Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, Mo, on 3/25/07
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world" (I John 4:1).
The Apostle John's admonition is as valid today as it was the day he wrote it. We need to check out what we hear or read with the Holy Spirit, and even if it's a belief that's been around for millenniums, if our spirit doesn't bear witness with it, we need to take it to the Lord. Consider the misinformation about "hell" that has been fed countless millions over the centuries. Those of you who have been reading my writings for years know that God delivered me from the fear of hell fire and eternal punishment by showing me in scripture that He is going to save every last one of us, eventually. Good News though this certainly was to my soul, tortured by the thought that my family and friends might burn in hell eternally, many get totally incensed when they hear it. A very dear friend, who knows what I believe about hell and thinks it's garbage, said to me one day, "I don't know where you get this. I know what Jesus said. Hell is on every page of the Bible." To her and many others, "hell" conjures up countless sermons about the horrors of eternal damnation. Therein lies the problem, for when we know what the word translated "hell," actually meant in Jesus' day, we are no longer afraid because the word DID NOT MEAN everlasting punishment then, as it does now.
Interestingly, the word "hell" occurs some 23 times in the King James Version of the bible, but only 13 times in the RSV. Of course, as Jeff Priddy reminds us in his short story about Sister Abercrombie having lunch in hell, Jesus did not speak English. The words translated "hell" come from three Greek words: 1) "Gehenna" (trash dump/incinerator outside Jerusalem, 12 times); 2) "Tartaras," (dramatic, not literally true, a figure of something else, 1 time); and 3) "Hades" (that which is in darkness, hidden, invisible, or obscure, 10 times).
I have a little hands-on experience with translation, having obtained a Master's Degree in Spanish, so let me say that translating from one language to another is often as much art as science. This is because the translator must use a combination of cognitive and intuitive skills to determine what the writer of the passage meant. In addition, the translator must factor in the cultural influences as well, to the best of his or her ability. This can lead to a variety of interpretations. For instance, "hello," is a greeting which varies based on the region or even the age of the greeter. In Missouri, people may say "Howdy," or "How's by you?" Or "What do ya know?" In California, they may say, "Hey," or "Yo" or even "Yell-o." A more formal greeting might be "Good morning." All of these would be an adequate translation of the Spanish phrase, "Buenos Dias."
Finding a copy of The Emphatic Diaglott (See Link at End for downloadable version), was very helpful to Lenny and me as we researched the word "hell." The book is an interlinear, word by word translation of the New Testament from Greek to English by Benjamin Wilson. In his forward, Wilson speaks of the inherent problems found in the King James Version of the Bible, translated in 1611. The translators were basically instructed not to "rock the boat," of orthodoxy. Wilson says he found 20,000 translation errors in this beloved version, and certainly one of the most troubling errors concerns the word "hell." Remember that in 1611, they were still burning criminals and religious heretics at the stake, a compelling motivation to keep the orthodox theology of the day unchanged. The Roman Church and its appendage, the Church of England were big on hell fire as eternal punishment. (It was also their justification for burning heretics at the stake, hoping to convince them to repent before they died, thus avoiding hell which was worse than this grisly death.) This repressive atmosphere could not possibly have led to absolute intellectual integrity.
The anger and antagonism which many Christians unleash upon hearing that God will save everyone proves my point exactly, and these same people would no doubt say they are sorry that anyone might burn in hell, but for sure they will if they don't repent and turn to Jesus. This is the position expressed by Randy Alcorn, author of the book Heaven. (See Link at End for His website.) I haven't read the book to see what he said about heaven, but I did read his chapter on hell, which a friend e-mailed me this week. Here's a quote: "What would keep us out of Heaven is universal: "Because we are sinners, we are not entitled to enter God's presence. We cannot enter Heaven as we are... "So Heaven is not our default destination. No one goes there automatically. Unless our sin problem is resolved, the only place we will go is our true default destination . . . Hell." End Quote.
When I read that I cringed. The word "default" means "a preselected option adopted by a computer program or other mechanism when no alternative is specified by the user or programer." All computers and computer software have default settings, which determine how the machine or program runs. If you don't change the setting, the default will always take precedence, which brings me back to Alcorn's statement about hell being our "default destination." What he means by that is that our creator has predestined us to go to hell. Now, I can hear people protesting that this is not God's fault. He set the provisions for salvation in motion but it's up to us to take advantage of it. That, if true, would mean that our eternal destination depends entirely upon us and our choices, but that just won't wash, folks. It really will not!
Follow me here. When God created man, He said of His handiwork, "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day" (Gen. 1:31). If He had intended that hell was to be the default destination for all His children, He wouldn't have said in the beginning that all He had made was very good. If GOD did not mean for them to end up in hell, but they foiled His plans and went there in spite of His best efforts, then our god is too small and too weak. He is NOT the Lord of heaven and earth, with all authority, all power, and all majesty. He is more like a human creator, who invents a machine which sometimes doesn't get the job done, and due to failing parts or poor design, it has to be thrown onto the scrap heap, or melted down and recycled. Is THAT what you think of God?
Do you think that though He is NOT willing that any should perish (II Pet. 3:9), He is so weak and impotent over against the so called "free will" of man, that He couldn't manage to bring His own will to pass? Was Jesus' blood really NOT sufficient for the sins of the whole world as John says it is? (I John 2:2). Will our Savior have to stand before His Father on Judgment Day and say, "I'm sorry Dad. I did the best I could, but this sin problem was too tough for me. They rejected my salvation offer at every turn." Is THAT what you think of Christ?
That brings us back to what the Bible says. Is my dear friend correct when she says that hell is on every page of the Bible? Actually, the "hell" she fears (punishment after death), is not there even once! Remember that the word "hell," which has come to mean eternal torment in the flames to most Christians, is only the English translation of three different Greek words, which I identified.
Since I'm NOT a Greek scholar, I looked up these passages in The Emphatic Diaglott, the interlinear translation from the Greek to English. (Link at end).
The first word is "Gehenna," which is a literal place on the earth at the southwest corner of Jerusalem. When we drove through Gehenna the last time we were in Israel, our Israeli guide joked, "This is hell folks. Now you can go home and tell them you've been to hell and back." In Jesus' day, it was a place where the bodies of criminals, animals, and other refuse was incinerated. The fires burned day and night, and everyone knew that this was the very place where the Children of Israel had burned their children in the fire to the dreadful god Moloch. There's an awesome reference book I found about 10 years ago now called The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment (Link at end), written by Thomas B. Thayer in the mid 1800s. In spite of the rather off-putting title, I found the book extremely scholarly and definitive on this subject.
In it, Thayer included the history of Gehenna, which comes from the Hebrew word meaning the Valley of Ben Hinnom. Here's a quote from the book: "In the prophecies of Jeremiah (7:31), this valley is called Tophet, from Toph, a drum; because they beat a drum during these horrible rites, lest the cries and shrieks of the infants who were burned should be heard by the assembly. At length these nefarious practices were abolished by Josiah, and the Jews brought back to the pure worship of God. (See II Kings 23). After this they held the place in such abomination that they cast into it all kinds of filth, and the carcasses of beasts, and the unburied bodies of criminals who had been executed. Continual fires were necessary in order to consume these, lest the putrefaction should infect the air; and there were always worms feeding on the remaining relics. Hence it came, that any severe punishment, especially an infamous kind of death, was described by the word Gehenna, or hell."
He concludes: "Here the unquenchable fire and the undying worm of Gehenna, or hell, are used as figures of judgment to happen on the earth, where there are carcasses, new moons, Sabbaths, etc. Gehenna, with its accompaniments, was an object of utmost loathing to the Jew, and came to be employed as a symbol of any great judgment or woe." End Quote.
It's obvious that the word "hell" is used today the way the Jews used the word "Gehenna." It is a figure of speech, a simile for a terrible circumstance: The wound hurt like hell; The people in New Orleans went through "hell" during Katrina.
Here are the verses in Jeremiah 7:31-32: "And they have built the high place of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. Therefore, behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when it will no more be called Tophet, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter: for they will bury in Tophet, because there is no room elsewhere." Please note that God said that He did not command them to sacrifice their children, "NOR DID IT COME INTO MY MIND." (See also II Kings 33:10 and Jer. 32:35.) And yet, millions of Christians think that though He punished Israel most severely for this reprehensible practice of child sacrifice, He Himself is guilty of the same crime because according to orthodox religion, He will burn countless millions of His children in the fires of hell. That's an outrageous and scripturally insupportable judgment against our loving heavenly Father.
Here are the passages where the word "Gehenna," is translated as "hell" in the New Testament": Matt. 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6. Jonathan Mitchell is currently translating the New Testament from the Greek (See Link at End). I like His translation of Luke 12:5, which I offer to show you how much influence the translator has on the meaning of the passage. Jonathan depends upon scholarship and the Holy Spirit, and he has no fear of being burned at the stake as the King James translators did: "Now I will expressly point out to (indicate and even underline for) you people of whom you folks should be made fearful: Be made to fear the person [who], after the killing off, continues possessing (having and holding) the right (or: authority) to throw you into the Valley of Hinnom (Greek: Gehenna; = the City Dump outside of Jerusalem [= to dishonor you by giving no burial; to treat you as a criminal])..."
For comparison, here is the King James Version: "But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him that, after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, fear Him!" This translation no doubt reflects the translators' fear of hell after death, and/or, fear of retribution from King James himself, the titular head of the Church of England.
The other word most commonly translated "hell" is "Hades." Benjamin Wilson comments about his research on this word: "HADES occurs 11 times in the Greek Testament, and is improperly translated in the common version 10 times by the word hell. It is the word used in the Septuagint (Old Testament translation) as a translation of the Hebrew word "Sheol," denoting the abode or world of the dead, and means literally that which is in darkness, hidden, invisible, or obscure....yet it has the more general meaning of death; a state of death; the dominion of death... The primitive signification of hell only denoting what was SECRET OR CONCEALED, perfectly corresponds with the Greek term Hades and its Hebrew equivalent Sheol, but the theological definition to it at the present day [eternal punishment] by no means expresses it." (Diaglott, Page 892).
The King James translates Hades (Sheol) as "hell" in these verses. Matt. 16:18; Luke 16:23; Rev. 1:18; Rev. 6:8; Rev. 20:13,14.
As is evident from both Wilson's and Thayer's work, the prejudice and fear of the translators is reflected in the King James Version, and other versions as well. Gehenna is a suburb of Jerusalem today, but in Jesus' day, to repeat, it was a place where refuse was burned. This explains to me why Jesus' listeners didn't run screaming into the night after hearing His radical statements about cutting off your hand or foot, or plucking out your eye and going around crippled rather than ending up in the trash heap/incinerator of Gehenna. Neither did they repent and demand to be baptized instantly, which is the desired result of modern day sermons about the horrors of "hell." There's no indication in Jesus' statements that He was speaking about the after life. He was talking about a place they knew very well on the earth, outside Jerusalem! It occurred to me that the "hand, foot, and eye," could be a metaphor for sin itself. If so, He would then have been saying it is better to rid yourself of what you know is sin rather than allowing it to make you end up in Gehenna like a common criminal.
To sum this up, we have to go back to basics: THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD! Either He is totally sovereign as the scriptures declare from Genesis to Revelation, or else He's not. Can anyone be so smug, so self righteous, so self deceived as to think that his or her actions can guarantee a heavenly home?
Only God can make that guarantee, and He has promised us all a home with Him, a promise sealed by the blood of the Lamb. Paul has made so many statements about this, but let me choose just one passage, found in Ephesians, chapter one: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Vs. 3-6). The question I ask the old dears at Medicalodge about this is, "If we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, what did we have to do with it?" They always say, "Nothing." We didn't make a decision for Christ. We were CHOSEN.
Paul continued, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite ALL things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Vs. 7-10). Paul is prophesying here that God's will and purpose, His plan, is "TO UNITE ALL THINGS IN HIM, THINGS IN HEAVEN AND THINGS ON EARTH." That straight forward statement says that God will bring together ALL things (which would include all people), things both in heaven and on earth. That it encompasses everyone, everywhere, and everything, is mirrored in Peter's statement found in Acts 3:20-21: "Then He shall send Jesus Christ, who before was preached unto you, whom Heaven must receive until the times of restitution of ALL things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began" (KJV).
God did not create the heavens and earth only to have them thrown on the scrap heap. No, when He said it was "very good," He was not just observing His handiwork at the time, but was looking forward to the restitution of all things. John the Revelator declared, "Then he who is seated upon the throne said, "See, I am making all things new!" And he added, "Write this down for my words are true and to be trusted" (Rev. 21:5). It is incredibly Good News that hell was a physical location on the earth, NOT a destination, default or otherwise, when we die. God said of His creation, "It is very good," and who are we to argue?
Father, we thank You for Jesus, our elder brother, who paid the price for us to be with You eternally. We praise You that You cannot fail to get Your will accomplished, and we rest in Christ, Your finished work. Amen. Jan Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Back to Basics: The Sovereignty of God
Back to Basics, II: Sovereignty and Reconciliation
Back to Basics, III: A Practicum on Sovereignty
Back to Basics, IV: Out of the Box
Back to Basics, V: The Codependency Factor
Back to Basics, VI: The Tomb Is Still Empty
Back to Basics, VIII: God Is Love
Back to Basics, IX: By Man Came Also
Back to Basics, X: Victory Over Death
Back to Basics, XI: Provision
The Primrose Path To Gehenna
Eternal Perspective Ministries (Randy Alcorn)
The Emphatic Diaglott New Testament (Download)
"Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment."
Jonathan Mitchell's Translation of the New Testament (In progress)
Mrs. Magillacuty Goes to Hell And Back
The Glory Road
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This page was uploaded to the web on 03/14/07
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,