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This site is for thoughtful Christians learning how to answer the hard questions people are asking today
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PURPOSE: Helping Christians engage in intelligent conversations with doubters and unbelievers

Will people burn in hell

Why time in hell matters

Most Christian shrug and say it doesn't matter

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.

Why this matters

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.

FOREVER is the key word

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.

Bible: Burning in hell is not forever
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:

  • '... into hell, where the fire never goes out' (Matthew 18:18)
  • '... eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels' (Matthew 25:41)
  • '... eternal punishment ...' (Matthew 25:46)
  • '... punishment of eternal fire' (Jude 7)
  • ' ... And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever' (Revelation 14:11, in a dream, referring to people in an age to come 'who worship the beast and its image')
  • 'They will be tormented day and night forever' (Revelation 20:10, in a dream, referring to the devil, the beast, and the false prophet)

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 issue is God's character

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!

To most people today, hell is a joke

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.

Hell is real, but people don't burn FOREVER

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.

For deeper study, tap HERE to see any of these verses set side-by-side in 28 different English translations, or tap HERE to see any verse in a Greek-to-English interlinear translation.


of tough questions people are asking

Is hellfire eternal?

Will Satan and demons be in hell?

Will people burn in hell forever, or only for a time?

What is the 'second death?'

Will people die in hell?

Isn't burning in hell forever just a scare tactic used by the church to raise money?

How can a Christian have an intelligent conversation with people who think hell is just a joke?

Tap numbers below for answers

Thinkers Bible Studies / Topic 3.4.1


Will people burn in hell FOREVER?

for an informed answer
Insight 1: Bible credibility

Why time in hell matters

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 other people. The image of a cruel and vengeful God who condemns people He says He loves to the most horrible torture imaginable is a huge barrier to Christian faith.
Insight 2: yō·wm is Hebrew word for Bible creation day

What the Old Testament says

The Old Testament doesn't say much about hell, but here are all four verses from the Hebrew scriptures that mention a time aspect of punishment in an afterlife. The verses say must die ... will be no more ...forever destroyed ... will be ashes. There is no hint of any eternal conscious existence.
Insight 3: What God created in each 'day'

What the New Testament says

Here are all 16 verses [excluding words of Jesus] in the New Testament that say something about the duration of punishment in an afterlife. The descriptive words are burning up ... perish ... death ... destruction ... destroyed ... does not have life ... second death. The verses say that the fire prepared for Satan and his demons will burn forever but not that people will burn in it forever. [All the words of Jesus regarding time in hell are shown in Insight 4.]

What Jesus said about burning in hell

Here are all 14 verses in the New Testament that quote what Jesus said about hell. His words are thrown into hell ... thrown into the fire ... throw into the blazing furnace ... eternal fire ... burned in the fire ... destroy ... destruction ... perish. Like all the other verses in the New Testament on this subject, Jesus says the fire will burn forever but not that people will burn forever.

Tradition vs. Bible

See the four major views about hell: orthodox, symbolic, purgatory, and annihilation. Common Christian belief about burning in hell forever comes more from tradition than from the Bible. Churches have used it as a scare tactic. Hell has become a joke to most people. Most Christians have never studied this subject for themselves direct from the Bible.

Here's where we combine five Insights to get an informed biblical answer: Will people burn in hell FOREVER?

The Insights here are like pieces of a puzzle. Put the pieces together and see the big picture! Now you'll be prepared to engage intelligently and coherently with anyone about what the Bible actually says about time in hell. See list of seven reasons why hell is not FOREVER. Also see reader comments.
Tap a number you haven't seen
Helping Christians engage in intelligent and coherent conversations with doubters and unbelievers