7

This question looks at 5 contexts which refer to hell, how the word is used, and what it means.

1.

For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. Psalm 16:10

The Hebrew word here is a form of שְׁאוֹל (“sheol”)

2.

22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Luke 16:22-23)

The Greek word here for hell is a form of ᾍδης (“hades”)

3.

By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; (1 Peter 3:19)

The Greek word here is a form of φυλακή (“phulaké”).

Many have understood this to be the same thing referred to in the Apostles’ Creed by “he descended into hell” (inferos)

4.

12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.

14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:12-15)

The Greek word here for hell is again a form of ᾍδης (“hades”); the lake of fire is λίμνην τοῦ πυρός (“limnēn tou pyros”).

5.

But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 8:12)

“Outer darkness” from σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον (“skotos to exōteron”)


Questions:

  1. Do sheol, hades, inferos, phulaké, limnēn tou pyros, and skotos to exōteron refer to the same thing? If not, what is their relationship?

  2. Is what is being described:

  • A place (from 1 Peter 3 he went there; spirits were in prison)

  • A state of being (from Luke 16 the rich man was in torments)

  • Or something else?

  1. What is meant by hell delivering up the dead? (from Revelation 20) Do some or all of those who leave return?

Related questions here, here, and here, each of which is somewhat more narrow than what this question considers

We could also add a 6th example "Gehenna" to the list; it was discussed here and here

2

3 Answers 3

6

What is Hell?

What are Sheol / Hades / Prison / Lake of Fire / Outer Darkness?

Allow me to restate the passages you have provided using the NASB-95 translation. I believe what’s crucial to recognize throughout this discussion is context.

I. My rendering of Psalm 16 reads:

Psalm 16:10: “For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.”

II. The passages from Luke 16 read:

Luke 16:22-23: “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.”

My version does not read “Hell” –- nor should it. This must be understood as “Hades,” which will make sense in a few moments.

III. The reference in 1 Peter 3 from the NASB reads:

1 Peter 3:19-20: “[In which also Christ] went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.”

In the above passages, we must understand what is being said in context. There is no way we can decipher the passages if we do not do this. When we do (momentarily), we will see that 1 Peter 3 cannot be referring to Hell.

IV. The passages cited from Revelation are highly symbolic:

Revelation 20:12-14: “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.”

It would take another post to decipher much of what is written here. Suffice it to say that the "books to be opened" are the record of our lives, our consciences; we are either written in the Book of Life at death or we are not; notice that the (spiritually) dead are judged, not the saints; death and Hades (not eternal) is to be - future tense - thrown into Hell (the Lake of Fire).

V. Finally, the passage from Matthew reads:

Matthew 8:12: “[But] the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”


Responses


1. Do sheol, hades, inferos, phulaké, limnēn tou pyros, and skotos to exōteron refer to the same thing? If not, what is their relationship?

“hades”, “phulaké”: First, Hades is understood the temporary abode of the lost as we see in Lk. 16:19ff. This will be reinforced as we continue, but note the rich man has yet to be judged. He is languishing in torment prior to his final, eternal destination: Hell. He is hardly alone.

“sheol,” “gehenna”: While you didn’t mention the word “gehenna,” as I recall both of these words are understood by many to refer to “Hell.” This is the final abode of all the wicked following judgment, not before.

“limnēn tou pyros”: I would suggest that the Lake of Fire is the same as Hell. In Matthew 25 we read:

Matthew 25:41: “[Then the King] will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire (“sheol,” “gehenna”) which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”

This is referring to an eternal fire, not the temporary prison we read about in both Luke 16, 1 Peter 3, and elsewhere.

“skotos to exōteron”: I’m unfamiliar with the term “inferos,” but “skotos to exōteron” could be referring to either place of doom since, irrespective of whether one is consigned to Hades or Hell, they are both very much “outer darkness.” I propose the only distinction is that Hades is temporal while Hell is eternal.

2a. Is what is being described “A place” (from 1 Peter 3 he went there; spirits were in prison)

From the passage in 1 Peter 3, we should understand that verses 19 and 20 are relating a story about those who are now in prison (“phulaké”) at the time Peter wrote his Letter. There is a timeless truth about the Spirit of Christ to be recognized in these verses if we can spot it. Allow me to paraphrase:

1 Peter 3:19-20: “[In which Christ] went [in the Spirit] and made proclamation [through Noah: 1 Peter 1:11] to the spirits [people of the pre-Flood era that are] now [at the time of Peter’s writing, finally] in prison, who once were disobedient [before the Flood], when the patience of God [through Noah] kept waiting in the days of Noah [Noah preached for 100 years], during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.”

This entire narrative is speaking of the spirits of those who were once human, now in the prison of Hades as Peter writes. Hades must be temporal because it now exists (1 Pet. 3) – unlike Hell.

2b. Is it a state of being (from Luke 16 the rich man was in torments)

Hardly. The figure of Abraham is most likely God. The Jews considered Abraham their father (cf. Jn. 8). In the N/T, God is our Father. Nonetheless, the narrative contains parabolic elements; note that the rich man possesses certain spiritual/physical? characteristics that demonstrate at least an awareness of sight, touch, and hearing. No, the rich man is in the temporal realm of Hades – a prison where those from 1 Peter 3 are also languishing.

2c. I am afraid I can discern nothing else.

3a. What is meant by hell delivering up the dead (from Rev. 20)? Here, my version (NAS) states:

Revelation 20:13: “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged”

I propose that the correct interpretation here is Hades. That is because no one will be “given up” from Hell, it is permanent.

3b. Do some or all of those who leave return?

Hell is a state of permanence. It is unclear to what you are referring, but no one will ever “return” either from Hades or Hell. Each one of us has been given a lifetime to decide our fate; we are alone in doing so. In Hebrews, we read:

Hebrews 9:27: “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…”

There is no turning back from these horrific destinations. I have inserted a graphic that helps me visualize Hades (vs. paradise). I have omitted Hell since I think we can get that picture based on this one:

enter image description here

I hope I have not overlooked some of your questions: I could have. I did my best to parse all of it to provide what I see as reasonable explanations to each of your points based on the evidence and context.

(Ah, I see you added “Gehenna” to your list at the end.)

2
  • Thank you for the very thorough response, and especially the temporal/permanent distinction. Upvoted +1 (even though we disagree about the interpretation of 1 Peter 3:19 =) ) Apr 30, 2021 at 4:56
  • 1
    MMMmmm! This reads in a very Platonic fashion.
    – Dottard
    Apr 30, 2021 at 8:53
3

1. She'ol (OT) = Hades (NT)

Hades occurs 10 times - Matt 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14. Again, in none of these places is eternal punishment mentioned or implied.

With the exception of the metaphorical use in Luke 16:23 (discussed elsewhere) this is always a place of darkness and silence from which nothing returns. It is the realm of the dead a kind of collective noun for the graves of the world.

2. Gehenna

Gehenna occurs 12 times - Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6. In none of these cases is eternal punishment mentioned or implied. On the contrary, Matt 10:28 speaks of the destruction of the soul in hell. In fact, gehenna was the city dump outside Jerusalem where people disposed of their rubbish. Fires were kept burning there to destroy the garbage - nothing ever returned from gehenna because it was destroyed by incineration. The unquenchable fire of Mark 9:43, 45, 47 will go out when there is nothing left to burn.

A few other references do mention the idea of eternal fire: Matt 18:8 (which is identified as hell in v9), Matt 25:41, and Jude 7. Now, allowing the Bible to interpret itself, the last of these, Jude 7, clearly explains what is meant by eternal fire by providing a concrete example of Sodom and Gomorrah – the eternal fire is not still burning these wicked cities – it lasted as long as there was something to burn. That is, eternal fire is eternal in its consequences and is unquenchable while there is something to be consumed (see Matt 10:28). Therefore, the hell of gehenna is intended to destroy, not to keep souls alive in torment.

See Appendix for more information.

3. Tartaroo

Tartaroo occurs only in 2 Peter 2:4 where no punishment, let alone eternal torment is mentioned. (There is some debate about how the Greek of this verse should be translated, but we will not discuss this here.)

4. Phulake

The word φυλακή occurs 47 times in the NT and simply means a prison - place where prisoners are kept (Matt 5:25, 14:3, 18:25, etc). No torture is implied.

Only in 1 Peter 3:19 is it applied to fallen angels, evil spirits, being held for the in prison. This is consistent with the devil being chained and imprisoned in the "abyss" (Rev 12:7-9, 20:1-3) to await final judgement and destruction.

5. Lake of Fire

The lake of fire is only mentioned in a few places in Rev 19:20, 20:10, 14, 15, 21:8. It is specifically called, "the second death", Rev 20:14, 21:8. As a physical entity of a lake of fire, it is clearly symbolic because it symbolizes final destruction and the end because in it, both death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14), as well as the beast and the false prophet, Rev 20:10.

APPENDIX - "Burn with Fire"

The expression, "Burn with fire" is a quintessentially Hebraic expression. While it is true that “burn with fire” is technically redundant, it was an expression used to convey a feeling of intensity and complete destruction, ie, not merely scorched. Here is a sample:

  • Ex 12:10 - And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire [= completely destroy it]
  • Ex 29:14 - But the flesh of the bull and its hide and its refuse, you shall burn with fire [= completely destroy it] outside the camp; it is a sin offering
  • Lev 8:32 - The remainder of the flesh and of the bread you shall burn in the fire [= completely destroy it].
  • Lev 13:57 - and if it appears again in the garment, whether in the warp or in the woof, or in any article of leather, it is an outbreak; the article with the mark shall be burned in the fire [= completely destroyed].
  • Lev 16:27 - But the bull of the sin offering and the goat of the sin offering, whose blood was brought in to make atonement in the holy place, shall be taken outside the camp, and they shall burn their hides, their flesh, and their refuse in the fire. [= completely destroy it]
  • Deut 7:25 - The graven images of their gods you are to burn with fire [= completely destroy it]; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it for yourselves, or you will be snared by it, for it is an abomination to the LORD your God.
  • Josh 11:6 - Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow at this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel; you shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire [= completely destroy them].
  • Ps 46:9 - Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow at this time I will deliver all of them slain before Israel; you shall hamstring their horses and burn their chariots with fire [completely destroy them].
  • Jer 43:13 - He will also shatter the obelisks of Heliopolis, which is in the land of Egypt; and the temples of the gods of Egypt he will burn with fire [= completely destroy].
  • Eze 23:47 - The company will stone them with stones and cut them down with their swords; they will slay their sons and their daughters and burn their houses with fire [= completely destroy them].
    See also Matt 3:12, Luke 3:17

There are two important exceptions to this general pattern of Scripture which will be shown not to be exceptions:

  • Ex 3:2, 3 where the LORD appeared in the burning bush and Moses was instructed to remove his sandals and no come too close or be destroyed.
  • Deut 5:32 discusses the mountain burning with fire (but the mountain was not burned up) showing that at the giving of the 10 commandments, anyone who came close to the mountain would be destroyed by fire
6
  • 1
    eternal fire is eternal in its consequences well-said, +1. I'm contemplating an interesting question...does fire destroy things or does fire separate things? Feb 2 at 23:00
  • @HoldToTheRod I must say, you've been very "liberal" lately. You've really taken some time to consider viewpoints that contradict your own! :D Very admirable. I'd say fire can both destroy and separate, though I wouldn't say it can ONLY separate. For example in Matthew 3:12, when Jesus burns up the chaff with fire, the chaff is both (eternally) destroyed and (eternally) separated and from the wheat. :)
    – Rajesh
    Feb 2 at 23:41
  • @HoldToTheRod - it is true that fire is used to separate such the dross from the gold, etc.
    – Dottard
    Feb 3 at 0:09
  • @Dottard I just wanted to say I really respect your recent comments on BHSE & CSE defending the loving nature of God. I'm sorry if you have felt shouted down with all the recent afterlife discussion (I know what it's like to hold a minority view =) ). Although I don't apologize for holding different beliefs, I wanted to point out a significant piece of common ground you & I hold: I also don't belief God is a sadistic monster who will punish finite errors with infinite torment. Feb 13 at 6:11
  • 1
    @HoldToTheRod - many thanks for your support. Perversely, I believe that we have most to learn from those with whom we disagree. That is one of the reasons that I like this site - I have learned far more than I have shared. The only thing that makes me edgy is when people say things that God less than a loving, kind, gracious, omnipotent infinite God. All my Bible understanding flows from that.
    – Dottard
    Feb 13 at 6:32
1
+50

The English word "hell" has unfortunately been used, in many translations, to describe a variety of concepts in Hebrew & Greek. These terms are not all equivalent.

Sheol

Sheol is the Hebrew term for the place of the dead (see, for example, the descriptions in Ezekiel 32:21 & 27). Precious little description of Sheol is found in the Old Testament, but subsequent writings convey additional details. This could either mean that:

  • Little was known about Sheol in first-temple Judaism, and more information was revealed later OR
  • What was known about Sheol in first temple Judaism has not been preserved in the surviving records.

JewishEncyclopedia provides the following helpful statements on Sheol:

  • It connotes the place where those that had died were believed to be congregated
  • [Sheol] seems to have been viewed as divided into compartments...one beneath the other
  • Here the dead meet.

In the compartments of Sheol, one is often presented as a place of rest for the righteous, and one a place of anguish for the wicked.

--

Hades

Hades is the Greek word used in the Septuagint for Sheol (see here), and is used to convey this Jewish concept in the New Testament as well. In Biblical writings, Sheol & Hades are essentially equivalent terms (this is not always true in non-Biblical writings).

The parable of the rich man & Lazarus (Luke 16) & the discourse on Hades by Hippolytus (see here; note that this discourse is often mis-attributed to Josephus), paint a picture of Hades quite comparable to the description of Sheol by Jewish Encyclopedia above. Hades is divided into compartments for the wicked and the righteous.

Hades is specifically said to be a temporary realm in early Christian writings--a notable example from the aforementioned work of Hippolytus:

This is the discourse concerning Hades; wherein the souls of all men are confined, until a proper season; which God hath determined: when he will make a resurrection of all men from the dead.

--

Prison/Phulake

Phulake is "the place where captives are kept" (see here section C); it is used in the New Testament to refer to a physical prison on earth; it is also used in 1 Peter 3:19 to review to a place of disobedient spirits.

This passage from 1 Peter was unambiguously equated with the realm of the wicked in Hades by the Shepherd of Hermas (Hermas 92:5) & Clement of Alexandria (Ante-Nicene Fathers 2:490). This is consistent with the "prison" of 1 Peter 3:19 and the "inferos" of the Apostles' Creed referring to the same thing.

--

Lake of fire

This is not "hell" in the same sense as Sheol/Hades--using the same English word for both concepts masks the difference. Hades gives up its captives before judgement (see Rev. 20:13); the lake of fire is a potential destination after judgement (see Rev. 20:15).

"Lake of fire" is a powerful metaphor--it conveys anguish & destruction. As discussed in greater detail here, Biblically "death" describes separation. I find the metaphor of fire all the more insightful when contemplating Malachi's description of the Lord as being like a refiner's fire (see Malachi 3:2-3). A refiner's fire purifies by separation. A refiner's fire separates the precious metal from the dross.

In this post Dottard insightfully observes that eternal fire is eternal in its consequences. Understanding death as a separation then, the lake of fire is the second death in that it eternally separates the wicked from God.

--

Outer Darkness

Outer Darkness is a term used by the Gospel of Matthew without an extensive definition being provided. It has sometimes been associated with Hades before judgement, but often with the lake of fire after judgement. In it's usage in Matthew 25:30 in conjunction with a discussion of the coming of Christ and the judgement He will mete out, there are clear parallels to the concept of the lake of fire discussed in Revelation 20.

--

Conclusion

Do sheol, hades, inferos, phulake, limnēn tou pyros, and skotos to exōteron refer to the same thing? If not, what is their relationship?

No. Sheol & hades are largely interchangeable in Biblical writings; inferos & phulake are used in Patristic writers to refer to hades. The lake of fire is post-resurrection & distinct from hades. Outer darkness is less-defined by the Gospel of Matthew but bears apparent similarities to the concept expressed in Revelation as the "lake of fire".

Is what is being described a place, a state of being, or something else?

This is not expressly stated in the Biblical text. These concepts are often referred to as places and there are inhabitants within them. The torment described could conceivably be associated with a specific place OR a state of being.

The most critical "location" among these terms is, I suggest, separation from God via the lake of fire.

What is meant by hell delivering up the dead? (from Revelation 20) Do some or all of those who leave return?

This confusion is the result of "hell" being used in English to describe multiple things. What Revelation describes here is the dead leaving Hades, being resurrected, being judged, and some of them being cast into a lake of fire. This does not imply a return to hades (which notably is also cast into the lake of fire in verse 14).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.