HELL: Does it really exist?
Is the traditional view of hell right or wrong?
Guest author: Jim Giordano
Since this is not the mainstream view of hell, I would assume there would be disagreements.
But the important thing is the truth, so I encourage debate on this.
While traditional Christians believe in hellfire and eternal hell, traditional Jews do not.
So, how did this line of thinking change?
Was one view correct until Jesus came, and then the game changed?
Was there only one hell to begin with, and it is still the same?
Or was the truth about hell not understood all along?
What really happens when we die?
So what happens when we die? Are we judged immediately by God and then sent either to heaven to play a harp on a cloud or to hell where we burn in agony forever?
The truth is that when we die, we sleep – rest in peace – until either the first resurrection when Jesus returns, or after the millennium is over and the rest of the dead are raised.
In fact, the word “hell” simply means “grave.” It is “sheol” in Hebrew and “Hades” in Greek. It is not the hell of Dante’s Inferno from which modern Christians get their concept from.
The bible never describes hell or discusses its existence. There is no need to since early bible readers knew it was simply the grave and nothing more. Just what you would expect from a loving and merciful God.
Point of disagreement from established, mainstream, thought:
The idea of an ever-burning hell has frightened countless millions!
What really happens to the wicked after death?
Are they “doomed to hell,” where their “souls” roast in “torment” forever?
If hell exists, and the wicked go there, where is it and what is it? And when do they go? What about the resurrection of the dead?
There are many popular beliefs about the fate of unrepentant sinners. Why such confusion? What are the Bible answers? Here is the truth about hell!
The most common image of people “roasting in hell” pictures a God willing to burn people for all eternity without ever totally burning them up. Apart from what the scriptures teach, ask yourself, what kind of God is capable of this?
Modern “human rights activists” recognize the terrible evil of torture—even in its temporary forms. Would the loving God of the Bible design an everlasting torture chamber? If so, He would have to witness—for the rest of eternity—the suffering of those that He had condemned to such a “hell.”
We might also ask: How enjoyable could salvation be for the saved, if they were forced to watch their children or parents—and other loved ones—screaming in pain and agony for the rest of time? Do you see the absurdity of this idea?
Yet millions upon millions come to this conclusion when they accept the beliefs surrounding the popular concept of hell.
Almost no one understands that it was primarily pagan poets who authored today’s widely believed concept about an underground, ever-burning hell.
Much of the tradition surrounding this subject came from Dante Alighieri’s (1265-1321) famous work Divine Comedy. In it, he described his view of paradise, purgatory and hell. Notice this quote from a book about his life, Dante and His Inferno: “Of all poets of modern times, Dante Alighieri was, perhaps, the greatest educator.
He possibly had a greater influence on the course of civilization than any other man since his day…He wrote, in incomprehensible verse, an imaginative and lurid account of a dismal hell—a long poem containing certain phrases which have caught the attention of the world, such as, ‘all hope abandon…ye, who enter here!’
This had a tremendous impression and influence on the popular Christian thought and teaching. His Inferno was based on Virgil and Plato.”
This makes obvious where Dante got his ideas. He believed that the pagan philosophers Plato and Virgil were divinely inspired. His fascination with the Greek philosopher Plato caused him to accept Plato’s ideas about the immortality of the soul as described in his famous work, Phaedo.
Here is what the Encyclopedia Americana says about Virgil: “Virgil, pagan Roman poet, 70-12 B.C. belonged to the national school of pagan Roman thought, influenced by the Greek writers. Christians of the Middle Ages, including Dante, believed he had received some measure of divine inspiration.”
Few know the true origin of the beliefs that they hold. Fewer still even wish to know! I have just laid bare the real origin of this belief. Did you realize the source of these ideas?
The concept of an ever burning hell comes from outright paganism. The fact is the popular version of hell has never had anything to do with the true teaching of the Bible.
A Popular Scripture
Perhaps the most familiar and often-quoted verse in the Bible is understood by almost no one.
John 3:16 states,
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Millions routinely quote this verse, while ignoring an essential phrase within it.
Reread it… Those who receive salvation are promised that they “should not perish” but “have eternal life.”
If hell is a place of eternal torture, then the people suffering this torment must also have eternal life. But the verse says, “should not perish.”
It does not say, “Should not suffer eternal life in torment.” How does the word perish relate to the popular teaching about hell and hell fire?
Why did God inspire John to use the word perish if this is not what He meant?
The Wages of Sin
Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This verse exactly mirrors John 3:16.
Eternal life is contrasted to death—to perishing! The wages of sin is death, not eternal torture in hell.
God says He pays the wicked a paycheck of death—not life in a place of torment. The Bible says what it means and means what it says.
It states that “scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) and “Your [God’s] word is truth” (17:17). If we are to believe that the Bible is unbreakable truth, then we must believe that death means death and life means life!
Do People Have Immortal Souls?
If the wages of sin is death, could the Bible also teach that people have immortal souls?
Genesis 2:7 says, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
This verse does not say that men have souls, but that they are souls. Adam became a soul—he was not given a soul.
Then, almost immediately, God warned him,
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die” (vs. 16-17).
When placed together, these verses reveal that men are souls and that souls can die!
The prophet Ezekiel was inspired to write (twice): “The soul that sins, it shall die” (18:4, 20).
Death is the absence of life. Death is not life in another place. It is not leaving “this life” for “another life”—the “next life.”
Consider Matthew 10:28:
“And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him [God] which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
The Bible says that souls can be destroyed!
According to this verse, they can be destroyed as much as bodies can.
We all recognize that bodies eventually die and that, when they do, they naturally decompose and are completely “destroyed” due to the process of natural corruption.
This verse introduces the understanding that God does the destroying of souls in hell.
Bodies can die and be destroyed in many different ways. However, souls are destroyed in hell by God.
Are the Dead Conscious?
Notice Psalm 146:3-4:
“Put not your trust…in the son of man…His breath goes forth, he returns to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”
When people die, their thoughts end immediately—“in that very day.” That is what it says.
This verse is not compatible with the idea that the dead are consciously suffering in a place of torment. We could suppose that, if they are suffering, they do not have knowledge that they are.
They are unaware of what is happening to them. Ask yourself: What would be the point of their suffering?
It would be as though they were in a coma while their sensory nervous system is sending the tremendous pain sensation of burning to a dead brain. That would be completely illogical.
Now consider an even more direct verse:
“For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything…” (Ecc. 9:5).
To the honest reader, there is no mistaking the plain meaning here.
“For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts; even one thing befalls them: as the one dies, so dies the other; yes, they have all one breath; so that a man has no preeminence above a beast…All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again” (Ecc. 3:19-20).
Psalm 115:17: “The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.”
Death involves “silence.” This certainly does not square with any of the popular concepts of millions of the dead wailing and screaming in agony.
Such a scene could never be described as silence. And, if many of the dead go to heaven, why are they not praising God?
Psalm 6:5 further explains that the dead do not experience conscious memory:
“For in death there is no remembrance of You: in the grave who shall give You thanks?”
Could anyone seriously suggest that the dead, suffering in hell, could experience the normal range of human memories but not be cognizant of God—not remember Him?
Would God put people in “hell” and then leave them there suffering, forever wondering how they had gotten there and who had put them there—because they have “no remembrance” of anything related to God?
Here is why the dead have no remembrance of God in the grave.
“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which ALL that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation [Greek: judgment]” (John 5:28-29).
Christ understood that most would find this astonishing.
That is why He told the disciples to “marvel not at this”—He understood that most people would marvel at the thought that everyone who ever lived is now “in the grave,” awaiting the resurrection.
He said that “all” are in the grave. He did not say some are there.
The reason there are no conscious thoughts and no remembrance of God after death is that everyone who has ever died is currently awaiting one of the resurrections to which Christ referred.
All people will either be resurrected to eternal life or to judgment. That is what it says.
No wonder David said,
“As for me, I will behold Your face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Your likeness” (Psa. 17:15).
David understood that the resurrection was an awakening—a coming back to life.
Like David, Job also looked forward to the resurrection of life.
“O that You would hide me in the grave, that You would keep me secret, until Your wrath be past, that You would appoint me a set time, and remember me. If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. You shall call, and I will answer You” (Job 14:13-15).
Job did not ask that God would only hide his body in the grave.
He asked God to “hide me…keep me…appoint me…remember me.”
He also recognized that God would keep him “secret.” Ask yourself how being kept secret would square with being in heaven.
If that were the case, God would be pretty poor at keeping secrets and the rest of the verse would make no sense.
Now look at the question he asked—“if a man die, shall he live again?” If Job was going to still be alive at death, how could he “live again?”
He understood that he would “wait…in the grave” for his resurrection at an “appointed time” when he would be “changed.” What did it mean that he would be changed?
The apostle Paul wrote of a “change” that will come to all true Christians.
Carefully examine I Corinthians 15:51-52, 54:
“Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump…the dead shall be raised…and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, death is swallowed up in victory.”
It certainly is a mystery to the world that there is coming a change to immortality at the resurrection.
How can someone go from “mortal” to “immortal” if they already have an immortal soul? Do you see the foolish logic of men when they ignore plain scriptures of the Bible?
Just as Job knew that he would be “changed,” David knew that he would “awake,” and Paul knew that Christians will be “changed”—that they will awaken from “sleep”—at the time of the resurrection. At the resurrection, people will literally awaken from death.
Ask yourself: How can people be resurrected if they are already alive as immortal souls?
Only the dead, like Christ when He was in the tomb, need to be resurrected. That is the purpose of a resurrection.
Do not be fooled by deceivers who say that “the resurrection only applies to the body, since the soul remained alive after death”! You have already seen several scriptures disproving that fallacy.
Upon even the most basic examination, the ideas of intelligent men are often exposed as outright foolishness.
The popular concept of hell was devised by men as a means of scaring people into following the false religion that they had created.
The true God would never roast people for all eternity without allowing them to burn up, so that their suffering could mercifully end.
This is what a monster would do.
Humanly-devised false gods figuratively “do” and “teach” whatever the men who created them have decided.
Many billions have lived and died without ever knowing the name of Jesus Christ and without ever having an opportunity for salvation.
Are we to believe that they are now roasting in a manmade “hell” devised by pagan poets?
If the unsaved, upon death, go directly to hell, then well over half the people who have ever lived are there.
Hell: Four Words
The Bible does speak about the subject of hell and hell fire in numerous passages. Christ referred to it several times, as did some of the apostles.
The prophets also mentioned it several times in the Old Testament. The Bible uses three Greek words in the New Testament, and one Hebrew word in the Old Testament, explaining the meaning of hell.
Let’s examine these words.
The Hebrew word translated hell in the Old Testament is sheol. It has a New Testament counterpart, hades.
The only reason we find the word “hell” in the Old Testament is that the translators of the King James bible replaced the word “sheol” with “hell” wherever they thought they could get away with it.
Actually, if you look up sheol in a concordance, it will reference the Greek word hades. They both mean “the grave, pit, world of the dead or hell.”
Hell is the tomb. In saying this, we have just discovered that all people do, in fact, go to “hell” at death. Since the Bible does say, “it is appointed unto men once to die” (Heb. 9:27), then everyone does die and go to hell—literally.
All people eventually go to the grave.
The word hades is the most common word used in the New Testament for “hell.” (Actually, some New Testament translations have exchanged the word hell for hades.)
Virtually all sources agree that sheol and hades are the same and that both refer to the grave.
It was only with the passing of time that the pagan view of hell, as a blazing underground inferno, came to replace this original intent of the word.
The second Greek word translated as “hell” is found only once in the New Testament.
Notice II Peter 2:4: “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.”
The word used here is tartaros and refers to angels, not people. It means “a prison, incarceration, place of restraint or a dark abyss.”
This verse describes the imprisoning of the angels on Earth as their “place of restraint” or “prison” after their rebellion during the pre-Adamic age.
Now let’s examine the third and final Greek word translated twelve times as hell in the New Testament.
Jesus spoke of it when He said,
“And if your hand offend you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched.
And if your foot offend you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched.
And if your eye offend you, pluck it out: it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-48).
This verse repeatedly refers to “hell” and “fire unquenched.” It also speaks three times of “worms that die not.”
In Matthew 5:22, Christ spoke of those who could “be in danger of hell fire.”
We have already examined another of His warnings to “fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
Christ describes destruction in this verse, not ongoing punishing.
In each case, the terms hell and hell fire are always translated from the remaining Greek word for hell, gehenna. It can be translated either as hell or hell fire. Understanding its meaning will explain the lengthy quote from Mark 9 cited above.
From Hasting’s Dictionary comes the following definition of this word: “Gehenna: the word occurs twelve times in the New Testament. This term ‘gehenna’ represents ‘the Valley of Hinnom’ (Neh. 11:30, II Kings 23:10, etc.).
The place was…a deep narrow gorge in the vicinity of Jerusalem, understood to be on the south side. It is repeatedly mentioned in the Old Testament (Jer. 19:6, etc.).
It became an object of horror to the Jews, and is said to have been made the receptacle for bones, the bodies of beasts and criminals, refuse and all unclean things.
The terrible associations of the place…the fires said to have been kept burning in it in order to consume the foul and corrupt objects that were thrown into it, made it an unmistakable symbol of dire evil…absolute ruin. So it came to designate the place of future punishment.”
Some of the bodies that were cast into this valley never made it into the fires burning below.
They would get hung up in the brush and trees on the ledges near the rim.
In describing the wicked, when Christ stated that “their worms die not,” He was referring to the bodies of certain criminals that were thrown over the edge of the ravine but did not burn up because they got stuck on a ledge. They literally rotted and decomposed where they were.
The maggots that entered their bodies completed the decomposition process without interruption from either the fire or anything else.
These worms “died not,” so to speak, because they later developed into flies. This graphic picture is part of the reason that Gehenna was such a place of revulsion to all who were familiar with it.
The Lake of Fire
The Valley of Hinnom—Gehenna—came to represent a place of final punishment—a place of “absolute ruin”—for all who go there.
The reference to hell fire actually refers to the “lake of fire” described in Revelation 20:13-15:
“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell [hades] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”
All who enter this lake suffer permanent death. They suffer complete destruction—a final punishment that is everlasting—eternal—permanent!
It is not punishing but is rather punishment that is everlasting.
Christ understood this just as anyone that knew of the fires in the Valley of Hinnom recognized that the bodies of criminals and animals thrown there eventually burned up.
Jude 7 speaks of the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah having received the “vengeance of eternal fire” for their sins. Those cities are not burning today.
What happened to these cities does not reflect a permanent state of visible fire burning for all to see today. Their destruction was eternal.
When those cities completely burned up, the fires went out. However, their punishment continues to this day.
It should be clear why Paul recorded that the wages of sin is death, not eternal punishing and torment in an ever-burning hell.
Most people have seen fires go unquenched. But they always burned out after they consumed whatever combustible material was available to them.
Read Jeremiah 17:27 and 52:13. Over twenty-five hundred years ago, after God warned Jerusalem that He would burn her with an “unquenchable fire,” if she did not repent, this happened, yet it is not still burning today.
More Clear Scriptures
A God of mercy and compassion could never torture anything or anyone—let alone do it for all eternity.
Carefully consider these verses:
Psalm 104:35: “Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more.” Simply take this verse for exactly what it says, adding nothing to it. It is consistent with all that we have seen so far about the fate of the wicked.
Psalm 37:9-12, 20, 22, 29: “For evildoers shall be cut off: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yes, you shall diligently consider his place, and it shall not be. But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. The wicked plots against the just, and gnashes upon him with his teeth…But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away…For such as be blessed of Him shall inherit the earth; and they that be cursed of Him shall be cut off…The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever.” There is no confusing this description of the fate of the wicked. Also, note that the meek do not inherit heaven but rather inherit the earth. Christ quoted this same verse when describing the inheritance that true Christians will receive (Matt. 5:5).
Isaiah 66:24: “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against Me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.”
It was this passage that Christ quoted three times in Mark 9 regarding so-called “immortal worms.” These bodies will first rot.
Then, after they are resurrected, many will be cast into the lake of fire—where “unquenched fire,” which will burn them up, awaits.
“For, behold, the day comes, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yes, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear My name shall the Son of righteousness arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, says the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 4:1-3).
Anyone who walks through a fire of any size, that has burned itself out, understands that there would be ashes under their feet.
This is the fate of the wicked.
The Dead Sleep
The following Old and New Testament verses all describe the dead as “asleep” not alive in heaven or hell, but in their graves… until the resurrection.
Deuteronomy 31:16 And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them.
2 Samuel 7:12 And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom.
1 Kings 1:21 Otherwise it shall come to pass, when my lord the king shall sleep with his fathers, that I and my son Solomon shall be counted offenders.
Job 7:21 And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity? for now shall I sleep in the dust; and thou shalt seek me in the morning, but I shall not be.
Job 14:12 So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.
Psalm 13:3 Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Jeremiah 51:39 In their heat I will make their feasts, and I will make them drunken, that they may rejoice, and sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the LORD.
Jeremiah 51:57 And I will make drunk her princes, and her wise men, her captains, and her rulers, and her mighty men: and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name is the LORD of hosts.
Daniel 12:2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Matthew 27:52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised;
John 11:11-13 These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth ; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. 12 Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. 13 Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep.
Acts 13:36 For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption;
Acts 2:29 Men and brethren, let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.
1 Corinthians 15:6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.
1 Corinthians 15:18,20 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-15 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.
1 Thessalonians 5:10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
So it comes down to two choices.
Either the dead “rest in peace” until either the first or second resurrection or they never actually die and either go to heaven or hell (the pagan hell of Dante’s inferno) where they stay forever and ever.
If you believe the first choice, the bible makes sense. The verses about sleep cannot be redefined. They are absolutely clear. And then the resurrections of the dead make sense as does the Great White Throne Judgment.
If you believe the second scenario, there is no need for a resurrection nor another judgment. Is God the author of such confusion?
So you can either throw out all the clear verses shown here and put your faith in some false interpretations of a few descriptions that kinda sound like a pagan place called “hell” or believe the word of God as clearly stated in the Bible.
From time to time we run across apparent contradictions in the bible. One or more verses seem to contradict one or more other verses.
In these cases, if we assume the bible authors haven’t made a mistake, then one set of verses must be right, and the others must mean something else. In the case of hell, the choice is clear.
There is no way to deny that the bible teaches we sleep until the resurrections. If not, there would be no need for any resurrections.
And it fairly easy to see how the descriptions of a fiery grave can refer to other things such as Gehenna or the Lake of Fire.
If not, then Jesus is a liar – teaching two different versions of what happens when we die.
Also in question here is the character of God Himself.
Do you worship a God of vengeance and hate who will torture men, women and children for the simple sin of never having heard His name, or a merciful God who can forgive the sin of simply being born in the wrong place, and giving the wicked a quick and merciful death?
For me, a God of love would never consider such an idea as “Hell.”