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Why I Don’t Believe in “Eternal Hell,” Pt 2: Hell Itself

Before I get into the meat of this post, I’d like to say a few things.  First, that I truly regret using the term “universalist” in my initial post, the chief reason being that I am not really a universalist!  I still believe Jesus Christ alone was and is THE savior – I just believe that this salvation will eventually encompass everyone.   If a title or label is needed for what I believe about the ultimate destiny of mankind, a better and more accurate one is probably something like “ultimate reconciliationism.”  I also regret using “universalist” because it seems that all labels and titles, whatever they may be, almost always do more harm than good; stifling humble, helpful dialogue and fostering knee-jerk reactions, polarization, defensiveness, hostility, etc.   Therefore, I feel my use of the universalist “label” was a significant (and stupid) mistake on my part, and I have edited it out of my original post.

I also want to say that I underestimated just how daunting a task it is to refute the idea of “eternal conscious torment.”  For one thing, it isn’t a single idea at all, but a compilation of several ideas, which include: this torment takes place in what the Bible calls hell, people who die “unsaved” go to hell instead of to heaven, one’s eternal destiny is immediately and permanently determined at the time of physical death, torment in hell is conscious and never-ending, this torment is due to God’s wrath against sin, Jesus’ purpose was to save us from hell, and the Bible is quite clear in affirming all of these things.  

Refuting ECT is also difficult because it has become an integral part of the belief system of millions, and a major driving force of the entire system of Christianity.  Because “eternal conscious torment” is such an inconceivably absurd and terrifying thing, it seems to have come to permeate and underlie nearly everything Christianity understands about the nature and character of both God and man, the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion, the meaning and message of the Kingdom of God, and the “good news” itself.   

Now, if it’s true that eternal conscious torment is a man-made idea which is out of line with the Spirit of love and the heart of God (which I firmly believe to be the case), then it is both inevitable and necessary that it not only be removed, but also replaced.  I am greatly in favor of this, actually.  HOWEVER, I do think this should be done carefully and with a desire to avoid harm or division whenever possible.  For this reason, I am taking pains in these blogs to explain and support what I believe to be true, rather than only exposing and tearing down what is false.  This will require some time and work, but I feel this topic, and whoever reads this, deserves it.  I will do my best.

The Biblical Words for Hell:

Maybe a good place to start is by looking at the word “hell” itself.  In the original languages the Bible was written in, the words which have been translated into English as “hell” mean nothing like “an eternal destination of torment.”  Even in English, “hell” didn’t originally mean that, originating with a root word simply meaning “a concealed place.  In my research, it seems the earliest uses of “hell” in the English language simply referred to the invisible place where everyone, good and bad, went to reside after death.  The association of “hell” with torment seems to have come later, likely due to the influence of pagan ideas and religions (which have had a far greater effect on Christianity than most realize).   

You may not know that a total of FOUR very different words are translated “hell” in the KJV Bible (twice that of most other modern translations such as the ESV and NASB, which only translate two words as “hell”).  Understanding that the KJV translated hell far more liberally than other translations is worth knowing,  because the KJV, by a very large margin, was the most commonly used Bible translation in America well into the 20th Century.  Thus, it has been hugely influential in the formation of Christian doctrine and practice in the western world, and thus into the rest of the world where American and European missionaries traveled and evangelized.

If you use a bit of common sense, the way “hell” has been translated should bother you – why take four (or even two) different words, with different meanings and contexts, from very different languages, locations, and time-periods, then translate them all with a single English word as if they all mean exactly the same, THEN insist “thus saith the Lord”!?  I honestly think such a scenario is nothing less than a tragedy, as there is almost no way NOT to “muddy the waters” and cause confusion and error on a large scale, which is exactly what has happened.  Translation issues aren’t that big of a deal if, for example, you’re trying to insist that unicorns are real (yes, unicorns are mentioned in the KJV), but when you are talking about insisting that God’s word declares that billions of people will end up in eternal torment for wrong beliefs, you are talking about an idea with the power to create great fear and control over people.  

In the KJV, three of the root words translated “hell” are Greek, found in the New Testament: these are hades, gehenna, and tartaroo.  The fourth is the Old Testament Hebrew word sheolAs I indicated earlier, among all translations in common modern use, ONLY the KJV translated either sheol OR hades as “hell,” (though the New King James Version (NKJV) translates sheol, but not hades, as “hell”).

Regarding the Hebrew sheol, I feel that “grave” is probably the best English translation, because it means “place of the dead,” with no extra meaning of what this place is or isn’t like.  The KJV actually does translate sheol as “grave,” but only about half the time.   It seems the translators used “hell” whenever they could, but were forced to use “grave” in the instances where “hell” was too obviously a bad translation.  Could this one word really mean “grave” and “hell?”  Those are extremely different!  Interestingly, the Old Testament contains zero mention of torment after death, and in some cases even says there is no consciousness after death at all! (see Ecclesiastes 9:10 below, for example).  My point is, sheol cannot and does not mean what we think of as “hell,” in part because there was and is no such concept as “eternal conscious torment” in ancient Israel, or even in Judaism today.  

  • Ecclesiastes 9:10 ESV: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.”  -Not exactly the “eternal conscious torment” of “hell.”

As for hades, a Greek word used in the New Testament, it seems that all modern Bible versions chose to leave this word untranslated because, as with sheol, the translators recognized that it clearly does not refer to a place of eternal torment, but simply to the invisible residence of those who have physically died.  The use of hades in the Bible itself, as well as in other Greek writings from the same time-period, show this to be the case quite clearly.  Even the KJV translates hades as grave, but only in a single instance, where “hell” simply wouldn’t fit.  Giving further support to the notion that hades is not a place of eternal torment is the fact that the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament used widely in Jesus’ day, translates the Hebrew word sheol with the Greek word hades, indicating the two were understood to be synonymous.  The New Testament itself also shows this: Acts 2:27 records Peter quoting from Psalm 16:10, and uses the word hades to translate sheol

Another very interesting point about hades is that it is not a Christian word or concept at all, but originates in Greek mythology, hundreds of years before Christ.  It seems to me that the Biblical writers used such a word and idea from Greek mythology NOT because it is a literal place created by God, but very simply because it was the commonly-used word in that time and place to refer generally to the “place of the dead.”  That’s it.  Again, it seems the authors of the Bible were simply using the primary word in their language to convey “the place of the dead” to their readers.  They didn’t intend to mean “a place of eternal torment after death,” as “hell” has come to mean, because that’s not what hades meant!  It is the modern religion of Christianity, not Christ and the first apostles, which is fascinated with the afterlife, to the detriment of life NOW.

Gehenna:

Seeing that sheol and hades are usually (and ideally) NOT translated “hell,” this leaves us with two words which ARE consistently translated as “hell” in nearly all modern translations: Gehenna (about 12 times) and tartaroo (once).  You may have heard of hades and sheol, since many Bibles leave them untranslated, but Gehenna seems to be less known – since it’s almost always translated “hell,” the only way to have heard of it is to look at the Greek language, which few care to do.  Whenever Jesus speaks of “hell,” the word is always Gehenna.  Excuse the pun, but what the hell is Gehenna?  Before I explain what it is, allow me to show you a fairly recent picture of it:

Gehenna (“hell”) Today

 

This is not a joke – that is truly a picture of Gehenna, i.e. “hell”!   I am capitalizing Gehenna because it is the proper name of a physical place, pictured above.  Gehenna is one of those physical locations which is named after a person or family; very much like how the state of Pennsylvania is named after William Penn, or how America is named after the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci.  A simple biblical dictionary reveals that the Greek word Gehenna is a shortened word, adapted from two Hebrew words: ge (valley) and Hinnom (the proper name of some ancient person or family).  Gehenna, which is translated “hell” in virtually all Bibles, literally means “the valley of Hinnom,” or “the valley of the sons of Hinnom.”  That’s right, Gehenna was, and still is, a literal geographical place; a valley on the outskirts of Jerusalem very near where Jesus lived and ministered, which you can visit today, and which those alive when the Bible was written (especially in and around Israel, where Jesus ministered), would have been very familiar with.  No doubt many who heard Jesus speak of Gehenna had personally seen it with their own eyes.  Not only that, but the Old Testament, the only “Bible” the first believers had,  mentions Gehenna (the valley of Hinnom) multiple times, which would have made it even more familiar to them.    

I don’t want to be redundant, but feel it’s important to stress is that whenever Jesus mentioned Gehenna (“hell”), those whom he was actually talking to, and those who read his words not long after he lived, would absolutely NOT have thought about some after-death destination of eternal torment – not at all!  They would have simply thought of the familiar nearby valley (we will look at some of Jesus’ words below).  What comes to mind for a 21st Century American when they read of “hell” in the Bible is MUCH different from what Jesus had in mind, and what he intended for his hearers to have in mind.  This is no small matter!!!  Again, what we think of as “hell” is NOT what Jesus meant!  In warning about  the fires of hell, Jesus clearly wasn’t saying anyone was going to consciously burn in the small Valley of Hinnom, much less be eternally tormented there after they die.  Those are ideas which are entirely fabricated in the darkened mind and imagination of man – carnal in origin and spiritually damaging in effect. 

Here is one more picture of Gehenna/hell, taken in 1948:

Gehenna (“hell”) in 1948

At this point in my first draft of this post, I began to explain that Gehenna is connected with fire in the New Testament writings because it was used in Jesus’ day as a dump for trash and dead bodies, which was kept perpetually burning to dispose of its contents.  I have heard this for years, and read it myself in more than one “authoritative” source.  However, upon further research, it appears this is only a theory, and that the most ancient source that describes Gehenna in Jesus’ time as a perpetually burning dump was a Jewish Rabbi named Kimhi who wrote around 1,200 AD.  Not exactly a first-hand account.   So while the theory of Gehenna being a perpetually burning dump may well be true, it’s not a certainty, and I don’t want to present it as such. 

IF the “burning dump” theory is false, it seems plausible that the connection between Gehenna and fire has to do with the fact that the Valley of Hinnom was the location of pagan sacrifices, including human sacrifices, committed in and by ancient Israel.  This would likely have been known by nearly all Jews in Jesus’ time, and it seems they would have easily, even automatically, connected Gehenna with abomination,  idolatry, and death.  It is mentioned in such a capacity many times in the Old Testament.  A couple examples are:

  • 2 Chronicles 28:3 (NASB): “Moreover, (King Ahaz) burned incense in the valley of Ben-hinnom (literally “the sons of Hinnom, or Gehenna) and burned his sons in fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had driven out before the sons of Israel.”
  • Jeremiah 7:31 (ESV): “And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom (Gehenna), to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.” 

This is a very important thing to realize: unless we truly think that millions or billions of people are going to be eternally tormented in this small valley in Jerusalem, which is obviously ridiculous, then we have to recognize that, at least on some level, Jesus’ warnings about the fires of Gehenna (hell) are not literal, but (like many things in the Bible) used as a spiritual metaphor or representation.  That’s just a fact.

All this said, it’s worth noting that the Bible is actually shockingly silent about Gehenna.  For instance, Paul, who single-handedly wrote 2/3 of the New Testament and whose letters are preached from constantly in churches all across the world, NEVER used either Gehenna OR hades – the two primary words translated hell in the Bible!  Read any of his letters, in any translation, and you will not find the word “hell” even once.  You can even read his speeches and teachings that are recorded in the book of Acts – hell is completely absent.  Even for those who choose to insist: “Paul taught about hell, he just never named it,” it has to be admitted that this strange.  Similarly, the entire gospel of John has ZERO mentions of it, and the gospel of Luke has just one.  These things, especially the total absence of Gehenna in any of Paul’s writings, seems almost inconceivable to me if Gehenna/hell is THE place of eternal, conscious torment (the worst thing imaginable) which Jesus personally came to deliver all mankind from, and if the Bible is the only place where we can reliably learn this. 

In fact, besides one use of Gehenna by James (which we will look at and which clearly has nothing to do with eternal torment), Jesus is the only one who used this word in the entirety of the Bible!  Again, this is almost impossible to believe if hell is truly a destination of eternal torment that awaits all unbelievers, and which believers are specifically called to rescue men from by preaching and warning?  The answer to this conundrum is that hell isn’t a place of eternal conscious torment that awaits unbelievers – we have simply been misled!  There’s no shame in that, though.  In fact, it’s great!  If we realize we’ve been misled, we are then enabled to receive the truth!  The real shame, if there is any, isn’t in changing, but in realizing we were stubbornly wrong for so long.

Jesus’ Warnings About Gehenna/Hell:

It’s sometimes said that Jesus spoke about hell more than heaven, but this seems to me to be absolutely false.   In fact, in the ESV version of the Bible, the word “hell” appears in the four gospels a total of 12 times, while the word “heaven” appears 132 times!!!  Other translations have similar numbers.  I don’t want to get into the idea of “heaven” too much here (maybe in the future), but I do want to mention that the Greek word translated “heaven” is ouranos, which literally means “the expanse of the sky,” and is used numerous times in scripture to refer simply to the physical sky.  Most of the time, ouranos/heaven is used a spiritual sense, referring to the “higher” rule and way of God/Spirit, as opposed to the more base, corrupt “lower” kingdoms and ways of the world.  Most of Jesus’ parables were directly about the “Kingdom of Heaven” which he indicated was both present and future.  It seems to me that Jesus was describing how believers should act as CURRENT citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and declaring that in doing so, we will literally be bringing heaven to earth.  In that sense, Jesus famous statement “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” makes more sense: Jesus was literally embodying what spiritual citizens of heaven live like, and then called those who would listen to him to likewise love one-another and and walk in the Spirit.  

More on that later, perhaps.  My point is that in a similar way, I am increasingly convinced that when Jesus spoke of Gehenna (hell), he absolutely did not mean a physical place we go forever when we die, but was using a familiar physical place, which was associated with corruption and fire, as a spiritual metaphor to illustrate the destructive, consuming fire that will burn ALL MEN.  Yes, I said ALL people will undergo the fires of Gehenna/hell – Jesus clearly said so himself, as you’ll see below I am also reminded of John the Baptist saying that Jesus will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  That fire isn’t for “unbelievers,” but everyone!   The fire Jesus baptizes with, I believe, is the same fire represented by Gehenna.  The fire of Jesus is a fire of love.  Love NEVER torments as a means of justice, and never causes pain without purpose or end.  Perfect love consumes, without fail.  

In looking at the Biblical writings, it seems Jesus mentioned hell/Gehenna on four unique occasions (sometimes more than once per occasion): the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 and Mark 9, when speaking of the persecution his disciples would face in Matthew 10, when warning about avoiding stumbling-blocks in Matthew 18, and when proclaiming woe to the Pharisees in Matthew 23.  I would again point out that those who Jesus was speaking to, being familiar with the nearby Valley of Hinnom, would have clearly understood Jesus was not speaking literally, but using a familiar place of corruption and pagan fire-sacrifices to make a spiritual point about the “fiery destruction” that awaits their own inward corruption.

I also noticed that only once, in Mark 9:43, did Jesus connect Gehenna with anything resembling “eternal.”   It’s not surprising that this one occasion is most often used by those who want to say that Jesus taught eternal conscious torment.  When this verse is looked at by itself, it’s easy to see how it came to be understood as something like: “avoid sin at all costs or you risk being eternally burned in hell.”  I don’t think that’s what it means at all, however (not to mention, doesn’t that contradict traditional gospel message of “saved by grace through faith, not of works?).  Here is the verse:

  • Mark 9:43-44 (NASB): “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

As a general rule, it is unwise to make a point using a verse separated from its context.  Allow me to quote the larger context of this verse, because there are some fascinating, shocking and very illuminating things that can be seen:

  • Mark 9:42-50 (NASB): “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire,44[where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] 45 If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, 46 [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] 47 If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48 where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.  49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. (Did you catch that???)  50 Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” 

There are some really important points I’d like to make here. First of all, when Jesus mentions “unquenchable fire,” he’s not describing a physical place, but is actually quoting from Isaiah 66:24, using the words of Israel’s prophets to make a point, as he did many times when speaking to Israelites.  But more importantly, notice what Jesus says in verse 49: EVERYONE will be “salted” with this fire!  What this means, if you can accept it, is that the ”unquenchable”  fire of hell will burn EVERYONE.  This is what Jesus said, quite clearly in fact.  Does this mean everyone is going to be eternally tormented?  Of course not!  What it means is that this fire is spiritual, not physical, and serves to purify, not to eternally torment.   One might ask: how could “unquenchable” fire mean anything other than “never-ending” fire?   Unquenchable seems to simply mean that this fire cannot be avoided and cannot be snuffed out until it entirely consumes whatever it is burning. In that sense, it is very much “unquenchable.”  In Greek, the word translated “eternal” means “lasting an age” or “an undefined, long period of time,” not “never-ending into all eternity.” In a future post, I intend to look at the meaning and original words and true meaning behind “unquenchable,” “eternal,” and “everlasting.”

So if Jesus isn’t speaking of literal fire, then what IS he talking about? In the New Testament, fire is often used to represent purification and refining.  In actuality, I believe this Fire is the presence of God/perfect love Himself.  Here are a few examples:

  • Hebrews 12:28-29 (NASB): “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service (not composed of wood, hay, or stubble) with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”
  • James 5:2-3 (NASB): “Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire.”
  • Jude 22-23 (NASB): “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”
  • Matthew 3:11 (NASB): “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

The fire of God, which according to Jesus ALL will be “salted” with, most certainly DOES unquenchably burn and consume, BUT, it only burns and consumes what is of the flesh, what is impure.  I believe flesh burns away in this fire in a similar way that darkness is dispelled in the presence of light, and lies vaporize in the presence of truth.  A primary message of Jesus (and the apostles) was to call men to repent of law-mindedness, embracing their identity as Sons of God, walking in the Spirit rather than by their traditions and darkened natural minds.  In other words, it seems to me that Jesus and the apostles were calling men to embrace the reconciliation which was already accomplished – not to “attain” it somehow.  The issue seems to be for us to let go of carnal ways of thought and action (which include a lot of our religious thinking and ways)!   Think about this: how many of us have any way of understanding and living that isn’t totally pure and spiritual?  Maybe it’s “good,” but still man-made?   How many of us also have been hypocritical or selfish?  How about misled, yet stubborn?  All of us!  Therefore, either in this age or in the ages to come, how many of us must and will undergo the “fire” of purification?  All of us – just as Jesus said!  Scripture teaches that the Kingdom of God is present and destined to increase, and we know that ultimately there will be no wickedness in it.  The unquenchable fire, I believe, if for this purpose.  It’s not about our personal destiny, it’s about the Kingdom of God!!!  

A common reaction to this line of thinking is: “if everyone goes to heaven, why even follow God at all?”  There are many reasons I don’t like that logic, and I won’t get into them all here.  One obvious answer is that even if the fire of God is ultimately purifying, that doesn’t mean it’s pleasant, right?  Having one’s entire life and identity revealed to have been based on a lie and without substance, then burned away is no trivial matter.  I also tend to agree that some people, who have greatly resisted the Spirit of God and been a source of stumbling and harm to others, will have to undergo more “burning” than others – there is more flammable “wood, hay and stubble” there – again, no trivial matter!

Another point is that scripture teaches that through Christ ALL men have ALREADY been reconciled.  This can’t change, because Jesus died and rose for all, AS all.  The fire of Gehenna and the lake of Fire in revelation can’t prevent this, and you don’t torture someone you are reconciled with.  Instead, it seems to me these fires serve to burn away what isn’t in line with that reconciliation.  In fact, everything that opposes God isn’t “real” anyway, if you define “real” as: “part of the New Creation.”  The old isn’t going to be tortured, it’s destined for destruction by fire.

This seems to be what Paul was speaking of in this passage:

  • 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (NASB): “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

Getting back to the passage from Mark 9 about being cast into hell, I also noticed that Jesus seems to be making one overall point using several metaphoric examples.  His basic point seems to be this: “it would be better” to undergo physical drowning, amputation or even death rather than to cause or experience spiritual “stumbling.”  Without question, this is a very sobering point!  HOWEVER, I think we all realize Jesus isn’t saying anyone who is a source of stumbling is going to be drowned in the ocean with a huge rock around their neck, or that the way to avoid hell is to literally amputate your extremities or rip out your eyes – both of those are clearly figures of speech to emphasize his point.  Therefore, we have no more reason from this passage to say that people who “stumble” will be literally cast into Gehenna to burn forever than we do to say that anyone who causes stumbling will or should be thrown into the ocean with a huge rock around their neck.   Both of these things, which Jesus mentioned together, are metaphors: physical examples used to make a spiritual point.   

Other Uses of Hell in the New Testament:

Outside of Jesus’ occasional mentions of Gehenna in the gospels, the word appears precisely ONCE in the rest of the New Testament.  I have to point out once again, if Gehenna/hell is THE place of eternal torment that Jesus came to save us from, couldn’t we expect at least Paul, Peter, or John to tell us about it by name at least once?  Anyway, here is the single non-Jesus use of Gehenna in the rest of the New Testament (notice how it is clearly metaphoric):

  • James 3:6 (NASB): “And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell (Gehenna).”

Of course, the valley near Jerusalem is not actively inflaming anyone’s physical tongue.  Once again, Gehenna is chosen as a metaphor because it was a familiar and connected with fire and corruption.   What James seems to be saying is that our “tongue” (our thoughts put to speech) is, similar to fire, very powerful and destructive, being capable of quick and pervasive misery, both to ourselves and others.  To avoid being agents of such destruction, we must be sure that our speech is kept in check by and is in accordance with the Holy Spirit.  Our minds must be renewed to see the greatness and fullness of the Reconciliation, Love and Truth that has been at hand for at least the last 2,000 years.  

Finally, the last and only other use of the word “hell” in the New Testament (outside of the KJV’s poor translation of hades), is found in 2 Peter 2:4, which reads:

  • 2 Peter 2:4 NASB: “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment…”

In this verse, the word translated hell is the Greek word tartaroo, a form of tartarus.  This is the only use of this word in the entire Bible.  Like hades, tartarus is not a Christian word or idea, but originates in Greek mythology, long before Christ.  In Greek mythology, tartarus was considered to be the lowest level of hades, serving as a prison for divine beings such as the Titans.  Once again, it seems to me that Peter was not trying to make a literal “doctrine” about tartarusa place that is thoroughly pagan in origin and meaning.  Instead, it seems most likely that, exactly as with hades, he was simply using a word and idea which would have been very familiar to his audience in order to make a larger point about the chastisement of the wicked. 

I will end with that!  I hope this was helpful and enlightening.  Do some more research yourself if you want, but please take these things seriously.  As I said last time, what is at stake is the way we understand and represent God’s nature and character, and those tend to permeate into our emotions and relationships.  I intend for much more to come on this overall subject!  Bless you all. 

 

Footnotes:

    1. 2 Corinthians 5:14 ESV: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;”
    2. Hebrews 2:9 ESV:  “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
    3. Hebrews 10:2,10,12-18 ESV:  (2) “Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? (10) And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (12) But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, (13) waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. (14) For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (15) And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, (16) “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” (17) then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” (18) Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”
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Posted by on November 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Death WITH Christ

“…one died for all, therefore all died…Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh…therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” -2 Corinthians 5:14, 16-17.

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” -Galatians 3:26-27

“For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” -Romans 6:5-7

“Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” -Romans 7:4-6

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” -Galatians 2:20

“Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” -Hebrews 10:11-14.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Rich Toward God, pt. 2

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I believe all Jesus’ parables are given to believers, and each time a man is spoken of, he represents a group of people.  This rich man represents a “church” which is carnal, or led by her darkened mind.  Immediately after making up his mind to build bigger barns to store up his grain and goods, God addresses him directly: You fool! (literally: “one without perception!”) This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’  To be seen as a fool by the God you claim to worship is truly sad. 

Jesus concludes this parable by contrasting two ways of life, which I believe are mutually exclusive:  “So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”  The foolish rich man planned and labored to “lay up treasure,” i.e. to get ease and security, for himself.  As I mentioned before, it’s possible to, by all appearances, be very good in doing this, but the real issue is the SOURCE of the plan and action.  In this case, the source was this man’s own mind/soul. 

Being “rich toward God” is entirely differentRich toward God” literally translates “rich toGod,” meaning to be rich in God’s sight, or: “to possess and be that which God finds desirable.” The “rich toward God” have an inward ownership of spiritual riches such as wisdom, understanding, and fruit.  They are those who have been given eyes to see, ears to hear and have used these senses.  They have nourished the seed of God’s Word and life in them, and are producing a crop of spiritual fruit.  The independent soul of man cannot and will not value the things God finds desirable. No amount of success in any plan or goal which came from one’s own reasoning will survive the testing fire of God, thus the result will be “poverty toward God!”  We have to be so careful and diligent on this issue, because the transition from soul to spirit/Adam to Christ is not instant or easy, and many in their blindness continue to walk foolishly and will lose everything they worked for.

If we want to follow Jesus, we MUST NOT live from and according to that life and realm which is done away in Christ,1 which God has no desire for or dealings with.  Again, this can be called many things with fair accuracy: the old man, the carnal/fleshly/natural mind, the Adamic nature, soul, ego, self, natural life. This is the realm which in Christ has been done away, and what we must continue to reject.  It’s this we are to be set free from.  There is no other option – to follow Christ’s way requires rejection of self/flesh/Adam/soul/carnal mind/”reason.”  Jesus said so himself.  To persist in blindness and carnality, no matter one’s behavior or beliefs, will result in the loss of everything.

I think everyone is either storing up treasure from and for themselves, or coming to possess spiritual wealth in God’s eyes by seeking His word, heeding it, and humbling themselves (in other words, by following the way of Jesus).  If you sense truth in this, sincerely ask God to lead you to true wealth and seek Him diligently.  Repentance is always step #1, and it’s simply changing your mind to conform to what God is showing you by revelation.  I am leaning towards making a part 3 sometime in which I look at the famous teaching Jesus gave immediately following this parable, which makes more sense when you keep this parable in mind.  Maybe I’ll do so in a video.  I hope this blog is something the Spirit of God can use.  God bless you.

 

1. 2 Corinthians 5:17

 

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Rich Toward God, Pt. 1

 

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The words of Jesus are unparalleled, just as Jesus is unparalleled.  They are the foundation for those who would follow him. Everything else, including bible verses, must be filtered through his teachings.  If we are building our walk and understanding on the teachings of Paul, Peter, popes, pastors, presidents, preachers, or anyone else, we’re mistaken.  I would like to look at one of Jesus’ parables.

Luke 12:15-22 NAS77 And (Jesus) said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” (16) And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a certain rich man was very productive. (17) “And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ (18) “And he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. (19) ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”‘ (20) “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ (21) “So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (22) And He said to His disciples, “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on.

I am convinced every parable of Jesus has an ultimately spiritual meaning and application. Therefore, I don’t think he is really concerned with whether people store grain up or not.  His concern is much deeper – where our awareness is and the source of life we are drawing from.  (More on that in a bit).  It’s very important to notice the very first thing this man does – he begins reasoning to himself.This literally translates he reasonedwithin himself.” Then, he begins consulting his own “soul” (self) for guidance. These two actions underlie the whole meaning of this parable.

I realize that reason and self-consultation may seem harmless enough in the eyes of man, but spiritually, these things are absolutely fatal. Remember, in Romans 8 and elsewhere, Paul taught that the carnal mind (our natural, rational, non-spiritual mind) is hostile to God, and can’t know Him.  Consulting his non-spiritual, carnal mind for guidance was this man’s fundamental error, leading directly to his demise.  What’s scary is he seemed to think he was being wise, having no idea he was off track at all. 

Because God sees spiritually and men see fleshly, many who profess to believe in Christ have been occupied with the wrong problems and ignorant of one of the fundamental problems, which is fairly simple: our fleshly mind and natural life, whatever form they take, are at enmity with God, period.  Behavior and correct beliefs are secondary issues at best. What matters to God is the substance being presented to Him; flesh or spirit, Adam or Christ, shadow or reality, tradition or truth, reason or revelation, pretense or humility.  Jesus makes it very clear the rich man is aware of and living from his blind carnal mind and soul, which is the “old” God now has no dealings with.This man’s wealth reminds me of Revelation 3:17, where Jesus summarizes the Laodicean church’s attitude as: “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing…”  But where man sees wealth, God sees destitution.

Immediately before telling this parable, Jesus gives a warning which also has to do with this parable’s meaning: Beware, and be on your guard against all covetousness; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”  Here’s an alternative translation: Be seeing, (requires spiritual light/revelation and rejection of the fleshly mind) and be guarding against all covetousness, because abounding life doesn’t come from the things one possesses.” Covetousness = a desire to have more. In verse 18, this man decides to build bigger barns to store up his “grain” and “goods.” I think these represent whatever our soul takes pleasure or finds security in. Perhaps “grain” specifically represents material possessions (food, money, houses, etc), while “goods” represent the good works we do which we feel endear us to God and ensure our place in heaven. The human soul is very fearful. Consulting his soul brought a fear of lack, leading to covetousness, leading to blindness, which led to a hard heart and being cut off from God’s spiritual, eternal, vibrant life.  What is more valuable than that?  This is why Jesus warned not to connect possessions and “life.”  In reality, they have nothing to do with each-other. 

 
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Posted by on April 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Source of Corruption and Source of Love

“…He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (2 Peter 1:4)

“The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:17)

I noticed something striking as I read the passage from 2 Peter above.  In it, Peter actually tells us the source of the corruption in the world and how one can escape it!  I’m not claiming to fully understand or explain everything contained in that verse, I just want to show you some things that became clearer as I looked at this passage closer, some things I think will be quite helpful.  Understanding, I believe, is a prerequisite of manifestation. 

The corruption in the world has come, we are told, by means of “lust,” which is translated from the underlying Greek word epithumia.  Today we often associate lust with sex, but epithumia is more broad, essentially meaning “craving or passionate desire.”  It usually, but not always, refers to a craving for something forbidden or self-serving.

“Corruption” in scripture broadly refers to everything outside of God’s kingdom, because ultimately, everything outside of God’s kingdom will be destroyed.1  (I think that in a very real sense, even now God only “sees” those things that are part of His kingdom, but that’s another issue).  Everything of this physical world, as well as everything that has it’s origin in the heart and mind of man, apart from the spirit of God, is corruption.  It is all passing away.

In 2 Peter 1, I believe corruption is referring specifically to the nature of man, which has been fearful and self-preserving since Adam’s disobedience, and which violates Christ’s law of love.   This corrupt nature gives rise to all variety of self-serving desires (lusts) within man, and these desires lead to all sorts of wickedness, oppression, deceit, inequality, fraud, callousness, and abuse. 

The opposite of this corrupt nature is the divine nature of love, which is entirely unselfish.2 Love is the antidote for the corruption that manifests in our lusts.  If one is walking in love, one won’t be craving things that are outside God’s kingdom.  The good, useful, and pleasant things of this earth which the world lusts after are seen by those with God’s love as tools to be used or gifts to be enjoyed with thankfulness.  Walking in the love of God leads to one’s awareness set on  God and the spiritual realm, one’s desire to further His kingdom, and one’s heart to delight in the beauty and worth of spiritual things of God Himself such as love, mercy, faith, hope, peace, glory, kindness, and truth.  True love brings contentment in serving God in spirit, no matter what one’s situation is on earth. 

So, if love is so important, the question is: how does one get love?  There’s never a “do this” answer to spiritual questions, and spiritual things are never owned or possessed like some commodity.  Genuine love is always produced naturally, meaning without effort (though not without suffering).  Love is produced within you only as the one who is love manifests in you.  As your selfish, corrupt “Adamic” source of life diminishes (you die), by grace (God’s influence upon you), through faith (revealed truth), you are able to possess and express more of the new source of life, which is Christ himself and full of love (you are saved).  Love becomes your nature when Christ is revealed in you, and it grows progressively as his life is progressively revealed in you. 

This process happens as in our spirits (not our minds) we come to truly know, see, and apprehend what God has done in Christ and how God now sees us – having died and risen with Christ.  I believe God grants this “knowing” and “seeing” to those who are humble and desperate.  Scripture refers to the power that makes spiritual reality known as “light.”  This light, scripture says, is to dawn and shine in our hearts,3 making the promises of God real in our experience.  Peter rephrases this same idea in 2 Peter 1, stating we are to become “partakers of the divine nature,” i.e. the nature of love!  To partake of the divine nature actually means to have the same nature as God, to share in His life, to be one of His very kind, in the same vein as Jesus Christ himself.  Being separated (“having escaped,” 2 Peter 1 puts it) from the lust and corruption found in the lusts of our Adamic nature is simply a byproduct of this process.  In this season, this is what it’s all about.  

 

  • 1. 1 Corinthians 15:50-54, Hebrews 12:26-27
  • 2. 1 Corinthians 13:5
  • 3. 2 Peter 1:19, 1 John 2:8
 
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Posted by on March 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Moses to Christ = Shadow to Substance

“Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.”  -Hebrews 3:5,6

I’d like to expand on the meaning of this passage a bit.  Warning!  Rabbit trail immediately ahead, skip the portion in parenthesis if you wish.  (I realize that to some, it seems  pointless to examine the Greek meanings of Biblical words and phrases, but this isn’t always the case.  When I look at the Greek, I do so for one simple reason – I want to know the meaning that was being conveyed by the author!  There are many great English translations, but none are without any deficiency.  I prefer more literal translations, but I have also learned that a strict, literal interpretation from Greek to English might not make much sense unless you approach the text spiritually, which many translators didn’t.  In reference to the King James Version, I’ve heard it said that those who translated the text were “more interested in translation than in truth,” and priority number one for most translations is to make the text readable.  While this is understandable, it is also a problem if an awkward or strange literal meaning was conveying a spiritual truth.  This is just one example of why looking at the Greek can be useful). 

Notice that Moses was a faithful servant (meaning attendant) in God’s house.  It’s hard to overstate the importance of Moses’ role in regards to God’s plan for the Israelites of his day.  In Hebrews, Moses is basically being considered as the old covenant equivalent of Christ. Moses was THE go-between for God and all of Israel.  The Israelites actually said to Moses: “speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.”2  Moses carried out this duty very well, and in Jesus’ day, Moses was still given the highest place of honor short of God Himself.

This is well and good, but Moses is long dead and most believers know (to an extent) that we aren’t under the law of Moses anymore.  So why would the author of Hebrews, who understood the new covenant very well, give such attention to Moses?  The reason is stated in the passage above: Moses’ ministry was for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later…”  This means God had a greater purpose behind Moses’ ministry.  All the laws, regulations and commands God gave to and through Moses were intended primarily to be a “testimony” – a physical, earthly representation – of this greater, ultimate spiritual purpose and reality which was to come thousands of years later in Christ.  In fact, all of the Old Testament stories, laws, and rules, (many of which seem strange and pointless), served this purpose in one way or another.  Amazing, isn’t it? 

Here’s the main contrast: Moses = attending servant in God’s house. He had no claim to rulership or authority over the house, he just was a faithful servant in the house. Jesus = son over God’s house (which consists of true believers!) Jesus had authority and rulership over God’s household which Moses never had.  Remember, Moses = servant, Jesus = son.  In a household, a servant, no matter how faithful and valuable they are, can never reach a status higher than a guest.  A son (or daughter) are and will always be a part of the household, an heir, an equal.  Jesus came to bring this transition; bringing carnal, law-aware servants into adoption as God-aware, spiritual sons.  He came to bring those who followed the shadow (the physical law of Moses) to those who possess the substance (spiritual reality).  It’s as stark a contrast as that between a reflection of an object and the object itself, or a drawing of a house and the house itself.  With the exact same thing in mind, John wrote: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”3  Paul wrote of this also, at length.4

Having laid this foundation, our passage states we are members of, participants in, and the very building materials of the house of God, “if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.”  There always seems to be a pesky “if,” and we better not ignore it.  Having looked closely at the Greek, here’s what this means: “We are of God’s house if we seize and refuse to let go of the truth of the (radical) freedom of our sonship as well as the glorious rejoicing we have in the expectation of all that is given and promised, until these things fully mature within us and we take ownership of them.”  Amen!  I encourage you to re-read and meditate on these things, and look at the scriptures I referenced.  God bless you. 

  1. Hebrews 3:5,6
  2. Exodus 20:19
  3. John 1:17
  4. Primarily in the book of Galatians. Perhaps most clearly in 4:1-7.
 
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Posted by on March 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Alienated from Life

“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart…”1

For several reasons, I’d venture to say that few church-goers have really examined this passage. But it really jumped out at me recently and I knew I had to look at it closer.  Paul prefaces this statment by saying he is “testify(ing) in the Lord.”  I was surprised to discover that in all his writings, this is the only time he uses this phrase!  I believe this means that what Paul is about to say is something extra pressing upon God’s heart, something he is especially concerned we hear.  Here it is again:

“…ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart…”1

A “walk” is a common idea in the New Testament, which refers to one’s manner of inward and outward life.  Many “walk” based on a mind and understanding that is vain and darkened, and the terrible outcome of this is being “alienated from the life of God.”  As I wrote about in my last post, God’s life, which is in Jesus Christ, is the only means of our salvation.  If we are alienated from this life, we cannot produce anything of value to God and cannot be “saved.”  This is actually very sobering. 

If you look closely, a “hardened heart” seems to be the root cause of this alienation, so we must be careful to understand what that is.  The “heart” could be said to be the core of one’s being where information is processed and where beliefs and ways of perception are formed and established.  The word “hardening” here literally translates “covered in a callous,” thus meaning impenetrable and unresponsive to stimulation.  In a nutshell, a hardened heart is a mindset that cannot receive or incorporate spiritual revelationThis is what God is primarily warning against

Check out these verses as well:  “He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.”2 

“And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened?”3 

Christianity has perpetuated the mistaken notion that a hard heart is a lack of compassion.  This mistaken idea has taken root because our natural mind ALWAYS dumbs down deep, spiritual concepts in order to deal with them using the non-spiritual intellect.  What’s scary is many pious and well-behaved Christians unwittingly have hardened hearts; they cannot and will not receive anything that doesn’t fit in with their current understanding.  If you’ve been around Christianity very long, you’ve probably seen this.  Don’t forget this sober warning is given to believers.  Similar terms used in scripture are “stiff-necked,” “uncircumcised in heart,” “deaf,” “blind,” “stubborn” and “foolish.”   

I hope we comprehend how important this is.  Adherence to rigid doctrines and creeds is so dangerous, because they tend toward hardening our heart and alienating us from God’s life!  Also mentioned in this passage are ignorance (absence of knowledge/perception) and a darkened understanding.  Both are results of a hardened heart.  A darkened understanding is very simply an understanding that is without a basis in (spiritual) reality as exposed by “light,” which is always used in scripture to represent inward, spiritual revelation and truth from God.  Just as natural light exposes and reveals things, so does spiritual light.  In the spiritual realm, only what is revealed by light is properly called “truth.”  We see much evidence of this in scripture, including Jesus saying “I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness,”4 and Paul writing “…all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”5   Let us seek God’s light to shine on us and be brave enough to admit our absolute need for it.  I hope some light is dawning within us right now.  Let’s ask Him to teach us, seek to learn His voice, to rely opon Him.  God, who is Spirit, will do it.  It’s a process.

I want to look at the rest of this passage next time, which looks at the other side of the coin, focusing on what TO do instead of what NOT to do.  

  • 1. Ephesians 4:17,18 ASV
  • 2. John 12:40
  • 3. Mark 8:17
  • 4. John 12:46
  • 5. Ephesians 5:13-14
 
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Posted by on December 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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