Here is a quick and easy question for you smart ones out there who know your Bibles.
Q. What are the wages of sin? (A. or B.)
B. Eternal conscious torment
Here is a quick and easy question for you smart ones out there who know your Bibles.
Q. What are the wages of sin? (A. or B.)
B. Eternal conscious torment
Just a short post to stimulate some thought. What prevents you from reading your Bible more? Some of my anecdotal evidence indicates that many believers don’t read their bibles more (or at all!) because of what I will call an intimidation factor. When people read the Bible for themselves and come to some understanding, but then go to “church” and hear that their understanding is wrong (infantile, they are put down, demeaned, made to feel small, weak or just plain stupid) they eventually end up not reading their Bible. Most of the people I have asked about this issue have said they just resigned themselves to believe whatever their pastor, Sunday School teacher, etc. believe. Some of the rationale for this is that their leaders have been to school and they haven’t, or the leaders have studied more and understand better than they do, or the leaders always have so much more insight than they do and even though they come to a different understanding of the Bible verse (passage) than their leaders, they must be wrong because their views are not the same as their leaders.
What I have faced from these people is a near total discouragement in getting close to God on their own, so they rely heavily, if not solely, on the faith and belief of those around them. When asked what they believe about any doctrine, they merely rattle off some scholar, theologian, or pastors’ belief and say, “that’s what I believe.”
Curious, I now ask, what is your experience ? Have you experienced people like this or attitudes/ reasons like these?
As I have gone back and re-read this chapter several times, I realized that there are really only a few points that Yarbrough makes, scattered amongst so many divisions in this chapter. The first issue he takes up is Jesus’ use of the term “hell, “which is a translation of the Greek term “Gehenna.” The second issue brought is that of the term “unquenchable fire.” The third issue is with the word “eternal” or its synonyms. Because the evangelical world puts so much weight on the words of Jesus, it is imperative that the reader understands what the definition of those words are and what Jesus meant when he used them, and also, what His readers would have understood the terms to mean (or what Jesus was saying)
One question came immediately to my mind upon reading this chapter and the few references (12), 11 of which are attributed to Jesus, concerning what “hell” was. Since Jesus lived in the Old Covenant and referenced only the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets, (what we have as the Old Testament), was His understanding of hell the same as the Old Testament or was it wholly other-worldly ( in other words divine, right from the Godhead in the form of new revelation)? Other questions start coming to mind as well. Why is there no reference in all the Old Testament to hell, a place of unending torment, as we know it today? If our understanding of the Gospel is such that it saves people from hell, why did Paul never mention this? One of the most important concepts regarding life and death, the subject of hell, is only spoken of a few times in over 60-70 years of inspired history (much of the 1st century). Why is this? Finally, why was the Old Testament term “sheol,” defined everywhere as a place of the dead, and translated in the Greek Old Testament by the words “Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, later translated in the New Testament Greek as gehenna, (an actual place southeast of Jerusalem outside the city where the conquered dead were piled and burned), then suddenly in Jesus’ ministry transformed into a place of eternal torment called hell? Jesus said several times, “You have heard it said…but I say to you.” Why, if He was changing the meaning of the word sheol/gehenna (which in the New Testament is translated as hell), did He not include this in His teachings, such as, “You have heard it said that when people die they go to a place called sheol, a place where the righteous and the wicked dead go, but I say to you that the righteous will go to heaven upon death and the wicked to a place of eternal torment called hell”?
I hope to answer some of these questions as I go through this chapter. But first, let me briefly explain the chapter at hand. Yarbrough goes through, and from a basic modern traditional standpoint describes, all 11 of Jesus’ uses of the term, gehenna, translated as hell. Because most everyone who will read this blog has a fairly thorough understanding of the modern view of hell, equated to eternal conscious torment, I will not belabor this point. Every usage by Jesus, according to Yarbrough, refers to judgment in hell as a final reward for the wicked dead. This is a state of forever being separated from God, being burned in the fires of hell but not consumed, and the wicked are conscious during this forever-ness. The only escape is to believe in Jesus during this life. He also claims that Paul teaches this very same belief as Jesus whether directly or indirectly. He cites such verses as 1 Cor 11:23 as a direct teaching of Paul on hell, and indirect passages such as Rom. 15:19, 30; 1 Cor 2:10-14; 7:40; Eph 3:5; 1 Thess 1:5; 1 Tim 4:1. Yarbrough goes on and makes the assertion that Hebrews and Revelation also teach the same thing Jesus taught regarding hell.
Yarbrough does not stop there though. He continues by asserting that annihilationism (the belief that the wicked dead will be judged and one day cease to exist) is false, as asserted by Edward W. Fudge, who wrote The Fire That Consumes. Finishing out the chapter, Yarbrough refutes the idea that hell came from Plato, and quotes some patristic fathers, (those disciples taught by the apostles) as supporting the concept of hell as eternal conscious torment. He concludes by saying, “If our aim is to be faithful to Scripture, we must face what Jesus’ teachings have been understood to assert by most biblical interpreters over many centuries, cutting across a wide assortment of confessional and denominational settings.” With all this spouted by Yarbrough, I go back to the initial paragraph where what he writes can be broken down into three basic categories: definition of Gehenna/hell, unquenchable fire, and eternal. It is to these categories I shall now turn.
Definition of the term hell
There are several words in the Bible that are translated from the Hebrew or Greek that some Bible translations translate as hell. The first of these terms is Sheol. This Hebrew term is found in the Old Testament scriptures. The King James Version, which most of our modern translations stem from, originally translated Sheol as “hell” 31 times. It also translated it as grave 31 times, and pit 3 times. The root meaning of the Hebrew word “Sheol” is “unseen.” It was a place where Jacob went (Gen 37:35; 42:38; 44:29, 31), where Job longed to go (Job 14:13), David spoke of going there (Psa 49:15) and even Jesus Himself went there (Psa 16:10; Acts 2:24-31). Can you see that the original definition of sheol as “unseen” makes perfect sense? This place was a place where the wicked and the righteous went after death and were no longer “seen” by people. Consequently, in more modern translations that are trying to be more faithful to the original text, the word “hell” has totally dropped out of the Old Testament. (see The RSV, ASV, NRSV, and NASB which are all technically revisions of the original King James Bible, the NKJV has gone from 31 references to 19).
Sheol also is used in the Old Testament for national judgments, i.e., the vanishing of a nation. In Isa 14:13, 15, Isaiah said Babylon would go to sheol, and she vanished. In Ezek. 26:19-21, Tyre vanished in sheol. And when we look at similar type judgments in the New Testament, in Matt 11:23; 12.41; Luke 10;15, and 11;29-32, Jesus said that Capernaum would disappear. These nations and cities didn’t go to a particular location, but they were going to disappear, and they did. They were destroyed. Thus, sheol is used commonly of national judgments in both the Old and New Testaments.
Sheol is also the equivalent of the New Testament “Hades” which is also, likewise translated as “the unseen.” Hades occurs 11 times in the New Testament. Luke 16 pictures righteous Lazarus there. Acts 2:27, 31 says Jesus went there. In 1 Cor 15:55, Paul used the same word when he said, “O grave, where is your victory?” In Rev. 1:18, Jesus said he had the keys that control both death and hades, the unseen, and in Rev 6:8, death and hades followed the pale horse. Finally, in Rev 20:13-14, death and hades gave up the dead that were in them, and were then cast into the lake of fire. These verses illustrate that hades refers to anything that is unseen.
One of the curious things that I have found in my study is that the terms sheol, in Hebrew the unseen or a national judgment, and the Greek term Gehenna, literally translated as “The Valley of the Sons of Hinnom or The Valley of Hinnom” are both translated into the New Testament as “hell,” a place of unending torment. One major problem for Yarbrough and all who believe in an eternal conscious torment is the fact that Gehenna is never used in the Greek Old Testament, called the Septuagint. The Valley of Hinnom is an actual place and is generally regarded as a valley nearby Jerusalem that originally belonged to a man named Hinnom. This valley had a long history in the Old Testament, all of it bad. Hence, Gehenna is a proper name of an actual place, and that place was never identified as a place of eternal conscious torment. Gehenna should never have been translated as hell, a place of unending torment.
This valley was a place where children were sacrificed on the fire to Molech, and mainly understood by Jews as God’s judgment upon a rebellious people (see Joshua 1:8; 18:16; 2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chron 28:3; 33:6; Nehemiah 11:30; Jeremiah 7:32; 19:2, 6, 11-14) . So, when Jesus used the word Gehenna, signifying Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, the Jews He came to minister to would have likely known this term to refer to God’s judgment on the Jews, and maybe specifically even how their ancestors sacrificed their children by burning them in a fire to Molech, just as the pagans did. Taking this understanding to Jesus’ teachings, the 11 times He used the term Gehenna, sheds a better light on the true meaning of these passages.
Next, we will examine the passages more closely that Jesus used the term Gehenna (translated hell) and then begin dealing with the concept of unquenchable fire, followed by eternal. I will also explain why this is such good news for you and I, the fact that eternal conscious torment seems to have no support biblically. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to comment below with them, or email them to us for a private answer.
One other thing before I leave. It has been brought to my attention that the common person has no access to the ancient Hebrew or Greek bible texts, study information, helps, etc., as well as to historical teachings related to the Bible and its milieu. I believe that is untrue, emphatically untrue. Should you, as a reader here, not have tools for Bible study, and desire to understand more (though not necessary for a right relationship to God and true worship of Him!), I suggest you go to http://www.biblesupport.com and download first, the E-Sword Bible software. It is totally free. Then, once installed, you may download any other resources (most are free!) for E-Sword, either at this site or others. They have gigabytes of resources should you desire to study further. If you need help or would like recommendations for books to download for that library, please let me know.
God’s richest blessings to you as you rejoice in His total victory over sin and death through the precious blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross for all!
This chapter is written by Robert W. Yarbrough. The chapter has subheadings as follows:
Does Anyone Really Know What Jesus Taught
What Jesus Said (with 9 headings within this subheading)
Jesus’ Teaching: A Different Understanding
The Prima Facie Meaning of Jesus’ Statements on Hell
Jesus’ Teaching: Did It Come From Plato?
Conditionalist Scruples, Post 9/11 Belief, and Jesus’ Teaching
In the three paragraphs that open this chapter, Yarbrough asks, “Does the historic view (of hell, my clarification) find support in his teaching? Or, as many are now insisting, did Christ rather say that the wicked will at some point after death simply cease to exist rather than undergo eternal conscious suffering? So far, my initial impression is that this book focuses mostly on refuting annihilationism, the belief that the wicked dead will one day cease to exist in any form. As I continue to read through this book, we shall see if that is in fact the case.
Does Anyone Really Know What Jesus Taught?
Yarbrough begins by explaining that since the Enlightenment of the late 1700’s, belief in the truth of the Gospels has decreased. One group cited is The Jesus Seminar (www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/unmasking-the-jesus-seminar/), which has evaluated all of the texts claimed to be Jesus’ word and rated them on the probability of Jesus actually saying them. This group has laid waste to most of Jesus’ sayings and caused an untold amount of people to question the reliability of the Bible. Along with the Jesus Seminar, he credits recent writings that soften or outright question the inspiration and full authority of the Bible. He adds, “popular evangelicalism…in North America likes to dwell on feelings and blessings but not on unpleasant doctrines like hell.”
Yarbrough makes the following statement regarding the dissolving of the doctrine of hell in current evangelicalism saying, “The problem is that if Jesus spoke as frequently and directly about hell as Gospel writers claim, then it may not be the Christian message that we end up proclaiming if we modify his doctrine of posthumous existence…In sum, we should be wary of the temptation of our era to dilute the Bible’s message about hell because it is currently acceptable, not only in society but increasingly even in the church, to pick and chose what one wishes to believe. We should be skeptical of arguments that overturn age-old understandings of Scripture on ultimately speculative grounds.” He finishes this section saying that if hell is to be done away with, one has to do away with what Jesus said about hell.
Before we get into the proof-texting of the next section, What Jesus Said, I want to make a couple of brief comments. First, I agree with Yarbrough that there has been a swing in recent years to elevate feelings over written truth, on-going revelation of God apart from the Bible versus those who believe God’s revelation was completed when the canon of Scripture was closed (the collection of the current 69 books of the Bible was finished). When feelings are used as THE basis for understanding God today, how does the Christian separate his beliefs from any other world religious beliefs, especially those of groups like Mormons, whose testimony about Jesus is summed up and solidified in having “a burning in the bosom to know that Mormonism is true, that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. If two Christians can have contradictory feelings about God and both be right, then we truly make God in our own image!
Second, I take slight offense to the hubris of Yarbrough when he says that to do away with hell we have to do away with Jesus’ words on hell and that the only way to do so would be ultimately speculative. Could it not be that we have misunderstood what Jesus has taught on hell, and what He said is accurate and true (I believe this with my whole being!)? Could it be that lies told early on (circa AD 300-600) have now been told enough that they have become the truth? Could it be that some of the leaders of the church that became “The Western Church of Rome” actually had to use secular ways of “persuading” their church members to give money so they could have power and influence and big, beautiful buildings? I am sure that Yarbrough does not throw out Jesus’ words, but neither would a Christian believer in ultimate salvation seek to throw out Jesus words. And, as I hope to show the reader, there is nothing speculative about denying the concept of hell as eternal conscious torment. I, like my fellow believers, seek to fully understand what Jesus taught without relying on church interpretation passed on by popes and those influenced by popes (and power). Finally, sin is still an offense to a holy and righteous God and should not be promoted by Christians in any way just to satisfy their own desires for possibly escaping judgment in this life or the next.
Since this section is getting long, I have decided to break this chapter up into several sections of my own. I believe it is important to not gloss over the text of Scripture, and since this section is full of what Jesus said about hell, we should spend some time looking into each claim. I pray that the length of this will not cause you to run off in search of something quicker and more in tune with your own theology. I hope you will, with an open-mind, hear why I believe hell is not eternal conscious torment and why I believe that God will eventually have all people to be saved. My gauge will be the comments (mainly the lack thereof!) and the Stats page on this blog.
Next episode (section, posting) I will begin tackling what Jesus said in The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ Teaching When Commissioning His Disciples, and hopefully, Jesus’ Teaching about the Destiny of His Opponents. These are the first of nine sub-sections under the major heading of What Jesus Said. Until next time, God’s blessings to you.
As I continue to put together my review of Hell Under Fire, Chapter 3, Jesus On Hell, in the meantime I wanted to post some crucial points that I believe every professing Christian today should seriously consider. My point in posing these points is not to promote “MY” beliefs but to engage you in honest and open dialogue about what God has truly said and Who He truly is. Here are some questions that I think we should ponder. My challenge, as always, is to help you to establish what you really believe about God by not bowing first and foremost to church tradition. If the Word of God is truly written for even the simplest of minds (like children’s and non-intellectual types like me!), then the Word must have some plain meanings that we don’t need to seek pastor/theologians for. When you first believed, did you read the Bible on your own? Were you able to understand anything you read? Did the Holy Spirit bring you to a knowledge of the truth (apart from systematic theology studies, scads of sermons, books written about the Book, etc)? I am sure the answer is a resounding Yes! So, go back to those days, maybe from long years past, and answer the following questions. I will also throw out this challenge as well: Ask yourself why it is you hold the beliefs you have. Is it because of what you read for yourself in the Bible or is it because of what someone taught you the Bible says? Well, here goes.
In John 4:42, when the Samaritans said to the woman whom Jesus met at the well (please read the whole passage, John 4:1-42), “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world,” what did they mean about Jesus? Is He truly the Savior of the world? Does “the world” mean the whole world or only part?
In Luke 2:10-11, when the angel says to the shepherds watching over the flocks, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” what did the angel mean? Did the angel mean that Christ is a joy for all people or only those who will believe? How can Christ be a “great joy that will be for all the people” if so many people are going to spend eternity in conscious torment? Is that great joy?
In John 12:32, Jesus states, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself,” what did He mean? Did Jesus mean He would draw all “believers” or “the elect” to Himself or only some? And given what He says right after this verse, “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” what did He mean by this? What kind of death was He going to die? A sacrificial death, maybe? Was it merely a painful death?
And one more, not being prejudiced to the New Testament only, but here is one of many from the Old Testament. In Gen 12:3, God tells Abram, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” What does God mean by blessing and cursing here? “Those who bless you” seems to indicate a plural (it is in fact in the Hebrew plural) or many people, and “him who dishonors” is in the singular. Should we take this to mean that many more will be blessed than will be cursed? How does that square with how many people we see going to hell versus going to heaven? Does this mean that the “all families” only means some? Does blessings and cursings indicate an “eternal” state? In other words, if God curses a people, does that mean “forever?” Did God ever curse a people for a time, an eon, a period with a beginning and an end? What does God mean when He says, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed? What about those families that will end up in eternal conscious torment? Are they blessed to be there?
I think this is enough to chew on while you await my next installment of the book review. Leave your answers or questions in the comment section of this post. I look forward to hearing from you and hashing through these important questions togather, as a united family in Christ. Blessings to you!
As I read through these few verses, trying to read it as I first read it back in 1991 when I was first saved, I want to ask myself (and you, the reader), what is Paul really saying? In verse 1, Paul says (I’ll use the ESV since many reading here will use similar versions), “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, (verse 2) for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”
Now, at the beginning Paul says that we must intercede for ALL people. So this begs the question, does Paul really mean ALL people? My answer is, I believe he does. Why? Because in verse 2 he begins listing off some of those “ALL” people; kings and all those in high positions. I have previously explained this passage of scriptures to mean that Paul is speaking to Timothy, a believer, and this letter was sent to believers, and therefore, is meant for believers. Therefore, the context being believers, he must be meaning those “believing” kings, and those “believers” in high positions. Orthat through prayer we hold out hope that God may save some of them, however unlikely that may be. Formerly having a reformed theology, this is more of an obedience issue toward God than it is a desire that ALL will be saved. Also, since Paul talks about some walking away from the faith in 4:1, 5:24, and 6:10, that must mean that not all our prayers will be fruitful for these pagans. My underlying beliefs were such that not everyone will be saved and once you die, you have no opportunity for salvation. These are all assumptions that I now believe are not rooted in scripture, but rooted in church tradition stemming largely from at least as early as around AD 500.
I now challenge you the reader, is this REALLY a valid explanation of what Paul wrote? Honestly, does that position hold any water whatsoever? I think not, and here’s why. Paul means ALL people, believers and unbelievers alike because he specifically lists those who are known to be pagans; kings and those in high positions. Christians during Paul’s day were starting to suffer some persecution, especially Jews from their own families and friends (put out of the family typically, for converting to Christ). These early believers, by and large, did not hold high positions in government. I think if this statement by Paul is narrowed to mean possibly high positions in the local (synagogue/church) assembly, we would certainly be missing the target in a huge way!
We are to intercede, through these four things Paul lists, so that we may lead a quiet life, a godly life, a dignified life. Why? Apparently to not draw attention to ourselves and stir up messes in the name of Christ which will, or may, cause wrath and persecution to come on us (believers). Wrath and persecution threaten our godliness, our dignity in the Lord, our peace and quiet that comes from Him who said, “Give to Caesar what is his and to God what is His.” Paul also taught the Roman believers in Romans 13:1-7 about why we should submit to the authorities, the civil authorities, placed in high positions over us believers.
Paul adds force to his plea when he states in verse 3, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. Doing these four things please God. Doing them for ALL pleases God. And then a most startling thing is said, one which most of the church turns away from today, because it is so horrifying, so devastating, so heretical, that no one should ever believe it, and some have even been excommunicated from the “church” for this belief after they died (read about Origen and the second council at Constantinople in AD 553 where he wa anathematized for this belief). Paul says, in verse 4, about this Savior God that it is He, “who desires ALL people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” WOW! All people are to be saved? Is this true? Could it be true? God’s desire either 1) comes to fruition one day or 2) is thwarted by man’s free will or some other force (Satan maybe?).
So, either God is the Savior of all mankind, thereby having His desires to be fulfilled, or there is some condition that Paul fails to mention here to Timothy. Do you see any conditions? I don’t! I just see a statement and a truth that has brought me more peace and quiet than any other. I see a truth here that looks godly and is dignified, not making God out to be a monster like we humans can be and which God could not even think about (the horrors man conceives and performs, see Jeremiah 7:31 where God says He cannot even conceive of burning children in fire, therefore how could He conceive of a hell of eternal conscious torment). Do you believe that God is ALL powerful, meaning He can do whatever He pleases to satisfy His desires or does “ALL” powerful mean “somewhat powerful?” If God is ALL powerful (and I believe He is!), can you not see and believe that the God who created ALL things and said they were good, including mankind (which He called very good!), will also restore fallen mankind (through one man’s sin came death for all, etc Romans 5), conquering death which includes the second death, and reconcile mankind to Himself one day (! Cor 15:22-28)?
Also, do you notice that the “ALL” in verse 4 is attached (the same) to the “ALL” in verses 1-2? Paul then, in verses 5-6, says there is one God and one Mediator, not many gods and many mediators. This negates all other world religions with their many gods and other mediators, other than Christ Jesus. And who is this Christ Jesus? He is the one, the only one, who gave Himself a ransom for ALL! So very basically, with what I conclude is a child-like faith, we see that God desires ALL to be saved and makes that happen through Christ Jesus who becomes the ransom for ALL. If God desires it, and makes a way for it to come to pass, will it not also happen because He is behind it? If you come to this conclusion, or even allow that it might be possible, and then look at other salvation passages in the New Testament, I believe you may start understanding more about the victorious good news of Christ.
I will talk more about this passage and others like it in forthcoming articles. Leave your questions and comments. Let us study together. Let us learn together. Let us be the one true church together, not bound by buildings and walls, and monologue preaching! Let us reason together and have unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace, rather than separation over pet denominational church doctrines. See you in the comments section!
The Old Testament on Hell – Daniel I. Block
One thing that was pointed out to me, and that I want the reader to keep in mind, is that the Bible is unfortunately wrongly divided. What I mean is that what we know as the Old Testament, the 39 books, is basically four short. The four that should be included with the 39 books are the four Gospels that are included under the New Testament. It might be better to think of Old Covenant and New Covenant as this would include the Gospels and make the Old Covenant into 43 books. And, if we really want to follow the distinction, Acts would also have to be included in the Old Covenant since the New Covenant really began after the history we find in Acts. This is a discussion to be continued at a later day. For our purpose though, the importance to the discussion of hell, is that there is continuity from the writings we currently understand as the Old Testament and what Jesus taught as recorded in the Gospels. I think I will bring this out more when discussing the upcoming chapters but may discuss it a bit in accordance with this chapter.
Block summarizes his chapter by saying the following:
Ancient Israelites believed that a person dies and goes to a place called Sheol, which is defined as the realm of the dead. The Hebrew word “sheol” is the only term used in the Old Testament (39 books) referring to where people go after death. The physical body decomposed after death but the “person” lived on, basically as a living corpse in Sheol. They did not believe in annihilationism, and curiously everyone who died went to Sheol, the wicked dead and the righteous dead. He states that “prior to Daniel 12:2 we find no clear evidence of belief in hell, if by hell we mean a place of eternal torment and judgment for the wicked.”
I appreciate Block’s honesty and the way he follows the text of scripture where it leads. For the most part , except for a few leaps, he lays out what most Christians have never heard before; hell as we know it (eternal conscious torment of the wicked) did not exist until at least the time of Christ (though this author does not agree that it exists at all as eternal conscious torment). Block does mention that “When the doctrine of hell develops in the New Testament, it borrows much of its imagery from the Old Testament, particularly the images of perpetual suffering through maggots and unquenchable fire in Isaiah 66:24.”
Speaking of Isa 66:24, Block goes into an explanation of the city dump outside Jerusalem, a place where worshipers would likely pass by on their way out of the city. There they would observe Gehenna, or the Valley of Hinnom, or the Valley of the sons of Hinnom, all referring to an actual physical place where an “endless” fire was consuming the refuse (including dead bodies) and the maggots ceaselessly eating away at those decomposing bodies which had been dumped there. He says, “It is tempting to interpret this verse as an Isaianic vision of hell, equivalent to the Gehenna spoken of by Jesus in Luke 12:5, the fiery Gehenna of Matthew 5:22, and the Gehenna of unquenchable fire of Mark 9:43. However, we should not do so too hastily, primarily because the sight that greets the worshipers coming out of Jerusalem is not a netherworldly scene. On the contrary, the image is realistic and earthly.”
In this same section, Block adds to the earthly image of this garbage dump by saying this is also a battle scene because the pile of corpses in the dump were victims in battle, dumped there and torched. Because of this he says, “Even if Isaiah was not hereby speaking of the netherworld, let alone Sheol, as a “hellish” place where the wicked suffer eternal punishment, it is not difficult to see why this text came to be associated with hell in the intertestamental period and in the New Testament.” He says it is a small step for Jesus and the New Testament writers to use Isaiah’s image for their own purposes.
What I found a bit disingenuous, as I now do with most Christians who seem to be given to eisogesis (reading into the text what is not there, such as our own 21st century church traditions!), is that Block makes so many comments about the accuracy of the text, and seemingly is reluctant to go where the text does not lead, yet he will succumb to modern beliefs about hell. He states that although the Old Testament does not have hell (eternal conscious torment) in it, the beliefs of the Israelites changed from Sheol, the abode of all the dead, righteous and unrighteous alike, to hell as eternal conscious torment for the wicked and heaven for the righteous, as seen in the New Testament. I am not meaning to suggest I know his motives, but merely wish to point out that the leap that most Christians need to make to get from Sheol to hell is a giant leap and one that requires more faith in tradition than in where the God-given text leads us.
What Block and other Christians, who write about hell as eternal conscious torment, fail to mention to their readers is that it is well documented that as early as the writings of Plato, somewhere around 850 BC, reference was made to a place of eternal torment devised by the government to keep the average citizen compliant. In other words, the rulers of that period would threaten their citizens with the wrath of the gods (burning in fire and not being consumed, etc) in the next life if they refused to comply with edicts passed on by the ruler. They would state that fear was a necessary and effective motivator to keep people inline. And as we get closer to the New Testament days, we can read ancient historians like Polybius and Livy, geographer Strabo and others writing about these threats of future punishments in the next life and that these were used by the legislators as scarecrows to terrify the childish multitude. If Block can hint that Jesus and the New Testament writers got there ideas of hell from Isaiah 66:24, then I don’t think it a stretch to say that the Israelites, as worldly as they had become by absorbing beliefs and practices from the pagan cultures they were conquered by, also formed a view of eternal torment from the legislators they had to obey as subjects of those kingdoms and countries.
I would even say that it is less a leap, no, a small baby step, for the Israelites to have most assuredly developed their idea of eternal torment (the supposed NT belief developed by Jesus and other NT writers!) from these legislators threats and then used this as the scarecrow to eventually threaten their own people to believe like the Pharisees or receive hell (eternal torment) as their next life reward! Are these types of threats not the same types that we use to keep our own children inline? We use fear all the time to emphasize a point or belief.
So Block states that the Old Testament contains no concept of eternal torment in a place called hell. History shows us that the concept of eternal torment developed in early (at least as early as ~850 BC, maybe much earlier) societies and were the same societies that God scattered the Jews to during the Captivity years. And yet, it isn’t until just before or at the time of Jesus that this concept of eternal torment was taught and believed by the Jews.
I suggest that the reader go on the internet and secure Dr. Thomas Thayer’s book The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment. There you will find many more quotes from early secular philosophers, historians, etc. You can then, as I have done, take those names and resources listed and download many of them from various book repositories for free and look up the exact quotes for yourself. Study what Thayer has to say and determine for yourself what is more likely to have happened. My belief is that, just as the church today, the Old Testament Jews adopted a method from secular culture to instill and maintain compliance to God’s laws to help their Jewish friends and family to be holy and obedient to God. This place of eternal conscious torment known as hell was the “scarecrow” to remind believers to obey God’s law or else.
My question for Dr. Block is, “How does one make the leap from seeing a physical place such as the city dump where physical bodies (of criminals, war dead, diseased, etc) are being eaten by maggots and burned with fire whose smoke seems to be always present (not eternal because the fires are not burning today!) and then state that people who are wicked and die without believing in Jesus will go to a place of eternal conscious torment (a spiritual outcome)? To me, it makes much more sense to believe in the threat aspect to keep the common man inline (a physical situation in this life), rather than drawing a spiritual sense (hell for the wicked) for the future from a present day physical situation.
I will end here for now, but as always, I welcome your comments. Also, be aware that in the future I may add amendments to these chapter reviews as may be necessary to clarify thoughts or expand on doctrinal issues raised. The next chapter may take some time to go through because of the research necessary to contrast what the author has written with others who hold an opposing view. I will say, by way of a teaser, I was a bit disappointed that Yarbrough in his chapter on Jesus On Hell did not address universalism, but only took on annihilationism. Until next time, Godspeed!