Is Hell Real?


TheOrigin of Hell

One person, reading a book on the origin of Hell, made a comment to me that his Pastor said that Hell was a creation of God, not man's imagination. His question: Is that true?

My answer: yes and no. In one sense, yes, God created Hell: if you believe what the Bible has to say about it. On the other hand, no, not the Hell of popular belief that most people believe today. I realize that my response, according to the Bible, is very simplistic and requires some explanation.

Generally, most people believe that the Jews of Jesus' day believed in the doctrine of future endless punishment in a fiery Hell. As that doctrine is not to be found in the Old Testament, we have to look elsewhere to find where it came from. In 400 BC the Jews did not believe it, and at the beginning of the New Testament they did: or at least some believed it.

So we see that there was approximately 400 years whereby this doctrine entered into the beliefs of some of the Jews: It is this time period we want to look at. Malachi was the last of the Hebrew prophets, and up until Christ entered into the world, the Jews were without any divine teacher or revelation from God. 100 years after Malachi, Alexander the Great had conquered the known world. The Greek language became the common means of communication. Jews were widely scattered over the empire. There were large exiles in Egypt, Babylon, Rome, and elsewhere. And they produced many writings that were apocalyptic in nature: writings that used symbols and very vivid descriptive words. During this time they were in constant and close contact with many heathen or pagan races; the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, among others. These pagans held to some of the beliefs we find among people today who believe in a literal fiery Hell of sorts wherein wicked people would be punished upon death-and that for eternity. Many Jews picked up on these beliefs and literally borrowed them, because they could not have obtained it from their scriptures.

Around 280 BC a group of 70 Greek speaking Jews translated the Hebrew scriptures into the Greek language. Writing was widespread. Many scrolls or books, as we call them today, were written. Some were small, like pamphlets; others were quite large. 15 of these are called the Apocrypha and some were even translated and included in the Septuagint (LXX), called thusly because of the number of men who did the job of translation. And then there were the writings called the Pseudepigrapha works, which number around 80. Then there were the Dead Sea Scrolls that were found in the 1940's. The Old Testament, by the end of the Third Century, was settled among most Jews as consisting of 39 books. One must realize that during this 400 years the Hebrews were straying further and further from the Law, and becoming more and more corrupt until, at the appearing of Christ who charged them with making the law of God void by their traditions, they became just as the other people of the world; a people who defined their own gods. These Pseudepigrapha works were written for the most part by Jews of Palestine or of the Diaspora. These books bore such titles as the books of Moses, Enoch, Jasher, and other noted individuals in their eyes. There was the Sibylline Oracles which is a five volume set of uncertain date, most likely of the second century BC. Then there is the Psalms of Solomon, the various books ascribed to Ezra, the Assumption of Moses, and the books of the Twelve Patriarchs (the sons of Jacob). All these books portray the wicked as being completely destroyed. However, there is no indication in these particular books or scrolls of a future life in a fiery Hades or Hell that is of endless duration. But on the other hand there are ambiguous statements that modern day proponents of endless punishment seek to back up their claims.

To be fair and honest, the Jews did not actually preserve their scriptures pure until after the time of Malachi. They had wandered from the simplicity of the law since the time of the Babylonian captivity. The oriental mind-set or philosophy of that time period made headway among the teachers of the Law and Prophets. This prepared the way for the general corruption of their beliefs, and much of the traditions that Christ condemned. A deep and careful study of the last books of the Old Testament will show this very plainly.

Around 350 years before Christ, Alexander the Great founded the metropolis of Alexanria, Egypt. This city soon became a very viable commercial center and attracted Jews looking to improve their trade. A few years after the city became a commercial center, Ptolemy Soter invaded Jerusalem and carried off tens of thousands of them into Egypt. Here, naturally, the Jews were in daily contact with a foreign people and began to adopt their philosophical and religious ideas, and modified their own beliefs to be in harmony with them. The Egyptian and Greek philosophers slowly influenced the Jews into their views, and by 150 years before Christ, had made a very visible change in their ideas and way of thinking. One of the great things that Alexander had introduced was the establishing of a school of philosophy and theology: a school which had a corrupting influence on later Jewish doctrines and even later Christian doctrines. This school taught about God and divine things, attracting men of various countries and religions; and among the Jews, to study its mysteries and to eventually incorporate them into their own: thusly, pagan philosophy slowly became a part of Jewish teachings. Platonic doctrines, mixed with Egyptian and Oriental beliefs, were intermingled with Jewish faith in their explanations of the Law and their traditions.

Josephus, the Jewish Historian, when he wrote his history, said of the Pharisees: They believe that souls have an immortal vigor in them, and that under the earth (in Sheol or Hades) there will be rewards and punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life. The latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison; but the former shall have power to revive and live again. Further on he says: The souls of the pure and obedient obtain a most holy place in heaven, from whence, in the revolution of ages, they are again sent into pure bodies; while the souls of those committing suicide are received into the darkest place in Hades. One will search in vain to find anything close to this teaching among the writings of the Old Testament. In fact, one will search in vain to find any concrete evidence in both the Old and New Testaments that depicts an endless punishment in a fiery Hell as portrayed in modern beliefs.

Much more could be brought forward to show the origins of modern beliefs concerning this subject. Suffice to say, the origin of endless punishment in a fiery hell came strictly from pagan beliefs during the 400 years preceding the appearing of Christ, and gained ground in Christian thought through the writings of latter Christian philosophers who gave credence to the writings that appeared from 400 BC to 100 AD. Jesus and his Apostles never taught anything such as what we see modern preachers, teachers, and writers propagating.