Some may not even bother to know God if imagining the Creator is a sadistic torturer. What God-person wants to tell others or defend such a God? Such a God is no different than the god of religious extremists. The traditional meaning of Hell must be dispelled as a biblical myth for God’s character is at stake. It is often not known that Jesus and the Bible say absolutely nothing about Hell. Hell, an invention over the centuries to scare people into submission and obedience, is not a translation but a word substitution for certain Hebrew and Greek words. Like God is going to sadistically torture people forever for their beliefs while here on earth a short time!
Jesus used the word Gehenna, translated as “hell,” eleven times but only in about four conversations. The Gospel of John never uses the word. Mark and Luke record Jesus using the word once in an exchange but both appear to be the same conversations recorded by Matthew. Matthew’s Jewish audience was the most familiar with the history behind Gehenna:
- Mt. 5:22, 29, 30 warns that the Pharisees’ brand of religion, which only thinks about the letter of the law rather than the heart of the matter, is a path to Gehenna (i.e. death)
- Mt. 10:28 (i.e. Luke 12:5) warns to be less afraid of death of the body which is only physical death (Gehenna) and more afraid of death of the soul which is spiritual death
- Mt. 18:9 (i.e. Mk 9:43, 45, 47) warns spiritual death is even worse than physical death (Gehenna)
- Mt. 23: 15, 33 warns religious teachers again their message only leads people and themselves to death (Gehenna) and not a life worth living
The Greek word Gehenna in the New Testament was a proper noun and the name of a real valley nearby Jerusalem with a history. It was the local city garbage dump where fires were kept burning and symbolized a place of slaughter and judgment. Gehenna was the place of burned Israeli children sacrificed to false gods (Jer. 7:30-31; 19:2-5). Josephus said this same valley was heaped with dead bodies of the Jews following the Roman siege of Jerusalem around 70 AD. Gehenna was used by Jesus to symbolize where a life of self-centeredness can lead as opposed to what Jesus taught. Hell is no more a translation of Gehenna than Atlanta is for Chicago.
Paul wrote fourteen epistles and never mentions Hell. Scriptures only say after death that all are judged by our merciful God. The Hebrew word Sheol in the Old Testament is wrongly translated as Hell. Sheol was simply a region or place of darkness occupied by the dead regardless of beliefs. Job, an extremely righteous man in God’s eyes, desired to go there to escape his tremendous suffering (10:21-22). Recent translations simply translate Sheol as “Sheol.”
Jesus never taught people can be scared into true righteousness and an intimate relationship with their Creator. God’s love and mercy is our necessary nourishment just as in human, parental love. Parents warn their children of evil for their own good. Jesus simply wanted us to know our Creator loves us and desires to empower us to be the unselfish people we deep down desire to be. Treating others as we want to be treated helps avoid leading to a life full of regrets. Jesus faced undeserved suffering to identify with us and hopefully influence to not be seduced by what the world tempts. Following in Jesus’ footsteps leads to life transformations best for us and the world.