What does the Christian Bible say Hell is?

I stumbled across the blog of another former church goer. Sounds like he used to be in much deeper than me, and knows his Bible better than most believers do (which, based on personal experience, I don't find surprising). A piece of his "About Me" section:
Hi. I’m Dave.

I am on a journey.
I call it a ”Life Walk”.

The older I get, and the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. I am increasingly wary of those who propose to have all the answers. The experiences I’ve had, the truth I have discovered, and the questions I still have, I share with others through counseling, writing, singing, and just plain friendship.

I been involved in “church” much of my life. I’ve been an elder, a co-pastor, a worship leader, etc. etc. In December of 2007, my wife and I finally came out of organized religion. I still function in many of the areas I used to, but I now do so in a more free-flowing, organic fashion, outside the walls of what we have called “the church.” I’m not big into labels, but I guess I would call myself a “non-religious Jesus lover.”

This is a journey of much discovery. It’s exciting, frustrating, fun, and scary.
I fully share his feelings about knowledge and people that claim to have all the answers prepackaged. I can also appreciate someone who wants to hold onto the community aspect of religion, and like Thomas Jefferson, appreciate Jesus like any other teacher of morality without clinging to the supernatural claims. I personally can't do it, but that is mostly because of the political agendas that churches I've attended push, and because I get the uncomfortable feeling that believers are thinking that they deserve an explanation for why I don't share their beliefs. More power to Dave that he can navigate that potential minefield.

What caught my eye was a recent post on the Christian concept, or rather the adopted pagan concept, of hell.
If your idea of hell is a place, perhaps located in the center of the earth, where wicked souls suffer eternal torture in fire and brimstone, supervised by the devil and his demons — no — there is no such place.

You can’t make a scriptural case for this kind of hell unless you select certain passages and discard others — and even then your case shaky at best. This popular notion of hell is an unholy marriage of ancient pagan ideas about the underworld and the afterlife with selected Biblical passages taken out of context.

The fact is, there are three Greek words with different meanings in the New Testament that are unfortunately translated into English as hell in the King James version. But the English word hell comes with a ton of baggage. In pre-Christian Germanic mythology it (or similar words) referred to a nether world where the dead were punished — and the word has helped carry this pagan concept into Christianity, along with other concepts of a fiery underworld borrowed from ancient Greco-Roman mythology.

But when we dump all this baggage and examine the Scriptural passages that deal with punishment in the afterlife, and when we see that the passages vary in their description of the nature of that punishment, we are left with this simple, unconfusing concept: “hell” is eternal separation from God.
The Christian churches have simply adopted and adapted the Hades mythos to create a bogeyman. There is no such thing in their holy book, it was just invented - or rather assimilated from existing European religions - centuries later.

To believers who may be worried for me on my behalf, please don't be. I repeatedly opened my heart to Jesus and the Christian god in my youth and felt nothing change. When I stopped believing I felt nothing change. Either I have always been separated from the Christian god because I was not specially chosen, he has always been with me and doesn't actually require my belief to stay with me, or possibly, he doesn't exist in the first place. No matter what the answer is, my belief or lack of belief in the Christian god has been shown to have no effect on my life or who I am, so why worry about it? Perhaps I am missing out on eternal life in heaven (which doesn't seem very appealing to me, but that is a topic for another time) and I will end up eternally separated or cease to exist when I don't have to be. In response to that, I believe Samuel Clemens put it best when he said "I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it."

In search of reason,



  1. Several documentaries I've seen about Angels, Deamons, and Satan have proposed that you can't believe in God without believing in Hell. It's odd, then, that my sense of Spirituality doesn't seem to have that problem.

    You're aboslutely right; our concept of Hell is a bad attempt to blend Old Religious traditions and the scare tactics of early missionaries. If any place can be said to be slightly "separated" from God, it's right here in the Material Plane. We seem to be doing rather well here...

  2. Over at "Big Religion and Spirituality Questions Blog" Aimee just wrote a fine article on why, for our day to day existence, the question of god's existence isn't that important. It relates well to my final point about how my life isn't any different since I stopped trying to believe.

    "OK, so if God exists or doesn’t exist, does that change our human experience? We still get to experience the good and bad, the blissfulness and tragedy of life. We will still all ultimately go through the process of death. I think the question of God is perhaps only important as it relates to the afterlife and whether that exists."

    Read the whole article at http://aimeelarsenstoddard.com/does-the-existence-of-god-even-matter-and-other-ramblings


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