I read this article recently on FaceBook and decided that it was way better written than my post on hell. So I asked for permission to repost it here for our edification. Enjoy!
Do you think you KNOW what your Bible (actually) says about this subject?
Did Jesus teach of people going to a (physical) burning “hell?”
The word “Hell”
Many church leaders, with a healthy degree of exegetical integrity, have discovered that much of their predecessor’s interpretations were sorely flawed. It is a well-established fact among scholars that the word “hell” was not in any of the original manuscripts, but was added to the Bible in early England. The English word “hell” comes from a pagan source, not the ancient writings of the Bible. The word “hell” is not found anywhere in the Torah, (which is the Christian’s Old Testament). The word has completely disappeared from the Old Testament Scriptures in most leading Bibles. Why? Because the best scholarship demands it. The word “hell” actually comes from the Teutonic “hele,” the mythological goddess of the underworld hell of northern Europe, not from the roots of Christianity. Did you know that? I certainly didn’t know that. Wouldn’t that be important?
The Word “Sheol”
Whenever the word “Sheol” is used in the Bible it simply means “place of the dead” or “the grave.” It is the same word used throughout the entire Old Testament. Are we to conclude that all the Old Testament patriarchs are in hell?
What about “Hades”?
The word “Hades” occurs but eleven times in the New Testament, and has been translated as “hell” ten times, and as “grave” once. The word simply means “concealed or invisible.” It has exactly the same meaning as Sheol, literally “the grave, or death;” and figuratively “destruction, downfall, calamity, or punishment in this world,” with no intimation whatsoever of torment beyond the grave. Such is the meaning in every passage of the Old Testament containing the word “sheol” or “Hades,” whether translated “hell,” “grave,” or “pit.” This is also the invariable meaning of “Hades” in the New Testament. To translate “Hades” by the word “hell” as it is done ten times out of eleven in the New Testament, is very improper.
What about “Gehenna”?
It is common knowledge among all seasoned Christian theologians that Gehenna was actually referring to a huge garbage dump outside of first-century Jerusalem in the valley of Hinnom. It burned 24 hours a day and was where all things useless and valueless were thrown. It was also a place where outcasts and lepers gathered, trying to find food in the dump amongst the rotting garbage where there were worms and maggots. Long before the first destruction of Jerusalem, it was a graveyard, and then it was further profaned after it was used as a place for sacrificing children to pagan gods. Then, in the first century, it became Jerusalem’s garbage dump. When Jesus used this word, he used it symbolically. Being put in the garbage dump would certainly show a completely different meaning than hell fire. First-century Jews knew exactly what Jesus was talking about when He referred to the city’s garbage dump. It was also a place where the unclaimed bodies of paupers and vagrants were thrown to be burned.
Once you take away hell and eternal separation from God, you automatically force people to have to rethink their entire religion. The scripture-based revelation that there is no hell or eternal banishment from God doesn’t change just a few things; it literally destroys a great deal of what we were once so sure the gospel was all about.
It is therefore understandable how, out of a lengthy list of old doctrines that evangelical Christians are willing to give up, the fear-driven belief of an eternal death sentence punishment is not one of them. Why? Because much of Christianity is wrongfully based on a ‘reward and punishment’ system.
Many people are (actually) afraid of losing their fear. Please think about what I just said. They literally believe that if they lost their fear of God, they would also lose their reverence for God. Nothing of course could be further from the truth.
This article will clearly show that what the church has been teaching about hell is in sharp, disagreeable contrast to the Bible’s original language and intent. Even the most casual study reveals this, and yet this fear-based doctrine is so deeply ingrained that many will not relinquish it as the sick, twisted, dark fable that it is, even if overwhelming biblical support is given. For centuries, no one questioned the church’s (literalist) westernized interpretations of these ancient Middle Eastern (mostly metaphorical-seasoned) conversations. The only difference now, especially in this information age, is that the vast number of Christians who are seriously researching this subject has reached critical mass, to the extent that yesterday’s theologians and scholars are no longer being allowed to just ignore what the parishioners are now uncovering.
Questions About “Hell”
With permission from Gary Amirault, the following numbered paragraphs are gleanings from one of the most comprehensive Christian perspective resources on this subject:tentmaker.org. I have numbered these so they can easily be referenced when discussing them with others.
1. If hell, as a place of everlasting torture, was the real fate of all mankind unless they did something here on earth to prevent it, why didn’t God make that warning plain right at the beginning of the Bible? God said the penalty for eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was death. He did not define death as eternal life being forever tortured in fire. If hell was real, why didn’t Moses warn about this fate in over 600 laws, ordinances, and warnings? The Mosaic Law simply stated blessings and cursings in this lifetime for failure to keep the Law. If hell was real, and if Paul was commissioned by God to preach the gospel to the nations, why did Paul never mention hell even once except to declare victory over it? (1 Cor. 15:55, the word “death” in this passage is the word “Hades”).
2. If hell is real and it is a place of being eternally separated from God, why does David say in the King James Bible, “Though I make my bed in Hell (Sheol) lo, Thou art there?” Most Christian Bibles no longer have the word hell in the Old Testament. The KJV, written over 350 years ago, is an exception. The Jews do not put the word “hell” in their English translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, and the leading English Christian Bibles have removed it because it is not in the originals. Most Christian scholars now acknowledge it should never have been put there in the first place.
3. If hell doesn’t exist in the Old Testament, how could Jesus and his disciples teach first-century Jews that salvation was deliverance from a place that is not even found in their scriptures? Or could it be that Jesus never taught such a concept in the first place? Since some English translations use the word “hell” for the Greek word “Gehenna,” in the New Testament, why didn’t this same place (Gehenna) get translated into “hell” in the many places where it appears in the Hebrew form “ga ben Hinnom” in the Old Testament? If the Jews did not understand this valley as a symbol of everlasting torture, why do some English translations give this word such a meaning? And who burned whom in this valley? And what was God’s response for Israel doing such a horrible thing to their children? (Jer. 32:33-35). And how could God say, “Such a thing never entered His mind” if in fact He is going to do the very same thing to most of His own children?
4. If hell is real, and all died, not because of their transgressions, but because of Adam’s transgression (Rom 5:18), why do many Christians not see what is written, that “even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life” (Rom. 5:18)? This scripture declares that all are justified due to Christ’s righteous act. No one decided to die in Adam, it was reckoned to us. Equally, no one decided to receive eternal life; it is also reckoned to us. A thorough understanding of Romans chapter five carefully comparing several English translations would be a very good exercise. The omission of the definite article “the” in Rom. 5:15 before the word “many” in some translations has caused some great misunderstanding of this most important chapter of the Bible. If hell is real and is the fate of all mankind because of Adam’s transgression, if all are not saved through the last Adam, Jesus Christ, does that not make the transgression of the first Adam greater than the redeeming act of Jesus (Rom. Chapter 5)? If hell is real, in Romans 5:19, the “many” who were made sinners were actually “all” of the human race. Why is the “many” who were made righteous not equally “all” of the human race? “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”
5. If Christians really believed in hell, would they not spend their entire lives trying to snatch their friends and relatives from the burning flames? Why don’t they do this? On a daily basis, people who claim to believe in hell walk away from the lady at the coffee shop, the guy at the garage, the clerk at the mall, the woman in the bank window, and the flight attendant without saying one word about Jesus or hell. How can they do this? The answer is simple: they somehow know in their hearts that it is not necessary.
6. If hell is real, and easy to define and find in the Bible, why did the translators of the original 1611 King James Bible find it so difficult to define Hades? They put hell in the text at Revelation 20:13 and “Or, grave” in the margins, while putting “grave” in the text and “Or, hell” in the margins in 1 Cor. 15:55? Seems they couldn’t make up their minds whether Hades meant “hell” or “grave.” Recent editions have removed the marginal readings, thus avoiding the embarrassment.
7. If hell is real and everlasting, why is it thrown into the Lake of Fire to be destroyed? Why is hell never called the Lake of Fire, nor the Lake of Fire ever called hell, if they are the same thing? If hell is referring to a place of eternal torment, then why is the word “aionion” (in verses like Matthew 18:8), which is used in the original language, translated as “eternal” in our modern Bibles when it does not mean “eternal?” The word comes from the Greek root “aion” meaning “age.” This fact combined with the various uses of Greek words derived from the root “aion,” show that “aionion” does not mean “eternal,” but rather a finite period of time.
8. If hell is a real place of everlasting punishment and if Jesus died in our place to save us from this fate, wouldn’t Jesus have to be eternally punished if in fact He took our full punishment upon Himself? But He’s not being eternally punished. He died, which is what the penalty of the wages of sin is – death — not everlasting life of unending torture, or eternal death, or annihilation.
9. If hell is real, and the greatest part of mankind eventually goes there, wouldn’t Jesus be considered a great failure considering the fact He was sent to save the whole world? Since probably less than one percent of the world’s population ever got born again and stayed on the straight and narrow, doesn’t this fly in the face of Jesus’ words which says He leaves the ninety-nine to find the one and doesn’t give up until He finds it (Luke 15:4)?
10. If hell is real, does that mean that motherly love is more powerful and enduring than God’s love? Do you know of normal mothers (or fathers) who would endlessly torment most of their kids?
In Julie Ferwerda’s book Raising Hell, she tells us how she was raised in the church to believe our heavenly Father expects better and more loving and tolerant behaviors from us than He does from Himself, such as: “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone” (Rom. 12:17); “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44); “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27); “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36); “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:28); “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21); “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expect nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35).
Julie makes a poignant observation by saying, “God asks me to forgive my enemies, to be kind to them, to show them mercy, and to overcome their evil with good, yet He is ultimately not going to forgive His enemies, to be kind to them, to show them mercy, and to overcome their evil with good? If this is what our Father is really like, and we are to imitate Him as sons of the Most High, shouldn’t we then turn our backs on our enemies, damn them, and build torture chambers for them?”
But wait a minute. Doesn’t it say in Romans 5:8 that God showed His love for us while we were still sinners and that we were reconciled to God while we were still His enemies? If He did this for you and me, why should He not do it for everyone? Doesn’t this passage in effect say that God has already overcome His children’s evil with good, even if we haven’t observed it or even fully understood it yet? If man does wrong in returning evil for evil, would not God do wrong if He was to do the same (Romans 12:20, 21)? Would not endless punishment be the return of evil for evil? As we are commanded to overcome evil with good, may we not safely infer that God will do the same? Would the infliction of endless punishment be overcoming evil with good? If God loves His enemies now, will he not always love them? Is God a changeable being (Jam. 1:17)?
11. If hell is real, how does the threat of endlessly torturing us convince us that God loves us and that we should love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? If God only loves those who love Him, what better is He than the sinner (Luke 6:32-33)? Can you really call eternally torturing your own children love? Since love worketh no ill (Rom. 13:10), can God inflict, or cause, or allow to be inflicted, an endless ill? If the demands of divine justice are opposed to the requirements of mercy, is not God divided against Himself? If the requirements of mercy are opposed to the demands of the justice of God, can His kingdom stand (Mark 3:24)? If hell is real, does not judgment triumph over mercy and thus contradict this scripture (Jam. 2:13)?
12. If hell is real, and God is our Father and our potter (Is. 64:8, 9), did He make mostly junk? Are most of the children He raised misfits worthy only to be thrown away and endlessly tortured? Do we not hold parents responsible for their children’s outcome? If we use the same standards toward God’s fathering abilities, according to the doctrine of endless punishment, our Father did a very poor job in raising His children. We wouldn’t think of sending our pets to such a place, yet don’t blink an eye at the thought of God sending His very own children to such a place. If hell is real and sin is infinite, can it be true that “where sin abounded grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20)?
Early Church History on Hell
If hell was a teaching of the early church, why did the fourth-century church appoint an avowed Universalist as the President of the second council of the church in Constantinople (Gregory Nazianzen, 325-381)? Church leaders, as late as the fourth century AD, acknowledged that the majority of Christians believed in the salvation of all mankind. The first comparatively complete systematic statement of Christian doctrine ever given to the world by Clement of Alexandria, AD 180, contains the tenet of universal salvation. The first complete presentation of Christianity (Origen, AD 220) contains the doctrine of universal salvation.
Think about that for a minute… using fear to teach about God…
Why didn’t the church teach the hell doctrine until after the church departed from reading the Bible in Greek and Hebrew, substituting Latin in its stead several centuries after Christ’s death?
Not one single Christian writer of the first three centuries declared universalism as a heresy. Not a single one of the early creeds expressed any idea contrary to universal restoration, or in favor of everlasting punishment in hell. No Church council for the first five hundred years condemns universalism as heresy, although they did make many declarations of heresy on other teachings. Most of the early church’s leading scholars and most revered saints advocate universal salvation. The most prominent Universalists of the early church were born into Christian families and were most highly revered by their peers, while those who advocated hell came from paganism and confessed they were among the vilest (Tertullian and Augustine).
If hell was found in the original Greek manuscripts of the Bible, why is it that it was primarily those church leaders who either couldn’t read Greek (Minucius Felix, Tertullian), or hated Greek as in the case of Augustine, that the doctrine of hell was advocated? Those early church leaders familiar with the Greek and Hebrew (the original languages of the Bible) saw universal salvation in those texts. Those who advocated hell got it from the Latin, not from the original Greek and Hebrew. Who would more likely be correct: those who could read the original languages of the Bible, or those who read a Latin translation made by one man (Jerome)?
Most leading historians acknowledge that the early church was dominated by universalism.
Four out of six theological schools from AD 170 to 430 taught universal salvation while the only one that taught hell was in Carthage, Africa, again where Latin was the teaching language, not Greek. Why didn’t Epiphanius (c. 315-403), known as the “hammer of heretics” who listed 80 heresies of his time, not list universalism among those heresies? Most historians would acknowledge today that Origen was perhaps the most outstanding example of early universalism in the church. When Methodius, Eusibius, Pamphilus, Marcellus, Eustathius, and Jerome made their lists of Origen’s heresies, why wasn’t universalism among them? Could it be perhaps that it wasn’t a heresy in the original church?
It was not until the sixth century when Justinian, a half-pagan emperor, tried to make universalism a heresy. Interestingly, most historians will acknowledge that Justinian’s reign was among the most cruel and ruthless. It is well known by historians of the early church writings that Universal Reconciliation was the main, majority belief, and was taught authoritatively by all the major theologians of those first few centuries in the churches that the Apostle Paul founded.
The False Concept of Hell Violates Everything That Is Reasonable
The false concept of hell violates the nature of God, which is unconditional Love.
It violates the wisdom of God, the pleasure of God, the promises of God, the oath of God, the power of God. It negates the full power of the cross of Christ. It goes against the testimony of the prophets; it violates the testimony of Jesus Christ and his apostles. It violates the scriptures in their original languages. It violates the writings of the early church leaders who read the scriptures in the original languages. It goes against our conscience, and it goes against our hearts.
Great theologians and scholars have come to the same conclusion. Among them are people like William Barclay, William Law, Karl Barth, Schleiermacher, Bishop Westcott, Lightfoot, Canon F.W. Farrar, John A.T. Robinson, Andrew Murray, and Andrew Jukes, and many more.
Please refer to tentmaker.org for deeper Christian perspective studies on this subject.
Raising Hell by Julie Ferwerda
What the Hell by Jackson Baer
Spiritual Terrorism by Boyd C. Purcell, Ph. D.
Hope Beyond Hell by Gerry Beauchemin
Resources on this subject…
Please, if you care at all about what your Bible actually says on this subject, make some coffee, and take the time to watch these two videos…