The Bible warns that those who reject God’s mercy now will face him in judgment one day and be banished into hell. But did you know that many popular ideas about hell actually sprang from ancient pagan myths and not from the Word of God?
In the following quiz, see if you can spot the biblical truth and the traditions of men. After the quiz, you’ll find the correct answers — and references to appropriate biblical passages for further study.
a. a mortal body housing an immortal soul;
b. a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury;
c. a perishable creature wholly dependent on God for existence.
a. expulsion from Eden and the collapse of the Tower of Babel;
b. the fall of Jerusalem and the defeat of the Spanish Armada;
c. the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
a. fire that destroys forever (Sodom and Gomorrah);
b. fire that cannot destroy what is put in it (Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego);
c. fire that continues to burn indefinitely (the Burning Bush of Moses).
a. a symbol of terrible torture;
b. burning sulfur that suffocates and destroys;
c. a preserving agent that keeps someone alive forever.
a. excruciating pain and agony;
c. extreme anger and hostility.
a. people suffering horrible pain;
b. a completed desolation or annihilation;
c. a closed arena when cigarettes were still allowed.
a. a destruction that will be irreversible;
b. conscious torment that never ends;
c. a battery-powered rabbit that short circuited.
a. a maggot that feeds on something dead;
b. a symbol for a pained conscience;
c. a figure of speech standing for everlasting agony in torment.
a. fire which burns forever but never burns up what is put in it;
b. fire which comes from a volcano;
c. fire which is irresistible and therefore consumes entirely.
a. God will put fire and worms in their flesh and they will feel their pain forever;
b. they will be ashes under the soles of the feet of the righteous;
c. neither of the above.
a. burn up the “chaff”;
b. torment the lost forever and never let them die;
c. purge sinners of all evil and then send them to heaven.
a. someone burning chaff, dead trees or weeds;
b. a house destroyed by a hurricane or someone crushed under a boulder;
c. all the above.
a. God is able to destroy both soul and body;
b. God will perpetuate the soul in everlasting agony;
c. Satan reigns over his evil subjects and tortures damned humans.
a. punishment which occurs in the Age to Come rather than during this life;
b. eternal life in horrible agony and pain;
c. punishment which has everlasting results;
d. (a) and (c) but not (b).
a. what happens to the wicked after resurrection and judgment;
b. the urgency of responding to God while there is opportunity;
c. details about the “intermediate state” between death and resurrection.
a. go to hell and burn alive forever;
b. die, perish, and be punished with eternal destruction;
c. go to heaven but hate every minute of it.
a. the soul of every person, good or evil;
b. the resurrection bodies of the saved but not of the lost;
c. no human being now or hereafter.
a. unending conscious pain;
b. inescapable destruction;
c. going “gently into that good night.”
a. be burned to ashes like Sodom and Gomorrah;
b. perish like brute beasts;
c. both the above.
a. a picture of indescribable, everlasting torture;
b. a place Eskimos might like to visit;
c. the second death.
CHECK YOUR ANSWERS BY THE BIBLE . . .
1. I hope you marked (c). According to the Bible, the human being is a perishable creature wholly dependent on God for existence.
The notion that your mortal body houses some kind of immortal soul sprang from the pagan Greeks and was popularized by the philosophers Socrates and Plato. The “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury” line originated with Shakespeare’s fictional Macbeth, not with the Word of God.
Genesis 2:7; Psalms 103:14-16; Romans 6:23; 1 Tim. 6:16.
2. Again the correct answer is (c). Biblical writers point back to the Flood and to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to illustrate the fate awaiting the lost.
Adam and Eve walked away alive after their expulsion from Eden, something no one cast into hell will ever do, and the Bible does not say the Tower of Babel collapsed. Jerusalem’s fall and the defeat of Spain’s navy armada don’t qualify here, either.
On the Flood, see Genesis 6-9 and 2 Peter 3:5-7. Concerning Sodom and Gomorrah, see Genesis 19:24-29 and 2 Peter 2:6 and Jude 7.
3. In the Bible, the expression “eternal fire” signifies choice (a), fire that destroys forever, as with Sodom and Gomorrah.
Popular tradition says hell will be like Moses’ Burning Bush which never went out, or like the non-consuming furnace into which their enemies threw Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. However, the Bible warns that hell is a consuming fire which destroys both body and soul.
Jude 7; Matthew 25:41; Matthew 10:28.
4. This time (b) is biblical. The “brimstone” in the expression “fire and brimstone” is burning sulfur that suffocates and destroys.
The figure comes from the destruction of Sodom, which was incinerated without a trace. God is love, not an eternal torturer. The Bible really means it when it says the wages of sin is death!
Genesis 19:24-25, 29; Deuteronomy 29:22-23; Psalms 11:6; Ezekiel 38:22; Revelation 14:10; Romans 6:23.
5. Surprise! Throughout the Bible, “gnashing of teeth” denotes (c) extreme anger and hostility.
The picture of people grinding their teeth in unending torment owes more to Dante’s Inferno than it does to the Bible. We learn about gingivitis, of course, from a television commercial for a brand of mouthwash.
Job 16:9; Psalms 35:16; Psalms 37:12; Psalms 112:10; Lamentations 2:16; Acts 7:54; Matthew 13:43, 49-50; Matthew 22:13-14; Matthew 24:50-51; Matthew 25:30; Luke 13:28.
6. Again (b) is biblical. Smoke rising symbolizes a completed desolation or annihilation, if we let Scripture interpret itself.
This figure of speech also originates with the annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah, and appears in both the Old and New Testaments afterward. Hell might well involve conscious pain, but conscious suffering will be according to God’s perfect justice and will stop with the death of both body and soul in hell. (You didn’t guess the one about cigarettes anyway, did you?)
Genesis 19:27-28; Isaiah 34:10-15; Revelation 14:11; Revelation 18:17-18; Malachi 4:1-3.
7. See for yourself! When Scripture speaks of smoke rising “forever,” it signifies (a) destruction that will be irreversible.
That battery-powered rabbit came from the television commercials — it is no more biblical than the other choice, the notion of unending conscious torment.
Isaiah 34:10-15; Revelation 14:11.
8. Another big surprise for most folks! The “worm” in the expression “worm that dies not” is (a) a maggot that feeds on something dead until there is nothing left on which to feed.
The idea of everlasting agony in torment originated with former pagan Greek philosophers who also thought human beings had a “soul” which will never die. More tender-hearted traditionalists later defined the “worm” as a pained conscience. If they had read Isaiah 66:24 in context, they could have avoided the confusion to start with.
Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:47-48.
9. This time (c) is correct. The expression “unquenchable fire” in the Bible always signifies fire which cannot be resisted and which therefore consumes entirely.
Long after Christ, certain church fathers invented the doctrine of hell as a fire which burns forever but never burns up what is put in it.
Isaiah 1:31; Jeremiah 4:4; Jeremiah 17:27; Ezekiel 20:47-48; Amos 5:5-6; Matthew 3:12. Contrast human fire which can be quenched or put out, mentioned in Hebrews 11:34.
10. No surprise here if you chose (b). The Old Testament’s final book describes the end of sinners as ashes under the soles of the feet of the righteous.
Long after Malachi, the apocryphal book of Judith introduced the non-scriptural idea that God will put fire and worms in people’s flesh so they will feel pain forever.
11. John the Baptist warned of “unquenchable fire,” by which Jesus would (a) burn up the “chaff”. Not surprising, since fire that cannot be extinguished (quenched) does exactly what we expect fire to do!
Missing this biblical truth, some later theologians claimed that God will torment the lost forever and never let them die, while others theorized that God will purge sinners of all evil and then send them to heaven. Both theories have modern advocates, but neither of them reflects the Bible’s teaching.
12. Jesus compared the end of the wicked to someone burning chaff, dead trees or weeds, and also said it will be like a house destroyed by a hurricane or someone crushed under falling rock. Check (c) here to be correct.
Matthew 3:12; Matthew 7:19; Matthew 13:30, 40; Matthew 7:27; Luke 20:17-18.
13. Choice (a) is accurate on this one. Jesus personally described Gehenna (hell) as a place where God can destroy both soul and body — the entire person.
The just and loving God of the Bible who loved sinners all the way to the Cross will certainly not perpetuate the soul in everlasting agony. On the other hand, if you pictured Satan reigning over his evil subjects and torturing damned humans, you might be watching too much late-night television!
14. If you selected choice (d), you are right on target. By describing hell’s punishment as “eternal,” the Bible tells us that it is a punishment which occurs in the Age to Come rather than during this life, and also that its results will be everlasting.
You’ll find nothing in Scripture about eternal life in horrible agony and pain. Jesus warns of everlasting punishment — which Paul further explains as everlasting destruction.
Matthew 25:46; 2 Thessalonians 1:9.
15. The context and “punch line” of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus concern (b) the urgency of responding to God while there is opportunity.
When they read this passage carefully, most people are surprised to find that the context of Jesus’ parable has nothing to do with what happens to the wicked after resurrection and judgment, or even about a so-called “intermediate state” (which is not necessarily the same as what happens after resurrection and final judgment).
See Luke 16:9-16 for the context, and Luke 16:31 for the “punch line.”
16. It’s choice (b) again. Throughout his writings, Paul says that the lost will: (b) die, perish, and be punished with eternal destruction.
If you picked choice (a) “go to hell and burn alive forever,” you will really be surprised when you look for anything like that in Paul’s writings. Choice (c) is wrong, since all who finally inhabit God’s eternal kingdom will enjoy every “minute” of unending eternity!
Romans 6:23; Romans 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 3:17; Philippians 1:28; Philippians 3:19.
17. The New Testament uses the adjective “immortal” to describe (b) the resurrection bodies of the saved but not of the lost.
Some philosophers in Paul’s day taught that every person has an immortal soul — a doctrine which later crept into the Christian church but is now increasingly rejected as unbiblical. Still others said no one will ever be “immortal” or deathless. Scripture rejects both those errors, when it declares that there is life only in Christ but promises that all who truly trust him will live forever! You will always be correct to remember that the Bible always ascribes immortality to the saved, never to the lost; always in the resurrection, never now; and always in a glorified body, never as a disembodied “soul” or “spirit.”
1 Corinthians 15:54-57; 2 Timothy 1:10; 1 John 5:11-13.
18. Did you choose (b)? Good for you! The Jewish-Christian books of Hebrews and James do indeed contrast salvation with inescapable destruction.
Read every word and you’ll never find a hint of unending conscious pain. Going “gently into that good night” is poetic but comes from Welsh poet Dylan Thomas rather than the Bible.
Hebrews 10:27, 39; Hebrews 12:25, 29; James 4:12; James 5:3, 5, 20.
19. Choice (c) is correct. Peter’s epistles clearly say that the lost will be burned to ashes like Sodom and Gomorrah and will perish like brute beasts.
2 Peter 2:6, 12; 2 Peter 3:6-9.
20. John is careful to define the “lake of fire” in Revelation as (c) the second death.
Read from Genesis to Revelation and you’ll never find a picture of indescribable, everlasting torture. Does that come as a surprise?
Revelation 20:14; Revelation 21:8.
For a thorough investigation of everything the Bible says about the destiny of the lost, you might wish to read The Fire That Consumes, by Edward William Fudge. This detailed book has stirred a worldwide rethinking of the doctrine of hell among evangelical Christians, and was a selection of Evangelical Book Club. For details and ordering information, click here.