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The Hell according to Christianity

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The early Christian writers use the term “hell” to describe the limbo of the fathers, in which the souls of the justs who died before the coming of Christ awaited their redemption, and that are mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed, “He [Christ] came down to hell “, purgatory, a place of purgation venial sins and that always leads to heaven, and finally the place of punishment of Satan and other fallen angels and all the dead mortals without having repented of their sins. The latter interpretation is the more accepted nowadays.

Belief in the existence of limbo for unbaptized infants, where they have enjoyed a natural happiness but where the supreme happiness of seeing God they were denied, has never been formalized by the Catholic Church before be definitively swept on April 19, 2007, as contrary to the universality of salvation offered by Christ to all who accept it.

The duration of punishment in hell was the subject of controversy since the early days of Christianity. The writer and Christian theologian of the third century, Origen, and his school, the school of Alexandria, taught that these punishments were designed to cleanse sins, and they were proportional to the importance of the misconduct. Origen said that with time the purifying effect would be obtained at all, including the bad people, the punishment would eventually stop and that those who were in hell could finally have a right to happiness. This doctrine was condemned by the Second Council of Constantinople in 553, and the belief in eternal punishment in hell became characteristic of Orthodox and Catholic churches. It also went into the symbols of the Reformed churches, but the doctrine of hell was rejected by the most radical thinkers of the Renaissance.

Names appearing in the biblical texts

In the (Catholic) Old Testament:

  • Sheol: Genesis 37 35, 42 38, 44 29, 44 31, etc.
  • Hinnom: Jeremiah 196, etc.

In the New Testament:

  • Hades: Gospel of Matthew 11 23, 16 18. Gospel of Luke 10 15. Acts. 227-31 Apocalypse 1 18, 6 8, 20 13-14 Corinthians 15 55
  • Gehenna: Gospel of Matthew 5:22,29,30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15,33. Gospel of Mark 9:43,45,47, Lucas 12: 5, Epistle of Jacques 3: 6.


The Hebrew word She’ol (שאול) is the Hebrew term of Old Testament referring to the underworld. It is a dark and quiet place where the dead are asleep, lying in the dust. Although, over the following centuries, the Greek teaching of the immortality of the human soul infiltrated Jewish religious thought, the fact remains that the text of the Bible shows that Sheol is the common grave of mankind, a place where one is unconscious.

In the book of Ecclesiastes (or Qoheleth), chap. 9 v. 5-10 (v T.O.B., ecumenical), it says:

“The living are conscious that death will come to them, but the dead are not conscious of anything… because there is no work, or thought, or knowledge, or wisdom in the place of the dead to which you are going.’

According to Psalm 146: 4, “Man’s breath goes out, he is turned back again to dust; in that day all his purposes come to an end.” (NIV) or “ruin their thoughts” (Jerusalem Bible – Catholic translation).

Although these passages indicate inactivity, other passages show that the living came into contact with the dead to the afterlife for questioning. Yet God in the Pentateuch forbidden his people to do so. The first king of Israel according to the Bible, Saul, is questioned by a medium at Endor, the prophet Samuel, who died recently, on the outcome of a battle. He actually received an answer but it was not from the prophet. (1 Samuel [or 1 Kings in some versions], Chapter 28). During his lifetime, the prophet Samuel had no further contact with King Saul who had lost God’s approval. Moreover, the prophet Samuel respected God’s prohibition to consult psychics (Leviticus 19:31; Deuteronomy 18: 11,12). In fact, King Saul received a response from someone pretending to be Samuel and wanting to convey the false idea that there is life after death. The Bible reveals that angels have rejected the authority of God (Genesis 6: 1-4), they are called demons. They are able to impersonate people dead in order to deceive humans (2 Thessalonians 2: 9).


This is the equivalent of the Greek word Sheol word used in the Old Testament. It appears ten times in the ancient Greek manuscripts: Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Apocalypse 1:18; 6: 8; 20:13 14.

Some Bible translations render the Greek haïdês by “hell” but more modern versions put “underworld”, “dead sojourn” or “hades”.


The name comes from Gehinnon or Hinnom, a valley in the southwest of the Old City of Jerusalem (Josh. 15: 8) where were sacrificed children to Moloch. (2 Chronicles 28: 3; 33: 6; Jeremiah 7: 31-32).

This place was turned into a dump by King Josias to prevent this cult (2 Kings 23:10). At the time of Jesus were thrown rubbish, but also the dead animals and the bodies of executed criminals, judging unworthy of a decent burial. This is to protect the city from contamination in relation to worship in the Temple and for which the city was to remain pure.

To maintain this fire continuously to get rid of the rubbish and avoid epidemics, there was regularly poured sulfur that made this perpetual fire.

Gehenna was thus associated with the fire that never goes out. ” And if your hand is a cause of trouble to you, let it be cut off; it is better for you to go into life with one hand than to have two hands and go into hell, into the eternal fire.” (Mark 9:43).

Jesus used this place to explain his contemporaries that hell symbolized the final punishment.

Place of eternal fire where, after the Last Judgment, shall be cast the devil (also called Satan, that is to say “the Adversary”) and his angels and the people who are dead in their sins (Matthew, Chapter 25 , verse 41).

The book of the Apocalypse (chapter 20 verses 10 to 15) explains:

“… and the devil […] was cast into the pool of fire and brimstone, where both the beast, and the false prophet shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. And I saw a great white throne and one sitting upon it, from whose face the earth and heaven fled away: and there was no place found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing in the presence of the throne. And the books were opened: and another book was opened, which was the book of life. And the dead were judged by those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it: and death and hell gave up their dead that were in them. And they were judged, every one according to their works. And hell and death were cast into the pool of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the pool of fire.”

Note that “death and Hades” are thrown there, wanting to express the loss of “dead” and the “waiting place of the dead (Hades)” for eternity. As the chapter 20 verse 10 and verse 15 says, that is, the devil and his angels and all who are not written in the book of life, will be in a perpetual state of suffering See Matthew 13: 49-50. It will be the same at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked from among the just, 50 and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Why is there confusion about the meaning that Scripture gives to the word hell?

“The fact that the first Bible translators have invariably translated by Hell the Hebrew word Sheol and the Greek terms Hades and Gehenna, determined a big confusion and misinterpretations. The simple transcription of these words by the translators of the revised editions of the Bible was not enough to dispel the confusion and misconceptions.” – The Encyclopedia Americana (1942), Volume XIV, p. 81.

Unfortunately, many Bible translators have transcribed the words “Sheol,” “Hades” and “Gehenna” by one word, “Hell.” This approach obscures the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek vocables. “Sheol” and “Hades” is the common grave of dead symbolically, the “Gehenna” is used as a symbol of eternal destruction.

Medieval artistic representations

The Garden of delights, by Hieronymus Bosch(Hell, right panel of the triptych The Garden of delights, by Hieronymus Bosch)

Iconographic representations of Hell are present in churches (carved eardrums reflecting the Last Judgment, capitals, frescoes …) in the manuscripts and paintings. Hell appears as a place of torture, hot and warm, which employs tens of demons. This was a recurring theme of the pious iconography of the Middle Ages, mainly in Catholicism.

The most detailed literary representation of this period is the first part of the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, Hell.

Concepts according to Christian movements

The concept of hell where the people are burning forever is from the first-degree interpretation of some New Testament passages. However, some movements considered as Christians (as Adventism, a variation of Protestantism, or Jehovah’s Witnesses), usually from the teachings of William Miller (1782-1849), do not share this belief.


On the basis of scripture and reasoning reflecting Catholic Tradition, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) affirms the existence of hell and its eternity (Article 12, section IV, paragraphs Nos 1 033-1 037). It refers to the Gospel, where Jesus often speaks of “Gehenna”, of “fire that is not quenched” (see above).

Although this seems to oppose love, hell would be contrary to the logic of love. If God is love, he respects the freedom of man, without which there is no love, and accept that man can reject it and choose to be separated.

According to the Catechism, there is no fatalism here, “God predestines no one to hell; this requires a willful turning of God” and only a refusal, voluntary, free and fully conscious of God and love of neighbor leads to Hell as only the choice of God, love of neighbor leads to paradise “at the end of your life, you will be asked your account will and your love” (Saint John of the Cross, Sentences, No. 50). It is on this point, as on that of the incompatibility between doing wrong and declare choose God where insists the Catechism:

We are conscious that we have come out of death into life because of our love for the brothers. He who has no love is still in death. Anyone who has hate for his brother is a taker of life, and you may be certain that no taker of life has eternal life in him.

“We can not be united with God unless we freely choose to love him. But we can not love God if we sin gravely against him, against our neighbor or against ourselves: “He who has no love is still in death. Anyone who has hate for his brother is a taker of life, and you may be certain that no taker of life has eternal life in him.” (1 Jn 3:15). Our Lord warns us that we shall be separated from him if we fail to meet the serious needs of the poor and the little ones who are his brethren (Mt 25,31-46). Dying in mortal sin without repenting and without the welcome God’s merciful love, means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. And it is this state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called by the word “hell.””

The last sentence “And it is this state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called by the word “hell.”,” sums up the concept of hell in Catholicism. Catholic doctrine presents hell as a state, not a place in which automatically dips the one who chose him and in full knowledge of not being in communion with God and love of neighbor.

For philosophy and Catholic theology, this is outside of a vindictive side or jealousy (in the modern sense) of God, but it is the consequence of that there is no independent good but a oneness of Good. Good and God become one. God is everything; God is Love, so anything that comes of love comes from God. Choosing one is choosing the other, even unconsciously out: those who want the good, can recognize it when he understands God. While searching for the true and absolute, it is pleased to find in God, and runs to him. Instead one who said he wanted good but are glad not to find it but God wants him to live in separate parallel, is more interested in him than well and search his own glory.

Thus, the one who said he looked for good, but refuses to acknowledge that he will find the God, separates him as one who has sought bad only and refused God from the start.

“The main penalty of hell consists in the eternal separation from God in whom alone man can have the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he is looking.”

According to Catholic theology, God is Love, Truth, Life, so the one who rejects Him, rejects this and is found in Haine, Falsehood and Death.

Finally the Ancient Catholic at the same time with a large majority of other Christian denominations, differed “hell” of “hells”. “Hell” is a place of damnation, eternal place without God. Rather, “hells” is hades, also called Limbo, where those who died before Christ awaited his coming. The term “hells” is also most used by contemporary Catholicism to avoid confusion with the exception of the Creed, which kept the ancient formulation. Thus, according to the Oriental and Roman Creed, that Christ descended into hells, means that descended released by those who had lived before him in justice and who were waiting for Him.

Seventh-day Adventists

The Seventh-day Adventists do not believe the bad suffer for eternity in hell, but teaches that the dead are unconscious and that the human soul is not immortal. By accepting the death of Jesus Christ, people are reconnected to God and have eternal life. Those who choose not to be reconciled to God, considered as the source of life, chose death by default. The Seventh-day Adventists believe that the descriptions in the Bible speaking of punishment for the wicked by fire actually describe the ultimate fate of sinners after the advent of Christ.

At the coming, Christ will resurrect the righteous dead and take them to the sky. God will destroy the wicked, leaving only Satan and his fallen angels on earth. After the millennium, Christ will return to earth again. Then, God will destroy permanently Satan, his angels, and humans, after a time of judgment during which the punishment to be administered for each reprobate is set. The Adventist view on hell is often referred to as the annihilationism.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses reject the idea of ​​a fiery hell that would be a place of eternal suffering after death. For them, the Bible teaches that the dead are unconscious and that the human soul is not immortal. They often cite in this regard the passages from Ecclesiastes 9: 5, 10 and Ezekiel 18: 4. Thus, in their doctrine, the wicked as well as the good will go in Sheol. They will be in Sheol until the day of divine judgment (Jehovah). Moreover, according to them the existence of a hell of fire where humans are tormented after death is incompatible with the dominant quality of God’s love (1 John 4: 8).

Translated from Wikipedia

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