Why We Don’t Have to Rethink Hell

Every time we turn around there is another “Christian” – Usually Preterist – who wants to us to revisit the arguments for a real Hell , the basis is always the same.

‘Why would God send people to suffer in hell for eternity when He commanded us to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, and to never return evil for evil? How could God Himself not live up to a standard He asks of us? Is there any chance Hell isn’t a reality and we shouldn’t give up hope for lost loved ones?

The premise is the beginning of the argument for Universalism; since Christ died for all men, no one is lost in Hell for their sins, Christ died for the whole world therefore no one gets sent to Hell to suffer eternal punishment and then Hell is not a real place anyway but an invention of some Theologians. These people then go on to claim – There’s no subject I have studied more over the last 5 years than the one above. I have searched the Bible, books from every perspective, history, people’s near-death experiences, and more. While not once attending any seminary that actually would have taught him everything he needs to know on the subject in just a few short days. What then proceeds from these men is the worst dribble being passed off as Knowledge as if the person is going to enlighten us with his superior wisdom, as if we have never heard the arguments before. In fact, many of these people say the very same thing:

Everything Jesus warned about hell happened in this valley 40 years later (Gehenna). He was talking about a this-world, here and now, present-life event that would take place in the exact location He said it would. To assume that when Jesus talked about hell He was referring to an after-life place of punishment is reading something into the text that isn’t there on its own.

Is he even close?

There are three words translated “Hell” in the New Testament, Hades and Tartarus, which are Greek, and Gehenna, which is the Greek form of the Hebrew words Gee and Hinnom, meaning “the valley of Hinnom.” 1. HADES. This word occurs eleven times, and is rendered “grave” once, and “hell” ten times. Hades is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Sheol, both refer to the place of the dead from ancient times. In Greek mythology, Tartarus (/ˈtɑːrtərəs/; Ancient Greek: Τάρταρος Tartaros) is the deep abyss that is used as a dungeon of torment and suffering for the wicked and as the prison for the Titans. Hence the word is used once in 2 Peter 2 (also the same type verbiage is used in Jude) in which Peter is talking to “those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours.” meaning Greek gentiles. He used a Greek word to explain what “Hades” was.

The earliest reference in the Old Testament to this valley Of Gehenna is used as boundary marker, (Joshua 15:8) and then reference to the valley is at the time of King Ahaz of Judah who sacrificed his sons there according to 2 Chron. 28:3. The place became cursed from which child sacrifice is believed to have taken place. In Rabbinical material of the Old Testament, Gehenna was a place where the “damned” were sent hence the tradition of the dead, equated to Sheol as a type. Later in New Testament times Gehenna was a small valley outside the city wall that became the City trash dump where things were burnt up. The idea of “burning in Hell” came from Isaiah 66:24 “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”, the same passage Jesus quoted in Mark 9:8, The intent was based on the rabbinical teaching of Hades as being the “accursed place of the dead”, Gehenna was where the dead body was thrown into to be burnt up, and the comparison being made just like the fires of Gehenna do not go out, so the fires of Hades will never go out.

When the Bible translators came to this point where the Hebrew idea of the “abode of the dead” was preached they looked for an equivalent word in their own mythology. The Old English word    hel   belongs to a family of Germanic words meaning “to cover” or “to conceal.” Hel is also the name, in Old Norse, of the Scandinavian queen of the underworld. It was easy for the translators to use the word “hell” as the place of the underworld for the dead, to replace the Hebrew word Sheol, or Hades in Greek.

Now was Jesus actually talking about the trash dump or was he using the trash dump as an analogy for what “Hades is?

Was Jesus referring to an afterlife place of existence? In the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus the teaching is very clear.

“The rich man also died and was buried,” meaning now his soul is in Hades, “‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”

The intent is very clear.

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” Mathew 16:26-27

The soul separated from the body at death can either be lost, which means it is not saved, will spend eternity in a place of punishment where the flame is not quenched, or it is saved. Those are the two choices, not one. Judgment demands that there be two. Rewards verses punishment demands two choices.

We find this same motif in Jude as we mentioned before.

“Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”

Do we assume Sodom and Gomorrah were thrown into the valley of Gehenna? Or was the people who were the sinners thrown into a pit of eternal fire?

Or do we assume as some try to assert that “death” is a permanent eternal state, meaning they are completely dead and the soul no longer exists eternally? The problem is that “eternal” is a timing word that indicates quantity, endurance, forever. The grammar demands their state of death is not eternal but the place in which they exist is eternal death, in the same way of “spiritual death” there is no life in them, nothing but death yet they exist. Yet some would like to mangle the Greek idea because it does not fit their “God is love, so he can’t send people to hell for eternity in suffering torment” doctrine.

The answer is found in the idea that for 2000 years Greek and Hebrews scholars have agreed Hell is a real place where the unrighteous dead go because after death there is no redemption, but judgment. It’s appointed for men to live once, and then judgment. Why would Paul or anyone talk of Judgment if in fact there is none since no has a choice but to bow the knee and confess Jesus is Lord and so go to heaven?

Any one who claims to have studied Hell for five years and comes up with the idea hell is just the valley of Gehenna is seriously in gross error.
Yes, False teachers who claim they are going to reteach the Body of Christ their regurgitated heresy is sickening.
Rev. Stephen Whitsett M.Div.