What did the Apostle Paul teach about Hell?

Category: The End Times 3,781 10

Last week, I wrote about the teachings of Jesus on the eternal destination of those who will reject him. Jesus taught about the reality of hell, and that it will last forever. In this article, I will answer the question, “What did the Apostle Paul teach about Hell?”

The first thing that is interesting about Paul’s letters is that he never uses the Greek words that are translated “hell.” Even so, he does teach about the fate of those who reject Jesus Christ. He never gets into a lengthy discussion of it, but does make some very important remarks about the unbeliever and his or her final destination.

Condemnation and the Wrath of God

The first thing to note about Paul’s teaching on the fate of the wicked is that he says that these people are condemned and will suffer God’s wrath. 2 Thessalonians 2:12 says that “all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” Notice that Paul says that those who are condemned are those who do not believe the truth. “Truth” in Paul’s thinking is believing in Jesus Christ.

Paul describes God’s action against unbelievers with the word “wrath.” Romans 2:5, 8 says, “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed…But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”

Paul is clear that those who are stubborn, unrepentant of their sins, and who reject the Lord will be objects of God’s wrath on the Day of Judgment. Colossians 3:6 explains this further when Paul says that God’s wrath is coming because of things such as lust, idolatry, greed, sexual immorality, and other evil deeds.

However, Paul doesn’t just give us the fate of the wicked. He teaches that those who believe in Jesus Christ are not to be recipients of God’s wrath (Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9), showing his audience that there is a way to avoid the coming judgment: believe in Jesus Christ.

Eternally Condemned and Trouble

Paul wrote the letter to the Galatian church to combat false teaching. He opposed the false teaching so strongly that he said, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:8-9). Paul goes as far to say that anyone who teaches something that is different from the gospel of Jesus Christ (a person or even an angel) will be condemned to damnation forever.

Paul continues his teaching of hell when he says in Romans 2:9, “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil.” Clearly, the afterlife is in view since, in our current world, those who do evil don’t always experience trouble and distress. The righteous are typically persecuted and go through tribulation (tribulation means trouble). Paul is teaching that those who reject God and do evil will experience trouble and distress in the next life.

Destruction and Separation from God

2 Thessalonians 1:8-10 is one of the most important passages about Paul’s teaching on hell. These verses say, “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 majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among those who have believed.”

The passage speaks about God punishing those who do not obey the gospel (believe in Jesus) with everlasting destruction. Paul then explains this by saying that the punishment is being “shut out from the presence of the Lord.” “Paul elaborates the meaning of ‘eternal destruction’ with the idea of being separated from the presence of God.”[1]

Paul teaches this idea elsewhere. Galatians 6:8 says, “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Philippians 1:28 and 3:19 teach that non-Christians will be destroyed. 2 Thessalonians 2:10 says, “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”

These verses tell us a lot. First, the ungodly will be destroyed, but Christians will be given eternal life. Second, those who perish will do so because they refused to believe in Jesus Christ. However, these verses have fueled a debate on whether or not hell will last forever. Paul says that the wicked will be destroyed. Does this not imply that those in hell will be destroyed in a way that means they will cease to exist?

Most of the time when Paul describes the fate of the wicked as “destruction” he is using two Greek words or word groups.[2] These words do not absolutely have to be defined as meaning “destruction” in the sense that something is going “extinct.” These terms often have another meaning: “the situation of a person or object that has lost the essence of its nature or function.” In fact, these words can refer to land that has lost its fruitfulness (Ezekiel 6:14; 14:16); ointment that is wasted and used for no apparent purpose (Matthew 26:8; Mark 14:4); wineskins that have holes in them (Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37); a coin that’s useless because it is lost (Luke 15:9); or the entire world that “perishes” in the Flood (2 Peter 3:6). “In none of these cases do the objects cease to exist; they cease to be useful or to exist in their original, intended state.”[3]

Bible scholar Charles Wanamaker notes that “destruction” in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 can be interpreted as a literal annihilation or as having a metaphorical meaning of punishment, not a literal destruction. He says, “As there is no evidence in Paul (or the rest of the NT for that matter) for a concept of final annihilation of the godless, the expression ‘eternal destruction’ should probably be taken in a metaphorical manner as indicating the severity of the punishment awaiting the enemies of God.”[4]

Conclusion

Although Paul does not use the Greek words translated “hell,” he does speak about the destination of those who reject Jesus. He teaches that those who go to hell will endure the wrath of God, become useless, be separated from God (the source of happiness and all that is good), and be distressed. This reality should motivate Christians to share the gospel with everyone that they know.

Did you learn more about hell from this article? Do you agree or disagree with it? Leave a comment below and join us on Facebook and Twitter.


[1] Douglas J. Moo, “Paul on Hell.” In Hell Under Fire eds. Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. Pg. 108.

[2] Olethros and apollymi/apoleia.

[3] Moo, 104-105.

[4] Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Carlisle: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1990. Pg. 229.

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10 thoughts on “What did the Apostle Paul teach about Hell?

  1. Terre McClellan Dickerson

    Thank you, I did learn more about hell. I agree, though it breaks my heart when I think about missed opportunities to witness to those I love and who have passed on.

    1. mmcclellan2

      You’re welcome. I know what you mean. This means that we need to, like never before, tell those still with us about the gospel.

    2. Riss

      The blindness of epistle believing Pharisees always blows my mind. Read Isaiah 57:16 then Numbers 23:19. What does it say?? Peter Paul James and John were typical blue collar ignorant Pharisees. Aionios at Matthew 25:46 means age or lifetime enduring not eternal. Sadducee and Pharisee represent specific afterlife theologies because the OT does not directly provide one 1st century Jews divided themselves into different sects. Sadducees said there is no soul or afterlife. Pharisee means belief in resurrection and final judgment and either eternal reward or eternal punishment. This is forever recorded by Jewish Pharisee and historian Flavius Josephus and at Acts 23 Paul declare himself to still be a Pharisee after converting to Christianity. Jesus taught reincarnation and says many times indirectly the kingdom of heaven was already here on earth and a key to a house of knowledge is necessary to enter. See Matthew 23:13 and Luke 11:52. This is the only explanation for Matthew 13:10 which otherwise is nonsensical!

  2. mmcclellan2

    Are you being serious? Although I do believe that hell is real and everyone who has rejected Christ will go there, I do not believe that it is underground or for imps.

  3. steve

    Sadly, many people are trying to find excuses not to believe what Jesus literally and unequivocally said about Hell as it is too hard to bear. The plain and simple truth is that Hell is dreadful beyond words. If there is a God then he certainly created us with the ability to experience intense suffering whilst here on earth . Consider the sheer agony of a condemed man scorching in The Electric Chair . This is a picnic compared to Hell . If you believe in zJesus then you have no choice but to accept the reality of Hell as he literally describes it on NUMETOUS occasions . The problem is of course is that we can never know if one is being compelled by faith or by fear. It seems to me that God is saying He loves you SO much , that He has created a Hell just in case you dont love him back . Is that truly goodness ? contend that it is impossible to have true faith in God without being terrified from the minuite you wake til the moment you sleep because the journey of life is riddled with snares designed to separate you from God . Jesus clearly states that many who have faith in him will suffer Hell as they did not do the will of the Father . So even the most fervent God fearing Christian may well end up in Hell. You can eithet conclude that Jesus really is the Saviour of Mankind and has come to warn , OR that Christianity is false and designed by men to gain control over others with fear . Either its true or it aint . Its a risk you will have to take and you do it alone and without any evidence . You have no choice but to live quaking in Fear.

    1. GLENN CORNELIUS

      Go to a site called tentmaker for some different views on hell. GOD will have all men to be saved, especially believers. These are also the words of our converted sinner brother Paul. No person or site has the whole answer, but this will put you on a deeper path of understanding our most complex FATHER.

    2. Gerald Monyok

      For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have Everlasting life. Your choices are Everlasting life or Perishing.
      For the wages of sin is death(Perishing), but the gift of God is Eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

      1. code

        Yea, but is it physical or spiritual perishing because I know a lot of believers who have physically perished. And if it spiritual perishing than john must be talking about spiritual life. John 17:3 ” and this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and jesus christ, who you do did send.” notice he says THIS IS eternal life. Jesus defines eternal life and he did not use any future tense verbs to define it.

  4. Corey

    The greek word “aionios” is an adjective most often translated as “eternal” in the NIV, NLT, KJV, NAS, and ESV. In the Young’s Literal Translation, it is more common to see it translated as age-enduring or age-long and never translated as eternal. Other translations will translate it “age-abiding”- Rotherham, “of the ages” – Weymouth, or “eonian” – Concordant Literal. The following verses are examples of where it would be extrememly difficult to translate the word “aionios” as eternal. The “quoted” portions all represent the same word “aionios” in the greek.
    Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for “long ages past”, – Romans 16:25
    (The mystery is hidden eternally? How then can Paul proclaim it?)
    He has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus “before the beginning of time” 2 Timothy 1:9
    (Does eternity have a beginning?)
    in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the “beginning of time”, – Titus 1:2
    (before eternity?)
    It’s good to note that this word is used in the plural form too which further suggests the impossibility of it meaning “eternal” in a literal sense.

    HELPS Word-Studies defines aionios as:
    Cognate: 166 aiṓnios (an adjective, derived from 165 /aiṓn (“an age, having a particular character and quality”) – properly, “age-like” (“like-an-age”), i.e. an “age-characteristic” (the quality describing a particular age);

    Jesus actually defines the word aionios for us:
    “this is aionios life that they may know You(The Father)…and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”John 17:3
    So we see that Jesus isn’t using the word aionios in relation to time but in relation to quality. Aionios life is that we know the Father and the Son; not that we simply live forever. It is imperative that we keep Jesus’ definition of “aionios life” in mind every time we see the phrase “eternal life” in scripture. Another thought: if “eternal life” is “knowing” God, what is “eternal death”? Are we “eternally dead” before coming to know God? Yes! Not knowing God is “aionios death”.

    Why is all of this important?
    The biggest passage infernalists (those who believe in eternal conscious torment) use to support their view is Matthew 25:46:
    “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:46 ESV
    Let’s take a look at this verse in Young’s Literal Translation:
    “And these shall go away to punishment age-during, but the righteous to life age-during.” Matthew 25:46 YLT

    Since St. Augustine, the western church (both catholic and protestant) has primarily interpreted this passage as meaning endless punishment for the goat and endless life for the sheep. However, we need to remember that the phrase “aionios life” refers to a quality of life according to Jesus. So here it is safe to believe that this punishment is not eternal in quantity but in quality. It is age-enduring punishment. It is intense punishment, not endless punishment. In the same way, eternal life referred to here isn’t merely living forever, it is knowing the Father and the Son in the coming age. It is intense life, not endless life.
    For more information on the word aionios visit: http://www.hopebeyondhell.net/articles/further-study/eternity/

    Did you know there isn’t a single passage of scripture where Paul so much as mentions the word hell? This is interesting considering that his epistles were the only documents many of the gentiles had in regards to the New Covenant. If an eternal hell awaits those not believing in Jesus, it’s important to note that Paul (the apostle to the gentiles) doesn’t mention this once in his letters.

    Paul does in one instance speak of “aionion” destruction. (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
    Remember that the “eternal” destruction again is “aionion” or “age-during” destruction; not “never-ending” destruction.
    Also, destruction (olethros) is defined by the HELPS WORD STUDIES as:
    3639 ólethros (from ollymi/”destroy”) – properly, ruination with its full, destructive results (LS). 3639 /ólethros (“ruination”) however does not imply “extinction” (annihilation). Rather it emphasizes the consequent loss that goes with the complete “undoing.”

    Check out some of the translations of that verse: (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
    They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, “away from the presence” of the Lord and from the glory of his might, ESV
    They will be punished with everlasting destruction and “shut out from the presence” of the Lord and from the glory of his might. NIV
    They will be punished with eternal destruction, “forever separated from” the Lord and from his glorious power. NLT
    Such people will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction by “being separated from” the Lord’s presence and from his glorious power ISV
    The “quoted” portions of these verses all correspond to one single greek word “apo” meaning “from.” In the Englishman’s Concordance, we find that “apo” throughout scripture is nearly always translated “from”. Why does the word suddenly get redefined as “separated from” or “shut out from” in this passage when in the vast majority of scriptures it is simply translated “from”?

    Here are four other translations:
    Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; KJV
    For they will be paid in judgment: eternal destruction from the face of our Lord and from the glory of his power, Aramaic Bible in Plain English
    who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might, ASV
    who shall suffer justice — destruction age-during — from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his strength, YLT

    Many who think that “hell” is literal separation from God anchor their belief in this verse. However, if we look in the Greek we find that the punishment doesn’t happen “away from” His presence but that it actually emanates “from” His presence.
    This understanding fits perfectly with Rev 14:10 where the “torment” (basanos) with “fire and sulfur” are being done “in the presence of the angels and of the lamb”.

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