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The afterlife

Bible passages as interpreted
by conservative Christians

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Note:

Liberal Christian Interpretations of passages which deal with the afterlife in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and Christian Scriptures (New Testament) are described elsewhere in this web site.

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Conservative Christian interpretations of Biblical passages:

Conservative Christians hold four key principles concerning the Bible. It is inspired by God, inerrant, internally consistent,  and infallible. As a result, there cannot be any true contradictions between any two passages in the Bible. Although hundreds of apparent conflicts have been found, almost all can be harmonized after careful examination. A few cannot be resolved with our current knowledge; however conservatives trust that a solution will be possible in the future.

They reject the liberal concept, described elsewhere in this web site, that there is a gradual evolution in religious thought in the Bible about the afterlife. The Bible is seen as authoritative; it is believed to give a consistent vision throughout.

Sheol is mentioned throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) as the grave or the pit where people go after death. Some believe that the dead remain without consciousness until they are resurrected and judged on judgment day. Others believe that they are aware of their surroundings, and some of the dead may be tortured there until judgment. After the final judgment, those people who have been saved will go to heaven; all others will be sent to hell. 

In the original Greek, the Christian scriptures use the word "Hades" to also refer to this place where the dead await resurrection and judgment. 1  Hades:

bullet has gates that shall not withstand the church. (Matthew 16:18)
bullet is located under the earth (Luke 10:15)
bullet is a place where people will be tormented by thirst and heat from flames. (Luke 16:24)

The Greek word "Gehenna" refers to a pit of fire; this is the location normally thought of as "Hell" where people who do not attain heaven are tortured for all eternity. Gehenna:

bullet Contains fire. Matthew 5:12; Mark 9:43, 45 & 47; James 3:6 refer to Hell (Gehenna) fire.
bullet Is a location that bodies are "cast into" (Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 18:9; Mark 9:43 & 45)
bullet Destroys both a person's soul and their body (Matthew 10:28)
bullet Is a place of darkness (Matthew 25:30)
bullet Is a permanent location, where torture never ceases.
bullet Revelation 20:10 states that the devil, beast and false prophet will be "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone...and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever."
bullet Mark 9:43 & 45 refers to the "fire that never shall be quenched."
bullet Is a place where one is separated from God (2 Thessalonians 1:9). However, the angels and Jesus will be present at the torturing of the inhabitants. (Revelation 14:10). It is not clear whether Jesus is merely observing the infliction of pain on the captives, or is actually directing it.
bullet Is a place of "tribulation and anguish." (Romans 2:8-9)
bullet Is the "lake of fire" into which, after the final judgment, anyone whose name is not written in the "book of life" will be "cast. "(Revelation 20:15)
bullet Is referred to in some of Jesus' parables. Hell is a place of torture (Matthew 18:34) where one is bound hand and foot (Matthew 22:13), cut in pieces (Matthew 24:51) and whipped severely (Luke 12:47).

Beliefs of Fundamentalist believers and other Evangelicals have evolved significantly over the past century. "Fire and Brimstone" speeches about the horrors of Hell are rarely heard today. Many, probably most, Evangelical Christians now interpret these Biblical passages as largely symbolic. That is, bindings, whippings, intolerable heat, thirst, worms, and darkness are not to be understood literally. They still view Hell as a dreadful place - a place of punishment, but not necessarily of torture. Many view Hell as a location where people will be simply separated from God.

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Reference:

  1. "Hell,", by The Interactive Bible at: http://bible.ca/su-hell.htm

Copyright 1997, 1999 to 2001 incl. and 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2004-APR-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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