Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohaynu Adonai Echad
"Hear Israel,Adonai is our God, Adonai is One"
Among the Nicene Christian dogmas few are so deeply held as the belief in the place of torment known as Hell. Throughout the centuries Nicean pastors and evangelists have hammered the ultimate damnation of the "lost" so thoroughly into the consciousness of the world that even questioning the dogma often meets with accusations of heresy! Others reject God out of hand, arguing that such a cruel Being is not worthy of worship!
As Messianic Jews we are commanded by our Rebbe to search the Scriptures and determine what is biblical truth and what is not. So here we go...
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some people think of slowness; on the contrary, he is patient with you; for it is not his purpose that anyone should be destroyed, but that everyone should turn from his sins. (II Peter 3:9)
The Fear of the Lord...
First we need to realize that God is not our enemy! He is our eternal well-wisher, our loving Father. He is Adonai Rohi: God our Shepherd Who guides us through still pastures even as we pass through the valleys of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). HaShem is with us.
The biblically mandated "fear of HaShem" needs to be properly understood.Psalms 111:10 the first and foremost point of wisdom is the fear of ADONAI; all those living by it gain good common sense. His praise stands forever.
What is the fear of Adonai? Are we supposed to cower in fear that HaShem might do us some harm, that He might condemn us to eternal torment if we step out of line? God forbid! Adonai is Love (I John 4:16) and shows mercy to all (Numbers 14:18). He remembers that we are fallible beings formed of clay (Job 33:6)!
The Hebrew word translated as fear is yir'ah. This is the feminine infinitive form of ya're and means "moral reverence." In other words we are to stand in awe of the glory of HaShem. Maintaining such adoration of Him we should never even consider disobeying His righteous commandments. Not because we are "afraid" to but because of our love and admiration of His goodness. If a thing is His Will we simply know that it is for our best.
Both literally and figurative we are to pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17), to glory in HaShem always (Philippians 4:4) and in all areas of our lives to trust in His goodness. This is what is meant.
One who lives in a state of terror and dread of a vengeful tormenting god could never do this! One might obey outwardly out of fear, but one could never love, honor and adore such a frightening deity!
The doctrine of Hell drives people away from God, it does not draw them to Him!
So... what about Hell?
There are a few scriptures that appear, on the surface, to support the existence of this dreadful place of after-life torment. This is true. However we are told to "rightly divide the Word of truth" (II Timothy 2:15) and to prayerfully reason (Isaiah 1:18) to determine the realities being expressed. When we do this we discover that the God of Love and Mercy would not torture people!
So where did the teaching of "Hellfire and damnation" come from?
As the Nicene Church was establishing its official doctrines and replacing biblical Messianic Judaism with Catholicism ("Universalism"), it is a well known and easily established fact that they incorporated the teachings of many different religious systems. These early "church fathers" were attempting to establish a new and global political and religious authority in order to control every aspect of human life. Whatever their motives, the Vatican created dogma of eternal torture as a powerful stick to wield against its opponents.
To this end the Catholic Bishops incorporated the Roman Pagan teaching of Hades: A subterranean place of eternal fiery torment and damnation. Never mind that the dogma has no biblical basis, the Magisterium of the Church declared it so. The threat of eternal damnation made their subjects docile and the collection plates rang with tithes, offerings and indulgences as deceived people sought to purchase their salvation.
The imagery of the Nicene Hell is largely taken from the underworld abode of the god Hades and his part time lover Persephone.
Present day Nicene Christians vary on why people go to Hell. Some teach that the "lost" are condemned to Hell because they fail to make the one decision necessary to achieve salvation: they refuse to accept the death, burial and resurrection of Y'shua as taught by the Church. Others teach that if ones good deeds do not outweigh the negatives one goes there. Calvinists believe people have no choice in the matter at all. They say that the God of love and justice created most human being as fodder for Hell and only a few will be allowed to enter "Heaven." Catholicism is more clear: people go to Hell because they fail to accept Catholic Communion and authority. All Nicene Christians are quick to point out that Hell is not something God "does to us," it is something we do to ourselves.
This is known as blaming the victim! There is nothing just nor loving about this doctrine nor about a god that who create billions of beings solely to torture them throughout eternity. This is NOT the God of the Bible!
- There is no biblical basis for this teaching.
- God can do anything and He could easily make another option for those who do not accept His gift of salvation.
- No Believers from the Abrahamic traditions living in the first century C.E. conceived of such a post-life torture.
- Many Pagans did believe in such horrors and they were viewed as savages because it.
- Not a single person in the Gospel accounts ever challenge Y'shua as to the origins of this non-Jewish teaching he allegedly taught.
- The doctrine directly challenges the Torah claims that God is Loving and Just (compare Romans 2:24).
- Many "Bible believing Christians" believe many unbiblical heresies. The near universality of the belief does not make it biblical
What the Bible Teaches
The Greek word hades is in our New Testament text eleven times. In ten of those cases it is translated as "hell" and once as "grave" in the King James Version.
So what is hades?
Here's what Strong's Concordance tells us about this word:Name: Hades or Pluto, the god of the lower regions Orcus, the nether world, the realm of the dead later use of this word: the grave, death, hell
That doesn't sound very biblical does it? And yet Y'shua was a Jew who came to call his fellow Jews back to the Written Torah and faith in HaShem. Are we supposed to believe he taught them to believe in the Greek myths? God forbid.
A related Greek term is Tartaroo, used only at II Peter 2:4. Here's what Strong's says about it:Word Origin: Greek, Verb from Tartaros (the deepest abyss of Hell) the name of the subterranean region, doleful and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds; to be trust down to Tartarus, to hold captive in Tartarus."
Of course not.
By far the most common word translated as "hell" in the Bible is Gehenna.
What is Gehenna? Verses like Joshua 18:16 tell us:Then the border went down to the farthest part of the hill located in front of the Ben-Hinnom Valley [i.e. the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom: Gehenna], north of the Refa'im Valley [Valley of the Giants] ...
The valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) was frequently used by Pagan people for their religious rites:II Chronicles 28:1 Achaz was twenty years old when he began his reign, and he ruled sixteen years in Yerushalayim [Jerusalem]. But he did not do what was right from the perspective of ADONAI, as David his ancestor had done.
2 Rather, he lived in the manner of the kings of Isra'el and made cast metal images for the ba'alim [the Pagan demigods or "masters" such as Hubal-Sin].
3 Moreover, he made offerings in the Ben-Hinnom Valley [i.e. the Valley of Gehenna] and even burned up his own children as sacrifices, in keeping with the horrible practices of the pagans, whom ADONAI had thrown out ahead of the people of Isra'el.
Such abominable acts were so common that they entered the language as figures of speech. This is how Rebbe Y'shua used the phrase. For instance:KJV: Matthew 5:29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell [i.e. Gehenna].
And again:KJV: Luke 12:5 But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell [i.e. Gehenna]; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.
Some will argue that this doesn't prove Y'shua wasn't speaking literally. Perhaps, but contrast this pointed counsel:KJV: Luke 17:2 It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.
Who believes Hell is watery? No, Y'shua was the celebrated Master of Parables, as we read:Matthew 13:34 All these things Yeshua said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without using a parable.
While he frequently debated with his fellow rabbis, Y'shua focused his teachings on the common people he met. The Rebbe wanted to make his teachings clearly understood and relevant to their daily lives. He knew that the people of Jerusalem routinely carried their trash to the dump, a huge pit kept burning with fire and brimstone. The flames and the stench of the place were at times almost overwhelming. The city people viscerally understood that were a person to be thrown into those flames there would be no hope of survival! The very thought of it made one shutter. For this reason his analogy of Gehenna was well understood. A person cast in there would have no hope of redemption. They understood him perfectly however we are far removed from their experiences.
In the exact same way those who spent their time in little boats on the unpredictable and often violent seas understood well that if a heavy millstone stone were tied about ones neck and one was cast into the sea, there would be absolutely no hope of escape. Hence the Master of Parables used that example with them.
In modern parlance one may say that those who reject God's offer of the B'rit Hadashah (New Covenant) might as well be thrown into a garbage compacter and crushed or given a lethal injection of some toxin! This is what he was conveying with these analogies.
Does God Torture People?
Did/does the God of Israel torture people in the afterlife? The Sadducees were not even convinced the Torah taught an afterlife (Matthew 22:23) and the Pharisees (including Y'shua) had no concept of afterlife torture! The very idea would is completely foreign to Jewish (biblical) religion and thought. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead without a lot of specifics.
Such horrors were believed by the Pagans however and that's where the Vatican counsels got the idea!
The God of Israel is said to be a Jealous God (Exodus 20:5). He was known to punish His people in various ways during their lives in order to correct them (Deuteronomy 10:18). He also punished the Gentile nations at times, even cutting them off completely. The idea of eternal damnation and torture in the afterlife however was unheard of! HaShem, the God of Israel, is always shown in the Bible to be just and merciful in His rulings. An eternity of torment for even 80 years of uninterrupted sin is neither. Thousands of years of torment, millions of years of unending agony... for failing to properly place ones trust in God? Such a notion opposes everything we know about the God of the Bible who said "Come let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18). Biblical religion is completely rational. This dogma is not.
What Did Rebbe Y'shua Teach?
So what did our Rebbe teach about the afterlife? We know that his teachings are always harmonious with the Torah (Matthew 5:18), our source of authority and doctrine.Matthew 22:23 That same day, some Tz'dukim [i.e. Sadducees] came to him. They are the ones who say there is no such thing as resurrection, so they put to him a sh'eilah [doctrinal challenge]:
24 "Rabbi, Moshe said, `If a man dies childless, his brother must marry his widow and have children to preserve the man's family line.'
25 There were seven brothers. The first one married and then died; and since he had no children, he left his widow to his brother.
26 The same thing happened to the second brother, and the third, and finally to all seven.
27 After them all, the woman died.
28 Now in the Resurrection -- of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all married her."
29 Yeshua answered them, "The reason you go astray is that you are ignorant both of the Tanakh and of the power of God.
30 For in the Resurrection, neither men nor women will marry; rather, they will be like angels in heaven.
31 And as for whether the dead are resurrected, haven't you read what God said to you,
32 `I am the God of Avraham, the God of Yitz'chak and the God of Ya`akov'? He is God not of the dead but of the living!"
Knowledge of the Scriptures is our safeguard from false doctrine always! (II Timothy 3:16)
Our Parush (Pharisee) Rebbe clearly believed in the resurrection. He agreed with the other P'rushim and rejected the Sadducees contention that we only symbolically live on through our children.
So in order to understand what the Master taught let's consider what the Rabbis (Pharisees) believe:Traditional Judaism firmly believes that death is not the end of human existence. However, because Judaism is primarily focused on life here and now rather than on the afterlife, Judaism does not have much dogma about the afterlife, and leaves a great deal of room for personal opinion. It is possible for an Orthodox Jew to believe that the souls of the righteous dead go to a place similar to the Christian heaven, or that they are reincarnated through many lifetimes, or that they simply wait until the coming of the messiah, when they will be resurrected. (SOURCE)
The evidence shows that first century Jews believed primarily in the resurrection of the dead at the end of the age (in the Olam Haba or world to come). Heaven, as conceived by Nicene Christians, was not accepted nor even conceived of even though some modern Jews have embraced a similar concept today).
The other word translated as Hell in English Bibles is found in the Tanakh (or "Old Testament"). This word is sheol.
In the KJV sheol is translated as grave 31 times, as hell 31 times and as pit 3 times. While some modern Jews do believe in a place similar to the Catholic notion of Purgatory -- for a time that never exceeds one year -- the word sheol literally means grave. When a person dies he/she goes to sheol: to the grave. The Sadducees believed life ended there (Mark 12;18). Rebbe Y'shua, our Cohen Gadol (High Priest and Mediator), knew that all souls are resurrected in the Olam Haba.
The Resurrection and/or Reincarnation of the Departed
As the above quote says of today's Orthodox Rabbis, like the Pharisees our Rebbe didn't speak much about the specifics of the afterlife. He was far more focused on encouraging his hearers to make wise decisions during this life. He did shed light on the subject however. Like the other Pharisees Y'shua taught the resurrection of the dead, and like the other Pharisees he doubtless accepted that reincarnation sometimes comes into play. For instance:John 9:1 As Yeshua passed along, he saw a man blind from birth.
2 His talmidim asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned -- this man or his parents -- to cause him to be born blind?"
3 Yeshua answered, "His blindness is due neither to his sin nor to that of his parents; it happened so that God's power might be seen at work in him.
Note that the Rebbe accepted the possibility presented by his talmidim that the man's blindness could have been the result of own sins (i.e. in his past life). In that case he said that it wasn't it, but it could have been.
And again:Matthew 17:10 The talmidim asked him, "Then why do the Torah-teachers say that Eliyahu [i.e. Elijah] must come first?"
11 He answered, "On the one hand, Eliyahu is coming and will restore all things;
12 on the other hand, I tell you that Eliyahu has come already, and people did not recognize him but did whatever they pleased to him. In the same way, the Son of Man too is about to suffer at their hands."
13 Then the talmidim understood that he was talking to them about Yochanan the Immerser.
Here the Rebbe states that John the Baptizer was the reincarnation of Prophet Elijah. It is sometimes argued that this only means that Yochanan was "like" Elijah in some way, however this is not what the Rebbe said.
Again, the specifics of the afterlife did not seem to hold much interest for Rebbe Y'shua. His interest is in what we do in the here and now. After our bodies die, Baruch HaShem; God will handle things. We can trust in Him.
Gilgul Neshamot and Ibbur Neshamot
What we might think of as "standard reincarnation" is known in Judaism as gilgul neshamot: the cyclic rolling of souls. The understanding being that the soul "rolls" from one body to the next. Some believe that all souls go through this "rolling" and eventually most come to embrace the Truth while others view this process as an exception that sometimes occurs.
Famed Jewish rabbi and philosopher Saʻadiah ben Yosef (882-942 C.E.) discussed this in his Emunoth ve-Deoth (or Beliefs and Opinions). While defending the traditional Jewish teaching of the resurrection of the dead, he added the fact that some Jews believe in reincarnation as well:"Yet I must say that I have found certain people, who call themselves Jews, professing the doctrine of metempsychosis, which is designated by them as the theory of the 'transmigration' of souls. What they mean thereby is that the spirit of Reuben is transferred to Simeon and afterwards to Levi and after that to Judah...."
When this teaching is held in mind it gives new insight into verses such as the following:John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only and unique Son, so that everyone who trusts in him may have eternal life, instead of being utterly destroyed.
17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but rather so that through him, the world might be saved.
As Cohen Gadol (High Priest and Mediator between humanity and God) Y'shua desire is that everyone in the world ("kosmos") might be saved. Through the processes of gilgul neshamot that possibility is greatly increased. Again we read:II Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some people think of slowness; on the contrary, he is patient with you; for it is not his purpose that anyone should be destroyed, but that everyone should turn from his sins.
However not all will be saved as the next verse shows:II Peter 3:10 However, the Day of the Lord will come "like a thief." On that Day the heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will melt and disintegrate, and the earth and everything in it will be burned up.
There is coming a day when the chronically unrepentant will be destroyed.
Ibbur Neshamot (the impregnation or incubation of souls) is a more specialized form of reincarnation in which a soul is sent from the spirit realms to impregnate a woman in order to achieve some specific goal or task. This has happened several times according to the rabbis.
Messianic Jews are quick to point out that Rebbe Y'shua is the supreme example of this sort of incarnation. He was specifically sent into the womb of Miryam to fulfill the purposes of HaShem. Ibbur neshamot are always from a positive source.
This term is also used to refer to temporary spirit possession or incubation (again always in a positive light) in which a righteous non-incarnate soul temporarily enters the body of a material being in order to perform some task or accomplish a needed mitzvah (good deed). Sometimes the host is aware of this, sometimes not.
The opposite of this second use is the dybbuk which is an evil and/or demonic possession of a person.
The resurrection of the dead in the Olam Haba and reincarnation (preparing the neshamot or souls for the resurrection) were the common beliefs of most first century Jews (other than the Sadducees who were considered odd for not believing in them). From all evidence this is what our Rebbe believed and taught.
- Souls reincarnate until they embrace the Truth or time runs out.
- Liberated souls sleep peacefully awaiting the resurrection.
- Some souls are called forth for specific tasks from time to time.
- Many believe that there are eternally Jewish and non-Jewish souls.
- All Jewish souls were present at Mount Sinai and accepted the Covenant there.
- Jewish souls do not always incarnate in Jewish bodies.
- What matters is the here and not, not the after life.
These are fundamental beliefs of traditional Rabbinic Judaism (including authentic Messianic Jews). These beliefs helped to differentiate the Pharisees (from whom Rabbinic Judaism arose) and the Sadducees (from whom the Karaite Jews arose). The Sadducees rejected the concept because it is not explicitly mentioned in the Torah (although it is strongly implied, Ezekiel 37 for instance). The Pharisees found the concept strongly implied in certain Bible verses and taught directly in portions of the Oral Torah. What neither sect believed in was the existence of the Pagan Nicene Hell.
Belief in the resurrection of the dead is one of Rambam's (i.e. Moses Maimonides: Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) 13 Principles of the Jewish Religion. The second blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei prayer, which is recited three times daily by faithful Jews, contains several references to resurrection.
The resurrection of the dead will occur during the Thousand Year Theocratic Kingdom. This time period is referred to in Hebrew as the Olam Haba or the World to Come. The term is also sometimes used to refer to the spiritual afterlife apart from the Messianic Kingdom. Once Y'shua HaMoshiach initiates his Kingdom of Peace, the righteous dead will be brought back to life and given the opportunity to experience the perfected world of New Eden. This topic is discussed elsewhere on this site in more detail.
The doctrines of gilgul neshamot and ibbur neshamot explain how HaShem is liberating the world through His Moshiach, our Cohen Gadol, Y'shua the Nazarene.
John of AllFaith