Does the Bible Say Whether There are People in Hell?

By Clement Harrold


Sacred Scripture does not tell us the names of any particular individuals who are in hell, but it repeatedly affirms that hell is real and people go there. Acts 24:15, for example, reminds us that “there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.”

In 2 Thessalonians 1:9, St. Paul warns about those who “shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” Here St. Paul presents this state of affairs as a future reality, not just a possibility. Likewise, Revelation 20:15, with its apocalyptic vision of the future, describes how “if any one’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Perhaps the most jarring verse of all, however, comes in the epistle of St. Jude with his divinely-inspired assertion that “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (1:7). Here we find explicit confirmation that even now there are souls experiencing the punishments of hell.

Suffice to say, Old and New Testament alike affirm the reality of hell, and Jesus highlights its dangers in all four Gospels. On literally dozens of occasions, Jesus cautions us that unless we change our ways, we are headed for spiritual destruction. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us:

The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion. (§1036)

The Catechism goes on to cite Matthew 7:13-14, with its somber warning that “the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Today many believers and even many theologians and bishops struggle with the idea of an eternal hell. Sometimes those same people will try to reinterpret Scripture according to their own preconceived notions of what it should or shouldn’t say. That is a dangerous path to take. While the doctrine of a populated hell may not be one which we would come up with on our own, it is nevertheless a doctrine which we must accept on the authority of Divine Revelation, and it is one repeatedly corroborated by history’s greatest saints, scholars, mystics, and apparitions.

If we are to remain faithful to Christ, then our theology must be a theology not of Babel, where we work from the ground up according to our own designs, but rather of Pentecost, where we work on the basis of what has been given to us from above. Our theology must always be a received theology, one which builds on the primacy of Sacred Scripture as interpreted through the living Tradition of Holy Mother Church.

It is important to remember that affirming the existence of hell should come from a place of love. Precisely because playing with hell fire is a dangerous business, we do a profound disservice to our neighbor when we convince him or her that eternal damnation isn’t real. At the same time, being a Christian means desiring, together with God, that all people would come to salvation (see 1 Tim 2:4), and so we should join with the Church in praying for that intention (see Catechism §1058).

Does this mean that that prayer will be realized in every instance? Sadly, we know on the basis of Sacred Scripture and the testimony of the saints that the answer is no. Nevertheless, it is not given to us to know precisely who will or won’t be saved, or in what numbers. For that reason we are commanded to pray for all people without exception, and to recall our own status as the “foremost of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15).

Further reading:

C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (1945)

C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (1940)

Ralph Martin, Will Many Be Saved?: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization (Eerdmans, 2012)

Clement Harrold earned his master's degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame in 2024, and his bachelor's from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2021. His writings have appeared in First Things, Church Life Journal, Crisis Magazine, and the Washington Examiner.

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