible in the earthly realm, it is dismissed as non-existent.*

[6] Annihilationism is the belief that that the unsaved will be punished by God, but perhaps only for a limited period of time. They hold that God is too loving to punish anyone eternally. Annihilationists believe that the unsaved will be ultimately be annihilated; they will cease to exist.*

[7] The Hebrew word Hinnom means lamentation. During the time of Christ, the carcasses of dead animals were dumped there. It became the trash heap for the Jerusalem metropolitan area. Carcasses and refuse were burned there continually. Fires could be seen there day and night. The putrid stench of rotting garbage mixed with the acrid smoke of burning carcasses boiled up from the dreadful place and could be smelled for miles. It was considered the most unholy place in all of Israel.

[8] 2 Kings 16:3, 21:6

[9] Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House Company, 2001), 547-548.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Matthew 10:28

[12] Matthew 13:41

[13] Matthew 23:29-33

[14] Mark 9:43-44

[15] 2 Peter 2:4, Revelation 20:11-15, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9, and Hebrews 9:27 respectively.

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