Paul on eternal punishment



By Spencer D Gear

It is not uncommon to hear statements from uninformed or agenda—promoting ‘Christians’ that the apostle Paul did not preach on eternal punishment or hell? Here are a few examples:

  • ‘It’s an overstatement to say that the christian church has been preaching the doctrine of hell for two millennia. Paul, for one, did not preach it’ (holo).[1]
  • ‘Why not enjoy the true freedom of believing the Scriptures over traditional teaching? Why not follow Paul in a pure Grace Gospel that has no place for, nor need of a religious hell?’[2]
  • ‘This is a very curious thing. Paul, the man specifically commissioned to carry the gospel to the Gentiles, who is universally credited as the most important figure ever to interpret and expound on the gospel, never says a thing about Ghenna or Hades’.[3]

My response to ‘holo’[4]

There is little need for Paul to write on hell as he has given us enough on the “wrath of God’”. The message on hell comes from others, including Jesus. However, what Paul did write on this topic agrees with the Gospels and the Book of Revelation. Pauline verses that demonstrate the wrath of God against unbelievers include:

Romans 1:18;

Ephesians 5:6;

Colossians 3:6.

James Rosscup wrote in ‘Paul’s Concept of Eternal Punishment’,

James E. Rosscup
Professor of Bible Exposition

Paul did not deal in as much detail with eternal punishment as did Jesus in the gospels and John in Revelation, but what he did write matches with their fuller descriptions in many points. This is to be expected because of Paul’s strong commitment to Jesus Christ. In Rom 2:6-10 he wrote about God’s anger in punishing the lost and the anguish they will suffer as a result. In Rom 9:22-23 he spoke of vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, a destruction that consists of an ongoing grief brought on as a consequence of God’s wrath. Second Thess 1:8-9 is a third passage that reflects his teaching on eternal punishment. There eternal destruction represents a different Greek expression, one that depicts a ruin that lost people continue to suffer forever as they are denied opportunity to be with Christ. Paul’s failure to use a number of other words in expressions that could have expressed annihilation of the unsaved is further indication of his harmony with Jesus and John in teaching an unending punishment that the unsaved will consciously experience.

Holo has a presuppositional agenda and he doesn’t want the teaching on eternal punishment to be in the NT. It is there and that’s an embarrassment to him. So what does he do? He attempts to deny that Paul taught it. But he is wrong. Paul supports Jesus in the teaching on eternal punishment.

Holo has four major issues that come out in some of his posts, including these:

(1) He does not know his Bible very well, including the Pauline epistles;

(2) He has a low view of the Scripture when he uses his improper interpretation of the Pauline epistles to arrive at a false conclusion about Paul not teaching on hell.

(3) He engages in a hermeneutic of eisegesis. He imposes his will on the texts instead of letting the texts speak for themselves (exegesis).

(4) We gain a meaning of what happens at death for believers and unbelievers from the totality of Scripture, not only from the Pauline epistles. Even if Paul’s epistles said nothing about eternal punishment or destruction, we don’t need it as it is taught throughout OT and NT, although more specifically in the NT.

Paul on hell

For an excellent chapter on the biblical basis for hell from the Pauline epistles, see Douglas J. Moo, ‘Paul on Hell[5]. His conclusion is:

As we noted at the outset of this essay, Paul never uses the Greek words that are normally translated as “hell,” nor does he teach as explicitly about the concept of hell as do some other New Testament writers. To some extent, then, our purpose has been a negative one: to show that Paul teaches nothing to contradict the picture of hell that emerges more clearly from other portions of the New Testament. But the evidence we do have from Paul suggests that he agrees with that larger New Testament witness in portraying hell as an unending state of punishment and exclusion from the presence of the Lord. Such a fate is entirely “just,” Paul repeatedly stresses (e.g., Rom. 1:18-2:11; 2 Thess. 1:8-9), because human beings have spurned God and merited his wrath and condemnation.

Paul, therefore, presents the judgment that comes on the wicked as the necessary response of a holy and entirely just God. For Paul, the doctrine of hell is a necessary corollary of the divine nature. Negatively, Paul never in his letters explicitly uses hell as a means of stimulating unbelievers to repent. But he does—a sobering consideration!—use it as a warning to believers to stimulate us to respond to the grace of God manifested in our lives (e.g., Rom. 8:12-13).[6]

Other articles

For more of my articles on hell and eternal punishment, see:


[1] Christian Forums, Christian Philosophy & Ethics, ‘Why an eternal hell?’, holo #914, 23 August 2012. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[2] Clyde L. Pilkington Jr 2004-2007, ‘Paul’s teaching on hell’. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[3] ‘Paul, Hell & Universalism’, Running with the Lion, available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[4] OzSpen, #922, 23 August 2012. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012).

[5] This is an updated reference, accessed 15 December 2014. Originally, the reference was, Douglas J Moo, ‘Paul on hell’, in C W Morgan & R A Peterson, R A (eds) 2007. Hell under Fire. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, ch 4. Available at: (Accessed 23 August 2012). Portions of this book are also available through Google Books.

[6] Moo 2007:109.


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 17 April 2018.