(Also posted on my Facebook Page)
As we have already discussed the false teachings about Heaven in a previous post, it’s now time to take a closer look at Hell.
For ancient Israelites, the dust of the earth (the body), together with the breath of life (the spirit), form the living being, the 𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘪 𝘯𝘦𝘱𝘩𝘦𝘴𝘩 (Genesis 2:7). Upon death, the now non-living being returns to the dust of the earth and the breath of life (the spirit) returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Luke 23:46).
The living being, the 𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘪 𝘯𝘦𝘱𝘩𝘦𝘴𝘩, was commonly rendered into Greek as 𝘱𝘴𝘶𝘤𝘩𝘦́. Unfortunately, this rendering introduced the Greek philosophical concept of a pre-existing immortal soul imprisoned within a mortal body which can only be released at death to return to its metaphysical home. The Hellenist Church Fathers adopted a concept already familiar to them when framing the traditional teachings of human immortality and post-mortem existence in soul destinations called Heaven and Hell.
In stark contrast to these teachings based on Hellenist dualism, the Bible states clearly that there is no conscious or independent post-mortem existence for humans and that there is only oblivion in the grave (Psalm 146:4. Ecclesiastes 9:5,10). However, Jesus taught that no matter how long the unconscious dead sleep in their graves, all continue to have a type of life with God (Luke 20:38).
Now, to Hell. The Greek word 𝘎𝘦́𝘦𝘯𝘯𝘢 is drawn from the Hebrew term 𝘎𝘦𝘺 𝘉𝘦𝘯 𝘏𝘪𝘯𝘰𝘮 which means “Valley of the Son of Hinom”. 𝘎𝘦́𝘦𝘯𝘯𝘢 or its variations is used twelve times in the New Testament, eleven of these times by Jesus, and is either correctly rendered into English as “Gehenna” or incorrectly as “Hell”.
In the time of Jesus, Gehenna was a very deep ravine situated south-west of the Herodian Temple Mount and well below the staircases, ramps and gates leading up to the Temple. It was the local rubbish dump as well as a place where animal carcasses and the bodies of executed criminals and other unfortunates were thrown. Permanent fires burned there to prevent outbreaks of disease. In former times, hideous practices had been carried out there in the name of the heathen deity Molech. The prophet Jeremiah described the worship of Molech carried out in Gehenna and warned that such practices would lead to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon (Jeremiah 32:26-35). He was ignored.
Ever since that time of calamity, Gehenna had symbolised fire, human sacrifice, and idolatry, evoking feelings of fear and disgust. Jesus used the word to illustrate the difference between life with God (symbolised by the Temple far above) and life without God (symbolised by Gehenna far below). Life without God, the type of life Jesus spoke of in Luke 20:38, was considered a fate so terrible that it could only be described with an appropriately terrible word - “Gehenna”.
Since the existence of immortal souls was an alien concept to the authors of the biblical books, they very obviously never wrote about an alien immortal soul destination called “Hell”. Good news, isn’t it? Well, for all those self-righteous ones who had hoped for Heaven to separate them forever from “hell-bound sinners” to now find out that we’re all in this together, forever, it may not be such good news after all.
There is a modern Jerusalem street called 𝘎𝘦𝘺 𝘉𝘦𝘯 𝘏𝘪𝘯𝘰𝘮 which takes its name from the Valley through which is now winds.
The Greek word 𝘩𝘢𝘥𝘦́𝘴 is equivalent to the Hebrew 𝘴𝘩𝘦𝘰𝘭, meaning the grave.
In texts such as Matthew 10:28, the unfortunate rendering of the 𝘤𝘩𝘢𝘪 𝘯𝘦𝘱𝘩𝘦𝘴𝘩 into 𝘱𝘴𝘶𝘤𝘩𝘦́ has led to the belief that Jesus is speaking of a separation between soul and body whereas he is in fact stating that ceasing to live with God, the type of life he spoke of in Luke 20:38, is the outcome most to be feared.
Paul’s teaching about spiritual rebirth and “imperishability” (1 Corinthians 15:51-57) will be discussed in a future post.