What The Hell is Hell? (Part 1)
Illustration by Casey Dayton
Hell is a weighty and often heavy topic -- In a few posts I thought maybe I would tackle this beast in three segments outlining and highlighting the beauty of this wonderful doctrine, said no one ever. KEEP IN MIND THIS WILL BE A SUMMARY, I had to do this, some might be expecting a whole book on it. In all seriousness, I will attempt to deal with all positions fairly in the coming posts (Not exhaustively -- but enough to spark the mind).
First let's get the words/definitions right....
I will focus on the three words used for hell in the NT (Gehenna and Hades -- OT).
Gehenna: what the Gehenna is Gehenna? The word refers to the valley of hinnom, hinnom was a place in the OT where this party was going on: "Then the king defiled the altar of Topheth in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, so no one could ever again use it to sacrifice a son or daughter in the fire as an offering to Molech," 2 Kings 23:10 (Also see 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6, Jeremiah 7:31 for you Bible hounds). This is not the kind of party or crowd you want to surround yourself with, you think the walking dead is disturbing... Yes, so apparently in the OT, the word Gehenna was a place where sons and daughters were being sacrificed to Molech (Molech sounds like a bad dude - words of my son Jonah). It appears that in the usage of the OT, hell is not an eternal place in which God is torturing people. In fact, the usage suggests the opposite.... Jesus was a first century Jew, so one must ask, How did he understand Gehenna? (I will deal with concepts of hell and how the Jews understood these concepts prior to Jesus and around the time of Jesus -- geesh, chill down).
Tartarus: this sounds like some nasty tofu -- this word originates from Greek mythology, in which the wicked (Titans) were cast in the aybs/darkness and some dungeon chamber (like dungeon and dragons on steroids), this place does not sound fun. In 2 Peter it is written,"For if God didn’t spare the angels who sinned but threw them down into Tartarus and delivered them to be kept in chains of darkness until judgment, (HCSB translation)." This is a very interesting passage, especially knowing that Jesus seemed to battle demonic forces while being alive, so maybe some made the great escape a reality? the other NT writer who possibly hints at this is Jude (I said possibly ). Very fascinating that Jewish believers would use a Greek mythological place of Judgment to describe God's final outcome of the wicked. One thing to keep in mind, this place is only mentioned once (possibly hinted at twice) in the NT . In other words, it's not a recurring theme, it's an anomaly (one could argue there are many anomalies in scripture, so your argument is hogwash Casey).
Hades: Hades, in short, is the place of the dead, aka the underworld, and in the OT it is called sheol (sounds like a mortal kombat character -- Master Sheol). The septuagint was the translation used by the early church and gospel writers - (So Hades is the Hebrew equivalent of sheol in the Greek language -- and the NT writers draw heavily on the Septuagint translation for which Dan has briefly written on ). In Moses traditions it is written, "For a fire will be kindled by my wrath, one that burns down to the realm of the dead below. It will devour the earth and its harvests and set afire the foundations of the mountains (Deuteronomy 32:22)." In Psalm 16:10 the Psalmist writes, "because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay," another Psalmist writes, "Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do their spirits rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction ? Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?" The prophet Ezekiel writes, "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: On the day it was brought down to the realm of the dead I covered the deep springs with mourning for it; I held back its streams (Ezekiel 31:14-16)." Some writers in the OT seem to believe that hades is the place in which the dead go -- good and bad (no exceptions only reservations by the almighty) -- it's referred to as the "realm of the dead," sounds spooky.
From this synopsis, we should realize that Hell is not just one word, but a few words, written and used differently depending on the historical situation.
What I am trying to say is this: words and definitions matter, and if we are going to be serious biblical Jedi masters, we must know the context surrounding our beliefs. It is not enough to affirm something without first having done the research, don't worry about being a heretic or an outsider, or even a conservative -- follow the evidence.
In my next post, I will attempt to summarize how our Jewish brothers and sisters understood judgment and hell prior to Jesus arriving on the seen (second temple interpretations).
Written by Casey Dayton