Hell in Christian beliefs

Hell in Christian beliefs

Hell, in Christian beliefs, is a place or a state in which the souls of the unsaved will suffer the consequences of sin. The Christian doctrine of hell derives from the teaching of the New Testament, where hell is typically described using the Greek words "Gehenna" or "Tartarus". Unlike Hades, Sheol, or "purgatory" it is eternal, and those damned to hell are without hope. In the New Testament, it is described as the place or state of punishment after death or last judgment for those who have rejected Jesus. [ [http://www.ibs.org/bible/verse/?q=John3:18&niv=yes Biblical Reference: John 3:18] ] In many classical and popular depictions it is also the abode of the devil and of evil spirits. [ [http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hell hell - Definitions from Dictionary.com ] ]

Hell is generally defined as the eternal fate of unrepentant sinners after this life. ["Hell." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005] Hell's character is inferred from biblical teaching, which has often been understood over-literally. ["Hell." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005] Souls are said to pass into hell by God's irrevocable judgment, either immediately after death (particular judgment) or in the general judgment. ["Hell." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005] Modern theologians generally describe hell as the logical consequence of the soul using its free will to reject the will of God. ["Hell." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005] It is considered compatible with God's justice and mercy because God will not interfere with the soul's free choice. ["Hell." Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005]

In some older English translations of the Bible (such as the KJV), the word "hell" is used to translate certain words such as "sheol" (Hebrew) and "hades" (Greek). These words do not typically refer to the place of eternal punishment, but to the underworld or temporary abode of the dead. ["New Bible Dictionary" third edition, IVP 1996. Articles on "Hell", "Sheol".]

Jewish background

In ancient Jewish belief, the dead were consigned to the underworld, or "Sheol", a shadowy existence to which all were sent indiscriminately (cf. Genesis 37:35; Numbers 16:30-33; Psalm 86:13; Ecclesiastes 9:10). [ [http://www.religiousstudies.uncc.edu/jdtabor/future.html "What the Bible says about Death, Afterlife, and the Future,"] James Tabor] However, by the third to second century B.C. the idea had grown to encompass separate divisions in "sheol" for the righteous and wicked (cf. the Book of Enoch)."New Bible Dictionary" 3rd edition, IVP Leicester 1996. "Sheol".]

The Hebrew word "Sheol" was translated in the Greek Septuagint as "Hades", the name for the underworld and abode of the dead in Greek mythology. The realm of eternal punishment in Hellenistic mythology was in fact "Tartarus"; "hades" was rather a form of limbo where the dead went to be judged.

In later Jewish belief, the place of eternal punishment was "Gehenna", a place of unquenchable fire (cf. Assumption of Moses, 2 Esdras)."New Bible Dictionary" 3rd edition, IVP Leicester 1996. "Hell".] The term is derived from "ge-hinnom", a valley near Jerusalem originally used as a location for human sacrifices to the idol Moloch, and where refuse and the bodies of executed criminals were later burnt.:"And he defiled the Tophet, which is in the valley of Ben-hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech". ] "Gehenna" is most frequently described as a place of fiery torment (eg. Matthew 5:22, 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-49) although other imagery is also used such as darkness and "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (eg. Matthew 8:12; 22:13)."New Dictionary of Biblical Theology"; IVP Leicester 2000, "Hell"]

Besides this teaching in the synoptic gospels, the concept of hell is found in other parts of the NT although the term "gehenna" is not used. The Johannine writings refer to the destiny of the wicked in terms of "perishing", "death" and "condemnation" or "judgment". St. Paul speaks of "wrath" and "everlasting destruction" (cf. Romans 2:7-9; 2 Thessalonians 1:9), while the general epistles use a range of terms and images including "raging fire" (Hebrews 10:27), "destruction" (2 Peter 3:7), "eternal fire" (Jude 7) and "blackest darkness" (Jude 13). The book of Revelation contains the image of a "lake of fire" and "burning sulphur" where the reprobate will be "tormented day and night for ever and ever"(eg. Revelation 20:10)..

Roman Catholicism

Hell is defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 1033):

:"We cannot be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we cannot love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: "He who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him."610 Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren.611 To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self- exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell."

In the words of Pope John Paul II, "The images of hell that Sacred Scripture presents to us must be correctly interpreted. They show the complete frustration and emptiness of life without God. Rather than a place, Hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy". [ [http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_28071999_en.html July 28, 1999 statement of Pope John Paul II concerning the topic of Hell] ] The traditional image of the suffering of those in hell is that of "fire", as described in an earlier catechism. [A Catechism of Christian Doctrine, Revised Edition of the Baltimore Catechism, St. Anthony Guild Press, New Jersey (1949), p. 144f.]

Purgatory and Limbo

Catholic tradition and catechisms assert the existence of purgatory, a state of existence where the saved are purified after death before entering into the presence of God. In theological terminology, "purgatory" is a separate and distinct term from "hell".

In John 3:5, Jesus says "unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God". This statement is interpreted to mean that those who are not baptized (which in Roman Catholic tradition removes the stain of original sin) cannot go to Heaven. In Roman Catholic tradition, Limbo is the afterlife for those who die unbaptized but are not guilty of mortal sin. Those righteous souls who died before the Crucifixion were thought to have remained in the Limbo of the Fathers until "He [Jesus] descended into Hell" to take those souls to heaven (as stated in the Apostles Creed). This teaching is also known as the harrowing of Hell.

It is also important to note that post Vatican II the Catholic Church claims that it is possible for a non-baptized individual to go to heaven, if they do not have baptism because of invincible ignorance (which is not their own fault), but follow the moral law written in their hearts. It is assumed that, had they understood the necessity of baptism, they would have chosen to be baptized. This notion is called baptism of desire.,

Conditional Immortality and Annihilationism

A growing minorityvague of Protestants believe in the doctrine of conditional immortality, which teaches that those sent to hell will not experience eternal conscious punishment, but instead will be extinguished or annihilated after a period of "limited conscious punishment". Prominent evangelical theologians who have adopted conditionalist beliefs include John Wenham, Edward Fudge, Clark Pinnock and John Stott (although the latter has described himself as an "agnostic" on the issue of annihilationism). Conditionalists typically reject the traditional concept of the immortality of the soul.


Some Protestants (such as George MacDonald, Keith DeRose and Thomas Talbott), though also in a minority, believe that after serving their time in Hell all souls are reconciled to God and admitted to heaven, or ways are found at the time of death of drawing all souls to repentance so that Hell is never experienced. This view is often called Trinitarian Universalism, and is not to be confused with Unitarian Universalism. See universal salvation and the problem of Hell.

Teachings of other groups

eventh-day Adventism

Seventh-day Adventists do not believe the wicked will suffer for eternity in hell, but instead teach conditional immortality. Adventists believe that depictions in the Bible describing punishment for the wicked by fire describe the final fate of sinners after the second coming of Christ. In addition, they believe in the doctrine of soul sleep.

Seventh-day Adventists believe that at the second coming, Christ will resurrect the righteous who have died and take them to heaven with the living righteous. God will kill the unrighteous leaving only Satan and his fallen angels on earth. After a millennium, Christ will again return to earth together with the righteous and the "Holy City" (the New Jerusalem, Revelation 21:10). Christ will then resurrect the wicked, who will surround the New Jerusalem along with Satan. At this point God will permanently destroy Satan, his angels, and wicked humanity by fire. The Adventist view of hell is often referred to as annihilationism.

Christian Science

Christian Science defines "Hell" as follows: "Mortal belief; error; lust; remorse; hatred; revenge; sin; sickness; death; suffering and self-destruction; self-imposed agony; effects of sin; that which 'worketh abomination or maketh a lie.'" (Science and Health with Key to the Scripture by Mary Baker Eddy, 588: 1-4.)

Latter-day Saints (Mormons)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the word hell is used in scripture in at least two senses. To correctly understand these concepts the context of each is relevant.

Mormons believe in a concept of hell as a state of punishment. Those who reject Christ and His Atonement ultimately will be accountable for their choices and the resulting sin(s). Righteous people, whether Latter-day Saint or not, will be resurrected and live with Christ on earth after His return. [LDS Church. [http://www.lds.org/portal/site/LDSOrg/menuitem.b3bc55cbf541229058520974e44916a0/?vgnextoid=32c41b08f338c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=be9b7befabc20110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&hideNav=1&contentLocale=0 "Chapter 46: The Last Judgment"] , "Gospel Principles", 294.] In the interim period between death and resurrection those who rejected the Gospel message and those who had no opportunity to be taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ reside in a spirit prison (see sheol from Oral Torah) awaiting teaching and judgment. This concept aligns with second century Jewish Oral Torah tradition. It also describes a status separate from hell as a permanent state of punishment.

Further it is believed that during the millennial reign of Christ both mortal and immortal peoples will coexist. The mortal will continue to minister and teach those who have not received the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The work of teaching and ministering to those in the spirit realm continues. [ [http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/138# Doctrine and Covenants, Section 138] ]

After the 1000 years, the individuals in spirit prison will also be resurrected and receive an immortal physical body. [ [http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/88/100-101#100 Doctrine and Covenants 88:100-101] .] The LDS Church explains biblical descriptions of hell being "eternal" or "endless" punishment as being descriptive of their infliction by God rather than an unending temporal period; Latter-day Saint scripture quotes God as telling church founder Joseph Smith, Jr.: "I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name. Wherefore—Eternal punishment is God's punishment. Endless punishment is God's punishment." [ [http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/19/10,12#10 Doctrine and Covenants 19:10-12] .] It is in this sense of the word "hell" that David prayed to the Lord, "thou wilt not leave my soul in hell". [ [http://scriptures.lds.org/en/ps/16/10#10 Psalms 16:10] .]

Latter-day Saints also believe in a more permanent concept of hell, commonly referred to as outer darkness. It is said that very few people who have lived on the earth will be consigned to this hell, but Latter-day Saint scripture suggests that at least Cain will be present. [ [http://scriptures.lds.org/en/moses/5/22-26#22 Moses 5:22-26] .] Other mortals who during their lifetime become sons of perdition—those who commit the unpardonable sin—will be consigned to outer darkness. [LDS Church. [http://www.lds.org/portal/site/LDSOrg/menuitem.b3bc55cbf541229058520974e44916a0/?vgnextoid=32c41b08f338c010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=be9b7befabc20110VgnVCM100000176f620a____&hideNav=1&contentLocale=0 "Chapter 46: The Last Judgment"] , "Gospel Principles", 294.] It is taught that the unpardonable sin is committed by those who "den [y] the Son after the Father has revealed him". [LDS Church, [http://scriptures.lds.org/en/gs/h/26 Guide to the Scriptures: Hell] ; see also [http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/76/43-46#43 Doctrine and Covenants 76:43-46] .] However, the vast majority of residents of outer darkness will be the "devil and his angels ... the third part of the hosts of heaven" who in the pre-existence followed Lucifer and never received a mortal body. [ [http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/29/36-39#36 Doctrine and Covenants 29:36-39] .] The residents of outer darkness are the only children of God that will not receive one of three kingdoms of glory at the Last Judgment.

It is unclear whether those in outer darkness will ultimately be redeemed; of outer darkness and the sons of perdition, Latter-day Saint scripture states that "the end thereof, neither the place thereof, nor their torment, no man knows; Neither was it revealed, neither is, neither will be revealed unto man, except to them who are made partakers thereof". [ [http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/76/45-46#45 Doctrine and Covenants 76:45-46] .] The scripture asserts that those who are consigned to this state will be aware of its duration and limitations.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses believe the Bible presents "hell", as translated from "Sheol" and "Hades", to be mankind's common grave for both the good and the bad, whereas "Gehenna" signifies eternal destruction or annihilation, and that the idea of a place of eternal torment is something detestable to God, inconsistent with his love. [ [http://www.watchtower.org/e/20020715/article_02.htm What Really Is Hell? - Jehovah's Witnesses Official Web Site ] ]

Jehovah's Witnesses reject the traditional concept of "hellfire". They consider doctrines like particular judgment, the doctrine that one is judged and either punished or rewarded immediately after death, to be an innovation of the early Church. [cite web |url=http://www.watchtower.org/e/20010715/article_01.htm |title= Is There LIFE After Death?|accessdate=2007-09-17|date=2001-07-15|work=Jehovah's Witnesses official website] They understand Revelation 20:13 -"And death and hell gave up the dead in them." - to mean that those in hell do not remain there indefinitely. Hades is emptied during the judgment of Revelation. ["Insight On The Scriptures" -1 p. 1016 Hades "when Revelation 20:13, 14 says that the sea, death, and Hades are to give up or be emptied of the dead in them."]


The Unity Church considers the concept of everlasting physical hell to be false doctrine and contradictory to that reported by John the Evangelist.


see Swedenborgianism

ee also

* Gehenna
* Hades
* Sheol
* Tartarus
* Last Judgment
* Heaven
* Intermediate state
* Conditional immortality

Notes and References


External Links

* [http://www2.biglobe.ne.jp/~remnant/hades.htm Hades is Not Hell]

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