I must disagree with the September 2013 answer that hell is eternal. God’s decrees are an eternal word. God’s decree of reprobation is eternal. God’s decree of election is eternal. God’s counsel, the collection of his decrees and words, is eternal. However, just as Satan is, and likewise just as I am not eternal, so also is hell not eternal.
Hell is a created reality, created by God, just as in contrast heaven is another of God’s wondrous acts of created reality. Things tangible, whether spiritual or physical, are not eternal in and of themselves. They all had a starting date within creation week. They were designed as a means to glorify God and to help develop the faith of his created beings, angels as well as men.
According to Genesis 1:1, not only was our sky created in some form or fashion on day one of the creation week, but so also was heaven as the home for God’s angels. This means that I do not believe that heaven was eternal. Heaven will be re-created at the end of earthly time (Isa. 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13). If heaven will be re-created, then it also was created.
The question that naturally arises is, where did God live in eternity? In eternity God simply was, or is. God does not need an environment in which to live as humans or as fish do. We are so limited by our senses we cannot fully comprehend a being, Jehovah God, who does not need a place. This is the definition of invisibility and spirituality. The triune God had himself with whom to fellowship covenantally. A place was/is not needed.
I would tell my own biological and school children that God created hell and heaven so as to leave the angels and man without excuse in their sin. Satan knew of hell before his fall. This is why Genesis 1 and 2 repeat the phrase “And God saw everything that he had made, and it was very good.” The verses do not say “There was no death.” The plants in creation died in some form or fashion so as to feed Adam, Eve, and the animals. Creation was good because it worked exactly as God had formed it. Hell, as a logical development of this idea, was a place of death, present during creation week and present before the fall. No sin was present in hell, since hell was the perfect expression of God’s anger. Hell is the bower for the second death. Hell is bad enough now, and it will only get worse after the final judgment for those who are its citizens. Hell is a reality where the reprobate will experience a second death everlastingly.
In contrast, heaven is a reality, where we will be given spiritual bodies so as to live everlastingly. To give us something to anticipate in hope, with a view to strengthening our weak faith, God created heaven—an act of mercy, grace, love, etc. Also, to stop our stubborn pride of sin, God warns us about the consequences of sin by creating hell—the result of “for in the day thou east thereof, dying, thou shalt die” (Genesis 2:6). God could not talk of death outside of Christ unless hell was present. I have no firm idea of when hell was created, though I would tend toward the first day, the same time as when you rightly point out (Job 38:6–7) that angels and heaven were created.
To say that heaven and hell as places are eternal not only detracts from God’s powers during the creation week, but also unintentionally lessens him. The Father, Son (Word), and Holy Spirit are no longer the only eternal persons. God is no longer the only eternal essence. God alone must remain sovereign. All places started during creation week.
The usual New Testament word for eternal is literally in English eons, and can mean eternal, everlasting, or ages. This is the meaning of John 6:54: “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” In this passage and in over 150 others with this word, the word eons is more representative of the quality of life rather than the time aspect. It emphasizes timelessness. This word is used as a contrast to time-limited man, who always knows how old he is and in the back of his mind always has thought of how many years he has left of his four score years, if strength be great. The KJV translates the word eons half the time as “eternal” and the other half as “everlasting.” For God’s elect to live unto everlasting in heaven is the same as eternity in our minds. We will live unto forever, but we are not divinely eternal.
A different Greek word for eternal shows up in Romans 1:20 “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” God alone is truly eternal.
With fondest appreciation for this feature, the editors, and the magazine,
Bruce J. Koole
I appreciate the brother’s “fondest appreciation” for the Beacon Lights. I also appreciate his willingness to submit his query and, indeed, his readiness to correct a perceived error. All of us should have the humility of mind to consider the corrections of our fellow saints. Nevertheless, I am puzzled by the brother’s response. The brother writes to express disagreement, but I do not perceive that any disagreement exists.
The main reason for his supposed disagreement is the question of the eternality of hell. Twice the brother accuses me of teaching that hell is eternal (“I must disagree with the September 2013 answer that hell is eternal.” “To say that heaven and hell as places are eternal not only detracts from God’s powers during the creation week, but also unintentionally lessens him”).
However, I did not write that “hell is eternal.” What I wrote was this: “Therefore God created hell as a place of eternal punishment before he created the angels and men who would later fall in his eternal decree” (italics added for emphasis).
Therefore, I agree entirely with what the brother writes concerning the eternal being and decrees of God. I also agree that neither the place heaven nor the place hell are eternal in the sense that both have a beginning, although as the brother rightly points out, both are without (future) ending. In that sense, we might call both heaven and hell “everlasting” (Matt. 25:46). We agree on the orthodox doctrine of the everlasting punishment of the wicked.
I pinpointed the date of hell’s creation as “before God created the angels and men,” that is, before the sixth day of creation. Brother Koole suggests that hell existed “during the creation week and before the fall” and adds, “I have no firm idea of when hell was created, though I would tend toward the first day.” I did not opt for any particular day in the creation week in my contribution, because the Bible does not tell us, but I do not disagree that the first day is a possibility. About that none of us can be sure.