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Hell: Part One
© 02.16.09 By D. Eric Williams

This article originally appeared in the February 19th edition of the Cottonwood Chronicle

Any discussion of Hell must begin by differentiating between Hell and Hades. Hades is a Greek word adapted from the name of the god of the netherworld otherwise known as Pluto. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (The Septuagint), Hades is commonly used to translate the Hebrew word "Sheol," referring to the underworld, the place of the dead, righteous and unrighteous alike (Cf. Gen. 44:31, 1 Kings 2:6, Eccl. 9:9-10). Throughout the Old Testament Hades/Sheol is portrayed as gloomy but not particularly a place of judgment. The concept of Hades as a destination for both the godly and ungodly is retained in the New Testament (Acts 2:27, 31).

In the King James Version New Testament, "Hades" is mistranslated as "Hell" 10 of the 11 times it appears in the text. It is translated once as "grave," a more accurate rendering of the term but still confusing without a familiarity of the underlying Greek. The KJV also translates tartaräo as Hell. However, this is the verb form of Tartarus which in Greek mythology is the region of Hades where the Titans are imprisoned. It is used by Peter (2 Peter 2:4 ), to describe the internment of fallen angels until the final judgement. Therefore, it should be understood as simply a reference to a part of Hades and not Hell itself.

The story of the rich man and Lazarus is often regarded as a brief theological treatise on the doctrine of Hell (Luke 16:19-31). However, it is parabolic and should not be considered a literal presentation of Hades and certainly not of Hell. It does reinforce the concept of Hades as the abode of the righteous and unrighteous dead during the old covenant administration.

Generally speaking the Bible teaches that Hades was the habitation of the dead during the old covenant age. It seems that there was a "good" part of Hades and a "bad" part, each maintained for their respective tenants. In the Apostle's Creed we affirm that Christ descended into Hades at his death and in light of the New Testament we accept that he retrieved the righteous dead (those who like Abraham placed faith in the Messiah), and ushered them into heaven (Eph. 4:8, Col. 2:15). Meanwhile at the end of the old covenant age Hades was "cast into the lake of fire" and ever since that time the unrighteous dead are immediately dispatched to Hell while the dead in Christ find themselves instantly in Heaven with their Lord and Savior (2 Cor. 5:8).

Although the Bible uses the symbolism of fire to describe punishment at the hand of God, we must not assume these references always pertain to the final judgement of Hell. God's fiery indignation is characteristic of temporal judgement and refining. For instance, the phrase "Furnace of Fire" is employed by the old covenant prophets and Christ alike to indicate temporal judgement - often leading to refinement and blessing (Deut. 4:20, Is. 31:9, Matt. 13:50).

This is not to say Hell is lacking fire. Indeed Jesus Himself locates the final judgment in a place of fiery torment. Christ names this place Gehenna, a word which draws upon the history of Israel by referencing the valley of Hinnom. This was a valley outside of Jerusalem where the apostate kings of Judah and their subjects sacrificed their own children to pagan gods. Later, during periods of reform, the valley was used as a refuse heap and a burial ground for criminals. Fires burned continually in the valley of Hinnom in an effort to dispose of the garbage, the bodies of animals and criminal dead. Thus, this burning wasteland became a graphic illustration of eternal punishment in Hell.

The only other references to Hell in the New Testament are found in The Revelation. There Hell is described as "the lake of fire" the final abode of all enemies of God (Rev. 19:20 and etc.).

Next Week: Hell: Part 2

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