Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hell Fire and Damnation! What the Bible Actually Teaches

The Earth belongs to HaShem
"The Earth belongs to HaShem and the Fullness Thereof."

By Ben Ruach HaKodesh (John of AllFaith) � 2007 (updated 11.18.09)

Hell Fire and Damnation!
What the Bible Actually Teaches About Hell and the Afterlife

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness;
but is long suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish,
but that all should come to repentance (II Pet 3:9)

There are a LOT of opinions on this one!

There are scriptures that appear to teach several different things and so discerning the truth can be confusing.

I will share what and why I believe as I do concerning what the Bible actually teaches about Hell and the afterlife based on my research.

As always I welcome comments, questions or opposing views.

To begin with, as the Roman Catholic Church was establishing the official doctrines of the Nicean Christian Religion they included the teaching of Hell as a place of eternal, fiery torment (which is not of itself to say the doctrine is true or false, only that it began and/or was canonized then as official Church dogma).

Much of the imagery of the Nicean Christian conception of Hell is identical with the Pagan underworld known as Hades -- even the word Hades is used 11 times in the New Testament to identify Hell, so there is no question about the origins of the doctrine.

That such a place of eternal torment exists is still a common belief among Christians worldwide today of most denominations. Muslims also accept the existence of Hell as true. Some Hindus have a similar teaching, except their version of Hell is as a place of temporary duration rather than eternal condemnation; the descriptions are very similar however although the Vedas goes into more detail. For instance the punishment for rape is that the man will be compelled beyond his control to repeatedly rape a burning metal statue of victim for a time. The European Pagan idea of Hades contained similar prescriptions.

The Nicean Christian belief is that God does not torture anyone in Hell and does not want anyone to go that dreadful place. Rather, it is taught, Hell was created for the fallen angels who rebelled -- along with Lucifer (Gen. 6:1-6). Hell was never intended to be the abode of humans according to standard Christian dogma.

Humans go to Hell, it is explained, because they fail to make the one decision necessary for them to avoid it and to achieve salvation in Heaven: that being they refuse to accept the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as taught by Church dogma. "The unsaved dead have to go somewhere," they explain, "and since they choose to reject Jesus, Hell is the only alternative." And they typically shrug their shoulders as if to say, "Don't blame me and God." It does not seem to occur to them that were this case, God is completely capable of creating an alternative location for them.

The standard answer therefore goes something like this:

    Hell is not something God "does to sinners," it is something they do to themselves.

But, what does the Bible actually teach about Hell? Let's see:

Hades as Hell

The Greek word "Hades" is in the Christian New Testament 11 times. Ten of those times it is translated as "hell" and once as "grave" in the King James Version.

Here is what Strong's Concordance tells us about this word:

    ... name: Hades or Pluto, the god of the lower regions Orcus,
    the nether world, the realm of the dead later use of this word: the grave, death, hell

This doesn't sound very Christian to me!

Tartaroo as Hell

Another word translated as hell is Tartaroo (tar-tar-o'-o) at II Pet 2:4. Again from Strong's Concordance:

    Word Origin: Greek, Verb from Tartaros (the deepest abyss of Hell)
    the name of the subterranean region, doleful and dark, regarded
    by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they
    suffer punishment for their evil deeds; it answers to Gehenna of the
    Jews to thrust down to Tartarus, to hold captive in Tartarus."

Strong's is a standard and widely respected Christian source book for Bible and word Study and even it acknowledges the Pagan origins and applications of these words.

Gehenna as Hell

By far the most common Greek word translated as "hell" is Gehenna.

Joshua sheds light on the biblical meaning of Gehenna this way in the KJV:

Joshua 18:16 And the border came down to the end of the mountain that lieth before the valley of the son of Hinnom [i.e. Gehenna], and which is in the valley of the giants on the north, and descended to the valley of Hinnom, to the side of Jebusi on the south, and descended to Enrogel...

Gehenna is a valley that was frequently used by Pagans for their religious rites and sacrifices to Moloch, Ashtaroth and other gods and goddesses not accepted by biblical religion. Such sacrifices and rites were deemed to-ay-baw or abominations to the God of Israel.

II Chron. 28:1 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem: but he did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD, like David his father:
2 For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim.
3 Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.
4 He sacrificed also and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree

This speaks of forbidden goddess worship to Ashtaroth etc.

Such forbidden acts of to-ay-baw (religious abomination) were so common that mention of them entered everyday language as figures of speech. For instance, the Master said:

Matt. 5:29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell [Gehena].

And again:

Luke 12:5 But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell [Gehenna]; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.

Of course some will disagree that such verses do not prove that Y'shua wasn't speaking literally about Hell as conceived. It is after all very difficult to prove a negative.

Perhaps, but contrast such comments with this counsel of Master:

Luke 17:2 It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he CAST INTO the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

Who believes Hell is watery or that the damned will have millstones tied about their necks?

No, Y'shua was a celebrated Master of Parables as we read here:

Matthew 13:34 All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them:

Why use parables, similes and metaphors? Because the Master was teaching simple people and he wanted to make his teachings clearly relevant to their daily lives so they could understand.

The city people he was addressing carried their trash to the dump, to deep gorges where the garbage was thrown off a cliff and into the fires below. The flames and the stench at such places was nearly overwhelming. His hearers knew full well that if one was cast into those flames there would be no hope of survival! They understood the serious consequences implied by his words and hence understood his warning perfectly.

It would be like saying today that for one who fails to accept these teachings it would be just as well to be thrown into the trash compactor of a big city garbage truck and crushed. We've all seen what those powerful compactors can do.

Likewise he taught that if a heavy millstone stone were tied about ones neck and one was cast into the sea, there would be no hope. Those who earned their living from the seas understood this stern warning perfectly.

Besides, the idea of eternal damnation and torture by the God of Israel was unheard of by the Jews of his day. The Jews prided themselves on not sharing such teachings with the surrounding Pagans who practiced human sacrifices, ritual torture and so on.

Master Y'shua presented HaShem as a loving and just Father Who offered mercy and compassion. An eternity of torment for even 80 years of sin is neither just nor merciful. The very idea violates everything the Master taught.

The Roman Pagan Origins of Hell

So where did this teaching come from? Like so much of Christian dogma, the belief comes straight from Roman Paganism (compare this article on Hades:

Y'shua Taught the Resurrection of the Dead

Matthew 22:23 The same day came to him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked him,
24 Saying, Master, Moses said, If a man die...
[And his wife remarries even seven times...]
28 ...Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her.
29 Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.
30 For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.

According to the New Testament then Master Y'shua believed in the resurrection as taught by the Pharisees sect of Judaism. That doctrine was rejected by the Sadducees doctrine of soul extinction, hence their question.

What Y'shua and the Pharisees/Rabbis Taught

The Rabbis (Pharisees) taught and teach the sure resurrection of the dead. This is also what Y'shua taught as the above verse makes clear.

Some also taught/teach reincarnation as we will touch on below.

Sheol as Hell

The other word translated as hell in the Bible is found in the Tanakh (the "Old Testament"). This word is sheol.

In the KJV, sheol is translated as grave 31 times, as hell 31 times and as pit 3 times.

While it has no biblical basis, some Jews did/do believe in a place similar to Purgatory (as conceived by some Catholics), a kind of holding area for the dead as it were, for a time that never exceeds one year. Despite this, the word Sheol literally means grave and nothing more. There is no evidence of First Century Jews (nor those before them) believing in any sort of eternal torment nor in a place synonymous with the Pagan Hades. This is a strong indication that Master Y'shua did not teach the existence of such a place either.

So when a person dies, righteous or unrighteous, they go to "hell." In other words, they go to the grave (sheol) and await the resurrection of the dead (or reincarnation).

The Sadducee sect of Judaism taught that life ended with the grave and that one only symbolically lives on through ones offspring (hence the stress laid on having successful sons and daughters).

However like the Pharisees, Master Y'shua knew and taught that the soul -- created in the image of the eternal God -- is never destroyed whatever may happen to the physical body.

Like the Pharisees, Y'shua believed in the certain resurrection of all of the dead to the future earthly Kingdom of God and in reincarnation in at least some cases as we read here:

Matthew 17:10 And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias [Elijah] must first come?
11 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things.
12 But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them.
13 Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.

Resurrection and rebirth were the common beliefs of most Jews of the First Century (other than the Sadducees who were considered odd for not believing this). We know from the New Testament that this was also what Y'shua believed and taught and hence is what his followers should believe and teach today in my opinion (Matthew 28:19,10).

Belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead in the Olam Haba (the World to Come) was the fundamental belief of traditional Rabbinic Judaism and New Testament Believers, including Y'shua. It was a belief that distinguished the Pharisees (the intellectual ancestors of Rabbinical Judaism) from the Sadducees (that and that the rabbis embraced the Oral Torah as being inspired by God -- a teaching the Sadducees, the Karaite Jews and the Way Movement of Master Y'shua all rejected)

The Sadducees rejected the concept of the resurrection, because it is not explicitly mentioned in the Tanakh (although it is in my opinion strongly implied in places like Ezekiel 37). The Pharisees/Rabbis found the concept implied in certain verses and taught directly and clearly in their Oral Torah.

For Rabbinical Jews belief in the resurrection of the dead is one of Rambam's 13 Principles of Faith. The second blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei prayer, which is recited three times daily by Orthodox Jews, contains several references to resurrection. (Note: Several Reform Rabbis reject this belief and have rewritten the second blessing accordingly).

The Two Resurrections of the Dead

According to the New Testament, two resurrections of the dead will occur, one at the beginning and the other at the close of the Thousand Year Messianic Age. I explain this in some detail in chapters 20 and 21 of my Commentary on the Book of Revelation.

The Second (general) Resurrection will occur at the dawning of the time referred to in Hebrew as the Olam HaBa -- the World to Come -- but that term is also used to refer to the spiritual afterlife as one awaits the resurrection according to the reforms of Master Y'shua.

When Moshiach (Messiah) initiates Olam Haba at the conclusion of the Thousand Year Messianic kingdom, the dead of all the ages will be brought back to life and given the opportunity to experience the perfected world that their righteousness -- by the Grace and Mercy of HaShem -- helped to create.

The Second Resurrection

According to some, the unrepentant dead will not be resurrected. Others teach they will be resurrected, but only in order to be "uncreated".

This is one of the areas where I agree with the reforms/corrections introduced by Master Y'shua. I believe all will be resurrected and that in due time all will come to repentance.

There are what we might think of as more-mystical schools of thought that teach that the resurrection is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process of spiritual evolution. These schools teach that the souls are repeatedly reborn or personally resurrected into new bodies in order to continue the ongoing process of tikkun olam, the mending of the world.


Through the process of rebirth or reincarnation all souls will eventually comes to embrace the Light of God's Love without exception. Theologically this view is sometimes known as universalism (not to be confused with the denomination that bears that name).

For "Jewish souls" tikkun olam includes being the instruments of vessels of HaShem for the blessing and liberation of the entire world. Support for this teaching may be found verses like Genesis 12:1-3, that say that through the Jews, HaShem will bless of all peoples.

Some such sources add that this is the intention of the "born again" process (John 3:3-7) Y'shua referenced. This process of reincarnation is said to be the common experience of all souls, "... because God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:17). Reincarnation therefore continues until the individual soul is ready to enter Olam HaBa or until Moshiach comes and ends the present age at the Battle of Armageddon. Those souls who are ready rest until the resurrection while those who are not continue to don material flesh.

This teaching is included in the theological doctrine known as universalism (again, not to be confused with the denomination of that name).

Others teachings indicate that rebirth only occurs in unusual circumstances, where the soul has left unfinished business or where God wishes to use the soul for some future specific work (proof-texts for this view include Matthew 16:14 etc where Y'shua identifies John the Baptizer with the Prophet Elijah reborn).

The belief in reincarnation is also one way to explain the traditional Jewish belief that every "Jewish soul" in history past, present and future was present at Sinai and agreed to be bound by the Mosaic/Torah Covenant. Another sometimes accepted explanation for this is that souls exist before their single physical embodiment and that as pre-born souls all Jews were present at Sinai.

Belief in reincarnation in any case is commonly held by many Chasidic sects of Judaism as well as many other mystically-inclined Jews and by far more Christians than most traditional Christians suspect.

See for example Reincarnation Stories From Chasidic Tradition at

For my lifelong recurring memory/dream of my previous life as a Jew living in Bulgaria Click here.

As for those who are utterly wicked we read the following from (I have slightly edited it for clarification):

"Gan Eden and Gehinnom

The place of spiritual reward for the righteous is often referred to in Hebrew as Gan Eden (GAHN ehy-DEHN) (the Garden of Eden).

This is not the same place where Adam and Eve were; it is a place of spiritual perfection.

Specific descriptions of Gan Eden vary widely from one source to another. One source describes the peace that one feels when experiencing Shabbat properly as merely one-sixtieth of the pleasure of the afterlife. Other sources compare the bliss of the afterlife to the joy of sex or to the warmth of a sunny day.

Ultimately, though is said that the living can no more understand the nature of this plane of existence than the blind can understand color.

[This is as Apostle Paul explains:

I Corinthians 2:9 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.]

According to Rabbinical Judaism only the very righteous go directly to Gan Eden. The average person descends to a place of punishment and/or purification, generally referred to as Gehinnom (guh-hee-NOHM) (in Yiddish, Gehenna), but sometimes as She'ol or by other names.

[Again, we can see how thoroughly this imagery has impacted Hebrew society. By using this term Master Y'shua was drawing upon a long and well established tradition.]

According to one mystical Jewish view, every sin we commit creates an angel of destruction [i.e. a demon], and after we die we are punished by the very demons we created. Some view Gehinnom as a place or state of severe punishment, a bit like the Christian Hell of fire and brimstone only of temporary duration. Other sources merely see it as a time-out for reflection wherein we consider the actions of our lives objectively, contemplate the harm we have done and the opportunities we missed, and experience remorse for our actions.

[This view is similar to the Hall of Akashic Records that many mystics reference.]

The period of time spent in Gehinnom never exceeds 12 months, and then the soul ascends to take his place in Olam HaBa.

Only the utterly wicked do not ascend to Olam Ha-Ba at the end of this period; their souls are punished for the entire 12 months. Sources differ on what happens at the end of those 12 months: some say that the wicked soul is utterly destroyed and ceases to exist while others say that the soul continues to exist in a state of consciousness of remorse, while yet others say the wicked are sent back to earth and reincarnated so as to understand their errors.

[It is also taught by some that once Moshiach comes and inaugurates Olam Haba on this planet that those who still are unrepentant will be transferred to other planets experiencing earlier phases of development so they can eventually accept the Light of Love and Truth. In this way it is taught that all souls will eventually be liberated.]

This 12-month limit is repeated in many places in the Talmud, and it is connected to the mourning cycles and the recitation of Kaddish" (

So then, Hell -- as an eternal place of torment -- does not exist in my opinion and was not taught by Y'shua the Anointed. The Master of Parables merely used the well known at the time metaphor to stress the importance of submitting oneself fully to HaShem.

Like so much of modern Christianity, the doctrine of hellfire and damnation arose from Pagan sources and lacks a biblical basis.

As this metaphorical imagery continued to be utilized by the Way Community (the early followers of Y'shua the Anointed) we find references to the Lake of Fire in the Book of Revelation and so on. All such references are merely figures of speech for utter destruction and separation from the God of Love. In the Book of Revelation and elsewhere the writers of the New Testament use several images taken from the parables of their Master as is fitting for disciples to link into the teachings of their master.

In simple terms, Hell is the absence of God's presence.

1 comment:

Rick Lannoye said...

You make some very good points.

There is just no way to reconcile the original, core message of Jesus with the idea that God intends to torture billions of people for eternity.

I've actually written an entire book on this topic--"Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There's No Such Place As Hell," (for anyone interested, you can get a free ecopy of my book at my website:, but if I may, allow me to add one more point from my book to the many good ones you make.

If one is willing to look, there's substantial evidence contained in the gospels to show that Jesus opposed the idea of Hell. For example, in Luke 9:51-56, is a story about his great disappointment with his disciples when they actually suggested imploring God to rain FIRE on a village just because they had rejected him. His response: "You don't know what spirit is inspiring this kind of talk!" Presumably, it was NOT the Holy Spirit. He went on, trying to explain how he had come to save, heal and relieve suffering, not be the CAUSE of it.

So it only stands to reason that this same Jesus, who was appalled at the very idea of burning a few people, for a few horrific minutes until they were dead, could never, ever burn BILLIONS of people for an ETERNITY!