Are There Degrees of Punishment in Hell?

In 2 Peter 2:20-21 where it says that it would be better for these “not to have known the way of righteousness” than having known them and turned away, is this speaking of a greater or lesser degree of punishment?

The Bible does seem to indicate that there will be different levels of punishment in hell.  Several passages stand out in this regard.  In Luke 12:47, 48 at the conclusion of the parable of the faithful steward, we read:

“And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.  But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

The principle being taught here is that the person who understands more regarding God’s will and yet does not take warning will be held more accountable than the person who does not know.  Both are held accountable; both will be separated from God; both will be punished.  However, one will be punished more than the other.

Another good passage that illustrates this point and mentioned by the questioner is 2 Peter 2:20-21.  Here we read:

“For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.  For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.”

The Christian who knows what is right and wrong and yet, turns back to the things of the world is going to end up in a worse state than the person who never knew the way of righteousness.  Both are still lost.  Both are still separated from God, but one will be punished more than the other will.  God is infinitely just and no one is going to be punished beyond what they deserve.

One note of warning: we should not think that Hell might be a place that is tolerable if we just don’t sin very much.  Hell is not going to be a place that you want to be.  It is a place where punishment is reserved for the Devil and his angels (Matt.25:41).  It is a place of darkness (Matt.22:13).  It is a place where the unrighteous will dwell (25:30).  It is a place of everlasting agony (Matt.22:13).  Some will not suffer as much as others due to their sin, but even the least bit of suffering in hell will be bad enough.  Merely eternal separation from God himself would be unthinkable.  You don’t want to miss being with God in eternity.