“The wicked go down to the realm of the dead, all the nations that forget God.” Psalm 9:17
In recent years, I have encountered many atheists who have protested what they perceive from the Bible to be an unjust “infinite” punishment from God for their “finite” actions. I wondered about the identity of the source of this common argument before happening upon a few episodes of the Atheist Experience in which Matt Dillahunty and Tracie Harris (and others) presented it. In short, they assert that crimes any do on the earth are merely “finite,” so they are not deserving of an “infinite” punishment. Another atheist who calls himself “Deconverted Man” said that even Hitler was not deserving of “infinite torture” for his “finite crime.” The intention of the present blog is to present the Bible verses on hell to clarify their incorrect assessments on both the crime and the punishment. Next I present Bible verses that reference hell in order of occurrence:
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28
“This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:49-50.
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:46
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Matthew 25:41
“In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” Jude 1:7
“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” Revelation 1:17-18
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” – Revelation 21:8
“The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.” Revelation 20:13-14.
I italicized the final statement to highlight the fact that the Lake of Fire, or furnace, does not represent eternal torture – it represents a final death. The first death occurs on the earth and the second death occurs after the final judgment. (There is a waiting period between the time of one’s death and the final judgment in the end times). This statement was highlighted by Jesus who indicated (Matthew 10:28) that there would be destruction of both body and soul.
In other words, the statement that all souls not listed in the Lamb’s Book of Life will receive an “infinite” punishment is incorrect. Some souls will perish in the Lake of Fire – and the “eternal punishment” for those souls lies in the fact that their destruction is final and eternal. The Book of Revelation further indicates that others will be eternally punished. These are Satan, his fallen angels and those bearing the mark of the Beast.
As for the proposition that all sins on the earth are “finite,” one must consider an extreme version of such a claim. Hitler slaughtered around six million Jews during the Holocaust. Can such an egregious crime against humanity be considered “finite?” I suggest not. Sins are not finite as the impact of sins serve as a ripple effect on humanity. Not only did Hitler commit crimes against those murdered in the gas chambers during the Holocaust, but the crimes he committed carry on in the in the painful memories of the family, friends, and associates of those who were murdered. The crimes are further remembered in the minds of all generations – as the Holocaust will never be forgotten. Accordingly, what Hitler did represents an infinite crime.
Jesus gave us two commands: to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts and souls and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Crimes such as Hitler’s clearly violate Jesus’ second command. When atheists deny the love of the Lord, they commit an infinite crime against God.
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33.
“Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” Mark 3:28-29
In summary, Matt Dillahunty’s and Tracie Harris’ position that a finite crime should not receive an infinite punishment should be reversed. Sins against humanity and against God are considered infinite sins and punishment for such infinite sins is entry into the Lake of Fire. In the Lake of Fire, souls (other than Satan, his fallen angels, and those bearing the mark of the Beast) encounter a second death, which is a finite, singular occurrence. In short, infinite crimes receive finite punishments, and the finite punishment lasts into eternity.
Thank you for your time.
23 Replies to “A Response to Matt Dillahunty’s and Tracie Harris’ Claim that the Bible calls for Infinite Punishments for Finite Crimes”
I think the concept of hell is one of the most misunderstood in Biblical doctrine. You’re right to distinguish between “earthly” life (the physical body) and spiritual life. Clearly this is a concept that WOULD be misunderstood if one has a Naturalistic Materialist world view. I think you’ve done a good job clearing up the confusion over what the Bible actually teaches about hell here. That it’s an eternal punishment because the soul is destroyed and subsequently ceases to exist…for the rest of eternity. Not that the soul continues to exist for eternity in a state of torment. I liken it sometimes to unplugging an appliance – a vacuum – from the wall, separating it from its source of power. God is life, and when a person wants to be separated from Him then He honors their choice. But the consequence of that is death because He is the source of life. When you unplug yourself from the source of life, you die. He’s not just our creator, but our sustainer. We’re on life support, plugged into Him. If we don’t want Him, don’t love Him, and don’t want to serve Him, but instead want our sin, and choose to love only ourselves and serve our own selfish will and desires…then we are willingly separating ourselves from our source of life. The wages of sin is death. But the gift that relationship with God brings is eternal life. Great posts, thanks!
LikeLiked by 1 person
I like the way you’ve put this!
How do you know it is misunderstood? This is purely an interpretation of the scriptures which holds the same credence as all other interpretations! If an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent etc etc god was the source for the bible, he would make it clear for the readers and without a need to ‘interpret’. You use this version because it gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside that your god is true and just. In the same way that your belief in god gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside. It is clearly complete nonsense. 🙂
Temporary punishment of any kind will only work if it brings about a change in the attitude of the guilty. Any convict that gets out and then continues his crimes is only back in prison or dead before long. Those who are cast into Hell have rejected God’s mercy, in other words they have not the slightest intention of ever repenting. Thus there punishment must be eternal. Note: Satan will be allowed out of the Bottomless Pit, 1000 years after he is cast in, and what will he do? He will immediately rebel again! Mercy can easily be found in this life time. While declaring God, not man, is guilty, is a pretty certain sign that these people have not the slightest intent of repentance, no matter how long their imprisonment may be, thus requiring an eternal prison, designed to keep them from ever hurting anyone ever again. You see, Hitler could have been pardoned, if he repented, but if he did not!
LikeLiked by 1 person
A few comments.
You wrote, “The lake of fire, or furnace, does not represent eternal torture – it represents a final death.” This is demonstrably false. First, the Johannine author writes that following the last battle between the devil’s forces and the saints, the devil is thrown into the lake of fire along with the beast and false prophet, “and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). It is in that context that at the judgment before God who sits on the great white throne that those who were not found in the opened books would be cast into the lake of fire, the second death (Revelation 20:15).
We can also see in the book of Revelation that those who worship the beast and its image, and receive the mark of the beast, “will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:10). And how long will they be tormented? “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image and for anyone who receives the mark of its name” (Revelation 14:11).
So your statement that “a soul will be destroyed, not eternally punished or tortured, and the soul will therefore not last into eternity” is incorrect, at least on the basis of the book of Revelation and its vision of future judgment.
You disagree with the text of Revelation? I agree.
I disagree with your interpretation of the text of Revelation.
I simply provided the text. You would need to show why the plain reading of it is wrong.
AE: I provided the Bible quotes in the blog that support my viewpoint. I quite frankly just don’t agree with your interpretation. That’s all.
You provided passages that support your viewpoint and glossed over those that do not. That is definitionally eisegetical.
These are Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:28. My interpretation is in alignment with His words.
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
That in no way addresses the texts I mentioned from Revelation. You brought the passages in Revelation up in your post but you ignored those texts that went against your interpretation of them.
I will leave it at that and let readers judge.
I have noticed that people seem to be hard-liners on whether people will die in the Lake of Fire or will be eternally punished (as some have interpreted verses in Revelation that indicate that Satan will be eternally punished and those who follow the mark of the beast will be eternally punished). I am open to the possibility of both. Perhaps some, such as Satan and his fallen angels and people who knowingly worship him will be eternally punished, while others who are guilty of other sins will be given death. It would seem to me that atheists, who prefer not to be around God, would prefer the latter. But of course that is speculation.
LikeLiked by 1 person
You sir, are correct, for it may only be within the imaginations of atheists that eternal punishment may be worse than total destruction. As for me, I believe, but do not know for certain, that total destruction, may be worse than even a literal lake of fire. For we were designed to be eternal and our final moment may drag on forever, within our own tiny time loop, with us unaware of even the passing of time, yet subjected to the horrors of our last moment for all of eternity within this tiny segment of time. I may be wrong, but I bet that this is why God does not simply snuff out those who will not repent. For I believe in a loving God who will do the best for all of us, even if isolation and pain is the only best that God can give to those who refuse to repent.
LikeLiked by 1 person
The Bible can support virtually any belief–hence, centuries of bloody warfare between Bible-believing Spirit-guided Christians who espoused mutually contradictory doctrines. If you believe hell does not represent eternal torment, the proper audience for your apologetic is not atheists but your fellow Christians who say it does. Atheists, not believing any of it, judge Christianity by what its adherents claim. So start directing your efforts toward the source of such doctrinal misunderstanding–your fellow Christians.
LikeLiked by 2 people
You are absolutely wrong. The only way you can hold the wrong belief in regards to the Bible is to ignore what contradicts your beliefs and cling to what little may support you. In point of fact, if you find any contradiction in the Bible it is simply a place where you have misinterpreted one or both of the passages being compared. The exceptions to this rule are the places, such as in the gospels, where differing viewpoints of the witnesses give differing accounts of what each individual actually saw and remembered about the events described.
One more point, there was never bloody war between so called spirit filled Christians and even Christians who were enemies, such as the Japanese and Americans, who met, often shared fellowship in those moments. You see, you have to call people like Hitler a Christian to believe the nonsense you spout, ignoring all of the evolutionary, Darwinian quotes that Hitler boasted of and the desire of the Nazis to abolish the Bible throughout all of Germany. As for the religious wars, the Catholic Church was not fighting to defend the Bible they were fighting to defend the right of the Pope to redefine the Bible and create a One World Order, sort of like you atheists are doing today.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Interesting article SJ, I would offer this for your consideration though: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/j-i-packer-on-why-annihilationism-is-wrong/
LikeLiked by 2 people
As for me, I fall in line with the eternal punishment being just that eternal punishment, not Annihilation. However there are degrees of punishment in Hell as there are rewards in Heaven. If eternal burning in a lake of fire seems to our human minds to be unjust, maybe we shouldn’t trust our human minds to cope with things like an eternity.
The rich man in Hell was certainly suffering, although he wasn’t burning or on fire, as he was having a conversation… how many people on fire, can have a casual conversation. You will also notice he never once complained as to why he was in Hell, he seemed to accept that judgement and only sought to save his brothers back on earth from the same fate.
I do not believe God will just snuff out a life… does he have that power, of course. But that doesn’t mean he will exercise it. Whatever the truth, Gods judgement will be perfect.
What Is Hell Like? Does It Even Exist? – N.T. Wright:
Where Is Hell Located? – N.T. Wright:
Neither Heaven nor Hell is based upon our understanding, while the Bible is not the word of man but the word of God.
1-God created the Universe in 6 literal days.
2-The floor of Noah really happened and just as they laughed at Noah back then, so atheists laugh at the Bible today.
3-Everyone will live again and everyone must face God’s judgement.
–a-Those who plead for mercy will be pardoned.
–b-Those who reject mercy will be cast into Hell.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I don’t think you know what the word infinite means. Just because the damage from Hitler’s crimes outlived him and his direct victims does not make his crimes infinite. Humans can hardly even grasp the concept of infinite time yet you want to argue that someone should burn for that long?
And then even if Hitler was deserving of pain that lasted longer than the pain caused by his actions, you are also going to argue that atheists deserve infinity in hell because they do not accept God? And you think a verse in a book justifies this.
This is how religion brainwashes people. That you can in your mind accept that good people deserve infinite torment because they reject a baseless claim shows that neither your nor your god have any sense of morality.