The Meaning of Hell

In a previous post, I had described the Radix Fidem movement as an invention of “The Traditions of Men” that violates certain biblical precepts. Today I want to talk about “Hell” in the context of a post by Catacomb Resident, showing again that the movement is borrowing external Greek concepts an importing them into Christianity while claiming they are of ancient Hebrew origin.

The Types of Hell

A long time ago I had a conversation on Hell with Tyler Journeaux in the comments sections under “Apologetics and Hell: A Possible Problem With the A-theory” and “The Paradox of Hell and Justice.” While I won’t recount the entire conversation, during the conversation Tyler made this claim:

“I could defend the traditional doctrine of hell without relying heavily on Revelation”

I responded:

I don’t think you can. Outside the deuterocanonicals, there are 12 references to ‘Gehenna’ (Matt/Mark/Luke/James), 11 references to ‘Hades’ (Matt/Luke/Acts/1 Cor./Rev.), one reference to ‘Tartaros’ (2 Peter), and 5 references to the ‘lake of fire’ (Revelation).

With the exception of Revelation and the non-canonical books, the references to Hell in the New Testament mostly describe the punishment for sin as an everlasting (permanent) destruction or punishment, not an everlasting, ongoing punishing.

The 11 references to the Greek ‘Hades’ carry the same meaning as the Hebrew Sheol, a simple word meaning “the grave” or “underworld”, that is, the place where the souls of dead people go after their bodies go back to the dust of the earth in the grave. Sheol is the word sometimes translated as “Hell” in the Old Testament, but usually as “the grave.” There is some debate as to whether Sheol and “the grave” are essentially different or just two words for the same thing. For the purpose of today’s discussion, it doesn’t matter.

‘Gehenna’ is the Valley of Ben Hinnom, a real place. It was known as a place of endless fires due to the continuous supply of trash being burned and destroyed there. It once was a place of child sacrifice.

Peter’s reference to ‘Tartarus’ appears to refer to the place where fallen angels were imprisoned.

Revelation uses the term “lake of fire”. Some people equate this term with “Hell”. Revelation 20:14 says that “death and ‘Hades’ were cast into the lake of fire”. It is not logically possible that “lake of fire” and “Hades” both mean Hell.

Denotations and Connotations

“[Satan] has no power to condemn anyone to Hell — a word denoting his prison/slave-camp.” — Catacomb Resident, “The Call Up

The denotation of a word is

the literal or primary meaning of a word (in contrast to the feelings or ideas that the word suggests)

The connotation of a word is

an idea or feeling that a word invokes (in addition to its literal or primary meaning)

Does the word Hell denote a prison or slave camp? It denotes the underworld or grave (Greek Hades/Hebrew Sheol) where bodies go after they die. It denotes Gehenna, the place previously known as the Valley of Ben Hinnom, a place that you can go visit today. It denotes, to some people, an actual lake of fire (lava?). It denotes a deep subterranean abyss where gods or demons are punished after being judged (Greek tartarosas).

What about the connotation of Hell? The word Hades or Sheol connotes death, sleep, or unconciousness. The word Gehenna connotes complete destruction. The phrase “lake of fire” connotes destruction, punishment, or torture. The word Tartarus connotes eternal punishment.

And there you have it. Of the 29 references to Hell in the New Testament (and the 66 references to Sheol in the Old Testament) a single one—tartarus—arguably denotes the idea of an eternal prison for divine beings located under the earth. None denote or connote a prison for men or a slave camp.

If you don’t believe me, look it up yourself. Looking up all 29 New Testament references would not take very long and it would be plain quite quickly that 28 of them do not denote anything remotely resembling a prison or slave camp. Even the 1 out of 29 is highly debatable. It is possible, I suppose, that some of the 29 references connote a slave or prison camp, but don’t ask me to tell you which ones those might be. It strikes me that the people who read Catacomb Resident’s blog are very gullible or else not very knowledgeable about the Word of God.

In any case, it is true that Satan does not send anyone to Hell. Only God can do that:

Matthew 10:28 (REV)
And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul. But rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

Also? Gehenna—making up just under half of the references to Hell—is obviously cannot be a prison or slave camp if it is a place of destruction.


In Greek mythology, Tartarus was the lower part of the underworld, as opposed to higher Elysium, where the gods locked up their enemies in punishment. When Peter speaks of Tartarus, he says it was the place where the angels were cast to await judgment. Already we can see that Peter’s use of the word does not fit the Greek example. First, Greek Tartarus, one of the levels of Greek hell, was where divine beings per punished after being judged. They were not waiting for judgment. Second, the emphasis is on angels cast out of heaven, rather than where they went. Indeed, the demons were cast out of heaven and sent to earth, which is not hell (no jokes please).

Peter’s borrowing of the Greek language is plainly not intended to be Hell in the sense of Greek mythology, but to idiomatically reference being casting out of heaven and sent to earth. Presumably the reason Peter uses this word and not one of the other words for Hell is because he’s describing fallen angels being locked out of heaven, a fate that does not apply to people.

Demons being cast from heaven is a type of prison, but not a prison for men.

The Bible does not denote or connote Hell as the prison or slave camp of a feudal warlord in the Ancient Near East. It’s an absurd premise. Far from being an Ancient Near East tradition, the only time the Bible describes ‘Hell’ as a prison is when it is borrowing its imagery from the Greek understanding. In my previous article, I noted that…

…it is an utterly alien, Hellenistic idea that a person has a separate and divisible soul from their life, or that one’s intellect is divisible from their spirit.

And so too is the idea of Hell as a prison yet another Hellenistic idea that has been imported. It is unclear why the Radix Fidem movement is borrowing so many Hellenistic ideas and labeling them as “Ancient Near East Fuedalism”, but it is what it is.

Hell is a terrible translation for ‘Tartarus’. It doesn’t mean ‘Hell’, it is an underworld prison for divine beings that has nothing to do with Hell. Tartarus is not a place, it is a condition: removal of the fallen angels from God’s presence. This is what it means to be cast into the abyss.

Annihilation or Mystery

During my discussion with Tyler Journeaux, I made the following observation about Hell in the New Testament:

The argument for hyperbole is strong. A quick overview: (1) the OT (e.g. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Nahum, Malachi) states that the wicked will be totally destroyed. Outside of the deuterocanonical books, the OT lacks clear references to eternal torment. (2) the NT illustrations (e.g. Matthew, John, 2 Peter) are about complete destruction. The language used in many books is that of destruction, devouring, ruin, etc. (3) the scriptural use of soul and spirit indicate the they can be destroyed. There is no immortality outside of eternal life in God’s kingdom. (4) Death, Sheol the grave, is overwhelmingly characterized by unconsciousness. The 11 NT references to ‘Hades’ should be treated as Sheol. (5) Retributive justice requires finite suffering and is not just a philosophical concept (e.g. Matthew 16:27). (6) If an author wanted to emphasize some punishments as being a category greater than others (e.g. Satan), hyperbole is the obvious choice. Scripture makes extensive use of hyperbole. (7) Gehenna

I argued that whenever the Bible mentions anything related to ‘everlasting punishment’, it is a figurative rhetorical device known as hyperbole. While the hyperbole increases the urgency and importance of Hell, it only serves to emphasize the idea of Hell as a place of utter destruction from which there can be no return. Once again:

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul. But rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

Jesus made clear that God has the power of destruction. If people either live forever or are sent to punishment that never ends, then God doesn’t have the power to destroy both soul and body in Hell. This is easy to understand. Hell (‘Hades’ and ‘Sheol’) is death and the grave. Hell (‘Gehenna’) is destruction. The ‘lake of fire’ is a figure of God’s judgment and power, to one day destroy both death and Hell (‘Hades’ and ‘Sheol’), after judging (and annihilating) the damned.

Now recall the comment by Ed Hurst that I shared in the previous post:

““Going to Hell” means entering the Spirit Realm as an enemy of God. Everything we find in Scripture on those two destinies is uniformly non-literal — the descriptions are parabolic because those things are ineffable to the human intellect. You simply cannot use human language to explain it directly. When you leave this fallen realm of existence, you go to the Spirit Realm; you enter the Presence of God and His domain. If you go there as His enemy, it will be Hell for you. How that plays out is impossible to state, except that we can surmise “separation from God” is a condition of the eternal soul, not a geographical distinction. [ ¶ ] The consistent symbolism God uses in the Bible is Himself in the role of nomad sheikh.”
— comment by Ed Hurst @ Sigma Frame under “Come and See Hades

The New Testament uses hyperbole—parabolic descriptions—of Hell, but what it is far from ineffable to human intellect. Jesus made quite plain multiple times that Hell is destruction on the Day of Judgment. It’s really not ambiguous. There is no mystery about what is to come. The human mind has no trouble whatsoever understanding what destruction means. Even a child can understand that the wages of sin is death.

The primary problem with Hell is that people don’t believe what Jesus told them. They can’t accept that the punishment for sin without salvation is true death on the Day of Judgment, nor that the unbelievers might get their own stated wish to cease to exist when they die. They have their own traditions that supersede whatever the Bible has to say. For many, Hell must be a place people go to stay, not merely a punishment. For some, it must include Greek-inspired eternal torment. These are the traditions of men.

Regarding Hell, there is no literal place to go. “Going to Hell” is a restatement of Jesus saying that persons would be cast into Gehenna, which is a figurative way of saying “be destroyed.” When the Bible speaks of “Going to Sheol” after death, it means “going to the grave” and refers to this idiomatically as “sleep.” The grave “happens” after dying, Hell happens after final judgment, the true death.

False Doctrine

Unfortunately, the idea of Tartarus as a prison for fallen angels directly conflicts with Catacomb Resident’s claim:

We need to insure that, in our minds, we associate the term “Satanic” with the mission and role of the Punisher and Accuser. He is not God’s enemy, as if he were attacking from the outside. He is a member of God’s High Court. He’s not in rebellion now, though he got into his position by having previously rebelled. Rather, he is /our/ Enemy. That’s his job; that’s how he gains whatever it is that feeds him. His whole mission is to keep us away from the privileges of serving the Lord.
— Catacomb Resident, “The Call Up”

The idea that Satan works for God is a really bizarre claim, but even if we accept it for sake of argument, then we still can’t believe that Tartarus is a prison camp. The idea that the fallen angels are locked up forever for rebelling against God is really quite incompatible with the claim that they are freely moving about working for God.

He has no power to condemn anyone to Hell — a word denoting his prison/slave-camp. The problem is that we are all born there, and it’s our job to discover the terms for leaving it. His domain is everything outside the will of God, so don’t get the image backwards. His domain is large. On the fallen plane of existence, God’s will is a small place, an invasive element in Satan’s domain — “in the world, not of it”.
— Catacomb Resident, “The Call Up”

Now we are descending into complete lunacy. Not only does not Bible not mention any of this, but it doesn’t even make sense. We are all born in Hell? That’s just absurd. I can’t even imagine how one could read the New Testament and come to that conclusion. The notion that God has no power to condemn anyone to Hell is flatly contradicted by Jesus who stated “fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” One has to import significant amounts of extra-biblical material to come to these kinds of conclusions.

Our testimony to the world is the power and privilege of having escaped from the prison to the Covenant camp of God. We do things differently, and have a different way of looking at life. Our position is half-way between Hell and the Garden. We are on the way, increasingly free from the drag of sin’s defilement as we move farther and farther from Satan’s grasp.
— Catacomb Resident, “The Call Up”

At this point he’s just making stuff up as he goes along. He might as well just call Hell “Original Sin”. Abstractly, it is the same thing: the thing that traps us away from God’s presence. But of course, no where, not a single verse, equates hell with the our state at our birth. Lost to sin, yes. Lost to original sin, depends on who you ask. But in hell from the moment of our birth, no. You can’t send someone to a place where they already are. This doctrine takes the teeth out of Final Judgment (when the lost will be thrown into Hell), by reducing hell to an intellectual abstraction that we are all in until we become saved Christians.

We didn’t lose our eternal natures in the Fall, but we were imprisoned in a mortal nature. The Cross did not buy our entrance into Eternity. I realize that sounds blasphemous, but we’ve been misled for centuries. The western notion of fairness and equality has blinded us. This is why Romans 8 and 9 are so hard to grasp. God owes us nothing. He plays favorites and no one has standing to complain; there is no power to hold God accountable to our false notions. It’s all about His glory, not our needs. The Cross opened the way for us to join the Covenant, to taste Eternity here. Our purpose in living this life is to enter the Covenant and boost His prestige.
— Catacomb Resident, “The Call Up”

It doesn’t just sound blasphemous, it is blasphemous.

The western notion of fairness and equality is a true non sequitur here. Hell has nothing to do with fairness and equality. Who cares if God owes us nothing and plays favorites? Whether you agree with the doctrine of election or not, this has no bearing on the truth and nature of hell and eternal life. I have no idea why he thinks this matters. Everything can be about God’s glory, including the cross, and that has no impact whatsoever on the nature of hell. None of this distraction excuses blasphemy.

What we call “the cross” is just a figure-of-speech for the death and resurrection of Christ and for the power of God to save:

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to proclaim the good news—not with clever words, lest the cross of Christ should be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” — 1 Corinthians 1:17-18

It is the power of God—represented by the figure of the cross—by which we are saved. Yes, the cross opened up the way to enter the covenant with God, but to deny the cross is to deny the power of God. It is blasphemy.

“In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by the removal of the body of flesh by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried together with him in baptism, in union with whom you were also raised together with him through trust in the working of God, who raised him from among the dead. And you, when you were dead due to your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having wiped clean the certificate of indebtedness that was against us, which was hostile to us by means of the regulations, and he has taken it away, having nailed it to the cross.” — Colossians 2:11-14

We have joined with Christ in his death and resurrection through baptism. Christ has nailed our certificate of indebtedness—our list of sins under the law—to the cross, so we have eternal life because our sins have been cleansed, as Paul says in Romans:

“For the wages of sin is death, but in union with Christ Jesus our Lord, the free gift of God is life in the age to come.” — Romans 6:23

Do not listen to fools who tell you that the cross did not purchase our freedom from sin and eternal life. By nailing our sin-debt to the cross, we receive the free gift of eternal life in the age to come, for the canceling of that sin by way of the cross is the very thing takes away death.

Do not listen to blasphemers who make their blasphemy so plain. The cross most certainly opened the way for us to enter the New Covenant, and even to get a glimpse of eternity in the age to come, but do not also deny the power of the cross by which our salvation was purchased in blood, lest you blaspheme the very power of the Spirit and be lost.


  1. professorGBFMtm

    ”Do not listen to fools who tell you that the cross did not purchase our freedom from sin and eternal life. By nailing our sin-debt to the cross, we receive the free gift of eternal life in the age to come, for the canceling of that sin by way of the cross is the very thing takes away death.”

    i was believing a super-simplistic version of this since i was first told about JESUS as a very young boy after i first asked my parents about ”why do people die” after someone had died.

    Which is why i can’t believe adults not understanding it at all.

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