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Jesus of Nazareth’s Dialogue Regarding Hell

This is the third installment of a series of posts collectively titled: “The Literal Tenor of the Metaphorical Hell: A Literary Critique of Scriptural Language concerning Hell, The Human Soul and a Defense of Metaphorical Conditionalism.” The first post was titled: The Literal Tenor of the Metaphorical Hell. The Second post was titled: Mechanics of Metaphor: Hell is a Shabby Hotel of Vicious Circles.

Jesus of Nazareth, in the Gospels, teaches his followers about a realm wherein God chooses not to eternally abide with those who consciously choose, during the first existence, to not abide with and within Him. The metaphorical characterization of this realm ranges from “gates,” “roads,” “hell,” “furnaces,” “weeping,” and “gnashing of teeth.”

Reading is Fundamental! What Do The Gospel Texts Say Anyway?

Matthew 7.13-14: 13 Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy [Some manuscripts For the way is wide and easy] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Matthew 13.42: 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 10.28: 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. [Greek Gehenna]

Mark 16:16: 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Luke 12:4-5: 4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. [Greek Gehenna] Yes, I tell you, fear him!

Luke 13.22-25: 22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’

Luke 16:19-23: 19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. [Greek bosom; also verse 23] The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.

The metaphorical language Jesus implements in his quest to impart understanding is obvious. Clearly there will come a moment in time and reality wherein individual personalities will be either welcomed or rejected by Deity. The vehicle (metaphorical language and/or imagery) is not as important as the vehicle’s tenor (underlying subject matter to which the vehicle gives transport). Therefore, it should be noted, a literal interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth’s words is not necessary for any contemporary discussion regarding the realties of any realm the metaphor might point to, nor is it necessary for the defense of the inspiration of scripture. In fact, while one is preoccupied with wrestling some sort of literal interpretation from the text, he or she might remain totally ignorant to the challenge of tenor actually advanced by the text.

There remains an important metaphorical difficulty. Granted the correctness of the text (cf. Metzger, Textual Commentary, p. 19), are we to think of roads heading up to the gate, so that once through the gate the traveler has arrived at his destination, whether destruction or the consummated kingdom? Or is the gate something entered in this life, with the roads, broad and narrow, stretching out before the pilgrim? Tasker and Jeremias (TDNT, 6:922-23) adopt the former alternative, Jeremias appealing to Luke 13:23-24, where a door, not a road, is mentioned. He argues that Jesus originally said something about entering a door or gate and that Matthew’s form is a popular hysteronproteron (”later-earlier”) way of saying things with the real order reversed (like “thunder and lightning”).1

We Will Never Get to the Good Questions, if We are Forever Stuck Somewhere Before Basics!

There are many questions such as this that require much contemplation and prayerful research. Therefore, it is imperative that a Christian come to grasp with the elementary issues (metaphor mechanics) so one may move forward toward the establishing of sound doctrine and edifying faith practices. This is but one example of the serious detriment a non-literary approach to the Scriptures represents; there is no real reason to impede an exegetical method which includes literary basic mechanics and understanding.

The importance of a literary approach to the Scriptures – especially in this particular case, goes without saying. Identifying and correctly interpreting metaphors for what they are literarily does nothing harmful to the messages of Scripture, the messengers of Scripture, or to the Christian addendum to Scripture. In fact, a failure to properly treat Scripture with literary rules and disciplines, as the literalist does, results in nothing short of detriment to the tenor (subject of metaphorical language) of Jesus of Nazareth’s rich but spiritually desperate language regarding a future echelon of human existence wherein Deity is absolutely absent.

Watch for the fourth part of this series, titled: Mixed Up Metaphors: Confusing Tenor and Vehicle!

End Notes:

1. Zondervan Interactive (Firm), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Interactive,).

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