When I started preaching the gospel, I taught the people who rejected it would suffer in hell. I presume that was what I had been taught when I became a Christian.
A few years down the track, I undertook a systematic study of the New Testament on the afterlife. I presume I was prompted by someone’s questions. What I discovered gave me a real shock. Much of what I had been taught was wrong.
I discovered that most of what I believed about hell was not in the New Testament. Most of the common teaching about hell comes from the imaginations of mediaeval poets and artists.
- The word “hell” does not occur in the Greek New Testament. It is actually a clumsy double-transliteration of the Aramaic name for a valley outside Jerusalem (Gehenna), which was being used as a rubbish dump. So when Jesus warned people against the dangers of “hell”, he was actually warning them to be careful not to end up in the rubbish dump of life.
I discovered that the word used most frequently in the New Testament to describe the fate of those who reject the gospel was “perish”. An example is John 3:16.
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The alternative to eternal life is not “eternal torment” but “perishing”.
The common belief in an “immortal soul”, the body dies but the soul lives on, comes from ancient Greek philosophy. The New Testament teaches the death and resurrection of both body and soul.
The outcome of my detailed study of this topic can be read here. When speaking about the afterlife, we must be careful not to go beyond the clear claims of the New Testament.
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