OBJECTION #1: “Is hell a place of fire and brimstone?”

First, the fire and brimstone language is most likely not literal. This might come as a shock to many Bible believers, because the Bible explicitly teaches that there will be flames and burning sulfur in hell (Rev. 21:8). And yet, hell is also pictured as a place of darkness (2 Pet. 2:4; Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). It’s impossible for hell to be both a place of darkness and a place filled with flames at the same time. Clearly, these images are meant to be taken symbolically.

Second, hell is a place of both God’s active wrath and his passive wrath. Some Christian philosophers teach that hell is only God’s passive wrath. This punishment is delivered –not from standing before God in justice –but in being fully removed from God’s loving presence. The Bible certainly uses symbols like weeping, gnashing of teeth,[1] and darkness to describe hell (Mt. 8:12; 2 Thess. 1:9; Lk. 16:28). However, the Bible also teaches that hell is a place of God’s active wrath, where people will be judged for their works –deed for deed (Heb. 10:30; Rom. 12:19). The Bible uses symbolism like lashings, fire, and brimstone to describe it (Lk. 12:48; Rev. 21:8).

So, which is it?

Clearly, it’s both. Hell is a place where we receive active judgment, and we will be sent away from the presence of God –forever.

Third, symbolic language does not decrease the seriousness of hell. If I said, “The man was so angry that his eyes were burning with fire…” it wouldn’t depreciate the story to find out that this was a metaphor. In the same way, just because we aren’t reading these symbols literally, we should still read them seriously. As the author of Hebrews writes, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31 NASB). There is no doubt about it. Hell is not a place that anyone would ever want to go.

Return to original article: “Is Hell Divine Overkill?”


[1] It’s possible that the “gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 8:12 NASB) might refer to regret, bitterness, or anger with God, rather than “gnashing of teeth” in some sort of physical pain. One reason to believe this is Acts 7:54. In this section, the Pharisees were “resisting the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51 NASB). And, they were “gnashing their teeth” (Acts 7:54 NASB) at Stephen’s preaching of the gospel. Perhaps, the gospel writers were using the same imagery to describe the regret, bitterness, and anger of those in hell. In this picture, they are torturing Stephen, and they are “gnashing their teeth” at him, rather than “gnashing their teeth” at being tortured themselves.