I have been told by several people that Jesus spoke more about Hell than He did about Heaven. Usually, in the context of the conversation, it was stated in order supposedly to support their idea that Jesus thought Hell more important, or at least to state that Jesus thought it a really important point. This would then mean that Jesus’s ‘stern warnings’ (their phrase, not mine) about Hell would carry more weight. I think.
So I thought I’d do a simple experiment. I took my book concordance (remember books? 😉 ) for my Bible – the 1978 New International Version (NIV) – and just looked up the two words ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’.
I have some news for you. The ‘Hell-supporters’ ‘ claim is woefully incorrect. Heaven is mentioned by Jesus far, far more often than is Hell; in fact I was actually amazed to see how infrequently Jesus mentioned the word ‘Hell’. Ok, I know He didn’t actually use the word ‘Hell’; it would have been either ‘Gehenna’ or ‘Hades/Sheol’. But I’m presenting the ‘worst-case’ scenario to give the idea a fair chance 🙂
So, why did my Hell-believing friends tell me something different? I can only surmise that they were told this ‘fact’ by someone else, and that person heard it from someone else and so on. Nobody had actually taken the time to go and research their claim – an idea which would not surprise me in the least. Clichés get passed around the Church all the time, and very few people actually take the time simply to verify what they’ve been told.
Added to that, there’s the ‘Chinese Whispers’ effect. If you look in the Old Testament (OT), ‘Hell’ is indeed mentioned a lot, at least in the King James Version (KJV). I wonder if maybe someone once said that the Bible (meaning, the Bible as a whole) mentions Hell more than it does Heaven, then that got changed to ‘the New Testament (NT) mentions Hell more than it does Heaven’, and finally that Jesus mentioned Hell more than He did Heaven. It would not surprise me in the least. That’s what ‘Chinese Whispers’ does.
But I’m not sure that even the OT mentions ‘Hell’ more than it does ‘Heaven’; the OT does in fact also mention Heaven one heck of a lot, although, to be fair, probably not in the sense that we understand it today in these post-NT times. And, in the OT, the word translated as ‘Hell’ in the KJV is always ‘Sheol’ which means ‘the grave’, the ‘state of the dead after death’, or the ‘pit’. In many cases, especially when reading the KJV against a more modern and slightly more honest translation – like the NIV 1978 that I use – it is obvious in many cases that the translators got it hopelessly wrong in the KJV because, in those cases, the use of the word ‘Hell’ does not fit the context. The NIV uses instead the terms ‘grave’, ‘depths’ or the ‘Pit’, and usually clarifies in the footnotes that the word is actually ‘Sheol’. I mention this because the OT mentions Sheol a lot, but it does not mean ‘Hell’ in the sense of eternal conscious torment that most Evangelicals understand today.
So, where does that leave us?
Firstly, we need to learn to question any dubious claims we hear about what the Bible ‘clearly’ says. We especially need to question Christian clichés and catch-phrases that roll easily off the tongue and are easy to remember, because often these are simply wrong and their only appeal is that they are easy to remember and don’t require any thought; in short, they are the lazy option.
Secondly, it reminds me of a principle that I discovered some months ago: “If, like the issue of Hell, a doctrine bears damaging fruit, then the very least thing we should due is to research the crap out of it in order to find out if it is correct. Anything less is disrespectful both to the Scripture and to those who are affected by it.”
And finally, it leaves us in no doubt that Jesus did indeed mention Heaven more than He did Hell.
For more on Hell and what I think about it, visit my Hell Resource Page.