Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Paul, James, and Jesus on Hell (Gehenna)

Paul, James, and Jesus on Hell (Gehenna)

I’m not exactly sure where the church got its ideas of hell from, especially as the scriptural support for our traditional notion of hell—as a place or state of eternal conscious torment—is slim. I haven’t got this all worked out, but here are some of my observations of what Paul, James, and Jesus say, and don’t say, about hell.

Paul on Hell

Paul never mentions hell in any of his letters. Not once. For Paul, the two paths for humanity do not culminate with heaven or hell, but with life or death. Paul writes about this several times in his letters, but it is succinctly expressed in Romans 6:23:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul was not concerned about hell, and he was not waiting for heaven. Paul was waiting for the Day of Christ when Jesus would come from heaven and transform our bodies and renew the earth and creation. In Philippians 3:18-21, he writes about the two different destinies of humanity:

For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction (to telos apōleia) . . . . [But] our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. Philippians 3:18-19a, 20-21 (NASB, italics added).

We have a heavenly citizenship and we are divine image-bearers (Gen. 1:26-28), but our “colony”, or domain, is earth. The first human was made from the earth and for the earth (Gen. 2:7; cf. Gen. 3:19; 5:2).[1] This fundamental truth continues. Note also that God warned the first human that the penalty for eating the forbidden fruit was death, and not “hell” or some kind of eternal torment (Gen. 2:17; cf. Gen. 3:3, 22b).

James on Hell

Like Paul, James also writes about the two options of life and death, rather than heaven and hell. He writes that when sin is fully grown it gives birth to (apokuō) death, but that God gives birth (apokuō) to us so that we can be a kind of firstfruits of his created beings (James 1:15, 18 NIV) (James 1:18 echoes the theme of restored creation found in Romans 8:19ff.)

James does mention “hell” in his letter, however; just once. He uses the imagery of a fiery and wicked hell (or more specifically Gehenna) figuratively in James 3:6:

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by Gehenna (or “hell”).

This verse says nothing about judgement or eternal torment. Rather, Gehenna is used as a metaphor by James, as it is elsewhere in scripture. But Gehenna is also a real place.[2]

Gehenna: The Valley of Hinnom or Tophet

Gehenna is otherwise known as the Valley of Hinnom[3] and, like Sodom and Gomorrah, it is known for its wickedness. During the reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh, the valley of Hinnom was where the Israelites committed the unspeakable act of sacrificing their children to the Ammonite god Molech (2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:31; 32:35). Jeremiah prophesied about God’s judgement on the apostate Israelites, and said the valley would be called the “Valley of Slaughter” (Jer. 7:32; 19:5-7).[4]

Isaiah also mentions this valley of slaughter, but gives it a different name.

Another name for this valley was “Tophet,” a term used by Isaiah when he described the forthcoming destruction of the Assyrians by fire in the valley near Jerusalem, where the Lord would have a fiery furnace ready to devour the Assyrian princes and king (Isa. 30:31-33; 31:9). The same valley is probably in view in Isaiah 66:24, which speaks of a climactic slaughter of the wicked in the future . . .”[5]

Interestingly, James mentions a “day of slaughter” in his letter (Jas 5:5 NLT). “Slaughter” sounds fairly final to me, as do other words used by the biblical authors which refer to the judgement of unrepentant sinners (i.e. the unredeemed).[6] The repeated message of the Bible is that death is the penalty for sin. Thankfully, Jesus paid the penalty for our sin with his death!

Jesus’ References to Gehenna

Outside of the Gospels, James is the only New Testament author to mention Gehenna. Jesus, on the other hand, mentions Gehenna several times.[7] Did he use it for rhetorical effect? Or did he indicate that sinners actually go to a place called hell? Here are all the verses where Jesus mentions Gehenna (“hell”) so that you can see for yourself how he used the term.

Matthew 5:22: But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Gehenna (hell).

Matthew 5:29: If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into Gehenna (hell).

Matthew 5:30: And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into Gehenna (hell).

Matthew 10:28: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna (hell).

Matthew 18:9: And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of Gehenna (hell).

Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of Gehenna (hell) as you are.

Matthew 23:33: “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to Gehenna (hell)?

Mark 9:43: If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna (hell), where the fire never goes out.

Mark 9:45: And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into Gehenna (hell).

Mark 9:47: And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into Gehenna (hell),

Luke 12:5: But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into Gehenna (hell). Yes, I tell you, fear him.

It seems to me that Jesus is using the rhetorical device of hyperbole (exaggeration) in most, if not all, of these statements. Furthermore, just as the scribes and Pharisees were not in reality snakes, and just as Jesus was not teaching that people should actually cut off or remove body parts that were causing them to stumble, it is probable that Jesus uses Gehenna as a metaphor. Note also that there is no sense of eternal torment conveyed in any of these statements.

The word “Gehenna”, which is typically translated into English as “hell”, appears to be used a metaphor in the New Testament, and without any connotation of eternal torment for the unredeemed. There are other New Testament verses, which do not mention hell at all, but speak of a fiery judgement and punishment. I look at these verses in my next post.


Endnotes

[1] The Hebrew word adam (“human”) is derived from the Hebrew word adamah (“earth” or “dust”).

[2] A commonly taught idea is that Gehenna was a smouldering rubbish dump in Jesus’ day. But there is simply no credible basis for this idea.

The traditional explanation that a burning rubbish heap in the Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem gave rise to the idea of a fiery Gehenna of judgment is attributed to Rabbi David Kimhi’s commentary on Psalm 27:13 (ca. A.D. 1200). He maintained that in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it. However, Strack and Billerbeck state that there is neither archeological nor literary evidence in support of this claim, in either the earlier intertestamental or the later rabbinic sources (Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud and Midrasch, 5 vols. [Munich: Beck, 1922-56], 4:2:1030). Also a more recent author holds a similar view (Lloyd R. Bailey, “Gehenna: The Topography of Hell,” Biblical Archaeologist 49 [1986]: 189.
Hans Scharen, “Gehenna in the Synoptics”, Bibliotheca Sacra 155 (Jan-Mar 1998) 324-337, 328 (fn17). (View online here.)

Quotations from different scholars who dismiss or have doubts about the rubbish dump theory can be read here. See also David A. Croteau’s book, Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2015) 49-53.

[3] The word in the New Testament is γέεννα (“Gehenna”) which is derived from the Hebrew word gê’ hinnom, meaning the “valley of Hinnom”.

[4] Some take Jeremiah’s prophecy to be an end time prophecy, and they see Gehenna as the place of God’s end time battle with evil. Revelation 19 mentions an end time battle. At the conclusion of the battle, the Beast and the False Prophet are thrown alive into the lake of fire (which is typically equated with hell) but all the other enemies are killed—they die (Rev. 19:20-21 cf. Rev. 20:10). In Revelation 20:11-15 we read that all humanity is raised from death and judged. After the judgement, the unredeemed, along with death itself and Hades, are thrown into the lake of fire. It says, “the lake of fire is the second death” (Rev. 20:14-15). There is no mention here of eternal torment, but death—the second and final death (Rev. 21:8).

[5] Scharen, “Gehenna in the Synoptics”, 328 (fn 18)

[6] E. Earle Ellis has noted that nouns for the judgement of the unrighteous connote obliteration. They include annihilation (apōleia): Matt. 7:13; John 17:12; Acts 8:20; Rom. 9:22ff; Phil. 1:28; 3:19; 2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim 6:9; Heb. 10:39; 2 Pet. 2:1; destruction (olethros): 1 Thess. 5:3; 2 Thess. 1:9; 1 Tim. 6:9; death (thanatos): Rom 1:21; 6:21ff; 7:5; 8:6; 1 Cor. 15:21f; 15:56; 2 Cor. 2:16; 7:10; Jas 1:15; 5:20; 1 John 5:16; Rev. 2:11; 20:6; 20:14; 1 Pet. 4:17; end (telos): Rom. 6:21f; 2 Cor. 11:15; Phil. 3:19; 1 Pet. 4:17; and disintegration or corruption (phthora): Gal. 6:8; 2 Pet. 1:4; 2:12.
“The most important and frequent terms for the punishment of sin are death and destruction or annihilation and their corresponding verbs.” E. Earle Ellis, Christ and the Future in New Testament History (Leiden: Brill, 2001) 193 & 195.

[7] Jesus mentions “Hades” (which is equivalent to the Hebrew “Sheol” and distinct from Gehenna and hell) in Matthew 11:23; 16:18; and Luke 10:15; 16:23. The Greek word Hades occurs 10 times in the New Testament.

Image credit: The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, John Martin, 1852 (Wikimedia) The twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned over 40 times in the Bible; the cities are often given as an example, or type, of God’s judgement. 

Further reading: 

For more on the subject of hell, I recommend the website Rethinking Hell. Also, Preston Sprinkle has four engaging blog posts on his website Theology in the Raw where he discusses eternal conscious torment and what he calls “terminal punishment” here.

Posted July 17th, 2016 . Categories/Tags: Christian Theology, Salvation and Eternal Life,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

71 comments on “Paul, James, and Jesus on Hell (Gehenna)

  1. Tammy Levesque says:

    Well done!

  2. Donald Johnson says:

    Bravo!

    Are you going to discuss sheol/hades and tartatus? Also will you discuss the three tier universe? Consider these are suggestions for further discussion.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Don,

      Apart from endnote 7, I don’t plan on mentioning hades/sheol or tartarus for now.

      My next post is on fire and judgement.

  3. Tammy Levesque says:

    I personally enjoy your blog posts tremendously.
    I have found that when they refuse to accept the truth on a particular subject it is due to the fact that they do not want to believe the truth for whatever reason. Mostly due to fear in knowing that they, or perhaps their loved ones are headed to hell, in this case.

    • Marg says:

      Several church doctrines have been influenced by culture and tradition more than scripture.

      The hermeneutic that is used to limit and subordinate women is similar to the hermeneutic that is used to support eternal conscious torment for the unredeemed.

      • Tammy Levesque says:

        Oh I totally misread and or understood this. You are saying there is no hell? no place of eternal damnation? Well LOL I do not agree at all not in the least no LOL Why are we to seek salvation then? what happens to those who do not seek salvation?

        You think they just die? Oh Yikes well I am sorry no I do not agree at all as there is plenty that Jesus said more than he spoke of heaven He spoke of hell.

        Jesus being the word who put on flesh knows better than anyone, what He is talking about! Matthew 25 the whole last part of it speaks of this. Revelation 14 speaks of eternal torment.

        • Marg says:

          I say there is a place called Gehenna (or the Valley of Hinnom, or the Valley of Topheth) and that Gehenna has been translated as “hell” in English Bibles.

          I’ve included every New Testament verse that mentions “hell” (i.e. Gehenna) in this post, but none of these verses mention eternal torment.

          On the other hand the Bible does mention damnation (i.e. judgement, condemnation, and death).

          My next post is about the verses you mention, and others like them.

      • Geoff Halpin says:

        “The hermeneutic that is used to limit and subordinate women is similar to the hermeneutic that is used to support eternal conscious torment for the unredeemed.” That’s an excellent point! Also one that bears upon people’s views of End Times.

  4. Leanne says:

    I don’t know where our idea of hell has come from either, but I think it has served the institution of ‘church’ well throughout the ages, keeping people loyal out of fear. Thank you for posting this, I hope more people are open to looking into it and questioning their traditionally held views. I also haven’t a definite conclusion on this but it is worth exploring. I keep wondering “What is our true heart towards Jesus if the motivation to seek salvation is only to avoid our ideas/images of hell? Bless you.

    -Leanne

    • Marg says:

      Hi Leanne,

      I’m dismayed by people who are motivated in their evangelism by a concept of hell as a place of eternal torment for sinners. My motivation for evangelism, and all ministry, is the wonder, power, and joy of our new life in Jesus Christ. But I guess we are all different.

  5. Grainne says:

    Have always been an annihilationist.

  6. Timothy Goldsmith says:

    Dear Marg,

    Thank you, I found your piece courageous and refreshing. I appreciate the intellectual honesty of your blog – the interest in what the Bible actually say about something as opposed to our assumptions and beliefs (your article about Bathsheba a while back a case in point). Looking forward to the next installment.

    Regards
    Tim

  7. Tammy Levesque says:

    I do not seek the Lord to escape hell so much as to be transformed into the image of God, being brought back to before the fall through Jesus. Why does anyone need a savior though in your mind if there is no eternal damnation?

    You said yourself that Paul in 2 thess 2:12 speaks of damnation and indeed He does, so what in your mind is damnation? Why does God have to remove the sorrow from us after the second resurrection?

    On this one I cannot agree wow i cannot believe how badly i misread this sorry

    • Marg says:

      Hi Tammy,

      I think you may be reading more into this post than is stated. I don’t use the word “damnation” in this post, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in it.

      The Greek word the King James translates as “damnation” (usually, but not always, krima) is better understood and translated as “judgement” or “condemnation”. I most certainly 100% agree that the New Testament speaks about judgement and condemnation for unrepentant sinners!

      Here is every verse where the KJV uses the word “damnation”: https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=damnation&qs_version=KJV

      Here are all these verses with the Greek and a literal English translation.

      Matthew 23:14 KJV: ληψεσθε περισσοτερον κριμα (Matt. 23:13 TR1550) “you will receive a greater condemnation

      Matthew 23:23: πῶς φύγητε ἀπὸ τῆς κρίσεως τῆς γεέννης “how will you escape from the judgement of Gehenna?”

      Mark 3:29 ἀλλὰ ἔνοχός ἐστιν αἰωνίου ἁμαρτήματος “is guilty of eternal sin”

      Mark 3:29: ἀλλὰ ἔνοχός ἐστιν αἰωνίου ἁμαρτήματος (or κρισεως TR1550) “is guilty of eternal sin (or judgement)”

      Mark 12:40: οὗτοι λήμψονται περισσότερον κρίμα. “These will receive a greater judgement.”

      Luke 20:47: οὗτοι λήμψονται περισσότερον κρίμα “These ones will receive a greater judgement.”

      John 5:29: ἀνάστασιν κρίσεως. “resurrection of judgement (or condemnation)”

      Romans 3:8: τὸ κρίμα ἔνδικόν ἐστιν “the condemnation is just”

      Romans 13:2: κρίμα λήμψονται “they will receive condemnation”

      1 Corinthians 11:29: ὁ γὰρ ἐσθίων καὶ πίνων κρίμα ἑαυτῷ ἐσθίει καὶ πίνει μὴ διακρίνων τὸ σῶμα. For the one eating and drinking, eats and drinks judgment to himself not judging (or discerning) the body rightly.

      1 Timothy 5:12: ἔχουσαι κρίμα ὅτι τὴν πρώτην πίστιν ἠθέτησαν “having judgement because they set aside (or violated) their first faith (or pledge of faith)”

      2 Peter 2:3: οἷς τὸ κρίμα ἔκπαλαι οὐκ ἀργεῖ, καὶ ἡ ἀπώλεια αὐτῶν οὐ νυστάζει. “their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.”

    • Marg says:

      Also, knowing the Lord Jesus, having our sins forgiven, being in a right relation with him, and living and the new life he gives, are each tremendous incentives to be seek the Saviour and his salvation.

      Already we have access to some of his resurrection power. Already we are being transformed more and more into conformity with him. Being a follower of Jesus is exciting. These are reasons enough for me to follow Jesus and encourage others to follow him also. Not to mention our future life with him (1 Cor. 15:19).

      On the other hand, the thought of eternal damnation or condemnation is horrific.

      I’m not sure what you have misread about today’s post, but perhaps the next post will clear up the misunderstanding. This post is only about the verses that specifically mention “hell”.

    • Angelina Degelder says:

      Good answer – perfect love casts out fear.
      As Bonhoeffer said, “It is only because He became like us that we can become like Him.”
      ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

  8. Susan Donroe says:

    Hi Marg! My two cents: I think most of what the church believes comes from Dante’s Inferno. He was a Catholic in 1200 and was banished from his beloved Florence by the Pope. His walk through Hell condemns most political figures of the time. Italy was fractured into city-states and his use of language united the country. He was the Italian Shakespeare and was most likely the only literature Italians knew besides the Bible. And Florence was the seat of the Renaissance

    • Marg says:

      I think you may be right. I know almost nothing about Dante’s Inferno.

      I do know that some of the Jewish intertestamental writings, influenced by Greek ideas, begin to speak about torment rather than death. But, as I say, scriptural support for our traditional notion of hell is slim.

    • Carrie Miles says:

      The Christian beliefs about the afterlife came more from Greco-Roman mythology (Hades) and poetry (Virgil) than the Bible. Similarly, the medieval ideas about God the Father and Christ bear more resemblance to Zeus throwing lightning bolts than to the Bible’s depictions of God.

      I love M. Scott Peck’s contention in “People of the Lie” that people make their own hells (and usually refuse to leave them).

      • Marg says:

        Thanks for this, Carrie!

        (There’s a thunderbolt in the painting at the top of this page depicting the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.)

  9. Cassandra Wright says:

    I am always concerned when people offer alternatives to the concept of eternal damnation, because so many of the cults deny the presence of hell and a nasty after life. However, I am aware that there are a lot of inconsistencies between what the Bible says and what most Christians think.

    I always figured that if nothing else, “hell” is eternal separation from God. I never picture it so much as a big room of burning fire, but more like a small room or cave with no way out. The Bible talks about the Lord being light, which is an analogy, but I also see being alone in the dark. No love, just an eternity of knowing that you wanted nothing to do with God while alive, and now you have eternity to know that God will have nothing to do.

    OK, so I have less Biblical support of that than we do of a burning fire with demons around it! But I do not believe that God made Hell for humans, but for Satan and his fallen angels.

    Personally, I find the idea of eternal separation from God to be more terrifying than a burning pit.

    Just my silly notion this morning.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Cassandra,

      The Bible speaks numerous times about damnation (i.e. judgement and condemnation) but the message of the Bible overwhelmingly is that the outcome of judgement against unrepentant sinners is death and destruction.

      It is very hard, I think, to make a sound biblical case that sinners will experience eternal conscious torment whether in fire or darkness. (More on this in my next post.)

      A case can be made, however, that the lake of fire or “hell-fire” is for demons, not people.

      Anyway, it may reassure you to know that people such as John Stott, I. Howard Marshall, David Instone-Brewer, John Stackhouse, Richard Bauckham, and Michael Green held/hold to the view of conditional immortality. This view is that only redeemed children of God live forever, whereas the unredeemed are destroyed. Destruction is still a horrific punishment. 🙁

    • Knut AK says:

      Cassandra, could 2 Thessalonians 1:9 be what you have in mind? If so, I have been thinking some about that too. I see that english bible translations commonly translate «destruction» here, but to me, that doesn’t really seem to fit the sentence. «Separation» would actually be better. So this could perhaps support your view. At least, it is a thing to consider when pondering eternity.

      • Marg says:

        Another way of reading 2 Thess 1:9 is: “eternal destruction that (comes) from the presence of the Lord.” There are echoes in this verse from Isaiah 2, especially Isaiah 2:10, 19, 21.

  10. Knut AK says:

    Marg, thank you for the many fine things you are writing. I may not have said it before, maybe I have sounded somewhat critical at times in earlier comments, but I want to say now that I value your ministry highly.

    It is natural, I think, as one matures, to come to question things one has earlier taken for granted. Sometimes one has one’s beliefs confirmed in this process, but sometimes also they are changed. With regard to the Bible, it seems that there vey easily develops ideas about what it says that aren’t actually well founded. I think we see this in church history as well. Again and again christianity as a movement has moved away from biblical teaching, and it has been necessary for someone to stand up and bring them back. I see no reason why our time should be exempt from that.

    I now wish that you would also question the doctrine of penal substitution. After all, Paul doesn’t say that the penalty of sin is death, he says that the wages of sin is death. Sin is, I think, not seen in the Bible solely as a transgression of law that makes one guilty of a punishment in juridical terms. It is very much seen as a kind of deadly disease, a disease whose power Jesus came to overcome. Jesus overcomes the power of sin and death and brings us new life, I think it is this that salvation is about.

    I think it is important also, as you say, that Paul was not waiting for heaven. Heaven is not our ultimate goal; eternal life will not happen there, but rather on a new earth where we shall live in new bodies. «I believe in the resurrection of the body».

    Then, I don’t think we can know very much about eternal things. You have said earlier that you don’t think we can understand much of the Trinity, and I don’t think we can understand much of eternity either. If one has it all sorted, then I think one «knows» too much. We may speculate about various ideas, but in the end, eternity is very much a mystery, something that God will reveal some day, but hasn’t yet.

    I look forward to your next post.

    • Marg says:

      Hi Knut AK,

      Thanks for your kind words. Perhaps I will get around to looking in depth at penal substitution one day.

      I also vehemently believe in the resurrection of the body.

      I try to imagine our future life, but there is no real concrete information about it. As you say, it is a mystery.

  11. judy says:

    Tammy…”Let your yeah be yeah and your nay be nay”.., “for God is not the author of confusion”…If you have something to say, Tammy, please say it plainly. Never saw such circuitous language…meandering and illusory.

    Hell is often used as an opportunity to lord it over others, to threaten, of offer promises of personal power to save one from it, especially when money is received for service. The use of any means from which a person can purchase relief from Hell is blasphemous, for Jesus IS our only purgation and He gave it freely at no cost to mankind, by God Himself…he gave no franchise on this offer to anyone.

    Jesus does warn that there will be destruction of the body and soul in hell for some. Jesus is the only one who talked about Hell because ONLY HE would really know. It seems to me it was bad enough that He was willing to take that punishment that we deserved on Himself, and ”shed His blood”…the blood of God…to preserve His people. All human knowledge of Hell is second hand.

    Nevertheless, those who seek to browbeat others into following their ideas, often sadly USE Hell rather than the Good News of Jesus’ salvation to preach…what I mean is that when the slant becomes an emphasis on Hell rather than an emphasis on the love of God who seeks to ‘reconcile’ us to Himself, it becomes a form of manipulation…and a use of ‘fear’, and can only result in a cowards’ unwilling confession that results…not an embracing of God or a reconciliation, but a fearful acquiescence to power with nothing but resentment and no reconciliation at all…therefore making the result nil…Yes there is Hell and Judgment…but no, it is never to be USED…by us to try to wrench souls into the Kingdom against their will. Surely the magnificence of God’s love and mercy and His great sacrifice for us should be enough for us to love Him…I don’t believe extortion should ever been on the mind of a Christian.

  12. Warwick Badham says:

    Hi Marg, Great article and very timely. Firstly it was people like Plato who mooted the idea of an immortal soul, not the Bible. Immortality is a gift for the believer N.B. Rom 2:7. Secondly you would do well to acquire Edward Fudges book or video,’Hell and Mr Fudge’. He has done a masterful job on this subject. Incidentally the word ‘perish’in Jn 3:16 is the same word used in Matt 6;19, moth and rust’ destroy’. Lastly it is significant that man was banished from the garden of Eden lest he partake of the tree of life and live forever, Gen 3:22. God bless

    • judy says:

      Warwick Badham…one problem with your post…you say that Plato was the first to talk about the immortal soul, and then remind us that Gen. 3:22 says :”lest he partake of the tree of life and live forever”…sounds like God was the first to mention immortal souls…no? Perhaps Plato got the idea from the Jewish Bible?

      • Warwick Badham says:

        Hi Judy, Plato was just one who said that man had an immortal soul destined for blessedness or a state of misery. This unfortunately infiltrated into the Bible interpretation of immortality for all, Cheers

        • judy says:

          Oh, I see…so you think the idea of eternal suffering and a beautiful Heaven is more from Plato than the Bible?

          Yet can one not conclude this from the fact that Jesus did so much to reconcile us to God? or do you think He just did this because He wanted reconciliation, not so much to save us?…and if so why was He saving us? From what that is so drastic that He would go to the cross, an innocent man:the just for the unjust? Isn’t this rather drastic if there is no Hell from which to save us?

          • Warwick Badham says:

            Hi Judy, I’m sorry but I concur with most of Marg’s thoughts. Plato had limited understanding. Believe me eternal life is better than no hope at all. This is a complex subject.

          • judy says:

            Warwick Badham…your response completely confuses me…I don’t know what you are getting at.

            As for Plato and all others, human, I leave my views on Heaven and Hell to those who have been there and still speak…and that leaves Jesus…who else? All else is speculation in my view.

          • Erica Tate says:

            “Isn’t this rather drastic if there is no Hell from which to save us?” Judy, maybe that’s exactly the point. God’s love for us is, after all, extreme!

          • judy says:

            Erica…it is more than extreme love if Jesus died for us for no reason…isn’t it? As a Saviour, from what did He then save us? It clearly calls Him a Saviour…saviours save from something…if not hell, punishment, etc., then what?

            There is ‘THE LAW’…I believe God gave us law. Law must entail judgment for law broken. If there is no judgment called hell then what is the judgment that is severe enough for Jesus to die in order to save us?

          • Erica Tate says:

            Hi Judy
            Sorry, I can see I didn’t make myself clear. I most emphatically believe that there is a literal hell, the lake of fire reserved for the devil and his angels which the book of Revelation speaks of.
            However, I’m no longer sure that those who reject Christ are going to suffer there forever. Rather, as the Bible says (and why haven’t I seen this until now???), their souls will die there. Die. Perish. Not suffer eternally.
            It seems to me that this makes Christ’s sacrifice even more a demonstration of His love. See my comment below (posted on July 19, 2016 at 11:35 p.m.).

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Warwick.

      I really need to get some of these resources. Someone on Facebook has also recommended these resources, as do the people at Rethinking Hell.

      Yes, Adam and Eve no longer had access to the Tree of Life when they were banished from the garden, so that they could not eat from it and live forever (Gen. 3:22-23). But we regain access to the Tree of Life in the new earth (Rev. 22:14).

      In my next post I mention very briefly (with a few supporting scriptures) that only God is immortal, and that he bestows immortality on us mortal human followers of Jesus as a gift.

      Sounds like we’re pretty much on the same page with this.

  13. Thank you for this. I agree. I think most of our ideas of hell came from Dante and Roman Catholic tradition, not from the Bible.

  14. Hi Marg, great post.

    The idea of ‘eternal torment’ for unrepentant sinners is I think a slur on the character of God. It speaks more-so of a vengeful human solution based on measure for measure pain payment for each sin duly recorded, and gives room for the notion of purgatory to be able to endure thus making oneself holy without need of a Savior (revealing man’s innate pride once again). It says in Psalm 103:14 that ‘He knows our frame –that we are but dust’ -we being but an image of Him -not the essence. Scripture speaks of Him more-so discarding/destroying things of no worth as you would of items working contrary or failing their design.

    The fear of hell for many surpasses their fear/awe of God Himself. Isaiah 33:14 asks the question concerning sinners without God – ‘…Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire?
 Who among us can live with continual burning?’
- The answer being of course – no one. However, Hebrews 12:29 and Deut 4:24 reveal that it is YeHoWaH Elohim Himself who is the ‘consuming fire’ sin having no place in His presence. 1 Timothy 6:16 declares YeHoWaH as ‘immortal’ – Him alone – and living in ‘unapproachable light’. The Old Testament upholding the clear understanding that mortal (sinful) man could not be in the presence of YeHoWaH Elohim and live.

    We know that God is LIFE, He not only holds everything together by the power of His word (Heb 1:3) but He in Himself is eternal life. We know death because of sin. Because sin can only produce death in us, it effectively separates us from Him who is life. 1 John 1:5 says ‘there is no darkness at all in Him’ –He is pure, holy. All the more to wonder that our creator /life giver would take on mortal flesh and dwell among us, giving His life in place of ours to ensure life for us in his presence – as life is found only in Him. So we are redeemed, covered by the blood of the Lamb of God –His life given for ours, our clothing being His righteousness –a gift of complete grace on one deserving the opposite. All throughout the Old Testament is the plea given by YeHoWaH Elohim to a people able to hear – to ‘choose life not death’. Many people would willingly choose death – over life in His presence – He being the source of their life. God gives us this choice and He has given us power to choose, if not so, scripture repeatedly makes Him a liar.

    So hell has been magnified within the popular rendition of the Gospel and made a terror to persuade people to choose life whether they want it or not. But God sees beyond the outward action and looks for those who’s hearts are completely His. Whose eyes are set upon Him, the WAY, TRUTH and LIFE – who walk in Him, in His likeness – as to His original design.

    • Marg says:

      “The fear of hell for many surpasses their fear/awe of God Himself.” That is such an interesting observation, Christine.

      It seems that too many Christians have a limited understanding of God and his relationship with us, and see being saved as simply getting a get-out-of-hell ticket.

      You’ve alluded to several scriptures which I quote in my next post. 😉

  15. judy says:

    Thank you Tammy…I suspected that was behind your comments…just wanted you to be plain. I came out of a Fundamentalist church and know the signs ☺

    Just curious…since you are very outspoken here…do you think there should be female pastors? …I sense you would make a

    • judy says:

      I dont know what happened…it just swallowed up my comment before I finished…

      Tammy, I sense you would make a strong pastor…every considered it?

      • Tammy Levesque says:

        I have considered it, but have not had the call to my heart from the lord as of yet.

        I absolutely believe in the fact that women can and should be leaders in the church. In studying intensely the passages folks use to deny women in a position of leadership, I have found that they are not considering some very important scriptures before and after these verses that supposedly say to have women be quiet.

        One is in Timothy Paul is saying in an assembly setting which most call the church these days,for women to be silent and he does not allow women to usurp the authority of their husbands, the word for women in the Greek goes for women or wives.

        In Galatians 3:28 we see that there is no difference between men and women Greeks or Gentiles and Jews, for we are all one in Christ. So knowing that it really throws verses of women not being able to speak in the assembly, right out the door.

        If women are indeed no different than men, then why would we women of the body of Christ be unable to speak?

        Also in 1 Corinthians 11 we see the proper balance for women to pray and or prophecy in the assembly, and that would totally contradict chapter 14 in 1 Corinthians as well.

        But in chapter 14 there is a question people pass right by as though it means nothing at all, but it is a very strong question that begs the reader to study deeper, as to what Paul is saying.He asks the men of Corinth, WHAT?????? Did the word of God come from you? Did God give you the only understanding?

        Not only that but Paul more than anyone, points to women preachers and prophetesses and a deaconess no less, that’s women in power.

        John in 2 John is speaking to a woman leader of an assembly.
        I hate the word church so much in case you did not notice LOL.
        The word church is horribly mistranslated, Ekklesia is the body the chosen the elect of God not church.

        Thanks Judy I really appreciate your encouragement.

  16. Leanne says:

    Tammy your comments as well as everyone else’s here are valuable. It is good to debate and be challenged and to think about the issues we have just absorbed over the years. Just as with the passages in the Bible on women can’t we also explore the ones on hell? And if we can’t agree or be convinced, can’t we trust God is gracious and bigger than all of our thoughts and He will show us the truth? I hope you will stay signed in. If you feel so strongly that you are right, can’t you continue in patient debate with us? We are all of the same body. Blessings.

  17. Marg says:

    Hi Tammy, I mention these verses in my next post. I accept them. But only one of these mentions eternal torment of people. One! And this verse refers to a certain group of people not the whole of humanity.

    As I mentioned in a previous reply, I do believe in the damnation or condemnation of unrepentant sinners. And this will certainly involved weeping and gnashing of teeth.

    Please refrain from judging people, especially when you don’t understand a person’s views or heart.

    • Marg says:

      Tammy, I have removed your most judgemental comments.

      Also, my post was written in response to reading the letter of James, not because of some preconceived narrative. I had already seen that Paul never mentions hell, and was intrigued that James only mentions it as a metaphor. Paul, James and John repeatedly speak of death and life as being the two paths and destinies for humanity. This is the overwhelming biblical evidence.

      • Tammy Levesque says:

        why bother leaving any of it if you were going to erase any of it it should have all been erased. How disgusting that you judge me but then tell me not to judge anyone?

        So it’s okay to judge what i am saying but I cannot using the bible tell you what is wrong with your thinking?

        With your trying to discredit the bible? I don’t care about your next post you have no clue as you show here plainly what the truth is.

        I had a slew of customers come in and so read the first initial post in pieces and thought it said something completely different how dare you discredit the word of God who put on flesh as though what He said is of no matter?

        Are you a Paul only type? That is ridiculous Paul saved no one just Christ did. And your thinking that condemnation is merely being dead, body and soul is a lie.

        No soul is ever dead, not dead as in not in existence it goes on forever and there are two verses that speak of eternal torment in case you did not notice.

        The bible is what you are talking about judging you and that is sad very sad!

        • Marg says:

          My policy is to delete judgemental comments.

          This is clearly stated at the beginning of the comments section: “Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.”

          I understand that you disagree with this post (though I’m not sure exactly which part you disagree with, but we can disagree on some points and still be kind and non-judgemental about it.

          It could be that we actually are in agreement about many important things such as sin and judgement.

        • Marg says:

          Tammy, I think you are seriously misreading this post and my comments.

          Your comment about Paul-only is just one example where you have missed the message of the post.

          I am certainly not judging or condemning you as a person. I don’t even know you, and you do not know me.

          Anyway, this is not the place for personal spats. My comments section is for comments directly related to the article.

  18. Christine says:

    Hi Tammy, God is just and holy and sees everyone’s hearts and is able to judge a person’s thoughts as well as his actions in this life (unlike us). The sentence measured out by Him concerning our sin (for eternity) will be exactly what each and everyone of us deserve who have refused his great mercy in Messiah. Each and everyone of us deserve death – period. Some have caused far more pain in this world to others and will face Him concerning their actions and receive the consequences of their sin within this death or dying I believe. Just as sin hardens our heart toward God and separates us from Him, I wonder whether the process of dying may take longer for them in extinguishing the soul. Scripture makes it very clear there is torment and pain and gnashing of teeth and that there is no escape – ever – of surviving this place. Those condemned will never out-live the ‘worm that does not die nor the fire that is not quenched’ –there being no relief for the wicked – they will be consumed. Both the worm and the fire will be effective in their job and the sinner’s soul will cease to be.
    We know in this life what fire does to our bodies –it kills the body (with excruciating pain) so the same picture is given for our souls –it is a final permanent death –for eternity – never coming back –never surviving it. ‘Eternal death’ as in forever dying is an oxymoron. You are either dead or you are alive. It is a completely vindictive God who knowing our innate weakness, to inflict ‘eternal (infinite) torment’ based on the finite space and time period of our mortal lives. What a waste of time and energy on His part!!
    Then there are the demons and devil thrown into this final environment to add to the mix –how long are they going to last in the process of their destruction? Might be a little longer than the average sinner – just a guess – I imagine them adding to the sinner’s torment.
    I will never know of what it means to perish as spoken of in John 3:16 because of Yeshua – HalleluYAH!

  19. Tammy Levesque says:

    Hell is real and it was spoken of more by Jesus than anything else. Well here’s the deal your god is apparently not the God of the bible. The God of the bible has spoken of this eternal torment many times over, and all know that He will do exactly as He said He will do.

    Idolatry is making a God of your own to suit yourself and your own needs, that is wrong according to God you either accept Him how He is or you die, not death as in forever dead non existent you are going to forever and ever and ever and ever and ever be tormented! Dead people do not feel torment, the torment goes on forever more.

    It is mind boggling how people just usurp the authority of God and His word which is Jesus Christ! Jesus is the word of God, who put on flesh!!

    I have to leave this thing because reading the crap you people pass off is unimaginable, and just plain crazy. Having no fear of the Lord and helping sinners to feel fine with themselves dying off, and atheists you have bought into their portion as well.

    They say if there was truly a God who is love, He would never throw anyone in hell.

    Well you will all see for yourself! And boy wont you marvel as you are thrown in yourself. Believing lies and promoting lies is called Heresy, heresy is a damnable offense.

    That is not judging nothing i said before or now is judging it is knowing the bible and knowing that it is the whole truth and nothing but the whole truth all of it every last word is the Lord Himself, and you deny the Lord and have an idol you look up to, who does not resemble the God of the bible

    • Marg says:

      I clearly state in the article that Hell/Gehenna is a real place.

      “Eternal torment” is plainly mentioned twice in the Bible, once for fallen angels and once for beast-worshippers.

      My article is full of scripture. I take scripture to be the divinely inspired and authoritative Word of God. Your accusations against my attitude to scripture and against me personally have no basis in fact.

      Since a few of your comments breach the commenting guidelines I will be removing these shortly.

    • Erica Tate says:

      Hi Tammy

      I find it ironic that many of the accusations you make about Marg and her (and others’) motives are EXACTLY the same as the accusations egalitarians regularly hear from complementarians… yet you yourself are an egalitarian. Surely you can see the comparison: even though other sincere Christians would disagree with your understanding of Scriptures about women, that doesn’t make you wrong or your motives suspect. Likewise, even though you disagree with Marg’s understanding of Scriptures about hell, that doesn’t make her wrong or her motives suspect.

      I’ve been researching women in the body of Christ for half my life (literally: it started when I was 22, and I’m now 44), and I’ve heard plenty of accusations along the lines of: “You’re twisting Scripture to justify your rebellion against God’s order,” or, “Your god is not the God of the Bible,” or, “The Bible is clear that the man the spiritual leader of the family, so you’re clearly not a submitted wife,” bla, bla, bla. It’s all nonsense, of course; just ad hominem arguments that don’t engage with the actual issue. Debate and argument is fine and good (Proverbs 25:2b); accusing people, especially fellow-believers, is not.

    • Erica Tate says:

      Just a question for Tammy: “Heresy is a damnable offense” sounds like a position the good ol’ Roman Catholic church would take. It doesn’t sound like Scripture. Can you give me the reference? (Marg, I realise this is getting off-topic, so if you don’t want to post it, then that’s fine with me.)

    • Geoff Halpin says:

      I’m not sure what it is in us that causes us to react like this against something we disagree on. I see it mainly in the Women in Ministry debate, End Time discussions, including the place of Israel, and of course, this subject. I think that it’s hard to stay calm when one feels that one’s way of reading the Bible – and the way one’s group reads the Bible – is under attack. It calls into question the way we make sense of the universe and provokes a knee-jerk and passionate response – dare I call it ‘panic’. I believe it’s called cognitive dissonance. It can be very unpleasant. I think we need to be patient when we experience it ourselves and when we are with those experiencing it. Marg, you are an example to us all in this respect!

      • judy says:

        Geoff H…I think some of us are ‘instructed’ to this response. This teaches us to be very aggressive when talking to others…and very ungracious. I believe that this brand of the faith has its good points, BUT here are the bad ones:

        Subjective: much of their teaching is subjective, despite the claims to be Biblical. They say they preach Christ and compare scripture with scripture…but they don’t do it. They are in a rut: cannot think outside the box by really searching the scriptures to see if what they teach is ACTUALLY in the Bible. They are comfortable being mean: They have no trouble insulting other pastors and denominations, never considering their questionable attitude as Christians. It becomes an “us versus them” scenario. They are full of Condemnation: Sometimes their accusations also apply to themselves, yet they cannot see this.
        They rely more on Tradition than they realize: Hence Biblical womanhood, doesn’t in any way ‘match’ the actual womanhood portrayed in the Bible.

        Context: This group decided during the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy that they would stick to the Bible and avoid higher learning, like the plague…the result is that they refuse to look at context and have adopted a way of reading the Bible that takes each verse as Gospel, even by itself…not considering that it was written 2000 years ago in a specific historical and cultural context.

        Those who follow them become like them until the Lord opens their eyes. Quoting chapter and verse is not instruction alone. In the end we need to seek the heart of God and to show it.

      • Marg says:

        Thanks for the compliment, Geoff.

        I agree, some Christians have a knee-jerk reaction (either defensive, aggressive, or both) before even considering a different viewpoint and whether it has a valid biblical basis.

  20. Erica Tate says:

    Marg, thanks for this post. It seems to me that we Christians often do verbal gymnastics with certain words to make them fit our paradigm, thus nullifying the Word of God for the sake of our traditions. For example, when the Scripture says that God can destroy both the body and the soul in hell, we make the word “destroy” carry two different and opposite meanings: “destroy the body” means that the body ceases to exist, but “destroy the soul” means that the soul NEVER ceases to exist.

    I’m quite prepared to entertain the notion that, just as we got the concept of heaven as “an eternal paradise where we spend our time in blissful leisure” from pagan myths, so we very possibly got the concept of hell as “an eternal fiery torment” from those same myths. For my part, I’m going to be doing a Bible study on every single verse that mentions hell, because it looks to me that our traditions have made a God in our image: in this case, vengeful, and with a desire to get His pound of flesh…. but the God of the Bible is merciful even when wrathful (Habakkuk 3:2). I want to know the God of the Bible, even if that means I have to kill a few sacred cows.

    I mulled over the following philosophical question this morning: “But if it’s true that there’s no eternal conscious torment to save us from, why would Jesus bother dying on the cross?” It occurred to me that this question can be looked at from a different angle. If the judgment for sin is ‘only’ death and destruction, not eternal conscious torment, then God’s incredible love for us is shown to be that much greater: how marvellous is Jesus’ love for us, that, when He could have said, “Ah, well, not to worry, because my enemies will soon be no more anyway,” He said, ‘I don’t want my enemies to be destroyed; I want them to become my brothers, so I will pay for their sins.” As I said, this is purely a philosophical question, and I know that the answer to it is in Scripture, but I’ve often found that such questions are God’s way of pointing me towards a better understanding of His word.

    • Marg says:

      Thanks for all your comments, Erica.

      I especially appreciate your comments about the extent of God’s and Jesus’ love. Beautiful!

  21. judy says:

    Tammy…please consider that this site has also deleted some of my comments, especially when I was too sharp or hadn’t a good attitude in what I said…that doesn’t mean your other words are not worthy of being left on the site…It is a good thing that all of us consider the tone with which we speak as Christians…so step back a little and relax…and don’ let pride get in the way of good communication…you don’t have to agree with what is said here at all…but your input, when it is gracious, is important. It is a good learning experience, especially if you, like me, came out of Fundamentalism, where being critical is part of the landscape…I needed to learn how to say what I think in a way that doesn’t accuse others, especially when I don’t and can’t know their hearts.

  22. Karen says:

    Hi, I’m curious about the story in Luke 16 about the rich man and Lazarus? It portrays a conscious person post physical death in an unpleasant place of torment. Perhaps you addressed this in the other comments, which I did not entirely read.

    Thanks

    • Marg says:

      Hi Karen,

      Someone else asked me a similar question. Here’s some of my response to her.

      I briefly refer to the story of Lazarus and the rich man in endnote 3 [of my following article]. . . it is likely that Jesus used an existing story well-known to the first-century Jews to make his point “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

      The point of Jesus telling the story is not to tell us the nature of Hades.

      Hades is neither Gehenna (hell) or the Lake of Fire. It is mentioned 10 times in the New Testament.

      Please take a look at endnote 3 of the next post. Hades is also mentioned briefly in endnote 7 on this page.

  23. Bran says:

    Matthew 25: 31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,f you did it to me.’

    41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    • Marg says:

      Hi Bran, this is an important passage of scripture.

      Note that the fire is eternal, and note that the fire is prepared especially for the devil and his angels. Note also that the punishment is eternal in its effect (i.e. there’s no second chance.) There is no mention here of eternal torment, however.

      I have no doubt that the unredeemed are condemned (John 3:18). And I strongly suspect they will experience the eternal punishment of destruction and death (e.g. Rom. 6:23; Phil. 3:18; 2 Thess. 1:9).

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