O.K. Here's another big one. Hell. We are not told much about it, but everyone has an image in their mind and a set of rules that they feel applies to this bad part of "life" after death.
Have you ever stopped to think about what you actually "know" about Hell, or even about "life after death"? Can you make any statements about Hell, or even Heaven, that you know to be absolutely true? Let's start out with a definition - that is, if we can start with only one. I'm afraid there will be more than one, as in any situation where there is little authoritative knowledge on a subject, because "everyone's opinion is valid" in today's society.
Let's start with the common Wikipedia that everyone seems to know:
Hell, in many religious and folkloric traditions, is a place of torment and punishment in an afterlife. Religions with a linear divine history often depict hells as eternal destinations while Religions with a cyclic history often depict a hell as an intermediary period between incarnations. Typically these traditions locate hell in another dimension or under the Earth's surface and often include entrances to Hell from the land of the living. Other afterlife destinations include Heaven, Purgatory, Paradise, and Limbo.
Other traditions, which do not conceive of the afterlife as a place of punishment or reward, merely describe hell as an abode of the dead, the grave, a neutral place located under the surface of Earth (for example, see sheol and Hades). Hell is sometimes portrayed as populated with demons who torment those dwelling there. Many are ruled by a death god such as, the Devil, Nergal, Hades, Hel, or Enma.
Refining it a little...
Oh, darn. We're already in trouble. Well, guess we'll have to narrow the discussion down a bit. On this site, we generally stay with the God/Jesus/Man part of the discussion about theology, or what we refer to as Christianity, and sometimes including non-Messianic Jewish concepts. So, let's ignore the reincarnation and polytheistic discussions as outside this topic. That should eliminate some of the definitions.
Even here, Wikipedia has a few lines to follow:
In Christian theology, Hell is the place or state into which by God's definitive judgment unrepentant sinners pass either immediately after death (particular judgment) or in the general judgment. Its character is inferred from teaching in the biblical texts, some of which, interpreted literally, have given rise to the popular idea of hell.
Theologians today generally see hell as the logical consequence of using free will to reject union with God and, because God will not force conformity, not incompatible with God's justice and mercy. Calvinists, on the other hand, believe hell is a consequence of God's justice for man's sin, but reject the libertarian notion of free will.
Different Hebrew and Greek words are translated as "hell" in most English-language Bibles. They include:
"Sheol" in the Hebrew Bible, and "Hades" in the New Testament. Many modern versions, such as the New International Version, translate Sheol as "grave" and simply transliterate "Hades". It is generally agreed that both sheol and hades do not typically refer to the place of eternal punishment, but to the grave, the temporary abode of the dead, the underworld.
"Gehenna" in the New Testament, where it is described as a place where both soul and body could be destroyed (Matthew 10:28) in "unquenchable fire" (Mark 9:43). The word is translated as either "hell" or "hell fire" in many English versions.
The Greek verb "tartaro
", which occurs once in the New Testament (in 2 Peter 2:4), is almost always translated by a phrase such as "thrown down to hell". A few translations render it as "Tartarus"; of this term, the Holman Christian Standard Bible states: "Tartarus is a Greek name for a subterranean place of divine punishment lower than Hades."[2 Peter 2:4]
But, at least we seem to be in the area closer to our normal discussions. Following what this definition is saying, we Christians have several ideas of Hell. For the most part, it seems that Hell is reserved to what is happening (or not happening, if you are "good") after death. Usually, this is for "unrepentant sinners", or those who refuse to follow the instructions of Someone who is in charge of those situations after death. Let's further restrict this discussion to those descriptions or definitions that can be taken from or confirmed by the text of the Bible.
An outside source...
I found a book the other day at GoodWill called erasing hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. This little book gave some very down to earth discussion about whether or not hell even exists. It uses Bible references and examines even the words of Jesus to help settle some discussion points. You might want to take a look if you get the chance, especially if you haven't made up your mind about hell.
Staying within the context of the Bible
Now, rather than just get definitions of Hell from around the world, let's stay with what the Bible actually says about Hell. Even that is not a real narrow scope because of all the words that are translated as "Hell" in the Bible. According to the box-in-a-box above, we have Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus, and a list of verses that do not use a single word, but describe Hell in a phrase. Let's see if we can categorize them into a semblance of order.
At a site called Bible Study Tools, I found a list of verses that is as good as any with which to start. Starting by breaking them into two groups, those with phrases that describe Hell and those with a single word for Hell, I get the following lists:
17 The wicked go down to the realm of the dead, all the nations that forget God.
24 The path of life leads upward for the prudent to keep them from going down to the realm of the dead.
46 "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
2 Thes 1:9
9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might
50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
42They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
41Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay.
7 In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.
20 But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.
8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.
22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 'Raca,' is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.
29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, 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. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, 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.
28 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.
9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
15 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
33 "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.
5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
2 Pet 2:4
4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment;
6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one's life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
Now, there are other verses in other Bible books, but they are usually in the gospels and are the same concepts as shown in the Matthew verses above, so many have been omitted from the list. Though this list is not every mention of the phrases or terms, it covers the range of uses.
O.K., what does this tell us?
Getting right down to it, what are we told about Hell in these verses? Well, it is a place for the dead. It seems to be a low place, because those sent there are sent "down". It is a place of everlasting destruction and eternal punishment. It's for the devil and his angels as well as human beings. It's hot there because all descriptive verses mention flames and/or fire. We know it's not a happy place because even the bad angels were to be sent there for punishment. It is a dark place. It is a place where angels are sent when they are reserved for judgment. Regardless of whether it is a phrase or a single word, the meaning is clear that all these attributes apply.
Based on what you have been told about Hell throughout your life, how well do these facts match your thoughts? We think of pitchforks, red devils with arrowhead tips on their tails, fires surrounding the pedestals on which the damned are chained and tortured, screaming, and Satan sitting over in the corner on his throne, laughing under the red horns on his head. Most of these thoughts came from Dante and his less than humorous tales. However, none of the Bible verses mention any of these activities or beings except to say they are sent there for the same punishment as everyone else.
There is one more thing that stands out whenever Hell is mentioned in the Bible. You get the distinct feeling that it is not a nice place. The mentions almost always come with a warning of some kind.
There is some argument about the meaning of everlasting and eternal when discussions arise about Hell. Some say that the gist of "eternal destruction" means you are burned up and just no longer exist. The other side is that, because eternal punishment and eternal destruction both apply to Hell, you cannot have eternal punishment if you no longer exist. Now this is a scary thought when you realize that there are only two possible outcomes to our lives - "Heaven" or "Hell".
Very different opinions
A question we should all consider about the "duration" of the eternal punishment: If eternal life with God means forever, how can eternal punishment be momentary? To give an example of different concepts regarding the phrase "eternal punishment", a site at Precepts reveals an exchange of ideas between myself and the author of that site. So far, that exchange of ideas has lasted from February to December of 2018. While there is a lot of repetition during the discussion, it serves as an example of how people refuse to accept the words of the Bible and actually get a message that is intended for every reader.
"harumph..You have to be educated...harumph, hmph..."
Some are adamant that the Bible is full of phrases and context that do not mean what they actually say, but require a theological degree or specialized guided study for "proper interpretation". If you visit the Precepts link provided above, you can see which side of the discussion matches your ideas. Either way, the discussion at least displays an interest on both sides for "rightly dividing the word" as in 2 Timothy 2:15
Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (KJV)
- or, in more understandable language -
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. (NIV)
. One side seems to be saying, "Leave it to the smart guys.", while the other says, "Read what it actually says." I finally gave up, quoting 2 Timothy 2:23
23 Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.
(eight verses after the verse above), without pointing fingers at either side.
"God is a big meany?"
Some also say that this puts God in a terrible light if He delights in the constant, unending, torment of souls. I agree, if He delights in it, but doubt very seriously that He does. But again, what punishment is there in ceasing to exist? If there is one thing we can be sure about, it's that God does not need defending by anyone on this earth. He said it, and that's that. However, there are no easy answers for us humans on this because, after all the rhetoric, we are never told directly.
"Poof"? No worries, mate...
While leaning toward the idea of eternal punishment, I still can't think about it very long - too painful. Maybe it is just "poof" you're gone, but if one chooses to sin because there is no eternal cost, then Who is to be feared in Matthew 10:28
28 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 why would anyone fear oblivion? When I was still an atheist, my concept of death was the permanent end to consciousness. Just - nothing. No fear of death itself, just the possible pain leading up to it. Pretty much did what I wanted as long as it didn't bother someone else.
Now comes the other scary part. How do we know if we will be in "Heaven" or "Hell"? Yeah yeah, if you believe in, love, and obey Jesus, you will go to "Heaven". I agree, except for the "Heaven" part. (See my page on Heaven for details) But does that mean that everyone who claims to love Jesus and who goes to church will get to go there? Remember Matthew 7:21
21Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
? Some people don't seem to believe in the same Jesus I do. Which one of us is right? The final judgment is up to Christ, but how many in the New Testament, who thought they were righteous, were told by the Lord that He did not know them (Matthew 25:12
12"But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I don't know you.' "
), that they are sons of Satan (John 8:44
44You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
) or that they are bound for hell (Matthew 23:15
15Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
How can we tell?
What about the five foolish virgins? Why did only half of the original group of ten make it into the wedding? We are all sinners and deserve death and hell, but Jesus made us an offer with conditions. Every church has different conditions by which they measure themselves, but if they oppose each other or deliberately disobey the Word of God, will they all reach the Kingdom? If we are all reading the same Bible, are we all correct, even when we disagree? What is the meaning of the phrase "the narrow path"? Not to scare everyone, but there are only two destinations, and we all want to be on the right path.
"Everyone will be saved"?
Of course, there are some "religions" that claim that there will be no punishment for anyone, as all people will go to "Heaven" when they die. The general name for the main body of people who believe this is Universalism. The definition for this at Google is:
yoona verse lizem/
1. (Christian Theology) the belief that all humankind will eventually be saved.
"Christian universalism would insist that Christ's atonement did atone for everyone's sins"
The Unitarian Universalist (UU) church in our neighborhood has a sign out front that says, "Home for the liberal religious spirit." This year, 2018, they are having a special program at the church called "A Musical Christmas with Vaughn Williams", inviting their membership of "humanists, atheists, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, pagan, mystics, or spiritual." This seems somehow appropriate because of the nature of the whole Christmas pagan concept, yet Christian churches revel in these same pagan festivities every year.
Now, this UU idea is a very loving concept that seems to want to spare anyone from the pain promised in the Bible. There is only one problem visible right off the bat - it ignores the clear statements of the Bible. Think about verses like 1 Corinthians 6:9
9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men
, Matthew 7:21
21 Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
, and Revelation 22:15
15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.
. We can twist the meaning to fit a particular view, but anyone with a lick of sense will see the meaning in these verses. Some who ignore God and His instructions will not be saved. They will be in Hell, otherwise referred to as Gehenna, or the Lake of Fire. These do not all mean the same thing when used in the Bible, but the end result is the same. Eternal punishment, however you define it.
But, if you believe that...
Some questions for this body of believers (Universalists) who think there will be no judgment - or at least there will be no negative consequences to that judgment; 1) in your membership, there are Christians and Jews, and definitely some who do not believe in God at all, so do you believe in any part of the Bible? 2) If it is the case that everyone will be saved, what is the point of any of the warnings in the Bible? 3) If you do not believe that the Bible means what it says, how do you even believe in God or the atonement of Christ?
Think about what it means, by the Universalism standards, that Jesus is lying to us when He gives the warnings about Hell and the Lake of Fire. If Jesus is lying, then He will save whomever He wants, and "to Hell" with the rest of us. No, wait, that can't be right, since you think that no one goes to Hell. If Jesus is lying, then there is no "Paradise" where everyone is supposed to be sent. In fact, let's go all the way; if there is no Jesus (as in the One described in the Word), then there is no God as the Bible describes Him. But, wait, if He doesn't exist, how can He save everyone?
There is a reason for Hell and/or the Lake of Fire
Another thought for you, why is there even a Hell if there is no use for it? And the big one, why should we care how we, or anyone else for that matter, act in this life if everyone is saved? What is the point of this relatively short earthly life if it makes no difference as to what happens when we die? By this logic, anyone can do anything and still expect salvation. And, by that logic, what will "Heaven" be like? Will there be any rules? Will there even be a need for "Heaven"? Why should we even write this page, since there may not even be a Hell?
Nah, I believe God.
Disagree? Find an error? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and give us your view.