A North Carolina brother observes, “I’ve often heard speakers refer to hell as a place where the soul lives forever, enduring punishment of fire. Could you comment on this?”
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The notion that every human being has a soul which, unlike the body, is immortal and cannot die, is a remnant of ancient pagan Greek philosophy. The idea crept into Christian thinking in the second and third centuries, where it shaped the popular doctrine of everlasting torture in hell. The great theologian Augustine gave the notion his stamp of approval and it became Catholic and Protestant orthodoxy. If souls cannot die but live forever, the wicked souls must suffer conscious torment throughout eternity — something the Bible never says and an idea completely out of character with the nature of God as revealed in Scripture and in his Son Jesus Christ.
The Bible does say that only God possesses immortality (1 Tim. 6:16), and that he is able to destroy both body and soul in hell (Matt. 10:28). It says that “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life” (Rom. 6:23). According to Scripture, God will bestow immortality on the saved in the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:42-44, 50-55) and they will live forever in the New Heavens and New Earth (Rev. 21:1-5).
The wicked will also be raised, but for condemnation rather than for life (John 5:29; Dan. 12:2). Following judgment, they will be cast into what Revelation picturesquely calls “The Lake of Fire and Brimstone” which is the second death (Rev. 21:8). There they suffer the punishment of “eternal destruction” (2 Thes. 1:9), which is the “eternal punishment” of which Jesus also warned (Matt. 25:46). The destructive process might well involve degrees of conscious torment according to God’s perfect justice, but the final result is the same. The wicked truly die, perish and are destroyed forever.