Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bell's Hell or is it Hell's Bells?

On page 64 of his book, "Love Wins," Rob Bell makes this startling comment,
"There isn't an exact word or concept in the Hebrew scriptures for hell other than a few words that refer to death and the grave."
First of all, taken as it is stated, this simply isn't true. One of the most profound texts dealing with the concept of hell is found in Daniel. Daniel 12:2 says, "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt."

As one examines the context of Dan. 12:2, it becomes clear that Daniel is referring to an eschatological event the like of which has never been envisioned before. At this time, Michael, the great prince, also known as the archangel, will arise. This is a time such as the world has never seen before. And there is a great rescue taking place. And then there is a resurrection. And some of the people who will be resurrected at this great event will be sent into eternal contempt, while others will go into eternal life. The Hebrew phrase for everlasting life here is לְחַיֵּי עוֹלָם. It can mean physical life, life as welfare and happiness, and sustenance, or maintenance. Here is it modified by the word עוֹלָם which is significant. The Hebrew conjunction waw taken in this context is contrasting. The contrast is drawn between those who will be resurrected to everlasting life and those who will be resurrected to everlasting shame and contempt. Note that both conditions are everlasting. If one is temporal, then both must be temporal based on the Hebrew construction. The same Hebrew word translated everlasting modifies both states. עוֹלָם appears some 440 times in the Hebrew scriptures and is therefore well attested. In the over-whelming majority of the cases it means eternal, everlasting, permanent, or perpetual. Using the grammatic-historical method of interpretation, there is no reason not to take Daniel's end-time prophecy of this resurrection at face value. In the end, mankind will experience a resurrection to life everlasting or everlasting shame and contempt.
Rob Bell conveniently omits this text from his chapter on hell. One must wonder why. After all, this is one of the most popular texts in all the Old Testament dealing with the subject of the future state of believers and non-believers. It would seem to me that an honest dealing with OT texts on the subject of hell would certainly include a thorough treatment of this verse. But that is not the only text Rob Bell omits from his discussion on hell. He also leaves out Isaiah 66:24 which is another basic text dealing with eternal torment. In the last pericope of his prophecy, Isaiah describes the culmination of redemption. And in the paragraph of that pericope, he provides a vivid description of the transgressors. He says, "Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched; and they will be an abhorence to all mankind." Daniel and Isaiah appear to talking about the same group of people. E. J. Young comments on this section,
"Thus the wicked ones of Israel are cast out and perish eternally, and the tragic and terrible consequences of transgression are brought before our eyes....it must be remembered that this sad fate will be shared by all who have transgressed against God." [Young, E.J. Isaiah, Vol. 3, 537]
There is nothing in the text to suggest that Isaiah is doing something other than prophesying of a literal future state of believers and unbelievers. Yet Rob Bell, in his bold statement about such a concept being not mentioned in the Old Testament has negelected two of the most prominant prophecies of that terrible place of judgment. One can only ponder how such a prominant communicator like Bell could actually miss what is arguably the two most signifcant texts about the very subject that he is investigating. Yet Bell has done just that. He has failed to treat the two most important Old Testament texts on the subject of hell. It leaves one to wonder just what else Bell failed to mention in his chapter on the subject of hell and more than that, why he did so.

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