Is Hell “Eternal?”
Question: Is Hell eternal? It looks like your view is Hell is not eternal . . . and what about 2 Thess 1:9?
Response: I love this question. The answer is “Yes and No,” for a very simple reason: One “Hell” is not eternal (aionios) and one is.
I think we have a great deal of confusion about the word “Hell” and the word “eternal.” Most English versions translate at least two Greek words as “Hell.” And, in the American Evangelical Church, we’ve come to think of one other reality as “Hell” and that’s the “aionios Fire.”
In Revelation 20:14 “Death and Hades (often translated ‘Hell’) are thrown into the “lake of fire” and death is no more. This is just one example of a biblical text that reveals the “eternal Fire” and “Hades” are not the same thing, for one is destroyed by the other.
In Scripture, there are three things that we think of as “Hell.”
1. Hades (Greek), which translates the Hebrew word sSheol. Every time the word “Hell” appears in an English Old Testament, it’s the word Sheol. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek from Hebrew (the “Septuagint”- the Greek Old Testament in Jesus’ day) the Hebrew word sheol was translated into the Greek word Hades. In the King James, sheol was sometimes translated into English as “Hell” or “grave” or “death.” I think Hades, in the New Testament, was almost always translated as “Hell” by the English King James Version and by some other modern versions… but many now just leave the word as Hades because of the realization that our idea of “Hell” doesn’t match this Greek word. I think the Greek tartarus, as well as Jesus’ references to the outer darkness, also refer to hades/sheol. This “Hell” is not eternal for it is clearly destroyed by “eternal fire.”
2. Aionios fire We also think of the aionios fire as “Hell.” The revelation refers to the “lake of fire and brimstone.” Brimstone is the Greek word theion, which can also be translated “divinity” (Theos is Greek for God and theion is an adjective that can be used as a substantive). Far more importantly, Scripture very clearly tells us that our God is a “consuming fire.” God is also “eternal.”
Over and over in Scripture, God appears or speaks, and His presence or voice (word) is fire. The fire burns evil, but not good. (Think: burning bush, pillar of fire, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego and one “like a son of man,” Pentecost fire, Jesus as He appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus and in the Revelation, the fire that comes down from heaven and consumes the sacrifices in the temple etc. etc.). I believe: “God is One.” “God is Love.” and “God is a consuming fire.” This Fire is “eternal.”
This fire is also punishment, destruction, and judgment on evil. Sodom was destroyed by this fire (Jude 7), yet through Ezekiel, God promises to restore Sodom (Ezekiel 16) as well as Jerusalem and Samaria. This reality is judgment on Hell #1. It is “eternal.” There is no way around this Fire. It cannot be destroyed. At Pentecost, this Fire fell on the disciples (the new temple) and they began to praise God. This Fire is “eternal.”
3. Gehenna There is one other word or idea that gets translated as “Hell” in the New Testament and that’s the word gehenna. In Jesus’ day, everyone knew that this was the valley to the west and south of Jerusalem. I’ve been there. Notorious things happened in that valley in the Old Testament. Judas hung himself in that valley. The Old Testament says that it’s set ablaze by the breath of God.
In the Revelation, “The New Jerusalem” is Heaven. Outside the New Jerusalem is outer darkness (Hades). Gehenna is the boundary between those two. I think gehenna is the place that Hades is destroyed by the Fire. It’s the place of judgment; the place that #1 is destroyed by #2; the gates of the city “are always open,” but to enter is to have all evil cut away or burned away—judgment (check out Zechariah 2:5). The other place this happens is at the cross. A Christian surrenders sin to Jesus, who bears it to destruction. This is also the boundary between this age (aion) and God’s age. It’s the place that temporality is destroyed (or filled?) by or with Eternity.
Aion is a noun that’s pretty easy to translate. It means “age.” Aionios is the adjective that goes with that noun… and it’s very difficult to translate because English has no parallel adjective (“ageness” isn’t a word in English and if it was we wouldn’t know what it means). It turns out that we don’t even know what “eternal” means in English. Look in a dictionary and you’ll see. Does it mean “time without end?” That would be an endless “age,” and Scripture says that we come to the end of the “ages” in Christ. OR does it mean “timelessness?” And does that mean all of time at once? Or no time? Or what? While our heads are stuck in space and time, that’s a hard question to answer.
Well, I think the best answer is that whatever it is, it’s like “of God.” It’s “God’s Age” or “God’s time” or “that which isn’t subject to chronos, which is our time. And Scripture says it’s coming to an end. Well, whatever the case, Heaven is eternal. The Fire is eternal. The punishment–kolasin (in Greek) is eternal. There is no way to get around this punishment, for the punishment is the very presence of God. The destruction (olethros) is also eternal. There are some things that will “be no more.” Death will be no more—so “hell” cannot be endless death, if death will be no more.
There is no endless “hades.” Hades comes to an end. AND Jesus is “the End.” He is the end of death and sin and evil and this age. He is also the end of my “old man,” “my flesh.” It’s interesting that in the 2nd Thessalonians passage (1 Thess. 1:9), a literal translation reads that those who “do not obey the gospel…suffer the punishment of eternal destruction that comes from (not ‘away from’) the presence of the Lord.” In other words, Jesus just manifests in His glory and the Light destroys evil; the Light destroys darkness; lies are destroyed by the Truth; death is destroyed by the Life; lostness–apollumi (in Greek), also translated “destroy” is destroyed by “The Way.”
Jesus is literally the death of death.
He is the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Light, the End.
And He destroys the work of the devil.
It is an “eternal destruction.”
The devil does not get to keep his “works” endlessly. He does not win.
Because of numerous scriptures, I think we each (anyone that contains the breath of God in clay) have an old earthen vessel, an “old man,” a “false man,” a “body of death,” that is destroyed by the manifestation of God’s Glory in Christ Jesus. Remember what Paul said? “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
What happened to the old Paul? Consuming fire destroyed him. Where did it happen? On the road to Damascus. When did that happen? At the border of time and eternity. It was there that Paul received eternal life.
So… “Hell #1” is not eternal. And “Hell #2” is eternal. And “Hell #3” is the boundary between all time and eternity.
I wish that everyone wrestled with this question as you are. I’ve found that the most terrifying questions lead to the most glorious revelations—when we walk into them trusting God in Christ.
I hope my wrestling is a help to your wrestling. If we’re wrestling with Truth, we know that the One we wrestle is GOOD!