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Hell - Wishful Thinking?

Updated on October 3, 2015
Hanavee profile image

Brian Gray, obtained his degree in Language from Lee University, and has been a published author and professional writer since 1985.

Life After Life - The Big Question

The elaborate rituals we as humans engage in regarding preparations for the afterlife have been with us throughout history.
The elaborate rituals we as humans engage in regarding preparations for the afterlife have been with us throughout history.

Go To Hell? Really?

I can still remember the time I had just reached a point of mental stress that boiled over into my giving in to an exasperated moment and virtually whispering an epithet under my breath, or what I thought was under my breath, and some obese woman standing nearby with her young daughter apparently was able to hear my inappropriate use of the Lord’s name. Literally gasping for breath, she turned to me, an indescribable look on her face, but something like sheer disgust and horror, and with red-faced venom, she shouted, “You’re going to Hell! You’re going to Hell!” You can figure the rest, but, at the time, I was not as devoted a Christian, so her remarks most certainly did not have the impact that she had hoped for (and I doubt that they would have any better impact on me today, for that matter). Nonetheless, her reaction and use of the word “Hell” actually represents the extreme lack of understanding of what Hell actually means, both in a religious sense and a literal sense. Most people have their own theological ideas of just what Hell is... as well as where Hell is. Ask 1,000 people what they know about Hell, and you will get 1,000 different stories. Here is some food for thought…much religious ideology is based on hearsay.

Where Is Hell?

People will go running to their Bibles to quote verse after verse to explain their belief that Hell is the hottest place in the universe, that it is right under our feet, and that solely because the word appears in their Bible, Hell is real...and their idea of exactly what Hell is, well, then that is exactly what Hell is...to Hell with anybody else’s ideas. And these individual ideas of Hell have been handed down from region to region, from people to people, from religious group to religious group without anyone ever stopping to say, “Wait, let’s explore this a bit.” When Christians go running to the Bible for their favorite “proofs,” the first problem encountered is their complete dependence on the English word in front of them. Let’s look, for example, at the first time in the New Testament that the word Hell appears:

Matthew 5:22 “But anyone who says, ‘You fool,’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” There you have it, the word Hell appears in the Bible, case closed. The typical Fundamentalist will be able to quote a number of scriptural locations all using the word Hell, or lake of fire, or abyss, or any of several other metaphors used to refer to this seeming absolute. Let’s take a look at that verse of Matthew 5:22 in the original Greek:

ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει· ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ Ῥακά, ἔνοχος ἔσται τῷ συνεδρίῳ· ὃς δ’ ἂν εἴπῃ Μωρέ, ἔνοχος ἔσται εἰς τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός.

So, for calling your brother a Μωρέ (pronounced—Moe reh), a fool, you are doomed to this horrible place, Hell? The word for Hell here (third word from the end of the sentence) is γέενναν (pronounced geennan), and the phrase “fire of hell,” in the original Greek is τὴν γέενναν τοῦ πυρός, (pronounced - teyn geennan tou puros, puros meaning fire). So what is the “fire of geennan”? In every passage in the New Testament that uses the word Hell, the word is always the same...geennan. Of course, there are other times when the afterlife of the “damned” is described using other words, such as :

Luke 16:23 “In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham, who was far away, with Lazarus by his side.” Here is the original Greek:

καὶ ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ ἐπάρας τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτοῦ, ὑπάρχων ἐν βασάνοις, ὁρᾷ Ἀβραὰμ ἀπὸ μακρόθεν καὶ Λάζαρον ἐν τοῖς κόλποις αὐτοῦ.

Note the fourth word in this Greek phrase - καὶ ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ (pronounced - kai en toe hahdey). ᾅδῃ (pronounced hahdey) means Hades! The four words at the beginning of this sentence read, “And in Hades….” So, this sentence in the original Greek actually reads, “In Hades, where he was in torment…” Borrowing from Greek mythology, this word, Hades, the mythological abode of the dead, is here used in the Bible. Why? I will come to that, but first, here is another reference to the abode of the damned:

2 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;” Here is the original Greek:

εἰ γὰρ ὁ Θεὸς ἀγγέλων ἁμαρτησάντων οὐκ ἐφείσατο, ἀλλὰ σειροῖς ζόφου ταρταρώσας παρέδωκεν εἰς κρίσιν τηρουμένους,

Here, in the original Greek, the word geennan, does not appear. Instead, we now have ταρταρώσας (pronounced - tartarosas). This is the same Tartaros, or Tartarus, of ancient Greek mythology, the deep abyss that was used as a dungeon of torment for the wicked and the prison of the Titans (more on this prison in a moment). The other word we see here is ζόφου (pronounced zophou) meaning “of gloomy darkness.” The phrase is: σειροῖς ζόφου ταρταρώσας (pronounced - seyrois zophou tartarosas) and means, “in chains of gloomy darkness having cast them to the deepest abyss (Tartaros).” What are these terms, and to what do they refer? Let’s look now at the mythology of Hades.

Hades

The place of the Underworld was named after its ruler, Hades, the brother of Zeus and Poseidon, gods of Mt. Olympus. When these three brothers overthrew their father, Cronus, they drew lots to see who would rule which sectors of the universe, and Hades drew the lot of Lord of the Underworld. Hades had a three-headed dog named Cerberus that helped guard his realm. The journey to the Underworld realm of Hades involved being ferried across the river Styx by the ferryman, Charon, although earlier Greek versions tell that the river was Acheron. When the three brothers, Hades, Zeus and Poseidon, overthrew their father, they drove the Titan gods into a pit beneath Hades called Tartaros and locked them away therein. When souls arrived at the shores of Hades, they were met by three judges, Minos, Rhadamanthys and Aiakos. Souls that were judged as having lived good lives were taken to drink of the waters of the River Lethe, which would make them forget all bad things, and then they were taken to the Elysian Fields to live forever in idyllic conditions. Those souls judged to have lived bad lives were given into the hands of the Furies, taken to Tartaros, and there tortured. Finally, those who offended the gods were sentenced to eternal torment. This mythical ideology plays heavily into the Early Christian concepts of Hell.

Hades and Cerberus

Tartaros

Knowing this bit of Greek mythology, revisit the verse in 2 Peter 2:4, and remember that Peter was a Greek. Here, he writes that God cast the angels into the darkness of Tartaros. Most Sunday School classes are never going to discuss this, and that is primarily because most Sunday School classes are not taught by anyone with sufficient education in the Greek classics to get the connection. This is serious information to analyze, because what we see in 2 Peter 2:4 is a direct use of the mythology of Hades and Tartaros. The only difference here is that instead of the three Titan gods sending the other Titan gods into Tartaros, it is the Christian God sending some of His angels there. Yet, ask any Christian where Tartaros is, and they would venture a guess, at best, that it was some ancient city in the Roman Empire. Tell them that it is a place connected to the Greek mythological underworld of Hades, and they would most likely laugh and say, “Well, we don’t believe in Greek mythology in our religion.” However, without studying their Bible and Greek mythology, especially the original language and culture of the New Testament, I’m afraid these corollary facts are lost on them, and the whole idea of Hell just keeps getting re-colored and re-colored with each passing generation to serve whatever need the idea of Hell serves.

Sheol

One more point to note here is that in the Old Testament, whenever the Greek translations insert geennan, the word is actually Sheol, the Jewish concept of the abode of the dead, and these two words are not the same. In ancient Judaic culture, the thinking about the afterlife was that souls went on a one-way trip to the center of the planet Earth. One way that Sheol differs from Hell is that Sheol was not a place of punishment, even though Sheol was divided into two compartments - one for the righteous and one for the wicked. Why Sheol was thought of as literally beneath the Earth may have been from an extension of the thoughts surrounding human burials. Whatever the reason for this religious view, modern science was not around back then to show these ancients that the Earth can be understood all the way to its very core, and there is no room for some huge repository of dead souls, especially when the descriptions of Sheol give it a paradise-like quality complete with parallels to the land of the living. Furthermore, descriptions of Sheol continued to evolve over the centuries that passed from the time of its inception when first handed down from the Assyrians, but Sheol and Hades are not the same place, and they do not share any other similarities other than an abode of the dead. Thus, when one reads an Old Testament passage and comes across the word Hell in English, the word Hell has been substituted for Sheol, and the New Testament uses the word Hades, a very important fact to keep in mind when studying the ideology of Hell.

Mixing Sheol With Hades

If one reads 1 Samuel 28:6-20, there is the story of King Saul requesting the witch of Endor to bring up the spirit of the prophet Samuel, and the story says that when the witch looked, she reported that she saw spirits ascending out of the earth, and she said that she saw an old man coming “up” out of the depths of the earth, in other words, she was referencing the commonly held concept of Sheol as being deep inside the earth. In the New Testament, Jesus combines elements of Sheol with those of Hades when he teaches the parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus:

Luke 16:19 “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.

25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.

27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:

28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.

29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.

30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.

31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

As I showed earlier, this passage uses the word Hades to describe the location of the rich man after death: καὶ ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ , “and in Hades.” Why would Jesus be mixing the Judaic concept of Sheol with the Greek ideology of Hades? And when did Sheol start having a place where fire was present? Just as every Christian today has his or her own personal concept of what Hell must look like, and that view is painted by the brush of every preacher to whom they have sat and listened, people in the days of Jesus all had varying ideas of the afterlife. I, personally, think that Jesus mixed His descriptions using the best local and cultural ideas that would rivet the attention of the listener of that particular time in history and get them to think about life after this existence. More on this later.

Gehenna

View of Gehenna, the Valley of Ben Hinnom, today.
View of Gehenna, the Valley of Ben Hinnom, today.

Gehenna

What, then, is geennan? To understand this word, we have to go back to the time before Christ. Solomon had built the largest temple to the pagan god Molech in the valley of the son of Hinnom, or, as it was called in Hebrew, Gei Ben Hinnom. Jeremiah 7:31 says, “They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire, something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind.” Here, in this temple, in this valley, the ancient Jews sacrificed their children in the fires of the god Molech, and for this, the land was later cursed, the temple was torn down, the altars were desecrated, and the valley was used from then on as a perpetual dump, complete with burning fires. In Greek, Ben Hinnom becomes Gehenna, thus, giving us the word, γέενναν - geennan. Every time the word for Hell is used in the New Testament, the word in the original Greek is Gehenna, the burning fires of the dump just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Since the fires of Molech once burned here, the reference to the fires of Gehenna makes greater sense when preaching to converts who are very familiar with the horrible reputation of this place. To the people of the time of Jesus, the Valley of Ben Hinnom, or Gehenna to the Greeks, was full of significant terrifying history and horrid memories. Here was where the Topheth once stood, the very place where the ceremonial drumbeats drowned out the screams of children as their parents sacrificed them into the fires that burned inside of the idol representing Molech. It was here in this same valley that so many ancient kings of Israel had endorsed this horrible pagan practice, even sending their own children into those fires. This atrocious history was common knowledge to the locals. In their day, dead bodies of criminals were thrown there, and anyone visiting there would have seen the worms and maggots eating these decaying bodies among the burning garbage of Jerusalem. Gehenna was a place truly epitomized by the words of Jesus when He referenced it in Mark 9:48 “Where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” What person wanted to think that their body could end up in Gehenna? Yes, the word Jesus used here is Gehenna...not Hell. Just because we say Hell in English instead of Hades, nothing changes. The original Greek text uses Hades, but English translations later changed the word to Hell. So, where does the word Hell come from? Theories abound, but the simple fact is that the modern English word Hell comes from the Old English word Hel or Helle around 725 A.D. and, at that time, referred to the world of the dead in the afterlife, this definition coming from the period of Anglo-Saxon paganism. Prior to that, the origin of this word is steeped in too many theories to nail down, but the word, and its accompanying theology, has certainly evolved over the centuries.

When Hell Is Used To Scare People

The word Hell has been used in the past, and is still used today, to bridle “sinners” with a fear that is designed to get them to toe a line prescribed by the Church, much like telling children to behave, or the boogey man will get them. Sadly, the fear of afterlife torment has been used to keep people in line for centuries in nearly all of the world’s religions. Act up, and you are going to pay. One example to ponder is found in ancient Islamic paintings from the 15th Century. In these paintings, the prophet Mohammed is shown visiting Hell. He is riding on his peculiar horse called the Buraq, peculiar because it has the tail of a peacock, but the head of a woman. Talk about male chauvinists. Mohammed is also accompanied by the angel Gabriel. In one of the paintings, he is viewing women who are being tortured for eternity...because they dared to show their hair to strangers. They are strung up by their hair, and a demon is raking the fires beneath them. In another painting, he is portrayed viewing women who are being tortured for eternity. Their sin? Going out of their homes without the permission of their husbands. Research the history of religion, and every religion, every century, every culture, has a list of “sins” that will take your soul to a place of torment after death. These sins vary from culture to culture, from religion to religion, and they vary from century to century. Interestingly enough, the authors are always men.

Man-Made Visions Of Torment

15th Century Persian painting depicting Mohmmed seeing women tormented in Hell
15th Century Persian painting depicting Mohmmed seeing women tormented in Hell

A Male Concept Of Hell

15th Century Persian painting depicting women being tortured in Hell for the sin of leaving heir homes without the permission of their husbands. They are hanging by their tongues.
15th Century Persian painting depicting women being tortured in Hell for the sin of leaving heir homes without the permission of their husbands. They are hanging by their tongues.

The Abyss

The New Testament passages dealing with Hell and torment are always referencing Greek mythology mixed together when necessary with Judaic elements of Sheol. Notice in Luke 8:31, the writer states that when Jesus cast the demons out of one man, the demons begged Jesus not to send them to “the abyss.” Here, the Greek word used for abyss is nothing more than just that, abyss ( ἄβυσσον = abusson = abyss ). But, it is clear to all by now that this refers to Tartaros. Even in Revelation 9:1-2, 11 and Revelation 20:1-3, the word is the same, abyss.

The Four Questions

What we see when we study the origins of the word Hell and its use in the Bible, even parallels in other religions, is that humanity has forever struggled with “The Four Questions,” as I call them. These are: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going when I leave here? Whether you are Christian, or Atheist, Buddhist or Jewish, Muslim or Bahai, you will ALL share one same fact: you will die. And you also share this: since none of us made this universe, and since none of us made ourselves, something greater than ourselves made all that ever has been, all that is, and all that ever shall be. While we as humans struggle with that, it changes nothing in the plans, whatever they may be, of Our Creator. Just because we strive to figure it all out, even write books like the Bible, the Koran, or the Torah, does not change the Truth, the Truth being whatever it is that Our Creator has planned. We can guess, but only The Creator knows.

So, where did you come from? Why are you here? Who are you, really? And when “your number” gets called, where are you going? I can tell you with certainty that this life does not end with our last breath. There are many people who, over the countless centuries, have experienced out-of-body journeys. These experiences have been documented sufficiently that, upon studying these documented cases, the conclusion is obvious that there is definitely something that continues to exist when this physical body is finished. My best example to people is that of the scuba diver. When the diver puts on his wet suit, fins and tank of oxygen, he dives into the water, and as far as the fish are concerned, that scuba diver is just another fish. But, he is not from the world of water, and when his oxygen runs out, he must return to the place from whence he came. The wet suit, fins and oxygen tank are not who the diver is. They are only a temporary identity with the fish in the world of water. This physical body cannot make the transition with us at death, since it is from this world, not the one from which we came, the one to which we return. The physical identity which we hold here is only a temporary illusion. The real is what exists in the world beyond this life. I have been there, and I wrote about it in my article titled, “Does God Exist?” (Read it here: http://hanavee.hubpages.com/hub/I-Was-Taken-To-Heaven ) Whether you want to think that every person who has ever had an out-of-body experience is delusional, having a chemical imbalance or stress-induced hallucination, none of that matters, for even you must ask yourself - “Where am I going when I leave here?” You can say that everything ends, and that you, like a worn out computer, just cease to function, but that denies one thing - did you create yourself? Since you obviously did not, then what purpose would your Creator have in giving you life in the first place? Ponder that. The thought that we have a greater purpose bears considering, and if we have a greater purpose, then there may be some value in considering that Jesus thought it important enough, that He tried to reach the people of His time with analogies to which they could relate. If Jesus had come in the year 2015, I wonder what analogies He would use to get us to prepare our minds and souls to live more fulfilled lives, more spiritual lives, lives that were ready for the afterlife? The end of life, the journey of the soul, it is most definitely something to think about...and I don’t need somebody yelling that I am going to Hell to get me to pay attention to the universe, or my destiny. All I have to do is stare at the vast array of countless stars in the great night sky, and I know that I am part of a mystery that is greater than this physical body that now holds my soul.

Kings and Paupers All Have the Same Destiny With Death

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    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 21 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Brian, thank you for sharing all this terrific information in regard to the concept of hell. I was not aware of the links to Greek mythology and the various different words translated as "Hell" from the original Greek into the English version of the Bible. Really food for thought and contemplation.

    • Hanavee profile image
      Author

      Brian Gray 21 months ago from Pennsylvania

      Jodah,

      Thank you for reading my article on Hell. I felt it was time to speak out, because there are so many people who are turned off by the constant judgmental and militant methods that so often are linked to any discussion of religion. I think there is a better approach, and that is to explore the spiritual side of Creation and our destiny. Best to you,

      Brian

    • profile image

      Damian 21 months ago

      Enjoyed the article, especially, the Greek part; interesting. Thank you

    • Hanavee profile image
      Author

      Brian Gray 21 months ago from Pennsylvania

      Damian,

      Thanks for the kind comment and for reading the article. Hope it wasn't all "Greek" to you.

      Brian

    • profile image

      Getrude Hillary 21 months ago

      Interesting facts!

    • Hanavee profile image
      Author

      Brian Gray 21 months ago from Pennsylvania

      Gertrude,

      Thanks for reading the article. Hope it helps answer questions.

      Brian

    • savvydating profile image

      savvydating 21 months ago

      How utterly fascinating, and so well written at that! I loved this piece, and I fully agree that it is the wonder of life and the Universe that ultimately causes one to believe in something greater than ourselves.....as opposed to the fear of Hell---or at least I like to think that is the case in my situation. LOL

      Again, thank you for writing this article. It's absolutely fabulous!

    • Hanavee profile image
      Author

      Brian Gray 21 months ago from Pennsylvania

      savvydating,

      Thank you for commenting and reading my latest article. Yes, the more I see of this universe, the more the mystery of it all inclines me to wonder about my Creator and the purpose for which the Creator placed each of us here, something we can all contemplate for a lifetime. I think searching for the purpose for which we were sent here would be a catalyst for many to live in peace and harmony.

      Glad you enjoyed the read,

      Brian

    • jonnycomelately profile image

      Alan 20 months ago from Tasmania

      Thank you Brian! Very informative and new understanding for me to grapple with.

      Even this morning, while playing with my smart phone and watching the muscles of my forearm working, I thought: "Although I have given credence to the concept of Evolution, there seems to be an over(under)lying Intelligence that must be supervising these life forms, of which we are all a part.

      Personally, I can honour the probability of a "Creator," without falling for the man-made trap of "Hell for not towing the line," and a "God" of judgment.

      May I just re-iterate my own poem here, because it sort of puts all this into perspective..... a useful tool for living the life and really getting in touch with one's self:

      My Journey is all important,

      Feel the ground beneath my feet.

      The wherewithall to get me there

      Is everything that I'll ever meet......

      Though the way be long, my love is strong

      For fellow travelers near.

      For those who met me on this road

      It is they for me most dear......

      Rough or smooth I need not worry,

      It only serves to teach.

      There really is not need to hurry

      My destiny to reach......

      The realisation has come at last,

      To Thee my Soul doth bow.

      And rest all cares to come or past

      In this Gentle, Blessed Now.

      Please, Brian, keep up the good work of helping individuals to see a better life, helping them to climb out from the Abyss of Fear-Politics, Fear-Legislation or Fear-Religion.

    • Hanavee profile image
      Author

      Brian Gray 20 months ago from Pennsylvania

      Jonny,

      Great poem. Thanks for sharing that one. I'm glad, as well, that you enjoyed the article on Hell. I am one of the lucky ones who have been outside of their body and came back to tell about it, and that experience informs my studies and thinking. However, even with that glimpse into the life beyond this one, the reasoning and logic behind all of what we see and experience is still way beyond my finite mind to comprehend, let alone explain. Thus, a lot of what we do in this plane of existence is really a walk of faith. I plan on doing more writing along these lines as I find the time.

      Brian

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 20 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Brian, what's an interesting hub with the connection of Hell to Greek mythology like Hades. I never heard of Seoul. But you've brought up some valid points in your hub.

    • Hanavee profile image
      Author

      Brian Gray 19 months ago from Pennsylvania

      Kristen,

      Thank you for reading latest article. I felt it was time to share some of my Greek training with my fellow travelers. It has certainly helped me in my spiritual journeys, and I hope it helps others equally. Glad you enjoyed that one.

      Brian

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 19 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      You're welcome Brian. It does sound like it to me. I really did.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 16 months ago from Australia

      Hanavee

      One hellava hub. No doubt there is some shadowy darkened place for the truly evil to languish in for a long long time, but certainly no eternal damnation. Of course life on earth can be hell as well.

    • Hanavee profile image
      Author

      Brian Gray 16 months ago from Pennsylvania

      Oztinato,

      Thank you for reading that one. Yes, I had to sit and listen to many years of "hell fire and brimstone" preachers as I was growing up, and when I finally decided to leave the church and find the "Truth," there were many nights when "taught guilt" made me wonder where my soul was going. But, through it all, I find that God truly was the guide I asked for, even when I didn't realize at the time that He was directing my path. I am forever grateful to God for the education, both spiritually and educationally. We, as Christians, should not be afraid to research the Truth of God. All else will fail inspection, but what is actually the Truth will stand all tests.

      Brian

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