Saturday, March 29, 2014

What Is Hell In The Bible?

There are four words in the Bible that are translated hell. They are:

       1.  Sheol  -       Hebrew (equivalent to Greek Hades)
       2.  Hades  -      Greek
       3.  Gehenna -   Greek
       4.  Tartaroo  -    Greek


Sheol is the Hebrew word that is translated hell among other words in the Old Testament. It is also translated grave and pit. Everybody went to Sheol when they died, the good, the bad, and the ugly :) According to Hebrew history, going to heaven or hell (traditional view) when they died was not something
they were concerned with.

Here are a couple of examples of the good going to Sheol:

And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him. (Jacob) Gen 42:38

This is prophetic of Christ, Himself:

For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption Ps 18:5.For great [is] thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell. Ps 86:13

An example of the bad going to Sheol:

But if the LORD make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that [appertain] unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the LORD. Nu 16:33

We'll call  these guys the "ugly":

The wicked shall be turned into hell, [and] all the nations that forget God. Ps 16:10  Note:  it is easy to see how this word "hell" could be misunderstood to be a place of punishment for the wicked because of how it is used. But, this word "Sheol" is not the same word used for the "hell" scriptures in the New Testament that refer to correctional punishment... That word is "Gehenna". It has a completely different meaning than Sheol.  Proper translation clears a lot of misunderstandings up.

This may be the one lots of people are familiar with:

Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory, and their multitude, and their pomp, and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it. Is 5:14

It's obvious, isn't it, that "hell" in the Old Testament is not the hell we were taught about? It means, the state of death or the unseen.  Death, in many instances, was punishment for the wicked,


Hades in the New Testament is the same as Sheol in the Old Testament. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, Sheol was translated Hades.  This is the "hell" that Jesus said could not prevail against the church. It is also the "hell" that is to be cast into the lake of fire but before that is to be emptied. The rich man found himself in this particular hell when he died.

Hades, like Sheol, is not always translated hell. We have probably all heard Paul's famous saying, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?  Death and grave are both translated from Hades. It wouldn't have done much to further the teaching of endless hell, though, if Paul had said, O hell, where is thy victory, would it?

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. Mt 11:23  Here, Jesus tells a whole city that it will be brought down to hell, or brought to nothing. History bears this out, it was destroyed.
 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. Mt 16:18

  And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, (see Scary Words Post) and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Luke 16:23

 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 1Co 15:55   Death and grave are translated from Hades in this verse.

I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.   Re 1:18  

 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. Re 6:8

  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. Re 20:13

 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
Re 20:14

                                     Geenna  or...(Gehenna Latin form)

Gehenna, for me, is probably the most interesting of all the "hell" words. Not long after I discovered that there were people who did not believe in eternal torment or endless hell, I was talking on the phone with Dr. Harold Lovelace, a teacher of universal reconciliation, about this wonderful discovery I had been privileged to make. He was the one to point out to me that after Jesus had condemned the Pharisees to hell in Matthew 23, He then, told them that they would not see him again UNTIL they said, "blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord". (that's called repentance from hell)

I have been a Bible reading Christian for 30 years now, and until Dr. Lovelace pointed that out to me, I never one time noticed it. That was astounding to me. And was also proof that we read the Bible with the bias that we are programmed with. Up until about five years ago, I never considered the possibility of hell having an end to it even after reading Matthew 23. It's as plain as the nose on your face but I couldn't see it.

Read the whole chapter of Matthew 23 then pay close attention to the last verse. Can you see it?  Romans chapter 11 goes hand in hand with it.  Amazing!!

But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.  Mt 5:22

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell .Mt 5:29

And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. Mt 5:30  

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  Mt 5:30  

And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better   for  thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Mt 18:9  

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.  Mt 23:15  

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
Mt 23:33  

A few of things to notice about the scriptures listed above:

1. Do you see anything about accepting Jesus as savior?

2. Who was Jesus talking to about Hell? Sinners?  His chosen people?

Matthew uses Gehenna more than Mark or Luke. John doesn't use it at all.  James uses it one time.

Here is how James used it:

And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. James 3:6  Literal fire?  That would give new meaning to "burn the hairs off your tongue". Think about it.

                                    ** A Jew's View of Gehenna **

I asked the question of a Jewish person just what did the first century Jews consider Hell(Gehenna) to be.

This was their reply to me...

That's a complicated question, but the answer isn't "hell" in the modern (or Medieval) Christian sense. First thing you need to appreciate is that Jesus was himself a Pharisee. The term means, merely, those Jews who tended to follow the Rabbinate as religious leaders, rather than the Priesthood (the Sadducees). The roots and context and history of the split are complicated, but to cut a long story short, the Sadducee party later on fell from prominence, and essentially all modern Jews are Rabbinic (Pharisees) - so the term no longer has any "meaning" in the modern world.

All that said, there is still not any one answer. The reason is because, on this one, neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees nor the Essenes (a third group completely) nor the Zealots nor any other Jewish group of that time or any other time, has ever had a clear and unambiguous picture of the Afterlife. Like, we're not even agreed that there even IS one, in the Christian sense. There could be, and some think so, but maybe there isn't, and maybe there's an earthly resurrection "in the flesh" and, well, even if you pick one of those there are fifty different versions of how it might work. Bottom line, we don't know. See Jew FAQ for the modern range of opinions.

So. What was Gehenna to a 1st-century CE Pharisee?

Certainly it was a valley, Ge-Hinnom, outside of Jerusalem. This was a despised place which had been, in various eras, a place of human sacrifice by the worshippers of Moloch; the place of execution of criminals by the Jewish courts; the garbage dump; a permanent open garbage-fire, sort of an iron-age incinerator;
the burial ground of executed criminals; and generally speaking the worst place known to Jerusalemites and a figure of speech meaning "the worst thing anybody can think of, nasty, accursed, dangerous, unholy, despised, defiled a thousand ways, and generally the destination of all things unwanted."

Today, it's just a neighborhood in the modern urban sprawl, southeast of the Old City. If you take a Christian tour of Jerusalem, you will certainly visit Golgotha/Calvary Hill. From there, look across at the Temple Mount; that valley in between is Gehenna.

It was a figure of speech, meaning "everything bad." To "go to Gehenna" was to be taken out with the trash, at best.

What did they think it meant, on a "spiritual" level? Tricky. Ideas of the afterlife were just beginning to be assembled in Judaism, and as that link makes clear, we sort of never finished choosing a model, in large part because our texts give almost no clues at all, and what clues DO exist have been looked at differently
by different readers. But we have no "hell" and no "salvation" and no "damnation" and we never did.

The only reference I can find in Mat ch 23, is the reference in v 15 (trans: KJV) where the Greek word rendered as "hell" is geennes, "Gehenna":

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

Here we have a fascinating point; the period of proselytizing just preceding the first C. CE was the only active period in Jewish history, and it was a disaster - it brought us King Herod, of all the prize-packages the world had to offer us. So Jesus is not only calling them hypocrites and generally engaging in an extended excoriation of how badly they've failed their own standards - he's also pointing out how they've gone outside of the traditional Jewish "fold" to recruit what has become a horribly cruel dictator.

A "child of Gehenna" or more probably in the Aramaic "bar gehinnom" - "son of Gehenna" is a person of the "lineage" or "nation" or "substance" of Gehenna. Compare "bar Mitzvah" or "bar Kochba."

It has no reference at all to an eternal destination; rather it is a term of abuse meaning, roughly, "spawn of the garbage heap."

Or, to use the fuller turn of phrase, "twofold more the bar-Gehinnom than yourselves."

I guess you could say, he wasn't really very impressed with them that day ;-)
I believe it is very safe to say that we have been taught wrongly when it
comes to Hell. Our churches use the threat of Hell to evangelize the
unbelievers. Jesus used it to warn His followers not to become useless in His
kingdom. Salt needs to be salty!

Would you love someone because they threaten to torture if you don't?
Or, would you love someone because they gave their own life to save

Think about it and study the scriptures to see if what you have been taught about Hell is true.  

                                      Something to think about....

How many People did Jesus warn about Hell?

Were they Jews or gentiles?

Why would it be shameful  for the chosen people of God to have their works burned up in the garbage dump of Gehenna?

As gentile believers, are we cautioned not to have our works burned up by fire...leaving only wood, hay, and stubble?

Why did he not warn everyone he saw and talked with?

Is it possible to be separated from God?

Do you remember when you first heard of Hell?

Who told you about it?

Did you question it?

Do you question it now?

Do you defend it even though you question it?

Why not study it?


2 Peter 2:4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of 
darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

This is the only instance of tartaroo being translated hell. I have read that this term was borrowed from Greek 
mythology being the lowest part of Hades. There is really not a lot of information in the Bible about it.  Whatever it 

is, it seems to be a holding place for the sinning angels as they await their judgment.

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