For some reason — maybe it’s just coincidence — this has been coming up a lot lately. I’ve been in three separate debates in the last couple of weeks — here on this blog and elsewhere — in which Christian theists have argued that Jesus’s teaching in the Bible didn’t say anything about Hell as a place of eternal damnation, burning, and torture… or if he did say that, he didn’t really mean it.
I’m not posting this to stir up those debates again. But when I got into those debates, I wound up citing this piece of research I did that got buried in the comments on this blog. I think it’s an important point — I suspect I’ll be citing it again in the future, and I’m thinking that other atheist bloggers might want to cite it as well. So I’m pulling it out of the comments and making it into a post of its own.
It’s a list of all the places in the Gospels where Jesus is quoted as teaching about hell, damnation, wrath, judgment, etc. — with brief explanations of the context. (My apologies for any typos, btw: I couldn’t find an online version of the Revised Standard Bible to cut and paste from, so I had to just type all this in by hand.)
And it looks to me like it’s a very prevalent theme. It’s not a small number of passing references — it’s quite plentiful. And the references aren’t out of context or jarringly inconsistent — they’re woven into the text fairly seamlessly, and a number of consistent themes emerge, such as people being damned to hell for hearing and seeing Jesus and still not believing in him and repenting.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are several other more indirect allusions to these concepts: implying it in parables, using words like “punish” or “condemnation” instead of “hell” or “fire,” etc. — but I limited myself to the most direct and explicit ones. In addition, there are several other references in the Gospels to these concepts spoken by either John the Baptist or by the narrator/gospel writer — but I’m limiting myself to sayings that are quoted as Jesus’s own words. And there are also other troubling words from Jesus in the Gospels that aren’t about judgment and hell but that also aren’t in keeping with a message of love and tolerance — but I’m limiting myself here to teachings about hell, wrath, judgment day, etc.
There are definitely more in Matthew than any of the other four, although Luke has quite a few as well. John doesn’t have as many as those two, but the concept is far from entirely absent (plus John does have a fair number of the abovementioned indirect allusions and comments from John the Baptist and the narrator). Mark seems to have the fewest (although again it has a fair number of indirect allusions that I didn’t list here).
The list begins below the jump.
Matthew 5:22: “But I say to you that every one who is angry with the brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council; and whoever says ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” (Sermon on the Mount, said to the crowds)
Matthew 5:30: “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go to hell.” (ditto above)
Matthew 10:28: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (said to disciples)
Matthew 10:34: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have come not to bring peace, but a sword.” (ditto)
Matthew 11:21-22, Jesus: “Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.” (said to crowds in cities, for not repenting when they saw his miracles)
Matthew 11:23: “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” (ditto above)
Matthew 12:31-32: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (this is the Blasphemy Challenge thing, said to Pharisees when they said Jesus cast out demons because he was a demon himself, not by the Holy Spirit)
Matthew 12:33-34: “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (ditto)
Matthew 12:41: “The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (said to scribes and Pharisees, on people not repenting when they heard his preaching and saw his works)
Matthew 13:30: “Let both (wheat and weeds) grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (said to crowds — explained later in 13:40-42)
Matthew 13:40-42: “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” (said to disciples, in explanation of previously quoted parable which was said to crowds)
Matthew 13:49-50: “So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” (said to disciples in explanation of a different parable)
Matthew 18:8-9: “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire..” (said to disciples)
Matthew 22:2, 11-13: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his sonâŠ But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, an cast him into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.'” (said to priests and Pharisees)
Matthew 23:15: “Wie to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (spoken to crowds and disciples, about scribes and Pharisees)
Matthew 23:33: “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (ditto above)
Matthew 24:48-51: But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eats and drinks with the drunken, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the hypocrites; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” (said to disciples; part of a long passage replying to the question, “What will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”)
Matthew 25:30: “And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.” (ditto)
Matthew 25:41: “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (ditto — this is the parable of the sheep and the goats)
Matthew 25:46: “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (ditto above)
Mark 4:28-29: “Truly I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemies against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” (said to scribes — this is the Blasphemy Challenge part again)
Mark 9:43-48: “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. For every one will be salted with fire.” (said to disciples)
Luke 10:11-15: “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near. I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day [Judgment day] for Sodom than for that town. Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be for you more tolerable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And to you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to Heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.” (said to disciples — not to the 12 but to 70 sent to prepare the way for him in towns he was about to go into, about cities that didn’t repent when they saw his miracles)
Luke 11:32: “The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” (said to crowds, again about people who didn’t repent when they saw his miracles)
Luke 12:8: “And every one who speaks a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (again the blasphemy thing â but this time itâs spoken to the disciples, and not in the context of getting mad at the Pharisees for denying that he used the Holy Spirit to cast out a demon, but just in the context of explaining to the disciples how things were going to be)
Luke 13:2-5: “And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.'” (said to multitudes)
Luke 13:23-34, & 27-28: “”And some one said to him, ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be ableâŠBut he (God) will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!’ There you will weep and gnash your teethâŠ” (said to crowds)
Luke 16:22-29: “The poor man died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus [the poor man] in his bosom. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame. But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.'” (said to Pharisees)
Luke 21:22: “for these are the days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.” (said â I think, it’s a little unclear â to disciples in hearing of crowd)
Luke 22: 31: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat” (said to disciple Simon â the “sifting like wheat” reference is about judgment day being like separating the wheat from the weeds)
John 5:22, 26-29: “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the SonâŠ For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.” (said to “the Jews” — not specified which ones, but in context it may be the Pharisees, or it may simply be the crowd)
John 10:39: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” (said to blind man whose eyesight he cured)
John 12: 48: “He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.” (not clear who this is said to or about)
John 16:8-11: “And when he (the Counselor, a.k.a. the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (ditto)