Doesn’t “unquenchable fire” mean hell fire is eternal?

Author: BibleAsk Team


The concept of “unquenchable fire” in the Bible has been a subject of theological debate regarding the nature of hell and its duration. While some interpret it as indicative of eternal torment, others argue that it suggests a punishment that eventually comes to an end. To delve deeper into this topic, let’s explore various passages from the Bible that discuss the imagery of “unquenchable fire” and related themes.

“Unquenchable Fire”

“He will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire”.

Matthew 3:12

The unquenchable fire cannot be put out. However, when it has burned everything up, it goes out. For example, (Jeremiah 17:27) warns that if God’s people were not faithful, He would kindle a fire in Jerusalem that “shall not be quenched.” And the Scriptures declare that this prophecy has already been fulfilled. “They burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire. … To fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah.” (2 Chronicles 36:19, 21). That fire could not be put out until it had consumed everything; then it went out. That fire is not burning today, even though the Bible calls it “unquenchable.”

“Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, … are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7). We can see in this verse that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with everlasting fire as an example of hell, but those cities are not still burning. They were turned into ashes (2 Peter 2:6), which is what eternal fire does. It is eternal in its consequences.

The fires of hell will, indeed, go out. “There shall not be a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it” (Isaiah 47:14). After sin, sinners, and everything on earth is destroyed, the hell fire will go out. It will not burn throughout the ages. An eternal hell of torment would make it impossible to ever get rid of sin. God’s plan is to isolate sin and destroy it, not perpetuate it. Revelation 21:5 says, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Hell is Not Forever

The Bible teaches that hell will not be forever.  Let’s examine the Scriptures and some questions that are raised about hell:

1-Will Hell Fire Go Out?

“Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: there shall not be a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it” (Isaiah 47:14). “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:1, 4). The Bible teaches that in God’s new kingdom all “former things” will be passed away. Hell, being one of the former things, is included.

2-Is There an Eternal Torment?

This phrase” does not appear in the Bible.

3-What About the Phrase “Unquenchable Fire” in Jeremiah 17:27?

Unquenchable fire is fire that cannot be put out, but which goes out when it has turned everything to ashes. Jeremiah 17:27 says Jerusalem was to be destroyed with unquenchable fire, and in 2 Chronicles 36:19-21, the Bible says this fire burned the city “to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah” and left it desolate. Yet, we know this fire went out, because Jerusalem is not burning today.

4-What Does “Eternal Fire” in Jude 7 Mean?

Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed with everlasting, or eternal, fire (Jude 7), and that fire turned them “into ashes” as a warning to “those that after should live ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6). We know that these cities are not burning today. The fire went out after everything was burned up. Likewise, everlasting fire will go out after it has turned the wicked to ashes (Malachi 4:3). The effects of the fire are everlasting, but not the burning itself.

5-What About the Phrase “Everlasting Punishment” in Matthew 25:46?

Notice the word is punishment, not punishing. Punishing would be continuous, while punishment is one act. The punishment of the wicked is death, and this death is everlasting.

6-What Does the Phrase “for Ever and Ever” in Revelation 14:11 Mean?

“And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.”  The term “for ever,” as used in the Bible, means simply a period of time, limited or unlimited. It is used 56 times in the Bible in connection with things that have already ended. In Jonah 2:6, “forever” means “three days and nights.” In Deuteronomy 23:3, this means “10 generations.” In the case of man, this means “as long as he lives” or “until death” (1 Samuel 1:22, 28; Exodus 21:6; Psalms 48:14). Therefore, the wicked will burn in the fire as long as they live, or until death.

7-Is God a Torturer?

The teaching of eternal hell is an attack upon the loving character of a loving heavenly Father, who gave His life to save all people (John 3:16). If God tortured His enemies in a hell throughout eternity, He would be more cruel than most evil men. The work of God has always been to save rather than to destroy (Ezekiel 33:11; Luke 9:56). The teaching of eternal torment has done more to drive people to atheism than any other invention of the devil. Satan rejoices to see the loving Creator portrayed as a monstrous tyrant like himself.

8-Is God Unjust?

God is just. He will not punish people throughout eternity because of one life of sin that lasted about 70 years, more or less. No earthly parent would do that for his children.

9-What Is the Punishment for Sin?

The punishment of sin is death not everlasting life in hell fire. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The wicked “perish,” or receive “death.” The righteous receive “everlasting life.”

10-Are Sinners Suffering in Hell Today?

No one is suffering in hell today. Sinners will go to hell at the end of time after the Judgement. “So shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire” (Matthew 13:40-42).

11-Is Hell Eternal? Is Man Immortal?

If the wicked lived forever being tortured in hell, they would be immortal. But this is impossible, because the Bible says God “only hath immortality” (1 Timothy 6:16). When Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden, an angel was posted to guard the tree of life so that sinners would not eat of the tree and “live for ever” (Genesis 3:22-24). This proves that man does not have immortality. The teaching that sinners are immortal in hell originated with Satan and is completely untrue (Genesis 3:4). God prevented the immortality of sin when it entered this earth by guarding the tree of life. An eternal hell of torment would perpetuate sin. For more on this topic, check: https://bibleask.org/bible-answers/112-the-intermediate-state/

12-Will the Wicked Be Obliterated?

The Bible says the wicked will suffer “death” (Romans 6:23), “destruction” (Job 21:30), “shall perish” (Psalms 37:20), will “burn” up (Malachi 4:1), “shall be destroyed together” (Psalms 37:38), will “consume away” (Psalms 37:20), “shall be cut off” (Psalms 37:9), and “shall be slain” (Psalms 62:3). God will “destroy” them (Psalms 145:20), and “fire shall devour them” (Psalms 21:9). All of these references make it clear that the wicked lives will come to an end. They will not live forever in misery.

13-Will Sinners Be Punished According to their Deeds?

“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Revelation 22:12). “That servant, which knew his lord’s will, and … neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes” (Luke 12:47, 48).  This means some will receive greater punishment than others, based upon their works.

14-Is the Act of Destroying Sinners Foreign to God’s Nature?

“As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” (Ezekiel 33:11). Destroying the wicked is a strange act to God “For the Lord shall rise up … that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act” (Isaiah 28:21).

15-Will God End Hell?

“He will make an utter end: affliction shall not rise up the second time” (Nahum 1:9). “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17).

Eternal Hell – Unbiblical Doctrine

The “eternal hell of torment” doctrine didn’t originate from the Bible. Unfortunately, some of the Protestant churches today have adopted this belief from the Catholic Church, which tried to control the masses through fear during the dark ages and still holds this belief today. And while a fear of hell might get people’s attention, the Bible teaches that the believers are not saved by fear but by God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9).

The problem with the eternal hell theory is not just that it is un-biblical but that it is a slander on the very nature of God who is love (1 John 4:8). The work of destroying the wicked in hellfire is so foreign to God’s nature that the Bible calls it His “unusual act” or “strange act” (Isaiah 28:21). God is not an unjust God who will punish people throughout eternity because of a single life of sin that lasted about 70 years (Isaiah 61:8).

Even evil humans would not wish or do that to their own rebellious kids. Civil laws don’t even allow extended torture for the worst of criminals. Yet, we dare ascribe these inhumane actions to our Loving and just God. This is a blasphemy against Him. The devil who is the originator of this theory is attributing to God his very own thoughts towards men (1 Peter 5:8). And by accepting these ideas, we share the devil’s thinking (John 8:44).

The Bible declares, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). There is no greater love than this (John 15:13). The truth is that God’s loving heart will be pained by the destruction of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). For He diligently works to save every soul (John 3:16; Luke 9:56). But if one persistently rejects His love, God will have no choice but to respect his wishes and end his life when He purifies the universe of the terrible disease of sin by the fires of hell (Romans 6:23).

For more on this topic check out The Fate of the Transgressor.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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