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There are three types of doctrine mentioned in Scripture: 1) that of Demons, 2) that of Man, and 3) that of Christ and of God.
There’s no reason anyone should check one’s proverbial brains at the door or eat every can of peas on the shelf when it comes to being a “hearer” of God’s Word.
Think, people, think! As Thomas Jefferson said, “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, He must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.” Ask until you receive a satisfactory response. In other words, blind faith is ridiculous.
Asking questions about such a seemingly basic aspect of orthodoxy as “Hell” is undoubtedly going to spawn MORE questions. Its answers are bound to create more than a few “Us vs. Them” debates. Please RESIST the tendency to break fellowship with those who disagree with you for “a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand” – and we already have over 30,000 denominations divided over a myriad of differences. On second thought, I recall Jesus saying He didn’t come to bring peace but a sword.
I am certain some readers will accuse me – as some already have – of “sending people to a Hell I don’t believe in” when, as you’ll see, I am not making any such statement. Several individuals have referred to me as spreading heresy, forgetting that many of their own beliefs are still considered heresy by a large portion of Christians (speaking in tongues, Divine Healing, casting out demons, etc.)
Others will be left bumfuzzled after reading this as they struggle to find their place in the Body of Christ because, after all, without the Hell they’ve come to know and love, they will feel a bit “out-of-work,” somehow feeling they’ve lost their sense of purpose in The Body. I can relate.
Still others will find themselves glad that someone else has asked the questions they dared never vocalize.
I realize that, in accordance with standard orthodox Christian teaching, we are SUPPOSED to believe in, teach about, and warn others about the fiery place of eternal torment. Though one denomi-nation may disagree with the next in regard to a plethora of other topics – some of which, one might contend, will result in a quick ticket to Hell – BOTH will link spiritual arms in pious alliance against anyone who doesn’t preach and teach on the traditional concept of Hell.
At least until the NEXT source of doctrinal contention rears its head.
This is such a contradiction when one considers that we are SUPPOSED to be spreading the Gospel (literally, “Good News”) in accordance with the command of Jesus but, too often, are the bearers of BAD news, i.e., eternal Hell. We seem to use the subject of eternal damnation as a means for terrorizing others into “getting saved,” attempting to cause them to repent of sinful lifestyles or condemning those whom we don’t particularly care for anyway. Though such terrorism may be the farthest thing from our minds, truth is, perception is reality. Too often, we are seen as being quite repulsive to others as we “witness” to them and bludgeon them with scriptures.
Clearly, we are good at reminding others of how bad they are, judging others by what they DO and judging ourselves by our good intentions. Forget about showing the kind of agape love Jesus extended to a hooker or the woman at the well – we prefer condemning them, picketing against them, showering them with “go to Hell” Scripture verses, etc. We will even do so in union with people who may differ from us on other core doctrinal issues.
HELL AND WHO GETS TO GO THERE
A college student stopped by one day and he mentioned that his friend, an atheist, had told him he did not respect the faith of most Christians because, if they REALLY believed in the Hell they claim to believe in, they would – out of love – relentlessly attempt, in a consistent manner, to get their neighbors and coworkers converted regardless of consequences, rather than expect the unbelievers to enter their church buildings. Amen!
Do we REALLY believe in Hell as we say we do? If so, why do we play Russian Roulette with the lives of our children by daring to bring them into this world at all, when we know there’s less than a 50/50 chance they may ever make a “decision” for Christ?
Think about that.
While you wrestle with that question, if we REALLY believe in the eternal torment of Hell, wouldn’t the hideous act of abortion be a merciful act?
What is this “Hell” we hear so much about? Hell is actually an Old English word whereas the word which Mark used in his Gospel was the Greek word “Gehenna,” which certainly does imply FIRE. However, the Greek word for “fire” itself is the word “pyr” or “pur” from which we get “pure.”
Hmmm. Fire can destroy but it can also purify, purge and bring purity. Keep that in mind.
Unfortunately, in most passages in the translations of the New Testament where the word Hell is found, the original Greek reveals a different word, “Hades” – which does NOT refer to FIRE at all. Homer called the place of the dead the “House of Hades.” Hades was the Greek god of the underworld, the god of death. Eventually, Hades evolved into the very name for the underworld itself.
In Biblical usage, the Greek word Hades – used only 11 times in the New Testament – is roughly equivalent to the Old Testament Hebrew word “Sheol,” meaning “grave” or “pit .” Compare Acts 2:27 (AMP): ” For You will not abandon my soul, leaving it helpless in Hades (the state of departed spirits), nor let Your Holy One know decay or see destruction [of the body after death]” with Psalm 16:10 (AMP): “For You will not abandon me to Sheol (the place of the dead), neither will You suffer Your Holy One to see corruption.”
Hades may be likened to a hole in the ground. In the Bible, it has nothing to do with fire. Most modern biblical translators admit that the use of the English word Hell to translate Hades and Sheol is an unfortunate and misleading practice.
Why? Because in reading the word Hell, many readers revert to an ever-burning inferno when this was never remotely intended in the Greek language or in Old English!
Hades, in Biblical usage, refers to the place of the dead – but not in the sense of spirits walking around in some other dimension. In that sense, one might say, everyone who dies goes to Hell. Sheol, as I mention-ed, refers to the actual grave. Sheol was not a place of torment or punishment. Jacob spoke of going there (Genesis 37:35, 42:38, 44:29-31), Job longed for it (Job 14:13), David spoke of going there (Psalm 49:15), King Solomon taught his audience to work hard while on the earth for there is no work in “Sheol”, the place they were destined to (Ecclesiastes 9:10), and even Jesus went there (Psalm 16:10, Acts 2:24-31).
Tartarus (or Tartaros) was a name used by the later classical writers such as Virgil as another name for Hades. Homer, on the other hand, described Tartarus as a different place, lying as far beneath Hades as Hades is beneath the earth. It was in this bottomless pit of Tartarus, according to classical mythology, that the Greek god Zeus confined those who had resisted him. 2 Peter 2:4 of the Holman Christian Bible and Young’s Literal translations are the only Bible versions I researched that utilized the word “Tartarus” in place of “Hell” (“…God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them down into Tartarus and delivered them to be kept in chains of darkness until judgment…”).
QUESTIONS DEMANDING ANSWERS
It’s almost as though Christians everywhere are telling the world, “God loves you but if you don’t say the Sinner’s Prayer/Get Baptized/Walk the Aisle/Say a Profession of Faith, etc., before you die, then my loving God will torture you forever.”
Be honest with yourself RIGHT NOW:
Don’t you HATE that about God’s plan?
Don’t you hate that about our “loving” Father?
Don’t you REALLY wish the concept of Hell was NOT part of His agenda as you’ve been taught?
Do you struggle with the thought of a kindly grandparent damned to Hell because of being affiliated with a so-called “cult” or “false religion”?
Do you struggle with the thought of a brave non-Christian fireman who died in the Twin Towers, being consumed forever in Hell’s fire?
How about a heroic “unsaved” Marine in Iraq saving the lives of his buddies? Remember, Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” [John 15:13 NASB].
If the goal of Heaven is to become like Jesus, these men seem to have accomplish-ed the task.
A wise man once said, “Flood the battlefield of ideas with questions.” If you’ve never asked any, out of fear of “Rocking the Boat” or being ostracized or shunned, consider these:
Q: Is the Gospel merely Good News for that small portion of humanity who “got saved” before they died in a shipwreck, on a battlefield, in a car accidents, from a wild animal attack, from disease or old age?
Q: What about the babies who were miscarried, died at birth, or as infants and toddlers? Are they in Hell, or have we embraced other concepts on this matter in order to comfort ourselves?
Q: Is salvation only for Christians? What about those who never heard the Gospel?
Q: Who do we consider to be “Christians” any way? Those who repeat the Sinner’s Prayer? Those baptized by immersion? Those absolved of sins by an ordained priest? Perhaps it’s those who have stopped sinning. If so, I’m in trouble! What about the naked tribal people on an island somewhere who died having never heard the Name of Jesus…the deaf mute…the retarded person? Let’s think these things through LOGICALLY.
Q: Are Christians limited ONLY to those who “received Jesus” before they died? (Mark 9:37 reveals that when we “receive him”, we are NOT receiving Jesus, “but Him who sent me”, i.e., The Father).
What about the recent reports of Muslims in Islamic nations who are reporting to have SEEN the risen Christ, became Believers, yet continue to worship God in a mosque through daily prayers, continuing to refer to Him as “Allah” – simply because it’s all they’ve ever known? Does God REALLY look at the heart while man looks at the outside (1 Samuel 16:7)?
Q: Does Jesus decide when He might bring a person to faith, or do we, by way of our religious training, make that determination for Him by way of one of our various man made salvation rituals?
Frankly, one of the main problems in the Church is that we are too often preaching an unbiblical “Gospel of Salvation” while neglecting the teaching of the Gospel of the Kingdom as Jesus instructed us (mainly due to our misunderstanding of the subject).
Q: Why didn’t Moses warn about Hell in the Ten Commandments or the Mosaic Covenant consisting of over 600 OTHER laws, ordinances, and warnings? Did He forget? Did He simply neglect to mention it? The Mosaic Law simply stated blessings and cursings IN THIS LIFETIME for failure to keep the Mosaic Law.
Q: Why does David say in the King James Bible, “Though I make my bed in Hell (Sheol) lo, Thou art there? (Note: 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, that is, the Old Testament, and the leading English Christian Bibles have removed it because it is NOT in the originals.
Q: If good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell, why does EVERYONE, good or bad, go to the same place in the Old Testament? They ALL go to Sheol which the King James Version translated “Hell” thirty-one times, “grave” thirty-one times and “pit” three times. Are we all destined to go to Hell or did the King’s translators make some gross translational errors?
Q: Why don’t the Jews, who know the Old Testament better than most Christians, NOT believe in the modern Christian concept of Hell? They say they don’t believe it because it is not in their Scriptures. We cannot find Hell in the Old Testament (check it out at BibleGateway.com).
Q: Why is it the most literal, accurate, plain English translation of the New Testament does NOT include the following words: sinner, Hell, Hades, sin, evil, forever, or eternal (Jesus, Christ or lord, for that matter)? It’s not that these don’t exist, but these actual “churchy” words we use all the time simply aren’t there! Think about it!
Q: If Hell doesn’t exist in the Old Testament (neither the concept or the word), how could Jesus and His disciples teach that salvation was deliverance from a place that was not even found in their Scriptures (there was only the Old Testament at that time)? Would that not qualify Him as a false teacher? Could it be that Jesus never taught the modern concept of Hell in the first place? Could it be that this concept has been added to the church and SOME Bible translations through “traditions of men” as a result of doctrines of demons, or of man?
Q: Some English translations use the word “Hell” for the Greek word “Gehenna,” in the New Testament. Why didn’t this same place (Gehenna, south of Jerusalem and the figurative equivalent to the concept of “Hell” – the city’s stinky garbage dump where trash, dead criminals, sewage and dead animals wound up – get translated “Hell” in the many places where it appears in the Hebrew form “ga ben Hinnom” (valley of the son of Hinnom) in the Old Testament? (By the way, Gehenna is a beautiful park today – yes, I’ve actually seen pictures of “Hell”).
Q: If the Jews did not see the valley of Gehenna as a symbol of everlasting torture, why do SOME English translations give this word that meaning? Why do we simply “parrot” what we’ve been taught when so many resources are available that prove otherwise?
Q: Pagans sacrificed their own children to Molech, burning them in Gehenna. What was God’s response for Israel doing such a horrible thing to their children? (Jer. 32:33-35)
Q: How could God say “such a thing never entered His mind” if we are taught He is going to do the very same thing to most of His own children? Did He get the idea from the Molech worshipers?
Thinking Christians can probably come up with many other thought-provoking questions besides these.
THEY SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH…
A question is a truth-finder. We cannot make quality decisions without quality information. When you know the truth, that truth shall make you free! Those who have the truth should encourage questions and provide solid answers that make sense. Did YOU have answers to those questions listed above?
I am certain that many who read this article will respond with a variety of proof texts with which to support the traditional concept of Hell. (Please don’t waste your time; I can come up with just as many verses IN SUPPORT of the traditional teachings on this very subject in contrast to original meanings). On the other hand, based upon the many questions and comments I’ve received over the years, I think it’s time we start answering the questions for which many haven’t been receiving satisfactory answers.
Trust me, just like the current “Town Hall Meeting” trend in regard to America’s Health Care issue, people are asking questions that their spiritual leaders aren’t answering adequately. “Towing the party-line” is no longer sufficient and, frankly, is beginning to tick people off.
THE PURIFICATION PROCESS AND PURPOSE
The Bible says that it is appointed to men once to die, and after that the judgment (Heb. 9:27-28). It does NOT say, “after death all hope is gone!”
For example: Sodom’s fiery judgment is “eternal” (Jude 7) UNTIL God “will restore the fortunes of Sodom (Ez 16:53-55). (For similar examples of “forevers” that lasted UNTIL, go to Jer 30:12-17; Micah 1:9 and Ezekiel 16:53; Zephaniah 2:9, Jeremiah 25:27 and Jeremiah 49:6; Deuteronomy 23:3; Habakkuk 3;6 and there are MANY other “forever-UNTIL” examples.)
The verses that speak of everlasting fire or judgment, must be understood in the light of God’s love. They are “everlasting” – continuous and on-going UNTIL God’s judgment serves to accomplish His unchanging will and purpose to unite ALL creation in Christ (Gen. 12:3, Romans 4:13, Heb. 6:17). Second Corinthians 5:19 tells us that God was in Christ reconciling the world (“cosmos” or universe) to Himself; that’s either true or it’s a lie.
The point is, eternal torment was never on the mind of God nor was it ever implied in Revelation 21:8, “…But 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.”
This defines most of us, doesn’t it? Ever been afraid? Ever entertained doubt? Ever been immoral? Ever lied? Jesus said we murder when we don’t love and commit adultery when we lust. The purification process is one we must all endure.
Pure, purge, purifying… all derived from “pur” – the Greek word for FIRE!
Don’t fret. Now, as an Overcomer, you’ll have no part of the second death. Those who have NOT yet overcome, yes, these WILL require that purification fire, a purification fire which began at Pentecost. Our God IS a consuming fire. As with the burning bush, anything unholy or impure MUST be destroyed (you may recall how the bush Moses saw was NOT consumed).
God’s fire has one purpose: purification and cleansing. Gold, silver, precious stone are all purified by fire. An interesting note: According to Strong’s concordance Brimstone, (#2303) comes from the Greek “theion” which, according to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, refers to divine incense, because burning brimstone was regarded as having power to purify, and to ward off disease. The Greek “theion” has the same root as “theos,” meaning “God.” In other words, it is God’s judgment that purifies.
We are described as being “living stones.” Those who stand before God with fear, unbelief, having not overcome, will be “salted” with His fire.
Here’s a thought: God told Jeremiah that he’d put His words in Jeremiah’s mouth and they’d become fire that would burn the residue of His people. Psalm 104:4 tells us: “[God] makes winds His messengers, flames of fire His ministers.” With that in mind, we are ALL ministers of reconcili-ation; a royal priesthood; a kingdom of priests and kings. Could it be that our message – the Good News – is what will bring about the restitution of all things and restore the created to its Creator? If so, when will we begin that mission?
WHERE DID THE CONCEPT OF HELL COME FROM?
The eternal torment doctrine entered into Church during the Dark Ages. The Church brought people into bondage to this doctrine in order to keep them subservient to the Church. I call it “Systems Manage-ment.” That Middle Ages church, the mother of harlots, birthed “many daughters” and even those who claim to be free today remain bound – fearful – by this teaching on eternal punishment.
Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was a medieval Italian poet. His travels among the damned are recorded in The Inferno, the first part of his three-part Divine Comedy, an account of his imaginary journeys through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven.
Does life imitate art? Apparently so. Dante didn’t get his concept from the Bible or Church doctrine. No, the Church got these ideas from Dante.
Though Dante’s primary purpose in writing the poem was to satirize persons and circumstances of his day, the theology of his work is based firmly on the system of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Italian theologian and philosopher. The Divine Comedy is a relatively accurate dramatization of medieval Christian theology. Simpleton’s of Dante’s day actually believed he had visited Hell and was giving an eye-witness report. This writing made a tremendous impression on popular Christian thought to this day and has taken root firmly in our culture.
Dante’s medieval picture of Hell was as an enormous prison camp – a nightmarish place of eternal torment, horrible beyond imagination, ruled by Satan and his demons. We KNOW Satan doesn’t live there with his minions because 1 Peter 5:8 tells us, “…your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Regarding the war in the heavenlies, Isaiah 14:12 says of Lucifer, “…”How you are fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of the morning! You have been thrown down to the earth, you who destroyed the nations of the world.”
Personally, I don’t believe Satan and his army were tossed into Hell. They were thrown to Earth (there goes the neighbor-hood), bringing with them all the hierarchical systems of Heaven that were intended for angels, NOT man, who was intended to be the most liberated creature in the universe. This heavenly system pervades everyday life. The Army, for example, which has generals at the top of the pyramid and privates at the bottom, is a hierarchical system. Education, industry, medicine, politics… even Religion… have all adapted to the ungodly hierarchical model.
God never intended for any man to rule over another. The ONLY time we should look down upon another is when we’re reaching down to help them up.
Long as I’m sharing my own opinions, it’s my opinion Dante’s Inferno was a cruel joke upon the Church that began over 700 years ago. To quote Don McLean’s American Pie, “…I saw Satan laughing with delight…”
The concept of some type of Hell can be found in one form or another among all the world’s great religions. Billions have lived and died over the millennia believing in – and fearing – a place of eternal torment and punishment. Many today continue to wonder, “Is there really a Hell?” and “Will I end up there?”
Perhaps this is why Hebrews 12:14-15 tells us, “Since, therefore, [these His] children share in flesh and blood [in the physical nature of human beings], He [Himself] in a similar manner partook of the same [nature], that by [going through] death He might bring to naught and make of no effect him who had the power of death–that is, the devil– and also that He might deliver and completely set free all those who through the [haunting] fear of death were held in bondage throughout the whole course of their lives.”
Gehenna’s fires “are not quenched and its worm does not die” was a metaphor Jesus used that the Jews could relate to. Gehenna, like any other garbage dump, belched out smoke and fire and was filled with maggots.
Did you know that 33% of Manhattan is filled land created from household trash from the past two centuries? Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island is now a beautiful landscape built on 51 years of New York City trash. My own son – once a Texas garbage collector – was initially surprised at the extreme heat under all the trash as well as the pipes throughout the dump which allowed gas to escape.
Again, Gehenna’s fires “are not quenched and its worm does not die” – UNTIL the restoration of ALL things which has been spoken of by all God’s holy prophets (Christ included) since the world began. Jesus did not come to contradict His own prophets; He came to fulfill the law AND the prophets!
Acts 3:19-21 reminds us, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom Heaven must receive until the times of restoration of ALL things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.”
Our Lord does not “cast off forever” (Lam. 3:31-32, Heb. 13:8). He who taught us to forgive and bless our enemies will surely do the same for His own. For every tongue will give thanks that in Him they have righteousness and strength. All flesh will bless His name forever and ever. Our Lord will not fail or become discouraged until He fulfills all of God’s purpose, word and will.
Jesus tells us: “For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt.” (Mk 9:42-49)
The REAL purpose of our fiery trials is NOT to torture us, though they may bring torment for a season. The REAL purpose is to free us from that which keeps us in bondage. Do you see the demonstration of agape love in that? The Lord’s disciplines do not CANCEL God’s covenant to set us right with Himself. Our Father’s “fires” are part of His means to FULFILL His covenant! They are NOT unending.
The Lord’s fiery judgments and disciplines are only “everlasting” in the sense that they are THOROUGH. His purifying fires do not cease burning UNTIL they’ve done their good work. God’s corrective disciplines continue until they help to ACCOMPLISH the restoration of ALL things “spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began,” (Acts 3:21)
Those who disobey the Gospel and persecute Christians will suffer the consequences of “everlasting” (that is, continuous) tribulation, destruction and punishment UNTIL, by loving, persistent correction, God shows them their need for Christ.
What was written by the prophets WILL come to pass, that all shall be taught of God, and everyone who has heard and learned from the Father (eventually) comes to Christ. Thus, all the families of the nations will worship Him. All will submit to Him and sing His praises. God’s promise will be fulfilled and ALL men shall reverence Him, proclaim His works, and wisely consider His doing (Ps. 22:27-28, 64:4-5, 64:9, 2 Thess. 1:7-10).
To me, that paints a beautiful, faith-inspiring, awesome, loving picture – so much better than the “eternal” torment which many ascribe to, Christian and non-Christian alike.
Without exception, the question always comes, “Does that include Hitler? Surely HE deserves God’s fiery Hell!” Yes, God’s mercy extends even to him… and Adam, father of all OTHER deviant humans ever born whose sins required a Savior.
The mind boggles at the depth and power of that kind of love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. Yet, as we cannot help but humanize God’s attributes, most Christians struggle with anything short of extreme torment. Myself included, but truth is truth. (By the way, Hitler only punished the Jews for a few years. According to the “Christian” teaching on Hell, God will take those SAME Jews and burn them FOREVER in a pit of fire. Who’s worse?) We struggle with these questions because we have imagined God in our own image, where all activity ends at the grave. Our (spiritual) life does not end there; our physical life, which is actually death, does. As Jesus said, “He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living…,”(Mark 12:27 KJV).
One more thing: at the risk of getting political, though Hitler and other tyrants – including Christian leaders – throughout world history have killed millions, let’s remember that a handful of Supreme Court justices who’ve brought a death sentence upon FIFTY MILLION babies, 4500 daily, through legalized abortion.
WHAT IS THE MEANING OF HELL?
Almost all translations and concordances will describe Hell as a place of eternal torment. But its definition is not true according to the original language – and anyone, including you, can check that out for yourself. Perhaps the following will aid you:
The correct word for “eternal” (aion or aeon) is defined by Marvin Vincent, D.D., Baldwin Professor of Sacred Literature at Union Theological Seminary, New York, as a period of longer or shorter duration, having a beginning and an end, and complete in itself. “There is one aeon of a human life, another of the life of a nation, another of a crow’s life, another of an oak’s life. The length of the aeon depends on the subject to which it is attached.” Torment in the fire is NOT eternal; not never-ending. Jonah was in the whale’s belly “forever”… that’s what it says but it was REALLY only 3 days and 3 nights. The word we use for “eternity” is a mistranslation.
The English word “hell” originally came from the Anglo-Saxon word “hel” which was a genitive form of the word “helle” meaning “a hidden place”, also the word “helan” meant to cover or conceal. Such a primitive meaning is found in the English word hole, i.e., a hole in the ground. If something was buried in a pit, it could be said to be in an Anglo-Saxon “hel” or hidden place. Something that covers the head is a “helmet.”
In some parts of England to cover a building with a roof with tiles or thatch was “to hell the building,” and the job was done by people called “helliers.” (Please write Pastor Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain this article in its entirety)
write by Viva