Eternal Punishment

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Structure

The debate on whether the Bible says that:

  • The Bible says that suffering in hell continues eternally.

Positive (juxtaposed)

Matthew 25:45-46: Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Everlasting punishment could simply mean that the pain/negativeness of perishing or not being with God lasts forever, not everlasting pain from the fire. It's like saying: “I therefore shot the man, and inflicted everlasting punishment, for he will never again exist.”

Let's go back again to that earlier verse, Matthew 25:41: 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

We should notice that sinners depart into the fire prepared for the devil and his angels. From this context, we can infer that the everlasting punishment they 'went into' was not 'on' them, but on the devil, so even though the punishment lasts forever, humans will only be part of it for a thousand years or so; the rest of the punishment, clearly stated to have been prepared the devil, will be endured by him and his angels. The verse could then be interpreted as: “And these shall go away into the everlasting punishment of Satan, and will perish in the fire, but the righteous into everlasting life.”

The greek word that was translated into everlasting, αἰών, actually has multiple definitions:
1. lifetime
2. generation
3. a long period of time, eon, epoch, age
4. the current world

The word can mean 'a long period of time'. Why do we assume that it doesn't?

Because the same greek word is used a few words later to describe heaven, which is clearly eternal. Why would he put them in the same sentence if he didn't intend them to mean the same thing?

Revelation 14:11: 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.”

In the first part, "the smoke of their torment ascends forever", the smoke would rise eternally whether suffering continued or not.

In the second part, "they have no rest day or night", the 'rest' they lack might be referring merely to their emptiness apart from God; they are unable to experience the 'rest in God' that everyone in heaven would be enjoying.

Revelation 20:10: The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

If Satan's finite number of sins deserve eternal torment, why wouldn't ours?

Revelation 20:12-15: And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

If the people delivered up from Hades were still conscious(they were standing before God), wouldn't they be conscious in the lake of fire as well?

No, the lake of fire is the point at which the soul is destroyed, hence the wording: 'they were judged … cast in the lake of fire … this is the second death'. The first death is death of the body, the second death the death of the soul.

But Revelation 21:8 says, "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, […] shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

Doesn't this indicate that the lake of fire is actually experienced by the people within?

What it means to be 'part' of something isn't clearly defined. It can be valid whether or not sinners perish in the lake of fire, as is suggested by its description as the 'second death'; the death of the spirit/soul.

Hebrews 6:1-2: Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

As with the first verse, the eternal judgement referred to here could just be the negativeness of being apart from God, which continues into eternity even if the person is annihilated.

Mark 9:43-48: If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenchedwhere their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenchedwhere their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell firewhere their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.
Isaiah 66:24: And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

Why would all these verses emphasize things such as a never-dying worm and a non-quenchable fire, if suffering lasts only a while? For what reason would they be eternal?

Isaiah 33:14: The sinners in Zion are afraid; fearfulness has seized the hypocrites: “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?”

Yes, as is the sinner's body, his worm, and the fire, but readers should notice it never states the sinner himself will dwell forever in hell.

We don't even know if these verses are describing hell. And besides, the people were the ones who said it, we don't know if they were right.

Daniel 12:2: And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Again, this just describes the contempt that will last forever because they sinned against God, it does not mean their suffering will be everlasting.

Habakkuk 2:5: “Indeed, because he transgresses by wine, he is a proud man, and he does not stay at home. Because he enlarges his desire as hell, and he is like death, and cannot be satisfied, he gathers to himself all nations and heaps up for himself all peoples.
Proverbs 30:15-16: The leech has two daughters— Give and Give! There are three things that are never satisfied, four never say, “Enough!”: The grave, the barren womb, the earth that is not satisfied with water— and the fire never says, “Enough!”
Proverbs 27:20: Hell and Destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.

These three verses state that hell is never satisfied/full. While this doesn't really prove anything, some could interpret this to support the idea of eternal punishment.

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