Hell, Eternal Punishment & Conscious Death Are Not In the Bible
Hell, Eternal Punishment & Conscious Death Are Not In the Bible - The 8 Threads of Misunderstanding That Must Be Unraveled In Order To Understand God's Plan For Humanity, by John Lilley
An overview of the book
Hell Is A Mistranslation - God's Ultimate Plan For Humanity Revealed In the Accurately Translated Bible
by John Lilley
In order to understand what the Bible teaches about the ultimate destiny of mankind, there are eight threads of misunderstanding that must be unraveled – eight areas in which the typical modern Christian is confused (through no fault of their own) about what their own Bible says. These eight areas of confusion must be set straight in order for us to understand what the Bible says about God’s ultimate plan for humanity.
I will not explain each thread thoroughly in this article as there simply would not be space to do that, and I do it in my book Hell Is A Mistranslation: God’s Ultimate Plan For Humanity Revealed In the Accurately Translated Bible. Here I will simply give you the basics to help you understand how each thread is unraveled and put back together again to form a cohesive picture in Scripture.
The eight threads of misunderstanding in the typical modern Christian’s mind concerning what the Bible says about God’s plan for mankind are as follows.
Thread #1: The Mistranslation of “Hell”
The word “hell” is often mistranslated in English Bibles from the Hebrew word “sheol” and the Greek words “tartarusing” (a verb), “Gehenna”, and “hades” (used by New Testament writers as the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “sheol”). None of these words mean “hell”.
“sheol” = “the unseen”, “where the dead go”, “the grave”
“hades” = the unseen”, “unperceived”
“tartarusing” (a verb) = waiting in a dark place
“Gehenna” = a physical location in Jerusalem (referred to in Scripture only as a physical place, there is never any implication that it is anything else, and when Jesus used this word He was quoting Is. 66:23-24 which makes it very clear the setting is a physical location on earth)
Despite the fact that these words are sometimes translated as “hell” in some English Bibles, none of these words mean anything remotely close to “hell”. This can be proven logically from the Scriptures as I do in my book Hell Is A Mistranslation.
The bottom line is, the word “hell” is not in the Bible.
Thread #2: The Mistranslation of “Eternal/Everlasting/Forever/Forever-and-Ever/Never”
The Hebrew word “olam” and the Greek word “eon” are sometimes mistranslated in English Bibles with a word that refers to eternity, even though neither of these words refers to eternity or endlessness.
Hasting's Dictionary of the New Testament (vol. I, p. 542, art. Christ and the Gospels) puts it well when it states that there is no word either in the Hebrew Old Testament or in the Greek New Testament that expresses the abstract idea of eternity.
The Hebrew word “olam” or “to olam” or “from olam” means “for a relatively long time, but it is not known exactly how long”. There is no English equivalent for this word or concept, so the translators simply use “eternal” or “forever” sometimes instead of interrupting the flow of the text to explain what this word actually means.
They should probably simply translate it as “a long time” or “for a long time”, but that does not sound as nice as “forever”. The only problem is, this tricks modern Christians into thinking that the concept of eternity is all over the Old Testament when really it is not.
The Greek word “eon” means “age”, as in 2 Corinthians 4:4 which states that Satan is the “god of this eon”. If “eon” referred to eternity or endlessness, then Satan would be god forever. Obviously this word does not mean “forever”.
The word “forever” is the opposite of the word “age”; “forever” is time with no beginning or end, while an “age” is a period of time with a specific beginning and a specific end.
But Bible translators, due to their traditional belief in the pagan concept of eternal punishment (which they inherited from the Catholic church, which combined paganism with Christianity in the Middle Ages), sometimes translate this word “eon” as “forever”, “eonian” (adjective form of “eon” which means “pertaining to an age or ages”) as “eternal”, “the ages of the ages” as “forever and ever”, etc. These are inaccurate and highly deceptive mistranslations of various forms of the word “eon”.
In my book Hell Is A Mistranslation I prove this logically from Scripture and I also give several Scriptural examples of instances where these words are used in contexts where they cannot possibly refer to eternity or endlessness.
Some people say, “Well, these words could sometimes refer to eternity.” People who use this line of reasoning do not understand the nature of languages. Words do not change their core meaning – especially not from one meaning to the opposite meaning – within one language at the same period of time. “Black” does not change its meaning to “white”; “age” (a period of time with a specific beginning and end) does not change its meaning to “forever” (time with no beginning and no end). This type of thing simply does not happen in any language. (The only possible exception is that it might occur over a long period of time, though it is rare. However, the New Testament was written over a short period of time, thus eliminating this possibility.)
The bottom line is, there is no word that carries the meaning of eternity in the Hebrew or Greek manuscripts of the Bible.
Some might say an exception is 1 Corinthians 15, which refers to the “incorruptible” resurrected bodies we will receive at the rapture. The word “incorruptible” implies that those bodies will not die, thus telling us that for all practical purposes there is such a thing as an eternal future for us…However, that does not change the fact that every time you see the words “forever”, “forever-and-ever”, “eternal”, or “everlasting” (or even the word “never”) in an English Bible, it is a blatant mistranslation of either “olam” or “eon”.
Another important point to make is that "the kingdom of God" in Scripture does not refer to hanging out in heaven forever, but rather to the next two ages (Greek "eons") of life on earth (the millennium and the New Jerusalem age, see Rev. 20:4-6 & 21-22).
Jesus, His disciples, Paul, etc. used the following terms interchangeably to refer to these two ages in God's plan for mankind: "the kingdom", "the kingdom of God", "the kingdom of heaven", "eonian" (pertaining to an age or ages, often mistranslated "eternal" or "everlasting") and "for the eons of the eons" (a specific phrase, often ridiculously mistranslated as "forever and ever", that uses the same speech convention as "King of kings" to refer to the greatest of a group, in this case the greatest two ages of the ages of human history - the millennium and the New Jerusalem age). See Acts 1:6-7 to see Jesus' and His disciples' definition of "the kingdom".
A person who misses out on the kingdom of God (a person who does not get "eonian life") will not be eternally damned; that person will simply miss out on the next two ages of life on earth. (Paul explains what will happen after those two ages at the consummation of God's plan, in 1 Cor. 15:20-28.)
Thread #3: The True Scriptural Definitions of Death, Soul, and Spirit
Numerous Scripture verses plainly declare that at death a person becomes unconscious. (See Ecc. 9:5 & 10, Ps. 6:5, 115:17, 146:2-4, etc. as well as the use of the analogy of “sleep” for death throughout Scripture – including by Jesus and Paul – an analogy that would make no sense if death was conscious.)
Many Christians ignore these plain verses of Scripture and instead focus on twisted interpretations of other Bible verses (making them say something they don’t actually say) in order to make the Bible fit their preconceived pagan/Catholic-inherited ideas about conscious death.
To make matters worse, many Christians treat “soul” and “spirit” as if they are the same (they aren’t – see 1 Thess. 5:23), without understating the true Biblical definition of either.
“Soul” in Scripture refers to consciousness; even animals have souls (consciousness, ability to interact with their environment) in Scripture (see Gen. 1:30).
“Spirit” in Scripture refers to “breath” or the God-part of a person.
The key to understand is that Scripturally the soul (consciousness, ability to interact with the environment) is the result of a union between the body and spirit. (1 Thess. 5:23). In other words, the spirit of a human being is unconscious without the body.
The Bible says that at death the soul (consciousness, feeling, ability to interact) goes to the “unseen” (Hebrew “sheol”, Greek “hades”) – a fancy/poetic way of saying the person becomes unconscious – and the spirit “returns to God who gave it” (Ecc. 12:7), unconsciously.
This explains the times in the Bible where Jesus and Paul seem to contradict themselves and the rest of Scripture by referring to going to be with God immediately at death. They understood that according to the Old Testament Scriptures (specifically Ecclesiastes 9:5 & 10 and 12:7, for example), at death a person becomes unconscious (their “soul” “goes to the unseen”) and the person’s spirit (God-part of them, God-breathed part of them) goes to be with God as symbolized by their breath (the physical symbol/counterpart of the invisible God-given human spirit) leaving their body.
Wondering about Enoch and Elijah? Or about the parable of Lazarus and the rich man? Both are easy to explain.
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man was a parable - a fictional story (with a fictional setting) told to make a point. Jesus chose the fake made-up setting for this story to match the Pharisees’ pagan Talmud, not to match Scripture. He told the story to mock the Pharisees’ pagan ideas about the afterlife (not teach those ideas!) while the point of the story was about the next age of life on earth.
I explain this thoroughly in my book Hell Is A Mistranslation, including quotes from the Talmud that match up exactly with phrases Jesus used in the setting of the story of Lazarus and the rich man. The bottom line is, the “pagan conscious afterlife” setting of the parable was fictional and directly contradicted Scripture because it came from the pagan Talmud, and every member of His Israelite audience would’ve understood this.
Enoch and Elijah were caught up into “the heavens” where the birds fly, not “the heavens” where God lives. The term “heaven” or “the heavens” was used in three different ways in ancient Hebrew times; depending on the context, it could refer to the sky where the birds fly, space where the stars are, or heaven where God lives.
Enoch was taken into the sky (where the birds fly) and plopped down somewhere else on earth so he could escape a dangerous situation and wouldn’t die (at that moment). Romans 11 makes it clear that Enoch later died (he is listed among the heroes of faith that have not yet received their reward, and of whom it says “all these died”).
Elijah was taken up into the sky (where the birds fly) and plopped down somewhere else on earth so that Elisha would feel free to take over Elijah’s ministry instead of just relentlessly tagging along with Elijah.
If this is not the proper explanation for what happened to Elijah and Enoch, and they really did go up to heaven where God lives, then Jesus lied in John 3:13 when He said “No man has ascended into heaven” (from the context we can see He was referring to heaven where God lives). (Also see Hebrews 11:5 & 13.)
In the book Hell Is A Mistranslation I explain clearly and logically, verse by verse from Scripture, what the accurately translated Bible teaches about death, soul and spirit.
Thread #4: The Physical Lake of Fire and the Physical Gehenna Fire
These fires are “eonian” – they “pertain to an age or ages”. The lake of fire lasts "for the ages of the ages", a specific phrase that refers to a specific period of time. These fires are not “everlasting or “forever and ever”, those are blatant mistranslations. (The very fact that there is a plural form of the word “eon” – “eons” – proves that “eon” does not mean “forever”, because it is impossible to have plural “forevers”.)
In Hell Is A Mistranslation I logically prove from Scripture that the lake of fire talked about in the book of Revelation and the Gehenna fire to which Jesus referred will both be physical fires that will occur on earth and will destroy the physical corpses of physical human beings. In the book I also explain the fascinating reason why Satan, the antichrist, and the false prophet, unlike full human beings, will not die (become unconscious) when thrown into the lake or “pond” of fire. (For more information on this you can also see my article "The Weirdest Truth In the Bible" in the More Questions section of this site.)
The bottom line is, there is no such thing as eternal fire in Scripture. Both of the fires talked about in Scripture that everyone is so afraid of, will be physical fires that will cause physical death (unconsciousness) and/or burn physical dead bodies.
Thread #5: The Ideas of “Hell”, “Eternal Punishment”, and “The Afterlife” (Conscious Death) Were Inherited From Paganism/Catholicism
Catholicism was the result of a purposeful combining of paganism with Christianity in the Middle Ages. The concepts of hell and eternal punishment originated in paganism and are nothing but pagan leftovers that modern Christianity inherited from Catholicism.
Unfortunately, these pagan leftover ideas are continually reinforced in the minds of unsuspecting modern Christians through blatant mistranslations of a few important Hebrew and Greek words. These mistranslations are made by “experts” blinded by their belief in these pagan leftover traditions to the point where they (probably unconsciously) find convenient ways to slip these leftover pagan beliefs into their translations rather than forcing themselves to translate consistently and accurately according the plain meaning of each Hebrew or Greek word.
It is also clear that the early Christians did not believe in hell, eternal punishment, or conscious death. (See Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years: With Authorities and Extracts by John Wesley Hanson.)
The bottom line is, the concepts of hell, eternal punishment, and conscious death are not found anywhere in accurately translated Scripture. They are nothing but pagan leftovers.
Thread #6: The Misunderstanding of What “Judgment” Means In Scripture
The ideal goal of judgment, both in Scripture and in common life, is correction. Unlike our corrupt modern justice system, however, God is perfectly able to correct anyone and everyone eventually using lessons learned over time. (See Col. 1:20, 1 Cor. 15:20-28, Eph. 1:10, Phil. 2:10-11, etc.)
Unfortunately, a pagan-leftover “hell and eternal punishment mindset” causes many Christians to think of God’s judgment of the majority of mankind at the white throne judgment (Rev. 20:11-13) as nothing but a “you’ve been bad” lecture. This is not Scripturally accurate.
I thoroughly, Scripturally and logically explain God’s purpose for the white throne judgment in my book Hell Is A Mistranslation.
Thread #7: The 5 Ages In God’s Plan For Human History
It is impossible to discover the five ages of human history that God has planned from the beginning of time by reading most English Bible versions, because of their inconsistent and inaccurate translating of the Greek word “eon” (“age”) in the New Testament. When you translate all the uses of “eon” accurately and consistently, a remarkable picture emerges – God has a plan for five ages of human history, where each age is a stage in the education of all mankind.
We are currently in the third age outlined in Scripture; it is the most difficult of the five. Most Christians mistakenly think this is the decisive age, but it is not, it’s just a lesson-learning time for humanity to look back on later.
In Hell Is A Mistranslation I explain from the Scriptures the five ages of human history God has planned, and the logical reasons why He planned them the way He did. In the book I also explain why God is allowing so many problems during the third age in which we now live, and His two primary goals for this age as revealed in Scripture.
Thread #8: God’s Ultimate Goal
There are many verses in Scripture that directly state God’s ultimate goal for humanity. Unfortunately, these verses are completely ignored by most Christians and most preachers because they cannot possibly be explained from a “hell and eternal punishment mindset”. A few examples are 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Colossians 1:20, Ephesians 1:10, 1 Timothy 4:10, and Romans 3:23-24, 5:18, and 11:32.
These Scriptures (among others) are plain, direct, straightforward statements of God’s ultimate goal. They declare that God will eventually bring humanity to the place where death is abolished and God is “all in all” – so that everyone will finally live in perfect peace, love, and harmony with Him and each other.
The verses I listed above cannot possibly be understood until the Hebrew words “sheol” and “olam” and the Greek words “eon”, “hades”, “tartarusing”, and “Gehenna” are properly and consistently translated throughout the Bible. Then these verses, along with God’s good plan for all humanity and the loving logic behind it, suddenly make perfect sense.
Suddenly, seemingly impossible questions like
"Why would God create billions of humans knowing beforehand that most of them would burn and scream forever?” or
"How could God justify throwing a person in hell who has never heard the gospel when the Bible makes it clear (Rom. 10:14) that a person must hear the gospel to be saved?” or
"Why would God let Satan rule this age and then tie him up in the next age when it’s too late?” or
"Why is God losing the battle for souls so badly, isn’t He more capable of convincing people than Satan?"
along with seemingly impossible dilemmas like the predestination debate
are answered instantly with astonishing simplicity and ease.
In my book
Hell Is A Mistranslation - God's Ultimate Plan For Humanity Revealed In the Accurately Translated Bible
I explain God’s ultimate goal for all humanity and how He will accomplish it, clearly, logically, and thoroughly from the Bible. It’s the most wonderful thing you will ever hear.
Hell, Eternal Punishment & Conscious Death Are Not In the Bible - The 8 Threads of Misunderstanding That Must Be Unraveled In Order To Understand God's Plan For Humanity Copyright 2011 John Lilley