Did Jesus ever actually say, “If you don’t believe in me you will go to hell”?

The question is:

Did Jesus ever actually say, “If you don’t believe in me you will go to hell”?

Short answer: No, Jesus never actually said that.

He did say some things that seem to imply it, and that are often interpreted that way. But in those instances, the context shows it is never mere lack of belief in Jesus (as that is usually understood today) that he said would cause a person to go to hell.

Let’s look at:

  1. What Jesus said in the Gospels specifically about hell.
  2. Two of the passages most commonly interpreted to mean that Jesus says that those who don’t believe in him will go to hell.
  3. Jesus’ clearest and most direct teaching about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.

1. What does Jesus say explicitly about hell?

For the purposes of this answer, we’ll accept the common interpretation of the Greek words hades and gehenna as meaning hell. We could debate the point, but for the sake of argument let’s just assume that these were the best words available to talk about what we today call “hell.”

Hades

The Greek word hades occurs four times in the Gospels. Two of them occur in Jesus’ upbraiding of unrepentant cities. Here is the version found in Matthew:

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent.”Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” (Matthew 11:20–24, italics added)

The parallel passage in Luke 10:13–16 is similar.

Here, Jesus does not say that these cities would be brought down to Hades because they didn’t believe in him. Instead, he says that this would happen because they didn’t repent.

A third mention of hades comes in Luke 16:23, in the context of the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31. Here, too, there is no mention of the rich man being in Hades because he hadn’t believed in Jesus. Instead, the implication of the story is that the rich man was in Hades because “was clothed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day,” and had no compassion on Lazarus, who “was laid at his gate covered with sores, [and] who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.”

The fourth mention of hades in the Gospels (in order of relevance to the question) is in Matthew 16:18, in the context of the story of Peter’s confession of Jesus in Matthew 16:13–20. Here Jesus says nothing about who will go to hell, but rather says that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church.

So in none of the occurences of hades in the Gospels does Jesus say that those who do not believe in him will go there. Rather, he says that those who do not repent will go there, and implies that those who show no compassion will go there.

Gehenna

The other Greek word in the Gospels that is traditionally translated “hell” is gehenna. This word occurs eleven times in the Gospels, three of them accompanied by the word for “fire.”

Six of these occurrences are in the context of Jesus’ saying about gouging out your eye or cutting off your hand or foot if they cause you to sin. Two of them are in the version found in Matthew:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27–30, italics added)

One more occurrence comes in Matthew 18:7–9, where Jesus uses a similar example to say that those who tempt others to sin are in danger of the hell of fire.

The other three are in Mark 9:42–48, which parallels Matthew 18:7–9.

In these six uses of gehenna, or hell, Jesus says nothing about going to hell for not believing in him. Instead, he speaks about the danger of going to hell due to sin—and not some theoretical, theological concept of sin, but specific sins such as adultery, lust, and tempting believers to sin.

Two more occurrences of gehenna occur in Matthew 23:15, 33, in the context of Jesus’ pronouncement of seven woes on the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. In that speech, once again, Jesus says nothing about the scribes and Pharisees going to hell because the didn’t believe in him, but rather because of their hypocrisy and their evil actions.

Two more occurrences of gehenna occur in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 10:26–33 and Luke 12:4–7 about what to fear and what not to fear. Here is the relevant verse as it appears in Matthew 10:28:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

There is no mention here of not believing in Jesus.

And the final occurrence of gehenna in the Gospels (in quasi-relevance order—this is actually its first occurrence in the Gospels) is found in Matthew 5:21–22:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Once again, there is no mention of going to hell for not believing in Jesus. Rather, Jesus says that those who in anger say harsh things against their brothers are in danger of the hell of fire.

Conclusion: Jesus’ specific uses of the word “hell”

These are all of the passages in the Gospel where Jesus specifically uses the word “hell”—either hades or gehenna.

As you can see, in none of them does he say that people will go to hell if they don’t believe in him.

This should be sufficient to demonstrate that Jesus never actually, directly said, “If you don’t believe in me you will go to hell.”

2. Two passages commonly read as Jesus saying that those who don’t believe in him will go to hell

Now let’s look at two of the most common passages traditionally interpreted to mean that Jesus says that those who do not believe in him will go to hell.

John 3:16–21

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:16–18)

When Jesus says, “Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God,” that seems clear enough, doesn’t it?

First of all, Jesus does not say, “Whoever does not believe will go to hell.” He says, “Whoever does not believe is condemned already.” And then he goes on to explain why that person is condemned:

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. (John 3:19–21, italics added)

Notice that Jesus is not talking merely about people who don’t believe him, but about people who “hate the light and do not come to the light” “because their works were evil.”

Merely believing, or not believing, in Jesus is not sufficient to save or damn a person, as many other passages show, such as:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

In John 3:16–21, perhaps the most famous passage in the Bible, Jesus does not pronounce condemnation merely on those who don’t believe in him, but rather, on those who hate the light (meaning the light of Jesus’ life and teachings) because their works are evil.

In other words, to interpret John 3:16–21 as meaning that those who merely believe in Jesus are saved, whereas those who merely don’t believe in Jesus are damned, is to read only two of the verses, and not the rest of the verses where Jesus explains what he means by “not believing in him.”

To spell it out clearly: Those who do not hate the light, and whose works are not evil, are not condemned, even if their theological belief does not include a belief that Jesus is God. Rather, people bring condemnation on themselves when they do evil works and therefore hate the light.

In short, when Jesus speaks in John 3:18 of those “who have not believed in the name of the only Son of God,” he is not speaking of some intellectual lack of belief, but of lack of belief as demonstrated by an evil and wicked life that hates the light.

It is a complete misuse of this passage to claim it means that those who do not believe in Jesus intellectually and theologically are condemned to hell.

For more on what “faith” and “belief” mean in the Bible, please see the article, “Faith Alone Is Not Faith.”

John 14:1–14

A second passage commonly interpreted as Jesus saying that those who do not believe in him will go to hell is found in John 14:1–14. Here are the verses where the key statement appears:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6–7, italics added)

Once again, at first glance this looks like a cut-and-dried case. Jesus said plainly, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

But let’s read this passage more carefully, and not read into it things Jesus didn’t actually say.

Jesus did not say, “No one comes to the Father unless they believe in me.” Rather, he said “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Those two are not the same statement.

Though Jesus’ explanation of his meaning in the verses that follow does mention belief, it focuses mostly on Jesus’ oneness with the Father:

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14:8–14)

Notice that Jesus does not say anything here about those who do not believe in him, but only about what will happen for those who do believe in him. Clearly, belief in him brings great benefits of light and power and access to the Father, meaning God.

But Jesus simply does not say here that those who do not believe in him will go to hell.

Rather, he says that he is the only way to the Father. It is an assumption and an interpretation that this means that the pathway he provides to the Father is available only to those who believe in him.

To use a rather prosaic example, if I drive on a road that goes to Denver, it is not necessary for me to believe in the governmental entity that built and maintains that road, or even to have any idea at all about who built the road. It is sufficient for me to drive on the road, and I’ll get to Denver.

Similarly, if the Son has provided a pathway to the Father, that doesn’t necessarily require that we intellectually believe in the Son; only that we travel the path that the Son has provided.

Yes, I’m aware that many Christians believe that path is available exclusively to those who believe in Jesus Christ. But that is an interpretation of the Gospels, not a direct statement that the Gospels themselves make.

For more on this please see the article, “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?

3. Jesus’ clearest teaching about who will go to heaven and who will go to hell

When Jesus himself speaks directly about who will go to eternal life and who will go to eternal punishment, here is what he says:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”

They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”

He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Matthew 25:31–46)

There is nothing at all here about belief. Only about whether or not we serve our fellow human beings who are in need. And that is the sole criteria Jesus gives in this story about who will go to heaven (eternal life) and who will go to hell (eternal punishment).

Matthew 25:31–46 contains the most direct teaching of Jesus about who will go to heaven and who will go to hell. Therefore his other statements about heaven and hell, condemnation and justification, must be read in light of it. Any interpretation that does not square with Jesus’ most direct teaching on the subject must be mistaken.

To state it plainly, those who interpret various statements of Jesus as meaning, “If you don’t believe in me you will go to hell” are ignoring Jesus’ most direct teachings about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, and relying instead on human interpretations of other passages that do not actually say such a thing in any clear and direct way, if they say it at all.

So once again:

No, Jesus did not actually say, “If you don’t believe in me you will go to hell.”

(Note: This post is a slightly edited version of an answer I originally wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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30 comments on “Did Jesus ever actually say, “If you don’t believe in me you will go to hell”?
  1. Iain says:

    Hi Lee, many thanks for your articles.

    Do you think, from a Swedenborg perspective, that people who don’t believe in God go to hell? What about if they have lived good lives? Also what about people who believe that God is just the universe and therefore they are also a part of God? (This is not my perspective, but friends that I know)

    • Lee says:

      Hi Iain,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and question, and your kind words.

      As it turns out, there is an article here especially for you! 🙂 “Do Atheists Go to Heaven?” And along the same lines, please see: “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?” And of course: “If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?

      Basically, people who believe in and live by some truth and good that they consider to be higher than themselves and their own benefit are believing in God even if they don’t call it God. Our intellectual conception of God and God’s nature—and even an intellectual rejection of the concept of God—makes little difference compared to whether we live by the qualities and characteristics of God, which are love, compassion, truth, wisdom, service to our fellow human beings who are in need, and so on. The articles I’ve linked for you above go into this in more depth.

      Enjoy!

      • Iain says:

        Thanks for your reply Lee – the articles make a lot of sense.

        Another question…

        Though turning to God then isn’t necessarily a requirement in life, just turning to God’s teachings instead is what is needed, would you say that turning to God in life, such as repentance and atonement, does help you overcome evil and falsities in your life? What does Swedenborg say about this?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Iain,

          Good question.

          Though people who don’t believe in God, or who have a very fuzzy and amorphous concept of God, can go to heaven, it is better to have a clear and accurate belief in and picture of God. That’s because our belief in God, and our understanding of God’s nature, will, and commandments, is our primary source of guidance as to what we should and shouldn’t do, and how we should and shouldn’t live our life. If we have an unclear picture of God and God’s nature and will, we will have an unclear picture of the purpose of our life here on earth, and exactly how we should direct our efforts, both outwardly and inwardly.

          For more on this, and particularly about the harm of faulty beliefs vs. the good of true and accurate beliefs, please see the article, “Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?

          People who have a fuzzy, amorphous idea of God tend to have a fuzzy, amorphous view of good and evil, also. Such a belief doesn’t give much direction as to how we are to live our inner and outer life. I think it would be difficult for someone without a clear belief in and picture of God to advance very far spiritually, since they’ll have little idea of where, exactly, they should go.

  2. Alex says:

    Hi Lee.

    Ultimately though, not believing does result in Hell. Just take it a step further. Believing in Jesus means believing his words. How much you value His words is the measure of your love for Him (loosely speaking).

    Not believing means not following and living by His word, meaning you accept yourself as your master, and we know how well that works.

    Is a distinction between believing his words and believing in his existence necessary? For Christians probably not, but for those following other (legitimate) religions or those mentioned in Romans 2:15 (who have the law written in their heart) this distinction should be made for they may not believe and Jesus is a thing, but they still follow His word.

    This argument that merely the belief in the existence of Christ gets you into Heaven and not believing into Hell strikes me like a Protestant theory. But faith without works is dead, so use does it to believe in His existence but not follow his word?

    I bit convoluted, but I hope I brought my point across.

  3. dbasolo says:

    In short he did not say it like that word for word however it is implied. When Jesus said he is the only way to the father for example implies if you don’t believe in Him you can’t get to the Father leaving you to be without God. I don’t believe this question was ever meant to taken so litteral it appears that this person wants to know if you don’t believe in Jesus would you go to hell or not. The answer to that question is Yes you would not inherit the kingdom of God “heaven”

    • Lee says:

      Hi dbasolo,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      But no, Jesus not only didn’t say that if you don’t believe him you will go to hell, he didn’t imply it either. In fact, he said in Matthew 25:31–46 that people of all nations (not only Christian nations) who do good deeds for their fellow human beings in need will be given eternal life. Not one word about any requirement of believing in him. Jesus does not contradict himself. And he would not have left out such an important teaching in his clearest and most extensive statement about who goes to eternal life and who goes to eternal punishment. You have added words to Jesus’ teaching, which is not allowed.

      If Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31–46 aren’t clear enough for you, Paul stated plainly, in words that cannot be mistaken except by willfully ignoring the Bible, that non-Christians will be judged for glory or for wrath by Jesus Christ based upon whether they have or have not done good:

      But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

      All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all. (Romans 2:5–16)

      You claim that God rejects all who do not believe in Jesus. The Bible says that God shows no partiality, judging Jews, Greeks (pagan polytheists), and Gentiles (non-Jews or non-Christians) according to what they have done. This is the plain teaching of the Bible, from beginning to end.

      Here are several more articles that cover this in more detail:

      Though it is all covered in these articles, I’ll say one more thing for now:

      You have added words to John 14:6, which is not allowed. John 14:6 does not say, “No one comes to the Father except through believing in me.” It says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” There’s a big difference.

      I urge you to read the Bible more carefully, and pay attention to exactly what it says. Don’t add words to it, as Protestant preachers and teachers do every day. The Bible does not say that we are saved or justified by faith alone. In fact, it specifically denies this. The Bible does not say that all non-Christians will go to hell. In fact, it specifically denies this.

      I urge you not to pay attention to human traditions that have nullified the Word of God, but to Jesus Christ himself. He, not Martin Luther or John Calvin, has the words of eternal life.

  4. Aruthra says:

    Can you explain John 5:24 Lee?

    • Aruthra says:

      John 11:25 also please

      • Lee says:

        Hi Aruthra,

        John 11:25 reads:

        Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,”

        This is similar in meaning to John 5:24, which I explained in a separate comment below. Here “dying” can be taken in two ways:

        1. Dying physically: People who believe in Jesus and live by that belief, meaning they live according to his teachings and commandments, continue to live spiritually even after they die physically.
        2. Dying spiritually: People who have been spiritually dead, meaning enmeshed in selfishness, greed, destructive behavior, and so on will become spiritually alive if they believe in Jesus and live by that belief, as in point 1.
    • Lee says:

      Hi Aruthra,

      John 5:24 reads:

      Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

      The fallacy of traditional Christian, especially Protestant, readings of this verse is that they think “belief” is a mere intellectual assent to some proposition, such as “Jesus is my Lord and Savior.” But real belief is always accompanied by action, as James explains in James 2:14–26.

      As Jesus says, anyone who hears his word and believes in God (“the Father”) who sent him has eternal life. That person is a changed person, because he or she is now living according to God’s love (which is especially meant by “the Father”) and God’s truth (which is especially meant by “the Son”). Real belief is always accompanied by action and a changed life.

      For more on what the Bible does and does not mean by “faith” and “belief,” please see the article:
      Faith Alone Is Not Faith

  5. Bob says:

    thank you for this article

    The ones that were condemned to eternal punishment, shows their disbelief in him by not being obedient to him. And feeding the hungry and clothing the naked… I believe it they truly believed in him they would have done what he asked them to do and they would have been christ-like by doing the things that Christ did. Which is having compassion for fellow humans. Also if they truly believed in him they would have believed in his words and teaching and they knew the outcome would have been exactly what they got. So when looking at my own life I pray that God will help me to be conformed to his ways and his will , hopefully to be more like Christ everyday. and hopefully through God’s grace and mercy I’ll be able to love folks the way he loves me and them.

    a little side note I was curious about the verse where he said the “least of these sisters and brothers” is that saying only the hunger of true believers or true followers of Christ?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comment. About “the least of these sisters and brothers,” I don’t believe this is limited to people who believe in Christ, though spiritually it does refer to people who live as Christ taught, whether or not they are Christians. I believe the Lord wants us to serve the needs of all people, whether or not they share our faith in Christ.

  6. Luna says:

    What happens to people who don’t give money to the homeless on streets because they believe that the homeless don’t deserve it? I don’t know if this is common in any other areas, but there are some people I know that are compassionate to most but don’t try to help the homeless (unless they are children or elderly) because they believe that if those homeless people actually tried, they would be able to get a job and not be homeless. Will these types of people go to hell?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Luna,

      If people are acting in good conscience, and don’t think that giving money to the homeless will actually do any good, they won’t be condemned for that. But if it’s part of an overall pattern of being stingy and unwilling to help people who aren’t as well off as they are, then that will subject them to judgment. Some people don’t give money to homeless people, but do engage in charitable activities or give to charities because they do want to help people. And some people just do their best to serve people in their job or career. The important thing is to cultivate a life of loving, caring about, and serving our fellow human beings in whatever way we feel called to serve.

  7. Luna says:

    What about John 6:35, John 8:12, John 14:6, and John 10:9-11? Many people say this is proof that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Is this true?

  8. Luna says:

    And also, what does it mean to look at someone with lustful intent. One of my friends has a dirty mind and when she looks at people she sees dirty things but she doesn’t actually want those thoughts but she can’t get away from them. How can she clean her dirty mind, and is she commuting Adultery in her heart?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Luna,

      God created us male and female, and put a desire to unite with one another deep in our heart, and also deep in our biology. Few to no people are able to entirely control their sexual thoughts and desires. We don’t have to feel guilty about that. However, some sexual thoughts that flit through our head are indeed unwanted and disturbing. And they’re often not at all easy to root out. There aren’t any really easy answers.

      What’s most important is not to act upon them. Treat people with respect, and don’t engage in dirty words and actions with or toward people.

      Beyond that, if she is looking at people and seeing dirty things, her mind is running on an external, physical, and superficial track. I say this not to condemn her, but just to make her aware of the human situation. We all tend to start out looking at things from an external and superficial perspective, based on outward appearances.

      Here is an exercise she can engage in to lessen the power of those dirty thoughts in her mind:

      When she sees someone, instead of just focusing on their appearance and their physical and sexual attributes, she can push her mind to think about that person as a human being. What does she think they are like as a person? Who are their family and friends? What are their relationships like? What issues do they struggle with? What contributions do they make to their neighborhood, their community, and their job? Even if she knows nothing about them, she can imagine these things in her mind, and build up a mental picture of the person as a human being.

      This exercise will help her to get her mind away from thinking about people on a purely physical level, which is where dirty thoughts come from, and get it thinking instead about people as whole human beings, who have not just a body with sexual parts, but a mind, a heart, relationships, beliefs, goals, and ideals.

  9. K says:

    Christ once said “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.”

    I take it that means one’s intent can make what one does count as good or evil as they do what the intent is to?

    • Lee says:

      Hi K,

      The main point of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:15–20 is that people’s character is shown not by their words, but by their actions. The conclusion is, “Thus you will know them by their fruits.”

      However, your point is also true. It is the intentions behind the actions that determine whether it is good or bad spiritually. This is a bit tricky because people can do the right thing for the wrong reason. Outwardly, the act may be good, such as giving money to charity. But if the giver is doing it, not to help people, but to enhance his or her own reputation and status in society, then spiritually, for them, the act is evil rather than good.

      Jesus talks about this sort of thing elsewhere, such as where he speaks of the religious leaders of the day as whitewashed graves that are beautiful outwardly, but inwardly are full of dead people’s bones. In other words, their outward actions are good and beautiful, but their inward motivations are evil and dead.

      In other words, “You will know them by their fruits” is 100% true spiritually, even though it may sometimes seem not to be true outwardly.

      Still, in general, if you watch people long enough, and pay attention to what they do, you’ll be able to get a good idea of their character and motivation.

  10. Ray says:

    Hi Lee. Since words that are often translated as Hell mean things like Gehenna or Sheol, where is Hell actually mentioned in the bible?

    • Lee says:

      Hi Ray,

      The concept of an afterlife developed slowly, over many centuries, among the ancient Jews. In the Old Testament there is barely any mention of any afterlife at all, because most Israelites believed that when you died, you simply went to sleep forever in the grave. They believed God blessed good people and cursed bad people in this life.

      By New Testament times, there was an active debate among Jews as to whether there is an afterlife, as reflected in the Gospel story. Those who did believe in an afterlife adopted words that had literal meanings, such as “the underworld” (hades) or “the fire pit in the valley outside of Jerusalem” (gehenna) to mean “hell,” or the miserable place in the afterlife reserved for evil people.

      The fact that these words didn’t originally mean “hell” doesn’t take anything away from their later adoption and adaptation to have that meaning. In pretty much every language, the word for “heaven” originally simply meant “sky.” And originally people thought God and the angels lived in the literal sky far above their heads. Later the word was adopted as a metaphor, then as a simple word, for heaven.

      This is just how human language here on earth works. We first create vocabulary to name all the objects and events around us, and then we spiritualize that same vocabulary so that we can talk about divine and spiritual objects and events.

      Materialistic religious and atheist types who object that none of these words really mean hell are misunderstanding how language works. Those were the words that were available to the New Testament authors, and they used them to mean hell, whatever their more literal meaning might have been.

      • Ray says:

        How would Swedenborg disproved the annihilation doctrine? Especially when Jesus talks about destroying the body and soul?

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          Jesus’ own words disprove the annihilation doctrine.

          For example, in Matthew 25:46 he says that those who have not done good deeds for their fellow human beings “will go away to eternal punishment.” You can’t be eternally punished if you no longer exist.

          In Mark 9:47–48 he says that certain people will be “thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.” He is speaking metaphorically, of course. But if a person is annihilated, that person’s worm does indeed die, and that person’s fire is indeed quenched.

          In John 3:36 he says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” The wrath of God cannot remain on someone who no longer exists.

          In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31, the rich man is not annihilated in his afterlife. He is in torment in Hades, or hell.

          Passage after passage makes it clear that the evil continue to live forever just as the good do. But it is a living death, in that they have indeed destroyed their body and soul by twisting them into inhuman shapes and behaviors.

          Just one more passage, this time from the Old Testament:

          If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
          if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
          (Psalm 139:8)

          “Sheol” is the Hebrew Bible’s word for the grave or the underworld, analogous to Hades or hell in the New Testament. How can God be with someone in the grave or the underworld if that person no longer exists?

          There are many other passages that could be quoted.

          In short, Swedenborg doesn’t have to disprove the annihilation doctrine, because the Bible itself disproves it.

        • Ray says:

          Hey Lee. I know Hell won’t be a pleasant place to be, but yet, evil spirits will derive some pleasure from being there. Yet, the rich man is in torment, and aware of his miserable circumstances. So much so he wants to warn his brothers of Hell. How does that line up with Swedenborg’s theology.

        • Lee says:

          Hi Ray,

          The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19–31 is not explicitly labeled as a parable, but it clearly is a parable, and Christians have commonly (though not always) read it as a parable right from the beginning. By its very nature, a parable is not meant to be taken literally, but metaphorically. That’s what makes it a parable.

          In this parable Jesus is not describing the literal conditions in hell. He is telling a metaphorical story about life on earth vs. life in the afterlife, and how the two relate to each other.

          The metaphorical nature of the story is clear from such details as Lazarus, after he died, being “carried to Abraham’s side” (verse 22), and the rich man in Hades asking Abraham to “send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue” (verse 24). Clearly people who die can’t all literally go “to Abraham’s side,” or Abraham would quickly be so mobbed as to have not an inch of room to move. And clearly, if the rich man is immersed in fire, Lazarus dipping the tip of his finger in water is not going to cool the rich man’s tongue. This is obviously a constructed, metaphorical story, not a literal description of the afterlife.

          Swedenborg, of course, does interpret the parable figuratively, not literally. Here is one example:

          In Luke,

          The rich man said to Abraham, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame. Luke 16:24.

          People who do not know that a person’s vital heat has a different origin from that which is the source of elemental fire cannot possibly do anything else but think that by hell fire is meant fire like that found in the world. In the Word however this latter kind of fire is not meant but the fire of love, thus the fire of a person’s life, emanating from the Lord as a Sun. And when this fire comes among those engrossed in pursuits contrary to it, it is turned into the fire of evil desires which, as stated above, belong to vengeance, hatred, and cruelty, and which well up from self-love and love of the world. This is the fire that torments those who are in hell, for when the restraint placed on their evil desires is relaxed, one sets upon another and they torment one another in dreadful and indescribable ways. For each has the wish for supremacy and wants to take from the other the things he has by hidden or open devices. When one or two have such desires hatreds consequently develop within the group, and these lead to the savage deeds that are performed, especially by the use of devices involving magic and the use of figments of the imagination, devices which are countless and totally unknown in the world. (Arcana Coelestia #6832:9)

          In short, the “fire” mentioned in verse 24 is not literal fire, but the spiritual fire of selfishness and greed, which lead to anger, hatred, and cruelty of every evil spirit in hell toward every other evil spirit in hell. This is the source of the torments of hell as well, which the evil spirits there inflict upon one another.

  11. David Johnson says:

    So those who don’t believe in Jesus go to heaven? Then their first response in seeing Jesus is: “Who are you?” That’s weird. Won’t they shocked that he actually walked this earth for the express purpose of actually paying the price for their reception into heaven? “It is finished”. The Scriptures makes it completely clear that it takes works to get into heaven. Not ours but His. “For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8,9)

    • Lee says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

      In the afterlife, non-Christians who have lived according to their conscience will joyfully accept Jesus as their Lord and their God, just as Thomas did (John 20:28), when they realize that Jesus is the God they have been worshiping all along, and the one who has saved them. Read Romans 2:1–16. Paul explains it all there.

      Paul also states very clearly in Romans 2:5–11 that God will repay all people according to their deeds, regardless of their religion:

      For he will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

      The teaching of the Bible is very clear about this. Unfortunately, the so-called Christian Church has rejected the plain teaching of the Bible. Your mind has been infected by that unbiblical human teaching as well. I urge you to reject the human traditions you have been taught, and turn to the Word of God instead.

      About Ephesians 2:8–9, please see:
      Doesn’t Ephesians 2:8–9 Teach Faith Alone?
      The real meaning of that passage is explained there.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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