When We Don’t Want Hell To Be Real

I was taking to a friend the other day and he made a comment and had a brief discussion on Facebook with Matthew Paul Turner.  For those of you who do not know, Matthew Paul Turner is a fairly famous Christian blogger who has writes and speaks on what I consider the friendly church movement.  I have only read his book Churched, which was a good read, but it was not something that I connected with.  I suppose not being part of the “fundie” church crowd has kept me from connecting with some of his messages.  Regardless, I agree with a lot of what he writes about.

Turner, I will refer to him as this as typing Matthew Paul Turner over and over again makes the fingers cramp up, shared a post on his Facebook page about “What Jesus Talked About When He Talked About Hell“.  The post deals with what Jesus says about “hell” and what he might have meant by it.

The author of the article, Benjamin Corey, stated that the word “hell” did not exist in first century Israel.  According to Corey, the word did not appear until AD 725, when it was introduced.

According to the The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, the word “hell” was adopted into our vocabulary as a way to introduce the pagan concept of hell into Christian theology– which it did quite successfully.

Corey then proceeds to give examples as how the word Jesus uses for hell in Greek is “Gehenna”.  I agree with the statement that Jesus used the word Gehenna in a parable that he told (Matthew 23:33).  I disagree with the notion that concept of hell as Jesus spoke about it, the pain and suffering aspects, was not known to first century Jews.

Looking for some background on the word Gehenna, I came across this noted in the NET version:

The word translated hell is “Gehenna” (γέεννα, geenna), a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew words ge hinnom (“Valley of Hinnom”). This was the valley along the south side of Jerusalem. In OT times it was used for human sacrifices to the pagan god Molech (cf. Jer_7:31; Jer_19:5-6; Jer_32:35), and it came to be used as a place where human excrement and rubbish were disposed of and burned. In the intertestamental period, it came to be used symbolically as the place of divine punishment (cf. 1 En. 27:2, 90:26; 4 Ezra 7:36).

While the word “hell” was not known to first century Jews, the concept of Gehenna as a place of divine punishment instead of just a historical location was known to them.  Now I disagree with Corey that the listeners of Jesus would taken this strictly in the historical context, but neither of us were there so we will never fully know.  This disagreement aside, I really enjoyed the post from Corey.

I do not agree with the way hell has been portrayed to people, as it was used as a threat and manipulation tool against far too many people.  The negative usage of hell aside, there is and i believe was an understanding as to the negative connotation of hell that cannot be discounted.  It needs to stop being used as a weapon, but we cannot just cast the idea of an eternal punishment spot aside because people either do not like it or have been hurt by it before.

4 thoughts on “When We Don’t Want Hell To Be Real

  1. …but we cannot just cast the idea of an eternal punishment spot aside because people either do not like it or have been hurt by it before.

    We can cast the idea away entirely because it’s both incoherent as well as morally bankrupt.

    1. Well, let’s think this through: assuming there is a link of equivalency between some crime and some punishment justified in relation to it, what eternal crime can you commit that warrants eternal punishment to make it a coherent response?

      According to many scriptures, disbelief warrants exactly this punishment.

      No moral system can accommodate eternal punishment for any temporal ‘crime’. Using the principle of reciprocity to be our guide, only a bankrupt morality would impose an eternal punishment for thoughts deemed criminal. In our human system, we usually hold actions to be categorically different than any thought preceding them and worthy of sanction if they cause harm and create a victim. It requires a totalitarian system devoid of of any respect for individual autonomy (preempting any need for reciprocity) to shift this emphasis onto thoughts. Such a system is morally bankrupt, meaning devoid of human morality.

      1. Under the current moral systems, crimes are not punished the same so the principle of reciprocity doesn’t really hold up. Using rape as an example, a victim is created and often one who deals with a life time of trama based on the violation yet it isn’t even punished in some countries. Where is the morality in human law?

        I can’t conceive of eternity but a life time in prison is the closest thing I can come to the idea of hell. Is the prospect of living everyday not knowing when it will end more moral than being put to death?

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