Though the word ‘hell’ appears often in our English translated Bibles, it is not actually in the original languages of scripture. However, several other words have often been translated as ‘hell’. The word ‘hell’ is from the Old English, from the Old High German, from the Old Norse, from Latin, from Greek, from Sanskrit; meaning ‘concealed’. Thus, despite what we have been led to believe, hell is only a place of concealment. And thus relates most closely to sheol (see below). There is nothing in the original concept of the word to suggest punishment or pain. The good news is that when the New Heaven/Earth is revealed, there will be no place of concealment – no hell!
Our concepts of hell have been largely defined by the writings of the poets Virgil, a pagan Roman (70-19BC), and Dante, a medieval Italian poet (1265-1321AD). Initially the Catholic Church rejected Dante’s description of ‘hell’ in The Divine Comedy, but later found that the horrors and resultant fears it produced in an ignorant and illiterate populace made it beneficial for selling ‘indulgences’ and increasing the power and coffers of that organisation. However, the actual words translated as ‘hell’ found in the scriptures from their original languages are discussed below:
According to Young’s Concordance, it is the unseen state. Also a synonym for a grave.
Psalm 139:8 If I go to the heavens you are there, go down to Sheol you are there
In Deuteronomy and Numbers as being the centre of the earth (your earth).
“not seen” stated by Francois du Toit (Mirror Bible)
state of the departed souls grave
Sheol & Hades, though the realm unseen from our physical or spiritually blind perspective, can also effectively be concepts of our own minds, from which Jesus has set us free. Paul speaks in Ephesians 6:12 about the principalities & powers of deception which are of our own making. Observation shows that people are indeed capable of creating their own ‘hell on earth’ through their thinking. These misconceptions are destroyed by having the true understanding of who we are. Thus these are part of the false concepts thrown into burning refining fires of Gehenna.
Burning rubbish dump (Valley of Hinnom). The concept of an eternal pit of fire into which evil people are cast is false. Our ‘stinking thinking’ about life, death, God & ourselves is what shall be incinerated from our consciousness. All false doctrines, concepts, false gods etc of our own thinking will be removed in the process of refining the gold of truth (or the pearl of great price) within us. Also descriptive of the ‘lake of fire’ reserved for ‘Death and Hades’ (Rev 20:14).
Greek place of the underworld where conquered gods were imprisoned by their conquerors. The Romans then added punishments to the imprisonment. 2 Pet 2:4 speaks of fallen angels being cast down into this realm, but not humans (see Rev 9 and 20). Thus Tartarus is not dissimilar to sheol/hades, but is restricted to the incarceration of Satan/demons.
What about Rev 20:11-15 (Great White Throne judgment)?
A straight forward honest reading of this passage says: v12-13 the dead are judged according to their works (not specifically for their salvation), and does not say that they are written into or out of the Book of Life. Verse 14 is speaking only of Death and Hades being cast into the lake of fire. Verse 15 is only for those not written in the Book of Life, and we cannot say who would not be there if Jesus set the captives free.
What about Luke 16:19-26 (Lazarus & the rich man)?
This is a parable that Jesus tells to the Pharisees to clarify the issue about sharing with a generous attitude, as opposed to the self-righteous miserly attitudes displayed by many of those in authority, the same problem God had with Sodom & Gomorrah (Ezekiel 16:49-50). It is not primarily a description of ‘hell’. The illustration used is one which was familiar to the Pharisees, being part of their construct to separate the good and bad in sheol.
David in Psalm 139:7-12 describes how there is nowhere that God cannot reach us, there is no ‘gap’ too big that He cannot reach over. Isaiah 40:3-5 cries out that the low places (the valleys) shall be raised up to make the paths straight, and even Ezekiel cried out for One to fill the gap (Ezek 22:29-31), and we can declare that it was Jesus that bridged that chasm! And we also know that Jesus descended into the depths (Eph 4:8-9) to set the captives free. Did Jesus only set some captives free? Was He not able to set all free? By what criteria would He leave some behind? As the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45), was He less effective than the first Adam? Is Satan greater than God? Did God so love the world (John 3:16) that He condemned 90% to damnation? Is your will greater than God’s?
Other interpretations are suppositions and interpretations generally fed to us by tradition based on Jesus not being powerful enough to overcome the works of Satan and needing our help for our salvation. Nor of God’s true forgiveness. For if we accept that there are those excluded from the embrace of the Father, then God is guilty of unforgiveness!
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