I wrote this in another thread: ‘When I contemplate entire teams of professional translators of every English translation that I can think of translating “Valley of Hinnom” as something other than “Valley of Hinnom”, it makes me doubt just about everything–not only biblical translations, but also translations of other works, and even experts of completely unrelated fields. What are their “Gehenna” fiascoes?’
(link: Gehenna: a thousand word description )
As a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church who frequently attends the various liturgies, and who has studied over 1,700 pages of liturgical texts, I can say in no uncertain terms that the Orthodox liturgy clearly, frequently, and unambiguously teaches universal salvation. The only fly in my ointment was the question, “So why did so many of the Greek Church Fathers believe in hell?” Then it occurred to me:
I have no proof that ANY Greek Church Father believed in hell (i. e., never-ending damnation). Sure, I’ve read assertions of such, but I’ve never seen any proof. By “Greek Church Father” I mean any saint glorified by the Eastern Orthodox Church (who therefore has the word “Saint” with a capital “S” in front of his name) who wrote in Greek, beginning with St. Clement of Rome (late 1st century) and ending with St. Mark Eugenikos of Ephesos (A. D. 1392 to 1444). From any passage put before me I insist upon the following questions being answered with reasonable probability:
Is this a primary quote? In other words, does the passage purport to be written by the saint, or is it merely an assertion about the saint?
Is this a real quote, or is it bogus? You know that Mark Twain quote, “Whenever I feel like exercising, I lie down until the feeling goes away”? It’s bogus. He never wrote it or anything like it.
Is this quote being taken out of context? I need to see the wider passage from which the passage is taken.
Is this quote translated correctly? We’ve all seen howlers in translation. I need to see the Greek text that is being translated. I also need to know how old the manuscript is that is being translated. If we’re working (for example) from a 17th-century manuscript of something supposedly written by a saint more than a millennium before that, we have a problem.
Is this quote being understood correctly? Assuming an accurate translation, are we sure that the saint is claiming that some people go to hell?
Is this quote taken from a forgery, or is it an interpolation in an otherwise legitimate text? In other words, did the saint really write these Greek words, or did somebody else merely put them in his mouth?
Assuming satisfactory answers to all of the above, did the saint literally mean what he wrote about hell, or was the passage instead aimed at the ignorant masses, being used as a means to scare people into behaving well?
Quite literally, I have in my lifetime seen ZERO examples of a Greek Church Father who supposedly believed in hell that satisfied all of the above. It’s not too much to ask. After all, we ask all of the above questions about the text of the Bible, and we’ve all seen what a TOTAL HASH the hell-believers can and do make of the Bible. Imagine the scope for hell-related mischief when it comes to the voluminous writings of 1,400 years worth of Church Fathers.
Until proven otherwise (as detailed above), whenever I hear someone say the Greek Church Fathers believed in hell, I’m going to say, “I don’t know that. I’ve never seen any proof of that. Before I can believe that a Church Father would write things so plainly contrary to the Orthodox liturgy, I’m going to have to hold the proof in my hands.”
I suspect that I will never have such proof.