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The Bible Hell
Part 4



The word Hades occurs but eleven times in the New Testament, and is translated Hell ten times, and grave once. The word is from a, not, and eulo, to see, and means concealed, invisible. It has exactly the same meaning as Sheol, literally the grave, or death, and figuratively destruction, downfall, calamity, or punishment in this world, with no intimation whatever of torment or punishment beyond the grave. Such is the meaning in every passage in the Old Testament containing the word Sheol or Hades, whether translated Hell, grave or pit. Such is the invariable meaning of Hades in the New Testament. Says the "Emphatic Diaglott:" "To translate Hades by the word Hell as it is done ten times out of eleven in the New Testament, is very improper, unless it has the Saxon meaning of helan, to cover, attached to it. The primitive signification of Hell, only denoting what was secret or concealed, perfectly corresponds with the Greek term Hades and its equivalent Sheol, but the theological definition given to it at the present day by no means expresses it."


The Greek Septuagint, which our Lord used when he read or quoted from the Old Testament, gives Hades as the exact equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol, and when the Savior, or his apostles, use the word, they must mean the same as it meant in the Old Testament. When Hades is used in the New Testament, we must understand it just as we do (Sheol or Hades) in the Old Testament.


Dr. Campbell well says: "In my judgment, it ought never in Scripture to be rendered Hell, at least, in the sense wherein that word is now universally understood by Christians.

In the Old Testament, the corresponding word is Sheol, which signifies the state of the dead in general without regard to the goodness or badness of the persons, their happiness or misery. In translating that word, the seventy have almost invariably used Hades. It is very plain, that neither in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament, nor in the New, does the word Hades convey the meaning which the present English word Hell, in the Christian usage, always conveys to our minds."-Diss. Vi., pp. 180-1.

Donnegan defines it thus: "Invisible, not manifest, concealed, dark, uncertain."-Lex. p. 19.

Le Clere affirms that "neither Hades nor Sheol ever signifies in the Sacred Scripture the abode of evil spirits, but only the sepulchre, or the state of the dead."


It must not be forgotten that contact with the heathen had corrupted the opinions of the Jews, at the time of our Savior, from the simplicity of Moses, and that by receiving the traditions and fables of paganism, they had made void the word of God. They had accepted Hadees as the best Greek word to convey their idea of Sheol, but without investing it at first with the heathen notions of the classic Hades, as they afterwards did. What these ideas were, the classic authors inform us. "The Jews had acquired at Babylon a great number of Oriental notions, and their theological opinions had undergone great changes by this intercourse. We find in Ecclesiastes and the Wisdom of Solomon, and the later prophets, notions unknown to the Jews before the Babylonian captivity, which are manifestly derived from the Orientals. Thus, God represented under the image of light, and the principle of evil under that of darkness; the history of good and bad angels; paradise and Hell, etc., are doctrines of which the origin, or at least the positive determination, can only be referred to the Oriental philosophy." (Milman's Gibbon ch. 21. of it, or the heathen and "evangelical" descriptions of Hell are wholly false.)

Dr. Thayer in his "Origin and History," says: "The process is easily understood. About three hundred and thirty years before Christ, Alexander the Great had subjected to his rule the whole of Western Asia, including Judea, and also the kingdom of Egypt. Soon after he founded Alexandria, which speedily became a great commercial metropolis, and drew into itself a large multitude of Jews, who were always eager to improve the opportunities of traffic and trade. A few years later, Ptolemy Soter took Jerusalem, and carried off one hundred thousand of them into Egypt. Here, of course, they were in daily contact with Egyptians and Greeks, and gradually began to adopt their philosophical and religious opinions, or to modify their own in harmony with them."

"To what side soever they turned, the Jews came in contact with Greeks and with Greek philosophy, under one modification or another. It was round them and among them; for small bodies of that people were scattered through their own territories, as well as through the surrounding provinces. It insinuated itself very slowly at first; but stealing upon them from every quarter, and operating from age to age, it mingled at length in all their views, and by the year 150 before Christ, had wrought a visible change in their notions and habits of thought."

We must either reject these imported ideas, as heathen inventions, or we must admit that the heathen, centuries before Christ, discovered that of which Moses had no idea. In other words either uninspired men announced the future fate of sinners centuries before inspired men knew anything.


At the time of Christ's advent Jew and Pagan held Hades to be a place of torment after death, to endure forever.

"The prevalent and distinguishing opinion was, that the soul survived the body, that vicious souls would suffer an everlasting imprisonment in Hadees, and that the souls of the virtuous would both be happy there and in process of time obtain the privilege of transmigrating into other bodies."  (Campbell's Four Gospels, Diss. 6, Pt. 2, & 19.) Of the Pharisees, Josephus says: "They also believe that souls have an immortal vigor in them, and that, under the earth, there will be rewards and punishments, according as they lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again." (Antiquites, B. 18, Ch. 1, 3. Whiston's Tr.")

These doctrines are not found in the Old Testament. They are of heathen origin. Did Jesus endorse them? Let us consult all the texts in which he employed the heathen word Hades.


Matt. 11:23 and Luke 10:15, "And you, Capernaum, which are exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to Hell." "And you, Capernaum, which are exalted to heaven, shall be thrust down to Hell." Of course, a city never went to a place of torment after death. The word is used here just as it is in Isa. 14, where Babylon is said to be brought down to Sheol or Hades, to denote debasement, overthrow, a prediction fulfilled to the letter. Dr. Clarke's interpretation is correct: "The word here means a state of the utmost woe, and ruin, and desolation, to which these impenitent cities should be reduced. This prediction of our Lord was literally fulfilled; for, in the wars between the Romans and Jews, these cities were totally destroyed; so that no traces are now found of Bethsaida, Chorazin or Capernaum."


That Hades is the kingdom of death, and not a place of torment, after death, is evident from the language of Acts 2:27, "You will not leave my soul in Hell: neither will you suffer thy holy one to see corruption." Verse 31: "His soul was not left in Hell, neither his flesh did see corruption," that is his spirit did not remain in the state of the dead, until his body decayed. No one supposes that Jesus went to a realm of torment when he died. Jacob wished to go down to Hades to his son mourning, so Jesus went to Hades, the under-world, the grave. The Apostle's Creed conveys the same idea, when it speaks of Jesus as descending into Hell. He died, but his soul was not left in the realms of death, is the meaning.


Matt. 14:18, "And I say also unto you, That you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." The word is here used as an emblem of destruction. "The gates of Hades" means the powers of destruction. It is the Savior's manner of saying that his church cannot be destroyed.


Rev. 6:8, "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth." All the details of this description demonstrates that the Hell is on earth, and not in the future world.

The word also occurs in Rev 1:18, "I am He that lives, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of Hell and of death." To understand this passage literally, with the popular view of Hell added, would be to represent Jesus as the Devil's gate keeper. If Hell is a realm of torment, and the devil is its king, and Jesus keeps the keys, what is he but the devil's janitor, or turnkey? The idea is that Jesus defies death and the grave, evil, destruction, and all that is denoted either literally or figuratively by Hades, the under-world. Its gates open to him.

Cannon Farrar in Excursus II, "Eternal Hope," observes: "Hell has entirely changed its old harmless sense of 'the dim under-world,' and that, meaning as it how does, to myriads of readers, 'a place of endless torment by material fire into which all impenitent souls pass forever after death,' - it conveys meanings which are not to be found in any word of the Old or New Testament for which it is presented as an equivalent. In our Lord's language Capernaum was to be thrust down, not 'to Hell,' but to the silence and desolation of the grave (Hades); the promise that 'the gates of Hades' should not prevail against the church is perhaps a distinct implication of her triumph even beyond death in the souls of men for whom he died; Dives uplifts his eyes not 'in Hell,' but in the intermediate Hades where he rests till the resurrection to a judgment, in which signs are not wanting that his soul may have been meanwhile ennobled and purified."


I Cor. 15:55, "O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?" This is parallel to Hos. 14:14, where the destruction of Hades is prophesied. Whatever Hades means, it is not to endure forever. It is destined to be destroyed. It cannot be endless torment. That its inhabitants are to be delivered from its dominion, is seen from Rev. 20:13, "And Death and Hell delivered up the dead that were in them." This harmonizes with the declaration of David, that he had been delivered from it already. (Ps. 30:3; II Sam. 22:5,6). It does not retain its victims always, and hence, whatever it may mean, it does not denote endless imprisonment. Hence the next verse reads, "And death and Hell were cast into the lake of fire." Can a more striking description of utter destruction be given than this? Of course the language is all figurative, and not literal. Hell here denotes evil and its consequences. It is in this world, it opposes truth and human happiness, but it is to meet with a destruction so complete that only a sea of fire can indicate the character of its destruction.

Says Prof. Stuart: "The king of Hades, and Hades itself, i.e., the region or domains of death, are represented as cast into the burning lake. The general judgment being now come, mortality having now been brought to a close, the tyrant death, and his domains along with him, are represented as cast into the burning lake, as objects of abhorrence and of indignation. They are no more to exercise any power over the human race." Ex. Es. p. 133. 'And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom; the rich man also died, and was buried; and in Hell (Hades) he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom." Luke 16:22, 23. If this is a literal history, as is sometimes claimed, of the after-death experiences of two persons, then the good are carried about in Abraham's bosom; and the wicked are actually roasted in fire, and cry for water to cool their parched tongues. If these are figurative, then Abraham, Lazarus, Dives and the gulf and every part of the account are features of a picture, an allegory, as much as the fire and Abraham's bosom. If it be history, then the good are obliged to hear the appeals of the damned for that help which they cannot bestow! They are so near together as to be able to converse across the gulf, not wide but deep. It was this opinion that caused Jonathan Edwards to teach that the sight of the agonies of the damned enhances the joys of the blest!


1. The story is not fact but fiction: in other words, a parable. This is denied by some Christians who ask, Does not our Savior say: "There was a certain rich man?" etc. True, but all his parables begin in the same way, "A certain rich man had two sons, and the like.

In Judges 9, we read, "The trees went forth, on a time, to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, Do you reign over us." This language is positive, and yet it describes something that never could have occurred. All fables, parables, and other fictitious accounts which are related to illustrate important truths, have this positive form, to give force, point, life-likeness to the lessons that they inculcate.

Dr. Whitby says: "That this is only a parable and not a real history of what was actually done, is evident from the circumstances of it, namely, the rich man lifting up his eyes in Hell and seeing Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, his discourse with Abraham, his complaint of being tormented in flames, and his desire that Lazarus might be sent to cool his tongue, and if all this be confessedly parable, why should the rest be accounted history?" Lightfoot and Hammond make the same general comments, and Wakefield remarks, "To them who regard the narrative a reality it must stand as an unanswerable argument for the purgatory of the papists."

It occurs at the end of a chain of parables. The Savior had been illustrating several principles by familiar allegories, or parables. He had exhibited the unjustifiable murmurings of the Pharisees, in the stories of the Lost Sheep and of the Lost Piece of Silver, and the parable commencing the sixteenth chapter was directed to the Scribes and Pharisees, that class of Jews being represented by the Unjust Steward. They had been unfaithful and their Lord would shortly dismiss them. The account says: "And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things, and they derided him," showing, unequivocally, that the force and power of his references were felt.

He continued to illustrate his doctrines and gave to them a marked emphasis by his striking and beautiful stories. He then struck into this parable designing not to relate an actual incident but to exhibit certain truths by means of a story. It is clearly absurd to say that he launched immediately from the figurative mode of instruction in which he had all along been indulging, into a literal exhibition of the eternal world, and without any notice of his changed mode of expression, actually raised the veil that separates this life from the future! He was not accustomed to teach in that way.

And this brings us to another proof that this is a parable. The Jews have a book, written during the Babylonish Captivity, entitled Gemara Babylonicum, containing doctrines entertained by Pagans concerning the future state not recognized by the followers of Moses. This story is founded on heathen views. They were not obtained from the Bible, for the Old Testament contains nothing resembling them. They were among those traditions which our Savior condemned when he told the Scribes and Pharisees, "You make the word of God of none effect through your traditions," and when he said to his disciples, "Beware of the leaven, or doctrine of the Pharisees."

Our Savior seized the imagery of this story, not to endorse its truth, but just as we now relate any other fable. He related it as found in the Gemara, not for the story's sake, but to convey a moral to his hearers; and the Scribes and Pharisees to whom he addressed this and the five preceding stories, felt - as we shall see - the force of its application to them.

Says Dr. Geo. Campbell: "The Jews did not, indeed, adopt the pagan fables, on this subject, nor did they express themselves entirely, in the same manner; but the general train of thinking in both came pretty much to coincide. The Greek Hades they found well adapted to express the Hebrew Sheol. This they came to conceive as including different sorts of habitations, for ghosts of different characters." Now as nothing resembling this parable is found in the Old Testament where did the Jews obtain it, if not from the heathen?

The commentator, Macknight, Scotch Presbyterian, says truly: "It must be acknowledged that our Lord's descriptions are not drawn from the writings of the Old Testament, but have a remarkable affinity to the descriptions which the Grecian poets have given. They represent the abodes of the blest as lying adjacent to the region of the damned, and separated only by a great impassable gulf in such sort that the ghosts could talk to one another from its opposite banks. If from these resemblances it is thought the parable is formed on the Grecian mythology, it will not at all follow that our Lord approved of what the common people thought or spoke concerning these matters, agreeably to the notions of Greeks. In parables, provided the doctrines instilled are strictly true, the terms in which they are instilled may be such as are most familiar to the people, and the images made use of are such as they are best acquainted with."


But if it were a literal history, nothing could be gained for the terrible doctrine of endless torment. It would oblige us to believe in literal fire after death but there is not a word to show that such fire would never go out. We have heard it claimed that the punishment of the rich man must be endless, because there was gulf (chasm, chasma) fixed so that those who desired to could not cross it. But were this a literal account, it would not follow that the gulf would last always.

For are we not assured that the time is coming when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low?" Isa. 40:4. When every valley is exalted what becomes of the great gulf? And then there is exalted, what said of the duration of the sufferings of the rich man. If the account be a history it must not militate against the promise of "The restitution of all things spoken by the mouth of all God's holy prophets since the world began." There is not a word intimating that the rich man's torment was never to cease. So the doctrine of endless misery is after all, not in the least taught here. The most that can be claimed is that the consequences of sin extend into the future life, and that is a doctrine that we believe just as strongly as can any one, though we do not believe they will be endless, nor do we believe the doctrine taught in this parable, nor in the Bible use of the word Hell.

But allowing for a moment that this is intended to represent a scene in the spirit world, what a representation we have! Dives is dwelling in a world of fire in the company of lost spirits, hardened by the depravity that must possess the residents of that world, and yet yearning in compassion for those on earth. Not totally depraved, not harboring evil thoughts but benevolent, humane. Instead of being loyal to the wicked world in which he dwells as anyone bad enough to go there should be, he actually tries to prevent migration there from earth, while Lazarus is entirely indifferent to everybody but himself. Dives seems to have more mercy and compassion than does Lazarus.


But what does the parable teach? That the Jewish nation, and especially the Scribes and Pharisees were about to die as a power, as a church, as a controlling influence in the world; while the common people among them and the Gentiles outside of them were to be exalted in the new order of things. The details of the parable show this: "There was a certain rich man clothed in purple and fine linen." In these first words, by describing their very costume, the Savior fixed the attention of his hearers on the Jewish priesthood. They were emphatically the rich men of that nation. His description of the beggar was equally graphic. He lay at the gate of the rich, only asking to be fed by the crumbs that fell from the table. Thus dependent were the common people, and the Gentiles on the Scribes and Pharisees. We remember how Christ once rebuked them for shutting up the kingdom of heaven against these. They lay at the gate of the Jewish hierarchy. For the Gentiles were literally restricted to the outer court of the temple. Therefore in Rev. 11:12 we read: "But the court, which is without the temple, leave out, and measure it not, for it is given unto the Gentiles." They could only walk the outer court, or lie at the gate. We remember the anger of the Jews at Paul, for allowing Greeks to enter the temple. This is the significance of the language of the Canaanitish woman, Matt. 15:27, who desired the Savior to heal her daughter. The Savior, to try her faith, said: It is not meet to cast the children's bread to the dogs." She replied, "Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their Mater's table." The prophet (Isa. 1:6) represents the common people of Israel as "full of wounds, bruises, and putrifying sores." The brief, graphic descriptions given by the Savior, at once showed his hearers that he was describing those two classes, the Jewish priesthood and nation on the one hand and the common people, Jews and Gentiles, on the other.

The rich man died and was buried. This class died officially, nationally and its power departed. The kingdom of God was taken from them and bestowed on others. The beggar died. The Gentiles, publicans and sinners were translated into the kingdom of God's dear son where is neither Jew nor Greek, but where all are one in Christ Jesus. This is the meaning of the expression "Abraham's bosom." They accepted the true faith and so became one with faithful Abraham. Abraham is called the father of the faithful, and the beggar is represented to have gone to Abraham's bosom, to denote the fact which is now history, that the common people and Gentiles would accept Christianity and become Christian nations, enjoying the blessing of the Christian faith.

What is meant by the torment of the rich man? The misery of those proud men, when soon after their land was captured and their city and temple possessed by barbarians, and they scattered like chaff before the wind - a condition in which they have continued from that day to this. All efforts to bless them with Christianity have proved unavailing. At this very moment there is a great gulf fixed so that there is no passing to and fro. And observe, the Jews do not desire the gospel. Nor did the rich man ask to enter Abraham's bosom with Lazarus. He only wished Lazarus to alleviate his sufferings by dipping his finger in water and cooling his tongue. It is so with the Jews today. They do not desire the gospel; they only ask those among whom they sojourn to tolerate them and soften the hardships that accompany their wanderings. The Jewish church and nation is now dead. Once they were exalted to heaven, but now they are thrust down to Hades, the kingdom of death, and the gulf that yawns between them and the Gentiles shall not be abolished till the fullness of the Gentiles shall come in, and "then Israel shall be saved."

Lightfoot says: "The main scope and design of it seems this: to hint the destruction of the unbelieving Jews, who, though they had Moses and the prophets, did not believe them, nay would not believe though one (even Jesus) arose from the dead."

 The rich man or the Jews were and are in the same Hell in which David was when he said: "The pains of Hell (Hades) got hold on me, I found trouble and sorrow," and "you have delivered my soul from the lowest Hell." Not in endless world in the future world, but in misery and suffering in this. (For more on Lazarus and the rich man see the Abraham's Bosom link below).


But is this a final condition? No, wherever we locate it, it must end. Paul asks the Romans, "Have they (the Jews) stumbled that they should fall? God forbid! but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles." "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own conceits, that blindness is in part happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in, and so all Israel shall be saved. As it is written, There shall come out of Zion the deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is my covenant with them when I shall take away their sins."
Rom. 11:22, 25, 27.

In brief terms, then we may say that this is a fictitious story or parable describing the fate in this world of the Jewish and Gentile people of our Saviour's times, and has not the slightest reference to the world after death, nor to the fate of mankind in that world.

So that the instances (sixty-four) in the Old Testament and (eleven) in the New, in all seventy-five in the Bible, all perfectly agree in representing the word Hell, derived from the Hebrew Sheol and the Greek Hades, as being in this world.

 Part 5 - Tartarus