What the “Hell”? Debunking Linguistic and Theological Misconceptions

The English word “hell” derived from Old English hel, helle does not exist in the Bible. It is first attested c. 725 AD to refer to a nether world of the dead. In our earliest English translations (Wycliffe, Tyndale, Bishop’s, and the KJV), “hell” was used to translate the OT שְׁאוֹל (Sheol) and the NT ᾅδης (Hades) as the underground abode of the Jewish dead. “Hell” was also used to translate the Hebrew בְּגֵי בֶן־הִנֹּם (Ge-hinnom Valley) and Greek γέεννα (Gehenna) a Jerusalem valley notorious for kings Ahaz’s and Manasseh’s child sacrifices to pagan gods. A literal appropriation of the apocalyptic language of “the unquenchable fire of torment” combined with the idiom of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” led to “hell, fire and brimstone” preaching that continues to this day. It similarly has led to the more recent position of annihilation instead of an afterlife. Yet, a careful examination of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures shows that there is no linguistic or theological basis for the concept of a place of eternal torment and suffering or for extinction. This paper will examine the key Apocalyptic texts of Dan 12:2, Isa 66:22-24, Jesus’ teaching, 2 Thess 1, 2 Peter, Jude, Rev 14:10-11 and 20:13-14 to arrive at a theological understanding of the afterlife as eternal existence either with Christ or apart from him and not either extinction or eternal torment.

5 thoughts on “What the “Hell”? Debunking Linguistic and Theological Misconceptions”

  1. Belleville, What the “Hell”? Debunking Linguistic and Theologica
    Seems loosely informed by biblical-theological method, and leans rather heavily toward no eternal punishment (or so it seems to me).

  2. This paper would likely have
    This paper would likely have interest in the conference, but I would say no for our session (because of the quality/fit of some of the other papers in our queue, & I also recognize this is probably also because I disagree with the approach/conclusions of the paper).


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