The Church View:
It is represented by the church to mean a place of eternal, fiery torture for those who don’t believe in the Christ as Saviour, and in extreme cases, those who question the authority of the church. This obviously means that the majority of humanity is destined for eternal, fiery torture. Not very fair for a loving and forgiving God, but then the church does not seem to deeply embrace fairness or forgiveness. A vengeful and unforgiving God more suits a pulpit that spews eternal, fiery condemnations for everything from style of dress to political affiliation as a matter of standard practice. Hell also fulfills the strongest motivational force for the church in its arsenal of flock control, fear. There are no statistics on how many people attend church, not out of belief in God, but more out of conditioned fear of a fiery torture. It would be a good bet that if fear of hell were eliminated, church revenues would drastically shrink.
The Bible View:
In most instances “hell” is translated from words which mean a hole in the ground into which bodies are placed after death. Other instances leave it highly unlikely that hell is a place exclusively created for the eternal torture of unbelievers.
Of all biblical concepts, hell is one of the most mysterious and feared. The word “hell” appears 54 times in the Bible, 30 times in the Old Testament, 24 in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, hell is taken from the word, Sh’owl, pronounced sheh-ole’ or Sh’ol; Hades or the world of the dead (as if a subterranean retreat), Sheol, including its accessories and inmates: KJV–grave, hell, pit. It is interchangeable with the word grave or a pit. Basically, hell is a hole in the ground where bodies are buried. A thorough study of its appearance in Old Testament scripture will show it is not referred to as place of eternal fiery damnation.
In the New Testament it is taken from three words. First, we will examine the one from which the fiery place of eternal torture, so often associated with this word, is taken, Ghenna. It may surprise many to realize that we actually know where this place is, not an ethereal place where Satan dwells, but actually the Jerusalem city dump.
The word is Geena, pronounced gheh’-en-nah of Hebrew origin; valley of the son of Hinnom; ge-henna, or Ge-Hinnom, a valley of Jerusalem, used figuratively as a name for the place or state of everlasting punishment:
The actual place referred to is Hinnom, a deep, narrow ravine separating Mount Zion from the so-called “Hill of Evil Counsel” to the southwest of Jerusalem.
Hinnom is first mentioned here:
♦ Joshua 15:8. And the border went up by the valley of the son of Hinnom unto the south side of the Jebusite; the same is Jerusalem: and the border went up to the top of the mountain that lieth before the valley of Hinnom westward, which is at the end of the valley of the giants northward:
It was formerly the place where the idolatrous Jews burned their children alive as a sacrifice to Moloch and Baal. A particular part of the valley was called Tophet, the “fire-stove” or furnace, where the children were burned. After the Exile, in order to show their abhorrence of the locality, the Jews made this valley the receptacle of the refuse of the city. As with refuse, in those times it was burned to keep down vermin, the obvious offensive odors, to maximize space, and a fire was kept constantly burning there. Excavations carried out at this site from 1975 to 1980 by an archaeological mission turned up remains of nine burial caves around the ravine. In earlier excavations of the actual dump, it was found that the fire was still smoldering after centuries.
Here we have all the elements of the modern concept of Hell. A place of death, a burial area, destruction, anything placed in this fiery pit was consumed, a fiery furnace, where in the past children were burned alive, and unquenchable and everlasting fire, which is burning to this day.
Here are the instances where Ghenna is used:
♦ Matthew 5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
♦ Matthew 5:29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. 30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
♦ Matthew 10: 28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
♦ Matthew 18:9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
♦ Matthew 23:15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.
♦ Matthew 23:33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
♦ Mark 9:43 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: 44 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 45 And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: 46 Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 47 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:
♦ Luke 12:5 But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.
♦ James 3:6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
The next word is familiar to most, the Greek word Hades. And, as with the Hebrew word Sheol, it is interchangeable with the word grave. There is a serious problem trying to designate this as a place of eternal fiery torture rather than a burial place, the problem being, mainly, that Jesus spent three days in Hades after his crucifixion. Since it is clear that this place was actually a sepulchre, not a furnace, and that Jesus committed no sin to warrant such punishment; it would justify the logical conclusion that this is the grave. Attempting to insinuate that Jesus had to go to this fiery Hell to defeat it presupposes that such a place exists without solid scriptural evidence. Jesus performed his ultimate miracle by defeating death, not fire. In the case of Lazarus, it must be noted that this is a parable and is used in a metaphoric sense as with the use of the word Ghenna.
The word hell is translated from is haides, pronounced hah’-dace; properly, unseen, i.e. “Hades” or the place (state) of departed souls: KJV–grave, hell.
Here are the instances where the word Hades is used:
♦ Matthew 11:23 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
♦ Mark 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
♦ Luke 10:15 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell.
♦ Luke 16:23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
♦ Acts 2:27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
♦ Acts 2:31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.
♦ Revelation 1:18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
♦ Revelation 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.
♦ Revelation 20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
The third word translated into hell is only used once and refers to the place of imprisonment for the angels that are described here:
♦ Genesis 6:4. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
Enoch gives a detailed description of this place and can more easily be understood by reviewing the section in this book about the Flood. The word is Tartaroo, pronounced tar-tar-o’-o from Tartaros (the deepest abyss of Hades); to incarcerate in eternal torment. Here is the verse and its relation to the angels of the flood:
♦ 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; 5 And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly;
If one chooses to embrace the concept of an eternity of suffering in a furnace, that is one’s prerogative, but it is not a biblical concept based on a strong foundation. It can be speculated and implied, but there is ample evidence against this concept.