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  • Writer's pictureSusan

Is Hell Real?

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

Most people think that Hell is a literal place that God will send you if you are bad. They believe that this is what the bible teaches. This was a pagan tradition that made it's way into the bible as it was translated into different languages and doesn't actually align with God's character of love. If you look at literal bible translations taken from the original languages, Jesus does not mention the word Hell once. However, He does talk about the garbage dump, Gehena, just outside of Jerusalem. Every vile thing went into that dump and the Israelites kept the fires perpetually burning to dispose of the filth. Below is a comparison of Mark 9:45 in the New International Version and the Young's Literal Translation.

"And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell." (NIV)
"And if thy foot may cause thee to stumble, cut it off; it is better for thee to enter into the life lame, than having the two feet to be cast to the gehenna, to the fire - the unquenchable" YLT

In this verse, Jesus is warning that if you abuse a child, you also destroy yourself. It's better for you to cut off your hand or foot to keep yourself from hurting a child. An act of abuse sears your conscience and warps your character. Jesus wanted people to make the connection that their life would end up as vile as the garbage dump. This is a natural consequence of choosing sin. Even entertaining thoughts about hurting others, leads you down a path that severs your relationship with God, the life giver. It allows Satan to gain a foothold in your heart that may lead you to act on the thought.

Hell appears in various bible translations 13-54 times with the greatest number of references in the King James version. There is such a wide difference because some translations also render Hades, Tartarus and Sheol as Hell whereas other translations render those words as the grave or pit. If you look at the New American Standard Bible, with the least number of references, you can see that the word Gehenna is rendered as Hell 12 times out of 13 and the word Tartarus is rendered as Hell once. Go ahead and look these verses up for yourself on Bible Hub where you can compare all of the different versions of the Bible at once.

So what about Hades, Tartarus and Sheol? Aren't they valid proof of Hell? Let's look at the references from NKJ Version. Some of these references refer to the grave or pit, some, like Jonah seem to refer to suffering as Jonah is clearly not in a literal place called Hell, but in the belly of the whale. More of the text is included where more context is needed. Click on the Bible verse to go to Bible Hub and read the chapter. You'll notice that Sheol appears in the Old Testament because it was written in Aramaic and Hades appears in the New Testament because it was written in Greek.

Sheol (Hebrew):

  • Job 17:13-16 - If I look for Sheol as my home, if I spread out my bed in darkness, and say to corruption, ‘You are my father,’ and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’ where then is my hope? Who can see any hope for me? Will it go down to the gates of Sheol? Will we go down together into the dust?”

  • Psalm 16:8-11: I have set the LORD always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will dwell securely. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; nor will You let Your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the path of life;

  • Psalm 116:3-4 The ropes of death entangled me; the anguish of Sheol overcame me; I was confronted by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the LORD. “O LORD, deliver my soul!”

  • Isaiah 38:9-20 Hezekiah’s Song of Thanksgiving - This is a writing by Hezekiah king of Judah after his illness and recovery: I said, “In the prime of my life I must go through the gates of Sheol and be deprived of the remainder of my years.” I said, “I will never again see the LORD, even the LORD, in the land of the living; I will no longer look on mankind with those who dwell in this world. My dwelling has been picked up and removed from me like a shepherd’s tent. I have rolled up my life like a weaver; He cuts me off from the loom; from day until night You make an end of me. I composed myself until the morning. Like a lion He breaks all my bones; from day until night You make an end of me. I chirp like a swallow or crane; I moan like a dove. My eyes grow weak as I look upward. O Lord, I am oppressed; be my security.” What can I say? He has spoken to me, and He Himself has done this. I will walk slowly all my years because of the anguish of my soul. O Lord, by such things men live, and in all of them my spirit finds life. You have restored me to health and have let me live. Surely for my own welfare I had such great anguish; but Your love has delivered me from the pit of oblivion, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back. For Sheol cannot thank You; Death cannot praise You. Those who descend to the Pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. The living, only the living, can thank You, as I do today; fathers will tell their children about Your faithfulness. The LORD will save me; we will play songs on stringed instrument all the days of our lives in the house of the LORD.

  • Jonah 2:2 And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice.

Hades (Greek):

  • Matthew 11:20-24 Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long agoin sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you,it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to youthat it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”

  • Matthew 16:13-18 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter (petro - stone), and upon this rock (petras - large immovable rock. See 1 Peter 2:8) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

  • Luke 16:23 See the quote below.

  • Acts 2:27 because Thou wilt not leave my soul to hades, nor wilt Thou give Thy Kind One to see corruption;

  • Revelation 1:18 and he who is living, and I did become dead, and, lo, I am living to the ages of the ages. Amen! and I have the keys of the hades and of the death.

  • Revelation 20:14 and the death and the hades were cast to the lake of the fire -- this is the second death;

Sheol is the Hebrew equivalent for Hades and seems to be used as a reference for hopelessness, despair and difficulty. Much like we would say, "I've been to Hell and back" without actually going to a physical place called Hell.

Hades is a Greek word that doesn't denote a real place or person. It seems to be a reference to a final destruction of all that is evil. There is a finality to hades in Revelation 20:14. It is not an eternal place.

The only reference to Hades that is questionable is the story in Luke 16:19-31 below. It seems to be an allegory, much like "The Chronicles of Narnia". It makes an important point about where your character and actions lead, but it's not supposed to paint a picture of what actually happens after you die. We know from other texts, such as Ecclesiastes 9:5, that the dead don't know anything, so this story must be illustrative of the point Jesus is trying to make with the Pharisees.

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”

To determine whether or not a story is allegory, we need to take a close look at all of scripture. Whenever there is an apparent contradiction, study all texts that have to do with a subject in context. In other words, look at the full picture to determine the truth. Jesus liked to use stories to make a point and He would contextualize so His listeners could understand the stories. He drew from beliefs and words that his audience might use. To get a better idea of whether this story is an allegory or not, we need to look into what happens when we die.

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