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This site is for thoughtful Christians learning how to answer the hard questions people are asking today

Hell is real, but people don't burn forever

What Jesus says about time in hell
PURPOSE: Helping Christians engage in intelligent conversations with doubters and unbelievers
Bible creation questions


discussed on this page

Tough questions people are asking about people burning in hell forever:

Is hellfire eternal?

Will Satan and demons be in hell?

Will people burn in hell forever? Or only for a time?

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



What happens here

Confident Christian

The question of whether or not hell is FOREVER is important because the answer portrays God's character to doubters and unbelievers. Is God just and merciful? Or vengeful and monstrous?

This page can build your confidence in the Bible and create a desire to talk about it with family, friends and acquaintances.

Informed Christian

The verses in this Bible study have not been cherry-picked to support any particular point of view. This is the full extent of what the Bible says regarding the question of whether or not hell is for a time or is forever.

This page tells the interesting story of how science has come into alignment with the first two verses of the Bible. It's a good story you can weave into your Christian witness.

Interesting Christian

When confident and informed, Christians become interesting conversationalists on spiritual topics, and soon people begin asking a wide range of questions about God and the Bible.

This page has enough information to enable you to have an enlightened spiritual conversation with anyone about the Big Bang theory of the earth's origin.


assault on God's character

Some say it doesn't matter

A common response from Christians:

'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 response misses the point and is shortsighted and self-serving. That's thinking only about me, not about others.

The issue is perception of God

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.

Burning forever, without being able to die, is the worst kind of torture imaginable.

Burning forever regardless of the degree of sin goes far beyond punishment and becomes infinite cruelty. Even Jesus, who paid the ultimate sacrifice for sin, was freed by death from suffering 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).

The erroneous image of a cruel and vengeful God who condemns people He says he loves to the worst kind of torture imaginable – burning forever without being able to die – is a contradiction to our God of love and justice, especially for people who have never even heard of Jesus.

This image in the minds of doubters and unbelievers is a big barrier to Christian faith.


what Bible says about duration in hell

Bible verses on this page

This page contains all 33 verses in the Bible that say or imply something about the duration of human punishment in hell. These verses have not been cherry-picked. They are the entire biblical teaching on this subject.


The Bible verses quoted here are from the New Intetrnational Version (NIV), the most popular version in the United States today.

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

Text in red is a commentary to stimulate thinking.

Fire burns forever, but not people

The verses on this page show that, for people who reject God's forgiveness and offer of salvation for a life of unforgiven sin, there is a real hell but people are not tortured there forever.

This is affirmed in some of the best-known verses in the Bible:

'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life' (John 3:16) – perish, not eternal life of torture.

'For the wages of sin in death, but the gift of God is eternal life' (Romans 6:23) – death, not eternal life of torture.

After physical death, resurrection, and judgment, people who reject God's offer of salvation and eternal life will eventually die (end of existence) in hell, with the degree and duration of punishment for personal sin determined by God at the time of judgment.

Contrary to what most Christians have been taught through church tradition, but in accordance with what the Bible says, the duration could be very long, but not forever.


about time in hell

– 1 –
'Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, some must die.' (2 Samuel 14:14, Joab speaking, military commander under King David)
The Old Testament does not teach about any particular kind of hell after death. In the Old Testament, Jews thought that people – non-Jews (Gentiles) for sure – just die ('cannot be recovered,' end of existence), like every other living thing.
– 2 –
'A little while, and the wicked will be no more ...' (Psalm 37:10, Psalmist speaking)
In the Old Testament times, Jews believed that human life is short and death is end of existence. The important thing is preserving life of the nation. 'Will be no more' means no existence.
– 3 –
'... though the wicked spring up like grass and all evil doers flourish, they will be forever destroyed' (Psalm 92:7, Psalmist speaking)
Same words used by Jesus in the New Testament (see below). 'Forever destroyed' means end of existence, much different than alive forever in hell.
– 4 –
'Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evil doer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,' says the Lord Almighty. 'Not a root or branch will be left to them ... and they will be ashes under the soles of your feet ...' (Malachi 4:1-3, Old Testament Prophet speaking)
Ashes mean no life, no consciousness.


about time in hell

– 5 –
'His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.' (Matthew 3:12, John the Baptist speaking)
When something is burned up, it ceases to exist, even though the fire itself is unquenchable and burns forever.
– 6 –
'All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.' (Romans 2:12, Apostle Paul speaking)
Perish means no longer alive. All people sin, but people to whom God has not spoken (no law) will perish (end of existence) and not be judged by the law.
– 7 –
'For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.' (Romans 6:23, Apostle Paul speaking)
What a person gets for sin is death. Does not say eternal life in hell. This death (end of existence) is contrasted with eternal life offered through Jesus. Death is the default condition for everyone, avoidable only by accepting God's provision for salvation.
– 8 –
'What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath — prepared for destruction?' (Romans 9:22, Apostle Paul speaking)
When something is destroyed, it is damaged so badly that it ceases to exist.
– 9 –
'This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved — and that by God.' (Philippians 1:28, Apostle Paul speaking)
When something is destroyed, it is damaged so badly that it ceases to exist. God will save genuine Christians from destruction (will continue living, eternal life).
– 10 –
'Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.' (Philippians 3:19, Apostle Paul speaking)
Destruction means damaged so badly that it ceases to exist.
– 11 –
'He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.' (2 Thessalonians 2:3, Apostle Paul speaking)
When something is destroyed – everlasting destruction – it is damaged so badly that it ceases to exist, and there is no hope of re-construction. This is the ultimate separation from God, forever.
– 12 –
'But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.' (Hebrews 10:39, Apostle Paul speaking)
When something is destroyed, it is damaged so badly that it ceases to exist. People who have accepted Jesus as Savior are saved from destruction and given eternal life.
– 13 –
'For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment ...' (2 Peter 2:4, Apostle Peter speaking)
'Chains of darkness' is the dire condition while awaiting judgment, before being cast into hell.
– 14 –
'With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare ... That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.' (2 Peter 3:8-13, Apostle Peter speaking)
Perish means no longer alive, end of existence. When something is destroyed, it is damaged so badly it ceases to exist. This passage says that the day will come when everything will collapse in flames, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth, which will end space as we know it. Since we now know (Einstein) that time was created simultaneously with space and is part of space – now known as space-time – it is possible that time itself could end when space ends.
– 15 –
'And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.' (1 John 5:11-12, Apostle John speaking)
Only two possibilities: Eternal life or no life (death, end of existence). No mention of people being punished forever in hell.
– 16 –
'Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.' (Jude 7, Jude speaking)
Sodom and Gomorrah are cited as examples of punishment of eternal fire. Those cities were burned out of existence.
– 17 –
'If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night FOR THOSE WHO WORSHIP THE BEAST and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.' (Revelation 14:9-12, Apostle John dream)
WORDS IN CAPS make it clear that this is only for a very narrow category of people at a later time. This is the Apostle John's dream about what will happen in the future; words quoted from a dream are not as clear as direct statements from Jesus and the Apostles. The dream says that hell fire is eternal for people who 'worship the beast and his image.' The dream refers only to some people in the future, not about people past or present.
– 18 –
'And the DEVIL who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the BEAST and the FALSE PROPHET had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.' (Revelation 20:10, Apostle John dream)
Says specifically that the devil, the beast and the false prophet will burn in hell forever. Does not say any alive today or in the past will burn forever.
– 19 –
'The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.' (Revelation 20:13-15, Apostle John dream)
Sounds like the first death is physical death and the second death (after judgment) is death in hell fire. This speaks of death (end of existence) in hell, not everlasting life in hell. Any living thing thrown into a lake of fire dies.
– 20 –
'But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfer. This is the second death.' (Revelation 21:8, Apostle John dream)
Like the preceding verse, this seems to say that the first death is physical death and the second death (after judgment) is death in hell fire. This speaks of death (end of existence) in hell, not everlasting life in hell.


about time in hell

– 21 –
'If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.' (Matthew 5:29, Jesus speaking)
Jesus acknowledges hell as a terrible place, but no mention of time in hell.
– 22 –
'Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.' (Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus speaking)
Only two possibilities: Eternal life or eternal destruction. When something is destroyed, it is damaged so badly that it ceases to exist.
– 23 –
'Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.' (Matthew 7:19, Jesus speaking)
Jesus is giving an example about what will happen to false prophets who come in sheep's clothing. When trees are thrown into the fire, they burn up and cease to exist.
– 24 –
'But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (Matthew 8:12, Jesus speaking) 
Seems to mean the dire condition after death while awaiting judgment, before being cast into hell. See #13 above.
– 25 –
'Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.' (Matthew 10:28, Jesus speaking)
Jesus says clearly that BOTH soul and body will be DESTROYED in hell. Even the soul is destroyed. When something is destroyed, it no longer exists.
– 26 –
'As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (Matthew 13:40-42, Jesus speaking)
Weeds thrown into fire become dry, burn up, and cease to exist.
– 27 –
'Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (Matthew 13:47-50, Jesus speaking)
Dead fish rot and cease to exist. When any living thing is thrown into a blazing furnace, it is killed and ceases to exist.
– 28 –
'And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.' (Matthew 18:9, Jesus speaking)
When fish or any living thing is thrown into fire it is consumed, burned up, and ceases to exist, even tho the fire continues.
– 29 –
'If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed with two hands than to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.' (Matthew 18:18, Jesus speaking)
Doesn't say a person will burn forever in hell, only that the fire never goes out. People die in the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels (see next verse below).
– 30 –
'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the DEVIL and HIS ANGELS.' (Matthew 25:41, Jesus speaking)
Doesn't say a person will burn forever in hell – only that the fire burns forever – and that the fire (in which a person eventually dies) is prepared for the devil and his angels, who will burn there forever (see #18 above).
– 31 –
'Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.' (Matthew 25:46, Jesus speaking)
Doesn't say the burning is eternal, only that the punishment is eternal – i.e., the sentence will never be commuted or changed. The judgment is for all time with no reprieve. The punishment is death, no eternal life.
– 32 –
'Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell' (Luke 12:5, Jesus speaking)
Jesus says there is a hell but doesn't say anything about time there before one perishes.
– 33 –
'But unless you repent, you too will all perish.' (Luke 13:3, Jesus speaking)
Perish means no longer alive, end of existence.


people don't burn in hell forever

DEFINITION: The term 'people' as used here means all people alive now and all people who have ever lived. It means 'us,' today, and excludes people who will transgress in a future eschatological age.
✓ REASON 1. Jesus is full authority
Jesus said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me' (Matthew 28:18). Jesus is full authority on truth. Not church, not tradition, not even Apostle John's dream. In seeking answer to the question of whether or not people will burn in hell forever, we need to give full authority to what Jesus said. To be true, statements from theologians must align with statements from Jesus.
✓ REASON 2. Dream is lesser authority
The verses people use to 'prove' that people will burn in hell forever are from the Apostle John's dream in the Book of Revelation. Recalling a vision has less authority than hearing a direct statement and speculating on conflicting interpretations. John's vague dream must be subordinated to Jesus' clear statements. The dream verses (quoted in #17 to #21 above) are the only verses in the Bible that might imply that hell is forever (though the verses don't say so). The common interpretation of the dream verses is contrary to Jesus' direct statements.
✓ REASON 3. Dream verses are not about us
Even though many parts of John's dream are difficult or impossible to interpret with clarity, it's clear that the people who will be burning in hell forever are NOT people alive now or people who have lived in the past. The writer specifically identifies the people who, along with Satan and his demons, will burn forever: the false prophet and those who worship the beast and its image. That's not us, but rather some people in a future age.
✓ REASON 4. Jesus did not say hell is forever
There is no verse anywhere in the Bible where Jesus says that hell is forever for any person alive now or at any time in the past.
✓ REASON 5. Jesus gave examples
Jesus gave examples (#23 to #33 above) of what hell will be like: a tree thrown into the fire ... weeds thrown into the fire ... fish thrown into the fire, etc. And what happens to them in the fire? In Jesus' own words: 'destroyed ... consumed ... perish ... burned up.'
✓ REASON 6. Fire burns forever, not people
Jesus said that in hell 'the fire never goes out.' But this is not the same as saying that people burn forever in the fire. Jesus says that the fire is forever, but the people are consumed and perish. After a time of punishment commensurate with their sin, people who reject God's offer of salvation will ultimately die in hell (the 'second death').
✓ REASON 7. God is just and merciful
Torturing people in hell forever is capricious and cruel beyond comprehension, not in character with the just and merciful God we meet in the New Testament. God now freely offers salvation through Jesus, but physical death seals the offer, which has been either accepted or rejected. People who reject or ignore the offer will be punished justly in hell for their individual sins.

Death (second death, final death) will be God's gift of mercy to people in hell. Eventually, for them, it's the end of existence.

Those who accept God's offer will be totally forgiven – no hell and no final death – and will have eternal life in a new and exciting dimension beyond our imagination.

This is the consistent Bible narrative.
 Will God send people to hell even if they never heard about Adam or Jesus (original sin)?
Helping Christians engage in intelligent and persuasive conversations with doubters and unbelievers