A continuation from yesterday.
OK just one more post with some thoughts about H-E- double hockey sticks. It is amazing when you contrast the difference between the typical beliefs of the general public and the understanding that people had when the Bible was written. People’s notion of hell today is so radically different.
The Hebrew word most often used in the Old Testament for hell is sheol which is literally translated ‘pit’. In Israel huge sink holes would form in the wilderness and if you weren’t careful you could fall into one. They were deep enough that if you fell in you would be stuck, trapped, until someone came along to help you out. Other than this, your typical Israelite would have no other specific notion of hell (or an afterlife for that matter).
In the New Testament the Greek word used most often for hell is gehenna. It had significance on multiple levels. For starters it was a Greek transliteration of the Aramaic name of the traditional site of apostate worship where Israelites would burn their children when worshipping Baal. (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6; Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6). It was notorious for idol worship of the most disgusting kind and would drawn an immediately negative response if you referred to it (not unlike Auschwitz does today). In Jesus’ day it was also the dump where garbage, refuse, and dead animals, would be dumped and burned. There was always a fire going in Gehenna which is likely why Jesus talked about gehenna, “where the fire is never quenched,” in Mark 9: 43.
Pitchforks, and underground hot places were nowhere in anyone’s mind when they thought of what gehenna meant. They thought of a notoriously evil, dirty, hopeless destructive place that cannot be redeemed. It is helpful to keep these images in mind when considering the Biblical account of hell, rather than a guy with horns and a tail, torturing people all day long.
For the last word i would encourage you to read a post written by Dr. Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City. He writes a column about The Importance of Hell that is tremendously helpful.
Why spend time writing about this anyway? To borrow one phrase, from Keller, “we can’t understand our complete dependence on God, the character [of God], the danger of even the smallest sins, and the true scope of the costly love of Jesus,” without understanding hell.
Paradoxically we understand both God’s holiness and God’s endless love by understanding what the Bible has to say about hell.