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Angels Cast Down to Hell

Angels Cast Down to Hell

It is helpful to examine the use of the word “hell” throughout the Bible.

In the Old Testament, “hell” is always translated from the Hebrew word sheol, which means simply “the unseen state.” (See Young’s Analytical Concordance.) The idea of fire or punishment is not found in the word. We read, “Jonah prayed unto the LORD his God out of the fish’s belly. … Out of the belly of hell cried I” (Jonah 2:1, 2 KJV). It would be difficult to imagine anything akin to fire in connection with a cold sea monster. The margin of this text translates hell, or sheol, as “the grave.”

Sheol is frequently translated “grave.” Both good and bad go there. “What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave [sheol]?” (Psalm 89:48). The godly man Job said, “If I wait, the grave [sheol] is mine house” (Job 17:13 KJV). The psalmist wrote, “The wicked shall be turned into hell [sheol]” (Psalm 9:17). In the New Testament, the word “hell” is translated from the three following Greek words:

1. Once from the root tartaros, which means “a dark abyss.” (See Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon.) This word is used in connection with the casting out of the evil angels from heaven down “into chains of darkness.” There is no idea of fire or torment in the word. The passage specifically declares that these angels were “reserved for judgment.” It is a future event. (See 2 Peter 2:4; Revelation 12:7–10.) Following are the New Testament references in which the word “hell” is used:

a. From tartaros (2 Peter 2:4).
b. From hades (Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Revelation 1:18; 6:13; 20:13, 14.
c. From gehenna, or as it is sometimes transliterated, geenna (Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6.

2. Ten times from hades, which means “the nether world, the grave, death.” (See Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon.) Hades describes the same place as sheol. This is evident from these two facts:

a. The Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, translates sheol as hades almost without exception.
b. In quoting the Old Testament prophecy regarding Christ: “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell [sheol],” the New Testament writer wrote, “hell [hades].” (See Psalm 16:10; Acts 2:27.)

When the word “hell” translated from hades appears in the New Testament, the reader should not understand it to mean the exclusive abode of the wicked or a place of fire and brimstone, because:

a. The primary definition of hades, as already noted, does not demand such an understanding of the word.
b. The Old Testament speaks of the righteous as well as the wicked going down to sheol. We have also shown that hades describes the same place or state. Did the ancient patriarchs go down into a place of flames?
c. The New Testament speaks of Christ being in hades. (See Acts 2:27.) In order to be consistent, most of those who believe in the doctrine of disembodied souls and present-burning hell-fire, feel forced to interpret this text in Acts to mean that Christ's disembodied soul went down into hellfire when He died on the cross, though at other times they endeavor to prove from Luke 23:43, 46 that Christ went up to God when He died. Both positions certainly cannot be right. The fact is that neither is correct.

Luke 23:43 is wrongly interpreted. There was no punctuation in the original Bible manuscripts and the translators misplaced the comma. Jesus couldn’t have been with the thief that day because according to John 20:17, two days later Jesus told Mary that He had not yet ascended to His Father. The interpretation of Acts 2:27 is equally false. Just before Christ died, He cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30). His dying completed His suffering to save mankind. The erroneous ideas held by most theologians as to hell and hades have caused them their perplexity when reading this text in Acts. They cannot understand why Christ should descend into hellfire.

Though a believer in soul immortality, Albert Barnes, the eminent Presbyterian commentator, boldly disposes of the difficulty by discarding in this text the lurid value that modern theology has given to the word hades. He remarked: “The Greek word hades means literally a place devoid of light, a dark, obscure abode.” In view of this he explained Acts 2:27 thus: “The meaning is simply, Thou wilt not leave Me AMONG THE DEAD” (emphasis his). Incidentally, he reminded his readers that the original word for soul may be understood to mean “the individual himself.” That is why Barnes rendered “My soul” as “Me.”

Thus, we may view Acts 2:27 as showing that hades means simply the abode of the dead and thus in no way connected with fire or torment. We conclude this also from 1 Corinthians 15:55 KJV, in which the word “grave” is a translation of hades and describes that over which the righteous are finally victorious at the resurrection. Incidentally, 1 Corinthians 15:55 is a quotation from the Old Testament (Hosea 13:14), where we find the equivalent word sheol employed. Also, in Revelation 20:13, the translators of the King James Version indicated that “hell” may be properly translated “grave;” where hell is given in the text, the margin reads, “the grave.”

d. The Greek scholars who made the American Revised Version, likely sensing that our word “hell” has come to mean a place of fire and torment, did not use it to translate the Greek term hades. Instead, they simply transferred the Greek word hades right into the English. They used the word “hell” to translate a different Greek word, which we will examine in a moment.
e. Moulton and Milligan, eminent Greek scholars, gave this bit of information: “The word [hades] is common on tombstones in Asia Minor.” (See Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, under “Hades.”) The bereaved in Greek-speaking Asia Minor would surely not use the word hades on tombstones if it meant what most English-speaking people mean by the word “hell.”

3. Twelve times from gehenna, or geenna. This is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word hinnom, the name of a valley near Jerusalem “used as a place to cast carcasses of animals and malefactors, which were consumed by fire constantly kept up.” (See Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon.) Thus, gehenna is the only one of those words translated “hell” in the Bible, that has any idea of fire or torment resident in it.

Now, in connection with the twelve times gehenna is used, two facts stand out:

1. The body as well as the soul is said to be “cast into hell.” Twice is the phrase used, “the whole body.” (See Matt. 5:29, 30.)
2. In not one of the twelve instances does the text tell when the wicked will be “cast into hell.” The fiery judgment is described only as a future event.

However, these two facts contain evidence that this future event does not follow immediately after death. The “whole body” is not cast into the flames at death, and there is no suggestion in the texts that the soul is cast in at one time and the body at another. The immortal soul doctrine, by defining “soul” as the real person and the body as but a fleshly prison house, asks us to believe that the real person goes immediately at death to hellfire, and then at some distant future date God raises his body, which has turned to dust, and consigns it to the fires. We reject such an irrational and unscriptural conclusion by understanding the reference to soul and body to mean the whole person, viewed physically and mentally in his entirety—“the whole body.” But when are persons cast bodily into the judgment fires? At the last great judgment day, when the wicked dead have been raised, judged guilty, and “cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11–15).

The only place in the Bible where fire or torment is coupled with hades is in Luke 16:23. This is in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It is an accepted rule in theology that doctrines should not be based upon parables. It is even more questionable to attempt to discover the real meaning of a word by its setting in a parable or allegory. Note that in Revelation 20:15, the wicked are “cast into” the fire, describing the act of hurling an object into the flames. Further, the very same word “cast” (even in the original Greek) is repeatedly used in the various gehenna texts. In no less than six of these texts we read, “Cast into hell [gehenna].” (See also Matthew 25:31, 41 regarding the time when the wicked are consigned to the judgment flames.)

We conclude that the Bible does not support the idea that the wicked go into the flames of hell at death, but that this day is still in the future.

From Answers to Objections, Francis D. Nichol, 182–184.



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Hell in the Bible

The word “hell” is used 54 times in the Bible. It is translated from several different words with various meanings, as indicated below:
In the Old Testament:
  • 31 times from the Hebrew “Sheol,” which means “the grave”
In the New Testament:
  • 10 times from the Greek “Hades,” which means “the grave”
  • 12 times from the Greek “Gehenna,” which means “a place of burning”
  • 1 time from the Greek “Tartarus,” which means “a place of darkness”

What is Purgatory?

A tradition held by the Catholic Church that teaches people who are not good enough to be worthy of heaven, but not bad enough to deserve hell, suffer in an intermediary state until their sins are purged.

But is it in the Bible? Click here to learn more.

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