Friday, January 23, 2009

Hell Defined 2

Gehenna


Gehenna—geenna {pronounced gheh'-en-nah}—occurs only a dozen times in the New Testament. The term is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew words ge hinnom meaning the “Valley of Hinnom,” or ge bene hinnom meaning “the valley of the sons of Hinnom.” (ISBE) Yes, it’s a real valley. It’s downhill from the southern wall of the Old City of Jerusalem. I’ve been there many times. I’ve explored its length. The valley was notorious for two things:


First, children were sacrificed to Molech there. There is not consensus on this Ammonite cult, but the traditional view is this:


Molech – “an idol of the Ammonites, to whom they burned and sacrificed their children, . . . [it’s] face was like a calf: his hands were ever stretched out to receive gifts: his priests were called Chemarims, (2Ki 23:5, Ho 10:5, Zep1:4).” (Geneva Bible Notes)


Kings Ahaz and Manasseh of Israel, in accommodation to local pagan rituals, reintroduced “children passing through the fire to Molech,” probably child sacrifice (2 Kings 16:3; 2Chronicles 28:3, 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31; 19:2-6). The Valley of Himmom was called Topheth (2 Kgs 23:10; Jer. 7:31f; 19:6, 11ff) which means “place of fire.” King Josiah outlawed the idolatrous and barbaric practice, (2 Kings ..23:10..) though it was already outlawed in Israel’s legal code:

NET Leviticus 18:21 You must not give any of your children as an offering to Molech, so that you do not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD!

Second, the valley, so defiled so by idolatrous human sacrifices, became “a receptacle of carcasses and criminals' corpses” of the city of Jerusalem. The Hinnom Valley (Gehenna) became Jerusalem’s burning dump and sewer. For practical reasons (Waste in Jerusalem flowed from the city into the Hinnom Valley.) and because of its defiled past (It was a pagan worship center that practiced child sacrifice.), the Hebrews made the place their sewer, their dump, and their body disposal site. In Old and New Testament times, the fires of Gehenna reportedly never went out.


Hinnom in the Old Testament occurs only eleven times in eleven verses, none of them in reference to anything other than the literal Hinnom Valley of south Jerusalem. (Joshua 15:8; Joshua 18:16; 2 Kings 23:10; 2Chronicles 28:3; 2 Chronicles33:6; Nehemiah 11:30; Jeremiah 7:31, 32; Jeremiah 19:2, 6; Jeremiah 32:35) None of these eleven references to the valley of Bar (son of) Hinnom in the Old Testament has anything to do with the afterlife. The Valley of Hinnom is a literal valley and is not referred to metaphorically.

Now the stage is set for Jesus’ few references to Jerusalem’s Valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna.

NAB Matthew 5:21-22  "You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.' 22 But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, 'Raqa,'will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna. (bold and italics mine)

Jesus gives us three words to ponder. These three little words could mean your destruction. Your life can be a living hell if you allow these three words to enslave you.

1. Orge - The word for anger (orge) also means wrath. Jesus says that the consequences for wrathful anger and judgmental words are severe. The judgment is the same for anger as for murder! Murder in your heart, just like adultery in your heart, is the same as if you had done the deed, spiritually speaking. Jesus doesn’t allow his followers to hide behind their good behavior, like the Pharisees did. He forces them to look inside. Inside, everyone is guilty. Inside, everyone has done evil and failed God. How dare you judge someone else when you yourself are not innocent? That’s his point. Those who are wrathful/angry to someone are answerable to judgment (krisis) for murder. The sentence is death.

2. Raca - Raca is an Aramaic word meaning empty-headed. No brains. If you judge someone to be stupid and call them Raca, you are answerable to the Supreme Court for murder, says Jesus. Spiritually,such name-calling judgment on your part is a killing, and your sentence is already pronounced; by pronouncing sentence on the brains of someone else,you’re already brain-dead and don’t know it. (How could you? You have no brain!) Those who judge others as brainless are answerable for murder. The sentence is death.

3. Moros – Moros means fool. It literally means moron. If you judge someone and call them a moronic nitwit, you will be answerable to the burning fires of the city dump (Gehenna) for murder. The sentence is death.

Now, how literally are you prepared to take Jesus’ three proclamations? Look at the three rulings. 1. Liable to judgment. 2. Answerable to Sanhedrin. 3. Liable to fiery Gehenna. Look at the middle one: Answerable to the Sanhedrin, ....Israel....’s Supreme Court. Do you really think Jesus is saying that the Sanhedrin will put you to death for calling someone stupid? Since when is name-calling a capital offense? It’s a silly idea if taken literally. Now think about the other two: Liable to judgment for being judgmentally angry? Liable to the burning dump for calling someone a fool? Both also silly ideas if taken literally.

It’s kind of funny, isn’t it, that anger and name-calling gets you the death penalty? But there is Jesus’ sense of humor again, often missed, but much appreciated when discovered. Jesus says, Forget about murder. You don’t have to kill someone to get the death penalty. I tell you truthfully, the sentence is death for harboring anger (orge), for calling someone stupid (Raqa), and for calling someone a fool (Moros).
 

Ridiculously harsh, you say? How can Jesus judge,sentence, and condemn someone like that, and toss them in the burning dump,just for an emotion and an unfortunate choice of words? No, that’s missing the point. Jesus isn’t judging and sentencing or tossing anybody. A person’s harbored anger and his judgmental, cruel words are symptoms that he already stands judged, condemned, and dumped spiritually. He’s exhibiting Gehenna behavior. He’s already sentenced himself to death and doesn’t know it. Jesus isn’t judging him or executing him. Jesus is pronouncing him DOA—already dead on arrival. He’s spiritually dead. He’s walking worm food.

Welcome to the real hell, the Gehenna of Scripture, Jesus’ Gehenna, the valley of burning sewage and garbage and dead bodies. Death valley. This hell is all around us. We live in the stench of it every day. You need more proof of its presence? Look at these two quotes from Jesus:

NAB Matthew 23:15 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.

NAB Matthew 23:33 “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna?”


Notice Jesus says that the scribes and Pharisees are already children of Gehenna. Gehenna tragically defines whose they are and where they are from. They come from Gehenna, they are in Gehenna, and they belong to Gehenna. Why? Because they are hypocrites. Hypocrisy isn’t just the wrongdoing that earns you the death penalty in the burning dump. Hypocrisy is sewer born.Hypocrisy is a symptom that you are already dead in Gehenna. You are spiritually dead. Listen to another of Jesus’ pronouncements against these same leaders:

NAB Matthew 23:27-28 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs,which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men's bones and every kind of filth. 28Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.”

Hypocrisy, born of Gehenna, is to live a lie. You put up the front of a devout and righteous person. Inside you’re filled with hate, anger, murder, adultery, idolatry.Gehenna is in you. You can’t hide what’s inside from God. That’s why Jesus says that they can’t “flee from the judgment of Gehenna.” Take a second look:

NAB Matthew 23:33 “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna?”

They can’t flee it because Gehenna is inside of them. You can’t flee from yourself. Because wherever you go, there you are! That’s why the scribe and Pharisee snakes can’t flee Gehenna. They’re already in it, and it’s in them. They’re in death valley,and it’s in them. They’ve applied judgment to themselves by judging others. If they try to flee the judgment by running around showing off the appearance of cleanness, they only take Gehenna with them because it’s inside.

Allow me to ask you some questions. Is Jesus saying that the scribes and Pharisees are literally snakes? Is he saying that they’re literally whitewashed tombs? Is he saying that the literal penalty for calling someone a bad name is death? Obviously not. Then is Jesus saying that hypocrites and name-callers will be thrown into the literal burning dump in the Hinnom Valley (Gehenna)? Also, obviously not.

It’s not appreciated the extent to which Jesus used poetic pictures in his teaching. (See my blog He Speaks Of . . . .) Let me demonstrate by showing you Jesus’ best known quotes about Gehenna. They’re in Mark 9. Jesus salted his teaching with parabolic images, sounds, tastes, smells, and textures. For him, words that stir up your senses work better than abstract concepts. Mark 9:42-48, containing three mentions of Gehenna, is rife with such evocative words. (See also Matthew 5:29-30; 18:9; James 3:6) Here’s my outline of Jesus’ key teaching on Gehenna in Mark 9:42-48:





***
A. IF YOU CAUSE STUMBLING, . . . IT’S WORSE THAN DROWNING:
42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe (in me) to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

B. IF A BODY PART CAUSES YOU TO STUMBLE, AMPUTATE . . .


1. IT’S EITHER YOUR HAND OR GEHENNA:

43 “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.”

2. IT’S EITHER YOUR FOOT OR GEHENNA:


45 “And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.”

3. IT’S EITHER YOUR EYE OR GEHENNA:


47 “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, 48 where 'their worm does not die,and the fire is not quenched.'” 

(Mark 9:42-48)


***

Let’s summarize. A. Jesus says that if you dissuade someone from believing in him (or in the Life that he brings), you’d be better off thrown overboard in cement shoes. (millstones excavated in Capernaum pictured) B. He says, you’d be better off maimed but alive than whole and dead in the dump.



What if Jesus wanted to warn those who might try to stop people from believing in him and in the Life that he embodies and brings? He could say, “It is wrong to dissuade people from entering Life by believing in me.” That sentence expresses his warning, but it’s not very evocative, is it? But Jesus says instead, and I’m paraphrasing, You’ll wish you’d drowned in cement shoes if you try to trip up those who are entering Life.


There’s humor again in this extreme penalty for a seemingly insignificant wrongdoing. To cause a little one to merely stumble is a drowning offense? Your hand, your foot, or your eye causing you to stumble is a burning offense? That’s what the man said.And boy does he bring vivid pictures to the mind!


In his evocative language in Mark 9, is Jesus threatening nonbelievers with literal afterlife punishment? Please allow me to answer that question with a question. How serious was Jesus about drowning someone by putting a millstone around his neck and throwing him into the sea? May I ask some more questions? How serious was he about amputating your hand? How serious was he about amputating your foot? How serious was he about plucking your eyeball? Are we talking about literally drowning someone, literally amputating hands and feet, and literally removing eyeballs? Obviously the answer to all these questions is No. He’s speaking figuratively about millstone drownings,hand and foot amputations, eyeball pluckings, and Hinnom Valley burnings—not literally.

Let’s take a commonsense approach. Look at each element in these verses and ask yourself: Is Jesus talking about a literal stumbling block? Are the “little ones” literally toddlers or children? Is a literal millstone hung literally around your literal neck? Is he talking about literally throwing you in the sea for putting a literal rock in front of literal children to literally make them trip and fall to the literal ground? No? Then I have two very serious questions for you:

1. If nothing else in this parabolic saying is literal, then why does Gehenna (the Hinnom Valley) have to be a literal afterlife place?

2. If we aren’t to take these things literally, then what is Jesus really saying?


To dwell in Gehenna is to become garbage, sewage, and filth. There was so much corruption and rot in that valley that the worms there, Jesus insists playfully, live forever!

NAB Mark 9:48 “. . . where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'”

Everyone who listened to Jesus knew the history of Gehenna (Jerusalem’s Hinnom Valley, meaning the Valley of Wailing). Everyone knew of the idolatrous cult involving burnt offerings of children to the god Molech. (2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chronicles 28:3, 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31, 32:35) Everyone knew that the place was called Topheth, meaning “a place of fire.” Everyone knew it was called Haragah, “a place of slaughter.” Everyone knew that people were slaughtered and burned there. For Jesus’ contemporary audiences, Gehenna was the perfect picture of a wasted life and a hellish existence. Who can live in Gehenna? The obvious answer to this rhetorical question is No one. Life is not possible in Jerusalem’s trash-burning ditch. But a hellish existence is, poetically speaking. Spiritual death is possible there. Gehenna—a place of pagan sacrifice, unclean corpses, raw sewage, burning entrails, and unmarked tombs—is Jesus’ perfect metaphor for people who reject Life.

So what’s Jesus getting at with these sayings? Why are your choices either Gehenna or amputation? Allow me, again, to answer a question with a question. Have you ever seen something take over a person’s life? More specifically, have you ever seen a person loose his family, his job, his life’s savings, his home, his car, his freedom, and even his life because of an obsession or addiction? Jesus’ insight is crystal clear about this kind of thing:

If your hand is addicted to something, it drags your whole self into slavery with it, resulting in enslavement in a living hell. If your foot is addicted to somewhere, it drags your whole self into slavery in that place, resulting in enslavement in a living hell. If your eye is addicted to an object, it leads your whole self into slavery to that object, resulting in enslavement in a living hell. Your hand, your foot, and your eye can enslave the rest of you in Gehenna. James wrote that your tongue can do the same:

NAB James 3:5-6 In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. 6 The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna.

I’m inviting you to stop imposing a literal afterlife underground place of punishment on Jesus’ teaching and look at what he’s really saying. Dr. Jesus gives the diagnosis, warns what will happen without treatment, and recommends surgery. If your appetite,obsession, or addiction leaves you with nobody and nothing, your abode is Gehenna. He doesn’t say this to condemn anyone. Rather it’s his invitation to Life and freedom. It’s his prescription for beating Gehenna. And what he’s calling “Gehenna” is much more immediate, tragic, and deadly than some future afterlife underground punishment. It’s a living death here and now.

In his examples about amputating your hand or foot, or plucking out your eye, is Jesus telling you to literally remove these body parts? Obviously not, or sales of eye patches and prosthetic hands and feet would be booming! Then why literalize Gehenna? By Gehenna, Jesus means death by spiritual slavery here and now. And Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat it: You will either lose your life or a body part. You are either dead or maimed. The only way forward into Life is maimed.
 

You live maimed or not at all.

Let’s not turn what Jesus is saying back into a new legalism. He’s not saying, “Don’t stumble, or else!” “Don’t trip, or I’ll send you to hell forever.” To stumble isn’t to misbehave. Stumbling isn’t a black mark on your goody-two-shoes scorecard. In Christianity, to stumble is to be enslaved to something (or someone) that isn’t Jesus, he who scripturally is Life. All other enslavements are idolatry. All other enslavements are Gehenna.



Any recovering alcoholic will tell you that recovery begins with admitting you’ve got a problem with no free and easy way out. You don’t ever stop being an alcoholic; you’re alcoholic for life. You’re maimed. You’re forever scarred. Once an amputee, always an amputee. But you don’t have to be a slave to alcohol. Because you’re an alcoholic doesn’t mean you have to stay in a living Gehenna, thought that is a real possibility. The only option to death(spiritual or physical or both) is maiming. If your hand has to be holding a drink, then your hand has drug you with it into Gehenna. If your foot has to go to the racetrack, then it has drug the rest of you with it into Gehenna. If your eye is voyeuristic, then your eye has drug the rest of you with it into Gehenna. And the only option to Gehenna is maiming. It’s better to cut yourself off from the addiction and those things and relationships that support and enable that addiction, than to keep intact your current actions and relationships that steal your Life of freedom and peace. Jesus is saying that maimed is survivable; but a living death in the idolatrous burning dump is not.

We all have our battle scars. It’s no shame. But I hear Jesus asking, Wouldn’t you rather live scarred and free than unblemished and in chains? Wouldn’t you rather be a pain-free amputee than for your whole self to be tormented? Wouldn’t you rather see heaven with one eye than see Gehenna with two?

If you can manage to stop making the mistake of trying to take these verses literally, you can see what Jesus is really getting at about Gehenna:


Gehenna is our blind, desperate attachments that separate us from real Life and liberty.

Folks, the only two choices Jesus gives are Gehenna or body-part removal, and he says that body-part removal is infinitely and eternally better than Gehenna. Yes, hands and feet and eyes are literal body parts. Yes, Gehenna is a literal Jerusalem valley. But if Jesus isn’t talking about literal body-part removal, then he isn’t talking about literally being thrown into Jerusalem’s Hinnom Valley and its burning refuse and excrement either. They are “figures,” as he called his poetic parabolic images. (John 10:6, 16:25 & 29)



Tartarus


The term tartaroo {pronounced tar-tar-o'-o but often called tar-tar-oos} may be unfamiliar to you, first, because it occurs only once in the Bible, and, second, because it is usually translated incorrectly as “hell.” Look how our twenty-two English translations render Tartarus in 2 Peter 2:4.

hell 16 (ASV, BBE, ESV, GNV, KJV, NAS,NET, NIV, NKJ, NLT, NRS, PNT, RSV, RWB, TNT, WEB)
Tartarus 2 (NAB, YLT)
the lower hell 1 (DRA)
the deepest pit of gloom 1 (DBY)
the infernal regions 1 (MRD)
the underworld 1 (NJB)
 


The sixteen who translate it “hell” have missed the boat. To call it “lower hell” is closer because in Greek mythology, Tartarus is lower Hades. But the best way to translate it is not to translate it at all. Like the biblical words Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna, Tartarus should be left alone. The term Tartarus is what 2 Peter intended. Note that the only appearance of the word Tartarus is in one of the longest sentences in the Bible.

NAB 2 Peter 2:4-10   For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but condemned them to the chains of Tartarus and handed them over to be kept for judgment; 5 and if he did not spare the ancient world, even though he preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, together with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the godless world; 6 and if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (to destruction), reducing them to ashes, making them an example for the godless (people) of what is coming; 7 and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man oppressed by the licentious conduct of unprincipled people 8 (for day after day that righteous man living among them was tormented in his righteous soul at the lawless deeds that he saw and heard), 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the devout from trial and to keep under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who follow the flesh with its depraved desire and show contempt for lordship. (bold italics mine)

The writer gives three examples from Jewish literature showing that God has well in hand the rescuing of the tormented and the punishment of the tormentors. He saved Noah’s family, yet punished his generation. He saved Lot’s family, yet punished Sodom and Gomorrah. He didn’t even give angels special treatment when some of them sinned, but put the bad ones in a prison. Second Peter called the prison Tartarus. Why? Because he’s referencing an ancient document that you may not have read.
 



The story of imprisoned angels isn’t biblical. And yet an ancient story is referenced in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6 as if it were at least on a par with Scripture in the mind of the authors.

Jude 1:6
And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great Day.

The story comes from Jewish apocalyptic writings that we call apocryphal. Apparently the writers of 2 Peter and Jude were familiar with the intertestamental Book of Enoch. Also called 1 Enoch, this book tells of the imprisonment of angels. 1 Enoch 20:2 specifically states that some angels were imprisoned in Tartarus.

So, 2 Peter, because of 1 Enoch, borrowed a pagan Greek term for the prison basement of mythological Hades. Tartarus, or lower Hades, was the prison for the mythological Titans.The Titans were chained there by Zeus after his successful rebellion. Apparently the readers of 2 Peter were expected to be familiar with Tartarus found either in 1 Enoch or Greek mythology or both.

Pagan Greek Tartarus, or lower Hades, was certainly not a place of fire, nor even a place of punishment (as in torture), but it was a prison for defeated gods called Titans. It is only in later mythologies that a select few humans were sent to Tartarus because they had deeply offended the gods, and individual punishments were imposed on these few humans. For example:

Sisyphus is condemned to roll a rock uphill forever.
Ixion is eternally bound to a fiery wheel.
Tantalus hungers and thirsts forever, standing in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree, "tantalized" by the presence of food and water that retreats every time he tries to eat or drink.





Again, punishment/torture really wasn’t the point anywhere in classical Hades, including the basement prison for the Titans called Tartarus. It wasn’t torturous pain that made the Greeks loathe Hades. It was eternal, lifeless tedium.

Tartarus then, the prison for Titans in Greek mythology, is retooled by the Jewish author of the non-biblical book of 1 Enoch as an angel lockup. Why then did Tartarus end up in the Bible's 2 Peter? It must have been because the place for angels and the place for Titans were both prisons that caused the author of 1 Enoch to poetically use the term Tartarus. The devout Jewish author of 1 Enoch in no way could have meant to be describing a literal underground prison containing the Titans of Greek mythology. He only used Tartarus as a nickname for God’s slammer for bad angels. The author of 2 Peter, then, was just quoting what he considered to be prophetic literature, though 1 Enoch is not considered scripture by almost all of the Christian church today.

Even though 2 Peter and Jude reference the angel prison idea from 1 Enoch, the early church did not include 1 Enoch in its canon. Second Peter only meant to use God’s imprisonment of angels in Tartarus as one of three examples demonstrating how God handled retribution in the past (2:4). He’s saying to his embattled church, Surely God will aid you in your torment, and surely God will punish your tormentors. God did so in the past, imprisoning even angels, and he will do so again.

Here is the single mention of the Greek word Tartarus in 1 Enoch.

1 Enoch 20:1-2 And these are the names of the holy angels who watch. 2 Uriel, one of the holy angels, who is over the world and over Tartarus. (The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, R.H. Charles, Oxford: The Clarendon Press.)

Then there is the author’s vision of Tartarus, the angel prison:

1 Enoch 21:9-10 Then I said: “How fearful is the place and how terrible to look upon!” Then Uriel answered me, one of the holy angels who was with me, and said unto me: “Enoch,why hast thou such fear and affright?” 10 And I answered: “Because of this fearful place, and because of the spectacle of the pain.” And he said unto me: “This place is a prison of the angels, and here they will be imprisoned for ever.”

The author of the Book of Enoch paints a picture of the afterlife that for perhaps the first time in history begins to resemble our modern English hell. Enoch is among the first Jewish writers to import pagan Greek concepts into Hebrew apocalyptic thought. It was the beginning of a slippery slope for both Jews and Christians. Plato’s nose was in the tent. The Christian canon today is contaminated, not within its own pages, but in the minds of we Christians who unwittingly wear Plato’s reading glasses when we read the Bible. Enoch helped start the contamination. So I’ve taken the opportunity to expose him in this appendix.

What’s my take on 1 Enoch? The writer of the Book of Enochis a syncretist,* compromising Hebrew views in merging them with pagan Greek views. His work still deserves no place in Scripture, and the pagan afterlife elements he brought in have no place in Christian afterlife belief. He (and his“friends”) successfully poisoned the well of Jewish and Christian thought for millennia. The well is still a mess today. That Christians today believe in both the resurrection of the dead and the immortality of the soul is direct evidence of Enoch’s tragic success.

*A syncretist is one who attempts “reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion.” (Dictionary.com Unabridged)

I’ve committed more ink to Tartarus than is merited by its single mention in the New Testament. But in this appendix it requires definition and explanation no less than Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna.

Concerns and summary

I have two concerns about hell as taught widely in the church today:

1. I hear church people (pastors and lay people) claiming that hell is mentioned more than heaven in the New Testament. Why would they say that? They’re dead wrong. Heaven (ouranos) is mentioned 77 times in Matthew alone, more than 250 times in the New Testament. Gehenna occurs only a dozen times. Hades only ten. Tartarus just once. If you tally these you only get twenty-three. Heaven is mentioned more than ten times (10x) that. Even if you add 65 mentions of the word Sheol in the Old Testament, you still don’t top heaven’s 250-plus mentions in the New Testament alone. Why would modern evangelicalism want hell to top heaven? If there is a reason, it probably has something to do with my second concern:

2. Today, hell is number one in the playbook for much of modern evangelism. Do two dozen mentions merit top billing? And don’t forget, as I’ve made clear, the words Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus have been but should not have been translated into English as “hell” in the first place. No biblical mention of Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, or Tartarus is in reference to the afterlife.

For the sake of clarity, here is a summary of our four biblical words often wrongly translated into English as hell:

Sheol in the Old Testament means the grave.


Hades in the New Testament is a synonym for Sheol meaning the grave.


Gehenna in the New Testament is a literal valley south of Jerusalem used by Jesus as a poetic metaphor for how we end up due to our blind, desperate, idolatrous attachments that separate us from real Life and liberty.


Tartarus in the New Testament is a nickname borrowed from pagan Greece for an angel prison in an old, non-biblical Jewish document (Book of Enoch).



Go back and read about Sheol and Hades in Hell Defined 1.



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