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Hell, the word, as used in English Bibles translates from the Hebrew
Sheol and the Greek 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., Unger's Bible Dictionary, Chicago,
Moody Press, 1966, p. 467
Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York,
Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 420
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