If you ask people why it matters whether or not there is a hell, many people say, "Because I don't want to go there." Many people at least attempt to follow some religious dogma because of the fear of going to hell.
I attended a Christian church for about 35 years. During that time, I saw many inconsistencies in the Bible and questioned church leaders and teachers about them. I was continually told that there ARE NO errors in the Bible, no inconsistencies. Everything can be explained. Why are there 5,000 different Christian denominations then, in addition to other religions? Because no one can agree on what it means. If a god wanted us to all embrace one spiritual truth, then he would have done a better job of making sure that the words left behind were understandable. Instead, they are enigmatic and open to many different interpretations. This in and of itself does not build confidence in the text.
In spite of my lack of confidence in the accuracy of the text and the subsequent interpretations of it, I tried my best to follow the spirit of the major Biblical teachings. This was not due to any internal conviction that the teachings were right, but simply due to the rationalization that, if there was a hell, I didn't want to go there. When I was 15 years old, one of my best friends had decided to accept Jesus as her personal savior, and was on the way down to the church building to be baptized, and wanted me to be there. My family and I got into the car and start to drive to the church. On the way there, my family said to me, "Well, don't you think it's about time you did the same thing?" I knew what was expected of me, and being a compliant child at that point in life, I said yes. So that day, I also went through the motions of being baptized. From that time forward, I was part of the inner circle of the"saved", not because I felt any compunction that it was necessary, but because I knew it was expected of me.
Be that as it may, from that time forward, I memorized the Bible, prayed, and tried my best to do what was right and make sense of the words supposedly left to us by God. I even took two semesters of New Testament Greek, which did nothing to resolve my difficulties with the text, it only created more questions, which no one seemed to want to answer with anything more than the usual pat answers. For some reason, Christians seemed to be opposed to looking at evidence outside their traditons for the truth. My argument was, if what we believe is really right, it should be able to stand up to rigorous investigation. If it's really right, we have nothing to fear from looking at other sources of coroborrating evidence because everything will be in harmony.
After years of going from one church to another and studying their beliefs, and rigorously studying on my own because I couldn't get church leaders or teachers to actually study the vast amount of information out there, I finally prayed to God and said, "Please show me the truth. All these different belief systems disagree, and there is no way to tell which one is right, for they all use the same scriptures to defend what they say the text means. Please show me what is right. I will believe it, even if it conflicts totally with what I have been taught. Show me concrete, hard evidence of the truth." Well, be careful what you ask for. Ask, and it is given, if you are really willing to accept the gift. And it truly is a gift.
I first came across the work of Dr. George Lamsa, now deceased. Dr. Lamsa lived in a remote village in the mountains of Syria which had almost no contact with the outside world, and in which they spoke Aramaic presumed to be the same or very close to the language Jesus spoke. which was commonly in use during that time. When Dr. Lamsa grew up, left his village and went to college, he was surprised to learn, upon studying the Bible in English, that major portions of the text had been mistranslated. Many of the idioms commonly used in Aramaic had not been properly understood by those that translated the Biblical texts because Aramaic was not their native language.
An idiom is a phrase that has come to mean something other than it's literal meaning. For instance, "He's in a pickle." There's no such thing as a person being in a pickle, but that phrase has come to mean that you are in a jam or you are experiencing a problem. It is difficult to understand the idioms of a language that is not your native language. I am reminded of a scene from one of my favorite movies, Karate Kid II. In this scene, Daniel and Kumico are standing in the road, and Kumico is trying to teach Daniel a Bon dance. When she finishes, Daniel says, "We should take it on the road," meaning, it's good enough to be performed for others. Kumico, not understanding this idiom, says, "But we are ON the road." Because English was not her native language, she could not unerstand phrases which we take for granted that people understand.
Dr. Lamsa, because he understood the Aramaic idioms, was able to see that many passages of the Bible had been mistranslated by those who had not spoken Aramaic from their youth. For this reason, many doctrines are taught that are in error. In fact, there are several recorded instances of Jesus' disciples not understanding a parable he taught. This is because Jesus spoke the Northern Aramaic dialect, while most of his disciples spoke the Southern Aramaic dialect. If THEY didn't understand him, imagine how hard it is for us today to understand what was written.
As Dr. Lamsa read through the English text of the Bible, he was able to identify where mistranlations had occurred and correct them. I urge you to get the little book, "Idioms of the Bible Explained" and see where some of the mistakes are. I found two very glaring mistakes that really are crucial to understanding everything. One was the understanding of Satan or the Devil, and the other was the understanding of hell as a place of eternal punishment and torment. The word translated Satan is ha-satan. It is NOT a proper name. The "ha" stands for "the" and shows it is a title bestowed on a being rather than the name of a being. It simply means "one who opposes another." It is NOT inherently an evil presence or entity In the Old Testament story of Balaam, God puts an angel in Balaam's way so the donkey he is riding will not go forward. The text calls the angel of God the "ha-satan." The angel was opposing Balaam. In the Talmud and other rabbinic sources, when the term is used, the ha-satan is an agent of God and has no independent existence. In the book of Job, the ha-satan is an angel of God sent to oppose people so God can see how they react. Where did the idea originate that Satan is an entity that opposes God and is evil? This doctrine was not taught in the Bible but developed and evolved many years after the days of Jesus.
When the Bible says Jesus casts out devils or demons, Dr. Lamsa translates this "Jesus healed the insane man." The idea that man can be possessed by a demon is a Catholic concept. This was actually a form of insanity, a mental illness, not demon possession. And the idea that the devil is going to torment us for eternity is simply not present in the original Aramaic text.
For a really good, detailed word study of Hell, I refer you to The Bible Hell and hope you will take the time to go through every point of that study. I will only summarize it here. Basically, the Jews of the Old Testament did not believe in hell. The term Sheol is used, which simply means, a hole in the ground where a body is put. There was absolutely no belief in an afterlife or eternal punishment. It is simply translated "the grave." The word Hades is of Greek origin, which shows the influence of the Greek myths on the New Testament. The term "Gehenna" refers to a burning trash dump outside Jerusalem where prisoners were often taken to stay as punishment. This was a literal place, and there is no indication in the text that this was to be taken as eternal. Since we have already learned that there is no devil who is a literal being, why would we believe there is a literal hell?
During this time I was also studying the history of writing as a form of communication, and learned that the gospels were not written by those who we think they were written by. But that's a subject for another web page. Suffice it to say, there are many, many reasons to distrust the authority of the text. See The Bible Unearthed, a set of four video presentations which wll tie together for you much of the archeology that has been discovered, and which disproves much of what is written in the Bible. I can also recommend to you "The History of Writing" which is not a religious book but chronicles the development of written language down through the centuries. When studying this, you will find that there was no Hebrew language until between 500-600 BC and that's when the first Old Testament books were written down. Moses was believed to have lived sometimes between 1000 to 1400 BC, although there is absolutely no reference to Moses or the Exodus in any Egyptian writings. He could therefore not have written the first five books of the Bible since he was dead long before there was a language for him to write it in. Those who lived in 500-600 BC could not possibly have had first hand knowledge of the events they were writing about, but were writing from Oral Tradition, which we know gets changed from generation to generation as the stories get passed down. We also know that the stores of Adam and Eve, the flood, and many of the other stories of the Old Testament as well as the life of Jesus were already in existence in other cultures years before they were copied into the Hebrew culture.
NOW HERE IS WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT. I was studying diligently to find the truth, and it seemed like the truth was hitting me in the face. There is no Satan and no Hell. No eternal torment. No punishment, other than the unpleasant consequences we experience on earth as a result of our actions. If there is no hell that I am going to be sent to if I do something wrong, then the whole reason for following all these dogmas falls apart. Whether or not I keep each and every commandment perfectly is not so crucial. And there is no need for an atoning sacrifice when there is no hell to be delivered from. The more I studied, the more I saw that even the idea of an atoning sacrifice was a pagan idea, borrowed from pagan cultures. Everything in the Bible was borrowed from another source, all from ancient pagan sources. Amazing that so many have believed such a lie.
Why does it matter that there is not a hell? You now don't have to feel unworthy, imperfect, and evil, in need of a savior. You are perfectly acceptable the way you are. That doesn't mean we can't strive to do good things simply because they are loving and compassionate and improve people's lives. But we are free now to do them because of the right reasons. Doing something because a god is standing over you telling you to do it is not the right way. Doing it so you won't go to hell is not the right way. Doing it because you love others and want to help them IS the right way. Now you can dispense with all the superstition and dogma and take a deep breath. You are free. And you always have been, you just didn't know it. You needn't feel bad about not sharing the beliefs of your family, friends, or church. It's ok if they go on believing the way they do, but you don't have to agree, and it's ok. You are your own person and you can believe what you want. You don't have to please anyone else,
From that point on, I learned so much, have studied so much. Don't be afraid to look at the truth. It really will set you free.
One thing this does is free you from the superiority complex many Christians have. The "I'm acceptable and you're not because I'm saved and you're not" can be dispensed with. I can remember going to the convenience store and standing in line to pay for my items, and the person in front of me would be buying some beer and I remember having a disdain for that person because they are engaging in something I had been taught was wrong. After having this revelation that things which I previously thought were wrong actually held no spiritual danger whatsoever, I remember looking at those people differently. I still don't drink beer because I think it tastes nasty, but I no longer feel condemning and judgmental toward those who do. It's simply a personal choice, and one which, apart from the consequences to our health here in this life, has no spiritual significance. It's so wonderful to be free from the fear, judgmentalism, and superior attitude the Christian faith fosters.