Presuming Upon Hell

Pardon me for the interruption, as by now, we were to be hearing from Jesus, of what He had to say on the topic of “hell and eternal punishment.”

I considered bypassing this article altogether. I may yet wish I had. It seems though that it’d be unfair to neglect a couple of questions that linger in the web of this complex and very confusing subject without a brief interrogation of that much neglected portion of our Bible, the Old Testament.

Does anything or anyone recorded in the first thirty-nine give us evidence or awareness for our earning eternal torment because of sin, and due to Adam’s rebellion in the garden?

I don’t mean to imply something here. My motives hopefully are pure… well, as pure as the motives of a sin-stained man can be.

I simply struggle with the warning God gave to Adam. You remember, “On the day that you eat from the tree I told you not to eat from, you will be cast into the lake of fire, a place where the worm never dies, and the torment never ends.”

No, you know as well as I, that is not what God said. He said, “…dying thou dost die.” I don’t mean to downplay the effect of Adam’s sin as the entire creation suffered violently and the effects reverberate for as long as there is time, and it took the coming of the Son of God to reverse the penalty of his rebellion, but…

Doesn’t it seem this would have been a good place to mention hell? If this was the punishment incurred for the eating of the fruit and for all of humanity who followed after him?

I’m no master of the Old Testament. I’m no master of anything. At best, my efforts are dilettantish, but can anyone find any reference in the Old testament at all for this place known as hell?

I pause for a moment to allow my King James friends to gather their ammunition. And as expected, in rapid fire succession, the verses assail me; at least thirty times, this term is used in this translation. “So what do you say to that mt?”

I agree the word is there. The problem lies in how the translators chose when and where to use the word “hell” and when they chose instead “death or grave.”

What I mean is that the Hebrew word Sheol, translated all of the above, in the King James translation is rendered “hell” when a wicked person happens to die, and a lot of nicer words whenever the godly pass on from this life. In the original Hebrew, the same word is used to render hell, death, and grave.

The Psalmist could declare, “The wicked shall be turned into hell (Sheol; 9:17),” and Job could cry out, “O that thou wouldst hide me in the grave (Sheol; 14:13).”

The issue here is that the translators of the King James version weren’t inspired writers of Scripture. They were translators. So how did they know when and where to substitute our word hell and when and where to use the much kinder word, death or grave?

Maybe I’m being presumptuous but I wonder if they were being presumptuous? Rather than allowing the Word to say what it says, were they instead rewriting it through years of religious influence?

The better question may be “does the New Testament make clear what seems so unclear in the Old?” and “Do we have a continuous record of the Church’s understanding of the doctrine of hell?”

Up next, a look at the words of Jesus regarding hell (I really do intend to get there), beginning with a story/ parable that plainly seems to warn of this eternal place of torment. Any thoughts on the Old Testament’s seemingly silent stance on hell?

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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12 Responses to Presuming Upon Hell

  1. Pingback: Vacating the Quip | Resting in His Grace

  2. Pingback: Pondering the Pardon to an Interuption: O’ Hell, where is your victory? | Resting in His Grace

  3. Rob Barkman says:

    Thanks MT for attempting to thoroughly cover a very complex, yet important issue. Although we may not agree, I really appreciate the effort and look forward to the next installment. Lord bless you, MT.


    • mtsweat says:

      I have to admit I had to chuckle when I read your response Pastor Rob. Coming from the ranks of the evangelicals and protestants, my belief on this topic has been pretty much etched in stone for a long time. My series is prodded on by a lot of events of recent, not the least of which was another Pastor Rob’s recent recant of his past views. I’m trying to conduct this study fairly without presumption, which of course is impossible, so it may often seem if I’m laying out differing views from mine with greater emphasis. Testing the waters if you will.

      I would value greatly any input you can offer as the series goes on. By no means am I concluding I’ve found any answers, just weighing out what I have considered truth against the backdrop of a lot of other oppinions out there. I’m also finding some interesting stuff about exactly what the church has believed through the years. Thanks and blessings to you also good friend.

      • Rob Barkman says:

        MT, one quick point about the idea of being communicated by the phrase “…dying thou dost die.”. In my studies, I have come to believe that whenever the Bible speaks of death it is describing a type of separation that is taking place. There are three distinct types of death described in the Bible..

        physical death – separation of the soul/spirit from the physical body, positionally.
        spiritual death – separation of the individual from the Lord, relationship.
        eternal death – separation from the Lord positionally and relationally for an eternity in the Lake of Fire.

        When God gave Adam this warning, I believe He was speaking all three. When Adam sinned, he immediately experienced spiritual death (as seen by him hiding in the garden), He also would experience physical death (as shown by him being driven from the tree of life). If he had not been saved by God’s grace…. he would have been exiled from the presence of God permanently in the Lake of Fire.

        So, I believe that, in the warning that God gave to Adam, He was warning Adam of all three. We can not know all that God taught Adam before the fall. I am convinced the Bible doesn’t begin to record all of His teachings. All of this could have been covered prior to, or at the time of the warning God gave to Adam. To the best of my knowledge there is no reason to limit all of God’s words spoken to Adam to those that are recorded in Scripture.

        Lord bless you MT.

        • mtsweat says:

          Hi Pastor Rob! Working my way through each of your excellent comments and contribution of knowledge, I wanted to say from the depths of my heart how appreciative I am of your very-thought-out input on this topic. My prayers were that someone with the ability to do so would step forward with an intelligent response from orthodoxy that explains how we, the church, hold firmly to this doctrine. You have done well!

          I sat one on one with my Pastor, and he gave answers very similar, almost exact, as yours.

          With your permission, I’d like to use much of your offerings in a near post to show that the acceptance of the historical teaching of the Church on hell isn’t some primitive belief adapted from Greek mythology, but in fact is very arguable from the Bible.

          Again, debts of gratitude for sharing your thoughts good friend!

          • Rob Barkman says:


            I am certainly thankful for you doing this series and the privilege of being able to respond to the postings.

            You are more than welcome to use any of my response that may be of benefit to you.

            Your posts continue to be a blessing to me brother. Keep them up!

            Lord bless you my friend.

  4. RJ Dawson says:

    Regarding your horse entering a bar the other day, I’m a horse champing at the bit, but I digress. Don’t want to get ahead of the story. It is true that the Hebrews used what we may think of as all-inclusive words, in that a Hebrew word had different shades of meaning. The meaning of the Hebrew word “yom” (day), for example, causes thermonuclear religious war depending on how it is translated in Genesis.

    Sheol is another one of those words. Translators often have a tough time because words have meanings and shades of meaning based on context, as we all know. It shows up first in Genesis 37:35 and appears sixty sum odd times.

    The point being, though, is that there will be separation between sheep and goats, wheat and tares, etc. And those that don’t make the cut will be consumed. Regardless of how it actually plays out or what the Hebrew understanding was at that time, it is still a simple concept: Salvation for the saved. Destruction for the lost.

    I applaud you for going to the Hebrew. A correct understanding of the Hebrew and of Hebrew idioms, etc., will answer a lot of questions and refute a lot of false understandings. It is still amazing to me how many really bad understandings of Biblical concepts remain despite so much revelation over the last few decades.

    John the Immerser, a Hebrew of Hebrews, had a very clear Hebrew understanding of the hot place:

    “His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” [Luke 3:17]

    Keep it up, Mike. It’s getting more and more interesting…

  5. I must say Amen and Amen. I concur with ccragamuffin…keep taking the ‘bunny trails’ (as my students call them) they make the whole subject more understandable. BTW I use a resource Bible called the Key Word Bible when digging deep. It has both Hebrew and Greek references/words built into a numbered text. I also use The Message by Peterson as a resource for one reason…the man reads, thinks, breathes the languages. He does his Bible studies in the originals. Ah, well, I digress (chase a bunny trail). Keep on keeping on I’m thoroughly enjoying this series. Marie

  6. ccragamuffin says:

    It’s great writing to start with the beginning of The Story…so I disagree that you have “interrupted” your series. If there is indeed just One Story told by The Word, then we do well to spend as much time in the “old” as in the “new”. I am not a Hebrew scholar, and must rely on those who are. And it is those scholars who concur that the primary meaning of sheol (used 64x but translated in different ways) is “the place or state of the dead”. There was no Jewish theology of an everlasting burning damnation for sinners in the OT. That is worth ponder time before we look at how/what Jesus shared with the Jews. It is good practice to consider what the words meant to the original audience before we look at what they mean to us. These lessons are worth waiting for. Interrupt your interruption with a new interrupt if you must. I’m sure many of your readers enjoy the scenic route!

    • mtsweat says:

      Fantastic contribution (I’d not have expected anything less) cc! Your recent recollection of a long ago read Lewis masterpiece struck an urge that I couldn’t resist. As we traveled to visit Mom (TC handled the driving), I re-read the Great Divorce. 🙂

      It will be interesting to see where this series goes, and what is uncovered in the mix. I’m very appreciative of your comments and added knowledge. By the way, Happy Late Mother’s Day!

    • “It is good practice to consider what the words meant to the original audience before we look at what they mean to us.” WELL SAID!!! Marie

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