Bible Study for Atheists: PART 2 – Hell hath no fury. Really....it doesn't!
A note before I start. I can go into a lot more detail on all these subjects that I am covering. The bible is truly a formidable book and the background information is a lot more involved than what is written here. I abridge my text for the sake of my readers. Also, many of the topics in the in-depth study are beyond the scope of my articles. I try to keep it short & simple.
Christianity is built on seven (7) key concepts:
God – The Creator of all things, the Father of the saviour and the head of the Trinity.
Jesus – The saviour and the son of God.
The Holy Spirit – The teacher of all believers.
Humans – The creation, fall and subsequent salvation of humans through the "born again" experience.
Heaven – The abode of God, and the eternal destiny of believers.
Hell – The abode of Satan, and the eternal destiny of unbelievers.
Satan – A fallen angel that deceived humans out of jealousy, and caused the fall of humans.
For centuries Christians have oppressed, hunted, killed, exploited, discriminated against and ridiculed unbelievers. This is still true today. If anybody dare have an opposing view to Christianity, they initially try to convert you, and upon failing, they curse you to "hell"...in essence still "killing off" unbelievers. They regard themselves as having "superior knowledge" that put them in a position where they can judge fellow humans from. They peddle love, but once they realize they cannot sway you to their side, that love turns sour very quickly.
The main source of the Christian ideology is the bible, and the main character in this bible is The Trinity, a god so powerful He created the entire universe with one word, he gives life and kills, he saves and condemns. He lives in "heaven". If you worship Him your time here on earth and forever more will be peaceful and joyful. However, should you not believe in Him, you will end up in a fabled "hell" where unbelievers will be tortured day and night. Forever...and ever.
I grew up with being threatened with "hell" for anything from not brushing my teeth to checking out scantily clad women in various magazines. "Mannetjie, jy gaan reguit hel toe". Then I heard stories...Russians drilling holes 8km into the ground only to hear the voices of people screaming and crying for help. Then came the books...people dying, and on resuscitation they tell stories about going to "hell" and "heaven", meeting Jesus, and being escorted through "hell" by Jesus HIMSELF. In this "hell" people are tortured day and night, screaming and crying in agony...men, women, children...all just suffering terribly! And I trembled. And went to church. And brushed my teeth. And burnt the magazines...and all my records as well (just in case "hell" lurked in the grooves)!
Heaven, of course, was always and still is green grass and singing and love and peace and good happiness stuff. It seems like when good people die, they immediately become flowers in heaven.
But where does this hell come from? Why do Christians believe such a place exists?
Let's get something out of the way here: Christian preachers, dominees, pastors, ministers, priests and prophets are employed by churches. Actually, the congregation pays the minister a salary, and the minister feeds the "sheep" in his "pasture" like a good "shepherd". These "men of the cloth" are absolutely dependent on the steady income from their congregation; otherwise they might find themselves in the UIF queue. The question is: how to get a good, hardworking person to pay a salary for somebody who actually does very little, and not grumble about it? Well, become a politician for one. But people might not like you, and then vote for "the other guy", and then...you're back in the UIF queue.
Well, you could start a church. And then what? Well, for this answer we have to travel back in time.
The original text of the bible was written in a time when very few people could read or write, and simply had to believe what was taught from the pulpit based on what is written in "the good book". The word of the priest was supreme: questioning him was like questioning God himself, and that meant blasphemy, and off you go to "hell". It was an era of great superstition, fear, wars, oppression and persecution...and that was just acts perpetrated by the Christian Church! Nobody dared to question the minister, the church or the bible. So, to keep the church going, certain "liberties" were taken in the interpretation and translation of bible verses. By mistranslation of a few choice words (sheol, hades & Gehenna), a "hell" was created where sinners would go. "Hell" is a fearsome place...so fearsome, in fact, not even God goes there, and He created it!
Then people were taught the 3 steps to stay out of "hell"...come to church, shut up, give money to the church. Well, not that blatant, but through clever manipulation, the church got people to part with their hard-earned money. The job of the preacher is to keep the people coming to church so they bring their money, and by coming to church they stay out of "hell". Thus...church good... "hell" bad.
But STILL...people will not part with their money that easy.
So enters...(drum-roll please)... "The Lost". An entire generation of lost souls heading straight for "hell", and ONLY money can save them. Forget about the "great commission - go ye into all the world". There is a new "great commission - sit in the pews, pay us...we will go on YOUR behalf"! The old guilt trip. And it worked!!! To this day it still works!!! Nobody questions this. The word of the minister is supreme. The pecking order in Christianity: God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, the minister and then the elders. You have no say. You bankroll the whole shebang, but your job is to shut up and pay up! The minister himself is under direct command from God. You question him, you cross swords with "The Almighty" Himself!!! And off you go to "hell"! The directive is simple: Expand "The Kingdom of God". Behind the scenes this expansion means one thing: more church goers to bring more money!
But this "hell"...how could the church make it a fearful place? Remember, people had to fear going there themselves, and in turn it must be such a horrid place that people will do ANYTHING to stop others from going there as well. Oh the agony! The poor lost! Fire! Pain! Screaming! Torture! Melting eyeballs! Unquenchable thirst! Forever...and ever! "I will give anything...even money!"
And all "hell" broke loose!
LIE NO 1: GEHENNA
Matt 5:22 (AMP) - But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice (enmity of heart) against him shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court; and whoever speaks contemptuously and insultingly to his brother shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, You cursed fool! shall be liable to and unable to escape the hell of fire.
Also Matt 5:29 & 30, Matt 10:28, Matt 18:9, Matt 23:15, Matt 23:33, Mark 9:43-47, Luke 12:5, James 3:6
The Greek word translated here as "hell" is "Gehenna".
"Gehenna" is a term derived from a place outside ancient Jerusalem known in the Hebrew Bible as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, one of the two principal valleys surrounding the Old City. In the Hebrew Bible, the site was initially where apostate Israelites and followers of various Ba'als and Caananite gods, including Moloch, sacrificed their children by fire (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6). Thereafter it was deemed to be cursed (Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6).
Always remember who the primary audience was of the teachings of Jesus. He was speaking here to Jews, who knew the place perfectly well. It was a terrible part of their history. He would obviously talk to them in language they understood. As "hell" is not really a real place (and Jesus would know that, since he claims to be God), he had to "scare" them with something they knew: Gehenna.
So, no "hell" here. It was a physical historical site being used as scare tactic.
LIE NO 2: LAZARUS AND THE RICH MAN
Christians will all agree that Jesus told many stories in the bible that started with "The kingdom of heaven is like..." and then what follows is not a literal story but a "parable"...a story to explain a spiritual or physical truth. There is no agreement among Christians on the exact amount of parables in the bible, but they do mostly agree that a parable is...well a parable...merely a "fairy tale" with a deeper meaning. When it comes to the story of Lazarus and the rich man however, most Christians will vehemently agree it is NOT a parable. This one is a literal story.
To slay this dragon, we have to go back in time quickly. This might get boring, but trust me...it is well worth the read! I will try to keep it short.
God cut a deal with a guy called Abram, and told Abram that from his seed many people will be born. God then changed his name to Abraham. Abraham had a servant called Eliezer (Gen 15:2), a Syrian from Damascus. His name translated means "help me". Now Abraham was old and did not have any sons, so in the bible he bequeaths his entire estate to Eliezer. Sadly for Eliezer, Abraham has a son in his old age...Isaac. When Isaac is born everything is ruined for poor Eliezer...the son gets everything...the servant nothing.
Isaac has two sons: Jacob and Esau. Jacob deceives his brother and steals his inheritance. Jacob flees from his brother and goes and works for his uncle Laban, who has two daughters - Leah (the eldest) and Rachel. According to ancient Jewish tradition, the eldest daughter must marry first...she is the "daughter of the promise". In this case it is Leah. Jacob, however, falls in love with her younger sister, Rachel, but through deception by his father-in-law marries the "correct" daughter (Leah). Jacob has six sons with Leah, two sons with Rachel, two sons with one servant girl and two sons with another servant girl. In total twelve (12) sons...the twelve (12) tribes of Israel (God changed Jacob's name to Israel later on). Six of these sons are legitimate (born in wedlock), and six are not.
Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and a daughter Dinah.
Rachel: Joseph, Benjamin.
Bilhah: Dan, Naphtali.
Zilpah: Gad, Asher.
Hundreds of years later, Jesus (the Messiah) is born from the tribe of Judah, Jacob's son with the "daughter of the promise" Leah. Judah is also the "ruling" tribe at the time of Jesus' birth (a looooong story).
So, the parable.
Luk 16:19 – 31: There was a certain rich man who was customarily clothed in purple and fine linen and making merry in luxury every day. And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. But even the dogs came and licked his sores. And it happened that the beggar died and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. The rich one also died and was buried. And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things. But now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, there is a great chasm fixed between you and us; so that they desiring to pass from here to you cannot, nor can they pass over to us from there. And he said, I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may testify to them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham said to him, They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them. And he said, No, father Abraham, but if one should go to them from the dead, they would repent. And he said to him, If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded, even though one rose from the dead.
NOTE: In biblical times the color purple has been commonly associated with royalty and piety.
The characters in this story:
The rich man: Judah.
Lazarus: His name means "help me"...the same as Eliezer (you can already see where this is going).
Abraham: Well, he is actually Abraham being reunited with his servant. He is regarded as the "father" of the Jewish nation.
Five brothers: Judah has five (5) brothers (the sons of Leah, the "daughter of the promise").
And some other stuff:
Reference to crumbs: Mark 7:28
NOW, here is the interesting part: "And in HELL...". The original Greek word used here is "hades"...the grave, NOT "hell"! Hebrew "sheol"...grave...not "hell"! Consistently these two words are translated as "hell", but the LITERAL meaning of these two words are the same: a grave (subterranean retreat)...a hole in the ground! So, it is not a literal "hell" after all. No mention of fire and screaming and torture....just a hole in the ground.
Remember, this could be a parable...a story told to illustrate a truth. As the facts unfold, it looks less and less like a literal story, and more and more like a parable. The rich man (Judah) is "in his grave" where he sees Lazarus (Eliezer) getting his entire inheritance. He is tormented by it. Would you not be? Of course I would be severely ticked off if my "father" gives my inheritance to his servant. Why did Abraham do this? Well, I do not have time nor you the patience for me to explain the history of Judah...it is long and colourful, with false gods, apostasy and general disobedience against their God. Now Judah sees the error of his ways, and of course he is tormented by it. On top of this (according to Jesus) the children of the promise (Judah) rejects him as their King, so the kingdom is now passed on to the "dogs" (Mark 7:28)...Lazarus/Eliezer and his ilk.
No "hell" here either. Just a poor shmoe losing his inheritance.
LIE NO 3: THE LAKE OF FIRE
Rev 20:10 - And the Devil who deceived them was cast into the Lake of Fire and Brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet were . And he will be tormented day and night forever and ever. And I saw a great white throne, and Him sitting on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And a place was not found for them. And I saw the dead, the small and the great, stand before God. And books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead in it. And death and hell delivered up the dead in them. And each one of them was judged according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death. And if anyone was not found having been written in the Book of Life, he was cast into the Lake of Fire.
First, some extracts from the passage above: "and death and hell delivered up the dead in them". Once again "hades" translated as "hell". The word "dead" in that sentence is "necros"...corpses.
WAIT! I thought the people in "hell" are "alive" according to Christians? Are they not judged after they breathe their last, and immediately start burning and screaming? Well, not according to the bible. It would appear as they are dead...very dead..."necros" dead...corpse dead. And the good people? I will deal with them in my article "In the sweet bye and bye: Heaven is for hobos".
So, "hell" delivers up its really really dead people, and they are judged and thrown straight back into ANOTHER "hell" - "The Lake Of Fire".
But I thought "sheol" or "hades" was "hell"? What is going on here? "Hell" is thrown into this new place...also called "hell" according to Christians? I am confused.
This passage with the "Lake Of Fire" is quoted from the book Revelation in the bible. I have to rewind quickly to show something else.
Matt 3:11 - I indeed baptize you with water to repentance. But He who comes after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire;
John the Baptist says Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with "fire". The root word for "fire" here literally means "lightning".
Fast forward to Revelation 1:1.
Rev 1:1 A Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to Him to declare to His servants things which must shortly come to pass. And He signified it by sending His angel to His servant John,
Please read that passage again...slowly.
This book is what? A revelation.
Of who? JESUS CHRIST!
According to this introduction, everything that follows now is a revelation of an individual called Jesus Christ. Let me say it again in simple language. Everything that follows now is a disclosure or a revealing of some truth about a person called Jesus Christ. The entire book is dedicated to telling the servants of Jesus Christ about this Jesus Christ and what is to come. And he signified it by sending it to his servant John. This is NOT the revelation of John! It is the revelation of Jesus Christ written BY John!
But the lake of fire mentioned in Revelation 20:10...what is it?
Well, it is not a "what"...it is a "WHO". Jesus Christ of course! If the "Lake of Fire" is Jesus, then Jesus is "hell"! The study of the exact nature of this "lake" is fascinating, but beyond the scope of this article.
Now the word brimstone is also mentioned..."The Lake Of Fire And Brimstone". Oh no! Not brimstone! Please, is the fire not enough?!?
Well, brimstone is sulfur...a bleaching agent. That strong smell you get when using Jik? Yep...brimstone. It is stuff you use to make white things white again.
And the word "fire" in "Lake Of Fire"? What "fire" is this? It is the same word used in Matt 3:11 describing how Jesus will baptize his followers...with "lightning".
No "hell" here either.
So, there you have it. "Hell" does not really exist as believed by Christians. A study of the bible reveals that "hell" is actually the Christian Jesus, who will baptize seemingly everybody (including "hades" and the kitchen sink) with "lightning". According to the bible the WHOLE WORLD IS GOING TO HELL...literally!!!!!
So, to all unbelievers, next time a Christian says "You are on a highway to hell" you can now tell them with confidence: "I will save a seat for you". The Christian "hell" of pain and torment is simply a conspiracy by churches to get people to give them money by scaring the "hell" INTO them!
Next, I am going to put "Highway to hell" by ACDC into my CD player, and fire up a braai. Then I will do the unthinkable. Since all Christians believe us atheists have Satan on speed dial, I am going to call up old Beelzebub, invite him over for a couple of brewskis, grab him by the horns, look him straight in the eye and calmly say: "Satan, be gone!"
Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.