The vast majority of Christians have been taught by their religious leaders to believe in the doctrine known as Infernalism (which is the soteriological position that some people will suffer never-ending torment in the lake of fire). And because they trust these religious leaders, when they read the Bible, most of them simply assume Infernalism must be true and then read this presupposition into the text rather than checking to see whether this assertion really is what Scripture actually teaches. Because of this assumption, they then make another assumption, which is the assumption that all the threats of judgement in Scripture are referring to the same thing (that “same thing” being everlasting torment in the lake of fire, of course). It’s easy to understand why they make this assumption, though. If your assumption is that ”heaven or hell” are the only possible outcomes, there’s no reason to even consider the possibility that some of the judgements might be referring to other types of threats. And so, because of these assumptions, you end up with people who hold to the Infernalist presupposition making assertions like the one I’m going to quote here:
The doctrine of eternal conscious punishment asserts that after physical death on earth, the soul of the unsaved person immediately enters a state and place of continual conscious torment. The condemned state will culminate in bodily resurrection, final judgment, and then unending torment in the “lake of fire.” Following are major passages supporting this doctrine.
Dan 12:1-2 contrasts “everlasting life” with “everlasting contempt” (NKJV). If “life” will be unending conscious blessing, “contempt” must also be unending conscious disgrace.
Matt 25:46 contrasts the condemnation of the wicked, “everlasting punishment,” with the blessing of the righteous, “eternal life.” So if eternal life will be consciously experienced without end, “everlasting punishment” will also be consciously experienced without end.
And since verse 41 designates “everlasting fire” as the means of the “everlasting punishment,” then the punishment will indeed be agonizing.
The unimaginable pain is depicted by the “wailing and gnashing of teeth of the wicked in the furnace of fire” (13:42, 50), to which they will be sent in judgment by Christ at His Second Advent (13:41-42, 49-50). (Note that the Lord Jesus spoke much about hell and eternal conscious punishment examples: Matt 5:21-22, 27-30; 8:1112; 10:28; 13:30, 40-43, 49-50;18:6-9; 23:15, 33; 24:51; 25:30, 41, 46; Mark 9:42-48; Luke 16:19-31.)
In Mark 9:42-48, Jesus uses Is. 66:24 (three times in the Majority Text) to give a picture of people in hell: “Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” The picture is of unending consumption by worms and fire-a consumption that never ends. 2 Thess 1:9 says that unbelievers will be “punished with everlasting destruction,” indicating a process of destruction that never ends.
Revelation 14:9-11 depicts unbelievers as ultimately objects of the unmitigated “wrath of God” by being “tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” That this conscious torment will never end is shown by verse 11: “the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night.” This passage depicts people being tormented without end by burning without end. Revelation 20:10-15 sustains this interpretation by using identical terms in v. 10 to describe “the devil,” “the beast and the false prophet” in “the lake of fire and brimstone” being “tormented day and night forever and ever.” And this unending torment in “the lake of fire” will then be experienced by the unrighteous in “the second death” (20:14-15).
Nearly any Infernalist would read the above quote and nod their head in agreement that pretty much everything this person wrote is true. Which is fascinating to me, because there are so many unfounded assumptions made in the statement that it’s hard to know where to begin. But the beginning is as good a place to start as any, I suppose. The very first assumption this Infernalist made is in presuming that the word “everlasting” in Scripture is a good translation. Of course, basically every member of the body of Christ is aware of the fact that the English word ”everlasting,” as its used in less literal translations of Scripture, simply refers to either a period of time, or to multiple periods of time, but all with both a beginning and an end, and that the transliteration ”eonian” (meaning ”pertaining to an eon”) is a far more literal and clear way of rendering the Greek and Hebrew words it’s translated from.
Of course, because they already assume Infernalism to be true, they’re also forced to assume that ”contempt” must mean the same thing as “torment,” which is another unfounded assumption. (To be fair, the writer of the above quote didn’t make that particular assumption, but it is a common one among Infernalists.)
Next, this Infernalist refers to the judgement of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, not only making the same mistake about the word “everlasting” once again, but also presumably assuming that this passage is talking about the final judgement. This is a mistake that nearly every Infernalist makes, because they don’t take the time to consider whether Jesus might have been talking about a different sort of judgement here than the one they assume He has to be talking about (because, if there are only two possible outcomes for humanity, what else could He have been talking about, right?). Now, I’m not going to get into the whole explanation of why it isn’t talking about what most Christians assume it means here, because it’s a large topic that would take up far too much space in this post, but I explained it in another article some time back, so please check it out in order to learn why it can’t possibly be talking about what most Christians generally assume it is: Considering context, chronology, and consistency when reading passages about “hell”
If you’ve made your way through that article I just linked to, and have also read the 7-part series by Aaron Welch that I linked to in the article (which explains what this judgement actually is), you now know that the ”furnace of fire” our Infernalist friend referred to next (as well as the ”eonian fire” in Matthew 25) is a metaphor, not a literal furnace of fire (as its referred to as in Matthew 13; in fact, I suspect that most Infernalists interpret this metaphorically without even realizing it, because I doubt that most of them believe it to be a literal furnace, but rather interpret it to represent the lake of fire, and so they rightly interpret the first word in the phrase metaphorically, but then swerve and miss the fact that the last word is just as figurative as the first word, all because they assume that people definitely will suffer forever in fire). And you should also now be aware that assuming the “wailing and gnashing of teeth” will take place in the lake of fire is also nothing more than an unfounded assumption, because you’ll have learned that these are references to sorrowful reactions by living, mortal people on earth because they’ve been forced to live on parts of the planet referred to figuratively using fire-related words (as well as referred to figuratively as ”outer darkness”) rather than getting to live in the kingdom of heaven when it begins on earth (specifically in Israel), long before the Great White Throne Judgement even takes place.
Similarly, this Infernalist has assumed that the reference to the location where ”their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” is also talking about people being tormented in a conscious state. If Infernalists only took the time to compare the statements of Jesus about this threat to the reference in the book of Isaiah that He was quoting, they’d know just how ridiculous that assumption is, but for anyone who is curious to learn more about what this threat was actually about, I wrote about it in detail here. (And you should read that article before proceeding any further in this one.)
Along those lines, this Infernalist also makes a common mistake that most make, which is assuming that a literal place called ”hell” even exists. What most don’t seem to think of is that ”hell” is an English word, and Jesus didn’t speak English. The truth is, the word “hell” is a translation of one Hebrew word and three different Greek words (and all of the Greek words refer to different concepts from each other) in less literal Bible versions, none of which refer to the sort of place that most people think of when they hear the word ”hell,” yet most Infernalists assume the various ”hells” referred to in certain English translations are all referring to the same imaginary place (even though at least one of them isn’t a “place” at all).
This Infernalist also completely misunderstands 2 Thessalonians 1:9, which is only talking about ”eonian extermination,” not some process of ”never-ending destruction” in a conscious state (however that’s supposed to work). As most Infernalists do, this one makes the assumption that this passage is talking about torment in the lake of fire in a conscious state that lasts forever, but it’s actually referring to either a period of temporary non-existence, quite likely long before the Great White Throne Judgement even takes place, or to the same “eonian fire” mentioned in the judgement of the sheep and the goats. But this idea doesn’t even cross their minds because few Infernalists have ever even considered the possibility of judgements other than the Great White Throne Judgement.
And finally, we’re treated to a number of assumptions about the book of Revelation, once again reading their view that punishments are never ending rather than eonian into the text. But, in addition to that, they’re also reading their assumption that people in the lake of fire will be immortal into the text, but we already know that being made immortal is what salvation under Paul’s Gospel is all about, and that there are, in fact, only three times when people will be made immortal in the future, and the Great White Throne Judgement is not one of them, which means that any mortal human who is cast into the lake of fire can’t possibly suffer longer than it would take for them to burn up.
All that said, we know from the epistles of Paul that every single human who ever lived will eventually experience salvation, which means that anyone who does die a second time in the lake of fire will necessarily have to be resurrected a second time as well, this time to immortality and sinlessness, which is what the salvation Paul spoke of is all about, at least from an absolute perspective. Although, if you aren’t familiar with this basic fact about salvation that those of us in the body of Christ have all learned, here are a few articles I wrote that should help you learn the truth:
- How Paul used parallelisms to teach the salvation of all
- “…all men, especially…”
- To be “in Christ,” or not to be “in Christ”? Is that the question?
Of course, die-hard Infernalists who have read the passages I exegete in those articles are forced to read their assumptions into the passages in question as well, causing them to completely miss the entire point of much of Paul’s teachings, but I pray that God will open the eyes of at least a few of the Infernalists (and even Annihilationists) who might read them, and show them why they need to stop making all of these assumptions.