Hell, the word, as used in English Bibles translates from the HebrewĀ SheolĀ and the GreekĀ Gehenna. It was the latter, which came to denote a place of punishment for the wicked after death divinely ordained, that decisively met the Christian meaning of hell. Tradition holds the unrepentant after death goes to hell, while the redeemed goes either to purgatory or directly to heaven.

The nature of hell is often and literally inferred from such New Testament passages as Matthew 13:42, 25:30, 41:46; and especially the description of the second death in Revelation 21:8, as being cast into “a lake which burns of fire and brimstone.” Some scholastic theologians thought souls in hell experienced the lost of unity with God, and were tormented by an agent.

A more conservative modern interpretation is that the punishment of hell is the necessary consequence of free will and cannot therefore contradict God’s love or justice. However, other theologians dismiss the concept of eternal punishment altogether.

The Bible gives no definitive description of hell; however, there are passages emphasizing its general nature, such as “unquenchable fire,” “the blackness of darkness,” “furnace of fire,” “torment in fire and brimstone,” “the smoke of their torment,” “the lake which burns with fire and brimstone,” “where their worm dies not,” and “where the devil and his angels” reside.

Van Oosterzec did well to remark, “There is no doubt that Holy Scripture requires us to believe in a probable so-called place of punishment, in whatever part of God’s boundless creation it is to be sought.

That the different images under which it is represented cannot possibly be taken literally will certainly need no demonstration; but it is perhaps not unnecessary to warn against the opinion that we have to do here with mere images. Who shall say that the reality will not infinitely surpass in awfulness the boldest pictures of it?” A.G.H.


Unger, Merrill F.,Ā Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chicago, Moody Press, 1966, p. 467
Bowker, John,Ā The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 420