Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Nature of Fire

In understanding the nature of hell, it is hard to get beyond the medieval paintings that are so viscerally imprinted on our cultural consciousness. To look beyond these lurid fantasies and focus on the scriptural teaching that was revealed by God involves peeling away our cultural preconceptions. It is important to realise that there is no horned red-skinned devil in the Bible, no pitchfork, no capering demons. There are no cloven feet or forked tails.

In fact there is no Hell at all.

By this I mean that the word Hell is not scriptural, it is an English noun used by the translators of the KJV Bible to translate four separate scriptural nouns. These scriptural words were Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and one instance of the word Tartarus. Each word originally conveyed separate distinct meanings but unfortunately over the years and translations these have been somewhat obscured and conflated.

Unfortunately the translators of the KJV chose to sometimes translate Sheol as 'the Grave', when it talked about God's faithful being there, and yet translated it as ‘Hell’ when it talked about the unrighteous being there. In this the bias of their pre-existing theology came into play. But in the Israelites’ theology, everyone who died went to Sheol alike, whether good or bad, to sleep and await God's judgement. The dead in Sheol are described as being unknowing, asleep and unaware of their condition: “there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol” (Ecc 9:10); “in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?” (Ps 6:5); “the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward” (Ecc 9:5).