Oh, Oh…Somebody Miscounted Hell.

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I’m sort of embarrassed to admit that, up until the last two years, I never stopped to think about certain important discrepancies in my theology. For instance, we’ve all been taught from our church statements of faith and our pastors that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. So why do all the different Bible versions have a significantly different number of occurrences of the word hell?

I mean, a proper understanding of hell is pretty important—since it’s the worst thing that could ever happen to anybody. And all the popular versions are based on the same Hebrew manuscript (Old Testament) and one of two Greek manuscripts (New Testament), so where’s the problem? It seems this is no small discrepancy. I mean, check out the astonishing disparity in some of the more familiar versions for yourself:

TM (The Message)=56

KJV (King James)=54

NKJV (New King James)=32

NLT (New Living)=19

NCV (New Century)=15

ESV (English Standard)=14

NIV (New International)=14

AMP (Amplified)=13

NAS (New American Standard)=13

YLT (Young’s Literal)=0

CLT (Concordant Literal)=0

WEB (World English Bible)=0

Hmmmm. If our Bible translations are truly accurate and we are using them authoritatively, shouldn’t everybody have the exact same number (or close to it) of hells? What do you think is going on?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, but in case you are totally stumped, this is one of the questions I address in my upcoming book. In a couple weeks, it will be available for pre-order and I’ll be listing all the details—so stay tuned and be watching!

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  • Brian

    Julie:

    This is a very interesting Question, I was wondering if you checked out the number of times the Tanak has the word Hell in it.
    I will have to look into that and get back to you.

    • jferwerd

      Nope…I don't have a way to look that up. Would like to hear though.

  • Ranjit

    I'm guessing that a word count for any word in the Bible would show different counts among the translations…in fact I'd be surprised if there wasn't a different count.

    • jferwerd

      This is true. But it should be an alert to sloppy scholarship (and misleading information) in a case like this!

      • Ranjit

        I'm sniffing an agenda when you use the words "in a case like this"…. :) I don't know Greek…I wonder what words Jesus uses in the parable in Matthew 25:41 when he uses the phrase "eternal fire".

  • Julie,

    Not having the time to do the analysis at the moment, did you find that the cases where hell did not appear in a verse (where it did appear in some other version), that the other word choice had the meaning of "hell"? In other words, isn't that the whole point of different translations that we are using different word choices that convey the same meaning in different (some better, some worse) than another version?

    Jim

    • jferwerd

      Hey Jim. That is not the case at all. Translators pick and choose between four different words to translate them as hell or not, but none of them mean what we teach today as hell–conscious eternal torment and/or separation from God. That is why the literal translations have 0 occurrences.

      • Ranjit

        "but none of them mean what we teach today as hell– conscious eternal torment and/or separation from God. That is why the literal translations have 0 occurrences."

        …trying to follow your argument here…

        So you're contention (if I'm understanding correctly), is that:
        1) none of the 4 words we equate with hell have any support in the text for meaning "conscious eternal torment and/or separation from God." I'm assuming your contention is that the meaning you say that some teach today has been fabricated without support in the text.

        2) literal translations (which translations do you include in that designation?) don't refer to the english word "hell" but instead refer to these other four words?

        To be honest I think you've set up a bit of a "straw woman" :) argument by saying that "if our Bible translations are truly accurate". It seems a stretch to me to claim that our translations are truly accurate…so to me the number of times the word "hell" is used tells us what that translation team felt was the best word they could use based on their experiences/knowledge…it doesn't necessarily tell us what God intended, i.e. the translations aren't inspired, although God can use them. See 1 Chron 26:18 in KJV and NIV for example. :) Or, look at how the translations condense the various Greek words for the word "love" into a single English word for it.

        • Damian

          hey Ranjit, have you ever opened a concordance? Have you ever read the introduction to the king james version, it will open your eye's as to how it was translated. Most scholars of that day thought it to be worthless.

        • jferwerd

          Two great well known literal translations are Word English Bible and Young's LIteral Translation. They will render the true word in the text. You are right…the fact that the translators don't distinguish types of love is another example of sloppy scholarship. So much meaning has been lost because of incorrect or poor translation. But I'm really not here to argue. You can read my book if you want to know how I have come to these conclusions. I'm very thorough there and connect the dots from A to Z.

          Ranjit, if you are not open to considering the possibilities, then this is not the blog for you. I don't intend to make this a debate site, but just a place for people who are willing to question WHY they believe what they do and to see if their beliefs hold up to the Scriptures–not translations or traditions mind you.

          • Ranjit

            Sorry, if I implied that I wasn't open to considering the possibilities…I just wasn't following your contentions which is why I tried to restate them for confirmation.

  • Damian

    When the King James version was translated it was translated as to the popular belief of the day. Today's translation is not any better. Today's translaters haven't any excuse not to translate the scriptures correctly. So why don't they? Because they either aren't scholars or they want there translation to sell. If it was done correctly it would not.
    I have applied to a few of the bible colleges out there. Just about all of them have there idea of what is right. And in order to go there a person has to submit to them. Christ said He will give us all knowlege. Trust Him.

    • jferwerd

      Thanks Damian. Yes, there is no excuse for all the horrible errors. But God said this would happen. Jeremiah 8:7-9 is a direct prophecy about the corruption of Scriptures that we are faced with today:

      "But My people do not know the ordinance of the LORD. How can you say, `We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us'? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. The wise men are put to shame, they are dismayed and caught; behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, and what kind of wisdom do they have?"

      • Ranjit

        I'm not sure how you can be sure that "Jeremiah 8:7-9 is a direct prophecy about the corruption of Scriptures that we are faced with today".

        To be honest, one of my "buttons" is folks who claim verse A is for sure a prophecy about x or y…I've heard that in the 70's folks were sure that Henry Kissinger was the anti-Christ, or that current pope, or whatever… It probably keeps me from being open to prophecy like I should. I err on the side of being too skeptical that verse x proves y since I've seen so many folks be wrong. I'm not saying that the verses you cite don't mean what you say they mean…I just don't know how you can be sure, that's all. If the prophecy is true and it applies to Biblical translation then it implies that the translators are intentionally lying…if I understand what the verse means. Am I missing what it means?

        I may need to just read and not comment :) I don't mean to spoil the blog…sorry.

        • jferwerd

          Ranjit, I am not trying to be rude or condescending here. Please understand there is no way for me to detail my whole position here. This is intended to be a precursor to my book, so that people who also wonder the same things I did will be introduced and want to read it as well to see how I connect dots. Many of them may come to completely different conclusions, but the point is to get people thinking about all the things that don't add up. Thanks for your responses and I'm sorry I can't get into a lot of detail here. That is why i wrote a book…so I wouldn't have to write books every time someone wants to know what I believe and how exactly I came to it.

          Have a good weekend.

          • Ranjit

            Weird…looks as though at least one of your replies and at least one of my replies was deleted from the thread. Not sure if you've got buggy software or you removed them on purpose.

            The book should be interesting.

            Have a good weekend.

    • jferwerd

      But we are going to faithfully try to uncover them, at any cost. :D

  • Ranjit

    "No problem. I have had experience with people who like to be combative and have no interest in trying to divide down to the truth." Ouch! :)

    "I can prove that there IS INTENTIONAL lying going on." that statement frankly makes me nervous…as you're essentially saying that nothing in the translations can be trusted. Do you feel that all translators are intentionally lying? And what would their motive be? I don't buy Damien's contention that the choices for the motivation of bad translations (assuming the translations are all bogus) are ineptitude or greed. Claiming intentional lying is a very strong statement…you likely have reasons that have convinced you but it is nonetheless a very bold statement and for me at least…makes me much more skeptical until I hear more. If one asserts that Billy Graham is an out and out liar then I'm going to be skeptical of the assertion until I hear more…if I'm even qualified to evaluate the assertion, failing that I'm inclined to give Billy Graham the benefit of the doubt. :)

    To be honest your distrust of existing translations sounds a little like Gnosticism to me…the contention that there is certain "hidden" knowledge that is hidden from the majority that only those "in the know" are privy to (the ones with the one or two "correct" translations, the ones with the correct colored spectacles). The distrust may in the end be reasonable but at first glance it raises all sorts of warning bells for me because it implies a conspiracy on a mind-boggling scale. Again it doesn't mean that there isn't a conspiracy…it just makes me turn the skepticism dial from 4 to 10, the same way I do when someone denies the Holocaust. :)

    "why is your skepticism in favor of the majority? " I like to think I'm an equally opportunity skeptic. :) As I mentioned above, I'm very skeptical of the idea that to live correctly one needs "hidden/special" knowledge. I also think that in general over time people get things right. I think in science one sees the quality of the knowledge held by the majority improving over time. I think it is rational to be more skeptical of a minority opinion until it's assumptions and logic are examined. It is reasonable to assume the earth is flat until it is proved otherwise. :)

    "Historically the majority has been wrong." I'm not sure what you're getting at or what the context for your statement might be. It seems you could also say "Historically the minority has b been wrong" and it would be an equally true statement. It is true that at times in history a majority has been wrong but it doesn't follow that in every case the majority is wrong or that one should be more skeptical of the majority than a minority. :)

    Again, my guess from your statement in a previous entry is that your blog isn't really for this sort of debate…some of the statements just pushed some of my buttons…without even knowing where you're going with your assertions. :) Perhaps I'll just be quiet and see what it is that you're trying to present without getting stuck on how you got there. Later…

  • jferwerd

    When I was deleting one of my comments, I accidentally deleted Ranjit's comment and he alerted me to the fact so here is his:

    "No problem. I have had experience with people who like to be combative and have no interest in trying to divide down to the truth." Ouch! :)

    "I can prove that there IS INTENTIONAL lying going on." that statement frankly makes me nervous…as you're essentially saying that nothing in the translations can be trusted. Do you feel that all translators are intentionally lying? And what would their motive be? I don't buy Damien's contention that the choices for the motivation of bad translations (assuming the translations are all bogus) are ineptitude or greed. Claiming intentional lying is a very strong statement…you likely have reasons that have convinced you but it is nonetheless a very bold statement and for me at least…makes me much more skeptical until I hear more. If one asserts that Billy Graham is an out and out liar then I'm going to be skeptical of the assertion until I hear more…if I'm even qualified to evaluate the assertion, failing that I'm inclined to give Billy Graham the benefit of the doubt. :)

    To be honest your distrust of existing translations sounds a little like Gnosticism to me…the contention that there is certain "hidden" knowledge that is hidden from the majority that only those "in the know" are privy to (the ones with the one or two "correct" translations, the ones with the correct colored spectacles). The distrust may in the end be reasonable but at first glance it raises all sorts of warning bells for me because it implies a conspiracy on a mind-boggling scale. Again it doesn't mean that there isn't a conspiracy…it just makes me turn the skepticism dial from 4 to 10, the same way I do when someone denies the Holocaust. :)

    "why is your skepticism in favor of the majority? " I like to think I'm an equally opportunity skeptic. :) As I mentioned above, I'm very skeptical of the idea that to live correctly one needs "hidden/special" knowledge. I also think that in general over time people get things right. I think in science one sees the quality of the knowledge held by the majority improving over time. I think it is rational to be more skeptical of a minority opinion until it's assumptions and logic are examined. It is reasonable to assume the earth is flat until it is proved otherwise. :)

    "Historically the majority has been wrong." I'm not sure what you're getting at or what the context for your statement might be. It seems you could also say "Historically the minority has b been wrong" and it would be an equally true statement. It is true that at times in history a majority has been wrong but it doesn't follow that in every case the majority is wrong or that one should be more skeptical of the majority than a minority. :)

    Again, my guess from your statement in a previous entry is that your blog isn't really for this sort of debate…some of the statements just pushed some of my buttons…without even knowing where you're going with your assertions. :) Perhaps I'll just be quiet and see what it is that you're trying to present without getting stuck on how you got there. Later…

  • jferwerd

    Ranjit, sorry about accidentally deleting your comment. One of my friends said that my comment sounded a bit rude so I was deleting it and didn't realize it took yours with it. It is not my intention to sound rude, dogmatic or arrogant at all so if I came across that way please forgive me.

    Second of all, I am very hopeful that you will still consider the book to see how I put all this together. But allow me to give you one example of what I see as intentional mistranslating, okay? Here is a quote out of the book:

    Quote: Let’s look more closely at a few of these translator agenda errors. NIV uses the word “hell” fourteen times, all in the NT. Most of these are literally Gehenna, but Gehenna only occurs twelve times in the Greek. So what other two words did NIV translate as “hell”? Tartaroo in 2 Peter 2:4 and Hades (grave) in Luke 16:23: “In hell (Hades), where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.”

    So here are a couple problems. NIV uses the Greek word Hades (a proper name) in five other places in the NT—why not in Luke 16:23, when that’s the Greek word in the original text? To make matters worse, NIV uses Hades five times in the NT, yet Hades actually occurs eleven times in the Greek. The other six times they translate it as the following: hell (Luke 16:23), depths (Matt. 11:23 and Luke 10:15), grave (Acts 2:27, 31), and death (1 Cor. 15:55). So can you see the problem of inconsistency? They insert the word “hell” in one place where they are trying to insert fear and human agenda, while leaving it Hades or grave in other places. End Quote.

    I totally understand your concerns and I would have felt exactly the same way (and did in the beginning), but it is really hard for me to build a case against what I believe to be the biggest false doctrine of the Church on a blog entry. Anyhow, this is just one of literally hundreds of inconsistencies and what I believe to be translator agendas because of how they pick and choose when to translate a word a certain way to give the impression they want to give, instead of just sticking to what the text actually says.

  • Hello from Canada. Keep up the good work.

  • Great way to lead into THAT topic. lol The word 'hell' is improperly translated INto the bible. The words should have reflected exactly what they were, not what zealots though they could get away with. The greatest way for a communistic country to control the people is through fear, intimidation, and outright threats. And when you're dealing with a person's soul, they're inflicting fear where there should be any. They are free because of Christ, no need for religion. Without 'hell' there would be no more religion. As a matter of fact, my former hireling said this, "If there were no hell, I'd be out of a job." DUH!

    • jferwerd

      Thanks for coming by Sisterlisa! You are so right–no hell, no more control or religion! No more fear. Imagine that! I look forward to reading your blog and am glad I found it!

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