New Testament,  Theology

Why Do Some People Believe in Hell?

picture signifying the flame of hell

The NY Times recently ran an article entitled, “Why Do People Believe in Hell?” The opening line states, “The idea of eternal damnation is neither biblically, philosophically nor morally justified. But for many it retains a psychological allure.” In other words, there is no reason to believe in hell except for some psychological brokenness.

Later in the article, the author gives the following reason why many believe in hell:

“How can we be winners, after all, if there are no losers? Where’s the joy in getting into the gated community and the private academy if it turns out that the gates are merely decorative and the academy has an inexhaustible scholarship program for the underprivileged? What success can there be that isn’t validated by another’s failure?”

Needless to say, I have never met anyone who believed in hell because they wanted to see losers in life in order to contrast their winning ways. Rather, most people who believe in hell do so for biblical and theological reasons. Although this is a much larger discussion, here are three brief reasons belief in hell makes sense.

1. Eternal punishment is described in parallel with eternal life (Matt 25:46)

It is very difficult to imagine a situation where the adjective “eternal” could mean something different in such close proximity and parallel usage. In addition to the parallel use of “eternal punishment” in Matthew 25:46, the descriptor “eternal” is also used in contexts describing eternal fire (Matt 25:41; Jude 7), eternal destruction (2 Thess 1:9), and eternal judgment (Heb 6:2). All of these contexts are associated with hell. Thus, it seems we have a firm biblical basis for seeing eternal punishment in life after death.

2. Sin against an infinitely holy God deserves infinite judgment.

Perhaps an illustration can help. It would be one thing for someone to disregard all manners and insult a child or a friend. However, it would be something else entirely for someone to insult a dignitary or a president. We would rightly be appalled at the offense of one so dignified and worthy of respect. We understand there are varying levels of offense based on the dignity and honor that is due.

In similar manner, we can’t even imagine the offense that sin brings to a perfectly holy God. Many individuals rebel against the idea of hell because they themselves have evaluated that it is unjust to eternally pay for a finite amount of sin. However, a fallen created being is in no position to determine what is just with regards to offending a perfectly holy Creator.

3. Sin continues to accumulate in hell, therefore continued judgment is needed.

Nobody is hell worships God. They are in a constant state of rebellion and anger against God. This is proven in part by the description of gnashing teeth in the judgment (Matt 13:32, 50; 22:13; 25:30; Luke 13:28). The word for gnashing teeth (βρυγμός) is used in its verbal form in Acts 7:54 where the Jews were enraged at Stephen and “ground their teeth” (βρύχω) at him. This verb is also used in the LXX in Job 16:9 and Psalm 34:16 to describe enraged humans. Thus, the picture of gnashing teeth is likely one of anger and not sorrow over sin. Because those in judgment continue to be angry and rebellious against God, judgment must continue to be carried out perpetually.

This is far from an exhaustive defense of hell. There will no doubt be a need for other posts on hell in the future. However, I simply wanted to lay out a few biblical and theological reasons why believers throughout church history have believed in hell. Never have I known a Christian to enjoy the belief in hell, nor have I met a Christian who embraced hell because he wanted to feel superior to others.

Christians believe in hell because it is taught in Scripture, and because it complements the very idea of a supremely holy Creator who demands perfect obedience from His creatures. As any Christian will be able to tell you, this is why we rejoice so greatly in Jesus Christ—He alone is the way anyone can escape an eternity in hell.

Photo by Felix Weinitschke on Unsplash

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

One Comment

  • Alan Finch

    My name is Alan Finch. JESUS became my Lord and Saviour in April of 1976.

    I spent several years diligently searching the Scriptures to uncover what really made Biblical sense in regards to God’s true message to us of what really is the Good News of the Gospel of Christ, which I did not properly understand for most of my many years as a Christian.

    My 1st 38 years as a Christian, I believed the unscriptural teaching about that there is going to be eternal torment for multitudes and multitudes of people. I then began to seriously question that teaching. I then decided to do an in-depth study of the Bible concerning this issue, and the Scriptures revealed to me that I had believed a horrible lie for all those years.

    The Lake of Fire is not a physical Lake of Fire, but a Spiritual Lake of Fire from God’s Spirit for the purpose of “RESTORATION.” God is a God of “RESTORATION,” not a God of destruction.

    In Acts 3:21 God promises that there shall be a “RESTORATION” of ALL things! What is there not to understand about this wonderful promise that God has made to us?

    The overall theme of the Bible is that God’s ultimate plan for ALL mankind is to restore, not destroy in an eternal Lake of Fire or eternal annihilation!

    In John 12:32 JESUS clearly states that He is going to draw ALL people to Himself! Not a portion of mankind, but ALL of mankind.

    In John 6:44 JESUS clearly states that nobody can come to Him except the Father draws that person to Him. For those who are true Christians, WE MUST NOT KID OURSELVES IN THE FACT THAT WE ONLY CAME TO JESUS BECAUSE GOD’S SPIRIT DREW US TO JESUS!

    In the present, and in the future, God has His own timing when He will draw each individual to Himself.
    Addressing the issue of the belief in eternal annihilation, the Lord clearly tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that He has planted eternity in our hearts. God has made us living Spirits. It is impossible for our Spirit to be destroyed.

    GOD HAS NOT FAILED IN HIS ORIGINAL PLAN FOR ALL OF MANKIND WHICH DOES NOT INCLUDE ETERNAL TORMENT OR ETERNAL ANNIHILATION. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR GOD TO FAIL IN ANYTHING!

    God worked out His plan in past Ages, God is working out His plan in the present Age that we are now living in, and God will work out His plan in future Ages to come.

    I have spent the last several years in Biblically expounding in a 32 page document that I have put together on the truth of there being no eternal suffering in a Lake of Fire for anyone. I have just explained the real LOVE of God that today’s Church just simply does not seem to grasp.

    After spending several years of diving deep into the Scriptures to uncover the Biblical truth on this subject, I would like to share these Biblical truths with others so that they can experience the same joy that I experienced which set me free from what I had previously believed for most of my life.

    If anyone would be interested in a copy of my document, email me at: ([email protected]), and I will email you a copy.

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