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 Vol. 5, No. 4 

April 2003

Associate Editorial

~ Page 3 ~

The Bible Concept of Hell

By Steven P. Smithbauer

Image There is no more unpopular subject to teach than that of hell, yet it is a Bible doctrine. Yet, like Paul, we feel compelled "to declare all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27), even the unpleasant. Preachers of old were known for preaching hellfire and brimstone, so that people often could imagine the stench of the smoke as they left the church building after services. Some have suggested this to be too extreme, but we must ask, how extreme is hell? Is it not extreme enough that we should go to any length to warn the lost and erring of their impending doom? The Scriptures mention hell some 54 times in the Old and New Testaments, but a cautionary word is advisable here. There are different original words used in different places throughout the Scriptures that have been translated "hell," and sometimes the word would have been better translated, "grave" or "Hades." Let us consider some scriptural facts about this important Bible doctrine.

To begin, one must come to the realization that "hell" and "Hades" are not the same place. Sheol in Hebrew Old Testament corresponds to Hades in the Greek New Testament. Both terms refer to the place departed spirits go after death. These have been rendered "grave" (31 times), "hell" (31 times) and "pit" (3 times) in the KJV. These are unfortunate translations. There is a place within Hades called "torment," (basanos) and also a place referred to alternately as "Abraham's bosom" or "paradise." Luke 16:23 reads, "And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom." Between these two there is a "great gulf" that separates them (Luke 16:26). This impassable gulf is said to be "fixed," suggesting that it exists due to God's intent to keep the two places separate forever. Hades, then, appears to be the place where the departed spirits go after death to await the resurrection -- both the evil, in Torment, and the good in Paradise. Remember Jesus told the thief on the cross, "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).

Another word, Tartaros, is translated hell. This is found only once in 2 Peter 2:4 where the angels who sinned were cast to await judgment. In both Greek and Jewish thought, Tartarus was lower than Hades and the place where divine punishment was meted out.

Recently, it has come to our attention that some are holding the position and teaching that paradise and heaven are now one in the same or at least paradise is now a part of heaven. To be fair, there is some evidence from Scripture that would seem to suggest this, however, it is difficult to know for certain that which we cannot see and that upon which the Scriptures are not completely clear. Is Paradise now a part of heaven? In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, Paul writes:

I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such a one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

Here Paul uses the terms, paradise and third heaven interchangeably. One writer stated that after Jesus ascended on high and led captivity captive, as per Ephesians 4:8, paradise was forever annexed to heaven. These are intriguing thoughts and have some merit, but one would be wise to remember that God has not completely divulged enough information on this subject for the Bible student to accept it without question. It is also entirely possible that Paul used both terms to describe what was really indescribable in human terms, and never intended for us to draw these conclusions.

There is another word that is translated "hell" in the King James Bible. Gehenna is mentioned 12 times in the New Testament. Eleven times it is used in the synoptic Gospels by the Lord only, and once by James in 3:6. The word derives from Ge meaning "valley of" Hinnom. This refers to the garbage dump south of Jerusalem where the carcasses of dead animals were taken and burned continually.

Revelation refers to this place four times as the eternal "Lake of Fire." This is the final destiny of wicked souls, not Hades or the grave. In fact, Hades itself will be cast into this "lake of fire" according to Revelation 20:14. This "hell" was prepared for the devil and his angels, but those who ally themselves with Satan will share his fate. In Matthew 25:41, at the judgment scene Jesus will consign the unfaithful to the same punishment as that of the devil. "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." Note that the place of everlasting fire was originally intended for the devil and his minions, not for man, but since man has chosen for the most part to follow Satan, man will also share his fate (Revelation 20:10-15):

 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 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. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (Note: "hell" here is Hades)

Hell is described in the Scriptures as a place of terrible torment that endures for eternity. The word-picture Jesus used, gehenna, or the Valley of Hinnom, would have been understood by the Jews of the first century to be the garbage dump where death and decay was common, and the ever present smoke never ceased to roll (Mark 9:43-46):

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Consider the attributes of this hell as described in the word of God:

  1. A place of fire. "the Smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever" (Revelation 14:11).

  2. A place of darkness. "And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 25:30).

  3. An eternal realm. As hideous as the descriptions are which we have already covered, this is the worst. Hell is eternal! Matthew 25:46 calls it "everlasting punishment," and in Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians, 1:9, it is called, "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord" -- not a "flash in the pan" as some advocate, but eternal torment.

With all of this said, the words of Jesus now come to mind. "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Indeed! What could possibly be more important than keeping one's soul out of this horrible place? We do not enjoy discussing this topic. It is too unpleasant to be enjoyable, and yet it is the counsel of God and requires our attention. We would be remiss in our duties to neglect preaching and teaching on this subject. The human race is lost, headed for destruction, and it is unconscionable not to warn the erring. Only those who obey the Gospel will be saved from hell! HEAR... (Romans 10:17), BELIEVE... (Hebrews 11:6), REPENT... (Luke 13:3, 5), CONFESS... (Romans 10:10), BE BAPTIZED... (Mark 16:16), LIVE FAITHFULLY, (Revelation 2:10).Image

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