The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions – Means What Exactly?  

It is not enough to say you have good intentions. I have always known this, but I didn’t learn it until recently; it is not enough to say you have good intentions, and this reminded me of something I read, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”


The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions

Let’s look deep into this proverb that says, “The way to hell is paved with good intentions.” We usually believe that good intentions lead to positive results, but why should they create a path to Hell?

If you’re waiting for a more complex version of this quote, I’m sorry to tell you that the entire quote is precisely what you’re looking at: “The way to hell is paved with good intentions.” There aren’t any hidden verses, no hidden information, and definitely no hidden trapdoors.


The intention to engage in good acts can fail, and if our claim of good intention, when acted upon, can fail, it points out the principle that there is no merit in good intentions unless they are acted on.

It is essentially saying that certain people might have good intentions but not act on them, which can lead to negative outcomes, or their noble intentions may result in unintended, negative outcomes.

If you’re planning to aid a friend with an elegant and precise haircut, but you give them something wrong that wasn’t intended, you’ve just experienced the taste of this proverb. It’s funny, right, isn’t it? What I did made me not just know but deeply realize and understand that “It’s not enough to say you have good intentions” is much more severe than the haircut you gave your friend, and it’s not funny, not even in the slightest way. Trust me in saying that it’s not funny because I’m certain I have a wonderful sense of humor.

Back to the proverb, the early English versions don’t mention “the way to hell” nor claim that a road was laid; instead, they simply say that hell was filled with good intentions. In the more recent versions, there is always the mention of paving. This development could be influenced by:


The way of sinners is made plain with stones, but at the end thereof is the pit of hell.

Ecclesiasticus 21:10

We can further look at:

12 There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

13 Even in laughter, the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness.

14 The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways: and a good man shall be satisfied from himself.

15 The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.

Proverbs 14:12-15 KJV

One theory is that people tend to want to act in a good way (good intention) but don’t take any action at all. The delay, wrong action, and inaction don’t produce a good result and, in reality, could lead to a bad outcome. In this case, the best intentions without good and correct actions are, at best, ineffective and even detrimental.

Another way to look at this concept is that people can conceal their intentions behind good intentions. They could commit an act that has a negative result but claim they were doing something good. For instance, someone may do something in the interest of only a few people, which has a negative impact on a vast number of people. Often, a person feels morally certain they’re doing what’s right and deems any “collateral damage” acceptable to obtain what they see as the greater good. In other words, they may or may not have bad intentions yet get bad results.

The saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” could also be interpreted as a reflection of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:13-14.

The Narrow and Wide Gates

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate, and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 

14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Matthew 7:13-14

The New Testament gives several examples of people who have expressed their good intentions to follow Jesus, but as far as we can tell, they never did.

The Cost of Following Jesus

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:57-62

These men must follow through on their words, or else they will be unable to follow through on their “good intentions,” which would not lead them to follow Jesus and lead them to hell. Again, it is not enough to say you have good intentions. 

At a different time, a young man comes to Jesus to inquire what he should do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17-27). He appeared to be in complete agreement with following the instructions Jesus said, but Jesus answered: 

The Rich and the Kingdom of God

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 

19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.”

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this, the man’s face fell. He went away sad because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 

25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 The disciples were even more amazed and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man, this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Mark 10:17-27

Good intentions are NOT good enough; good intentions with no actions, inactions, or wrong actions pave the way to hell.

The best intentions need to be accompanied by the right actions to achieve what we had intended to accomplish.

For the past few days, I have been made to see that I have been the doer of repeated hurtful actions, and when these feelings were communicated, my response was, “It wasn’t my intention.” The recurrence and incoherence of this explanation have got my mind thinking of accountability and whether intentions or actions should be the metric in assessing relationships and outcomes.

This is a tricky idea to understand due to the fact that the majority of people have good intentions and don’t want to intentionally cause harm to other people. On the other hand, there must be a way of assessing outcomes and accountability for the decision. It’s not enough to claim, “It wasn’t my intention,” and hope the other person will understand.

There’s a vast distinction between behavior and intentions. The saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” Many believe that when intentions are good, they must be worth something, but the problem is that nobody can really see intentions; what can be observed is the behavior. People may have the purest intentions on earth, yet if the intentions are not clearly communicated or if actions do not express those intentions, the situation can be misinterpreted and get out of hand fast. This is something I have learned and taken to heart, and by learned, I mean not up until recently; before now, I only just knew. 

This is a lost lesson that needs to be relearned. Everything we do affects someone else, and we are obligated to other people to make sure that our intentions match up with our actions and not use this as an excuse. Perhaps once we accept responsibility for our actions, then we’ll become accountable for our actions and will not want to be excused only based on our intentions.

Taking responsibility for your actions goes beyond just a declaration; it’s an ongoing and continuous calling to action that can improve your life and positively impact those in your life.

When I’m in the middle of a conversation, getting advice or being corrected, one way I respond is to say, “I have heard, I can do better, and I will,” for me, this is more than just a reply, a statement, or an apology, It’s a way of telling myself that I’m better than this and calling myself out to take responsibility for my actions and do better.

How Taking Responsibility For Your Actions Helps You Grow in the Process

Naturally, to maintain healthy relationships, the intentions of each person should be considered in every circumstance, but if intentions are not always aligned with actions, it’s a pattern or a decision that needs self-evaluation.

Ask yourself if your behavior demonstrates your intentions. Are they consistent? Keep in mind that no one sees your intentions or always knows what drives you. Even if you have noble intentions, they must be supported by actions. When they do align, others will know your motivation, and you will not have to tell them.

Good intentions are useless until they are expressed in appropriate actions.  

Napoleon Hill

I did express mine, and it did not go very well for me; I coursed a lot of hurt, which again was never my intention, which brings us back to the saying: “The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions.” How are yours expressed? What is your way of expressing them?

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While the world judges us by our actions, we sometimes judge ourselves by our intentions.

When I take an honest look at some past behaviors

  • My intention wasn’t to cause hurt and pain
  • My intention wasn’t to withhold love
  • My intention wasn’t to withhold attention and affection
  • My intention wasn’t to misunderstand
  • My intention wasn’t to be full of myself
  • My intention wasn’t to lose the love that was given to me

I can claim I had good intentions, but now I clearly see how “The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions.”

My intention is to be a good and trustworthy person; my mind craves peace, and my heart desires to experience joy. 

There isn’t happiness or peace when I lay my head on the mattress stuffed with guilt, shame, or regret.

Fortunately, avoiding this kind of (self-generated) suffering is an option.

How Do We Pave The ROAD “NOT” to Hell?

I have spent hours reading and thinking about this and the answer I found is: Wisdom

Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed.

Ecclesiastes 10:10 New Living Translation (NLT)

From today, my actions align with my intentions, and my intentions are in their purest form, but I’m not perfect, and I obviously see that I am not the perfect gentleman I claim to be. These are three easy steps I don’t only intend to use, but I must follow through.

If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.

Ecclesiastes 10:10 King James Version (KJV)
  • Pause
  • Breathe
  • Reset

If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength; but wisdom [to sharpen the axe] helps him succeed [with less effort].

Ecclesiastes 10:10 Amplified Bible (AMP)

Pause. Breathe. Reset.

Remember: The duller the ax the harder the work; Use your head: The more brains, the less muscle.

Ecclesiastes 10:10 The Message (MSG)
  • Stop and think about what I want to accomplish today. Pause and think about your intentions.
  • Breathe in and exhale deeply.
  • Reset the story I tell myself to align my actions and my intentions and live with greater integrity. 

If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success.

Ecclesiastes 10:10 New American Standard Bible – NASB 1995 (NASB1995)

It is a very wise saying that one has to always bear in mind. One has to have a lot of empathy and a proper understanding of another person’s plight to be of real help.

We, at most times, will have no proper, objective perception of the actual situation another person is in. What a person appears to be, or what he likes to project himself to be to the world, will oftentimes be very different from the actual reality. What’s more, he himself might not have a clear understanding of what he is going through and what could be good for him presently or in the long run. In our indiscriminate zeal to do ‘good’ to such a person, we hastily tend to form an opinion based on appearances and try to do something that might actually prove counterproductive now or later. What we assume to be a ‘good intention’ on our part might turn out to be something drastically damaging, hence the metaphor that it might pave ‘the road to hell.’

It is, therefore, very advisable to exercise due caution and diligence before having any ‘good intentions’ and daring to act upon them.

Kratu Nandan

In an anthology of pithy verses in Kannada (a prominent South Indian language), the author, Dr DVG, says thus:

“If a person is sleeping on the bare floor, thoroughly exhausted and completely lost to the world, would it be a ‘help’ to wake him up and tell him to go search for a mattress? In a bid to do ‘good’, do not spoil (the existing) peace; ‘doing good’ is never a cakewalk”.


The popular proverb and idiomatic phrase The road to hell is paved with good intentions could be understood in various ways. It generally conveys the notion that good intentions do not always lead to positive outcomes. For instance, one could be a good person but not act upon the intention. In addition, one could do something they think is right but ultimately hurts another person, usually unintentionally. 

Why the Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions
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