Regarding the question of people burning in hell forever, a common response from devout Christians goes something like this:
'It really doesn't matter to me whether hell is forever or only for a duration ... it's horrible either way ... just accept Jesus as Savior and you won't go there at all. That's all we need to know.'
That response misses the point and is shortsighted and self-serving. That's thinking only about self, not about others.
People outside of church think that God – if they believe He even exists – must be cruel and unjust to place the most hideous punishment possible on everyone, even newborn babies, for a sin they didn't commit or even know about.
This repulsive image undercuts everything Christians can say about God's love and justice. It portrays God as an angry monster.
People can understand punishment for one's own sins – punishment commensurate with the offense – but original sin is so contrary to love and justice that it can hardly even be imagined.
Being able to die in hell eventually would be an act of mercy ... but torture FOREVER is unimaginable cruelty.
Burning in hell for a period of time as punishment commensurate with one's sin and as the consequence of rejecting God's offer of salvation is one matter and can be reconciled with love and justice. But burning in hell FOREVER is another matter and cannot in any way be reconciled with love and justice. It is vengeance and cruelty beyond comprehension.
The traditional Christian belief is that sinners without salvation through Jesus will be punished by burning in hell, unable to die, for all eternity.
Doubters and unbelievers cannot see any love or justice if all unforgiven sinners are arbitrarily punished the same way, forever, unable to die, especially people who have never even heard about Adam or his sin, or about Jesus and his offer of salvation.
The Bible makes it clear that there is a hell for unforgiven sinners after judgment ... BUT hardly anyone asks where in the Bible it says that people will burn in hell FOREVER. Where does the Bible say THAT?
If anyone responds at all to that question, it is usually with an abbreviated quote from one or more of these six verses:
However – read carefully! – these verses do not say that any person alive now or in the past will burn in hell FOREVER.
These verses say only that the FIRE (not people) will burn forever (except for some people in a future age, along with Satan and his demons) ... and that the punishment (sentencing) is eternal (final, no hope of any reprieve).
Contrary to burning FOREVER, JESUS SAID clearly that people will eventually die, burn up, be destroyed, consumed, and perish in the everlasting fire prepared for Satan and his demons.
There are 36 verses in the Bible on the subject of punishment and duration in hell. Thirteen of these verses are direct on-point quotations from Jesus.
➤ See the Bible study here on time in hell where all of the verses are laid out and discussed.
The primary reason why we have to be careful in the way we speak about hell is that it defines God's character in the minds of doubters and unbelievers. We need to think beyond ourselves and consider whether our words are attracting or repelling people from Jesus Christ.
This study shows that over the centuries the church has added some horrible concepts to what Jesus and the Bible actually say, and these additions have become major barriers to Christian faith.
People quickly recognize that burning FOREVER (no death) regardless of the degree of sin goes far beyond punishment and becomes infinite cruelty. Even Jesus, who paid the penalty for the sins of the world, was freed by death in a matter of hours. (To the thief on the cross: 'Truly I tell you, TODAY you will be with me in paradise' (Luke 23:43).
We have no idea how long anyone will be in hell until final death (the 'second death, see #19 and #20) ... maybe it could be for years, or centuries, or millenniums, but not FOREVER.
The concept of burning FOREVER is particularly onerous when linked to the church's doctrine of original sin, which says that everyone who does not accept Jesus as Savior will be punished in hell for Adam's sin, even people who never even heard of Adam or Jesus. No wonder unbelievers and doubters mock Christians for saying that God is love and justice!
The concept of a loving and just God burning people in hell FOREVER means that there is only one duration of punishment for everyone regardless of the degree of their own sin ... or their time and place in history ... or their knowledge of salvation offered through Jesus.
The concept is so preposterous to unbelievers and doubters that hell has become a joke.
Christians have so distorted the biblical meaning of hell with stretches and add-ons that hell is now meaningless to most people except as a mockery to Christian faith.
FOREVER is the critical word. Most Christians believe that people without Jesus as Savior will burn in hell forever. But the Bible doesn't say FOREVER! That's a tradition made popular during a dark time in church history when it was used to scare gullible people into the church and get their money.
This study examines all 34 verses in the Bible that say or imply something about the duration of punishment in hell. These verses have not been cherry-picked. They are the entire biblical teaching on this subject.
The Bible verses quoted in the Insight sections below are from the New International Version (NIV), the most popular version in the United States today.