What is Hell?
The word HELL in the Bible is translated from GEHENNA- (Ge.hen'na) [Gr. form of the Heb. Geh Hin.nom', "Valley of Hinnom"]. This name appears 12 times in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
Gehenna was a the deep, narrow Valley of Hinnom, later known by this Greek name, and lay to the south/southwest of ancient Jerusalem and is the modern-day Wadi er-Rababi (Ge Ben Hinnom). (Jos 15:8; 18:16; Jer 19:2, 6) Judean Kings Ahaz and Manasseh engaged in idolatrous worship there, which included the making of human sacrifices by fire to Baal. (2Ch 28:1, 3; 33:1, 6; Jer 7:31, 32; 32:35) God said this was "a thing that I had not commanded and that had not come up into my heart" (Jer 7:31; 32:35). God looked at this as a terrible thing. Why would he use this as a picture of what he himself wanted to do? Where God planning to do the same, or was this the place they choose, away from God?
According to Jewish commentator David Kimhi Gehenna was "… a place in the land adjoining Jerusalem, and it is a loathsome place, and they throw their unclean things and carcasses. Also there was a continual fire there to burn the unclean things and the bones of the carcasses. Hence, the judgment of the wicked ones is called parabolically Gehinnom."
This was a symbol, not of eternal torture, but of utter destruction (Matt. 10:28, Luke 12:4,5). Also see Rev. 20:14, where death is thrown into the fire. Death obviously cannot be literally burned. But death can be destroyed, as God promised it would one day, it will be gone (Rev. 21:4).
The word hell is also sometimes translated from SHEOL. The Hebrew word she'ohl' occurs 65 times in the Masoretic text, and are not always translated to hell, but often translated as grave.
Regarding Sheol, the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1971, Vol. 11, p. 276) noted: "Sheol was located somewhere `under' the earth. ... The state of the dead was one of neither pain nor pleasure. Neither reward for the righteous nor punishment for the wicked was associated with Sheol. The good and the bad alike, tyrants and saints, kings and orphans, Israelites and gentiles all slept together without awareness of one another."
And what does the Bible say about the condition of the dead? Can they feel or think?
"The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all ...All that your hand find to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, the place to which you are going." (Eccl. 9:5, 10)
"His spirit goes out, he goes back to his ground; in that day his thoughts do perish." (Ps. 146:4)
The idea of hell came from other religions:
The idea of an eternal burning torture sneaks into Judaism and later Christianity in the so-called "inter-testamental era," circa 330 B.C. to 100 A.D. in various Jewish writings called the Pseudepigraphia and Apocrypha. A "Hellenized Religion" a blend of Hellenized Greek metaphysical concepts with other Ancient Near Eastern beliefs. The "Books of Apocrypha" mention how some Jews, including priests, accepted Hellenized Greek concepts and tried to change the Jewish faith by accepting Greek beliefs into the Temple at Jerusalem. This movement was resisted by the Maccabees, who sought to restore Judaism to its pre-Hellenistic Greek teachings (cf. the Book of 1st Maccabees for the story).
In ancient Babylonian and Assyrian beliefs the "nether world ...is pictured as a place full of horrors, and is presided over by gods and demons of great strength and fierceness."
(The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria Boston, 1898, Morris Jastrow, Jr., p. 581)
Hell is found in the religion of ancient Egypt.
(The Book of the Dead, New Hyde Park, N.Y., pp. 144, 149, 151, 153, 161)
Depictions of hell portrayed in Catholic churches in Italy have been traced to Etruscan roots.
(La civilta etrusca, Milan, 1979, Werner Keller, p. 389)
And so on...
But scripture says:
"The wages sin pays is death." (Rom. 6:23)
"He who has died has been acquitted from his sin." (Rom. 6:7)
After one's death, is he still subject to further punishment for his sins?
"God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life" (Rom. 2:6,7)
So if eternal life is a gift for those who seek good, how can the ones that do not seek good also get eternal life (in hell)?
"God is love." (1 John 4:8)
Is eternal torment of the wicked compatible with God's personality?
By Camilla Tourniaire