246. Gnashing Teeth and Goats

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott – 

Recent posts on ‘hell’ have prompted questioning among our readers. That was their purpose – not to stir up controversy for the sake of it but to encourage us all to examine our beliefs about this subject and where those beliefs have come from.

We have looked at the occasions on which the actual word appears in English translations of the Bible, and then in the last post I shared with you the series of encounters with God which led me down this route in the first place. But we promised that before we move on we would also examine the passages where the word itself does not appear, but ‘the Bible clearly says’ that some people go to a place of eternal torture when they die.

Weeping, Gnashing of Teeth and Outer Darkness

“Weeping and gnashing of teeth in the outer darkness! That is obviously a reference to suffering eternal physical torture in hell.”

Is that so?

Look at what happened leading up to Stephen being martyred in Acts 7:54: his accusers (members of the Sanhedrin) became furious and gnashed their teeth at him. Weeping and gnashing of teeth was an expression not of tormented pain and anguish, but of rage.

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them (Matt 21:45). The only reason they did not seize Jesus then and there was because they were afraid of the public outcry.

It was not the general mass of humanity that Jesus was speaking of when He talked about gnashing of teeth and the outer darkness in Matt 8:12, 13:42, 13:50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30 and Luke 13:28. It was this group of self-righteous individuals who would find themselves outside the covenant they were so sure was their birthright. In that ‘outer darkness’, having failed to heed Jesus’ warnings, they would respond with defiant anger.

Sheep and goats

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Matt 25:46).

To be fair, you can understand why people tell us ‘the Bible clearly says…’. Our English Bibles certainly seem to. But we need to look at the Greek words used by the original writers of the New Testament books.

Firstly, what do we understand by ‘punishment’? Kolasis is the word used here, and it means ‘correction’, not ‘retribution’. Greek had a word for retributive punishment, timoria, which is never used of God in the New Testament. God’s discipline is always restorative.

Secondly, the Greek language had no word for ‘eternal’. They could have invented one if they had wished to: the language was exceptionally well-suited to building new words from component parts. They did not need the word because they did not have the concept. The root of the word used here, aionios, is ‘age’. For Greek speakers, an aion could mean a lifetime, a generation, or a longer period of time – but always of finite length. So not never-ending, not forever and ever, not eternal.

“Ah, but the same word appears in both halves of this sentence, and since ‘eternal life’ is everlasting, then the punishment must be, too.”

That depends on what aspect of the life we focus on when we read ‘eternal’. Surely it is not primarily the length, but the quality. The life being promised is the-God-kind-of-life: and the punishment therefore is the-God-kind-of-punishment: restorative and corrective, not retributive.

There are other reasons to treat this passage with caution, too. The sheep and goats in the parable are nations, not individuals. The criterion for escaping ‘eternal punishment’ is good works, not faith in Jesus. So if you are prepared to assert that whole nations will be sent to heaven or hell – based on their works, not on faith – then you can reasonably use this passage to argue your case for an ‘eternal hell’. So far I have not come across anyone in any theological stream who is prepared to do so.

“The eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels? That’s clear enough.”

The more I consider this phrase, the more I am inclined to Chuck Crisco’s view that it refers to ‘the accuser and his messengers’, which is a perfectly valid translation of the Greek words used. The Law, the religious system and those who fought to preserve it were heading for the fires of the Temple Mount and Gehenna at the end of the Old Covenant age (aion) in the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Rome (AD70).

But if that is a step too far for some, let’s consider the purpose of fire. The Greek word is pur, from which we get words like ‘pure’ and ‘purify’. Jesus came baptising with the Holy Spirit and with fire and Paul said that everyone’s work will be tested with fire. I believe we will all go through the fires of purification to restore us to our original design and identity as sons by removing anything that distorts that image. We can engage with that fire now, or wait until we die (I advise option 1). There is a fire which awaits everyone who has not gone through it already but it is for purifying and correcting, not for destroying. It is the consuming fire of God’s passionate love. And my testimony is that even those who did not accept Jesus while alive will still get to choose when they experience that fire after death.

So what was Jesus’ point in this story of sheep and goats? ‘Brothers’ was a term used by Jews to refer exclusively to other Jews. Again (as throughout these chapters of Matthew’s gospel) I would suggest that in His love He was setting out a warning to the religious-yet-unbelieving Jews, especially the leaders, who instead of serving ‘the least of these my brothers’ (the believing Jews) would imprison and kill them instead.

Lazarus and the rich man

We touched on this before, and for an in-depth look into this parable we recommend Brad Jersak’s analysis in Hell in a Handbasket.

The context of Luke 16 is all about wealth and true riches. In the verses immediately preceding this parable Luke tells us that the Pharisees were lovers of money. Jesus is not offering a treatise on the afterlife, but a warning about putting your trust in riches and failing to help the poor. Jesus quite literally means that the rich and poor of that age will see a reversal of fortunes in the next.  Losing your soul for temporal gain is the cost of materialism and the results of living a DIY self-righteous life (Matt 16:26).

Abraham’s bosom is not a biblical phrase but a mythological or cultural one found in the Babylonian Talmud. Jesus is using a culturally accepted idea as the background for his story.

Aspects of the story make a crass literalism awkward: how does the rich man communicate with Abraham across the chasm? Does everyone there have a direct line to the patriarch? Does someone being incinerated in a furnace care about thirst? Are these literal flames? And since hades precedes the resurrection of the body, do we have literal tongues with which to feel thirst? Is this also the literal Abraham? Do the millions in his care take turns snuggling with him? Or is his bosom big enough to contain us all at once? How big he must be! And so on into implausibility. Taking the parable seriously means we mustn’t take it so literally. (Brad Jerzak – Why The Lake of Fire, Tormented Lazarus & Gnashing Teeth Can’t Conjure Up Eternal Torture).

Do we think that when we are in heaven we will be able to see our loved ones in ‘hell’, talk to them but offer them no hope, yet be happy with that?

Eternal destruction, away from the presence

… when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2 Thess 1:7b-9).

If you believe in hell as eternal conscious torment, the word ‘destruction’ does not work for you. If you believe in the annihilation of the wicked, the combination of ‘eternal’ and ‘destruction’ makes no sense. However you look at it, we need to delve deeper.

The words in bold are all poor translations: diké (translated penalty) means justice, judicial hearing, legal decision; the related word ekdikesis (translated retribution) means that which arises out of justice; aionion (eternal) we know means pertaining to the age; olethros (destruction) means the state of being lost, lostness; apo (translated away from and from) does indeed mean from, but in the sense of coming out of or coming from and not separated from. Matthew DiStefano points out that the phrase Eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord (olethron aionion apo prosopou tou Kyriou) in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 mirrors exactly that in Acts 3:19: Times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord (kairoi anapsyxeos apo prosopou tou Kyriou). No one translates that ‘times of refreshing away from the presence of the Lord’.

So Paul was encouraging the Thessalonians that there was a judicial decision about to come from the Presence of the Lord which would have a consequence for those who were persecuting them: it would involve a state of lostness pertaining to the age. Or you can read it as God’s consuming-fire-presence delivering a justice that totally ruins their lostness.

This is not about some future end of the world event or afterlife experience but what Jesus prophesied would occur in that generation (and did occur in AD70) – but even then, God’s justice is always restorative for everyone.

The Lake of Fire

Four verses mention the lake of fire in the Bible, all in Revelation 19 and 20. Revelation is an apocalyptic book, symbolic and cryptic in nature, the only one of its kind in the New Testament but very common in Jewish and Greek literature. Only those ‘in the know’ and immersed in the culture in which it is written will fully understand the symbolism. Symbols can represent multiple concepts. One thing is certain: apocalyptic literature is never intended to be read literally.

We can get clues about some of the symbols because they also appear in the book of Daniel, including the beast being cast into the blazing fire (Dan 7:11). Just as Daniel’s beasts were figurative, representing various nations, so too is the lake of burning sulphur figurative. The book of Revelation is not a prophecy for the far distant future but was an immediate warning to first-century Israel that just as Sodom and Gomorrah fell in fiery destruction, so too the Jewish religious system was in danger of ending in the same manner.

The ‘book of life‘ mentioned is a commonly understood concept in the Jewish tradition and refers back to the law where according to the Talmud this book is opened every Jewish new year on Rosh Hashanah.

In Revelation 20:14, we see Death and Hades thrown into the lake of fire. Here the lake of fire may well represent God’s (completed) triumph over evil, sin, the grave and death through the power of the cross. Many of the early church Fathers saw the lake of fire as a spiritual place where everyone in humanity was purged of their unbelief and sins so that they could eventually believe in God. I believe it is fed by the river of fire which flows from God’s throne.

And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:10).

Forever and ever is a poor translation of to the ages of ages. Brimstone (Greek: theios, closely related to the word for ‘God’) was regarded as having power to heal and purify. Basanizo (translated torment) is ‘testing with a touchstone’ (in other scriptures it is translated as tossed or battered by waves, straining at the oars of a boat, and being in labour while giving birth).

Conclusion

Enough! No matter how many objections we address, how many scriptures we dig into, we know that some will not be persuaded. These posts are really not intended for them but for those who discover that God is already on their case – and even they will probably come up with other verses or passages not included in this brief survey. There are far more comprehensive treatments of the subject elsewhere; we have referenced some of them in the text and below. But ultimately all of us are going to need to go to God, in whatever way we know how, and hear what He has to say to us about the questions we have.

Fire and passion

We can all experience the fire and passion of God’s love today for ourselves. Let’s not hide from it or try to avoid it.

Son, it is time for everyone to embrace the fire
to experience deeper love
and the purification that My consuming fiery love brings.

Son, call on Me to stoke the fires
and increase the intensity of the heat
to reveal hearts, minds and motives. 

So I call for the purification of fire.
I call for the fire of love to penetrate the hardest, darkest areas of our hearts.
I call for the refiner’s fire to burn away the dross of self.
I call for the light to shine, to expose the things hidden because of shame.
I call for love’s overcoming power to reveal and break every chain tethering God’s people to the DIY path.
I call for the passion of God’s heart to be revealed in His wrath directed towards all brokenness and lost identity.

Let the consuming fire of God’s love burn in our hearts and minds to restore us to true sonship.

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.

*Freedom Apostolic Ministries receives a small commission for sales of the book through this link.

View story at Medium.com

245. What Jesus Did

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott

In the last two posts I have quickly outlined what the Bible really says about ‘hell’. That has caused a certain amount of controversy (to put it mildly). But I am not trying to invent a new theology or doctrine, or even ask you to believe what I believe, and this time I am simply going to share my testimony with you.

Renewing my mind

In recent years, God has given me experiences that demonstrate the strength of His love, profoundly challenging my beliefs and what I used to think the Bible was saying. This all happened as part of the removal of the manmade constructs of my mind, and it was not an easy process for me as those mindsets, doctrines and theological frameworks of my thinking were very strong.

For 3 weeks I felt severe pressure around my mind, almost like a physical pain. God was challenging me to reconsider the issue of ‘hell’ but my long-held belief systems discouraged me from doing so. You see, I had even been to the fire. I had had visions of people in anguish in what I called ‘hell’. So I purposely held back, even though frequent love-encounters were making it increasingly difficult to deny what I now believe. That is, until Jesus actually took me back to the fire to see.

Satan’s trophy room

Wisdom’s heights was my entrance.

Does not wisdom call, and understanding lift up her voice? On top of the heights beside the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gates, at the opening to the city, at the entrance of the doors, she cries out (Prov 8:1-3).

Some years ago, I was a given a seal and staff and went through a door on Wisdom’s heights. It was a tunnel of fire which opened into a place of extreme restriction and sadness: satan’s trophy room. There I saw 3 things:

  • The sparkling diamond trophies of the destinies of those living and dead who had not believed the good news
  • Stolen mantles and crowns
  • An area of the heritage of my generational family lines

Now Jesus took me back there. He showed me the heritage area and I looked at the family line of my father’s father.

Jesus said to me, “Do you want to see this restored?”

I asked “How?”

Into the fire

Then He showed me a door I had not seen when I came before. He explained that the door had been there all along, but my framework of beliefs would not allow me to see it. Then He gave me a silver heralding trumpet and we went through the door into the fire. There were thousands of people there from that part of my family line, not talking to one another; isolated individuals who appeared to be in anguish of soul. They were not being tormented; there was no devil there with a pitchfork or anything like that. They were there, on their own, in a place of consuming fire.

So I looked to Jesus, hoping He was going to do something. He just stood there looking right back at me. So eventually I preached the good news to them, though not very well! I felt rather tongue-tied and overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with love, actually, and of course completely unprepared. But at least I told them that they could accept Jesus and come out.

I figured Jesus must have given me the trumpet for a reason, so I blew it. He turned to walk out, and there was no way I was going to stay in there on my own, so I followed Him back through the tunnel of fire. I went through the door back to Wisdom’s heights and this time I saw that the door was like a fiery sword (I knew that a fiery sword guards the way to the Tree of Life).

I looked back and a few hundred people had followed us to the door. As they approached I saw them kneel, I heard them confess Jesus as Lord and they walked out and through the gates into Zion.

Authority

I turned to Jesus. “What have you done to me? I’m in trouble now! How do I explain this?”

Jesus said “Just tell people that you are doing what I did – and I told you to do what I did, and greater things. This is just the beginning”.

I asked Jesus why so few of them had followed us out of the fire. If it was me and someone offered me a way out, I would have been out of there as fast as I could. This is what He told me:

“You can only preach with authority to the degree that the fire has consumed generational things in you. That is why not everyone responded. Keep presenting yourself to the fire of the altar and you will be able to reach more of your generational lines. Embrace the coals to touch areas of your life that have come from your generations; that will give you authority.”

So I present myself as a living sacrifice on the altar in the temple every day.

Back again… and again

Since that first time, I have been back to engage each of my 4 generational family lines and preached the good news to them. When I was in China in 2017 someone gave me a silver heralding trumpet just like the one Jesus had given me. One morning while I was there I woke at 3am and felt a strong desire to engage the altar and ask for the fiery coals to touch a specific area of behaviour, the area of divorce.

As I did, I began to feel intensely loving towards everyone in my generations who had been divorced, not angry or resentful, and I began forgiving them and blessing them. Once I finished I went to the fiery place again. I preached to all my generational lines with boldness, blew the silver trumpet and this time many more responded. They followed me out, came to the door, confessed Jesus as Lord and went through.

Later, on a Sunday morning here at Freedom as I was embracing the fire another area surfaced. I again went back and preached with renewed boldness and once again many more responded. Another time, I wondered what it might be like if I took communion down into the fire. So I went back there and offered communion, the body and blood of Jesus, to those who were in the fire. Yet again, many responded!

More recently I became aware that there were many in that place with fractured souls, what we sometimes call ‘stuck parts’, mostly caused by trauma in their lives. They were double-minded, triple-minded or worse and were unable to make a decision to follow Jesus. So I asked Jesus to come with me and I told them they could come to the Prince of Peace (shalom means ‘wholeness’) and be made whole. Vast numbers of them did so.

My strong desire is to empty that place, but for that to happen I need to embrace the fire myself. I need to be good news and demonstrate that good news in my own life.

I have now had many experiences of going into the place of fire both for personal refining and on rescue missions. The fire of God is for purifying and refining and removing all the dross in people’s lives. They are waiting for someone to come and share the good news with them.

Testimony

One day, before I even mentioned this publicly, a friend I meet with online said he had something to share with me. He had been engaging in heaven when some of his family members came up to him. He was surprised and said “I didn’t know you were believers in Jesus!” And they said, “We weren’t. But we remembered that you said your whole household would be saved, and Jesus came and preached the good news to us, and that’s why we are here.” This really did not fit my friend’s theological box, as he put it. He was encouraged when I then shared my experiences too.

Since then (and especially after this topic cropped up in several of my regular online mentoring groups) I have had conversations with others and I have heard many testimonies of people who have gone into the fire and preached the good news as Jesus did. After I shared this in the Vision Destiny 2017 series I had a number of emails from people thanking me for opening up the discussion as they had been afraid of sharing their experiences because of the reaction they knew it would cause (a reaction I have experienced for myself).

Labels

This view of the fire as purification and a place from which people could be rescued is not some strange new doctrine. This was the position of many of the early Church Fathers and others across the church spectrum through the last 2000 years: Clement of Alexandria, St. Macrina, St Gregory Nyssen, St Isaac of Nineveh (and many other Fathers), and moderns including Fr. Sergei Bulgakov, St. Silouan the Athonite, Fr. Alexandre Turincev, Metropolitans Kallistos Ware and Hilarion Alfeyev.

There are many accusations people throw at you if you start talking like this. You will be called a heretic, and a Universalist (I am neither). I do not believe that all roads lead to God. I am not even a Christian Universalist because I do not believe that it is guaranteed. I believe that Jesus gives people the choice. I like what the article Hell in a hand basket says about hopeful inclusivism: “We cannot presume that all will be saved or that even one will be damned. Rather, we put our hope in the final victory and verdict of Jesus Christ.” But I do not accept any of these labels  – as soon as you accept a label you

  1. immediately narrow your options to the views espoused by those who carry that label.
  2. are assumed by others to believe everything they think that an [insert label here] believes.

Objections and accusations

Some will say “If people are going to be saved anyway, then what is the point of preaching the gospel?” Is that not a rather selfish view? Do we not want people to know and enjoy relationship with God now? Or to find and fulfil their destiny in this life? And I certainly do not want anyone to go into the consuming fire of God’s presence without knowing Him. It is not a pleasant place to be if you don’t know Him. If anything, I find I want to preach the good news more than ever.

They will also say, “Well, if there are no consequences to my behaviour then I might as well just keep on sinning.” If that is true, then they are only behaving as they do out of fear. They are living under the law, not grace (whilst they sadly shake their heads and accuse us of promoting ‘another gospel’). Why on earth would we want to keep on sinning, when sin messes up our relationship with God and everything else in our lives and its wages are death?

Embrace the fire

It is best not to argue with people. We can share our testimony, and just love them whether they agree with us or not. We are not looking to provoke controversy, enter into fruitless disputes or draw people into making accusations. These posts are not intended for those who only want to fight their corner and prove that they are right. They are for those who are open to lay down their own presumptions and assumptions, to engage with God for themselves and allow Him to reveal the truth about His love for them and for all His creation; for those who will embrace that truth and be part of the ‘restoration of all things’ (Acts 3:21).

Jesus told me to release this message and encourage the Joshua Generation to arise and be bold, to come to Him and He will open the gates to reveal the consuming fire and show them the way just as He has shown me. I believe we all have the ability to engage the fiery place and do what Jesus did, to preach the good news to those spheres that we are mandated to engage.

The refining fire of the altar is where the authority to preach will be given. As we embrace the fire with urgent desire, great authority will be released to us. I believe we get to choose when we go to the place of fire. We can go now, or later, but God is a consuming fire and we cannot escape His love. That love is an unquenchable fire, intended to refine and purify us.

Let’s choose to embrace the fire now.

Related articles from Freedom ARC

“Three views of hell: burn forever, annihilation, restoration… How did you come to yours?” – Mike answers George’s question here on YouTube: Supernatural Mentoring Monday 12th March 2018 Washington or scroll down to view the video in full on this page.

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.

Image attribution: the image used at the head of this post is by 7trumpetsmusicband [CC BY-SA 4.0
(https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Supernatural Mentoring Monday 12th March 2018 Washington

244. The Hell Delusion

Mike Parsons
and Jeremy Westcott

Pagan myths repackaged

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 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.

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 get this conference set recorded at the Freedom Centre in Barnstaple, UK in March 2018. Price £30.