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Is there really a Burning Hell?
The concept of a burning Hell where people are tortured eternally, is often thought of as a Bible teaching. It isn't. Rather, the whole concept of a Hell as people see it today, where the bad are sent to an underground world that is ruled by an evil god, comes from a misunderstanding of the pagan Greek Mythology of Hades, the River Styx, and the god Pluto. For if you read Greek mythology, you'll see that Hades was never a place of torture, but simply the place where the dead go to be judged. And thereafter in Greek Mythology, they either received blessings or damnation. So, Hades among Greek-speaking people was never a synonym for a burning Hell.
The Ancient Egyptians were probably the first to teach a belief in an underground world, which people had to pass through after death on their way to a better life. And this teaching still survives in Christendom today in the doctrine of Purgatory, where the dead must go to be purged of their sins before being allowed entry into heaven. However, neither the word Purgatory nor its concept can be found in the Bible, so its roots probably come from ancient pagan sources.
Yet, "the Christ" (and his Apostles) did use the Greek word Hades; he did tell the story of someone who was there and being tortured; and there are numerous places in the Bible where we read of a ‘lake of fire,' and of people being burned there eternally. So, why have we concluded that there is no such thing as a burning Hell? For an answer, let's look at the history and uses of the word Hell in the Bible.
The Hebrew word that is often translated as Hell is Sheol. And in the King James Bible, for instance, Sheol is translated variously as Hell, the grave, and the pit, but none of those words accurately translate Sheol, for it too is simply the place where the dead go to await judgment.
The reason why these three different and conflicting terms were used is because the translators believed in a burning Hell, but too many of the Bible references simply disprove the common concept of Hell Fire. So, in the many instances where the word obviously couldn't mean a place of torture, Sheol is usually translated as grave, which isn't truly accurate, but it works. For example, at Job 14:13 the faithful man Job prayed, ‘O how I wish that You would put me in [my] grave (Heb. Sheol) until Your rage has passed, and that You would set a time to remember me.'
And at Ecclesiastes 9:3-6 we read, ‘For the hearts of the sons of men are filled with evil and madness throughout their lives... and then they die. Then what association do they have with the living? They have no hope, because a live dog is better off than a dead lion. For the living know that they're going to die, but the dead don't know anything, nor do they have a reward, because they've been forgotten. Also, their love, hatred, and envy are now gone, and they won't have any part in anything that is done under the sun through the ages of ages.'
Then in verse 10 we read, ‘Do whatever you can find to do with your hands, because in the grave (heb. Sheol) where you're going, there's no work, no learning, no knowledge, or wisdom.'
Because of this, most Bible scholars admit that the ancient Hebrews (and the ‘Old Testament" in general) had no concept of a burning Hell. So, did that idea come along with the Christ and the Greek ‘New Testament?'
Sheol Means Hades
It is interesting that the Greek Septuagint, the first translation of the Hebrew Bible (into Greek), which predated the Christ' earthly life by almost two-hundred years, translated the Hebrew word Sheol as Hades in each instance where it was found. So we must conclude that both words (Sheol and Hades) carried the same meaning to the translators. And remember that the Bible that many Jews used in the Christ' time was the Greek Septuagint.
So when the Christ came along, the typical Jewish use of the word Hades didn't mean an underworld place of torture, it was a synonym for Sheol, and it still just meant The Place of the Dead.
Did the Christ Teach that Hades was Hell Fire?
However, "the Christ" used the word Hades in his story of ‘the Rich Man and Lazarus,' which many claim was a description of a burning Hell... but was it? Not if you look at what the Son of God was
describing when he told the story. Notice the circumstances at Luke 16:14-16: ‘Now, the Pharisees (who loved silver) were listening to these things and were
looking at him with contempt. So he said to them, You are the ones who claim to be righteous in front of men, but God knows your hearts. Things that are considered important by men are disgusting in
Then he went on to make the following two points:
First, (at Luke 16:16-18) he condemned the Pharisees by saying that ‘anyone who divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery' - so much for righteousness, because divorce was common among them.
Then (at Luke 16:19-31) "the Christ" tells the story of a ‘rich man' (like the Pharisees) and a ‘beggar' (like the common people) who both ‘died,' and of the outcome for each of them.
Were the Pharisees rich? Not necessarily (although many were), but because they were educated, they were considered ‘spiritually rich' by the common people. However with the death of the Anointed, this condition would be changed. They would no longer be the spiritual leaders of God's people.
The "Christ" also spoke of a ‘poor man' class, called Lazarus (a common Jewish name at the time). This man also ‘died.' Notice that Lazarus hadn't really done anything righteous; his only virtue was that he was extremely poor. However, he was ‘carried off into the favor of Abraham.'
Was that heaven? It couldn't have been, because "the Christ" said (at John 3:13), ‘Nobody has gone to heaven other than he who came from heaven, the Son of Man.' So Abraham hadn't been resurrected yet.
Then, what was the Son of God talking about? Well, this lowly, begging condition is similar to what the common people of Israel (such as the disciples) were in spiritually, prior to that time. And what "the Christ" was going to change all that and offer common people the opportunity to be favored in the eyes of their common faithful ancestor Abraham, when he is resurrected.
So the second point that "the Christ" was making (and which the Pharisees doubtlessly, at least partially understood) is that; because they had failed to learn from the Law and the Prophets, their high position was being taken away and given to common people.
As you can see, this isn't a tale that describes the torture of Hell Fire; it was an allegory or parable that "the Christ" told as a warning to the Pharisees, that, despite (and because of) their pride, they were soon to lose their elevated position as religious leaders (those in the favored position of Abraham).
Another word that "the Christ" used to describe the outcome for the wicked was GeHenna (literally: Valley of Hinnom. Also: Graveyard of the descendants of a man named Hinnom). It is usually translated as Hell Fire, as opposed to Hades, which is usually translated as Hell in other Bibles. GeHenna is the valley that bordered the SSW wall of Jerusalem, which served as the city's garbage dump during the time of the Anointed." Prior to the first destruction of Jerusalem (c 600-B.C.E.) it had been a graveyard, and then it was further profaned after it was used as a place for sacrificing children to pagan gods.
Of course, when the Son of God used this word (eleven times in the Bible altogether), he used it symbolically. As a symbol of what? One reference says, ‘It is a place of torment both for the body and the soul.' But is that a natural conclusion? Being put ‘in the garbage dump' would convey a totally different meaning to readers, if they didn't already believe in a Hell Fire.
But, didn't "the Christ" say (at Mark 9:47, 48), ‘If your eye traps you, throw it away. For, it's better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye, than to have both eyes and to be thrown into the garbage dump (GeHenna) where there are always maggots and the fire is never put out.'
Oh yes, other Bibles render this verse, ‘than to be cast into Hell Fire where the worms dieth not and the fire is not quenched.' However, remember that "the Christ" was talking about a garbage dump when he said (in Greek), ‘hopou ho skolex auton ou teleuta kai to pyr ou sbennutai,' or, where the maggot of/them not finished and the fire not extinguished.' Obviously, most ancient garbage dumps were kept burning and there were always maggots living there. So, does this natural description of a garbage dump really prove eternal torment? We feel that the answer is clear.
Also notice that these words of "the Anointed" were not original; he was quoting from Isaiah 66:24, and there the true meaning can be clearly understood. It says, ‘Then they'll go out and see the carcasses of men, those who rebelled against Me. Their worms won't come to an end, and their fire will not be extinguished. And they'll be a sight for all flesh [to see].'
So, according to God Himself, these destroyed people won't be burning in an unseen place of torture, but after Armageddon their bodies will lie exposed on the ground for all to see, and that is where ‘their worms won't come to an end, and their fire will not be extinguished.'
But, what about the Son of God's words at Matthew 10:28, where he said, ‘Don't be afraid of those who kill the body, but can't kill the person. Rather, be afraid of Him who can destroy both the person and the body in the garbage dump.'
Well, notice how Luke phrased these same words of the Son of God at Luke 12:5, ‘Let me show you who it is that you should be afraid of: Fear him, who after killing also has the authority to throw you into the garbage dump. Fear Him!'
So "the Christ" wasn't really offering immortality to the wicked, which would be required if they lived forever, for the Bible shows that it was only offered to the righteous (see 1 Corinthians 15:53, 54). And what the Son of God was clearly telling his followers here is that they shouldn't fear those who can kill the body, but that they should fear God who can kill them and choose not to resurrect them (or throw them into the garbage).
Is there any Bible precedent for calling God's final judgment the garbage dump? Yes, for notice what King David wrote and sang about when mentioning such undeserving unrighteous ones at Psalm 21:9-12, ‘For You will throw them into an oven of fire, in Your Day [O God, Eternal]. In Your rage You'll disturb them and destroy them in fire. You'll destroy their fruit from the earth, and their seed from the sons of men. For, their purpose toward You was to do bad things, and they argued over plans that were never fulfilled. So, throw them away with Your garbage (Gr. periloipois sou - leavings your), and prepare their faces for this.'
So, notice that as garbage or residue they are to be burned up in a fire.
The Lake of Fire
Ah, but those who wish to believe in a burning Hell for everyone who disagrees with them, point to ‘the Lake of Fire.' Notice what we read about this at Revelation 20:10, ‘Then the Opposer who misled them will be thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the wild animal and the false prophet already are, and they will be tortured day and night for ages of ages.'
Isn't this the concluding proof that the lake of fire is Hell and that eternal torture happens there?
No, for notice what Revelation 20:14 says, ‘Finally, death [Gr. thanatos] and the grave [Gr. Hades] were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire symbolizes the second death.'
So what Bible translators have called Hell (Hades) will be thrown into something else they call Hell, the lake of fire, which the Bible says is simply the second (or eternal) death. And did you notice that death would be thrown there, as well as two political organizations (the wild animal and the false prophet)? So the torture must be symbolic.
Another Greek word that is found occasionally in the Bible is lakkon or pit. This appears to mean the same as GeHenna or the lake of fire... that a person who is sent there will not be resurrected. We gather this from the words of Psalm 28:1, where we read, ‘I'll call out to You O Eternal; my God I won't remain silent, So, You will never be silent with me, and make me like those who enter the pit.'
Then notice how just a few verses away David said (verse 5), ‘So, You will wipe them away, and never rebuild them again.'
2 Peter 2:4 speaks of ‘messengers' who were put into ‘Tartarus' for bad acts they committed during the time of Noah. Genesis 6:4 calls them ‘sons of God,' and it tells of their coming to earth and marrying ‘the daughters of men'
Actually, the first mention of Tartarus in the Bible is found in the book of Job in the Greek Septuagint (the Bible of Peter's day), and it may have been this reference that Peter was quoting. There (at Job 41:32), where the reference is obviously speaking of the Opposer, it says of him, ‘In dark places (Gr. Tartarus) he lives as a captive, and he thinks of the pit as his promenade.'
Peter's use of the word Tartarus here has long been a cause of concern to thoughtful Bible students. In other Bibles, this Greek word has wrongfully been translated as Hell and Hell Fire. However, the term (from Greek Mythology) refers specifically to the place where gods (not humans) were sent. And as the result of past misunderstandings about the meaning of this word, many have come to believe that the Slanderer and his demons are in Hell watching over its flames and torturing human souls.
The question that has so concerned many Bible students is: Why did Peter use this pagan term that comes from Greek Mythology to describe the condition of unfaithful messengers of God? The appearance here is that the Bible had its roots in Greek myths. However, the opposite is true.
Anyone who takes the time to carefully consider Greek Mythology will notice close but sometimes-opposite parallels to Bible stories told in Genesis Chapters Two through Six. Stories such as Hercules and the Golden Apples, Medusa, immoral gods who came to earth, etc., seem to closely resemble the stories of Adam and the forbidden fruit, the snake in the Paradise, and the sons of God who came to earth and lived as humans. So it isn't surprising that they also had a name for the place where these sons of God (the gods) were sent after the Downpour. And since this correct idea was common at the time, Peter just used their word to convey what he was talking about to his readers.
Since these ‘sons of God' who came to earth and assumed human bodies in Noah's day couldn't be destroyed by the Downpour (flood), and they had forsaken heaven, they were apparently put into a prison-like state here on the earth, where they are no longer able to roam. This group is specifically referred to as the demons in the Bible.
Demon is a Greek word that seems to be derived from diameno, which means fixed in one place. From other Bible accounts about demons, it appears that this ‘fixing in one place' means that they must be associated with either living or non-living things, which is referred to as ‘possession.' After all, the Son of God and his Apostles cast out many demons... and demons even spoke to the Christ. So Tartarus appears not to be just one place, but rather to a dark condition of earthly imprisonment where spirits seem to be able to live among things both animate and inanimate.
You will find several references to these caged demons in the ancient Hebrew texts, and also at Revelation 18:2. In Greek they are called the syrene, and this is often translated as sirens, which people think of as mythical women who lure ships. Yet, the actual references (from the meaning of the word) are to spirits who are fixed in one place (Tartarus).
The Immortal Soul Problem
One of the reasons why there can be no Hell of eternal torture is because a person would need an ‘immortal soul' to be sent there. In other words, a portion of his or her personality would have to be incapable of dying. And although this doctrine is taught by almost all religions, it simply can't be found in the Bible. In fact, one of the things that differentiates the Bible from most (if not all) pagan religions and their sacred writings (such as the Koran), is that the Bible alone teaches that a dead person can be resurrected (brought back to life)... but only if God wills it. So nothing inside us is incapable of dying (immortal).
Why, if you go to Genesis the Third Chapter, you'll find that it was the Opposer (Satan) who first taught that men wouldn't die, for we read at Genesis 3:5, ‘Then the snake told the woman, You won't stop living and die. But, God knows that on whatever day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be gods who know good and evil.'
We find this first lie directly contradicted what God had just said at Genesis 2:16, 17, ‘You are free to eat from all the trees of paradise, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of Good and Bad. Because, on whatever day you eat from it, your life will end and you will die (Gr. thanato apothaneisthe, or, death from dying).'
Obviously souls can die, for notice what a soul is. Genesis 2:7 tells us this: ‘Then God formed man from the dust of the ground, breathed the breath of life against his face, and he became a living creature (Gr. psychen zosan, or, person/soul living).'
Now, the words we translated as living creature here were psyche in Greek and Nephesh in Hebrew, and both words are the same ones that are translated as soul in other Bibles. So the Bible's own definition of a soul, is that it's something made from the dust of the ground and has the breath of life... thus, it is a whole living person or animal, not something that lives inside. In fact, throughout the Bible animals are referred to as souls also. So psyche really means (as we have often translated it) a living creature.
Actually, the best true Bible definition of the Greek word psyche is what the word implies in modern psychology, ‘the inner person,' not, ‘the immortal person.' With this understanding, we can see how God could refer to ‘My Soul.' He wasn't speaking of the individual we all believe that we know, but of the person He is on the inside.
As history shows, the pagan Egyptians believed that they had immortal souls, but righteous Hebrews made no mention of such a belief anywhere in the Sacred Scriptures of Israel (OT). It was only in the latter part of the millennium proceeding the time of "the Christ" that we first see this doctrine starting to creep into Jewish teachings.
Then, did the Son of God and his Apostles teach that we have an immortal soul? No, for those two words (immortal soul) don't appear together anywhere in the Bible. In fact, the words immortal and immortality (Gr. athanasia or undying) can only be found in three places in the Bible, and let's see how the word is used in each of these cases:
1 Timothy 6:15, 16 - ‘He will show himself at his own set time... the blest and only ruler, the King of those who rule as kings and Lord of those who rule as lords; the only one who has immortality and who lives in unapproachable light; he who no man has seen or can see.
1 Corinthians 15:53, 54 - ‘Then that which is decaying will put on cleanliness, and that which is dying will put on immortality. But, when that which is dying puts on immortality, the words that were written are fulfilled, Death is swallowed in victory.'
So in the first case, we can see that God is immortal, and in the second case we can see that immortality is offered as a reward to the righteous... so, it is not a possession of the wicked... thus they have no immortal soul that can be sent to burn in Hell.
The ‘Spirit' Problem
We are always amazed at how quickly people will turn from the teaching of (but not their belief in) an immortal soul after reading those scriptures, and then say the thing that is immortal is the spirit (Hebrew - ruach, Greek - pneuma, Latin - spiritu, which can be translated as breath or wind, but means an unseen force). However, the Bible doesn't ever speak of an immortal spirit either.
Scriptures that they like to quote to prove their point include the following:
Luke 23:46, ‘Father, I leave my breath (‘spirit' Gr. pneuma) in Your hands. And after saying that, he died.'
John 19:30, ‘When he received the vinegar, Jesus said, It's finished! Then he hung his head and quit breathing (‘gave beside the breath' Gr. paradoken to pneuma).
Ecclesiastes 12:7, ‘And the dust returns to the earth where it was, and the breath (‘spirit' Gr. pneuma) returns to God who gave it.'
Now, in the first two cases above, the references are to the Son of God and his final words and actions as he was dying, and the third case talks about what happens to normal men when they die. And the conclusion that many have reached is that "the Christ" himself returned to God that day (when his ‘spirit' returned to God). However, the Bible says that he wasn't resurrected until the third day, and he didn't return to God in heaven for many days after his resurrection. So that can't be true. And in the third case (in Ecclesiastes), they conclude it's saying that we go to God (to the ‘light') immediately when we die. However, did you notice that the other option such people also believe in, going to ‘Hell,' isn't even mentioned there?
So, let's see exactly which ‘spirit,' ‘breath,' or ‘wind' actually returns to God. What caused humans to live to begin with? Genesis 2:7 says, ‘Then God formed man from the dust of the ground, breathed the breath of life (Gr. to pnoen zoes) against his face, and he became a living creature.'
Yes, the breath (Gr. pnoen, a conjugation of pneuma) of life came from God to begin with, so it returns to God when we die.
Now, we certainly don't claim the ‘the breath of life' that God breathed was just some form of artificial respiration to cause Adam to start living. Rather, it is obviously the power that God gave to all of Adam's cells, which brought each of them to life. So something more than breath or wind is implied here. However, literally millions of cells in our bodies die each day and the power of their life must return to God who originally gave it to Adam. This gradual form of death can be proven scientifically, and some cells continue to live long after clinical death (the death of the brain). So the ‘breath' that returns to God is obviously His record of who and what we are, which will allow Him to resurrect us (if He chooses) just as we were.
As you can see, it appears as though we are arguing against something that is proven by several words throughout the Bible. However, recognize that the teaching of a Hell Fire has thousands of years of background in pagan ideas throughout the religions of this world. And the fact that people have had to distort the meanings of such Bible words as Hades (grave), GeHenna (garbage dump), Lake of Fire (Second Death), and Tartarus (dark place of fallen gods) to try to prove the existence of a place that a God of Love would never approve of, shows a deep, dark, inward hatred. Nobody with any understanding of God's love would ever accuse Him of torture; or worse yet, eternal torture. Such evil could come only from the minds of men, and from a desire to frighten others into following corrupt and empty religious teachings.
Yes, many people want to believe that there is a Hell. After all, shouldn't there be such a thing for those like Adolph Hitler, who have committed such terrible crimes against humanity? On the other hand, it is only because such religious people as Adolph Hitler* believed that God is to blame for such badness, that they have felt justified in their own acts of horror against humanity.
Then what happens to those who are bad? Proverbs 12:7 tells us, ‘When the irreverent are overturned they'll disappear (Gr. aphanizetai), but the homes of the righteous will remain.'
* It is a little known fact that Adolph Hitler was an intensely religious person who believed that he had been chosen to fulfill the prophecies of Revelation 19 and 20. This is why he chose the sign of the cross for his party (the swastika was the form of cross that appeared in the stained glass window of the catholic Church that he attended as a boy), why he spoke of the ‘thousand-year Reich' (kingdom of a thousand years), and it was his justification for the murder of millions of Jews and ‘inferior races,' and the establishment of a ‘master race'