Did Jesus preach hell more than heaven?

Before Rethinking Hell was forged—which is now more than two years ago—our own Dr. Glenn Peoples had already been writing and speaking on this topic for a number of years. With surprising frequency these days, one hears from those who credit Glenn with having been instrumental in their journey toward conditionalism. As a matter of fact, this includes a number of others on our team.

One of the many perks for those attending the Rethinking Hell 2014 Conference will be the opportunity to meet and hear from Glenn in person. If you were thinking of joining us in Houston on July 11-12 but haven’t yet secured your registration, don’t leave it too late!

For those not already in the know, much of Glenn’s writing (on hell and many other topics) can be found at his blog, Right Reason. His podcast “Say Hello to My Little Friend” is also well worth checking out, as the most popular theology podcast in the Southern hemisphere.

What has all this got to do with the title of this post? Well, Glenn tells us that his article of the same name is the most popular one on his site. By an objective measure, we know that people really are asking this question in droves! Without further ado, let’s see what Dr. Peoples has to say about it.

Did Jesus preach hell more than heaven?

If you have any serious interest in the subject of hell, you will probably have either read or heard someone tell you that Jesus taught more about hell than anyone else in the Bible. In fact, you may also have read/heard people telling you that Jesus preached on the fearful idea of hell as a place of endless suffering far more than he talked about heaven. But if anyone says that this is true, then their problem isn’t theology. It’s maths.

John Walvoord, in his contribution to the book Four Views on Hell says that when it comes to the doctrine of hell in the Bible, “Jesus himself defined this more specifically and in more instances than any New Testament prophet. All the references to gehenna, except James 3:6, are from the lips of Jesus Christ himself…”1Walvoord, “The Literal View” in William Crockett (ed.), Four Views on Hell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 19-20.

Some of the initial rhetorical impressiveness of this observation fades away, however, when we realise that “all the instances” of gehenna, in the Gospels actually amounts to very few. As it is a very Jewish word (a Greek term derived from a Hebrew word referring to the Valley of Hinnom), it comes as no surprise that Matthew uses it most often. But even in Matthew’s Gospel, it appears in no more than four contexts (Matthew 5, Matthew 10, Matthew 18 and Matthew 23). Actually, none of those passages really serve the purpose of teaching about gehenna. That word is used in passing during a teaching on a different subject.

To be fair, the writers of the gospels don’t actually have to…

Click here to read the rest of this article over at Right Reason.


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1 Walvoord, “The Literal View” in William Crockett (ed.), Four Views on Hell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 19-20.