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.

Note: The quotations in the header image of this post are from published articles sent to us in reaction to our previous post, 243. Not Counting Their Trespasses. Please excuse us for not linking to those articles. If you really want to find them, just google the phrases.

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.

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      • 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.
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Author: Freedom ARC

Freedom Apostolic Resource Centre, Barnstaple, UK.

19 thoughts on “244. The Hell Delusion”

  1. This is so helpful….I have always struggled with the conflict that God wants none to be lost vs eternal damnation in hell, the two just do not fit.
    I know through my prayers and seeking his face, how he would have us pray for those the world hates, God is love and loves us all. He wants all to be saved so they come into relationship with him. Thanks for the blog and the links I’m thinking of sharing with my pastor!!!!!

        1. I would not use ‘infernalist’ to apply to a person. I was using it here to refer to a traditional ‘inferno’ view of hell, a place of God-administered eternal punishment with no hope of reprieve.
          – Jeremy

  2. Whaaaaat? What a diversion! What is this? I have been following this blog for about 6 months now and it’s been a real blessing but this article and the previous one is too much to swallow.

    Rom 11:22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in [his] goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

    Many of us want to know the kindness and love of God but not His severity. Not knowing both will set you up to be deceived and fall from His grace.

    Mike and Jeremy, I have learnt so much from you especially The Transformation Series. Sometimes when we have gone a little way in the Lord, it’s easy to think we know all. Please do not presume to speak for God.

    While I believe in knowing God through revelation, Scripture is still valid. Jesus quoted from it many times.

    Please watch what you say on this topic.

    1. Hi Benny,

      Thank you for your comment. We’re pleased that our posts have been of use to you in the past.

      This post and the previous one are no diversion, still part of our onward journey with God. And to us, they follow quite naturally from the previous few posts in which we have been addressing some ‘sacred cows’.

      God’s love and His severity are not comparable. God IS love. He is not Severity. He is not Judgment. Love is the very essence of His being. All His other attributes are outworkings of Who He is – Love.

      We’re really not saying that scripture isn’t valid. We’re saying that scripture doesn’t actually say what we were taught that it said, and we have clarified what we now understand it to really say.

      And yes, Jesus quoted from it many times. One interesting time was when He stood up in the synagogue and read the passage from Isaiah and ‘missed out’ the last line. They tried to throw Him off a cliff for that.

      Blessings

      Jeremy

    2. sheol etc is not the lake of fire, the lake fire is a place where death and hades are thrown into at the end.
      your vision [doctorine] is completey incorrect…you can’t make d a doctrine just on a few references to greek
      and hebrew words, or a vision, you have to take the whole context of what was written. [sorry, benny, put this in the wrong.] you’re sincere, i’m sure…but wrong.

  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.
      Jeremy.

  4. 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…

    1. there’s always people who are ready to believe what they were half hoping, anyway. thats why we have isa 8;20
      and many other scriptures warning us to test EVERYTHING

      1. Seriously? We are opening up the scriptures and proposing a more thorough investigation into what they actually mean. You dismissed that in an earlier comment, saying “you can’t make a doctrine just on a few references to greek and hebrew words.” These are the very ‘few’ Greek and Hebrew words on which the traditional doctrine (which you appear to favour) are based. Please do test everything you believe too.

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