Some think that the way in which Scripture speaks of Hell, as fire and outer darkness, is meant to be taken in a metaphorical way. I’m not sure, it may be so, but there are basically two groups who do this. One is the group which believes that saying that fire is metaphorical does not imply that Hell will be better than the traditional picture of Hell, rather, the reality is much stronger than the image. In other words, Hell is more terrible than you can imagine. Even if the worst thing that you can imagine is being tormented in fire forever, well, Hell is worse! The other camp tries to remove the idea of Eternal Suffering in body and soul. It may well be that the pictures of fire are meant to be taken in a metaphorical way, but this will not make Hell “less” endurable, but it will only make it more terrifying.
Now the question before us is simply, “How long will the suffering in Hell go on?” Historic Christianity has answered that question with “forever” until recent times when attempts have been made to teach that the wicked will not suffer eternal torment, but will be annihilated. Basically, the wicked will not suffer conscious torment for all eternity as historic Christianity has taught, but they will cease to exist either after death or after the Final Judgment. Does Scripture support such an idea? Does Scripture teach that the suffering of the unrighteous will be momentary and not everlasting? We must look at passages which speak about the duration of the torments of Hell. The following is an attempt to show that the Bible teaches the unending punishment of the wicked. I do not intend it to be a refutation of Annihilationism, but more a positive case for the unending nature of hell-torments.
Matthew 25:41, 46
Matthew 25:46 is a clear passage which is often brought up against Annihilationism or any doctrine which denies the unending punishment of the unrighteous in Hell. The passage reads:
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
In this passage, we see the fate of the wicked and the fate of the righteous. Both are said to be eternal, but their conditions are totally opposite. One is said to be of life, the other of punishment. Those who disagree with the traditional doctrine of Hell often make the argument that the word “eternal” does not mean “without end” in every place, and with that we agree. But I believe that it is hard to maintain in this place that the nature of the punishment is not unending. The duration of both the condition of the righteous as well as the wicked is described with the same word—eternal. Notice that the passage does not merely describe eternity, but it describes the conditions of the sheep and the goats in eternity. One group goes “into eternal punishment,” the other “into eternal life.” We know that Christians will not be annihilated, but will forever live with God, therefore, since the condition of the righteous is that of unending life, it is unjustified to believe that the punishment of the wicked is not unending, just like the duration of eternal life. The natural implication of the language is that the duration is the same for both the righteous as well as the wicked, although the condition is radically different. Albert Barnes quotes John Owen saying:
The original word - αἰώνιον aionion - is employed in the New Testament 66 ti...