Degrees of Sin and Punishment in Hell

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Are There Degrees of Sin and Punishment in Hell?

That's a tough question. For believers, it stirs up doubts and concerns about the nature and justice of God. But that's precisely why it's a great question to consider. A 10-year-old boy in the scenario brings up a topic known as age of accountability, however, we'll save that for another study. The Bible gives us only limited information about Heaven, Hell, and the afterlife. There are some aspects of eternity we'll never fully understand, at least on this side of Heaven. God simply has not revealed everything to us through Scripture. Yet, the Bible does seem to suggest varying degrees of punishment in Hell for unbelievers, just as it speaks of different rewards in Heaven for believers based on deeds done here on earth.

Degrees of Reward in Heaven

Here are a few verses indicating degrees of reward in Heaven.

Greater Reward for the Persecuted

Matthew 5:11-12 "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (ESV)

Luke 6:22-24 "Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in Heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets." (ESV)

No Reward for Hypocrites

Matthew 6:1-2 "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in Heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward." (ESV)

Rewards According to Deeds

Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (NIV)

1 Corinthians 3:12-15 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person's work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. (NIV)

2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (ESV)

1 Peter 1:17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile... (ESV)

Degrees of Punishment in Hell

The Bible does not expressly state that a person's punishment in Hell is based on the seriousness of his or her sins. The idea, however, is implied in several places.

Greater Punishment for Rejecting Jesus

These verses (the first three spoken by Jesus) seem to imply less tolerance and worse punishment for the sin of rejecting Jesus Christ than for the vilest sins committed in the Old Testament:

Matthew 10:15 "Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town." (ESV)

Matthew 11:23-24 "And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to Heaven? You will 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 will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you." (ESV)

Luke 10:13-14 "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 will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you." (ESV)

Hebrews 10:29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (ESV)

Worse Punishment for Those Entrusted With Knowledge and Responsibility

The following verses seem to indicate that people who are given greater knowledge of the truth have greater responsibility, and likewise, more severe punishment than those who are ignorant or uninformed:

Luke 12:47-48 "And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn't prepared and doesn't carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required." (NLT)

Luke 20:46-47 "Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces. And how they love the seats of honor in the synagogues and the head table at banquets. Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be severely punished." (NLT)

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. (ESV)

Greater Sins

Jesus called Judas Iscariot's sin greater:

John 19:11 Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." (NIV)

Punishment According to Deeds

The book of Revelation speaks of the unsaved being judged "according to what they had done."

In Revelation 20:12-13 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. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. (NIV) The idea of levels of punishment in Hell is further reinforced by the distinctions and different types of penalties for varying levels of criminal acts in the Old Testament Law.

Exodus 21:23-25 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 25:2 If the guilty person deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make them lie down and have them flogged in his presence with the number of lashes the crime deserves... (NIV)

Lingering Questions About Punishment in Hell

Believers struggling with questions about Hell might be tempted to think it's unfair, unjust, and even unloving for God to allow any degree of eternal punishment for sinners or those who reject salvation. Many Christians forsake belief in Hell altogether because they cannot reconcile a loving, merciful God with the concept of eternal damnation. For others, resolving these questions is rather simple; it's a matter of faith and trust in God's justice (Genesis 18:25; Romans 2:5-11; Revelation 19:11). Scripture does affirm God's nature as merciful, kind, and loving, but it's important to remember, above all, God is holy (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:15). He does not tolerate sin. Furthermore, God knows every person's heart (Psalm 139:23; Luke 16:15; John 2:25; Hebrews 4:12) and he gives every individual an opportunity to repent and be saved (Acts 17:26-27; Romans 1:20). Taking into consideration that bit of uncomplicated truth, it's reasonable and biblical to hold to the position that God will justly and rightly assign both eternal rewards in Heaven and punishments in Hell.

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Fairchild, Mary. "Degrees of Sin and Punishment in Hell." Learn Religions, Oct. 29, 2020, Fairchild, Mary. (2020, October 29). Degrees of Sin and Punishment in Hell. Retrieved from Fairchild, Mary. "Degrees of Sin and Punishment in Hell." Learn Religions. (accessed March 22, 2023).