In Christianity, what hell is, where it is located in what its purpose is often debated. English translations of its name between the Old and New Testaments add confusion…Let’s look deeper into understanding hell.
One ongoing debate is whether hell is a place of torment or simply a place of dead souls, and all this is a direct result of name confusion due to translation into English largely.
Hell is another one of those words in the Bible that is translated differently between the Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek.
A common word in Hebrew that is often translated as “hell” is the word Sheol, which also means underworld or a place to which people descend at death, according to Strong’s concordance. And because of this, some people say that the idea of hell as a place of eternal torment did not exist in the Old Testament.
A Greek word often translated as hell is geenne, which is of Hebrew origin, referring to the Valley of Hinnom, or Ge-henna, a Valley of Jerusalem, used as a name for the place of everlasting punishment, according to Strong’s concordance.
Another Greek word often translated as hell is Hades, which refers to the unseen world or the place of departed souls, according to Strong’s concordance.
And yet another Greek word translated as hell is tartarōsas, which means to incarcerate in eternal torment, but also referring to being thrust down Tartarus or Gehenna, according to Strong’s concordance. It should also be noted that this Greek word occurs nowhere else in the Bible except in 2 Peter 2:4, according to scholar Ellicott.
Modern belief is that hell is a place of torment where, after judgment, the souls not worthy of receiving eternal life in heaven are sent for eternal damnation.
Not only is hell a place where the evil of humanity will be sent, but also Satan (or the devil) and the fallen angels who rebelled against God.
On the other side of the argument, some critics insist that the word Sheol in the Old Testament was always translated into English as hell, when its meaning was simply referring to the grave – not a place of torment.
The majority opinion is that hell is “down,” somewhere below or inside the earth. However, some believe it could be somewhere within the heavenly realm or in another dimension altogether.
Many verses in the New Testament suggest that hell is “down.” A pair of examples: can be found in the Old Testament Psalm 55:15, and New Testament 2 Peter 2:4. Verses often talk about going into the pit or the lowest parts of the earth, as well as the chambers, saying going down or descending.
In the Old Testament, Sheol as an underworld lends to the idea that hell is somewhere below.
Since the Bible repeatedly says that Satan, or the devil, and his fallen angels will be sent to hell, we can assume they aren’t there yet. There are many verses such as those found in Job (Job 1:7) that speak about Satan roaming the earth. The Bible also tells us that Satan was cast down to earth (Luke 10:18, Isaiah 14:12).
Jesus said “the prince of this world will be cast out,” meaning Satan (John 12:31).
In Ephesians 2:2 Satan is called “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in those who are disobedient.”
But probably one of the most telling verses that indicates Satan is somewhere above is this:
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”