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Outer Darkness vs Lake of Fire
For Whom?   

Q. Why is hell mentioned as a place of "outer darkness" in some passages and a "lake of fire" in others? I mean, darkness is the absence of light. So you can't have darkness and fire coexisting in the same place. Can you?


Sons of the Kingdom

Interesting question. Jesus alone uses the term "outer darkness" on three occasions. It is found in Matthew 8:12 when He praises the Roman centurion for his faith and states that the "sons of the kingdom" will be cast into outer darkness. We learn in Matthew 13:38 that these sons of the kingdom are "true believers."


Wedding Guest without proper Attire

In the parable of the Great Feast, Jesus also says the guest without a proper wedding garment is thrown into outer darkness (Matthew 22:11-13).

According to some notable theologians this, too, refers to a believer since believers put on clean garments of righteousness - good deeds - in the book of Revelation:

"For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God's holy people" (Rev 19:8, NLT).

Talents Parable

Then in the parable of the talents Jesus throws the useless servant who has buried his one talent, into outer darkness as well (Matt 25:30).

Note that many Greek language experts state this would be more accurately translated "the darkness outside." In other words, the discipline of this unfaithful servant involves excluding an unfaithful believer from the festivities and lit-up place of celebration. He is confined to the darkness outside for a limited timespan.

Therefore, none of these instances may refer to "hell" as we have understood it. They may refer to some form of exclusion from the Millennial Kingdom or from the Wedding Feast of the Lamb according to scholars like Dillow and Missler.

But, these parables and the one narrative in Matthew 8:12 apparently do not refer to the eternal damnation of hell.

The NKJV Study Bible states that the "sons of the kingdom" and "outer darkness" refer to the experience of "those who do not endure and so will not reign in the kingdom" (see Matt 22:13, Rom 8:17, 2 Tim 2:12, 13, 2 John 8, Rev 3:11). (NKJV Study Bible 2007, 1943).

Hell is a Lake of Fire - Consistently

On the other hand, the "lake of fire" clearly refers to eternal hell.

- In Revelation 19:20 we are told the beast and false prophet are cast into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. "The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are" (Rev 20:10).

- Death and Hades are cast into the "lake of fire" in Revelation 20:14).

- Everyone not found "written in the Book of Life" is cast into the lake of fire in Revelation 20:15.

- Finally, the "cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Rev 21:8, NKJV).

No Conflict

So there really isn't any conflict at all between hell coexisting as outer darkness or as a lake of fire. The two expressions refer to different places or experiences for different groups of people.

Black Hole

Regardless, even if hell did consist of outer darkness and a lake of fire combined, we need only remember that in a black hole both darkness and light are trapped. In that state the two can probably coexist.

Additionally, we know there are degrees of hell (Matt 11:22, 11:24, Luke 10:14). Perhaps one could be a lake of fire and another could consist of outer darkness. It does not present an impossible situation for us.



Dillow, Joseph. 2006 ed. The reign of the servant kings. Hayesville, NC: Schoettle.

Lang, G.H. 2008. Pictures and parables. Hayesville, NC: Schoetttle.

Missler, Chuck&Nancy. 2009 ed. The kingdom, power,&glory. Couer d'Alene, ID: The King's Highway Ministries.

NKJV Study Bible, large-print. 2007. Nashville, TN: Nelson.

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