This is part three in our study of hell. I'm using the word "hell" in the traditional sense of the destiny of the wicked, the eternal conscience torment of those who reject Yeshua the Christ. So far we have looked at the fact that the word "hell" and the concept that it represents, eternal conscience torment of the lost, are not found in the Scriptures.
Newer translations have fixed this but the KJV often translated Sheol as "hell". But the Hebrew word Sheol and its Greek equivalent Hades are never used of a fiery place of torment. You will never get the traditional view of hell from these words. It just isn't there. There are differences of opinions on what exactly Sheol is but most are clear that it is not a place of fire and torture.
Some see Sheol as a place, a realm, where the spirits or souls of the dead are held awaiting resurrection. It's a state of unconscious survival. It is not non-existence. It merely is a state of existence where one is not conscious or aware of the passage of time and cannot know anything. Some see it as a semi-conscience state, and others see it as a conscience state. So it is a holding tank for departed souls.
My views on Sheol have changed in the last couple of weeks and I now see Sheol as synonymous with death. Throughout the Tanakh we see this fact in numerous passages where death and Sheol are placed in parallel.
Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. Psalms 49:14 ESV
What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah Psalms 89:48 ESV
The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 1 Samuel 2:6 ESV
This is Hannah's theology of Sheol. To die is to be brought down to Sheol, where all the other dead are. To be rescued from that condition is to be brought back to life, and that is something that only the LORD can do.
The Tanakh uses many metaphors and similes to describe Sheol but the bottom line is that it is death. So I see Sheol used to speak not of a place or realm, but of death and the grave. When someone is in Sheol they are dead, they cease to exist. But the hope of Israel was resurrection, that Yahweh would raise them from death. The Bible teaches that all who were in Sheol would be resurrected at the Second Coming of Christ:
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2 ESV
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. John 5:28-29 ESV
So at the Second Coming all the dead are raised, the righteous go in the presence of Yahweh and the wicked are cast into the lake of fire.
So the Hebrew word Sheol and its Greek equivalent Hades are never used of a fiery place of torment, but simply speak of death and the grave. The Greek word tartaroo, which is only found once is the place of the condemned gods.
The only other Greek term that is translated as "hell" is Gehenna. It is my opinion that Gehenna is not speaking of suffering in the after life, but of a national judgment that was to come upon Jerusalem in the first century. The only people ever threatened with Gehenna were the Judean Jews of Yeshua's generation.
I've been asked, What about verses like:
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Matthew 25:41 ESV
Doesn't this teach eternal conscience torment? No, I see this as another reference to the destruction of Jerusalem. The context of this verse in the Olivet discourse, which is all about the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the Jewish age, the judgment of the great white throne, and the resurrection. Yeshua taught that the fallen gods would be judged at this time:
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Matthew 24:29 ESV
This was a judgment of the gods who were unfaithful to Yahweh. This was a spiritual judgment that took place simultaneously with the physical judgment of Jerusalem in AD 70. I'll explain further why this verse isn't talking about eternal conscience torment later in this message.
Others ask about passages like:
And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. Revelation 14:9-10 ESV
The context of this is the destruction of Jerusalem:
Another angel, a second, followed, saying, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality." Revelation 14:8 ESV
These verses are referring to the judgment of Jerusalem and the spiritual judgment of the great white throne that take place simultaneously. I think that Paul makes this clear in his letter to the Thessalonians:
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Yeshua is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Yeshua. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 ESV
The "eternal destruction" here is a reference to Jerusalem's destruction in AD 70.
It is my opinion that all the "eternal destruction" being "tormented with fire and sulfur" "eternal fire" verses are speaking of the national destruction of Jerusalem that was about to happen in the first century and the spiritual judgment that happened at the same time. I see all these verses about torment and fire as speaking to the first century Jews who were rejecting Christ as their Messiah. They are not talking about "eternal conscience torment" Paul tells us very clearly that the wages of sin is death:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Yeshua our Lord. Romans 6:23 ESV
Sin's wages are death, not eternal torture, but death. But God's gift is eternal life. Seems like the options here are death and life. If the lost were to suffer for all eternity why didn't Paul tell us that? He could have said, The wages of sin are eternal conscience torment. So if that is what he meant, why didn't he say it. Why didn't Paul ever talk about eternal conscience torment if it was the destiny of the lost?
Alright so the word translated as "hell" in our Bibles, the Hebrew word Sheol and its Greek equivalent Hades are never used of a fiery place of torment. You will never get the traditional view of hell from these words. The Greek Gehenna is speaking of national judgment of Jerusalem in the first century. So if these words Sheol, hades, tartaroo, and Gehenna have noting to do with the concept of eternal conscience torment where does that idea come from?
The doctrines of "eternal torment" are the product of a domino effect that began with the acceptance of the pagan doctrine of the "eternal soul." Once it was accepted that man had a nature that could not die, it naturally followed that his punishment must also be "eternal." As the "souls" of the wicked were eternal, punishment must be eternal; so, a place of "eternal torment" was created and called "hell."
So where did the teaching that man has an eternal nature that transcends death come from? Historical evidence reveals that it first appeared among the ancient Egyptians. With the expansion of the Greeks under Alexander, the Egyptian philosophy of life and death became a subject to be examined by Greek philosophers. Plato is credited with modifying the Egyptian philosophy of man having two natures so that it could be incorporated into the religion of the Greeks. Plato taught that man had a nature that lived on after death and went on to a higher plane of being:
"The soul, whose inseparable attitude is life, will never admit of life's opposite, death. Thus the soul is shown to be immortal, and since immortal, indestructible╔we believe there is such a thing as death? To be sure. And is this anything but the separation of the soul and body? Being dead is the attainment of this separation, when the soul exists in herself and separate from the body, and the body is parted from the soul. This is death╔death is merely the separation of the soul from the body." Plato, 428-347 BC.
The Greeks prided themselves on their superior intellect and philosophy. Their philosophers had been teaching an undying nature of man. The teaching of the Greek philosophers found its way into Jewish society 300 years prior to the birth of Yeshua, through the Pharisees and the Hellenization movement.
Then early converts to Christianity brought the Greek philosophy of the eternal "soul" into the early Church. Origen (ca. 185-254) was the first person to attempt to organize Christian Doctrine into a systematic theology. He was an admirer of Plato and believed in the immortality of the soul and that it would depart to an everlasting reward or everlasting punishment at death.
In Origen De Principiis he wrote:
"╔ The soul, having a substance and life of its own, shall after its departure from the world, be rewarded according to its deserts, being destined to obtain either an inheritance of eternal life and blessedness, if its actions shall have procured this for it, or to be delivered up to eternal fire and punishments, if the guilt of its crimes shall have brought it down to this ╔" (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, 1995, p. 240).
Then we have Augustine who's contribution to Christian thought was immense, writing 93 books on Theology, Philosophy, Scripture and Ethics, and on virtually every subject that he wrote about, he has become hugely influential. In chapter twenty-one of the City of God, Augustine became the first Christian theologian to write a biblical defense of the view that the lost will suffer forever in hell, and he offered responses to a number of objections.
The doctrine of the immortality of the soul was crucial to Augustine's case for eternal torment. To support his view he says that even the salamander can live in flames, but is not killed by them, and throws in an anecdote about peacock meat lasting for a very long time after being cooked! In the chapters that follow, Augustine declares that as for the bodies of the lost, God will miraculously preserve them alive so that they can suffer endlessly in the flames of hell. He argues that the physical flames of hell will torment immaterial evil spirits. He argues that the punishment will not be temporary because the Scripture calls the punishment "eternal."
For Augustine, death meant the destruction of the body, but the conscious soul would continue to live in either a blissful state with God or an agonizing state of separation from God. In The City of God he wrote that the soul
"is therefore called immortal, because in a sense, it does not cease to live and to feel; while the body is called mortal because it can be forsaken of all life, and cannot by itself live at all. The death, then, of the soul takes place when God forsakes it, as the death of the body when the soul forsakes it" ( Fathers, Vol. 2, 1995, p. 245.)
It is in Augustine's City of God that the now familiar list of proof texts for the doctrine of eternal torment was first amassed in chapters twenty and twenty-one. This was almost a systematic case for eternal torment, and due to its length and Augustine's major influence, it became the standard.
Richard Tarnas, in his book, The Passion of the Western Mind, points to this influence:
"╔ It was Augustine's formulation of Christian Platonism that was to permeate virtually all of medieval Christian thought in the West. So enthusiastic was the Christian integration of the Greek spirit that Socrates and Plato were frequently regarded as divinely inspired pre-Christian saints ╔" (1991, p. 103).
Centuries later Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1225-1274) crystallized the doctrine of the immortal soul in The Summa Theologica. He taught that the soul is a conscious intellect and will and cannot be destroyed.
A few centuries later the leaders of the Protestant Reformation generally accepted these traditional views, so they became entrenched in traditional Protestant teaching. So for the most part this is what the Church today believes, but is it biblical?
In the Torah there is no idea of body and soul as two distinct and different aspects of a human being. A living man or woman is seen as a unified organic being, described in Hebrew as nefesh. Nefesh refers to human life in general and to human character in particular.
There is no differentiation, however, between the body, nefesh, ruah and neshamah in the Bible. They all refer to the living, breathing, feeling human being created by God. The human being is a monistic or unified being consisting of one integrated nature. There is no notion in the Bible of any dualism or dual nature— such as body and soul—In the Human being.The Bible contains no mention of a separate soul. (David S. Ariel, What Do Jews Believe?, C.1995, pages 53-54)
In the Old Testament man is regarded as a "psychosomatic" whole. The idea of a disembodied spirit, or a soul separated from its body, was not congenial to Jewish thought. And it was not until the Persian and Hellenistic periods that Jewish writers were able to entertain a doctrine of pre-existence of the soul. (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, C.1962, page 870)
The Jewish Encyclopedia states,
"The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is a matter of philosophical and theological speculation rather than of simple truth, and is accordingly nowhere taught in Holy Scripture╔ " (Jewish Encyclopedia, Immortality of the Soul, 1925.)
"We are influenced always more or less by the Greek, Platonic idea that the body dies, yet soul is immortal. Such an idea is utterly contrary to the Israelite consciousness and is nowhere found in the Old Testament." (International Bible Encyclopedia, Page 812, 1960.)
Does the Bible teach that man has an immortal soul? Is man created immortal?
While most believe Adam was created as an eternal being, the Bible does not teach this. If he were eternal, what was the purpose of the "tree of life"? Absolute proof that Adam was created mortal is found in:
Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—" therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. Genesis 3:22-23 ESV
What did man have to do to live forever? He had to eat of the "tree of life."Adam was created mortal and was always subject to death; however, in establishing the "tree of life," God had given him the means to procure everlasting life. Adam sinned in eating the fruit of the forbidden tree and for this was subject to condemnation, which is eternal death. Man was put out of the garden because of his sin and was not allowed to eat of the "tree of life."
Before the fall, human beings had the potential to become immortal. They had the potential to become something more than what they were. As a consequence of the rebellion in Eden, this opportunity was taken away.
Yahweh had warned them that disobedience would result in death:
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." Genesis 2:16-17 ESV
That phrase,"you shall surely die,"is a combination of two forms of the same verb. The word mot is the infinitive absolute of the verb "to die" and refers to their spiritual death. From the moment they ate of the tree, they were separated from Yahweh. The second word is the imperfect tense of the same verb. The word tamut refers to the eventual and inevitable death that would come to each member of the race as a result of the fall. If man is immortal this becomes just an empty threat.
Let's back up to the creation of man:
then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. Genesis 2:7 ESV
The Hebrew word for "creature" is nephesh, which has been variously translated as being, life, soul, etc., but is never eqevalent to the Greek/Platonic concept of the soul as an immaterial invisible immortal being, and instead refers to us as whole beings. So each person is a "creature," comprised of the dust of the earth and the life-giving breath of God, and not a combination of two or three separate entities (body, soul and spirit).
This helps us understand death. If you take away the body, or the breath of life, there is no longer a living creature. I think it is with Genesis 2:7 in mind that the writer of Ecclesiastes says:
and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 12:7 ESV
This verse is usually interpreted as, When the body dies, the body goes back to the dust, but the conscious, the undying soul returns to God in heaven. But I don't think that this is what he is talking about. Notice the word "returns," this is the Hebrew word shub, which means, "to turn back."
In Genesis 2:7 God takes dust, forms a man and breathes into him the breath of life, and the man comes to life. In Ecclesiastes 12:7 things go back to a former state. The dust of Genesis 2:7 returns to the earth, just "as it was," as Ecclesiastes stresses. The breath of life of Genesis 2:7 goes back to God, who breathed it out. It is as though Genesis 2:7 had never happened. Reading these two texts side by side makes it obvious that the writer of Ecclesiastes is describing the undoing of Genesis 2:7. Man was made in creation and is unmade in death. This is not a celebration of survival. This is man's undoing. Look at verse 6:
before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, Ecclesiastes 12:6 ESV
Death is compared to a cord that severed, a shattered pitcher, its contents completely lost, or a broken wheel at the well. Something is wrong if we interpret this passage as giving hope.
Old Testament scholar, Tremper Longman's, says this of Ecclesiastes 12:7,
"In conclusion to his meditation on death, Qohelet, says. God created Adam, the forefather of all human beings, by forming his body from the dust of the ground and endowing it with his spirit. Genesis 3:19, in the context of the judgment that is the result of the fall, as the return of the body to the dust to [sic] the ground. Thus, what Qohelet describes is a reversal of creation, the dissolution of human creation. This is true as well of the last part of the verse, which states that the spirit returns to God who gave it. This is not an optimistic allusion to some sort of consciousness after death, but simply a return to a prelife situation. God temporarily united body and spirit, and now the process is undone. We have in this verse no affirmation of immortality. According to Qohelet, death is the end."
Qohelet simply says, When we die, our bodies go back to where they were before - the dust of the earth. That is all. That is where we came from and that is where we are going. There is no thought of the immorality of the soul here.
Messianic Rabbi, Loren Jacobs, also correctly states,
"The human soul is not immortal. The Torah teaches us that in the beginning man was banished from the Garden of Eden and forbidden to eat from the Tree of Life, so that he would not live forever, so that he would not be immortal. Mankind is headed toward death—the first death, followed by the Second Death. He is not, by nature, immortal."And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Genesis 2:7 KJV
The Hebrew word translated "soul" in the Tanakh is nephesh, which simply means: "a breathing creature." Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words defines nephesh as:
"the essence of life, the act of breathing, taking breath ╔ The problem with the English term 'soul' is that no actual equivalent of the term or the idea behind it is represented in the Hebrew language. The Hebrew system of thought does not include the combination or opposition of the 'body' and 'soul' which are really Greek and Latin in origin" [1985, p. 237-238, emphasis added].
The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible makes this comment on nephesh:
"The word 'soul' in English, though it has to some extent naturalized the Hebrew idiom, frequently carries with it overtones, ultimately coming from philosophical Greek (Platonism) and from Orphism and Gnosticism which are absent in 'nephesh.' In the OT it never means the immortal soul, but it is essentially the life principle, or the living being, or the self as the subject of appetite, and emotion, occasionally of volition" [Vol. 4, 1962].
In the writings of Moses, the Hebrew term "nephesh" is used in reference to the life that was given to both man and animal, without implying any distinction between the two.
Man was not created immortal, the Scriptures teach that only God is immortal.
to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Yeshua the Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. 1 Timothy 6:14-16 ESV
Here we see the principle that God is the only being in the universe who has immortality. His immortality is exclusive. In that respect, He is different from all other beings. God's Life is Immortal. In the Bible, this word athanasia is never used as an attribute of anyone else but God this side of the resurrection at Christ's Second Coming.
The noun athanasia only appears three times in the New Testament, in 1 Timothy 6:16 and in:
For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." 1 Corinthians 15:53-54 ESV
The ESV translators for some unknown reason added the word "body" twice in verse 53, even though there is no Greek equivalent in the original text. Since God alone is immortal, something will have to change in order for human beings, who are perishable and mortal, to become immortal. That change took place at the resurrection.
At the Second Coming/Resurrection, immortality was given to believers and only to believers. The mortal put on immortality. All non-believers perish.
The Apocrypha uses the word athanasia seven times.
Wisdom 15:1-3 RSV " But thou, our God, art kind and true, patient, and ruling all things in mercy. For even if we sin we are thine, knowing thy power; but we will not sin, because we know that we are accounted thine. For to know thee is complete righteousness, and to know thy power is the root of immortality."
In the New Testament we saw that athanasia was an exclusive attribute of God, but a hope for humanity. In this reference to athanasia in the Apocrypha, we see a relationship with God as the only means of obtaining to that hope.
When Christ was asked,
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" Matthew 19:16 ESV
Yeshua didn't challenge his theological inference that eternal life is something that must be obtained. If immortality were innate, then Yeshua should have stopped the man and pointed that out. Instead, Yeshua agreed with the man that he needed eternal life, and then challenged the man to follow Him.
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:12 ESV
Human mortality is the need which only Christ could meet.
and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Yeshua, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 2 Timothy 1:10 ESV
Did Christ abolish death for everyone? Is this teaching Universalism? No, He abolished death and brought immortality to believers only. Only believers have eternal life. So what happens to those who don't trust Christ? They perish.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown write,
"Nowhere is the immortality of the soul, distinct from the body, taught: A notion which many erroneously have derived from the heathen philosophers." (Commentary by Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, 1 Corinthians 15:53.)
Canon Gouge writes,
"When the Greek and Roman mind instead of the Hebrew mind came to dominate the Church, there occurred a disaster in doctrine and practice from which we have never recovered"
The Bible is clear on the issue of just when believers will gain the gift of immortality. Believers were made alive at the return of Christ:
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:21-23 ESV
Paul compares two events in history. The first event was the fall of humanity in the garden of Eden. As a result of that event, human nature remained mortal. The second event is the return of Christ and the Resurrection.
Some would argue that Matthew 10:28 supports the idea of innate immortality:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28 ESV
Those who teach an innate immortality will use this verse for support saying that Yeshua compares the body, which can be killed by men, to the soul, which cannot. They believe that "in death, the body only dies; but the soul lives on uninterruptedly, and is immortal."
On the other side would be the annihilationist we don't see a sharp division between body and soul in which the "soul" is the more important, immortal part. We see that reading into the text a dualistic view of the nature of humanity which is not reflected in the rest of Scripture, and essentially denies the reality of death.
What Yeshua is teaching here is that the first death is only temporary. The Resurrection will reverse it. Yeshua is teaching about the nature of God here, not the nature of man. Believers should fear God, not human persecutors.
It is my opinion that the Church's doctrine of "eternal conscience torment" comes more from Dante's Inferno than from the Bible. It is an invention of the Catholic Church to keep people in fear and bondage.
The view that I hold to, and that I have tried to demonstrate is often called annihilationism or conditional immortality. Annihilationism accurately describes the fate of the lost, but many are not comfortable with its emphasis. Some prefer the term Conditional immortality because they say it reflects the "good news" side of the biblical message. It speaks of the gift of eternal life.
Hopefully, this study has shown that the Scriptures do not support the teaching of the traditional view of non-believers suffering in flames of fire for eternity. Man