By Spencer D Gear
(image courtesy ChristArt)
Some people object to the doctrine of hell, saying that it is not something a loving God would do. I do some blogging on the Christian Fellowship Forum and there is a Seventh-Day Adventist, Harold, on that Forum. He wrote to me:
“Malachi states that the dead are ashes…. God states that there will be no tears in Heaven. Can you honestly state that you can stand there and know that some of your loved ones are burning and not shed a tear? How can you? Is YOUR God that cruel?”
He goes on further to give another emotional response that is not based on the exegesis of the biblical text:
“Eternal punishment simply means that the results of it are permanent. They last forever. Stick a piece of paper in a can. Light it. It burns ‘up’. FOREVER. It is gone. Forever.
“What would the purpose be for God to punish anyone for the sin of one short lifetime? They have thrown away their chance to be with God, forever. They are lost. They know that. Now. Why put them through something you wouldn’t do to a dog?
Your ‘doctrine’ has driven people to leave the church, some even to the point of suicide. Is that God’s plan? THINK.”
Others ask the honest question, “How can a God of love make eternal hell the punishment for all unbelievers?” Some have committed horrendous crimes and engaged in disgusting immorality, while others have not done that. Is it fair for God to treat all people in hell the same and give them equal punishment?
This very brief article is an attempt to answer this latter question, “Are there degrees of punishment in hell?”
1. Since God is “the righteous Judge” (2 Tim. 4:8), we would expect that sinners would be punished according to the extent of their sin. This is what the Bible affirms.
2. Matthew 10:14-15 states, “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (ESV).
So it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for those who do not welcome and listen to the apostles. This is an amazing statement: it is going to be fairer for those who committed sexual immorality in Sodom & Gomorrah than for those who rejected the gospel. What is this saying about punishment in hell?
3. A similar affirmation of degrees of punishment can be found in Matthew 11:21-24,
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you” (NIV).
4. Luke 12:47-48 speaks of many blows and few blows: “And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (ESV).
The lesson is that where one has greater privileges, there will be greater responsibilities. J. C. Ryle warned: “The saddest road to hell is that which runs under the pulpit, past the Bible and through the midst of warnings and invitations.”
5. When Jesus criticised the religious leaders at his time on earth, he said that “such men will be punished more severely” (NIV, see Mark 12:38-40). This clearly indicates degrees of punishment in hell.
6. John’s vision of the judgment against “Babylon” (Rev. 18:1-7) indicates degree of punishment in proportion to sin committed.
7. Other verses to contemplate include Mark 9:42 and Romans 2:5. John Blanchard writes: “Every day the sinner lives, every selfish penny he makes, every unholy pleasure he enjoys, every ungrateful breath he takes, are storing up God’s anger against him.”
8. We need to remember that:
a. Only God’s kind of justice will be experienced in hell;
b. There will be degrees of punishment, but
c. That is nothing to gloat about because punishment in hell is eternal, no matter what it is like.
A red herring logical fallacy of infinite punishment for a finite sin
Those who claim that hell is an infinite punishment for finite sin, commit a red herring logical fallacy. This article, ‘Is hell an infinite punishment?’ shows the red herring nature of this kind of argumentation.
This article of mine, “Are there degrees of punishment in hell?’ also demonstrates the false nature of the infinite punishment vs. finite sin view.
The seriousness of sin against the Almighty God is what sends unbelievers to hell. Degrees of punishment in hell do not lessen the eternal dimensions of hell and its suffering. For a more detailed assessment of God’s view of hell, see my article, “Hell & Judgment.”
 Many of the ideas in this article were suggested by Blanchard (1993:182ff). My article here was a response to a question by Claudette on the TDELTA Forum, “Are there degrees of punishment in hell?” This was posted about Thursday, 27 September 2001. This forum is not available to a public audience. It is restricted to the students of Trinity Theological Seminary, Newburgh IN (where I was studying at the time). For further support of degrees of punishment in hell, see Morey (1984:250); Peterson (1995:198-200). See also Peterson’s Index.
 Christian Fellowship Forum, Public Affairs, “Climate change worst scientific scandal,” 18 December 2009, #182, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=180&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=119873 (Accessed 25 December 2009).
 Harold to ozspen (me), Christian Fellowship Forum, ibid. #190, 20 December 2009, available at: http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?tsn=180&nav=messages&webtag=ws-fellowship&tid=119873 (Accessed 25 December 2009).
Blanchard, J 1993. Whatever Happened to Hell? Darlington, Co. Durham, England: Evangelical Press.
Morey, R A 1984. Death and the Afterlife. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.
Peterson, R A 1995. Hell on Trial: The Case for Eternal Punishment. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing,
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 9 December 2017.