Watering Down Hell

I don’t get it. In Christianity (the last time I checked) there’s only one Bible. Can we agree on that? Good. In my NLT Bible, (New Living Translation) I found 7 verses in the New Testament in which hell is mentioned. Then I got out my NKJ (New King James) and, sure enough, 7 verses on hell. THEN, I got my iPad and pulled up my nifty Bible app with all the translations you could ever want in one neat little box and….sure enough, every translation I looked at had 7 verses on hell. Now, if there’s only one Word of God and we accept that what he says is truth, then why all the disagreement?

In my research I have found that there are Christian denominations that tell me that there is no hell. What’s up with that? Maybe its a case of revisionist history in which professing Christians, in a desperate attempt to convert the unsaved of the world have sanded off the sharp edges of the faith in order to make it more palatable to the rest of the world. I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind. In Matthew 25:41 Jesus says…

“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.”

And in Matthew 16:18 He tells Peter….

“…And upon this rock I will build my church and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”

And then there’s Matthew 23:33…

“Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?”

It seems to me that Jesus believed there was a hell, so, why are so many Christians busy trying to deny it and explain away its mention in the bible, or at the very least turning it into some sort of “holding tank?”

A revolutionary book entitled “Love Wins” by Rob Bell stirred up quite a controversy among quite a number of Evangelical Christians as well as the secular world when it was released in 2011. In this book, the author throws open the gates of Heaven and argues for an all-inclusive salvation that precludes the concept of eternal damnation in its entirety. One of the best critques of the book is one I found on, of all things, Amazon.com. Mark Almlie, Pastor of Simi Covenant Church in Petaluma, CA writes the following…

“In Matthew 25, Jesus the judge separates the sheep from the goats and sends the goats to “eternal punishment”. Only, this doesn’t fit with Bell’s theology so he simply translates the phrase differently. He says “eternal punishment” should be translated as “a period of pruning” or a “time of trimming”!

…First of all, he doesn’t even quote the Greek text correctly! He says the phrase is “Aion of kolazo”. That’s not how the Greek text reads! It reads, “Eis kolasin aionion.” The Greek word “aionion” is a different word than “aion”! This is very misleading. I can barely believe that he wrote so erroneously. It’s as if he wished so hard that there is no reference to eternal punishment in the Bible that he found a way for it to go away.

The actual word used in Matt 25.41, 46 is “aionion”. Now, it is true that the root word of “aionion” is “aion”. But, they are two separate words, with two different meanings. For Bell to go on and on about “aion” meaning “age” and not “eternity” is completely irrelevant since he is talking about the wrong word!

“In a good number of English translations of the Bible, the phrase gets translated as ‘eternal punishment'”. Understatement of the aion! NIV, NRSV, NASB, KJV, New Living Translation. How about Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” since Peterson endorsed Bell’s book? The Message reads “eternal doom”. Bell is off his theological and exegetical rocker when trying to get this verse not to mean what it actually means: “eternal punishment”.

But imagine for a moment that he’s right. Let’s imagine that this verse isn’t about eternal punishment, but just an “age” of time. So, theoretically, after an “age” or two of time, the goats will be set free. However, the sheep are sent to “eternal life” in the same verse. It is the same word used for the sheep as it is for the goats: “aionion”. If Bell is right then “eternal life” is temporary. It’s the same word used in John 3.16 “everlasting life”. So whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have temporary life? I don’t think so.”

On the flip side of the coin, It’s pretty harsh looking from this side of heaven to think that the nice Buddhist man next door who literally wouldn’t hurt a fly might be damned to hell for the rest of eternity. I believe that God gives every person the choice. every. single. one. I believe that every nation God condemned in the Old Testament was at one time or another given exposure to the Living God and asked to make a choice. It ain’t pretty or easy, nor does it seem like the action of a just God. But it is what I read in my Bible, over and over again.

The question that’s been rolling around in my mind lately is this: If there is no hell, then what did Jesus die for? The folks that disbelieve hell’s existence would say that He died so that ALL people would be admitted into the Kingdom. Rob Bell contends that after a “pruning” process, this would be true. Wait. Hitler, Ted Bundy, and all the atheists who flat out deny God’s existence will be “rehabilitated” and then the pearly gates would swing wide open? Does that include Judas Iscariot? If this premise is true then why did Jesus condemn the Pharisees and the Saducees? (see Mark 7:5-8) The danger of this kind of theology is that it poses no reason for anyone to accept the salvation offered to everyone by Christ. It also nullifies the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:19-20. If all we have to do is be “good people” then Christianity, salvation, and the Gospel become nothing more than “nice ideas.”

So ask yourself, who and what do you believe?

(You can learn more about Pastor Mark Almlie and Simi Covenant Church – Go Here )