Is Belief in Hell Obsolete?

By Mike Willis

The August 26, 1978 issue of the Dayton Journal Herald carried an article written by John Dart which discussed the tendency of people today to either disbelieve in or to disregard the Bible passages pertaining to hell. The following statistics were cited in this article:

* A study by priest-sociologist Andrew Greeley showed that while 70 percent of the Catholics surveyed believe in life after death only one-third of the sampling said they believe in hell.

* A Gallup poll in February found that 54 percent of those polled believe in angels and 39 percent in devils. Most significantly, religion analyst Martin Marty says, studies show that “only one in eight who believes in hell believes it is a threat to him.”

* A Christian psychotherapist says he sees 20 persons a week in group or individual sessions who often discuss their thoughts on death. “I don’t remember a single one of them relating their death anxiety to a fear of how they’re going to face the judgment,” says Neil Warren, dean of Fuller Seminary’s graduate school of psychology.

* Hell suffers from inattention in liberal-to-moderate churches, which say they’re more concerned about justice and morality in this life.

* A common view, held by Christian Science and Religious Science and believers of various stripes, is that the only “hell” that exists is created during one’s lifetime by personal attitudes or actions. Evangelist Ruth Carter Stapleton, quoted to that effect by a religious magazine last year but under criticism currently for alleged unorthodoxy, recently said she believes that persons can experience hell “even before they die.”

I guess that I should not have been surprised to read something to this effect in print. People are not living like they believe that there is a place of everlasting punishment. They do not act like they fear facing the judgment throne of God and being cast into a place of everlasting torment. Yet, somehow reading these statements in the daily newspaper startled me.

Perhaps the reason that I was startled was because they raised the question in my own mind about what people in the Lord’s churches believe and what we are preaching. How long has it been since you heard a sermon on hell, heaven, and the judgment day? How long has it been since you heard someone appeal to hell as a reason for obeying the gospel?

There Is A Hell

Contrary to what many modern religions teach, there is a hell. Jesus Himself spoke more about Gehenna than any other person in the New Testament. Notice some of His teaching regarding the subject:

(1) It is better to go into heaven maimed than into hell fire whole. Here is a sample of what He said along that line: “And if thy right eye offend thee pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee cut it off and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matt. 5:29-30; cf. 18:9; Mk. 9:43, 45, 47).

(2) God will cast both the soul and body of the wicked into hell. In a passage in which Jesus was teaching His disciples not to fear men, He told them that they should rather fear God. His reason for reminding them of this was that man only has the ability to destroy the body whereas God has the ability to destroy both body and soul. He said, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28; Lk. 12:5). Hence, Jesus revealed that there is a place of eternal punishment that exists beyond the mere destruction of one’s body.

(3) The wicked cannot escape this eternal punishment. In His scathing rebuke of the hypocrisy of the Jews in His day, Jesus asked, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matt. 23:33). The wicked cannot escape the righteous judgment of God.

Yes, my friend, there is a hell. Modern theology might scoff at the idea, all men might remove it from their minds, and we all might hope that there is no such place but none of these will change the fact that God has prepared a place of everlasting punishment for those who are wicked and refuse to obey His will.

What Is Hell Like?

Most of us are able to see that the descriptions of hell contain figures of speech to describe a punishment much too horrible for us to imagine. Yet, these figures of speech need to be continually impressed in our minds. Here are some of them:

(1) Wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 13:50). The pain would be so great the men and women would be crying aloud and grinding their teeth.

(2) Everlasting fire (Matt. 18:8). It is a place where the fire is not quenched and the worm does not die. To burn with fire is horrible pain even when it lasts but for the moment. Hell, however; is described as everlasting fire!

(3) Outer darkness (Matt. 22:13). The darkness is horrible because it represents total separation from God who is the Light.

(4) Worse than death without mercy (Heh 10:28-29). There is not much which can be conceived of in this life which is worse than death without mercy as a form of punishment. To imagine someone putting another person to death in as agonizing a fashion as possible is one of the most horrible things imaginable. Yet, He who refuses to submit to the Son of God faces something worse than death without mercy.

These figures of speech impress our minds with the fact that there is some kind of horrible punishment awaiting those who will not submit voluntarily in this life to the Son of God. We might wish that there was no such place as hell but the revelation of God through Jesus Christ reveals that there is a place of everlasting punishment. The same revelation which shows the extent of God’s love toward man in the cross of Christ also testifies to the justice of God which punishes the wicked.

Notice these passages which show that there is an everlasting punishment awaiting the wicked:

Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power . . . (2 Thess. 1:6-9).

But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile (Rom. 2:8-9).

But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are ~ kept in store, reserved unto , fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men (2 Pet. 3:7).

And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him (Jude 14, 15).

The testimony of God’s revelation is quite clear regarding the matter of a place of everlasting punishment for those who are disobedient to the will of God. God’s justice demands that those who are not cleansed by the precious blood of Jesus be cast into hell. How can our holy God be morally pure and close His eyes to the sinfulness and rebellion of man? God can only be just when the price for sin is paid by the blood of Christ and applied to the souls of man.

Let us not allow our minds to be contaminated by this doctrine which is so popular today which treats God as some kind of sugar coated candy. The present doctrine of God visualizes God as being so gentle and kind that He could not do harm to anyone. The God whom we worship is the same God who destroyed the world with water, destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire, visited wrath upon the Israelites several times for their wickedness, and otherwise showed His willingness to punish the wicked.

Furthermore, let us not be persuaded to believe that hell is right here on this earth. The other side of that coin, you know, is that heaven is right here on this earth. Are you prepared to accept the idea that the only thing that you will receive from God is your present earthly life, being blessed as it now is? If not, you must believe that there is something beyond the things which you suffer in this life prepared for the wicked.


The awareness of death, the judgment, heaven and hell should never be too far removed from our thoughts on a day-by-day basis. Peter said, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Pet. 4:17-18). There is a hell! We must act now in obedience to God our Father in order to be able to escape everlasting punishment and receive everlasting life. It might be considered old-fashioned to believe in and preach about hell. If that be the case, let us be content to be considered old fashioned!

Truth Magazine XXII: 49, pp. 787-789
December 14, 1978