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Representing two distinct words: Gehenna and Hades (Greek), Sheol (Hebrew). Gehenna) is strictly "the valley of Hinnom" (Joshua 15:8; Nehemiah 11:30); "the valley of the children of Hinnom" (2 Kings 23:10); "the valley of the son of Hinnom" (2 Chronicles 28:3); "the valley of dead bodies," or Tophet, where malefactors' dead bodies were cast, S. of the city (Jeremiah 31:40). A deep narrow glen S. of Jerusalem, where, after Ahaz introduced the worship of the fire gods, the sun, Baal, Moloch, the Jews under Manasseh made their children to pass through the fire (2 Chronicles 33:6), and offered them as burntofferings (Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:2-6). So the godly Josiah defiled the valley, making it a receptacle of carcass and criminals' corpses, in which worms were continually gendering.
A perpetual fire was kept to consume this putrefying matter; hence it became the image of that awful place where all that are unfit for the holy city are cast out a prey to the ever gnawing "worm" of conscience from within and the "unquenchable fire" of torments from without. Mark 9:42-50, "their worm dieth not." implies that not only the worm but they also on whom it preys die not; the language is figurative, but it represents corresponding realities never yet experienced, and therefore capable of being conveyed to us only by figures. The phrase "forever and ever " (eis tous aionas aioonoon) occurs 20 times in New Testament: 16 times of God, once of the saints' future blessedness, the three remaining of the punishment of the wicked and of the evil one: is it likely it is used 17 times of absolute eternity, yet three times of limited eternity?
The term for "everlasting" (aidiois) in Judges 1:6, "the angels who kept not their first estate He hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day," is from a word meaning absolutely "always" (aei). Gehenna is used by our Lord Jesus (Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 23:15; Matthew 23:33; Luke 12:5); with the addition "of fire," Matthew 5:22; Matthew 18:9; Mark 9:47; and by James (James 3:6). Our present meaning of "hell" then applies to Gehenna, but not to the other word Hades or Sheol. "Hell" formerly did apply when the KJV of the Bible was written; it then meant "hole," "hollow," or unseen place.
Sheol comes from a root "to make hollow," the common receptacle of the dead below the earth (Numbers 16:30; Deuteronomy 32:22), deep (Job 11:8), insatiable (Isaiah 5:14; Song of Solomon 8:6). "Hell," Hades, often means the "grave" (Job 14:13). In the Old Testament time, when as yet Christ had not "abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10), death and the intermediate state represented by Hades suggested thoughts of gloom (as to Hezekiah, Isaiah 38:9-20), lit up however with gleams of sure hope from God's promises of the resurrection (Psalm 16:10-11; Psalm 17:15; Isaiah 26:19; Hosea 13:14; Daniel 12:2). Hints too occur of the spirit's being with God in peace in the intermediate state (Ecclesiastes 3:21; Ecclesiastes 12:7; Psalm 23:6; Psalm 139:8; Isaiah 57:2).
The passages which represent Hades and the grave as a place where God can no longer be praised mean simply that the physical powers are all suspended, so that God's peruses can be no longer set forth on earth among the living. The anomalous state in which man is unclothed of the body is repulsive to the mind, and had not yet the clear gospel light to make it attractive as Paul viewed it (Philemon 1:21-23; 2 Corinthians 5:6-8). To the bad Hades was depicted as a place of punishment, where God's wrath reached to the depths (Deuteronomy 32:22; Amos 9:2; Psalm 9:17; Psalm 49:14; Isaiah 14). Thus, the unseen state even in Old Testament was regarded as having a distinction between the godly and the ungodly; Proverbs 14:32, "the wicked is driven away in his wickedness, but the righteous hath hope in his death"; so Psalm 1.
This is further confirmed by the separation of the rich man and Lazarus, the former in "hell" (Hades), the latter in "Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:23), and in the penitent thief's soul going to be with Jesus in "paradise," the word implying the recovery in heavenly bliss of the paradise lost by Adam (Luke 23:43). "Tartarus," the pagan Greek term for the place of enchainment of the Titans, rebels against God, occurs in 2 Peter 2:4 of the lost angels; the "deep," or "abyss," or "bottomless pit," (abussos) Luke 8:31; Revelation 9:11. The firm faith and hope of an abiding heavenly city is unequivocally attributed to the patriarchs (Hebrews 11:16-35);. so all the believing Israelites (Acts 26:7; Acts 23:6-9). Hades, "hell," is used for destruction (Matthew 11:23; Matthew 16:18). Jesus has its keys, and will at last consign it to the lake of fire which is the second death; implying that Christ and His people shall never again be disembodied spirits.
Revelation 1:18; Revelation 20:13-14; I can release at will from the unseen world of spirits, the anomalous state wherein the soul is severed from the body. The "spirits in prison" (1 Peter 3:19) mean the ungodly antediluvians shut up in this earth, one vast prison, and under sentence of death and awaiting execution (Isaiah 24:22); not the prison of Hades. frontSPIRITS IN PRISON.) It is solemnly significant of the certainty of hell that He who is Love itself has most plainly and fully warned men of it, that they may flee from it. Tophet, the scene of human immolations by fire to Moloch amidst sounds of drums (tof) to drown the cries of the victims, symbolized the funeral pyre of Sennacherib's Assyrian army, and finally the lake of fire that shall burn for ever the lost (Isaiah 30:33). (See TOPHET.)
In an Assyrian tablet of the goddess Ishtar, daughter of Sin, the moon goddess, Hades is described as having seven gates," the house of the departed, the house from within which is no exit, the road the course of which never returns, the place within which they long for light, where dust is their nourishment and their food mud, light is never seen, in darkness they dwell, spirits like birds fill its vaults, over the door and its bolts is scattered dust!" What a contrast to the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10).
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