Home Doctrine What is the History of Hellfire?

Ep.807: What is the History of Hellfire?

Tracing the afterlife torment belief through ancient history

What is the History of Hellfire?

Theme Scripture: Luke 4:18-19


Sometimes we as Christians just don’t see eye to eye.  We all (hopefully) take the doctrine of Christ seriously and want to abide by the word of God, so when we come to a subject that is widely interpreted, we have a dilemma.  The concept of a Hell of Torment is one such topic.  There are many views on the matter but today we want to look at it through the eyes of history to see if we can find the threads of truth and separate them from the threads of error.  You may find this surprising!  Stay with us!

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  1. In Luke, the story of Lazurus and the Rich man is not a parable. Hell is real. If it was just a parable, how come Jeus gave a name? Not a “certain man…etc”. Because the ASV translator Wescott and Hort did not believe in a literal hell. They also did not believe in a Devil, and they both were EVOLUTIONISTS. And u truset them with a bible?

    1. Hi, Tim! Thank you very much for your comments. Although the mention of a character’s name does not inherently prove a passage is literal or symbolic, there are several reasons why we believe the text in Luke 16:19-31 is a parable. We ask that you please listen to the August 22, 2010 broadcast called “What About Hell?” http://cquestions2.wpengine.com/621-what-about-hell/ In this broadcast, we break down the story word for word in order to sort out exactly what Jesus was teaching. (We also discuss an explanation as to why the beggar was named, having to do with the fact that two weeks later from the telling of this story, Jesus literally raised his friend Lazarus from the dead and what that would have reinforced to the people who had listened to this parable series.)

      Some of the questions to ask if the parable were literal would be:
      Where would Abraham’s bosom be?
      Do all faithful people go there?
      If so, how big a space are we talking about?
      Was Lazarus faithful or just poor?
      Was the Rich Man bad or just rich?
      If not a parable, who goes to the bosom? Who goes to hell?

      We encourage you to please listen to the program while reading that program’s full edition CQ Rewind transcript so that you can see all the Scriptures and reasonings laid out. We will directly email you a copy in case you are not a current subscriber. (It is a free service.)

      For those reading this who are not familiar with this passage: The story concerns the fate of the rich man, who died, was buried and then found himself in the flames of torment. Verse 24, “And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” After reading this verse it is important not to arrive at the hasty conclusion that hell is indeed a place of torment before looking at the context of this story. Jesus is at the home of a Pharisee, eating a meal with his disciples. Luke 15:1 begins the first of five parables spoken by Jesus, the Rich Man and Lazarus being the fifth. In this parable Jesus speaks to his disciples, but his message is meant for the Pharisees’ ears. A parable is a fictitious story illustrative of a moral or religious principle. The word “tormented” from the Greek “odunao” means to grieve or sorrow. (See use of this same word in Luke 2:48 and Acts 20:38) The word “flame” from the Greek word “phlox” means “to flash or flame” or “a blaze.” (See use of this same word in Acts 7:30, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, and Hebrews 1:7.) In all the examples mentioned, the flame is a light to see previous indiscretions. It is not a fire to torture. Therefore, we can interpret Jesus’ meaning of the rich man’s statement “for I am tormented in this flame” in Luke 16:24 to signify “for I grieve and anguish at my sin and transgression.”

      We hope we are able to add profitable commentary on this important subject for your prayerful consideration. Thank you for being a CQ listener! – Christian Questions

      1. Quote from last paragraph above: “The Word ‘flame’ from the Greek word ‘phlox’ means…” etc.

        Thanks. That is something that I didn’t know about that parable. Makes a lot of sense, for sure.

        Also, an interesting note… my flowers, called Phlox, are not fiery red. Rather they are a sorrowful blue. Just sayin’

    1. Hi, Amos – we think you might also be interested in our recent 3-part series, starting with Episode #1021: “Is the Hell of Christian Tradition Taught in the Bible? https://christianquestions.com/doctrine/1021-bible-hell-part-1/ You can search for Part 2 as Episode 1024 and Part 3 as 1027. We are emailing you the booklet called “The Truth About Hell” which examines the texts that might hint at an eternal torment. This is also what the 3-part series did. Studying this important topic without preconceived notions based on tradition or what we were taught is really eye-opening. We really do have a loving, all-wise God who cares for all of His creation while justly giving consequences for sin. We would love to hear what you think after you have listened to the series. – Christian Questions

  2. In ancient Babylonian and Assyrian beliefs the “nether world…is pictured as a place full of horrors, and is presided over by gods and demons and of great strength and fierceness.” (The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, Boston, 1898, Morris Jastrow, Jr., pg. 581) Early evidence of the fiery aspect of Christendom’s hell is found in the religion of ancient Egypt. (The Book of The Dead, New Hyde Park, N.Y., Buddhism, which dates back to the 6th century B.C.E., in time came to feature both hot and cold hells. Depictions of hell portrayed in Catholic churches in Italy have been traced to Ethruscan roots. But the real roots of this God-dishonoring doctrine go much deeper. The fiendish concepts associated with a hell of torment slander God and originate with the chief slanderer of God (the Devil, which name means “Slanderer”), the one whom Jesus Christ called “the father of the lie” (John 8:44). Eccl. 9:5,10: “The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.”


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