Heaven & Hell in the Afterlife, According to the Bible [link to full article]
Sheol is one word sometimes translated as "Hell" in the Old Testament. In Hebrew, this word is a proper noun, that is a name or title, so properly it should not have been translated but simply transliterated, as is done with other names. The literal meaning of this Hebrew word is simply "subterranean retreat". Sheol was not understood as a physical place since it exists in the spirit world, but it is a spiritual "place" associated with dead people. It was understood that when a person dies, their body is buried, and their soul goes to reside in Sheol. That is the fate for all people who die, both the righteous and the wicked. According to Hebrew scholars, anything more detailed is conjecture and speculation.
Sheol was translated as "hell" in a number of places where it was indicating a place for the wicked, which is consistent with western thought. But it was also translated as "grave" and as "pit" in a number of other places where it was clearly not a place of the wicked. Yet there are other Hebrew words for grave and pit, so why did it not occur to the translators that if the author wanted to mean pit or grave they would have used them? It can been seen that where Sheol fit the translators' idea of hell as a place of torment, they interpreted it one way, as hell, and simply used the word another way if it did not, confusing those who are trying to understand the Scriptures in translation.
In historic Jewish understanding, it is the perception of the individual in Sheol that makes the difference. This same "place" called Sheol is experienced by the righteous as "gen eiden", the Garden of Eden or Paradise, i.e. "heaven". Moreover, Sheol is experienced by the wicked as the "fires of gehennom", i.e. punishment or "hell".
Consider Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who refused to worship the idol in Babylon (Daniel 3). They were thrown by King Nebuchadnezzer into the "fiery furnace" which was heated "seven times more". The significance of "seven" is a number symbolic of the "furnace" of Heaven, the place where God dwells. The three Jews were unharmed by the fire where one "like the Son of God" was among them. However, the same flames of fire killed the king's "most mighty" soldiers. This is an analogy to how the presence of God is light and warmth to those who love him, and pain and destruction to those who oppose him, yet it is the same "fire."
It is interesting to examine the Greek word for "divine", it is from the Greek "theion", which could also mean "divine being", but also means "sulfur', or in Old English "brimstone" [lit. 'burning stone']. As strange as that sounds to us, it is because of the ancient understanding of the cosmic order of the nature of all things. … When the heavenly fire, lighting, would hit a living tree and burn the "life" out of it, anyone could see that the heat from the tree would go back to heaven in the fire, and the ash that remained would go down into the ground. But there was this mysterious yellowish earth substance that behaved very differently, when placed in a fire it burn so brightly that your eyes could not bear to look at it. As it burned, it would release the heavenly substance that was trapped inside and it would rise back to heaven. Clearly, this "burning stone" was a divine substance, and as such, it was simply called "divinity. It was burned within a new temple to "purify" it before consecration, presumably when this burning stone released it's divinity, it causes all evil things to flee from the temple, and thus was the temple readied for worship.
Yet the word 'theion' is translated as "brimstone" or "sulfur" in Luke 17:29, Rev. 9:17, 14:10, 20:10, 21:8, which is where 'fire and brimstone' comes out of heaven, but it is equally interchange with the words "divine fire". Since this did not fit the translators' preconceived ideas, it is rendered always as brimstone in this context.
Elsewhere in Revelation it states that the "heat comes out of heaven" and burns the enemies of God, yet does not harm the ones with God's seal on their foreheads. So the same heat, the heat that is the very life and light that comes from God, burns the sinners, and does not harm the ones that love God.
Again, in many places God's presence and appearance is described as fire in the New Testament as well as in the Old. Examine for example, Matt 31:10-12, 25:41, Mark 9:49, Luke 12:49, Act 7:30, 1Cor 3:15, Heb 1:7, 12:29, Rev 3:18 and in numerous other places.
Typical is the verse where John the Baptist says "I baptize you with water, but the One that comes after me will baptize you with fire". The author of Hebrews writes that God is a consuming fire. Paul also writes that God is like the jeweler who burns gold in the fire to purify it. Jesus Himself states the he brings "fire" to the earth. That is, "divine fire".
Everywhere in the New Testament when humans come face to face with the Transfigured Jesus they cannot look at Him: Peter, James and John on Mt. Tabor, Paul on the road to Damascus-- humans hid their face and fell down in fear and trembling when confronted with the revelation of Jesus as Almighty God. Old Testament figures did the same, but now, in the New Testament, it is revealed that this "holy" fire is present when Jesus reveals his nature. This is because Jesus is the incarnate God of the Old Testament.
Translating 2 Thess 1:7-8 from the Greek literally, St. Paul tells the persecuted Thessalonians that they will "get relief at the revelation of the Lord Jesus coming out from heaven with His powerful angels in flames of fire". Yet this same presence of Jesus causes the ones persecuting them to "…be punished with everlasting destruction BECAUSE OF [Gr. "apo"] the presence of the Lord, and BECAUSE OF his mighty glory" (2 Thess 1:9). ...
Unfortunately many English translations insert a word that is not there in the Greek in verse 1:9, adding the idea that the wicked will be "separated" or "cut off" from the Lord's presence. This is a totally different meaning, and if Paul had wanted to say this he would have used the word "schizo," which is where we get the word for "scissors" and "schizophrenia" [lit. divided-mind]. The Greek word "apo" that Paul uses here is a preposition that indicates cause or direction: "because of," "out of," "caused by," "from," etc. The word "apo" appears 442 times in the New Testament, and it is NEVER used to indicate separation, location or position. For example "Apostles" in Greek "apo-stolon" literally means "those sent out from the fleet." The word "Apocalypse" literally means "out from cover," i.e. to reveal, hence the Book of Revelation. Also interesting is the word "apostate" which in Greek literally means "out from standing". If you where once in a condition to stand in God's presence, then "fell" away, you would not be able to stand any longer; you would be "out from standing," cowering and trying to hide from His presence.
The history of the English word "hell" is also revealing. The Old English word from which hell is derived is "helan", which means to hide or cover, and is a verb. So at one time the English church understood that to be judged a sinner meant one would cower and want to hide in fear when in God's presence. Unfortunately, because of the political expedience of controlling an often rebellious population, corrupt rules in the West, in collusion with corrupt clergy, and adopting ideas from non-Biblical yet popular fantasy novels such as Dante's Inferno, corrupted the use of this word during the middle ages. Eventually turning a verb into a noun by popular usage, even if theologically insupportable from the Bible.
According to St Gregory the Theologian, God Himself is Paradise and punishment for man, since each man tastes God's "energies" (His perceptible presence) according to the condition of his soul. St. Gregory further advises the next life will be "light for those whose mind is purified... in proportion to their degree of purity" and darkness "to those who have blinded their ruling organ [meaning the "mind"]...in proportion to their blindness..."
...nowhere in the original language of the Bible does the Calvinistic idea occur of a place of "hellfire" torment, created especially by God so He can punish those he judges for eternity. Why would a God who loves us unconditionally torment us for eternity, because of an equally unbiblical notion of Divine Justice? In fact nowhere in the Bible does it explicitly state that it is God that punishes the sinners. If you put your hand in the fireplace, is it the fire's intention to punish you? Or is the torment you experience caused by your own foolish action? It is merely the nature of the fire to burn your unprotected skin.
The understanding of heaven and "punishment" [hell] in historic Christianity is inextricably linked to the biblical concept of the Uncreated Light of God. The Uncreated Energies (or "Light" the purest form of energy) are understood by the Orthodox to be the Energies of God. This Energy is the "consuming fire", the Shechinah glory, the fire that burns gold to purify it, as St. Paul writes. It is the fire that burns the weeds left in the field, the fire that burns the pruned branches, it is the lake of divine fire, and the thirst and burning that torments the Rich Man is this same Uncreated Energy. Yet, the same fire that torments the impure gives warmth and comfort to the pure of heart.
This is at the root of difference between the Eastern Orthodox and Western Christianity, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, this biblical concept of the Uncreated Energies of God. In the west, the mystery of the Divine Energies was abandoned because it could not be understood outside of the metaphysical perspective, and therefore juridical socialistic rationalism was adopted. The west continues to flounder in darkness and is unarmed against the influence of the enemies of God, and therefore continues to innovate false theologies.
Tragically, in the west a few centuries after the Great Schism (1054 AD) an innovation (i.e. heresy) developed as a result of an attempt to rationalize God's purifying fires. Latin theologians surmised that God created a place called purgatory with purging fires to "purify" those that die with imperfect atonement, and they further rationalized that paying indulgences could buy your loved ones out of these painful purging fires faster. This rationalization also helped keep the church prosperous and coffers full.
The western ideas had its roots in Augustinian theology (who was influenced by the Greek pagan philosophers). Unfortunately Augustine could not read Greek and had to devise his own theology from imperfect Latin translations. Late in his life he recanted much of his earlier writings, an act which was ignored in the West. Both Luther and Calvin developed their own theologies from Augustine's erroneous writings, and ignoring Augustine's later retraction. This is how the pagan notion of a God that both punishes and rewards made its way into western Christian theologies. Another major influence was the 13th century fantasy novelist Dante, who's political satire known as the Inferno borrowed heavily from pagan mythology and bears little resemblance to Biblical eschatology.
The Uncreated Energies: The Light and Fire of God [link to full article]
The Greek word “energeia”, and it’s various forms, appears over 30 times in the New Testament, yet it is not translated as “energy” even once in most popular English translations! It is variously rendered as: operation, strong, do, in-working, effectual, be mighty in, shew forth self, and even simply dropped out of the sentence; everything except what it means. Yet, this word was well established in the Greek language in the first century. It was first known to have been used by Aristotle, some three centuries before Christ, as a noun "energy" in the metaphysical sense...
Translating directly from the Greek, Saint Paul writes “For it is God who is energizing in you, according to His will and to energize for the sake of His being well-pleased.” (Philippians 2:13). The NKJV translates it as, "For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure". Note how much clearer the translation is when the word “energon” is translated as "energize" rather than as "works".
St. Paul further writes “[Christ] who will change the appearance of our humble bodies to take on the form of the body of His Glory, through the energization of His Power, and to put into submission all things to Him” [Philippians 3:21]. And to the Ephesians in verse 1:19-20 Paul writes “and what exceeding greatness of His power, in us who believe, through the energization of His mighty strength, energized in Christ, raising Him from the dead and seating Him in the right hand of Him in the heavens”. This energy “in us” is the same Energy that will change the bodies of the saved to be glorified resurrected bodies. It is the same Divine Energy that raised Christ from the dead. This Energy is in fact, the Grace of God. As St. Paul writes “… I became a minister according to the gift of the Grace of God given to me by the energization of His Power”. (Ephesians 3:7). The NKJV- incorrectly uses the words “effective working” for energization in this verse.
This Energy has the power to heal, as St. James writes “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. Prayers energized by a righteous one are very powerful”. [James 5:16]. The word “energized” is the correct meaning, rather then the typically “fervent” or “earnest” (both adjectives) used in most English translations. The Greek word means “given energy to” hence, ‘energize’.
Receiving this Divine Energy is the results of faith in the true God, as St. Paul says"…[you received]…according to the truth, God’s Word, which also energizes in you who believe" (1 Thess.2:13). You do not receive this Energy by works, but by faith, “[isn’t it] in vain, if the One who provides you the Spirit and the powerful Energies in you, were by works of the law, or by hearing in faith?” (Galatians 3:4,5). In fact, freedom from the law comes through the energizing of love “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any strength, but rather faith energizing through love” [Gal 5:6]. This energy is the Grace of God, in Eph 3:7 St. Paul writes “That I was made an attendant through the gift of the Grace of God, granted to me by the energization of his power”.
This same energy also restrains evil “for already the mysterious lawless one is only restrained now by His Energies, until he come out of the midst of it” [2 Thess 2:7]. So again we see that these Energies are both Grace to us, but also a restrainer of evil. Notice that in comparing all of the above verses with typical English translations, it would be difficult to discern this Biblical concept of Divine Energy. Demonstrating that the very heart of the means of salvation is simply missing from most English translations.
Augustine could not read Greek and had to devise his own theology from imperfect Latin translations. Late in his life he recanted much of his earlier writings, an act which was ignored in the West. Thomas Aquinas, Luther and Calvin all developed their own theologies from Augustine's erroneous writings, and ignored Augustine’s later retraction. This is how the pagan notion of a God that both punishes and rewards made its way into western Christian theologies. Another major influence was the 13th century fantasy novelist Dante, who’s political satire known as the "Inferno" borrowed heavily from pagan mythology and bears little resemblance to Biblical eschatology. Some Orthodox would contend that the western view of God as He who both claims to love us, but also would condemn us to eternal punishment, is a schizophrenic view of God. It is reminiscent of the abusive groom who claims to love his bride but can not stop punishing her.
Clearly this is not the nature of a loving God, a God that pours his energizing love out on everyone unconditionally. There is no "place" of torment, or even a "place" apart from God, because there is in a sense no "place" at all in the after life; being outside of time and space. The “place” is actually a condition of either punishment – “hell” or of great joy -- paradise, depending on how one experiences the presence of God and His Uncreated Energies. This Energy is also what "separates” the saved from those that are lost. It is also what restrains evil and sin when “caught” in the Energy of God.
For a person who hates God, and has done nothing but pursued his own self-centered desires all his life, it would be far more terrifying and painful to spend eternity in the fiery embrace of God’s almighty and Divine Love with no escape, than it would be to be far from Him in a place where He is not present (which is not possible). For there is nothing that can separate us from the Love of God even if we wanted it! “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” [Romans 8:39]
This is why Christianity is the religion of Love. Experiencing God’s loving Presence and His in-filling transforming Energies in glory or in torment, as Paradise or as punishment, is the Heaven and “hell” of the Bible.