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LifeLAB Bible Study

What the hell?

Sunday, May 22, 2016 • Will Rucker • Hell
We must be mindful to obtain our understanding of hell from the Bible, when dealing with matters of Christian faith. It is of the utmost importance that we abandon the application of Greek mythological in our ideas about hell. Further, we must be mindful of how the Bible describes the character of God as we examine what the "church" teaches about this matter.  

"What the hell?"



We must be mindful to obtain our understanding of hell from the Bible, when dealing with matters of Christian faith. It is of the utmost importance that we abandon the application of Greek mythological in our ideas about hell. Further, we must be mindful of how the Bible describes the character of God as we examine what the "church" teaches about this matter.  


Statement by Samuel G. Dawson:

"Samuel G. Dawson was a physics and mathematics graduate from Texas Tech who did research in celestial mechanics and intercontinental missile guidance in the aerospace industry. He left science to begin 22 years of public teaching about religious topics. He did extensive live call-in radio work daily for eight years and participated in a number of religious debates. He still believed the church's conception of a real hell when a caller to his call-in radio show said, "Don't you know that hell is just something the Catholic Church invented to scare people into obedience?" He was "righteously indignant," but began research to find the origins of the church's hell theology to make sure he was correct. After extensive study, this was his conclusion:

I now believe that hell is the invention of Roman Catholicism; and surprisingly, most, if not all, of our popular concepts of hell can be found in the writings of Roman Catholic writers like the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), author of Dante's Inferno. The English poet John Milton (1608-1674), author ofParadise Lost, set forth the same concepts in a fashion highly acceptable to the Roman Catholic faith.Yet none of our concepts of hell can be found in the teaching of Jesus Christ! [Dawson's italics] We get indignant at the mention of purgatory—we know that's not in the Bible. We may also find that our popular concepts of hell came from the same place that purgatory did—Roman Catholicism." 


A note about Santa Claus:

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He's making a list
And checking it twice
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

O! You better watch out!
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
Santa Claus is coming to town

Sound familiar? Things change as we mature...


Hell in the Bible

In the Bible, four (4) different words are translated as hell. Sheol (in Hebrew), hades, and Tartarus (in Greek) – all three of which mean "the grave" or more literally "the unseen."  There is no "burning" associated with any of these three words. The fourth word that is mistranslated "hell" is the word "gehenna" (Greek) which is associated with burning. 


Hell in the Old Testament?

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. - Genesis 2:17 (KJV)

  1. No mention of hell.
  2. No mention of wrath.
  3. Pretty important things to "forget" to mention.



sheol, underworld, grave, hell, pit

  1. the underworld (and the personification of the evil it represents)
  2. Sheol - the OT designation for the abode of the dead
  1. place of no return
  2. without praise of God
  3. wicked sent there for punishment
  4. righteous not abandoned to it
  5. of the place of exile (fig)
  6. of extreme degradation in sin


Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. 22 For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. - Deuteronomy 32:1, 22 (KJV)

  1. People of Israel referred to as heavens and earth
  2. Hell symbolic of the lowest point. Also translated as "grave."


If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. - Psalm 139:8 (KJV)

  1. "Grave" again. Weird, right?
  2. Check out Job 26:6


In the Old Testament, Sheol is:

  • A place of hiding and protection (Job)
  • A place of silence (Psalms)
  • A state of mind (Psalms)
  • A place soon to be overcome and destroyed (Hosea)
  • A place created by men (Psalms)
  • A place of the living (Psalms)
  • A place within God's presence (Psalms)
  • A place of separation and comfort (Ezekiel)
  • A place where communication can still exist (Ezekiel)
  • A place where the wicked have their weapons (Ezekiel)
  • A place where God can reach (Amos)
  • A place where people and their belongings can be swallowed up (Numbers)


Are you seeing anything new about hell?


Hell in the New Testament?

Jesus talked about hell more than anything else, right? At least more than heaven, didn't He?

There are 1,944 verses in the four gospels that contain Jesus' words of which about 60 of those verses–or an underwhelming three (3) percent of them—might be construed as either directly or indirectly referring to hell.

On the other hand, there are more than three times as many verses in the gospels in which Jesus references heaven, eternal life, or his coming kingdom: 192 verses in all, or almost 10%.


And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. - Matthew 10:28 (KJV)

  1. Notice, "kill" and "destroy" do not mean torture.
  2. Hell here is geeenna.


Gehenna was originally the Valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned. Gehenna was initially where some of the kings of Judah sacrificed their children by fire (2 Chronicles 28:3).  In this valley, the Israelites worshipped the pagan god Molech by offering human sacrifices.  They burned their own children alive by placing the baby on the fiery hot hands of the statue while the pagan priests beat the drums to cover up the screams of the baby as it was being incinerated. It was deemed to be cursed.

It is told the the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) then was held in such detestation that it was made into a garbage dump where the fire burned the refuse continuously. 


A moment for mythology.

Hades was the brother of Zeus and Poseidon. After the overthrow of their father, Cronus, he drew lots with them to share the universe. He drew poorly, which resulted in becoming lord of the underworld and ruler of the dead. Nevertheless, he was not considered to be death itself, as this was a different god, called Thanatos. Greedy like his brother Poseidon, he was mainly interested in increasing his subjects, and anyone whose deeds resulted in people dying was favoured by him. The Erinnyes (the Furies) were welcomed guests in his kingdom.

The Greeks were not keen on uttering his name, afraid of causing some kind of reaction that would end up with them dead sooner. Instead, they decided to give him another name, Plouton, deriving from the Greek word for wealth, due to the precious metals mined from the earth. Thus, Hades also became the god of wealth.

Although an Olympian, Hades preferred the Underworld and rarely left his kingdom. His weapon was a pitchfork, which he used to create earthquakes, similar to the way Poseidon used his trident. He also had a helmet of invisibility, which he had received as a gift from the Cyclopes, in order to use it during the clash of the Titans. He was married to Persephone, daughter of Demeter, whom Hades abducted and carried down to the Underworld.

Hades Is also called Pluto, Dis Pater, Orcus, Plouton.


In Greek mythology, Tartarus was both a primordial deity that existed before the Olympians, as well as a name to describe a region of the Underworld. As a god, he was third in rank after Chaos and Gaea, preceding Eros.

As a place, it was far below than where Hades resided and it was used as the most horrible prison. Some accounts say that the distance between Tartarus and Hades was the same as between the earth and the heaven. Although the kingdom of Hades was the place of the dead, Tartarus was where ferocious monsters and horrible criminals were banished, or where the gods imprisoned their rivals after a war. The three judges of the Underworld, Rhadamanthus, Aeacus and Minos, decided who would go to the realm of Hades and who would be banished to Tartarus.

Moreover, Cronus, the king of the Titans, imprisoned the Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires in Tartarus, but Zeus released them in order to help him defeat the Titans. When the Titanomachy ended in favor of the OlympiansZeus banished many of the Titans to Tartarus.


*Copied from www.greekmythology.com


But what about hell?

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell [hades] hall not prevail against it. - Matthew 16:18 (KJV)

I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell [hades] and of death. - Revelation 1:18 (KJV)


O death, where is thy sting? O grave [hades], where is thy victory? - 1 Corinthians 15:55 (KJV)


Can Gehenna be a symbol for the real hell?

In the synoptic Gospels Jesus uses the word Gehenna 11 times to describe the opposite to life in the Kingdom (Mark 9:43-48). It is a place where both soul and body could be destroyed (Matthew 10:28) in "unquenchable fire" (Mark 9:43).

  • Matthew 5:22: "....whoever shall say, "You fool," shall be guilty enough to go into Gehenna."
  • Matthew 5:29: "....it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to be thrown into Gehenna."
  • Matthew 5:30: "....better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go into Gehenna."
  • Matthew 10:28: "....rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna."
  • Matthew 18:9: "It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than with two eyes to be thrown into the Gehenna."
  • Matthew 23:15: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you... make one proselyte...twice as much a child of Gehenna as yourselves."
  • Matthew 23:33, to the Pharisees: "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you to escape the sentence of Gehenna?"
  • Mark 9:43: "It is better for you to enter life crippled, than having your two hands, to go into Gehenna into the unquenchable fire."
  • Mark 9:45: "It is better for you to enter life lame, than having your two feet, to be cast into Gehenna."
  • Mark 9:47: "It is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into Gehenna."


In Israel of old, all these pagan altars and idols were broken down and burned in the Valley of Kidron which was contiguous with the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna).  Therefore, in Gehenna, the sinful things were burned up. 

The Israelites of Christ's time were aware of the history of pagan worship in ancient Israel and its destruction during the reign of King Josiah.  They would have understood Christ's reference to Gehenna – where the "sinful things" were burned – but not the Israelite sinners. 


But what about "outer darkness"?

And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. - Matthew 25:30 (KJV)


It is a fact that in New Testament times, almost every large city had huge stone city walls that protected the city from intruders and from lions who roamed the countryside. The residents of the city often dumped their garbage over the top of the walls in certain parts of the city, allowing the trash to fall and build up around the base of the huge stone walls. Because this garbage included unused food, lions from the countryside would come to the base of the city walls late at night — when it was very dark — to pillage the trash and look for food.

These huge piles of trash became sites where authorities tried to determine the guilt or innocence of individuals suspected of crimes but not concretely proven to be guilty. The authorities would tie the suspected criminal with rope and lower him to the base of the city walls during the darkest hours of the night — right into the midst of the garbage where the lions roamed every night. If they found the suspect alive the next morning, he was judged to be innocent of his crime. If he had been devoured, it was assumed that he had been guilty of the crime of which he had been accused.

Even if the victim was found alive the next morning, he was usually insane or on the verge of total insanity. In fact, his teeth were usually ground down by his own nervous gnashing and grinding of his teeth as the lions prowled and roared all around him all night long. This is where we get the phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth." It was derived from this experience of suffering agony and even insanity as a result of being cast into outer darkness.


There is no darkness in fire… think about it! Clearly can't be our image of hell.


Well, what about the Lake of Fire?

And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. - Revelation 20:15

  1. Not literal
  2. Remember heaven and earth? (v. 11)


He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. - 1 John 3:8 (KJV)

For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. - Matthew 5:18 (KJV)

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. - Matthew 24:35



Refers to the destruction and burning of the Temple in Jerusalem. The whole Bible is about Israel.


Final Thought:

There is no way to thoroughly cover this subject in 45 minutes. This was just an cursory overview meant to dispel modern idea of a burning hell and eternal conscious torment for unbelievers. 

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