Do the Christian traditions about eternal torture concern you? Does it seem strange that God would punish someone so severely because they did not “accept” him? Are these mere traditions or fact? If these ideas are not reality, then what harm might we be doing when we perpetuate these ideas about God?
Hell, the lake of fire, the second death, eternal punishment—what does this all mean? In this article series, I want to challenge the way many view the nature of hell, and perhaps, the way many view God.
In this article, which is Part 1 of 3, we will consider the various translations behind the word, “hell.”
Sheol, Gehenna (The Valley of Hinnom), Tartarus, and Hades
In the Old Testament, “Hell” is a translation of the Hebrew word Sheol. In the New Testament, there are three words translated “Hell.” These are Hades and Tartarus, which are Greek, and Gehenna, also known as The Valley of the sons of Hinnom. We will consider the definition of these words and explore the scriptures in order to gain some understanding regarding the nature of these places.
HELL IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Sheol is translated “the pit,” “the grave,” and “hell.” In order to gain some understanding of the beliefs surrounding Sheol, let’s take a look at some Old Testament scriptures. Bold areas translate to Sheol.
What can we say about Sheol?
- It is a place of unconscious death. (Psalm 6:5) (Isaiah 38:18) (Numbers 16:33) (Psalm 88:11-12)
- It is a place to be brought down into as a pit. (Isaiah 14:15) (Numbers 16:33)
- The Lord can bring us into it and out from it. (Psalm 30:3) (Psalm 49:15)
- It is a place of darkness. (Job 17: 13-16)
- It is a place the Lord went after he died and from which he rose. (Psalm 16:10)
It seems that the Old Testament view of hell (Sheol) has multiple implications as the grave or a state of death, the pit or holding place for the wicked, and a place of destruction. This is very similar to the manner in which “hell” is portrayed in the New Testament. Let’s get to that.
HELL IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
When we look at passages in the New Testament about “hell,” many are translated from the word, gehenna. In order to understand how this impacts our view of hell, we need some background information about Gehenna.
The word gehenna comes from the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew word ge-hinnom or “Valley of the sons of Hinnom.” This is first mentioned as a place where idolatrous Israelites sacrificed their children to Molech (2 Chonicles 28). This place is also called “Tophet”(Isaiah 30:33). In Jeremiah 19 we read that God re-named the Valley of Hinnom as “the Valley of Slaughter.”
After the Babylonian captivity, The Valley of Slaughter was used as an ever-burning site of waste disposal, including bodies of criminals (2 Kings 23). This was a place where “the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Isaiah 66:24).
Here are some New Testament uses of “hell” and “hell fire” as translated from Gehenna (in bold).
What can we say about Hell when viewed in the historical context of Gehenna?
When we consider the above scriptures in which gehenna is translated as “hell,” the only historical context that makes sense is an ever-burning waste dump. Therefore, when Jesus mentions being cast into hell fire, it would seem that he is referring to a place of fiery destruction.
If we view instances in which hell means Gehenna as a place in which the wicked are destroyed by fire, then could this be a reference to the lake of fire? If so, is the lake of fire a location in which inhabitants burn alive consciously forever, or are they burned up until they are no more?
This word derives from Greek mythology as a deep abyss used as a dungeon of torment for the wicked and prison for the Titans. Taraturas occurs in the Septuagint of Job. In the New Testament, Taraturas is not found, but you will find tartaroo which translates from the Greek as “throw down to Taraturas.”
This is used only once among the other words that were grouped into the term “hell.”
|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;|
What can we say about Taraturas?
Little seems to be known about Taraturas other than it appears to be a holding place for the angels that sinned. It’s interesting however that the Greek mythology views of Taraturas is very much aligned with our Christian view of hell—even though it is only mentioned one time in the New Testament.
Notice the similarities here with Sheol as “the pit.”
Considering that Taraturas is a dark place that reserves the angels for judgment, could this be aligned with “the deep” (Luke 8:31) and “outer darkness” (Matthew 25:29)? It seems to me that Taraturas is not hell as we know it at all, but instead it is a realm in which evil spirits reside or are cast into. It also seems to be the “bottomless pit” from which “the beast” will ascend.
Hades translates as the “unseen place,” referring to the realm in which all the dead reside. Along with Gahenna, Hades is one of the more common words translated as “hell” in the New Testament. Let’s take a look at the scriptures to see what we can understand about the nature of hades.
What can we say about Hades?
- It is a place the Lord went after he died and from which he rose. (Acts 2:27)
- It is a place the wicked are thrust down into. (Luke 10:15)
- It is a holding place for the dead. (Rev 20:13)
- It appears to be a place with gates, which the Lord has control over. (Matthew 16:18).
Notice the similarities here between Hades and Sheol as “the grave.”
When we consider the attributes of Hades, this seems very similar to those described as “the grave” aspect of Sheol. If this is so, then Hades can be also called “the grave.” There is no indication here that describes Hades in terms of Greek mythology as with Tarantulas, nor does it indicated inhabitants with a form of consciousness.
What about Lazarus and the rich man? You can read my thoughts about this in the article, Die and go to Heaven.
In the New Testament, the word “hell” derives from both gehenna and hades almost equally, and is only once a transliteration of tarataroo, a derivative of Taraturas. In the Old Testament, the word “hell” is exclusively translated from the word Sheol, which means the grave or the pit. So, what is hell? Is it a state of unconscious death as in the grave? Is it a place of destruction? Is it a place of conscious separation from God?
I believe that the scriptures make a clear case for all of these things. Hell, therefore, is not just one thing, but many. This explains why there are multiple words that have been grouped together into a single word and idea. This is unfortunate because it has lead to a great deal of confusion.
Hell, therefore is:
The grave (Hades) is the result of our sin. It is death. All of mankind will die, and in this state of death, we have no consciousness. Refer to scriptures about hell as “the grave.” This can be seen as a holding place for the dead, because all currently await resurrection and judgment. None are currently “alive” in a place of fiery torture, nor are any in heaven (aside from those who are exceptions to this rule, as Enoch).
As of now, all the dead are “sleeping” in their graves. Those who are “asleep in Christ” are raised at the 7th Trumpet and the resurrection of the dead. “The rest of the dead live not again until the thousand years are finished,” which is the thousand-year rein of Jesus on this earth. Satan who is bound during this time in “the pit” is let loose and there is a rebellion against the Holy City. God consumes the rebellion, then we see the judgment of the wicked take place in which Satan and all who are not written in the book of life are cast into “the lake of fire.”
The Bottomless Pit
There is a realm in which the angels that sinned are cast into (Taraturas). I will need to research this more, but it is my belief that this also includes the “outer darkness” and “the deep.” There is also a place known as the “bottomless pit.” You can read about that in Revelation chapters 9, 17, and 20. I might consider doing a work on the bottomless pit separately. This is a place separate from the grave as man experiences it, and it is also separate from the lake of fire.
The Lake of Fire
There is a place of punishment for the wicked (Gehenna), which I believe to be one and the same with “the lake of fire which is the second death.” Is this a place in which the inhabitants remain consciously tortured forever, or is it something else? We will take a closer look at this in “The Nature of Hell (Part 2) – Does God Subject People to Never-Ending Torture?”
As mentioned earlier, each above aspect of “hell” can be found in the Old Testament scriptures regarding Sheol, which solidifies this position.
Study to Show Yourself Approved
I understand these ideas go against our traditions about dying and going to either Heaven or Hell, among other common beliefs. When we look at the scriptures closely and seek the Spirit to help us find freedom from tradition and lead us to the truth, we will see that many of our traditions—even those about gospel—are false or incomplete. However, when we gain a better understanding of these things, we begin to see a clearer picture of the purpose of creation and salvation—which is something I hope to encourage here at KindingTruth.
Questions, comments, and points which you think I might be off are welcome in the Comments.
Ideas about “everlasting fire” and “everlasting punishment” are considered in Part 2 of this section. Ideas about “the lake of fire” and “the second death” and the teaching of Jesus about Hell are discussed in Part 3. All three articles come together to make up “The Nature of Hell” which is part of the “Building Upon the Living Rock” series.
Doctrines pertaining to heaven, the kingdom of God, the first and second resurrection, and the rapture will be covered in separate articles within the “Building Upon the Living Rock” series.
Thank you, Amanda. Very interesting and helpful. I’ll be interested to read your insights in Part 2 of your series when that is published.
Thanks, Steven. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
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I’m not sure enjoyed is the right word (the subject matter being what it is), but I certainly found it helpful! You’re doing a great job 🙂
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[…] that’s too much to read in one ago, here’s the series in four parts: The Nature of Hell (Part 1) – Hell Lost in Translation The Nature of Hell (Part 2) – Does God Subject People to Never-Ending Torture? The Nature of Hell […]
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Hi Amanda, you certainly have done a lot of work here. I had never chased down “taratarus” as a reference, although it shouldn’t surprise that it was found in 2 Peter. On that note, I recommend expanding your research to include the Apocrypha. These books, written after the return of the Israelites from Babylonian captivity, were part of the Septuagint you mentioned earlier. They were considered “Scripture” in the early church until a council “downgraded” them in importance so our Scripture coincided with the Hebrew accepted canon. For many early Christian thinkers and writers, the Apocrypha were sources of theology as well, and 2 Peter and Jude may have positions that stem from here as much as teachings of Jesus. I wouldn’t base your conclusions on what you find in the Apocrypha, but such a study would inform your understanding of the context of the writers of the Christian Scriptures and apostolic and early church fathers. It’s a suggestion, but certainly not necessary for your study.
Oh, and leave room for dissension. Traditional views didn’t become traditional without a lot of support and thought, and quite a bit of discussion. Your view is an interpretation, and a well supported one. But it is one interpretation among many. I’m all for a fiery animated theological discussion with the best of them, it’s like exercise or entertainment for me. But I also have to temper what I say with the understanding that I’m not necessarily right, but present one view among a host of others. In fact it’s dissenting views that help me understand my Master better than I can with only my own view point.
Thank you for this view point, and I’m looking forward to reading the others.
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Hi Matt! Thanks for taking the time to read. I’ve not read the Apocrypha. I’m only some-what familiar with the debate over these books, and so I can’t comment much on this. As of now, I think focusing on the books currently contained in the bible will keep me busy enough. I might explore the Apocrypha at some point, but it’s not on my near-future-to-do list.
I agree with what you say about how traditional views are established, however, we also should consider that many traditions are established by men – men who attempt to institutionalize the things of God, even things of the Spirit. You cannot institutionalize God’s Spirit-given wisdom and understanding—a knowledge that the wise and prudent men of tradition often miss.
However, though I am confident in my beliefs, I’m not so arrogant as to suggest that I have it all pinned down. I leave room for dissension. If presented with clear arguments that make me rethink my position, I certainly will. Finding the truth is more important than my pride 🙂
There are many things we will disagree on. As long as we don’t allow our disagreements to cause us to forget the great commandment to love our brethren, then I believe God is merciful towards misunderstanding. This is my best novice attempt at understanding a complex topic. I’m more focused on the gospel anyhow, and this does relate so that’s why I explore it. Thanks for your comments. I will read your others and respond later today.
Hi Amanda, your “novice attempt” surpasses most of what I find out there. And I was concerned, but am no more, about your willingness to see your view as one of other possibilities. I’ll work up some other views for you. My skill set tends more toward word studies, and you seem to have an affinity for that as well.
Blessings upon you!
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Thanks Matt. I look forward to it! Blessings to you as well.
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I’m checking out your site via Steven’s current blog post. I really appreciate all the research you’ve done on this subject, it is indeed a multi-faceted one. I’ve only read through Part 1 and your linked post, Die and Go to Heaven, so I’ll make a couple of initial comments.
The demonic encounter between Jesus and Legion in Luke 8:31 also confirms the New Testament use of “Abyss” as a place where (some) demonic spirits are held until the judgment.
Regarding Old Testament references to Sheol, as well as the “Deep” (ShuLam), it helps to keep in mind the limited revelation given by God prior to the coming of Christ. The OT saints really only had a vague notion of the “realm of the dead” and described it variously as the grave, the pit, the deep, sleeping in the earth.
The New Testament revelation in Christ – including Paul’s divine personal revelations – offer a far more accurate portrayal of our post- life existence. I’ll probably elaborate on that after reading the rest of your series.
One last observation regarding “soul sleep” – the notion that dead saints are literally sleeping at this time seems to me to contradict several other more explicit Scriptures, so you might consider that the expression “asleep in Christ” or “fallen asleep” is merely a polite alternative to “die”, just as nowadays we often say someone has “passed away” or “departed” to comfort ourselves that they are still alive, somewhere. To say someone has “fallen asleep in Christ” is just gently saying that they have “died in Christ.” Just my thoughts.
Looking forward to the rest of your series!
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Thanks for the comment! That’s an interesting point you made when you say, “it helps to keep in mind the limited revelation given by God prior to the coming of Christ.” I will keep that in mind. However, I don’t see his revelation as all that limited. People just did not understand it until Christ.
I take the scripture, “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven” (John 3:13) as literal as well as “asleep in Christ” is literal. I think this view is more aligned with the teaching of the first and second resurrection. I’ve only written briefly about this, but I do plan to do a more in-depth study on this idea.
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My name is Alan Finch. I became a Christian 42 years ago. 4 years ago, I began an in-depth study of the Scriptures wanting to come to the correct Biblical understanding on this subject.
WOW, I was taught and believed that multitudes upon multitudes of humans will suffer eternal torment for 100 trillion years, and then another 100 trillion years, and then another 100 trillion years, and it goes on and on with no hope of it ever ending. I am certain that each one of us, deep inside of our very being, know that something just does not add up, but we just can’t quite figure out what is it that we are not understanding correctly from the Scriptures.
The true biblical teaching is neither the traditional Christian view of hell, nor the view of annihilation. Our great God is neither a great torturer nor a great annihilator, but He is the great Saviour of the world.
The mystery of the finished work of Christ on the Cross will one day reveal the perfect plan of God for the entire human race, which does not include eternal torment or eternal annihilation for one single person!
I have written an article upon this topic, but it is much too lengthy to post on this site (26 pages). Below is an introduction. If anyone would like a copy in it’s original Word Document Format, feel free to e-mail me and request a copy and I will e-mail you a copy.
………. What is the “GOOD NEWS” of the Gospel of Christ? ……….(Re-examining the widely held belief of eternal torment in Hellfire)
My purpose for this writing is to Biblically expound upon (1) is there really going to be eternal torment?” (2) is there really going to be eternal annihilation? (3) to give a Biblical answer to the question “If there is no eternal torment, and if there is no eternal annihilation of our very being, then what are we being saved from and what is our being here during this present time on earth really all about?”
I was a Christian for 38 years before I gained a better Scriptural understanding of some Biblical truths that I had not properly understood in regards to the finished work of Christ on the Cross.
Is this article available on your wordpress site? I’m familiar with the idea of universal reconciliation, but I would be happy to read your thoughts.
I would be more than happy to e-mail you a copy of my 26 page article. In my article, I have put forth a great deal of effort in Biblically answering many questions. I have found that this subject cannot adequately be dealt with in just a few paragraphs.
I began writing my article 4 years ago. I still continue to add even more to the article.
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Amanda, I forget to include my e-mail address in my answer to you just a few minutes ago.
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