Traditionalists say a lot of things about the fate of the unsaved, about what will and will not happen to them. 1 What they say for the most part is logically necessary given traditionalism being true. But what does the Bible say in comparison? 2 You might be surprised.
Will the unsaved live forever in hell?
John MacArthur said that “every human soul is immortal. No soul, no inner person in any human being, ever goes out of existence. Every human being ever born lives forever.” 3
World famous preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “Thou art a fallen creature, having only capacities to live here in sin, to live forever in torment.” 4
Every traditionalist preacher who has ever lived has said at some point, “Everybody lives forever somewhere.”
But the Bible says:
“And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken” (Genesis 3:22-23, NIV). 5 6
Will the fires of hell consume the wicked?
Every Protestant’s favorite Roman Catholic, St. Thomas Aquinas, said, “Likewise they [the wicked] shall be passible, because they shall never deteriorate and, although burning eternally in fire, they shall never be consumed.” 7
Jonathan Edwards said, “And here the bodies of all the wicked shall burn, and be tormented to all eternity, and never be consumed; and the wrath of God shall be poured out on their souls.” 8
Charles Spurgeon likewise said: “In fire exactly like that which we have on earth thy body will lie, asbestos-like, forever unconsumed, all thy veins roads for the feet of pain to travel on, every nerve a string on which the devil shall forever play his diabolical tune of ‘Hell’s Unutterable Lament.’” 9
But the Bible says:
“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries [of God]” (Hebrews 10:26-27).
Are souls immortal, or do the souls of the unsaved die?
John Gill says that “the soul in torment shall never die, or lose any of its powers and faculties.” 10
John Nelson Darby said, “Furthermore, I understand an immortal soul that is at enmity with God and excluded from Him, though once formed to own Him, being for ever miserable.” 11
Kenneth Gentry said, “And especially is man inquisitive about the future since, even though he is endowed with an immortal soul, he is a creature enmeshed in time.” 12
But the Bible says:
“Let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).
“To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life, but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth …” (Romans 2:7-8a). (Why seek for what you already have?)
Will the unsaved be destroyed?
Apologist Jim Wallace said, “They [the unsaved] will not be destroyed, but instead, will be left in a conscious state to experience the torment and anguish of their punishment forever.” 13
Don Stewart said, “It is not possible for the soul, or spirit, to be destroyed.” 14
But the Bible says:
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
“But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Peter 3:7).
That all seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?
Obviously this isn’t the end-all and be-all of the discussion. We annihilationists have a few difficult passages that suggest eternal torment which we must explain. (And we have.) 15 And as I said before, not everything can be taken at face value. Traditionalists do have arguments for why consume doesn’t mean consume as we would normally mean it, why live and die don’t mean live and die as we would normally mean them, why destroy doesn’t mean destroy as we would normally mean it, why immortality doesn’t mean immortality as we would normally mean it…and so on.
Perhaps you can see why people are starting to rethink hell: They are simply looking at what the Bible says about it.
- Special thanks to Ronnie of the Consuming Fire Blog for supplying me with many of these quotations.
- Except where indicated otherwise, all scripture comes from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV). Copyright 2000 by Crossway Bibles.
- John MacArthur (2003, August 24). “The answer to life’s greatest question, Part 1.” (Sermon, Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA).
- Charles Spurgeon (1857, December 13). “The Holy Spirit and the one church.” (Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens, London).
- All scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version are Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. The “NIV” and “New International Version” trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica. Use of either trademark requires the permission of Biblica.
- More literal translations make the same point clearly and unambiguously, but it is worded in a much less concise manner than that found in the NIV.
- Thomas Aquinas (1939). The Apostles’ Creed, trans. Joseph B. Collins (New York: N.p.).
- Jonathan Edwards (1995). “The history of redemption.” Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 2 (Avon: Banner of Truth).
- Charles Spurgeon (1856, February 7), “The Resurrection of the Dead.” (Sermon, New Park Street Chapel, Southwark, London).
- John Gill (N.d.). “Mark 9:49.” John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (N.p.).
- John Nelson Darby (N.d.). On the Eternity of Punishment and the Immortality of the Soul (London: Robert L. Allan), 23.
- Kenneth Gentry (1989). Before Jerusalem Fell. (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics), 5.
- Jim Wallace (2012, October 19). “Is there an eternal conscious hell?” PleaseConvinceMe.com.
- Don Stewart, “Can the spirit, or soul, be destroyed?” Blue Letter Bible.
- Free resources that address some of those passages include fellow contributor Glenn People’s podcast episodes 6 and 7, as well as Rethinking Hell podcast episode 7. I also wrote a bit of a treatise on the topic called The Bible Teaches Annihilationism that might be of use to you if you want to look into this more.