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.”
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. 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.”
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.”
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.
 Douglas J. Moo, “Paul on Hell.” In Hell Under Fire eds. Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. Pg. 108.
 Olethros and apollymi/apoleia.
 Moo, 104-105.
 Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. Carlisle: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1990. Pg. 229.