In all wisdom and prudence making known to us the mystery of His will according to His
good pleasure which He purposed in Him the plan for the fullness of the times
the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth, in Him ….
(Ephesians 1:8b-10)
By – Stuart H. Pouliot
Article #59
Hell – A Pagan Concept
August 2013
It is not uncommon for words to take on new meanings as time progresses, and, without doubt,
the word hell falls into this group.
Today, the word is synonymous with a variety of bad things. When people are going through
pretty horrific times, it is often referred to as "going through hell." War is often referred to as
hell. Religions (and ancient paganism) use the word to refer to the place the lost or infidels go
for eternal or endless punishment, which is often described more on the line of eternal torture.
Others see it as a place or existence of eternal separation from God. As such, man creates his
own hell as he is tormented because he is outside the presence of God. Yet, others see it as the
domain of the devil. These are probably the most prevalent modern-day concepts about the
word, but, as with most things, there are variations on the theme. However, the intent of this
article is not to attempt to sort out all the uses of the word; the intent is to debunk its use as a
Christian doctrine.
To begin, let us consider the origin of the word.
The word hell is of Saxon origin, being derived from the word helan , which also has been
spelled hele , helle , hell , and heile . In its original form, it simply meant "to cover, conceal, and
hide." Thus, the expression "to hele over a matter" meant "to cover it." Another Saxon
derivation is the word holl , which refers to a cavern or to the unseen place of the dead, which,
in turn, has led some commentators to state that the word hell refers to "hole," which means
A fascinating use of the word hell refers to a lover taking his love into a "hell" (hidden place) to
kiss her. Try telling the love of your life that you are going to take her to hell for a kiss!
Most would agree that these words have a rather benign meaning and, most definitely, do not
conjure up a picture of literal fire tormenting people forever and ever and ever and ever, as
some emphasize. If everyone held to its benign meaning, then the word hell would be
appropriate when referring to the grave or death, a state of unconsciousness where the dead
know nothing whatsoever (Ecclesiastes 9:5), and the dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any
who go down to silence (Psalm 115:17). However, this is obviously not the view held by most in
our day.
Hell – A Pagan Concept
August 2013
Today, the Christian view of hell is not much different from the pagan view; but again, to be
sure, there are variations on the theme. When asked about the meaning of hell, some might
respond that it simply means outside the presence of God or that it is the realm of the devil and
its angels, with no further elaboration of either meaning. As for outside the presence of God,
how is this possible when God's ultimate purpose is to be all in all ? If God includes ALL in His
purpose, then how can anyone be outside His presence now, for all the ages to come, and at
the consummation of God's plan?
However, it seems that the most common and generally accepted meaning of hell is that of a
grotesque place of fire and worms that torments (actually tortures) human flesh endlessly as
people scream for water to touch their lips to quench their thirst. God's eternal judgment of the
wicked (lost) is an eternal existence in this hell with no chance of reprieve, for there are no
second chances. This is probably the most common view held by those generally labeled as
evangelicals . Of course, Hollywood movies do much to perpetuate this image, and worse, with
their sordid special effects and pagan-occult plots.
Strangely, in many depictions, human flesh is never consumed in this eternal hell-hole. The
question that Christians should ask, but fail to because they don't see the need to apply a little
logic to their theology, which is nothing more than a tradition of men, is: How could a human
body survive with no water, fire licking at its feet, and worms eating at its flesh endlessly? It is
impossible unless in hell people are given an immortal body by God so that they can be
tortured forever and ever. Such an absurdity is nowhere to be found in scripture. Of course,
there is one other even more pressing question: How could God is love (1 John 4:8) allow or,
even worse, cause such a thing to befall His own creation that was created to be in His image?
It is amazing how so many Christians vehemently and adamantly deny God His love and glory to
save all mankind by insisting that God loves to torture because this is demanded by His justice.
From where does such thinking come? Could it be that pagan mythology has become Christian
Interestingly, in Greek mythology, the immortal Prometheus was credited with the creation of
man from clay. He became known as man's champion when he stole fire for human use, which
enabled the growth of man's civilization. According to the myth, the theft of fire displeased
Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods, so he sentenced Prometheus to eternal torture by binding
him to a rock so that every day an eagle could feed on his liver, which would grow back each
day, as well, in order for the eagle to eat it the next day. Perhaps, this explains how the so-
called lost will be tortured for eternity. Are we to assume that our loving heavenly Father is like
By the way, do you notice the biblical similarity of man being created from clay? It is not
unusual to find traces of biblical accounts in pagan myths. The problem comes in when pagan
myths infiltrate Christian theology and become so-called truths. Having some knowledge of
history and the genesis of basic beliefs goes a long way to knowing and discerning what is true.
It is safe to state that much error regarding God's judgment has its origin, at least in part, in
pagan mythology that became a tradition of men. Jesus put His finger on this danger as He
addressed the Jewish leaders 2,000 years ago.
Hell – A Pagan Concept
August 2013
"Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men." (Mark 7:8 NASB)
Later, Paul picked up this theme and warned the church.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to
the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than
according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8 NASB)
Paul also warned of something that is most likely even more nefarious, doctrines of demons . He
did not specifically identify an eternal hell in these doctrines, but then again, Paul, who
preached the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), never once mentioned hell in any of his
epistles, meaning hell is not part of God's counsel or plan. If the concept of hell came from
pagan mythology, then couldn't we conclude that the concept is also part of the doctrines of
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying
attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…. (1 Timothy 4:1 NASB)
Those with an inquisitive mind should be wondering where the doctrine of an eternal hell
(along with the concept of an afterlife in death, eternal punishment, etc.) came from if not from
scripture. The answer from commentators and historians is that it most likely began in ancient
Egypt and was reinforced in ancient Babylonian, Greek, and Roman cultures.
However, before presenting some thoughts on the genesis of hell, let us consider what the Old
Testament or what is called Hebrew scripture has to say about hell. Well, the answer is simple;
it says nothing about hell, which means the ancient Hebrews did not know anything of the
concept, at least as far as any revelation from the Lord was concerned. The judgments or
punishments that God meted out on the wicked and disobedient were always temporal (a now
event, never eternal) and when carried to their full conclusions led to physical death of people
and/or destruction of whole nations and cities. There was never any threat of being cast into
some fiery place alive (or, in some afterlife body) and remaining there forever. Consider the
Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve were placed in the garden with the two trees and warned not to eat the fruit of
the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but the warning was simply judgment unto death,
whether one believes it was physical death (mortality) or some relational death between man
and God or both. Read the account carefully to see if God ever warned them of eternal
punishment or, worse, torture. He didn't even warn them that they would be tortured for a
specific length of time. Death was it! If hell is God's place of eternal judgment, as many believe,
how could it be that God, the Father of all, never warned His first children of this destiny if they
were disobedient? After all, billions of future lives were at stake. God knows the end from the
beginning, so why did He remain so silent on the matter if hell is/was a reality? The wages of sin
is death (Romans 6:23), not eternal torture! Adam and Eve's punishment was temporal as their
relationship with God changed and as their bodies began a long and slow process of corruption.
Hell – A Pagan Concept
August 2013
Cain and Abel
The same argument is made in the case of Cain and Abel and the first recorded murder. Why
didn't God threaten Cain with eternal punishment in hell? Instead, Cain was given an immediate
temporal punishment.
(11) "Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your
brother's blood from your hand. (12) "When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield
its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth." (13) Cain said to the
LORD, "My punishment is too great to bear! (Genesis 4:11-13 NASB)
Notice that Cain considered this an unbearable punishment that, most likely, tormented his
soul, but it was not torture and it was not forever. God even appointed a sign for Cain so that
no one would kill him. Again, all of this was temporal.
Noah and the Flood
(11) Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence.
(12) God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way
upon the earth. (13) Then God said to Noah, "The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the
earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with
the earth. (Genesis 6:11-13 NASB)
God did not like what He saw on earth and in the condition of man, so He purposed to wipe it
all out and start over with Noah and his immediate family. We might think that if there ever
was a need for God to institute and warn the ancient pre-flood world of eternal torture in hell,
this would have been the opportunity to do so. However, Noah and heaven were silent on the
matter. Instead, with the exception of eight people, all of mankind was destroyed, that is, they
died. Again, this was a temporal judgment.
According to the Book of Jasher (Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18), Noah and his grandfather
Methuselah preached to an evil, wicked world for 120 years.
Speak ye, and proclaim to the sons of men, saying, Thus saith the Lord, return from your
evil ways and forsake your works, and the Lord will repent of the evil that he declared to
do to you, so that shall not come to pass. For thus saith the Lord, Behold I give you a
period of one hundred and twenty years; if you will turn to me and forsake your evil ways,
then will I also turn away from the evil which I told you, and it shall not exist, saith the
Lord. And Noah and Methuselah spoke all the words of the Lord to the sons of men, day
after day constantly speaking to them. (Jasher 5:7-9).
Scripture tells us what God intended to do if the sons of men did not repent.
And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both
man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I
have made them. (Genesis 6:7 KJV)
Hell – A Pagan Concept
August 2013
The word destroy means "to blot out," meaning the Lord was going to kill them and their world
system in the flood. There is no hint whatsoever of a destiny in a place called hell . One could
argue in favor of total and irrevocable annihilation based on this verse before arguing in favor
of an eternal existence in the earth or elsewhere, for the latter is just not found in the account
of Genesis. The mercy of God gave them 120 years to turn from their evil ways after which their
fate would be swift and decisive.
The same argument can and must be made for Sodom and Gomorrah and the many other
destructions that are recorded in Hebrew scripture. Not one hint of endless punishment is ever
For more information about judgment, please go to the following links.
Mosaic Law
Through Moses, the Lord set forth the divine Law along with the blessings and curses that
would come upon the sons of Israel for either obedience or disobedience to God's Law. In every
single case of disobedience, the punishment under the Law was always temporal, and there
was never any indication of any eternal torture or torment of any kind. According to
Deuteronomy 28-30, they were promised a whole host of punishments in the form of curses on
their children, crops, flocks, health, and the general welfare of the nation, but never once were
they warned of eternal punishment. People could even be stoned to death but never tortured
endlessly. If an eternal hell of torment and torture were God's plan for all disobedience, then
why didn't He tell them? Are we to assume that God will blindly spring this upon them at the
Great White Throne Judgment? Where is the justice in not telling people what they face for
disobedience if it is greater than death? How does this fit in with all Israel shall be saved
(Romans 11:26)? By the way, Paul could state this as fact because he knew that all mankind will
be saved, not on the basis of genealogy or bloodline but on the basis of God's mercy and grace.
Let us not forget that Israel had a history of gross violation of all of God's Law on par with the
worst pagan nations recorded in history, most notably, the sacrifice of their own children.
Wouldn't this warrant an eternal hell for those who committed such heinous crimes? But God
was totally silent on the matter. His warning was death for these perpetrators.
Now, if God did not warn of an eternal hell, then its genesis must have come from another
source, and that source could only be man. In other words, man created his own image of an
eternal hell. We could say without much doubt that such a concept came from what is called
paganism or pagan religion. But how and why did the pagan come up with such a horrific place?
The answer is for fear and control!
Hell – A Pagan Concept
August 2013
Pagan Religion
On one level, it seems that pagan religions generally germinate out of fear and superstition, and
a need for leaders to control the masses through this fear and superstition. Yet, on another
level, it seems that pagan religions are simply man's distorted and perverted response to what
God put within them.
(18) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and
unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, (19) because that which
is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. (20) For since
the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have
been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without
excuse. (Romans 1:18-20 NASB)
For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather
than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 1:25 NASB)
Man knows that there is a power beyond him; he knows that there is more to what his eyes
see, and it relates to a Creator God. The problem comes in when that knowing gets distorted
and is manifested in the natural realm with natural means (graven images) and unseen gods
and worlds (under worlds, nether worlds) driven by spiritual powers of darkness. It seems that
pagan man was and is simply responding to what God has placed within him; he knows he is
created to worship God, but so do the powers of darkness that seek to deceive and devour. So,
even though they are without excuse, they nonetheless were (are) responding to what God
Himself put within them. In a sense, God has some responsibility regarding their response, and
this is why He made provision to eventually and ultimately rectify the matter for all mankind, to
His glory. It is realized that this goes against the grain of Christian orthodoxy and tradition, but
let us not forget that Jesus was delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge
of God (Acts 2:23).
Unfortunately, what has been presented so far seems to fall short of a logical explanation of the
genesis of an eternal hell. Why would people conjure up an afterlife in which they would be
tortured if they do not live a certain way? Why not hold to a belief system that death always
leads to nirvana for everyone? It is the same type of logic that should be applied to the failed
concept of free will. If all have free will when it comes to salvation, then why does most of
mankind reject salvation that offers them immortality? Why choose to end up in an eternal
furnace? It doesn't make sense.
For more information on the concept of free will verses God's will, please go to the following
Hell – A Pagan Concept
August 2013
Power and Control Over the Masses
So, what is the explanation? It is discovered in the words power and control . History is ripe with
proof that leaders often use fear and superstition to control the masses. In the case of hell,
corrupt leaders fed the masses lies about an afterlife in which they would be tortured if they
did not live a certain way. If you don't believe this is possible, then read history and look around
you today and ask yourself if there is not a move afoot to corral people into thinking certain
ways based on fear. Why? It is for power and control. Corrupt and immoral leaders know that if
the masses truly understand what is going on around them, they will revolt. How best to
control them but to feed them lies?
Now, in regard to an everlasting punishment (i.e., hell), history tells us that men used the
concept with the sole purpose of controlling the masses. Consider the words of some well-
known ancient men.
Timaeus Locrus , a Greek Pythagorean who lived around 420-380 BC , wrote about the doctrine
of rewards and punishments after death and how it was necessary to society. "For as we
sometimes cure the body with unwholesome remedies, when such as are most wholesome
produce no effect, so we restrain those minds with false relations, which will not be
persuaded by the truth . There is a necessity, therefore, of instilling the dread of those foreign
torments : as that the soul changes its habitation; that the coward ignominiously thrust into the
body of a woman; the murderer imprisoned within the form of a savage beast; the vain and
inconstant changed into birds, and the slothful and ignorant into fishes."
Plato , the famous Greek philosopher, lived around 427-347 BC , making him a contemporary of
Timaeus. He endorsed Timaeus saying he respected the fabulous invention of these foreign
torments. Others, such as Strabo, wrote that Plato invented fables concerning the future
judgments of hell (Hades). Plato was even accused of attempting to deter men from wrong by
frightful stories of future punishments.
Aristotle , another famous Greek philosopher who lived around 384-322 BC , wrote: "It has been
handed down in mythical form from earliest times to posterity, that there are gods, and that
the divine (Deity) compasses all nature. All beside this has been added, after the mythical style,
for the purpose of persuading the multitudes, and for the interests of the laws, and the
advantage of the state ."
Polybius was a historian who lived around 205-125 BC . He wrote: "Since the multitude is ever
fickle, full of lawless desires, irrational passions, and violence, there is no other way to keep
them in order but by the fear and terror of the invisible world ; on which account our
ancestors seem to me to have acted judiciously, when they contrived to bring into popular
belief these notions of the gods, and of the infernal regions."
Livy was a historian who lived around 59 BC-17 AD . About the invention of the fear of the gods,
he wrote that it was "a most efficacious means of governing an ignorant and barbarous
Hell – A Pagan Concept
August 2013
Strabo was a geographer who lived around 63 BC-24 AD . He wrote: " The multitude are
restrained from vice by the punishments the gods are said to inflict upon defenders , and by
those terrors and threatenings which certain dreadful words and monstrous forms imprint
upon their minds . For it is impossible to govern the crowd of women, and all the common
rabble, by philosophical reasoning, and lead them, to piety, holiness, and virtue – but this must
be done by superstition, or the fear of the gods , by means of fables and wonders; for the
thunder, the aegis, the trident, the torches, the dragons, etc. are all fables, as is also all ancient
theology. These things the legislators used as scarecrows to terrify the childish multitude ."
Some might respond to these quotes by stating these men would say the same thing about
Christianity today, calling it a myth and a fable. Probably so; but we need to be reminded that
these men wrote before Christianity, as we know it today, and at a time when a remnant of
Jews had come out of Babylonian captivity and returned to Jerusalem, remaining under foreign
rule. Keep in mind that Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem in 604 BC, and the temple was
destroyed in 586 BC. Their captivity ended 70 years later in 534 BC, and the second temple was
completed in 515 BC. The remnant that returned to Jerusalem had been under the influence of
the Babylonian culture and religion for 70 years. However, later they came under the influence
of the Greek culture as Alexander the Great spread his empire into Asia from 336-323 BC and
the cultures of the Egyptians and Phoenicians (Tyrians and Sidonians).
It is easy to see how many great cultures could come to bear upon the Jewish mind at a time
when they no longer heard the voice of God in their midst. The last of the Hebrew prophets
(post-exilic prophets) prophesied during this period, with Malachi being the last one having
warned God's people around 432 BC. After this, as far as we know, there was no recorded word
given to God's people for about the next 400 years until 28 AD when John the Baptist came on
the scene and then the Prophet of all prophets appeared six months later in the midst of
Jerusalem in order to begin His march to the cross.
Consequently, there was great opportunity for the Jews (and Judaism) to be moved away from
what was given them through Moses. Simply, with their captivity and subsequent return to the
land, the door had been opened for them to receive and believe foreign myths, fables, and
superstitions on several fronts. This, in fact, is what happened, and Jesus knew it and often
spoke against it. We could say that it was in this period that the Jews began to believe in
doctrines of demons, and they divided into camps over some of these doctrines, as evidenced
by the various sects known as Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. These many influences from
Babylon to Egypt to Greece and later to Rome, along with Hellenistic, Platonic, and Pythagorean
philosophy, must not be underrated but rather underscored in the context of the time.
The Jewish Mind in Jesus' Day
A few examples should suffice to underscore this thought. First, the pagans believed that the
soul is immortal, and it appears that the Lord's disciples believed this as well.
(1) And passing by, He saw a man blind from birth. (2) And His disciples asked Him, saying,
Teacher, who sinned, this one, or his parents, that he was born blind? (John 9:1-2 LITV)
Hell – A Pagan Concept
August 2013
It is easy to pass over the disciple's question, but there is more to it than meets the eye. The
disciples were stating that the blind man was born blind because he had sinned. How is this
possible? You mean a baby in the womb can sin? It makes no sense until we realize that there
was a pagan doctrine that today is called transmigration of the soul , which teaches that not
only are souls immortal in death but that they migrate to inhabit the body of another person to
be born into the world. This belief is even held by pagans in our day.
But notice that Jesus never corrected His disciples; He simply stated the truth, which is
generally how He dealt with all error. He stated: "Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents"
(John 9:3). Jesus did not state that He held to or agreed with this pagan doctrine; He simply
remained silent on the matter. Think about it; Jesus refuted error and lies not by arguing about
them but by simply declaring the truth!
Second, when Jesus healed a blind and dumb man, the Pharisees accused Him of operating in
accord with Beelzebub.
(24) But hearing, the Pharisees said, This One does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub,
ruler of the demons. (25) But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, He said to them, Every kingdom
divided against itself is brought to ruin. And every city or house divided against itself will not
stand. (26) And if Satan throws out Satan, he was divided against himself. How then will his
kingdom stand? (Matthew 12:24-26 LITV)
Again, Jesus did not correct them by making the point that the pagan Baal-god, which was
known as the god of flies or of dung, was a false god to be ignored. Instead, Jesus asked: "If I by
Beelzebub cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will
be your judges" (Matthew 12:27). Beelzebub is of Chaldean origin and was referred to as baal-
zebub , which was a special deity of the Ekronites. Some teach that Beelzebub is Satan, but Jesus
was using the word as a parody, which treats a serious subject in a nonsensical manner, as in
ridicule. Notice how Jesus hit them head-on using their own terminology. We could say that He
threw dung at them. Are we to believe that Jesus believed in this deity? Of course not; but He
made no attempt to correct this pagan theology. Instead, He simply stated the truth and
referred to the kingdom of Satan being divided.
Third, Jesus asked His disciples who people said He was.
(13) And coming into the parts of Caesarea of Philip, Jesus questioned His disciples, saying,
Whom do men say Me the Son of Man to be? (14) And they said, Some say John the Baptist,
and others Elijah, and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. (Matthew 16:13-14 LITV)
Again, Jesus did not correct their pagan thinking. How could He be John the Baptist, since they
were born six months apart? How could He be Jeremiah who was still in the grave? The only
way this could be true is if He were reincarnated; resurrection would not explain it, since Jesus
was born of a virgin. Are we to believe that Jesus believed in reincarnation? Of course, not; but
again, Jesus simply stated the truth of who He is.
Hell – A Pagan Concept
August 2013
Finally, one last example is the parable of the rich man in hades that so many Christians hang
their hat on as proof that there is a place called hell .
And being in torments in hell [Greek hades ] , lifting up his eyes, he sees Abraham afar off and
Lazarus in his bosom. (Luke 16:23 LITV)
Much could be said about this parable, but there is one fact that places this story among the
previous examples. The Egyptians believed in the pagan idea of punishment in an underworld
that they called amenti . The Greeks later borrowed ideas from the Egyptian myths surrounding
amenti and referred to it as the Greek hades . In the Doctrine of Eternal Punishment (chapter 3,
page 7), Thomas Thayer states that: "The Amenti of the Egyptians originated the classic fables
of Hades and Tartarus." Are we to understand that Jesus believed in the Egyptian and Greek
torture chamber called hell , a place of pagan gods? Some of the Jewish elite (Pharisees) of the
day believed in the pagan hades, but again, Jesus did not see fit to correct their error; He simply
used it as a teachable moment for them. In other words, He used something they knew to make
a point, even though its source was pagan.
Why didn't Jesus correct all these errors; after all, look at the mess He left the church in
regarding this subject? Well, He didn't make it a mess; we did. We are to walk by faith not by
doctrine! Of course, some might still reject that this is error and continue to hold to pagan
theology because "the word says it is so, so we must believe it." Really? Then go ahead and cut
off your hand if it sins so you can enter heaven with one hand rather than go to hell with two
hands. Does this make any sense to you?
So, it appears that the ancient world believed in an underworld hell that infiltrated the thinking
of the religious elite of Jesus' day, as well as His disciples. But, what about the early church;
what did they believe? It is this writer's opinion that they were not so much concerned with this
subject, for they were caught up in the fact that the One who was crucified was raised from the
dead and ascended into heaven and is coming back again. Read Acts and then read Paul's
epistles to see if this is true. Paul never once incorporated any teaching on an eternal tortuous
hell in his gospel, and, as stated already, he gave forth the whole counsel or plan of God. Surely,
if hell were real and part of God's plan, then Paul would of necessity have preached it because,
according to modern-day theology, billions of people are destined for an eternal fiery furnace.
By the way, Paul did reference the wrath of God in his epistles, but he never referenced it as
eternal torment or torture. A careful read of his usage of the word wrath indicates he used in it
terms of temporal judgment that was coming. Based on the words of Jesus, especially in
Matthew 24, Paul knew that a temporal judgment (wrath) was coming upon Jerusalem and the
Jewish religion called Judaism , which did come in 70 AD. Also, based on Daniel 2:31-35, in all
likelihood, Paul knew that the kingdom of iron legs, the Roman Empire, was going to suffer the
wrath of God, as well, and be crushed by the Stone Kingdom of Christ. This occurred in 476 AD
with the fall of Rome and the Western Roman Empire. This is a major topic in its own right, but
we must leave it.
Hell – A Pagan Concept
August 2013
The Roman Church's View
From a modern-day perspective, it is believed that the concept of hell was embraced by the
Roman Catholic church, especially during what is called the Dark Ages when people were not
allowed to have direct access to scripture and were subject to all sorts of fear and superstition
and control; they were left in the dark regarding the truth of God. Purgatory, indulgences, and
many other false teachings entered into Christianity, once again, in order to keep the people
under the control of an elite leadership.
In our day, the source of much error comes out of the Dark Ages through the Divine Comedy
written by Dante Alighieri, the Roman Catholic troubadour who lived from 1265-1321 AD. Part
of the Divine Comedy is called the Inferno in which hell is described as a place of torture and
torment. Dante even had Christians and popes in hell. The history behind the Inferno is quite
interesting but beyond the scope of our present subject. The fact of the matter is that the
modern-day hell is similar to the Inferno . If we had lived through this period of history, which
was truly dark, we too might have thought it to be a living hell as conjured up by pagans. Some
of the imagery preceded Dante as many other pieces of apocalyptic literature existed in that
day and later, but he played a part in pushing it forward. Centuries later, the Catholic idea of
hell was reinforced by the English poet John Milton (1608-1674 AD) in his classic Paradise Lost .
Of course, men's books do not prove the existence of hell, as envisioned by the pagans,
Hollywood, or the tradition of men.
In case you might still have some doubt as to the present-day influence of these works, some
years ago, a well-known pastor claimed that Dante's Inferno proves there is a hell. He didn't say
that the Bible proves it; he declared that the Inferno proves it. To compound the challenge, it is
not uncommon for Christians who believe in the "inerrancy" of the word of God to say they
believe in hell because others have gone to hell and back and have written books about their
experience. So, books like 23 Minutes in Hell have become part of the gospel, at least according
to many Christians. We don't need to challenge the experience these people have had, but we
do need to critically evaluate their interpretations in light of scripture, not in light of pagan
Now, some light has been shed on Hebrew scripture, that is, the Old Testament, but what
about Greek scripture, that is, the New Testament? What does it teach on the concept of hell as
eternal punishment? Again, the simple answer is that it does not teach anything; but this would
not satisfy the skeptic, so let us consider some Greek words that English translations have
translated into the word hell .
Hebrew and Greek Words Translated as Hell
The King James Version (KJV), one of the most widely used and influential Bibles in the world,
uses the word hell more than all translations (54 times). The New King James Version is a little
better, with only 32 uses. These 54 times are translated from the words sheol , hades , tartarus ,
and gehenna , which appear in scripture 31 times, 11 times, 1 time, and 12 times, respectively.
To confuse matters, the KJV also translates sheol and hades into grave and pit , as well as hell .
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Recognizing the difference in these words, some of the more modern translations have moved
away from the word hell and retained the words sheol , hades , and tartarus , all of which refer to
the unseen and not to a place of torture for the "living dead" (an oxymoron, i.e., contradictory
terms). Yet, the word gehenna , which is associated with a temporal judgment unto physical
death, is translated as hell in most English translations.
Other translations use the word hell from 12 to 14 times (e.g., American Standard , New
American Standard , Revised Standard , New Revised Standard , New Living Translation ,
Amplified , New International , Darby New Translation , and New Century ). However, there are
several versions that attempt to remain closer to the original languages and do not use the
word hell . These include Benjamin Wilson's Emphatic Diaglott (1942), Concordant Literal New
Testament (1926, 1983), Young's Literal Translation (1898), Rotherham's Emphasized Bible
(1902, 1944) and Weymouth's New Testament in Modern Speech (1903).
The following presents how the KJV translates the Hebrew or Greek words sheol , hades ,
tartarus, and gehenna , thus, revealing how often the word hell is used.
SHEOL occurs 65 times and is translated by the KJV:
HELL 31 times: Deuteronomy 32:22; 2 Samuel 22:6; Job 11:8; 26:.6; Psalm 9:17; 16;10;
18:5; 55:15; 86:13; 116:3; 139:8; Proverbs 5:5; 7:27; 9:18; 15:11, 24; 23:14; 27:20; Isaiah
5:14; 14:9, 15; 28:15, 18; 57:9; Ezekiel 31:16, 17; 32:21, 27; Amos 9:2; Jonah 2:2;
Habakkuk 2:5
GRAVE 31 times: Genesis 37:35; 42:38; 44:29, 31; 1 Samuel 2:6; 1 Kings 2:6, 9; Job 7:9;
14:13; 17:13; 21:13; 24:19; Psalm 6:5; 30:3; 31:17; 49:14, 14, 15; 88:3; 89:48; 141:7;
Proverbs 1:12; 30:16; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Song 8:6; Isaiah 14:11; 38:10, 18; Ezekiel 31:15;
Hosea 13:14, 14
THE PIT 3 times: Numbers 16:30, 33; Job 17:16
HADES occurs 11 times and is translated by the KJV:
HELL 10 times: Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Revelation 1:18;
6:8; 20:13, 14
GRAVE 1 time: 1 Corinthians 15:55 (not in all manuscripts)
TARTARUS occurs 1 time and is translated by the KJV:
HELL 1 time: 2 Peter 2:4
GEHENNA occurs 12 times and is translated by the KJV:
HELL 12 times: Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5;
James 3:6
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Sheol and Hades
Sheol , a Hebrew word found in the Old Testament, and hades , a Greek word found in the New
Testament, have the same meaning. Generally, in scripture, Hebrew words set the meaning for
Greek words. This is a very important point, for there is a mighty difference between the
Hebrew and Greek languages. We could say that the Hebrew language originated with God, for
it began with the Hebrews and was the primary language for capturing God's word given
through the prophets. Initially, there was no use for Hebrew in literature. Consequently, there
was no other literature in use that could corrupt the language. It was used for God's word; thus,
the meaning of what was written could be and still can be determined by the Hebrew text
However, the Greek language is a far different matter. Before Greek scripture was written,
there were countless pieces of Greek literature in use that determined the meaning of words.
For example, the Greeks believed in mythology and many gods and, as such, held many beliefs
associated with the spirit world. Hades was viewed by the Greeks in light of their pagan
mythology. Consequently, a Greek reading the word hades in Greek scripture might relate the
word to the world of darkness, the spirit world, or some intermediate state after death. The
pagans believed in an afterlife, and hades would have been associated with such a life.
Thankfully, the word of God gives the meaning of hades , as seen by comparing Acts 2:27, 31
with Psalm 16:10.
(27) Thou wilt not leave my soul to hades, nor wilt Thou give Thy Kind One to see corruption.
…. (31) having foreseen, he did speak concerning the rising again of the Christ, that his soul
was not left to hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. (Acts 2:27, 31 YLT)
For Thou dost not leave my soul to Sheol, nor givest thy saintly one to see corruption. (Psalm
16:10 YLT)
The verses in Acts 2, which refer to the Lord Jesus and His death, are a direct quote of the verse
in Psalm 16; thus, sheol and hades have the same meaning. Given this understanding, all one
must do is understand what sheol means in order to understand what hades means.
The Complete Jewish Bible (1998) by David H. Stern acknowledges the sameness of these two
words by using the word sheol ( Sh'ol ) in place of hades throughout the New Testament.
Ask, Unseen
In Hebrew, the primary word from which sheol is derived signifies "ask." Ask refers to
something that is unseen . One asks: Where has it gone? And the answer comes: To the unseen!
In other words, sheol refers to the unseen ( imperceptible ). Every place in scripture that sheol
appears is in relation to the state of death where the life of the person ceases and is no more.
Some (many?) scholars on this subject believe that sheol and hades simply refer to the grave.
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There is another test that can be applied. Taking the word hades and looking at the Greek
words from which it is derived reveals that it too means "un-perceive" or "not to perceive,"
which is the same as "unseen." Thus, approaching sheol and hades from two angles yields the
same result. They simply mean "the unseen." Obviously, this is a far cry from the modern-day
view of the word hell .
Adding to this, in his treatise on The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment
(1855), Thomas B. Thayer wrote:
"The word Hell , in the Old Testament, is always a translation of the Hebrew word Sheol ….
The word sheol , "hell," makes nothing for doctrine of future unending punishment as part
of the Law penalties. It is never used by Moses or the Prophets in the sense of a place of
torment after death; and in no way conflicts with the statement already proved, that the
Law of Moses deals wholly in temporal rewards and punishments. This position, also, I
wish to fortify by the testimony of Orthodox critics, men of learning and candor. They
know, and therefore speak. "
1. CHAPMAN. "Sheol, in itself considered, has no connection with future
punishment." Cited by Balfour, First Inquiry.
2. DR. ALLEN, quoted above, says: "The term sheol does not seem to mean, with
certainty, anything more than the state of the dead in their deep abode."
3. DR. CAMPBELL. "Sheol signifies the state of the dead without regard to their happiness
or misery."
4. DR. WHITBY. "Sheol throughout the Old Testament signifies not the place of
punishment, or of the souls of bad men only, but the grave only, or the place of death."
5. DR. MUENSCHER. This distinguished author of a Dogmatic History in German, says:
"The souls or shades of the dead wander in " sheol ," the realm or kingdom of death, an
abode deep under the earth. Thither go all men, without distinction, and hope for no
return. There ceases all pain and anguish; there reigns an unbroken silence; there all is
powerless and still; and even the praise of God is heard no more."
6. VON COELLN. " Sheol itself is described as the house appointed for all living, which
receives into its bosom all mankind, without distinction of rank, wealth, or moral
character. It is only in the mode of death, and not in the condition after death, that the
good are distinguished above the evil. The just, for instance, die in peace, and are gently
borne away before the evil comes; while a bitter death breaks the wicked like as a tree."
"These witnesses all testify that " sheol", or " hell, " in the Old Testament, has no reference
whatever to this doctrine; that it signifies simply the state of the dead, the invisible world,
without regard to their goodness or badness, their happiness or misery. The Old
Testament doctrine of hell, therefore, is not the doctrine of endless punishment. It is not
revealed in the Law of Moses. It is not revealed in the Old Testament."
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The Soul and the Unseen, Hades
So, what does scripture tell us about what happens in death? The soul returns to the unseen
(Psalm 16:10; 30:3; 49:15; 86:13; 89:48; Proverbs 23:14; Acts 2:27, 31). The body , which is the
earthen vessel of man, came from the soil and at dissolution returns to the soil to become dust
(Ecclesiastes 12:7). The spirit , which is the breath that is blown into the body and which is
described as the imperceptible power of life, action, and intelligence , came from God and at
dissolution returns to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
The soul or sensation (feelings, experiences), which came from the union of the breath and the
body, came from the unseen and at dissolution returns to the unseen. As our body entirely
decomposes after death, so do the sensations that comprise our soul end in death. Experiences
and sensations of the soul do not continue on apart from the body in death. They did not exist
before birth, and they do not exist in death.
In the New Testament, the unseen is used in relation to the Lord's soul not being forsaken in the
unseen (Acts 2:27); Capernaum subsiding in the unseen (Matthew 11:23); the rich man residing
in the unseen (Luke 16:22-23); the Lord Jesus having the keys of the unseen (Revelation 1:18);
death being followed by the unseen (Revelation 6:8); death and the unseen giving up the dead
(Revelation 20:13); and finally, death and the unseen being cast into the lake of fire, the second
death (Revelation 20:14). Of particular note is the personification of death and the unseen, as if
they are a specific authority or power.
The soul returns to the unseen from whence it came and not to any place in which life
continues (whether hell, heaven, paradise, purgatory, or any intermediate place between life
and death). Because of the modern-day meaning of the word hell , it is most unfortunate that
translators use the word hell in place of the words sheol and hades .
If we desire to hold to what scripture teaches, then we must hold that sheol and hades refer to
the unseen , which speaks of death, a state of unconsciousness, or the grave, not a living hell of
endless torment and torture. The fact of the matter is that the word hell , as it is conceptualized
in our day, needs to be expunged from scripture and from Christian doctrine.
Gates of the Unseen; Not the Gates of Hell
Now, it is rather common to hear many quote the following verse, proclaiming that the dark
forces of this world, which they call hell , shall not prevail against the ecclesia , making hell the
domain of the devil. This is based on the fact that some translations use the phrase gates of
hell , which is not the correct translation of the Greek. It should be the gates of hades or the
unseen , as noted below.
And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and
the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 KJV)
"I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church [ecclesia]; and
the gates of Hades [the unseen] will not overpower it." (Matthew 16:18 NASB [CV])
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"Now I also say to you, that you are Peter [a stone], and on this solid rock I will build my
Assembly [or, Church], and [the] gates of the realm of the dead [Gr., hades] will not prevail
against it." (Matthew 16:18 ALT)
For a moment, stop and consider the implications of the word hell as held by many today. On
one hand, hell is depicted as the authority (gates) of the wicked forces of darkness, which is
supposedly the devil's domain; yet, on the other hand, it is depicted as an eternal place of
torture and torment for the lost, including the devil and its angels.
How can the devil be cast into hell as eternal punishment, if hell is also its natural element or
realm? Casting it into its natural element would be a pleasure for the devil, not a torment.
According to John's Patmos vision, the devil will be cast into the lake of fire, which most people
also call hell , to be tormented forever and ever (Revelation 20:10). This is a good example of
interpretative bias.
This does not mean that the ecclesia is not in a battle with unseen dark forces. This is not being
challenged. What is being challenged is the use of Matthew 16:18 to make the point.
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against
the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly
places. (Ephesians 6:12 NASB)
This is an undeniable truth, and, without any doubt, these forces will not prevail against the
Lord as He builds His ecclesia; but this was not Jesus' message to Peter. He was referring to the
gates of death and not the hell that many hold to in our day.
The word gate refers to a physical structure that controls (allows or denies) entrance into or
exit from a place. Ancient city walls had gates to keep out intruders. Also, gates can be taken
figuratively to refer to the authorities or powers of a place. In the ancient cities, the authorities
and powers of the city sat in the gates. In this case, the power or authority pertains to the
unseen. Thus, the gates of the unseen simply means the authority or power of the unseen ,
which is the realm of the dead.
Again, the unseen refers to sheol , that is, death. The comparable word in the Greek is the word
hades or unseen . As already presented, this is easily proven by comparing Psalm 16:10 to Acts
2:27, 31, where the verses in Acts are a direct quote of the verse in the psalm: For Thou does
not leave my soul to Sheol, nor givest thy saintly one to see corruption . The word corruption
refers to death (1 Corinthians 15:53-55).
In other words, the state of death will not prevail against His ecclesia because Christ died for
the sin of the world, was buried, and then was raised from among the dead. Jesus was declaring
that because He was about to overcome death, so would His ecclesia overcome death, not
when individuals die but when the ecclesia is raised up together at His presence. The proof that
Jesus had His death, as well as His victory over death, in view is discovered three verses later; a
fact His disciples had a difficult time grasping, especially Peter.
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From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer
many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on
the third day. (Matthew 16:21 NASB)
Another way to prove the point is through the use of the phrase the gates of the unseen or
similar wording, particularly its first mention, which sets its meaning for all scripture, both old
and new.
Such a phrase was first used by Hezekiah, king of Judah, when he was ill and literally about to
die. He cried out: "I, yea, I say: In the height of my days am I going into the gates of the
unseen, made to miss the rest of my years" (Isaiah 38:10 CV).
Given the context of Hezekiah's cry and God's response of lengthening his days, there is no
doubt that the king was referring to his death and returning to the unseen. His life was about to
be cut short, and he was going to the place of the dead, where the dead know nothing
whatsoever (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6).
When people go to the unseen, they cease to be; and Hezekiah did not want to die in the height
of his days, in the prime of his life. His spirit was about to return to God who gave it, his body
was about to return to the soil from whence it came, and his soul was about to return to the
unseen, which is a state of unconsciousness. There is no consciousness before birth and there is
none after death, apart from resurrection. Jesus described death as sleep, a fact reinforced by
Paul (John 11:11, 14, 39; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16). By the way, Paul stated this after the cross
and Jesus' last ascension, not before.
Strictly speaking, the phrase the gates of the unseen refers to the return or death of the soul.
Soul is not life, but it is intimately connected with life, for the soul comes forth from life and
cannot exist apart from it. The human soul speaks of the human experience or sensations
(consciousness, feelings, desires). It is the experience or sensation that results from the
combination of an organic body with spirit ( the breath of the spirit of life ) and has been
described as a phenomenon resulting from the perception of the senses . When life departs a
body, the soul ceases, for it has no life apart from the spirit and the body.
Consequently, the soul going into the gates of the unseen means one has died .
What did Hezekiah mean when he said that he was going into the gates of the unseen ? He
simply meant that, in a figurative sense, the unseen has a particular power or jurisdiction
(Revelation 20:6) over man and that power keeps the soul in the state of the unseen. With the
spirit gone and the body returned to the soil, no soul of the dead has ever returned from the
unseen to tell about it. It is in a state (not place) of unconsciousness. Hezekiah saw himself
going into the power of the unseen not in the physical or even the spiritual sense of possessing
a life after death and entering into some unseen, yet real, realm. Please do not read this into his
words. He saw himself dying and ceasing to be, for death is death and no one has the power to
overcome death and return to life, apart from Christ and His resurrection.
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Hezekiah was simply stating the truth that all mankind knows from experience. There is no way
for man to rise from the dead and become a living soul again, based on his own power.
Mankind has no power over death, for death passed through into all mankind (Romans 5:12
CV). When man dies, he has no power to give himself life to rise out of the grave.
The psalmist asks: What master could live and not see death? Could his soul escape from the
hand of the unseen? (Psalm 89:48). The answer is that no one is exempt from dying and no one
can escape from the unseen.
David also cried out to the Lord as he was in much anguish and faced possible death from those
who hated him: Show me favour, O Yahweh! Behold my humiliation due to them who hate
me, lift me on high out of the gates of death; that I may recount all thy praises… (Psalm 9:13-
14 REB).
Notice that David specifically referred to the gates of death . He was not physically dead at this
point, but he thought he might die if his enemies persisted. In a sense, it seems that he likened
his state of mind to death, as well, as all his enemies sought for his life. The point is that he
joined gates with death.
Why will the gates of the unseen or of death not prevail against the Lord's ecclesia ? The answer
is in the resurrection. The disciples did not understand that their Master had to be killed and be
raised up on the third day, as evidenced by Jesus' rebuke of Peter (Matthew 16:21-23), the very
one who declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). Because
Jesus was resurrected, meaning He overcame death, so too will His ecclesia, which is His body,
one day be resurrected and overcome death in His life, putting on immortality. As believers,
this is our grandest hope, and Jesus was and is today telling us to hold to this hope. Death shall
not prevail!
Paul confirms this fact.
(54) But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put
on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP
Corinthians 15:54-55 NASB)
But here are the crowning proofs that Jesus referred to the gates of hades or death.
(17) … "Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, (18) and the living One; and I was dead,
and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (Revelation
1:17-18 NASB)
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the
same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that
is, the devil…. (Hebrews 2:14 NASB)
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By the way, the ecclesia can bind and loose things on earth as in heaven (Matthew 16:19)
because the Son of God has appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil (1
John 3:8). The keys of the kingdom of the heavens are part of the ecclesia's arsenal of spiritual
Thus, in Matthew 16:18, Jesus announced to Peter and the other disciples that He was going to
conquer not only death but the devil (all adversaries) as well; therefore, death would not
prevail against His ecclesia. Why? Because He is alive forevermore, and, at the consummation
of the eons, He will abolish the last enemy of mankind, death, which includes the first and the
second deaths. Death in both forms (physical and works of carnal flesh) is the last enemy of
mankind that must be abolished at the consummation of the eons (1 Corinthians 15:26), and
Jesus alone will abolish all forms of death as He delivers up the kingdom to the Father.
When, through His complement, His body, He sums up all things in the heavens and on the
earth, Jesus will have accomplished all that the Father gave Him to do for all mankind, and that
is to save them from death and to give life to ALL.
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so
through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. (Romans 5:18
There is one more meaning of sheol and hades that will lead into the matter of gehenna .
National Judgment Unto Destruction, Death
In Hebrew scripture, the word sheol is used for national judgment when a nation ceased to be
due to God's judgment. Isaiah 14:13, 15 states that Babylon would go to sheol , and it did;
according to history, a day came when the nation was no more. Likewise, Tyre ceased to exist
as a nation according to Ezekiel 26:19-21. In Greek scripture, Jesus declared that Capernaum
and other cities would cease to be (Matthew 11:23; 12:41; Luke 10:15, 11:29-32); it was going
to sheol or hades . In all cases, these nations and cities did not go to a particular place under the
earth; they simply disappeared through temporal destruction.
Thus, it is vital that we understand the proper meaning of the words sheol and hades as either
the unseen (death) or national judgment (death to a nation or city) and not think in terms of
the pagan Egyptian and Greek underworld. These two words do not convey any meaning
associated with a place called hell where people are endlessly tormented or tortured.
In his essay on Jesus' Teaching on Hell , Samuel Dawson quotes Edward Fudge who wrote:
"In Greek mythology Hades was the god of the underworld, then the name of the nether
world itself. Charon ferried the souls of the dead across the rivers Styx or Acheron into
this abode, where the watchdog Cerberus guarded the gate so none might escape. The
pagan myth contained all the elements for medieval eschatology: there was the pleasant
Elyusium, the gloomy and miserable tartarus, and even the Plains of Asphodel, where
ghosts could wander who were suited for neither of the above...The word "hades" came
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into biblical usage when the "Septuagint" translators chose it to represent the Hebrew
"sheol," an Old Testament concept vastly different from the pagan Greek notions just
outlined."Sheol," too, received all the dead...but the Old Testament has no specific
division there involving either punishment or reward. (Edward William Fudge, The Fire
That Consumes [Houston: Providential Press, 1982], p. 205)
Samuel Dawson's essay is at:
Now, with this understanding, we can proceed to the word gehenna , which is almost exclusively
translated in most English Bibles as the word hell .
Gehenna of Fire
When people engage in a discussion of hell, it is not uncommon for many to state that Jesus
spoke on hell more than anybody else; therefore, hell is real. They are correct that Jesus did
speak on it more than anyone else; in fact, He was the only one to refer to it, but not as hell. He
referred to it as the gehenna of fire .
It is rather telling that only Jesus referred to the gehenna of fire (aka hell ); His disciples never
did. Peter used the word tartarus , not hell, and James used the word gehenna in reference to
the tongue, not in reference to an endless existence of torture. Paul, the apostle of the nations,
never once used the word gehenna or referred to hell as a place of torment or torture. If hell, as
it is taught today, were so important, don't you think that the apostles would have mentioned it
in some manner as a warning? Of course, John saw the lake of fire , which is the second death ,
and many call this hell ; but, this is not hell in the sense that it is viewed today.
Now, eleven of the twelve references to gehenna are directly attributed to Jesus (Matthew
5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5). The twelfth citation is found
in the book of James (3:6) in reference to the tongue. Here are the Jesus verses.
Yet whoever may be saying, 'Stupid!' shall be liable to the Gehenna of fire [fiery gehenna].
(Matthew 5:22 CV [REB])
'But, if thy right eye doth cause thee to stumble, pluck it out and cast from thee, for it is good
to thee that one of thy members may perish, and not thy whole body be cast to gehenna.
(Matthew 5:29 YLT [CV, REB]; similar in Mark 9:47)
'And, if thy right hand doth cause thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast from thee, for it is good
to thee that one of thy members may perish, and not thy whole body be cast to gehenna.
(Matthew 5:30 YLT [CV, REB]; similar in Mark 9:43)
'And if thy foot may cause thee to stumble, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into the life
lame, than having the two feet to be cast to the gehenna, to the fire─the unquenchable─(46)
where their worm is not dying, and the fire is not being quenched.' (Mark 9:45-46 YLT)
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'And be not afraid of those killing the body, and are not able to kill the soul, but fear rather
Him who is able both soul and body to destroy in gehenna. (Matthew 10:28 YLT [CV, REB])
'And I say to you, my friends, be not afraid of those killing the body, and after these things
are not having anything over to do; (5) but I will show to you, whom ye may fear; fear him
who, after the killing, is having authority to cast to the gehenna; yes, I say to you, fear ye
Him. (Luke 12:4-5 YLT)
'And if thine eye doth cause thee to stumble, pluck it out and cast from thee; it is good for
thee one-eyed to enter into the life, rather than having two eyes to be cast to the gehenna of
the fire [fiery gehenna] (Matthew 18:9 YLT [REB]; similar in Mark 9:47)
'Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye go round the sea and the dry land
to make one proselyte, and whenever it may happen—ye make him a son of gehenna twofold
more than yourselves. (Matthew 23:15 YLT [CV, REB])
'Serpents! brood of vipers! how may ye escape from the judgment of the gehenna? (Matthew
23:33 YLT [CV, REB])
These are taken up individually later.
A Garbage Dump
In Jesus' day, gehenna referred to a garbage dump outside the city walls, south of Jerusalem,
where refuse, including dead human bodies, especially those of criminals and beggars, was
burned day and night and where worms consumed the organic matter, such as human flesh,
that was not consumed by fire. It was a place of death, not a place of torment. One had to be
physically dead to be thrown into gehenna , and, if one were cast into this dump and not given a
proper burial, it was a sign of disgrace.
The dead cannot be tormented, for they are dead! The dead know nothing! It was a literal place
of death that all could see and smell as the smoke of its burning went up day and night. Thus,
when He spoke of the gehenna of fire , Jesus referred to something that most Jews living in
Jerusalem would have easily understood in a physical and literal sense. They would have also
understood the historical significance of this dump, for gehenna was synonymous with the
valley of Hinnom . One of the worst chapters in the history of Judah was played out in the valley
of Ben-Hinnom or the valley of the sons of Hinnom (Joshua 15:8; 18:16; 2 Kings 23:10; 2
Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; Nehemiah 11:30; Jeremiah 7:31, 32; 19:2, 6; 32:35) that led to severe
judgment of God's people.
According to Joshua, the valley ran south of Jerusalem, marking the territories of the tribes of
Judah and Benjamin. The Dung Gate , which was on the east side of Jerusalem, had a common
sewer that ran to the brook Kidron and the valley of Hinnom . Within the valley of Hinnom , there
was a place called Topheth , which means "a place that burns" (2 Kings 23:10; Isaiah 30:33;
Jeremiah 7:31, 32 (twice); 19:6, 11, 12, 13, 14).
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One of the lowest points in the history of Judah occurred at the high place called Topheth when
God's people committed great acts of idolatry as they offered human sacrifices to the false gods
of Baal and Molech (Jeremiah 7:30-31; 32:35). They had fallen away from the Lord by
committing gross sin more in line with what would be expected of heathen nations. They were
idolatrous and apostate . Consequently, the Lord spoke through Jeremiah of a pending slaughter
of these idolatrous Jews.
(32) "Therefore, behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when it will no more be called
Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of the Slaughter; for they will bury
in Topheth because there is no other place. (33) And the dead bodies of this people will be
food for the birds of the sky, and for the beasts of the earth; and no one will frighten them
away." (Jeremiah 7:32-33 NASB)
Please take special note of the fact that the Lord referred to their dead bodies as food for the
birds and the beasts. This was not a place of torment for so-called living souls but a place of
dead bodies. Undoubtedly, when He spoke of gehenna , Jesus not only had the prophetic words
of Jeremiah in mind but also those of Isaiah.
And they will go forth and see the corpses of the mortals who transgressed against Me, for
their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched, and they will become a
repulsion to all flesh. (Isaiah 66:24 CV)
An unquenched fire means it will do its job fully and completely. Worms are also found in
garbage dumps, for they feed off organic matter. Both will outlast the flesh, for their purpose is
to consume all flesh. Notice that the fire and worms are associated with the consumption of
corpses, which means the person is dead and not alive in some fiery torment. The Lord
prophesied of the corpses of mortals , ones who are not beyond death. Contextually, Isaiah
speaks of the fate of apostates that are denied entrance into the Kingdom of Christ. The fact of
the matter is they are dead .
When there is no more material to serve as fuel for the fire to consume and no more organic
matter to serve as food for the worms to consume, what do you think happens to the fire and
the worms? When their source of food is exhausted, the fire and worms cease as well. This
should dispel any notion that the gehenna of fire is a living hell, as held by so many.
It is worth repeating. Ge-Hinnom or the valley of the sons of Hinnom was where the Jews who
worshipped Baal sacrificed their children to Molech (Jeremiah 32:35), an act that was an
abomination to the Lord that led to His divine judgment by death. Through Jeremiah, the Lord
declared that it would become the valley of slaughter in which the dead bodies of this people
will be food for the birds of the sky and for the beasts of the earth (Jeremiah 7:32-33; 19:6).
By the way, the law of God requires that the victim of a crime be made whole by the
perpetrator. Only the victim can forgive and show mercy to the perpetrator; however, if the
victim is murdered, he or she cannot exercise this right. Consequently, the law demands death
for premeditated murders, and judgment on the part of the victim is put on hold until the Great
White Throne, at which time justice is meted out based on the crime.
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Jerusalem ─ A Broken Jar
Within this same context, the Lord directed Jeremiah to break the jar in the sight of the men
and declare: Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter's vessel,
which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place
for burial (Jeremiah 19:10-11).
Once an old jar is broken, it is of no further value because it cannot be repaired. According to
the word of the Lord, there is only one place to dispose of the broken jar, and that is in
Topheth. In other words, Jerusalem was going to be broken and cast aside like garbage thrown
into a city dump. Jerusalem was going the way of gehenna . Jeremiah was commanded to speak
a death sentence to the city of Jerusalem and its people because they had turned away from
the Lord, no longer trusting Him, but instead had turned to false gods, becoming so morally
corrupt that their actions were an abomination to the Lord.
In the short term, this prophecy of divine judgment was fulfilled when the Babylonians
captured and destroyed Jerusalem. However, it was later rebuilt under the leadership of
Nehemiah, only to be destroyed again in 70 AD by the Romans. Like a cat with nine lives,
Jerusalem was rebuilt again, and it is now the religiously divided city of the state of Israel.
But take note that this sentence has finality to it. The potter's vessel was to be broken, which
cannot again be repaired. In other words, the ancient city of Jerusalem must be broken
(destroyed) in such a way that it will never be rebuilt. Given the fact that ancient Jerusalem has
been rebuilt in Israel, there is only one fate awaiting the present Jerusalem; it is the divine
judgment of gehenna . It must be cast out (Galatians 4:21-31). If Jeremiah's prophecy is to be
believed, and there is good reason to believe it, then a day must come when Jerusalem will be
destroyed again, never again to be rebuilt.
The fact of the matter is that God is now building New Jerusalem , not an earthly city of bricks
and mortar but a celestial city of soon tobe glorified and immortal people, the Body of Christ.
Therefore, the earthly Jerusalem, no matter how many times it is rebuilt, must one day be
destroyed, never again to be rebuilt.
Now, why must Jerusalem face the divine judgment of gehenna ?
(29) 'Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the sepulchres of the
prophets, and adorn the tombs of the righteous, (30) and say, If we had been in the days of
our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. (31)
So that ye testify to yourselves, that ye are sons of them who did murder the prophets; (32)
and ye―ye fill up the measure of your fathers. (33) Serpents! brood of vipers! how may ye
escape from the judgment of the gehenna?' (Matthew 23:29-33 YLT)
"Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you
will kill and crucify…. (Matthew 23:34 NASB)
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(37) "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!
How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under
her wings, and you were unwilling. (38) Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!"
(Matthew 23:37-38 NASB)
Jesus is the Prophet who came to fulfill the Prophets (Matthew 5:17; 21:11, 46; Mark 6:4); and
the very ones who should have accepted Him and believed in Him, for they knew who He was
(Matthew 21:37-39), were the ones who rejected Him, even demanded His crucifixion (Mark
15:13, 14; John 19:15). The Jews both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets (1 Thessalonians
Jesus spoke many parables to hide the mysteries of the Kingdom of the Heavens from the
unbelieving Jews. His parables often spoke of those who would enter His Kingdom because they
believe in Him and those who would not enter because they were enemies of God, that is,
enemies of the cross, because they did not believe on God's Son. Excerpts from two of His
parables prove the point.
(1) Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, (2) "The kingdom of heaven may be
compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. … (6) and the rest seized his slaves
and mistreated them and killed them. (7) But the king was enraged, and he sent his armies
and destroyed those murderers and set their city on fire." (Matthew 22:1-2, 6-7 NASB)
(14) "But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We do not want this
man to reign over us.' … (27) "But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over
them, bring them here and slay them in my presence." (Luke 19:14, 27 NASB)
The enemies and citizens who refused His reign were unbelieving Judahites who lived in Judea
and the city of Jerusalem, a fact that was not lost to Paul when he wrote to the Philippians.
(18) For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are
enemies of the cross of Christ, (19) whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and
whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. (20) For our citizenship is
in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…. (Philippians
3:18-20 NASB) [Note the difference between enemies and citizens.]
Why would Paul weep over these enemies? Because they were of his kindred flesh; that is, they
were Jews who rejected Christ (Romans 9:1-3).
These few points are enough to make it clear that the valley of Hinnom signified the death of
God's people, not the heathen nations; and when Jesus spoke of gehenna , He spoke to Jews,
not to gentiles (the nations).
In the context of ancient Israel's apostate history, gehenna refers to the judgment of death and
destruction due to moral corruption of the highest order, in the same vein as the judgment of
Sodom and Gomorrah. They had failed miserably to obey God's law as given to them through
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Consequently, when He walked among the Jews of that day, Jesus put His finger on the pulse of
the condition of the Judahites. They were in danger of the gehenna of fire, which could be
likened to capital punishment (judgment by death), because they had sunk to a low moral state
in which they, as ones called of God through the fathers, refused to believe His word, which led
them to profanely demand the death of God's Son.
In 70 AD, they faced the gehenna of fire as Jerusalem was destroyed and many Jews were killed
by the Romans. Contrary to the thinking of many Christians, the same destiny awaits the
modern-day nation of Israel that has usurped Joseph's birthright and continues to reject Christ.
Gehenna is not the pagan concept of hell; it is God's temporal judgment of those who profanely
turn from Him, and, in the context of ancient Israel, it speaks of physical death, not torture. In
spite of how horrific this might sound, it is actually good news. Those who suffer the fate of
gehenna (i.e., death) will be raised from the dead at the second resurrection to face the lake of
fire, a judgment of works, a purifying work that will ultimately lead to their reconciliation and
Thus, in the immediate context of Jesus' day, gehenna referred to God's divine judgment that
came upon ancient Jerusalem and its unbelieving, apostate citizens, and, possibly, to a
prophetic judgment that is yet to come upon modern Jerusalem and its unbelieving citizens
that continue as enemies of the cross. If they, along with all the unrighteous of the world, are to
avoid gehenna , they must repent and believe in the very One their fathers demanded be
crucified, Jesus, the Savior of the world; they need the grace of God and the faith of the Son. If
they do not believe, then gehenna and exclusion from the Kingdom of Christ awaits them.
But, again, there is good news. Those who suffer the fate of gehenna will come out of the state
of death at the second resurrection to face the lake of fire, a purifying judgment of the works of
the flesh; so all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26). Paul stated this knowing that all the
nations, including ancient Israel, along with all mankind will be saved by being brought into
subjection to Christ. Ultimately, all things on earth and in heaven will be reconciled to God at
the consummation of the eons, so that God the Father may all in all new . Mercy to ALL!
Now, to seal the fate of hell as an endless place of torture, let us consider the eleven references
to gehenna made by Jesus, starting with a set of similar verses.
'But, if thy right eye doth cause thee to stumble, pluck it out and cast from thee, for it is good
to thee that one of thy members may perish, and not thy whole body be cast to gehenna.
(Matthew 5:29 YLT [CV, REB]; similar in Mark 9:47)
'And if thine eye doth cause thee to stumble, pluck it out and cast from thee; it is good for
thee one-eyed to enter into the life, rather than having two eyes to be cast to the gehenna of
the fire [fiery gehenna] (Matthew 18:9 YLT [REB]; similar in Mark 9:47)
'And, if thy right hand doth cause thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast from thee, for it is good
to thee that one of thy members may perish, and not thy whole body be cast to gehenna.
(Matthew 5:30 YLT [CV, REB]; similar in Mark 9:43)
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'And if thy foot may cause thee to stumble, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into the life
lame, than having the two feet to be cast to the gehenna, to the fire─the unquenchable─(46)
where their worm is not dying, and the fire is not being quenched.' (Mark 9:45-46 YLT)
Does it make sense to you that Jesus is telling people to literally pluck out an eye, or cut off a
hand or a foot in order to enter heaven? If it were so, then, in heaven, there will be a lot of
people without eyes, hands, and feet. Without doubt, some would say this is ridiculous, for all
will have new spiritual bodies in heaven. Precisely; this makes the point. It is all ridiculous if
taken literally.
However, if this is viewed as a national, temporal judgment, it makes a lot of sense. Jesus was
telling the Jews that were in His midst that they needed to be willing to cast off the members of
the Judahite nation that were rejecting Him as Messiah. It was better for the nation to cast off
the apostates so the rest of the nation could enter the Kingdom of the Heavens, the Kingdom of
the Messiah. John the Baptist gave a similar warning.
(7) But seeing many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them,
Offspring of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (8) Therefore, bring
forth fruits worthy of repentance. (9) And do not think to say within yourselves, We have a
father, Abraham. For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these
stones. (10) But already the axe is even laid at the root of the trees; therefore, any tree not
bringing forth good fruit is cut off and is thrown into fire. (11) I indeed baptize you in water to
repentance; but He who is coming after me is stronger than me, of whom I am not able to lift
the sandals. He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire, (12) whose fan is in His hand, and
He will cleanse His floor and will gather His wheat into the storehouse. But He will burn up
the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:7-12 LITV)
John warned both the individual and the Judahite nation. Later, Jesus repeated the same
warning; however, He centered the coming wrath on the elite Jewish leaders that were
rejecting Him and his Kingdom.
Yet whoever may be saying, 'Stupid!' shall be liable to the Gehenna of fire [fiery gehenna].
(Matthew 5:22 CV [REB])
Jesus was not simply warning about some form of verbal abuse. He was pointing to the fact that
the religious Jewish elite looked down upon the people as inferior. Rather than expressing love
and mercy to their fellow countrymen, they looked at them with contempt. They were breaking
the law of brotherly love or loving your neighbor, but there was more to it, for they were
hindering their countrymen from entering the Kingdom of Messiah as seen in the next gehenna
'Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye go round the sea and the dry land
to make one proselyte, and whenever it may happen—ye make him a son of gehenna twofold
more than yourselves. (Matthew 23:15 YLT [CV, REB])
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'Serpents! brood of vipers! how may ye escape from the judgment of the gehenna? (Matthew
23:33 YLT [CV, REB])
The answer to Jesus' question was that they would not escape the wrath that was coming upon
Judah and Jerusalem. We could say that the last nail was put in the coffin, so to speak, because
their hardened hearts were not going to turn. Jesus clearly made the point to them that they
faced a physical death, as seen in Luke.
'And I say to you, my friends, be not afraid of those killing the body, and after these things
are not having anything over to do; (5) but I will show to you, whom ye may fear; fear him
who, after the killing, is having authority to cast to the gehenna; yes, I say to you, fear ye
Him. (Luke 12:4-5 YLT)
Given the way this is written, some might think that this proves there is some form of afterlife
(after being killed by God) in which there is torment. This is not what Jesus meant. Jesus simply
made the point that their burial would not be according to the norm of the day. Instead, their
dead bodies would be cast into a garbage dump as if they were common criminals or, even
worse, no different from any other organic refuse (i.e., garbage). Think about the
condemnation that Jesus heaped upon the Jews of that day who thought they were the chosen
of God, as if they could get away with anything. Jesus gave them no such assurance.
But, this verse can also apply to the national level as well. The body in view was the nation of
Judah, what could be called the bad fig tree of Judah (see Jeremiah 24). God was able to kill the
entire nation to the point that nothing would be left of it. It would be so consumed by the
wrath of God that the fire and worms of His judgment would not be quenched until nothing
was left of all that they held dear to their hearts, including their very religion that God had
given them and then made obsolete.
Now, there is one more gehenna verse, similar to the above verse from Luke; however, this one
deals with the question…
Is the Soul Immortal?
'And be not afraid of those killing the body, and are not able to kill the soul, but fear rather
Him who is able both soul and body to destroy in gehenna. (Matthew 10:28 YLT [CV, REB])
This verse is often cited in defense of man's hell and the immortality of the soul. Keep in mind
that man is spirit, soul, and body; a fact given to us by Paul. This is an important verse, for some
see spirit and soul as one and the same, making no distinction between the two. This creates
confusion. Most importantly, we need to be clear that Jesus was not defining some new
So, what did Jesus mean by fear Him who is able to destroy (kill) both soul and body in
gehenna (hell) ?
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On one level, He was stating the obvious that God can do what man can also do, kill the body
and soul. Taken at face value, this means no one is alive in hell, for they (soul and body) are
destroyed (killed).
On another level, and the one most important to the subject at hand, Jesus was most likely
challenging the Greek (pagan) teaching on the immortality of the soul without directly
propounding a doctrine that refuted it. As stated previously, He knew what was taught in that
day and what some of the Jews, even His disciples, erroneously believed. They knew the body
died but believed the soul went on to some afterlife in death. Jesus cut right to the heart of the
matter that the soul and body die.
The message Jesus conveyed was about fearing God who judges through the gehenna of fire ,
which is divine judgment unto death or God's capital punishment . Ones killed by gehenna will
rise up to be judged before the Great White Throne. The soul is included because it too dies
with the body. The dead do not know anything. Likewise, in the gehenna of fire , the dead (body
and soul) do not know anything either. There is no knowledge because death is the cessation of
life; take the body away, and the soul ceases to exist, for it is the experience of the body.
Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and
body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1
Thessalonians 5:23 NASB)
Consider these few points.
First, soul comes forth when the breath of the spirit of life is breathed into an inanimate body.
When spirit enters the body, it becomes animated as a living soul . By the way, soul is more a
phenomenon than an entity; therefore, it could be called soul without the article the .
Second, if soul only comes into being when body and spirit are joined, then it only follows that
soul does not exist prior to the body becoming a living soul. It only becomes soul when the
breath of the spirit of life enters the body. This is an important point, for it proves that soul is
not immortal, at least on the front end or before life comes into the body. In other words, it
does not exist in some mystical state that we have no conscious awareness of prior to our birth.
Another way of stating this is that it is not eternal in the sense of existing before birth.
Third, soul is the animation of the body and its relationship and interaction with the
environment in which it lives and partakes. It is not life per se but the human experience of
living in a body that sees, touches, tastes, smells, etc. We could define soul as the experience of
life in a body as experienced through the sensations and feelings of seeing, hearing, tasting,
touching, and smelling. As such, soul could be likened to a phenomenon and a capacity.
Fourth, the soul [ nephesh ] of the flesh is in the blood (Leviticus 17:11 DNT), which means that
soul is intimately joined to the blood of the body. Take away the blood, and what happens to
the soul? Herein lies the answer to the question of whether soul is immortal or not.
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If the blood is drained out of a body, what happens to the body and the blood? Obviously, the
body dies and returns to the soil and so does the blood, except the blood dries up and is
absorbed back into the soil much faster than the bones of the body.
Pour out (drain) the blood, and both the blood and the body die, meaning the living soul dies.
So, if the soul of the flesh, that is, of the body, is in the blood, and death ensues when the blood
is poured out, then logic dictates that soul dies too. Death brings an end to the experiences of
the body. The body is no more, and surely its experience is gone as well.
Death is death, which is a cessation of life; it is not life in what some call afterlife or life in
heaven or in death or, for that matter, even in what people call hell . You cannot have life in
death, unless one is resurrected from the dead. It is an oxymoronic statement requiring death
to be redefined to include life.
The fact of the matter is that there is no scriptural evidence that soul departs the body and
goes to heaven or into some afterlife in death. There is no evidence that the phenomenon
called soul is immortal, for immortality means that one comes into a life that is beyond the
reach of death, never to experience it again.
It is safe to state that believing in the immortality of the soul has led to the popular belief that
when people die, they go to either heaven or hell. However, this concept is more in line with
pagan religion traced to ancient Egypt and Babylon and, later, the Greeks. By the time of Jesus'
first advent, the Jews had a long history of being exposed to Greek philosophy that believed in
the immortality of the soul, and this thinking had infiltrated into Jewish teaching.
Some state that this error came through the philosophy of Plato (428-348 BC) and his student
Socrates. Evidently, Plato's thinking was a strange blend of ancient Babylonian and Egyptian
thinking. Plato and Socrates taught that the soul was immortal and, at the time of death, the
body and soul separate. Unfortunately, Christians were corrupted by Greek philosophy early
on, as well. By 200 AD, the belief in the immortality of the soul had become a controversy
amongst Christians.
This has become so entrenched in Christendom today that there is hardly any controversy, at
least until someone comes along who challenges or simply questions the common thinking of
the day; thinking that seems more like the tradition of men that Jesus spoke strongly against.
One recent example is Rob Bell who has been labeled a heretic by some for his book Love Wins .
It is rather telling when someone writes on the love of God and is labeled a heretic by his own
brethren in Christ. Are we any better than the Latin church of the Middle (Dark) Ages that
labeled as a heretic anyone who disagreed with the doctrine of the pope?
When it comes to what Jesus spoke, especially to His detractors, many have taken His words
and created church doctrine and dogma. One example is the parable of the Rich Man and
For more on this parable, see article #40 at the following link.
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However, as already presented, Jesus often exhorted the religious elite of His day by using
things they believed even if they were error. Again, let us be reminded that Jesus did not always
correct them but, instead, sort of threw their error right back at them with the truth.
Consequently, we must be careful not to make every word of Jesus' into some deep theological
or universal, doctrinal truth. Unfortunately, a lot of this has been done to support doctrines
involving heaven, hell, and the immortality of the soul.
Now, before concluding, there is one pressing question. Is there a spiritual meaning to the
gehenna of fire that applies to today or the future? In other words, is there a spiritual
gehenna ? Some commentators that hold to most of what has been presented in this article say
there is, so let us consider this question. After all, Paul exhorts us that we must appraise all
things by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words (1 Corinthians 2:13-16).
What does the mind of Christ say to us?
Spiritual Fire
On a spiritual level, God is a consuming fire speaks of God, who is Spirit and Holy, purifying the
sinful flesh of man, burning up the carnal nature, not through fire as we know it in the natural
realm but through spiritual fire. In type, this is seen in the account of Moses and the burning
bush (Exodus 3:2). We are like the prickly thornbush. In a sense, all of mankind, believer and
unbeliever alike, must be purified through God's spiritual fire. The difference between the two
groups is the timing and severity of the fire. Thus, in reviewing verses that deal with fire, we
need to be aware of the recipients that are in view, for they could be the righteous (the Lord's
people) or the wicked (the unbelievers).
Holy Spirit fire purifies the spirit and soul of man, leaving nothing untouched. It is likened to
removing the chaff, the unwanted hull, by threshing. The chaff is the husk of the wheat or any
grain. In a figurative sense, it refers to anything worthless . Metaphorically speaking, the
threshing is done by God's fire until the chaff is all consumed.
In reference His people, Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit and fire and burning of the chaff.
(11) "As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is
mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy
Spirit and fire. (12) His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His
threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with
unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:11-12 NASB)
The same concept is seen in reference to the end of the age, except it is referred to as the
furnace of fire that is reserved for the wicked lawless.
(41) "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all
stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, (42) and will throw them into the
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furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:41-42
(49) "So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked
from among the righteous, (50) and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place
there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:49-50 NASB)
Again, this must not be viewed as a literal furnace but rather Holy Spirit fire that consumes the
sinful nature, the carnal flesh. God is not out to annihilate man, as if to wipe him out
completely and forever. He is after man's sinful, carnal nature and the works that emanate
from this nature. Again, to emphasize, it is not a place, such as a literal furnace; it is an action
that is the work of the Holy Spirit.
(7) But I tell you the truth, it is advantageous for you that I should go; for if I do not go away,
the Comforter will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. (8) And having come,
that One will convict the world concerning sin, and concerning righteousness, and concerning
judgment. (9) Concerning sin, because they do not believe into Me; (10) and concerning
righteousness, because I am going to the Father, and you no longer see Me; (11) and
concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. (John 16:7-11 LITV)
As recorded by Matthew, Jesus established for His disciples a standard of righteousness that
was higher than what was demanded under the Law given to Moses. Notice that in each case,
Jesus referred to gehenna .
Yet whoever may be saying, 'Stupid!' shall be liable to the Gehenna of fire [fiery gehenna].
(Matthew 5:22 CV [REB])
(29) 'But, if thy right eye doth cause thee to stumble, pluck it out and cast from thee, for it is
good to thee that one of thy members may perish, and not thy whole body be cast to
gehenna. (30) 'And, if thy right hand doth cause thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast from
thee, for it is good to thee that one of thy members may perish, and not thy whole body be
cast to gehenna. (Matthew 5:29-30 YLT [CV, REB])
'And be not afraid of those killing the body, and are not able to kill the soul, but fear rather
Him who is able both soul and body to destroy in gehenna. (Matthew 10:28 YLT [CV, REB])
'And if thine eye doth cause thee to stumble, pluck it out and cast from thee; it is good for
thee one-eyed to enter into the life, rather than having two eyes to be cast to the gehenna of
the fire [fiery gehenna]. (Matthew 18:9 YLT [REB])
Obviously, Jesus was not telling His disciples to maim themselves in order to enter the Kingdom
of God or to avoid a place called gehenna (aka hell according to many). He was telling them that
they needed to judge themselves in this life rather than face the judgment of God, either in this
life or later at the judgment seat of God. Another way of stating this is: Allow the fire of God to
judge the part of you that is in sin now, so that your whole being will not have to face God's fire
at the Great White Throne Judgment, that is, be condemned or be "judged against" with the
Hell – A Pagan Concept
August 2013
unbelieving world. And He will cut him (servants) apart and will put his portion with the
unbelievers (Luke 12:46).
Paul was quite aware of Jesus' teaching on the matter and picked up this theme in his epistles.
Notice Paul's use of three Greek words: diakrino , which means "to separate thoroughly,
discern"; paideuo , which means "to train children, chasten, correct"; and katakrino , which
means "to judge against."
(31) But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged [ diakrino ] . (32) But when we
are judged [ diakrino ] , we are disciplined [ paideuo ] by the Lord so that we will not be
condemned [ katakrino ] along with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:31-32 NASB)
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own
Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned [ katakrino ] sin in
the flesh…. (Romans 8:3 NASB)
(11) For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, (12) instructing
[ paideuo ] us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and
godly in the present age, (13) looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of
our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, (14) who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every
lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good
deeds. (Titus 2:11-14 NASB)
(12) Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay,
straw, (13) each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be
revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. (14) If any man's
work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. (15) If any man's work is
burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1
Corinthians 3:12-15 NASB)
Again, Paul simply elaborated on what Jesus had taught His disciples. Although he did not use
the word gehenna , Paul did inject fire into the judgment of the works of the believer. Notice
that Paul has the believer being judged in this life and in the day, which speaks of standing
before the bema of Christ as the fire of God judges works. For this reason, we must deny
ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age .
Why? Because of the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and
Savior, Christ Jesus!
Obviously, there is much more that could be said about these verses, but the point is that Paul's
teaching, as given to the saints, comes from Jesus' teaching, as given to His disciples; therefore,
the message applies to all of us who believe in this age. The other point is that fire is involved in
the judgment of God's people, and, since Jesus tied His message to His disciples, it could be
likened to (but not quite the same as) the gehenna of fire . After all, putting aside the concept of
a place of eternal torture, believers who do not conquer in this life could have a part in the
second death or the lake of fire. He who conquers will not be hurt by the second death
(Revelation 2:11).
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August 2013
This should cause serious doubt in the minds of those holding to the present-day concept of
gehenna-hell as an eternal place of torture, for it means that Christians could be faced with the
possibility of an eternal hell just as the world is; a most untenable idea. Think about it!
Now, returning to Jesus' teaching, He spoke to the unbelieving religious elite of the day that
rejected Him.
'Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye go round the sea and the dry land
to make one proselyte, and whenever it may happen—ye make him a son of gehenna twofold
more than yourselves. (Matthew 23:15 YLT [CV, REB])
'Serpents! brood of vipers! how may ye escape from the judgment of the gehenna? (Matthew
23:33 YLT [CV, REB])
The hypocritical unbelievers of Judah were under the judgment of gehenna . Again, their
national judgment by fire came in 70 AD when God's Roman army destroyed Jerusalem and the
Temple, thus, making Judaism obsolete. However, individually the ones who rejected their
Messiah will yet face the lake of fire, the final judgment of God.
In conclusion, as stated earlier, the word hell , at least as it is defined in our day, really has no
place in scripture or Christian doctrine. It is not even a transliterated word from the Greek. In
English translations, it is simply a word that has been substituted for several Greek words that
do not have the same meaning as the pagan hell that is so grossly taught to Christians. We
don't have to use a word that pagan mythology and even some modern-day religions readily
teach or acknowledge. If you agree that hell, as it is understood today, is a pagan concept, don't
you think we should discard it entirely?
As pointed out in my article #58, Judgment of All by God is Love , God's judgments take on many
forms, most of which occur in this life and not in some afterlife. To be sure, we all must appear
before the judgment seat of God. But, and this is a huge but, God's judgments are never eternal
nor do they involve torture. They are eonian, and they are for chastening. Undoubtedly,
experiencing God's judgments or, even, His wrath can be torment to the soul, as in weeping and
gnashing of teeth, and ultimately bring death to the body and soul, but this is as far as it goes. It
can go no further than death of the individual or of nations and cities, as evidenced throughout
One of the passages most often cited as proof that judgment is eternal is found in Matthew 25
with the judgment of the sheep and goats. One traditional (NASB) and two literal (WED, CV)
renditions of these verses are presented.
(41)"Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the
eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels…. (46) "These will go away
into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25:41, 46 NASB)
Hell – A Pagan Concept
August 2013
(41) He will then also say to those at his left hand, 'Depart from me, you cursed ones, into
that aionian fire [fire eonian], which is prepared for the adversary and his messengers…. (46)
And these shall go forth to the aionian cutting-off [chastening eonian]; but the righteous to
aionian life [life eonian]." (Matthew 25:41, 46 WED [CV])
The Greek word translated as eternal is more properly translated as eonian or aionian (same
words, just different spellings), meaning it signifies something that lasts for an age. The Greek
word translated as punishment is more properly translated as chastisement or cutting-off , as in
pruning. It is best translated as eonian chastisement.
The following is from article #58 but repeated here to make the point.
The key to understanding this verse is discovered in the Greek word kolasis and its root
word kolazo . The New Englishman's Greek-English Concordance & Lexicon (Sovereign
Grace Publishers, 1982) defines kolasis as "penal punishment," and is most often
translated as punishment , although other translations use the words pain (BBE; WNT) or
torment (DNT; KJV) instead of punishment . Kolasis is derived from the Greek root word
kolazo , which means "to curtail; thus, to prune; figuratively to chastise, restrain." Take
special note of "to prune" that implies a process of removing or cutting back so that new
growth can come forth. " Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away;
and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit" (John
15:2 NASB).
This speaks more directly to the heart of God is love, the heavenly Father who prunes His
vineyard so that it grows and produces fruit fit for His kingdom. Is not His vineyard all of His
creation, especially mankind created to be in His image?
God is love … Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the
truth. (1 John 4:8; 1 Timothy 2:4 KJV)
How will God do this if eternal punishment and the pagan hell are real?