In a previous article, I examined the biblical teaching of hell. Though it is unpleasant (as is necessarily the nature of punishment), it demonstrates the perfect justice of God. We all have a tendency to minimize how heinous our sin really is, and how holy God is. We cannot fully appreciate salvation in Christ until we recognize just how severe a punishment we really deserve. Many people reject the idea of unbelievers spending eternity in the Lake of Fire, but such rejection is always due to emotional preferences, not biblical exegesis. Consequently, a few people posted on Facebook their disagreements with my article. Here are two of them along with my response.
Our first response comes from Hugo.
Hugo: Dear Dr Lisle, well written but your conclusions are all wrong and are not Biblical. The Bible clearly teaches that there is no eternal hell or hell fire.
Lisle: Jesus said, “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). 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” (Mark 9:43).
Hugo: The fire will burn as long as it has fuel but this “eternal fire” will burn out just like it did for Sodom and Gomorrah (our examples of endtime judgement [sic]).
Lisle: Then it wouldn’t be eternal, would it? Jesus said the fire of hell is “unquenchable” (Mark 9:43). He said that in hell, “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). The Bible teaches that Sodom and Gomorrah are (at present) “exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7). So, that fire is still burning.
If you are wondering how that can be, then you may have misunderstood this passage in Jude. The Bible here is using metonymy – a common figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another closely associated with it. In this case, the name of a place (city or nation) is used to indicate the people of that place. Jesus used metonymy when He spoke of Jerusalem “who kills the prophets” in Matthew 23:37. Obviously it is the people of Jerusalem who did this, not the inanimate land or buildings. Likewise, it is the people of Sodom and Gomorrah who are currently “undergoing the punishment of eternal fire,” not the buildings of that city which are long gone. This should be apparent since it was the people who engaged in “gross immorality” and it makes no sense to punish buildings, land, or any other inanimate object.
Hugo: God Will make an utter end to sin and sinners … His universe will be cleansed fully and sin will never rise again.
Lisle: The Scriptures teach that believers will inherit a new heaven and earth (Revelation 21:1), and it will indeed be cleansed of sin and there will be no more death (Revelation 21:4) and no more curse (Revelation 22:3). But for those who have rejected God’s offers of mercy and salvation, will they cease to exist? What does Revelation 21:8 say? At the second coming, God will separate the sheep (believers) from goats (unbelievers) (Matthew 25:29). The sheep will enter into His kingdom (Matthew 25:34), and the goats will depart into the eternal fire (Matthew 25:41). Jesus said of unbelievers, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). The Greek text uses the same word for “eternal” (αἰώνιον) for the eternal life of believers as the eternal punishment of unbelievers. According to Jesus, the duration of the believer’s life with God is the same as the duration of the unbeliever’s punishment in hell.
Hugo: Malachi clearly states that fire will burn as an oven but at last the sinners will be consumed to ashes.
Lisle: I can only guess that this is referring to Malachi 4:3. Is this passage describing the spiritual state of unbelievers, or their physical state in this world? In context (see Malachi 4:1), this refers to the coming of the Lord. It refers to the physical destruction (death) of unbelievers in this world since it refers to their “ashes” which wouldn’t make sense of their immaterial spirit. The passage does not say that their souls cease to exist. The Bible speaks of a second death experienced by unbelievers – the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14-15). Logically, this second death can only happen after the first (physical) death.
Hugo: To believe and preach that a righteous and fair and just God will eternally torment sinners for a short period of sin, is just diabolical and WRONG.
Lisle: By what standard? Your personal feelings? God is infinitely holy, and therefore any sin against Him is an infinite one. An infinitely heinous crime requires an infinite penalty. If you think that a sin against God deserves a finite penalty then you believe in a finite god. More importantly, God is the standard of what is right. Therefore, when He tells us what the right punishment is for a crime, that settles the matter.
The Israelites also thought that some of what God does is not right. How does God respond? In Ezekiel 18:25 the Lord says, “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’ Hear now, O house of Israel! Is My way not right? Is it not your ways that are not right?” When you think that something God says or does in Scripture is not right, it is your sense of morality that is wrong – not God’s. You need to abandon your ways and thoughts and turn to the Lord (Isaiah 55:7-9).
Hugo: The punishment will fit the crime – yes the fire will burn, it will hurt for as long as life is present.
Lisle: A finite penalty does not fit the infinite crime of high treason against the infinitely holy and eternal Lord. More importantly, the Bible specifically and unequivocally states that the fire of hell is eternal and unquenchable (Matthew 3:12, 25:41; Mark 9:48; Jude 7; Revelation 14:10-11, 20:10). We need to accept what God says about justice, and not reinterpret His Word to match our sinful ideas of justice.
Hugo: But it will burn out..and upon the ashes of the destroyed old world, God will recreate Our new home.
Lisle: Can you provide some Scriptures that teach that the fire of hell will burn out at some time? I have provided plenty of Scriptures that say the exact opposite.
Hugo: Come now- this teaching is as clear as the Bible can make it.
Lisle: I believe that the those in the Lake of Fire will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Do you know why I believe that? It is because the Bible says, “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). This teaching is as clear as the Bible can make it.
I really appreciate Hugo’s respectful tone and attitude, and I hope my response and the supporting Scriptures are helpful. Other critics were not quite so gracious. Mike replied with the following:
Mike: It is a terribly reasoned article, deeply flawed, and outright WRONG!
Lisle: It would have been helpful if Mike had provided some kind of support for his claim, or given some specific examples of where he thinks I made a mistake in reasoning. When someone else pointed this out, Mike replied as follows:
Mike: You couldn’t be more wrong. It is NOT biblically accurate at all when the totality of Scripture is considered and all relevant OT and NT passages are considered.
Lisle: For example? Again, no support was provided.
Mike: Lisle cherry picks here and you obviously have no knowledge of the linguistic differences that existed during the time the Scriptures were written, because according to your approach and what Scripture literally says, Sodom and Gomorrah should still be burning today and they are not.
Lisle: Mike seems not to recognize the metonymy in Jude 7. The Bible frequently uses the name of a city or nation to represent its people. When the Bible states in Matthew 3:5 that “Jerusalem was going out to him [John the Baptist] and all Judea” it obviously means the inhabitants of these locations, not the land or buildings. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, “all the city was stirred.” It’s the people of the city that were stirred. When God laments that “Israel has sinned” in Joshua 7:11, does He not mean the people of Israel?
Likewise, it is obvious from context that Jude 7 refers to the inhabitants when it states that Sodom and Gomorrah “indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh.” Was it the soil or buildings that indulged in gross immorality? Clearly not. Then neither is it the soil or buildings but rather the inhabitants that “are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” After all, would it make sense to punish buildings or land?
Mike: The fire is NOT everlasting, the EFFECTS ARE.
Lisle: That’s not what the Bible says. It teaches that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities that “indulged in gross immorality… are exhibited [present tense in the Greek] as an example in undergoing [also present tense] the punishment of eternal fire.” Jesus affirms that the fire of hell is eternal (Matthew 18:8, 25:41) and unquenchable (Mark 9:43), not merely its “effects.”
Mike: So either the Bible is lying in saying Sodom and Gomorrah are still burning (which they obviously aren’t)…
Lisle: The Bible says they are. In Jude 7, the Bible is not referring to the land or buildings of Sodom and Gomorrah, as if land or buildings could indulge in “gross immorality” and then be punished for it. Rather, the inhabitants of those lands committed egregious sin and are currently “exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” Mike’s theology is simply not compatible with Jude 7.
Mike: …OR you are not reading it properly, and I’ll wager the latter rather than the former in your case. So maybe there are idioms and figures of speech used back then that don’t mean what they do now, but you’re too stubborn to check it out and instead praise Lisle for what in reality is a very poorly written analysis derelict in a lot of details.
Lisle: Metonymy is a figure of speech, but it is not limited to ancient times or to Hebrew and Greek. We use it today when we say, “Russia attacked Ukraine” instead of, “the people in the military of Russia attacked the inhabitants of the Ukraine.”
Mike: And what you’re also saying is that you fully endorse a maniacal God who is willing to torture…
Lisle: And now we are starting to see the true reason Mike rejects eternal hell. It has nothing to do with the Scriptures, but rather with Mike thinking that such a God would be “maniacal.” He doesn’t like the biblical God, and so he substitutes a god that is more in line with Mike’s conception of morality. But any morality that does not align with God’s is wicked. This was the central problem in the book of Judges; everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6, 21:25). People tend to think their own personal sense of morality is the true standard (Proverbs 21:2, 12:15); but God requires us to accept what He says about what is right (Deuteronomy 12:8). Also, “torture” is a straw-man fallacy. Those in hell experience the torment (not “torture”) of the consequences of their own wickedness. God gives them exactly what they want – existence apart from His saving grace and mercy.
Mike: …throughout eternity and that for some ridiculous reason that doesn’t bother you,…
Lisle: So, justice is ridiculous? God’s righteousness doesn’t matter?
Mike: which makes you morally and ethically bankrupt and a little less than appropriately intelligent. And again, you happen to also be wrong.
Lisle: Now Mike begins using abusive ad hominem fallacies. This is often the last resort of a critic who cannot defend his own position in a rational way. So, he insults and belittles those who disagree with him. Children argue that way. Adults are supposed to be rational.
In response to another comment about the Bible teaching eternal torment, Mike responded as follows:
Mike: Eternally tormented until they die, which refers to annihilation.
Lisle: Then how would that be eternal? That would be like a judge saying, “You are guilty, and so I am sentencing you to LIFE in prison… for three days.” That wouldn’t make any sense. Torment that doesn’t go on forever cannot be eternal – by definition. Besides, the torment of unbelievers in the Lake of Fire comes after physical death (Revelation 20:13-15). It’s not “until they die” – they have already died. That’s why the Lake of Fire is called “the second death” (Revelation 20:14).
Mike: Just like Sodom and Gomorrah had eternal fire but are NOT burning now,…
Lisle: The Bible says they are (Jude 7). The Bible uses the present tense indicating that the inhabitants of those cities that engaged in gross immorality are at present an example of divine justice in that they are “undergoing [also present tense] the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7).
Mike: …or a slave being committed to service forever and ever when all that means is for the rest of his life and nothing more.
Lisle: There are some cults that try to argue against eternal hell by citing Deuteronomy 15:17 in which a servant who loves his master can request to be made a permanent servant, i.e. a servant forever. But it wouldn’t really be forever since his service ceases at death. So, we are told that forever doesn’t really mean forever. This of course is in a different context and even a different language from the New Testament passages dealing with eternal life and eternal condemnation. Furthermore, students of logic will recognize the critic’s error as a sweeping generalization fallacy. Critics and cults often fail to recognize that some of God’s decrees are conditional or have exceptions that are mentioned in some places and not others.
For example, God tells Noah to take two of every living, air-breathing land animal on the ark (Genesis 6:19-20). Later, God gives a more specific instruction that Noah should take seven of the animals that are considered “clean” rather than just two (Genesis 7:2). Critics have argued that Genesis 6:19-20 contradicts Genesis 7:2. But that is absurd. Genesis 7:2 merely gives more specific information – that there are a few exceptions to the “2 of each kind” rule. The fact that Genesis 6:19 and 6:20 do not mention this exception does not make them wrong.
Likewise, there are two exceptions that would make a servant’s actual service less than forever. One is death, and the other possibility is the year of Jubilee. These two exceptions are not mentioned in Deuteronomy 15:17, but that doesn’t make the verse wrong. Barring those two exceptions, the servant’s service would indeed be forever because it has no time limit.
Mike: Cast into the lake of fire means they’re LIQUIDATED and not eternally tortured.
Lisle: Where does the Bible say that? The Bible says, “and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). How is that not clear? “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night” (Revelation 14:11a).
Mike: And that you can’t see how pathetic that would be of God if that were true…
Lisle: Again we see that Mike’s reasons for rejecting the plain statements of Scripture is based on what he want’s God to be like, not what God has said about Himself.
Mike: …says volumes about your lack of character.
Lisle: This is another abusive ad hominem fallacy. There is no rational argument there.
Mike: The dead know nothing and are not suffering in hell now at all.
Lisle: That’s not what the Bible says. In context, the dead do not know what is happening under the sun, i.e., matters of this present world (Ecclesiastes 9:3-7). But those who are dead in Christ do know God and are in His presence and enjoying His glory (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-23). Jesus taught that dead unbelievers are in agony in Hades (Luke 16:22-25) as they await their final judgment into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14-15).
Mike: I’ll be coming out with a video series on hell that I will be doing with a friend probably no later than February of 2023. It will expose many fallacies that people like you entertain about hell.
Lisle: Actually, we Christians just believe what the Bible says. We do not try to distort its clear teaching that those in the Lake of Fire “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).
Mike: But in the meantime, your lack of moral and ethical fiber is astonishing.
Lisle: That’s another abusive ad hominem fallacy, completely devoid of any rational merit.
Mike: I would reject God even if He really were that way, though I know He is not.
Lisle: Again this reveals the problem. It’s not a lack of clarity in the Scriptures. God’s Word is very clear about hell. Rather, Mike doesn’t like the God the Bible describes – a God who appropriately punishes wickedness. Many people just don’t like hell. They like a god who would not punish anyone. People like a god that is gracious and merciful, but they don’t like a God who insists on perfect justice. Well, the biblical God is both merciful and also just. When people continually reject God’s offers of mercy and salvation, God is morally right to give them justice.
Mike: It is incongruous that a merciful God would do such a thing.
Lisle: Why? In any case, that’s not what the Bible says. God is perfectly just. And He is merciful. However, God is not merciful to everyone. He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy (Romans 9:15). Those who do not receive God’s mercy will experience justice – which by definition is exactly what they deserve.
Mike: Annihilation fulfills God’s role of being BOTH just and merciful.
Lisle: No. There would be no justice if God allowed the wicked to simply cease to exist without paying the penalty for their high treason against God. There are wicked people who murder hundreds of people and then shoot themselves to escape earthly justice. Does God also let them get away with it? If He did, then He would be unjust.
Mike: Eternal tormenting does not. If it were, God would be a liar in calling Himself BOTH just and merciful.
Lisle: Notice that Mike is arguing from his subjective preferences of morality rather than from Scripture. This is not permitted by Scripture (Deuteronomy 12:8). The Israelites did this too when they complained that God’s ways were not right. Ezekiel 33:17 states, “Yet your fellow citizens say, ‘The way of the Lord is not right,’ when it is their own way that is not right.” In Mike’s theology there would be no biblical justice for the wicked. They would simply cease to exist without ever having to pay for their high treason against the infinitely holy God. How would that be justice?
God would be perfectly just to allow everyone to serve their eternal sentence in hell, for we have all sinned against an infinitely holy God (Romans 3:23). But God is merciful to some and grants them repentance and salvation. What about justice for all the sins believers committed? Jesus paid for those (Hebrews 2:17; 2 Corinthians 5:21). And being God Himself, Jesus can pay an infinite penalty since His life is of infinite value.
Mike: I will be teaming up with someone early this year to present a video series on hell, which will argue not just what you do but present the Bible as a whole and historically to reveal the fallacy of the eternal tormenting position. It is ridiculous and untenable.
Lisle: There will always be people who go to great lengths to argue “the Bible doesn’t really mean what it says!” We’ve seen old earth advocates argue that “day” doesn’t really mean “day.” We’ve seen those that deny the deity of Christ argue against all the Scriptures that so plainly show that He is God. And now we are seeing people that claim the Bible doesn’t really mean “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” when it plainly says, “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).
Mike: Being foreclosed from the joys of Heaven on a permanent basis is MORE than adequate punishment.
Lisle: !!?!??! So the right punishment (according to Mike) for high treason against the King of kings is that these traitors merely don’t get an eternal reward?! That’s like saying to a mass-murderer, “Since you killed all those innocent people, we are not going to give you the Nobel Peace Prize. That should be more than adequate punishment!” Failing to give someone a reward for something good is not punishment for wickedness! In annihilationism, there is no justice and the wicked are never actually punished at all.
Punishment by definition involves suffering or pain; it is an imposed unpleasantness that serves as retribution. Those who do not exist cannot experience suffering, pain, or unpleasantness, and therefore cannot be punished.
Mike: These people can’t seem to get that eternity never ends.
Lisle: That’s a strange criticism since Mike is the one arguing that “eternal fire” and “forever and ever” really don’t mean that.
Mike: Those saved live in eternal bliss…
Lisle: Yes, but how does Mike know that? It is the Scriptures that teach that the redeemed will be with God “and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). Yet the same Scriptures teach that those in the Lake of Fire “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). Why does Mike accept the former teaching of Scripture while rejecting the latter teaching of Scripture? The Bible uses exactly the same Greek words translated “forever and ever” in Revelation 22:5 as in Revelation 20:10. Therefore, if “forever and ever” really meant “instantly annihilated,” then we would have no hope of eternal life.
Mike: and those who don’t are annihilated and enjoy NOTHING.
Lisle: That’s not what the Bible says. The Bible indicates that the wicked will be thrown into the Lake of Fire and experience torment (Revelation 20:15). “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night” (Revelation 14:11). I know that Mike really, really, really doesn’t want to accept that. But it is what the Bible directly states.
Mike: If they can’t get that and the cataclysmic result that brings, they have only themselves to blame.
Lisle: The Bible is very clear about the fate of believers and the fate of unbelievers. People just don’t like what it says.
Mike: When the unsaved die, they sleep until judgment day and are annihilated, through it will be longer and shorter depending on their level of sin.
Lisle: This position is called soul-sleep. It is taught by certain cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians. But it is not what the Bible teaches. Jesus taught that the dead in Christ are immediately in the comforting presence of the Lord, whereas the unrepentant dead are in agony in Hades (Luke 16:19-26).
Mike: Nobody can legitimately poke holes in what I say because Scripture as a whole refutes eternal tormenting.
Lisle: Where? It is the Scriptures that directly state, “and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).
Mike: I’ve now read this in its entirety. I respect Lisle on almost everything he writes, but he’s off his rocker here. It is a very illogical writing that fails to take all of Scripture into account. I’m disappointed that a man of his stature would write such a defective article both in terms of definition of terms and cherry-picking Scripture. He should be ashamed of himself.
Lisle: It would have been helpful if Mike had given at least one example of where he thinks I made a mistake in logic, mis-defined a term, or cherry-picked Scripture. But he didn’t. It would have been great if Mike had given at least one Scripture that he thinks teaches annihilationism in contrast to the many verses I listed that teach eternal hell. But he didn’t.
Mike: The God he writes about doesn’t even deserve to be worshipped.
Lisle: The God I wrote about is the biblical God. It was He Who inspired all the Scriptures I quoted.
There can be no doubt that the major English translations of Scripture (KJV, NKJV, NAS, NIV, ESV) unequivocally teach that hell is eternal – that the torment of unbelievers in the Lake of Fire is without end. We’ve seen the many Scriptures that teach this. Therefore, those who profess to believe the Bible but deny eternal hell must argue that all the major English translations of Scripture are wrong. And indeed, some critics made this argument. However, the scholars behind the major English translations were far more knowledgeable of Hebrew and Greek than these critics. And although translators are not infallible, when all of them come to the same conclusion about the meaning of a word or phrase in its immediate and larger context, we can have confidence that it has been well translated.
I considered writing an article on the Greek words used in the Scriptures that teach eternal life and eternal torment, and I may yet do that. But it is not necessary for us to know that the critics are wrong. This is because they accept that the Bible teaches eternal life for believers. And the same Greek word translated “eternal” (αἰώνιον) for the life believers enjoy with Christ in passages like John 3:16, 3:15, 3:36, 4:14, 4:36, 5:24, 5:39, 6:27, 6:40, 6:47, 6:54, 6:68, 10:28, 12:25, 12:50, 17:2, 17:3; Matthew 19:16, 19:29, 25:46; Mark 10:17, 10:30; Luke 10:25, 18:18, 18:30,… is the same word in the same form in the same context used for the eternal fire of hell mentioned in Matthew 18:8, 25:41; Jude 7, the eternal punishment of unbelievers in Matthew 25:46, eternal sin in Mark 3:29, the eternal destruction of unbelievers in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, and the eternal judgment of the wicked in Hebrews 6:2.
So, the bottom line is this:
If you reject the Bible’s teaching on eternal hell then you have no hope of eternal life.