Bradley Jersak: Has Hell been lost in translation?

“In modern English, we use ‘hell’ as a catch-all term to describe the bad place (usually red hot) where sinful people are condemned to punishment and torment after they die.  This simplistic, selective, and horrifying perception of hell is due in large part to nearly 400 years of the King James Version’s monopoly in English-speaking congregations (not to mention centuries of imaginative religious art).  Rather than acknowledge the variety of terms, images, and concepts that the Bible uses for divine judgement, the KJV translators opted to combine them all under the single term ‘hell.’

In truth, the array of biblical pictures and meanings that this one word is expected to convey is so vast that they appear contradictory.  For example, is hell a lake of fire or a place of utter darkness?  Is it a purifying forge or a torture chamber?  Is it exclusion from God’s presence or the consuming fire of God’s glory?

While modern scholarship acknowledges the mis- or over-translation of Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna as ‘hell’ – especially if by ‘hell’ we refer automatically to the eternal punishment of the wicked in conscious torment in a lake of fire – the thoroughly discussed limitations of hell language and imagery have been slow to permeate the theology of pulpits and pews in much of the church.  Why the reluctance?  Do we resist out of ignorance?  Or are we afraid that abandoning infernalism implies abandoning faithfulness to Scripture and sound doctrine?  After all, for so long we were taught that to be a Christian – especially an evangelical – is to be an infernalist.  And yet, not a few of my friends have confessed that they have given up on being ‘good Christians’ because they can no longer assent to the kind of God that creates and sends people to hell as they imagine it.”
― Bradley Jersak, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hell, Hope, and the New Jerusalem

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