Dispelling the Myths of
Hell and Purgatory
Written by Jeannie Weyrick with Christ, Archangel Raphael, and St. Germain
In many cultures there is a belief in punishment
after death. Humankind has come up with many versions
of Hell, and of Purgatory for those who are not quite
so bad as to justify going to Hell for all of eternity.
In reality hell and purgatory do not exist. There is
only a heavenly realm that people go to between
lifetimes. The belief in hell comes from people
believing that every misdeed needs to be punished by
Luckily, God has a much greater perspective and
created physical reality in a much kinder way. God
understands that humans are here to learn and
experiences and that they are in a state of temporarily
separation from God and their Higher Self consciously
and cannot be expected to be perfect.
A parent knows
very well that a young child does not have the capacity
to know and act as an adult while it is still in the
early learning stages. When a child does something very
childish it is accepted within the context that it
happened and easily forgiven. Instead of punishment for
making a wrong decision, or doing something through
emotions that they cannot fully control yet the parent
takes the opportunity to teach the child and show them
how to better handle the situation the next time.
Throughout childhood the lesson may need to be repeated
over and over again until the child can master it. It
is the same for humans on Earth. God has infinite
patience and Love with us and teaches and supports us
until we can master the situation and move on to our
next level, our next stage of growth.
One of the reasons Christians believe in hell so deeply is because they think that Jesus referred to hell in the Bible and that it was one of His teachings. It was not.
The History of Hell
Where did the concept of hell originate?
The idea of hell can be traced back to the Egyptians, and from there it became prevalent in other surrounding pagan cultures as well. The learned people of the time knew that it was just a fable and used for control over the masses.
Here are three quotes from ancient times:
Polybius (203 bc - 120 bc, Greek historian of Rome): "Since the multitude is ever fickle, full of lawless desires, irrational passions and violence, there is no other way to keep them in order but by the fear and terror of the invisible world; on which account our ancestors seem to me to have acted judiciously, when they contrived to bring into the popular belief these notions of the gods, and of the infernal regions."
Strabo (64 bc - 21 ad, Greek geographer) : "The multitude are restrained from vice by the punishments the gods are said to inflict upon offenders, and by those terrors and threatenings which certain dreadful words and monstrous forms imprint upon their minds. . . . For it is impossible to govern the crowd of women, and all the common rabble, by philosophical reasoning, and lead them to piety, holiness and virtue-but this must be done by superstition, or the fear of the gods, by means of fables and wonders; for the thunder, the aegis, the trident, the torches (Of the Furies), the dragons, etc., are all fables, as is also all the ancient theology."
Seneca (4 bc - 65 ad, Roman essayist and poet): "Those things which make the infernal regions terrible, the darkness, the prison, the river of flaming fire, the judgment-seat, etc., are all a fable, with which the poets amuse themselves, and by them agitate us with vain terrors."
The words translated into hell in the Bible are sheol, Hades, tartarus, and Gehenna. It helps to understand what the Bible teaches if you know what the original words and intentions were meant to convey.
Hell: The word hell comes from an Old Norse verb "to hide". It literally means any place, or some place covered over. In Norse mythology, which predates Christianity, Hel was the goddess of death and the underworld.
Sheol: The Hebrew word Sheol (translated into the Greek word Hades) signifies the state or abode of the dead in general, without regard to the goodness or badness of the person, their happiness or misery.
Hades: The Greek word Hades is from a: not, and eulo: to see. It has the exact same meaning as the word Sheol: literally meaning the grave or death, and figuratively as a curse meaning destruction, downfall, calamity, or punishment in this world, with no intimation whatsoever of torment or punishment after death.
Tartarus: Used only once in the Bible, is the Greek fabled place of punishment in the lower world.
Gehenna: On three sides of the city of Jerusalem there is a deep valley. The southern portion of it is known as the Valley of Hinnom. The Hebrew word for valley is "Ge", and combined with Hinnom it gives Ge-Hinnom, which was transposed into Greek and then into English in the form of Gehenna. Seven centuries before Christ an evil king named Manasseh reigned in Jerusalem who for a time corrupted the religion of Israel even to the point of introducing human sacrifice. These horrible rites were held in the Valley of Hinnom. When King Joiah came to the throne he abolished all such practices and formally defiled the place where they had been held. The Valley of Hinnom became unholy ground full of horrible memories. It was turned into a dumping place for the refuse of the city of Jerusalem where a fire burned day and night consuming the garbage and the discarded animal carcases that were caste onto the fire for disposal. Whenever Gehenna would be referenced, whether in parable, allegory, or curse, the Jews understood that it was a place on Earth that was being talked about, and not a place of future punishment after death.
The Old Testament: Sheol
The Jews of the Old Testament did not believe in hell; a place of eternal suffering and torment. They believed their punishments or rewards were given on Earth while they lived. The term "Sheol" occurs sixty-four times in the Bible. It is translated hell thirty-two times, pit three times, and grave twenty-nine times. In each and every case in the Old Testament if you read the word hell simply as Sheol, as it was meant to be read, the passages can be understood more clearly and do not carry the threatening overtones of hell as it came to be understood thousands of years later. Much of the Old Testament was based on the teachings handed down from Moses. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments there was no mention of hell. Not once did Moses teach any concept of hell. It was not in Jewish spiritual teachings at all until after 586 B.C.E. In 586 B.C.E. after the destruction of the First Temple and the subsequent Exile of the Jews to Babylon, some of the Jews fell under the influence of Persian beliefs of dualism and Zoroastrianism. This corruption of their original teachings would ultimately have a profound effect on Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the future.
The New Testament: Gehenna and Hades
The word Hades (Sheol) occurs eleven times in the New Testament and is translated into hell ten times and grave once. The word Gehenna (referring to the city dump and not hell) occurs twelve times.
What did Jesus teach about hell?
As I was writing this piece on hell Raphael said that Jesus never even remotely taught anything about hell, or said anything that would imply that such a place existed. The mention of hell (Gehenna or Hades) is not in the Gospel of John at all. The quotes attributed to Jesus in the Gospels that speak of Gehenna or Hades, as with so many other quotes that came to be attributed to Him, are not completely accurate. The New Testament Gospels were written decades after Jesus' resurrection and ascension and they were edited for the "good of the masses". The early church fathers decided what the masses needed to hear and what should be kept from them. There were secret gospels that were unedited that contained fuller teachings that the leaders and other elite had access to, and there were the gospels that were edited teachings for the common people. The common people, which included the lower class, women, and slaves, were considered too illiterate to be taught the inner teachings of Christ. The edited versions that the Orthodox Church used to teach the masses are the ones used for the four New Testament gospels in the Bible. There were many gospels that were written at the time, but most were not accepted into the official church canon of the Orthodox (Catholic) Church, such as the Gospel of Thomas, which predates any of the New Testament Gospels. The Gospel of Thomas contains only quotes by Jesus and does not tell the story of his life, but the quotes do not lend themselves well to what the Orthodox Church wanted to teach. So the Gospel of Thomas the apostle was rejected. Not once in the Gospel of Thomas does Jesus mention or teach about hell in any form.
In fact, not one of Jesus' disciples or apostles speaks of hell or teaches hell in any of their writings. John the Baptist, who was a very stern and austere person whose main focus was repentance, never once threatens people with it. Paul, who was zealous and righteous in his teachings never once mentions it in all of his many writings. If it was truly a teaching of Jesus it would surely be mentioned and taught time and again by all of His followers to warn people of such a horrid consequence of their misdeeds. But not one person who was taught directly by Jesus, or anyone who had a direct revelation from Jesus, such as Paul, ever teaches the concept, or even mentions it. This in itself speaks volumes that Jesus never taught about either.
The Early Church:
Why did the early Christian church embrace the idea of hell?
There were two main reasons. One, by the time of the first century the concept of hell was very popular, both among the Gentiles, and a growing number of Jews, however, the Jews never saw it as eternal, or to the depth that the Gentiles believed in. The Gentiles who were being converted to Christianity already believed in the concept of hell from their pagan roots, they didn't need to have it taught to them. The early church fathers realized, just like the pagans had for hundreds of years before them, that the concept of hell made a very powerful weapon of control and coercion. In the first three hundred years after Christ's ascension a battle raged among the different Christian sects. Each one of them believed that they had the truest understanding of Christ's teachings and they each called all of the other sects heretics and threatened them all with hell. They also threatened their own congregations with hell if they left to join a "heretic" sect.
The second reason had to do with the persecution of the Christians. On the one hand the Christians could take comfort in the fact that their persecutors were going to hell when they died. On the other hand they could use fear in the "power of hell" to remain strong and not denounce the church when they were being tortured and killed. Their temporary torture on Earth would win them rewards in heaven, but if they denounced the church they believed (or were told) that they would spend eternity in hell.
Why was Sheol and Hades translated hell in the Bible?
In the year 313 Constantine ordered that a large number of Bibles be written to replace the ones that were destroyed when the Jews and Christians were being persecuted by Rome. It was during the twenty years that it took to translate and edit the material that the final decisions were made about which books would officially become a part of the New Testament. Hell was a very popularly held pagan belief at the time. Constantine ruled over a pagan Rome and was the head of the most popular pagan religion until being baptized a Christian on his deathbed. Constantine made Christianity an accepted religion of Rome and personally oversaw it and appointed the first bishops. It was at this time that Christianity became Romanized and many of the pagan traditions and beliefs became incorporated into the Christian teachings.
When did Christians officially adopt the theory of hell as a Church teaching?
Hell remained an open question and not an official teaching until the age of Justinian and the Council of Constantinople in 553. During that council universal salvation was denounced and eternal damnation was embraced and made church dogma. The belief in Purgatory sprang up synchronously, as a relief for the conscience and reason of the church.
During the Reformation in the early 1500's, when the Protestants began to split off from the Catholic Church, the fires of hell got hotter and more torturous. The Catholic Church threatened their congregations with the worst hell imaginable to keep them from leaving and joining the newly forming Protestant sects. The Protestants countered with their own ideas of hell.
There were two main Protestant Churches in the beginning, Lutherans and Calvinist.
Martin Luther, who started the Reformation and created the Lutheran Church charged that the Catholic Church was false, the pope was "possessed by the devil", and that the papacy was the "throne of the antichrist". He rebuked the Catholic Church for coming up with a gentler and temporary aspect of hell called Purgatory. Luther argued that hell was dire and eternal and was incensed that the Catholic Church was getting wealthy collecting "indulgences" from people buying their way out of hell and into heaven. In fact, the issue of indulgences is what caused Martin Luther to start the Reformation and break with the Catholic Church to begin with. Luther believed that every man, woman, and child was under the power of Satan. "Our free will has no power whatsoever in virtue of which man can prepare himself for justice or even seek it out." He believed that you could only be saved through God's mercy alone.
John Calvin embraced the notion of strict predestination. "Some men are predestined unto everlasting life, and others are foreordained to everlasting death." Thus, Jesus did not die on the cross for everyone, just an elect few that God had already prechosen. Calvin preached that man is "utterly devoid of goodness" and is "odious and abominable to God." The Calvinist Puritans, in the journals and autobiographies they left behind, showed that they were obsessed with terror that they would not be saved. They frequently subjected themselves to sever humiliation to get into God's good graces. The Puritanís heavy emphasis on hell and damnation lead to great a number of them having profound depression that ended in suicide. There depressions and suicides, stemming from their fear of God and a belief in hell, were attributed to Satan.
This very sad history has sustained a belief in hell even to this day. A recent pole showed that in the dawn of the third millennium 50% of Americans still believe in hell!
Would a sane and loving God truly create such a place as hell? Would God truly conceive of endless torture as a way to teach It's own children? Would God really set up a challenging situation such as life on Earth, and when a person cannot cope and makes the wrong choices, would God really cast them into a pit of fire and endless pain and torture for all of eternity? These are human ideas born of imagination and fear for means of control and not the creation of God, who has infinite love and understanding. To believe that God has any of the worst qualities of humankind is blasphemous to me. God has no need to get even or punish. God is not petty, wrathful, or tyrannical. To threaten people with hell in the name of God or Christ is to not have any true comprehension of who and what they are, and what Creation is all about. God is pure Love and Creation itself is based on Love. Fear is human and it keeps people apart from God. If you are truly One with God there can be no fear, because fear cannot exist in the midst of Love.
Copyright (c) World Light Fellowship
Excerpts from our upcoming book: Breaking the Bonds of Fear and Illusion