March 28, 2007
Recently the Pope, Benedict XVI, said that in the modern world many people, including some believers, had forgotten that if they failed to “admit blame and promise to sin no more,” they risked “eternal damnation — the Inferno.” Hell “really exists and is eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more,” he said.
However, Vatican officials said that the Pope — who is also the Bishop of Rome — had been speaking in “straightforward” language “like a parish priest.” He had wanted to reinforce the new Catholic catechism, which holds that hell is a “state of eternal separation from God,” to be understood “symbolically rather than physically.”
Let’s see how “symbolic” hell really is, shall we? Hell is an Anglo-Saxon word used to translate one Hebrew word and three Greek words in the King James Version of the Old and New Testaments. The Hebrew word that “hell” translated was Sheol. (Compare NASB). The word Sheol occurs sixty-five times in the Hebrew Bible. The King James Version translates thirty-one of the occurrences as “hell”; another thirty-one occurrences as “grave”; and three occurrences as “pit” (Num. 16:30, 33; Job 17:16). The Revised Standard Version never uses “hell” to translate Sheol. It does use “grave” one time as a translation of Sheol (Song of Sol. 8:6). Sixty-four times it simply transliterates the word as Sheol. NASB always uses Sheol, while NIV intentionally avoids Sheol, using grave in order to make it sound “nicer,” I suppose.
Sheol is a Hebrew word that has taken on the properties of a proper name. The Old Testament uses the word to refer to a place in the depths of the earth. The expressions “go down” or “brought down” are used twenty times in connection with Sheol. The “depths of Sheol” are mentioned six times (Deut. 32:22; Ps. 86:13; Prov. 9:18; 15:24; Isa. 7:11; 14:15). Four times Sheol is described as the farthest point from heaven (Job 11:8; Ps. 139:8; Isa. 7:11; Amos 9:2). Often Sheol is parallel with the “pit” (Job 17:13-14; 33:18; Ps. 30:3; 88:3-4; Prov. 1:12; Isa. 14:15; 38:18; Ezek. 31:14-17). Nine times it is parallel with death (2 Sam. 22:6; Ps. 18:4-5; 49:14; 89:48; 116:3; Prov. 5:5; Isa. 28:15, 18; Hos. 13:14; Hab. 2:5). Sheol is described in terms of overwhelming floods, water, or waves (Jonah 2:2-6). Sometimes, Sheol is pictured as a hunter setting snares for its victim, binding them with cords, snatching them from the land of the living (2 Sam 22:6; Job 24:19; Ps. 116:3); Sheol is a prison with bars, a place of no return (Job 7:9; 10:21; 16:22; 21:13; Ps. 49:14; Isa. 38:10). People could go to Sheol alive (Num. 16:30, 33; Ps. 55:15; Prov. 1:12). With rare exceptions, such as Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-12), all people were believed to go to Sheol when they die (Job 3:11-19; Ps. 89:48).
The three Greek words often translated “hell” are hades, gehenna, and tartaroo. Hades was the name of the Greek god of the underworld and the name of the underworld itself. The Septuagint—the earliest Greek translation of the Old Testament—used hades to translate the Hebrew word Sheol. Whereas in the Old Testament, the distinction in the fates of the righteous and the wicked was not always clear, in the New Testament hades refers to a place of torment opposed to heaven as the place of Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31). In Matt. 16:18 hades is not simply a place of the dead but represents the power of the underworld. Jesus said the gates of hades would not prevail against His church.
Gehenna is the Greek form of two Hebrew words ge hinnom meaning “valley of Hinnom.” The term originally referred to a ravine on the south side of Jerusalem where pagan deities were worshiped (2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:32; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6). It became a garbage dump and a place of abomination where fire burned continuously (2 Kings 23:10; compare Matt. 18:9; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Jas. 3:6). Gehenna became synonymous with “a place of burning.”
One time the Greek word tartaroo “cast into hell” appears in the New Testament (2 Pet. 2:4). The word appears in classical Greek to refer to a subterranean region, doleful and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead. It was thought of as a place of punishment. In the sole use of the word tartaroo in the New Testament it refers to the place of punishment for rebellious angels.
Jesus taught hell was a very real place and that you did not want to go there. In fact, Jesus taught more about hell than almost any other subject, excepting proper stewardship of your finances! He related: “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12) “Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:13-14) “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29) “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28) “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33) “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'” (Mark 9:47-48) “I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12:5)
If Jesus did not speak about a real place then why did He tell Peter: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it”? (Matthew 16:18) Kind of odd, don’t you think? However one of the most striking teachings of Jesus concerning hell was when He proclaimed: “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:40-43)
So, then, if Jesus — who never lied and was God in human flesh — taught that hell was a real place where real people burned eternally in real hellish fire, because they chose not to believe in Him as their only Savior and Lord, how can anyone then ever think hell is just “symbolic”? Which would you say would be truly “symbolic,” the Pope’s humanistic unbiblical teachings or Jesus’ own words? Which holds only a “symbolic” office, Jesus or the Pope? Sadly, many will one day discover far too late just how real hell is when they are cast into its depths: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire… the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:15 & 21:8)
Jesus said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:22-23)
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