Heaven and Hell are not Christian inventions! “Heaven and Hell” are not mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures which Christians call the Old Testament. Heaven and Hell are a product of Hellenization. Hellenization consisted of the dominate Greek Empire and culture, established by Alexander the Great, trickled down into the average way of life of Mediterranean people. Jewish and Christian thinking at the time of Jesus are a product of Hellenization, specifically the teachings of Plato. Surely, many non-Greeks did not like the advancement of Greek culture into their way of life and thinking, but it was inevitable.
Plato in the “Republic” gets the credit with visions of heaven and hell. These beliefs become more mainstream in what historians call the “intertestamental period”. The years between the Old Testament and the New, approximately 400 years, from 400BCE to the time of Jesus. Jesus is very much a product of this Hellenized culture. Martin Luther removed the books of the Old Testament that were written in Greek. Today we call those books, the Apocrypha, and Protestant Bible do not have those books. Roman Catholic Bibles continue to include these Greek treasures. The Apocrypha is an interesting read, as are other “Greek Old Testament books” such as Enoch. Enoch gets mentioned in Genesis in the Old Testament, and Jude and Hebrews in the New Testament. Enoch was one of those Greek writings that very much influenced Jewish and Christian thinking, especially when it came to the after life.
Nothing happens in a vacuum. Everything has a context and we need to understand Greek culture and philosophy if we want to better understand early Christianity.
Do you believe in Hell? Pew Foundation continues to survey American beliefs of Hell and they list all the different demographics. Women verses Men, Age, race, religion, but overall, American belief in Hell is declining. That’s a good thing. I am and never will be in favor of a faith system based on fear as a motivation for my behavior. Fear might change my behavior but it can’t touch my heart. Jesus wants our hearts and minds. Religion and religious leaders have used fear of Hell effectively. When our actions are based on fear of a future retribution, our hearts become cold. When our actions are based on love, and we seek to follow the teachings of Jesus our generosity and hearts grow. A belief system that requires you to get it right and believe the right thing, leads us away from a Grace-centered faith. Believe God is Love and you can’t go wrong.
1 John 4:18 (NRSV)
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
We can’t reach perfection, but we can strive in that direction. While striving, we can toss away fear, especially a fear of Hell.