1 Jan 2003

Some NT uses of the word hell

Submitted by theshovel
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Okay, back again!

I’m touching upon some verses that are going to raise a lot of connected questions so be prepared for some extra comments thrown in.

Now, the writings contained in the New Testament Bible use the words Gehenna, Hades, and Tartaroo. The first I’ll dig into is the last one, Tartaroo — or its English equivalent, Tartarus — as it occurs only once.


2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to Tartarus, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment;

Here’s the definition I found in an online Greek Lexicon (dictionary):

1. the name of the subterranean region, doleful and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds; it answers to Gehenna of the Jews
2. to thrust down to Tartarus, to hold captive in Tartarus

Now, why do you suppose the Greeks had come up with this place called Tartaroo? Actually, I don’t think it takes a brain surgeon to figure it out. After all, if the person gets puts into the ground where the earth takes it back why wouldn’t they suspect that the dead are drawn down into the deepest cavern below? One way or another they knew the person ended up as a prisoner of the earth, and for the Greeks Tartarus was the prison.

I doubt Peter would have used this word had it not been for Paul’s influence in his life since it was part of Greek mythology. Rather risqué for a Jew, I would think. Of course, I suppose it’s also possible that Peter may have used another word (maybe even a Hebrew or Aramaic word) that got changed over the years. Whoever wrote the above definition claims that Tartarus answers to Gehenna of the Jews, but I think that’s just an easy way to make it all fit together to support the common modern definition of hell. Either way, the mythological Tartarus helps paint a very vivid picture of the bondage of these angelic ministers of God who were not spared simply because of their position, but were to be judged.

But let’s also look at the rest of the comparison those that God did not spare:

“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter;” (2 Peter 2:4-6)

The angels that sinned were cast into Tartarus to await judgment, the world at Noah’s time was put to an end, and Sodom and Gomorrah were burned to the ground and was left as an example of the doom of those who live in ungodliness. But let’s not miss the contrast to those who were not spared.

“and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:7-9)

I just love how Peter managed to throw in this little bit about Lot, the “righteous”. It should be enough to shake every legal bone in our bodies! Realize we’re talking the same Lot that somehow ended up in a very prestigious position in the wicked city of Sodom. The same Lot that considered throwing his daughters out in the crowd to keep the men from raping his guests. The same Lot that didn’t want to leave. The same Lot that got so drunk his two daughters were able to get him to have sex with them so they would become impregnated. And yet Peter uses Lot as the example of the righteous man and not an ungodly man or a sinner. The point is that God is the only difference, and even though we may think God can’t tell the difference, He knows.

There is a reason Peter warned the believers to expect false teachers to find their way among them, and it was not to make the believers paranoid, but simply watchful, so that they would not be fooled by the sneakiness of the godly sounding lies. Peter called them “destructive heresies”, but do we really understand what heresies are? The word heresy refers to a schism, or a division, and if you’ll consider the other Biblical warnings you might recognize that the dividing of Christ — putting some into a higher spiritual category than another — was the very thing that caused Paul and Peter to go ballistic!

Also before we immediately assume that this is an after-death judgment we might want to take note that Peter goes on to describe the judgment of the impostors this way:

“These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.’” (2 Peter 2:17-22)

This is the description of those who find freedom from some vice or some evil and then become experts and divine authorities regarding the particular freedom they have achieved. From their own experience of having “escaped the defilements of the world” they begin to promise this same freedom to others, demanding that it is the true freedom of The Lord Jesus Christ. This is nothing more than a Christianized law-man.

Peter had described the judgment of law-men who find themselves falling right back into the specific things they had preached as the earmarks of freedom. Doesn’t this describe the condemnation of law quite well? Even though we are able to relate to the vicious cycle of legalism Peter is not describing those who have the life of God but those who are devoid of it and yet profess to be the authorities of God.

Don’t you catch the force in Peter’s words that the false teachers he referred to never really escaped any defilement of the flesh in the first place, but that they had only found a moralistic imitation of the Jesus Christ they preached? Isn’t the defilement of the flesh a rather law-based boast?

Does Peter’s overall message sound even remotely like he’s making a threat of spending an eternity in a burning pit called hell? If so, then why does he only mention angels in reference to this Tartarus? Instead, he compared their bondage to that of the world drowning in the flood, and also to a couple ancient cities that burnt down to the ground.

Here’s what I see in this. Angels had a position as messengers of God, but it did nothing to spare them from an impending judgment. The whole world of Noah’s time scoffed at the deliverance he preached and yet their unified rejection did nothing to spare them from destruction. Sodom and Gomorrah tormented the one righteous man living among them and Peter referred to them as unprincipled men, which is what he later used to describe the law-preachers.

I’m sure I could come up with something more, but for crying out loud I’ve only dealt with one of the many verses on hell.


Okay, here’s a little more hell for ya!


1. name Hades or Pluto, the god of the lower regions
2. Orcus, the nether world, the realm of the dead
3. later use of this word: the grave, death, hell

KJV (11) - grave, 1; hell, 10; NAS (10) - Hades, 10;

Just some thoughts here: Notice that the translators of the New American Standard version did not translate this Greek word as hell even once, but simply, Hades. Can you understand why the hellfire preachers don’t use this version?

Also, note that the later use of this word interchanges between the grave, death and hell. Orcus was the Roman god of the underworld who was the counterpart of the Greek Pluto, and it seems the Greek word Hades could be used interchangeably. In using this word was Jesus validating ignorance behind the Greek and Roman gods, or was he merely using the common understandings of the day to paint a vivid picture in making his point?

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.

Okay, let’s assume for a moment that the real understanding here is that the city of Capernaum (or its inhabitants) was going to be plunged into the burning fires of hell (as we have come to understand it) — doesn’t this also imply that Capernaum had actually been in heaven at that time? Let’s face it, if we’re going to enforce a literal meaning so that we can be Biblically accurate we can’t play favorites, can we? It’s just like the idea behind the Tower of Babel:

> (Gen 11:4)

We need to ask ourselves a few questions about this, and maybe then we’ll realize that we have known full well what this is all about: What heaven were they hoping to reach? Were they capable of reaching the heaven of their imaginations? Maybe we aren’t too sure, but God sure seemed to think so — at least according to the rest of the story where he divides them by confusing their speech so that they couldn’t unite all of mankind.

The short of this is that man’s perception of heaven lines up in direct proportion to his perception of hell. One was the total achievement or fulfillment of man, the other was the destruction or end of it. And try as he may, death always put a lid on his efforts.

The picture Jesus painted for the people of Capernaum in making this comparison/contrast between them and Sodom was a painful one, that’s for sure. Sodom was that evil, wicked, godless city of the Gentiles — recorded for them in the Scriptures — that got what it deserved, especially in view of the warnings God gave its inhabitants; Capernaum, on the flip side, was an enlightened city — as far as they were concerned, that is. You see, it’s all about perception! Jesus compared Capernaum to Sodom and declared that Sodom was no where near as evil as their own Jewish city of Capernaum was!! Those wicked men of Sodom, “whose condemnation was just, would have “repented in sackcloth and ashes if they had witnessed Jesus deeds among them. In other words, these godless men would have believed the one God sent to His own people in Capernaum.

Capernaum would come to destruction … even as that great city of Sodom. Two wicked cities, but the more wicked of the two was the righteous one with a long Scriptural heritage that gave lip service to the one and only true God. The only literal burning that would have come to mind would have been in the likeness of the burning of Sodom, a destruction that would serve to remind all who came after that the inhabitants did not recognize the one who walked among them.


Matthew 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.

The gates of Hades: The Roman mythological god in charge of the underworld … or that same old perception of the power of death that has followed man from the very beginning? How do you think our modern Christian preachers of hell and damnation would take to the reference of Pluto or Orcus or even Hades or the grave or death, instead of hell? But, of course, we know that our Christian version called Hell is the only true Biblical one, don’t we? I suspect that our modern Christian perceptions often cause us to trip over some of the most obvious stuff written in the Bible.


1 Corinthians 15:55

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

Notice that the KJV conveniently translated the Greek Hades in this verse as grave. Did God inspire them to translate it differently here or was it a little too obvious that hell didn’t fit as well? Consider this verse in view of the one about the gates of hell: Death and Hades are sitting side by side here in this statement quoted by Paul from the prophet, Hosea 13:14).


Death and Hades appears to be the same as Death and Sheol. What’s the message? In Christ, death has no power, and the unknown that lays waiting for man beyond the grave has no victory. Also consider that the whole message to the Corinthians was not about the final resting place after we die but had everything to do with “For I determined to know nothing among you except Christ and him crucified” 1 Corinthians 2:2. We are the ones who keep forcing that into the context, and in doing so miss out on the living connection to the two verses that follow:

> 1 Corinthians 15:56-57

Paul’s meaning is obviously not regarding a place of final destination, but of the true freedom brought about in Christ. Somehow, modern Christianity uses verses like the above to scripturally prove that after we physically die we won’t have to be cast into the burning pit to exist forever and ever in torment, and at the same time it scoffs at the very reality of God’s true freedom in Christ in having released us from the power of sin through law. How do we keep proving stuff like that using words that say something else?

Next: the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16)


Hades (continued)

Luke 16:23

In hell (or Hades), where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.

Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus has always stood as one of the most convincing proofs of everlasting suffering for the wicked in the flames of hell. And it didn’t make any difference to find it was called Hades here because in view of Revelation 20 we saw a distinction made where this in-between place of Hades would end up thrown into the Lake of Fire, which obviously has to be the same as Hell … doesn’t it? It’s amazing how many of those individual assumptions don’t necessarily coincide with the conclusions our systematic teaching demands. This story is no exception.

First off, regarding this particular account, are we examining the full story behind it? Let’s get a good picture of the audience Jesus addressed and also the tale he told that led up to — or more likely, demanded — the rich man and Lazarus story:

“Now He was also saying to the disciples,” (Luke 16:1). Okay, so he was talking to his followers. And what he initially chose to tell them was a story about a wasteful financial manager whose business practices were reported to his boss. If you follow the story you realize that the man was not ignorant, but that he had been living well off of the kickbacks he made from shady deals! But now that his influential position was ending and his reputation as a financial manager trashed … what was he going to do? His plan was simple: he quickly brought in each one of his boss’ debtors — and since his boss didn’t have the records to really know who owed what — the manager adjusted the accounts in favor of the debtors. Because they had conspired together with the man they would be bound — blackmailed — to support his high lifestyle.

Now, I know the lesson of this story has presented great difficulties to lots of people because we’ve flipped back and forth between the stated command, >, and being >. I mean, which is it? Be shrewd like the unrighteous steward so that our reception into the eternal dwellings is secured … or lose the shrewdness and deal honestly? After all, what was Jesus really trying to say when he said >

So, what does my telling of this story have to do with the one about Hell (or should I say, Hades)? Simple, if we can’t figure out the first one what makes us think we understand the second? The situation — including those listening in — has everything to do with what and why he said it.

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail. Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.” (Luke 16:14-18)

If you can sense the incredible tension between Jesus and those religious leaders in this situation the rest should fall in line. They were there the whole time listening in, and they knew full-well that Jesus had been describing them as he told that story to his disciples. They scoffed because they were the ones who had grown fat by making shady deals with God’s stuff. They were furious!!

Do you realize that the praise they received from their master (you know, God) was being likened to the praise given to this sleazy little cheat. Can’t you hear the former boss pause between his raging and cussing at having been cheated this one last time to reluctantly declare, after all was said and done, that the S.O.B. was a genius? This is the praise of man, not of God.

This Bible story takes on a whole new meaning now, doesn’t it? Jesus wasn’t establishing the basis of a new Christian behavior he was exposing the hypocrisy of those who were viewed as recipients of God’s praise!! How many stupid little sermons have you heard about how you’re supposed to try to be more shrewd … only in a godly sort of way? Would you be surprised to learn that this is only one of many such bogus commands we have struggled to keep but have only blown time and time again? True life and freedom never was complicated or difficult.

The part of the story where the boss said, “Give an accounting of your management, for you can no longer be manager was a thinly-veiled judgment against those self-righteous men who profited from their abusive handling of their managerial positions. They were being called into account by their boss who was demanding an answer for their form of godliness.

And you’d better believe the disciples were feeling quite uncomfortable by the confrontation for they were very sensitive to the little twists that might prove to be their undoing. Get a feel for this tension and you’ll find many baffling statements in the Bible making all kinds of sense.

Everything the Pharisees considered worthy was being stated as detestable — everything. Once John came on the scene declaring the kingdom of heaven these men began to jump on the kingdom bandwagon (“everyone is forcing his way into it”). And it is right here that Jesus brings the impossibility of getting around the Law into the picture. Why? Because they were lawmen who thought their own loopholes around the unalterable law were legitimate. But God knew their hearts.

Now, as to the matter of divorce that Jesus touched on I am certain it must have hit a point of tension among the Pharisees. Remember, they were masters at the interpretation of Mosaic Law and they spent much of their time debating one viewpoint against the other. You know, while they argued as to what constituted a lawful divorce Jesus simply declared what the Law stated, and then went on to draw the legal conclusion. Be assured that it was not some general morality issue being pushed by Jesus, but a much discussed question that only highlighted the hypocrisy of those who did not keep whatever laws they enforced upon others.

Keep this tension in mind as you re-read this well-known story, and try to picture things like, some of the Pharisees grinding their teeth together and the disciples wishing they could just disappear … because they all knew who the rich man represented. Anyhow, here’s the story:

The Rich Man and Lazarus — Luke 16:19-31

Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.

And he cried out and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.”

But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.”

And he said, “Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house — for I have five brothers — in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.”

But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”

But he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!”

But he said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”

Consider that this little tale might be an elaboration on the previously made statement: “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God. What if it was never meant to be an expose’ on the literal horrors of a burning hell but instead was a pointed story told in the form of contemporary religious mythology. Yes, mythology. After all, let’s not forget that Hades was part of Greek and Roman ignorance.

A few questions:

1. Did you ever wonder how the rich man from his location in Hades could look over and see Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom?
2. And what kind of comfort would anyone find in Abraham’s bosom if they could simply look far away and see others suffering in flames?
3. Then do you really think those in hell, or Hades, would be talking to Father Abraham?
4. And why do you think the story has the rich man addressing Abraham instead of God?
5. And would a wicked man even be concerned about his brothers?

I know answers have been constructed in view of such questions, but I have to wonder how we can be satisfied with any answer that overlooks the very meaning and reason behind the story itself. For the story so accurately describes the fallacies of the self-righteous religious man by portraying HIM in the role he has projected on everyone else. It is the same kind of set up that King David fell for when the prophet Nathan told him the story of the rich man who killed his poor neighbor’s pet lamb to serve his house guests. David becomes enraged and demands that the rich man should be put to death for such an atrocity. Nathan told him, “YOU are the man!” When David heard it he was cut to the heart, but these blind guides were all the more convinced that Jesus needed to die.

The wording of the story plays into the beliefs of the Pharisees. The very idea that the despised Lazarus would be carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom while the rich man — he who was after their likeness — merely died and was buried to wake up in Hades was a total assault to the very rightness of Scriptural accuracy as far as they were concerned. The Pharisees consistently scoffed at any suggestion that they were not Abraham’s children. Also, the conversation between a man in hell and Abraham in paradise was merely a rhetorical scene designed to highlight the fact that they had never believed Moses and the Prophets … and would not believe even if someone were to rise from the dead.

To them, Jesus was speaking pure absurdity … but the disciples were experiencing some incredible distinctions between life and religion.

By the way, any idea what this great chasm is?

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:12-16)

The great chasm is the void between the mind of the world and the mind of God, not some barrier created by an impassable terrain. There is no crossing between the one and the other as the only possibility is to have miraculously been given the mind of Christ. Listen to what the disciples learned from Jesus and you find this same conclusion all throughout their writings.

There are a few more Hades references that I’ll get to later.


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Random Shovelquote: Former religious imaginations (view all shovelquotes)

My assumptions of what grace and life in Christ look like often reflect my former religious imaginations.   source