Sunday, June 3, 2012

What Happens When You Die, Part 2

In Part 1, we discussed the root word of hell and grave, "Sheol", and how "hell" and "grave" have the exact same meaning.  We also discussed several scriptures that discussed death, and all described death as being asleep.  In the New Testament, the discussion of the root Greek words of hell get a little trickier, as there are three Greek words used to translate into hell, whereas in the Old Testament there was only one.  However, the second half of the part 2 study, where we look for scriptures that again discuss death as being asleep, we shall find the exact same correlation.  Let's begin with the uses of the word hell.

The three Greek words used to translate into the word hell in the New Testament are Gehenna, Hades, and Tartaroo.  Gehenna, as in "The Valley of Gehenna", was a literal place where they burned their trash.  Hades you will recognize from Greek mythology as the underworld, or "the place of departed souls".  Lastly, Tartaroo, used one time, is "The deepest abyss of Hades".  We will examine several of these scriptures.

First off, we must discuss one thing clearly, and that is speaking in "parables".

Matthew 13:10 - "And they disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? (:11) He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given... (:16)  But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. (:17) For verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them."

Why do we bring this up?  It must be understood that not everyone understands what Jesus is saying at first glance because he is not speaking literally; he is speaking in parables, or symbolically.  Some of the scriptures that we read at first glance will sound very much like he is referring to an eternal place of torture, when in reality he is simply discussing an undesired and disappointing outcome.  Hopefully, it will be clear upon our conclusion.

Word 1, Hades.
Hades is used nine times in the New Testament to translate into "hell", and one time to translate into "grave".  What is interesting about the one time it is used to translate into "grave" is that it is a quote from the old testament.
I Cor. 15:55 - "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"  This is considered to be a quote from Hosea 13:14, in which the word Sheol is used.  Therefore, according to the Apostle Paul, who wrote the letter to the Corinthians, "Hades" would have to be the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word "Sheol".  Therefore, whatever the word Sheol means, Hades means.  If Sheol is simply referring to the grave, then Hades must be doing the same thing.

Here are all of the verses that have translated the word "Hades" into "hell":
Matt. 11:23, 16:18
Luke 10:15, 16:23
Acts 2:27, 2:31
Rev. 1:18, 6:8, 20:13-14

Again we will point the reader to examine the scriptures on their own as opposed to writing them out.  One will note that none of these particular scriptures describe "Hades" as a torturous place.  One scripture I always find interesting to note is Rev. 20:14, where it states that "...death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire..."  Revelation is a book written completely in symbolic language.  However, we can determine that Hades, whatever it is, is at some point destroyed and will cease to exist.  Therefore, we know that Hades cannot be an eternal place itself.  We will suggest that because of the correlation between Hades and Sheol, that Hades is simply the grave.  If one uses the word grave in place of the word hell for all of the uses of the word Hades, it seems to be fitting in every case.  Therefore, we can confidently say that this is congruent with the idea that when one dies, they simply go to sleep.

Word 2, Gehenna
The word Gehenna is used thirteen times in the New Testament, and is largely where we get the picture of an eternal and fiery hellish place where the wicked are tortured evermore.  However, after a careful review of the meaning of the word, and then a careful examination of its use in symbolism, it is clear that the scriptures are not teaching that such a place exists, but rather that a strict punishment of some kind awaits some.

In the Valley of Gehenna, where they burned their trash and refuse, the idea is that this is where you put things to be destroyed.  As we well know, if you were to take your trash and place it into your fireplace, it would burn up and be gone.  There would be ash left in its place, a smell, etc., but the object itself would be burned up and gone.  Keep this thought in mind when reading these scriptures.

Here are all of the scriptures that translate the word "Gehenna" into "hell":
Matt. 5:22, 5:29, 5:30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 23:33
Mark 9:43, 9:45, 9:47
Luke 12:5
James 3:6

Because of the nature in which this is used, we will examine a few of them.

Matt. 10:28 - "And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
Two things: one, we could just insert "The Valley of Gehenna" in the place of hell, and it would work just fine.  Two, notice the word "destroy"; this is not a picture of an eternal, fiery sentence of being tormented. The sentence seems to be destruction, not torture.  The same thought can be said with sleep. For example: "...fear Him who is able to destroy both the soul and body in the grave, and take away your opportunity to exist."  It's a punishment, but its not torture, and it does not mention the punishment being eternal.
(*we should note that there is in fact an eternal punishment at some point, but one must understand the subject thoroughly to see when that punishment is handed out.  Initially, man dies until the resurrection, and the rest shall be discussed in part 3.)

Mark 9:43 - "And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than have your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire."
This is much like the Matt. 10:28 scripture in which someone could easily, at first glance, use this as an evidence for a fiery place or torture.  However, note again that there is no mention of anything stating "if you sin, you shall be burned forever."  Nope. What it does say is there is an "unquenchable fire", as it well should; the Valley of Gehenna, from our understanding, burned 24 hours a day.  This scripture is simply stating once again, clean yourself of all impurities so that you avoid permanent destruction.

James 3:6 - "And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell."
The idea is that the tongue can pollute the whole body. In fact, it is so powerful, that the one little body part can send the whole body into the destruction of the fire of Gehenna.  So, we see that with Gehenna there is definitely a punishment.  Does a literal fire seem to be the actual punishment?  No.  Can the punishment itself be sleep?  Yes. A state of non-existence is indeed a punishment, as spoken of simply in Romans 6:23 - "The wages of sin is death."  Life is the gift, death is the punishment.

Word 3, Tartaroo
2 Peter 2:4 - "For if God did not spare Angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment..."
This scripture is no different.  It does not prove in any way that there is a place of eternal torment. Also, it should be added that the Lord does not discuss in depth how he deals with angels, and therefore there is no problem with leaving some of the interpretation up for debate as to what exactly occurs in the heavenly realm.

Now that we have tackled some of the scriptures associated with hell in the New Testament, and have explained that they do not discuss a fiery place of torture, let us continue on, as we did in part 1 of the study, to discuss scriptures in the New Testament that again prove man simply "falls asleep" upon death.

Both the Old and New Testament discuss the falling asleep of man upon death, and that man does not ascend up or down.  (Ecc. 3:19-21)

John 3:13 - "No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man."
If nobody has ascended to heaven, then it really defeats the belief of heaven vs. hell up to this point. It would not make much sense to say that God, for four thousand years, sent the bad people to hell, and the good people to... who knows.  It is much more reasonable to suggest that nobody has yet ascended to heaven because upon death, man simply returns to his former state of non-existence until the resurrection.

John 11:11 - "...Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep."

Now these were before the death of Jesus.  We know that Jesus opened up the way for us to go into heaven, but when?  After the death of Jesus, do things change immediately?  The following scriptures discuss death after the sacrifice and resurrection of our Lord.

Acts 7:60 - "And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them!' and having said this, he fell asleep."
(Stephen, the first martyr of Christ, also fell asleep.)

I Cor. 15:6 - "After that he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep."

I Cor. 15:18 - "Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished."

I Cor. 15:20 - "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep."

2 Pet. 3:4 - "And saying, 'where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.'"

I Thes. 4:13 - But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. (:14) For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. (:15) For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep."

It is absolutely clear, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that mankind falls asleep upon death.  The idea that we go straight to heaven or hell is more of a folk-lore than a reality.  I Thes. 4:15 clearly states that those who are asleep, those who died, will remain dead and asleep until Christ returns.  They clearly do not ascend up into heaven right upon death, as some have lead us to believe.

Both objectives, to show that the use of hell does not mean a fiery place of torture, and to show that death is most closely described as sleeping until the resurrection, have been met.  It is up to the reader to continue their own personal study of the scriptures that we have pointed out to understand it further.  Following this will be Part 3, in which we shall discuss how this all ties together, and how it ties into the plan of God at large.


  1. Hi Matt,
    A few more points.

    Concerning Gehenna, the question isn’t so much what was the Valley in the time of Jesus, but “why” was that valley what it was in Jesus’ day and what would the ordinary person associate it with. I’m including the following verses: 2 Kings 23:10, Is 30:31, Jer 7:30-34 and Jer 19 (whole chapter). So you see, it’s not just a trash heap, but a wretched, cursed place where the Lord promised to bring horrific retribution on both the Gentile King of Assyria (set alight by God’s own breath) and all the people of Jerusalem. It was a trash heap because earlier King Josiah desecrate the spot where Jews had sacrificed people. Now God would throw his enemies in it. A Jew of Jesus’ day would have known what Gehenna meant. Jesus’ references would likely have caused nausea and horror, because the point of Gehenna was punishment and retribution. Destruction in the actual trash pit would not have been the important factor, just a visual aid. (See below for the references).

    Too, Jesus referred to the eternal and unquenchable fire (Matt 18, Mark 9) of Gehenna (translated as hell) where the worm does not die nor is the fire quenched. Unlike the real Gehenna, where contrary to popular thinking, the lives of fire and worm in reality do depend on the fuel. Fuel is consumed, the fire goes out and the worms will die, even if somewhere else in the pit the fire is going. The fact that somewhere someone is disposing of trash so somewhere there’s always a fire and worms, does not mean this fire is in any sense always consuming or anything like the eternal fire.

    Lastly, there’s another fallacy. You brought up Matt 10:28 If when the body dies, the soul dies, as you suggest, then technically speaking if a man kills another man, there is nothing left of the second man for God to destroy. God always has the ability to resurrect (or not) somebody, but “not resurrecting” is not the same thing as destroying. We are to fear God, not man, because God can destroy what man cannot. This implies that the soul is something more than just the body. Man can destroy the body, but apparently the soul must still exist.

    I'll address some of the other points soon.



  2. 2 Kings 23:10 He (King Josiah) also defiled [f]Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire for Molech.

    Is 30:31 For at the voice of the Lord Assyria will be terrified,
    When He strikes with the rod.
    32 And every [am]blow of the [an] rod of punishment,
    Which the Lord will lay on him,
    Will be with the music of tambourines and lyres;
    And in battles, brandishing weapons, He will fight them.
    33 For [ao] Topheth has long been ready,
    Indeed, it has been prepared for the king.
    He has made it deep and large,
    [ap]A pyre of fire with plenty of wood;
    The breath of the Lord, like a torrent of brimstone, sets it afire.

  3. Jer 7: 30 For the sons of Judah have done that which is evil in My sight,” declares the Lord, “they have set their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it. 31 They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My [l]mind.

    32 “ Therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when it will no longer be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of the Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth [m]because there is no other place. 33 The dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the sky and for the beasts of the earth; and no one will frighten them away. 34 Then I will make to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride; for the land will become a ruin.

    Jer 19:1 Thus says the Lord, “Go and buy a potter’s earthenware jar, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the [a] senior priests. 2 Then go out to the valley of Ben-hinnom, which is by the entrance of the potsherd gate, and proclaim there the words that I tell you, 3 and say, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Behold I am about to bring a calamity upon this place, at which the ears of everyone that hears of it will tingle. 4 Because they have forsaken Me and have made this an alien place and have burned [b]sacrifices in it to other gods, that neither they nor their forefathers nor the kings of Judah had ever known, and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent 5 and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My [c]mind; 6 therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the valley of Slaughter. 7 I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place, and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hand of those who seek their life; and I will give over their carcasses as food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth. 8 I will also make this city a desolation and an object of hissing; everyone who passes by it will be astonished and hiss because of all its [d]disasters. 9 I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh in the siege and in the distress with which their enemies and those who seek their life will distress them.”’

    10 “Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you 11 and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth [e]because there is no other place for burial. 12 This is how I will treat this place and its inhabitants,” declares the Lord, “so as to make this city like Topheth. 13 The houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah will be defiled like the place Topheth, because of all the houses on whose rooftops they burned [f]sacrifices to all the heavenly host and poured out drink offerings to other gods.”’”

    14 Then Jeremiah came from Topheth, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of the Lord’s house and said to all the people: 15 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to bring on this city and all its towns the entire calamity that I have declared against it, because they have stiffened their necks so as not to heed My words.’”

  4. Quickly, I love your acknowledgement and description of the Valley being such a cursed place. I completely agree. What I believe that means is this: idolatry was detestable, where in the OT they worshiped other gods. Symbolically, that occurs today as well, and it is just as detestable. Some today may not worship other gods literally, but there are many today who "worship" other things (any consuming distraction that takes one away from God could be viewed as an "idol"). The Valley is therefore shown as an abomination to God. Likewise, after the "former things are passed away", and there is a "new heavens (governing powers) and a new earth (people)", that Valley will be symbolically looked at as what life on earth was like before, and will be considered abhorrent. Its the same concept spoken of in Rev. 19:3 where her smoke ascended up forever and ever. It does not mean she burns forever; smoke is both a sign of fire, and also of where a fire once was. We suggest this implies the latter; and I believe it suggests that we will always remember what it was like before God's knowledge covered the earth, and nobody in their right mind would ever want to return to that.