Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Jesus and Hell

It has often been claimed that Jesus spoke of hell more often than any of the other New Testament writers.  I’ve read that claim in books.  I’ve heard it preached from the pulpit.  And many people have told it to me as if this was the definitive proof that Endless Punishment is the true teaching of Jesus and the Bible. 

The claim is based on the number of times Jesus used the word Gehenna – the term most commonly translated “hell” in the modern versions of the Bible.  Gehenna is used twelve times in the New Testament, and eleven of those times it is used by Jesus Himself. 

However, Gehenna never meant endless punishment beyond the grave during the time of Jesus.  It didn’t mean that in the Old Testament.  And it didn’t mean that for Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament.

What Was Gehenna . . . Really?

What comes to your mind when you hear the word Auschwitz? 

For my grandchildren, it’s possible that the word will take on a more metaphorical meaning.  But for me right now, and even more so for those of my father’s generation who fought in Germany in World War II and saw it firsthand, Auschwitz is an actual place.  A place reminiscent of the repulsion, shame and horrible deaths experienced by those who suffered in Nazi concentration camps. 

Like Auschwitz, Gehenna was a place the people of Jesus’ day could actually visit.  It was well-known as a specific location near Jerusalem that had been associated with gross idolatry and child sacrifice in the past, and was then used as the common dump of the city.  The corpses of the worst criminals were flung into it unburied.  Its stench was stifling.  Fires were lit to purify the contaminated air. 

To those listening to Jesus, it spoke of corruption, filth and shame.  Instead of experiencing honor like their ancestors whose bodies were treated reverently when they died, those cast into Gehenna would experience immense dishonor – their bodies disposed of in a dump to become an object of scorn for the masses.

Solomon expressed very well the thought that would be in the minds of those listening to Jesus’ words.

 “A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.”

In an honor/shame culture like that in the ancient and even modern Near East, that was a fate worse than death.

When Jesus spoke of Gehenna, it brought to mind ideas of repulsion, shame and horrible death, but not anything like the meaning that is pre-packaged in the English word, “hell.”  His listeners did not think of it as a place of endless punishment beyond the grave. 

If it had not been translated by such a loaded term into English, we wouldn’t, either.

Adapted from Heaven's Doors . . . Wider Than You Ever Believed!

If you’ve read the book and liked it, please share it with others.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Sarris, it saddens me to see you are still trying to sell something which theologians, pastors and many well versed scholars discount as heresy. Did not Jesus say "..where the worm does not die" in describing Gehenna? His intention was to describe a place so horrific no one would choose to go there and NO ONE gets out since the worm does not die. You appear to be an intelligent man Mr Sarris, but for the sake of those you will lead astray, please cease this crusade.

Arnold Ronning said...

I am wondering if the previous individual to leave a comment has actually read the book by Mr. Sarris, HEAVEN'S DOORS. His scholarship on the topic is thorough and the points he puts forth for debate are persuasive. I, for one, am grateful to Mr. Sarris to pointing out the very strong possibility that current evangelical Christian teaching is in error on this matter. Mr. Sarris does not argue that Hell does not exist, or that the Satan is an illusion (as does Christian Science). He stands on the authority of Scripture. Nonetheless, he makes a very compelling argument that our errors regarding current popular teaching on Hell are due to ignorance of correct translation, cultural context, and our own Church history. I have read Mr. Sarris' book, and it has not softened my Christian witness. If anything, it has helped make me bolder than I was before.

Anonymous said...

Arnold, I have read many chapters of the book. There are many people today who are persuasive, scholarly, etc. but that does not make them right.

To state, as Mr. Sarris does, that centuries of prior teaching are wrong because of incorrect translation, cultural context errors and corrupted church history is at best arrogance. To say no Greek language scholars have ever "unearthed" the non-eternal premise for hell, but Mr. Sarris, is at best a rather pompous statement.

From what I have read, Mr. Sarris is a nice guy. But he surely is not a Greek scholar or a theologian. Neither is Rob Bell for that matter yet both proffer the same "feel good" product that nobody is buying.

Nathan Garcia said...

Anonymous, it's not a "feel good" product. You defame God by teaching that he would torture humanity in hell for all of eternity. If that's the God you believe in then I sure hope you're better than He is. Nobody should serve such a God. We need to be good to each other, not vindictive. Oh wait, that's what Jesus did teach. Your picture of God is the antithesis of the way Jesus actually lived His life. I bet you're afraid that if you accepted this better picture of God then you might actually lose your salvation. It's this kind of thinking that causes so many problems in our world. It may be better not to believe in any God than to believe in the picture of God that you cling to.

James Early said...

I too have read George Sarris' book and appreciate his courage to share the extensive research on the subject. Just because most theologians agree on one or more doctrines for centuries does not mean they are correct. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for honoring their traditions and thereby breaking the laws of God.

Is George Sarris right? He speaks honestly from what he has found through deep sincere study of the Bible. He has the courage to speak against what he has come to see as man made doctrine. Good for him. Who can say how much of what you believe is centuries of accumulated man-created doctrine as opposed to the pure theology of Jesus. We are not saved by our doctrine but by God's grace. I know George accepts Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, the promised Messiah.

I too accept Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God who took the world's sins upon him to the cross and was resurrected thereby rending the veil of the temple literally and figuratively. He eliminated the "veil" that proclaimed we could not be in the presence of God's holiness

As a Christian Scientist I would like to address the comment that we believe the devil is an illusion. Jesus said the devil is a liar, the father of lies, a murder from the beginning (not a fallen angel by the way, another man made doctrine). Jesus also said referring to the devil that there is no truth in him. Those are mighty strong words.

Mary Baker Eddy who started the Christian Science church has the audacity to take Jesus' comments to heart and repeat them. She refers to the devil and evil in her books and devotes a whole chapter in one and many other passages to dealing with evil, sin, and temptation. She counsels over and over that evil and sin cannot be ignored.

She does make startling statements however similar to the above statement that evil is not real, that sickness and sin, even death, are not real but illusions. Most theologians consider that pure delusion and heresy. But they have missed the actual point she makes. The context or perspective from which she makes these statements is based on what is true in the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21 where no evil can enter. In this heaven neither sin, disease, death, evil, nor Satan can enter. In that sense, in that realm, they do not exist as a reality. When Christian Science says evil etc. are not real, it is only from the perspective of what is true in this new heaven and earth. We do not pretend these evils are not something to be dealt with here on earth but strive to follow Jesus' example of grace and compassion when ministering to the sick and those in bondage to sin.

From the perspective of what is true in this world sin, sicknes,s and evil are aggressive realities. And there are many approaches to finding remedies. But Christ's way is the only real solution.

In the Lord's Prayer we pray for God's will to be done on earth AS IT IS IN HEAVEN." Wow!! Do we even have a clue what that means? Well, Revelation 21 gives as a clue as already discussed. It must be God's will that sin, evil, etc. cannot enter in, exist, or have any being or "reality" in heaven. Jesus said this kingdom is within us. The more conscious we are of God's absolute supremacy and the absence of evil and its effects in the new heaven and earth, the more powerless or unreal evil becomes to us here and now on earth as it is in heaven.

I am not saying all this to start a debate. Just to correct a common misconception.

Back to George Sarris' book. The Pharisees called Jesus a blasphemer. He deviated from the religious teaching of his day. So have other religious reformers like Martin Luther. Just because George doesn't go along with the popular theology of his day does not mean he is a heretic although some may label him as such. God will judge his heart and I leave him in His hands to do what is right.

Mike Owens said...

I'd like to thank George for this book along with the HUNDREDS of others who have written on this same subject over the past 150 years - including Abraham Lincoln - in complete agreement and accord with Mr. Sarris'.

"Anonymous" needs to open his heart and mind and do his (or her) research. Jesus taught Gehenna - and most SCHOLARS agree that Gehenna was a real place outside Jerusalem.

The warnings Jesus gave were directed at the Jewish leadership of His day, in fact they were told that these things would occur in their generation. IT DID. Study what happened in Jerusalem from 67-70 AD.

The worms didn't die until they were done. The smoldering fire didn't extinguish until it had completed its task. "Anonymous", you should get a copy of "HELL YES / HELL NO" by Dr. John Noe. My pastor studied this book and agreed afterwards that Jesus did NOT TEACH HELL. In fact the word "Hell" and the concept of hell is NO WHERE in the Greek or Hebrew scriptures.

Hell (or "hel") was a 7th century word that entered the German texts and it meant "a place of protection."

Consider the word helmet. A place of protection. "Hill" which is a derivative of "hel" was a place of hiding or protection. In Germany and German communities in the northern U.S. a "helyer" is a person who plants potatos - placing the eye of the potato into a place of protection.

There's much to learn on this subject and declaring George Sarris a heretic is proof of your fear of true and open research.

Mike Owens

Pat said...

Nothing in the physical Gehemna was ever redeemed by the living; what ended up there remained there. Nothing that ends up in the spiritual Gehemna will be redeemed by the the living God, the Lord Jesus Christ; what ends up there will remain there for al eternity.

David said...

One of my favorite quotes: “Even if we don't end up agreeing, hopefully you will understand that our differences need not estrange us as members of Christ's body.” Wayne Jacobsen

Wayne is my friend and brother in Christ. He does not believe in (Ultimate Reconciliation) as I do but this has never caused a rift between us. His comment to me was that he has other friends who hope (Ultimate Reconciliation) is true. I was an administrator on his podcast forum for quite a few years until I was sidelined due to illness and the forum was eventually phased out. It is still online but no longer active. Over time, Facebook became more popular than discussion forums.

DRW said...

For forty years my eyes were blinded to the glorious fact of universal reconciliation. It seems that it is so ingrained in us that it's unfathomable that we could ever believe otherwise. The bottom line is that the Scriptures are packed full of evidence for UR. Blessings...

Jonathan Mitchell said...

Excellent post, George; great follow-up Mike; nice comments, Nathan.
The theologian and scholar David Bentley Hart has just published The New Testament, A Translation, ISBN 978-0-300-18609-3
In Mat. 5:29 and 30, e.g., he renders "Gehenna," "the Vale of Hinnom," which is a correct, literal rendering of the Greek term.

In my own translation I render it,"the Valley of Hinnom (the city dump [= to dishonor you by giving no burial; to treat you as a criminal])," in vs. 29. In vs. 30 I indicate the location of this city dump: "outside of Jerusalem." The idea, or concept of a "spiritual Gehenna" is the creation of theologians, based upon Jewish syncretism and assimilation of Persian Zoroastrianism, during the second temple period. To read about this,see also "The River of God," by Gregory J. Riley (A New History of Christian Origins), ISBN 0-06-066979-9

Jonathan Mitchell