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.