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Is the Bible's Language about Hell Literal or Metaphorical?

Is the Bible's Language about Hell Literal or Metaphorical?

The following is a transcribed Video Q&A, so the text may not read like an edited article would. Scroll to the bottom to view this video in its entirety. 

The Bible uses very graphic images of hell. Burning. Flames. Darkness. What do we do with that imagery? Sometimes the question is, “Is that literal, or metaphorical, or something else? How do we handle that? And for people who believe in hell there is even some debate there, who believe there is an eternal, conscious punishment called hell.

I am not positive it is either literal or metaphorical. There are good arguments for both of them. C.H. Spurgeon argued, “if you want to threaten me with a metaphorical punch, then go for it. That doesn’t bother me. A metaphorical punch is nothing. So, threaten someone with metaphorical fire what good is that”?

On the other hand, I think there is something to say that the metaphors that the Bible uses about hell describe a reality that we cannot relate to immediately on earth. Like when the Bible talks about heaven as having gates of pearl and roads of gold. Are you really sure that all the roads are of a certain karat of gold? Sometimes the Bible is talking about a reality that we don’t experience on earth so it uses metaphor to convey something that is beyond what we are used to. Either it is really good or it is really bad.

With hell, images of fire and darkness (which some think to be contradictory images) convey something horrible. If you say that hell is metaphorical then those images are metaphorical, that’s okay as long as you recognize it’s not better than those images—it is conveying something really bad and something that is to be feared. It is not to say, “Oh, this is just metaphorical. I’m okay.” No, it is really bad. And if it is just a metaphor it is worse than that. So, if you take the metaphorical view, it is not a way out of the tension it heightening the tension.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/kevron2001 


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