A photograph of a desolate landscape with fiery red skies, jagged rocks, and a lone figure engulfed in torment, symbolizing the biblical depiction of Hell's eternal suffering.

What Does The Bible Say About Hell?

The concept of hell evokes visions of fire, brimstone, and eternal suffering. But what does the Bible actually say about hell? If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The Bible depicts hell as a place of darkness, fire, and torment where the wicked are banished after death or judgment day to suffer eternally as punishment for sin.

In this comprehensive article, we will examine all the passages in the Bible that describe hell. We will look at the Hebrew and Greek words translated as “hell,” analyze how Old and New Testament writers characterized the afterlife for the wicked, and scrutinize details such as the duration of damnation according to Scripture.

Defining Hell: Key Terms and Descriptors

Sheol and Hades: Realms of Darkness

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word Sheol refers to the abode of the dead, a realm of stillness and darkness to which all souls went after death. Sheol was not a place of punishment, but rather the common destination for both the righteous and the wicked.

The Greek word Hades in the New Testament had a similar meaning as Sheol. Hades was seen as an intermediate state before final judgment, not necessarily a place of torment. However, in Luke 16:19-31, Jesus depicted Hades as a place of anguish for the unrighteous rich man.

Gehenna: Valley of Fire

The word Gehenna originates from the Hebrew Ge Hinnom (“Valley of Hinnom”), an actual valley just outside Jerusalem. In Jesus’s time, Gehenna was used as a garbage dump where rubbish was burned. The flames and stench made it an appropriate metaphor for the place of eternal punishment for the wicked.

Of the 12 times Gehenna is mentioned in the New Testament, 11 of them were spoken by Jesus to warn about the dangers of hell. He used Gehenna to illustrate the horrific reality of being cast outside the presence of God forever.

Lake of Fire: Final Destination of the Wicked

The Lake of Fire is mentioned only in the book of Revelation. It is described as the final place of punishment for Satan, the Antichrist, the False Prophet, demons, the unrighteous, and even death and Hades themselves (Revelation 19:20, 20:10,14-15).

While debated by some, most Bible scholars agree the Lake of Fire is equivalent to hell or the Gehenna that Jesus talked about. It is the ultimate destination of eternal suffering for those who reject Christ.

The Lake of Fire is the climax of God’s judgment at the end of the old creation before the beginning of the new heavens and earth.

Portraits of Hell in the Old Testament

Sheol as Gloomy Existence After Death

The Old Testament refers to the abode of the dead as Sheol, which is portrayed as a gloomy, dark place where people exist as mere shadows after death (Job 10:21-22). There are no descriptions of punishments or rewards in Sheol, just a neutral existence removed from God’s presence (Psalm 6:5).

Sheol is sometimes used poetically to represent death itself, the grave or pit (Psalm 30:3). Overall, Sheol is depicted as an inevitable destination after death, not necessarily a place of judgment.

Symbolic Images of Fire and Darkness as Judgments

At times, the prophets used symbolic images of fire, darkness, worms, and decay to describe God’s judgment on the wicked (Isaiah 66:24). These grim pictures conveyed the severity of God’s wrath and impending doom on unrepentant sinners.

However, the Old Testament does not attach these images directly to a place called “hell.” They are poetic warnings of earthly judgments, capturing the dreadful end of those opposing God.

Lack of Clarity on Afterlife and Resurrection

While the Old Testament alludes to some kind of afterlife, details about the eternal destiny of human souls are scarce. The notions of personal resurrection and eternal judgment after death only emerged gradually later in the Old Testament period (Daniel 12:2).

In the Torah, blessings from God centered on long life, health, and prosperity in the present world. Afterlife was not a primary concern. By the intertestamental period, concepts like the immortality of the soul and the resurrection became more defined.

But the Old Testament itself lacks clarity on the afterlife.

The New Testament Doctrine of Eternal Punishment

Hades as Temporary Abode Before Final Judgment

According to the New Testament, Hades serves as a temporary holding place for the souls of the dead before they face final judgment (Luke 16:23). While some portray Hades as a place of torment, several scholars argue it is more a realm of darkness for those awaiting their eternal destiny.

Jesus’s parable involving Lazarus provides insight into the nature of Hades (Luke 16:19-31). While different interpretations exist, key details emerge regarding the intermediary afterlife realm preceding final judgment:

  • Hades involves some separation between the righteous like Lazarus and the unrighteous like the rich man
  • The unrighteous face anguish and torment while the righteous find comfort
  • A great chasm exists that none can cross over, indicating a state of finality in Hades that awaits the last judgment

So the New Testament suggests Hades serves as a temporary holding place for deceased souls rather than the final hell of eternal punishment.

Gehenna’s Association with Fire and Maggots

When describing final judgment for the wicked, Jesus often employed the term Gehenna, borrowing from a ravine outside Jerusalem where child sacrifices once occurred (Mark 9:43). The imagery includes:

  • Unquenchable fire – suggesting the punishment endures forever (Mark 9:43-48)
  • Worms that don’t die – implying ongoing decay (Mark 9:48)
  • Being “thrown into” – indicating violence & finality (Matt 18:9)

So the graphic details associated with Gehenna emphasize qualities like the finality, violence, and gruesomeness of hell’s punishment for the unredeemed according to Jesus.

The Lake of Fire as Final, Eternal Destination of the Wicked

The Book of Revelation provides the most vivid New Testament depiction of hell with its imagery of a fiery lake:

  • Burning with fire & brimstone – implying pain & suffering (Rev 21:8)
  • The second death – indicating finality (Rev 20:14)
  • Eternal torment – suggesting permanence (Rev 20:10)
Percentage of Americans believing in hell: 69% (Pew 2021)

So the New Testament doctrine of hell culminates with the Lake of Fire as the final, eternal place of punishment for Satan, demons, the Antichrist, and the irredeemably wicked.

Duration and Nature of Damnation

Everlasting Destruction and Eternal Fire

The Bible repeatedly emphasizes that hell is a place of everlasting punishment and destruction for the wicked. Jesus warns of being thrown into “eternal fire” and a place “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-48).

The Book of Revelation describes hell as a “lake of fire” where the wicked experience “a second death” (Revelation 20:14-15). These graphic metaphors underscore the eternally endless nature of retribution in hell for those who reject Christ.

God’s righteous judgment demands that sins against an eternal God receive an eternal punishment. As Jesus declared, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). Hell lasts as long as heaven does.

Just as believers will experience never-ending joy in heaven, so the wicked will experience never-ending suffering in hell.

Outer Darkness, Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

In addition to fire, the Bible uses terms like “outer darkness” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” to convey the agony of those cast into hell. These phrases metaphorically communicate that hell is a place of absolute anguish, despair, pain and regret (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30).

Being condemned to hell means being shut out from God’s presence and the joy of heaven forever. It means sorrowfully recognizing one’s disastrous decision to reject Christ and spending eternity in inconsolable suffering. As C.S.

Lewis said, “All that are in hell choose it…The door to hell is locked on the inside.”

The grief of squandered opportunities and rebellion against God will haunt the conscience of the damned for eternity. Their weeping and gnashing of teeth speaks of irreversible remorse and deep anguish of soul.

Degrees of Punishment Based on Wickedness

While the Bible emphasizes the eternally fixed nature of retribution in hell, it also indicates that there will be degrees of punishment based on wickedness. Jesus said that it will be “more tolerable” on the day of judgment for notoriously wicked cities like Sodom than self-righteous ones like Capernaum (Matthew 11:20-24).

This indicates that the wicked will not all experience identical levels of pain. The justice of God will exactly calibrate each person’s punishment according to the nature of their sins on earth. However, regardless of degrees of punishment, hell will be unspeakably terrible for all who reject Christ and face God’s wrath.

The Purpose and Justice of Hell

Hell Necessary to Demonstrate God’s Justice

Hell serves an important purpose in God’s plan. It demonstrates that God is uncompromisingly just and will not tolerate evil or rebellion forever (Ezekiel 18:23). The existence of hell shows that God takes sin seriously and that there are eternal consequences for rejecting His offer of salvation.

God wishes that none would perish, but gives humans the dignifying freedom to choose their eternal destiny (2 Peter 3:9).

Some view hell as divine overreach. But Scripture presents hell as the venue where God’s justice and wrath find full expression for those who spurn His love and grace (Romans 2:5-8). God would not be righteous if he failed to punish sin. Thankfully, Jesus’ atonement offers an escape from hell’s torment to all who repent and believe (John 3:16).

Destruction of Body and Soul as Retribution for Sin

The Bible teaches that unrepentant sinners will suffer destruction of both body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28). This is the just penalty for rebelling against the Creator. Hell consists of levels of punishment appropriate to different sins (Luke 12:47-48), demonstrating that God meticulously repays every person according to what he or she has done (Romans 2:6; Psalm 62:12; Proverbs 24:12).

Hell means everlasting separation from God and any chance to fulfill earthly hopes and dreams. For this reason, Scripture urges humans to live reverently in view of coming judgment (2 Peter 3:11-12). Thankfully, until one’s last breath, it is not too late to turn from sin and toward Christ (John 3:36).

Eternal, Conscious Torment Showing God’s Wrath and Holiness

Hell consists of unending, conscious torment away from God’s comforting presence (Mark 9:48; 2 Thessalonians 1:9). The same Greek word for “eternal” describing heaven’s duration is applied to hell. Hell showcases God’s limitless capacity to punish sin accumulated by unrepentant people during their unbelievably short earthly lives.

The feeling in hell can be described only as unspeakable anguish and bitter regret.

God does not delight to punish the wicked, but He is so holy and righteous that His very presence torments unrepentant sinners (Hebrews 12:14; Revelation 14:10). Thankfully, Jesus endured hell’s agony on the cross so believers will never receive hell’s just penalty for their sins (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Turning to Christ is the only way to be saved from this eternal fate (Acts 4:12).


While controversial and unsettling, the concept of hell is an undeniably real part of the Bible’s landscape. Both Old and New Testaments contain scattered references warning the wicked of coming judgment and dire, often fiery, consequences in the afterlife.

By examining the original Hebrew and Greek terms, as well as contextual passages, we gain insight into how biblical authors understood and described the destiny of the unrighteous after death. Though details vary between Old Testament shadows and New Testament clarity, the overall portrait is clear: hell signifies eternal separation from God and unrelenting suffering as punishment for those who reject righteousness.

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