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Nature of Hell and Annihilationism Versus Eternal Conscious Torment

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Religion
Wordcount: 1976 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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 Hell, in biblical terms, is typically defined as being a place or state of suffering and punishment after life for unrepentant sinners and is notably characteristic for its separation from God. The doctrine of hell is commonly responsible for the bringing about of various beliefs and views especially pertaining to the nature of hell. Attempts to answering this controversial question of “What is Hell like?”[1] has resulted in the formulation of many opposing views, typically attained through interpretations of scripture that address aspects of hell. Therefore, the question of hell and its nature is primarily exegetical – relying on inferences about bible – and should not be answered through emotional inclinations. Beliefs of annihilationism and eternal conscious torment are consequent views of which contain many contradictive aspects and implications with respect to one another. The dealing of these two separate beliefs is primarily eschatological and therefore seeks to explain the ultimate destination of immaterial aspects of humankind, commonly referred to as a person’s soul or spirit. Succinctly, these opposing beliefs are speculative in nature and aim to complete understandings of the final judgement and theological damnation – unattained salvation. This paper will therefore discuss the nature of hell by highlighting these views of annihilationism and eternal conscious torment with addressal of subsequent implications of each. Beginning with eternal conscious torment, the following will primarily consist of discussion surrounding the origins, characteristics and arguments for both beliefs.


 Annihilationism, also referred to as terminal punishment, fundamentally characterizes hell as being a temporary destination or state of punishment where unrepentant individuals are ultimately destroyed and subsequently erased from existence resulting loss of consciousness. It is important to mention that annihilationism is not a part of sola scriptura – Christian tradition – and therefore annihilationism is presented as an alternative view on the nature of heaven. The view implies that a person or a person’s soul is in fact, immortal, and that mortality is only achieved through the salvation of Christ.[2] Stackhouse expresses the logical implications of this view by metaphorically asking what someone would do if a garment was permanently stained, in which he answers: “We throw it away: as far as we are concerned, it doesn’t exist anymore.”[3] Scripturally, passages such as John 3:16 and 2 Thessalonians 1:8 reflects the implications of annihilationism by referring to the perishing and the eternal punishment of non-believers, referring to a loss of consciousness and destruction of the soul . Contrasting from the belief that hell involves eternal conscious torment, annihilationism provides a punishment that is timely, not one that spans across the rest of eternity. Annihilationist’s see this as being a far more just punishment considering that the punishment is for sins committed within the confines of time. Furthermore, terminology and imagery used in various texts of the bible, specifically in the new testament, can provide basis for annihilationism, by to the termination of consciousness. Fire imagery used in reference to hell, particularly in the book of Revelation, associates hell with destruction and the inherent nature to destroy things, which typically leads to death or termination of anything being consumed by fire. Many also believe that a conditional punishment for unrepentance is more accurately aligned with God’s loving nature, compared to that of eternal consequence. Moreover, the meaning of the word, eternal, comes into question when referring to hell and is commonly argued to mean the “age to come” rather than “everlasting.”[4] Lastly, annihilationist’s would argue that if the effects of were everlasting, it would have a deflating effect on heaven and those in it. Therefore, implying that knowledge of others suffering in hell would negatively impact the conscious of God and member of heaven and ultimately take away from the righteousness of heaven.

Eternal Conscious Torment

 On the contrary, the belief of hell as being eternal conscious torment. This view characterizes hell as being a place of death, destruction and darkness at which non-believers suffer into eternity. Therefore, the eternal conscious torment view involves unconditional preservation of consciousness, independent from salvation.  The eternal conscious torment view is typically more associated with God’s victory over sin and the eternal glory of God’s kingdom. Traditionally, this view of the nature of hell is more commonly accepted among Christian believers and has been the accepted view of the church since existence. Opposing views of the eternal conscious torment belief are seen to be formulated by misinterpretations of biblical text or attempts at rewriting biblical history in efforts to paint a more desirable picture of hell. Moreover, the theological implications of the eternal conscious torment view include increased desperation and motivation to evangelize, since the consequences of unrepentance are exponentially greater than say annihilationism. In addition, the everlasting suffering and destruction associated with hell through this view has implications for a deeper fear of God, which results in increased longingness for God’s salvation. Biblically, words given out of reference to hell such as darkness, death and fire are metaphoric descriptions of the reality of hell and do not imply the termination of one’s soul or consciousness. Secondly, biblical portals of hell being associated with death and destruction are not using such words to mean ‘extinction,’ rather, it refers more accurately to the Greek translation of destruction which means “wrecking.” Furthermore, the passage of Revelation 14:11, explicitly says “And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever.” This referral to the eternal smoke of hell as a result of eternal fire, further supports the view of eternal conscious torment since fire can only develop smoke if it is constantly consuming something. Additional mention of the eternal conscious torment being apart solo scriptura is important when addressing alternative views of on the nature of Hell.


 Arguments for both views relating to the nature of theology are rather compelling and both views are supported by biblical rational. The main differences between the two views involve whether a person’s soul is mortal or immortal and if hell is eternal or temporary. In recent times, believers as well as non-believers have struggled with the acceptance of the eternal suffering that is associated with the eternal conscious torment view and therefore reformed versions of this view are of result. Annihilationism usually causes less discomfort and is typically easier to conceptualize in comparison to the view of eternal conscious torment. Furthermore, most Christian believers are hesitant to think that God would allow eternal suffering to happen since he is all powerful. Moreover, aspects of evangelism are introduced into discussion since eternal conscious torment is considered to be considerably worse that temporary suffering, followed by termination of one’s soul. Eternal conscious torment may encourage believers to evangelize with great intent and desperation since these consequences are so much greater. In addition, eternal conscious torment may turn many nonbelievers away from Christianity because many would see it as being cruel or unjust. Many, however, may choose to ignore the topic surrounding the nature of hell all together since it does not seem to be directly applicable, especially for believers. Since scripture gives limited information on the nature of hell, it is a subject that is open to many subject opinions, however, it is important that any inference made about the nature of hell does not contradict the knowledge given to us by the bible.


 In the end, the doctrine of Hell will always be a highly debated aspect of Christianity simply because there is limited information in the bible describing the nature of hell in detail. Nevertheless, it is important as Christians to wrestle with difficult topics such as hell and to develop and understanding for ones rather than simply accepting the opinions and beliefs of others. Efforts made to answer this question of “What is Hell like?” has resulted in many opposing views being formed and the views of annilihationism and eternal conscious torment are the result of this. Views surrounding the nature of hell should be attained through interpretations of scripture and not solely based upon an emotional response or discomfort pertaining to the topic of Hell. The topic of Hell and its nature is a biblical matter and therefore relies on inferences about the bible. Beliefs of annihilationism and eternal conscious torment contain many contradictive aspects and implications with respect the nature of hell which should be considered when formulating a subjective view of the nature of hell. Ultimately, these two separate beliefs concerning the nature of hell seek to explain the ultimate destination of immaterial aspects of humankind and primarily look to attain a more complete understanding of the nature of hell and its implications. In the end, the nature of Hell comes down to the interpretation of “When Jesus said that non-believers will “go away into eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46), he meant eternal pain which implies eternal consciousness, or he meant that to mean the complete destruction of one’s consciousness.”[5]


  • Chan, Francis, and Preston Sprinkle. Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We’ve Made Up. David C Cook, 2011.
  • Crockett, William V. Four Views on Hell. Zondervan, 1996.
  • Mohler Jr, R. Albert. “Modern Theology: The Disappearance of Hell.” Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (2004): 15-41.
  • Morgan, Christopher W., and Robert A. Peterson. “Annihilationism: Will the Unsaved Be Punished Forever?.” Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment: 195-218.
  • Packer, James I. “Evangelical Annihilationism in Review.” The Highway (1997).
  • Walls, Jerry L. Hell: the logic of damnation. University of Notre Dame Pess, 1992.
  • Walls, Jerry L. Heaven: The logic of eternal joy. Oxford University Press, 2002.

[1] Packer, James I. “Evangelical Annihilationism in Review.” The Highway (1997).

[2] Crockett, William V. Four Views on Hell. Zondervan, 1996.

[3] Walls, Jerry, ed. The Oxford handbook of eschatology. OUP USA, 2010.

[4] Packer, James I. “Evangelical Annihilationism in Review.” The Highway (1997).

[5] Walls, Hell: the logic of damnation. 1992.


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