At our Youth house group a few weeks back we looked at the subject of hell and tried to get a better understanding of what, as Christians we are really meant to believe and then tell other people. I love it when the young people pick the subject, no sweat ay?!
We asked a few key questions:
- What is our perception of hell? (what does it look like?)
- Where has this view come from? (who or what was the source?)
- What’s the bible say?
What amazed me as a ‘liberal’ (not a very helpful definition) was how clued up these young people were. We discussed Dante and the ‘Divine Comedy’ of which many pictures of Hell have taken there influence and we also took a brief look into medieval life and the use of Hell there too. What I found fascinating was that they were the first to critically break down the myths of the Devil and his pitch fork and a place under the ground where naughty people go, but I wanted them to go deeper, i wasn’t planning on stopping there. So we went straight to question 3 and opened up dialogue about how we read the verses that use Hell for describing and criticizing. We looked at the original Hebrew and Greek words such as Sheol, Gehenna, Hades, etc and the way the people of Jesus’ time would have understood them. Then we unpacked the Context.
The surrounding verses of a verse are what make the verse make sense. A lot of our understanding is taken from what one verse tells us. That’s OK, but it’s settling with half the story. We studied the verse on Hell using 3 simple rules:
- Who’s speaking?
- Who are they speaking to?
- What is the context in which they are speaking?
It is amazing how a verse makes much more sense in context, here’s an example:
Matthew 10:28 NIV
‘Do not be afraid of those kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.’
Nice and easy going verse ay? lets use our rules:
- Jesus is speaking
- He is speaking to believers, the 12 followers to be exact.
- The context (Verses 1- 42) he is telling them to not be afraid of people who are against them and who can kill them for what they are about to do. He makes the point that God is the one ‘who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ emphasis on destroy and the use of Hell is Gehenna (physical dumping ground where nothing can inhabit outside Jerusalem) . He also makes it clear that this is not a utopian idea that he is bringing but something that will break through even family ties (It’s pretty heavy stuff).
This is just one example and i’d be shooting myself in the foot if i then said this is our definition of Hell, we don’t need to read any of the other verses. But what this does show is that there are verses (this is among many) that speak of Hell (in this circumstance Gehenna) of which there is no eternal punishment, it just destroys and ends! Shock horror! But what does this mean for our theology on Hell? how does this fit into the bigger picture? Now telling you my opinion takes the wrestling with God away from you which doesn’t help you at all. But I will say this.
More then one word
Hell is more then just one word and it means a variety of things in context and in it’s original wording. If you take one verse out of context and put your own agenda on it, your not bringing the kingdom of God, your making your own religion. We have a collection of scriptures in the Bible that are around 2000 years old, so why do we settle with the images we are given from the middle ages interpretation? God surely still speaks to us right?!
Anyway, Here’s a bit of a challenge i will give you a some of the verses on hell and I want you to read them all using our rules above and without having a prepared answer in your mind from your up bringing that explains what is being described.
Matt 23:33 (Geena – gay’ (Hebrew) – a valley, deep…)
2Peter 2 (Greek Hell)