About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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The Problem With Hell


Many western-world Christians understand hell to be the place of eternal fire, damnation, and judgment.  In Biblical terms, hell is not that place, and here is why.    


The King James Old Testament has translated the Hebrew word "sheol" as "hell," "grave," and "pit."  Newer versions of the Old Testament have translated "sheol" as "grave," which better fits the ancient Hebrew concept of Sheol as being the resting place of the dead that is buried deep within the earth. 


The Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) translated the Hebrew word "sheol" into Greek as "hades."  It did so because Greek culture, like Hebrew culture, understood Hades to be the dwelling place of the dead.   For this reason, the Greek New Testament, from which our English New Testament is translated, translated the Greek word "hades" as Hades.  The New Testament, thus, equates Sheol and Hades as being the same place, the place of the dead. 


Most modern English versions of the New Testament have translated the Greek word "hades" as "Hades."  The King James New Testament, however, did not.  It unfortunately translated the Greek word "hades" as "hell."  This, at least in part, has created our present-day problem with the word hell.  Hades, or hell (KJV), is not the place of eternal fire, damnation, and judgment, as many think it to be.  Hades, or hell (KJV) is Sheol, the dwelling place of the dead.  


With this in mind, Ephesians 4:9 and 10 say this:  


"What does he [Jesus] ascended mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?  He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe."


It is commonly understood from the above verses that after Jesus died, and before He rose from the dead, He descended into Hades (Sheol or hell) and released the righteous souls so they could enter paradise.  Jesus did not descend into the place of eternal fire, damnation, and judgment.  Mathew 27:51 through 53 may refer to this incident.  The text reads: 


"At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.  The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.  They came out of the tombs after Jesusí resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people."


After the release of the righteous dead, Hades became the holding place for the unrighteous dead.  If hell is Hades, what then, is the place of eternal fire, damnation, and judgment?  That place is the Lake of Fire .  It is where the unrighteous dwellers in Hades (Sheol or hell) will eventually end up.  Revelation 20:14 in the NIV reads:

"Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death."


Revelation 20:14 in the KJV says this:


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


The Greek word "hades" (now the place of the unrighteous dead) is translated as Hades in the NIV and hell in the KJV in Revelation 20:14.  If hell is the place of eternal fire, damnation, and judgment as many think, then the KJV makes no sense, because hell cannot be cast into hell.  Hell cannot be cast into itself.  Hell is not the place of fire, damnation, and judgment.  Hell should be understood as Hades, and it is Hades that will be cast into the Lake of Fire .  I suggest, then, that you delete the word "hell" from your Christian vocabulary or else clarify its real Biblical meaning, lest you misrepresent the Bible. 

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