The Mathematical Impossibility of Degrees of Punishment in an Eternal Hell

One position I used to hold was that there are degrees of punishment in Hell. This was based on passages like Luke 12:42-48.

And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time?

43 “Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.

44 “Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions.

45 “But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk;

46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

47 “And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes,

48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.

Luke 12:42-48

I always saw the many stripes and few stripes as degrees and not duration of punishment. The main reason for this interpretation was that I believed that Hell was a place where people who were wicked (defined below) would burn forever in eternal conscious torment.

Who did I consider wicked? Of course those who were adulterers, murderers, etc., but I also considered anyone who didn’t agree with the majority of my doctrinal positions to be wicked. They either were dishonest, not interested in truth, or intentionally deceptive. To be more specific, I believed that anyone who was a member of a more liberal Church of Christ or not a member of the church of Christ was on a fast road to Hell.

Before I continue, I need to clarify one thing: there is a difference between the Church of Christ and the church of Christ. One is a group of people with the words Church of Christ on the sign, and the other is a church (congregation) that belongs to Christ. In other words, just having “Church of Christ” on one’s sign doesn’t make them the church of (or that belongs to) Christ.

So, who did I consider wicked? Basically everyone to the right of me or to the left of me theologically. These people (99%+ of the world) were bound for eternal conscious torment.

So, from this perspective, degrees of torment make sense. The person who has never heard the gospel isn’t going to Heaven, but they won’t suffer quite like those evil Baptists, right?

Obviously the whole view of who is in and who is out is flat out wrong, but here is the problem with degrees of eternal conscious torment: anything times infinity is infinity. In other words, 10 times infinity is equal to 1,000,000 times infinity.

Another way to put this is that the amount of divisions between 0 and 1 is the same as the amount of divisions between 0 and 2.

Now, the obvious answer to this is that surely 10 times infinity is much smaller than 1,000,000, right? After all 10 times 1,000,000,000,000,000…000 is much smaller than 1,000,000 times 1,000,000,000,000,000…000. But that number, as large as it is, is not infinity. It is finite. In fact, infinity isn’t even a number.

The problem with the math is not the math; it is our inability as finite beings to comprehend the infinite.

So, in regards to eternal conscious torment, degrees of punishment are a mathematical impossibility. A small degree of punishment times infinity is the same as a large degree of punishment times infinity.

This leaves one other option: everyone suffers the same amount of punishment in an eternal conscious Hell. After all, a sin is a sin is a sin. Separated from God is separated from God. This introduces a whole new group of questions about the nature of God, but that is a study for another day.

Note: this entire discussion is philosophical. One of the shortcomings of human language and concepts is that they can only go so far in discussing the afterlife (not to mention atonement, God, resurrection, etc.). We need to be careful to not put spiritual things into a box because they can’t, and will never, fit.

4 Replies to “The Mathematical Impossibility of Degrees of Punishment in an Eternal Hell

  1. I believe the background for the idea of stripes being greater because of knowledge originates in the Talmud:

    …The Gemara continues. And it is written: “And behold, the man clothed in linen with the slate by his side, reported the matter saying: I have done as You have commanded me” (Ezekiel 9:11). Rabbi Yoḥanan said: At that moment, they cast out Gabriel from behind the curtain [pargod], where the inner angels reside, and they struck him with sixty blows [pulsei] of fire. They said to him: If you did not do it, you did not do it; if you did do it, why did you not do it according to what you were commanded but deviated from what you were instructed to do? Moreover, after you already did it, do you not have knowledge of the principle: One should not deliver a report about destruction? If one is sent on a mission of destruction, he should not deliver a detailed report of its success but should only hint at it…
    https://www.sefaria.org/Yoma.77a.4?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en

    For another scriptural usage of this section of the Talmud please see this related answer on another site:

    https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/29343/to-whom-did-the-angel-refer-as-young-man-in-zechariah-21-4/44008?r=SearchResults&s=1%7C50.3946#44008

  2. That’s the physical human, the majority live in a bubble and put everyone else in a box. That’s why Christ gave up everything and came to the physical life to reveal that the spiritual can live among the physical. You will suffer,but the love of the King will get you through the gate and you will continue to live with Him forever.
    Keep the good work, You’re in good hands.
    Bill

  3. Daniel , the intensity of punishment does not equal time, I could put slivers under your finger nails for all eternity, or I can have you muck out stalls. ? I don’t believe Hell is a concept in the Bible, man made to control.

    1. > I don’t believe Hell is a concept in the Bible

      Totally agree. I think it is a man-made doctrine used to control folks as well. Perfect love, as John says, casts out fear.

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