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Is Hell Real?
'Halemaumau, Lake of Fire' 1888
Why an Article About Hell?
You may be wondering why I’m writing an article about hell. Over the last few years, I’ve become convinced that a place called hell doesn’t really exist. If I’ve questioned this fundamental tenet of Christianity, then it’s reasonable to assume that someone else has/is too. People move at their own pace when it comes to questions about beliefs. Arguments don’t win people to either side, they only build the walls higher and thicker. I’m not here to pick a fight but to share a couple of things I’ve discovered. If you disagree, I can handle that.
The biblical concept of hell refers to a temporary holding place for souls of people who did not put their faith in Jesus Christ during their lives on earth. According to the book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible, hell, and all the souls being held there, will one day be cast into an eternal lake of fire. Pragmatically speaking, most Evangelical Christians use the names of these two places, hell and the lake of fire, synonymously, which I am doing here as well.
The Gospel According to Me
I wrote the following song lyrics in 1982 during my third of four years at Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University) in Columbia, South Carolina.
There are people
Who have never heard
Written in God’s word
And I pray that God will send someone to tell them.
They live in the cities,
In the Jungles, In your hometown.
They live, But they don’t really live at all,
For they’ve never met the Author
Of Life, Jesus my Savior.
What injustice, They don’t know, what I know.
When it comes to the judgment,
The Great White Throne Judgment,
And God condemns all the unsaved world.
Many will bow before Him
And cry “Lord, no one told me,
That you, the Son of God, died in my place.
Some of you might be thinking, Chris, I didn’t know you were a song writer. Well, I’m not, and if you heard the tune, you’d readily agree. I realize the words are a little on the corny side so feel free to tease me in your comment at the bottom of the page.
"How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?" Romans10:14.— The Apostle Paul
The First Reason I No Longer Believe in Hell
The entire first verse of my song describes the very core of the Christian mission. All over the world, since day one of the Christian Church, there have been people who did not, and do not, know anything whatsoever about Jesus Christ. Yet, the Apostle Peter said in those early days following the ascension of Jesus to Heaven and the giving of the Holy Spirit that
“there is salvation in no one else [other than Jesus]; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
Both Peter and Jesus said virtually the same thing. If a person is going to have a relationship with God, they have to know the person and the truth of Jesus. The alternative, according to the Bible and Christian tradition, is an eternity in hell. This same idea is echoed by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament book of Romans when he asks the question,
"How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?" Romans10:14.
Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles
The Luck of the Draw
People were dying around the globe without knowledge of Jesus.
The message of salvation was in Jerusalem, but these unlucky souls, were not.
The Slow Spread of the Christian Gospel
When did people begin going to hell for not knowing Jesus as their savior? Let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion that the Church came into existence when the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples of Jesus in Acts chapter one of the New Testament, right around A.D30. From that moment on, people who died without knowing Jesus went to hell, and they will remain there forever.
Jesus had instructed His disciples that after he was gone, they were to go into all the world and tell everyone about Him. The disciples spent months in Jerusalem before venturing out into the surrounding countryside with the Gospel. During those months, people were dying around the globe without knowledge of Jesus. They went to hell, according to Evangelical Christian theology. The message of salvation was in Jerusalem, but these unlucky souls, were not.
It is my opinion, that the vast majority of people who ever lived on planet Earth up to the colonial era, never knew the first thing about a man named Jesus
The Hopelessness of the Mission
But even when the disciples finally ventured outside Jerusalem, they didn’t go everywhere at once, they slowly branched out over a period of years until they had reached the entire Roman Empire. And even as they were going, people outside their reach were still dying without knowledge of Jesus.
It was a millennium and a half before Christian Missionaries reached the New World, and even longer before the Jungles of Papua New Guniea were penetrated. And for all those hundreds of years, people in those unreached places were dying and going to hell because they never had the opportunity to to hear the message that had been designed to save them.
It is my opinion, that the vast majority of people who ever lived on planet Earth up to about the colonial era, never knew the first thing about a man named Jesus from someplace called Nazareth. And without that knowledge, according to the Bible and Christian doctrine, they have had no eternal hope.
Already in Hell
“There are people who have never heard the Gospel written in God’s word, and I pray that God will send someone to tell them…….”
He did, and the missionaries got to nearly everyone too late.
They were already in Hell......according to Christian tradition and the Bible.
The last verse of my song carries to a whole new level, the theology of people going to hell without having an opportunity to hear about Jesus.
“When it comes to the judgment, the Great White Throne Judgment, and God condemns all the unsaved world, many will bow before Him and cry Lord no one told me, that you, the Son of God, died in my place.”
What happens to those people after the Great White Throne Judgment? Here is the biblical answer taken from Revelation 20:11-15:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Among those are the very people who never heard the name and message of Jesus, which would have saved them.
Why don’t I believe in hell or the Lake of Fire, or this cold-syrup-on-frozen-pancake method of spreading the Gospel? Because it doesn’t make any sense. I’m not saying I don’t understand it. I thoroughly understand these things. I’m saying it does not make any intellectual or philosophical sense. To me, it is unbelievable.
Why don’t I believe in hell or the Lake of Fire, or this cold-syrup-on-frozen-pancake method of spreading the Gospel?
Because it doesn’t make any sense.
The Second Reason I No Longer Believe in Hell
The concepts of a fiery place where the enemies of God are thrown to endure eternal punishment, first appeared around 3000 BC in what modern scholars refer to as the Pyramid Texts of ancient Egypt.
By the time Moses came onto the scene in Egypt around 1500 BC, these concepts were in a much more organized form known today as the The Book of the Am Tuat, The Book of Gates and The Book of the Dead. The following comparisons between the Book of the Am Tuat and the Bible, are based on my own reading of these texts.
Egyptian Book of the Dead, Milan, Italy
Striking Similarities Between the Egyptian Am Tuat and The Bible Regarding the Pits and Lake of Fire
The Am Tuat
In each quote, two deities are present. In each, the enemies of god are described as being under the feet of that god.
“A god [AFU-ASAR] in human form, seated on a throne, says to Osiris (also a god), ‘Thine enemies are beneath thy feet, thou hast gained the mastery over those who have worked against thee.’”
“The LORD (Jehovah, God) says to my Lord (the Messiah who would later take human form and is also God): ‘Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.’”
Servents of the gods in each reference are involved in the torture of those thrown into the fire. In both cases, those in the pits/lake of fire are hacked and hewn to pieces.
The enemies of god are hewn and hacked to pieces in the pits of fire.
Enemies of God are hacked to pieces in the fire, Matthew 24:51
The response of those being tortured is strikingly similar
Those in the fire wail and lament
"In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Matthew 24:51
The eternal nature of the fire and the torment.
“and ye [enemies of God] shall be cast down headlong into the pits of fire; and ye shall not escape therefrom, and ye shall not be able to flee from the flames….”
Revelation 20:10 says, “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone and...will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Revelation 20:15 says “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” In Mark 9:43, Jesus referred to hell as, "the fire that never shall be quenched."
A covering over the pits of fire/lake of fire
A large pit, with A VAULTED ROOF, filled with fire, wherein "the enemies," of Ra are being consumed
and he threw him into the abyss (lake of fire), and SHUT IT AND SEALED IT OVER HIM." Revelation 20:3
"The spread of Egyptian opinions [myths] in Rome was so rapid under Augustus (63 BC-AD 14) that it was felt to be of political importance, and it alarmed that prudent Emperor."— Sharpe and Smith
The Opportunity for Early Christians to Assimilate Egyptian Myths
The question is, were the ancient Egyptian myths and writings of 1500 BC being circulated In Rome around the time of the development of Christianity in the first century A.D.? Consider the following comments from Egyptian Mythology and Egyptian Christianity by Samuel Sharpe and London J.R. Smith :
"The spread of Egyptian opinions in Rome was so rapid under Augustus (63 BC-AD 14) that it was felt to be of political importance, and it alarmed that prudent Emperor."
"Virgil (70 BC-19 BC) the court poet, was teaching the Egyptian millennium, or the resurrection of the dead when the thousand years are ended, and borrowing visions of the infernal regions from the Egyptian funereal papyri."
"Domitian wholly gave way to public opinion, and built in Rome a temple to Serapis, and another to Isis. Holy, water was then brought from the Nile, for the use of the votaries in the temple of Isis in the Campus Martius; and a college of priests was maintained there with a splendour worthy of the Roman capital."
The answer is yes, there was a huge resurgence of Egyptian mythology in Rome at the same time Christianity was developing within the Roman Empire. The opportunity for Christianity to assimilate these Egyptian myths into their own beliefs and writings was clearly present.
Summary: Why I Don't Believe
Why do I not believe any longer in hell and an eternal lake of fire? Two reasons:
- Punishing people for eternity by throwing them into a Lake of fire, even though they never heard the message that was designed to save them from that end is, literally, incredible.
- The entire Christian concept of a lake of fire is founded on ancient Egyptian myths. The similarities are too obvious and the opportunity for christian assimilation of these myths, too likely.
So the song I wrote in 1982 is part of a past which I have abandoned. I refuse to believe the unbelievable another day. I am told that we don’t have to understand, only believe. Sorry, but I’ll take a pass on the Kool Aid.