***DISCLAIMER: THIS POST WILL TAKE 15-20 MINUTES TO READ SO TAKE SOME TIME TO DO SO AND I APOLOGIZE FOR THIS IN ADVANCE***
Of all the chapters in Bell’s book the chapter I am discussing today is the most controversial and, from my perspective, Bell’s weakest theologically. He begins with a story about someone in San Francisco who was standing on the sidewalks shouting, “turn or burn” (a theme he discussed in his nooma video Bullhorn) and he then moves to some difficult questions about the fate of mankind as it related to hell. He posits the questions in a manner that surely God does not create people only to send them to hell.
“That’s how it is—because that’s what God is like, correct? God is loving and kind and full of grace and mercy—unless there isn’t confession and repentance and salvation in this lifetime, at which point God punishes forever. That’s the Christian story right?”
Right away you get a sense of Bell’s methodology in asking the tough question but as my friend noted in a blog post, “the ideas and reasons that he [Rob Bell] expressed during the questions and answers over the book leave me shaking my head as to why he wrote what he did about the subject of hell.” More on that in bit.
Bell then shows every occurrence of the word “hell” in Scriptures starting with the Old Testament then moving towards the New. He talked about the Hebrew word sheol (she’ol) as “a dark mysterious, murky place people go when they die.” Bell gives seven instances where the word sheol is used and then (quickly) gives lessons on the word death and summarizes, “…simply put, the Hebrew commentary on what happens after a person dies isn’t very articulated or defined. For whatever reasons, the precise details of who goes where, when, how, with what, and for how long simply aren’t things the Hebrew writers were terribly concerned with.”
Bell then moves to the New Testament word for hell, Gehenna (γέεννα). He gives the typical definition I have heard (and preached) as, “Gehenna, in Jesus’ day, was the city dump.” He briefly discusses the usages of the word in the New Testament and says, “Gehenna, the town garbage pile. And that’s it.” Finally, Bell discusses the Greek term Hades (ᾍδης) and essentially says that it is the New Testament form of sheol.
The rest of the chapter Bell does something very interesting in that he seeks to show that while most people think of hell in after-life terms he wants to show that people are living a “hell” right here on earth. He then talks about the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16) as a story of rich and poor not about heaven and hell. The rich man is in torment and wants Lazarus to give him water and this is a metaphor for the rich and the poor and the rich not understanding Jesus’ abolition of hierarchical systems. Bell then moves on to talk about the need to abolish peoples “individual hells, communal, society-wise hells” and his now-famous statement, “There is hell now, and there is hell later, and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.”
He also talks about the concept that there will not be punishment forever (second chance?) as he alludes to Matthew 10:15 and says that since Jesus said it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah than the religious people then there must still be hope for Sodom and Gomorrah and if there is hope for Sodom and Gomorrah then what does that say for other Sodoms and Gomorrahs? He closes by discussing the aion of kolazo which was, in Matthew 25, about the period of pruning for the goats but it does not mean, in Matthew 25, eternal punishment.
As I stated, this was the toughest chapter but my reasons are serious for disagreement on a number of different levels.
1. First of all, it has been widely attested that there is much uncertainty that Gehenna was the town dump.
G. R. Beasley-Murray (reknown scholar) in Jesus and the Kingdom of God, said this: “Ge-Hinnom (Aramaic Ge-hinnam, hence the Greek Geenna), ‘The Valley of Hinnom,’ lay south of Jerusalem, immediately outside its walls. The notion, still referred to by some commentators, that the city’s rubbish was burned in this valley, has no further basis than a statement by the Jewish scholar Kimchi made about A.D. 1200; it is not attested in any ancient source.”
Let’s say it was, for the sake of argument, the town rubbish, what was Jesus trying to say? Wasn’t it a metaphor for something greater than the supposed town rubbish? Furthermore, Bell ignores all the other passages in Scripture that discuss concepts like judgment (2 Cor. 5:10), not inheriting the kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-10) and even of a conscious eternal fire pointed by John in Revelation 21:8. Revelation 21:8 indicates an ongoing punishment (“burns” present passive participle….ongoing). What about all of the verses in Scripture discussing God’s judgment for all wrong-doers?
2. Bell does make a valid point in that people do suffer tremendously on earth.
This does not mean the church should remove our focus but we should be even more cognizant of righting wrongs and of evoking God’s justice. That does not mean there is no hell afterwards and that there is no punishment for evildoers.
3. His summary of sheol, hades, gehenna (tartarus?) all need polishing.
If he is going to say, “that’s it” he better have some scholarly evidence to back it up other than his simple word. I understand this makes it more accessible to a broad range of readership but this leaves people (who trust everything everyone says) at a loss for the biblical words. At least footnote your research and discuss what people say about it. For example, why is it that Sheol in the Old Testament is a place where both good men (Jacob, Gen. 37:35) and bad men (Korah, Num 16:30) end up? More needs to be discussed about this and even more about the terms for dead and death in the Old Testament and New Testament.
4. Bell messes up in the Greek…again.
He said that the goats, in Matthew 25:46, are sent to an aion of kolazo when the Greek actually says they went to an aiwnion (αἰώνιον) of kolasin (κόλασιν). Kolasin is the noun form which actually occurs in the verse but kolazo is the verb form which does not occur. Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich define kolasis as, “the infliction of suffering or pain in chastisement or (as is the case in Matt. 25:46) transcendent retribution.” Furthermore, as noted in yesterday’s post, aion is a different word than aiwnion, so it actually does mean forever (unless the scholarship of Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich is erroneous.)
5. Whatever you think about the chapter the questions Bell raises have to be answered.
So who does get in? If hell is a conscious, eternal suffering then who gets it? Is it enough to say that all people get in through Jesus (soft universalism) or is there a specific way (i.e. pattern/formula/creed) where people get in to heaven and avoid hell. All of these are valid questions and it seems we must come down hard on what we believe the Scriptures say about this.
This has been a brief summary of the chapter and probably his worst chapter as he makes broad sweeping assumptions. He does ask some difficult questions but it still is not our job to speak for those whom God will judge. Our task is to bring the kingdom of God across the world to right wrongs, disciple people and to pass on the legacy to our children’s children. I do not want to say that the entire chapter was horrible as Bell does make some valid points about people suffering right here and right now while we sit in air-conditioned rooms, with our thousand dollar computers and a our cool looking shirt and tie. That does step on some toes a little. However, the chapter should be revised and polished.
 Rob Bell, Love Wins, 64.
 One thing that frustrates me about Bell’s writing is that he does not footnote much as to where he gets his material or even scholarly conclusions. He often starts, “A Rabbi once said…” but does not tell which Rabbi or where he heard the story from. Another thing that frustrates me is that when he gives a reference of Scripture he will only give the book and the chapter. Quote the verse man!
 See R. Laird Harris, “she’ol” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, eds R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Bruce K. Waltke. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980): 2303-04. The word she’ol actual comes from the root word shā’ah meaning to crash into ruins and to gaze (in the Hithpael).
 Kolazo does occur in 2 Peter 2:9 where it is said that the unrighteous will be kept under punishment (kolazo) until the day of judgment. Interesting parallel.
 Walter, Bauer, F.W. Danker, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek- English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed, (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2000): 555. See 1 John 4:18 for another usaged of kolasis.