The concept of hell as a place of eternal punishment for the wicked is found throughout the Bible. However, the Bible does not give a definitive timeline for when hell was created. Based on scriptural evidence, hell was likely created at some point prior to or during the creation of the world.
Here is an overview of what the Bible reveals about the origins of hell:
Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels
Matthew 25:41 states that hell was prepared for the devil and his angels: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'” This indicates that hell was originally intended as a place of punishment for Satan and other fallen angels who rebelled against God.
Hell exists outside of time
The Bible often speaks of hell as “eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8) or “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46). Places and states of being described as eternal exist outside of time and space as we know it. This suggests hell has always existed on some plane of reality, even before the physical universe was created.
Hell was kept hidden as part of God’s plans
1 Corinthians 2:7-8 refers to God’s wisdom being “hidden” and a “mystery” before the world began. This may indicate that God’s plans concerning hell and judgment were formulated before the creation of the world but not fully revealed until later in salvation history.
Hell was in place before the first human sin
Hell does not seem to have been “created” in response to human sin. Rather, it already existed as a place prepared for Satan and his demons. As soon as Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they were susceptible to the judgment of hell (Genesis 3). This implies hell was already present prior to the first human disobedience.
Hell was established before the Old Testament period
Several books refer to the judgment of hell as if it were already an assumed reality prior to the giving of the Mosaic Law. For example, the sufferings of hell are mentioned in warnings throughout the Book of Proverbs, indicating it was an established concept. Other Old Testament figures like David, Isaiah, Daniel, and Malachi all made references to hell as though it already existed in their time.
Hell is eternal like God is eternal
Hell is described in Scripture as a place of destruction and torment that endures forever and ever. The eternal nature of hell corresponds to the eternal nature of God. As God exists beyond time and space, the realities of heaven and hell He created may have no fixed “beginning” within time as we experience it.
Hell is part of the spiritual realm
The reality of hell need not be confined strictly to the physical universe. Just as heaven exists in the spiritual realm, hell could have been created as part of the spiritual plane that intersects with the physical one. The spiritual roots of hell may reach back beyond the origins of the tangible world.
In summary, the Bible does not state exactly when hell was created. However, piecing together scriptural clues gives us insight into its probable origins. Hell very likely existed prior to the creation of the world in some form in the spiritual realm. As part of God’s sovereign plan, hell awaits those who reject His offer of salvation through Jesus Christ.
Old Testament hints about the pre-existence of hell
Though the Old Testament does not provide definitive information about when hell was created, there are passages that hint at its pre-existence before the world began:
- Proverbs 27:20 refers metaphorically to hell (Sheol) as never satisfied and always wanting more. This implies it was already in existence.
- Job 26:6 states that Sheol is naked before God, suggesting it is a spiritual domain God has access to.
- Several psalms mention calls for judgment against the wicked being consigned to hell (Psalm 9:17, 55:15).
- Isaiah 30:33 speaks of a burning place prepared for the king of Assyria analogous to hell.
- Ecclesiastes 7:14 mentions that both good and evil exist in correspondence with God’s established plans, including judgment.
Though not definitive, these passages show an awareness of the concept of hell even hundreds or thousands of years before Christ.
New Testament clarity about hell’s purpose
While the New Testament does not give specifics on when hell was created either, it provides greater clarity concerning God’s intended purpose for hell:
- Matthew 25:41 – Hell was prepared for the devil and his angels
- Matthew 13:42 – Hell is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth for the wicked
- Matthew 5:22 – Anyone angry with their brother is subject to hellfire
- Mark 9:43 – It is better to lose body parts than to be thrown into hell
- 2 Peter 2:4 – Hell holds fallen angels captive in chains of darkness
These verses and others confirm hell’s purpose as a place of punishment, destruction, and confinement for those who align themselves against God.
God conceived of and prepared hell in eternity past
Though Scripture does not indicate a specific timeline, logical deductions from Biblical evidence strongly suggest God conceived of and prepared hell in eternity past before creation of the world. As an eternal being, God inhabits a different realm of time and space than finite created beings. This means that God could prepare places for eternal reward and judgment in a realm outside of time itself. Our universe may have had a definite beginning, but the spiritual underpinnings crafted by an eternal God did not.
God also possesses omniscience – He has known the beginning from the end since before time began. The redemption plan including salvation and judgment was formulated by Him in advance (1 Peter 1:20). Thus in a manner beyond human understanding, it seems God established hell in eternity past to stand ready for unrepentant souls.
Hell designed as a deserved consequence of sin
Hell was conceived by God to act as the consequence for creatures who abused their free will to reject His will and standards. Once free beings chose disobedience over obedience, hell manifested itself as the corollary of holy justice – a sanction merited by unrighteousness. In this way, hell is a reactive yet anticipated result of sin woven into the fabric of an orderly moral universe by a just Creator.
Alternative theories on the origins of hell
While a literal eternal hell exists in Scripture, some theological thinkers have proposed alternative theories about how hell came to be:
- Annihilationism: Hell as a place of fiery torment does not exist. The wicked are annihilated and cease to exist.
- Universalism: Hell exists only temporarily to purge sin. Eventually all are reconciled and admitted to heaven.
- Purgatorial hell: Hell is a temporary place of purification before going to heaven for most people.
However, these theories run counter to many clear Biblical passages about the eternal nature of hell and separation from God. Scripture overwhelmingly points to hell as an endless, conscious punishment for the lost.
Eternal hell fulfills God’s attributes of holiness and justice
A hell conceived in eternity past to punish evil forevermore corresponds perfectly with God’s holy nature and sense of justice. As an utterly holy Being, God cannot tolerate sin in His presence. His justice and righteous anger at wickedness demand a suitable everlasting punishment. Hell fulfills those dual demands as the satisfactory manifestation of holiness and justice.
The permanence of hell displays God’s sovereignty
That hell eternally exists as a place of punishment and separation from God also ties into His sovereignty. As the ultimate Supreme Being, God must follow through on His Word and commitments with absolute permanence. The unchanging, irreversible nature of hell reflects God’s sovereign authority to establish eternal consequences for actions.
Only God knows hell’s complete origins
While Biblical evidence leads to reasonable conclusions about hell’s purpose and origins, its absolute beginnings remain shrouded in the mystery of God’s eternal nature. As Isaiah 55:8-9 states, God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours. Hell’s genesis springs from God’s infinite wisdom and knowledge, which humans cannot grasp fully during our earthly existence. Until made known by God in eternity, the details remain known only to Him.
Hell’s significance is not when, but why
Speculating on when hell was created risks missing the more vital point – why it exists. Hell originates from God’s holiness and righteous need to punish ongoing rebellion against Him. The timing pales in comparison to its ongoing reality and purpose. Hell should prompt all souls to repent while given the grace to do so before time expires.
Rather than curiosity over when hell began, our focus should remain on avoiding hell and warning others to flee from the wrath to come. Hell’s precise inception may remain shrouded in mystery for now, but its terrible and eternal purpose is made abundantly clear throughout Scripture.