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Book Review

Understanding Gehenna and Hades

Yes, another book on the hell question. This one, however, has a few new ideas to propound. It is The Lie Of Hell by Roger Harper (Ladder Media, 2012. ISBN: 978-0-9561848-2-5).

The author (an Anglican minister) points out that, whereas much has been written in recent years about Gehenna—representing the lake of fire and ultimate destination of the wicked— too little attention has been given to Hades. The fact that some English versions of the Bible have translated both words as ‘hell’ has caused immense confusion, and it would be better to drop the word ‘hell’ altogether and instead use the transliterations ‘Gehenna’ and ‘Hades’.

Regarding the former the author is an annihilationist. He exposes as a 'lie' the traditional teaching of the church that the judgment of hell is everlasting conscious torment. Gehenna is grim and painful, but it issues, in God’s good time, in cessation of existence.

Hades he describes as a 'remand prison' where the wicked await the final judgment at Christ's return. Because Jesus, according to Revelation, holds the keys of Hades, he has entry there at will, and the love he shows to the inmates will elicit a positive response from some, who will thus be saved. So, in the author's view, another aspect of the traditional church’s 'lie' is the notion that death rules out any further opportunity to embrace Christ's salvation.

In the middle of the book, after he has set out some hermeneutical principles (the chief one being ‘Listen to Jesus’) and examined the biblical vocabulary of hell, he includes a helpful summary of available books espousing different views on the fate of the wicked: annihilationist, universalist, traditionalist and escapist, plus books by people who have had near-death experiences. In my opinion it’s worth buying his book for this feature alone. Also helpful is his ‘history of hell’, showing the development of the doctrine down the centuries.

Some readers may consider that the author at times builds too much of a case on fairly obscure Bible passages, reaching conclusions that may be open to question. Others will have wobbles about the ‘prophetic’ element at the end of the book—a record of the author’s conversations with God (which I found wordy, hard to follow and tempting to skip). But there are also some sound pointers to the way forward on the hell question, and much to provoke serious thought.

[I read the book in Kindle format, so the numbers are Location, not Page, numbers.]

…’The Harrowing of Hell’, the tradition strongly depicted in Western Passion Plays and Eastern icons that Jesus did and can rescue souls from hell.  (168)

If hell is part of the Christian world-view, then it is clear that the Christian God, through His eternal proxy the devil, is a torturer…  If the Christian God condemns all unbelieving sinners equally, with no regard for individual differences and circumstances, it is not surprising that some Christians preach to these sinners in a formulaic and threatening way.  (186)

[Re the transfiguration]  The voice from heaven responded: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to Him!’ Treating Jesus and His words in the same way as the words of Moses and Elijah is against what God wants.  (252)

The first and obvious reason for seeing Gehenna and Hades as separate and different is that Jesus gave them different names.  (620)

In the time that people are conscious before they are destroyed by the eternal fire of Gehenna, they weep and gnash their teeth as people do in Hades.  (740)

Jesus states starkly that human behaviour, not human belief is what is reckoned at the Final Judgement: ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done’ (Matthew 16:27).  (796)

[Re Lk 17:26-30]  For Jesus destruction/perishing is akin to what happened in the flood and to Sodom and Gomorrah—annihilation.  (811)

If Jesus had wanted to convey that people, souls, exist eternally in Gehenna, He could easily have done so, but did not. Jesus did convey that people continue to exist, to think, feel and talk in Hades but as we have seen, for Jesus Hades is not the same place as Gehenna…  Gehenna is the punishment of the age to come, that is, irreversible destruction. Hades is the punishment of the age before judgement although beyond death. Hades is a remand prison for people awaiting trial.  (952)

In the end, everyone comes out of Hades. Hades is emptied of all its human occupants. The remand prison has served its purpose and now all the prisoners are transferred to the court, for judgement.  (1153)

Jesus specifically stated that angels are immortal innately and humans only become immortal like angels if, after the resurrection, ‘they are considered worthy of a place in that age’ [Lk 20:35]  (1195)

Since Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have a new insight into Hades, a new development in Hades, as described in Revelation 14—the presence of the Lamb. Those who look to the Lamb do not just gain insight into where they have gone wrong, they see someone with them who can put things right.  (1332)

In neither Peter’s letter, nor in Revelation, do we encounter the concept that those who have died are beyond the reach of Jesus and of the gospel.  (1409)

Not once in all his writing does Paul write of torment as the ultimate result of sin. Instead Paul writes consistently using the same interchangeable terms as Jesus in the Gospels: death and destruction.  (1492)

‘I am convinced that neither death nor life…will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom 8:38-39). These verses are a hint that Paul believes that those in Hades are still able to be reached by the love of God. If judgement, condemnation, and destruction of the wicked follow on immediately after death, it is hard to understand how death cannot be a barrier to God’s love. But if the judgement is preceded by a considerable time when people will still have the opportunity to respond to God’s love in Jesus, Paul’s words make more sense.  (1509)

In the Old Testament and historic Jewish culture there is no assumption that people live on in some way after they die.  (1599)

The Old Testament as a whole gives no support at all to the concept of eternal torment.  (1769)

Humans who are resolutely attached to the devil and his ways will also be thrown with the devil into the lake of fire. The devil will survive in torment. Humans will not.  (1880)

Jesus in Hades offers to those in gloom, deep darkness and torment a rescue: His forgiveness and the forgiveness of His Father. Jesus the Lamb invites those in Hades to respond to Him with pity, with compassion, as one thief on the cross recognised that Jesus should not have been thee alongside him. Those who respond to Jesus will be offered an immediate escape. ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’ … As Hades is the place of waiting for the unrepentant wicked, Paradise is the place of waiting for the righteous, the forgiven.  (1937)

People end up in the fire because they have been wicked, callous, unloving, not because they have believed in the wrong God.  (1959)

The future without God, for human beings, is no future at all. It is complete and irreversible annihilation in the consuming fire, extremely painful for a short while, before all feeling, thought, memory, is lost forever.  (1981)

Pinnock and Brow…support the view that the righteous of any religion, who live in the faith that active love for all neighbours is the right way, can be saved by this faith as the Old Testament Job was saved.  (2234)

Pawson shows detailed Biblical knowledge and a great ability to grasp and convey both major themes and telling detail in the Bible. But his presentation of hell as eternal torment is confused and, at times, illogical.  (2673)

The Bible…describes God as being love, exalting that attribute as part of the divine being, while also saying that God’s wrath lasts only for a short while and is in no way part of His being.  (2701)

Not until Athenagoras, writing about 130 years after Jesus, is there teaching on the immortality of the soul, and therefore the continuing existence of the wicked, as a Christian doctrine. Athenagoras was a Greek philosopher who converted to Christianity.  (3343)

Roman Law was a severe law, enforced by and justifying severe treatment of offenders. Those who saw the Roman Law and Roman penal practice as good and civilising were more inclined to see the same attributes in God, even in the Christian God, once that God was adopted by the Romans.  (3387)

The threat of hell was a useful tool to use against anyone threatening the authority of the Church.  (3387)

Percy Dearmer and others have noted that the doctrine of hell as eternal torment was not fully fixed until about the 12th century.  (3414)

The absolute certainty of the Koran about hell as the place of eternal torment for unbelievers carried over into Christian thinking and removed the last traces of uncertainty or ambiguity in the Church’s teaching on hell.  (3459)

The teaching of Jesus and Revelation is that Gehenna is an eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, a lake of fire into which the devil, as the victim, will be thrown, and in which he will suffer torment. The teaching of the Church has been that hell is where the devil is in charge and where he torments others while not in any way himself tormented. This turning round of truth, from one teaching to its opposite, is an astonishing feat.  (3532)

The words of Jesus about Hades have been the most ignored part of His teaching.  (3578)

The simple surface meaning of someone having the keys to a place is that they control access to and from that place. Jesus, alive for ever, controls access to and from Hades.  (3726)

[Re Rev 14:9-10]  These verse show…the torment of Hades… Yet this affliction is ‘in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.’ Jesus chooses to use His keys to go to those who are afflicted in Hades, being there with them.  (3761)

The Church’s ability to reach people, according to Jesus, is not confined to this life, but includes people in Hades. How exactly this mission is carried out we probably cannot know until after this life. But we know for certain, as part of the foundation and cornnerstone of all our thinking, that the gates of Hades  will not prevail against the Church.  (3850)

The Church needs to confess, abandon, and renounce its holding to the Greek, Roman, Manichaean, Islamic lie of hell. The Church needs to welcome, embrace and promote Jesus’ Jewish teaching of Hades and Gehenna. This is the chief, general, recommendation of this book.  (4141)

Every Christian should stop using the word ‘hell’. ‘Hell’ has a widely understood meaning which is at odds with the truth of Jesus and the Bible.  (4154)

There is an eternal ‘Or else!’ Christians are the first people who need to be aware of this and live in its light. Hades and Gehenna remain possibilities for Christians who only call Jesus ‘Lord, Lord,’ but do not do the will of His Father in heaven. This ‘Or else!’ of Jesus is a sharp part of His teaching which we need to recover.  (4228)

There is enough urgency in the reality of the affliction of Hades and the annihilation of Gehenna to inspire any evangelist or supporter of missions.  (4260)

[At the funeral of someone not known to be a believer]  We can confidently say something like: ‘We trust and hope today that N will look to Jesus, will accept Jesus’ help and forgiveness, and come through to a new life.’  (4335)

If there is concern that the person who has died was never, in this life, properly open to Jesus and His forgiveness, this concern too can be told to Jesus, asking Him to keep reaching out to the person now. This kind of praying for the dead has been controversial in churches but fits well with both the truth of Hades and the practice of the earliest Church.  (4362)

Other reviews touching on the hell question here on my website:

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