Are There Degrees of Punishment in Hell?

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Are all sins punished equally, or do some merit more eternal torment than others? Hank Hanegraaff discusses this issue in light of Scripture.

On the basis of the Bible we may safely conclude that not all existence in hell is equal. First, the unified testimony of Scripture is that God is perfectly just and will reward and punish each person in accordance with what he or she has done (Psalm 62:12; Proverbs 24:12; Jeremiah 17:10; Ezekiel 18:20, 30; Romans 2:5–16; 1 Corinthians 3:8, 11–15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Colossians 3:23–25; 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 20:12).

Furthermore, the Bible is clear that with greater revelation and responsibility comes stricter judgment (cf. James 3:1). Jesus warned the Pharisees that they would “be punished most severely” for their willful hypocrisy (Luke 20:47). In denouncing the cities where most of his miracles had been performed, Jesus said, “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matthew 11:21). Thus, said Jesus, “It will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you” (v. 22).

Moreover, Jesus used the metaphor of physical torture to warn his hearers that those who knowingly disobey will experience greater torment in hell than those who disobey in ignorance (Luke 12:47–48). God is perfectly just and will reward and punish each person in accordance with what he or she has done.

Finally, the canon of Scripture ratifies the common-sense notion that not all sins are created equal (cf. John 19:11). To think a murderous thought is sin; to carry that thought to its logical conclusion is far graver sin. Every sin is an act of rebellion against a holy God, but some sins carry far more serious consequences than others and thus receive severer punishment in this life and the next. Indeed, according to Scripture the torment of Hitler’s hell will greatly exceed that of the less wicked.

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books (Revelation 20:12).
For further study, see Hank Hanegraaff, “Why should I believe in hell?” and “Is annihilationism biblical?” The Bible Answer Book, Volume 1 (Nashville: J Countryman, 2004): 211–218.

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