Three Views of Hell

TRADITIONAL

• Some people (perhaps even a majority of the human race) will not be saved. Each person is judged once and for all at death and given either eternal life or eternal condemnation.
• Hell is a place of endless, conscious punishment for sin. This punishment is sometimes interpreted literally (physical torment) and sometimes metaphorically (a state of being, spiritual suffering, separation from God).
• Once a person is in hell, there is no exit.
• Some versions of this view argue that there are variations in punishment depending upon the severity of a person’s sins.
• Some (Calvinist) versions emphasize God’s sovereignty in punishing those whom he chooses to punish, while other versions emphasize the freedom of human choice.
• The Roman Catholic view distinguishes between hell and purgatory, a place of temporary purification for those who are destined for heaven.

CONDITIONAL IMMORTALITY OR ANNIHILATIONISM

Some people will not be saved.
• The human soul is not naturally immortal. Eternal existence is a gift of God to the redeemed.
• The unrepentant will be punished, but this period of conscious punishment will be temporary.
• At the final resurrection, the unrepentant will be destroyed and cease to exist. The biblical “fire” of hell is a consuming, rather than tormenting, fire.
• Some conditionalists believe that after death a person will receive a second chance to accept or reject God.

RESTORATIONISM OR UNIVERSALISM

All people will eventually be saved, and God will restore the creation to perfect harmony.
• Eternal punishment contradicts the love of God, since God wills the salvation of all and has the power to overcome sin and evil. God’s love is stronger than human resistance.
• If there is a hell, it is not eternal. Punishment is temporary and remedial, leading the sinner towards repentance and union with God.
• Even the devil can ultimately repent and be saved.
• Some theologians throughout history have maintained a more cautious “hopeful universalist” stance: We cannot say dogmatically that all will be saved, but neither can we deny the possibility.

By The editors

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #100+ in 2011]

Next articles

Letter from the editors

Welcome to this guide

The editors

Early Christian Texts

What did the close successors of the apostles have to say on this theme?

Edwin Woodruff Tait

The Middle Ages

Views of hell from Anselm to Dante

Chris Armstrong

Erasmus to Calvin

What the Reformers taught about hell

Edwin Woodruff Tait
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Issue 100+

History of Hell Guide

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