11/29/2010 | Share this article:By Renoliz ~
The concept of Hell is what got me started on my journey out of Christendom. I could not bear the thought that God would be punishing people I knew, or even people I didn’t know, in eternal hell. It was tearing me up so I started doing some research. Ironically, it is this same concept of Hell that keeps many people from questioning their religious beliefs. Seeing the many comments and concerns voiced by visitors and contributors to exC, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit this topic myself.
Whenever I write a reply that refers people to one of my favorite website I use the disclaimer that it is a Christian website. And why wouldn’t it be? Only Christians would care about the concept of eternal hell and only Christians are worried about having a god that is roasting untold millions of people. Much of the world does not believe in Christianity and would have their own concerns.
Vast numbers of people live in fear of this place of imagined unending torments in which Satan rules an underworld filled with unbelievers in Christ. Eternal punishment. Forever and ever and ever. Yet all of this is nonsense. These are not interpretation of the Greek words of the Bible into English but rather theological overlays. Don't take my word for it. Let's look at what a few scholars have to say. This is by no means an exhaustive listing of the information available. So is “eternal hell” even in the Bible?
What of the word eternal?
Hebrew “olam” and Greek “aionios”. These are the two words that were erroneously translated into everlasting and eternal. These words do not have those meanings. They refer to “age” or “eon“. Those might be long periods of time but they are not eternity.
- "All the way through it is never feasible to understand 'aionios' (Greek word translated eternal, everlasting, and for ever in many English Bible translations.) as everlasting." Dr. Nigel Turner
- "'Olam (the Hebrew for aion) simply signifies for a long time. The Hebrew Scriptures do not contain any doctrine of everlasting punishment." Rabbi Loewe
What about hell?
- Concordant Publishing Concern is a well-known publisher of Bible literature, including the Concordant Literal New Testament, Concordant Version of the Old Testament, Concordant Greek Text, and Concordant Commentary. They make the point strongly that the English word "hell" should no longer be used in Bible texts because of the "corrupting influence of human tradition" that has given it the image of a place of torment where judged souls are condemned to spend eternity, an image that is simply untrue:
THE OLD ENGLISH “hell,” denoted that which is covered (hidden or unseen). Consequently, it once served as a suitable translation of the Greek Hades, which means “imperceptible” or unseen.” In modern English, however, due to the corrupting influence of human tradition, “hell” has come to mean “the abode of the dead; the place of punishment after death [in which the dead are alive].” Consequently, since in modern English the notion represented by the term “hell” constitutes, to say the least, interpretation, not translation, it is unconscionable for modern translators to render either the Hebrew sheol or the Greek Hades by this expression.
Yet it is worse still, whether in old English or modern English, to render the Greek tartarosas and especially the Greek geenna, also as “hell.” Such “translations” are not translations at all; they are but the product of circular reasoning and hoary tradition. Whatever one’s understanding may be concerning the matters to which these words make reference, as a translation of the Original, the rendering “hell,” in all cases, is wholly unjustifiable. . (James Coram, "The Gahanna of Fire," Concordant Publishing Concern, 2006)
The word hell does not appear in numerous editions of the Bible. For instance, the Young’s Literal Translation and the NAB [the New American Bible]. The other Bibles that have retained the use of the word hell have cut back on the number of times it is used. That would include the King James Version. Kind of like when an alcoholic “cuts back” on his drink of choice. He isn’t quite ready to give up drinking yet.
What of fire and brimstone?
Okay, so there is no eternal associated with divine punishment in the Bible nor is there the word hell. But doesn’t the lake of fire in Revelations prove that there is a hell?
- Charles Pridgeon and I [ J. Preston Elby] would like to quote from his scholarly work on the subject of BRIMSTONE. He says: "The Lake of Fire and Brimstone signifies a fire burning with brimstone; the word 'brimstone' or sulfur defines the character of the fire. The Greek word THEION translated 'brimstone' is exactly the same word THEION which means 'divine.' Sulfur was sacred to the deity among the ancient Greeks; and was used to fumigate, to purify, and to cleanse and consecrate to the deity; for this purpose they burned it in their incense. In Homer's Iliad (16:228), one is spoken of as purifying a goblet with fire and brimstone. The verb derived from THEION is THEIOO, which means to hallow, to make divine, or to dedicate to a god (See Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon, 1897 Edition). To any Greek, or any trained in the Greek language, a 'lake of fire and brimstone' would mean a 'lake of divine purification.' J. Preston Eby http://www.tentmaker.org/books/TheLakeOfFire-Eby.html
I could go on with this line of thinking but truly the concept of an eternal hell in which people are endlessly tortured is not originally a concept that the Jews nor early Christians [who were Jews, hello] "believed in".
Over time, the multicultural influences of other religions were incorporated into the Bible and Christian belief. But it is the medieval Christians, perhaps 1,000 years after Christ is said to have lived and died that perfected the belief in hell. And ever since then the depictions of hell have grown ever more graphic.
The concept of an eternal hell in which people are endlessly tortured is not originally a concept that the Jews nor early Christians [who were Jews, hello] "believed in". So how did we get to the hell being preached today? One reason is the drama of theater. Church was often just about the only entertainment available. Surely there is the control aspect. If your priest or preacher tells you about hell and then saves you from it [all the while humbly proclaiming to only be doing god's work] then you owe him, don't you? There is the very human need to embellish. Some people like that god chose to save them from eternal hell and that makes them extra special Perhaps the saddest reasons is that those who are brainwashed into this mindset then go on to brainwash others, never giving any thought to whether or not hell might be a false concept.
I think there is one more reason hell has been elevated to above and beyond the pale of decency. The clergy can no longer force you to come to church by placing you in stocks or torturing you to turn to their version of Jesus. So, they have perfected mental anguish and torment.
Use your own discernment and not the judgment of others when it comes to deciding whether or not there is an eternal hell. I certainly do not believe that this concept is contained in the Bible. Judgment and punishment, yes. But being damned to hell eternally. It just isn't there. So let it go.
I got over my belief in hell before I left the Christian faith but I did not get over my fear of hell until I did leave the Christian faith. I had to keep using my reasoning to over ride my fears. It took a bit of time but I no longer have panic attacks or nightmares. There is no eternal hell and I will not be punished forever and ever. As one of our finest has said “ And if you are worried about the consequences of a mistake, of hell for instance, just remember that fine old quotation which we all prove day after day after day, “To err is human. . .” (Alexander Pope – poet). If there is a god, then he is surely aware of this, and cannot reasonably fault you for being . . . human. Wizened Sage [aka Galen Rose]
For those who would give up their faith if it were not for eternal hell there should be nothing holding you back now. Do not let other people think for you. Do your own thinking, whatever your religion or lack of religious beliefs. Maybe next time we can explore the morality of an eternal hell. Or delve deeper into the mistranslations of the Bible and why they are not corrected by truth loving Christians. Or why the use of eternal hell elevates Christianity to the level of destructive cult. Or why hell concept is bad for children.