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Sunday, November 15, 2009

How Did a Valley in Jerusalem Turn into Hell?

We all know what the Bible teaches about hell, don't we? If anything we know that it's the place where the unsaved will be tormented in flames for all eternity. We are assured that the greatest teacher on this subject is Jesus himself, and that he could not have been more explicit. After all, it was Jesus himself who said:

“But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. ” (Matthew 5:22, KJV)

But what exactly is this 'hell' Jesus spoke of, and how can I know more about it?

The Greek word which has here been translated 'hell' is gehenna. But when I study this Greek word, this is what I find:

1) The word literally means 'The Valley of the Sons of Hinnom". This is a literal place in Jerusalem referenced many times in the Old Testament - you can go visit it today if you'd like.

A red flag immediately goes up. How did a valley in Jerusalem which exists to this day get translated into an English word which stands for a fiery place of eternal punishment in some other place or dimension. I don't get it, so I keep studying and find out:

2) According to the Old Testament evil Jewish Kings made the valley a place for idolatry, and scarified children there. Later, king Josiah abolished these practices and made the place into the city garbage dump. Fires continually burned there to consume the refuse. This still doesn't tell me how gehenna turned into 'hell' in our English Bibles. So, I keep going...

3) The prophet Jeremiah pronounced curses over the valley and prophesied that because the Jewish nation had abandoned God, he would make the whole nation as the Valley of Hinnon. There would be a great slaughter and they would bury their corpses there until there would be no place left to bury (See Jeremiah 19). Surely a somber warning of a horrible judgment which would befall the Jewish nation, but still no information on how this relates to 'hell' as we know it. I search in vain through the Old Testament for any information on this place which connects it with a future place of eternal torment.

Now, every student of the Bible should stop right here and consider the significance of this. Jesus never spoke the word 'hell'. No, he spoke of 'Gehenna'. Gehenna was a physical place in Jerusalem; a place to which he could point, and a place with which his disciples were familiar. The history of this place was well known from the Hebrew scriptures. NONE of that had anything to do with the concept of 'hell' as a place of future punishment as we know it.

But consider further that for 'Gehenna' your English Bible has inserted an INTERPRETATION, not a TRANSLATION. A translation would be 'Valley of Hinnom', but certainly not 'hell'. Knowing this information, what conclusions would you draw about 'Gehenna' by using the Bible alone? You would be forced to conclude that Jesus was pronouncing upon those who rejected him and his message the well-known curses and judgments associated with this place as described in the Old Testament prophets. What other conclusion could you possibly make? But of course, none of that has anything to do with the traditional concept of 'hell'. Why then do our translations feel justified in inserting this interpretation into our Bibles?

The answer (which could be called the 'dirty little secret') is unsettling because it raises questions that most Christians simply do not want to deal with. Most want to continue to preach 'hell' from their Bibles and remain ignorant of the gymnastics and machinations which turned a Greek word meaning 'Valley of Hinnom' into a fiery place of torment in the afterlife.

The fact is, translators of the Bible really do believe that Jesus had more in mind when he spoke of 'Gehenna' than the literal Valley of Hinnom in Jerusalem and the curses and judgments associated with the place as found in the Old Testament prophets, but why? Aren't we told time and again that we must base our interpretations on the scriptures alone?

Here's the story which the average Christian is never told.

Scholars know that the Old Testament verses concerning the 'Valley of Hinnom' have nothing to do with 'hell' as we understand it. What they also know is that after the Old Testament was completed, in the 400 years between the writings of the Old and New Testaments, that the Jews began to be seriously influenced by Greek culture and philosophy, and that these GREEK ideas began to be assimilated into Jewish interpretations of the scriptures. The idea of the immortality of the soul (a concept foreign to the Hebrew scriptures) gave rise to different thoughts about reward and punishment in the afterlife. In the minds of SOME Jews, the idea of 'Gehenna' began to be associated with a place of future punishment, and these ideas found their way into various 'apocryphal' writings in that period. 1

What the average Christian is never told is that scholars have ASSUMED that Jesus understood the word 'Gehenna' in this way - a way that they KNOW is foreign to the Old Testament, and one which they KNOW only developed under the influence of Greek thought in the period between the close of the Old Testament and the writing of the New.

If this is true then it gives rise to some very disturbing thoughts, namely:

1) This would mean that the Old Testament understanding of Gehenna is incomplete, and you CANNOT come to a proper understanding of this place by using the scriptures alone.

2) The Jews did not have a proper understanding of Gehenna until they came under the influence of pagan Greek thought and philosophy.

3) That the apocryphal writings which are considered to be uninspired, contain a more correct understanding of Gehenna than is found in the inspired Hebrew scriptures.

4) But most disturbing, that Jesus' understanding of Gehenna represents, not the view of the Hebrew Scriptures, but that of hellenized (Greek influenced) Jewish thought.

The situation becomes even more troubling when we consider that even the Greek-inspired Jewish ideas about Gehenna were so varied and conflicted, that we would be hopeless to try and figure out exactly WHICH of these Jesus had in mind, if in fact this was the case. Simply translating 'gehenna' into 'hell' with the justification that some Jews may have understood the word to mean a place of future punishment in the afterlife is a gross oversimplification.

The bottom line is this: When an English translation uses the word 'hell' for 'gehenna' they are assuming that Jesus is using the word in a way that is foreign to the Hebrew Scriptures - And if that doesn't disturb you, then it should.

See, scholars know that you cannot turn the 'Valley of Hinnom' into 'hell' without knowing what they know. But they also know that their justification for doing this raises a lot of serious questions. Did the Jews need Greek philosophy in order to properly interpret their scriptures? Did Jesus? So, instead of giving you a translation of gehenna ('Valley of Hinnom'), they've hidden from us the whole process and instead have inserted their interpretation ('hell').

So how did a valley in Jerusalem turn into Hell? Only with a lot of help from Greek philosophy, and scholars who assumed that Jesus understood gehenna in that way.

May God help us from making the same assumption!

1 B. Intertestamental Period
One product of the development of a concept of the afterlife during the Hellenistic Period was the notion of a fiery judgment (1 En. 10:13; 48:8–10; 100:7–9; 108:4–7; Jdt 16:17; 2 Bar. 85:13), a judgment usually in a fiery lake or abyss (1 En. 18:9–16; 90:24–27; 103:7–8; 2 En. 40:12; 2 Bar. 59:5–12; 1QH 3). The Valley of Hinnom, often referred to simply as “the accursed valley” or “abyss,” then came to represent the place of eschatological judgment of the wicked Jews by fire (1 En. 26–27; 54:1–6; 56:1–4; 90:24–27).
Freedman, D. N. (1996). The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday.

The 'Crux Interpretum' of Daniel 12:11-12

(Torment of the Interpreters)
DANIEL 12:11-12

Daniel 12:10-12
Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand. And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days.

Within the past year I have concluded a study of what I believe to be the proper interpretation of the 1290 and 1335 days (to be reckoned as years) mentioned in Daniel 12:11-12. It is my conviction that the proper interpretation of this passage has profound implications for the times in which we live and should be of the greatest interest to all students of the Bible and of prophecy.

Those who are not familiar with the study of prophecy may not fully appreciate the significance of what it means to come to a satisfactory interpretation of this passage. E. B. Elliott in his Horae Apocalypticae - his classic commentary on the chief prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, spoke of the ‘difficulty felt by all expositors of prophecy’ when they encountered this passage. The Pulpit Commentary calls it a ‘Veritable crux interpretum’ ; that is ‘the interpreters cross’ or ‘the torment of the interpreters’. I challenge anyone who doubts this to study the voluminous amounts of commentary and wild speculations which have been written in order to come to a satisfactory understanding of the passage.

In summary the interpretations offered in the past are as follows:

1) The removal of the daily sacrifice and the setting up of the abomination of desolation refer to the acts of Antiochus Epiphanes in the second century B.C. However commentators cannot satisfactorily apply the 1290 and 1335 days to this period, whether the prophesied ‘days’ be reckoned as literal days or years.

2) The removal of the daily sacrifice and the setting up of the abomination of desolation refers in some way to Jesus’ earthy ministry or possibly the crucifixion. Again the 1290 and 1335 days cannot be satisfactorily applied to these events as either literal days or years.

3) The removal of the daily sacrifice and the setting up of the abomination of desolation refers to the rise and reign of the papacy. This interpretation is usually offered by those of the historicist school of interpretation and fails for two main reasons: First, it is difficult to see how the rise of the papacy could in fact be the ‘Abomination of Desolation’ when both Jesus and Daniel (Dan 11:31) connect it directly to the desolation of the Jewish nation and the removal of their daily sacrifice. Second, once again the time periods cannot be applied in any meaningful way in either literal days, or prophetic years from the rise of the papacy.

4) The removal of the daily sacrifice and the setting up of the abomination of desolation refers to the desolation of a future rebuilt Jewish temple by an antichrist still to come. This interpretation is impossible. Jesus connected the ‘abomination of desolation’ with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple that was standing in the first century. The entire discourse of Matthew 24 was given in answer to the disciple’s question about when the temple would be destroyed.

5) The removal of the daily sacrifice and the setting up of the abomination of desolation refers to the desolation of the Jews in the first century. It is beyond question that Jesus did in fact connect the ‘Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet’ with the desolation of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans. But once again these time periods have never been satisfactorily applied to that period of the first century. Some have tried to connect the 1290 and 1335 days to either the start of the Jewish war (66 AD) or the end of it (70 AD) but have failed to find any meaningful application. Attempts to apply the 1290 and 1335 days as prophetic years dating from that period have also failed.

The Pulpit Commentary sums up this difficulty:
As we have already said, if we take the profanation of the temple, 25th Casleu, 145 Seleucid era, as our starting-point, it is impossible to fix any great deliverance or any event of importance which happened some three years and seven months after. Antiochus may have died seven months after the news arrived of the reconsecration of the temple; but we have no data. As above stated, the death of Antiochus wrought but little alteration in the condition of the Jews. If we regard the days as literal days, there is one period that nearly coincides with the twelve hundred and ninety days—our Lord’s ministry upon the earth. It is difficult to understand how our Lord’s commencing his ministry was the removing of the daily sacrifice. Yet in the “heavenlies” it might be so. Further, we sometimes reckon “from” a period to come, as we can say, “We are yet—weeks from harvest, midsummer, or Christmas.” So the Crucifixion as the fulfilment of all the sacrifices of the Law may be regarded as their removal. Certainly in his crucifixion was the real abomination which maketh desolate set up. It suits the next verse. From our Lord’s crucifixion to his ascension there would be exactly forty-five days if, as is commonly believed, his ascension, as his resurrection, took place on a Sunday. This, however, is merely a thought thrown out. If we take the date indcated by our Lord, the war against the Jews, dating from Vespasian’s march to Ptolemais in the beginning of A.D. 67 to the capture of the temple and the cessation of the daily sacrifice (Josephus, ‘Bell. Jud.,’ vi. 2. 1), is not far off twelve hundred and ninety days. From this to the final capture of the city is close upon forty-five days. If we, however, take a day for a year, then another series of possible solutions are before us, all more or less faulty. One has the merit of postponing the solution to a date still future. The capture of Jerusalem by the Arabs in A.D. 637 is made the starting-point; if we add to that twelve hundred and ninety years, we have A.D. 1927. The Mohammedan power may have fallen by that time; anything may have happened then. All these various solutions, all more or less unsatisfactory, prove that no solution is possible.

This is not an imaginary problem and should concern any serious student of the Bible. The ‘rationalist’ school of interpretation which began to rise in the 19th century and exists today in many universities and seminaries teaches that the book of Daniel is in fact a forgery written by a second century BC Jew living during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes. They believe that the author of Daniel ‘guessed’ at the fate of Antiochus and ‘got it wrong’! Thus, to them, these time periods of 1290 and 1335 days are nothing more than the failed speculations of a prophetic pretender.

Now, there are those who will contend that the solution which I am about to offer is nothing more than my own ‘opinion’, ‘private interpretation’, or just one more wild speculation. I will let the reader judge. I cannot change anyone’s mind, but in light of the attempts at interpretation mentioned above, I ask that you open your hearts and minds and prayerfully consider what follows.

I believe the solution to 1290 and 1335 days of Daniel 12:11-12 to be as follows:

1) Jesus has the final say on what the ‘abomination of desolation’ is. This abomination is mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24, and Mark 13, and by cross reference is defined in Luke 21.

The surrounding of Jerusalem by armies in the first century and its subsequent desolation at the hands of the Romans is referred to by Jesus as ‘the abomination of desolation’.

This is as solid a scriptural fact as can be determined and should be beyond dispute. Since the 1290 and 1335 days of Daniel 12:11-12 commence in some way from this epoch, then any proper interpretation must deal honestly with this fact.

Matthew 24 Luke 21
Mat 24:15-16 When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:) (16) Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: Abomination of Desolation

Luk 21:20-21 And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. (21) Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains;

2) ALL passages which refer to the ‘abomination of desolation’ concern the Jewish nation and NOT the Christian Church. The prophecies in Daniel and the gospels clearly refer to the ‘taking away of the daily sacrifice’, the destruction of the Jewish temple, and the desolation of Jerusalem.

Since the 1290 and 1335 ‘days’ of Daniel 12 are connected with these events, then these also concern the Jewish nation, and not the Christian church. Any attempt to properly interpret these periods must deal with this fact.

3) We must then look for specific and not vague fulfillments of these time periods in the history of the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem.

4) We will reckon the 1290 and 1335 ‘days’ of Daniel 12 as so many years based on the precedent of the ‘seventy weeks’ prophecy of Daniel 9, in which 70 weeks were equal to 70 ‘weeks’ of years, or 490 years, as is the nearly unanimous opinion of most interpreters.

5) Logically then, the time periods reckoned as 1290 and 1335 years, cover centuries of history and in some way mark events in the desolation of Jerusalem and the fate of the Jewish people, the beginning of which is connected with the destruction and desolation of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans as prophesied by Jesus.

Now notice the following timeline in the history of Jerusalem:
63 BC – Roman General Pompey captures Jerusalem. Jerusalem officially comes under Roman control.

66 AD – Jews revolt against Roman rule starting the Jewish-Roman war. Jerusalem is surrounded by armies as Jesus had predicted in Luke 21.

70 AD – Romans destroy Jerusalem and the temple desolating the city as Jesus had predicted.

The first mistake we must avoid in properly interpreting the 1290 and 1335 prophetic days is to conclude that the Roman desolation of Jerusalem ENDED with the end of the Jewish war and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. This is simply not the case. In fact, although the temple was destroyed the Jewish population in Jerusalem recovered successfully enough to again revolt in 135 AD. Continuing our timeline…

135 AD – Bar Kochba revolt of Jews in Jerusalem against Rome. Rome puts down the rebellion, completely desolates the city, renames the city Aelia Capitolina, and expels all Jews from the city on pain of death. A statue of the Roman god Jupiter is built on the temple mount.
As noted above, the desolation of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD did not end their occupation or desolation of Jerusalem. Rome continued to make the city a desolation.

At this point in the history of Jerusalem we notice something very interesting. There are NO major events in the history of the city from the desolation of the city in 135 until the conversion of the emperor Constantine to the Christian religion. Roman desolation of the city continued unabated.

Constantine ‘converted’ to Christianity at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD. Constantine would then proclaim Rome to bea ‘Christian Empire’ – church and state merged, and Christianity was overrun by pagan beliefs and practices as throngs of unconverted pagans were assimilated into its ranks.

With the conversion Constantine and Rome now a supposedly ‘Christian Empire’, something very interesting also happens in the history of Jerusalem. Interest in Jerusalem as the city from which Jesus came is reignited. Constantine’s mother Helena travels to Jerusalem and discovers numerous supposed ‘relics’ such as the Robe Jesus wore during his trial, the nails used during the crucifixion, and the very cross that Jesus was crucified on! All of these relics had supposedly miraculous powers. This is the beginning of the practice of ‘relic worship’ within the church. Additionally Helena supposedly identified the location of every major event within the life of Jesus. Numerous ‘christian’ shrines began to be built in the city on these locations - each one is ‘sanctified’ by some supposed relic.

What does all this mean? That the desolation of Jerusalem by the Romans continued, but now under an apostate, Paganized form of Roman ‘christianity’.

Why is this important to the understanding of the 1290 and 1335 days? Note carefully the next major event in the history of Jerusalem.

614 AD – The ‘Christianization’ of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire came to halt in 614 AD when Persian invaders laid siege to the city and captured it. IN THIS EVENT ROME LOST CONTROL OF JERUSALEM FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 63 BC.

The significance of this event in the history of Jerusalem cannot be overstated. Not only did the Persians capture the city, but they destroyed nearly all of the ‘christian’ shrines and relics which had been set up by the Romans. They also stole the ‘true cross’ – the cross that Constantine’s mother had discovered.

Note the following history of this period from the site

•The conversion to Christianity of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine (306-337 CE) and the pilgrimage of his mother, Empress Helena, to Jerusalem in 326 CE inaugurated one of the city's most peaceful and prosperous epochs. According to Christian legends, Empress Helena discovered the relics of the 'True Cross of the Crucifixion' at the place of the Resurrection upon Mt. Calvary. Scholars however, believe this so-called 'finding' of the relics to be a story fabricated for political reasons by Constantine and his mother, and that the cross relics were most probably manufactured, as were so many other relics during early and medieval Christian times. Whatever the case, Helena's pilgrimage and Constantine's royal support made possible the building of many Christian shrines in the city.

•Foremost among the Christian shrines was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church marked the site of the Resurrection and soon became the supremely sacred place in all of Christendom. Finished in 335 CE, the great basilica was apparently built upon the foundations of an earlier Roman shrine dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite. It was during this splendid era of church construction that the tradition of Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem began.

•The most visited pilgrimage sites were Bethlehem, were Jesus was born; Golgatha, the site of his supposed crucifixion (and where legend says the skull of Adam is buried); the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; and the Mount of Olives, where Jesus (supposedly) ascended to heaven. The Christian glorification of Jerusalem continued until 614 CE when the Persians invaded the city, killed many of its inhabitants and destroyed numerous churches and monasteries.

While the Byzantines would briefly re-capture the city from Persians in 629 AD (losing it again to the Muslims in 638) the Roman control and desolation of Jerusalem which began when they surrounded the city by armies in 66 AD ENDED IN 614 AD. goes on to describe the history of Jerusalem following 614 AD:

•Following a brief period of Persian rule, the Muslim Caliph Umar captured Jerusalem in 638, six years after the death of Muhammad. Soon after his occupation of the city, Umar cleansed the Temple Mount, built a small mosque and dedicated the site to Muslim worship. The most imposing structure the Muslims found in Jerusalem was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Nearby the Arab conquerors undertook to build a more spectacular edifice, the Dome of the Rock, not only to proclaim the supremacy of Islam, but also to ensure that Christianity would not tempt the new followers of Islam. The site chosen was the very same rock where previously had stood the Jupiter temple of the Romans and before that, the two temples of the Jews.

Read again the words of Daniel 12:

And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days.

The Abomination of Desolation was the desolation of Jerusalem by the Romans. It began in 66-70 AD and ended in 614 AD.

Note this: ‘From the time (elsewhere translated season) that the daily sacrifice is taken away and the abomination of that maketh desolate set up….

That ‘time’ (SEASON) came to an end in 614 AD – from that time there shall be 1290 days (years)

If this understanding is correct then we should see some great change in the affairs of the Jewish people and Jerusalem beginning 1290 years from 614 AD.

614+1290= 1904 AD

From Wikipedia:

1904 – Second Aliyah
The Second Aliyah was the most important and influential aliyah. It took place between 1904 and 1914, during which approximately 40,000 Jews immigrated into Ottoman Palestine, mostly from Russia and Poland, some from Yemen.


This migration of the Jews back to their homeland is important for several reasons. In the late 1800’s Theodore Herzl founded the Zionist movement – the first political campaign to push for the re-establishment of a Jewish nation in their homeland. Herzl would not live to see this become a reality. He died in 1904 at the age of 44, convinced that he had laid the foundation for what he was certain would become a reality – the reestablishment of a Jewish nation in the land of Israel. The Zionist movement, the work of Herzl, and his death in 1904 were instrumental in bringing about the Second Aliyah, the first mass Zionist migration of Jews back to their homeland since being expelled by the Romans in the first century. It was during this ‘Aliyah’ that the Jews also revived the Hebrew language.

From the time the Roman desolation of Jerusalem ended in 614 AD, to the first Zionist migration of Jews, intent on reestablishing a Jewish State in Israel is exactly 1290 years. Is this merely a coincidence?

Blessed is he who WAITS (literally ‘patiently waits’) and comes to the 1335 days’ – Daniel 12:12
The migration of Jews back to the land of Israel caused many hardships. Many found it difficult to make a new life in the land. Many left. The migration was halted altogether by the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914.

The outbreak of World War 2 began one of the darkest periods in the history of the Jewish people. Nearly 6 million Jews perished during the holocaust. Is it a mere coincidence that beginning in 1904, just when the promise of Zionism and the migration of the Jews back to their native land begins to become a reality, that the Jews begin to face one the darkest periods in their entire history?

‘Blessed is he who patiently waits….’

If we are correct that the 1290 years of Daniel 12 ended in 1904 AD, then we would expect this to be followed by a period in which the Jewish people must patiently wait for a termination of events which would take place 45 years later…

614 + 1290 = 1904
614 + 1335 = 1949

In 1948 Israel declared independence- the first time a Jewish state had existed since the first century. Immediately, on the very day this independence was declared, the nation of Israel was attacked by five Arab nations. Against all odds the tiny new nation of Israel defended itself and won their war of independence becoming an official state in 1949. More than one historian has called this victory a ‘miracle’.


The facts of history are:

1) Jesus predicted that Jerusalem would be desolated by the Romans. He called the Roman destruction and desolation of the city the ‘abomination of desolation’. This came to pass beginning with the Jewish-Roman war in 66-70 AD.

2) The Roman desolation of Jerusalem continued, first under Rome as a Pagan empire devastating the city in 135 AD making it a wasteland, and second under Rome as a ‘Christian’ empire, overspreading it with relics and shrines.

3) Jerusalem continued under Roman control until 614 AD when the city was lost to the Persians who made it a point to destroy the shrines and relics which the Romans had placed there.

4) Exactly 1290 years later in 1904 40,000 Jews, inspired by Zionism and the passion of Theodore Herzl to reestablish a Jewish homeland in Palestine return to the land of Israel.

5) 45 years later in 1949, after a period of intense persecution an official homeland for the Jews in Israel becomes a reality.

I am not a statistician, but I believe the odds of this being simply ‘accidental’ could hardly be calculated. To me, this is clearly one of the most profound, yet unnoticed and overlooked fulfillments of prophecy in all of history. It is amazing to me that so many teachers of prophecy, while considering the reestablishment of the nation of Israel ‘highly significant’ are so blind to this clear application and amazing prophetic fulfillment.

There are two interesting footnotes in the history of the reestablishment of Israel..

In 1897 after the first Zionist conference in Basle Switzerland Theodore Herzl wrote:

"Were I to sum up the Basle Congress in a word-- which I shall GUARD AGAINST PRONOUNCING PUBLICLY-- it would be this: At Basle I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, and certainly in fifty, everyone will know it."

Did Herzl know just how prophetic and true his words were in light of Daniel’s prophecy?

Secondly, and sadly, Herzl died of heart failure in 1904 (the end of the 1290 days) without seeing the dream of a homeland for the Jewish people become a reality. In his will he stated that he wanted the poorest of funerals with no speeches or flowers. He wrote: ‘I wish to be buried in the vault beside my father, and to lie there till the Jewish people shall take my remains to Palestine”
Herzl ‘s remains were moved by the Jewish people to the land of Israel in 1949.

Blessed indeed is the one who waits, and comes to the 1335 days.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Spirits in Prison

1Pe 3:16 Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
1Pe 3:17 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
1Pe 3:18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
1Pe 3:19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
1Pe 3:20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
1Pe 3:21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
1Pe 3:22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.

The topic of this essay is the identity of the "spirits in prison", to whom Jesus preached in the Spirit. Initially it would seem that he somehow went back in time to preach to the people of Noah's time. Another equally enigmatic interpretation would be that he preached to the departed spirits of those who were unbelieving in Noah's time while he was in the grave.

An immediate problem with the first is the question of why only those of Noah's time and not anyone else in the rebellious history of mankind?

This problem extends to the second interpretation as well, but, more importantly, the preaching seems to have happened after his resurrection or quickening, not while he was in the grave, which might still give creedance to the idea of his proclamation to departed spirits, although this alone presents a multitude of problems. One problem, again, is why only the departed spirits of those of Noah's time?

Another interpretation of this passage is that he made proclamation to the angels who rebelled in their unions with the daughters of men. The support passages for this are ...
2Pe 2:4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;
2Pe 2:5 And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly;
Jud 1:6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.

While this interpretation has some merit, it has problems of its own. While these angelic prisoners are associated in scripture with the flood of Noah's time (Peter's account), the verses are immediately followed with the events of Sodom which is also done in the account by Jude without mention of the flood. The angels leaving their first estate may have more to do with the sexual sins of men which are not exclusive to the flooded world. Furthermore, why would Jesus need to preach to these imprisoned angels and why would we need to know about it? Lastly, while the rebellious angels and their activities contributed to the wickedness of men, it can be argued that this type of activity was not exclusive to the pre-flood world, so again, why only the angels who were disobedient in the days of God's long-suffering before the flood?

Before taking a serious look at the original passage in question, we should take a few moments to address the reasons we cannot easily see the plain interpretation of holy scripture. Instead of just being able to read scripture and understand it simply and harmoniously, we have to reverse or discard all other definitions of words or traditional ideas before we can see clearly which takes up so much of our time and energy. One such definition is that a spirit is a departed soul of a deceased person, which will not be addressed in this particular essay, but, will suffice to say this idea is nowhere supported as anything other than erroneous in scripture.

Aside from the familiar spirits of the witches most noted in the Old Testament, which incidentally is translated as a mumbling or empty vessel, "spirit" is properly translated as wind, breath, or moving air. Without the personifications traditionally associated with "spirits", wind is the excellent associative description of the term. It is invisible, yet powerful; able to move things, which in the context of the "spirit of (place the numerous applications, jealousy, wickedness, God..etc..)" makes it chiefly an ACTIVE influence or motivator. God's spirit is so influential it can create and sustain life.

When scripture says..
Heb 1:6 And again, when he bringeth in the firstbegotten into the world, he saith, And let all the angels of God worship him.
Heb 1:7 And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.
...there appears to be a contradiction in terms in that angels are spirits, right? Yes, angels by nature would be invisible powerful beings and thus spiritual, but, in the context of this verse, he makes his angels to be active influences in the lives of men. Reference the angelic activities in the Daniel regarding the prince of Persia as well as the spirit who volunteered to be a "lying spirit" in the vision of Machaiah in 2 Kings 22/2 Chronicles 18.

The term "spirit" refers to the invisible, powerful things that motivate, animate, and influence us IN ACTION, be it God himself, angels, emotions, thoughts, unexplained illness, or anything else where the affect can be seen, but, the cause is not.

Having said that, to discover what is being refererred to as "spirits in prison" and why, let's remind ourselves of what Christ was here to do...

Psa 68:18 Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them.
Isa 42:7 To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.
Rom 8:15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
Gal 2:4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:
Heb 2:14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
Heb 2:15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

The spirit of disobedience from disbelief imprisons the sons of men. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ sets us free from this bondage. In spirit, Christ "having gone(YLT)", meaning having made this journey, preached and preaches to the spirit of imprisonment that also kept those who would not get on the ark in Noah's time. The parallel of baptism that saves us and the ark that saved Noah is the sole reason for Peter's limitation to Christ only preaching to those particular "spirits", namely the spirits of disbelief and disobedience that imprisons the whole of man and prevents him from seeing what is readily available for his salvation.

1Pe 4:6 For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
Joh 5:25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Free Will vs. God

Just how free is our will?

Rom 1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
Rom 1:29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Rom 1:30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Rom 1:31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Rom 1:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Within these passages we do indeed find an amount of freedom in our wickedness if we so choose to follow the paths of our flesh. God does not commit the atrocities around us, we do. He does not fight, lust and kill, we do. He does not cause us to sin, our hearts do...

Jas 1:13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
Jas 1:14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
Jas 1:15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

It is due to the inherited flesh we have these evil desires. The human race is fallen because of Adam's sin and not of its own choice.
Rom 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:

Mankind, left to its own devices, truly is to be pitied. We are NOT capable of knowing what is best or good for us and yet we are taught that God gave us free will so the issue of our salvation would rest with us and not Him. OUR choice for ultimate salvation and yet we can't make it past breakfast without an evil thought.

The question is, does God plan to leave us this way? Is our already imperfect will more powerful than the Almighty Creator? Or are these other verses true?

1Ti 2:3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
1Ti 2:4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
1Ti 2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
1Ti 2:6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

Col 1:19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;
Col 1:20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

1Co 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
1Co 15:23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
1Co 15:24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
1Co 15:25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
1Co 15:26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

If it is God's will that all men be saved, then who is the mightier? Man's will or God's? If He so chooses to allow men to be wicked for a time for His purposes, who are we who have been saved by grace and not of works and who stumble repeatedly to not glory in the fact that His plan is to ultimately bring His children back in line during the time of Christ's return ...

Act 3:19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;
Act 3:20 And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:
Act 3:21 Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.

NOW is NOT the time of restitution, but, when Jesus returns to do so! Now is the call into the kingdom of the bride who will reign with Christ over the world and resurrection.

2Co 5:17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
2Co 5:18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;
2Co 5:19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

We must, in this age preach repentance and grace to all for the purpose of drawing out the bride and body of Christ who will have received life at his coming in order to bring about judgment and through judgment, reconciliation.

1Co 6:3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?

Mat 19:28 And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Now is the high calling of God. For Christians to be watchful for the coming of our Lord to defeat sin and death and heal a dying world. To resurrect all of Adam's fallen posterity and heal their infirmities, their unbelief, and their rebellion(free will) be it by fiery judgment or second death. The penalty for Adam's sin has been paid, otherwise, mankind would simply die out like animals. Now what needs to be destroyed is the flesh(rebellion) that causes sin and death.

Remember the resurrection happens in stages.
1Co 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
1Co 15:23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
1Co 15:24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
1Co 15:25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
1Co 15:26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

The totality of whom will be saved from death is denoted in the phrase "all in Adam"/"in Christ shall all be made alive", but in order....those who are his at his COMING, then the end; all those who are not his at his coming, which if we understand resurrection, is a returning to life of all who have died. The difference being that those who are Christ's will have passed from judgment into life and will be glorified and immortal while all else are resurrected into mortality for judgment until "the end" when their rebellion is destroyed and they receive the life already given to the saints.....

If all this be true, then we do have free will in one of two areas.

1. We can, like Christ, cease to have any will at all.... Luk 22:42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

...and be wondrously given the honor and undeserved privilege of reigning at his side in this grand work of the kingdom, or....

2. Continue rebelling against our Father out of ignorance(as is the case with most of the world, especially before Christ lived) or with knowledge and store up wrath for ourselves.

Rom 2:5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
Rom 2:6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
Rom 2:7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
Rom 2:8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
Rom 2:9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;

Further, if God has no control over our will, how then did He blind an whole nation of people that you and I could be saved?
Rom 11:25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
Rom 11:26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:

The collective free will of all Israel who were waiting on their Messiah certainly had no bearing when God decided, for our sakes to ignore it. Either way, we are our Father's children, whether we remain with Him, or seek our own hearts. Let us not be the prodigal son who sought the flesh until he had to become broken and contrite and returned to his father, but, let us neither be the elder son who thought his foolish brother unworthy of saving.

Joh 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Joh 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Scriptural Example of 'Eternal Fire' - Part Two

Part One

"And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city." Matthew 10:14-15

In Jude 7, the Bible speaks of the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, and how the destruction of these cities is set forth as an example of God's wrath against sin and unrighteousness. What the Bible does not say, is that the inhabitants of these cities were punished by being tormented in hell for all eternity. The passage simply does not say that, nor will you find that concept anywhere in scripture.

But the Bible has much more to say about the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah; such as in the passage above where we read that 'It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city' (those cities in Judea which had rejected the preaching of Christ's disciples).

What are we to make of this? Immediately there are problems for the commonly held belief that the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah are currently burning in hell. The judgment spoken of here is clearly the future and final judgment of mankind. If the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah are already burning in an eternal hell then this makes little sense. What good would it do to judge them in the future if they are already burning in hell?

Typical of the response given by most evangelical and fundamentalist Christians is the interpretation of the Dake's Annotated Study Bible":

"Teaching degrees of Punishment in hell"

Or the note from the Defender's Study Bible:

"This statement clearly sets forth the principle of degrees of punishment in hell..."

Will we ever begin to realize just how blind our preconceived ideas make us to what the Bible actually says? How can Matthew 10:14-15 be talking about 'degrees of punishment in hell', when once again, 'hell' is never mentioned in the passage? How is it that the passage clearly reads 'IN THE DAY OF JUDGMENT' when our commentators boldly instruct us that this means 'in HELL'?

But furthermore, taking these commentators at their word, how can this passage possibly mean that it will more more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah 'in hell' than for the wicked Judean cities that rejected the Messiah? Does that make any sense at all? If hell is actually like what we're always told it is, then what could a statement like this possibly mean? Do the wicked inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah get a cooler corner of the lake of fire? Are their burning souls made less sensitive to the tormenting flames and the devouring worms? Does it matter much since this conscious punishment supposedly lasts for all eternity? What kind of nonsense is this that we're so quick to inject into the word of God?

But if we take the Bible for what it actually says rather that what we've been told it means we can ascertain a few facts:

1) The passage does not say that it will be more tolerable for Sodom 'in hell'; it says 'in the day of judgment'. Why are so many believers so quick to inject their preconceived ideas here while apparently losing their ability to read plain English? If this passage is speaking of 'degrees of punishment' then these punishments are meted out within the time frame specified in the passage; 'In the day of judgment'. The concept of punishment in 'hell' is entirely absent.

2) It says that it shall be more tolerable for 'THE LAND of Sodom and Gomorrah' in this 'Day of Judgment'. We can ascertain from this that 'in the day of judgment' there must be a 'land of Sodom and Gomorrah' to judge. Therefore these lands must be restored in order to be judged. If the concept of various 'lands' being judged in the 'day of judgment' is foreign to you, then perhaps you might consider whether or not your understanding of the 'day of judgment' is correct.

3) The passage says nothing about the eternal destinies of these lands following the judgment.

Little attempt is made by evangelical or fundamentalist commentators to explain these facts. Having already decreed that the lands of Sodom and Gomorrah have been destroyed forever, and that their inhabitants are already burning in an eternal hell, the best they can do is assert that these passages teach 'degrees of punishment in hell'. But none of this changes what this passage actually says. If we are going to be scriptural then we must conclude that the final judgment upon the lands of Sodom and Gomorrah has not yet taken place, and that these lands will once again exist when this judgment takes place.

I can already hear the howls of protest. Based on Jude 7, and the fact that it says that these cities were destroyed by an 'eternal fire', how can I be suggesting that these cities and their inhabitants have any future restoration in the 'day of judgment'? Simple. Because:

1) The 'eternal' destruction of these cities isn't what you think it is....

2) The 'day of judgment' isn't what you've been taught that it is, and...

3) The Bible says so.

But isn't this a contradiction? How can an 'eternal destruction' allow for any future restoration?

Fortunately the Bible answers this question for us. Examine carefully the following passage where the prophet Isaiah is warning the land of Judah of their coming destruction:

"Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briers; Yea, upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city: Because the palaces shall be forsaken; The multitude of the city shall be left; The forts and towers shall be for dens for ever, A joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks; Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, And the fruitful field be counted for a forest. Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, And righteousness remain in the fruitful field. " Isaiah 32:13-16

Now here's a passage you're not likely to hear preached on Sunday morning. Isaiah is warning the nation of Judah about their coming destruction and the perpetual desolation to follow. Notice carefully that 'the palaces shall be forsaken' and the 'forts and towers shall be for dens FOR EVER'. Well that sounds pretty final doesn't it? 'Forever' means 'for all eternity' doesn't it? Or does it? Notice what comes next...

'The forts and towers shall be for dens FOR EVER... UNTIL the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field.'

Notice what this passage does not say; it does not say that this desolation of Judah lasts until the 'spirit be poured out from on high'. It says that the desolation lasts FOR EVER, until the 'spirit be poured out from on high'.

How many people have ever taken the time to consider this - that scripturally a destruction which is to last 'for ever' only lasts 'until' God restores it by the pouring out of His spirit? This is not my interpretation or opinion, it is simply what the Bible says.

The inescapable conclusion in this passage is that 'for ever' is simply as long as God intends it to last - this is the only scriptural conclusion that we can come to. Even the most conservative commentators are here forced to admit this.

For example, the Bible Knowledge Commentary States:

"The desolation (whether by Assyria or Babylon) would come on the land forever (‘ôlām). This Hebrew word does not always carry the same force as the English word “forever.” From verse 15 it is obvious that Isaiah saw a day when the desolation would cease. So it is better to understand ‘ôlām here as meaning “for a long indeterminable time.” (emphasis mine)

The Pulpit Commentary admits:

"For ever. This expression must not be pressed. Hyperbole is a recognized feature of poetry written under strong excitement.... Until. The expression “until” modifies the previous “for ever,” showing that the desolation was not always to continue. "

I couldn't agree more with these conclusions, but the problem for them is this: Since they are forced here to admit that a destruction which is expressly stated to last 'for ever' will ultimately come to an end, then how can they say by the same logic that the perpetual destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah can never come to an end, particularly when we are explicitly told by Jesus that these cities must exist 'in the day of judgment'? If the desolation of Judah lasts 'for ever' until God restores it, then why is this not also true of Sodom and Gomorrah?

Do we believe what the Bible says? Are we willing to admit that we might have been mistaken?

Some might reason that while such a restoration is promised for the nation of Israel, such a restoration is never promised for the lands of Sodom and Gomorrah. But such reasoning is completely mistaken.

The comparison between the wickedness of Israel and that of cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is not unique to the New Testament, such as in Matthew 10:14-15, but is also found in the Old Testament:

"As I live, declares the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it." Ezekiel 16:48-50

Notice the comparison here. The sins of Jerusalem are being compared to the sins of Sodom. The Lord declares that in his eyes, Jerusalem had sinned far worse than Sodom which had been destroyed for their wickedness. Because of their guilt, Judah and Jerusalem were also to experience destruction and desolation. As shown above, this destruction was also foretold by the prophet Isaiah - destruction that was was to last 'for ever' until Judah and Jerusalem were restored by God's spirit.

Similarly, the book of Ezekiel also speaks of this future restoration of Judah and Jerusalem. But within the context describing that restoration we read an absolutely astonishing statement concerning the lands of Sodom and Gomorrah:

"I will restore their fortunes, both the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters, and the fortunes of Samaria and her daughters, and I will restore your own fortunes in their midst, that you may bear your disgrace and be ashamed of all that you have done, becoming a consolation to them. As for your sisters, Sodom and her daughters shall return to their former state, and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former state, and you and your daughters shall return to your former state." Ezekiel 16:53-55

Again, the restorations of Judah and Jerusalem are promised, but they are promised along with the restoration of Sodom! To be sure, Sodom was extremely sinful and their destruction served as an example of God's wrath against sin. But the nation of Israel, having been given so much more divine favor incurred more guilt than even Sodom. Both nations were destroyed, and both have suffered perpetual desolation. But just as God promised restoration to the nation of Israel, he also promised restoration to the land of Sodom. Because wicked Israel felt that they were so much more righteous than the surrounding nations, they will suffer great remorse in the judgment when they see the restoration of Sodom - a remorse which will be magnified by Sodom receiving a more 'tolerable' judgment.

So what have we learned from all this?

First, that the Bible never says that the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were sent to hell, only that the destruction of their cities is set forth as an example of the vengeance of 'eternal fire'. Second, that this eternal destruction and desolation lasts only as long God ordains it to last. And lastly, that Sodom and Gomorrah are promised a future restoration along with the nation a Israel - a restoration which will occur 'in the day of judgment'. The concept that inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah are currently suffering in an eternal hell is not only absent, but in direct contradiction to what the scriptures actually say.

I hope this this brief study on the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah will challenge all believers to reexamine their belief in the doctrine of eternal torment, and to ask once again if what they have been taught is really based on the scriptures alone.


Friday, July 20, 2007

A Scriptural Example of 'Eternal Fire' - Part One

"Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." Jude 7

In a previous post I attempted to demonstrate very briefly that the doctrine of eternal torment is simply not a scriptural teaching, but is based on various assumptions already present in the mind of the reader which are injected into the scriptures. The popular ideas about hell are completely absent from the very scriptures that are too often quoted to prove that hell is a reality. Christians need to examine their hearts and ask themselves if they're interested in what the Bible really teaches, or if they're more interested in defending long held and cherished beliefs no matter what.

The only sure guide for determining what a passage means is to let the Bible define its own terms and language. So many Christians insist that they do just that, but their doctrines betray them. For example, why do so many Christians regularly preach that the 'Gehenna Fire' (often translated 'hell fire') of the New Testament is an eternal place of conscious torment for human souls, when scripturally the only thing it is ever said to burn are human corpses?

The passage quoted at the top of this posting is just one more place in the scriptures where people think they find scriptural 'proof' of hell. But again, when we let the scriptures define their own language, this passage becomes fatal to that concept. How so?

We read that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha are set forth as an EXAMPLE of 'eternal fire'. If this verse is supposed to offer 'proof' for the existence of some fabled hell-hole of eternal torment then this is surely strange. Most people are familiar with the Old Testament story about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha. The wickedness of those cities was so great that God destroyed them by raining down fire and brimstone from heaven. But friends, that's where the story ends concerning God's wrath against them. You cannot find anywhere in your Bible where it says that these wicked people landed in hell after their cities were destroyed.

Now let's think about this. Sodom and Gomorrha are supposed to be an EXAMPLE of vengeance by 'eternal fire'. Even more than that, they are SET FORTH as an example of such a fire. If this is 'proof' of an eternal hell, then what evidence, scriptural or otherwise, are you going to SET FORTH AS AN EXAMPLE to prove it? You have no scriptural proof, and certainly not one shred of physical evidence to prove this. What happened to these cities is an example of what an 'eternal fire' is and does. Immortal souls burning in hell are never set forth as an example of anything.

The meaning of this passage ought to be crystal clear if not for the 'theological blinders' which obscure the minds of so many professing Christians. The wrath of God against these cities utterly destroyed them and wiped them off the face of the earth, and they were never rebuilt. The fact of their destruction and perpetual desolation to this day is the true example of what God's eternal fire is. This is a provable, visible, and tangible fact which can be set forth as an example of God's wrath against unrighteousness and sin. Why do so many feel the need to cloud such a clear example by trying to use this passage as proof for an unscriptural myth?

The total and perpetual destruction of these cites can be set forth as a clear example of God's wrath. On the other hand, no one has ever presented one soul burning in hell as an example of anything.

But the scriptural facts about the people who suffered this fate do not end here. I know that most Christians want to confine the people of Sodom to hell for all eternity, but is that what the Bible really says? Oh, I hear you now; 'The fire is eternal' you say. But, scripturally speaking, are you sure you even know what an 'eternal fire' is?

The truth might surprise you...

To be continued...


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Eternal Torment In Hell - A Scriptural Teaching?

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We are assured by nearly every Christian denomination, as well as every obscure Christian sect, that what they believe is based ‘solely on scripture’. Usually, if we were to ask any of these various groups why their particular interpretation of the scriptures should be favored against an opposing viewpoint we would likely be told that the others must surely be influenced by some extra-biblical authority, while ‘our interpretation is based solely on the scriptures.’

Sola Scriptura – or, scripture alone – has become the ‘stamp of authority’ for an innumerable myriad of conflicting and altogether contrary doctrines. Surely to a neutral outside observer these words must seem totally meaningless. Apparently anything can be proven ‘by scripture alone’.

Or can it?

To test this, let’s examine for a moment a doctrine that is believed by millions of Christians, taught in hundreds of Bible Colleges and Seminaries, and proclaimed in countless churches every Sunday: namely, that Hell is a place of eternal torment.

This thought, that the wicked will spend eternity in a hell of eternal torment, is one of the most basic and fundamental beliefs of Christianity and has been for centuries. We are assured by many of its adherents that this doctrine is based on ‘scripture alone’.

But is it? Let’s confine ourselves to the ‘scriptures alone’ and see what we come up with.

The word ‘hell’ as it appears in our English Bible is actually translated from one Hebrew word (Sheol), and three different Greek words (Hades, Tartarus, and Gehenna). Any honest Pastor, Scholar or Bible teacher will tell you that three of these words have little or nothing to do with our modern conception of hell as a place of everlasting torment. Don’t believe me? Ask them.

For example, the Hebrew word Sheol simply means ‘the unseen’. In the Old Testament Sheol received both the good and the wicked; it is often synonymous with the grave. Put simply, Sheol means ‘the death state’ and is never connected with the concepts of hell and eternal torment as taught today[1].

Likewise, the Greek word ‘Hades’, which appears eleven times in the New Testament, is used in precisely the same way as the Hebrew ‘Sheol’[2]. At 1 Corinthians 15:55 the King James Version renders this word as ‘grave’. Revelation 20:13[3] makes it clear that Hades must be emptied prior to the final judgment. Once again, our widely held conceptions of hell and eternal torment are not to be found in those Bible verses that use the Greek word Hades.

Thirdly, the Greek word Tartarus is used only once in the New Testament (2 Peter 2:4), and refers only to the punishment of fallen angels. Tartarus is never used in reference to human punishment either now or in the future, and so also has nothing to do with our modern conceptions of eternal punishment in hell.

This leaves us with one Greek word - Gehenna. Concerning this word we are assured that it certainly does teach this doctrine of eternal torment.

But does it?

This word Gehenna appears only 12 times in the entire New Testament, and is almost always translated ‘hell’ by modern translators. I ask the reader to carefully consider the following verses:

"But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." Matthew 5:22

"And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell." Matthew 5:29

"And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell." Matthew 5:30

"And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Matthew 10:28

"And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire." Matthew 18:9

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves." Matthew 23:15

"Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" Matthew 23:33

"And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:" Mark 9:43

"And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:" Mark 9:45

"And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:" Mark 9:47

"But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him." Luke 12:5

"And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell." James 3:6

It should be obvious from the above that ‘Hell’, whatever it may be, is to be avoided at all costs, and the seriousness of the judgment mentioned in these verses should never be diminished. But for the sake of this discussion, that’s not what we’re trying to prove.

Remember , the proposition that we are attempting to prove using ‘scripture alone’ is that ‘hell is a place of eternal torment’. Confining ourselves to ‘scripture alone’ and examining the four original language words which are variously translated into the English ‘hell’, this is the whole of the evidence. [4] Three of these original language words; the Hebrew Sheol, and the Greek Hades and Tatarus, have nothing to do with the teaching of an eternal torment in hell, and the remaining word, Gehenna, appears only in the 12 verses listed above.

So what’s the problem? One might think ‘Well see, the Bible DOES talk about HELL, at least in those 12 verses you listed.’


Even if we allow that the Greek word Gehenna has been properly translated into English as ‘HELL’[5], none of the 12 places in which this word occurs describes hell as a place of eternal torment as taught by so many today. Look at the list of verses above; none of them mention torment.

Put another way, the Bible never says that anyone is tormented in hell.[6]

I’m not sure that the average Christian who believes in eternal torment fully appreciates this problem. He or she is usually so conditioned by what they already believe about hell, that they cannot see that these concepts ARE TOTALLY ABSENT FROM EVERY VERSE IN WHICH THE WORD ‘HELL’ APPEARS.

To appreciate what this means, let’s say that I asked the average Christian to show me from their Bible one verse that states that hell is a place of eternal torment. This can never be done. Why? Because the entirety of the evidence, so far as the actual words which have been translated ‘hell’, has been given above – not one of them speaks of torment.

But if we really want to base what we believe ‘solely on the scriptures’ then the evidence above presents an even bigger problem for those who teach eternal torment in hell.

Let’s carefully look at our Bible and see what we can learn about the ‘hell’ presented in the 12 verses listed above.

We see that ‘hell’ is a place of ‘unquenchable fire’. But scripturally (since scripture is our SOLE guide) what does this mean? What is an ‘unquenchable fire’? Is it a fire that never goes out? Isn’t that what we’ve been taught to believe about the ‘unquenchable fire’ of hell?

Careful examination shows that the scriptures make many references to ‘unquenchable fires’. But what may surprise you is that many of these ‘unquenchable fires’ are no longer burning. For example:

"Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, mine anger and my fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched." Jeremiah 7:20[8]

Here the prophet Jeremiah is warning the Jewish nation about their impending invasion and destruction by Babylonian armies. But did the fury and the fires spoken of here last for all eternity? Absolutely not. As the New American commentary states:

‘In this case God’s anger was going to be poured out on the land like burning pitch that would not be quenched until it had consumed everything it touched’[9] (emphasis mine)

So, scripturally speaking, an ‘unquenchable fire’ is not one that burns FOREVER - it is simply one that burns until it has accomplished its purpose. Therefore, using scripture alone one cannot prove that ‘hell’ is a fire that never goes out. That idea is simply not scriptural. To be sure, like the unquenchable fires of old, the fire of ‘hell’ will burn until it accomplishes its purpose. This, however, is no proof that its fires will never burn out.[10]

What else can we learn from the 12 ‘hell’ verses listed above?

We learn that hell is a place where ‘the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched’. Well, that sounds rather ominous, but scripturally, what does it really mean?

Here Jesus is quoting the sixty-sixth chapter of the book of Isaiah which reads:

"And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh." Isaiah 66:24

Sticking to the scriptures ALONE, what do we learn from this passage? What is this ‘fire’ burning, and what are these ‘worms’ feeding upon?

CARCASSES – or dead bodies![11] Once again, the modern concept of souls being tormented after death is entirely absent!

How in the world did the picture of fire and worms consuming dead carcasses get turned into the modern teaching of immortal souls being tormented for all eternity? Certainly not by following scripture alone!

So what have we learned using scripture alone?

1) That four different words are generally translated into the English word ‘hell’, but of these only Gehenna is believed to refer to the eternal hell of common Christian thought.

2) None of the verses containing the word Gehenna speak of physical torment.

3) Scripturally, an ‘unquenchable fire’ is not one that never goes out, but one that burn until it accomplished its purpose.

4) Even if an ‘unquenchable fire’ is ‘eternal’ the only thing it is said to burn are carcasses, and certainly not conscious immortal souls.

This brief study isn’t meant to address every scripture which is usually offered in order to ‘prove’ that there is a hell in which the lost will be eternally tormented. However, I hope that the reader will be compelled by this evidence to study this topic further. Are you really sure that what you’ve been taught about hell is based ‘solely upon the scriptures’?

So let me ask the average Christian today:

Since your belief in hell as a place of eternal torment is supposedly based ‘solely on scripture’, and since none of the verses that contain the word ‘hell’ actually teach it, which verses in the Bible really teach what you believe about hell?



[1] I invite the reader to verify this for themselves. The Hebrew word sheol occurs 65 times in the Old Testament. A careful reading of these verses will easily prove that the modern concept of torment in hell cannot be established from any of these.

[2] In the LXX translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, sheol is rendered by the Greek hades.

[3] "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hades delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works." Revelation 20:13

[4] I understand that other scriptures are cited in defense of this doctrine, but we should expect to find this doctrine at least once among the actual Greek words which supposedly reference this place of eternal torment.

[5] The proper translation of gehenna is itself a matter of much debate and its widespread translation into the English ‘hell’, a word which carries so much preconceived theological baggage, is simply begging the question.

[6] Among common passages cited in opposition to this are Luke 16:24 (‘I am tormented in this flame’ ) and Rev 14:11 (‘The smoke of their torment ascendeth for ever and ever’). The ‘torment’ of Luke 16 (which many admit to be of a symbolic rather than a literal nature) is clearly in reference to ‘hades’ and is to be distinguished from the supposed ‘final hell’ of gehenna. Even ‘conservative’ scholars admit that hades does not represent the absolute and final state of the wicked. The word ‘hell’ does not appear in the context of Revelation 14. While the imagery of that verse is usually connected with the concept of an ‘eternal hell’, the association is an imaginary one in the mind of the reader and not based on a careful reading of scripture. The imagery is taken directly from Isaiah 34 in which the judgments take place upon the earth and are poured out upon the living. Only to those who have been conditioned to believe in an eternal hell of torment after death do these verses become descriptive of that condition.

[7] The Anchor Bible Dictionary admits this: ‘Although not describing the torments of Gehenna, Jesus warned his disciples to take all precautions not to fall victim to it.’ Freedman, D. N. (1996, c1992). The Anchor Bible Dictionary (2:927). New York: Doubleday.

[8] See also Jeremiah 17:27, Jeremiah 21:12, Ezekiel 20:47, Ezekiel 20:48, Amos 5:6

[9]Huey, F. (2001, c1993). Vol. 16: Jeremiah, Lamentations ; The New American Commentary (108). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[10] Other verses such as Matt 18:8 describe this fire using the Greek word Aionios which is often translated ‘eternal’. However, a careful examination of all ways in which this word is used proves that it need not mean, and indeed often cannot mean ‘unending’.

[11] The Hebrew word Peger appears 24 times in the Old Testament and never means anything other than a corpse.