The Reality and Duration of Hell


Historical and Modern Views of

The Reality and Duration of Hell

 A Research Paper in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for

THEO 530 (Summer 2012)

Systematic Theology II

Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary

Rick Mangrum (ID# 21757355)

July 1, 2012


THESIS STATEMENT                                                                                                          3


INTRODUCTION                                                                                                                 3


TRADITIONAL VIEW OF THE DOCTRINE OF HELL                                                  4


CONDITIONAL VIEW OF THE DOCTRINE OF HELL                                                 8


METAPHORICAL VIEW OF THE DOCTRINE OF HELL                                            11


BELL VS CHAN MODERN DEBATE                                                                             14

SUMMARY                                                                                                                         18


CONCLUSION                                                                                                                   20


BIBLIOGRAPHY                                                                                                               22











            Hell is a real place, and it is eternal.  Many doctrines and views of Hell exist regarding the nature of hell.  This work will focus on two key questions:  the reality of the place, and if it is real, the duration of the stay of its inhabitants.



Few Christian doctrines have been historically studied or discussed more than Hell.  It is an important doctrine of Christian belief because it is an integral part of the message of the Bible.  To understand the entire Bible, all that Jesus seeks to teach, one must understand this place and its potential impact to the life of every human.  To ignore this difficult and uncomfortable doctrine is to ignore part of the Bible.  To understand Jesus, we must seek to understand it all, for “no doctrine stands alone.”[1]  Hell is a part of the story of God.  Although the idea of eternal punishment or misery is easy to ignore while just focusing on the more pleasant parts of the story of Jesus and our potential salvation, the doctrine of hell is part of the story of God’s love.  The Bible teaches that “though God’s love is central, it should not be viewed independently of his other attributes.”[2]  We should seek to understand it all.  Hell is a part of all of that.

To understand the doctrine of Hell, several different views are examined in this work.  Three are historically dominant views, traditional, conditional and metaphorical.  The last two views examined are more modern.  They represent the most recent debate on the subject.  Using these two different groups of doctrines gives several views of the doctrine of Hell, useful in answering the key focuses of this work:  the reality of the place and if real, how long its inhabitants will be there.

After reviewing some of the different views of Hell, this writer’s interaction with each view will be presented followed by a final conclusion.  The purpose of this work is to shed light on an important biblical doctrine.



            The traditional view of Hell is supported by the work of Robert Peterson, a professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, MO.[3]  He is the author of two books on the subject, Hell on Trial and Hell Under Fire.  The traditional view is that those who reject Christ will suffer the judgment of a literal and eternal Hell.  There will be suffering and it will last forever.  As with most doctrines of Hell, it is a position supported with great emotion by many.  “We cannot magnify God’s love by minimizing his holy wrath against sin.”[4]  In other words, to believe that Hell is anything less than literal or eternal is to minimize the love of God.  Peterson first turns to the Old Testament support his point of view.

The Old Testament support of the traditional doctrine from Peterson outlines three “perspectives…of the fate of the ungodly.”[5]  He outlines primary passages about judgment, passages dealing with Sheol, the Hebrew word most commonly used in the Old Testament to refer to Hell and passages that strongly suggest eternal judgment.[6]  Peterson outlines the stories of the flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues of Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea and the captivities of Israel as passages supporting the biblical view that those who follow God will one day experience blessings while those who oppose him and his people will one day experience his strong judgment.  From the flood account in Genesis, we learn that while God is holy and forgiving, he also punishes sin.  His punishment is death.  There is “no mention of life after death” for those who are evil in this passage.[7]  The language of the Bible is very clear in the flood account using words like “put to an end, destroyed, wiped out, cut off.”[8]

In the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues of Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea, a similar fate comes to those who reject God or His people.  The same is true for those who held Israel captive against their will.  God put the enemies of Israel to a physical death.  Peterson clearly paints the picture of judgment toward those who reject God.

He then works to tie the concept of Hell to these judgments.  The Hebrew word sheol is used sixty-five times in the Old Testament, referring to the place the dead go after Earth.[9]  It is translated as grave, Hell or pit. Various doctrines place sheol as either a destination for all after death or just for those who are evil.  This theology has little consensus.  It is dealt with differently in the two most common Bible translations, King James and New International Version.  Peterson’s view is that the “predominant evangelical view” is both believers and unbelievers go there after death and that this place serves as a “bridge” between heaven and Hell.[10] Believers are rescued from this location while it is the beginning of eternity for unbelievers.  After judgment as evil and placement in this place, eternal judgment is the next phase of the afterlife for unbelievers illustrated in the Old Testament according to Peterson.

Isaiah 66 is the first Old Testament chapter giving strong if not overt word of the eternal nature of hell.  This well-known phrase “their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched” is seen by Peterson as a clear indicator that hell will never cease for unbelievers.  Daniel is the next reference to the eternal and final destiny of unbelievers.  From Daniel 12:1-2 the words seem clear that those who reject God will suffer “everlasting contempt” while those who believe enjoy “everlasting life.”[11]  From Peterson’s point of view, the fate of the believer and unbeliever are both everlasting from these Old Testament passages.

While in the minds of some theologians, the Old Testament teaches “very little” about Hell, to Peterson the references are clear in their meaning.[12]  God’s judgment against unbelievers is undeniable.  It begins with a place after death not on Earth.  And it is eternal.

Peterson then turns to the words of Jesus himself from the New Testament to continue his view that Hell is literal and eternal.  He cites biblical texts that illustrate his point of view that Hell is real, it is ruled by God, involves rejection of God while on Earth and that it is eternally painful.  From Matthew 5:21-22 the words of Jesus that some are “in danger of the fire of Hell” are unmistakable.[13]  Hell is real according to Jesus.  It is ruled by God himself.  All on Earth should fear he “who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.”[14] Rejecting Jesus on Earth will result in Hell.  Those Jesus does not know will be rejected by his proclamation “away from me, you evildoers.”[15]  Hell, a real place is for those who reject God or his son, ruled by God.

And it is eternal.  Matthew 18:8-9 is clear in the words of Jesus referring to “eternal fire.”[16]  From this passage and from others in Mark, Luke and John, Peterson draws the simple conclusion that Jesus both implied and directly stated that hell was eternal.  The passage in Matthew uses the Greek word aionios, meaning without beginning and without end, everlasting.[17]

Peterson’s support of his traditional doctrine of Hell also includes support from the apostles, church history and other doctrines as supporting his view of Hell as a real and eternal place.  His doctrine also draws support from Revelation and the words of John referring to the “second death” and “lake of fire” which lasts “day and night for ever and ever.”[18]

The traditional view of Hell may be the most well-known and the most main-stream, particularly in evangelical groups.  It has many respected supporters.  Among those is John Walvoord, respected theologian, author and past president of Dallas Theological Seminary.[19]  He preferred the term literal to traditional, stressing the literal nature of the Bible, especially the words of Jesus on this and any other subject.  He agreed with Peterson on many points, expanded on the teachings of Jesus and how they support the literal view of a real and eternal Hell.  Jesus taught a real and eternal Hell in Walvoord’s view, also describing hell by degrees of punishment.  Some would have light punishment, some “more condemnation” based on their degree of rejection of Christ.[20]  Walvoord also stressed the writings of Paul, particularly in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 where the “punishment of the wicked is described as everlasting destruction…more than physical death.”[21] As there will be degrees of punishment for unbelievers there will be more severe punishment for Satan and his former angel-followers.  Their punishment would come at the Day of Judgment, sending them to tartaros, the word typically used in Jewish literature for everlasting punishment, in a “place even lower than hell where the wicked are punished.”[22]

The exegesis of Walvoord is deep and fascinating, as one might expect from a person of his accomplishments and credentials.  A most convincing argument for support of the idea of the eternal nature of Hell is in his work on the Greek word aionios as used throughout the New Testament.   This word, used repeatedly in reference to punishment and judgment relating to Hell has the meaning “without beginning or end” or “without end” almost without exception.[23]  And, according to the analysis of Walvoord there are no New Testament references regarding Hell in the original language that ever refer to it as having an end or being terminated.  To doubt the eternal nature of Hell from his point of view is the engage in “either doubting the word of God or denying its literal, normal interpretation.”[24]

In the literal-traditional view of Walvoord, Hell is a real place.  It lasts forever.  And there are degrees of punishment based on the wickedness of the believer.  His point of view is that the traditional view is correct. There are other doctrines of hell that agree in part with the traditional view as supported by Peterson and Walvoord.  One of these is the conditional view.



            The conditional view of the doctrine of Hell is supported by the work of Edward Fudge, theologian and practicing lawyer from Houston, TX. This doctrine is also referred to as the annihilationist view.  He is the writer of much material on the subject, including The Fire That Consumes and is a contributor of Two Views of Hell.[25] The conditional doctrine is that those who reject Christ will suffer judgment and a literal Hell, but unlike the traditional doctrine, Hell is not an eternal experience.  Those who go there will suffer then cease to exist at some point.  Fudge states that “scripture nowhere suggests that God is an eternal torturer.”[26]  In the conditional doctrine, the idea of  Hell that lasts and torments its inhabitants forever is a traditional view, long taught by the most respected church leaders, that simply is not biblical.

Certainly the idea of eternal suffering in Hell is well established in Christian doctrine.  From Augustine to Charles Spurgeon it has been preached and taught.[27]  It is embraced by many of the most respected theologians.  At the same time, according to Fudge, this idea simply does not exist in the Bible.  Fudge is not alone in this belief.

Perhaps the modern society’s most respected Christian spokesman, Billy Graham, agrees with Fudge.  In reference to eternal hell-fire Graham states “I don’t preach it because I’m not sure about it.”[28]  The conditional doctrine begins with support from the Old Testament.  In Genesis, clearly there is a time when man did not exist.  In Genesis 2 we read of the “breath of life” coming first to Adam then to Eve.[29] Man began to exist because God willed it to be so.

Man can also cease to exist.  In Ecclesiastes 3:18-22 the Bible states that God takes back this breath of life when we are returned to the ground.  Life is a gift from God.  This is where the traditional view long ago began to alter its course from true biblical direction according to Fudge.  The idea of an eternal soul, once created by God always existing, existing through all time was originally not a biblical concept, but one from Plato.  Plato, expanding the work of his mentor and predecessor, Socrates, stated that the “soul cannot die or cease to exist.”[30]  “Since at least the fourth century, most Christians have been taught that every human being will live forever.”[31] There is simply no support for that concept in the Old Testament, written before Plato or in the New Testament, written after Plato.  The idea of the eternal soul that started in Greek philosophy found its way into the traditional point of view of philosophers in Jesus day in part because it appeared to align the new Christian thinking of Jesus with the well respected and highly accepted views of Plato. Christian writers and leaders of that day wanted to show “their pagan neighbors the reasonableness of the biblical faith.”[32]   Aligning with Plato easily gave that appearance.  In fact, Jesus stated the opposite of Plato in Matthew 10:28 stating that God “can destroy both soul and body in Hell.”[33]

God alone is immortal, clearly stated in 1 Timothy 6:16.  Man can be immortal at the will of God.  From the beginning of life in Genesis 2, the time of the life of the soul of man is determined not by some philosophical idea of an eternal soul but by the will of God.  In fact, the phrase “immortal soul” exists nowhere in scripture.[34]

After laying the groundwork for the conditional doctrine of Hell as already discussed, Fudge goes on to support it with an examination of the Old Testament.  The Old Testament is clear that there will be moral justice and final judgment for those who reject Christ.  Psalms is one of the key reference points.   God will “save the righteous out death and they will enjoy his presence forever” while “the wicked will pass way.”[35]  David the psalmist clearly states that God will deliver his people (Psalms 34:8-22) and that the wicked will cease to exist (Psalms 34:5-16).  This confirms the judgment but again places doubt on the idea of eternal torture.

Isaiah 33:10-24 is another strong Old Testament reference in support of final judgment but clearly not supporting the concept of eternal torture.  In describing the everlasting burning of judgment, Isaiah references a fire that consumes them, burning them as if to lime or as if to total destruction.  They would burn to dust and cease to exist.

Two other places in particular in the Old Testament speak to the idea of people ceasing to exist completely in both the story of the Flood and of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Flood account, all on the Earth, with the exception of Noah and inhabitants of the ark would perish. (Genesis 6:13-17)  It is an Old Testament “portrait of total destruction,”  similar to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.[36] There were no references to future punishment or torment.  God’s work was final.  In Sodom and Gomorrah, they would burn like tinder (Isaiah 1:31).  When tinder is consumed it is gone.

Fudge also uses references from the life of Jesus, the writings of Paul and other New Testament references to support his position.  This short examination of his work will not allow the detail of those points but they run in parallel in many ways to his presentation of Old Testament references.

In the end, Fudge is clear on his position.  The Bible clearly teaches of judgment and punishment for those who reject Christ.  As the idea of eternal life in Hell, “it cannot be justified by a careful reading of the Word of God.”[37]  “God is indeed a consuming fire” for those who reject him, consuming them to nothingness at some point.[38]

One of Fudge’s most impactful points is in the final summary of his work.  From John 3:16, all Christians know the words that promise they should not perish but have everlasting life.  If Christians do not perish, the implication is that non-believers do perish, do cease to exist at some point.  This is powerful and persuasive support of the conditional view. Hell is real but not eternal, differing from the traditional view.  Not agree with the traditional and conditional views that Hell is real.  Another view is that Hell is not real, just an important biblical illustration.



            The metaphorical view is supported by the work of William Crockett, a professor of New Testament at Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, New York.  He is the author and contributor to several books including Four Views on Hell.[39] As the name implies, this doctrine of Hell holds that it is an idea of life after death for unbelievers, but not a real place.  It may or may not be eternal, but it is not real.  There is no actual fire, just the “burning within the hearts of the lost for God, a fire that can never be quenched.”[40] Crockett reaches his conclusion by examining the biblical language used to describe both Heaven and Hell.

Crockett finds the language of the Bible regarding both heaven and hell as metaphorical to the idea of life after death, good or bad.  The great high walls of Heaven, described in Revelation 21:12 are obviously a word picture, since heaven would require no walls.   Like Paris, in antiquity, all great cities had walls.[41]  The walls were not real, but symbolic.  An eternal city of God would have no use for walls, either to keep residents in or attackers out.  Likewise the gates of heaven are also metaphorical.  There would be no use for gates without walls. Heaven was also described as a place of rest. (Hebrews 3:4)  The audience of the original Bible, working day and night just to stay alive would find this appealing language.  Residents of Heaven would “drink from a sparkling river and eat form the tree of life” for eternity.[42]  Crockett concludes that this is not the description of a literal place but a symbolic description that the original biblical audience would find appealing. The idea of Hell is presented to motivate the listener to “think deeply” about eternity.[43]

The language is the same describing Hell.  “Hell is a pace of profound misery” caused by separation from God.[44] Profound misery could easily be illustrated in biblical times with the image of fire.  Southwest of Jerusalem was the Valley of Hinnom, a place long known for desecration and misery.  Children were burned there as sacrifices to the Ammonite god Molech in Old Testament times.[45]  Eventually people used it as a place to burn their refuse and garbage.  It gradually became known as the canyon of Hinnom or ge-hinnom.  This phrase over time evolved in geenna the Greek work commonly used for Hell in the New Testament.[46]   This word was highly symbolic, bringing to mind the idea of long lasting misery caused by fire.

Jesus used the same word in reference to Hell in Matthew 11:23 and Luke 10:15.  From the perspective of the metaphorical doctrine of Hell, Jesus was symbolically referring to an everlasting torment of separation from God, well-illustrated to his New Testament audience by his choice of words.

Crocket also points out conflicts in New Testament language if the idea of Hell is to be taken literally.  It is described as both dark and full of fire at the same time.  These are two conflicting ideas as described in Matthew 8:12 and other passages.[47]  Crockett believes that the conflicting language, while very uncommon in biblical texts generally, is accepted here by those Jewish writers because they were not describing a literal place, but symbolically creating an idea of life after death without God.

There are other conflicts of language as well.  Matthew 24:41 states that the “eternal fire was created for spirit being such as the devil and his angels”, yet with no physical body, fire has no impact on these types of creatures.[48]  If the language is symbolic, there is no conflict.  Crockett is not alone in his doubts of a literal Hell.  Billy Graham has stated that “hell might be better understood as a terrible eternal burning within the hearts of the lost for God, a fire that can never be quenched.”[49]

The metaphorical view differs from the traditional and conditional view in that Hell is not real.  If it is not real, it is not be eternal. From this doctrinal perspective it is all just symbolic language intended to convince the reader or listener that life after death without God has no joy or future.

The traditional, conditional and metaphorical doctrines Hell have been briefly examined.  There are at least two other perspectives to consider. These will be examined together because the modern publication of the first one led to the second.  They have been linked together in the minds of many in the on-going discussion of the doctrine of Hell.



            Doctrinal views of Hell described so far have historical roots. The next two doctrinal views examined were both more recently published, one in reaction to the other.  The first is the view of hell expressed by Rob Bell in his 2010 book Love Wins.  Mr. Bell served as the founder and pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a large, evangelical non-denominational church.[50]  A few months after the publication of this work he resigned the church and now works as free-lance speaker.  Mr. Bell’s view of Hell is that God loves us all and desires that no one be separated from him in any way, especially in torment such as the doctrine of Hell describes.  In the end the love of God wins and no one has to endure that at all.  Bell’s work was highly visible and examined closely by many due to his position as the leader of a very successful and respected 10,000 member evangelical church.  It was also met with strong reaction because of its nontraditional views.  The doctrine expressed by Bell and the subsequent responses, represented here by Chan, are a good illustration of the modern discussion of the doctrine of Hell.

Bell’s work is controversial in its views of both Heaven and of Hell.  This work will focus on its views of Hell.  Like its view of Heaven, the book presents that Hell is mostly here on earth. The idea that a loving God would let some live in heaven for eternity and others exist tortured in Hell is “misguided.”[51] The biblical references to Hell are “murky” and unclear.[52] There are many Bible passages that “seem to be talking about Hell, but don’t mention it specifically.”[53] Bell asserts that there is no clear biblical road to Hell or affirmation of its existence.  Hell is referred to as the “town garbage pile”, the “realm of the dead” and “mysterious.”[54]  After an examination of what Bell calls “every single verse in the Bible in which we find the actual work Hell”, he concludes that the references are vague and a bit random.  He finds no connected story of judgment or eternal punishment.  After his summary, he states “and that’s about it” as his point of view as to the incomplete picture of Hell drawn by the Bible.[55]

Bell references the stories of the flood and of the destruction of Sodom, biblical references typically used by theologians in illustrating a particular view of Hell.  Bell’s view is that neither account is about judgment or damnation but about redemption.  In the end the city of Sodom was restored and the destruction became restoration.  The same is true of the flood.  Earth was restored by a loving God.  Love won, from Bell’s point of view.  Overall, in Bell’s view, the concept of Hell as a place is unsupported by the Bible and inconsistent with the doctrine of the love of God.

If Hell is not a real place it certainly cannot be eternal.  Curiously after making the case that Hell is not a literal destination, Bell goes on to prove it is not eternal either.  His exegesis of biblical references included studies of the words aion, kolazo, olam and others.  These are commonly all interpreted as eternal or forever by modern Bibles.  Bell made the case that in each word there are just as many references to things lasting less than eternally and that using them to create a vision of eternal judgment is turning “concepts into phrases that aren’t there.”[56]

In his summary of Hell, Bell finds it neither literal nor eternal.  The concept is valid, a place or state of mind that represents separation from God.  With a concept of Hell to consider a society understands the need for God.  It is a valid concept, so “let’s keep it.”[57]  Past the concept stage it is really just for illustrative purposes.  To be clear, Bell states he does believe in a literal Hell.  It is just here on Earth and some of us are already in it.  Bell sees it similar to Dante’s “Hell is other people” already here on Earth.[58]

Erasing Hell, published in 2011 by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle is a response to Love Wins.  It was not the only work published as a response to the work of Bell, but over time has become known by many as the work that most directly responds to Bell’s point of view.  Like Bell, Chan is also an accomplished writer and founder of a successful evangelical church, Cornerstone Church, in Simi Valley, California.[59]

Chan, the primary voice of the book, is clear in his position that Bell has twisted scripture in his view of both Heaven and Hell.[60]  Hell is a very real place of judgment after death for those who reject Christ.  Chan details the death of his own grandmother and his life-long regret that she now resides there.[61]  Chan’s most persuasive case for Hell is in his contrasting the views of Bell are in the words of Jesus from the New Testament.  While Bell’s contention is that the words of Jesus were vague and unspecific, Chan points out that in Jesus’ day, Hell was considered a reality of the Jewish faith.  Jesus would have no need to make a specific case for Hell to his listeners.  He would work to show them the way to avoid such a destination.  Jesus did not challenge the Jewish view of Hell as a reality because it was not necessary.  He was aligned with that view point with his audience.  He certainly was not hesitant to challenge the Jews of that day on their belief systems.  He did not challenge them on Hell because they fully accepted the reality of the place.

Chan is specific in his argument against Bell.  Jesus did use the word gehenna in reference to Hell, as detailed by Bell.   Unlike Bell’s assertion that Jesus used it as a reference to the city dump of that day, Chan illustrates that in the twelve times Jesus used the word in the Bible, it was always used as a reference to “punishment after judgment.”[62] Gehenna was used to illustrate the concepts of everlasting fire and everlasting punishment in Matthew 35:41 and 46.  Jesus was purposeful and specific in his use of the word. Hell is a real place to which you can be sentenced after judgment as shown in Matthew 23:33.[63]

Chan is also direct in his examination of the duration of Hell based on the words of Jesus.  Although the well-known phrases everlasting fire and everlasting punishment from Matthew 25 are often used as the foundation for the idea on an eternal hell, Chan is not convinced.  A detailed exegesis of the words aionios punishment and aionios correction show that these passages seem to imply never-ending time, these words are also used to mean life-long or enduring.[64]

In the end Chan’s conclusion is that Hell is a real place.  The duration of Hell is unclear.  Whether it is for a day or for eternity it is to be avoided.  Chan’s response to Bell takes form of the traditional view of the doctrine of hell in many ways, leaning toward conditional in some respects.  The modern day debate of these two well respected evangelical leaders brought new life to the debate of one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith.   Regardless of the reader’s point of view, their work was meaningful and relevant.



            Five views of the doctrine of Hell have been presented.  This will be a summary of the interaction of this writer with each view.  The traditional view was presented first, and it appears to be the most prevalent view of evangelicals today.  Peterson begins his case for this view with the foundation of judgment of God clearly shown in the Old Testament.  The flood, the destruction of Sodom, the fate of the Egyptians opposing Israel through the plagues and crossing of the Red Sea and the biblical accounts of the Assyrian conquest and captivity of Israel all show clearly that God will not be ignored and rejection of his way will be punished.  The word destroy or destroyed is used in Genesis 6 regarding the flood and in Genesis 19 regarding Sodom.  Struck down is the language of Exodus 12 regarding the Egyptians.  Thrust from his presence is the language of God toward Judah in 2 Kings during the conquest of Israel by the Assyrians.  The Bible is clear that God will inflict judgment.  It is certainly easier for all of us to focus solely on the love of God, which is abundant.  The judgment of God is also clearly shown over and over.  He clearly judges or punishes those who reject his way.

The language is equally clear about the duration of that judgment.  It is seen in both Old and New Testaments.  Daniel 12 clearly contrasts eternal contempt of unbelievers with the eternal life of believers.  In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus speaks of fire that is eternal, never to be quenched.  The scripture seems to clearly endorse the idea of literal punishment that lasts eternally.  Walvoord would clearly agree, a supporter of the completely literal interpretation of all biblical passages.  His focus on 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is clear.  Paul writes that the penalty for rejection of God is eternal.  The traditional view of the biblical doctrine of hell is the clear view of a literal hell that lasts forever.

The conditional view accepts the literal interpretation of Hell while stating that eventually the residents of Hell will perish.  Man can only be immortal or exist somewhere forever if it is the will of God as supported by 1 Timothy.  There are also clear Old Testament implications in Psalms and Isaiah that the fire will eventually consume the residents of hell to destruction.  John 3:16 also indicates the clear eternal life for believers and that they will not perish.  The implication is that non-believers will perish.  Clearly the biblical references imply that hell may not be eternal.

The metaphorical view of Hell is supported biblically with only indirect references.  It is somewhat aligned with work of Bell, in the idea that we somehow create a heaven or hell for ourselves based on what we do or do not do.  The concept of a mental-only or word-picture Hell is interesting discussion with very little firm biblical support.

The modern discussion of Bell and Chan brought an unpopular, uncomfortable doctrinal issue back into the mainstream of discussion among evangelicals.  Although not completely aligned, this reader finds the ideas of Bell and Crockett very similar, pushing the doctrine of both Heaven and Hell into the theoretical, intellectual world of discussion, to a place sometimes reserved for hypothetical issues not really relevant to everyday life.  The work of Bell is easy to read in his popular writing style, but hard to follow theologically.  Bell plainly states that he believes in a literal Hell at the conclusion of one chapter after laying the ground work in the previous chapter for its existence already on Earth or only in the minds of humans.  His book is a feel-good work on Hell as well as on Heaven.  At the end of his book love does win in that all is forever forgiven and we all live happily ever after.  That just is not biblically supported.  If we do not chose to follow Christ, “Hell by default is a result of no choice.”[65] (Proverbs 14:12, John 3:36)

Chan’s work following Bell does a clear job pointing out the inconsistencies of Bell’s analysis and laying out a primarily traditional approach.  Chan’s work around New Testament words on punishment and correction clearly offset the work of Bell.  Bell’s popular writing style is easy to read and understand but not consistently supported biblically.




            This is a fascinating and vitally important doctrine.  No question can be more important that a person’s location for eternity.  Chan mirrored this writer’s feelings in researching this subject in that at times “I’m scared to death” by this research.[66]  The conclusions of the doctrines of Hell made by the conditional, metaphorical or Bell view are much less scary than the ultimate conclusion of this writer.  Hell is real and it is eternal.  It is the words of Jesus that help make the final conclusion.   He was clear in Matthew 8 that it would be better to lose hands or feet than experience eternal fire.  In the same passage he warned it would be better to lose your eyesight than to keep it and live a life rejecting God that lands you in a hell made of fire.  These words are clear.  The words of Jesus are not to be debated.

A careful examination of the different biblical views of Hell and the scripture used to support each lead to the conclusion that the Bible speaks of a literal place called Hell that lasts forever.


















Archer, Gleason L., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Chicago, IL:  Moody Press, 1994.

Augustinus, Aurelius, The Confessions of St. Augustine, New Kensington, PA:  Whitaker House, 1996.

Bales, William, “The Descent of Christ in Ephesians 4:9”, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 72,                 January 2010.

Bell, Rob, Love Wins, New York, NY:  Harper One, 2011.

Blueletter Bible Institute Website,, Accessed 5/20/2012.

Chan, Francis and Preston Sprinkle, Erasing Hell, Colorado Springs, CO:  David C. Cook                                    Publishing, 2001.

Clark-Soles, Jaime, “The Afterlife:  Considering Heaven and Hell”, Word and World, Vol 31,                   Winter 2011.

Elwell, Walter A., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 2001.

Esolen, Anthony M., “The Freedom of Heaven and the Freedom of Hell”, First Things, Vol. 191,                        March 2009.

Fudge, Edward William, The Fire That Consumes, Eugene, OR:  Cascade Books, 2011.

Fudge, Edward William, Robert A. Peterson, Two Views of Hell, Downers Grove, IL:                                 InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Gundry, Stanley N. and William Crockett, Four Views of Hell, Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan,                1996.

Luther, Martin, Theologia Germanica Reprint, Whitefish, MT:  Kessinger Publishing, 1992.

Morgan, Christopher W., Is Hell for Real or Does Everyone Go to Heaven?, Grand Rapids MI:                  Zondervan, 2011.

Morgan, Christopher W. and Robert Peterson, What is Hell?, Phillipsburg, NJ:  P&R Publishing,               2010.

NYAC College and Alliance Seminary Website,, Accessed             6/10/2012.


Peterson, Robert, Hell on Trial, Chattanooga, TN: R&R Publishing, 1995.

Rasmussen, Tarald, “Hell Disarmed?  The Function of Hell in Reformation Spirituality”, The                    Numen, Vol. 56, February 2009.

Shedd, G.T., The Doctrine of Endless Punishment, London, England:  Banner of Truth                             Publishing, 1999.

Stenschke, Christopher W., “Hell:  A hard look at a hard question”, Evangel, Vol. 20, Spring 2002.

Walvoord Research Website,, accessed 5/15/2012.

Wiese, Bill, Hell:  Separate Truth from Fiction and Get Your Toughest Questions Answered,                      Lake Mary, FL:  Charisma House Publishing, 2008.



[1] Christopher W. Morgan, Is Hell for Real or Does Everyone Go to Heaven?, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2011), p11.

[2] Ibid, p82.

[3] Robert Peterson, Hell on Trial, (Chattanooga, TN:  R&R Publishing, 1995), back cover.

[4] Ibid, p vii.

[5] Ibid, p22.

[6] William Bales, “The Descent of Christ in Ephesians 4:9”, Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 72, January 2010, p86.

[7] Ibid, p23.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid, p27.

[10] Ibid, p29.

[11] Ibid, p32.

[12] Christopher W. Morgan and Robert Peterson, What is Hell?, (Phillipsburg, NJ:  P&R Publishing, 2010),  p44.

[13] Peterson, p44.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Peterson, p47.

[16] Peterson, p54.

[17] Blueletter Bible Institute Website,, accessed 5/20/2012.

[18] Peterson, p198.

[19] Walvoord Biblical Research Website,, accessed 5/15/2012.

[20] Stanley N. Gundry and William Crockett, Four Views of Hell, (Grand Rapids, MI;  Zondervan, 1996),  p41.

[21] Ibid, p21.

[22] Ibid, p22.

[23] Ibid, p26.

[24] Ibid, p27.

[25] Edward William Fudge and Robert A. Peterson, Two Views of Hell, (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2000), back cover.

[26] Ibid, p20.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid, p22.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid, p19.

[32] Ibid, p20.

[33] Fudge and Peterson, p22.

[34] Fudge, p22.

[35] Fudge and Peterson, p25.

[36] Ibid, p29.

[37] Ibid, p80.

[38] Ibid, p81.

[39] NYAC College and Alliance Seminary Website,, accessed 6/10/2012.

[40] Gundry and Crockett, p61.

[41] Ibid, p55.

[42] Ibid, p56.

[43] Jaime Clark-Soles, “The Afterlife:  Considering Heaven and Hell”, Word and World, Vol. 31, Winter 2011,  p67.

[44] Ibid, p57.

[45] Ibid, p58.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid, p59.

[48] Ibid, p61.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Rob Bell, Love Wins, (New York, NY:  Harper One, 2011), book jacket.

[51] Ibid, p viii.

[52] Ibid, p69.

[53] Ibid, p83.

[54] Ibid, p69, p65.

[55] Ibid, p69.

[56] Ibid, p92.

[57] Ibid, p93.

[58] Anthony M. Esolen, “The Freedom of Heaven and the Freedom of Hell”, First Things, Vol. 191, March 2009, p41.

[59] Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle, Erasing Hell, (Colorado Springs, CO;  David C. Cook Publishing, 2001), back cover.

[60] Ibid, p11.

[61] Ibid, p13.

[62] Ibid, p74.

[63] Ibid, p75.

[64] Ibid, p85-86.

[65] Bill Wiese, Hell:  Separate Truth from Fiction and Get Your Toughest Questions Answered, (Lake Mary, FL:  Charisma House Publishing, 2008),  p57.

[66] Chan and Sprinkle, p14.

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