14.  Hell

Doctrinal Statement: To be cast into Hell is the fate of the unsaved.


Before we begin to explore Hell we need to explore the words translated as hell in the Old and New Testaments. We also need to look at the context of a few passages.


First let’s look at the Old Testament. King James uses the word “Hell” a total of 31 times but in the Hebrew it occurs 65 times. So what’s the deal? If we look in the RSV or NIV translations the word “Hell” doesn’t occur even once in the Old Testament!


So what’s going on? The word King James translates 31 times as “Hell” is Sheol in the Hebrew and the other 34 times it is translated as “Grave” or “Pit.” Why was King James using Hell when newer translations don’t? Let’s check the origins of the word “Hell.”


Word History: Hell comes to us directly from Old English hel. Because the Roman Church prevailed in England from an early date, the Roman—that is, Mediterranean—belief that hell was hot prevailed there too; in Old English hel is a black and fiery place of eternal torment for the damned. But because the Vikings were converted to Christianity centuries after the Anglo-Saxons, the Old Norse hel, from the same source as Old English hel, retained its earlier pagan senses as both a place and a person. As a place, hel is the abode of oathbreakers, other evil persons, and those unlucky enough not to have died in battle. It contrasts sharply with Valhalla, the hall of slain heroes. Unlike the Mediterranean hell, the Old Norse hel is very cold. Hel is also the name of the goddess or giantess who presides in hel, the half blue-black, half white daughter of Loki and the giantess Angrbotha. The Indo-European root behind these Germanic words is *kel-, "to cover, conceal" (so hell is the "concealed place"); it also gives us hall, hole, hollow, and helmet. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 2002, 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.


OK, let’s look at a sample of Hell as used by King James.

*   (Psa 16:10 KJV)  For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

*   (Psa 86:13 KJV)  For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.

*   (Psa 139:8 KJV)  If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.


Now I ask you, if hell is an eternal place why are these verses saying otherwise? Are there levels of hell? And, what is God doing in hell? Clearly grave or pit would have been a preferred translation. You might ask if I believe in “Hell.”  My answer is that I do not believe in the King James version of Hell as understood when King James had his famous translation made. We have already seen that his version of hell was based on pagan beliefs and not on the word of God. But don’t get ahead of me or assume I don’t believe in an eternal punishment. I will have more to say about this later.


Now let’s look at “Hell” in the New Testament. Here again King James uses “Hell” much more than the other two translations I’ve referenced. Here is a tabulation.

*   KJV, 23 times

*   RSV, 13 times

*   NIV, 14 times

“Hell” isn’t actually a translation but rather a substitute term for Hades and Gehenna, which was thought more appropriate by the translators. Hades was the Greek equivalent of Sheol in the Old Testament and Gehenna was the name of a place near Jerusalem. The two newer translations tended to actually translate Hades or at least let it stand on its own. That is the major reason for the difference in the usage of “Hell” in the three translations. Let’s look more closely at these terms from the Holman Bible Dictionary.


HADES (Hay' dees) the abode of the dead. In the King James Version of the Bible, the Greek word is generally translated "hell." It differs, however, from the term "Gehenna," which more precisely refers to hell. Hades is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term "Sheol," which refers in general to the place of the dead.


GEHENNA (Geh hehn' na) English transliteration of the Greek word that is a transliteration of the Hebrew place name meaning, "valley of whining" or "valley of lamentation" and came to be used in New Testament times as a word for hell.

    The New Testament uses Gehenna to speak of the place of final judgment. Jesus warned that those who called another, "Thou fool," faced the danger of the fire of Gehenna (Matt. 5:22). He taught it is better to destroy a part of one's body than to have one's whole body thrown into Gehenna (Matt. 5:29; 18:9; Mark 9:43,45,47).


Here’s what the Encarta Encyclopedia tells us about Gehenna.

*   Gehenna (Greek Geenna; Hebrew Ge Hinnom), Valley of Hinnom, near Jerusalem. Because some of the Israelites are supposed to have sacrificed their children to Moloch there (see 2 Kings 23:10), the valley came to be regarded as a place of abomination. In a later period it was made a refuse dump, and perpetual fires were maintained there to prevent pestilence. Thus, in the New Testament, Gehenna became synonymous with hell.

© 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


Now let’s look at one of the scriptures mentioned above. They all say pretty much the same thing. Remember the word, “Hell” here is actually a substitute for the place named Gehenna.

*   (Mark 9:47-48 NIV)  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, {48} where "'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'

Now do you suppose the fire is still burning in Gehenna today? And, are those worms still alive? Clearly, the term was used to describe a place of that time as an illustration of an event to come.


Now let’s look at Hades with a little more scrutiny. This is from the same source as above.

*   Hades, in Greek mythology, god of the dead. He was the son of the Titans Cronus and Rhea and the brother of Zeus and Poseidon. When the three brothers divided up the universe after they had deposed their father, Cronus, Hades was awarded the underworld. There, with his queen, Persephone, whom he had abducted from the world above, he ruled the kingdom of the dead. Although he was a grim and pitiless god, unappeased by either prayer or sacrifice, he was not evil. In fact, he was known also as Pluto, lord of riches, because both crops and precious metals were believed to come from his kingdom below ground.


The underworld itself was often called Hades. It was divided into two regions: Erebus, where the dead pass as soon as they die, and Tartarus, the deeper region, where the Titans had been imprisoned. It was a dim and unhappy place, inhabited by vague forms and shadows and guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed, dragon-tailed dog. Sinister rivers separated the underworld from the world above, and the aged boatman Charon ferried the souls of the dead across these waters. Somewhere in the darkness of the underworld Hades' palace was located. It was represented as a many-gated, dark and gloomy place, thronged with guests, and set in the midst of shadowy fields and an apparition-haunted landscape. In later legends the underworld is described as the place where the good are rewarded and the wicked punished. © 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


Now it becomes clearer as to why the language of the day used one term for the grave or a pit and the other term for the place the condemned would be disposed of. But so far we see nothing of the commonly held belief of “Hell” as a place of eternal torturing.


We saw that “Hell” was a substitute for a more accurate translation such as “Grave” in some instances or “Gehenna” in others. It is for this reason that “Hell” as a concept for the final destination of the unsaved has been greatly misunderstood. Now, let’s explore the actual fate of the unsaved.


First consider these prophetic texts.

*   (Psa 37:20 NIV)  But the wicked will perish: The Lord's enemies will be like the beauty of the fields, they will vanish--vanish like smoke.

*   (Psa 92:6-7 NIV)  The senseless man does not know, fools do not understand, {7} that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be forever destroyed.

*   (Isa 1:28 RSV)  But rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together, and those who forsake the LORD shall be consumed.

*   (Mal 4:1-3 NIV)  "Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire," says the LORD Almighty. "Not a root or a branch will be left to them. {2} But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. {3} Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things," says the LORD Almighty.

*   (Isa 66:22-24 NIV)  "As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me," declares the LORD, "so will your name and descendants endure. {23} From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me," says the LORD. {24} "And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind."


Now consider what Jesus said about the wicked and Hell (Gehenna).

*   (Mat 10:28 NIV)  Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

*   (Luke 12:4-5 NIV)  "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. {5} But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

Now consider what else Jesus said about Hell (Hades).

*   (Mat 11:23 KJV)  And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

*   (Mat 16:18 KJV)  And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Here are a few more verses about Hell (Hades).

*   (Acts 2:25-27 KJV)  For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: {26} Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: {27} Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

*   (2 Th 1:8-9 KJV)  In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: {9} Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;

*   (Rev 6:8 KJV)  And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

*   (Rev 20:13 KJV)  And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

*   (Rev 20:14-15 KJV)  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. {15} And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.


OK, if we stop here it is apparent that “Hell” is the grave or a pit when the term “Hades” in the Greek or “Sheol” in the Hebrew is translated as “Hell.” Neither of these is anything like the traditional concept of Hell and has nothing at all to do with eternal punishment or eternal punishing.


The only “Hell” in the Bible that has any resemblance to the traditional Hell is the one translated from the Greek word Gehenna. So, let’s look at some of the more problematic scriptures relating to this concept.

*   (Mat 18:8 KJV)  Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire.

*    (Mat 25:40-41 KJV)  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. {41} Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:


So is this fire actually a fire that burns forever and ever? Or, is it a fire with everlasting consequences but not a fire that burns without an end to the burning?

*    (Phile 1:13-15 KJV)  Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: {14} But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly. {15} For perhaps he (Onesimus the slave) therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;

*    (Jude 1:7 KJV)  Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

It’s not obvious but in every case mentioned the key term, everlasting, for ever, or eternal, is the same Greek word, aionios. Now it’s clear that Sodom and Gomorrah are no longer burning. And it’s equally clear that Onesimus is dead and no longer being received. So we must conclude that everlasting can have more than one meaning depending on context. The context here is that of an event that passes away, namely the destruction of the wicked. Let’s look at two more  Biblical examples of such language.

*   (2 Pet 2:6 KJV)  And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;

*    (Exo 21:5-6 KJV)  And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: {6} Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for ever.


We just heard about Sodom and Gomorrah and Peter confirms what we already concluded when he speaks of ashes. But the servant passage is new and yet another example of how usage or context can change meaning. Does anyone seriously contend that any of those servants are still serving their master’s?


Let me conclude with a few modern examples of how we use such words today.

*   Events are sometimes immortalized with an eternal flame.

*   I will never forget that day.

*   I will love her forever.

*   We hope the Middle East conflicts lead to everlasting peace.


Alright already! Enough is enough. I started off listing many scriptures that clearly stated the wicked will perish, vanish like smoke, be forever destroyed, and consumed. But that’s not all, evildoers will be stubble and set on fire, not a root or a branch will be left to them, they will become ashes to be trampled on, and their bodies will be dead and set on fire with a fire that will burn out but not be quenched.


So do we want to take a few weak references to everlasting torture and harmonize them to the strong ones about annihilation of the wicked or make the many strong ones harmonize with the weak ones? To me that answer is simple.


God is a God of justice, compassion and mercy. He will kill the wicked and burn them up just as the garbage was burned up in Gehenna. They will be consumed by that fire and utterly destroyed. God desires that none should perish and He certainly will not torture the wicked continually with no ending to that torture.