The Context of Hell

“What Jesus taught, what the prophets taught, what all of Jewish tradition pointed to and what Jesus lived in anticipation of, was the day when earth and heaven would be one. The day when God’s will would be done on earth as it is now done in heaven. The day when earth and heaven will be the same place. This is the story of the Bible.” ~ Rob Bell

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Context logo (Photo credit: Context Travel)

One of the most common problems I contend with in my casual reading time is the neglect of context. It’s been taught to me all of my born-again life, but on any given day, I’m one who is susceptible to the temptation to read a passage from the Bible and assume it simply says something without giving the surrounding verses and the entirety of Holy Writ to interpret the author’s intent.

If this can be found true of my personal studies, imagine the possible complications when trying to understand something so grande as the eternal destinations of the image-bearers of God.

Most will be aware that the introductory quote by Rob Bell is from his now infamous work titled Love Wins. Mr. Bell argues that the common thoughts of Church history regarding the interpretation of hell are misleading and lack biblical evidence sufficient for a foundation.

While he may be right in concluding that the mainstream doctrine of hell as taught by the Church is one of lasting judgement, we should acknowledge that Mr. Bell is not the originator of its rebuttal.

Even in its infancy, there are records of church leaders questioning whether hell is the eternal state of torment for the lost. Origen, a second century theologian, believed that everyone and everything would one day be reconciled to God.

At least two movements have arisen from this qualm; the teachings of Universalism and the doctrine of annihilationism, with the former expressing the universal salvation of all, and the latter that the lost will suffer temporarily and then cease to exist.

While there are a host of variations of all of these interpretations, these three make it obvious that there are some pretty significant disagreements about the eternal state of the lost.

How is this possible? How can the same Bible share three completely contradictory views of hell? I’m sure you’re prepared for my transitional words; it can’t. It doesn’t.

The discrepancies must then lie in the reading. In the next of this series, my attempt will be to begin hearing what Jesus said about hell. I hope to show the necessity of reading what He said in its entire context to be able to hear His intended message. That may sound like oversimplifying the issue, but I’ve already been honest enough to tell you that I much too often fail to do so.

It is in the context of these passages where He spoke of hell that one can begin to see that all is not so crystal clear as we would like, or not like, to believe.

About mtsweat

Seeking the rest that is only promised and found in Christ Jesus, along with my treasured wife of more than twenty-five years, we seek to grow in our relationship with our Heavenly Father, walk with the Holy Spirit as He moves our hearts, loving others always as Jesus loves us, and carry the news of His glory, the wonderful gospel, that gives light and life where there once was only darkness.
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8 Responses to The Context of Hell

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  4. I know what I believe, but hopefully I still have an open mind to all Scripture-based discussions, so I’ll look forward to further posts.

  5. ccragamuffin says:

    “In context”…this is a good warning. In context of The Word in its entirety, because there is only one story. But also, I submit, in context of church history. The evangelical movement has not considered universalism an option, true, but within the line of standing against universalism, there is differing views on “hell”, and even on “immortality”. Annihilationism itself is also a broad term that includes those who have various views of Conditionalism. John Stott defended Annihilationism. He introduced me to the thought that the view of each person having an indestructible and immortal soul is actually a Greek belief, not an Old Testament belief. C. S. Lewis wrote consistent with Conditionalism (have you read his book The Great Divorce…it gets a great big recommendation from me). William Law (beloved writer of A Serious Call To A Devout And Holy Life) believed that there was a limit to the suffering of “hell”. The Roman Catholic church brings more to the table. All this to caution, that we need to move forward on this road with sensitivity and with humility. And faith. That God will do what is right and good and true…no matter what we write about it.

    • mtsweat says:

      At this moment, I’ll only say this good Sister… you stretch to give away the hand a little sooner than I’m willing. Patience… patience… patience. 🙂 …as said above, it’s not so crystal clear…

  6. RJ Dawson says:

    Thanks for looking into this. Distinct Christian cultures have distinct doctrines. Some doctrines that have acquired theological names are actually Biblically correct while others, not so much. If we see a list of doctrines, do we know if any of them are actually correct according to the pure and original teachings of the Lord Jesus? Can we see the ones that don’t fit? In context, the reality of hell and what happens when people go there is clear. As the Lord taught, seek and we will find. It’s there. But we must be careful to not be overwhelmed by conventionally accepted doctrine, though false, at the expense of truth.

    • mtsweat says:

      “not be overwhelmed by conventionally accepted doctrine”

      I think I recall saying these words, “That’s what I’m talking about RJ!” recently to you good friend. This time I’m shouting them.

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