What Does the Bible Say About Hell?

Painting of Hell
Like Sheep They are Laid in the Grave, Painting by James Tissot.

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According to traditional Christian doctrine, hell in the Bible is a place of future punishment and the final destination for unbelievers. It is described in Scripture using various terms such as "eternal fire," "outer darkness," "a place of weeping and torment," the "lake of fire," the "second death," and "unquenchable fire." The Bible teaches the terrifying reality that hell is a place of complete, unending separation from God.

Is Hell a Real Place?

"The Scriptures assure us that hell is a real place. But hell was not part of God's original creation, which He called 'good' (Genesis 1). Hell was created later to accommodate the banishment of Satan and his fallen angels who rebelled against God (Matthew 24:41). Human beings who reject Christ will join Satan and his fallen angels in this infernal place of suffering."

--Ron Rhodes, The Big Book of Bible Answers, page 309.

Terms for Hell in the Bible

The Hebrew word Sheol occurs 65 times in the Old Testament. It is translated "hell," "the grave," "death," "destruction," and "the pit." Sheol identifies the general abode of the dead, a place where life no longer exists. According to the Hebrew Bible, Sheol is specifically "the place of the unrighteous dead:"

This is the path of those who have foolish confidence; yet after them people approve of their boasts. Selah. Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. (Psalm 49:13–14, ESV)

Hades is the Greek term translated "hell" in the New Testament. Hades is similar to Sheol and often associated with a place of torment for the wicked. It is described as a prison with gates, bars, and locks, and its location is downward:

'For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.' "Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption." (Acts 2:27–31, ESV)

The Greek word Gehenna, originally derived from the "Valley of Hinnom," came to be used in the New Testament as "hell" or "the fires of hell," and expresses the place of final judgment and punishment for sinners. In the Old Testament, this valley south of Jerusalem became a place of child sacrifices to the pagan god Molech (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6; 23:10). Later, the Jewish people used the valley as dumping grounds for garbage, dead animal carcasses, and even executed criminals. Fires continually burned there to consume the refuse and dead bodies. Eventually, Gehenna became associated with a place where the wicked suffer in death. Here are two examples in the Bible where Gehenna has been translated "hell:"

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28, NKJV)
"Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels ...' " (Matthew 25:41, NKJV)

Another Greek term used to indicate hell or the "lower regions" is Tartarus. Like Gehenna, Tartarus also designates the place of eternal punishment. Tartarus was seen by ancient Greeks as the abiding place where rebellious gods and wicked humans were punished. It is only used once in the New Testament:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment ... (2 Peter 2:4, ESV)

What the Bible Says About Hell

Jesus plainly taught the existence of hell. He spoke of hell more often than he did of heaven. With so many references to hell in the Bible, any serious Christian must come to terms with the doctrine. The passages below are grouped in sections to help you understand what the Bible has to say about hell.

Punishment in hell is eternal:

"And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind." (Isaiah 66:24, NIV)
Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace. (Daniel 12:2, NLT)
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:46, NIV)
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It's better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. (Mark 9:43, NLT)
And don't forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God's judgment. (Jude 7, NLT)
"And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." (Revelation 14:11, NKJV)

Hell is a place of separation from God:

They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power. (2 Thessalonians 1:9, NLT)

Hell is a place of fire:

"His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:12, NKJV)
The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:41–42, NLT)
... throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:50, NLT)
And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15, NLT)

Hell is for the wicked:

The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God. (Psalm 9:17, ESV)

The wise will avoid hell:

The way of life winds upward for the wise, that he may turn away from hell below. (Proverbs 15:24, NKJV)

We can endeavor to save others from hell:

Physical discipline may well save them from death. (Proverbs 23:14, NLT)
Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. (Jude 23, NLT)

The Beast, False Prophet, Devil, and demons will be thrown into hell:

"Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, 'Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.' " (Matthew 25:41, NLT)
And the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who did mighty miracles on behalf of the beast—miracles that deceived all who had accepted the mark of the beast and who worshiped his statue. Both the beast and his false prophet were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. (Revelation 19:20, NLT)
... and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:10, ESV)

Hell has no power over the church of Jesus Christ:

Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means 'rock'), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. (Matthew 16:18, NLT)
Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6, NKJV)