Will the Wicked Burn in Hell?

Many churches teach that the wicked will burn and suffer forever in hellfire. But does the Bible actually teach this? If not, what does it teach?

Many preachers say the soul is immortal and is either going up to a heavenly paradise or down to eternal torture in hellfire. Religion sections in libraries, bookstores and the Internet are well stocked with books supporting this idea. But, as shocking as it may sound, the Holy Bible isn’t one of them!

The Bible—the manual provided by the great Creator—does not teach this dreadful doctrine.

The idea that God would torture people for eternity in a hellfire, in essence, makes God out to be a cruel sadist. But He isn’t. What the Bible does show is that God has a merciful plan that will give eternal life to the righteous, but will also bring justice to the unrighteous. But though that justice is punishment, it is not eternal torture.

What the Bible says will happen to sinners

Notice what the apostle Paul taught happens to the unrepentant: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

The wages of sin that hasn’t been repented of is death—not being endlessly tortured alive.

Here are some other scriptures that reinforce what Romans 6:23 teaches us:

  • The wicked will be ashes under the feet of the righteous (Malachi 4:3).
  • They will be reduced to our original state of mere dust (Genesis 3:19).
  • They will have no thoughts (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
  • Jesus taught that both the body and soul of the wicked will be completely destroyed in Gehenna (Matthew 10:28), that is the “lake of fire” (Revelation 19:20).
  • They will experience “the second death”—not a second life in hell (Revelation 21:8).

In John 3:16, probably the most famous verse in the Bible, Jesus Christ Himself said that those who don’t ultimately believe in Him would “perish,” which means “to be destroyed” (The Complete Word Study New Testament, p. 891).

Origin of the torture teaching

So where did this cruel teaching come from?

These foolish myths and false teachings arise from acceptance of nonbiblical falsehoods. They came from ancient ungodly societies such as Babylon, Egypt, Greece and Rome.

But it was Augustine and his fifth-century book City of God that really integrated this idea into the theology of Western Christendom. His tome became the widely accepted authority for that false teaching for the next 1,500 years up to today.

Add to the mix Dante Alighieri’s influential epic 14th-century poem The Divine Comedy with its graphic descriptions of inferno and purgatory.

Since this doctrine did not arise from the Bible, it is clear it entered Christianity from both paganism and postbiblical Catholic writers.

So what will happen to me when I die?

When it comes to the topic of what happens after death, the Bible presents a much better future for those who have died than the teachings we find in many churches. It is different from the common teachings about heaven and hell. To learn more about this, we invite you to download our free booklet The Last Enemy: What Really Happens After Death?

About the Author

Sam Shrauner

Sam Shrauner is an elder in the Lakeland, Florida, congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.