Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What if evangelicals are just plain wrong about hell?

A while back I wrote post on Jesus teaching on hell. I specifically looked at his use of Gehenna in Mark 9:45 – 48, and I showed by a commentary on Isaiah 66 that this reference was directly tied to the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem. The phrase where worm does not die is a midrashic reference to Isaiah 66:24 and as such cannot be a proof text for eternal punishment in hell. Yet, this is one of the key verses in the current evangelical doctrine of hell.

The concept of eternal punishment does not exist in the Old Testament at all. Sheol, the Hebrew word for grave is translated as hell in the KJV. If you search all the other versions of the bible, you will find that hell does not exist in the Old Testament. The reason is that the scholars will not mislead people into believing that the Old Testament concept of Sheol is the equivalent of the interpretation of the concept of hell suggested by the New Testament writings. Therefore, the first mention of the concept of hell is founded in the use of Gehenna in the New Testament. Sheol was simply the grave.

So then, what is the meaning of Gehenna? Gehenna, was a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem that burned all the time. The other words that are translated as hell in the KJV New Testament is hades and tartaros. Hades is the underworld in Greek mythology and tartaros is the lowest region of hades. The only reference to unquenchable fire is found in the Mark 9:40 – 48 passage. Since I have shown that as being a reference to the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, that it is a prophetic metaphor of the judgment that will ensue, then it is a pretty weak place to build a case for eternal punishment.

Now, before you go ballistic or blow an artery… (notice this is metaphorical language, I do not mean literally blow an artery or become a bullet)… I will readily acknowledge that Paul states that we will *ALL* stand before the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:10 & 2Corinthians 5:10.) That should be more than sufficient to help us not think that we will get over on God. Think for a minute… You (and I) but I am addressing you right now are going to stand before Christ and give an account of what we did in this body. Kind of a sobering thought ain’t it? I am sure it will be for loving correction but still. Just think about it for a minute.

So, am I a universalist? I’m not 100% sure… I lean that way. Is there a possibility that the wicked will simply be annihilated? Certainly, that is a possibility that I will not rule out. One thing I know for sure. The smug individuals that have ostracized Carlton Pearson will indeed have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ and let’s just say that I would not want to be them.

The thing that makes me  a universalist the most is my belief in the absolute sovereignty of God. I am not a TULIP Calvinist but I would say that I am close to a TUUIP Calvinist. ;-)  In case you are wondering... it stands for Total Depravity; Unconditional Election; Universal Atonement; Irresistible Grace; & Perseverance of the Saints. That is the only model that fits with my unwavering belief in the sovereignty of God.

So how are the wrongs righted you ask? How are debts paid? That is above my pay grade. ;-) Suffice it to say that I do believe in a *JUST* God who will make sure that we all advance in love.


  1. If our sins are remembered no more, and as far as the east is from the west removed, then what is left for judgement?

    1. Melanie,
      Right on, girl!

  2. I don't think God is angry at anyone. He has the best view of our humanity and is quite pleased in His Son's performance and character. Now, we all need to simply get into the heavenlies (where we really are) experientially and "see" with His eyes.

    Great post, Joe!

  3. Hi Melanie,
    Great question. First, you are correct, Jesus has handled it all so there is no judgment as far as being acceptable to God. The way that the institutional church has operated, forcing obedience to be acceptable to God... whether or not one makes it in, judgment as a very negative possibility this all detracts from the process of transformation. However, there should be some kind of accountability for how one treats his fellow human. It is not a function of being in or out, heaven or hell but rather a critique of how we have loved. Jesus will be perfect at it and it will have importance in our eternal growth into the manifestation of the son's of God. It would be speculative for me to tell you how I think it works. If we had a more loving, kinder gentler doctrine, the saints could actually aid each other in accountability with out being judgmental. Knowing that we are in Christ, should make a difference in our love for God and each other. In other words, it should transform us. I don't know if this makes sense but if you want more clarification be sure to ask the questions. And, of course, I could be wrong... the judgment seat of Christ may have been a first century phenomenon.

  4. Hi Roger,
    Good point, we do need to walk in the reality of who we really are. At least, I for sure do!

  5. God may remember our sins no more but we still need to be mindful of the commandments of God. We still need to put into play the second greatest commandment, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

    So do we sin because we know we will be forgiven? No. Romans 6:15, What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!


Implications of Paul's Message: The teaching of a first century Jewish Rabbi and his revelation about Torah Part I

Understanding Paul requires one look at first century Judaism. The reason is, that Jesus, his immediate disciples, and the Apostle Paul were...