Monday, June 08, 2009

What is Hell?

Most of us Christians seem to think that Hell is this place unbelievers go after they die. In this place, unbelievers are punished for their sins. It is here that they will burn for eternity.

But is this idea of Hell a Biblical truth?

Perhaps not.

After preparing for a Sunday evening bible study that I was teaching I began to ask myself that very question.

Here are some interesting points that I found out in my studies:

In the New Testament, the word 'hell' is mentioned 23 times.

Of these 23, 12 times it is translated from the Greek word 'Gehenna.' Gehenna is an actual place. It is a deep ravine and located just south of Jerusalem. It is still there. Originally, it was a place used by the pagans where babies were sacrificed to their gods. In the times of Jesus, this area was used as a sort of city dump where trash was burned constantly.

10 times, the word 'hell' is translated from the Greek word 'Hades.' Hades was the Greek god of the underworld. In this underworld, souls were sent to await judgment and if deemed unworthy stayed to be punished forever.

The other time it is mentioned in the New Testament, is in 2nd Peter and translated from yet another Greek word 'Tartarsus' which is actually a lower area of Hades where wicked spirits were sent for punishment.

So that is where the actual word 'hell' appears in the New Testament.

So where do we actually get the idea of what hell is like?

In the Bible, there is a verse that mentions an eternal fire set aside for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41) however.....

It may surprise you that most of what we know or have been told about hell comes from a work of fiction.

Almost all of the information that we have about the physical place hell comes from Dante's Inferno (The Divine Comedy).

So, is there a hell? When we die do we go somewhere for punishment if we are unbelievers?

Yes and no.

According to the Bible, there is a place where those that have rejected God will go.

But is that place called Hell. Maybe. Nobody knows.

Is it a burning lake of fire? Nobody knows.

We actually have no idea what kind of place it is or what sort of punishment those that go there will endure.

In the movie The Prophecy, the character Lucifer tells a former priest:


You know what Hell is?......It's the absence of God."
Interesting thought.

On a more humorous note, Denis Leary once said:
"You know what hell is? It's Andy Gibb. Singing Shadow dancing for eons and
eons. And you have to sit next to the Bay City Rollers. "

LOL!

Well, that was all I had to say about it. I just found this information somewhat interesting.

12 comments:

  1. Scott6:31 PM

    "Is it a burning lake of fire? Nobody knows."

    Come on really? It's spelled out over and over again as a burning lake of fire.

    Some questions I have for you:

    Why look for the answer in only the New Testament? Wouldn't it be prudent also to see what the OT says?

    Do you think that when Jesus used "Gehenna" he only meant the literal place?

    Why did you not outline what Gehenna meant or implied culturally at the time?

    Aside from that, why does Jesus refer to hell in Mark 9 as an "unquenchable fire?" Why does both fire and punishment get mentioned almost every time Jesus or anyone else (Peter, James, John) bring up hell?

    Also what about all the other clear references to "hell" that do not use the word, such as in Revelation when Satan is burned forever in a "lake of fire?"

    It seems overwhelmingly clear to me that the idea of Hell you presented--"a place unbelievers go after they die. In this place, unbelievers are punished for their sins. It is here that they will burn for eternity"--is exactly what the Bible says about it.

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  2. The point I was trying to get across is that the literal word "hell" that is used in the Bible might not be what we think it is.

    As for the Old Testament, it mentions the word even less than in the old Testament does.

    I personally think that when Jesus was using the word Gehenna he did mean the literal place. I think he was using it as a metaphor.

    I'm not sure what you mean about an outline of what Gehenna meant. I said that it was a literal place where pagan sacrifices took place and in Jesus' time was a city dump. What more do you need?

    Passage in Mark 9. That is one of the verses where the word Gehenna is translated into the word hell. At Gehenna trash was burned...constantly.

    I think Jesus often used the place Gehenna as a metaphor to describe suffering in general.

    Revelation is not a book that I often quote from for any reason. That is subject matter for a completely different post.

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  3. Scott7:15 PM

    What I am getting at is you have misrepresented the truth. You say that one word is a garbage dump and the other is a Greek underworld but neither of those meanings is what the Bible means. Jesus may have said the word Gehenna but he was a Jewish rabbi. Gehenna would be a convenient word image to convey how horrific the true literal hell was. As a Jew at the time why would you expect Jesus to deviate from the widely understood Jewish understanding of hell? Second you mentioned that one verse in Matthew speaks of a fire burning forever as though it were the only one, but there are dozens of such verses in the NT like I mentioned. Look at the story of Lazarus and the rich man and it is pretty clear what hell means.

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  4. I have not misinterpreted anything. I have simply given my opinion. Anyone who reads this blog and takes everything as say as the (no pun intended) gospel truth needs to stop reading it and look elsewhere for facts.

    However, here are some facts:

    Gehenna IS a garbage dump.
    Hades IS the underworld according to Greek mythology.

    Jesus was a Jewish rabbi but that is not relevant to the situation. There was no "widely understood Jewish meaning of hell." Most Jews during the time of Jesus did not believe in an afterlife so the concept of heaven and hell would not have been relevant to the people he was speaking to. That is a fact.

    My reference to verse you are speaking of where fire burns forever reflects every verse where the word Gehenna is translated into the word hell. It does not matter what part of the Bible you are reading. If the word there is Gehenna, then the author is talking about the same place.

    I am glad that you brought up the story of Lazarus and the rich man though. Here is what I think about that story. And keep in mind that this is MY opinion based on the research that I have done and by no means should be taken as absolute truth. There are many theologians more learned than myself that disagree with this opnion. However keep in mind that there are just as many theologians that do agree with this opinion. The story of Lazarus is a parable and is not necessarily talking about hell.

    I think that the "rich man" is a metaphor for the people of Israel, the so-called chosen people. And I think "Lazarus" is a metaphor for those that follow Christ. The deaths of these two "men" are symbolic of a change in status of these 2 groups. It shows that through faith in Christ, the Gentiles will become the new chosen people.

    The rich man's torment after his death is symbolic of the separation of Israel from God. (As I mentioned in my early post about that movie quote "Hell is the absence of God).

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  5. Aha! I found that quote from The Prophecy that I was talking about.

    Now keep in mind this is a movie quote but it is an interesting quote that could very well be just as close to the truth than the burning forever idea....

    "You know what Hell really is Thomas? It's not lakes of burning oil or chains of ice. It's being removed from God's sight."

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  6. Steve already addressed what I was going to comment on, but I’ll still give it a go.

    Scott said: “What I am getting at is you have misrepresented the truth.”

    As Steve already said, he didn’t misrepresent anything. He provided an interpretation of the Bible based on the factual translation of the words as they were originally written in Greek. You obviously have read these passages differently, but there is nothing to say that your interpretation is right and Steve’s is wrong. Steve in fact is going about looking at the root words to try and discover the original intent of the authors where it comes to Hell. This is a very logical and scientific approach to the subject and an intellectually honest one at that. We have no way of knowing what Hell is, if it even exists, but we can do our best to research the words used in the Bible to see how they were translated and what they originally meant.

    I think that it is very interesting that so much of the Christian idea of Hell comes from a work of fiction and not from the Bible. I’m sure that many, if not most, Christians don’t realize this fact. It’s amazing how different stories can get engrained in our collective psyche as fact or truth that are complete fabrications. Washington and the cherry tree anyone?

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  7. I can go with the "Hell is the absence of God" description.

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  8. I kind of lean toward that theory myself.

    I think that being absent from God's sight is one of the worst things that you can do to a human soul.

    That is, unless you are an atheist. In that case, when you die I guess you get what you want. No God.

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  9. Scott5:31 PM

    No offense, we're all friends here, but I just don't find the post "scientific" or "intellectually honest" at all. (And I hope that by me saying this it is clear I just mean this particular post and nothing to impugn my good friend Steve or the blog here).

    And here's what I meant by using the word misrepresentation. The clearest example is where the post says, "So where do we actually get the idea of what hell is like?

    In the Bible, there is a verse that mentions an eternal fire set aside for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41) however....."

    Wait a second! There is "a" verse? Please tell me this is a typo. So there's one verse in the Bible that mentions "an eternal fire?" No, actually there are dozens of verses talking about an afterlife with an eternal fire as punishment for the unsaved.

    And to continue on with the misrepresentation, the whole post is organized around what word might have been translated as "hell," but no information (and no references to any research) about what hell means in the Bible, i.e. the post does not read any of the context around these verses, context which clearly indicates that there is an eternal fire burning for the unsaved, regardless of whether the word "hell," "Gehenna," "Hades," or other is used?? (Or for that matter, any word!)

    At the very most what I can concede is that "an eternal fire as punishment for the unsaved" may be a metaphor for the punishment versus the actual punishment, but I have to humbly admit that this metaphor is at least God's chosen metaphor since Jesus insistently refers to an afterlife of fire and punishment for the wicked over and over again, and not just Jesus but also God himself in at least Ezekiel 21:28-32, and to not stop there, multiple other prophets.

    But again, I respect all of your posts here and appreciate the dialogue!

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  10. I agree, we are all friends here and can engage in some delightful back and forth banter about this subject.

    The phrase "So where do we actually get the idea of what hell is like?" is not misrepresenting anything though. It is a question.

    I think the misunderstanding that we have here is that you think I am spouting off this stuff as if it is actual fact. I am not stating facts. I am stating my opinions.

    It is true that there are verses other than the one I cited that mentioned an eternal fire. But I THINK they are all metaphors.My opinion. I am not saying that there is no way there is a burning lake of fire that unbelievers go to when they die. I am saying in MY opinion, I don't think that is what hell is.

    Opinions are not misrepresentations of the truth.

    Scott, you said "the whole post is organized around what word might have been translated as 'hell' but no information (and no references to any research) about what hell means in the Bible.."

    I agree and disagree. The whole post was mostly based on the different interpretations and translations of the word hell. That I agree on. What I disagree with is your stating I gave no information about what it means in the Bible. I did give information. I stated the different translations of the word hell. In some places the word hell is put in place of the word Gehenna. In other places the word hell is used in the place of the word Hades. And so on. Are you wanting research on where I found that out? If that is so, I would be glad to oblige but really all you need to do is go pick up a good actual Greek translation of the New Testament to find that out. I did not think that citing sources on the actual translations of the word were necessary.

    In any case. I really must stress that this post (and quite a number of my posts in the past and in the future) are based on my opinion and to be taken as just something to think about.

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  11. Otter said: "My opinion. I am not saying that there is no way there is a burning lake of fire that unbelievers go to when they die. I am saying in MY opinion, I don't think that is what hell is."

    Well if that is all that's being said I am on the fence about that as well. It just came across like you were saying the Bible doesn't hardly mention an eternal fire and we just got that idea from Dante.

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  12. Nope.

    I personally don't think that it is a lake of burning fire. It could be. But I don't know.

    I subscribe to the theory closer to the idea of being isolated from God as being hell. I think Satan was cast out from hell and is isolated form God and he hates it and it is the worst thing a soul could experience.

    But again. I don't know. Hopefully I will never find out. LOL!

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