I would like to start out by apologizing for jacking Madbrad’s thread. That was not my intention. Bman asked a question that I and millions of others struggle(d) with, so I answered from my perspective. In short, my perspective is that what we know as “Hell” was a wholly-Roman insertian of Greek mythos into pure Christianity and doesn’t exist. I see it as one of the many dogmas we were warned against, ‘teaching for doctrines, the commandments of men.’ I believe that a thorough exegesis and proper hermeneutics bears out my view.
To be clear, I am not saying that there is no punishment for the wicked. The bible is clear that there will be, for it is “appointed unto all men, once to die, then the judgment”. The second death is not appointed unto all men, but it is death – not eternal torture. I don’t question judgment or punishment for being wicked, only the idea of eternal punishment for that wickedness.
I will lay out my case as simply as possible and let the discussion flow wherever it flows. I know this topic will likely get heated. All I ask is that we maintain a level of civility which keeps everyone engaged – i.e. don’t call people heretics, hypocrites, or other incendiary names. This is a reason-based discussion of different views. No one wants to put up with name-calling.
I would like for everyone (atheists & agnostics included) to feel comfortable and engage in this conversation, as it’s an important one to have.
What is Hell?
In most canonical biblical text translations, Hell is the word used for 4 different words:
Sheol – Hebrew; grave/place for departed souls
Tartarus – Greek; place of suffering where Titans are held (see: fallen angels/abyss)
Gehenna –kings of Judah burned their children as an offering to Moloch – cursed by God (Jer 7:31 & 19 2-6) and used as a trash burning dump during Roman times
Hades (ᾅδης) – Greek; place for departed souls
The idea of eternal torment was introduced by the Roman Catholic church. In the Textus Receptus version of the New Testament (KJV is based on it), “Hades” (ᾅδης) appears 11 times.
1 Cor 15:55 has “death” translated for the same word… and “grave”. Otherwise, the KJV translates Hades (ᾅδης) as “hell”. Modern translations, for which there are only 10 instances of the word “ᾅδης” in the New Testament, generally transliterate it as “Hades”. My point with this is to show that 3 of the 4 words were used interchangeably (and incorrectly) by translators.
The devil and his angels are/will be bound in Tartarus (the abyss, bottmless pit, etc – a depressing place – until judgment). Dead souls are in sheol/grave/hades until judgment. As for 1 Peter 3:19, the same word is used to described the “imprisoned spirits” (imprisoned in sheol/grave/hades/you get the point). In the King James Version of the Bible, this same term (ᾅδης) appears in 12 different verses as Gehenna “Valley of Hinnom“, “Valley of the son of Hinnom” or “Valley of the children of Hinnom.” And refers to physical (albeit accursed) location which was used to burn trash. Jesus used the term as an analog, just as other Rabbi’s did for the consuming fire that destroys the soul at judgment.
Matthew 5:22: “….whoever shall say, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into Gehenna.”
Matthew 5:29: “….it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into Gehenna.”
Matthew 5:30: “….better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into Gehenna.”
Matthew 10:28: “….rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”
Matthew 18:9: “It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than with two eyes to be thrown into the Gehenna.”
Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you… make one proselyte…twice as much a child of Gehenna as yourselves.”
Matthew 23:33, to the Pharisees: “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you to escape the sentence of Gehenna?”
Mark 9:43: “It is better for you to enter life crippled, than having your two hands, to go into Gehenna into the unquenchable fire.”
Mark 9:45: “It is better for you to enter life lame, than having your two feet, to be cast into Gehenna.”
Mark 9:47: “It is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into Gehenna.”
Luke 12:5: “….fear the One who, after He has killed has authority to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, fear Him.”
James 3:6: “And the tongue is a fire,…and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by Gehenna.”
Likewise, in the Old Testament, is always a translation of the Hebrew word Sheol, which occurs sixty-four times, and is rendered “hell” thirty-two times, “grave” twenty-nine times, and “pit”, thrice. The idea of “hell” as we know it (place where sinners go for torment-in-perpetuity) did not exist in pre-Christian Judaism.
Hell (Hades) was a concept familiar to the writers of the New Testament books, as they were familiar with Greek mythos. The liberal translation of the word “hell” from every word regarding the grave, abyss, pit, or that accursed trash dump on the edge of Jerusalem, has served to confuse a great many people.
The biblical vision of eternity is one in which sin and death are no more. 1 John 2:17 says, “The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Eternal life is the gift Jesus offers to the “saved” who would otherwise perish (John 3:16). Those without Jesus do not have life (1 John 5:12) because they have no remission for their sins. Without remission for their sins, they will die at judgment, by being cast into the eternal fire, and the destruction of their soul.
More than any other idea of what happens to souls found unworthy, Jesus describes them as suffering destruction. Mt 10:28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (ed Gehenna).” Mt 7:13-14 “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction.” Matthew 13:40-42 Jesus interpreted his own parable “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.” 2 Peter 2:6 “and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction (Greek: katastrophe) by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter”.
God alone has innate immortality. Jesus brought us a message of faith, hope, and love…and the greatest is love. Pre-Christian prophets made no mention of eternal torment, and unless you throw in the Greek myth of torment by mistranslation, neither did the Apostles. Jesus offered eternal life for believing in him and exhorted his followers to fear God as the only one who could destroy their soul. Sodom & Gomorra “and the cities about them in like manner […] are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” 1 Cor 15:53 “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”
The fire which consumes the soul is eternal. The only way for your soul to be eternal, is for God to give you everlasting life. The only way to everlasting life is through Jesus’ sacrifice and atonement for your sins. Adam & Eve were kicked out of the garden because they had access to the tree of life. Being now sinful, if they’d continued to eat the fruit of the tree, they would never die. Thus, God cut off their access to the fruit. (In a literal interpretation, over time, the effects of the fruit wore off and lifespans got shorter the further removed from the tree’s fruit they became.)
If they had to have access to the tree of life to be immortal, how are they immortal after the judgment? God is not going to give you eternal life, just so he can torture you for eternity. Think of the many times you’ve heard people accuse God of being mean, spiteful, or vindictive? The idea of eternal torture has likely caused many to ignore God altogether.
Jesus said “If your hand causes you to fall into sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two hands and go into hell, into the unquenchable fire [ed. Pyr aiōnion “fire eternal”].” Like so many other times, Jesus was using the illustration as an example (parable). He wasn’t actually telling people to cut off their hands and gouge their eyes out, but you can see that he references the (eternal) unquenchable fire.
Throughout the Bible the way of the wicked is referred to as death, destruction, perish, be no more, etc. Straight is the path and wide is the gate that leads to ______ (hint: It’s not everlasting torture). The preferred method for destroying the wicked, likewise, seems to be death by burning with unquenchable eternal fire (Gen, Psa, Mal, Rev, Mat, etc).
As in Psalm 37: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb . . . For the evildoers shall be cut off . . . the wicked will be no more . . . The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming. The wicked draw the sword . . . to slay those whose way is upright; their sword shall enter their own heart . . . the wicked will perish . . . they vanish—like smoke they vanish away . . . those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land, but those cursed by him shall be cut off . . . For the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off . . . transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.”
Eternal punishment refers to the same punishment that has existed (preferred method) being eternal fire. Luke 20:35-36 says that those who are considered worthy “cannot die anymore” which would imply that those who are unworthy can still die (the second death). John 3:16 “shall not perish, but have everlasting life”. If the wicked will exist forever, they have everlasting life, too…just not the good kind.
It is my contention that God meant what he said in saying that the wages of sin is death. When Adam & Eve took the forbidden fruit, they (and by extension “we”) no longer had access to the tree of life, thus the wage for their sin, was death for all of us. We will all die once and be raised again. Some to the resurrection of life and some to the resurrection of judgment. As in Phi 3:19, “Their end is destruction.” Not their eternity, their END.
May God bless us all with wisdom and a better understanding.