Is Hell Fire Literal?

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John Bunyan

Puritan Board Freshman
"The Bible speaks of hell fire.

And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10).

"Are we to understand the fire as being literal?

Speaks Of God's Wrath

Fire in Scripture is symbolic of the wrath of God. Moses wrote.

For the LORD your God is a devouring fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24).​

The prophet Nahum said.

Who can stand before His indignation? Who can endure the heat of His anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and by Him the rocks are broken in pieces (Nahum 1:6).​

Malachi proclaimed.

But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap (Malachi 3:2).​

Jeremiah said.

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, remove the of your hearts, O people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else My wrath will go forth like fire, and burn with no one to quench it, because of the evil of your doings (Jeremiah 4:4).​

Two Problems With Literal Fire

There are two main problems with understanding the fires of hell to be literal.

1. Whom Hell Was Originally Prepared For

2. Fire In The Midst Of Darkness

Prepared For Spirit-Creatures

The Bible says that hell was prepared for the devil and his angels. The wicked will hear the following words from God.

Then He will also say to those on the left, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).​

The Devil and his angels are spirit-beings, creatures without bodies. How can something like fire have any effect on them? You cannot burn something that has no material existence. The fire, therefore, is seemingly symbolic of something else.

Fires In Darkness

The second problem with understanding the fires in a literal manner is that hell is spoken of as a place of outer darkness. How can you have darkness when there is fire? It seems that either the fire, or the darkness, or perhaps both of them, are not to be understood literally.


Scripture speaks of the fires of hell but there is a question as to whether this is to be understood literally. Hell was originally prepared for the Devil and his angels who are spirit-beings. They have no material substance. It is difficult to see how literal fire would have any affect on them. In addition, hell is spoken of as a place of darkness. It is hard to reconcile darkness with fire. These two facts seem incompatible with a literal fire. Whether or not the fires in hell are literal, the Bible does speak of hell as a terrible place of suffering. "​
source: Blue Letter Bible - Help, Tutorials, and FAQs

Found this article right now, and wanted to know your thoughts.

Miss Marple

Puritan Board Junior
My mind leaps immediately to the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, which does not read as allegorical to me. It seems to me the flame is real there.


Puritan Board Graduate
Fire is that which burns. It does not always consume. The constitutions of fallen angels and reprobate mankind will be such that they will suffer the pains of this fire whatever its composition may be.


Puritan Board Professor
"1. Whom Hell Was Originally Prepared For"

I am not positive about this but I think his angels, or messengers, means humans who are his children. Of course I do believe his angels is also a reference to the minions of angels who fell with satan. Also the "lake of fire" In my most humble opinion is a physical place, because ALL will be resurrected on the last day, that the unredeemed are thrown into which I think is the same place the devil and his minions will be also.


Puritan Board Junior
I sort of doubt it. I think people go way too far trying to make descriptions of the next life literal. For example, I remember a teacher I had who pointed out that hell is described both as a place of darkness and as a place of fire. So, she related some story about how if you get flame hot enough, it will burn black. Now, I very much doubt the scientific validity of that statement, but that's a side point. The problem is the whole approach of "solving" Bible "difficulties" that don't need to be difficult in the first place. I don't know enough about the afterlife to know if there's fire in hell, but I know that the experience of hell will be like being burned alive. I don't know where light-producing objects will be in the new heavens and new earth, but I know that hell will be like the experience of grasping about in total darkness. In the Bible God is trying to communicate truths to us in ways we can comprehend, not just draw us a literal portrait of heaven and hell.

Miss Marple

Puritan Board Junior
I am sometimes reminded of how the curse involves the "pain" of childbirth. It is described merely as "pain."

If that is just pain, I can not not in the least bit imagine what "torment" is like.


Puritan Board Doctor
I think fire will be the least of their problems. Stealing Josh's quote.... "everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission" will be their worst torment. Can you imagine a place where God's gracious presence is absent and only his wrathful presence and be felt?

Don Kistler

Puritan Board Sophomore
John Bunyan deals with this in his book "Sighs From Hell," published by The Northampton Press. Jonathan Edwards does as well. They both point out that in the story of Lazarus in Luke 16, the Bible does not say it is a parable. The man is named specifically, as are several other characters. The man in hell cried out, "I am being tormented in this fire." According to this, at least, it's a literal fire.


Puritan Board Senior
Whatever it is, it will be far worse than anything this world calls fire.

Can you imagine a place where God's gracious presence is absent and only his wrathful presence and be felt?
Even more amazing, can you imagine a place where sin's presence is absent and only God's gracious presence is felt?


Puritan Board Graduate
2. Fire In The Midst Of Darkness
It can be fiery and dark when there is little for the light of the fire to reflect back on. If Hell has no walls, the light produced by the fire won't light up much; just the men and fallen angels suffering in it--provided it is not covering them entirely.


Puritan Board Freshman
If death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14), how do we understand it to be a physical place?


Puritan Board Freshman
This reminds me of what a youth sponsor of mine said a long time ago. "If you want to know a bit about what Hell is like, check out the burn unit in a hospital on a Friday night." His wife was an emergencey ward nurse.


Puritan Board Senior
Even the very thought of it and the possibility of its being literal should be enough to drive anyone to the fear of God and drive us nearer to Him and holiness! That should be the benefit of all those scary scriptural warnings!

Reformed Irish Man

Puritan Board Freshman
And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as qSodom and Gomorrah and rthe surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and spursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. Jude 6-7
The Bible always uses the strongest of language and imagery when describing hell. May we like Whitefield cry to all men to repent and flee from the wrath to come!


Puritan Board Doctor
If death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14), how do we understand it to be a physical place?
Allowing for the book of Revelation being a highly symbolical work, our Lord's words alone, respecting the punishment of the body (physical) in Hell show that Hell has both physical and spiritual aspects:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matt 10:28, ESV)
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