The book Hope For All by my friend Gerry Beauchemin lists 10 Anchors or 10 reasons why God’s love ultimately prevails over everything and everyone. To me, this book—along with its companion book Hope Beyond Hell—taken together are both the clearest introduction available on the market today about the subject of God’s relentless, prevailing love—about how God is lovingly drawing every human being to Himself because of what Jesus has sacrificially accomplished for each of us. I always keep copies of both books in my vehicle to give away; over the past few years I’ve given away scores—maybe hundreds—of copies.
In Hope For All, Anchor 1 is about how God has given hope to all people through the ages of human history. I taught about Anchor One last week. Anchor 2—titled “Hope In Fire”—is essentially about the English word “hell” and the average person’s concept of hell. My teaching addresses the issue of whether or not the Bible teaches that the vast majority of humanity will suffer eternal conscious torment in hell while only a relatively small percentage of humanity will spend eternity in Heaven—as is commonly taught by evangelical Protestant believers in Jesus—at least in western Christendom.
In this teaching, I won’t be quoting much from Anchor 2 of Hope For All because I’m presuming you have read it already; if not, I certainly urge you to do so; the book contains the main thrust of this subject—what I will share with you is only supplementary to what the author wrote. It would be helpful if you have the book available right in front of you as I teach so you can look up what the author wrote about Anchor 2 on pages 27 – 35.
First, let’s define the English word “hell”: it’s basic origin and history comes from a word used way back in Greek mythology meaning a “Greek goddess who punishes people from Mount Olympus.” Then the word became part of pagan, early Anglo-Saxon mythology in northern Europe, first surfacing in Old English in about 725 A.D. as “hel” or “helle,” a word meaning “to cover over” as when you bury someone and cover them over with dirt. The word also has roots in the early German language when it was spelled “haljo,” meaning the “world below.” [NOTE to self: briefly discuss: Old English, 5th to 11th centuries; Middle English, 12th to 15 centuries; Modern English, 16th century to present; influence of early Germanic invasions of England, etc.] The main point is that the concept comes mainly from mythology; a myth is defined as fictitious stories, views, or beliefs about something. So…the concept of hell as an English word is fictitious from its beginning. Through centuries of time the myth has morphed and changed into the modern English word meaning a place where the vast bulk of all humanity will suffer eternal conscious torment in the ever-burning fires of hell. Both standard English dictionaries and Bible dictionaries define hell pretty much as a place of never-ending fires in which unrepentant, wicked people burn forever after they die.
But that’s the meaning of the English word hell. In the original languages in which the Bible was written—Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek—the words they use that are translated into the English word hell simply do not mean a place of eternal conscious torment. The English word “hell” occurs 54 times in most Bibles—31 in the Old Testament, 23 in the New Testament (16 times by Jesus). Not once do the original Hebrew or Greek words mean a place of eternal conscious torment; in fact, they do not even mean a place of punishment or torment at all: they simply mean burial places for the dead—the graves, the tombs, the oceans and seas, the mausoleums, the columbariums where the bodies (or ashes) of people are placed after they have died.
How then did the English concept of hell as we presently—and mistakenly—understand it really catch on in history? There are many reasons, but one major reason that mythical concept caught on is this– A man named Dante Alighieri was a popular Italian poet who lived from 1262 to 1321 A.D., about 700 years ago. He wrote a famous book-length poem titled The Inferno that was his fictional account of how he perceived hell to be; he wrote of 9 descending levels of hell (sort of like a downward spiral), each downward level of the spiral being worse than the previous level—the 9th level being the very worst. I have a copy of the English translation of Dante’s book right here as I’m teaching. I wish I could show it to you—especially the weird, macabre illustrations in the book.
Interestingly, even after the horrible suffering Dante portrayed in his fictional hell, he ends his poem by people in hell actually being released from hell! They did not suffer there eternally. Dante’s classic poem sort of caught on like what we might call a “best seller” today and has influenced how people conceive of hell for hundreds of years even to this present day. Even if many people today have never heard of Dante or read his famous poem, the way they perceive hell comes from Dante’s poem. However, remember his poem was a fictional poem and at the end people who had suffered in his 9 levels of hell were released from the inferno. They did not suffer there forever; most people who read The Infernofocus on the horrible suffering, and neglect noting that at the end people are released from Dante’s fictional hell.
The printing press was invented not long after Dante wrote his classic poem, and many people—especially the common people—were learning to read about that time. So, when the printing press was invented in 1454, Dante’s poem caught on like wildfire. Dante’s Inferno is difficult to understand in English; much of what he wrote—even in his original Italian language—is garbled, mysterious, and confusing. But here’s how one author interpreted, translated, and summarized Dante’s Inferno in plain English. In level one people are roasted in flames. At level two people freeze solidly every night, thaw out every morning and then freeze again at night. Level three is a place of blinding, searing light. In contrast, level four consists of pitch darkness. Level five is a place of freezing, icy winds that cut like a knife. In level six people are pierced over and over by flaming arrows. In level 7 people are eternally stung by armies of stinging ants. People are crucified in level 8. Finally, in level nine, wild beasts gorge themselves on human hearts they rip out of people over and over and over while they are still “alive.” Does that sound like any hell you’ve ever heard about?
For that matter, most evangelical believers in Jesus who believe in hell—or the average pre-Jesus believer who might believe in hell—have many differing personal views about hell. For example, they feel that maybe some people who have never heard about Jesus in this life don’t suffer in fire that’s quite as hot as the fires are for those who heard about Jesus, but rejected Him. Some others glibly state, “Well, if I go to hell at least my drinking buddies will be there with me.” Some “soften” their concept of hell by stating, “Hell is really just eternal separation from God, not really fires that burn forever.” Those who’ve lived since World War II say, “Hitler (and for that matter, their ex-spouse) have special places in hell reserved just for them.” Years ago, one Bible scholar even taught that our sun was hell and people are already burning forever in the center of the sun. Some feel that Satan is in hell gleefully poking people with his pitchfork to ensure they suffer even more. Or, that Satan’s demons dance around the people in hell constantly tormenting them and poking at them while they’re roasting in the flames. And so it goes: many widely differing views. Examine yourself: what do you really, truly, honestly believe about hell?
Back to our definition of the word hell. The single Hebrew word in the Old Testament translated into the English word hell is Sheol, meaning only the grave, nothing else. The 3 Greek words in the New Testament translated hell are Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus. Hades means the resting place of the dead, the grave—identical to Sheol. Gehenna (a Hebrew word translated into Greek) is an actual valley (the Valley of Hinnom) S-SW of the city of Jerusalem that was used for centuries as the city garbage dump where garbage (often including some dead bodies, too) was burned; the garbage dump was kept burning all the time–mostly to deal with the stench of the garbage and so the valley didn’t get too full of smelly garbage.
Also, during some Old Testament times, fires were often kept burning in the Valley of Hinnom to sacrifice human babies and infants to the false god Molech (also Moloch), the pagan deity of the Ammonites who were sort of distant relatives of the Israelites. Today, the valley of Hinnom is a beautiful park-like area, containing some homes, trees, gardens, and orchards; it’s actually quite beautiful, serene, and peaceful. It’s not still burning forever and ever.
Tartarus, the third word translated as hell, is found in only one place in the Bible—2 Peter 2: 4. It is imagined to be a place reserved for “bad” angels—another story altogether that I’ll not teach about here. The word comes from a Greek myth believing it’s a place below Hades where the mythical god Zeus hurled the rebellious Titans.
Hell is decidedly not a place of eternal conscious torment. I first came to understand this many years ago in a flash of insight one night while driving on a dark country road thinking about nearby brush fires and wildfires; then, after further studying the matter for another 5 years, I taught and wrote a general teaching about the subject of fire in the Bible. That teaching is titled “Fire” and is very informative; it’s available for you to read on my website: leservices.org. It’s a rather lengthy teaching of about 14 pages in which I cover the subject of fire in the Bible pretty thoroughly. Feel free to download and print it for better reading and for study purposes. Through the years since then as I have continued to study the subject of hell and fire in general in the Bible I have concluded that hell as a place of eternal conscious torment for multitudes of people is simply not taught in the Bible (as properly translated and understood), is not rational or logical in any way, grossly demeans the loving character of God, and just doesn’t make any sense. In fact, it’s nonsense!
My mother used to have an expression, “stop pussyfooting around,” meaning quit wavering and being indecisive; make a decision and stick to it. For many years, God has asked me to teach many general subjects and topics from the Bible. Only a year or so ago, God asked me not to pussyfoot around, but in addition to other biblical subjects I generally teach, to now begin also to teach more about the illusion and myth of hell and about God’s final restoration, renewal, and reconciliation of all things—including all humanity—to Himself. That restoration, renewal, and reconciliation of all things to God comes from a Greek word apokatastasis found in Acts chapter 3, verses 19 – 21, in the New Testament.
In Anchor 2 of Hope For All the author clearly points out on pages 27 – 30 that much teaching in the Bible about fire is metaphorical—a figure of speech used to give special emphasis to something. For example, “The tongue is set on fire by hell” is a metaphor. Hundreds of different figures of speech are used throughout the Bible—as in common in all human languages. The author, Gerry Beauchemin, also makes the point that in most cases throughout the Bible, fire has the purpose of cleansing, refining, purging, purifying, and transforming—not destroying, punishing, devouring, consuming, or tormenting—especially when the Bible mentions the lake of fire and brimstone in the New Testament book of Revelation.
For example, any dictionary will tell you that “brimstone” in the lake of fire is an ancient word for sulfur, from which was made the antibiotic, sulfa, traditionally used for combating infections before the more widespread use of antibiotics such as penicillin and other modern anti-bacterial medications. Penicillin was discovered in 1928, sulfa was created from sulfur in 1932, but penicillin did not widely replace sulfa until after WWII when it was found to be a more effective antibacterial medication than sulfa. Thus, when the Bible says the lake of fire and brimstone, metaphorically it means a lake of healing and cleansing, not a place of eternal conscious torment.
In addition, when the Bible states in English that the lake of fire burns “forever and forever,” the actual Greek words translated forever and ever in English are Greek words meaning “through the ages of the ages” or “unto the ages of the ages,” not words meaning never-ending “forever and ever.” They are words having to do with ages of time, NOT words having to do with the timelessness of eternity. For that matter, have you ever asked how there can be “forever”—with an additional “ever” tacked onto the end of “forever”? How can there be a “forever” followed by an “ever”? That’s nonsense, too!
Anchor 2 concludes on pages 32 – 35 by stating that fire throughout the Bible is used primarily to transform us—you, me—into the loving character and nature of our heavenly Father. He created the first humans, and ever since then has continued to create all humanity in his image. To be created in God’s image means we are visible representations of the invisible God. He will eventually transform all humanity into his clear image as best seen in Jesus.
When teaching, I often ask people to turn to the end of the Bible; invariably, they turn to chapter 22 of the Book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible. The true end of the Bible is not Revelation chapter 22; that is merely the end of the format of the Bible. The true end of the Bible is 1 Corinthians 15: 24 – 28 (which I have paraphrased): “The final event (telos in Greek) shall come when Jesus will bring an end to all opposition—all other rulers, authorities, and powers, at which time He will hand over his Kingdom to our Father God. Jesus won’t let up until the last enemy—death—is subdued and conquered—never again to plague all humanity. After that, Jesus Himself will step down and place Himself under the Father’s loving, grace-filled authority. When He does that, then God will BE ALL in ALL—everything to everyone, in full and complete, loving, eternal union with all humanity, a perfect ending to the long journey of humanity through all the ages of time!”
As a sidebar, thinking of our last enemy, death, during our mortal lives here death always looms as a dreaded specter haunting us throughout our lives, always lurking in our future. Death always involves losses throughout our lifetimes: loss of health and wellbeing, loss of loved ones and friends, loss of things we want to hold onto tenaciously, loss of strength, and, finally, loss of our mortal lives. In vivid contrast, in Jesus’ bright, eternal Kingdom, Jesus has defeated death and then it will always be in our past, never again to haunt us with all its losses as in this life.
I pray earnestly that this brief teaching will give you a large measure of renewed hope for the bright future God has in store both in this life and the next—for you and your loved ones and friends. Hope is defined as “confident expectation that God will do what He promises He will do.” There is hope for all—as the title of this book we are studying proclaims!