What about Hell?

Many Christians believe God will punish those who don’t measure up, and their punishment will be torment in a burning hell–forever. I strongly disagree; the Bible doesn’t teach such a thing and it is contrary to the character of the Father that Jesus describes.

Hell

Then What is Hell For?

If the Father does not punish us, then what is hell all about? The short answer is simple–there is no hell. If we imagine hell as a place where God sends those who don’t measure up and tortures them for eternity with fire, brimstone, and darkness, such a place does not exist.

Why would a loving Father do that? Some have a ready response to my question:

God takes ‘sin’ seriously and, because God’s righteousness is perfect, he must punish ‘sin’.

Since God’s righteousness is infinite, the punishment for sinning against God must also be infinite.

This is not so. In fact, the concept of hell is perhaps the most distorted and damaging superstition associated with Christian belief. It creates fear, confusion, and an alienating view of the Father.

When believers lose faith in God, one of the reasons most often mentioned is that they cannot imagine a god who would send people to eternal hell—and they are correct! When atheists, agnostics, and others reject ‘Christianity’, the concept of hell is among the most significant factors.

Why Should We Be Good if not to Avoid Hell?

Some Christians protest that without the threat of hell there is no incentive to behave well. But as we discussed before, when we begin to realize that the Father loves us, and understand the principle of loving ourselves, then we can properly love others as we love ourselves.

This provides all the motivation we need for good behavior. When a person tries to be good only to avoid hell, they usually begin observing some list of specific legalistic rules. This is a very poor way to follow Jesus.

Principles of love, not rules, guide our behavior, and the Father does not punish us when we fail to measure up. This is true even if we fail miserably in our behavior. Any ‘punishment’ we receive is simply the natural consequence of our behavior.

Why Do So Many People Believe in Hell?

This idea of hell is so terrible that surely no one would just make it up. And if they did, surely millions of people could not believe it so easily as they do. Even most of those who believe in hell are not happy about it.

So where does the idea of hell come from? The Bible is a major source. There are passages that, taken together, suggest to some an eternal burning place of punishment, but even those who believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God need not subscribe to this concept of hell because the idea comes from a variety of unrelated biblical references that do not teach such a thing.

Passages from the Old Testament contain the word Sheol, which is simply a word for death or the grave. The New Testament uses the word Hades, which means the same thing. The King James Version translates these words as hell. Jesus uses imagery from Gehenna, which is also translated as hell in the King James Version of the Bible. And, of course, there is the lake of fire from the book of Revelation.

By placing these unrelated passages together, some find a picture of eternal punishment that is supported neither individually nor collectively by the passages themselves.

In the next several posts, we will look at these passages more completely and also discover what Jesus says about hell.

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52 Responses to What about Hell?

  1. Good timing! Have you seen my blog post today? http://wp.me/p2nokB-k4

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    • Tim Chastain says:

      Jonny, I read your post just now. Jonathan Edwards’ sermon ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ was frightening to me as a child and it helped keep me on the straight and narrow, but it alienates many people. Of course, I now realize it is a bunch of hogwash. Thanks for posting it. I recommend it as a good illustration of the kind of unfortunate fundamentalist-evangelical thinking I am talking about!

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  2. Andy says:

    Hi Tim,
    I just read a bunch of your posts on Hell and wow you do a good job of getting to the point and not making your posts very long as I sometimes have a problem with saying things short, sweet and to the point! 🙂 I cannot say that I agree with your views on Hell but I won’t say that I disagree in every area either. It’s been quite a while since I did a study on this and as I’m getting older my brain is getting fuzzy but I still believe in my heart there is a literal Hell. A couple years ago I read a book by G.A. Riplinger “New Age Bible versions”. It is a very large book. Half of it is her writing and the other half her references. She gives a good argument on this and why they used different words. It’s very interesting. She goes through many Bible translations and all the words that were changed etc…much history. Also Dr. Cathy Burns has a few books out that have some references to different Bible translations and makes alot of great points as well. Dr. Burns is an expert in the Occult. Dr. Burns believes that the NKJV among other is counterfeit. I also read an interesting article about this at av1611.org/nkjv.html I have to say that makes much since to me as I have some background in the occult as well. Although there are many debates about what language Jesus would have used in the new testament,…….I still feel in my heart a literal Hell makes the most sense to me. There are things I don’t understand. It is hard for me to understand why God would punish some people forever so I can’t say that I totally disagree with you either.

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  8. No, I really don’t. One thing that has teased my brain though are those who have died and returned to tell the tale of seeing or experiencing Hell. I cannot know for sure that these experiences are true but if they are (and there are quite a few people who have reported such) it still doesn’t mean that Hell is the eternal place of damnation & once in that there is no getting back out!

    I’ve always thought Hell to be any place where God wasn’t. But you see I believe that God is everywhere. So basically, Hell must be a place where we deny the presence of God. Complicated? Yes! But I’m continuing to develop and solidify my thoughts on such things and am not married to one idea completely! I also have no fear that if I’m wrong I’ll end up in Hell because God knows I’m trying and my heart is His. 🙂

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    • No one can be absolutely certain about things like this, but this is one issue on which I feel very confident–the Father does not torture us for eternity. I am not sure what to make of those who come back from near death experiences and report about hell, but I suspect it is psychological, much like dreams are.

      Some people believe in hell ‘just in case’ it is true. But I agree with you whole-heartedly that if we are wrong about it (not likely) God will not punish us for being mistaken.

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      • Ian Hunter says:

        Hell is eternal separation from the Father. God is Holy and sin cannot exist in His presence. Since we are sinful, we cannot be in His presence apart from the atoning death of Jesus Christ. The Father doesn’t torment us, we bring it on by our own sin, our own rebellion. If there is no Hell, what are we saved from? Is everyone saved, regardless of their belief or profession?

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        • Good question Ian. I believe that we are saved definitely from separation from God an most likely from annihilation. You might be interested in my additional posts on hell that are linked to this one (at the bottom), particularly the one on conditional immortality:

          https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/conditional-immortality-and-natural-death/

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        • SDM says:

          I feel that those who have NDE and say they experienced hell only did so because that was what they believed could happen in death, and so their belief became their reality at that moment. Had they truly passed, I believe they would have been met with love and guided through the “hell” and to something/somewhere healing. Our belief systems can be powerful and fear is probably the strongest.
          Blessings 🙂

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          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            Good point, SDM. I have read a few NDE books and descriptions of others, and it occurs to me that once the first experiences were made described the others seemed to be variations on those descriptions. I suspect that these experiences occur in the mind based either on some physical aspect of the brain in distress or previous stories heard–or perhaps a combination of both,

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    • Alice says:

      I’m very suspicious of such claims, but they do cause a sense of uneasiness in me for sure.

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      • Alice, you have a right to be suspicious. One should be suspicious about every claim until it is substantiated. If you have not read the remaining posts in my series on hell, I invite you to do so and see if they make sense to you. Just click the link near the end of each post; it will lead you to the next one.

        I am also willing to discuss any questions you might have.

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  9. Mike Gantt says:

    Tim, I believe that everyone is going to heaven and have written a book-length biblical case for it.

    It is not necessary to give up faith that the Bible is the word of God in order to believe that everyone is going to heaven. On the contrary, both faith in Christ and faith in His word lead to this conclusion.

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    • Hi Mike, thanks for your contribution.

      I am optimistic that everyone will go to heaven too, but I don’t feel I can make that definite because of free will. If there are those who ultimately do not wish to accept the Father’s offer of eternal life, I don’t think they will be forced. But I also don’t think they will be punished. Thanks again, and continue sharing your thoughts with us.

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  11. Mere Dreamer says:

    Reblogged this on This is Important and commented:
    Tim summarizes many of the points I studied over the past five years as I fought with the idea of an angry God of Hellfire and brimstone with which I had been indoctrinated since birth. Love just didn’t fit that imagery at all. I recommend the linked articles for anyone facing this question.

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  12. Justin Hanvey says:

    I am pretty partial to Universal Reconciliation myself, which doesn’t erase Hell so much as say it’s for rehabilitation and not eternal punishment.

    As for people who just don’t wanna be with God, I can’t see that as a punishable offense. God probably just lets them reincarnate, or live in another life some other way. Until they do want to be with Him, and in the Kingdom of Heaven.

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  13. Hi Justin,

    I am a hopeful universalist, but I can’t state that as a certainty because of the possibility of those who might not want to be reconciled, as you said. I agree that this is not a punishable offence.

    Your comment about habilitation is interesting. I am familiar with various concepts of purgatory; can you elaborate on your thoughts?

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    • Justin Hanvey says:

      Mostly just the idea that God continues to pursue even in Hell, and won’t give up on a soul, even if it takes eternity. Hell itself might be painful, or scary, or feel like punishment, but it will either be because of that seperation, or because one is actually being punished for their evil heart, til it changes.

      Part of me thinks that those who just don’t want to be with God will just be reincarnated, or live life over again, or live in another world or universe, circling around heaven til they choose God.

      But the idea that hell is both seperation and punishment could answer to that. People experiencing it in different degrees. Most people, if they have good hearts, will likely choose God the moment they realize He actually does exist.

      I do have a lot of hope for all humanity. Like you said, I can’t be certain beyond a shadow of a doubt, but I have a lot of hope. I even kinda think God will use us in that pursuance.

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  16. In addition to their modus operandi of indoctrination, there are two doctrines in particular that are popular among fundamentalists that I find especially problematic:

    1) Biblical Inerrancy (and the related “young earth creationism” — YEC for short).

    2) The Eternal Torment of non-Christians in Hell (even those who have lived and died without ever hearing the gospel).

    In my opinion, it is primarily these two doctrines that force those Christians who hold them into defending untenable positions and, after painting themselves into various practical and theoretical corners by reason of these beliefs, prevent them from effectively communicating with people outside (or on the margins) of their communities. Not only does this tend to isolate them and keep them tied to a very narrow view of both the grace of God and their own creative potential, under God, it also makes them fair game for demagogues of various kinds.

    http://jwayneferguson.wordpress.com/christian-visions/a-sympathetic-critique-of-fundamentalism/

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    • Wayne, I agree with you that these are perhaps THE two biggest issues. I also like your imagery of painting ourselves into a theological corner. Sometimes the only thing we can do is abandon the defense of the corner and walk across the paint.

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  17. yeshua21 says:

    “Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.” ~ C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

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  22. Zach Van Houten says:

    I am currently doing some searching in my faith and investigating a lot of the parts of Scripture that seem hard to reconcile. I have always held a very strong stance regarding the authority of the Bible, but I am convinced that Jude, and 1 and 2 Peter are too heavily influenced by the Book of Enoch to be Scriptural. Trying to reconcile Jesus’ preaching to spirits in prison and the fallen angel references with orthodox theology requires a total massacring of the Greek texts. I do find it ironic how it’s often those of us who have valued the Word higher than most come to see it’s shortcomings. We examine things closer than most, and believe it should all makes sense. I think it’s easier to maintain a halfhearted approach to Scriptural authority than to maintain an overwhelming zeal for it. Once you start examining mythology and religion of the Babylonians and Greeks especially, you start to see the progression. The contrast of the Old and New Testaments is stark and can be attributed to the influence of these religions.

    That being said I am definitely not faithless, just re-examining as you did, what faith in Christ actually means and what Scripture’s ultimate purpose is. As far as this topic, it’s been my first big departure from what many people call orthodoxy. I approached the topic from a biblical inerrancy perspective and presented an exhaustive case against it in my blog. I appreciate you also addressing this issue, as even those who hold to Scriptural inerrancy upon examination should find this doctrine of ECT to be unbiblical.

    Thanks for being so honest. That’s a difficult thing to do on issues like this.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Zach, I read several articles on your new blog, and I am now following it. I think you have a tremendous amount of insight into the issue of hell even though, apparently, you have been investigating it for only a short time.

      Even though I am no longer an inerrantist, I was when I realized the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell was not true. My series on hell, of which this post is a part, is written completely within the scope of inerrancy except for my contention that Jude borrows a mistaken concept from the Book of Enoch.

      I think your response to the post on another blog that defends the traditional doctrine of hell was well done, though I didn’t expect it would be convincing to the author. I hope you continue visiting here, and I look forward to your further comments as you feel inclined.

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      • Zach Van Houten says:

        Thank you. I appreciate that you took the time to read. I did come at it from an inerrantist standpoint as well, which I am leaning away from for sure now. I agree with you too about the doctrine not being biblical to begin with, making it a fairly easy departure.

        Yes, I really do like your honesty here and I believe you came at faith from a similar background as me, and so I can relate. I love too how you express your faith as simple faith. I think that’s undervalued today when everything must be “proven”.

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  23. Gerald B. Cleaver says:

    I agree with you Zach regarding the influence of other religion on Judaism, in particular during the Babylonian exile. Of particular influence was likely Zoroastrianism. Wikipedia has an accurate description of Zoroastrian beliefs and gives an assessment of its influence on Judaism. Several other sites deal well with this issue also. The evolution from the Judaic Old Testament conception of satan as the accuser (the literal meaning of the name) in the court of YHWH to the post-exilic Judaic idea of satan as the leader of the fallen angels, along with ideas of demon possession et al., looks to have been strongly influenced by Zoroastrian concepts. This had become standard Judaic theology by the time of Jesus. These revisions in Judaic belief then passed on to the early Christian church. There seems to be severe cases of denial in many churches about this. The realization that some Christian theology evolved from non-Christian and non-Judaic influences seems a hard pill to swallow for many. It contradicts related traditions in the Church (see for example the writings of Origin on satan) that eventually transformed into orthodox-like theology.

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  24. Reader says:

    You are probably not right. Jesus told about ETERNAL PUNISHMENT in Mt. 25:31-46. “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Mt. 25:46).

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Some people do disagree with me on this–and that’s okay. But I do believe I am correct in this. Did you read the remaining articles in the series?

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      • encyclopediaofnicolasknowledge says:

        Hi I think you might be onto something, but I do THINK there is a Hell… maybe slightly misinterpreted. You might have heard or known of Edward Fudge, he argued that wicked are casted out to PERISH, not to suffer forever. Notice how in Reader’s comment on Mt. 25:46, it says everlasting fire, it doesn’t say people stay in there for everlasting. In the Revelation, it says that devil and his angels and false prophets will be tormented in hell forever. It doesn’t say anything about the wicked people being in there forever (I might be wrong or missed a verse somewhere).

        There was a Japanese guy who had an NDE, and he said that hell is composed of countless dark pits, some pits are short, and some are very deep. People were suffering in there. People who sin the least are in short pits, and people with great sins are in the deeper pits. Short pits will explode or something, and they cease to exist. Each pits have their own timing to “expire”.

        However I agree with you that God is probably more merciful and loving than the book portrayed Him to be. I don’t believe that legalism is the way. Mt 25:40 said that if we took in or fed or helped LEAST ONE of these brethren, then we are welcomed to Heaven. I think it is as that, having a God’s love in our hearts to share with others.

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  25. encyclopediaofnicolasknowledge says:

    May I ask which bible version are you reading from? Not that it matters much, but fire is mentioned in Matthew 25:41:

    “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting FIRE, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

    And “everlasting punishment” in Matt 25:46, I believe that means it’s the final decision and permanent. Being separated from God forever as in final just like the second death is.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Encyclopedia, you quoted v. 46, so that is the one I read. But the point remains that this is a parable about the importance of caring for people–not details about the end-time.

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  27. Jake says:

    It’s also interesting to note that the English word “hell” has changed meaning over time. I believe that, as with many words in the English language, it was a cognate from Old Norse, the Norse counterpart spelt “hel”. As far as I’m aware, in Old Norse literature, there are absolutely no references to “hel” as being a place of fiery torment whatsoever, but rather quite the opposite, having similar shades of meaning to Sheol. In Old English, the word was used as both a noun; meaning a “hidden or covered place”, and a verb; meaning “to cover”. Shades of meaning surrounding the concept of eternal fire in the word “hell” were not present in Old English and connotations of such were likely incorporated progressively around the time of the reformation.

    In summary, Linguistic evidence would strongly suggest that the definition of the word “hell” in the English language has been corrupted by dogmatic Christian ideology. This would mean that in the past, “hell” would have been a fairly accurate translation of “sheol” and “hades”, as the respective semantic boundaries would have been similar. This is no longer the case, however!

    I’d recommend checking out Dr Jackson Crawford’s YouTube video entitled “Norse Myth: Hel” for more information!

    I just came across this blog recently and I am working through all of the articles. Thank you for creating this blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Jake, thanks for the kind words! I am glad you discovered the blog and are enjoying it.

      I think you are right on target about ‘hel’. It is interesting that so many people have such definite beliefs about ‘hell’ which translates (in some Bibles) a couple Hebrew words but is, itself, neither Hebrew nor Greek.

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