How I love Him tonight,
THE CASE AGAINST HELL
By Mercy Aiken
The case against Hell: Did you know that there is a solid scriptural case to be made against the idea of Hell? Many non-Christians have rejected the concept of Hell, but it may come as a surprise to learn that there is a growing number of Bible-believing Christians who also reject the notion-not in spite of Scripture but because of it! This short study is meant only to raise some questions and provide brief answers. For further study, please refer to the links at the end of the article.
An open and unbiased study of the Bible, including many key Greek and Hebrew words as well as Church history will reveal some surprising things.
For instance, did you know that....
"Hell" Is Not an Old Testament doctrine:
Popular myth : Hell is an established Biblical doctrine that is in the Bible from start to finish. This is not true! Two thirds of the Bible (the Old Testament) does not mention Hell at all. ("Sheol," the Old Testament word that is sometimes translated as Hell, only means "grave" by definition, and it is where everyone in the Old Testament went when they died--good or evil, Jew or Gentile). Thus the Old Testament does not contain the concept of Hell!
Think about it...
If Hell is real, 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 Knowledge of Good and Evil was death- -not "eternal life" in fire and brimstone.
If Hell is real, why wasn't Cain warned about it, or Sodom and Gomorrah , or any of those who committed the earliest recorded "sins?"
If Hell is real why didn't Moses warn about this fate in the Ten Commandments or the Mosaic Covenant consisting of over 600 laws, ordinances, and warnings? The Mosaic Law simply stated blessings and cursings in this lifetime.
If Hell is real, why are its roots in paganism, rather than the Bible? Many nations surrounding Israel in the Old Testament believed in Hell-like punishment in the afterlife, for they served bloodthirsty and evil "gods," while Israel simply taught the grave (sheol) and a hope of a resurrection. If Hell is real, why was the revelation of it first given to pagan nations, instead of God's covenant people? Did God expect Israel to learn about the afterlife from the Pagan Gentiles? If so, why did He repeatedly warn Israel to not learn of their ways?
If Hell is real, why did God tell the Jews that burning their children alive in the fire to the false god Molech, (in the valley of Gehenna ) was so detestable to Him? God said that such a thing "never even entered His mind" (Jer. 32:35). How could God say such a thing to Israel , if He has plans to burn alive a good majority of His own creation in a spiritual and eternal Gehenna of His own making?
**FACT: The King James Bible erroneously translates the word "Sheol" as Hell a total of 31 times in the Old Testament, thus setting a foundation for that doctrine in the New Testament as well as the majority of Bible translations to follow the KJV. Even so, most new translations have completely eliminated Hell from the Old Testament, as honest and better scholarship has demanded. The Jewish version of the Old Testament (the Tanakh) has no concept of Hell in it. The importance of this fact cannot be over-emphasized. If a doctrine does not appear as seed form in the books of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, it cannot fairly be taught as a major biblical doctrine, if indeed it can be taught as biblical at all!
Hell Is Not a New Testament Doctrine:
Popular myth: Jesus spoke of Hell more than He did of Heaven. This is not true! Jesus warned the Jews many times of impending destruction, both nationally and individually. He used several different terms to refer to punishment/destruction, some of which were erroneously translated as the same word, "Hell" by Bible translators. We do not deny that God will indeed judge the whole world, nor do we wish to make light of His judgments. We are challenging the belief that His judgment on sin and unbelief is eternal torment/Hell and never-ending separation from God. Certainly, Jesus spent a lot of his ministry warning people to repent or reap the consequences, (particularly "Gehenna.") But could we be reading more into His warnings than He originally intended?
Think about it.......
If Hell is real, why were most of the warnings pertaining to punishment/Gehenna directed to Israel , particularly the Lord's own disciples as well as the Pharisees? The first great cluster of references to Gehenna, are found in the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5:22, 29, 30), Jesus' great sermon to His disciples in which He warned that one was in danger of Gehenna for the likes of calling someone a fool. This is a far cry from our modern Evangelical interpretation that says not accepting Jesus as your Savior is what sends someone to Hell. Are we perhaps missing the symbolism that Jesus originally intended?
If Hell is real, aren't we taking verses out of context when we warn non-Jewish sinners who are not part of the Mosaic covenant God made with the nation of Israel about consequences for sin which have nothing to do with them since they are not under that covenant?
Since the concept of Hell doesn't exist in the Old Testament, how could Jesus and his disciples teach that salvation was deliverance from a place that is not even found in their Scriptures? And if He was introducing the subject for the first time, why did He do it so casually, as though His listeners already understood what He was talking about?
If Hell is real, 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 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 "Gehenna" as a symbol of everlasting torture, but rather as a place of shame, filth, and defilement (where Israel participated in the grossest form of idol worship), why does modern theology ascribe more to the word than the original meaning did? The teaching of Gehenna has evolved in Jewish teachings to include punishment in the afterlife; but even today, Gehenna still does not mean "endless" punishment to the Jews.
If Hell is real how could the Apostle Paul (who was especially commissioned by God to preach the gospel to the nations) say that he had declared the entire counsel of God (Acts 20:27), when indeed he never warned of "Hell" in any of his letters? If Hell is real, wouldn't Paul, of all people, warn of it repeatedly?
If Hell is real, the sin/death of Adam has had a far more powerful effect on the world than the resurrection life of Christ! And yet Paul declares in Romans 5 that Christ's victory is far greater than Adam's transgression! Listen to Paul's confidence in the work of Christ! If Paul believed in eternal hell for the majority of men, how could he write the following verses?
".Just as the result of one trespass (Adam's) was condemnation for all men , so also the result of one act of righteousness (Christ's) was justification that brings life for all men . For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. ( Romans 5:18,19).
"Since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive." (1 Cor. 15:22)
"For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe" (1 Timothy 4;10).
(The above verses are just a few of the many verses where Paul writes of a pre-eminent Christ that far transcends the traditional Christian view. This article is full of many more New Testament references by Paul that display his views of the Christ triumphant, unlimited, all-powerful, all-conquering, and victorious).
If Hell is real, why is it that the only time Paul even mentioned "Hell" in any of his epistles, was declare the triumph of Christ over it? (1 Corinthians 15:55). The word "Grave" in the passage is the Greek word "Hades."
If Hell is real, why is it not mentioned once in the book of Acts in any the evangelistic sermons that were recorded by the early Apostles?
If Hell is real why do some of the best Bible scholars and Bible teachers say it is not in the Greek or Hebrew text? (William Barclay, John A.T. Robinson, Lightfoot, Westcott, F.W. Farrar, Marvin Vincent, etc.)
If Hell is real, why does the word itself come from the Teutonic "Hele" (goddess of the underworld "Hell" of northern Europe ). The description of this ancient mythological place has very little resemblance anymore to the modern Christian image of Hell. See any encyclopedia or dictionary for the origin of the word.
FACT: The apocryphal books of the intertestimental period had a tremendous impact on the Jews in the time of Christ. It is from these books, especially the book of Enoch, that many of the Jewish myths and fables concerning Hell, heaven, demons and angels and many other fables first became a part of Judaism and from there became a part of Christianity. The myths and fables of these books came from Pagan influences (namely Zoroastrianism), during and after the Babylonian captivity of Israel . In fact, Zoroastrianism looks more like modern Christianity in many ways than ancient Judiasm does!
If Hell is real, why did Paul warn Timothy repeatedly to stay away from Jewish myths and fables, the likes of which were influencing many in the early church? Rather than affirming such doctrines, Paul declares them to be profane fables. (1 Tim. 1:1; Tit. 1:14)
Hell Contradicts The Work of the Messiah:
Popular myth: Jesus came to save the sinner from his destination of everlasting Hell. Not exactly true! Hell was never a place that the Jews were hoping to be saved from, since they didn't even believe in it! But they did need to be saved from their sins and consequences of them; namely death. Jesus came as the Anointed One to fulfill all of God's plan for the earth-that through Him might come the salvation, deliverance of sin, peace, kingdom of God and all that God had promised through the Old Testament scriptures. There is much we can say here, but for the sake of brevity we will limit our points to a few key passages. Please take the time to look up the verses that are referenced.
Think about it...
If Hell is real, why does Psalm 22 (one of the most prophetic passages in scripture concerning the Messiah) promise that because of the cross, " All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD , and all the families of the nations will worship before You. For the kingdom is the LORD'S and He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship , all those who go down to the dust will bow before Him, even he who cannot keep his soul alive " (Psalm 22:27-29 NASB).
If Hell is real, did Jesus fail in His mission? He said, "I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world" (John 12:47).
If Hell is real and most find their way to it, was Jesus lying when He said if He was lifted up (crucified) that He would "draw" ("drag" in the original Greek word, "helkyo") all mankind unto Himself? (John 12:32)
If Hell is real and eternal, how can the Scriptures speak of the gathering of all things into Christ? (Eph. 1:10)
If Hell is real and eternal, how can all things be subdued unto Christ? (1 Corinthians 15:28, Philippians 3:21, Hebrews 2:8).
If Hell is real and eternal, how can it be that the scriptures promise that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord? (Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10).
If Hell is real and eternal, how will Jesus ever see the travail of His soul and be satisfied (Isaiah 53:11)? If the traditional understanding is correct, most of those He came to save will never experience His salvation. Do we believe that this would be satisfying to Jesus?
If Hell is real, and God sent Jesus to save people from it, can we really say that the will and pleasure of God has prospered in His hand, since, according to traditional theology, only a few will ever be saved? (Isaiah 53:10, and 55:11).
If Hell is real, and the devil is the one who deceives people into going there, isn't he ultimately the winner in the war for souls? After all, traditional interpretation of the Bible says that more people will end up in Hell than in Heaven. If so, how can we really call Satan the defeated enemy and Christ the victor?
If Hell is real and most of mankind will remain in an eternal deathlike state of torment with no chance to repent or escape, how exactly are we to understand and rejoice in the fact that Jesus destroyed death and him that had the power of death (Satan)? (Hebrews 2:14-15, 1 John 3:8, Hosea 13:14, 1 Corinthians 15:55, 1 Corinthians 15:26 etc.)
If Hell is eternal, how can the increase of Christ's government and of peace have no end? (Isaiah 9:7).
FACT: The term "saved" has evolved in Christianity to mean something different than it did to the original readers and hearers of Scripture. The Greek words, "sozo" and "soteria" embrace the broad meaning of being rescued, delivered, healed and saved from danger. These words were applied in a variety of ways throughout the New Testament. There is much more to the salvation of Christ than most Christians know. Sadly, much of the church is robbed of fullness of their salvation by embracing a limited and futuristic view of what it actually means-- (i.e. "going to Heaven when they die").
Popular Myth: "Eternity" is a theme that is throughout the entire Bible, including eternal punishment. Not exactly true! We are not denying that the New Testament is full of warnings of judgment, and that the words, "everlasting" and "eternal" appear often in most translations. However, a careful study of the words that are translated to mean forever or everlasting, will prove that they have been mistranslated. The question is not whether or not God will punish sin and rebellion, but rather how He does it, and for what purpose and how long the correc5ion lasts.
Think about it..
If Hell is forever, why is the Hebrew word Olam (which has been translated to mean "eternal/forever") used in so many verses where it clearly does not mean "everlasting? A few examples: "Everlasting" is applied to the priesthood of Aaron; to the statutes of Moses; to the mountains and hills; and to the doors of the Jewish temple, to the length of time that reproach and shame should be upon the Jews. The word "forever" is applied to the duration of man's earthly existence; to the time a child was to abide in the temple; to the continuance of Gehazi's leprosy; to the to the duration of a king's life; to the time a servant was to abide with his master; to the duration of the Jewish temple; to the time David was to be king over Israel; to the throne of Solomon; to the stones that were set up at Jordan; and to the time Jonah was in the fish's belly. It should be obvious from the context that olam merely referred to an indefinite period of time--not forever!
Aion and related words ( aionian and aionios ) are the Greek equivalents of olam . Aion, literally means "age," from which we get our English word, "eon." Aion/age/eon, is merely a period of time. "Aionian and Aionios" are words that refer to the ages (plural) or pertaining to the ages. As long as time is being measured, it cannot be referring to eternity, which is a realm beyond the measurement of time. If "Hell" is forever, why is it described by words that pertain to the ages?
If the Greek word Aion and its derivatives mean eternal as some Bible scholars insist, why did contemporary Greek usage of it, at the time the New Testament was written, not carry with it the idea of endless eternity? (Works by Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Hippocrates and many others use these words in a limited, not an eternal sense).
If Hell is forever, how do we explain the fact that aion/olam did not mean eternal/unending to the original writers and hearers of Scripture?
FACT: Some would argue that if aionian and related words do not mean eternal, then God cannot be eternal, for these words also describe Him. To this we say, that just because God is described as the God of the eons, does not mean that He is not the God who also transcends the eons. In the same way, just because He is called the God of Israel , does not also mean that He is not the God of all the other nations. Also, there are other Greek words used to refer to the unending power and life of God. They are, aptharsia/apthartos, which means imperishableness and immortality; amarantinos/amarantos which mean unfading; and akatalytos , which means indestructable. They are usually translated as immortal, or incorruptible. Please refer to the following verses for reference: Hebrews 7:15-16, 1 Peter 1:3-4, 1 Peter 5:4, 1 Timothy 1:17, Romans 1:23, 1 Corinthians 9:25, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, Romans 2:7, 1 Corinthians 15:42, 2 Timothy 1:10, and 1 Timothy 6:16.
Popular Myth: One's fate is sealed after death. If this is true, how do we deal with the following scriptures that indicate the opposite?
Think about it...
"Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, He devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him" (2 Samuel 14:14).
"The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: He bringeth down to the grave (sheol), and bringeth up." 1 Samuel 2: 6
"See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand" (Deuteronomy 32:39).
"I will ransom them from the power of the grave (Sheol/Hell); I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave (Sheol/Hell), I will be your destruction!" (Hosea 13:11-14).
"For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though He brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love. For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. (Lam 3:31-33)
"Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny" (Matthew 5:25-26).
If Hell is a place of no escape, why did the early church teach Jesus went to Hell (Hades), preached to them and led captivity captive? (Eph. 4:8,9; Psalm 68:18; 1 Peter 3:18-20)
If Hell lasts forever, why the Psalmist confidently speak again and again about being rescued from it (sheol)? (Psalms 16:10, 30:2-3, Psalm 49:15, 86:13, 116:3-8, 139:8).
If Hell is real, how can Solomon teach that the spirit of man will return to the God Who gave it? (Ecc 12:7).
If the grave settled the matter forever, why did the early Christians offer up prayers for the dead? Why were they baptized for the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:29).
"Hell" Was Not a Doctrine of the Early Church:
(continued in the following blog)