Following on the heels of Augustine, the greatest influence on today’s hell theology via most modern Bible translations came from Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. Jerome translated this version of the Scriptures from a very inferior Latin text in the late 4th century. According to Wikipedia: For over a thousand years (c. AD 400–1530), the Vulgate was the definitive edition of the most influential text in Western European society. Indeed, for most Western Christians, it was the only version of the Bible ever encountered. The Vulgate’s influence throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance into the Early Modern Period is even greater than that of the King James Version in English; for Christians during these times the phraseology and wording of the Vulgate permeated all areas of the culture. What was the problem with Jerome’s Bible? It was heavily influenced by Latin hell-inventing theologians like Tertullian and Augustine. Many of the words used in the Vulgate, such as eternal, redemption, justification, sanctification, sacrament, perdition, punish, torment, damnation, etc., were coined by Tertullian and his contemporaries and came to be associated with concepts foreign to the original Greek. According to historian Alexander Thomson: [The Latin Church’s emphasis on fear-based dualism] was reserved for three great Carthaginians, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine, so to influence the Latin Church it deflected and declined into a system of dogmatic hierarchy and spiritual despotism. But Tertullian was the individual who set this current in motion. …This, then, is the man in the hollow of whose hands lay the clay which was to be molded into concrete Latin dogma. This is the man in whose hands reclined the fate of the word eternal. …Augustine, who later outdid Tertullian and his doctrines, maintained that the whole human race was “one damned batch and mass of perdition” (conspersis damnata, massa perditionis), out of which a few are elected to salvation, while all the remainder are lost for ever. He beheld evil as a force integral in a universe apart from God, while Origen believed that all is out from God, even evil, which God must undo and banish. One who has no place for eons to come* must look on the future as a shoreless eternity. Having failed to grasp what God had revealed concerning the eons, Tertullian had no alternative but to impart to the Latin word eternal that sense which it now bears. *Since no such concept or expression of eternity was ever included in Scripture Scripture by the original writers, periods of time called eons or ages are crucial in understanding God’s plan for mankind. This topic is developed in chapter 14, “Eternity vs. Ages.”] When you realize that the hell doctrine was so late in being adopted by the Church and Scriptures, not to mention the introduction of a host of other vague “churchy” words and concepts, the poorly constructed walls of orthodoxy begin to crumble. It was several hundred years after Jesus and the apostles that men began formulating many new Church doctrines and creeds, many still a part of Evangelical Christian orthodoxy to this day. Had our old English Bibles been translated directly out of the Greek instead of Latin, it’s very probable that the doctrine of eternal torment would never have found its way into our modern Bibles and theology at all. Many of these doctrines were strong-armed into the Church through major dissention and even bloodshed, with intolerant, oppressive Church leaders insisting that they were “led by the Spirit” on such matters. In a sense, how is the Church adopting such major theological shifts so many years after Christ any different than, say, the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses adopting their objectionable doctrines in more recent times? Hell Discrepancy As the centuries went by, the Bible was translated and retranslated into Latin (mainly from Greek), and more than twelve centuries later translated into English (from Greek and Hebrew) with the advent of the original King James in the 1600s. It’s not hard to see how morphing Church beliefs and language changes influenced each Bible version that came along. In his book, The Bible in English: its history and influence, David Daniell notes that when King James gave the translators instructions for working on his King James Authorized Version in 1604 (a seven-year project), he intended to make sure that the new version would “conform to the ecclesiology and reflect the episcopal structure of the Church of England and its belief in an ordained clergy.” Since then, it has undergone over 400 more years of translator interventions and theological interpretations. When you think of how many people, opinions, doctrines, misunderstandings, language barriers, as well as political and theological agendas may have worked into the mix in 2,000 years, it’s hard to believe (and shouldn’t be believed) that the Bible has maintained inerrancy or complete adhesion to the original intent.
Ferwerda, Julie. Raising Hell: Christianity's Most Controversial Doctrine Put Under Fire (pp. 57-58). Vagabond Group. Kindle Edition.