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.