Is God a sadistic torturer who punishes people forever for sins committed in a few short years? HELL NO! Hell, an invention over the centuries to scare people into submission and obedience, is not a translation but a substitution for certain Hebrew and Greek words. Fire destroys but God would have to keep humans purposely alive to continue to torturer them. Most humans wouldn’t even persecute their enemies to this extent. Hell as unending suffering is pointless as it doesn’t produce any good. Hell must be dispelled as a myth for God’s character is at stake.
The Hebrew word Sheol in the OT is often translated as “Hell.” Sheol was simply a region or place of darkness occupied by the dead regardless of beliefs. Job desired to go there to escape his tremendous suffering (10:21-22). King David describes Sheol as a place of darkness for those long dead (Ps. 143:3). Sheol is never mentioned as a place of punishment. Recent translations simply translate Sheol as “Sheol.” God didn’t warn Adam and Eve about Hell as a consequence for rebellion. Noah failed to warn evildoers about Hell before their death by Flood. The popular understanding of Hell is not found in the OT.
Hades is another word translated as Hell. Hades was used in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the OT, to represent the Hebrew word Sheol. Sheol in the OT never refers to a place where God is involved in torture where the dead go. Hades simply was a place where the dead go. Those who believe in the traditional idea of Hell never argue that Hades represent a fiery, afterlife punishment for those who didn’t believe. Many modern translations no longer translate Hades with the word Hell.
The NT is silent as well about Hell. The word Hell in the NT is translated from two Greek terms – Hades or Gehenna. Gehenna is used twelve times in the NT, eleven times by Jesus in the Gospels. Once we understand what Jesus says about Gehenna, we will understand what the Bible says about our popular notion of Hell. Gehenna is the name of a real, valley nearby Jerusalem that has a history. It was the local city garbage dump where fires were kept burning to dispose of the garbage and symbolized a place of slaughter and judgment. Gehenna was the place of burned Israeli children sacrificed to false gods (Jer. 7:30-31; 19:2-5). Josephus said this same valley was heaped with dead bodies of the Jews following the Roman siege of Jerusalem around 70 AD.
Jesus used Gehenna to symbolize the horrors of adversaries of God who disposed of their enemies into the burning, worm-infested valley. Jesus never used the world Hell. Hell is a substitution not a translation of the word Gehenna. The best translation of Gehenna in the NT is Gehenna not Hell. The Bible doesn’t teach God created Hell as a place to torture people forever. Paul wrote fourteen epistles and never mentions Hell. Scriptures only say after death that all are judged by our merciful God.
Why does all this matter? Most of us know in our heart Hell isn’t true or we would be crazy, sidewalk, evangelists shouting “you are going to burn in Hell.” Many hesitate to take about God for fear they may to explain Hell. Who the hell wants to explain or get to know a Creator who is a hellish, sadistic torturer who supposedly predestines some people to an afterlife of eternal conscious punishment? What kind of God thinks Hell scares people into true righteousness and an intimate relationship? Translators agree when to translate the Hebrew or Greek word into “Heaven.” There is no equivalent Hebrew or Greek word for our current concept of an eternal place of punishment translated as “Hell.” Imagine how it could change your perspective on God if you discovered there is no such place as our presently conceived afterlife concept of “Hell.”