An answer for a friend about Hades, Tartarus and Sheol

A friend of mine recently emailed me:

“Is the word hell a mistranslated word from the words hades, gehenna, tartarus and sheol? Why, in your opinion, is there such a gross mistranslation to take even 3 God breathed words and make them one?”

Hades in Greek Mythology was an evolving concept. In Homer’s Odyssey (8th century BC), Hades is presented as a place where all the dead went to exist in a ghostly form.   It didn’t matter if you were good or evil, everyone had the same fate, although there was a place called Tartarus which was a prison-house for the Titans where they were held without any sort of torture.

By the time Jesus was born, this concept of Hades had changed. The Greco-Romans then believed good people went to a paradise in Hades called the Isles of the Blest, while the bad went to Tartarus in Hades where they were tortured by the Furies.

Understanding the Greek concept of Hades is important to because I think it had a significant impact on how Hades, Tartarus and Sheol became known as “hell.” It started off with the Jews being conquered by the Greeks and becoming steeped in Hellenistic culture and thought.  In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees believed in a similar form of Hades, except paradise was called Abraham’s Bosom. It may seem strange that the Jews would have bought into this Greek home of the dead, except for one significant event.

In the 3rd century BC, the Greek ruler, Ptolemy Philadelphus, requisitioned a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. This was supposedly accomplished by 72 scholars, and so this version was known as the Septuagint. The important thing for us is that the Hebrew home of the dead, Sheol, had been translated as “Hades.”

It is true that Sheol is depicted in the Old Testament as a home of the dead, however, it is, along with five other words (the grave, Abaddon, worms, the pit and darkness), used as a metaphor for death. All the dead end up together in Sheol (the pit, darkness, the grave, destroyed by Abaddon, eaten by worms). There is no bliss for the righteous or punishment for the wicked in Sheol; it a place where the dead rest in death.

The Septuagint was the version of the Old Testament we see quoted in the New Testament; it was used by the early church. Because Sheol had been translated as “Hades” in the Septuagint, I believe there was tremendous confusion. It is no wonder that Sheol, Hades and Tartarus became associated with Gehenna, the place of fiery judgment Jesus preached about. That’s a short answer. Hope that helps.


Four Reasons It’s Crucial We Talk About Hell

A friend I see often at church has been asking me questions about my books on hell. After several week’s worth of discussion, she paused and said, “Why is this important? Ultimately, we need to be preaching the Gospel. Why do we need to talk about hell?” Good question. In days of old, some theologians spent time thinking about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, but this is not one of those types of issues.

There are four reasons I think it is crucial we talk about hell. These are the reasons I have spent countless hours researching and writing; these are the reasons I cannot remain silent. It boils down to this:

1. Common conceptions of hell don’t line up very well with Scripture. If you have a high view of Scripture as God’s word to us breathed out through the writings of men, this is a serious issue. I think much of what we believe about hell is rooted in places other than God’s word (like Greek mythology and modern day cartoons) or doesn’t fit in very well with what the Bible teaches overall about judgment and punishment.

2. We give the devil much more power than he actually has. When many of our worship songs and commentaries talk about hell, they assume that Satan is the power behind hell. In reality, Satan is a weasel with absolutely no power to torment anyone in hell. He has nothing to do with hell right now, yet most often the spiritual battle in which we are engaged is portrayed as a struggle between the evil powers of hell vs. the divine power of heaven. I think Satan loves this deception because it frightens people into giving him almost god-like power, and because it causes us, in actuality, to aim our spiritual guns toward God because the power behind hell is God himself.

3. People are unnecessarily pushed away from God. The way God is often portrayed causes many to consider him a divine monster throwing his children into the fire. Is this who God is? 
 It’s one thing for the Gospel to be offensive. It’s quite another for the Giver of the Gospel to be considered a sadistic dictator. After all, why is the Gospel necessary? Is it to save us from God’s anger? Is God so insecure that he has to torment those who reject him? Why is hell necessary? Is there a specific reason that the God of love has to send much of his creation to suffer? It is not just atheists and agnostics who have trouble with this, it is Christians (some of whom abandon faith altogether) who find no relief from these questions.

Often Christians will say that God does not choose to send people to hell, people choose to send themselves. This is not an adequate answer for me or for many others. I understand that justice and God’s honor come into play at some point, but I do not think either justice or honor answers the deepest questions about the necessity of hell. 
 If the picture we paint of God is the reason that so many have rejected God, we need to search hard and long to make sure we are using the right colors in our painting.

4. Common conceptions of hell also give us a stilted view of what Christ did for us on the cross. This ties in very closely to reason #3 because it raises more questions about God. After all, what did Christ die to save us from? Why was his sacrifice necessary? What kind of God would sacrifice his son? And why does God require a human sacrifice? Why would we want to serve a God who requires a human sacrifice?

God is made out to be a despot, someone who is more of a narrow-minded dictator than anything, a tiger eager to pounce on sinners. Sometimes people feel deep in their souls that they stand on higher moral ground than God because of these issues. It is easy for some Christians to point their fingers at these people and accuse them of arrogance and pride, but I can feel where they are coming from. There is much tension. These are really good questions that demand good answers. And the faith of many rides on the answers.

Millard Erickson, a prominent conservative Christian theologian wrote, “The fact that hell, as often understood, seems to be incompatible with God’s love, as revealed in Scripture, may be an indication that we have misunderstood hell.” (see reference below) I think he’s right.

I believe the Bible teaches hell is very real, and very permanent. But if we ignore looking long and hard at what hell is and what it isn’t, I think we are in danger of misrepresenting the Gospel, and misrepresenting God. These are the reasons I believe it is crucial for us to talk about hell. It is not a theological game. It’s important. It matters. It has eternal consequences.

(Erickson, Millard. (1998). Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, p. 1247)

More on what hell is and isn’t in “The Myths of Hell” and “The Ache for Paradise”, Books 1 & 2 of the “A Beautiful Hell” trilogy. Book #3 is is slated for Kindle publishing this spring. Click the picture of the book covers to purchase a Kindle copy from Amazon.

If Jesus is Still Dead, I wouldn't be a Christian. Would You?

I have a friend who is a Christian, but she does not believe Jesus rose from the dead. A person in my online discussion group recently expressed a similar sentiment when she wrote that she does not agree with the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless…If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”

I don’t understand how it is possible to be a Christian with holding tightly to Christ’s resurrection. Christians of Paul’s day were thrown to the lions in the colosseum and burned at the stake by Nero. Paul himself had to be lowered in a basket over a city wall to avoid being killed, he was stoned, whipped, put in chains, taken prisoner and eventually killed for his faith.

Christians in some places today do not fare any better. In 1979, Christians in Ethiopia were tortured with boiling oil and had their eyes sewn shut. In 1988, 200 believers in Iran were hung and 800 thrown into jail. In 2002, three terrorists opened fire in a Pakastani church, killing 75 followers of Christ. All because they believe that Jesus rose from the dead, has taken their sin away and changed them. Their hope is that someday we will be raised from the dead just like Jesus was and live forever with God in paradise.

Without this hope, without this resurrection of Christ in the past, and our own resurrection in the future, it seems to me our faith is worth nothing.

I know that Jesus said some good things about loving each other, and forgiving our enemies, and I respect people who pattern their lives after those maxims. (Perhaps that is why some who do not believe in Jesus’ resurrection call themselves Christians.)

But Jesus also said some very difficult things about God’s future wrath being poured out on the wicked, and that there is no way to God except through him. He also made it clear that someday resurrection would happen both for him and for his followers. It seems to me that resurrection is the bedrock of our faith. Not even Christ would have embraced death on earth if he did not believe in “taking up his life” again. The author of Hebrews says it “was for the joy set before him that he endured the cross” (Heb 12:2). It is easy in America and some other parts of the world for a person to claim Christianity because there is no persecution or potential execution for holding onto faith. But for others, being a Christian is a life or death decision.

If Jesus has not risen from the dead, I would not be a Christian. It wouldn’t be worth it. I would cobble together some good things that many people like Buddha or Ghandi or other leaders (including Jesus) have said, and try to live a good life. But if someone threatened my life if I did not abandon faith in Christ, I would give it up in a heartbeat. Why should I die for no reason?

For my friends who call themselves Christians but reject Jesus’ resurrection, if I have misunderstood you, I am sorry, but will you please help me understand why you claim Christianity if you do not believe Jesus rose from the dead?

More on life after death in “The Myths of Hell” and “The Ache for Paradise”, Books 1 & 2 of the “A Beautiful Hell” trilogy. Book #3 is is slated for Kindle publishing this spring. Click the picture of the book covers to purchase a Kindle copy from Amazon.

The Why of Two Broken Bones and a Heart that Almost Quit

In the past three weeks my mother tripped on an uneven sidewalk and broke her arm in five places, my father had an urgent 4-way heart bypass (the doctor said he is lucky to be alive), and my daughter broke her wrist.

Some might call this a run of bad luck, while others might begin to question, “Why is all this happening?” Good question. Some land in the age-old classic opinion that “they sinned, therefore, they suffer.” But going in that direction leads to a massive theological mudpuddle because any time something bad happens, e.g. the tower of Siloam falling and killing 18 Israelites (Luke 13) or a tsunami in Indonesia killing thousands, it is because those people sinned. The only time this works is if we’re talking about the nation of Israel in the Old Testament where God specifically told them if the nation persisted in sin they would be punished, which is exactly what happened. It doesn’t work this way, though, with individuals then or now.

It is not uncommon for people of faith to try to make sense of suffering by saying, “There must be a reason. God has a purpose in all this suffering.” I’m not convinced. This may be true sometimes (as in the case of Joseph), but if I follow this line of thinking, it means that God plans all sorts of terrible, gut-wrenching things to happen to us in order to accomplish some purpose. Not only does this not sit well with me emotionally, I don’t see this often in Scripture either.

It is very clear, though, that God uses suffering to help us become strong and sharpen our character (Rom 5), and he will make all things work together for good for those who love him (Rom 8). These verses are filled with hope and promise because no matter what is thrown our way, it will immediately be taken by our Father and turned to his purposes. That’s part of the wonder and magnificence of God. From the broken bits of glass and shards of pottery, ripped t-shirts and moldy bread of our lives, God is able to create a breathtaking mosaic.

That doesn’t mean everything works out well here on earth for God’s people: some will continue to suffer, and some will die, but ultimately, we will see how God used the pain of our lives to help shape us, and to broaden his Kingdom. Who knows? Maybe our pain has been instrumental in opening up the doors of faith in another’s heart. Eternal dividends from brief suffering. Pretty good investment plan. Perhaps it would help if we re-imaged suffering as a sort of divine bank account where each tear increases the joy we experience later.

So why do bad things happen? Well, for starters, there is a spiritual war going on, and Satan and his minions will do whatever they can to make life miserable for us. But the even bigger problem is we live in a world that is broken and soaked in sin. Our world is messed up and we’re messed up, which means, most often, I don’t think there is a specific reason bad things happen. They just do. There is a famous bumper sticker that expresses this a little differently, but we won’t get into that here. People make evil choices and hurt other people, we trip on sidewalks and break arms, our blood vessels get clogged up, we slip and break wrists, and tornadoes touch down and destroy towns and lives.

These things do not occur because God intentionally sends trouble into our lives. Occasionally he may do so, but I think this is more the exception than the rule. Whatever happens in life sifts through his fingers, and he will use all of it to make the mosaic of our lives and of his kingdom. To me, this makes God even bigger and more amazing. Nothing will be wasted from our lives; it all will fit together someday.

And when that “someday” comes, life will be different. Someday God will restore paradise and get rid of evil once and for all, which will be wonderful for those who have been changed by God through Christ’s blood, but will be terrible for those who have not. That is our future, but in the meantime, we suffer.

The good news in all of this is that we do not suffer alone. God knows suffering very well because he suffered here on the earth. And I think, in the same way parents suffer when their children suffer, God also suffers as he witnesses our troubles. In addition to this though, God is right there with us in the midst of our pain, giving us the strength to make it through. The bad news is, in spite of God’s presence in our lives, we will still suffer and die. There is no way around it for now. We ache for the day when pain and sorrow will be done with…so does God.

More on suffering and paradise in “The Myths of Hell” and “The Ache for Paradise”, Books 1 & 2 of the “A Beautiful Hell” trilogy. Book #3 is is slated for Kindle publishing this spring. Click the picture of the book covers to purchase a Kindle copy from Amazon.

Why didn’t Adam and Eve Die the Day they Ate the Fruit?

God told Adam and Eve that if they ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, in that same day, they would die. You know the story – they ate the fruit, but it seems that God’s warning didn’t actually come true. Adam didn’t die until he was 930 years old. We don’t know when Eve died, but it was quite a ways off because she had many more children. What did God mean when he said “in the day you eat from it you shall surely die”?

First off, I know there is controversy over whether or not Adam and Eve were a literal couple or not. For our purposes right now, I don’t think it matters so much because this is the story we were given as the root of death and sin, so I believe we need to take it seriously in our theology.

A Quick Side Note:  Most often the fruit is labeled as an apple. Not sure where that idea came from because the fruit is never actually identified. Could have been any type of fruit, or perhaps a fruit we have never seen before. Also, some think the “fruit” was that Adam and Eve had sex. Not sure where that came from either because sex is a gift from God to humanity. 

When we think of death, we normally think of physical death. One minute someone is laughing, eating and talking, and the next they are cold and unresponsive. This is certainly one of the things God meant as a result of rebellion. Ever since then, death has been our greatest enemy, and people the world over struggle to stay one step ahead. It is evident Adam and Eve did not die physically that day, but I think they did die in a different way.

Before they ate the fruit, they walked in step with God, enjoying his presence in the Garden. They were spiritually alive, and every intention of their hearts was good. But the moment Adam bit into the fruit when they ate of the fruit, something changed about them – they died spiritually. They now had a new nature, and were pulled like a magnet toward sin. And this spiritual deadness has been passed down from generation to generation.

The apostle Paul refers to spiritual deadness in Colossians 2:5 “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him.” (cf. Eph. 2:1-5, Col. 2:13) I think the deadness Paul is referring to is the result of the rebellion in the Garden. Sin is like spiritual poison, and the natural result of spiritual poison is spiritual death now and physical death later. I think it is crucial to understand this because spiritual deadness and spiritual life are both extremely important in how eternal life vs. punishment in hell shape up later on.

God was serious when he warned Adam and Eve about the fruit. On the day they ate it, they died, and humanity has been suffering from spiritual deadness ever since. Thank God for the gift of spiritual resurrection now and physical resurrection later!

More on how God has overcome the results of Adam’s rebellion in “The Myths of Hell” and “The Ache for Paradise”, Books 1 &2 of the “A Beautiful Hell” trilogy. Click the picture of the book covers to purchase a Kindle copy from Amazon.

The Good Friday Miracle: The Great Exchange

When we talk about what Jesus did for us on the cross, most often it seems we have one particular thing in mind – he took our punishment. You might have heard a story like this about a criminal and a judge:

The criminal comes before the judge and is convicted of awful crimes. There is nothing the criminal can do to make up for his crime, and so he is sentenced to death. The judge has mercy on the criminal, but there is nothing he can do to revoke the sentence, and so he does the unthinkable. He removes his judge’s robes and takes the punishment for the sinner; he dies in the sinner’s place.

This is a good story, but I can’t help but wonder if the meaning of the cross goes much deeper than that. As I read Scripture, I noticed passages like these:

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Cor. 5:20-21

And He Himself bore our sin in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
1 Peter 2:24

The cross seems to be about much more than just Christ dying in our place. These verses speak of Jesus actually being injected with our sin, and in so doing, removing sin from us. Yes, Jesus took our punishment, but the deeper issue is our sin was poured into Jesus so we could become changed into spiritually alive saints. This is the miracle of the cross.  Without it, we could never be one with God. Thank you, God, for the gift of new life! 

How we understand what happened on the cross is crucial because it makes a HUGE difference in how we understand God and hell. More to talk about another day.

Why do my Conclusions Crumble?


First, I want to publicly thank you for posting a review on Amazon. I wrote “The Myths of Hell” to generate thought-provoking conversation, and you have taken time to write your thoughts. I have a question for you from your review. You wrote:

“Anderson’s conclusions crumble if his interpretation of Jesus’ parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16) is erroneous. If, as Anderson alleges, that parable has virtually nothing to say about the condition of the dead, his conclusions may stand. But if Jesus’ parable actually approximates what happens to people when they die, then the author’s conclusions cannot hold up.”

My main three conclusions are that hell is not under the earth anywhere right now, Satan does not rule this underworld realm of the dead, and that neither God nor Satan are tormenting anyone in this underworld domain right now. As a corollary, I also say God is not tormenting anyone anywhere else either because hell does not exist yet.

I understand why you would say conclusion #3 crumbles because that’s the scenario of the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, that is, a sinner being tormented in Hades. If the Rich Man indeed is being tormented, conclusion #3 doesn’t work. But are you also referring to the first two conclusions in some way? Are you saying that Hades and hell are the same thing? It seems to me that after a person dies they are in-between death and resurrection. After resurrection will be judgment and either paradise or hell.


Free Downloads Update

Thanks to the 382 of you who downloaded “The Myths of Hell” in the past two days, and the 357 who downloaded “Jak and the Scarlet Thread.” Can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

During the radio interview on Tuesday with Mark Halvorsen from WWIB, a man called in to disagree with what I had said. He brought up some good questions, all of which should be answered for him in either “The Myths of Hell” or “The Ache for Paradise.” He’s thinking through the issues, which is important. I was glad for the challenge.

Incidentally, I’m about half-way done formatting “The Ache for Paradise” for Kindle, and am expecting to publish before the end of the month. Getting close.

Is the Rich Man really suffering in Hades?

LazarusOnce upon a time, a group of self-righteous, rich, religious guys scoffed at Jesus as he was telling stories about money and greed. So Jesus told them this story:

The Story

Once there was a rich man, who habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. A poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.

Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.He cried out and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.”

But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between us and you is a great chasm, fixed in place so that those who wish to go from here to you will not be able, and none may cross over from there to us.”

And he said, “Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house-for I have five brothers-in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”

But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”

“No, father Abraham,” the rich man replied, “if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!”

But he said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”
(Luke 16:19-31)

We have a choice to make: is Jesus telling a real story or is this a parable? Some insist this story is reality because one of the characters has an actual name – “Lazarus.” But before we go down that road, there are several issues we have to think through.

Issue 1
The rich man is in torment, asking for just a drop of water to cool his tongue. If this is true, who is doing the tormenting? Our options are Satan, the Furies (who work for the Greek god Hades) or God (possibly through angels if you agree with Hippolytus).

The god Hades and his Furies do not exist, and I don’t think there is any Scriptural evidence that Satan has anything to do with tormenting the dead. His kingdom is over the unrighteous who are alive, and he is busy pushing them deeper and deeper into sin. That leaves us with God. But is God really in the business of punishing people before they’ve been judged at the final resurrection?

I’m not comfortable agreeing to that because Scripture points in the exact opposite direction. “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” according to Hebrews 9:27. I think that judgment is the final judgment, the Day of the Lord that has been talked about throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, unless you’re going to say that people are judged twice. But I don’t see any Scriptural support for double judgment.

Issue 2
The fact that the rich man is thirsty indicates that he has a body because spirits don’t get thirsty, unless you are going to appeal to Greek mythology where the dead are forced to drink from the river Lethos in order to forget their earthly lives.

Jesus proved he was not dead anymore by eating fish, and I would venture to guess that Jesus could have proved the same thing by drinking wine. The rich man is dead. He has no body and will not have a body until he is resurrected unto judgment. How can he be thirsty?

Several of my friends have pointed out the possibility that those in Hades (if Hades is indeed an intermediate state for the dead) may be given a body. This opens itself up to several questions:

‣ How does this fit with the physical resurrection of the righteous and unrighteous, and with the promise that the righteous will be given new bodies when Jesus comes back?

‣ Do intermediate bodies also die in order to make room for resurrected bodies? If so, how does this fit with Hebrews 9:27 which states humans die once and then face judgment?

‣ Are those who have been badly maimed given the same deformities in Hades?

‣ Do these bodies need nourishment? If so, do dead people eat? Is there a toilet in Hades?

Obviously, we can answer none of these questions with certainty. I raise the questions to show the difficulties with posing the possibility of bodies for the dead.

Issue 3
If we adhere strictly to the story, it seems that if a person receives good things in this life, he/she can expect bad things in the next, and if he/she is poverty-stricken in this life, he/she can expect to live in comfort in the next. This certainly does not square with the rest of Scripture.

Issue 4
If the Hades in Jesus’ story exists as a residence for the dead with the righteous residing in “Abraham’s Bosom” while the wicked are punished across the great divide, how can we juxtapose this with what Jesus said in Matthew 16 about the Gates of Hades being opposed by the church?

In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Hades is not the domain of Satan, nor the domain of the Greek god; it can only be a place upheld by God, who has allowed the righteous into Paradise, and sent the wicked into torment. Does it make sense then for Jesus to say that “the Gates of Hades” (that is, the gates of the place that God has set up for paradise and torture) will not stand against the church? Is the church supposed to be fighting against God’s house of the dead?

Issue 5
One of the guidelines for interpreting narrative Scripture is to see what stories surround the story in question. Quite often the author uses several stories in a row that have the same meaning in order to drive home the point. When we apply that method to this story, we see that Jesus just finished talking with the religious leaders about their greed. That theme runs through this story as well, so it probably is intended to address obsession with money and possessions, not the status of the dead.

In light of these observations, I think the best way to interpret this story is that Jesus was inserting actual people into a story, kind of like a political cartoon, to make a point. One of the characters appears to be the brother of Martha and Mary, Lazarus. But who’s the rich man?

Purple fabric was a rarity in those days, and very expensive, so only a few people wore it, one of whom was the high priest. Jesus very specifically says the man has five brothers, which is interesting, because the high priest at that time, Caiaphas, had five brothers-in-law. Interesting. It’s possible that the sickness that took Lazarus the first time he died was leprosy; some say that Simon the Leper was actually Lazarus. That would ring true with the dogs licking the sores of the poor man Lazarus.

Regardless of what Lazarus’ sickness was, the final words of Abraham to the rich man, “even if one came back from the dead, they would not believe,” are fascinating because who had Jesus just raised from the dead? Lazarus. Yet the leaders still did not believe Jesus had come from God, which is exactly what Abraham predicted in the story.

The religious leaders would have recognized this, and it would have infuriated them. Not only was Jesus twisting the knife into their greed, but also into their continued lack of belief.

But why would Jesus have told a story like this if Hades (as depicted in the parable) doesn’t really exist?

Jesus told lots of stories. His stories always had a point, and he most often used common everyday items and experiences: farming, wine-making, family inheritance, mustard seeds, weddings, etc. The common thing he decided to use here was the “Reversal of fortune” story.

Reversal of fortune stories have always been popular; we still see new versions of the theme cropping up in modern times, such as the 1983 movie “Trading Places” where a street con artist (Eddie Murphy) trades places with a snobby investor (Dan Akroyd), or “Freaky Friday” where a mother and daughter are zapped into each other’s bodies.

It was no different in ancient days. There were stories floating around that featured a rich oppressor who all of a sudden finds himself in dire straits after he has died while the poor oppressed finds himself in luxury after death. Jesus could have based “The Rich Man and Lazarus” on an Egyptian tale that had become part of Palestinian folklore, or an old Jewish story, or perhaps one of many Greco-Roman stories that surfaced within the popular culture.

It wouldn’t have been much different than a modern-day preacher using a movie clip from “Men in Black.” Do aliens really exist? For most people, they exist only in fantasy-land, however, there are those who believe aliens do exist. Does that mean the preacher shouldn’t use the clip? No, because the objective is to use a well-known story to teach a lesson.

In Jesus’ day, there were different opinions about the afterlife; some in Jesus’ audience would have believed in Hades as depicted in the story, while others would not have, but they all knew the story. When Jesus began telling this story, his audience immediately would have thought, “Oh, I’ve heard this before.” But when he got to the end he delivered two unexpected zingers:

1. The rich man in torment symbolized the religious leader of Israel.

2. This leader (along with the other religious leaders) refused to believe even though someone (Lazarus) had come back from the dead. Touche’.

In conversations I’ve had about this parable, the objection that keeps coming up is that Jesus never would have intentionally misled people about Hades, so Hades as depicted in the story must be true.

I am not suggesting that Jesus misled anyone about Hades. Back to my previous example, are modern-day preachers misleading people when they use a “Men in Black” movie clip to make their point? No, they are merely using material people are familiar with as a tool to open up spiritual understanding.

Once again, I don’t think Jesus’ intent was to give a basic lesson on the intermediate status of the dead. It is more likely that his intention was to give a poignant lesson to the religious leaders on greed and unbelief, and he used a reversal of fortune story to do so. This is not misleading in any way.

If the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a parable as I have proposed, that does not mean there is not a place where the souls of the unrighteous dead reside right now. I am merely saying that a realm of the dead that looks like the first century version of Hades (torment for the wicked, bliss for the righteous) does not exist for the reasons I have outlined above.

What do you think?



More on Hades, hell and the magnificence of God in “The Myths of Hell (Book 1 of the “A Beautiful Hell” trilogy). Click the picture of the book cover to purchase a Kindle copy from Amazon.





(Thanks to Steven Cox for some of the insights I’ve written about in this particular post).



"Myths of Hell" is Published!

Final Cover5

It is finished!

“The Myths of Hell,” Book 1 of the “A Beautiful Hell” trilogy is published on Amazon as a Kindle e-book.

This is the culmination of a 30-year journey for me of delving into the question, “What is it about Jesus’ death that does anything to save us from hell?” To answer this question, I had to first find answers for a bunch of other questions, such as what exactly is hell? Why can’t God just forgive us? Isn’t God like a thwarted lover when he sentences people who reject him to hell? Lots of questions, fascinating answers.

This first book focuses on what I think are three myths of hell:
– 1. Hell is located in a cavernous fiery pit somewhere under the earth right now.
– 2. Satan rules this underworld domain.
– 3. Either God or Satan is tormenting the wicked dead right now in this underworld domain.

If you click on the link below, it will take you to “The Myths of Hell” on Amazon. NEXT WEEK IT WILL BE FREE on Wednesday, Dec. 11 and Thursday, Dec. 12. Otherwise it’s $4.99.

Amazon: The Myths of Hell (“A Beautiful Hell” Trilogy, Book 1)

Will you download it, read it, and tell me what you think?

I’m super-excited to see what God does with this series!