Word search: Hell

With my app, I search the Bible for instances of the word “Hell.” I do this because I’ve been mulling a theory. Jesus is supposed to be the “door” Christians use to understand the divine, but I think the point of entry for a lot of people is Hell. Of all the Christian concepts, it’s the most shocking, the most horrific. A novice asks what it is and the next question becomes: how do I avoid it? It was the first thing that got my attention as a kid; if I’d had consistent access to church back then I would have worn out my knees praying not to go there.

I have this impression that the Bible is littered with references to Hell, especially the Old Testament. God of the Old Testament is a bit of a wildcard. He may love humanity, but he didn’t hesitate to wipe thousands from the face of the earth—some of whom were innocent. He wasn’t uncaring, he obviously cared very much, but his intensity turned on a dime to fury. I can see why Jesus was so helpful in clarifying God’s loves for us. He basically says: “I love you and God loves me, therefore, God loves you.” It’s like a mathematical proof. If you believe Jesus, there’s no room for doubt.

The search feature scans the text of the American Standard Version and presents a list. The first few references aren’t to “Hell” but to a word I’ve never seen before: “sheol.” I go through every item, and here’s what I find: not one instance of “Hell” in this translation of the Old Testament. The search engine has pulled up “sheol” instead.

I look up this mysterious word. It’s Hebrew and means “the grave” or more generally “death.” It’s a far more benign concept than Hell; it’s an afterlife destination for everyone regardless of the choices they made. To be sure, there are references to unpleasant places in the Old Testament, “lakes of fire” and such where there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth, just no terrible underworld for the dead. In the King James Version, “sheol” has been turned into “Hell.”

Suddenly it hits me: we humans are so terrified of death, the thought of our own demise is Hell. It’s not until the New Testament that the idea of Hell, or Hades, officially enters the picture; its counterpoint—salvation—is referred to as “eternal life.” Having been given the gift of life, we obsess about holding on to it forever. All the while, insecurities about our worthiness have us preoccupied with Hell—we are unable to deserve this life, much less eternal life.

The people of Jesus’ time suffered similarly, and Jesus did everything he could to help. Over and over, he urges them: appreciate your life, be happy because you are living. He explains to them that they don’t have to do anything more than love and be joyful to feel worthy. He says, “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad;” “Ye are the light of the world;” “Take no thought for the morrow.” But most are too fearful to trust his words.

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46 thoughts on “Word search: Hell

  1. Interesting post.

    Here’s required viewing on the subject of Hell, explaining about how the concept has evolved with time.

    Interesting how man’s concept of the Devil and Hell has changed, just like the concept of God(s). That SHOULD be a big hint….

  2. Well, my dear, I love what you have written but be prepared to hear from the fundies who will be more than happy to explain hell and sheol and the lake of fire along with sin and guilt. OW! OW! and OW! There is a different way and I am happy to see you entertaining it.

  3. I am just happy to see the mental gymnastics as the gears are turning as you begin to question the difference between what your may hear from the pulpit and what you actually read in scripture. Don’t get to hung up on the Old Testament covenant as it was with Israel and Christ came to bear witness to the descendants of Abraham, the Jewish nation and was rejected by them. Of the original disciples the onus was still preaching the gospel to the Jews throughout the Roman Empire and Asia. Paul was focused on preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles and for some time the other apostles were not so accepting. One thing to bear in mind regarding Christ’s disciples and their lack of understanding of what Christ preached is they did not have the Holy Spirit until Christ ascended to heaven and sent them the Comforter. After Christ assumed the mantel of sin and became the sacrifice for all the sins of mankind, from that point forward the Old Testament covenant was only still in place for the Jews which was all about works and ritual. Those moving forward that accepted Christ as their atonement are now under the covenant of grace as you read in Romans and Hebrews.

    This fear of Hell or gehenna, the lake of fire is to be differentiated from the grave. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God so all will die and await the resurrection from the dead. You don’t die and go to heaven or hell…your spirit returns to the Diety but you are dead like a CD that contains your character and awaits being placed into a computer drive. If you went to heaven at your death,,,then why is Christ returning to resurrect us from our sleep in the dust? Hell is for those who reject Christ and are incorrigible. They do not burn through eternity but die there and then cremated. Three resurrections…Christ’s, the 2nd coming, the incorrigible before the New Heavens and Earth. Rev 21

    • James, just so I have some context for your reply, could you tell me/us what Christian denomination or Church you belong to? Corinna has been forthcoming in naming the Churches she has visited which has allowed the rest of us as readers to put what she is writing into some structure. It has been helpful to me as I read her observations. I would also be happy to know how you got where you are and why you stay; if you told that earlier, I missed it. Anyway, I am big into the personal stories that Corinna and “her followers” have told about their lives. It enhances my understanding and deepens my caring.

      • Merrill: I haven’t seen that James has replied yet….His statement that the unbelievers die and are “cremated” (no eternal suffering) is characteristic of traditional 7th Day Adventist churches. Not sure if that’s where he’s coming from, however.

      • Merrill- Sorry I haven’t been following the replies to Corinna so I missed your query. Not a church member. Have been in the past…distant past. Actually I would clarify that I am part of the body of Christ. I see in scripture that anyone who accepts Christ’s sacrifice as atonement of the sins of all mankind and has received God’s Spirit, then they are part of the body of Christ. I prefer to stick with scripture rather than the interpretation of scripture by a graduate from seminary or ordaination by an organization. That’s just me and anyone is free to sit in a pew or preach from a pulpit if that is their choice. But keep in mind you stand before your Creator alone when judgement day arrives. No ‘church” or preacher will be there to stand with you.
        Backing up a bit…I’m a 70 year old man who has attended one of those schools and graduated with a degree in theology. I embraced those years and enjoyed the study and the folks associated with it. My vocation has been the medical field. Navy Hospital Corps, surgical technician at the Naval Academy and then 32 years in the pharmaceutical industry…primarily in cardiovascular medicine. I study scripture much the same way we were required to study medical papers. I use e-sword in my study, which is a free download in which you construct your own study materials…multiple Bible versions, Hebrew and Greek, commentaries from scholars, etc. I also read askelm.com, a web site dedicated to all phases of Old and New Testament study by Dr. Ernest Martin which has no denominational leaning. There you have it in a nutshell. I am enjoying Corinna’s journey and it will produce some good material for her journalistic pursuits. The other journey…really depends on whether God is working with her at this time. It’s a journey that takes a lifetime!

  4. It was a shock to learn that the most fundamental of my fundamentalist beliefs was not rooted in the Old Testament. The end of my strong irrational belief in hell was learning that the Jews didn’t believe in it, only “sheol” – “the grave”. It was Jesus who introduced us Hell – he thinks we should all burn just for not believing in him. He can only love me conditionally. This is why I have no problem in people who believe in Santa or Fate or Fairies – it doesn’t matter if you believe in their existence or not – nobody goes to “hell” for it.

    • I don’t have to believe in Jesus to embrace the good parts of his philosophy, like this one: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

  5. Corinna … I have to admit that you have made a convert of me. I have always said that blogs are places where people who don’t know what they are talking about go to outshout other people who also don’t know what they are talking about. You have totally changed my thinking. I am not going to try to make some very profound analysis of your thought processes, but I will say that I so look forward to the next chapter in your journey that I actually scan my in basket each day for your name. I sure hope that you have plans to make all of these episodes available to us in one single collection. You are really a breath of fresh air and I smile as a result of your observations and understanding. Should you find yourself anywhere near Indianapolis, I would be honored to take you to lunch.

  6. I believe Corrina is correct. The concept of Hell really developed with Christianity. It’s hard to argue to Jewish people that Jesus is there to resolve a problem that was never a part of Judaism in the first place. Judaism has no concept of Original Sin, so there is no concept of individual salvation and Hell is not really an issue.

  7. Hell or not, as a None who has had a hard time sitting through the few times I’ve been to church, I really appreciate Corrina doing it for me and reporting back.

  8. The obsession with Hell and staying out of it really misses the core an purpose of Jesus’ message. When the primary purpose of faith becomes keeping yourself out of Hell, then religion turns inward and self-centered. But Jesus preached about making the Kingdom of God a reality here on earth, not merely as an eternal reward for leading a good life. Time and again he challenges us to live his message: feed the poor, care for the elderly, treat one another with the respect due a child of God. As James said, “Faith without works is dead”. Works can’t bring salvation (which can’t be earned), but they are an outward sign of inward faith.

    The whole idea of eternal damnation for a huge chunk of humanity makes very little Biblical sense. Consider this: God created man in His image and in a perfect state of grace. Then came the Fall. Man, by replacing God’s will with human nature, damages his relationship with God. God sends His son to reconcile us with Him and provide a path back to grace. At the end of the time, all people will be judged, and those found lacking will be doomed to eternal conscious torment; non-believers, grievous sinners, etc. So God, who is all-powerful and loves us so much He gave His only son as atonement, started out with man in a perfect state of grace, but is willing to end time with something less than He started with? There’s a wonderful phrase from the old Anglican missal Mass that hits the point spot on: “God, who did wonderfully create, and more wonderfully restore, the dignity of Man.” Why would He allow His greatest creation to end up less than what he began?

    Whatever Hell is, I agree with C.S. Lewis: “The gates of Hell are locked from the inside.” Whoever goes there does so of his own free will and an aggressive rejection of the abundant grace God offers us. The picture of a God who spends His time counting sins and deciding if we earn enough poets to get ingot Heaven reduces Him to a Cosmic Accountant whose forgiveness can be bought with good intentions. His love is so powerful I believe it can overcome all but the most hardened of hearts.

    • Tim, thank you for reminding me of Lewis’ concept. And it really does go along with the Catholic concept as well: Hell is the ABSENCE of God.

    • Tim C said:

      “Man, by replacing God’s will with human nature, damages his relationship with God.”

      And who created man with that imperfect “human nature” again? Wasn’t it an infallible God?

      There’s an old saying, “it’s a poor craftsman indeed who blames his tools (or the materials) when he’s unhappy with the outcome”.

      Remember, God admitted to FUBARing creation (even AFTER examining his own work for quality-control purposes, even declaring that, “it was good”).

      God expressed regret for having creating mankind, so He came up with the idea of the Flood to get a fresh start. THEN, after the Flood, God expressed regret for DESTROYING everything on Earth, so promised NEVER to do it again (at least by rain: he reserved other means of destruction, in case he flew off the handle again). Remember where the Bible tells us rainbows came from? That was His PROMISE (covenant) to never to destroy all life again.

      I swear, I don’t understand how ANY rational adult can read these stories as literal truths, and NOT see the fingerprints of humans writing bad fiction…. God breaks continuity of his own traits in that story at least twice (ie God’s claim of omniscience means He cannot experience “surprise emotions” (eg regret), since He already KNOWS what is going to happen, already knowing the future. In fact, knowing the future is the entire BASIS of the gift of PROPHECY, which God is supposed to grant to prophets, including Jesus).

  9. Corrina, “He may love humanity, but he didn’t hesitate to wipe thousands from the face of the earth—some of whom were innocent.” I’m assuming you are referring to the flood. “Gen. 6:5 The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” He did spare Noah and his family who He found to be righteous.

    In the account of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham pleaded with God to save the city if righteous people were found there. “Gen. 18:25b Far be it from you to do such a thing-to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike.” God then tells him in the end that he would spare the whole city if only ten righteous people were found there. (Gen. 18:32b) Obviously there weren’t.

    I don’t claim to understand why God does what He does sometimes. However, I do know that God is more just than I will ever be and that His ways are higher than my ways. “Deuteronomy 32:4 He is the rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.” I guess what one needs to do is figure out what their definition of “innocence” is and see if it lines up with what the Bible would say about it.

  10. The best argument, I believe, against a Dante-esque place of eternal torment is simply, God is Love, and Love Wins. In my moments, when I can look at things through love-colored glasses, (maybe look at things the way God does?), I realize I don’t want anyone to suffer eternal torment, even Hitler, even the leaders of North Korea, even child molesters (I name these because they’re the “worst” people I can think of at the moment). I want all people to be saved (when I’m able to look with love-eyes), and so does God.

    Tim C. mentioned C.S.Lewis…his writings has formed a lot of my thoughts on life after death. In “The Great Divorce”, there’s a bus trip from the “grey town” to a big bright beautiful place, and yet many of the grey town inhabitants still choose the grey town. The dwarves at the end of “The Last Battle” chose the dirty stable over Aslan’s country. If there is a hell, I agree with Lewis that the gates are locked on the inside; that anyone with the least inclination to not be in hell won’t be there.

  11. Perhaps people’s fear of death and wanting to hang onto life forever drives the concept of hell. Sometimes those inward drives – the desire for salvation, eternal life, etc. – are implanted by the Creator. It’s good because it raises these questions and invites us to grapple with them.

    Jesus did urge people to appreciate life by loving others and being joyful. He says ‘love others so deeply that the love in you becomes more important than even the ideals you believe.’ His parable of the Good Samaritan explains his thoughts on that. Then he also says we are on a journey with him to eternal life. The resurrection shows us that those who believe in him will be raised from the dead.

    The New Testament also says that “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;” (and our faith has been in vain), and “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:13, 19) So it’s important to see the whole message; not that it can be reduced to a paragraph or a page, but certainly begins the lifetime exploration, which to me, is a worthy and fulfilling one.

  12. Humans have always had their gods. The panoply of gods of the original religions of the Mediterranean included gods that were beneficent and gods that were responsible for bad things happening. It satisfied the apparent human need to attribute everything to cosmic forces. Once monotheism arose, there was a huge problem. If God was all good, how to explain the existence of evil? Ah, presto–the Devil! Then there was the idea of life after death interpreted in a very concrete and literal way. Those who struggled with that idea of life after death and the idea of theodicy (divine justice) concluded that the creator was an accountant, chalking up points on a divine balance sheet to be used at some indeterminate time in the future. Ah, people were satisfied. Now they knew just what they had to do to “win”. And, they knew who to look down on and who to abhor. Jesus’ life did not fit the model of loving only those who looked like they were doing everything right. He clearly saw the hypocrisy at work. Basically, his message threatened the power status quo (Sanhedrin, high priests). They decided he had to be eliminated so that their fragile social agreement with the oppressor Roman authorities would not be upset. That agreement was “We will pay your taxes if you let us to worship our God in peace.” But Jesus could not be killed–that is, they could kill his body, but still not be rid of him. Jesus did not preach an accountant’s view of accessing God’s love. However we ordinary mortals still have great difficulty dealing with the idea of grace, free for all. Various denominations still insist they understand theodicy and spend a lot of time enforcing a balance sheet economy, insisting that it is a divine mandate.

  13. Corinna, (I’m sorry this is so long, but it’s difficult to explain something this important briefly)
    Frank M. doesn’t seem to like it when a JW shares his/her Bible-based thoughts, but in this case, it appears to me from his comments above that he doesn’t believe in hell-fire either. Corinna, you are absolutely spot on! It seems that most, if not all, of your respondants also reject the idea of a hell-fire which burns sinners forever. It might surprise some here that Jehovah’s Witnesses DO NOT believe in a literal “hell-fire” either. Since the Bible does not teach it, neither do we. The teaching started with Catholicism, not the Jews, and not early Christianity, which for a time was made up of all natural-born Jews. It is actually a god-dishonoring doctrine. When Jesus spoke of “hell-fire” the Greek word was Gehenna, which was originally a garbage dump outside the walls of Jerusalem where the fires were kept burning to destroy garbage, dead animals found in the streets of Jerusalem, and even the bodies of dead criminals whose relatives did not claim them. Nothing ALIVE was ever thrown into gehenna in Jesus’ day, but it was used by Jesus as a symbol of “complete destruction” as would be the case with anything thrown into gehenna.

    All 31 times the word “hell” is used in the King James Version of the Old Testament, Strong’s Concordance shows the word comes from #7585, which is “sheol”. Strong’s shows the definition to be “the world of the dead” and then adds “grave, hell, pit” showing that all three mean basically the same thing. The interesting thing is that if you have a KJV Bible with a center marginal reference, many of those 31 times, there is a figure next to the word “hell”. If you look at that figure, generally a number, and then follow that number to the marginal reference, it will say either “or the grave” or simply “the grave.” This is the common grave of mankind where both the good and bad go, awaiting a future resurrection of those who remain in God’s memory.

    Sheol does NOT refer to an individual grave. That is another word. Sheol is instead the common “collective” grave of all of mankind. In other words, it’s the condition of being dead and buried, (or cremated), and includes those who have been buried at sea as well. You might check out the following verses, but remember to use a King James Version that has a marginal reference. Some other translations may show the same thing, but I know the KJV does for sure. Ps. 55:15; Ps. 86:13; Isa. 14:9; Jonah 2:2.

    All of these verses, and more, have marginal references explaining that “hell” [sheol] means “the grave.” Commenting further on Jonah 2:2, Jonah cries out, after being swallowed by the big fish, “And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the BELLY OF HELL [sheol] cried I, and thou heardest my voice”. Obviously, there was no fire in the fish’s belly, yet Jonah referred to what surely would have been his GRAVE had he not been vomited out.

    The Greek equivelent to “sheol” is “hades”. Hades brings up a number of ideas, but the Bible-use of this word is consistent with sheol, that is “the grave”. Even Strong’s Concordance shows that. Showing this consistency is Rev. 20:13, which says (KJV): “…and death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.” Again, there is a figure, or a number pointing to the marginal reference “Or the grave.”

    Some say the “lake of fire” is literal and is the same as hell, but if so, how can “hell” be cast into itself? In fact, how can “hell” be picked up and cast anywhere? The “lake of fire is clearly symbolical as seen in verse 14 where the verse itself says “This is the second death,” a death which is permanent and from which there is no resurrection. Rev. 21:4 agrees with this when it says: “…There shall be NO MORE DEATH,” also agreeing with Isa. 25:8, “He [God] will swallow up death in victory,” and 1 Cor. 15:26, “The last enemy to be DESTROYED is death.” How? By symbolically being cast into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:14). Following death is “hell.” Since death is to be destroyed, there will be no further use for a common grave of mankind, “hell.” (“the grave” as seen in the marginal reference). So, hell is also done away with by being “cast into the lake of fire” or destroyed.

    Some might say, “Well, what about the Rich Man and Lazarus that Jesus spoke about? Doesn’t that teach a literal hell-fire?” Or, “Didn’t Jesus teach a literal hell-fire at Matt. 5:29? NO! That verse is in complete harmony with what is written above. I can’t go into this here, but if anyone wants further information on Matt. 5:29, or the “Rich Man and Lazarus,” you may contact me personally at chuckmcm@cox.net and I’d be happy to provide it.

    I’m not trying to pontificate here, but only to pass on what I see clearly as to the Bible’s teachings on this subject. Others may not agree and explain it differently, but that is their right. For those who believe in a literal hell-fire, how is it that God tells us to love our enemies, yet God can ignore his own scriptural counsel and BURN his enemies forever! That goes contrary to the clear statement at 1 John 4:8 that “God is love”.

    And, what is it that burns? It surely is not the body, since we know what happened to it. If anything burns forever, it must be the soul. But the Bible does not teach that we have an immortal, but that we ARE souls (Gen. 2:7) and “the soul that is sinning, it itself shall die” (Ez. 18:4, 20). If the soul were immortal it couldn’t die! But that’s another topic we won’t go into now. If it is the “soul” that burns, how is it that the invisable soul could be subject to an earthly element such as fire? Could a soul drown by the earthly element water? Obviously not. Earthy elements would have no effect on what is spiritual (that is, if we HAD an immortal soul). These are certainly things to think about and reach conclusions that are in harmony with Scripture.

    Frank M. will probably not be happy with my response, or my use of the Bible in defense of my beliefs here, however, for the most part I have used the King James Version, and to deny what I’ve pointed out is to deny what that Bible clearly expresses, whether the information is from a JW, or from a member of any other church.

    • Chuck, I have no argument. It happens to be one of the areas in which I agree with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It also happens to be one of the areas in which they are willing to use metaphor over literalism as in the Lazarus and the rich man story. Sadly the modern day christians are unable to do that and prefer to have the thoughts of the flames of hell keep them on the straight and narrow. You might enjoy one of my mother-in-law’s stories as she went door to door. I overheard her telling someone: “I was actually having a great Bible study with the lady at the paint store until we got to the chapter about there being no hell fire. Suddenly her face changed and she said to me: “Oh No!! There’s got to be a hell because that’s exactly where I see my ex-husband going. I want him to burn!!” She ended the Bible study over this JW teaching.

  14. I said in my post above that the teaching of “hell” and “hell-fire” started with Catholicism. I wanted to explain, or clear up, that statement. What I meant was from the Christian standpoint the teaching began with Catholicism, since the first Christians, like the Jews never taught such a doctrine. Actually, the teaching of “hell” and “hell fire” is much older, originating as a pagan doctrine, which Catholicism picked up from earlier pagan teachings. If anyone disagrees with this statement, they are free to do the research.

    • Chuck, this assertion is flat-out incorrect:

      “since the first Christians, like the Jews, never taught such a doctrine.”

      It depends on what specific time period we’re talking about, eg Israelite beliefs under King David (circa 900 BC), or while in exile in Babylon (circa 587 BC), or in later Judaism under Persian or Hellenistic rule.

      Judaism developed a belief in the afterlife and Hell, and you can see the concept slowly emerging in late books of the Tanakh (eg Daniel), as well as in later rabbinical and talmudic literature.

      Here’s the first hit of many such Google results, explaining the evolution of Judaism afterlife beliefs before Christ was born:

      http://www.religionfacts.com/judaism/beliefs/afterlife.htm

      “More developed concepts of the resurrection of the dead and afterlife seem to have entered Judaism under Hellenistic influence after the Torah was completed. It became one of the fundamental beliefs in rabbinic Judaism, the intellectual successors of the Pharisees. The Sadduccees, familiar to New Testament readers as those who denied the resurrection, were an exception. As seen above, the resurrection of the dead is one of Maimonides’ “13 Articles of Belief,” and the frequently-recited Shemoneh Esrei prayer contains several references to the resurrection.”

      (You can read more at the link, above)

      • Dave,
        Thank you for your comments. I’m attending a Bible assembly over the weekend, but I’ll respond to a few of the points you made, and perhaps clear up some points I made, hopefully the first part of next week.
        Chuck

        • Dave,
          You are absolutely correct when you quote about the hellenistic influence of a hell-fire on the Jewish belief system. What I should have said was that there is no such teaching of hell-fire in the Hebrew scriptures, nor in their belief system at the time period covered by the Hebrew Scriptures. For sure, hellenistic influence as well as other “pagan” influence (that of Babylon and others) played a big role in Jewish thought leading up to Jesus’ time, during Jesus’ time, and afterwards. Plato’s (and other Greek philosophers’) beliefs in the immortality of the soul/spirit had a great influence on Judaism. Since the Bible does not teach inherent immortality of the soul/spirit, and going strictly by the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jews prior to all of this pagan influence did not believe or teach this doctrine. But, gradually under pagan influence of these Greek philosophers–extending through the time of Jesus and afterwards, Jewish belief and thought did change–away from the teachings of their scriptures. The two ideas, that of “immortality of the soul” and “hell-fire” are, in a sense related, in that if there is no immortal soul, there is no NEED for a “place” for the wicked to spend an eternity burning. Their scriptures speak of death ending all life and activity until resurrection. (See: Ec. 9:5, 10; and Ps. 146:3,4 for examples of Jewish thought during the time the Hebrew Scriptures were written).

          That is also what Jesus taught. At John 11 we have an excellent example of that. Jesus tells his disciples that he must go to Bethany because their friend Lazarus was “sleeping”. They couldn’t understand why Jesus had to go there to wake him up–why Lazarus just couldn’t wake himself up. Jesus finally told them “Lazarus has died.” Approching Mary and Martha’s (Lazarus’ sisters’) home in Bethany, Martha runs out to meet Jesus and says to him, “Oh, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus tells her at verse 23: “…Your brother will rise.” Martha responds with: “I know he WILL rise, [note: future tense–it hadn’t happened immediately after death, as many teach happens when we die]. Martha continues: “in the resurrection ON THE LAST DAY.” We see clearly that this disciple of Jesus, Martha, did not believe her brother was in heaven, but that he was still in his tomb after being dead for 4 days! That is far from what is generally taught by many religious organizations who cling to an invisible (from the Bible) “immortal soul” doctrine which the Bible does not teach. Instead, when we die we are asleep in the grave, as Jesus’ friend Lazarus was, until such time as the resurrection takes place. This is as clear as can be, yet religion in general squeezes that immortal soul doctrine into where it does not belong, following pagan thought, and not that of Scripture.

          As for the early Christians, all of them having been mainly Jews for the first 3 to 4 years, there was much confusion as to what they believed. Paul especially had a difficult time trying to straighten them out concerning the Christian position regarding the Mosaic Law Code and other Jewish teachings. This took time and for a time they were in flux as to what they should, or should not, believe, as seen by Paul’s letters to the various congregations. Paul is mute as to whether or not there is a “hell-fire” but he does help on the immortal soul issue, especially at 1 Cor. 15. So, Dave, you are correct and I should have been more specific regarding Jewish belief. Thanks for calling that to my attention.
          Chuck

  15. I would like to encourage anyone who is interested in some modern scholarship on this topic to refer to Edward Fudge and his powerful and complete study in “The Fire that Consumes” I will also leave you a link to one of his presentations.

  16. All of it: the lake of fire, demons of the underworld, the quest for immortality, resurrection, etc are ANCIENT concepts, stemming from probably even long before the Egyptians, who’s ideas and World view fed into their neighbors. Remember, the Egyptians were considered as the experts in their time, respected even by their enemies for their architectural, medical, and cosmological knowledge.

    (One example is that the Egyptians incorrectly believed that the human heart was the center of cognition, wisdom, and the house of the soul (NOT the brain, which the physicians discarded when creating mummies, including only torso organs , believed to be important after death). Hence, the long-lasting misconception about the role of the heart, which lasted for at least 2,000 years; it’s also why both Jesus and God spoke of thoughts of the heart (as in the Genesis flood justification, mentioned above: “evil thoughts in the hearts of man”). “Intelligent designer” who doesn’t understand the role of the brain? Hardly….

    Anyway, here’s an excellent video by National Geographic discussing the Egyptian concept of the Underworld, resurrection, etc, much of which was NOT in Early Hebraic thought, but was blended in during Late Judaism from Zoroasterian roots, after Persia (led by Cyrus the Great) conquered the Babylonians and spread the influence of the Persian state religion (Zoroaster) throughout the Persian Empire.

    Remember: the Jewish sect called Pharisees (possibly a corruption of the word, Farsi, referring to the language of the Persians) were progressive, and accepted the Zoroasterian concept of Hell and paradise into their beliefs, while the Sadducees were more traditional, and rejected a belief in the after-life and Hell.

    Of course, the belief was introduced into Christianity not only from late-developing Jewish beliefs, but also by melding with Hellenistic influences (eg Plato talked of hell).

    • PS that example of painting with overly-broad strokes (ie saying that Jews don’t believe in Hell) SHOULD serve as a cautionary tale, since you MUST consider that ideas of ALL religions evolve with time, and you have to specify WHEN and WHERE you’re talking about.

      That goes for not just Judaism, but also for Christianity, since most modern-day Christians seem to believe that early Christians all believed the same thing: not so. Fact is, one person calling himself a Christian in 80 AD held quite different beliefs than another living in the same town, or even a Christian who lived 100 years later, since many variations (the so-called ‘gnostic texts’) sprung up like wildflowers and were very popular. It wasn’t until 397AD (some 360-odd years AFTER Jesus’ death!) that the assemblage of books of the modern Bible came together (and the Book of Revelations almost didn’t make the cut, as it wasn’t included until 360 AD; it ALSO was considered too “out there” for inclusion for a few centuries).

      Point is, religion evolves, even on the major premises. Apparently despite what the Bible says, God can (and did) change.

  17. Well, Corinna, I regret that I have but one 15 minutes to give for my favorite blog….. (!)….but I shall return. As you can tell, ‘hell’ is one of those subjects that evokes really visceral reaction–often heat more than light……..I haven’t read more than a couple of the comments, and I don’t want to “stake out” a position with no time to see what others may have already contributed…..I will say however, that, whatever is believed about “hell,” there IS a final judgment, the “lake of fire” has been prepared for the devil and his angels, and Jesus is the judge. The key concept, I believe, about ‘eternal life’ is not simply the fact that one will exist forever, but it is a quality of life and relationship with God the Father. Those who hate God would not, I think, want to spend eternity with him.

    It is interesting to me that there is a general apprehension of God (especially looking at the Old Testament, the Jewish Scriptures) that God is primarily a god of judgment, ready and eager to rain down fire and brimstone on those who are his enemies. One thing Jesus sought to teach was that the “God” he spoke of was the same God–he brought along much corrective teaching. He also, in one of his strongest statements to the religious leaders of the time, absolutely excoriated them, not only for being hypocrites, but for their efforts to make converts and then, by the time they are done with them, making them “twice the son of hell as you” or words to that effect. Look THAT up in your Funk n Wagnell’s (old Smothers brothers’ line)….ie, your holy app… 🙂

    And, Merrill, I grew up in a United Presbyterian Church. When I became what I consider a “real Christian”, we began attending a church that was part of the Independent Bible Church movement (strongly dispensationalist), and went to a Bible school that really fundamentalist and separatistic, hung with those who were part of the I.F.C.A. (“I fight Christians anywhere) association of churches. Later, our home church got a new pastor, who was strongly into 4 of the 5 points of Calvinism regarding salvation, and I was part of that, even a leader, for about a dozen years. We pulled out about three years ago when we realized how condemnatory and self-righteous it was becoming and was not about to change. We had been part of a church plant Hollywood for awhile, and when finished there, my wife and I both realized we could not go back to our home church, We now attend a Congregational Church that is loosely affiliated with the Evangelical Free Church. So, there!

    • Walt…and others….I am certainly not the only person into change! I personally applaud those who do question their beliefs, what ever they are. I find it disconcerting when followers of any group are discouraged from questioning Questioning does not necessarily lead people away….it can also create an atmosphere where people come to appreciate their beliefs more intensely and to find adherence. It seems that you have had a real journey in your search for a place that fits your beliefs…..or perhaps your beliefs shifted and no longer fit the Church you were attending! I am glad that you have found a Church home for now. And I am glad that I have found a Church home with the Unitarian-Universalists. As I have said, as I became an adult, I could no longer see the value or validity of all of the convolutions and dissension that surrounded the Christian churches with which I had been affiliated. I stick by that as an adult. People who know me would say that I am a highly spiritual person and that I hold my beliefs in a very personal way. I do not hold any rancor or any criticism of others….although I find some of what they say puzzling…I didn’t intend to come across as superior or taunting. I was merely stating a fact about MY religious journey as others have commented about their religious beliefs……….so I wonder why you ended the comment to me with a :So there.” Was it intended to be a bit of humor….or something else? Merrill

      BTW. What exactly does “dispensational” mean in the context in which you used it……And IFCA? What? Don’t get it…..but I think it is associated with some of the things that put me off Christianity…..the “real Christians” and the “fake Christians”….now I am kidding. But this doesn’t make sense to me in light of the ” Love one another” philosophy. All hypocritical and righteous in my mind. Does all this decisiveness and pulling into camps have to do with power or money or just being more right or what? And that is a legitimate question that I would be glad to have someone weigh in about.

      • If I’d ever attach? myself? to a group of believers again in my lifetime, the only group I might consider would be the Unitarian/Universeralists. and a big reason is you, Merrill. If there are more like you, maybe there’s a reason for people to gather in groups about God.

        Shelley,
        ex-Lutheran, ex-Methodist, ex-Mennonite, ex-Vineyard
        ex-hell, ex-hate, ex-exclusion of anyone in God’s love, ex-interested in wranglings

        • Shelley, that was a great compliment. Thank you. I try to live my beliefs and speak my truths…….and to be as authentic as I can be. I appreciate that you recognize that in me….and there are many other good folks in the UU Churches. As, Frank has mentioned, the churches can be a bit/a lot skewed toward social justice…….which doesn’t move me spiritually, but I have opened my definition of spirituality after having conversations with those involved in things like immigration issues and marriage equality and population issues as they relate to the health of the Earth—so many things people are involved in! I have come to see that these works are spiritual in nature for many of these folks. It is not different from raising their voices in song! But I do understand that a person with as many ex’s as you would be very cautious about joining any group!!

          I always enjoy your comments which show your sense of your self and your sense of humor in your journey. Merrill

      • Merrill, I think a combination of things goes on. As I’ve observed some of my relatives who believe they have been “born again” so to speak I have come to believe that they reach a point in time because of their constant praying, singing and Bible study where they have what people in the East would call a Kundalini experience: An energy that takes over the body for a period of time. Believing that they have been born of the Spirit at that moment they believe they have received Jesus. People like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons are not quite so melodramatic. They are intellectuals who are out to prove their faith with no sense of emotional attachment. I’ll probably get an argument for saying that but it’s what I saw. When you make a study of all religions they come back to one essential belief in One God, One Power but by the time they screw around with it ascribing all kinds of interpretations as “truth” what you usually see as a result is the destruction of families and one group cutting themselves off from another for a variety of reasons and have lost track of the simple original ideas of love converting it to their own definitions. As I’ve said before I enjoy the Unitarians I just needed a little more spirituality and that’s why I opted for the Centers of Spiritual Living and they, too consider the works of Emerson as profound.

      • Yes, an attempt at humor 🙂 Please don’t think it otherwise.
        So there! Kind of like a: “take that!” in a cartoonish way…basically, it’s: here’s where I’ve been, in response to your question above. I had hesitated saying too much about my background….As you’ve likely noticed, some have a reaction to certain denominational labels. “Dispensationalism” is a way of looking at different time periods (dispensations) throughout the Bible. The system was popularlized by C.I. Scofield, who produced one of the first-ever study Bibles with extensive notes in 1909. Dispensational teaching was, and still is, popular within the “Bible belt” in the US. Some of these were: “Innocence” (before Adam and Eve sinned); “Law” (from Sinai to Christ) where people were “saved” by keeping the Law. Scofield and others believed that last point, but most modern dispensationalists don’t: Paul plainly says that “Abraham was justified by faith.” Dispensationalists generally believe that God is not finished with the nation of Israel. I know there is something to that, but not as dogmatic as some hold. The Bible Church movement began in the early 1900s as a reaction against liberalism in seminaries. These churches were mostly dispensational, and had a 7-dispensation scenario, including the Millenial Kingdom, the 1000-year reign of Christ on earth. Some dispensationalists consider much of Jesus’ teaching (especially the Sermon on the Mount) is given as a charter for this kingdom–it basically eviscerates the message of the Gospels and their application to Christians today.
        The “IFCA” is the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, an association (not denomination) of fundamentalist churches that included most of the early Bible Churches and many Baptist churches. While we were involved, it was very legalistic (I don’t smoke and chew or go with girls that do), no movies, cards, and many other “questionable” practices, and practiced separation from any and all people and organizations that seemed to be liberal or ecumenical.
        The “divisiveness” (which is what I think you meant) has a mixed bag of motives. Some is all about power and money. (I don’t have any list in mind). Some is about being “right”–as in, correct doctrine or teaching. I found this particularly in the last church we were involved in–it was our home church for about 30 years. The system of doctrine (a mixture of dispensationalism and Calvinism–ie, the 4 or 5 points of Calvinism, or the “TULIP” doctrine) led to a real hardening of people’s attitudes about having the right understanding of Scripture. Initially, I was quite taken by it–it was so logical. Problem was, it didn’t quite fit the Scripture. (By saying that, I realize I’m pitting my brain against theirs and placing myself as better). I became more and more alarmed as I realized that this sense of having the right teaching did produce power struggles, but the most worrisome things were: people were fearful of disagreeing with the leaders (I was one), the leaders were becoming more and more insular, and people were trapped into demonstrating their “growth” in spirituality by running faster on the performance treadmill and feeling like they were falling further and further behind (this is a “ministry of condemnation”). Above all, the “outside” world saw us as an example of Christianity that is hypocritical, self-righteous, intolerant, and irrelevant–not exactly what Jesus had in mind. I call this a “ministry of condemnation.” BTW, I don’t think that everything Calvin wrote or thought was wrong, nor am I even sure that some of the “tulip” represents his actual thinking, as it was developed by his followers (after his death) to use in a dispute with the followers of Jacob Arminius (the Arminians, not Armenians). Jesus said that the world would know that we were his disciples (ie, learning and practicing what he taught) if we had love for one another. The kind of love he had in mind was not just kind regards and toleration for everyone else, but self-sacrificial: this is what he was talking about when he said, “unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone”–that’s all it will ever be. (I’m paraphrasing John 12:24). This to me is about the scariest verse in the Bible. Jesus’ talk of “death to self” has little to do with physical death. It’s all about not living a self-centered, self-focused, me and my desires type of life; rather, a love-focused life that loves God and others. Merrill, I’m sure you talk about this in the Unitarian-Universalist church. That truth has been part of all ancient wisdom from the beginning. Some will say that that demonstrates where Jesus picked up. Jesus came to show us who the Father is, and the Father is the originator of that truth. It’s the missing element in most of life. Take care, Walt

        • Walt: Ah, yes. Divisiveness. Well, that, too. I intended to mean all the disagreements about who is right and who is wrong. All that and the other things that divide people.

          Thank you for you thorough answer of my questions. You gave me perhaps more than I can understand as I have NOT been studying the Bible and all of its evolutions for the past 40 years so I am lacking in the background information that you apparently expect every one to have. Go figure….but I did get the general gist of what you said!

          Even though the Unitarians and the Universalists were both off-shoots of Christianity, we do not study the Bible, although the study of Christianity is included in the Religious Education for our children; we are more likely to look at things like ethics and morals…..I suppose that this is why some people accuse us of just being a philosophy and not a religious group. Personally, I think many people have an inherent need to gather into a community which supports their spiritual growth….but perhaps that is a Western view of humans.

          Thanks for great discourse. I think that the exchange of ideas has been stimulating…..I always enjoy reading what Corinna has written, and perhaps even better, I find the responses to be interesting….instructive….funny….and sometime just downright consternating!
          Merrill

          • oops….I have learned (or, tried to) that I can never assume what people know/don’t know, such as the people who comment on this blog–that’s part of what makes it fun! I would never expect others to know what have had the privilege to learn. I say ‘privilege’ because all those things have served to help me grow as a person–even those things that were wrong. One of the reasons I have looked forward to heaven some day was that the Lord would tell us all the truth and where we were wrong. I hope he will…..or, he might just as well say, “now that you’re here, those things just don’t matter.”
            Walt

        • Walt, “The kind of love he had in mind was not just kind regards and toleration for everyone else, but self-sacrificial…” Amen!! We cannot truly have this kind of love apart from Jesus Christ since He was our example of this on the cross.

  18. I am not afraid of death. And if God is love, he would not throw you in hell to be punished forever. But I don’t want to live forever in heaven. I just want to be dead.

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