About the afterlife
Seven contrasting views of Hell
as held by conservative Christians
Specific beliefs about Hell:
Most conservative Protestants believe that the descriptions of the afterlife throughout the Bible are
consistent. They believe that every person has eternal life; their
soul is immortal. After
death and judgment, most believe that only those who have repented of their
sins and have trusted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior will be saved and
attain heaven. (Some religious conservatives do not include the requirement for
repentance, because it is a personal activity, and they believe that no human
work is required for salvation.) Most of the world's population, the unsaved,
are believed to spend eternity in
Hell, including those who:
||Have heard the Gospel, and have rejected it.
||Have never had the opportunity to be saved because they have never
been presented with the Gospel.
But Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Protestants disagree on the precise
nature of Hell. There is a general consensus on beliefs about Hell within most
conservative Christian denominations. However, there is great diversity among
Bible appears to be ambiguous on the topic of Hell, as with so many other important Christian
beliefs. A fascinating book, "Four views on Hell," edited by William Crockett,
features himself and three other Evangelical systematic theologians debating
their conflicting personal beliefs about Hell. 1 Each of the four contributors passionately believes
that their own interpretation of Hell is accurately derived from the Biblical text.
Beliefs covered in the book are:
|Literal or orthodox view: ("Orthodox" means traditional or historical belief in this context,
not the beliefs of the Eastern Orthodox churches.)
||This has been the historical teaching of the Christian Church.
Hell is a place of punishment that lasts
forever. "There is not a single passage in the Bible that ever
states that the punishments of hell are temporarily or will be
The descriptions of the horrors of Hell that are found in the
Gospel of Matthew and in the rest of the Bible are literally true.
Everlasting and terrible levels of torture are required by "a
righteous God who demands absolute justice of the wicked." 1,
||Some inmates of Hell would be punished more severely than others,
depending on the seriousness of their crimes. This is implied in Mark
12:40 and Luke 12:47-48.
||Punishment is physical, mental, and emotional. Hell is described
in the Bible as a very dark place. Its inmates will realize that there will be no relief from their
endless punishment. These factors would add greatly to their suffering.
|Metaphorical view: |
This view has only been promoted since the 16th century.
||Hell is a place where the unsaved will spend
||The extreme pain and environmental conditions described in the Bible
are not to be
interpreted literally. The biblical descriptions of heat, bondage, darkness, thirst, worms,
pain, flogging, fire, etc. are symbolic -- perhaps symbolizing the emotional pain of being
separated from God.
Two characteristics of Hell that are mentioned throughout the
Christian Scriptures are fire and darkness. Interpreted literally, these
factors conflict. It is necessary to interpret at least one of them
symbolically; perhaps the other characteristics of Hell should also be
interpreted symbolically. As Billy Graham stated: "I have often
wondered if Hell is a terrible burning within our hearts for God, to
fellowship with God, a fire that we can never quench." 2
|Purgatorial view: |
||This is a belief taught by the Roman Catholic
Everyone, at death, is immediately judged. Those who have
committed one or more mortal sins that have not been repented and
erased through church sacraments will go directly to Hell. A very few who
have lived unusually spiritual lives will
go directly to Heaven. The rest will go to Purgatory which many Roman Catholics believe is a place of punishment -- a type of temporary Hell.
period of punishment, which may extend over many centuries or millennia, each
will become sufficiently purified. They will then be accepted into Heaven.
Purgatory was originally interpreted in symbolic terms. It later
became viewed as an actual location; a form of Hell. More recently, the
returned to a more symbolic interpretation. In 1999, Pope John Paul II
described a concept of Purgatory which is at variance with the popular
view. He stated that Purgatory "does not indicate a place but a condition of
|Alternative beliefs not covered in the book: These many views have been proposed by a minority of conservative Protestants who cannot harmonize "the doctrines of
everlasting punishment" with "a God of love and grace." As
C.H. Pinnock, an Evangelical writes: "Everlasting torture is intolerable from a
moral point of view because it pictures God acting like a bloodthirsty
monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for his enemies whom he does
not even allow to die. How can one love a God like that? I suppose one
might be afraid of him, but could we love and respect him? Would we want to
strive to be like him in his mercilessness?" 1|
Some alternative views of Hell are:
No Hell: The unsaved simply cease to exist at
death. This belief is held by a few Evangelical Christians
who believe that unsaved persons will not be punished in Hell. Some support for this concept can be found in the writings of Paul.
e.g. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death..." (KJV)|
Hell is not really that bad: C.S. Lewis, in his book "The
Great Divorce" pictures Hell as a rather drab, inconvenient,
almost pleasant place, whose inmates can take a day-trip to the
outskirts of Heaven. 4This concept avoids the picture of
God as a sadistic torturer. However, Lewis' Hell is totally at
variance with countless biblical passages.|
|Annihilation (a.k.a. Conditional immortality
& Conditionalism): The unsaved are
punished in Hell for an finite interval. The duration of one's sentence
is determined by the seriousness and frequency of one's sins while
on earth. The individual then experiences the
"second death" and cease to exist at all in any form. Supporters of this
belief must necessarily abandon the concept of an immortal soul. Some
creative interpretations of some biblical passages are needed to
fit the annihilation theory:
9:48, which refers to the worms that do not die and the fire that never
ends, could refer to the annihilation process itself, in which the bodies
of the inmates of Hell are totally destroyed after their second death.
||Matthew 25:46 mentions eternal punishment; but this could refer simply
to annihilation itself being permanent, and ending all life and
consciousness for eternity.
Revelation 14:9-11 describes the "smoke of their torment"
rising forever. But that does not necessarily mean that their torment
lasts forever; only the smoke does.
More details on Conditionalism
Universalism: Origen (182 - 251 CE) taught
that the unsaved are tortured in Hell temporarily, with a series of
graded punishments, until they are sufficiently cleansed to be accepted
into Heaven. This is the historical Universalist belief. It was
condemned as a heresy. It formed a
major part of the beliefs of the Universalist church (now merged into
the Unitarian Universalist Association). Everyone
is eventually saved and is welcomed into heaven.
These views are mutually exclusive. Only one, at most, can be
true. There appears to be no obvious way in which the truth can be determined.
Referring to Bible is not particularly useful, because intelligent, devout,
thoughtful, careful theologians have attempted this, and have produced diverse beliefs.
Zondervan, the publisher of "Four views on Hell," has also
released a series of other books in which leading Evangelical theologians debate
their beliefs about evolution/creation, the millennium, the rapture, book of
Revelation, salvation, etc. In each case, there is no consensus on these
important topics. Determining
the will of God through prayer may not be particular effective either. If
there were any way to determine the truth of Hell, Christians would have reached
a consensus centuries ago. There would not be so many diverse
opinions in existence today.
William Crockett, "Four views on Hell," Zondervan, (1992) Read
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Amazon.com has a 25% price reduction on this book. This is one of the Counterpoint
series of books published by Zondervan. Each book presents conflicting
views by Evangelical leaders on basic Christian beliefs.
Billy Graham, "There is a real Hell," Decision 25, # 7-8,
(1984-JUL/AUG) Cited in Reference 1.
Greg Garrison, "Hell: Pope's speech stirs up ancient debate,"
Religion News Service. Published in Salt Lake Tribune, 1999-SEP-4. Online
C.S. Lewis, "The great divorce," Touchstone, (1996). Read
reviews or order this book
Copyright © 2000 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 2000-APR-4
Latest update: 2012-OCT-03
Author: B.A. Robinson