Heaven and Hell – Beware what you hear!

Maybe you have heard this statement before: “Jesus talks more about hell than he does about heaven.”

Just yesterday I heard a radio message from a local pastor claim that Jesus talked about hell 3 times more than he does heaven. As I sat in my car I thought to myself, “No he doesn’t” and couldn’t wait to get back to my computer and Bible Works to check out the claim. And sure enough, the claim is absolutely false. IN FACT, it is just the opposite.

Results for an English word search (King James Version – KJV which happens to be the version most fond of the word hell, our modern versions are much less fond of the word, NAS using it only 13 times total):

Hell is used 54 times in the KJV Bible , 15 times in the gospels.

Heaven is used 582 in the KJV Bible, 143 times in the gospels.

Really the ratio is 10:1, Jesus speaks of heaven 10 times more than he does of hell. Now that is just simple word usage, not taking any time to do an in depth analysis of context or the Hebrew and Greek words behind the simple English words Hell/Heaven. Anyone familiar with the background knows that it is not a simple process in talking about the word or concept of hell. Our modern concept is much more developed than the Old Testament Jewish concept and even different from the Judaism of NT times.

Sheol is the Hebrew word that the KJV translates “hell.” Most modern translations have abandoned that translation of sheol altogether and either simply translate sheol as “grave” or simply “sheol.”

Abusso, gehenna, hades, tartarus are the New Testament (Greek) possibilities for the word “hell.” None of them literally means “hell” rather they literally mean: abyss; Hinnom valley; the nether world; tartarus is only used once in 2 Peter 2:4 and the lexicons define it as the subterranean place lower than Hades where divine punishment was meted out.

Unfortunately, many pastors do not do primary study or research. Rather, they depend upon sermons that they have heard before, secondary sources that make unverified claims, or sermon outlines they purchased online. Some pastors just don’t know their limits and venture into areas beyond their expertise. Sometimes pastors are unprepared and feel the need to overstate to “motivate” or move their audience. So the listener is left with mythology, not good sound theology or doctrine. With the glut on the internet and podcasting, and the need radio stations have to compete there is no guarantee that goes along with the broadcast/sermon.

Caveat auditorem.

Listener, beware.

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  • I’ve been trying to come to a better understanding of the issue of hell and eternal torment lately and have found a number of sources pointing to a different interpretation of hell based on careful translation of primary sources. I appreciate your insight and will be checking back to your blog in the future. Thanks!

  • Gracemark,

    Thanks for reading, I would be interested in your thoughts about this topic. This is a good area for some fresh discussion and exegesis.

  • The number 143 keeps showing up on research on the Holy Bible. Can you tell us how many times Jesus spoke with people while on earth? Was it 143?
    Wondering,
    Harry Johns

  • precepts

    Very good analysis. There are many such often-repeated ideas that no one takes the time to check back against the Bible. This one I have heard multiple times, knew wasn’t true, but hadn’t taken the time to run the actual numbers. Thanks for thinking on the Scriptures, checking your facts, and sharing it with us. Keep studying the Word!

  • carlos

    hi i was wondering did you did this study using all names given to hell like some of them:
    sheol,hades,gehenna,place of punishment,dwelling place,tartarus

  • Reuben

    I’d just like to point-out that the heaven that is referred to so often in the gospels is not the same heaven that the pastor was speaking of when he made the ratio comparison. It’s a great study to look into with a proper understanding of both sides.
    Keep up the good work!

  • Reuben,
    You are so right, a post idea for another time. Preconceived notions of Heaven that match a more eastern philosophy/Religion are unwittingly held by believers. Lots of misunderstanding about resurrection as well.

  • David

    Sorry, but you are incorrect. An accurate study cannot be conducted by a word search alone. One must read/study scripture (God’s infallible Word). The bible Old & New Testaments), as well as what Jesus spoke about during His ministry, warns of hell approx. 3 times more than referencing heaven. Please correct this misleading and deceitful web page. Thanks.

    “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – Jesus, John 14:6

  • stevebag

    David,

    Thanks for visiting and posting.

    You say I am incorrect but you site no refutation other than to say I am incorrect. I am wondering if you read the post carefully, or at all.

    You say “an accurate study cannot be conducted by a word search alone. One must read/study scripture…” Part of reading and studying is identifying and defining word usage and meaning. You are right, accurate and complete Bible study is not word search alone, but the post is responding to a word-search-alone statement, and refuting it by doing a word search and making a few elementary definitions of words.

    How speaking accurately and posting simple statistics makes this a misleading and deceitful web page I do not know.

    Jesus does not speak of hell 3 times more than he does of heaven. I am making no other statement in this post than to point out the word usage statistic that the preacher I heard and now you have made in this post is simply factually untrue. If you can demonstrate to me how I am wrong I am happy to recant.

  • David

    Hi Steve,
    I do apologize if I offended you or came on too strong with my previous comment. That was certainly not my intent. Modern evangelism is about ‘life enhancement’, rather than what it should be about, which should be: the fear of God, eternal punishment for living in sin (basically telling God, ‘no, you will noty rule over me’, and truly repenting because we are hurting a God that so loves us and is so good to us. I, as well as the great expository teachers of today & yesterday, take great offense to anybody trying to water down the Gospel (not that you are). Jesus gave the Law to the proud and mercy to the humble. I think one needs to be very careful about comparing the number of times in which heaven and hell is referenced in the bible. Regardless of the number, hell is mentioned enough that we are fully warned. I have not yet had an opportunity to research the amount of time that ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ are refenced in the bible. I have heard from several reliable sources that ‘hell’ is referenced more often. When/if I get verifiable info I will be sure to pass it along. Meanwhile, may the fruits of the Spirit and blessings be upon you.

  • Dougcartwright

    Thanks for this. I also read that the significance of Gehenna to the Jews (which is on the south valley of Jerusalem) was as a place of national disgrace as it was the place where the Israelites used to sacrifice their children to Moloch, the place that Joshua originally gave to the sons of Hinnon when they entered the promised land. I am not saying there is not a spiritual Gehenna only that, as pointed out, our conceptions are so much better developed (it seems) than the people of the time. Medieval documents such as Dante’s Inferno, and Milton’s Paradise Lost have not helped, wonderful literature that they are. I am currently reading a Phd dissertaion by Helen Kircher on Google books about the development of the words aion and olam (usually translated eternity in most English bibles) and throughout the centuries these words have taken on a new significance not present in ancient languages. I am not in any way disrespecting the scriptures, I believe in their inerrency but our translations – well, we need to be a bit humble and realise that accurate though they are we are still seperated by thousands of years and a totally different culture so some of our interpretational frames are different to theirs. For example, one of the names for God – El Shaddai means the many-teated/breasted one. Imagine if that were translated literally. But it refers metaphorically to the goats who provide nourishment to their children and carries over to the idea of God providing for us. Remember, these people lived as Nomads for 40 years. Anyway, I ramble on. Thanks for the article.