Yeshua (Jesus) and Hell
Please don’t believe the hell myth. It is a terrible fiction created by the church that has been attributed to Yeshua. In the myth, Yeshua is portrayed as a tyrant who requires that people swear allegiance to him or he will lock them into a place of unrelenting, agonizing torment for eternity. That is not the Yeshua who speaks of love, compassion, judging not, and forgiving in the New Testament. Yeshua doesn’t mention such a place and certainly never threatened anyone if they chose not to grow spiritually by following his teaching. There is no word for such a place in Aramaic, Greek, or Hebrew. It just didn’t exist.Hell is a terrible mythology that must be eradicated from human consciousness. Summaries of three scholars’ explanations that hell is a myth follow to illustrate the many other sources. Ten links to other sources follow these three summaries. There are dozens of others. My additional comments about the hell myth follow these sources.
1. Statement by Samuel G. Dawson
Samuel G. Dawson was a physics and mathematics graduate from Texas Tech who did research in celestial mechanics and intercontinental missile guidance in the aerospace industry. He left science to begin 22 years of public teaching about religious topics. He did extensive live call-in radio work daily for eight years and participated in a number of religious debates. He still believed the church’s conception of a real hell when a caller to his call-in radio show said, “Don’t you know that hell is just something the Catholic Church invented to scare people into obedience?” He was “righteously indignant,” but began research to find the origins of the church’s hell theology to make sure he was correct. After extensive study, this was his conclusion:
I now believe that hell is the invention of Roman Catholicism; and surprisingly, most, if not all, of our popular concepts of hell can be found in the writings of Roman Catholic writers like the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), author of Dante’s Inferno. The English poet John Milton (1608-1674), author of Paradise Lost, set forth the same concepts in a fashion highly acceptable to the Roman Catholic faith. Yet none of our concepts of hell can be found in the teaching of Jesus Christ! [Dawson’s italics] We get indignant at the mention of purgatory—we know that’s not in the Bible. We may also find that our popular concepts of hell came from the same place that purgatory did—Roman Catholicism.
2. Statement by Concordant Publishing Concern
Concordant Publishing Concern is a well-known publisher of Bible literature, including the Concordant Literal New Testament, Concordant Version of the Old Testament, Concordant Greek Text, and Concordant Commentary. They make the point strongly that the English word “hell” should no longer be used in Bible texts because of the “corrupting influence of human tradition” that has given it the image of a place of torment where judged souls are condemned to spend eternity, an image that is simply untrue:
THE OLD ENGLISH “hell,” denoted that which is covered (hidden or unseen). Consequently, it once served as a suitable translation of the Greek hades, which means “imperceptible” or “unseen.” In modern English, however, due to the corrupting influence of human tradition, “hell” has come to mean “the abode of the dead; the place of punishment after death [in which the dead are alive].” Consequently, since in modern English the notion represented by the term “hell” constitutes, to say the least, interpretation, not translation, it is unconscionable for modern translators to render either the Hebrew sheol or the Greek hades by this expression.Yet it is worse still, whether in old English or modern English, to render the Greek tartarosas and especially the Greek geenna, also as “hell.” Such “translations” are not translations at all; they are but the product of circular reasoning and hoary tradition. Whatever one’s understanding may be concerning the matters to which these words make reference, as a translation of the Original, the rendering “hell,” in all cases, is wholly unjustifiable. Yet it is this very rendering, the single term, “hell,” for all these distinct words in the Original, which has spawned all the familiar talk concerning “hell” which prevails among “Bible-believing Christians” today. (James Coram, “The Gehenna of Fire,” Concordant Publishing Concern, 2006)
3. Statement by Thomas B. Thayer, D.D.
Dr. Thayer has been described as “a biblical scholar of rare breadth” (Virtual American Biographies, 2006). He devoted considerable study to the theology of hell and wrote The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment (1855), still a standard treatise widely quoted. This is a portion from the chapter titled “The Biblical Doctrine of Hell.”
Hell in the Old Testament
The word hell, in the Old Testament, is always a translation of the Hebrew word Sheol, which occurs sixty-four times, and is rendered “hell” thirty-two times, “grave” twenty-nine times, and “pit” three times.
By examination of the Hebrew Scriptures it will be found that its radical or primary meaning is, The place or state of the dead.
It is plain that it has here no reference to a place of endless torment after death.
It is plain, then, from these citations, that the word Sheol, “hell,” makes nothing for the doctrine of future unending punishment as a part of the Law penalties. It is never used by Moses or the Prophets in the sense of a place of torment after death; and in no way conflicts with the statement already proved, that the Law of Moses deals wholly in temporal rewards and punishments.
Hell in the New Testament [continuing Thayer’s explanation]
Now no one believes in such a hell as this. A material hell of fire, and torments by flame, have been long ago abandoned. And the Savior cannot be understood as believing or teaching future torments, . . .We have now passed in review, as far as our limits will permit, the New Testament doctrine of hell, and we have not, surely, found it to be the doctrine of endless punishment, but something very wide from this.
More on the mistranslations resulting in the hell myth
I recommend that you read through this thorough, clear explanation of the Hebrew word “sheol,” the Greek word “hades,” the word Yeshua used to refer to the garbage pit, “Gehenna,” and the Anglo-Saxon word “hell.” These words have been misrepresented and mistranslated to refer to a place of eternal torment.
My Additional Comments about the Hell Myth
The church after 30 CE developed a religion that suited its purposes. It added much that was never in Yeshua, including the myth of hell. We know from Yeshua’s teaching that hell is incompatible with the God he describes:
- If it had been the central tenet of Yeshua’s teaching, he would have told his listeners about it!
It would be a remarkable omission if Yeshua knew that the ultimate, only important choice a person must make in life is to believe in him or face eternal torment in hell, and omit it from his teaching. And yet in Mark, the earliest gospel, truest to Yeshua’s words, Yeshua doesn’t talk about a hell at all.He does refer to a garbage dump in the Valley of Hinnom (“Gehenna”) outside Jerusalem. That was mistranslated as “hell” by early translators, but modern translators have corrected that. It was a garbage dump, not a place of eternal torment.This is how that happened. In Mark, Yeshua makes a strong point about eliminating things from one’s life that limit spiritual growth, and about the destruction that would come to Israel if the people didn’t change their ways. The physical realm is superfluous, he implies, and if your hand, foot, or eye limit your spiritual growth, you’re better off without them because your body is going to end up (figuratively) on the garbage dump, and what’s going to be left? He echoes the admonition in Matthew 6:19: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” Everything, including the body, is going to end up on the garbage dump. Only what a person achieves spiritually is eternal. (Mark 9:43-45)
The “valley of the son of Hinnom” outside Jerusalem was called “Gehenna.” Those who heard Yeshua’s words would have known immediately where it was and what it was. Children in earlier ages had been sacrificed to the god Moloch there, and the Jews viewed it as accursed. Yeshua used it as an extreme on the continuum from entering the kingdom of God through spiritual growth and suffering what the body will eventually suffer: being thrown on the garbage dump to be burned.
It was a striking metaphor for things that are worthless and for the fire and destruction Israel would experience, but Yeshua never mentions a hell the way the church portrayed it.
By the time the King James Version of the Bible was translated in the early seventeenth century, the church had already developed the doctrine of hell and fictional descriptions had been written by Dante (a poet, not a theologian), so the translators just translated the name of the garbage dump (gehenna, or “valley of henna”) as “hell.” It was a remarkably bad translation. Yeshua wasn’t referring to a hell at all, and certainly not to such a place as the poets described. It doesn’t exist.
References to judgment in the later gospels (Luke, Matthew, and John) were additions to Yeshua’s teaching, possibly in the first writings of the texts, but more likely even later as the texts were edited by the church. There are no references to such judgment in the original writings about Yeshua (Paul’s letters, written around 50 – 65 CE, the Q sayings gospel, written before 70 CE, and Mark, written shortly after 70 CE).
If hell really existed and the 12 who were with him, whom he loved, were going to have to either stay with him or roast in hell for eternity, wouldn’t he have told them repeatedly? Wouldn’t he have made that the central point of the Sermon on the Mount and the parables?
Instead, Yeshua never talks about hell! It simply was not Yeshua’s teaching about eternal life.
- Paul’s theology focuses on salvation to the exclusion of Yeshua’s teaching, but Paul never mentions hell.
Paul used every means he could think of to convert the Jews, the “god fearers” who worshipped with the Jews, and the Gentiles, so he promised them salvation, meaning they would have eternal life in the Kingdom of God when it was inaugurated. Those who weren’t saved would just have to live on the earth as regular people, we suppose. But even when he wanted so much to convert people to believe in Yeshua as the Messiah, he never mentions a hell!
- The Acts of the Apostles doesn’t mention a hell.Surely if hell were so central to humankind and Yeshua’s mission, Peter and Paul would have told people about it. Hell would have been central to the Acts. But it is never mentioned in The Acts of the Apostles, even once. The reason: They never even considered the idea.
- The place of eternal torment is incompatible with the Kingdom of God as Yeshua described itPerhaps the most compelling reason we know hell is not a reality is that it is entirely incompatible with the Kingdom of God as Yeshua described it. In the Kingdom of God, there is no judgment and condemnation. There is only universal peace, brotherhood, and unconditional love. We enter the Kingdom of God by maturing spiritually so we are peaceful, brotherly, and loving. To mature spiritually, we must leave behind the desire and expectation for punishment, revenge, rewards for the worthy, and retribution for the unworthy.It is inconceivable that God retains one of the primary fleshly characteristics that humankind must learn to abandon. Can we imagine the ruler of a country today requiring all citizens to swear allegiance to him and worship him, then committing to a pit of unspeakable horror all those men, women, and children who don’t swear allegiance, without opportunity for reprieve, where they are tortured unmercifully with fire and guards that bite their bodies, every day, all day, for the rest of their lives? Of course not. That ruler would be a monster more evil than Idi Amin, Stalin, or Hitler. And yet the church would have us believe the God Yeshua described is that monster.Judgment, condemnation, and retribution are spiritually immature attitudes characteristic of a tribal people that wages war with its neighbors, executes people for trivial indiscretions, and cheers when those with whom they disagree are defeated and punished. The church assigned that immature attitude to the God it created, whom they portray as a ruthless dictator that rules through fear and intimidation, when it should have been helping people mature out of the need to judge and condemn. The sentiments are simply incompatible with spiritual maturity, Yeshua’s teachings, and God.And what person who has merited heaven because of their love and compassion would want to spend every day in eternity knowing a parent, son, daughter, brother, or sister was writhing in pain in a fiery torture chamber and could never be redeemed? What kind of heaven would that be for them to be imagining their loved one’s agony every morning when they awoke, and in the silence of every evening when they lay waiting for sleep to give them some relief? It is inconceivable that the God Yeshua described would condemn a parent, son, daughter, brother, or sister to that mental anguish for eternity.And what sort of universe would it be for those who took to heart Yeshua’s teachings and had become loving and compassionate to know that billions of people were in unspeakable agony while they were in heavenly luxury? The universe would, for eternity, contain pain, suffering, and misery, regardless of how mature a heavenly segment was becoming.And those who were in the torment could never grow to become more compassionate, learning to love others and God. They would have no opportunity for reprieve, even if they changed in outlook and attitude. In fact, the hell thing would perpetuate anger and hatred in the universe as billions of souls cursed God and humanity. It’s simply unthinkable for such a concept to be attributed to any God other than that fabricated by a church that itself encouraged the torture and murder of those who disagreed with its teachings.In the Kingdom of God as Yeshua described it, no person will be judged; none will be unworthy; none will be unloved; none will be unacceptable. Probably the most difficult lesson we will have to learn, and the most persistent worldly characteristic we will have to abandon, is the desire for rewards given to us, who are right, and punishment and retribution inflicted upon them, who are wrong. The suggestion that God would judge humanity, committing the vast majority to eternal torment, is perfectly in character with the medieval church, but diametrically opposite to Yeshua’s teaching about the Kingdom of God.
The hell myth is a fiction developed by the church to increase its power and keep the flock under control. It simply never existed.
Afterlife Contacts Show No Signs of Hell
We also now have a vast storehouse of records from people who have had spontaneous after-death communications with deceased loved ones, induced after-death experiences in psychotherapists’ offices, and near-death experiences, as well as thousands of reports from mediums about the afterlife and recordings of those in the afterlife speaking with the aid of direct-voice mediums. None of the reports about the afterlife has anything about a hell. A small number of near-death experiencers have had inconsistent experiences that were negative, but they still don’t match the hell myth and are likely material realm reactions to the trauma, not glimpses of the afterlife.
If a hell really existed, we would expect virtually every near-death experience and every communication from those in the afterlife to allude to it in some way. They don’t, because it simply doesn’t exist.
Readings about the Hell Myth
- The Inventors and Perpetrators of Hell
(Gary Amirault, Acrobat .pdf format)
This explanation contains a list of ancient philosophers who developed the hell myth and a list of famous Christian theologians who continued perpetuated the myth in spite of the fact that it had no Biblical basis.
- The Savior of the World Series on Hell
(J. Preston Eby, Web page)
- The Real Meaning of the Rich Man and Lazarus
(Ernest Martin, Ph.D.)
- Jesus’ Teaching on Hell
(Samuel G. Dawson)
- Most of what we believe about hell comes from Catholicism and ignorance of the Old Testament, not from the Bible.
- The Case Against Hell
(Mercy Aiken, with Gary Amirault)
An article that asks some very important questions about the history of the doctrine of Hell.
- The Lake of Fire(J. Preston Eby)
An examination of the words used in the church in the light of the original Greek and rest of scripture. (such as the Lake of Fire).
- Hell is Leaving the Bible “Forever.”
The word “hell” is disappearing from the pages of English Bible translations and HAS already completely disappeared from many of them. Scholars are beginning to see that a few key ancient words should not have been translated to mean “eternal.”
- The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment(Thomas Thayer, D.D.)
A book by Thomas Thayer proving the teaching of Hell and Everlasting Punishment was added to Christianity centuries after Jesus walked this earth.
- The Bible Hell
(John Wesley Hanson, Ph.D.)
A book by Dr. John Wesley Hanson detailing the history of the English word “hell.” He also goes into thorough detail discussing the Greek and Hebrew words, Sheol, Gehenna, Hades, and Tartarus.