A Widespread Belief

“I had nightmares of burning in hell! I dreamed of being thrown into a fiery place and would wake up screaming. Needless to say, I tried very hard not to sin.”​—Arline.

DO YOU believe that hell is a place of torment reserved for sinners? Many people do. For example, in 2005 a scholar at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland found that a third of the Scottish clergy believed that those separated from God would suffer “eternal mental anguish in hell.” A fifth believed that those in hell would suffer physical torment.

In many countries, belief in hell is widespread. For instance, in the United States, a Gallup poll conducted in 2007 found that about 70 percent of those surveyed believe in hell. Even in predominantly secular countries, belief in hell lingers. A Gallup poll in 2004 found that in Canada, 42 percent of the people believed in hell. And in Great Britain, 32 percent were sure that hell exists.

What the Clergy Teach

Many of the clergy have backed off from teaching that hell is a place of literal fiery torment. Rather, they promote a definition similar to that expressed in a Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1994. “The chief punishment of hell,” states that reference, “is eternal separation from God.”

Even so, belief that hell is a place of mental or physical suffering persists. Those who promote this doctrine claim that such a teaching is based on the Bible. R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, asserts: “It’s simply a fact of Scripture.”

Why Does It Matter What You Believe?

If hell really is a place of torment, you certainly should fear it. However, if this teaching is not true, religious leaders who teach the doctrine create confusion and cause needless mental anguish to those who believe them. They also defame God.

What does God’s Word, the Bible, say on this subject? The following articles will use both Catholic and Protestant Bible translations to answer three questions: (1) What really happens to a person at death? (2) What did Jesus teach about hell? (3) How can learning the truth about hell affect you?