In order to be able to reply to this question, we need to first review a bit of history that will lead us to understand better as to where did the concept of the “eternal punishment” originate.
If we analyze the Old Testament, we can come to understand that in it there is not even one mention that refers to hell; in that First Testament the word Seol or Sheol appears, but it has nothing to do with the concept of hell which surged long after. In this concept, fire and eternal condemnation are not implicit, it simply refers to the place or mansion of all the dead. Jacob says in Genesis 37:35, when he thought that his son Joseph had died: “…I will go down into the grave (Sheol) unto my son mourning”. And in Isaiah 38:10, Hez-e-ki’ah king of Judah says: “…In the cutting of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave (Sheol); I am deprived of the residue of my years”. In chapter 14, verses 9 and 11, Isaiah states against the king of Babilonia “…Hell (Sheol) from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee…” “…Thy pomp is brought down to the grave (Sheol), and the noise of thy viols; the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee“.
The word sheol, comes from Hebrew “Shael” which means: To self examine, inquire or interrogate, that is: To reflect. This means that the old concept which existed regarding sheol was not of the eternal punishment, but simply the place where the dead awaited or entered into reflection.
Various other verses also exist that demostrate that not only was sheol seen as the place for the dead to rest and await, but there were also some that thought that those alive could also arrive there. Such as in Psalm of David 16:9,10 that states: “…my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (Sheol)…“.
Or verse 16:30 of Numbers: “…But if the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit (Sheol)…“.
Upon the Septuagint being translated to Greek in Alexandria, between the years 250 and 100 A.C.. the word “Hades” appears for the first time instead of the word “sheol”, which according to the Helenic tradition it was a place underneath. It was the concept of a hole, grave or pit. Hades comes from ” alpha” and “eido” that in this concept means “nothing” and “to know” , which together means to know nothing, to ignore; in other words to be in darkness. This is the closest concept that the group of 70 found to
translate to Greek what the word Sheol signified.
Once paganism entered Israel through the idolatrous kings, in the valley of Hinnom also known as Ge Hinnom, these pagan kings started to perform human sacrifices, which consisted of burning in large bonfires their first born in honor of their god Mo’lech Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; 2 Kings 23:10). These inhuman acts influenced in giving the valley of Ge Hinnom the concept of a terrible, filthy place.
With the arrival of the second era, in the Second Testament the concept of the ravine appears to burn impure things, and similar to the people of Israel in the dessert, the custom of using that ravine is adopted to burn the garbage. These places, in rememberance of the human sacrifices that were effected in the valley of Ge Hinnom,
were named “Gehenna”. In that manner, when one wished to speak of a place that
corresponded to all that was impure, one referred to Gehenna.
The erroneous analysis of such phrases as this one makes the concept of “fire” surge as being the means of punishment for the bad deeds or sins performed by humans.
“…for He is like a refinerïs fire, and like fullers soap” Malachi 3:2.
“I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? Luke 12:49.
“…and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable” Luke 3:17.
“Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire” Matthew 7:19.
“And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire…” Jude 23.
What is the real meaning of fire in this and various other passages of the First and Second Testaments? In order to understand, we must go to the nature of things: Which are the properties of fire? What happens when we subject something to this element? Fire consumes and purifies everything that it touches, but does that fire which the Scriptures talk about, does it act upon the spirit or the matter? Is it true that the fire punishes the human sins? Let us see what our Celestial Father tells us about this in the Third Testament:
And, if you believe that what is called eternal fire is not for the body, but rather for the spirit, that is another error, because in the spiritual kingdom, material elements do not exist, and fire has no bearing on the spirit. Whatever sprouts from matter, matter it is;
whatever sprouts from the spirit, spirit it is. Third Testament. Teaching 352:45,46.
Then, what does the allegory of fire symbolize in the Scriptures? Could there be then another type of fire, different from the one we know?
“When the conscience of a sinner is able to separate the spirit from its materialism, and points out its errors, the understanding of its ingratitude will cause repentment and the shame suffered will be so intense, that it will seem weak next to it, the false idea of material fire as a purifying element of the spirit. Teaching 76:38 (ditto)
“Conscience is the light of God, and that light is fire of love that consumes all impurity. Therein the fire that smelts the new spirt, to rise again full of light. Teaching 76.39. Third Testament.
When we understand all of this in a spiritual manner, and learn that the fire referred to in the Scriptures is in reality the conscience, that voice of God that sooner or later acts as a purifying fire in the spirit, we can then also understand those verses of the First Testament which state:
“Is not my word like as a fire? Saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” Jeremiah 23:29
Fine, now that we have analysed were the concept of fire surged, let us now seek the origin of the concept of “Hell”.
The word “Inferno” comes from the Latin word “Infernus” which means “Inferior”. This word appeared in the Scriptures when the Latin version called “Vulgata” was made in the fourth century A.C. The translation was made by he who was known as “Saint Gerome”, who together with his assistants decided that the word “Inferno” or “Infierno” (“Hell” in English language), was what best united in one, all the other concepts, that is Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, etc. La Vulgata was imposed over time over all the other Latin
translations, and in the year 1546, the Council of Trent proclaimed it as the official version of the Catholic Church.
That is how various different concepts were united in only one new concept. Sheol and Hades ceased being a place for the “dead” to wait, reflect, or rest, and Gehenna the ravine to burn garbage. Together they were converted to “Inferno” or “Hell”.
The most important truth that we found in this analysis is: That the symbol of fire in the Scriptures, is the symbol of purification and repentment of the spirit upon comfronting its own conscience; that the inferno or hell as such, as a place of eternal condemnation where fire will make sure to punish all sinners for all time to come, does not exist, because what is sentenced to eternal condemnation is sin, not the sinner (Revelation 19:10). This has always been known:
“…And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand…” Isaiah 28:18.
“… And I say also unto thee, that thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. Matthew 16:18
What our Celestial Father has revealed about hell to us in this era are concrete reasons which allow us to become aware of our lack of analysis and mistakes. Consider the following Teachings from the Third Testament. Album of Wisdom:
Did I not explain to you that God’s greatest attribute is love? Would you not believe then that an eternal torment would be an absolute negation of the Divine attribute, of eternal love? Teaching 164:34
I did not form death or hell, because My Spirit, upon conceiving the idea of the Creation, I only felt love and from deep within Me, only life sprouted; if death and hell existed, they would have to be human deeds since they are small, and you already know that nothing human is eternal. Teaching 303:42
What value would My Law and My Doctrine have if they where not capable of saving spirits from error and sin? And what purpose would My presence as man on earth have had if they were going to be many who would be lost forever in an expiation without an end? Teaching 352:48
Why condemn man to extermination or to eternal pain when his sin is only temporary and the product of his ignorance? Why condemn a being which within carries My own Divine essence?” Teaching 297:10.
Did you ever stop to think whether it could be possible for a place to exist where there would be more pain and destruction than in our own planet? Could it be possible that another place could exist where death, sickness, poverty and hatred could prevail more than in this, our earthly inferno? Why would God have to bother to create an inferno, if we have already taken the time to create one”made to order”, in accordance with our lack of compliance with the Divine Laws?
There are those that think that with corporal death comes the spirit’s rest, and others who think that upon desincarnating, because of the sins committed,they must go straight to hell, or some other place to pay for their sins. What happens when a spirit desincarnates having these ideas? Or as a rebel becomes confused and does not accept that his time in that body has terminated? What happens when upon leading a life without control and full of faults to the Law, the spirit disencarnates in a violent manner, or commits suicide? Or, what about those that simply do not know what to expect?
In the movie “What Dreams May Come” the author makes an interesting proposal to this respect, basing himself in certain texts of the English version of the Third Testament, when he describes that upon disencarnation each spirit creates his own hell or place for expiation, depending on his beliefs and practices; in accordance with the light or confusion that exist in him, depending on his errors and on his right deeds. What has our Eternal Father revealed to us regarding all these doubts?
within, the inferno of his remorse which will burn him until he is purified. Teaching52:33.
“What men call glory or hell, are not determined places. It is the essence of your deeds which your spirit picks up when arriving at the spiritual valley. Each one lives his inferno, inhabits his world of expiation, or enjoys the beatitude derived from elevation and the harmony with the Divine Spirit. Teaching11:56. Third Testament.