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punishment, everlasting

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A Dictionary of the Bible What is This? Contains accessibly written entries for topics covering the religious, historical, and social aspects of the Bible.

    punishment, everlasting

    The ultimate destiny of the irredeemably wicked. The ancient Hebrews regarded sheol, the abode of the dead, as a place of weariness and forgetfulness and not of punishment or retribution for earthly sin. The concept began to emerge later of a punishment where ‘their worm would not die and the fire would not be quenched’ for the wicked, after death (Isa. 66: 24), and at a resurrection of all the dead (Dan. 12: 2) the wicked would be condemned to everlasting contempt. The valley of Hinnom, notorious for child sacrifices (2 Kgs. 23: 10) became a symbol for everlasting punishment (2 Esd. 7: 36) and, now called Gehenna, a fiery punishment is envisaged there for the unrepentant wicked (Matt. 5: 22). Much elaboration followed in apocalyptic literature. In modern theology, the idea of everlasting punishment is generally regarded as inconsistent with the concept of a God of love. It is held either that in the last resort the love of God will prove universally irresistible and all will be saved—there is no hell—or that it is possible to be so irredeemably evil that a person forfeits the gift of eternal life and ceases to exist at all. ‘Hell’ in this case is the total absence of the presence of God. The scriptural basis for universalism is Rom. 11: 26, 32. The gospel of John suggests that hell is a state in this present life of total opposition to God, whereas eternal life is a quality of abundant life available here and now (John 5: 24).

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