If you look for the traditional view of Hell – Eternal Conscious Torment – in the Old Testament Scriptures what you’ll find is a giant goose egg. There’s not one verse – literally nothing whatsoever – to suggest that those who perish without faith in God will suffer endlessly in a lake of fire without any hope of rescue or relief.
Zilch. Zero. Nada. Nil.
Which, in itself, should tell you a little something about the doctrine. I mean, if God’s plan all along was to roast unbelievers in an endless torture chamber of unquenchable fire, don’t you think He should have at least mentioned it – at least once? Yet, somehow, it must have slipped God’s mind for a few thousand years to clue us in on this ultimate scheme to fry the lost in eternal Hellfire.
Or, maybe it didn’t.
See, the doctrine of eternal suffering didn’t creep into Jewish thought until after the Old Testament prophets had grown silent. During what’s known as the “Intertestamental Period” – that time between the writing of the final Old Testament book and the coming of Jesus, the Messiah – this concept of eternal torment first slid into view.
Where did this view originate? Well, it wasn’t from any of the Old Covenant Prophets, and it wasn’t from any of the Jewish Rabbis of the day. Nope. The concept of endless torment for the wicked came from pagan sources.
Let’s stop and consider that for a moment, shall we?
The view that almost every American Christian has been told is the “Biblical Truth” of Scripture didn’t arise from Scripture. It came from the unbelieving pagans whose ideas gained traction after the Old Testament was already written.
Now, to be fair, the ideas of a paradise for the righteous separated by a gulf from the place of fire and torment where the unrighteous were tormented in flames, are all concepts found in the Talmud. This is true. But, the writers of the Talmud took these ideas from the Greeks and the Egyptians of their day, and these ideas were
incorporated into other Jewish writings like 1 Enoch and the teachings of various Jewish rabbis at the time during the 400 year gap of time between the end of the Old Testament scriptures and the coming of Christ.
What’s important to note here is this: These ideas were never revealed by God to the Jewish people through their own Old Testament prophets. They are based on very common Greek notions of Hades and on pagan concepts of the afterlife which crept into Jewish thought after the Old Testament was written – and prior to the coming of Christ.
To me, it is very significant that the concept of Hell as taught by those who embrace eternal suffering is not found in the Old Testament. Furthermore, it is very suspicious to me that the concepts incorporated into the doctrine came from non-biblical, pagan sources that had infiltrated the Hebrew faith just prior to the coming of Christ.
And do you know who else supported this view of Eternal Torment? The Pharisees.
So, is it likely that Jesus agreed with the Pharisees – and the pagans – on this concept of Eternal Suffering?
I think not. [But that’s another post].
Now, whether we like it or not, the doctrine of eternal suffering is part of the Christian faith today, and it seems as if almost everyone believes it.
Of course, the reason why so many Christians believe this doctrine today is simply because it is so widely taught – to the exclusion of the other two views which co-existed with the Eternal Torment view from the beginning of the Christian faith.
Perhaps if more Christians understood the origins of this view, and if they were allowed to hear the Scriptural support for those other two views, they might be allowed to think for themselves and make up their own minds about which doctrine actually holds the most Biblical weight.
But, that’s the point isn’t it? Pastors today don’t want the average Christian to think for themselves on these sorts of things. The doctrine of Eternal Torment is an essential element of a fear-based Christianity that relies on the threat of never-ending fire and endless torture to secure more followers and keep them held tightly in the grip of a dreadful God of wrath and vengeance.
Is this the “Abba” revealed to us by Jesus? Is this how the Father reacts to those who reject Him and run away to live in rebellion? Not according to Jesus and the parable of the prodigal son.
Does God hold our sins against us and maintain an attitude of separation with sinners? Not according to Paul the Apostle.
“…In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” [2 Cor. 5:19]
Does Jesus hold a grudge against those who reject him and his message of love? Not according to his own words from the cross as he was being nailed there by unbelieving pagans:
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.“
How does God respond to our sin? He forgives it.
How did Jesus respond to sin? He forgave it, even before anyone could confess it or ask for forgiveness.
What is the purpose of God’s discipline? Is it punishment for the sake of punishment? Not at all. According to the author of Hebrews, the reason God disciplines us is because of His love for us. And this discipline process has a goal in mind – to make us righteous like Him:
“…but he [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” [Hebrews 12:7-11]
So, the next time you hear someone tells you that the Bible teaches endless torment, or that no one ever spoke more about hell than Jesus [which we’ll cover in an upcoming post], just remember where this teaching originates from: Not from the Old Testament prophets, not from Jesus or the Apostles, but from pagan sources that crept into Jewish thought in the 400 year gap between the Old Testament and the coming of Christ.
Hell as we know it today is something we adapted from pre-Christian, pagan thinkers who did not know the Abba revealed to us by Jesus.
Praise God for Christ who showed us that God is better than we think and gave us a Gospel that isn’t just “Good News”, it’s “Great News!”
Keith next book, “Jesus Undefeated: Condemning the False Doctrine of Eternal Torment” releases Nov. 9, 2019 on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brad Jersak.
Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today, He and his wife are returning to El Paso, TX after 25 years, as part of their next adventure.