The Evolution of Hell

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The Evolution of Hell

Post  Admin on Wed Nov 21, 2012 11:37 am

The Evolution of Hell

The New Testament, though it mentions Hell, is surprisingly vague on
the subject. The result of which has divided believers over the
issue. Some adamantly claim that there is indeed a Hell where
sinners are tormented eternally, while others claim that a loving God
would never think of such a concept.

The NT was written at a time when the concept of Hell was still in a
state of transition. This has resulted in a certain amount of
vagueness that has actually worked out well for the faithful. A hard
line position either way would have settled the matter once and for
all, but how could a position, if it were spelled out precisely,
utilize the believer's faith? Faith has always enabled the believer
to discover and embrace the concept that he is seeking.

A statement declaring that the first Christians, "did" or "did not",
believe in a literal Hell is an over simplification of the matter.
There were many different strands of thought on the subject. These
varied from the Sadducee position where the dead are indeed dead and
there is no resurrection, to the OT concept of "rephaim" which were
not "souls" in the Platonic sense but rather shadows or ghosts, to
the full fledge Persian/Greek soul concept found in NT apocrypha.
The punishments ranged from; humiliation of powerful men in a common
death, to temporary refining of the soul by fire, to punishment of
sinners for all eternity.

It is probably safe to say that by the middle of the second century
AD the Christian concept of Hell had fully evolved. Many of the
supporting concepts were present, but they were so underdeveloped in
Hebrew thought that such a conclusion was not possible before that
time.

The Apocalypse of Peter, written in the second century AD (probably
in the first half) provides some of the most vivid descriptions of
the torment in Hell to be found in any of the Jewish/Christian works:

20. And over against that place I saw another, squalid, and it was
the place of punishment; and those who were punished there and the
punishing angels had their raiment dark like the air of the place.
21. And there were certain there hanging by the tongue: and these
were the blasphemers of the way of righteousness; and under them lay
fire, burning and punishing them. 22. And there was a great lake,
full of flaming mire, in which were certain men that pervert
righteousness, and tormenting angels afflicted them. 23. And there
were also others, women, hanged by their hair over that mire that
bubbled up: and these were they who adorned themselves for adultery;
and the men who mingled with them in the defilement of adultery, were
hanging by the feet and their heads in that mire. And I said: I did
not believe that I should come into this place.

The narrative goes on to describe the torment of various sinners
(murderers, those who cause abortion, those who persecuted the
righteous, blasphemers, false witnesses, the rich etc.).

The Apocalypse was not only very popular it was often treated as a
genuine work of Peter; even the very scholarly Clement respectfully
quoted it. (See: http://wesley.nnu.edu/noncanon/apoc/apcpete.htm).

The Apocalypse is also mentioned in the Muratorian Canon with the
interesting note that some would not read it in the Church.
(http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/muratorian.html) Its
graphic description of Hell probably prevented it from gaining
acceptance into the Canon.

Even though the Apocalypse of Peter is virtually unknown by most
Christians today, it probably shaped the Christian concept of Hell
more than any of the other books in the Canon.

It is likely that the first Christians held at least some of the very
same concepts about the afterlife that were present in literature
before and after the first century. This is especially evident when
the very same concepts present in non-canonical literature are also
found in Christian literature.

The following concepts were current during the first century.

1. Rewards and Punishments in Hades await Man in the afterlife.
2. At death Abraham would receive the faithful in the section called
Paradise.
3. Sinners would be tormented in a separate section of Hades
4. There was no crossing over to the other section(s).

The references that follow should be sufficient to establish the fact
that many of the ideas found in the NT clearly reflect many of the
ideas that were in Hebrew thought during the first centuries.

Sincerely,

Darrell

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Re: The Evolution of Hell

Post  Admin on Wed Nov 21, 2012 11:47 am

Useful on Hell:

There are in fact so many strong biblical, doctrinal, and logical
arguments against the existence of a literal hell that this question
naturally arises:
Why do the churches teach it and why do people often believe
it?...The churches tend to believe that fear, rather than love
conquers all.
- Robert Short, Methodist clergyman, U.S. Catholic, April 1980

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