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Examining the Word “Hell”

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We can imagine the reaction of some who, in reading the title of this study, might say something like: “Oh, that is a horrid theme: it has been like a nightmare to me all my life long; do not mention it; let me forget it!” “Yes,” another might say, “let me forget it and think and talk of the love of God; for when I consider how cramped is the road and narrow is the gate that leads to life and how prone we all are to sin, I exceedingly fear, and can never come to that ‘full assurance of faith’ which I so much desire.”

(2) Still another may say: “Oh, do not mention it: I have children, or a husband, or a wife, or a friend yet unsaved, and my soul is overwhelmed with a burden of fear and anxiety for them.” And another, perhaps with streaming eyes and faltering voice, may add, “O sir, if that doctrine be true — and it must be, else all Christendom would not teach it — then some of my dear ones are past all hope, and are now amidst the agonies of that awful place.”

(3)Yes, we admit that the theme as often presented and accepted is a horrid one, shutting out to a very large extent the glorious vision of the love and power and wisdom of God, which his holy Word presents. But, nevertheless, let us hear what the scriptures say; for “therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith to faith.” (Romans 1:17) True, we also read therein that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hinder the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18), and “most assuredly, the evil man will not be unpunished” (Proverbs 11:21); but the wrath of God is always just, and tempered with mercy. “His lovingkindness endures forever.” (Psalm 106:1; 107:1; 118:1-4; 136) That there is something radically wrong with the generally accepted view of the doctrine of the punishment of the wicked is very manifest from the standpoint of God’s character, in that, instead of revealing the righteousness of God, it greatly misrepresents his glorious character of love and justice, wisdom and power. And from a Scriptural standpoint we have no hesitancy in affirming what we are abundantly prepared to prove, that it is far astray from the truth, and that the position of its advocates is wholly untenable.

YOU ARE GOD

From everlasting you are God!
The “high and lofty one.”
For you alone did live before
Creation was begun.

Your wisdom, justice, love and power
As yet had not been known,
For in a realm of endless space,
There you did dwell alone.

Your glory and your majesty
You so desire to share,
And so you did create your Son,
None with him could compare.

Then by your power and through your Son
All things created came,
And with one breath they glorified
Your great and holy name.

We worship your our Father, God,
And your beloved Son
Who at your word fulfills your plan,
In purpose you are one.

(4) We live in an age when the trustworthiness of the Bible is being challenged from many quarters. Thus a correct understanding of this subject has become almost a necessity to Christian steadfastness. For centuries it has been the teaching of man’s tradition, of all shades, that God, before creating man, had created a great abyss of fire and terrors, capable of containing all the billions of the human family which he purposed to bring into being; that this abyss he had named “hell”; and that all of the promises and threatenings of the Bible were designed to deter as many as possible from such wrong doing as would make this awful place their eternal perpetual home. And yet, many misapply this doctrine of fear to Matthew 7:14, claim that there but a few who will escape this eternity of indescribable pain and suffering that awaits the vast majority of the human creation.

(5) As knowledge increases and superstitions fade, this monstrous view of the divine arrangement and character is losing its force; and thinking people cannot but disbelieve the legend, which used to be illustrated on the church walls in the highest degree of art and realism, samples of which are still to be seen in Europe. Some now claim that the place is literal, but the fire symbolic, etc., while others repudiate the doctrine of “hell” in every sense and degree. While glad to see superstitions fall, and truer ideas of the great, and wise, and just, and loving Creator prevail, we are alarmed to notice that the tendency with all who abandon this long revered doctrine is toward doubt, skepticism, infidelity.

(6) Why should this be the case, when the mind is merely being delivered from an error, — do you ask? Because Christian people have so long been taught that the foundation for this awful blasphemy against God’s character and government is deep-laid, and firmly fixed, in the Word of God — the Bible — and, consequently, to whatever degree that belief in “hell” is shaken, to that extent their faith in the Bible, as the revelation of the true God, is shaken also; — so that those who have dropped their belief in a “hell,” of some kind of endless torment, are often open infidels, and scoffers at God’s Word.

(7) Guided by Yahweh’s providence to a realization that the Bible has been slandered, as well as its divine Author, and that, rightly understood, it teaches nothing on this subject derogatory to God’s character nor to an intelligent reason, we will attempt to lay bare the Scripture teaching on this subject, that thereby faith in God and his Word may be re-established, in the hearts of his people, on a better, scriptural foundation. Indeed, it is our opinion that whoever shall hereby find that his false view rested upon human misconceptions and misinterpretations, will, at the same time, learn to trust hereafter less to his own and other men’s imaginings, and, by faith, to grasp more firmly the Word of God, which is able to make wise to salvation.

(8) That the advocates of the doctrine of eternal torment have little or no faith in it is very manifest from the fact that most often it has no power over their course of action. While most of the major denominations of Christendom sustain the doctrine that eternal torment and endless, hopeless despair will constitute the punishment of the wicked, they are mostly quite at ease in allowing the wicked to take their course, while they pursue the even tenor of their way. Chiming bells and pealing organs, artistic choirs, and costly edifices, and upholstered pews, and polished oratory which more and more avoids any reference to this alarming theme, afford rest and entertainment to fashionable congregations that gather on their day(s) set aside for worship and are known to the world as churches of Christ and representatives of his doctrines. But they seem little concerned about the eternal welfare of the multitudes, or even of themselves and their own families, though one would naturally presume that with such awful possibilities in view they would be almost frantic in their efforts to rescue the perishing.

(9) The plain inference is that they do not believe it. There are only a few out of Christendom billions who show to any degree show their faith in it by their works; and these are often the subjects of ridicule from almost all other Christians, because they are somewhat consistent with their belief. Yet their peculiar, and often absurd, methods, so strikingly in contrast with those of the Lord of whom it was written, “He will not cry, nor lift up his voice, nor cause it to be heard in the street.” (Isaiah 42:2), are very mild compared with what might be expected if they were fully convinced of the doctrine. We cannot imagine how sincere believers of this terrible doctrine go from day to day about the ordinary affairs of life, or meet quietly in elegance every Sunday to hear an essay from the pulpit on the peculiar subjects often advertised. Could they do so while really believing all the time that fellow mortals are dying at the rate of thousands every day, and entering

“That lone land of deep despair,” where “No God regards their bitter prayer”?

(10) If they really believed this few saints could complacently sit there and think of those hurrying every moment into that awful state described by that good, well-meaning, but greatly deluded man, Isaac Watts (whose own heart was immeasurably warmer and larger than that he ascribed to the Almighty Yahweh), when he wrote the hymn–

“Tempests of angry fire shall roll
To blast the rebel worm,
And beat upon the naked soul
In one eternal storm.”

(11) People often become frantic with grief when friends have been caught in some terrible catastrophe, as a fire, or a car wreck, though they know they will soon be relieved by death; yet they pretend to believe that God is less loving than themselves, and that he can look with indifference, if not with delight, at billions of his creatures enduring an eternity of torture far more terrible, which he prepares for them and prevents any escape from forever. Not only so, but they, by misapplication of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, expect that they will get into Abraham’s bosom, and will then look across the gulf and see and hear the agonies of the multitudes (some of whom they now love and weep over); and they imagine that they will be so changed, and become so like their present idea of God, so hardened against all pity, and so barren of love and sympathy, that they will delight in such a God and in such a plan.

(12) It is wonderful that otherwise sensible men and women, who love their fellows, and who establish hospitals, orphanages, asylums, and societies for the prevention of cruelty even to the brute creation, are so unbalanced mentally that they can believe and subscribe to such a doctrine, and yet be so indifferent about investigating its authority!

(13) And there are those who hold to the ultra-Calvinistic doctrine. These believe that God has decreed it thus, that all the efforts they could put forth could not alter the result with a single person; and that all the prayers they could offer would not change one iota of the awful plan they believe God has marked out for his and their eternal pleasure. These indeed could sit still, so far as effort for their fellows is concerned: but why sing the praises of such a scheme for the damnation of their neighbors whom God has told them to love as themselves?

(14) Why not rather begin to doubt this ‘doctrine of demons’ (1 Timothy 4:1); this blasphemy against the great God, brought into the church through apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2:3-8), at a time that a crafty priesthood taught that it is right to do evil that good may result? The teaching, in effect, soothes the itching ears of those who hate their enemies and would be happy to see their enemies cast into such a place. (2 Timothy 4:3,4; Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:35) At the same time, it soothes the ears of those who promote some visible system alleged to have authority to pronounce the judgements of God while the present evil age is in existence, providing and opportunity to use this doctrine as club to “lord it over” the people, even killing others, believing that they doing a service to God. — Mark 10:42-44; John 16:2.

(15) The doctrine of eternal torture was undoubtedly brought into the apostasy as a result of blending Jewish fables in with the Bible; much of the Jewish fables, however, came from Hellenistic philosophy. One of those fables consisted of an afterlife in hades, where one could enjoy eternal bliss if he was a good person, or where one could be tortured in the subterranean fires (evidently what scientists now call magma). Many of the Jews blended this mythology into the Hebrew Scriptures respecting “sheol.” The doctrine certainly served Papacy to induce pagans to join her and support her system. It flourished at the same time that “bull fights” and gladiatorial contests were the public amusements most enjoyed; when the Crusades were called “holy wars,” and when men and women were called “heretics” and were often slaughtered for thinking or speaking contrary to the teachings of the Papacy; at a time when the sun of gospel truth was greatly darkened; when the Word of God had fallen into disuse and was prohibited to be read by any but the clergy, whose love of their neighbors was often shown in torturing “heretics” to induce them to recant and deny their faith and their Bibles — to save them, if possible, they explained, from the more awful future of “heretics,” — eternal torture. The idea of hell as a place of torture after death for evil people probably came into the apostate Christian religion from heathen sources. The heathen philosophies, however, usually did not see their idea of inferno as torture for all eternity, but rather as a cycle of soul rebirth. While the idea of torture after death was believed in by the heathen, we know of no heathen philosophy in the world that teaches a doctrine so cruel, so fiendish and so unjust, as is found in many protestant doctrines of today. Examing the scriptures without all of the added-on mythology and philosophy, and examining the scriptures closely in accordance with what the holy spirit has revealed, we realize that we have been deceived. Let us, then, whoever can, show the doctrine of demons up in all its blackness, that, if possible, it may be shown that the essence of barbarism, malice, hate and ungodliness has not been exclusively appropriated by those whom God has most highly favored with light from every quarter, and to whom he has committed the only oracle — his Word. Oh! the shame and confusion that will cover the faces of many, even good men, who verily thought that they did God service while propagating this blasphemous doctrine, when they awake in the resurrection, to learn of the love and justice of God, and when they come to know that the Bible does not teach this God-dishonoring, love-extinguishing, truth-beclouding, saint-hindering, sinner-hardening, “damnable heresy” of eternal torment. — 2 Peter 2:1.

(16) But we repeat that, in the light of moral awareness of this day, sensible people do not believe this doctrine. However, since they think that the Bible teaches it, every step they progress in real intelligence and brotherly kindness, which hinders belief in eternal torment, is in most cases a step away from God’s word, which is falsely accused of being the authority for this teaching. Hence the second crop of evil fruit, which the devil’s engraftment of this error is producing, is skepticism. The intelligent, honest thinkers are thus driven from the Bible into vain philosophies and sciences, falsely so-called (1 Timothy 6:20), and into infidelity. Nor do the “worldly” really believe this doctrine, nor is it a restraint to crime, for history shows that often convicts and the lower classes have been the firmest believers in it.

(17) But, says one, “Has not the error done some good? Have not many been brought into the churches by the preaching of this doctrine in the past?” No error, we answer, ever did real good, but always harm. Those whom error brings into a church, and whom the truth would not move, are an injury to the church. The thousands terrorized, but not at heart converted, which this doctrine forced into Papacy, and which swelled her numbers and her wealth, diluted what little truth was held before, and mingled it with their unholy sentiments and errors so that, to meet the changed condition of things, the “clergy” found it needful to add error to error, and resorted to methods, forms, etc., not taught in the Scriptures and useless to the truly converted whom the truth controls. Among these were pictures, images, beads, vestments, candles, grand cathedrals, altars, etc., to help the unconverted heathen to become false workers who profess Christ, but which works are not authorized of Christ. — Luke 13:27.

(18) The heathen were not benefited, for they were still heathen in God’s sight, but were deluded into aping what they did not understand or do from the heart. They were added “tares” to choke the “wheat,” without being profited themselves. The Lord tells who sowed the seed of this enormous crop. (Matthew 13:39)The same is true of those who assume the name “Christian” today, who are not really at heart converted by the truth, but merely frightened by the error, or allured by promised earthly advantages of a social or business kind. Such add nothing to the true Church: by their ideas and manners they become stumbling blocks to the truly consecrated, and by their inability to digest the truth, the real food of the saints, they lead even the few true pastors to defraud the true “sheep” in order to satisfy the demands of these “goats” for something pleasing to their unconverted tastes. No: in no way has this error accomplished good except in the sense that God is able to make even the wrath of man to praise him. So also he will overrule this evil thing eventually to serve his purposes. When by and by all men (during the Millennium) shall come to see through this great deception by which Satan has blinded the world to God’s true character, it will perhaps awaken in them a warmer, stronger love for God. Seeing, then, the unreasonableness of man’s view, let us lay aside human opinions and theories and come to the Word of God, the only authority on the subject, remembering that

“God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.”

“HELL,” AS AN ENGLISH WORD

(18) In the first place bear in mind that the Old Testament Scriptures were written in the Hebrew language, and the New Testament in the Greek. The word “hell” is an English word sometimes selected by the translators to render the Hebrew word often transliterated as sheol and the Greek words often transliterated as hades, tartaroo and gehenna. The King James Version sometimes renders sheol as “grave” and “pit.” and it sometimes renders hades as grave, but we will discuss this later.

(19) The word “hell” in old English usage, before self-appointed “orthodox” theologians picked it up and gave it a new and special significance to suit their own purposes, simply meant to conceal, to hide, to cover; hence the concealed, hidden or covered place. In old English literature records may be found of the helling of potatoes — putting potatoes into pits; and of the helling of a house — covering or thatching it. The word hell was therefore properly used synonymously with the words “grave” and “pit,” to translate the words sheol and hades as signifying the secret or hidden condition of death. However, the same spirit which was willing to twist the word to terrorize the ignorant is willing still to perpetuate the error; — presumably saying — “Let us do evil that good may follow.” — Isaiah 5:20.

(20) Many translations transliterate the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek word hades, thus leaving up the reader as to what these words mean. But they were evidently afraid to tell the truth, and ashamed to tell the lie; and so gave us sheol and hades transliterated, and permitted the inference that these words mean the same as the word “hell” has become perverted to mean. Some have claimed that in some places sheol means the grave and in other places it means the place of torture; it is true that there various shades of symbolism given to the Hebrew word sheol, but even so the same basic means remains throughout the scriptures, as we will be shown in this book. Others have even claimed that sheol contains various compartments, including paradise, limbo, purgatory and the inferno. Thus supposedly the immortal soul when died went to one of the compartments of sheol, according to what he had done in life. In examining these scriptures, as we will do later, we can see that these theories do not hold up.

(21) A peculiarity to be observed in comparing these cases, as we will do shortly, is that in those texts where the torment idea would be an absurdity the translators of the King James Version have used the words “grave” or “pit”; while in all other cases they have used the word “hell”; and the reader, long schooled in the Papal idea of torment, reads the word “hell” and thinks of it as signifying a place of torment, instead of the grave, the hidden or covered place or condition. For example, compare Job 14:13 with Psalm 86:13. The former reads, — “Oh, that thou wouldst hide me in the grave [sheol] etc.,” while the latter reads, — “Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell [sheol].” The Hebrew word being the same in both cases, there is no reason why the same word “grave” should not be used in both, except to satisfy extra-Biblical theology that has been blended into the Bible. But how absurd it would have been for Job to have prayed to God to hide him in a hell of eternal torture! The English reader would have asked questions and the secret would have gotten out speedily.

(22) We realize that the translators of the Reformation times are somewhat excusable for their mental bias in this matter, as they were just breaking away from the old Papal system. Many church leaders today have come forth with statements that are similar to what we present, yet many theological professors and pastors of congregations, not realizing the purpose for the call and selection of the seed of Abraham, still believe that they must keep the doctrine of eternal torture alive else their flock will no longer have the “fear of God” in them. Thus they feel they have to add much to the Bible that is not stated there in order to keep this doctrine viable. Many seem sincere in this, yet there are also many who appear to willfully ignore the truth. While attributing to the ignorant only the best of motives, it is manifestly only duplicity and cowardice which induces many educated men, who know the truth on this subject, to because of not having love for the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:11,21), prefer to continue to teach the error, even if done only inferentially.

(23) Nevertheless, not all ministers know of the errors of the translators, and deliberately cover and hide those errors from the people. Many, indeed, do not know of them, having merely accepted, without investigation, the theories of their seminary professors. It is the professors and learned ones who are most blameworthy. These have kept back the truth about “hell” for several reasons. First, there is evidently a sort of understanding or etiquette among them, that if they wish to maintain their standing in the “profession” they “must not tell tales out of school”; i.e., they must not divulge professional secrets to the “common people,” the “laity.” Second, they all fear that to let it be known that they have been teaching an unscriptural doctrine for years would break down the popular respect and reverence for the “clergy,” the denominations and the theological schools, and unsettle confidence in their wisdom. And, oh, how much depends upon confidence and reverence for men, when God’s Word is so generally ignored! Third, they know that many of the members of their sects are not constrained by “the love of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:14), but merely by the fear of hell, and they see clearly, therefore, that to let the truth be known now would soon cut loose the names and the dollars of many in their flocks; and this, to those who “desire to make a fair show in the flesh” (Galatians 6:12) would seem to be a great calamity.

(24) But what will be the judgment of God, whose character and plan are traduced by the blasphemous doctrine which these untranslated words help to support? Will he commend these unfaithful servants? Will he justify their course? Will the Chief Shepherd call these his beloved friends, and make known to them his further plans (John 15:15) that they may misrepresent them also to preserve their own dignity and reverence? Will he continue to send forth “things new and old,” “food in due season,” to the household of faith, by the hand of the unfaithful servants? (Matthew 13:52; 24:45) No, such shall not continue to be his mouthpieces or to shepherd his flock. (Ezekiel 34:9,10) He will choose instead, as at the first advent, from among the laity — “the common people” — mouthpieces, and will give them words which none of the chief priests shall be able to gainsay or resist. (Luke 21:15) And, as foretold,”the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.” — Isaiah 29:9-19.

SHEOL

(25) The only word used for “hell” in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, is sheol (Strong’s Hebrew #7585). In the King James Version sheol is rendered “hell” thirty-one times, “grave” thirty-one times, and “pit” three times. The word “sheol” does not mean a lake of fire and brimstone, nor anything at all resembling that thought: not in the slightest degree! Quite the reverse: instead of a place of blazing fire it is described in the context as a state of “darkness” (Job 10:21) instead of a place where shrieks and groans are heard, it is described in the context as a place of “silence” (Psalm 115:17); instead of representing in any sense pain and suffering, or remorse, the context describes it as a place or condition of forgetfulness. (Psalm 88:11,12) “there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in Sheol, where you are going.” — Ecclesiastes 9:10.

(26) The meaning of sheol is “the hidden state,” as applied to man’s condition in death, in and beyond which all is hidden, except to the eye of faith; hence, by proper and close association, the word was often used in the sense of the grave–the tomb, the hidden place, or place beyond which only those who have the enlightened eye of the understanding can see resurrection, restoration of being. And be it particularly noted that this identical word sheol is translated “grave” thirty-one times and “pit” three times in King James Verison of the Bible — more times than it is translated “hell”; and twice, where it is translated “hell,” it seemed so absurd, according to the present accepted meaning of the English word “hell,” that scholars have felt it necessary to explain in the margin of modern Bibles, that it means the grave. (Isaiah 14:9 and Jonah 2:2) In the latter case, the hidden state, or the grave, was the belly of the fish in which Jonah was buried alive, and from which he cried to God.

(27) There are various views concerning sheol and how it should be rendered: (1) Many represent sheol is a great abyss of fire and terrors, where the wicked will be tortured for all eternity; (2) many claim that sheol sometimes represents paradise, and sometimes represents the fiery abyss of eternal torture, and sometimes the unconscious condition of the physical body in death; (3) others clam that sheol is made up of two or more compartments, one of which is the inferno of eternal torture, another of which is paradise, and others add purgatory, a temporary place of torture and limbo (usually advocates of this view claim that paradise was removed from sheol and taken to heaven when Jesus ascended to heaven.); (4) still others claim that sheol is the oblivious, unconscious condition of the soul in death, that is, sheol is the realm of oblivious death. It is this latter view that our studies have found to be supported by scripture.

(28) Concerning the word “sheol”, Appendix 35 of The Companion Bible states:

It occurs sixty-five times in the Hebrew of the Old Testament; and only by studying each passage by itself can the student hope to gather the Biblical usage of the word. All heathen or traditional usages are not only worthless, but mischievous…. As meaning “THE grave,” it is to be distinguished from keber, A grave, or burying-place (from kabar, to bury, first occurrence Genesis 23:4): and bõr, a pit, generally hewn in the rock, hence used of a cistern (Genesis 37:20) or a dungeon, and etc., when dry.

(29) In the New Testament, which was written in Koine Greek, the Hebrew word SHEOL is translated as HADES (transliterated — not to be confused with Greek god called by the name Hades).  Below we present links to our studies related to both Sheol and Hades:

Gehenna:

Below are all the scriptures that contain the word “sheol” along with studies pertaining to the scriptures (as we able to create the links.)

Genesis 37:35 – Jacob and Sheol * Search
Genesis 42:38 – Jacob and Sheol
Numbers 16:30-33 – Jacob and Sheol
Deuteronomy 32:22 – (we will be adding more links later, Yahweh willing)
1 Samuel 2:6
2 Samuel 22:6
1 Kings 2:6, 9
Job 7:9
Job 11:8
Job 14:13
Job 17:16
Job 17:13
Job 26:6
Job 21:13
Psalm 6:5
Psalm 9:17
Psalm 16:10
Psalm 18:5
Psalm 30:3
Psalm 31:17
Psalm 49:14, 15
Psalm 55:15
Psalm 86:13
Psalm 88:3
Psalm 116:3
Psalm 139:8
Psalm 89:48
Psalm 141:7
Proverbs 1:12
Proverbs 5:5
Proverbs 7:27
Proverbs 9:18
Proverbs 15:11
Proverbs 15:24
Proverbs 23:14
Proverbs 27:20
Proverbs 30:15, 16
Ecclesiastes 9:10
Song of Solomon 8:6
Isaiah 5:14
Isaiah 14:9, 15
Isaiah 14:11
Isaiah 28:15-18
Isaiah 38:10
Isaiah 38:18
Isaiah 57:9
Ezekiel 31:15-17
Ezekiel 32:21
Ezekiel 32:27
Amos 9:2
Jonah 2:1, 2
Habakkuk 2:5
Hosea 13:14

Below are some other scriptures that are often presented as speaking of hell (although many of them do not actually say anything about hell).

2 Peter 2:4 – Tartaroo Vs. Tatarus * Jesus’ Soul in Sheol * Hope of Life After Death Part 15

Related

Appendix 16 of Bullinger’s Companion Bible

The Bible Hell


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