I am sure most of us have been damned to “Hell” at one time or another. With much talk of the Resurrection have you ever stopped to wonder about this place called “hell”, where exactly is this place of damnation or where did this concept originate? Is it really in the center of the earth as the church tells us? Or is there no such place that ever existed? All of these are interesting questions.
Hell had been taught in Greek philosophy long before the time of Jesus. The concept of a soul within us cannot die first became a Christian doctrine at the end of the second century AD and was an important part of Christian doctrine at the Conference at Nicaea. It was at this conference that Christianity was formed established to represent what we know today.
The teaching of an everlasting place of punishment for the wicked is the natural consequence of a belief in an immortal soul. By the year AD 187, it was understood that life, once we have it, is compulsory; there is no end to it, either now or in a world to come. We have no choice as to its continuance, even if we were to commit suicide to end it. Of course, this is according to the church and its belief in “Life Ever Lasting”. Maybe I should say religion because almost all religions have a version of purgatory in one form or another.
Christianity altered the thinking because they figured out a way to monetize the concept of this mythical place through human speculative reasoning and the teachings of God’s Word. Such words and phrases as the continuance of beings perpetual existence, incapable of dissolution and incorruptible began to appear in so-called Christian writings. Other phrases used were “the soul to remain by itself immortal” and “an immortal nature.” It was taught that this was how God made us but, in fact, this idea derives from a philosophy, not divine inspiration. There are no such words in the Bible.
It was Athenagoras, a Christian teacher, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, responsible for the strongly tinged Platonism, who had introduced the teaching of an immortal soul into Christianity. In this way, he paved the way for the logical introduction of eternal torment for sinful souls. This was a hundred years after the time of the apostles and came straight from popular philosophy. The apostles had consistently taught that death is a sleep, to be followed by resurrection. The early church leaders also believed that death is a sleep, taught that the wicked are destroyed forever by fire; their punishment was to be annihilation. These leaders did not teach of an immortal soul to be tortured by fire in hell for eternity.
About AD 240 Tertullian of Carthage took up the teaching of an immortal soul. He taught the endless torment of the immortal soul of the wicked was parallel to the eternal blessedness of the saved, with no sleep of death after this life. It was the result of Pagan rituals that the darkness of the infiltration of man-made beliefs into Christianity deepened until the Dark Ages had smothered almost all the light of God’s Word. It is at this time that such beliefs, held by most Christians today, had their origin. An ever-burning hell has remained a commonly taught doctrine of the Christian religion to this day. It was not based on the Bible but on philosophy. Bible verses were later sought to uphold the ancient philosophies of the Greeks, and added to the teaching.
Eventually under the influence of Augustine, AD 430, the concept of endless conscious torment was brought into general acceptance by the Catholic Church. They began to teach that Purgatory was a place of purification. If of course, the believer gave money or material possessions to the Church. Then you could be relieved of eternal damnation. This arose out of the Gnostic idea that the body, flesh, and matter, is inherently evil and must be purified and purged by fire elsewhere. But we know bodies can be exhumed for examination, so it cannot be true that the flesh goes elsewhere.
A similar view was held in Egypt, with prayers and services for the dead and payments made to priests for them to intercede for the dead. The idea of a place like purgatory did not have its beginnings in the Christian church but in ancient pagan religions. Purgatory was added, and later fully confirmed by Pope Gregory the Great, about 582. Purgatory could not be supported by the standard canon of the Bible, and it was the books of the Apocrypha that were used to justify this new idea.
A similar teaching appeared in Moslem and Jewish belief. The inhabitants of the world were seen as good, bad and ‘middling.’ It was believed that, if one died for curable offenses, these would be purified by pain and torment as a preparation for heavenly bliss. By 1439 the teaching of purgatory, with services and prayers for the dead to spare them years of this pain, was fully accepted in the Western Catholic world – Italy, Spain, England, France and was ratified by Pope Eugenius IV.
It is sometimes taught that even the righteous go to such a place for a lesser time so the stains of sin can be burned from them, and this can be greatly hastened if certain exercises are undertaken. At the end of this time, any that are incorrigible are sent to hell forever, and the righteous go to a place of eternal blessedness.
Heaven and hell are seen to exist together side by side forever and ever. This means that Jesus the Savior can never see an end of the sin and misery he came to die for. Any teaching of the eternal co-existence of evil and good is not in the Bible but is a teaching from Greek philosophy.
The concept of hell is where hatred lives and not alien to black people. It is what we live each day here in this earthly realm, particularly anywhere south of Canada. If there is a hell, I know it will be filled with “devils” as Brother Malcolm described. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…