Is The Lake Of Fire In The Old Testament?

The most fearful thing for an unbeliever is being cast by God into the lake of fire. As Hebrews 10:31 illustrates, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” The human fear of God and judgment is readily noted throughout our Bible, and it’s something that most of us all likely have come about. But what if… Later biblical authors just made it up?

Recently, I’ve been coming across the claim by non-believers that I’ve been talking with that say the concept of eternal torture in the afterlife is nowhere to be found in the Old Testament, and thus, is a New Testament invention as the biblical tradition continuously became more exaggerated with the passing of time. So, I took to studying the Old Testament in some way, and see if this claim stacks up. I’ve come across this claim by many people in many contexts, and so this is certainly one of those online skeptic classicals.

Firstly, before we see what the Old Testament has to say, we need to understand what the New Testament says about the eternity of torture in the afterlife. Although people refer to this as hell, in the entire Bible, this is most certainly not hell. Hell is not a place of eternal torture, biblically speaking, it is the lake of fire that is the place of eternal fire and tortureIn fact, towards the end of the New Testament, we are not only specifically told that hell and the lake of fire are two different things, but we are told that hell and death will literally be cast into the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:14: Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

So, the final place of unrelenting agony is the lake of fire, not hell. So, how does the New Testament actually refer to the place of hell anyways? In reality, the actual English word hell only came into existence in the 8th century AD from Germanic derivation. Thus, it becomes immediately clear that the New Testament never refers to hell in the original Greek language, that term is only found in our modern English translations. In reality, the original Greek uses a single specific term for ‘hell’, that is, hades.

Hades is a place deep within the Earth where the souls of all the wicked dead lay after their death, and stay there until they are cast into the lake of fire by God, where they will be tortured in fire forever. Now that we’ve clarified this, the question becomes if the concept of the lake of fire (an eternal torture and fire) appears in the Old Testament. The deniers say it doesn’t. What does the Old Testament say?

Daniel 12:2: Many who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, and some to disgrace and eternal contempt.

In this verse, things become quickly clear. We are told that some people are resting in the “dust of the earth” (sheol), and soon, they will either depart to one of two places, either eternal life or eternal contempt (an eternity after death either way). The places of eternal life and eternal contempt appear to be opposites — eternal life being heaven, and eternal contempt being the lake of fire. It does appear, from this verse, that the concept of an eternal torture awaiting the wicked does appear in the Old Testament. There are more verses to examine, of course, before relenting in our study.

Jeremiah 23:40: I will bring on you everlasting disgrace and humiliation that will never be forgotten.”

Again, we see another explicit reference, by God Himself in this verse, where God will throw someone into some form of eternal unpleasance. These two aforementioned verses do not yet speak of an eternal fire, but there is one last verse to look at before deciding on whether or not the skeptics are right about this.

Isaiah 66:24 “As they leave, they will see the dead bodies of those who have rebelled against me; for their worm will never die, their fire will never go out, and they will be a horror to all mankind.”

The last verse of Isaiah’s book tells us that some people will be in an undying fire after death, a place where their worm will never die (see Jesus speak in Mark 9:48). This verse unambiguously declares the unrighteous will enter into an eternity of fire and doom in the afterlife, consistent with both what we know from Daniel 12:2 and Jeremiah 23:40. Interestingly, another verse (Isaiah 50:11) also says that God says to the wicked “you will lie down in a place of torment.” So, I think it’s clear now that the lake of fire is explicitly mentioned in the Old Testament, hence, not a later invention that comes about through the advent of the New Testament. Thus, the skeptics turned out to be wrong.

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21 thoughts on “Is The Lake Of Fire In The Old Testament?

  1. This completely misses the mark of the fact that “eternity” is a horrible translation for the original word both in Hebrew and in Greek.

    Age-Abiding is much more accurate as even the “fire that will not be quenched” in Edom has alas been put out. Likewise Gehenna today is a pleasant park outside of the city of Jerusalem.

    Eternal Concious Torment is not the only orthodox view on matters of “eternity” or eschatology. There remains conditionalism as well as Ultimate Reconciliation. Both had support from the early church and not a few Church Fathers.

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  2. I think your arguments are sound but not conclusive, but the original premise you seek to rectify is a non-event. The whole bible period is an unfolding revelation, that culminates in Jesus. The bible is based on the very idea that there is an unfolding of Revelation see: Joel 2:28, Hebrews 1:1-2, Mark 12:27. Many ideas are expanded on at the culmination of God making himself known through His son – why should not the separation of believers and non-believers be also included. This process (God making Himself known), is still ongoing today – otherwise the Reformation and such events are for nothing. Jesus himself indicated as much when he says in John 16, …11and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world already stands condemned. 12I still have much to tell you, but you cannot yet bear to hear it. 13However, when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak what He hears, and He will declare to you what is to come.…

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    • The argument is pretty conclusive, those verses are airtight when it comes to showing an eternal punishment in the afterlife. I understand some unfolding happens, but I wouldn’t stretch out any unfolding after the final biblical book.

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  3. SC, in your opening statement, you wrote: The most fearful thing for an unbeliever is being cast by God into the lake of fire.

    Just wanted to let you know … I’m an unbeliever and I’m not at all fearful of “being cast by God into the lake of fire.” And I would daresay I’m not the only unafraid unbeliever.

    Perhaps you should think twice before making such generalized statements. 🙂

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  4. Clearly, all these people go to sheol, and from sheol, some go to eternal life (heaven) and some go to eternal contempt (lake of fire).

    Likewise, this fact is recounted in the New Testament as well — that hades and ‘paradise’ (if that’s the name) are actually located besides each other in some effect. Luke 16:19-31 records the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Both die, Lazarus goes to Abraham’s bosom and the rich man is sent to hades. Then, it says this;

    Luke 16:22-23: One day the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side.[e] The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side.

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    • Thanks for the words. I don’t know if your particular interpretation differs from my own, but the point here is to take on the claim that an eternal torture was never given in the Old Testament and is thus a later development. Hopefully that has been countered well. God bless.

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      • Well like i said some details will vary. Salvageable is very close to my thoughts. But you made the point well that the concept of an eternal conscious separation from God is presented all through His Word

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  5. The most fearful thing for an unbeliever is being cast by God into the lake of fire.

    As unbelievers do not believe in your god -or any god for that matter – then how on earth could we possibly fear something we don’t believe in?

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  6. Well-reasoned, and a correct conclusion, but allow me to offer some clarifications. At the death of the human body, the human spirit leaves to wait for the Day of the Lord. Believers wait in Paradise, and unbelievers wait in Hades. At the Day of the Lord, all the dead will be raised and will stand before the Lord’s throne for his judgment–not an entire trial, just a statement of God’s verdict. Believers, who have waited for the resurrection in Paradise, will live in the new heavens and the new earth. Unbelievers will be cast into the lake of eternal fire.
    Like the word heaven, the word Sheol can have different meanings, depending upon context. Heaven can be the sky, the presence of God (Paradise), or the new creation. Sheol can be the grace (resting place of the body), Paradise, or Hades. J.

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    • Thanks for the insights. Let me offer a note here.

      “Believers wait in Paradise, and unbelievers wait in Hades.”

      Probably correct, but both paradise and hades are overall located in sheol, and the Old Testament is very clear that all people will await in sheol until the final judgement, both righteous and unrighteous. See Daniel 12:2 for example, which I talked about in my post;

      Daniel 12:2: Many who sleep in the dust
      of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, and some to disgrace and eternal contempt.

      Clearly, all these people go to sheol, and from sheol, some go to eternal life (heaven) and some go to eternal contempt (lake of fire).

      Likewise, this fact is recounted in the New Testament as well — that hades and ‘paradise’ (if that’s the name) are actually located besides each other in some effect. Luke 16:19-31 records the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Both die, Lazarus goes to Abraham’s bosom and the rich man is sent to hades. Then, it says this;

      Luke 16:22-23: One day the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side.[e] The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side.

      So, the rich man can literally see Lazarus “a far way off” from him. These places are in some way close to each other, somewhere in the layers of the Earth. ‘Paradise’ and hades are not two individual and completely independent locations.

      “the word Sheol can have different meanings”

      Absolutely not.

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