244. The Hell Delusion

Mike Parsons
and Jeremy Westcott

It is factually inaccurate to claim that Jesus spoke more about hell than about any other single subject. He did not. The whole Bible is completely silent about ‘hell’. For the first five centuries, few Christians held a doctrine of eternal torment either for the wicked or for unbelievers. But over time, pagan myths about the afterlife were repackaged and passed off as Christian.

We looked briefly last time at the four Bible words traditionally translated ‘hell’. In this post we will go into them in more detail. Let’s be prepared for the Spirit to reveal the truth to us and not get stuck in tradition.

Sheol (Hebrew)

Strong’s Concordance says:

Sheol (H7585) she’ôl From H7592; hades or the world of the dead (as if a subterranean retreat), including its accessories and inmates: – grave, pit, hell.

All good, right up to the last word: ‘hell’ has been added there, only because the compiler has already decided that some scriptures where this word is used are talking about ‘hell’. The true meanings of the word, ‘grave’ or ‘pit’ have no context of punishment at all. Most modern Bible versions now translate this word accurately.

Hades (Greek)

Hades (G86) hadēs From G1 and G1492; properly unseen, that is, “Hades” or the place (state) of departed souls: – grave, hell.

‘Hades’ is used only 11 times in the New Testament, including 4 times by Jesus (and some of those are the same story in different gospels). It does not relate to punishment. It is the Greek equivalent of ‘Sheol’ and has been ascribed the added meaning of ‘hell’ in exactly the same way.

In these Bible verses we will use Young’s Literal Translation, which is not easy to read but uses ‘hades’, the actual word in the original texts, and not the invented word ‘hell’.

  • And you, Capernaum, which unto the heaven was exalted, unto hades you shall be brought down (Matt 11:23, Luke 10:15). “Capernaum, you think you’re so great but soon you’ll be nothing.” There is no context of punishment.
  • And I also say to you, that you are a rock, and upon this rock I will build my assembly [ekklesia], and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). We, the ekklesia, are going to overcome the grave. We do not need to be fearful of death.
  • There are 2 uses of hades in Acts, both quoting a single OT reference to Sheol, that the Messiah’s soul was not left to hades, nor did His flesh see corruption (Acts 2:27, 31).
  • Breaking the power of death: Where, O Death, thy sting? Where, O Hades, thy victory? (1 Cor 15:55).
  • 4 times in Revelation
    • and he who is living, and I did become dead, and, lo, I am living to the ages of the ages. Amen! And I have the keys of the hades and of the death (Rev 1:18). Jesus has the keys of death and the grave – to set people free, not to lock them up!
    • and I saw, and lo, a pale horse, and he who is sitting upon him – his name is Death, and Hades doth follow with him (Rev 6:8). A personification of ‘the grave’, or perhaps the Greek god who, in that mythology, rules over the place of the dead.
    • and the sea did give up those dead in it, and the death and the hades did give up the dead in them, and they were judged, each one according to their works (Rev 20:13). Again, simply ‘the grave’ (and according to this verse, judgment comes after the dead come out of it, not before).
    • and the death and the hades were cast to the lake of the fire – this [is] the second death (Revelation 20:14). Death and the grave are not the end. They are to be put somewhere else, and we will look at this ‘lake of fire’ in a future post.

None of these references relates to torment or punishment. The only use of ‘hades’ which may appear to do so is in Luke 16:23, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

  • and in the hades having lifted up his eyes, being in torments, he doth see Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

There are several things to say about this passage:

  • This whole story may not be original to Jesus. Its roots can be traced back to the Hebrew traditional text Gemara Babylonicum, which dates from Israel’s captivity in Babylon.
  • The primary characters in the story are not distinguished from one another by righteousness or wickedness but by wealth and social standing.
  • This whole section in Luke’s gospel is a series of lessons about trusting in riches and failing to help the poor, directed primarily at the religious leaders and their supporters. Jesus’ purpose in (re)telling the story was not to give a literal account of what the afterlife looks like.

We will look at this parable again in more detail later in this series. Meanwhile, there are links to articles on the subject at the foot of this post.

Tartarus (Greek)

Tartarus (G5020) tartaroō From Tartaros̄ (the deepest abyss of Hades); Greek mythology the place where the Titans were incarcerated. To incarcerate in eternal torment: – cast down to hell.

This last sentence in the definition was a total invention of the compiler.

‘Tartarus’ is only mentioned once in the New Testament:
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartarus and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment (2 Peter 2:4).

If they were ‘reserved for judgment’ then they had not yet been judged and it would have been unjust to subject them to punishment. This is not ‘to incarcerate in eternal torment’.

Gehenna (Greek)

Gehenna (G1067) of Hebrew origin ([H1516] and [H2011]); valley of (the son of) Hinnom; gehenna (or Ge-Hinnom), a valley of Jerusalem.

Gehenna is the Greek word for the Valley of Hinnom, a literal geographical feature outside the gates of Jerusalem. It was an evil and dark place, used for a variety of evil acts (including child sacrifice to Molech); literally a place of perpetual fire, a rubbish dump filled with so much trash (including dead bodies during the time of Isaiah) that the fires never went out and worms would never die from lack of food.

Therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the valley of Slaughter (Jeremiah 19:6).

Jeremiah’s prophecy was fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70, when dead bodies were literally thrown into Gehenna during the siege by the Roman army. Rather than eternal ‘hell’, Gehenna was a physical place for dead bodies.

Jesus used the word ‘Gehenna’ in 11 instances. In all of them He was talking about kingdom life here and now, not about the afterlife (whether ‘going to heaven’ or ‘going to hell’).

Here are all those references:

  1. Matthew 5:29
  2. Matthew 5:30
  3. Matthew 18:9
  4. Mark 9:43
  5. Mark 9:45
  6. Mark 9:47

#1-6 are all the same concept: Jesus is using the imagery of the most disgusting location in Jerusalem to illustrate how destructive sin is (see also #12).

  1. Matthew 10:28
  2. Luke 12:5

#7 and 8 are the same passage in different gospels: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” Suppose this is referring to God (and there are plenty of other possibilities), it does not say ‘punishes’ or ‘torments’, nor mention ‘eternal’, but only says ‘ is able to destroy’. Perhaps this might be a good proof-text for annihilationists, but not for those who believe in eternal conscious torment in ’hell’.

  1. Matthew 5:22

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery Gehenna”.

So the difference between saying (1) ‘You good-for-nothing’ and (2) ‘You fool’ is enough to make the difference between (1) being sentenced to death by stoning and (2) being tortured for all eternity without hope of reprieve? That seems like an unreasonable escalation in punishment between two offences most of us would struggle to distinguish.

In reality, Jesus is raising the standard of behaviour to include thoughts and emotions, emphasising how powerful our thoughts and words are. He is demonstrating how little it takes to negatively affect us, how just a bit of unresolved anger pollutes our lives and how unforgiveness lands us in a torture chamber of our own making.

  1. Matthew 23:15

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of Gehenna as yourselves”.

The Pharisees were all about perceived righteousness. They obsessively followed every directive of the Law and made a show of their piety. They were self-righteous DIY-ers. Jesus was telling them that their own “righteousness” was like dung. They were proud of being ‘children of Abraham’ but He called them children of the refuse heap and compared them to those who sacrificed to idols.

  1. Matthew 23:33

You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of Gehenna?

They were going to end up outside the covenant. Some of those listening may actually have had their dead bodies dumped over the city walls into Gehenna during the Roman siege of AD70.

  1. James 3:6

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by Gehenna.

Evil from one body part corrupts the whole body.

Fear and love

Religion uses the fear of an angry God and the fear of hell to keep us in order.

But God calls us to simply love Him, ourselves and each other: no religious rules, nothing complicated about it. He is not angry with us, He is always the same: loving, faithful and full of grace and mercy. He has never changed. He has shown us how to love: He loves us so much that He was prepared to come in the flesh and die for us, even when we saw ourselves as His enemies. If we loved like that, the world would be a different place.

I am not saying

I am not saying you should believe what I believe. I am offering you the opportunity to lay aside common misconceptions of what the Bible says so that you can read what it does say and engage with God for yourself to find out what He is really like.

Recent articles from Freedom ARC
Older related posts
Resources on the topic of ‘hell’

These publications and websites raise issues we believe God is drawing to our attention today. The fact that they are listed here should not be taken to imply that we agree with all the doctrinal positions, conclusions or opinions of the authors.

Engaging The Father conference

      • Do you want to go deeper? Deeper into intimacy with God, deeper into God Himself, deeper into the Truth (Jesus), deeper into revelation?
      • Do you want to go higher? Higher into the creative light realms, into the heart and mind of God outside of time and space, to engage with who He created you to be?
      • Then join us from March 8th to 10th, either in person (£65 GBP) or via the livestream (£30 GBP), for Engaging The Father, the first of our Sons Arise! conferences for 2018.
      • For full details and to book, please go to https://freedomarc.org/engagingfather


Author: Freedom ARC

Freedom Apostolic Resource Centre, Barnstaple, UK.

14 thoughts on “244. The Hell Delusion”

  1. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Cor 4:3

    Perishing -g0622. ἀπόλλυμι apollymi; from 575 and the base of 3639; to destroy fully (reflexively, to perish, or lose), literally or figuratively: — destroy, die, lose, mar, perish.

  2. Gents,

    Might I respectfully suggest a moment for you both to consider whether what you are doing here is wise.

    You have a reputation, long earned, in helping Christians to engage with the heavenly realm of our Heavenly Father in a cogent rational way. This is your brand as it were.

    In this post you are starting to move away from your core and are in danger of being rebranded in a way that existing and desired future target groups will be challenged. Is this a Rob Bell moment for you guys, are you universalists etc?

    Accessing and learning about the heavenly realms is difficult enough without the exploration of this subject matter.

    With warm regards

    PS I hate writing this in the public domain, but every email I have from you both has a no reply address.

  3. You may split hairs over the names that are used to identify the place where people go who haven’t received Christ as their Savior. But a place of eternal separation from God is a place void of love, goodness, light, joy, peace, etc. And my friends, that is a place of torment, anguish and darkness. There a many notable ministers and believers ( Doctor Ebby, Mary K. Baxter , Paul Kieth Davis to name a couple ) who have had personal tours accompanied by Jesus or experiences given by God of the place where the unbelieving go after leaving this world and you wouldn’t want even the wickedest of men to end up there. Truth is truth and it can’t be ignored and if someone comes to Christ through the knowledge of the alternative to heaven ( hades, hell, Sheol , Gehenna, or whatever you want to call it ) then praise be to God who saves through Christ Jesus.

    1. There is no place of eternal separation from God. It is an impossibility.
      In future posts we will address the question of people’s experiences of ‘hell’.
      The construct we call ‘hell’ is not truth, it’s a lie.

  4. In the original version of this post, there were three further ‘I am not saying’ statements at the end. I have now removed them because they seem to be detracting from the purpose of this post, which is to clear the ground. And there is more ground clearance work to come in the next post before I can begin to offer an alternative view – which I will.

  5. Reblogged this on Mismeret's Blog and commented:
    Clarifying our thinking and understanding on these issues is important because it forms a bedrock for our belief systems. In this blog, you’ll find your belief system and what you’ve accepted challenged by an outworking of revelation rather than intellectual-only-led assumptions. Father is calling us once again in a clarion call to live and understand by His Spirut, hold our intellect lightly and seek Him for revelation as we mature. We may not intellectually agree with some of these things but Holy Spirit will challenge us to get deeper revelation for ourselves as we mature…

  6. If you accept that the gospel is divine technology for the iradication of spiritual death, then there is a place after death where those with spiritual death go in the same way that there is a place where those who have spiritual life go (into the heaven of the heavens). There is also a place prepared for the devil and his angels/demons to go to. So there is a place or places – all we are doing is revisiting the nomenclature? What is the name of the place for departed spirits/souls that have not availed themselves of spiritual life through Christ Jesus?

    1. Agree. I am not clear either on that; I was hoping for a summation of who in sin goes where when, and for how long? I understand my children who do not believe yet are still under grace and mercy every day and without it they would parish. Some purposely separating themselves from God are living in what we understand as living hell. What existence is like forever separated from our Creator God is unfathomable reality. I will re-read this in deeper study, to get clear and consuting the Holy Spirit as suggested. Also a “living hell” often results of my own thoughts, decisions, sin, illness, trama, others determinations of me and circumstances that effect my life; cause wounds in my soul. Praise God repentance at the cross, his precious blood and resurrection life healing ; “heaven on earth” when the glory of revelation, forgiveness and truth sets me and all who will come, free!

    2. Hi Richard, thank you for your comments. The questions you raise are good ones, and hopefully we will deal with them in future blog posts in this series. We are trying to lay this all out in a structured fashion and don’t want to get ahead of ourselves!
      It is not just semantics or nomenclature. The very concept of ‘hell’ as a place of eternal divine punishment is unbiblical (in the sense of ‘not found in the Bible’), and false on every count (‘eternal’ , ‘divine’ and ‘punishment’).

      1. Thank you kindly for your response.

        I find Matt 10:28 instructive –
        “and 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”
        The word kill is g0615. ἀποκτείνω to put to death, kill, slay.
        The word destroy is g0622. ἀπόλλυμι apollymi; means destroy, die, lose, mar, perish.

        Let’s say for the purposes of argument that I don’t care what you call the place where people who have died in spiritual death go to. (Or, just to check, are you arguing that there is no such thing as spiritual death – my argument above is that the gospel is divine technology for the eradication of spiritual death? )

        The problem is the consequence of spiritual death at the point that you leave your body in physical death

        My argument is that people who have who have availed themselves of the gospel have spiritual life (Zoe). Are you saying that there is no distinction between somebody who dies with spiritual life and somebody who dies without spiritual life? If you are saying this then why did Jesus die a substitutionary death for those in spiritual death?

        The only other option is for you to argue that upon physical death that there is no distinction made between those that have spiritual death and those that have spiritual life. Are you arguing this?

        We imprison people on earth to separate them from the good. I would argue philosophically that there is an existential need for separation of the righteous (those with Zoe life) from the unrighteous (those with spiritual death) – I cannot imagine that God the Father would permit Hitler -type beings (I am arguing that Hitler’s soul is still alive) to range through the Hashamayim!

        I will leave with the picture presented by Jude:

        Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
        Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.

        Warm regards


      2. Richard, all I can really say on this thread is that we will address many of your questions as we go through this series.
        These posts are based on Mike’s teaching on the Engaging God programme, and if you want to see where all this is going, then as a subscriber to the programme you can find this material in Module 5 New vs. Old, sections 7 to 9.
        For others who are not subscribers to Engaging God, Mike has shared some of these things in his public ‘Supernatural Mentoring’ videos on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOb-hOYIcgs&list=PLlh5vjc-jOvV-DXlQSMHgLrnHq0ic__kT

      3. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. I Cor 1:18

        Perishing -g0622. ἀπόλλυμι apollymi; from 575 and the base of 3639; to destroy fully (reflexively, to perish, or lose), literally or figuratively: — destroy, die, lose, mar, perish.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s