THE UTTER FOLLY OF ARGUING OVER HELL!
When Will We Learn?
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It's Time For a More Biblical Approach!
Have YOU wondered about hell, hellfire,
damnation, condemnation or judgment? Read on for a few
During the last few years we have experienced Christians
making themselves 'laughing stocks' by arguing over Bible
translations (a spectacle much appreciated by our enemies), now
we have a new argument which a few are unwisely determined to
pursue: arguing over the exact nature of hell!
few years ago Bible-believing Christians came to a sort
of loose (but generally recognized) agreement:
Let's quit arguing over denominational distinctions and concentrate
purely on fulfilling the Great Commission of Preaching the
Gospel to every creature! - the new mood and attitude grew up
in the wake of a widespread realization that the older sort of
fundamentalists had occasionally not done themselves too many
favours by appearing completely disdainful of all scholarship and
learning, to say nothing of their apparent eagerness to pursue
'in-house' arguments over some finer points of biblical
The New Testament symbolically compares the utter despair of
the eternal separation from God with the flames of the valley of
Hinnom, where refuse was burnt up.
Finally, certain men of biblical wisdom
perceived that we Bible-believing Christians appeared to the
general public to be more interested in pursuing arguments
between each other, than in harmoniously joining forces in order
to preach the gospel. The result of this honest reappraisal was
that Methodists, Anglicans and Baptists (and sometimes even
Pentecostals) were able to join forces for evangelistic meetings
and crusades, as long as liberalism was rejected and the
authority of the Bible upheld. Here in the UK, much of this
unspoken evangelistic agreement still holds, but in certain other
countries, especially parts of the United States, a new rigid
fundamentalism has reasserted itself. As with the older
fundamentalism, the new trend has quickly proven to be divisive!
The first battleground was Bible translations - some claimed not
only that the KJV was the most accurate, but that it was the
only English language translation which had been inspired by
God! It is extremely easy to disprove this argument, but -
very soon - anger, fire and indignation became involved:
congregations split - even families split! and, I am told,
continue to split over this issue.
Certainly, the Bible translations issue appears to have been
especially avoidable and it really is desperately disappointing
to note how much division it has caused where there had been
Mostly (but not entirely) UK-based and European-based evangelical
Christians have not become too embroiled in the translations
debate; but now a new debate seems to have come along and, once
again, those who just appear to love to court controversy,
accusation, and division have quickly jumped onto the 'bandwagon.'
As in the case of Bible translations the argument epicenter does
not affect anyones walk with God, it does not usually affect
one's Statement of Beliefs, it does not affect the need to preach
the gospel, and yet (for a few) the approach seems to be 'why
let those things hold us back when we have the chance of a really
good 'in-house' Christian argument??!!'
The new argument concerns the precise nature of Hell! Let
us be clear: the new argument does not concern hell itself
- every single one of us knows that the Holy Bible warns about
the possibility of judgment and damnation for those who do evil
and reject God. But how much are we ever really told about
the precise nature of Hell and exactly what it will be
like there, within the pages of Scripture?
LET US BE CLEAR ABOUT THIS: we are told almost nothing! Yes, we
know that those finally condemned to Hell (I personally believe
that it will be few, but some of my fellow evangelicals believe
that it will be the overwhelming majority of Mankind), will be
eternally separated from God and His love, we know that the Bible
appears to depict a sense of ongoing torment with its
picture of fire and flames, but we know virtually nothing else!
By the way, almost all Bible interpreters have believed that the
pictures of flame and fire are purely symbolic, but I came across
a fundamentalist website the other day which screamed damnation
at anybody who believed that the fire was not 100%
literal!! The interesting thing is that this website
strongly believes in 'eternal torment' yet cannot see that the
insistence on literal fire is a self-defeating argument
(if the fire is truly literal, it must eventually burn up
everything within it and everything within it will eventually
cease to exist).
Since some are determined to take their eyes off the main goal
and focus on a subject about which the Bible says so little,
perhaps it's time to make a few points about exactly how
much the Bible really tells us about Hell:
Since many have the picture that the Bible continually screams
out warnings about Hell, one might expect to find the word 'Hell'
occurring a few hundred times in such a huge book, one might also
expect that Hell would occur more than the word 'Heaven' (since
many of those who are most vocal on this subject believe that a
huge majority of the human race are headed there unless they
repent), well here is a shock (perhaps 'hellfire' enthusiasts
should make sure they are sitting down before reading the
The KJV Uses of 'Hell' Are Often Incorrect
The word 'hell' never occurs in the Old Testament, where
the Old Testament is correctly translated. Even the
Calvinist Presbyterian scholar Loraine Boettner was quite clear
"The word Hell never occurs in the Old Testament original
manuscripts. There are, however, 31 instances in which the King
James Version so translates the word Sheol, but in each instance
it is a mistranslation."
(Loraine Boettner, Immortality, page 100, Pickering and
How about a comparison with Heaven?
The word 'heaven' occurs in the KJV 568 times (I have not even
included or counted the words 'heavens' or 'heavenly'), but the
word 'Hell' only occurs in the KJV.......just 54 times!
However, it has for a very long time been recognised that
many of those KJV uses of 'Hell' are really mistranslations!!
(Not good news for those who believe that the KJV is the
only divinely inspired English version). For instance
the Hebrew word 'sheol' means, 'grave' or 'pit.' This accounts
for 30 of the 54 uses of 'Hell' in the KJV Bible. The Greek word
'gehenna' (the most fearsome form) originally referred to the
valley of Hinnom where refuse was burned (hence the association
with fire), but came to be seen as the place of 'everlasting
punishment,' it only occurs ....(prepare yourselves for a
shock)....11 TIMES in the Bible!
The KJV also translates the Greek word 'hades' into 'hell' but
hades (like the Hebrew 'sheol') simply refers to the 'grave' or
'pit,' it occurs ten times in the New Testament (admittedly,
'hades' does on a few occasions refer to the place of the
commencement of the punishment of the unrighteous, in
the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, for instance, but nobody
remains in hades, all going forward from there to the Final
That just leaves the Greek word 'tartaroo' - it occurs just once
(in 2 Peter 2:4), it refers to something like 'the lowest part of
the abyss' and it does carry something of the sense of
eternal torment, but it refers to the place of imprisonment for
the angels who rebelled against God. This word is never used in Scripture in connection with the eternal punishment of men and women.
Newer Bible versions have recognised that the KJV certainly erred
in its use of the word 'Hell.' But the NKJV decided to only go
part of the way in correcting the use of the word Hell; It
reduced the use of 'Hell' from the KJV's 54 times to 32 times,
but seemed to lack the necessary boldness to really take on the
translational problem. But other Bible versions have been bolder:
the NIV has reduced the use of 'Hell' to only 14 times (all in
the New Testament) and this appears to be about right. The ASV
and NASB have both reduced 'Hell' to 13 uses, and the RSV and
NRSV reduced it to 12. John Wesley did not use it at all in his
New Testament translation, neither did the prodigious scholar
Young in Young's Literal Translation (1891).
Indeed, there are now about 40 Bible versions which don't use the
word 'Hell' at all! (I am, in this brief analysis, partly
indebted to the extensive Bible translation research of Gary
Of course, I cannot personally vouch for all of these
translations, but this does show that it has been widely
recognised that the KJV was often in error in its use of this
word, and that the NKJV did not entirely correct the problems of
Of course, many in the 'KJV only' lobby have screamed
about the diminishment of the word Hell without getting all the
facts first: the plain fact is that many of the KJV uses of
'Hell' are examples of imperfect translation! G.A. Riplinger of
the 'KJV only' movement is typical of the flawed approach of this
sort, unfortunately her level of knowledge is occasionally highly
suspect, for instance, she claims that the Epistle of
Barnabas says that "Satan is Lord." It most certainly does
not! (for any wanting more in-depth information on the errors of
the 'KJV Onlyists' I would recommend 'Will the Real
Bible Please Stand Up?).
Other word comparisons are certainly intriguing and do not lead
to the results which certain hellfire enthusiasts might expect:
For instance, the wonderful word 'salvation' occurs 163 times,
but 'damnation' only occurs 10 times and 'damned' occurs three
times! Calvinism also came to love that word, 'reprobates' - the
"reprobated ones" were those doomed to be forever
outside of the grace of God. Reprobate means, 'morally
abandoned,' or, 'a reject.' "Reprobation" was the
theological term which came to be used for the doctrine
concerning those supposedly pre-ordained for hell (even as an
admirer of Calvin I must say that this teaching was never
biblical. Go Here
for a fuller explanation). Yes, 'reprobate' is indeed a KJV word.
From the emphasis this word came to enjoy, especially in
hyper-Calvinism, one might expect that this KJV word
occurs, perhaps, a hundred times in the Scriptures? No. Not a
hundred? Well surely it occurs 50, 60 or 70 times? Right? No.
Okay, so the word is not that common in the KJV after all, are we
looking at just 15 or 20 instances on the word? Nope! In fact,
both words 'reprobate' and 'reprobates' occur a grand
total of 7 times! The word, 'reprobation' never occurs in
Scripture. By the way, if anybody is doubting this information
simply use Strong's Concordance to check it all
But to return to 'heaven and hell,' since we have seen that
'heaven' is mentioned several hundred times and 'gehenna' only
occurs just 11 times, where does this leave the position of those
who infer that 'heaven and hell' are biblically presented in
roughly equal tension? To say nothing of those certain fundamentalists who believe that pretty much all will go to hell, save for a tiny group
(a misunderstanding of the biblical teaching on Election).
Can we at least all agree that the Bible never says enough about
Hell for us to resort to civil war on this topic? Yes, we must
warn about the possibility of damnation and eternal exclusion
from God's presence, but it is utter and sheer folly for
Christians to fight over the precise nature of a Hell we
know so little about!
Problems With 'Conditional Immortality' Teaching
Some believe that those who are finally damned will simply be
destroyed (the teaching of 'Annihilationism' or 'Conditional
Immortality'), a number of leading evangelicals have come to
support this position including John Stott and the late John
Wenham, others (the majority) insist that there will be
ever-present torment in a Hell of great unpleasantness for these
people. I have to be honest: both positions can muster biblical
support, but I truly think that Annihilationists ultimately lose
the argument because of their supporting belief that the
Christian dead are currently, indeed, dead; it seems to me more
scriptural to say that since Christ has defeated the power of
death, the souls of the Christian deceased are currently in
heaven awaiting the resurrection. See Luke 16:19-23; Luke 23:43;
Acts 7:56; Acts 7:59 (Stephen obviously expected to enter heaven upon his death); 2 Corinthians 5:1-8; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4; Philippians
1:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 4:14 (When Christ returns, He will bring the saints with Him - and where is He coming from? Heaven, of course); Revelation 6:9-11 and Revelation 20:4-6. (By the way,
Paul plainly does not refer to the resurrection in Philippians 1:
20-26 because he speaks of being separated from his body in order
to be with Christ - verse 24. In the resurrection the saints
again have bodies. In 2 Corinthians 5:8 too Paul refers to a
state of being '..absent from the body and to be present with the
Lord,' so the claim of some that these verses simply refer to the
resurrection is defeated).
Yet without doubt there are things in this area which we cannot
be sure about, but what I am sure about is that it does not
matter - eternal exclusion from God is the thing we have to keep
Christians who subscribe to Annihilationism have a right to their
sincerely-held opinion - they are still able to 'sign-up' to most
statements of Christian beliefs, they still believe in Hell, but
take issue over its precise nature; they remain card-carrying
evangelicals and they have every right to their opinion. Unfortunately however, ultimately this is an emotional position
(as John Wenham freely admitted) in which sincere people 'come to the rescue' of a God who intends sending almost all to Hell! Far better to allow a bigger scope for God's mercy! Why be so pessimistic about God? Mercy is the most neglected doctrine in the Holy Bible.
But - for sure - it is
sheer folly to argue about the precise nature of a Hell
which the Bible tells us next to nothing about!
For our part, UK Apologetics believe that very few will
finally go to Hell and we can point to a wealth of Scriptures to
back up this position, but we remain New Covenant evangelical
Christians. Christians should not go to war against each other in
these areas, we need to be working harmoniously together to
counter the new insidious post-modernism ('there is no
inherent meaning to anything') which will increasingly
permeate our societies over the coming years and may well
ultimately present an even bigger challenge to our beliefs than a
fast receding modernism ('all we need is science, and mankind
can solve all his problems through that').
Robin A. Brace
2001, slightly edited 2006.
© This article is Copyright Robin A. Brace 2001, 2006.
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