(File vers 5.4 5/4/12 (Maundy Thursday))
Is there a Hell?

(By Ian Pouncy)

What's my background?
I used to be an Evangelical Christian and used to beleive that the Bible is "infallible as originally given".
I am no longer a Christian but still believe in something and still believe in miracles.
I no longer believe the Bible, if it is ever right it is only be accident.
I definitely don't believe it is the Word of God or devinely inspired.

What might Hell mean?
I take Hell to mean some kind of Eternal Punishment, either for bad people or for non Christians, possibly very bad.

What do I believe about Hell now?
I don't beleive in any kind of Eternal Punishment. I think I believe in an afterlife, I have reason to believe that there is some power that cares and by extrapolation I don't think that death is the end – that doesn't really make sense to me.
Christian's might call it Heaven but I think it might not be perfect, just good. Is there punishment there?
I think there might be but it might well be analagous to our modern judicial system. Commesurate and reasonable and not barbaric and not for ever.
I don't believe that it matters what you believe with regard to what Christians call salvation. I don't beleive that Jesus or anyone had to die to save us; I believe we can just be let off for the things we've done wrong, or there may be commesurate punishment in the after life if what we've done is significantly wrong.

Arguments about Hell.
The commonsense Argument
The most straightforward is that a good God wouldn't do that to people. Christians believe that God is good, but a good God wouldn't torment or punish anyone for ever. That seems obvious to me. Also many people don't become Christians but I can't see why God would put man on Earth just to send a lot of us to Hell. If God is the Creator he is obviously no fool and there are many good things in Life which suggests that he is not bad either so why would he want to punish anyone for ever.
Also Christians believe that should care about everyone and try to help everyone in ev
ery way, whether or not they are Christians. This is laudable but if there is a Hell that means Christians are better than God, and what is the point in helping someone in some human way if they are going to end up in Hell. I'm particularly thinking of Christians in the medical professions who will work to help every one that they meet in their jobs. A similar point is how can Christians have (or cope with) non Christian friends and family. The whole thing is unlivable with which suggests it's not true.

What does the Bible teach?
The Book of Revelation teaches that Hell is the Lake of fire, which is horrific in the extreme and in my opinion a thoroughly unacceptable and damaging belief. Many Christians don't beleive the book of Revelation should be taken literally or should be in the Bible, which I think is a good thing. It was the last book to be Cannonised which is significant if you believe the Bible.

What does the Bible teach outside of the Book of Revelation?
Something which is very telling is the Old Testament doesn't mention Eternal Punishment, and there isn't much of a mention of an after life either. Just Sheol, the place of the dead. The Old Testament is supposed to be authoritative for Evangelical Christians but here a conventional Evangelical reading of the New Testament (some kind of Eternal Punishment) is inconsistant with the Old Testament.
(Can't help mentioning that the Old Testament only believes in one God, whereas the New Testament is Trinitarian. But this is off the point.)

This is a bit of surprise to Evangelicals if you beleive in Eternal Punishment but I did a Bible Study on it once and if you go to the Greek you will find that (to my knowledge) there is only one verse that suggests Eternal Punishment which is in the parable of the sheep and the goats in (I think) Matthew 5. Jesus says somehing like "they shall go to Everlasting Punishment".
The two Greek words that are used for Hell are Hades (which you can just say is the Greek place of the dead rather like the Old Testament Sheol which is not necessarily punishment) and Gehenna which was a valley outside Jersusalem used for burning Rubbish.
This is not necessarily eternal either. There is another word for Hell, Tartarus, but this is only used once and not for people but demons.
(In one of the Epistles.) All the other references to punishment in the afterlife are not clear or suggestive of something temporary.
There is the parabal of the Rich Man and Lazarus, but that is a parabal and you need to be careful about basing doctrine on parabals. The main thrust of that parabal is that the Rich Man should have treated Lazarus better and didn't escape punishment for it.
The Greek words for Hell (see above) are translated Hell in the English Bible and people may just assume that that means some kind of Eternal Punishment because that is what Hell means, but my point is that it doesn't have to.
There is only one verse which you can ignore if you want to on commonsense grounds, depending on what you believe about the inspiration of the Bible. It could be an error even if you believe the Bible is infallible as originally given.

Does anyone want to believe in Hell?
Can't think why anyone reasonable would want to believe it unless they were frightened they would go there if they didn't beleive it.
The Good News is that you can be a Bible believing Christian and not Believe in Eternal Punishment.
(This is what John Stott said in his book Essentials.)

So what is Hell in the Bible?
Logically and rather regretfully I think it suggests anialation. (I don't beleive this is true for a moment and I think it is thoroughly unacceptable but it is a better belief than Eternal Punishment.)