Wednesday, March 07, 2012

MYTH #30-Jesus taught alot about hell!


I remember as a kid noting that Jesus talked more about "hell" than He did heaven. That made quite an impression on me, that Jesus felt He must teach so much about it. But a closer look at what Jesus taught will demonstrate that He didn't teach about "hell" at all! It's a myth-a well-preserved and emotional one, at that. There is a lake of fire mentioned only in the book of Revelation, but Jesus didn't teach about it.
I've always known through my study of the Greek New Testament that the translators of the Bible, beginning with the King James made a universal decision to translate many words as hell. I never really understood the problem with it until I heard Rob Bell, a teacher of the Bible in a most relevant way, speak on the subject of hell in the middle of a series he was doing. The series was called "God Wants To Save Christians" and he was saying that God wants to save Christians from missing the point in many areas.

In the New Testament there are a few words that are translated "hell" by many of the early Bible translators, but these translations are being slowly changed. In one case, hell is translated from the word, Tartarus (II Peter 2:4). Tartarus is a designation for the dwelling place of the fallen angels or the underworld. In the second, hell is translated from the word, Hades, which is the equivalent of Sheol in the Hebrew language. These are found in Matthew 16:18, Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13; 20:14. This is also translated as "death", "the grave", and "the pit". None of these words means hell in the classic sense of the word as it has become known and feared today.

The third word translated as hell is Gehenna. Gehenna does not mean hell either, yet this is the word Jesus frequently used. It is used eight times by Jesus (twelve, if you count the times a different writer repeated the same story). In Matthew 5:22, Jesus says: "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."

In Matthew 5:29-30, Jesus says: "If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell."

In Matthew 10:28, Jesus says: "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

Then in His blasting of the religious leadership in Matthew 23, Jesus says: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." And later in that chapter, He says: "You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?"

Here's the question that must be asked in order to understand what Jesus was teaching: What did His audience think He was referring to, when He used the word, "Gehenna"? Gehenna is literally "the Valley of Hinnom"-Jerusalem's city dump, where children were sacrificed to Molech. Judean Kings Ahaz and Manasseh engaged in idolatrous worship there, which included the making of human sacrifices by fire to Baal. Later, King Josiah pronounced this horrible, fiery, garbage pit accursed, because of the horrendous human sacrifices performed there. The prophet Jeremiah cursed the place and predicted that it would become a place of death and corruption.

When Jesus used this term-Gehenna, those who were listening certainly didn't think to themselves that He was talking about a future destination called hell. Instead, they believed He was referring to that wretched, accursed, useless place-the fiery garbage pit-always burning. He was saying to the angry, the lustful, the religious leaders who were leading others astray and those who are fearful of the wrong things: "You deserve to be thrown into the pit of destruction, because you are useless and worthless because of these actions." "You are worthy of the Valley of Hinnom; you are worthy of Gehenna."

Jesus was not talking about a future location, but a place of worthlessness and uselessness right here, right now. He wasn't speaking of a lake of fire, but a place defiled and was used as the city's garbage dump; a place of rotting flesh, maggots, stench and fire. This may be one of the most powerful Christian rumors ever and should be a strong reminder to pay attention to what Jesus is really saying. This is certainly one of those times when the traditions and commands of men have made the commands and teachings of God ineffective and misleading. God wants to save Christians, alright; He wants to save them from missing the point!