corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.12.13
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Hell

Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

1. Context.-The word most frequently so rendered in the English Version is the Gr. ᾅδης (see Hades). In the NT, outside the Gospels, ‘hell’ is also used in translating the two Gr. words γέεννα (‘Gehenna’) and the very rare verbal form ταρταρόω (‘send into Tartarus’).

The former occurs only once, viz. in James 3:6, where it is obviously used metaphorically for the evil power which is revealed in all forms of unlicensed, careless, and corrupt speech. In the figurative phrase ‘set on fire of Gehenna,’ the author of the Epistle has clearly in mind the original idea of that name in the associations of the Valley of Hinnom, with its quenchless fire and its undying worm (2 Chronicles 28:3; 2 Chronicles 33:6, Jeremiah 7:31).

The name ‘Tartarus’ (2 Peter 2:4) carries us out of the association of Hebrew into the realm of Greek thought. It is the appellation given by Homer (Il. viii. 13) to that region of dire punishment allotted to the elder gods, whose sway Zeus had usurped.

I will take and cast him into misty Tartarus,’ says Zeus, ‘right far away, where is the deepest gulf beneath the earth; there are the gate of iron and threshold of bronze, as far beneath Hades as heaven is high above the earth.’

The Greek word passed into Hebrew literature, and is found in En. xx. 2, where Uriel is said to have sway over the world and over Tartarus (cf. Philo, de Exsecr. § 6). The passage in 2 Peter shows evident traces of the effect upon it of the Book of Enoch, so it is not necessary to go further a field in order to discover the source of the word. In the Christian sections of the Sib. Or. the word is of frequent occurrence, and appears sometimes to be used as equivalent to Gehenna and at other times as the name for a special section of that region. Cf. i. 126-129:

‘Down they went

In to Tartarean chamber terrible,

Kept in firm chains to pay full penalty

In Gehenna of strong, furious, quenchless fire.’

With this passage should be carefully compared En. cviii. 3-6, where some exceptional features occur in the description of hell. The passage is in a fragment of the earlier Book of Noah, now incorporated in the larger work.

‘Their names,’ says the seer, ‘shall be blotted out of the book of life, and out of the holy books, and their seed shall be destroyed for ever, and their spirits shall be slain, and they shall cry and make lamentation in a place that is a chaotic wilderness, and in the fire shall they burn; for there is no earth there. And I saw there something like an invisible cloud; for by reason of its depth I could not look over, and I saw a flame of fire blazing brightly, and things like shining mountains circling and sweeping to and fro. And I asked one of the holy angels who was with me, and said unto him: “What is this shining thing? for it is not a heaven but only the flame of a blazing fire, and the voice of weeping and crying, and lamentation and strong pain.” And he said unto me: “This place which thou seest-here are cast the spirits of sinners and blasphemers, and of those who work wickedness, and of those who pervert everything that the Lord hath spoken through the mouth of the prophets.” ’

As Charles points out in his notes on this passage, the writer has confused here Gehenna and the hell of the disobedient stars, conceptions which are kept quite distinct in the earlier sections of the book (cf. chs. xxi. and xxii.).

2. The idea in apostolic and sub-apostolic literature.-We have to pass beyond the strict use of the word ‘hell’ to discover the wider range of the conception in the literature of the NT that comes within the scope of our examination. There are two or three terms found in the Apocalypse, to which we must now turn.

(a) The Apocalypse of John.-(1) In Revelation 9:1 ‘the pit of the abyss’ (see Abyss) is regarded as the special prison-house of the devil and his attendant evil spirits. This conception is probably derivable from similar sources to those from which Tartarus comes, though there are peculiar and interesting features about it, details of which will be found in the special article devoted to its explanation. Closely connected with the idea of the abyss is its demonic ruler Abaddon (Revelation 9:11, see Abaddon), whose name figures frequently in the Wisdom-literature, and is generally translated in the Septuagint by ἀπώλεια = ‘destruction.’ According to one Hebrew authority, Abaddon is itself a place-name, and designates the lowest deep of Gehenna, from which no soul can ever escape (see H. B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John, in loco). In the Asc. Is. iv. 14 is a somewhat similar passage: ‘The Lord will come with His angels and with the armies of the holy ones from the seventh heaven … and He will drag Beliar into Gehenna and also his armies.’

(2) ‘The lake of fire’ is an expression found several times in Rev. (cf. Revelation 19:20, etc.). It is described as the appointed place of punishment for the Beast and the False Prophet, for Death and Hades themselves, for all not enrolled in the Book of Life, and finally for those guilty of the dark list of sins given in Revelation 21:8. It is questionable whether the original imagery underlying the expression is derived from the story of the Cities of the Plain, or the Pyriphlegethon-the fiery-flamed river-one of the tributaries of the Acheron in the Homeric vision of the under world (cf. Od. x. 513). Probably elements from both enter into it. A passage in the Book of the Secrets of Enoch, x. 1-6-remarkable for the fact that hell is here set in the third heaven (see W. Bousset, Die Religion des Judentums, Berlin, 1903, p. 273 n. [Note: . note.] )-has close parallels with the passage in Revelation 21:8. The following extracts will show how close and suggestive the imagery is-and as it probably dates before a.d. 70, the actual connexion is not improbable.

‘They showed me there a very terrible place … and all manner of tortures in that place … and there is no light there, but murky fire constantly flameth aloft, and there is a fiery river coming forth, and that whole place is everywhere fire … and those men said to me: This place is prepared for those who dishonour God, who on earth practise … magic-making, enchantments, and devilish witchcrafts, and who boast of their wicked deeds, stealing, lies, calumnies, envy, rancour, fornication, murder … for all these is prepared this place amongst these, for eternal inheritance’ (cf. also Asc. Is. iv. 15).

In the Sib. Or. we have similar language, e.g. ii. 313:

‘And then shall all pass through the burning stream

Of flame unquenchable’.

Again, in ii. 353ff. we have:

‘And deathless angels of the immortal God,

Who ever is, shall bind with lasting bonds

In chains of flaming fire, and from above

Punish them all by scourge most terribly;

And in Gehenna, in the gloom of night,

Shall they be cast ’neath many horrid beasts

Of Tartarus, where darkness is immense.’* [Note: These translations are taken from the English version by M. S. Terry, New York, 1899.]

(3) In Revelation 20:14 ‘the lake of fire’ is further defined as ‘the second death’-a phrase which recurs in other passages of the book (e.g. 2:11), The phrase seems traceable to Jewish sources, for it occurs frequently in the Targums (cf. Wetstein on Revelation 2:11). It seems likely that the Jews, in turn, derived it from the ideas of Egyptian religion, since we find Ani, seated on his judgment throne, saying, ‘I am crowned king of the gods, I shall not die a second time in the underworld’ (The Book of the Dead, ed. E. A. Wallis Budge, London, 1901, ch. xliv.; cf. Moffatt in Expositor’s Greek Testament , 1910, on Revelation 2:11).

(b) St. Paul.-This idea of the ‘second death’ leads naturally to St. Paul’s use of ‘death’ in such passages as Romans 6:21. When the Apostle uses the word, he evidently intends by it ‘something far deeper than the natural close of life.… For him death is one indivisible experience. It is the correlative of sin.… Death is regarded as separation from God.… So death, conceived as the final word on human destiny, becomes the synonym for hopeless doom’ (Kennedy, St. Paul’s Conceptions of the Last Things, 1904, pp. 113-117).

(c) Other NT books.-This idea is also strongly and strikingly put in James 1:15 : ‘Sin, when it is full-grown, bringeth forth death’ (cf. 2 Timothy 1:10, Hebrews 2:14). In Judges 1:6; Judges 1:13 and 2 Peter 2:17 we have the expressions ‘darkness’ and ‘the blackness of darkness’ used as descriptive epithets of the place of punishment. Once more we are face to face with the peculiar imagery of apocalyptic, and we recall how the word is employed in the Gospels, especially in the phrase ‘the outer darkness’ (cf. Matthew 8:12). In En. x. 4 we read, ‘Bind Azazel hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness,’ and throughout that book the imagery frequently recurs. The figure is a natural one, and needs no elaboration to make its force felt.

(d) Apostolic Fathers.-In turning to the Christian literature of the 1st cent. that lies outside the NT, we do not find any very striking additions to the ideas contained in the pages of the canonical books. In Did. 16 we read, ‘All created mankind shall come to the fire of testing, and many shall be offended and perish,’ which is only a faint reflexion of the Synoptic statements. In the Epistle of Barnabas, xx., the way of sin is described as ‘a way of eternal death with punishment,’ and then follows a list of sins reminiscent of Revelation 21:8. In the 8th Similitude of the Shepherd of Hermas-that of the tower-builders-there are many references to judgment, but they are couched in such general terms as ‘shall lose his life,’ ‘these lost their life finally,’ or ‘these perished altogether unto God.’ In Sim. ix. xviii. 2 there is a striking passage differentiating between the punishment of the ignorant and those who sin knowingly: ‘They that have not known God, and commit wickedness, are condemned to death; but they that have known God and seen His mighty works, and yet commit wickedness, shall receive a double punishment, and shall die eternally.’ In ix. xxviii. 7 it is said: ‘Confess that ye have the Lord, lest denying Him ye be delivered into prison (εἰς δεσμωτήριον).’ There can be no doubt here that ‘prison’ is meant to signify the place of punishment beyond death. The imagery may be derived from the saying in Matthew 5:25-26, but we must remember that ‘bonds and imprisonment’ were frequently the terms in which the apocalyptic literature figured future punishment.

(e) First-century apocalypses.-The conception that meets us in the Parable of Dives and Lazarus, viz. that the places of bliss and torment are visible the one from the other, meets us in two or three apocalypses of the 1st century. In the section of 2 Esdras discovered in 1875, we have one of these passages (7:36-38):

‘And the pit (Lat. “place”) of torment shall appear, and over against it shall be the place of rest: and the furnace of hell (Lat. “Gehenna”) shall be shewed, and over against it the paradise of delight. And there shall the Most High say to the nations that are raised from the dead, See ye and understand whom ye have denied, or whom ye have not served, or whose commandments ye have despised. Look on this side and on that: here is delight and rest, and there fire and torments.’

In Ass. Mos. x. 10 occurs the passage:

‘And thou wilt look from on high and see thine enemies in Gehenna, and thou wilt recognize them and rejoice, and thou wilt give thanks and confess thy Creator.’

Very similar passages are found in the Book of the Secrets of Enoch, chs. x., xl., and xli.

This idea is even more clearly set forth in the Apocalypse of Peter, and forms the beginning of the famous passage in which is set forth the punishment of sinners, in the manner that to later ages is most familiar in the pages of Dante, where the forms of torment bear an appropriate relation to the sins committed. The passage begins at § 20, and follows immediately on the description of Heaven, with these words:

‘And I saw another place over against that, very dark: and it was the place of punishment: and those who were punished there and the punishing angels had a dark raiment like the air of the place. And some were there hanging by the tongue: these were those who blasphemed the way of righteousness, and under them was fire burning and punching them. And there was a great lake, full of flaming mire, in which were certain men who had perverted righteousness, and tormenting angels afflicted them.’

In these verses we trace the similarity to ideas and figures we have already discovered in the Apoc. of John and elsewhere, but the further descriptions of this Inferno borrow elements from Greek and other sources, and are considerably more extravagant than anything within the limits of the 1st century. It may, however, be only a development of the conceptions found in such 2nd cent. documents as Jude and 2 Peter.

(f) Josephus.-An interesting witness to contemporary Jewish thought in the 1st cent. is Josephus, who has two references to the belief of the Pharisees in the matter of future punishment. In Ant. xviii. i. 3 we read:

‘They also believe that souls have an immortal vigour in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have 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.’ Again in Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) ii. viii. 14, quoting the doctrine of the Pharisees, he claims their view to be ‘that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment.’

(g) Testament of Abraham and Pistis Sophia.-Before our survey of the literature closes, note must be taken of two striking and somewhat fantastic conceptions contained in two works, which probably set forth, among their obviously later material, elements of an earlier tradition. The first is found in the Testament of Abraham, which may date in its origin from the 2nd cent. of our era, and doubtless some of its contents are from a much earlier period. In its present form it appears to issue from a Jewish-Christian source, and its place of origin seems to be Egypt. Elements of Egyptian thought enter into its literary form, among the most striking of which is the idea of the weighing of souls-a scene that often occurs on the Egyptian pagan monuments. The trial of souls is threefold-once before Abel, at a later time by the twelve tribes of Israel, and finally by the Lord Himself. Abraham is permitted to witness the procedure of judgment, and he finds two angels seated at a table. The one on the right hand records the good deeds, and the one on the left the evil deeds of the soul to be tested. In front of the table stands an angel with a balance on which the souls are weighed, while another has a trumpet having within it all-consuming fire whereby the souls are tried. These more elaborate and somewhat mechanical methods form a link with the imagery of mediaevalism, but also prove the manner in which Christianity was proceeding along eclectic lines, and taking to itself ideas and figures from other religions.

In the curious work known as the Pistis Sophia, probably of Valentinian, and certainly of Gnostic origin, we have a bizarre conception of the place of punishment-described as ‘the outer darkness.’ It is presented in the form of a huge dragon with its tail in its mouth, the circle thus formed engirdling the whole earth. Within the monster are the regions of punishment-‘for there are in it twelve dungeons of horrible torment.’ Each dungeon is governed by a monster-like ruler, and in these are punished the worst of sinners, e.g. sorcerers, blasphemers, murderers, the unclean, and those who remain in the doctrines of error. To express the awfulness of the torture, it is said that the fire of the under world is nine times hotter than that of earthly furnaces; the fire of the great chaos nine times hotter than that of the under world; the fire of the ‘rulers’ nine times hotter than that of the great chaos; but the fire of the dragon is seventy times more intense in its heat than that of the ‘rulers’! In 3 Baruch, iv. and v. there is the mention of a dragon in close connexion with Hades, and in the latter chapter Hades is said to be his belly (cf. Hughes’ notes on the passage in Charles’ Apoc. and Pseudepig.). We are at least reminded by such passages of the Jonah legend, and it may well be that behind all three is a common origin. The dragon is obviously an old Semitic myth, and this particular form of it probably gives fresh significance to the words in Revelation 20:2 : ‘the dragon, the old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan.’

3. General considerations.-Several points of importance emerge from our study of these references in the literature of the 1st century.

(1) The surprisingly few passages in the NT in which the word ‘hell’ (or even the idea it conveys) occurs.-Outside the Gospels and the Apocalypse, there are practically no occasions on which we find it employed. Its absence from the writings of St. Paul, Hebrews, and the Epistles of John is most noteworthy. Our surprise is not lessened by the recollection of the fact that, according to the Rabbis, ‘seven things were created before the world-Torah, Gehenna, the Garden of Eden, the Throne of Glory, the Sanctuary, Repentance, and the Name of Messiah.’ In St. Paul at least, six of these are frequently in evidence, and this gives more significance to his silence about the seventh.

(2) The restrained sanity of the references that do occur.-When we compare even the lurid images of the Apocalypse with those we have cited (and even more with those that may be found elsewhere in the same books) from contemporary works of a similar character, we cannot but be impressed with the soberness of the language. There is nothing of the morbid curiosity and unpleasant lingering on horrors, to say nothing of the sense of gloating over vengeance and cruelty, that we find in so many kindred passages. Terrible imagery is sometimes employed, but it is clearly imbued with a high moral aim, and designed to convey a clearly spiritual purpose. The absence of such allegorizing methods as those of Philo is also noteworthy. Imagery is the method in which the truths are here conveyed, not allegory.

(3) The obvious dependence on the teaching of the Gospels for all that is said about hell.-It would be hard to point to any passage in the NT that conveyed any fresh or fuller ideas about the place of punishment, its nature and purpose, than are to be found in words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. This is certainly noteworthy and significant, even if the Gospel teaching on Gehenna is an echo of current ideas. In form it probably is, but in ethical content it surely goes deeper, and we are made to feel that in the conception of the speaker this place also is founded by the Eternal Love-it too is part of the Father’s Universe. Dante, the greatest apocalyptist of subsequent ages, had caught the true evangelical spirit of this most awful doctrine when he wrote:

‘Justice incited my sublime Creator;

Created me divine Omnipotence,

The highest Wisdom and the primal Love’

(Inferno, iii. 4).

(4) The permanent spiritual lessons to be derived from the descriptions of future punishment.-(a) All evil powers-death, sin, and their forces-are to be finally destroyed in the fires of Divine judgment (Revelation 20:10; Revelation 20:13-15, 2 Peter 2:4, Judges 1:13). According to St. Paul, all powers that make against Christ and His Kingdom are to come to final ruin (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:8-10, 1 Corinthians 15:24-26).

(b) Evil in the heart of men must entail punishment and, if persisted in, eternal loss and shame, and a death that is more than death (Romans 6:20-23, Revelation 21:8). The terrible nature of moral evil, and of the heart’s persistent rebellion against God, is the appalling reality that renders these pictures of judgment truly significant, and redeems them from being the mere pageantry of a heated imagination. Whatever we may say of their outward form, there is an inexpressible grandeur behind them that rests in a true conception and representation of the Divine Holiness. ‘The fear of hell’ in these pages is much more than ‘the hangman’s whip’; it is the cry of the soul in the presence of Him who is revealed as of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, but who is, nevertheless, the Redeemer of His Universe.

Literature.-See articles Hades, Abyss, Life and Death, etc., in this Dictionary, and also in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , Dict. of Christ and the Gospels , Encyclopaedia Britannica , and Encyclopaedia Biblica . In addition to the works referred to in the body of the article, the following should be consulted: R. H. Charles’s separate editions of the various apocalypses, the great work edited by him, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the OT, Oxford, 1913, and Between the Old and New Testaments, London, 1914; E. Hennecke, Neutest. Apokryphen and Handbuch zu den neutest. Apokryphen, Tübingen, 1904; J. A. Robinson and M. R. James, The Gospel acc. to Peter and the Revelation of Peter, London, 1892; A. Harnack, Über das gnost. Buch Pistis-Sophia (= Texte and Untersuchungen vii. 2), Leipzig, 1891; R. H. Charles, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life2, London, 1913; S. D. F. Salmond, The Christian Doctrine of Immortality4, Edinburgh, 1901; E. C. Dewick, Primitive Christian Eschatology, Cambridge, 1912; W. O. E. Oesterley, The Doctrine of the Last Things, London, 1908; A. Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, Eng. translation , do. 1910; G. Dalman, The Words of Jesus, Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1902; P. Volz, Jüdische Eschatologie, Tübingen, 1903.

G. Currie Martin.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Hell'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/h/hell.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 13th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
ADVERTISEMENT
Search for…
Enter query in the box:
 or 
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

 
Prev Entry
Heir Heritage Inheritance
Next Entry
Hell (2)
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology