HELL 8

This series must be read in order. Begin with HELL 1 here.

I recently read an article from a guy who said that Jesus was the “Great Theologian of Hell.”

The problem is that hell is never once mentioned in the Bible.

I know this may be a shocking statement, because that is what you have heard your entire life. But the idea of being punished for eternity in hell did not develop until the 5th Century and it was by a bishop from Hippo name Augustine, who began to paint a picture of a retributive God that sends the unrepentant to the fiery underground.

And as you know, fear can be an effective method in controlling people.

Enter the Roman Empire and Roman Catholicism.

The government and the church.

With the concept of hell flourishing within those two great superpowers of the world at the time, and also subsequently spreading into Protestantism much later, it is no wonder that hell quickly became the pervasive belief in Christianity throughout the world.

But eternity in hell is not a belief original to the Early Church.

Understanding this context helps us see how biblical translations can be significantly influenced by what people already believe at the time they are translated.

And since the belief of a retributive god that punishes people for eternity in hell was the predominant theology in Christendom from the 5th Century, then that would be the obvious lens one would use to translate the Bible.

Enter King James.

When the Bible was translated into English in the 16th century, the Olde English word helle (pagan word for the abode of the wicked after death) was the single word used in place of four completely different Hebrew and Greek words, each with differing meanings.

Those words are Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartaroo.

These are the original words from the original Hebrew and Greek texts. You will notice that it is not one single word being translated as helle, but rather four distinct words, each with different meanings and cultural contexts, that were combined to construct the idea of eternity in hell.

Interestingly, of the four words mentioned above, only one word is from Hebrew. It is Sheol.

Even more interestingly, Sheol means grave.

And what we find is that it is a place where both the righteous and unrighteous dead go upon death (because both righteous and unrighteousness people die and are buried).

That’s why there is no Jewish conception of eternity in hell. Because the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible (our Old Testament) does not conceive of such an idea.

One ought to pause at this fact alone.

If the tradition in which Jesus was born and raised did not even have the belief of eternity in hell, did the “Great Theologian of Hell” just invent it?

The answer is no, because the notion of eternity in hell is a man-made fiction.

Even more disturbing is the selective bias of the King James translation.

While the word Sheol is mentioned over 70 times in the Old Testament, it is only translated as hell half of the time.

Why is that?

Because it does not fit the already developed idea of eternity in hell.

If both the righteous and unrighteous dead go to Sheol, what does a translator do when the passage suggests that there are righteous people there? Do they translate it as hell? Do they really put the righteous people in Hell?

Of course not. They translate it as grave.

Here is a perfect example of the problem (among many) and the inherent bias of translation.

In Genesis 37, it states that when Joseph died, his father, Jacob, exclaimed, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in Sheol.”

Is Joseph in hell? Does Jacob long to go to an eternity burning in hell? Of course not.

It can’t be grave sometimes and eternity in hell at others times. It is disingenuous. There are not two meanings. It is just grave.

To add to the madness, when the Hebrew Bible was translated into the Greek language, the word Sheol was translated to the Greek word Hades. And in the Greek world, Hades was widely known as the mythological god of the underworld who ruled with his wife, Persephone, in the “house of Hades.”

I know they did the best they could, but translating Sheol to Hades picked up a lot of extra mythological baggage. But it should not be lost on us that the original Hebrew word, Sheol, still means the grave. It is the dwelling place of both the righteous and unrighteous dead. And it signifies the singular problem that ultimately needs to be resolved- death.

So when you read the verse in Revelation that says, “Then death and Hades (read Sheol or the grave) were thrown into the lake of fire,” it is indicating that the last thing to be finally conquered and defeated is death.

That is why early believers in Christ knew that their ultimate hope was a deliverance from DEATH, not a rescue from an eternity being tormented in HELL. Even more, they knew that their future hope was, not going to a spiritual heaven when they died, but resurrecting to new, physical life at the renewal of all things.

That is why the parable of The Sheep and Goats is so fascinating. Because it gives us insight into the resurrection of all people, both the just and unjust, and God’s judgment and punishment at the renewal of all things.

The parable tells of a future in which Christ gathers the nations together and separates them into two groups- the sheep and the goats, the favored and the unfavored, the just and the unjust.

But according to the upside-down justice of God, those who are determined to be truly “just” are those who gave hospitality to the stranger, those who clothed the naked, and those who visited the sick and imprisoned.

And it is to the “just” that the King will say, “Come, you blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the cosmos.”

But here is the kicker.

Those who actually perceived themselves to be “righteous” and “just” are actually the goats, or the unfavored, because they are those who ignored the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned during their time on earth.

It is this group of “goats” who will not be welcomed into the Kingdom, but will “go away to eternal punishment.” For the King will say to them, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

This parable ought to be eye-opening for everyone, especially the religious.

Is this passage suggesting that the “eternal fire” is an eternity in hell? Do those who practice empty religiosity and ignore the cause of the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned burn in the underworld with the wicked, the devil, and the fallen angels? Based upon what we know about the nature and character of God, is this “eternal fire” a retributive punishment, or could it be a refining fire that leads to the restoration of a person? Is Jesus really the “Great Theologian of Hell” or the “Great Restorer of All?”

In HELL 9, we will look at how a better understanding of Gehenna will help us understand, not what is typically translated as and believed to be, everlasting punishment, but something entirely different with the hope of restoration at its very heart.

Peace…

Brandon

8 thoughts on “HELL 8

  1. Hi Brandon. Not trying to disprove your prism or thoughts oh hell, just commenting on what jumps out at me. I don’t think it took Augustine to conjure up images of eternal suffering in hell. There are a few straightforward passages that easily bring such notions into view for anyone who reads the Bible for themselves.

    One would be the statements of Jesus about plucking out one’s eye or cutting off one’s hand to avoid sin. Better to do so, He says, than to be cast into Gehenna “where the fire never goes out… where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:43-48)

    Even more explicit would be John the Revelator’s statement that the devil, beast, and false prophet will all be thrown into a lake of fire, along with everyone whose name doesn’t appear in the Book of Life, and “The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.” (Rev. 14:11)

    A plain reading of either passage easily conjures images of conscious, eternal torment in “hell” – no theologian required.

    I do take issue with your interpretation of Sheep and the Goats, but that I’ll address in a post of my own. Peace

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    1. Hey Don… thanks for reading and for checking in. This particular post tackled two of the four words translated as “hell” (Sheol and Hades). The next post will be dealing squarely with Gehenna and Tartaroo. I hope to show that a straightforward English reading actually leads to the false conclusion of eternity in Hell. I will hopefully finish it this week. Peace… Brandon

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  2. Hi Brandon,

    Your understanding of the goodness of God is something I admire. It is also something we both share. From my own experience, I know that such liberating insights into God’s character can only be fully realized by fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our confidence, and by acknowledging the truth that He is indeed the image of the invisible God. It was the faithfulness of Christ that was demonstrated at the cross that gives us our solid evidence for making the case for God’s own trustworthy character.

    As our hearts become increasingly convinced of God’s absolute goodness, I think it is only natural for us to eventually want to revisit and reevaluate the traditional teachings about hell. This can be a profitable investigation in many respects, and I appreciate your depth of study into this topic.

    We must be careful, however, not to lower our standards as we do so, just for the sake of developing a position that we feel would be more compatible with the goodness of God. No matter how respectable our motives might be, we can never expect our conclusions to be any more reliable than the evidence we use to rationalize them.

    There are two arguments you have raised in your series on Hell where I believe this admonition is warranted. The first occurs in this section, and so I will mention it here. The second can be found in Hell 10, which I hope you will allow me to comment on there.

    In paragraph 3 of this section (Hell 8), you stated that “the idea of being punished for eternity in hell did not develop until the 5th Century and it was by a bishop from Hippo name Augustine”. You then went on to reinforce this statement in paragraph 8 by saying “eternity in hell is not a belief original to the Early Church.”

    I frequently hear this argument made by my brothers and sisters who have embraced Universalism, and I am always bewildered whenever I do. Below, I have included samplings from the writings of various ante-Nicene Christian authors from about 70 AD to 320 AD that clearly contradict these types of assertions. Many more examples can be offered should you find these insufficient:
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    The Epistle of Barnabas (70–130 AD), 1.149 – “The way of darkness is crooked, and it is full of cursing. It is the way of eternal death with punishment.”

    Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians (107-110 AD), 16 – “And if those that corrupt mere human families are condemned to death, how much more shall those suffer everlasting punishment who endeavor to corrupt the Church of Christ, for which the Lord Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, endured the cross, and submitted to death!”

    Letter of Mathetes to Diognetus (125–200 AD), 1.29 – “You should fear what is truly death, which is reserved for those who will be condemned to the eternal fire.”

    Martyrdom of Polycarp (135 AD), 1.39 – “They (the martyrs) despised all the torments of this world, redeeming themselves from eternal punishment by the suffering of a single hour.… For they kept before their view escape from that fire which is eternal and will never be quenched.”

    The Shepherd of Hermas (150 AD), 2.50 – “Those who have not known God and do evil are condemned to death. However, those who have known God and have seen His mighty works, but still continue in evil, will be chastised doubly, and will die forever.”

    Second Clement (150 AD), 7.519 – “As long as we are upon earth, let us practice repentance. For we are as clay in the hand of the artificer. As for the potter, if he makes a vessel and it be distorted in his hands, he fashions it over again. But if before this he casts it into the furnace of fire, he can no longer find any help for it. So let us also, while we are in this world, repent with our whole heart of the evil deeds we have done in the flesh, that we may be saved by the Lord, while we have yet an opportunity of repentance. For after we have gone out of the world, no further power of confessing or repenting will there belong to us.”

    Justin Martyr, First Apology (160 AD), 28 – “And Christ foretold that he (Satan) would be sent into the fire with his host, and the men who follow him, and would be punished for an endless duration.”

    Tatian (160 AD), 1.71 – “We who are now easily susceptible to death, will afterwards receive immortality with either enjoyment or with pain.”

    Theophilus, To Autolycus (180 AD), 1.14, 2.36 – “To the unbelieving and despisers, who do not obey the truth, but are obedient to unrighteousness, when they will have been filled with adulteries and fornications, … there will be anger and wrath, tribulation and anguish. At the end, everlasting fire will possess such men… Therefore, burning fire will come upon you, and you will daily burn in flames forever. You will be ashamed forever of your useless god. But those who worship the eternal God, they will inherit everlasting life.”

    Irenaeus, Against Heresies (180 AD), 4.28.2, 5.27.2 – “The Lord will say, ‘Depart from me, you cursed ones, into everlasting fire.’ These persons will be damned forever. However, to others He will say, ‘Come, you blessed of my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you for eternity.’ These ones receive the kingdom forever… Now, good things are eternal and without end with God, and therefore the loss of these is also eternal and never-ending.”

    Clement of Alexandria, from a fragment in a post-Nicene manuscript (195 AD), 2.580 – “All souls are immortal, even those of the wicked. Yet, it would be better for them if they were not deathless. For they are punished with the endless vengeance of quenchless fire. Since they do not die, it is impossible for them to have an end put to their misery.”

    Tertullian, The Apology (197 AD), 3.50 – “We receive our awards under the judgment of an all-seeing God, and we Christians anticipate eternal punishment from Him for sin. Therefore, we alone make a real effort to attain a blameless life. We do this under the influence of … the magnitude of the threatened torment. For it is not merely long-enduring; rather, it is everlasting.”

    Minucius Felix, The Octavius (200 AD), 34-35 – “I am not ignorant that many [pagans], in the consciousness of what they deserve, would prefer to believe that they will become nothing after death. For they would rather be altogether extinguished, rather than to be restored for the purpose of punishment… There is neither limit nor termination of these torments.”

    Hippolytus, Against Plato (205 AD), 5.222 – “To the lovers of wickedness, there will be given eternal punishment. And the fire that is unquenchable and without end awaits these latter ones. So does a certain fiery worm that does not die and that does not consume the body, but continues bursting forth from the body with unending pain.”

    Commodianus, Instructions (240 AD), 24-26 – “To him who has lived well, there is advantage after death. You, however, when one day you die, you will be taken away to an evil place. But those who believe in Christ will be led into a good place.… Luxury and the short-lived joys of the world are ruining you. As a result, you will be tormented in Gehenna for all time.”

    Cyprian, Epistles (250 AD), 30.7 – “He has prepared heaven, but He has also prepared Gehenna. He has prepared places of refreshment, but he has also prepared eternal punishment. He has prepared the light that no one can approach, but He has also prepared the vast and eternal gloom of perpetual night.”

    Lactantius, Divine Institutes (304–313 AD), 2.13 – “And the force of this is not that it altogether annihilates the souls of the unrighteous, but subjects them to everlasting punishment. We term that punishment the second death, which is itself also perpetual, as also is immortality. We thus define the first death: Death is the dissolution of the nature of living beings; or thus: Death is the separation of body and soul. But we thus define the second death: Death is the suffering of eternal pain; or thus: Death is the condemnation of souls for their deserts to eternal punishments.”

    Disputation of Archelaus and Manes (320 AD) 212 – “He casts them into everlasting fire, although they cease not to direct their entreaties to Him.”
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    So then my brother, in light of these examples, how can one say that eternity in hell was not a belief original to the early church until it was developed by Augustine in the 5th century?

    Thank you,

    Joe Plaso

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    1. Hey Joe! Thanks for such a robust and exhaustive response. I appreciate your diligence in seeking out clarity on hell. While I will offer a more thoughtful response in the next day or two, in a quick perusal of your quotations, I find the majority of them actually support my argument.

      One word that continually comes up in these discussions is eternal, which is also sometimes translate from Greek as everlasting. While on the surface, eternal and everlasting give the impression of “never ending,” the original Greek word (aiónios) means “a period of time.” This implies that there is a set duration, not an endless endeavor.

      I believe this single argument aligns many of the quotes with my central argument. I will further review the other quotes this weekend and respond back soon.

      Thank you brother.

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    2. Okay. So I reread the quotes again and came away with several takeaways.

      1. If an honest translation of aionios occurred, the majority of quotes would be read differently.

      2. Other quotes could easily be read as a present judgment against the wicked. Eternal does not imply future. One can experience eternal death presently, just as eternal life.

      3. I still suppose that when I read of the “fire” in these quotes, it is meant for restorative purposes and not retributive.

      4. I don’t suppose every single person who comprised the early church believed in the restoration of all things, as Paul says, but I do believe there is evidence that the majority did. So maybe I should have said that, “the idea of being punished for eternity in hell was not codified until the 5th Century.”

      5. I believe my quote you cited (“eternity in hell is not a belief original to the Early Church”) was a statement about the pagan origins of the idea. Forgive me if I am misremembering, but I believe that was my point in that section.

      While I still stand by the fact that there are three possibilities of what will happen to the unrepentant, in my opinion the one that best exemplifies the God we see in Jesus continues to be the ultimate restoration of all. Sure, there are a lot of opinions of the matter, but I believe they have largely been fueled by mistranslation and people needing to translate a certain way to continue their traditional beliefs and understandings. If Jesus is not the image of the invisible God… and this God turns out to be more sadistic and cruel than we have imagined… what a horrific, vile, and treacherous experiment.

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