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In the 21st Century, Hellish images aren't hard to find. Sometimes they portray a humorous, harmless Hell frequented by cartoon ducks and costumed toddlers. Other times they portray a horrific, hopeless Hell of fiendish tortures. But for the Christian, there is only one thing that is important. What sort of Hell does the Bible itself portray? It's not hard to find many opinions on that topic among the books at the Christian book stores and on the 24-hour religious cable networks. The real question is ... IS IT TRUE WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT HELL?
c.2007Common Ground Christian Ministries: email@example.com
The primary purpose of this Is It True What They Say About Hell? is to About encourage readers to examine the common assumptions about the topics of Hell and the Afterlife in modern western culture. The word Hell in both Protestant and Roman Catholic circles conjures up a place where the disembodied "souls" of the dead who had died "unsaved" from their sins are to be tortured throughout all eternity. These tortures are inflicted by supernatural beings called demons, and the Devil himself is there, gleefully overseeing this whole process. This scenario has spilled over into secular "popular culture," and is portrayed in non-religious art, literature, motion pictures, even comic books. You are invited to evaluate the information, documentation, and commentary provided in this collection of articles and come to your own conclusion:
"Is it true what they say about Hell?"
Hell in a Nutshell
The topics of Hell and the Afterlife are extremely complex. Thus this website has numerous articles exploring the many facets of the topics as they appear in the Bible and in popular culture. But it is understandable that some readers don't have the time to carefully read through all of this material "right now." They may prefer to start with one single article which provides a quick overview of the "bottom line" conclusions that are presented in the rest of the website's articles. This kind of approach can be misleading, since it cannot adequately allow for clear explanations of how these conclusions were derived. However, if it comes down to a choice of either getting the barebones "basics in a nutshell" or surfing off to another website immediately, at least the contents of that nutshell may provide enough food for thought to encourage further examination of the other articles on the site. So here, in a nutshell, are "just the facts."
Overview of Goals
This website offers a careful examination of the "whole counsel of scripture" regarding the nature of Hell. It also provides an extensive 4
historical overview of some of the sources of the common beliefs about Hell. The goals of this examination and overview are: 1. To persuade readers that most of the common assumptions regarding the nature of Hell in Western culture, both secular and Christian, are not supported by the Bible itself. 2. To encourage readers to do an independent study of the topic for themselves and come to their own conclusions about the matter. 3. To free readers from the distorted view of some of the aspects of the character of God that the standard assumptions about Hell have fostered.
Overview of the Typical Standard Assumptions About Hell
Modern Christianity is not one monolithic belief system accepted by all who choose to label themselves Christian. It is a highly fragmented collection of thousands upon thousands of denominations and individual independent religious organizations. These may vary widely in their perspective on doctrinal matters. Thus there is no way to present an overview of Hell or any other doctrine that perfectly reflects the many variations in beliefs among them. However, there are numerous elements to a description of Hell that tend to be typical across a wide spectrum, from Roman Catholic to Protestant to non-denominational Charismatic groups. The list below, while not definitive for any particular group, is an attempt to offer a general composite of the most widely -accepted composite widelybeliefs about the nature of Hell among traditional, theologically conservative Christians. In these circles:
What Does the Word Hell Mean?
Hell is the English translation of a number of Hebrew and Greek words that describe various aspects of a single place of permanent confinement for the souls of all humans who die without having become Christians.
Who Goes to Hell?
1. The souls of dead people who did not truly accept Jesus as Savior before death are sent to Hell immediately after death, and are confined there throughout eternity. 2. It is not necessary for someone to have been presented clearly with the claims of the Christian faith, and have consciously rejected them, to receive condemnation to Hell. 3. All non-Christians, no matter what their excuse (including Jews who worship God, believe the Old Testament, and strive to live by the Ten Commandments) go immediately to Hell upon death. 4. Some Christian groups allow for very young children, who die before what they refer to as the "age of accountability," to escape Hell. However, no biblical basis for any specific age is offered. Since the profession of faith in Jesus by children as young as six is accepted as proof of "conversion" and assurance of Heaven in many circles, the logical conclusion is that children that young can also be "lost" and thus consigned to Hell.
Where Is Hell and What Is It Like?
1. Hell is in a specific location. Although not all accept the notion, it is typical to perceive it as being somewhere far below the surface of the Earth. 2. The environment of Hell is characterized by searing hot flames in darkness, although in some scenarios it also has sections that are numbingly cold. 3. Sometimes Hell, or parts of Hell, are described as a "bottomless pit," and sometimes as a "river" or "lake" of flames. 6
4. Many descriptions of Hell include vile physical smells such as sulfur and human excrement.
What Do the Souls of the Dead Experience in Hell?
1. These souls are conscious of their surroundings and their experiences in Hell. 2. These experiences consist of permanent torture and torment, and although each soul is no longer "physical," it can perceive the pain of this torture in a manner comparable to the way a living human body perceives pain. And it experiences mental and emotional torment in a manner comparable to the mental and emotional anguish of living humans. 3. All in Hell suffer to a certain extent because of the flames ... they may just feel unbearable heat, or may actually be continually burnt within the walls of flame, feeling the pain but never being consumed by the fire. 4. Additional torture may be suffered by each individual that is customized to their personal life history. For instance, a habitual liar may have his tongue ripped out, have it grow again, and have it ripped out again ... over and over for eternity.
Who Administers the Tortures in Hell?
1. Satan the Devil is the "CEO" of Hell, supervising all of the torture. 2. Satan is assisted in these activities by "fallen angels" who acted with him in rebellion against God at some time in the distant past. These beings are now called demons, and appear in various hideous and grotesquely distorted humanoid or animal-like forms. 3. Both Satan and his demons relish their jobs, and are gleeful as they torment the human souls. 7
Why is a Never-Ending Hell for Human Souls Necessary?
The Bible states that the reward of those who are saved by the blood of Jesus is to exist eternally in the presence of God. Therefore it is logical to assume that the "opposite" of this is to exist eternally separated from Him. Why is Never-Ending Torture for Human Souls Necessary? Each and every sin ever committed is one of the reasons that Jesus had to die on the cross. His death and suffering was horrible beyond comprehension. Therefore the justice of God requires that each and every sin that caused it deserves punishment. For those who accept Jesus' sacrifice, the punishment due the person for each of his sins was taken by Christ on Himself, and thus was forgiven. But without the blood of Jesus to cover a sin, the sin is never forgiven, and the guilt remains. One can be punished for it one day, and yet the guilt which remains requires punishment the next day again, and the next, and so on into eternity. And since everyone has a huge number of sins in their record, each one of them requires punishment. This means that the cumulative punishment rises to the level of extreme tortures. This is required by the perfect justice of God.
Overview of the Premises of This Book
The articles on this website are offered in evidence to refute the statements above. Below is a brief overview of some of the conclusions that these articles collectively reach.
What Does the Word Hell Mean?
Hell is the English word chosen by the translators of the King James Version of the Bible to translate several different, unrelated words. At 8
times, these translators ignored the significance of these words in their original languages and contexts. Instead, they inserted the traditional Roman Catholic view of the fate of lost souls by use of the English word, which had developed totally unbiblical connotations by the time of the translation. Sometimes the Hebrew or Greek words actually imply the physical grave. Sometimes they imply a place of imprisonment for supernatural beings-the Devil and demons. Sometimes they imply not a location, but the "state" of the dead, one of being unconscious to the activities of the physical world, and perhaps even of a sleep-like unawareness of anything, waiting for awakening at a time in the future of the world known as the "resurrection."
Who Goes to Hell?
This depends on what Hebrew or Greek word one is referring to that the KJV translators chose to render as "hell." Every human who has ever lived and died has gone to the kind of "hell" that is actually "the grave." The Bible says that another kind of hell is a place where rebellious angels have been confined.
Where Is Hell and What Is It Like?
Some KJV passages which use the word hell are speaking strictly of the physical grave where a dead body is placed. Others are speaking of a metaphorical state of death. Still others are speaking of an ultimate destination at some time in the future when all created beings that are not in harmony with God will be destroyed. Although described vividly as a "Lake of Fire," there is no requirement that this be taken as literal physical flames.
What Do the Souls of the Dead Experience in Hell?
There is no description in the Bible of "souls" enduring torture for eternity in the Afterlife. A number of passages seem to indicate that both those who are destined to inherit eternal life and those who are cut off from God are waiting in a state of oblivion for a "resurrection"--a bringing back to life--before they experience anything A few passages seem to indicate that anything. such souls have some type of perception of their surroundings during this waiting period, but these are inconclusive when considered alongside the many passages which seem to indicate otherwise. In no case is there a description of some sort of specific permanent physical-like torture that such souls must endure.
Who Administers the Tortures in Hell?
There is no biblical indication that any human souls receive never-ending torture in any kind of Hell. One of the words translated as Hell in the KJV is an indication of a place where the Devil and his underlings will be for a time. But they are not there to torment humans--they are there as a place of confinement.
Why is an Ever-burning Hell for Human Souls Necessary?
It isn't. The insistence that the "opposite" of conscious life eternally in God's presence must be conscious life eternally outside God's presence is not supported by sound logic. Those who teach this have come to the conclusion that an ever-burning Hell exists through misunderstanding of what the whole counsel of scripture on the topic reveals. Once they have accepted the existence of such a Hell as an unquestioned assumption, they have felt obligated to go back and attempt to find "logic" to support the assumption so that they can explain it to others. This is a misuse of the principles of reasoning.
Why is Never-Ending Torture of Human Souls Necessary?
The most significant "fall-out" of the standard beliefs about Hell is the necessity to envision a God whose character is one of constant, neverending vengeance, and who countenances torture and torment far beyond that indulged in by history's worst despots, sadistic felons, and cruel taskmasters. IF the standard views of Hell are clearly established in the Bible, then it is indeed necessary to find ways to justify how a loving, merciful God could conceive it necessary to endlessly torture people for eternity as "recompense" for whatever sins they committed in a short lifetime. But IF the standard views are not supported from scripture, and instead are built on a foundation of human speculation, fables, uninspired writings, and perhaps even the twisted desire for vengeance in the minds of carnal men, then painting God as requiring such is utterly blasphemous.
Hell on Earth
On September 11, 2001, official records indicate that nineteen hijackers of Arabic origin caused the fiery deaths of 2,967 people in four separate airplane crash incidents in the U.S. In the coming days, weeks, months, and now years, stories have circulated indicating that these men may have carried out their actions in part because of a religious conviction that they held regarding what their reward would be for sacrificing their lives in martyrdom for their cause. The conviction some or all may have held was that, immediately after their physical death, they would be ushered into the Islamic version of Heaven, a paradise where they would enjoy unimaginable pleasures—including having 72 beautiful young virgins at their disposal at all times. In response to this information, some Americans took a grim pleasure in passing around “jokes” about what happened when these hijackers woke 12
up and found themselves not in a lush paradise, but being lashed by tongues of fire, and with no virgins in sight. The obvious implication of these jokes is that these fanatics would not be in Heaven, but in an ever-burning Hell, where they would spend eternity enduring torment, rather than enjoying the pleasures for which they had hoped. However, a question seldom addressed by any Americans, in the media or even in private discussions, is— What happened after death to those other 2,967 people who died in the tragic series of events of that day? The average person not only seldom discusses what happens to people who die in spectacular tragedies on the news—he quite probably seldom even thinks about what happens to them … and to all the other people who die every day. In fact, one of the few times he may think deeply at all about the subject of what happens after death, more than just in passing, is when he personally attends a funeral. And even then, unless the minister preaching the funeral waxes eloquent about Heaven and Hell, he may let the thought briefly flit across his conscious mind, and then quickly push it away. But if you forced this average person to explain just what he understands about “life after death,” what might he say? Surveys indicate that a large proportion of the American population—and not just those who profess affiliation with any particular church group— actually believe that the physical world that we live in isn’t “all there is” to reality. Although they may disagree on details, most claim to believe in a “Supreme Being”; huge numbers believe in angels; many believe in Jesus; large numbers believe in some sort of place of reward for good people after 13
death which they call Heaven; a significant, though relatively smaller, number believe in a place of punishment for evil people which they call Hell; large numbers believe in the Devil, and believe that he has helpers called demons. But surveys also indicate that only a very tiny percentage of the American population has actually ever read much—or any—of the Bible. So where did they get the details of what they think about the supernatural world and the “Afterlife”? How Do You Know What You Know? BIOLOGY-“The science that deals with the origin, history, physical characteristics, life processes, habits, etc. of plants and animals...” (Webster's New World Dictionary) Because most people took a course in biology at some time during their high school years, you might think that most of your personal knowledge about biological concepts came from that course. But a little consideration should quickly dispel that notion. How much do you really remember about the insides of that frog you dissected? Could you really still label all the parts of a flowering plant with their technical names? No, much of what we think we know about most topics in the field of biology is a hodge-podge of personal experiences, old-wives' tales, half-remembered Reader's Digest articles, garbled diagrams we saw a few years ago in the Sunday newspaper supplement, snippets of a Discovery Channel special—mixed in with a smidgen of the facts from that biology class of so long ago. The average American has a very rudimentary knowledge about most real biological facts.
THEOLOGY- “The study of God and the relations between God and the universe; study of religious doctrines and matters of divinity.” (Webster's New World Dictionary) Most people who label themselves as Christians have a whole system of theology built up in their mind, even if they have never really attended any church regularly. It is not “systematic theology” such as would be taught in a seminary, but it covers a lot of territory. Each such person has a belief about how you “get right” with God, what happens if you do, and what happens if you don't. These are not just “simple” beliefs, but may include elaborate details. In particular, most such people have their own notion about what Heaven is like and what Hell is like. Where did they get these notions? If they claim to believe in the validity of the Bible, you may assume that they got their beliefs about the nature of, and details about, Heaven and Hell from their study of what the Bible says about these topics. However, if you have ever looked into what percentage of people who call themselves Christian have ever read the Bible cover-to-cover, you would have to conclude that can’t be where most people got their beliefs! A small percentage of Christians read the Bible regularly at all, let alone research for themselves specific theological topics. It’s possible that some people have developed their primary perceptions about Heaven and Hell from early memories of listening to a preacher describe them in sermons in the church in which they grew up. There are indeed some churches in which these subjects are a topic of frequent sermons. But those churches have been in a minority in American society in the past fifty years. A large percentage of church pastors in most major denominations base most of their sermons on uplifting topics designed to inspire rather than to terrify. And they may seldom, if ever, even talk about Hell, let alone describe it in detail. 15
Thus it is not unreasonable to speculate that the personal theology regarding the “afterlife” that most people, including those with no particular religious affiliation, have comes from the same kind of sources as their knowledge of biology. Our society is full of images related to religious topics totally outside the setting of the churches. You began absorbing those images long before you ever had theological questions. Surprisingly, many of those images even show up in children's cartoons, and they have a much more powerful influence than most people realize. “Pop” Theology Where did you first get your idea of what “demons” (or “devils”) and “angels” are like? Whether you grew up in the 1930s-1950s and spent Saturday afternoons watching cartoons at the movie theater, or have grown up much more recently in the world of video rental stores—where you can rent whole collections of classic cartoon videos from that by-gone era— you may well have been introduced to demons and angels by Walt Disney! Millions of Americans, from pre-teens to senior citizens, likely remember what happened when Donald Duck was tempted to do something he knew wasn't right. They can still picture the red-suited, horned, cynical “devil” duck whispering in his ear, “Go ahead!” And whispering in the opposite ear was the white-robed, haloed, sweet-voiced “angel” duck saying, “Be good!” This scenario has been a continuing “vision” of how demons and angels look and work for many generations. In fact, the image of those vying spiritual beings is now so pervasive that you can find them described in various ways on many thousands of websites. A computer game player on one Internet site describes a feature of one of his favorite games: “You quickly learned to listen to the angel on your shoulder rather than the ugly little red devil because he had your best interests as a gamer at heart.” One young woman on a Web blog shared a 16
description of a character she had invented as a creative writing exercise: “The angel on her shoulder told her to carry on, true to herself, and leave the anger behind. The devil on her shoulder told her that everything she faced proved being a good person didn't matter, that she should do just what she felt like in the moment. Some days the devil got the best of her and she became easily irritable, snapping at anyone that dared cross her. She felt betrayed by life and society and she wanted to make them pay. But in the end, the angel always won and no one ever paid.” If you do an Internet Search on Google for pictures on the topic, the search results will include both photos of that Donald Duck scenario from the 1930s, and many examples of contemporary cartoon artwork of the 21st century, with little devils and angels sitting on opposite shoulders of all sorts of characters and whispering in their ears. You can even order your own devil to sit on your shoulder: “Red latex devil sits on your shoulder with it's tail down your back and appears to be whispering in your ear.” Or how about getting the devil and angel even closer to your ears? “An Angel ... and Devil on My Shoulder. One for each of your impulses ... and ears.” Do most adults who are familiar with this “devil/angel on the shoulder” scenario accept these as accurate descriptions of the actions of angels and demons? Of course not. But at the same time, the imagery is so deep in the subconscious of many that it is very likely that it is at least subliminally incorporated into any attempt they make at coming to their own “informal theology.” You also likely have been presented through cartoon images with the idea that good people (or good cartoon ducks!) who die instantly become 17
angels, sprout wings, and fly off to Heaven to get their white robe, halo, and harp, and spend the rest of eternity floating around on clouds. Many generations of children have been brought up on the story of the Littlest Angel, a 1946 classic children’s book still in print in many editions, which describes a 4 year old boy who dies and goes to heaven and becomes an angel. Being a former rough and tumble little human boy, he has a hard time adapting to the responsibilities of being dignified as angels are supposed to be. As the story develops, he is allowed a request for something to make him feel more at home in heaven. Evidently, an angel is dispatched to his old home on Earth to retrieve a box of little treasures he enjoyed in his human childhood. He ends up offering his beloved box to the Christ Child in Bethlehem, and his humble, self-sacrificing gift is so appreciated that God transforms it into the Star of Bethlehem. While it makes a charming and touching little story, it is quite likely that many people never grew beyond this false impression of the actual origin of angels and the truth about what happens to humans when they die. At the same time, you may well have also been indoctrinated by cartoons with the idea that bad people (or bad cartoon ducks) who die are marched off to Hell. This Hell is pictured as a playground for demons, where they revel in finding unlimited ways to torment the humans given over to them for punishment. And in the midst of it all is the Devil himself, with his red face and body, horns, and tail, holding a pitchfork-like trident, and sitting on his regal throne in Hell, presiding over and relishing the ghastly scenes before him. Did the cartoonists portraying these sorts of images get their inspiration directly from the Bible? If you have studied your Bible even a little bit, you know that none of that kind of detail about the appearance of the Devil or 18
what Hell is like is there. It also is a product of what might be appropriately designated as popular theology--"Pop Theology " "Pop Theology." As children, most modern Americans were affected by these fictional images. But what about now, when they are older and more intellectually mature? Now they can go to Art Museums or look at coffee table art books, where they can see famous paintings from the Middle Ages that are much more graphic in depictions of Hell! The images are more sophisticated, and much more horrific. But where did they originate? Again, there are no such descriptions in the Bible. How about you? What do you believe now about what happens after death? What do you believe about Heaven, Hell, angels, the Devil, and demons? Where did you get what you believe? Did you get it from carefully studying the Bible, from listening to preachers in churches, from Pop Theology, or perhaps from a combination of all three? And that brings us back to those 2,967 people who died in the 9/11 tragedy. What do you think happened to them after their deaths?
Avoiding the Unthinkable The notion of the Afterlife is something that even many “practicing Christians” seldom if ever think about. Even in situations such as the 9/11 tragedy, they tend to focus on the enormity of the physical tragedy and avoid thinking about the spiritual ramifications of the situation. Perhaps this is because they subconsciously realize that focusing on the topic may lead them to some very uncomfortable, painful, and perhaps even terrifying thoughts. 19
For, you see, most churches teach that in the instant after death, the soul of every person must be immediately sent permanently to one of two destinations, Heaven or Hell. All true Christians go to Heaven. There they will have unlimited joy in the presence of God, and will be eternally happy. All other people go to Hell. There they will be totally cut off from God, as well as from all of their loved ones who ended up in Heaven. They will be consciously and constantly in pain and suffering and mental anguish permanently, with no relief throughout the eons of time. So what would the average minister in such a church really believe happened to those people who died a horrible death in the fiery infernos of the plane crashes? He would be convinced that instantly some, the ones who were true Christians … probably a minority, according to many churches … went to Heaven to be with God. And the rest? They immediately found themselves in another fiery inferno, in torment in Hell—in the company of the very men who sent them there by their nefarious actions in the physical world! So, according to this teaching, what makes someone a true Christian, and guarantees they will go to Heaven instead of Hell? Measuring Up to Heaven Each church teaches its own definition for what qualifies someone as a true Christian. Some churches have a very simple definition. If someone sincerely says he is sorry for his sins, and states publicly that he accepts Jesus as his personal Savior, then people in these churches are convinced he is a true Christian and will go immediately to Heaven when he dies. Some churches add just one more step, and insist the person must also get baptized in water. If he does, he will get to go to Heaven.
But it is much more difficult in many churches to qualify for a place in Heaven. The person may be required to study the teachings of the particular church group in great detail, and come to agree with—and scrupulously live by—the group’s interpretation of what the Bible has to say on a wide variety of topics. In some churches, this even extends to such minor details as what clothing styles one must wear, how long a man’s or woman’s hair should be, what entertainment is acceptable, what one may eat, whether one is totally obedient to the leadership of the church, and much more. Such churches teach that the souls of all who have not met the qualifications taught by the church go immediately to Hell. And they will be tortured there forever. It is important to note that someone does not have to be a viciously evil person, such as a serial rapist or murderer, to be sent off to Hell according to this set of beliefs. And just because someone was a gentle, selfless humanitarian, that doesn’t guarantee him a position in Heaven. From the point of view of many churches, everyone is subject to this instantaneous decision of destination based on their knowledge of a certain set of beliefs of one particular religious group, and how they reacted to that knowledge. And here is something that surprises many people when they first discover it: According to the teachings of most churches, there is no “special dispensation” of any kind made for those who never even heard of the Bible or Jesus, let alone those who never heard of the group itself. If such a person dies, they are believed to go immediately to Hell. Nor is there any such dispensation for the sincere person who wants to know about God, but is so confused in life, by all the conflicting claims made about religion, that he never seems to be able to sort through them all and make a decision what to believe. He sees so many different, competing televangelists on TV who assure him that by getting on board their own idiosyncratic system of belief he will be assured of God’s favor. 21
And so many competing religious zealots come to his door offering to teach him about their interpretation of the Bible. He realizes that they can’t all be right, but finds he is totally unable to decide which one really is. Thus he too will be on his way straight to Hell when he dies. is What does this mean when applied to the situation on 9/11? For those honest enough to face the teachings of their own denomination, in many cases it means that they are required to believe that perhaps a very large proportion of those 2,967 “innocent people” who died that day immediately went to the same place as the fanatics who caused their deaths! And those people will be suffering the same fate as those hijackers—physical and mental agony for all eternity. Beyond Pop Theology How widespread is this type of belief? Here are a few brief quotes from doctrinal statements of a variety of religious groups. This is no longer just Pop Theology, but the official, formal theology of institutionalized religion. It is impossible to describe the glory and splendor of heaven and the terror and torment of hell. Whether taken literally or figuratively, the meaning is the same: Hell is a place where one will experience total separation from God; heaven enjoys the total presence of God. Knowing that this is the horrible end awaiting the wicked, the Assemblies of God is strongly motivated to win the lost before it is too late. (Assemblies of God) To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self- exclusion from 22
communion with God and the blessed is called "hell." (Catechism of the Catholic Church) The statement of Christ in Matthew 25, and elsewhere, are taken at face value. It is believed that after death each man must come before God in judgment and that he will be judged according to the deeds done while he lived (Hebrews 9:27). After judgment is pronounced he will spend eternity either in heaven or hell. (Churches of Christ) We believe that glorious and everlasting life is assured to all who savingly believe in, and obediently follow, Jesus Christ our Lord; and that the finally impenitent shall suffer eternally in hell. (Church of the Nazarene) We believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead; of the believer to everlasting blessedness and joy with the Lord; of the unbeliever to judgment and everlasting conscious punishment. (Evangelical Free Church of America) The moral progress of the soul, either for better or for worse, ends at the very moment of the separation of the body and soul; at that very moment the definite destiny of the soul in the everlasting life is decided. ... The Orthodox Church believes that at this moment the soul of the dead person begins to enjoy ... the life in Paradise or to undergo the life in Hell. There is no way of repentance, no way of escape, no reincarnation and no help from the outside world. (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America) The Southern Baptist Convention may be more blunt in their public statements about this topic than most: http://www.religioustolerance.org/hell_eva2.htm 23
“Concerning Hell: The SBC 1925 statement referred to Hell only indirectly: "Those
who continue in impenitence and unbelief are in his sight wicked and are under condemnation. This...will be made manifest at the judgment when final and everlasting awards are made to all men."
Their 1963 statement referred to Hell directly: "...Jesus Christ will
return...to the earth; ...Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment."
The committee's year 2000 recommendations propose that the 1963 wording be retained. Hell will remain a place of eternal torture without any relief. The Southern Baptist Convention Home Mission Board conducted a study in 1993 which estimated how many Americans have had a born-again experience. They concluded that 30% of adult Americans have been "saved" and thus are going to Heaven; the 70% remainder are destined for Hell. The percentage of Canadians who are going to Heaven are presumably much lower, because of the relatively small numbers of Fundamentalist and Evangelical Protestants in that country -- probably about 8%. This final statement, when applied to the 9/11 situation, would indicate the possibility, according to Southern Baptist estimates, that 2,077 people who died in that tragedy were then thrown immediately into a much worse tragedy—a never ending one, in an ever-burning hell. Bringing Hell Home
Does the average member of a congregation affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention group really believe this? Does the average member of the Assemblies of God, the Evangelical Free Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of the Nazarene, and many other such groups really believe that many if not most of the people who died that day are actually now being tortured in Hell in the company of the hijackers who caused their deaths? And of course this is only one example of recent news stories of the deaths of large numbers of “innocent people.” What about the 275,000 or so who died in the wake of the gigantic Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004? Most of those deaths were in nations with huge numbers of people who have never heard any version of the Christian Gospel. Does the average member of those churches above, and others like them, really believe all those people suffered and died in the waters of the Tsunami, only to be instantly cast into a maelstrom far worse … endless waves of flames in Hell? And to bring this question of Hell much “closer to home”: Do all of these people really believe that every one of the 6.5+ billion people on Earth today who die without understanding how to become a Christian are going to an ever-burning Hell the moment they die? If they do, then it may be relevant to ask: Exactly how much of their time, energy, money, and efforts are they sacrificing to reach as many people as they can with a clear message of how they can avoid this terrifying fate? In a modern American religious landscape dotted with megachurches that may sport a Starbucks Cafe' and a health spa down the hallway from their splendiferous sanctuary, this doesn't seem to be an unreasonable question.
Very few Bible students would ever have the time to independently research every possible topic in the Bible for themselves. It would be a life-long task which would leave you no time to go live what you learn! So most Christians have relied on Bible teachers, pastors, TV evangelists, and denominational "statements of belief" as their source of most if not all of their understanding on many topics. But there is a pitfall in so much reliance purely on what others say. Occasionally we come across a scripture that is puzzling. It doesn't seem to fit what we have "always heard" about the topic. At that point there is a strong temptation to ignore our common sense and our "gut feelings" and assume we must just be confused. Trying to sort things out on our own would take time and effort that many are just not willing to invest. And besides, few people want to be considered "non-conformists." In fact, in some denominations, questioning of doctrinal teachings may be grounds for expelling the questioner from church membership. In the more authoritarian sects, this "disfellowshipment" may even be followed with "shunning," in which even the individual's closest friends--perhaps even family members--refuse to talk to the offender ever again.
So it is not all that common for most people to pursue doctrinal doubts very far. If you find that some of the material on this website leaves you questioning whether what you've "always heard about Hell" is biblically accurate, if you are willing to risk being a non-conformist, and if you are willing to do some research of your own, then read on for some tips on how to use sound reasoning to sort through the topic.
You may have wondered what the scarecrow at the top of this page has to do with establishing doctrine! He is a visual representation of the term "straw man." This term is used in the field of the study of sound reasoning to represent a common "fallacy" (a kind of "false or faulty reasoning") that is used by many people. (The Straw Man Fallacy is discussed later in this article.) He is thus offered as a reminder that understanding the Bible isn't just a matter of memorizing favorite verses. It is a matter of examining all the information on a given topic that is presented in its pages, and using sound reasoning to come to conclusions on how they all fit together. We don't want to live our lives based on fallacies, but on sound understanding. There are many kinds of fallacies that are commonly used by Bible students and teachers. This has nothing to do with the sincerity of the student or teacher. They may be fully intending to reason carefully from the Bible to come to what they believe. But totally sound reasoning skills are not something that people are born with. Sound reasoning must be learned, by a combination of 27
evaluating personal experiences throughout life, and being taught by those who have mastered the necessary skills themselves. Unfortunately, it is possible to go through twelve years of grade school and high school, and even four years of college, and yet never to have been instructed in how logical thinking actually works. The goal of this article is to introduce some very basic principles of logic, some guidelines to sound reasoning, that you can apply to your study of the Bible.
Elementary, My Dear Watson
The stories of Sherlock Holmes provide a perfect example of the methods of careful reasoning. Holmes was an expert at pulling together tidbits of seemingly unrelated facts and information and applying the skills of logic to them in order to solve a mystery. The same is true of the heroes of contemporary popular crime investigation TV series, such as Monk, Law and Order Criminal Intent or CSI. Once Holmes had solved the crime, his amazed companion, Dr. Watson, would typically ask how he did it. His answer? "Elementary, my dear Watson. I deduced ... "--and then he would launch into a description of his logical thinking processes. The same methods that Holmes used can be applied to coming to conclusions about a topic in the Bible that may seem, at first, to be just random bits of facts and information that cannot paint a clear picture.
Two Steps to Sound Reasoning
There are two primary steps to approaching the study of a doctrine in the Bible, just as there are in solving a crime.
Step One: The student suspends all pre-conceived notions suspends prehe may have about the topic, and embarks on a systematic examination of all of the texts which might be related to it. Concordances, topical Bibles, and other reference works will be helpful in this process. As he acquires information, he begins to attempt to organize it into assumptions that can be used to form a systematic statement of belief about the topic. As each new scripture is considered, he may have to adjust some assumptions he was beginning to make in the light of new evidence. This method is called inductive reasoning. (Someone can be "inducted" reasoning into the army. That means "taken into." Inductive reasoning has the emphasis of beginning the process of decision-making with "taking in" information.) This type of reasoning can be simplified this way: 1. I have made X number of observations about this topic. 2. In all of these instances, the results are the same. THEREFORE I feel justified in making the assumption that, if I continued making observations, the results would continue to be the same. In other words, the goal of all this information-gathering is ultimately to settle on one or more assumptions that seem to be strongly supported by the evidence gathered.
A simple example of this process as it relates to Bible study might be the following: 1. I have examined a dozen passages in the New Testament that include the Greek word pneuma. 2. In each of those passages the King James Bible translators used the English word "ghost" to translate it. THEREFORE I feel justified in making the assumption that in all cases where pneuma is used, it will be translated as "ghost." Obviously, in most cases one never tests "all" of the possible input on any given topic, whether in the world or in the Bible. And only if "all" could be examined would "absolute certainty" be available. Many topics would have virtually unlimited bits of information available about them. Because of this, the conclusions of inductive reasoning are usually referred to as either "strong" or "weak," rather than true or false. In the specific instance mentioned above about the word pneuma, the person doing the reasoning would be in error, and has not done enough examining. The reality is that the KJV translators did not consistently use the word ghost to translate pneuma. In many instances they used "spirit," and in some "mind" or "life." The reasoning in this case was very weak because the sample was far too small. In other words, a conclusion based on an extensive sampling is usually stronger than one based on a very limited sample. However, "extensive" need not mean "huge." Statisticians use this method all of the time when they predict, on a limited sample of the population of an area, what the reactions of the whole population will be. Depending on the topic, a huge sample is often not needed to get some pretty accurate predictive figures for a larger group, whether the topic is presidential candidates or 30
preferences for a certain type of food! (This may say something about the herd instincts of humans ...) Although the conclusions made from inductive reasoning are not foolproof, they are a useful start to understanding the Bible. Unfortunately, many Bible students stop at this stage of settling on some inductive conclusions. For sound reasoning to be complete, it is necessary to go on to the second step.
Step Two: In this method, you start with one of those assumptions you are already fairly convinced about. As you continue to examine scriptures, you attempt to find a way to explain each scripture related to the topic which you come across to "fit" that assumption. IF the assumption is true, and IF the new fact you are examining can be harmonized with it, THEN you will be able to come to a reasonable conclusion. This is part of a method called deductive reasoning. But what if that original assumption was partially or wholly in error? This is one of the purposes of deductive reasoning, to "test" the assumptions that you have come to. If it becomes clear to you that you would have to really twist the meaning of some passage almost beyond recognition to get it to fit your assumption, then you may need to rethink your assumption.
Here is a simple application of this principle of the two steps, which a small child uses to make sense of his world:
In his short lifetime, little toddler Tommy has seen four cats in his neighborhood. They all happen to be gray striped Tabby Cats. Mommy has pointed them out to him numerous times, saying "Look at the kitty!" So Tommy, using inductive reasoning, begins to make the assumption that "kitty" is a word for a small furry animal with four feet and whiskers that has gray stripes. The reasoning Tommy used can be simplified this way: 1. I have seen six furry animals with whiskers and grey stripes. 2. Mommy has told me that these animals are kitties. THEREFORE I feel justified in making the assumption that all kitties have grey stripes. But one day new neighbors move in next door. And they have a calico cat! Inside Tommy's head, a childlike version of deductive reasoning clicks in when he sees the new cat: 1. All kitties are grey striped. 2. This new animal is not grey striped. THEREFORE: This new animal is not a kitty. Pointing to the calico cat, Tommy may thus ask Mommy, "Whazzat?" Imagine his confusion when Mommy says, "That's our new neighbors' kitty." If Tommy is going to make sense of his world in the most effective way for a toddler, he will have to go back to square one and rethink his assumption about the characteristics of kitties. 32
This is a very simple illustration of the two basic steps of reasoning. But don't let the simplicity fool you. These same exact methods can be used with much more complex issues, and they will work just as effectively, including for coming to conclusions about doctrinal topics in the Bible.
Many Steps to UNSound Reasoning
Unfortunately, the two steps above can also lead to the beginnings of UNsound reasoning as well. Very early in the process of each type of reasoning, it is possible to introduce many side-steps of logical fallacies. In inductive reasoning, the most common types of fallacies involve drawing conclusions when one really doesn't have enough information, or the proper information, upon which to make a strong case. Perhaps the most common of this general type of fallacy is called the "Hasty Generalization." A more informal label for this same fallacy is "Jumping to Conclusions." See the article Jumping to Conclusions for more information on this particular type of fallacy, and how it specifically relates to the establishment of the doctrine of an ever-burning Hell. The kind of fallacies made during the process of deductive reasoning are much more complex and numerous. See the article The Logical Fallacies for more information on the standard fallacies of both inductive and deductive reasoning that are recognized widely among students of sound logic.
Valid and True
One aspect of the nature of reasoning that misleads many people is the distinction between the terms "valid conclusion" and "true statement." Although in informal speech these terms are often used interchangeably, actually they do not mean the same thing at all. An argument can be valid, and yet lead to a conclusion that is not a true statement. And a conclusion can be a statement of truth, even though the reasoning that led to it is not valid! Read on for an explanation of these strange possibilities. In the process of laying out a complex argument to persuade others to accept a broad conclusion, a series is created of what are called syllogisms. A syllogism is a three-part statement threethat offers two premises and then declares a conclusion based on them them. An example of a common type of syllogism: Premise 1: Water becomes frozen at temperatures of 32 degrees Fahrenheit and lower. Premise 2: The temperature inside this refrigerator's freezer is lower than 32 degrees F. Conclusion: THEREFORE: If I place water inside this freezer, it will become frozen.
If the conclusion is truly forced by the relationship between the two premises, the conclusion is said to be valid . But is a valid conclusion always a true statement Consider this syllogism: statement? Premise 1: Automobiles require gasoline for their engines to run. Premise 2: This is an automobile. Conclusion: THEREFORE: It will need gasoline to run. The conclusion is valid--it is forced by the relationship between the two premises. But is it true? What if what you are looking at is an electricpowered automobile? In that case, this valid argument leads to a false statement. So what went wrong? What went wrong is that, for a valid conclusion the be the truth, both of the premises must actually be true also. If one or both of them has a flaw in it, if there are certain conditions in which it doesn't really represent the truth or the whole truth, then the valid conclusion will not necessarily be a statement of truth. Moving on to an opposite situation, how could a conclusion that is a true statement come from one or more premises that are untrue? Consider this syllogism. Premise 1: Some boys with red hair like to play baseball. Premise 2: Jeremy has red hair. Conclusion: THEREFORE: Jeremy likes to play baseball. No, the conclusion in this case is not "forced" by the premises. The first premise only says "some" boys with red hair, not "all" boys. So it is 35
entirely possible that Jeremy doesn't like to play baseball. But what if he does like to play it? In that case, the conclusion would end up being a true statement ... but the reasoning that was used to attempt to come to it was not valid. Some people use this kind of reasoning when studying the Bible. Their reasoning is flawed, but once in a while they "accidentally stumble into" truth. Unfortunately, they may not realize that their continued use of patterns of reasoning that are not valid will likely lead them into more and more error. The most sensible way to approach Bible study is to want to use sound logic all the time, and establish what we understand by valid reasoning processes, rather than rely on occasionally stumbling into truth.
In addition to the kind of fallacies that creep in when doing the sort of step-by-step thinking offered above (often referred to as "formal fallacies"), there is a large collection of what are termed "informal fallacies" which are common in everyday communication. Few people really take the time to lay out their arguments for or against some topic in terms of the type of logical syllogisms mentioned above. You can often go back and evaluate some of their arguments by plugging their reasoning into such three-part statements. But in general many of the "in-between steps" of reasoning are left unspoken. And these often lead to informal fallacies. One of the most common of these is the Straw Man Fallacy. Here is a brief description of this fallacy, and an example of the fallacy at work, from http://www.drury.edu/ess/Logic/Informal/Strawman.html: 36
Straw Man occurs when an opponent takes the original argument of his/her adversary and then offers a close imitation, or straw man, version of the original argument; "knocks down" the straw man version of the argument (because the straw man, as its name implies, is a much easier target to hit, undermine, etc.) -- and thereby gives the appearance of having successfully countered/overcome/answered the original argument. ... Consider the way in which the writer of the following example shifts the original objections to pot-smoking into an ostensibly less noxious set of behaviors: Observers, ranging from psychiatrists to parents, have noticed that people who smoke several joints a day often lack motivation to work, study, exercise, or indeed to do much more than sit around and listen to music. According to these observers, then, sitting around and listening to music are regarded as if they are behaviorally meaningless. But what's wrong with sitting in a cool room on a hot summer's day, listening to Tchaikovsky after smoking a joint? In this example, the position of the "observers" is that habitual marijuana smoking can lead to a lack of motivation to do the normal activities necessary to a successful life. If this ends up being true, this is a serious argument against the habitual use of pot. The writer, who evidently wants to minimize the seriousness of this problem, distorts this position. He implies that the primary complaint against pot-smoking is that it leads to people listening to music! It would not be unreasonable to conclude that 37
he has done so because he has no real answer for the reality that habitual pot-smoking can so seriously affect motivation.
Fallacies and Biblical Doctrines
There are many types of fallacies that students of the Bible can be misled by, both in their own reasoning, and in accepting the reasoning of others. Some of these are related to the process of inductive reasoning, some may be related to deductive reasoning. It is one goal of the collection of articles on this website to introduce enough questions about some of the common assumptions about the nature of Hell and the Afterlife to persuade readers that it might be appropriate to go back and more carefully examine the inductive method that was used to arrive at those assumptions. This examination may reveal some logical fallacies that were made during the process. It is also a goal of the articles on this website to examine some of the deductive reasoning commonly used in religious circles regarding the doctrines of Hell and the Afterlife, to see where other fallacies may have been introduced. And finally, it is a goal to evaluate many of the informal fallacies that are used in support of the doctrine. Some of these informal fallacies are used to attack any attempt to disagree with the doctrine of an ever-burning Hell where the unsaved are tortured for eternity.
One of the most common methods used by Bible teachers who wish to indoctrinate their students with their own specific beliefs is labeled "prooftexting." An excellent definition of that term and an overview of its use is in an article at http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/14435.htm
Facing the Proof Text Method by Henry Neufeld
By proof-texting I mean the use of individual scripture texts to proofproduce apparent support for a doctrinal position without adequate regard for the contexts of the individual texts which may indicate nuances. differences and nuances I do not include the use of texts for illustration or the use of texts which are properly taken in context and limited appropriately in what one tries to prove from them. In particular, I'm referring to the creation of entire doctrines which one demands that others believe or commands which one then demands that others obey, taken from a tissue of the words of texts but ignoring the meaning of those texts in their original contexts. ...I suggest that the use of proof-texts is a manifestation of laziness and the desire to get something for nothing. People do not wish to spend the time firmly grounding their understanding in what various Bible writers actually teach. They would much rather have a short list of texts that support precisely what they have decided to believe anyhow. Thus, the use of proof-texts tends toward hypocrisy. To the uninformed, the purveyor of proof-texts can appear to be wonderfully informed and a deep scholar of the Bible. In fact, the result of reliance on proof-texts is a moral certainty and overbearing arrogance that is not supported by one's study or learning.
Proof-texting can easily lead to several types of Logical Fallacies. One of these is the fallacy of "Hasty Generalization" or "Jumping to Conclusions" mentioned above.
The Bottom Line
Whatever you may currently believe about the nature of Hell and the Afterlife, you have nothing to lose by examining the soundness of the reasoning by which you have come to those beliefs. If they are truly based on the "whole counsel of scripture," they will only be established more firmly by examining the reasoning behind them. If they cannot stand up to a process of shining the light of logic on them, then why would you want to keep them? God built into the mind of man the ability to use the sound principles of logic that can be applied to the realities of His creation. We have nothing to fear from using this ability. It is the abuse of the principles of logic, whether by the secular world or by religious teachers, that we should want to expose and avoid.
Jumping to Conclusions
“It [the doctrine of eternal torture in Hell] is a doctrine which the natural heart revolts from and struggles against, and to which it submits only under stress of authority. The church believes the doctrine because it must believe it, or renounce faith in the Bible, and give up all the hopes founded upon its promises.” [Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (New York, 1871), 3:870.] Author Hodge was incorrect. Most churches throughout the past 2000 years have not believed and taught this doctrine because the Bible teaches it, but because they have committed a number of logical fallacies in their reasoning from the scriptures about the topic. For an introduction to the problems in logic that surround this doctrine, see the article Establishing Doctrine. See the article The Logical Fallacies for an overview of that topic. The purpose of this current article is to point out the effect in particular of two of the types of logical fallacies as they apply to the study of the doctrine of Hell in the Bible.
An individual commits the fallacy of Hasty Generalization when he fails to consider an adequate amount of evidence before coming to a firm conclusion on a topic. To generalize about something means to assume that your experience with a small sample can be confidently applied to circumstances outside the sample. Example: Justin has stopped for a meal at an Eataburger restaurant in three different towns in the past year. Each time, he has been very disappointed in the service he received from a waitress. He might well be tempted to thus make the generalization that "the waitresses at all Eataburger restaurants across the country are incompetent." But if he did, he'd be guilty of committing the fallacy known technically as Hasty Generalization. The common term for this kind of poor logic is "jumping to conclusions." There are all sorts of explanations that could account for his experiences. Maybe he tends to go to these restaurants at the same time of day, right at the end of a long, exhausting shift for the waitresses. Maybe he's been extra grumpy himself when going there, and gave the waitresses a hard time. And maybe, given the small sample, it was just time and chance. What if the first waitress just had a death in her family and was distracted by grief; the second was suffering from a migraine headache; and the third had a sick baby at home and got no sleep the night before? These situations wouldn't reflect at all on the chain of restaurants and most of its employees, or even on those three waitresses under most circumstances. What does this have to do with Bible Study on the topic of Hell? People from most Protestant and Roman Catholic churches come to the Bible with the accumulated experience of a lifetime of exposure to the everburning Hell doctrine. They are already convinced that the doctrine is true, so even when they approach the Bible to find proof-texts to support their belief, they are likely to jump to conclusions after checking only a very few related scriptures. Most seldom go back to "square one" to carefully sift through all of the scriptures on the topic, and attempt to 42
harmonize all of the relevant passages. Nor do they ever think to examine the history of the development of the doctrine, and add that evidence to their reasoning. One of the primary purposes of this Is It True What they Say About Hell? website is to present readers with a challenge to set aside the preconceived ideas they may have about the doctrine, to set aside the hasty generalizations they may have made based on just a few proof-texts. (See the article Establishing Doctrine for more information on the hazards of proof-texting.) Only after doing this is it possible to objectively examine the "whole counsel of Scripture" on this topic.
An individual commits the Straw Man Fallacy when he refuses to actually address the logical arguments offered by someone with whom he disagrees. Instead, he invents a "straw man" based on factors that weren't part of the original argument at all. When he verbally pummels this straw man and succeeds in tearing it apart, it can give the illusion that he has "won the argument." An onlooker who is not paying careful attention may not realize that the builder of the straw man hasn't even touched the real argument that has been offered against his position. This type of fallacy is often used in discussions about the nature of Hell. A very poignant example of this is found in Four Views on Hell, a 1996 book from Zondervan Publishing. In this book, four different writers offered their varying perspectives on the nature of Hell. Each wrote a chapter of his own, carefully explaining and supporting his point of view. After each such chapter, the other three authors took turns critiquing the content of the chapter. Theologian Clark H. Pinnock presented a carefully-reasoned biblical explanation of his conviction that the Bible does not teach that humans 43
have an inherent "immortal soul" that can never be destroyed. God alone has immortality, and can choose to grant it to humans ... or withhold it if He so chooses. (This position is technically termed "Conditional Immortality" in theological circles.) Pinnock further explained and supported his belief that the Bible does not teach the notion that the unsaved will be endlessly tortured in an ever-burning Hell for eternity. Instead, at the end of human history, those who never repent of rebellion against God will be annihilated. Pinnock offered many of the same points of reasoning and scriptural analysis as those in the articles on this website. He carefully investigated the origins of the common conception of Hell, and compared it carefully to the scriptural evidence. And then popular evangelical theologian and author John F. Walvoord offered a chapter of "Response" to Pinnock's material. It is almost embarrassing to read through Walvoord's comments. He managed to address virtually none of what Pinnock actually wrote! Instead, he seemed to invent a totally unrelated position, and attack it rather than engage Pinnock's points. Pinnock's primary focus was that the commonly accepted view of Hell is a result of a MIS-interpretation of a few scriptures, mixed with the idea of the immortality of the soul inherited from paganism. He made absolutely no attempt to reason from a position that the Bible is unreliable. He asserted throughout that it is the fallible interpretation of men that has been unreliable. So that there would be no mistaking his position, he noted: Evangelical theology starts with the Bible and asks what the Scriptures have to say about the nature of hell. The Bible enjoys primacy relative to other sources for theology, being our canon and teacher. Whatever it teaches about Hell, we are obliged to accept. And yet almost immediately in his response, Walvoord offered his first point of rebuttal to Pinnock: 44
Conditional Immortality Challenges the Doctrine of Scriptural Inerrancy.
This presentation of conditional immortality raises the question of whether the Bible was actually inspired by the Holy Spirit and is verbally inerrant, that is, whether it never expresses as true something that is false. As in the metaphorical view [offered in another chapter in the book], the common assumption that the Bible bends to the wrong conceptions of punishment that existed in the first century implies that the Holy Spirit was not sovereign in guiding the Scripture and that the writers were not kept from error. The teaching of Christ on the subject of hell is also labeled as a misrepresentation. The great majority of those who hold to conditional immortality of the wicked do not subscribe to the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy. These comments had nothing to do with what had been in the chapter by Pinnock! And the three other points in Walvoord's response also had little to do with the actual content of Pinnock's writing. Walvoord created a Straw Man in his response chapter, and ripped it to shreds ... while leaving the scriptural points of reasoning that had been offered by Pinnock untouched. It isn't clear whether Walvoord was being deliberately intellectually dishonest, or was just a victim of his own poor ability to use sound reasoning. But in either case, he utterly failed to address the issues raised by Pinnock, and undermined his credibility with anyone able to see through his use of logical fallacies. The common conception of the nature of Hell is so pivotal to the understanding of the nature of God that it is vitally important to avoid logical fallacies when discussing it. Pinnock was correct. Whatever the Bible teaches about this topic, Christians are obliged to accept. Pinnock wrote elsewhere: How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have 45
been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the gospel itself. ( C.H. Pinnock, The
Destruction of the Finally Impenitent, Criswell Theological Review 4 (1990-Spring), Pages 246-47.)
If the Bible truly teaches the doctrine embraced by John F. Walvoord, then Charles Hodge, quoted at the beginning of this article, is right. All Christians must believe it or deny the very basis of their faith, the Bible itself. But if the Bible does not teach this doctrine, then those who promote it are denying a significant factor of the nature of God and, as Pinnock implied above, are in danger remaking Him in the image of Satan. The reality is that the doctrine of an ever-burning Hell, where the unsaved are perpetually tortured with unimaginable suffering throughout eternity, is not just a fringe doctrine that can be swept under the rug, or put on a shelf, or otherwise hidden from sight and ignored. It is, in one way, the centerpiece of a debate to define the very nature of God. It is a primary goal of this book to bring this the full horror of this doctrine into sharp focus. Only when Christians can examine this doctrine in the clear light of day, with sound reasoning, and consider BOTH sides of the debate, will they be able to form a truly informed opinion the on what the Bible actually says on the subject.
The Logical Fallacies
What Are the Logical Fallacies?
The principles of sound logic have been recognized for over 2000 years. During that time, categorized lists have been developed that identify and clarify the nature of the standard types of faulty reasoning elements-logical fallacies--used by those who wish to persuade others to agree with them on an idea. These fallacies were used by men to persuade people back in first century Rome, just as they are used in the 21st century world today to persuade people to buy cars and cosmetics, accept political and religious ideas, and much more. One of the primary goals of this Is It True What They Say About Hell? website is to establish that the common doctrinal idea of an ever-burning Hell where the "unsaved" are tortured for eternity is built on faulty logic. It is based on both poor inductive reasoning (gathering information from the Bible from which to draw conclusions) and poor deductive reasoning (combining statements of assumptions to derive conclusions).
If I wish to present an "argument" to persuade others to agree with me on a specific topic, I need to provide a careful set of reasons and show how they support the conclusions to which I have come. When the reasons offered in an argument do not support the conclusion declared, the one presenting the argument has committed one or more logical fallacies fallacies. Articles throughout this website point out various aspects of faulty reasoning related to teachings on the topics of Hell and the Afterlife. For a broad overview of the components of sound reasoning, see the article Establishing Doctrine. Since many readers are not familiar with the formal principles of sound logic, the material below is included as a reference source regarding the Logical Fallacies.
"That's just your opinion!"
Often when someone attempts to correctly point out the fallacies in the reasoning of another person, the person with the fallacious reasoning will retort, "That's just your opinion!" They misunderstand the nature of the process of reasoning. Identifying a truly fallacious step in reasoning isn't related to "opinions." The principles of sound reasoning are more like the basics of mathematics. They are universal, not dependent upon any particular culture, or time in history, or any external factor. An objective evaluation that someone has used "faulty logic" is not a matter of "personal opinion." There are certain topics about which there are no "right answers," and in those areas it is totally valid to state personal 48
opinion. If I say "Limburger cheese tastes awful to me," I am not coming to a conclusion based on logic. I am stating a fact about my own preferences. You have a right to state a varying opinion on your own evaluation of the taste of the cheese--you may say, "To me Limburger cheese is the most delicious cheese there is." You are not being illogical. Personal taste is not a matter of logic. But I might choose to state the following "logical proof": Limburger cheese tastes awful to me. I have asked three of my friends, and they all agree it tastes awful. THEREFORE: Limburger cheese tastes awful to everyone. If I do this, I have not followed the principles of sound logic, and I have not adequately supported my conclusion. I have relied on specific Logical Fallacies to arrive at that conclusion. Another example of reasoning: The Bible says "God is love." It wouldn't be loving to deny someone something they really wanted, if it was in your power to provide it. THEREFORE: You can ask God for anything you want, and He will have to give it to you. This sort of "reasoning," which is used by many teachers in some religious circles today, is also based on logical fallacies. To say that it uses flawed logic is not a matter of "opinion." It is a matter of lining up the method of 49
reasoning against the natural principles of logic that God built into our physical world.
"I'm So CONFUSED!"
Unfortunately, the longer and more complicated a line of reasoning gets, the more difficult it may be to spot logical fallacies in it. The individual steps may each sound very persuasive, and many of them may be logically sound. But it only takes one "weak link in the chain" of reasoning to make the final conclusion unsupported. And most readers and listeners are not trained in how to spot such weak links. In addition, few people have the time, or are really interested enough or equipped adequately, to invest in the effort necessary to sort through carefully all the reasoning on all of the possible topics of Bible study. Therefore it is not reasonable to expect that the majority of people who consider themselves to be Christian will have done this. This may be one reason that the Apostle Paul had this to say: Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. (James 3:1) Why might a teacher be "judged more strictly"? One reason may be that they may end up being responsible for what others who have less education and intellectual skills believe and understand. If the teacher is in error on some topic, then those who rely on his or her teaching may end up in error. Do you wish to teach others what you understand? Then you have an obligation to be sure that the reasoning you have used to come to your understanding is sound. If you just "inherited" that reasoning from 50
someone else, you need to be careful to examine it for yourself, especially in topics as sober and critical as the nature of Hell. If you do not, then you may be held accountable for the error you lead others into. Not everybody needs to understand all the details of how logic works, although that would be an ideal to aim at. But it is absolutely mandatory that teachers who can influence others use and apply these principles. Otherwise they will lead both others and themselves to false conclusions. And those who are either unable to "do the logic" themselves, or read through all the Bible with comprehension, will be unable to escape from the deception. If you choose to set yourself up as a teacher to share what you understand with others, then you are obligated to put in the effort to understand the principles of sound reasoning as they apply to what you want to teach. If you find that too difficult, then you need to rethink whether you ought to be teaching. "But this is too complicated," some may say. "I try to read through the explanations of how correct reasoning works, and I just find I'm SO CONFUSED!" If that describes you, and you are tempted to want to teach others about doctrines that you are not really equipped to sort out with sound logic, then you need to pray for wisdom from God regarding what to do. There certainly are many less complex biblical ideas and principles than Hell and the Afterlife that you could choose to teach to others. He may want you to focus your efforts on sharing, for instance, the basics of the Sermon on the Mount for now. The world is full of people who need very much to hear that message!
But if you are convinced that you are up to the task of comprehending and internalizing the principles of sound logic, then the following list will be of assistance as you consider the other articles on this website. And it will be a useful reference for your attempts to apply logic to all areas of your life.
The Logical Fallacies List
The following list of some of the most common standard Logical Fallacies is the Table of Contents from: Stephen's Guide to the Logical Fallacies See that website for an excellent overview of each of these fallacies. The author provides practical examples of each and the steps needed to prove that a particular argument commits the fallacy.
Fallacies of Distraction
• • • •
False Dilemma: two choices are given when in fact there are three options From Ignorance: because something is not known to be true, it is assumed to be false Slippery Slope: a series of increasingly unacceptable consequences is drawn Complex Question: two unrelated points are conjoined as a single proposition
Appeals to Motives in Place of Support 52
• • • • •
Appeal to Force: the reader is persuaded to agree by force Appeal to Pity: the reader is persuaded to agree by sympathy Consequences: the reader is warned of unacceptable consequences Prejudicial Language: value or moral goodness is attached to believing the author Popularity: a proposition is argued to be true because it is widely held to be true
Changing the Subject
Attacking the Person: 1. the person's character is attacked 2. the person's circumstances are noted 3. the person does not practice what is preached Appeal to Authority: 1. the authority is not an expert in the field 2. experts in the field disagree 3. the authority was joking, drunk, or in some other way not being serious Anonymous Authority: the authority in question is not named Style Over Substance: the manner in which an argument (or arguer) is presented is felt to affect the truth of the conclusion
• • • •
Hasty Generalization: the sample is too small to support an inductive generalization about a population Unrepresentative Sample: the sample is unrepresentative of the sample as a whole False Analogy: the two objects or events being compared are relevantly dissimilar Slothful Induction: the conclusion of a strong inductive argument is denied despite the evidence to the contrary 53
Fallacy of Exclusion: evidence which would change the outcome of an inductive argument is excluded from consideration
Fallacies Involving Statistical Syllogisms
Accident: a generalization is applied when circumstances suggest that there should be an exception Converse Accident : an exception is applied in circumstances where a generalization should apply
• • • • •
Post Hoc: because one thing follows another, it is held to cause the other Joint effect: one thing is held to cause another when in fact they are both the joint effects of an underlying cause Insignificant: one thing is held to cause another, and it does, but it is insignificant compared to other causes of the effect Wrong Direction: the direction between cause and effect is reversed Complex Cause: the cause identified is only a part of the entire cause of the effect
Missing the Point
• • •
Begging the Question: the truth of the conclusion is assumed by the premises Irrelevant Conclusion: an argument in defense of one conclusion instead proves a different conclusion Straw Man: the author attacks an argument different from (and weaker than) the opposition's best argument
Fallacies of Ambiguity 54
• • •
Equivocation: the same term is used with two different meanings Amphiboly: the structure of a sentence allows two different interpretations Accent: the emphasis on a word or phrase suggests a meaning contrary to what the sentence actually says
Composition: because the attributes of the parts of a whole have a certain property, it is argued that the whole has that property Division: because the whole has a certain property, it is argued that the parts have that property
• • •
Affirming the Consequent: any argument of the form: If A then B, B, therefore A Denying the Antecedent: any argument of the form: If A then B, Not A, thus Not B Inconsistency: asserting that contrary or contradictory statements are both true
• • •
Fallacy of Four Terms: a syllogism has four terms Undistributed Middle: two separate categories are said to be connected because they share a common property Illicit Major: the predicate of the conclusion talks about all of something, but the premises only mention some cases of the term in the predicate Illicit Minor: the subject of the conclusion talks about all of something, but the premises only mention some cases of the term in the subject 55
• • •
Fallacy of Exclusive Premises: a syllogism has two negative premises Fallacy of Drawing an Affirmative Conclusion From a Negative Premise: as the name implies Existential Fallacy: a particular conclusion is drawn from universal premises
Fallacies of Explanation
• • • • •
Subverted Support (The phenomenon being explained doesn't exist) Non-support (Evidence for the phenomenon being explained is biased) Untestability (The theory which explains cannot be tested) Limited Scope (The theory which explains can only explain one thing) Limited Depth (The theory which explains does not appeal to underlying causes)
Fallacies of Definition
• • • • •
Too Broad (The definition includes items which should not be included) Too Narrow (The definition does not include all the items which should be included) Failure to Elucidate (The definition is more difficult to understand than the word or concept being defined) Circular Definition (The definition includes the term being defined as a part of the definition) Conflicting Conditions (The definition is self-contradictory)
Another useful website regarding the Logical Fallacies, that includes explanations of even more fallacies than those on the list above, is at http://www.logicalfallacies.info/
The Many Faces of Hell
What do you think of when you hear the word Hell? 1. A place under the surface of the earth 2. A bottomless pit 3. A place of darkness 4. A lake of fire 5. A place where the Devil and demons dwell 6. A place of torture for the souls of humans 7. Several or all of the above Is the picture in your head of Hell one with numerous details, including perhaps visions of grotesque demonic figures frolicking among suffering sinners? According to the entries in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance: 58
"hell" The word "hell" appears in the King James Bible 54 times, 31 times in the Old Testament and 23 times in the New. That may not seem significant until you realize that: The word "heaven" is in the Bible over 500 times, times over 300 times in the Old Testament and over 200 times in the New. Yet the picture people have in their mind when you say Hell is every bit as vivid--in fact, often far more vivid and far more detailed--as when you say Heaven, with less than 10% of the same amount of scriptural evidence! In fact, for most people the biblical evidence is far more scant for both Heaven and Hell--because the average person has read little or none of the Bible, let alone read it all the way through to do a systematic study of the doctrine of Hell. Not only is this true of atheists, agnostics, and nonchurch-goers, but it is surprisingly true for a large percentage of individuals who attend church regularly. The average Christian has not developed his or her beliefs about this topic, nor most other biblical topics, from personal Bible study. Most have absorbed the majority of their beliefs from listening to sermons or Sunday School teachings, watching religious TV, and reading short religious tracts and popular inspirational magazines or books. Mixed in with those influences may even be a significant amount of secular influence from books, movies, TV shows, magazines, and more. Even non-religious people often have a strikingly vivid mental picture of a version of Hell that their mind has constructed from bits and pieces of information from similar secular sources. Where are these vivid and detailed pictures coming from? Throughout history since long before the first century, societies and religions have speculated about the nature of the Afterlife, and on a place of confinement or punishment for some "souls" after death. These various strains of 59
thought have entwined down through the centuries and yielded the common versions of Hell that are envisioned by the "man on the street" and the "man in the pews" in the twenty-first century.
Hell—the Devil’s Playground?
The grotesque image below of the Devil devouring a human soul (an interesting "special effect" for such an early motion picture), is quite likely a direct adaptation of a scene from a 14th century Italian fresco by the artist Taddeo di Bartolo:
The Devil from L'Inferno by Dante', Italian silent film 1911
Hopefully, the film did not attempt to graphically replicate the bottom half of the painting. It was common at the time to depict human souls as being ingested, passing through the body of the Devil undigested, and finally being expelled from an opening between his legs--itself appearing to be the mouth of a leering face! They were then grasped in his claw-like hands and brought back up to be devoured over and over endlessly.
This was evidently a version itself of a quite stylized depiction of this scene from Dante's writings, as seen in a photo of a page from a 15th century illustrated manuscript of the Inferno in the Oxford University Boedlian Library online collection. (Reproduction on other web pages not permitted--see the original at the link.) In Dante's version, the souls being devoured are those of Brutus and Cassius (who plotted the death of Julius Caesar), and Judas. Dante's version of the Devil is not the ominously gleeful Lord of the Underworld character that developed in the popular mind over the coming centuries. He is instead a giant, frozen in ice up to his waist, and depicted by Dante as weeping and continually lamenting his fate. But by the early 20th century, he had developed the maniacal laugh that chilled the riders in an amazing attraction on the Midway at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. "The Hereafter" was much like an early version of a cross between the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean rides at Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom:
The HEREAFTER was an amusement concession in which the patron was presented with real figures, mannequins, and graphic illustrations of what life awaited them after death. The visitor first entered a gallery of mirrors, intended to alarm and confuse. Moans and groans of The Undead greeted them at every step along a 40 foot corridor. They then stumbled into a main auditorium, containing the Café of the Dead. A chandelier made of skull, arm, and shin bones hung from the center of the ceiling. Patrons sat at tables made of coffins as a volunteer from the audience was made to sit at a specially prepared table to partake of a meal. After a waiter dutifully served a platter of food, the volunteer found that he could not pick up either the food or beer that had been served. His hand magically went right through everything. Just as the white clad waiter picked up the beer bottle to smash it upon the volunteer’s head, the waiter and all the food disappeared. It had been a creative illusion via back-lighted projection. Amidst a great rattling of chains and moans, patrons then entered an elevator and descended into the lower regions of Hades. There they entered a boat that drifted over the River of Death, a water channel filled with red stalactites and stalagmites. As they neared Satan, guides recited from Dante and all of the punishments of Hades were depicted. Skeletons dropped from the ceiling at opportune times, sending shrieks from the ladies and nervous laughter from the lips of the most sturdy of men. In one scene, an actor depicted a robber who had made off with a fortune in life but whose torture in death was having no place to spend any of it in Hades. In another scene, a man who had been sticking his nose in everyone’s business during his time on Earth, hung with his nose in a vise, calling out his misdeeds. A tramp was forced to continuously take hot steam baths in a different scene. As they turned upon the Throne of Satan, a skeleton added another fright by jumping out at some unlucky soul in the crowd. Satan himself was viewed, surrounded by sulfurous smoke, amid hideous cries of the souls of the damned. 64
As Satan laughed and shouted threats to their backs, patrons in the boat continued through the channel, down a gentle water chute, gliding into a beautiful grove filled with flowers and trees. They floated serenely past Daphne’s Grove and on to Paradise. Here, patrons saw the birth of the Star of Bethlehem growing in increasing brilliancy until it focused upon silhouetted angels, floating into the clouds. (Inside the World's Fair of 1904, Vol. 2, Elana V. Fox, 2003, pp 47-48) As the decades of the twentieth century went by, it became more and more common to portray Hell as a playground for the Devil and his demons. Far from being a place of confinement for them, it was a place where they enjoyed their "jobs" ... tormenting the souls of humans. Nowhere was this more evident than in the little illustrated religious "tracts" written and illustrated by Jack Chick:
The Long Trip, Jack Chick, Chick Tracts, 1994
Back from the Dead, Jack Chick, Chick Tracts, 1982
Intended to "scare the hell out" of readers, many of these comic book-style pamphlets (published from 1970 to the present, and distributed by the multiple millions yearly) introduced brief stories of the life of humans who refused to accept Jesus as savior until it was too late, and then showed their ultimate fate in an ever-burning Hell suffering at the hands of the Devil and his playmates. In a 1993 book titled A Divine Revelation of Hell, author Mary Baxter claimed to have been taken by Jesus on numerous trips to Hell, and to have seen similar scenes of frolicking demons. The following is from a website that summarized Baxter's alleged travels: As they [Jesus and Baxter] walked closer to the noise, they could see twelve small dark figures marching around a coffin. These dark figures were demons holding spears and they were talking and laughing. There was a small opening in the coffin and that’s where the demons inserted their spears.
Similar descriptions can be found in many books and website articles of the past several decades. What they all have in common is a view of "details" of Hell that are not found in the Bible at all, but which very closely reflect the type of scenes in Medieval paintings of Hell, and passages from earlier sensationalistic writings such as those of Dante. Here is an excerpt from a modern version (1992), posted on the web as part of the description of the author's alleged vision of Hell. The purpose of this posting was to encourage people to turn to Jesus as savior and avoid this type of fate. I saw a naked man covered in flaming worms that cannot Die! He turned to me and heaved a deep sigh as flames surrounded him and he sung this song in an emotionless voice! A voice that held NO emotion only the pain and torment he was in! Flaming WORMS that looked like Snakes! were crawling in and OUT of EVERY OPENING OF HIS BODY! His EYES, EARS, NOSE, FRONT, REAR, I repeat EVERY OPENING! without getting graphically gross here! The screams yet echo in my mind as I am writing this down! The rich man in the bible who went to HELL told God if he would just send a man back from HELL to warn others his brothers of the torment in Hell they would not want to come there, they would live differently! But God said even if he sent someone back from HELL, few would listen and take the warning seriously! Few would believe! In this end time how many has the LORD allowed to see Heaven and Hell to be brought back to life to tell of the Horror! Dr. Eby is one of them. Dr. Maurice Rawlings is another! And now Rev. Sherrie Elijah who praise GOD I didn't have to die but in a vision so real! its like I know the man and grieve for that man! I met in this vision is warning you now, 67
those who mock and laugh at YAHUSHUA hear the lyrics of this song and although I can't give it all to you, know this if you MOCK and LAUGH again this was your LAST CHANCE! For your heart is hardened and God said this song was the LAST CHANCER'S Last Chance! If this does NOT scare you NOTHING will until you Taste HELL for yourself and then its too late! Here are a few lyrics from the song: Flaming worms crawl in, flaming worms crawl out in the belly button and out the mouth! In the front and out the rear ! In the eyes and out the ears! We scream for mercy yet NO one cares or hears! Red hot pain in my blood rivers of feces, lava, vomit and blood it looks like a flood! Flames everywhere yet they cast NO light! All I have is every kind of pain, terror , torture and fright! I am a Citizen in HELL! This is the first level of HELL the other levels there are NO words to tell! Hell is so hot it boils the flesh off my skin how do I describe the HELLISH pain I'm in! I'm so thirsty yet I 'ver not even urine or tears to drink! And OH my GOD how this HELL stinks! AHHHH, I am a Citizen in HELL! There's NO water of any kind not even sweat to cool my brow, I know from Hell I will never be set free and demons curse and mock me! I scream to God to help me! yet he does NOT hear! instead the voice of Satan laughs and Jeers! HaAa! There's NO GOD and there's NO mercy here! I have torture, terror, and Damnation and every kind of FEAR! But there's NO GOD HERE! Hahaha! (www.amightywind.com/hell/citizenhell.htm) 68
Does the Bible provide confirmation that the vision described above (and the many similar tales from throughout the centuries right up to the present) was truly from God, and reflects a biblical view of the nature of Hell? NO.
anywhere There is absolutely no description anywhere in the Bible of demonic beings of grotesque shapes tormenting human souls. There is no description of worms, flaming or otherwise, crawling out of the body openings of conscious human souls. There is no description of the Devil "welcoming" Hell sinners to H ell and gloating over his power over them there. Nor are there any passages even vaguely related to any similar type of scenario.
The reader is encouraged to explore the articles on this website for an examination of the relationship of the actual words of the Bible to such lurid scenarios.
Old Testament View of Hell
...The Israelites usually viewed death as they saw it- the very opposite of life. And resurrection was not yet a part of their communal experience of God. The grave brought no escape from God (Psalm 139:8), but just how they viewed the condition of the godly dead is not clear. (Non-Biblical documents from the ancient Near East indicate a general conception that immortality was reserved for the gods but that the dead continued to have some kind of shadowy existence in the dismal netherworld.)... It seems clear that there was even an awareness that death (as observed) was not the end of hope for the righteous, that God had more in store for them... NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION STUDY BIBLE, Study
Note to Psalm 6) The scholars who compiled the Study Notes to the NIV Study Bible often take a very strong stand in many of the footnotes of that edition of the Bible in favor of the "eternal torments of Hell" doctrine. But even they were forced to admit that this doctrine cannot be established by passages in the Old Testament.
The Hebrew word commonly translated in the King James Version of the Bible as "hell" is sheol. In the passages where this word appears, it is never connected with the idea of an ever-burning fire nor with eternal torturing of souls. The reality is that this word had no connotation for the ancient Israelites of the kind of fiery Hell that most Christians envision. In fact, the King James translators chose to translate that same Hebrew word as "grave" 32 times Sheol was even considered the resting place of animals: times.
This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. Like sheep they are destined for the grave [Hebrew sheol] (Psalm 49:13-14 NIV)
The passage in Psalm 6 to which the Study Bible note above was referring was emphasizing the future hope of the righteous. But the Old Testament is equally vague about the state of the wicked dead. The Old Testament writings do speak of a time when the wicked will be repaid for their wicked deeds, even though they may appear to triumph temporarily. But the ultimate emphasis of almost all passages about the fate of the wicked is destruction. Sometimes fire is mentioned in this context, but always within the theme of destruction, not of unending torture.
You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked. (Psalm
The LORD is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of His wrath. He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead and crushing the rulers of the whole earth. (Psalm 110:5 NIV) No more will the wicked invade you; they will be completely destroyed. (Nahum 1:15 NIV)
Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD'S wrath. In the fire of his jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who consumed live in the earth. (Zeph. 1:18 NIV(
It would be even clearer how little the Old Testament has to say about the "place" called Hell if the King James translation had not been so dominant for the past 400 years. The translators of that version appear to have based many of their choices on how to translate sheol on their own preconceived notions about the nature of the Afterlife, not on just the context of the Hebrew passages they were translating. After all, they were barely one generation out of the Roman Catholic Church! Most modern translations far more frequently choose the English words "grave" or "death" when translating sheol, such as in this Psalm 86:13. The KJV translators used hell: "Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell (Hebrew: sheol"). With this wording it could seem as if the Psalmist was saying that God had kept him from going to Hell to be tortured forever. But in context, it is obvious that he is, instead, thanking God for preserving his physical life when it was in danger. (The word "soul" is misleading here, also, for it would seem to say that the Psalmist had an immortal soul inside his body, and that was what was rescued, from going to Hell. For an extended discussion on how misleading this can be, see the article Body, Soul, Spirit, Mind.) The obvious intent of this passage is much clearer in modern translations, such as this rendering in the New International Version: …you have delivered me from the depths of the grave grave.
It was not some sort of "immaterial soul" that was kept from being sent to burn in Hell. It was "me" ... the Psalmist himself ... who was delivered from an untimely death and the grave. Although the KJV translators often made these kinds of misleading choices, there were times that their underlying theology would force them to avoid the word Hell, and use grave or another word. For instance, here is a passage in which David is asking God to not allow his enemy to go down to a peaceful death in sheol. 1 Kings 2:6, 9—"Let not his hoar head go down to the grave [sheol] in peace ... his hoary head bring thou down to the grave with blood." If sheol were a fiery Hell, where the wicked ... including David's enemy ... were going to be punished forever with hideous tortures, why would he care how the enemy's physical death occurred? Such a fiery eternal fate would be far worse than a bloody death! So in this instance the KJV translators chose to word the passage in almost the exact same way as the later NIV translators chose: Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace. … Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood."
Sheol here seems to describe a place of "peace" for the dead. There are
many other instances when the KJV translators were forced by circumstances to avoid the word Hell when translating sheol. This was particularly true when a righteous man, such as Job or Jacob, spoke of going, himself, to sheol. Surely he wasn't speaking of going to an everburning place of torture! So in these instances they would substitute the word grave. See the article The King James Version of Hell for an extended examination of this misleading tendency of the King James translators. 73
When Jesus began His preaching, what was the doctrine of the Afterlife understood by his listeners? According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, first century Jewish Rabbis admitted that the Scriptures were very vague about the after-life. However, that did not prevent them from having elaborate theories of their own. It may even be these theories, elaborated in extrabiblical writings, that were ultimately one of the primary sources of much of the later Christian speculations about Hell. Strong hints of these sources can be seen in Dante's Inferno and the writings of many early theologians in the Catholic Church. However, if we want to have a truly biblical perspective on the issue, we need to stick to the Scriptures themselves, not on what the New Testament even refers to as "Jewish Fables."
New Testament View of Hell
Hell in the New Testament
Both Jewish and Christian commentators will often admit that the Old Testament is very vague about ideas regarding the Afterlife, including concepts of "heaven" and "hell." (See the article Old Testament View of Hell for an overview of how these topics are treated in the Old Testament books.) Therefore, if someone wishes to come to a strictly biblical view of any details about Hell, they will have to turn to the New Testament. If the Hell of eternal torture is to be established by scripture, rather than by just human speculation or fanciful invention, it is in the pages of the New Testament that it will have to be found. So what does the New Testament have to say?
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell [Greek: Gehenna] (Matthew 10:28 NIV)
This does not speak of eternal torment, either of bodies or souls. It speaks of both being destroyed. Hebrews 10:26-27—“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the God. enemies of God Yes, there is a judgment of the unsaved ("the enemies of God") mentioned here. And it even involves a "raging fire." But it is not said that this fire will "torment forever” these enemies. It states that they will be "consumed." Those who are convinced that there is an ever-burning Hell of torture, where the souls of billions of humans who have died throughout history without accepting Jesus as Savior are suffering unimaginable pain and torment, need to find a way to explain these two scriptures. For they surely do not line up with that scenario! There are three Greek words which translators of the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible chose to translate as "hell" in the New Testament:
Hades Tartarus Gehenna
Hades Hades is translated in the KJV as hell 10 times. However, at the time the New Testament was written, the Greek word Hades and the Hebrew word Sheol referred to exactly the same concept. So in I Corinthians 15:55, Paul
O death, where is thy sting? O grave [Hades], where is thy victory?
In this instance, the translators chose to translate Hades as "grave" rather than hell. Why? Because Paul was here referring directly to an Old Testament passage in Hosea 14. The word Hebrew word sheol is in that passage, and was there translated as grave. The word grave in Corinthians was Hades, clearly showing that the words were considered comparable by Paul. Only in this passage did the translators use the word "grave" to translate Hades. In all other passages in the New Testament, the KJV translators chose to translate the word as hell.
The second word translated as hell in the New Testament is Tartarus. This is used only once. It refers there not to punishment of humans, but a place of confinement and punishment for fallen angels:
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell [Tartarus], putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment... ( II Peter 2:4)
In the Greek mythology of the writings of Homer, Tartarus was the place of confinement for the Titans who rebelled against Zeus. It is described in Greek mythology as being deep within the earth. It would appear that this 77
"Tartarus" is another name for "the Abyss" spoken of in other scriptures. In Luke 8, the Legion of demons begs Jesus not to send them to the "the deep" [NIV: "the Abyss"] The Greek word here is abussos, which implies a "bottomless pit." In Revelation 9, John sees in vision an angel opening the Abyss with a key, and swarms of locusts coming out, whose "king" is "the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon [destroyer]." And in Revelation 20, another angel casts Satan into the Abyss and shuts him up there for 1,000 years. In none of these passages is there any implication that either Tartarus or the Abyss is a place of confinement or punishment for humans.
The third word translated as hell in the KJV New Testament is Gehenna. It is used 11 times by Jesus, in the Gospels, and once in the Epistle of James. This is the word that is accompanied by the concept of fire:
...Whoever shall say, thou fool, shall be in danger of hell [Gehenna] fire. (Matthew 5:22)
If there is a clear Biblical basis for the doctrine of eternal, never-ending torment of humans in the fires of hell, we might expect to find it in these "Gehenna fire" passages. Five of these 11 references occur in a description of one discourse of Jesus.
And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell [Gehenna], into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell [Gehenna],
into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out; it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes be cast into hell [Gehenna] fire: where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:43-48)
The word hell is used here to translate Gehenna three times. In the parallel passage in Matthew 5, describing the same discourse, it is used two times. If one come to this discourse with the assumption of eternal torture, it might be possible to "read into" it that meaning. But look again. It says nothing about what happens to the person once he is thrown into that "unquenchable fire." However there is a passage in scripture that does However... tell us exactly that! In this passage in Mark, Jesus is not expounding new revelation. He is directly quoting a phrase used by the prophet Isaiah. At the end of Isaiah's book is a description of the Millennium, after the Day of the Lord:
"From one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me," says the Lord. "And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be die quenched, and they will be quenched loathesome to all mankind." (Isaiah
Note that what is viewed by passersby is not a spectacle of torture, but dead bodies of those 79
who came to an ignominious end. This brings to mind the fate of Mussolini in modern times. Near the end of World War II, he was executed by his own people, and his dead body was put on display, hung upside down in a public street. And this "public display" remains even to this day through photos taken at the time and preserved. What is described by both Isaiah and Jesus is something that can be seen by “all mankind” … so they are not in an unseen “spirit world." They were killed, and their “remains” were physically left to be seen. Why did Jesus use the word Gehenna for this place? Gehenna is the Greek equivalent of The "Valley of Ben Hinnom" ("Valley of the Sons of Hinnom") outside Jerusalem. This was the site of child sacrifice by the Israelites when they turned from true worship of Yahweh. Jeremiah prophesied:
The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes, declares the LORD. They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bears my Name and have defiled it. They have built high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire- something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away. (Jer
7:30-33) By the time of Jesus, history records that this valley had become a "city dump," where the refuse of the city of Jerusalem was deposited, along with 80
the bodies of executed criminals. As with most city dumps, there were fires always burning, and maggots of flies and other insects feasting on the refuse and bodies. (The Hebrew word translated "worm" in the Isaiah passage above implies maggots, the larvae of insects.) Under normal circumstances, if Joseph of Arimathea would not have intervened and begged for the body of Jesus to put in his own tomb, the body of Jesus, along with the two thieves crucified with Him, would likely have been tossed into this place. It might be argued that this physical location was just a "symbol," a fore-runner of a final "Gehenna fire" where not only bodies, but souls were cast. Wouldn't that leave room for eternal torment in this ultimate Gehenna? The statement by Jesus in Matthew above may imply that. But it provides no basis at all for eternal torture, since is clearly states that the souls can be destroyed: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but
cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." And there is another passage in the New
Testament that speaks of fiery judgment which does not use any of the words for Hell, but obviously is related to the concept:
By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction fire of ungodly men. (II Peter 3:7 NIV)
As you can see, this passage also refers to destruction of the ungodly. Over the centuries many have tried to "explain away" these and similar passages by saying that "destroy" doesn't mean "destroy." It means to "permanently separate from God." In fact, that explanation is often used to "explain away" every Old and New Testament passage which seems to clearly say the wicked will be destroyed.
But there is nothing in the original Greek or Hebrew words for "destroy," "destruction," "consume utterly," and related words that would call for that explanation. It seems that those who propose this interpretation of these words are coming to these passages with a pre-conceived notion that the fate of the wicked is eternal torture, so these passages must mean "separation." But if one can insist on changing the clear meaning of words just to support a long-held doctrine, it would be possible to "prove" anything one wants to from the Scriptures. This is not an intellectually honest, nor sound method of reasoning. Thus the ultimate question posed by the information above is this: WHERE ARE THE PASSAGES WHICH CLEARLY ESTABLISH THE DOCTRINE OF ETERNAL TORTURE OF HUMANS AFTER DEATH? There are basically only two other passages which are offered by theologians to establish their theory. You can see an overview of the reasoning that is used regarding these in the articles Revelation's Hell and Lazarus and the Rich Man.
Commentary on Words translated "Hell" in the King James Version of the Bible
The King James Version of the Bible has had an overwhelming influence on the popular conception of the nature of the Afterlife in the Englishspeaking world. It has had an even stronger influence on the mythology of Hell, the notion that it is a place prepared by God to eternally torment and torture billions upon billions of human souls. There would, of course, be no problem with this if the King James translators had scrupulously confined their efforts to using the context of the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts as their sole criteria for translation. Careful examination of the choices they made in numerous instances reveals, however, that this was not so.
Hell in the KJV Old Testament
The Hebrew word rendered as hell by the KJV translators in the Old Testament is sheol. When the ancient Hebrew mind heard this word, did it conjure up a fiery place of torment, where demons endlessly poked 83
pitchforks into disembodied human souls, with the Devil himself supervising all the torments and laughing fiendishly? No, there is absolutely no indication that this was ever the connotation of the word. In fact, in over 30 instances the KJV translators chose to render this exact same Hebrew word as "grave," rather than hell. Yet in others, sometimes for inexplicable reasons, they chose hell instead. Consider the samples below. It would seem in these instances that the translators, themselves only a single generation removed from the Roman Catholic Church, were influenced more by a preconceived notion of an ever-burning Hell than by the simple connotations of the Hebrew word. In fact, almost all modern translations make a similar choice to that of the NIV translation below and use the words "grave" or "death" to translate
KJV: Sheol translated as “Hell”
Each entry shows the KJV rendition of the verse within quotation marks, with the word or phrase that includes sheol bolded. This is bolded followed by the same verse in the NIV, indented. The bolded words in the NIV show how the same word or phrase was translated in the NIV.
Deuteronomy 32:22—"For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn in the lowest hell. and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. For a fire has been kindled by my wrath, one that burns to the realm of death below death below. It will devour the earth and its harvests and set afire the foundations of the mountains.
2 Samuel 22:6 —"The cords of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me;" The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. Job 11:8—"It [God’s wisdom] is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? hell; deeper than hell what canst thou know?" They are higher than the heavens—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave grave—what can you know? Job 26:6—"Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering." Hell Death is naked before God; Destruction lies uncovered. Psalm 9:17—"The wicked shall be turned into hell and all the nations hell, that forget God.” The wicked return to the grave grave, all the nations that forget God. Psalm 16:10—"Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell neither wilt thou hell; suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." ... because you will not abandon me to the grave grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay. Psalm 18:5—"The cords of hell compassed me about."
The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. Psalm 55:15—" Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick [old English word meaning “alive”] into hell: for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.” Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the grave grave, for evil finds lodging among them. Psalm 86:13—"Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell hell" …you have delivered me from the depths of the grave grave. Psalm 116:3—"The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me." The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; Psalm 139:8—"If I make my bed in hell behold, thou art there." hell, …if I make my bed in the depths you are there. depths, Proverbs 5:5—"Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell hell.” Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave grave. Proverbs 7:27—"Her house is the way to hell going down to the hell, chambers of death."
Her house is a highway to the grave grave, leading down to the chambers of death. Proverbs 9:18—"He knoweth not that the dead are there, and that her guests are in the depths of hell hell." But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave grave. Proverbs 15:11—"Hell and destruction are before the Lord." Hell He Death and Destruction lie open before the LORD… Proverbs 15:24—" The way of life is above to the wise, that he may beneath.” depart from hell beneath The path of life leads upward for the wise to grave. to keep him from going down to the grave Proverbs 23:14—"Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his hell" soul from hell Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death death. Proverbs 27:20—"Hell and destruction are never full: so the eyes of man Hell are never satisfied." Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man. Isaiah 5:14—"Therefore hell hath enlarged herself and opened her mouth without measure." 87
Therefore the grave enlarges its appetite and opens its mouth without limit; Isaiah 14:9—“Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy Hell He coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.” The grave below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you— all those who were leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones— all those who were kings over the nations. Isaiah 14:15—“Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the hell pit.” But you are brought down to the grave grave, to the depths of the pit. Isaiah 28:15, 18—"Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us, for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves: [Therefore, saith the Lord] ... Your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand." You boast, "We have entered into a covenant with death, with the grave we have made an agreement. When an overwhelming scourge sweeps by, it cannot touch us, for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood our hiding place." 88
[So this is what the Sovereign LORD says:]… Your covenant with death will be annulled; your agreement with the grave will not stand. Isaiah 57:9—“And thou wentest to the king with ointment, and didst increase thy perfumes, and didst send thy messengers far off, and didst debase thyself even unto hell hell.” You went to Molech with olive oil and increased your perfumes. You sent your ambassadors far away; itself! you descended to the grave itself Ezekiel 31:17—“They also went down into hell with him unto them They that be slain with the sword; and they that were his arm, that dwelt under his shadow in the midst of the heathen.” Those who lived in its shade, its allies among the nations, had also gone down to the grave with it, joining those killed by the sword. sword Ezekiel 32:21—" The strong among the mighty shall speak to him out of the midst of hell with them that help him: they are gone down, they lie uncircumcised, slain by the sword." From within the grave the mighty leaders will say of Egypt and her allies, 'They have come down and they lie with the uncircumcised, with those killed by the sword.' Ezekiel 32:27—"And they shall not lie with the mighty that are fallen of the uncircumcised, which are gone down to hell with their weapons of war: and they have laid their swords under their heads; but their iniquities 89
shall be upon their bones, though they were the terror of the mighty in the land of the living." Do they not lie with the other uncircumcised warriors who have fallen, who went down to the grave with their weapons of war, whose swords were placed under their heads? The punishment for their sins rested on their bones, though the terror of these warriors had stalked through the land of the living. Amos 9:2—"Though they dig into hell thence shall mine hand take hell, them." Though they dig down to the depths of the grave grave, from there my hand will take them. Jonah 2:1, 2—"Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord, his God, out of the fish’s belly, and said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice." From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. 2 He said: "In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. Habakkuk 2:5—“Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell and is as hell, death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people:} indeed, wine betrays him; he is arrogant and never at rest. 90
Because he is as greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied, he gathers to himself all the nations and takes captive all the peoples. For those who already accept the notion of an ever-burning Hell of torture, the modern choices might seem an attempt to "water down" the doctrine of Hell as taught by most Protestant churches. However, most of the modern translators themselves accept the common perspective on Hell! It even shows up in footnotes in the NIV. So it would appear that their choices are more informed by the honesty of their scholarship rather than a desire to provide confirmation of a doctrinal position. And once you have considered the choices of the KJV translators in the section below, this may become more obvious.
KJV: Sheol translated as “Grave”
Each entry shows the KJV rendition of the verse within quotation marks, with the word or phrase that includes sheol bolded. This is followed by bolded the same verse in the NIV, indented. The bolded words in the NIV show how the same word or phrase was translated in the NIV.
In the following three passages, the KJV translators were obviously troubled at the notion of the godly patriarch Jacob believing that he would be going to Hell after death. So in spite of all of the other places they had chosen to translate sheol as Hell, they chose to translate it as "grave" here. Genesis 37:35—"I [Jacob] will go down into the grave unto my son [Joseph]." …in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son. 91
Genesis 42:38—“And he [Jacob] said, My son [Benjamin] shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.” [See also the same expression in grave 44:29, 31. The translators did not like to send God’s servant, Jacob, to hell simply because his sons were evil! ] But Jacob said, "My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down sorrow." to the grave in sorrow Genesis 44:29-31—“And if ye take this [Benjamin] also from me [Jacob], and mischief befall him, ye shall bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to grave. the grave Now therefore when I come to thy servant my father, and the lad be not with us; seeing that his life is bound up in the lad's life; It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave.” grave. If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery. So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy's life, sees that the boy isn't there, he will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down to the grave in sorrow. In the following passage, the speaker, King David, notes that he doesn't want his enemy to go to sheol "in peace." Going to Hell would certainly not be a "peaceful" destiny, so the KJV translators were forced to translate it as "grave" in this instance, in spite of the fact that they usually chose to translate it as hell in other similar instances. 92
1 Kings 2:6, 9—"Let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace ... his hoary head bring thou down to the grave with blood." Deal with him according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to the grave in peace. … Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood." In the following passages, the KJV translators were obviously troubled at the idea of righteous Job wanting to be "hidden in Hell," if even for a time. So they chose to translate sheol as grave in this instance, in spite of the fact that they chose to translate it as hell in other similar instances. Job 14:13—"O that thou wouldst hide me in the grave [righteous Job grave, wants to be in Sheol, from whence he would be resurrected] that thou wouldst keep me secret until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldst appoint me a set time, and remember me [resurrect me]" "If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me! Job 17:13—"If I wait, the grave is mine house I have made my bed in house: the darkness." If the only home I hope for is the grave grave, if I spread out my bed in darkness ... Since the KJV translators chose to render sheol as grave when speaking about Job himself, they evidently found it intellectually dishonest to render the same word differently in the same Bible book, even when the book spoke of evil men going to sheol. So even in these passages, such as the following, they chose to render it as grave rather than hell. Yet in other 93
OT books, for no obvious reason, they slipped back to using hell whenever it seemed to speak of the unrighteous. Modern translations commonly avoid this schizophrenic approach to translation, and most often choose to translate sheol as grave or death. Job 24:19—“Drought and heat consume the snow waters: so doth the grave those which have sinned.” As heat and drought snatch away the melted snow, so the grave snatches away those who have sinned. Although the KJV translators sometimes used hell for sheol in translating the Psalms, at times they were forced by context to use grave. In the following passage, perhaps the idea of a tormented soul being "silent" in sheol was just too much. For, of course, one of the typical characteristics of the common mythology of Hell is the shrieks and moans of those who are being tortured. Psalm 31:17—"Let the wicked be ashamed; let them be silent in the grave." grave …let the wicked be put to shame and lie silent in the grave grave. And in this passage, the obvious problem is that animals are said to go to the same destination ... sheol. The mythology of Hell never includes torture of sheep, or even sheep wandering among those being tortured! Psalm 49:14,15—“Like sheep they are laid in the grave death shall feed grave; on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling. But God grave: will redeem my soul from the power of the grave for he shall receive me.” 94
Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, grave far from their princely mansions. But God will redeem my life from the grave grave; he will surely take me to himself.
In the following passage, the writer of Ecclesiastes is indiscriminately noting that anyone reading the book is destined for sheol, including the righteous. So the KJV writers were forced to render it grave, to avoid the implication that the common destination of all was sheol. The reality, however, is that ancient Hebrew did, indeed, refer to sheol as the destination of all. Which is why the modern translations all choose to commonly render it as "the grave" or "death." Ecclesiastes 9:10—"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in grave, the grave whither thou goest.” Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in grave, the grave where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Hell in the New Testament
The Greek word hades is used by authors of New Testament passages quoting Old Testament passages that use sheol. This clearly establishes a correlation between the meanings of the two words: 95
Acts 2:27, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (hades)" is from Psalms 16:10, "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (sheol).” …because you will not abandon me to the grave (NIV for both grave, passages) 1 Corinthians 15:54-55, " So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave (hades), where is thy victory?" is from Isaiah 25:8, "He will swallow up death in victory," and Hosea 13:14, "O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave (sheol), I will be thy destruction." When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." Where, O death (hades) , is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (NIV)
KJV: KJV Hades translated as "Hell"
Once again, as in the Old Testament, the KJV translators seem to choose to use the word hell at times for hades, when it could just as easily be translated otherwise. And, in fact, most modern translations choose to do this in many cases. Sometimes the modern translators even leave the word untranslated.
Matthew 11:23—"And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell hell." And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths.
Matthew 16:18—"Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." … on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will Hades not overcome it. One of the most difficult passages no doubt for the KJV translators was one in which Jesus Himself was said to have been " in Hades." The modern translators most often choose to render this "the grave." But there is a Roman Catholic doctrine that says that Jesus went to Hell to rescue the Old Testament saints after His death and before His resurrection. (See the entry on the Harrowing of Hell in the English Lexicon for more information on this.) So they were evidently comfortable with stating that the "soul" of Jesus went to Hell. (See the article on Body, Soul, Spirit, and Mind for an exploration of the implications of this notion.) Acts 2:31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. hell Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave nor did his body see grave, decay.
KJV: KJV Gehenna translated as "Hell" There is one word about which the KJV and the modern translations seem to agree. Both translate gehenna as hell in every instance in which it is used in the New Testament, as in the examples below. For an extensive examination of the meaning and usage of this word, see New Testament Hell. Matthew 5:21, 22—"Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be amenable to the judges; but I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be amenable to the judges; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the high council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell [Gehenna] fire fire." You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. Matthew 5:29-30—“And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell [Gehenna].” If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes 98
you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. Matthew 10:28—“Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna]. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and hell. body in hell It is impossible to consider all the unusual choices that the KJV translators made when dealing with passages using the Hebrew sheol and the Greek hades, as illustrated above, and not have concerns about the "objectivity" of their choices. It would appear that they were influenced at times by their preconceived notions about the nature of Hell, rather than purely linguistic considerations. It would seem that these scholars, in spite no doubt of their sincerity, may have been unable to free themselves from theology-from the influence of 1600 years of Hellish theology -and from 300 years of the influence of Dante and his successors in literature and art.
The book of Revelation’s
In the Old Testament of the King James Version of the Bible, the Hebrew word sheol is the only word translated as "hell." There is no mention of either eternal fire or ever-lasting torture of human souls connected with any of those passages. (For an overview of the use of Sheol, see the article "Old Testament View of Hell" elsewhere on this website.) How, then, did these two notions arise in Christian thought? There are two primary words translated numerous times as hell in the New Testament KJV, Gehenna and Hades. For an overview of the references regarding Gehenna, see the Gehenna section of the article "New Testament View of Hell." The word Hades is the counterpart in Greek to the Hebrew Sheol. For an overview of its usage, see the Hades section of the article "King James Version of Hell." For a more detailed overview of the usage of the term Hades specifically in the Book of Revelation, see the article "Revelation's Hell." Since the notions of an ever-burning Hell and of ever-lasting torturing of human souls are not evident in the Old Testament, we must look to the New Testament for any biblical basis for these doctrines. In the New Testament, there are three sources in the text that are primarily used to establish these doctrines. The first is the collection of references by Jesus to Gehenna. (See the Gehenna link above for information on this topic.) Another is Jesus' parable regarding "Lazarus and the Rich Man." (See the article Lazarus and the Rich Man for a discussion of the implications of that parable.) 100
The third source of the speculation regarding the nature of Hell and the state of souls in the Afterlife is a single passage in the Book of Revelation. The content of that passage is the focus of this article.
Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth-- to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, "Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water." A second angel followed and said, "Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries. A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name." This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them."
Revelation 14:6-13 Before considering this passage in detail, the comments by Peter in the following passage are useful to bring into the process. 101
Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other scriptures, scriptures, to their own destruction.
II Peter 3:15-16 The implication of Peter's words is that it is not necessarily best to start one's reasoning with biblical passages that are "hard to understand." If you wanted to explain any particular biblical doctrine to someone, it would seem sensible that you would want to start with as many clear, plain scriptures as possible to establish a solid base of understanding for your listener. Then you could add those "hard to understand" passages. The scripture passage under consideration in this article is from the book of Revelation, a book full of symbolism, shadows from the Old Testament, and poetic language. And it is all presented as a "vision," not a literal description of physical reality. It is fair to propose that this may well be one of those "hard to understand" passages. Yet this is one of the very few passages that are used in attempts to scripturally establish the common conception of Hell . It seems odd that this one passage should be looked at as being so clear that all other passages must be interpreted in its light! It would seem more logical that one would look at this passage in the light of all of the other passages related to the topic. What happens if that approach is taken? At first glance, it seems that this passage says that a certain group of people will be tormented forever and ever, having no rest forever and ever, and 102
that this torment will be caused by fire, and will continually produce smoke throughout eternity. Is there any other way that this passage can be understood? Consider: it does not state that the torment will be forever, only that the "smoke" of it will "ascend" forever. This exact same language is used later in Revelation to describe the fate of the city called "Babylon the Great":
Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her; death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord who judges her... Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all... Hallelujah! The smoke of her goes up forever and ever. (Revelation 18:8,21; 19:3)
Do proponents of the ever-burning Hell doctrine actually propose that the physical city of Babylon will continue burning throughout eternity, to produce smoke? Of course not, for this same passage says that it will be "found no more at all". How can something "found no more at all" give off smoke eternally? Astronomers in our day have come to realize that there are celestial bodies we can look at in the night sky that actually no longer exist. What we are seeing is the light emitted from them millions and millions of years ago when they exploded. The distances across space are so vast that even at the incredible speed of light, it has taken all this time for the light to reach our eyes. We are seeing the evidence of an event that happened long ago. In like manner, the "torment" spoken of in Revelation 14 can be very real, but limited in time. The "smoke" which is said to ascend is a symbolic memorial of that event, not evidence that the event itself is never-ending, in the same way that light from an exploded star continues across space indefinitely.
Consider also: The torment is said to be "in the presence of the Lamb and the angels." If it was never-ending, that would imply that Jesus and the angels would be doing nothing else for all eternity but gazing on the torments of the damned! But what about the comment that they have no rest day nor night? If you read the whole context of Revelation 14 through Revelation 16 you will see that the passage under consideration in Revelation 14 is a prelude to the events about to transpire in the rest of John's vision. For the next event described is the "harvesting" of the earth, followed immediately by
I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues- last because with them God's wrath is completed.
(Revelation 15:1) And then comes a description of the seven plagues, poured out on those who have the "Mark of the Beast." There are no details on exactly how long the effects of each plague lasts, before the next one starts. But the descriptions are vivid of the torment. During the earlier event described as the "Sixth Trumpet," the torments of the "locusts" from the Abyss are said to be so great that
In those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. (Revelation 9:6)
The final seven plagues are equally tormenting. There is no logical reason to assume that the description in Revelation 14 is something that will continue for eternity, nor that it is about "immortal souls" somewhere in an ever-burning Hell. It is about physical people enduring a period of many horrific plagues, including fire. Revelation 16: Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, "Go, pour out the seven bowls of God's wrath on the 104
earth." 2The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The second angel poured out his bowl on the sea, and it turned into blood like that of a dead man, and every living thing in the sea died. 4The third angel poured out his bowl on the rivers and springs of water, and they became blood. 5Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: "You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; 6for they have shed the blood of your saints and prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve." 7And I heard the altar respond: "Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments." [Note that the "judgments" are being meted out, physically, right at this point, not said to be something that will be meted out to disembodied souls for eternity.] 8The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. 9They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him.
10The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. Men gnawed their tongues in agony 11and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done. 12The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. 13Then I saw three evil[a] spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. ... 17The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air, and out of the temple came a loud voice from the throne, saying, "It is done!" 18Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. 19The great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed. God remembered Babylon the Great and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath. 20Every island fled away and the mountains could not be found. 21From the sky huge hailstones of about a hundred pounds each fell upon men. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible. Is it any wonder that it would be said that during this time those who have the Mark of the Beast will have "no rest day nor night"? The whole concept of "day" and "night" is related to the rotation of the Earth in 106
relation to the sun. Even those who teach a doctrine of an ever-burning Hell do not propose that the surface of the Earth is the location of Hell! So the notion of day and night would be totally inapplicable. Those people who have accepted the Mark of the Beast will be tormented while there still is a day and night. That is when they "drink the wine of God's fury" from the "cup of His wrath"--while the physical Earth is in the final throes of these "last plagues" of God.
This passage in Revelation is the only place in all of scripture where the notion of something related to "torment" is said to be "for ever and ever." As is clear from the explanation above, there is absolutely no necessity to assume that this passage is speaking of eternal torture of souls in the fires of an ever-burning Hell. The rest of the Bible contains many passages which describe the ultimate fate of the wicked as "destruction." It would seem wise to seek to harmonize this passage with all of those, rather than attempt to discount all of those in favor of a misinterpretation of this passage.
Vatican painting, c. 1610 Angel freeing a soul from Purgatory
Most Protestants are satisfied with a division of the Afterlife that has only two destinations for the souls of the dead. Those who are "saved" before 108
they die go immediately to the everlasting bliss of Heaven. Those who aren't go immediately to a Hell of everlasting torture and suffering. Each denomination has its own set of criteria for what a person must do to be saved. For some, a simple verbal acceptance that Jesus is Savior is viewed as adequate. For others, this needs to be followed by baptism. For still others only a life led according to the strict dictates of the denomination will qualify the believer for Heaven. Thus a person who was at one time "saved" who then "backslides" into sinning may find himself destined for Hell instead of Heaven. For some groups this backsliding would be of the nature of "big sins" such as adultery or stealing. For others, it can include lesser transgressions against denominational standards. At the extreme, this can mean men having hair too long or women having hair too short! And at these extremes, the idea seems to be that only those who have managed to "purify themselves" completely before death will be worthy of Heaven. The Roman Catholic Church offers an interesting alternative to this view. From the earliest centuries, Catholic theologians speculated on what God required of believers in order to admit them to Heaven. It seemed to them that only the totally pure could enter the presence of God. But they realized that humans were, by nature, incapable of such a level of purity. Even a blot such as a tiny bit of vanity, or grumpiness, or a failure to totally trust God at all times, would be viewed as less than perfection. Yet it seemed incomprehensible that such things, in a person who really did desire to serve God, could send them to Hell. And thus over time they developed a solution to this dilemma: a third destination, Purgatory. The English word Purgatory comes directly from the Latin word for this place, purgatorium. It is based on the same root word that means a place of "purging" or place of "purifying." The basic underlying idea is that the "forgiveness of sins" provided by the blood of Jesus and acceptance of Him as Savior is not the same as being totally "purified" from the blot of the sin on one's record and on one's character. Salvation through His blood only changes the ultimate destination of the person from Hell to Heaven. 109
Every single sin, however great or small, committed by a person still requires that a penalty be paid by that person for that sin. Only when that penalty has been paid, and the individual's character has been totally purged of the flaw, will the person be pure enough to be in God's presence. During the lifetime of a devout Roman Catholic, he will regularly go to "confession," where he will admit to a priest any serious ... "mortal" ... sins he has committed, as well as any more minor ... "venial" ... sins. For every sin, the priest will order him to do a certain "penance," a penalty that will remove the debt for that sin. Centuries ago this sometimes included very public humiliation. But in the 21st century, it primarily consists of various kinds of prayer and other acts of religious devotion. This whole process, of confession and penance, is referred to as the "act of reconciliation." If a person dies without having confessed a mortal sin, he is commonly believed to be on his way straight to Hell. But venial sins are another matter. He may even be unaware of many "minor" sins he has committed. They will not have earned him the destination of Hell. But their results still require purification. And all the sins he has committed and confessed to and done penance for may still have left lingering effects on his character that will need to be dealt with after death. Thus it is viewed that a person who dies will very likely require much "purging" before he can enter into God's presence. From this reasoning developed the doctrine of Purgatory, the place where all this purging is to be accomplished. The earliest descriptions of the theory of the existence of such an "intermediate" place between Earthly life and Heaven were quite vague. But over the centuries it acquired the same level of lurid details as that describing Hell. And thus by the Middle Ages it became a favorite topic of writers and artists. The fourteenth century Italian poet Dante included a whole section on it in his poem The Divine 110
Comedy, in between the section on Hell, L' Inferno, and that on Heaven, Paradiso. Even though the souls in Purgatory are believed to be ultimately
on their way to Heaven, the punishments that they must endure in Purgatory can be as "cruel and unusual" as those envisioned for Hell. The examples in the section on Purgatory in Dante's poem are somewhat milder than many other depictions of the suffering of those in Purgatory. In Dante's vision, each type of sin that particularly beset a human in his earthly life merits a very special punishment in Purgatory: Envy http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/purgatory/04envy.html The envious shades are seated together, leaning against one another and against boulders. Their coarsely woven cloaks are similar in color to the plain appearance of the rocks. Since they derived pleasure from seeing other people brought low, the envious are now deprived of sight in an atrocious manner: their eyes are sewn shut with iron wire. With tears squeezed out of their closed eyes, these souls huddle together like blind beggars (13.43-72). Wrath http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/purgatory/05wrath.html The souls purging themselves of their wrathful dispositions are forced to walk through thick acrid smoke that is darker than night (15.142-5; 16.115). Unable to see the outside world with their eyes, the penitents experience hallucinatory visions in which they first "see" examples of meekness (the virtue opposite to wrath) and then "see" examples of wrath itself.
Artwork of the Middle Ages and later usually depicts a Purgatory even more horrific than this, showing the souls suffering in raging fires. The "Virgin Mary" most often appears hovering over these scenes, showing pity on these souls, and perhaps sending angels to free some of them upon completion of their time of purification. 19th Century
The most unusual aspect of the doctrine of Purgatory is that the length of time that souls must spend there can be shortened by the efforts of living humans on their behalf. The living can say prayers for those in Purgatory and do acts of devotion to be "credited" to their account. At one time, it was also thought that the amount of time one had to spend in Purgatory after death could be shortened by paying money to the Church through one of its representatives for an "indulgence" in this lifetime. 112
From the Wikipedia.org article on Indulgences: In Catholic theology, the salvation made possible by Jesus allows the faithful sinner eventual admittance to Heaven. Baptism forgives all of the baptized person's existing sins; any sin committed after baptism incurs both guilt and a penalty that must be addressed. These are the sins addressed in reconciliation. After reconciliation, the temporal punishment for sin remains. This punishment may be remitted in Purgatory, or by indulgence. The granting of an indulgence is the spiritual reassignment, as it were, of existing merit to an individual requiring that merit. Indulgences occur when the Church, acting by virtue of its authority, applies existing merit from the Church’s treasury [the heavenly "collection" of merit earned by the good deeds of the great Saints, including willing martyrdom, beyond that necessary to counterbalance their own sins] to an individual. The individual gains the indulgence by participating in certain activities, most often the recitation of prayers. By decree of Pope Pius V in 1567, following the Council of Trent, it is forbidden to attach the receipt of an indulgence to any financial act, including the giving of alms. In addition, the only punishment remitted by an indulgence is existing punishment, that is, for sins already committed. Indulgences do not remit punishment for future sins, as those sins have yet to be committed. Thus, indulgences are not a “license to sin” or a “getout-of-Hell-free” card; they are a means for the sinner to “pay” the “wages” of sin. Indulgences are "plenary" or "partial”: "Plenary" indulgences remit all of the existing temporal punishment due for the individual’s sins. An individual can only earn one plenary indulgence per day. "Partial" indulgences remit only a part of the existing punishment. 113
Before the Second Vatican Council, partial indulgences were stated as a term of days, weeks, months, or years. This has resulted in Catholics and non-Catholics alike believing that indulgences remit a specific period of time equal to the length of the soul's stay in Purgatory. This was not true, rather the stated length of time actually indicated that the indulgence was equal to the amount of remission the individual would have earned by performing a canonical penance for that period of time. For example, the amount of punishment remitted by a “forty day” indulgence would be equal to the amount of punishment remitted by the individual performing forty days of penance. The original reasoning for the "days" notation was, in the early days of the Church, a person's only means of returning to the state of grace was performing penances equal to the actions he had committed. Because a person may not receive Eucharist while not in a state of grace, he must perform these penances if he wished to be Catholic. However, because some people had been professional thieves, prostitutes, or some other sinful individual, he would have to undergo hundreds of years of penance to get remission for his sins. To alleviate this, the Church instituted certain actions or prayers which would cleanse him for the amount of time noted. In addition to remitting punishment for the individual's own existing sins, an individual may perform the actions necessary to gain an indulgence with the intention of gaining the indulgence for a specific individual in Purgatory. In doing so, the individual both gains the indulgence for the soul in Purgatory, and performs a spiritual act of mercy. As noted above, there was a time when indulgences could be purchased with money by Catholics from religious authorities. It was this practice, and its extreme abuse, that directly led in part to the rebellion of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation.
There is a tendency in recent decades for Roman Catholic authors to downplay the details of Purgatory within Catholic doctrine: http://www.catholic.com/library/Roots_of_Purgatory.asp Some imagine that the Catholic Church has an elaborate doctrine of purgatory worked out, but there are only three essential components of the doctrine: (1) that a purification after death exists, (2) that it involves some kind of pain, and (3) that the purification can be assisted by the prayers and offerings by the living to God. Other ideas, such that purgatory is a particular "place" in the afterlife or that it takes time to accomplish, are speculations rather than doctrines. But it has been less than a century since the topic was addressed with much more passion by Roman Catholic writers. For instance, the following excerpts are from a popular religious booklet by a Catholic Priest, Paul O' Sullivan, published in 1936.
Read Me or Rue It
"Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you my friends, because the hand of the Lord hath touched me. " (Job 19:21). This is the touching prayer that the Poor Souls in Purgatory address to their friends on Earth, begging, imploring their help, in accents of the deepest anguish. Alas, many are deaf to their prayers! It is incomprehensible how some Catholics, even those who are otherwise devout, shamefully neglect the souls in Purgatory. It would almost seem that they do not believe in Purgatory. Certain it is that their ideas on the subject are very hazy.
Days and weeks and months pass without their having a Mass said for the Holy Souls! Seldom, too, do they hear Mass for them, seldom do they pray for them, seldom do they think of them! Whilst they are enjoying the fullness of health and happiness, busy with their work, engrossed with their amusements, the Poor Souls are suffering unutterable agonies on their beds of flame. What is the cause of this awful callousness? Ignorance: gross, inexplicable ignorance. People do not realize what Purgatory is. They have no conception of its dreadful pains, and they have no idea of the long years that souls are detained in these awful fires. As a result, they take little or no care to avoid Purgatory themselves, and worse still, they cruelly neglect the Poor Souls who are already there and who depend entirely on them for help. ...
What is Purgatory?
It is a prison of fire in which nearly all [saved] souls are plunged after death and in which they suffer the intensest pain. Here is what the great Doctors of the Church tell us of Purgatory: So grievous is their suffering that one minute in this awful fire seems like a century. St. Thomas Aquinas, the Prince of Theologians, says that the fire of Purgatory is equal in intensity to the fire of Hell, and that the slightest contact with it is more dreadful than all the possible sufferings of this Earth! St. Augustine, the greatest of the Holy Doctors, teaches that to be purified of their faults previous to being admitted to Heaven, souls after death are 116
subjected to a fire more penetrating, more dreadful than anything we can see, or feel, or conceive in this life. "Though this fire is destined to cleanse and purify the soul," adds the Holy Doctor, "still it is more acute than anything we could possibly endure on Earth." St. Cyril of Alexandria does not hesitate to say that "it would be preferable to suffer all the possible torments of Earth until the Judgment day than to pass one day in Purgatory." Another great Saint says: "Our fire, in comparison with the fire of Purgatory, is as a refreshing breeze." [See the complete booklet at http://www.sufferingsouls.com/part3.htm] In addition to the desire to solve the intellectual problem of how imperfect humans at death could enter the presence of God, the development of the doctrine of Purgatory was likely influenced at least in small measure by extra-biblical Jewish teachings. Catholic writers often refer to the following passage in the book of 2 Maccabees as giving evidence of a belief in a time of purification before admission to Heaven. This book is in the Roman Catholic Bible as part of the Apocrypha, but is not considered as being part of the Bible by most Protestants.
12:39: On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchres of their fathers. 40: Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. 41: So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden;
42: and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been
committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. 43: He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. 44: For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. 45: But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. Note that this doesn't really speak at all of the souls of individuals being "released" from a place of punishment and purification through the efforts of the living. It rather speaks of a time of resurrection from the dead, when the sin that they had committed in life would still be on their record if Judas Maccabbeas had not offered a "sin offering" for them, and thus they might be kept from the Messianic Kingdom. There also is a variation on the notion of Purgatory in traditional Jewish rabbinical speculation on the Afterlife, which may have influenced Catholic thought. Here is a brief excerpt from an article on the Jewish view of the Afterlife from The People's Almanac (David Walleschinsky and Irving Wallace, © 1975-1981): After death the impure soul goes to Gehenna (Gehinnom). It is located beneath the land and the sea and has entrances in both places. It is immeasurably large, dark, and cold, but within it are rivers of fire. Here the soul is purged of all defilement that it has accumulated during its lifetime. Punishments may consist of being cast into fire and snow or being hanged from different limbs of the spirit body. The thoroughly 118
wicked remain here in everlasting disgrace. The ordinary soul need stay no more than 12 months, during which time it can be helped by prayers and sacrifices made by the living. (It is an insult to recite prayers for more than 11 months, because it implies that the deceased would be required to serve the full term.) Gehenna is emptied on the Sabbath, and the souls are given a glimpse of the light of Paradise. Without this respite, they would be unable to endure the anguish of the other six days in Gehenna. [Further quotes from this source are in the article Jewish View of Hell.] Although it may be impossible to trace exactly when these aspects of Jewish speculation arose, and whether early Catholic theologians were exposed to and influenced by the ideas, there certainly are distinct similarities to the concept of Purgatory. What is clear, however, is that there is no description in the Bible of either the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory or the Jewish speculation about Gehenna as described above. All of the details have been concocted concocted from the imaginations of men.
Spirit, Heart, Mind
An examination of the Hebrew and Greek words related to the concepts of body, soul, spirit, heart, and mind, with 119
commentary on the variations of understanding among of the differences among them.
The short definitions provided for each Hebrew or Greek word below are adapted from the Strong's Concordance Lexicon entries for each. Links are provided to the complete Lexicon entries for each word that are on a separate webpage on this site. The Strong's numbers for each are included, e.g., G5590, H2416.
Scene from Dante's Inferno: Souls of the Damned passing in front of Dante and Virgil
When hearing the word "soul," the average person may picture in their mind something like the scene above from a painting illustrating Dante's Inferno. A soul to most is another word for what some would call a "ghost," a disembodied human being. In other words, as one webauthor put it, your body is like a space suit, and your soul is like the astronaut that wears it. Take the astronaut out, and the space suit would fall to the floor in a crumpled heap. But the astronaut without the suit would have no way to interact out in space with his environment outside his space ship. The suit has no "life" of its own. It is merely a vehicle for the thinking, perceiving astronaut to get around. This is how most people view a soul. It is the thinking, perceiving part of 120
a human. When the human's body is alive, the soul is inside the body. While it is in its body, it uses the brain and senses of that body to interact with the world. After the body dies, the soul leaves the body, and then has no way to really have an effect on the natural, physical environment. But it still "exists" as a separate, intelligent being. And, according to some, it can appear to living humans, although when they see it, it is like a misty vapor that they could put their hand through. The term ghost is usually reserved for situations in which such a disembodied soul is seen by a living person. Thus if we think of this being existing somewhere such as Heaven or Hell that can't be seen by living humans, the term soul is used. If it manifests itself to a human on Earth, it is called a ghost. A typical representation of this notion is the "ghost of Abraham Lincoln" in one of the attractions at the Lincoln museum in Springfield, Illinois. Another way some might describe a soul would be to compare it to a three-dimensional hologram projection of a person, looking just like him, but without material solidity. In the Inferno, Dante could identify souls in Hell because they looked just like the human body that they had left behind when it died. In art, most such souls or ghosts are portrayed as being a misty white color. This is likely because of the pale appearance of a corpse after it has been drained of blood. Even though the soul or ghost is not viewed as having a physical body, the assumption seems to be that it would have the appearance of a dead body. Strangely enough, because of the way most illusions of souls, spirits, or ghosts are created in modern times for special effects, ghosts tend
to be portrayed in some people's minds as being either blue, like Lincoln's ghost above, or a sickly green, like "Madame Leota" in Disney's Haunted Mansion attraction. The word "spirit" may conjure up a variety of notions. To some it is just a synonym for soul. To others, it is a "life force" that takes a soul inside a body and merges and animates both to constitute a complete human. To others it is the essence that makes a person different from an animal ... animals are viewed as being bodies with souls inside them also. But without the spirit that man has, they are unable to connect on a higher level with God. And to still others, spirit is a word that describes a being that was created without a physical body, exists in a non-physical dimension, and cannot normally be seen by humans, although some believe that some of these beings can affect objects and situations in the natural world. Since most people have never claimed to have seen a ghost or a soul or a spirit, no matter how they define those terms, where do they get these notions? In fact, since most Christians accept the Bible as the only reliable source of information on the reality beyond the physical dimension, where in particular do Christians get the perceptions they have about the words soul and spirit? This article explores some of the Greek and Hebrew words in the Bible that have historically been translated into English as soul or spirit, along with those that have been translated body, mind, and heart. The bottom line is that many popular concepts about these matters are are not clearly established in the Bible. Serious Bible students would like for Hebrew and Greek words to have much more precision than they do, so they could easily build a "theological vocabulary," with narrow definitions for words such as soul and spirit that are totally based on biblical usage. But this is impossible. Therefore we need to take care that the English words we use to describe 122
what we believe about topics are clarified ... their common English connotations may have little to do with the underlying Hebrew and Greek. The definitions below are based on the classic Bible reference work of James Strong, in his Strong's Exhaustive Concordance with Greek and Hebrew Lexicons. Writing in the 1800s, Strong's efforts were based in the King James Version of the Bible. Although he relied on studies in the linguistics of Greek and Hebrew, much of the information he offers about words in the KJV are influenced by the choices of the King James translators of 1611. Unfortunately, those translators didn't really seem to have a clear "systematic theology" underlying their choices of terminology when translating the words in question. According to Strong, the relationship of the terms translated in the KJV as body, soul, and spirit lay out like this in Greek and Hebrew: PNEUMA G4151, the rational and immortal soul Directly corresponds to the Hebrew NEPHESH H5315, a living creature, used sometimes of man, sometimes of animals PSUCHE G5590, breath, that is, (by implication) spirit, abstractly or concretely (the animal sentient principle only) Directly corresponds to the Hebrew RUACH H7307, breath, or, figuratively, "life" ZOE G2222, life, whether plant or animal Directly corresponds to the Hebrew CHAI H2416, life, alive, living thing 123
But this system of definitions doesn't really work, especially with pneuma/nephesh unless you believe that animals are "rational" and have "immortal souls." In fact, all of these words are used in many ways throughout the Bible that conflict with this attempt by Strong to make a neat, tidy classification system for them. Below are the simple definitions from Strong's work for the Hebrew and Greek words translated as body, soul, spirit, heart, and mind. A few other words are included that directly relate to the topic at hand. Representative sample scriptures are included for each, to point out the diverse way in which they are viewed by the KJV translators. HEBREW
Chay, Chai : Life, alive, living thing (H2416)
Eccleisastes 9:5 For the living [chai] know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Leviticus 11:10 And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living [chai] thing [nephesh] which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you
Nephesh: A living creature, used sometimes of man, sometimes of
animals; KJV, often "soul." (H5315) Genesis 1:24 124
And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living [chai] creature [nephesh] after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living [chai] soul [nephesh] Note that the exact same pair of Hebrew words, chai and nephesh, is used to describe animals and man. When referring to a man, the KJV chooses to translate it "soul," and when an animal, "creature," but this is misleading in light of the common English meaning of the word soul, which normally implies an immaterial entity that can consciously reside after death in Heaven or Hell, outside of the body. Leviticus 21:10-11 And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes; Neither shall he go in to any dead [muth] body [nephesh], nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother; Note that a nephesh can be dead and thus directly refers, at least in some dead, usages, to the physical body And in the cases in which it refers to a body. human who has died, the KJV usually chooses to render it "body" instead of "soul." Ezekiel 18:20
The soul [nephesh] that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. In this passage, since it refers to the concept of "sin" ... which is a willful act of a person's "mind" ... the KJV translators were unable to choose to use "body" to translate nephesh. In this instance the implication would be "the person who sins, he shall die." The point remains, that a nephesh can die. And the nephesh that is a human and a nephesh that is an animal both die the same death.
Ruach: Breath, or, figuratively, "life" (H7307)
Ecclesiates 8:8 There is no man that hath power over the spirit [ruach] to retain the spirit [ruach]; neither hath he power in the day of death ... (Amplified Version: There is no man who has power over the spirit to retain the breath of life, neither has he power over the day of death...) I Samuel 16:14 But the Spirit [ruach] of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit [ruach] from the LORD troubled him. Numbers 5:12-14 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, If any man's wife go aside, and commit a trespass against him, And a man lie with her carnally, and it be hid from the eyes of her husband, and be kept close, and she be defiled, and there be no witness against her, neither she be taken with the manner; And the spirit [ruach] of jealousy come upon him, and he be 126
jealous of his wife, and she be defiled: or if the spirit [ruach] of jealousy come upon him, and he be jealous of his wife, and she be not defiled: Proverbs 18:14 The spirit [ruach] of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit [ruach] who can bear? (Amplified Version: "The strong spirit of a man sustains him in bodily pain or trouble, but a weak and broken spirit who can raise up or bear?") Psa 51:14 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit [ruach] from me. Note that the term ruach can refer to actual physical breath that sustains life, to the Holy Spirit, to an evil spirit, to a an "attitude" like jealousy, or to a "spirit of man" that seems to refer to his general frame of mind or emotions--this kind of spirit can be wounded or "crushed" (NIV).
Geviyah : a physical body, dead or alive [H1472]
1 Samuel 31:12 All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body [geviyah] of Saul and the bodies [geviyah] of his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there.
Dianoia: deep thought, the mind Dianoia:
Luke 10:27 ... Love the Lord your God with all your heart [kardia] and with all your soul [psuche] and with all your strength and with all your mind [dianoia] ...
Kardia: the heart, figuratively the thoughts, feelings, or mind
Luke 10:27 ... Love the Lord your God with all your heart [kardia] and with all your soul [psuche] and with all your strength and with all your mind [dianoia] ...
Psuche: Breath, abstractly, that which defines a living from a non-living thing [G5590]
Matthew 10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul [psuche]: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul [psuche] and body in hell. This passage in Matthew indicates that the soul is something that cannot be "killed" by other humans, but can be destroyed by God. Revelation 16:3
And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul [psuche] [NIV: thing] died in the sea. This passage in Revelation cannot be talking about humans, since they do not live "in" the sea, and thus would not be affected directly by the sea turning to blood. Thus the word psuche is not limited to describing humans. 1 Corinthians 15:45 And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul [psuche]; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. This passage in 1 Corinthians is likely a direct reference to Genesis 2:7-"And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living [chai] soul [nephesh]." So even though Strong decided that psuche and ruach were the parallel words in Greek and Hebrew, this seems to indicate otherwise. This does not mean that there cannot be multiple parallels. There likely are--and what this tells us is that attempting to narrowly define a theology of "body/soul/spirit" is not possible by using just the Bible.
Pneuma: Wind or breath, figuratively, the essence of a rational being, KJV
often "spirit" [G4151] Matthew 3:16
And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit [pneuma] of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: Matthew 12:43 When the unclean spirit [pneuma is gone out of a man, he walketh pneuma] pneuma through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Acts 17:16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit [pneuma] was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. It is obvious from these samples that the term pneuma has a wide variation in usage, all the way from a description of the Holy Spirit, to a demonic or unclean spirit, to some part of the essence of a man, different from his body (soma) and his soul (psuche).
Soma: a physical body [G4983]
Matthew 26:12 For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body [soma], she did it for my burial.
Zoe: Life, whether of plant or animal [G2222]
1 Peter 3:10 For he that will love life [zoe], and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: 130
Other articles in this website series about Hell discuss some of the significance of these various words as they relate to the biblical teachings about the Afterlife. They are collected here in particular as a central reference source.
Getting to the Bottom of Hell
The following article is the conclusion and summary of all of the material on this Is It True What They Say About Hell? website. If you have arrived at this page directly from a websearch, and have not examined the other articles, you are encouraged to reserve judgment on what you read here. Links are provided throughout the article to documentation and commentary elsewhere on the website regarding the concepts under consideration. If your preconceptions are in conflict with the material below, may God grant you the wisdom and patience to examine all the biblical evidence and reasoning presented on this website before you make a final judgment on the topic. Do you remember your first reaction to learning about the history of "The Inquisition"? Most people recoil in horror at the idea of humans inflicting excruciating pain and suffering on other humans "in the name of God." The mental image of a group of robed "Holy Men" in a dungeon observing a fellow human, male or female, being stretched on "the rack," or tormented with burning metal, or being subjected to numerous other grotesque methods of torture, is enough to make most people physically sick to their stomach. 132
How bizarre that the men who imposed the physical tortures of the Inquisition are viewed as cruel, heartless, and inhumane ...
... yet the notion that a merciful and loving God has planned an ever-burning Hell full of even more obscene tortures--torture not for just hours or days or weeks, but endlessly, for eternity--is acceptable even to this day in most Catholic and conservative Protestant circles!
In other words, Christians are asked to believe that the God who placed within them a repugnance towards such cruelty of man is, Himself, unspeakably cruel. If the man or woman who died on the rack in the Middle Ages was not "saved," then the next moment after their death, they would find themselves in the hands of far crueler 133
torturers. And their torments would never, never end. Likewise, the young Jewish person who died at the hands of the "experiments" of Josef Mengele in the Nazi concentration camps, a split-second after death would find himself in a place far worse than Auschwitz. And his eternal suffering would not be condoned by a maniacal Hitler, but by the God of Love Himself. “It [the doctrine of eternal torture in Hell] is a doctrine which the natural heart revolts from and struggles against, and to which it submits only under stress of authority. The church believes the doctrine because it must believe it, or renounce faith in the Bible, and give up all the hopes founded upon its promises.” [Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (New York, 1871), 3:870.] This is the "bottom line" regarding the doctrine of Hell: The majority position within most Christian circles of the past 2000 years has been that the Bible teaches this hideous perspective on the nature of God, and thus to doubt it is to reject God and the Bible. What many Christians do not understand is that, while this is the majority position, there has always existed a minority, even within "orthodox circles," who have proposed that the doctrine is built on an incorrect interpretation of the scriptures. An increasing number of Bible scholars and teachers in recent years have called into question the soundness of the reasoning that led to the doctrine as currently accepted in most Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. One such scholar is Clark Pinnock:
Four views on Hell Zondervan, (1992), Page 136
"...we are asked to believe that God endlessly tortures sinners by the million, sinners who perish because the Father has decided not to elect them to salvation [while they were alive on earth], though he could have done so, and whose torments are supposed to gladden the hearts of 134
believers in heaven. The problems with this doctrine are both extensive and profound." C.H. Pinnock "The Destruction of the Finally Impenitent," Criswell Theological Review 4 (1990-Spring), Pages 246-47. "How can Christians possibly project a deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness whose ways include inflicting everlasting torture upon his creatures, however sinful they may have been? Surely a God who would do such a thing is more nearly like Satan than like God, at least by any ordinary moral standards, and by the gospel itself." C.H. Pinnock If the Bible truly teaches this doctrine, then Charles Hodge, quoted above, is right. All Christians must believe it or deny the very basis of their faith, the Bible itself. But if the Bible does not teach this doctrine, then those who promote it are denying the very nature of God and, as Pinnock wrote, remaking Him in the image of Satan. The reality is that the doctrine of an ever-burning Hell, where the unsaved are perpetually tortured with unimaginable suffering throughout eternity, is not just a fringe doctrine that can be swept under the rug, or put on a shelf, or otherwise hidden from sight and ignored. It is, in one way, the centerpiece of a debate to define the very nature of God. It is a primary goal of this article to bring the full horror of this doctrine into sharp focus. Only when Christians can examine this doctrine in the clear light of day, with sound reasoning, and consider BOTH sides of the debate, will they be able to form a truly informed opinion on what the Bible actually says on the subject.
The position regarding the nature of Hell supported by documentation, biblical exegesis, and sound logic on this website is the following:
The Lord promised that a day would come when the inequities of this present life would be settled by His righteous justice. The wicked often seem in their physical lifetime to prosper, and to die at a ripe old age without any suffering. The servants of God often seem to suffer throughout life, and perhaps even die an early death. So the only way for the inequities to be settled is for there to be a time of reckoning outside this lifetime. There is a component of man that continues on after the death of the flesh, commonly called the "soul." This component can be joined again to a new body, either physical or non-physical, and the person can "live again." This new life is called a "resurrection." The individual thus resurrected does not have within himself the ability to exist eternally. God retains the right eventually to either grant him eternal life, or destroy him, body and soul, permanently. (See the article Body, Soul, Spirit, Mind.) There are only a very few references in the Bible implying a special place of confinement for the souls of the wicked after physical death. The details are very sketchy about such a place, and we would do well not to elaborate beyond what the Scriptures say. Most Bible passages which touch on the subject seem to portray death as a type of "sleep" in which all who have died have no perceptions. A few passages seem to portray the possibility of some sort of shadowy conscious existence. But no passages describe for the unsaved the sort of gory, never-ending "tortures of the damned" as portrayed by writers, artists, and sermons of the past
2000 years in Catholic and Protestant circles. (See the article Tortures of the Damned?) The Bible portrays a time of resurrection to a period of Judgment. The wicked will be punished, the righteous will be rewarded. The Bible is, however, very sketchy about the details of just how all this punishment will be administered and what the rewards will be like. Some passages seem to indicate that some of those who receive punishment may eventually have an opportunity for reconciliation with God. The Scriptures regarding this are also very sketchy, and we need to be very careful about speculating about the details. But one thing is abundantly sure ... there is no description anywhere in the Bible of any never-ending hellish tortures such as portrayed in the writings of Dante and others for the past 2000 years. At some point after these things, all who have not been granted the gift of eternal life will be cast into the "Lake of Fire," which is the second death, and which results in their total annihilation. The only way to escape this second death is to be found, on the very final Day of Judgment, to be "in Christ Jesus." We can know now, in this life, what our eternal destiny is. We need only accept by faith the reconciliation provided by Jesus, and live by faith the life He provides. If we do, we will be in the first resurrection, at the return of the LORD in power, and
Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6 NIV)
See the articles Old Testament View of Hell and New Testament View of Hell for a careful examination and commentary on most of the passages in 137
the Bible that address the issue of the Afterlife and Hell. See the article on The Resurrection for more information on that topic. In spite of the lack of any details in the Bible describing torture, a vast collection of writings and artworks by "Christian" authors and artists have depicted excruciating details of an ever-burning Hell of torment. Three brief examples (click on each author's name for more samples of their writings): 11th Century: Dante Alighieri Dante, an Italian poet, claimed to have had a divinely-inspired vision of Hell in the year 1300 AD. He wrote of it in his poem The Divine Comedy, which is considered one of the great classics of European literature. A few brief snippets from a description of the content of the poem: [...gluttons are] forced to lie in the mud under continual cold rain and hail whilst being forced to consume their own excrement. Those who committed simony [sellers of religious favors] are placed headfirst in holes in the rock, with flames burning on the soles of their feet. A sword-wielding devil hacks at the sowers of discord. As they make their rounds the wounds heal, only to have the devil tear apart their bodies again. 19th Century: John Furniss Furniss, an Irish Roman Catholic priest, wrote books for young children, including The Sight of Hell, from which this excerpt is taken:
Come into this room. You see it is very small. But see, in the midst of it there is a girl, perhaps about eighteen years old. What a terrible dress she has on—her dress is made of fire. On her head she wears a bonnet of fire. It is pressed down close all over her head; it burns her head; it burns into the skin; it scorches the bone of the skull and makes it smoke. The red hot fiery heat goes into the brain and melts it... You do not, perhaps, like a headache. Think what a headache that girl must have. But see more. She is wrapped up in flames, for her frock is fire. If she were on earth she would be burnt to a cinder in a moment. But she is in Hell, where fire burns everything, but burns nothing away. There she stands burning and scorched; there she will stand for ever burning and scorched! She counts with her fingers the moments as they pass away slowly, for each moment seems to her like a hundred years. As she counts the moments she remembers that she will have to count them for ever and ever. 20th Century: Mary Kay Baxter A popular author in many evangelical Christian circles, Baxter claimed to have had an "out of body" experience in 1976 in which Jesus took her to visit Hell. One website offered this summary of a brief scene in her book A
Divine Revelation of Hell:
The sounds of people in torments were everywhere and there was a thick horrible odor. Many pits can be seen in the left leg of hell as well as evil spirits and demons. The pits were filled with fire and they were everywhere, as far as one can see. On closer inspection, the pits were shaped like a bowl, three feet deep and four feet across. There were red hot coals of fire on the side of each pit and in the center of the pit was a soul that has gone into hell. Fire would start at the bottom of the pit and rise up, engulfing the lost soul, leaving the soul caged in a burnt skeleton. These souls could feel the flames, as wails of regret and excruciating pain came from them. The fire would then die down, and then would rise up again, sweeping the tormented soul. This happened day and night. 139
Where did authors such as this get all the gory details of precisely what Hell is like? Most can likely be traced back to the influence of Dante’s Divine Comedy and the huge collection of artworks that have been based on it over the past seven centuries. This would include Mary K. Baxter’s alleged visits to Hell. As author William Alnor states on the Christian Reseach Institute site in an evaluation of Baxter’s claims: http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/cri/crijrnl/web/crj0124a.html Like many other modern-day visionaries, Baxter diverges from Scripture by portraying hell in terms of The Divine Comedy by Dante (A.D. 1265-1321). Thus demons and Satan himself function as supervisors in hell, responsible for inflicting pain (beyond the pain already inflicted by hell itself) on people under their charge. In one scene demons are portrayed as dancing around a coffin "chanting and laughing" as they keep thrusting spears into a human victim. But where did Dante get it all, if it isn’t in the Bible? Unless someone truly believes that Dante had an actual vision from God, which is highly unlikely since the version of Hell he describes is full of pagan mythological characters, he had to get his "inspiration" elsewhere. As is clearly established in the article Dante's Hell on this website, the scenarios in his poem are a mish-mash of Greek mythology, Jewish extra-biblical folklore, alleged visions by earlier Roman Catholics, and his own fertile imagination. How about Mary Baxter? Although she would insist that her “visions” were direct from God, it is painfully obvious that they are merely the embellishments of her own subconscious on themes she had heard or read throughout her life … which could likely be traced back to the same sources. 140
And as for Furniss, he didn't bother to claim divine inspiration for his writing. He merely distilled common concepts of Hell of his own lifetime and his own religious background in Roman Catholicism and embellished them with his own vivid imagination. Those concepts can also likely be traced back almost directly to the time of Dante.
The Psychology of Hellish Art and Literature
If the Bible contained the sort of obscene, graphic details of Hell that appear in the art and literature inspired by Dante and his predecessors, Christians would be forced to come up with excuses for it. But it does not. And that frees us up to examine where on earth such obscenity and gore came from. For if a teenager today would be caught in class drawing the sort of "religious" art on the theme of Hell that was pervasive throughout Europe from the earliest centuries down almost to the present, he would no doubt be immediately scheduled for an evaluation by the school psychologist, and kept under close observation! For over 1000 years, until very recent times, the religious authorities in many countries censored or suppressed any artistic expression that didn't have a religious theme. So even those artists who were not particularly devout believers were forced to limit the expressions of their imaginations and artistic talents to scenes depicting something at least vaguely related to the Bible. Some chose to focus on inspiring scenes from the lives of the saints of the Bible, from the birth or suffering or resurrection of Jesus, or events described in the Bible. But it is very evident from the collections of frescoes, paintings, manuscript illustrations and more throughout Europe that many artists craved to put more "excitement" in their works. And nothing afforded excitement like the depiction of Hell! Not only did depicting Hell allow opportunities to show violence and gore, it allowed for free representation of nudity, from subtle back views of naked bodies to incredibly obscene pornography, to say nothing of sadism. Many medieval 141
art works are every bit as outlandishly ghoulish as the common horror films of today, as pornographic as the worst XXX-rated films. For instance, one manuscript illustration of Hell from a 15th century book shows voluptuous naked women lying on their backs on the ground helpless while snakes and dogs chew on their breasts and genitals. And on the walls of medieval religious buildings all over Europe, from small parish churches to great cathedrals, are hideously obscene depictions of Hell in which the centerpiece is a huge Lucifer with the bottom half of bloodied "sinners" hanging from his mouth, and others being defecated out his bottom. Artists and writers such as Dante seemed unusually adept at inventing ever more fiendish eternal punishments for the damned. And research has shown that at times they included, in their fictional accounts of Hell, actual personal rivals that they knew in the real world at the time ... and took obvious delight in either tormenting or poking fun at them. For instance, when the magnificent "Last Judgment" painting by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel was cleaned of centuries of grime in the 1990s, some details that hadn't been obvious for centuries were revealed. This included a figure of a man with a snake entwined about his body, with its mouth on his genitals--and the facial features of one of Michelangelo's rivals. So were all these works of writing and visual art aimed at depicting faithfully "scenes of Hell" from the Bible? Of course not. The Bible contains absolutely no vivid details of any aspect of the Afterlife at all. And, in fact, it contains no gory details or lurid pornography in any setting, much less Hell. All of the Biblical accounts, even when speaking of adultery or murder or war, are extremely reserved. We know that Bathsheba was bathing ... but we are given no descriptions of her body. We know David committed adultery with her, but are not given the salacious details of that night. We know that many people died in certain battles, but we are not pummeled with descriptions of what their severed limbs looked like, nor given details of the sounds of their suffering as they died. 142
No, the artists and writers who have brought to life their own versions of Hell did not get their "inspiration" from the Bible ... or from the God of the Bible. They got it from their own sadistic, vengeful hearts. Or perhaps from their own obsessions with sin, their paranoia about death, and/or the vivid nightmares they had about it. And perhaps some of these artists and writers got their inspiration literally from a mind affected by a clinical psychological illness, for which in modern times they would have been hospitalized to keep them from harming themselves and others. What kind of sick mind could concoct the vividly sadistic scenarios found in Furniss's writings, and inflict them upon small children in the name of helping them learn to love God? How mindboggling that such a powerful image as that of Hell, that is pervasive throughout both religious and secular society in the 21st century, can have been built up over the past two thousand years, not on the simple truths and vague hints found in the Bible, but on the twisted imaginations of deceived, perhaps even mentally ill, men. If you believe this conclusion to be an exaggeration, you are encouraged to carefully consider the documentation and commentary found in the collection of these articles. articles.
FO R MA T / LA YO U T : FR E E T O S H A R E P U B LIC A T IO N S , 201 0. 07
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