A question came up about the soul. We seem to think that it is immortal and that it will, either live with the Father in heaven or, exist in permanent torment in hell. Are there any other options? Jewish thought on the subject is varied; it is, however, the origin of what we, in Christianity, believe. I give you two examples.
Gehinnom: A Jewish Hell
Only truly righteous souls ascend directly to the Garden of Eden, say the sages. The average person descends to a place of punishment and/or purification, generally referred to as Gehinnom.
The name is taken from a valley (Gei Hinnom) just south of Jerusalem, once used for child sacrifice by the pagan nations of Canaan (II Kings 23:10). Some view Gehinnom as a place of torture and punishment, fire and brimstone. Others imagine it less harshly, as a place where one reviews the actions of his/her life and repents for past misdeeds.
The soul’s sentence in Gehinnom is usually limited to a 12-month period of purgation before it takes its place in Olam Ha-Ba (MishnahEduyot2:9, Shabbat33a). This 12-month limit is reflected in the yearlong mourning cycle and the recitation of the Kaddish (the memorial prayer for the dead).
Only the utterly wicked do not ascend to the Garden of Eden at the end of this year. Sources differ on what happens to these souls at the end of their initial time of purgation. Some say that the wicked are utterly destroyed and cease to exist, while others believe in eternal damnation (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Law of Repentance, 3:5-6).
On their website – myjewishlearning.com, the information ends with a bold exclamation,
“We Don’t Know, So we Must Make Our Lives Count.”
Instead of focusing on the potential torment, why not focus on a God that loves you so much that He gave His only son as the final, all-encompassing, sacrifice. Perhaps such love is a motivation to live for Him.
Another website article dated June 18, 2013.
Written by, By Rabbi Baruch HaLevi, entitled:
“I’ve always read that Jews don’t believe in the concept of hell. Is that true?”
There isn’t one definitive understanding of life after death or heaven and hell.
“First, let me distinguish between what “Jews believe” versus what “Judaism” believes. Quite often one has nothing to do with the other and this is a perfect example. Jews may not believe in the afterlife—heaven and hell—but Judaism unequivocally does.
Growing up I was told that Jews don’t believe in the afterlife. No heaven. No hell. No nothing. However, like most everything else I learned about Judaism growing up, this was incomplete. Although there are strains of modern Judaism that would argue against life after death, the vast majority of Judaism, Jewish history, Jewish theology, and Jews themselves unequivocally believed in Olam Habah—the world to come.
(So,) “Yes, Judaism believes in “heaven,” and yes, Judaism also believes in “hell.”
I did not have any of this information on a recent morning as I sat with the guys; it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, as one fellow, the one who keeps finding unusual and bizarre things to talk about, doesn’t seem to want to hear the truth.
Let’s get something straight here. I am not the final source of all truth and knowledge. If I don’t have the answer I will tell you, but, if you give me a chance, I will look it up and give you an answer. At that point, the Bible is my definitive source for truth. The Bible program I use has 45 translations available for me to choose from; are they all correct? I seriously doubt it, as many translations have known errors, and language so weakened that it makes those word choices seriously inadequate at times. Don’t give up hope, for God still manages to bring hope and healing even through problematic scriptures; this is why I constantly compare translations, and it is a problematic passage that is what brings me to the verse in question.
Those that refer to this passage generally focus on fearing God and the hell that seems to be dangling out there as a threat in an effort to keep us on a straighter path. My friend, that morning, showed great interest in this phrase, “God, who can destroy both the soul and the body in hell.”
Matthew 10:28 NLT “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
The NLT is fairly new to me, and it says that God can destroy both the body and soul in hell; that, is not what I was taught growing up. We were taught the soul is eternal and never dies, however that is not the implication here. I went through a translation comparison and every version I have uses the word destroy.
First, I have to ask, what is the context. Well, the conversation that evoked this comment by Jesus started all the way back in verse one of chapter ten. You can look it up for yourself if you have the time. Suffice it to say, Jesus called his disciples, prepared them, and sent them out in pairs with this message:
Matthew 10:6-8 NASB but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (7) “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (8) “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.
At this time they were to only go to the Jews. You might think that the lost sheep would welcome this message of life, but there was obviously some animosity. Matthew 10:16-23 speaks directly to the hostility, that not only His disciples would eventually face, but we, the church, as well, and it’s not pretty.
If you are a follower of mine, then you know that I have recently talked about a friend who, in opposition to what scripture says, believes that the church must go through the “tribulation.” There are many reasons, based in scriptures, that convince me otherwise, however, there is an overwhelming abundance of evidence to show that our everyday lives will be filled with tribulations. Just today, I learned that China literally blew up a mega-church in China. According to Open Doors USA, North Korea tops the list for persecution, with Afghanistan a close second. If you are interested check out the ranking list on the Open Doors website – https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list/.
When talking about the time period in which tribulations will exceed human reason, you are talking about the time of God’s wrath and judgment. Jesus, on the other hand, said tribulations, and that includes deadly events, would be a way of life. We here in America have yet to grasp the horrors of great tribulation, but we will.
The Greek word for kill is apokteinō and that is the word used when Jesus spoke of, “those who want to kill your body.” That word means to kill outright; figuratively to destroy: – put to death, kill, slay.
When Jesus told them to “rather fear Him who is able to destroy both the soul and the body..” He used the Greek word apollumi. That word is a derivative of two words and means to destroy fully (reflexively to perish, or lose), literally or figuratively: – destroy, die, lose, mar, perish.
Just looking at the alternative words – lose, mar, or perish, I wonder why the translators would choose the word destroy, over say, mar. One could mar an expensive piece of furniture. It might retain its functionality while losing its value. Furniture, unlike a Ming Dynasty vase, might be repairable, or should I say, salvageable. Merely using the term salvageable makes me think of who God is, and what He seems to do all the time, salvage people.
I find I can’t get away from this idea of total destruction. One of my own brothers was advocating that a merciful God would not simply put people into an eternal, torturous hell. To that I would say He did not do that to them, they did it to themselves. You see, we all have the knowledge of good and evil, and some simply choose to follow the evil path. Many would say, some of those followers had no choice. If I use the children next door, I have watched them develop some nasty attitudes that closely resemble the “adults” that are raising them. Influence may leave a stain on you, but the choice to act right, at some point, will be theirs alone.
This discussion and its vagueness are one of the reasons I included the Jewish thoughts on hell at the very beginning; as they too can see those condemned to hell as being imprisoned for a period of time and then, totally eliminated. Really, that makes a lot of sense. I cannot fathom an eternity of torment, no more than I fathom what an eternity of peace will feel like. But make no mistake, I choose eternity with the Father over any other option.
Over the course of several weeks, uncomfortable things have happened. One of those things was the passing of my mother. That woman had every confidence in the world as to where she was going when she died. I could say, she had an assurance, based in scripture, and her confidence prompted me to seek answers for myself. I could no longer trust what I deem fairy tales, I learned in Sunday school. I ascertained for myself, that Jesus words and actions were true and verifiable; therefore, I too have that same confidence in my destination. The other side of that coin is the anguish I hear when people say, how can I know what will become of me when I pass. Obviously, a few of the options, are either eternal hell in torment; a relatively short time in hell followed by vaporization of some sort or a life filled with peace in the Father’s arms.
Since my life in Christ affords me the confidence of life with the Father, then I have chosen that option.
As my Jewish friend stated: