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Heaven and Hell in the Afterlife According to the Bible
By Peter Chopelas
The idea that God is an angry figure who sends those He condemns to a place called Hell, where they spend eternity in torment separated from His presence, is missing from the Bible and unknown in the early church. While Heaven and Hell are decidedly real, they are experiential conditions rather than physical places, and both exist in the presence of God. In fact, nothing exists outside the presence of God.
This is not the way traditional Western Christianity, Roman Catholic or Protestant, has envisioned the afterlife. In Western thought Hell is a location, a place where God punishes the wicked, where they are cut off from God and the
While there is no question that according to the Scriptures there is torment and “gnashing of teeth” for the wicked, and glorification for the righteous, and that this judgment comes from God, these destinies are not separate destinations. The Bible indicates that everyone comes before God in the next life, and it is because of being in God’s presence that they either suffer eternally, or experience eternal joy. In other words, both the joy of heaven, and the torment of judgment, is caused by being eternally in the presence of the Almighty, the perfect and unchanging God.
This is not a new interpretation or a secret truth. It has been there all along, held by the Church from the beginning, revealed in the languages of the Scriptures, which were spoken by the Christians of the early church era. This understanding was held by nearly all Christians everywhere for the first 1000 years of the Church’s existence, and, except where influence by western theologies, continued to be held by Christians beyond Western Europe and America even up to this day (including the roughly 350 million Orthodox Christians worldwide).
When you examine in context the source words which are translated as “hell” in English language Bibles the original understanding becomes clear. You will find that “hell” is translated from four different Greek and Hebrew words. These words are not interchangeable in the original language, yet, incredibly, in English-language bibles these words are translated differently in different places to fit the translators’ theology (rather than allow the words of scripture to determine their theology). Not only did English translators dump these four very different words into one meaning, they were not even consistent with it and chose to translate these same words with different meanings in different places. It is no wonder that English readers of the Bible are confused.
If one examines what the early Church Fathers wrote about “hell” and the afterlife, it will be seen that they too understood that there is no place called hell, and that both paradise and torment came from being in God’s presence in the afterlife.
When you examine what the Roman Catholic Church teaches and what most Protestants believe about the afterlife, and compare that with the scriptures and early Church beliefs, you find large disparities. You will also find their innovative doctrines were not drawn from the Bible or historic Church doctrine, but rather from the mythology of the Middle Ages, juridical concepts, and enlightenment rationalizations, all alien to early Christian thought.