γενήσομαι «ge-ney-soh-mey : i am becoming»
These are the chronicles of the esoteric . . .
hell 101, part 1: the intro
Please note, this is the first post of a series.
In Christian tradition, hell has become understood to be a place of eternal and conscious torment—a place where the souls of wicked and unrighteous people end up after they’ve died and where they will be punished for all eternity.
However, if we take a look at the overview of what the Bible teaches us about hell, we’ll see that there is no such place in a biblical theology—the Scriptures actually do not teach us that there is a place where souls will be tormented by punishment for ever.
Before we jump in and draw the overview, there is an important understanding we need to have when we approach the Bible—especially the New Testament.
The New Testament is made up of documents that are Jewish. This is a crucial awareness we need to have when we read the gospels and the letters—and it is something that I will not tire of emphasising over and over again. If we ignore the Jewishness of the worldview held by the authors of the New Testament we will never fully understand what they are trying to say and what they were trying to teach their audience. Those who have ignored the Jewishness of the New Testament in the past have introduced many ideas that simply do not belong, do not make sense, and start to cause theology to fall apart.
Jesus was Jewish. His story is a continuation of the story of Israel. Paul would agree, and so would Luke, Peter, and James.
Now, there are two important places from where to start in order to understand what the Bible says about hell—those two places are Paul and Genesis.1 We start with these two because together they form a summary of what the Scriptures teach about hell and judgment—that is, together these two passages can summarise what the Bible says about God’s judgment on the wicked and the unrighteous.
In Romans 6:23, Paul writes that the 'wages of sin is death.' This is a verse commonly used to illustrate the consequences of sin. But to understand how this consequence plays out—what this condemnation means—we're going to look at the story of the flood in Genesis because in Genesis 6 we are told that God sees the people of earth have become corrupt so he decides to destroy them.
In Genesis 7, God sends a flood to blot out the wicked and unrighteous—it says in verse 23 that every living thing was destroyed and blotted out from the earth.
So right at the beginning of the scriptural canon we are shown that the payment their sin transacted was for the wicked to be completely wiped out—destroyed, and gone for ever. The righteous Noah and his children, however, are kept safe from destruction.
This is a more common theme throughout the Bible than most will admit—God’s judgment results in extermination. As God establishes his people throughout the centuries, the nations that oppose Israel are judged with corporate destruction—through famines, disease, war, and other devastations. Even Babylon, the great nation that destroyed Jerusalem and the First Temple, was itself eventually destroyed and brought to nothing.
Noah, however, was found to be a righteous man so God spares his life and his family's. The parallel then is that the opposing nations are the corrupt generations of the earth and Israel is Noah—one is completely erased and the other is kept safe.
By the time we get to the New Testament, we have a basic understanding of the outcome of both unrighteousness and righteousness—destruction and salvation, respectively. And these themes continue in the story of Jesus and his disciples.
It is important to note however that when we read Jesus' prophetic words about judgment and punishment, we need to understand that he is not talking about the end of the world as we know it—his imagery is not imagery for the vague ‘end of days.’ Instead, the judgment that Jesus proclaims in all 4 gospels is a judgment upon Israel for failing to live up to their calling (a light to the world, and the priesthood of God)—and failing to recognise Jesus as the Messiah. The judgment Jesus prophesies came in the form of the destruction of the Second Temple by Rome in 70CE, which would end the 4 year war between the Jews and Rome Empire.
Jesus uses the same language as the Hebrew prophets before him—he is intentionally tying direct parallels to what those prophets were talking about and that’s how we know what Jesus himself was talking about. It is language and imagery of judgment upon Israel, and it is language and imagery of war.
Specifically, Jesus heavily copies Jeremiah and the language of Gehenna.
What is Gehenna? We'll take a look at that in the next post. ✤
1. Andrew Perriman, 'The unbiblical doctrine of “hell”,' P.OST.