What IS Hell? What is its purpose? Who goes there and why? What does the Bible say about it? What does the Hebrew Bible say? Does it say anything? What does Jesus have to say about Hell? Every Christian, despite whether they have been a Christian their whole lives, are new to the faith or are even pastors, speculate over the concept of Hell.
First thing’s first, what is it? What is Hell? Hell is not mentioned in the Bible using just one word. It is written in many different ways, in both the Hebrew language and the Greek. Some of these are Sheol, Hades and Gehenna. (For more in depth information on this see http://urqa.com/page789.html) It isn’t known for certain if Sheol (a term used in the Hebrew Bible) is “Hell” or even if they are remotely related. It is translated as “grave” “hell” and “pit” but many people debate whether or not it ought to be translated as our current Hell, seeing as Christ’s “Gehenna” (also translated as Hell) seems like it could be very different. According to the site provided above, “As to the rendering ‘hell,’ it does not represent sheol, because both by Dictionary definition and by colloquial usage ‘hell’ means the place of future punishment. Sheol has no such meaning, but denotes the present state of death. ‘The grave’ is, therefore, a far more suitable translation, because it visibly suggests to us what is invisible to the mind, viz., the state of death. It must, necessarily, be misleading to the English reader to see the former put to represent the latter.”
Paul uses Hades, the Romans’ post-mortem destination, as his name for the afterlife aside from Heaven. This may not, indeed, actually be what Hell is, but rather Paul’s attempt to describe the afterlife in a way that would be familiar to the Romans at the time. (For a detailed research paper on Paul’s views of the afterlife go to http://www.nazarene-friends.org/pubs/thedead/009.php)
Jesus uses the word Gehenna. Gehenna was a disgusting landfill outside of Jerusalem where all the trash was burnt. This could be considered a metaphor for burning in the lake of fire. http://www.concordant.org/expohtml/DeathAndJudgment/TheGehennaOfFire.html has a detailed look at the translation they have a good description of the parallel. They say, “The Lord explicitly identifies Gehenna with Isaiah 66:23,24 by speaking of it as the place of “unextinguished fire, where their worm is not deceasing and the fire is not going out” (Mark 9:46). All whose bodies are destroyed in Gehenna will be raised to be judged at the great white throne, and go into the lake of fire. Gehenna is the capital punishment of the kingdom, without burial.”
The Hebrew Bible, Paul and Jesus all use different words, but all of them seem to mean similar things. This is why it seems reasonable that each word was translated as Hell. Based on these different translations it can be concluded first and foremost that “Hell” is an afterlife. It is also very separate from Heaven. This could be debated because according to Greek mythology Hades has many levels, reaching from burning torment all the way up to paradise. So ultimately exactly what Hell is, is unknown. Whether it is a lake of fire, unconscious torment or simply the grave, we don’t know for certain.
When I was younger I imagined Hell as the other end of the tunnel, the end without the light. I imagined a lake, with the souls of the Godless being shoved in by demons, their necks laden with millstones. I thought that those in heaven could see to the lake, could see the brimstone and ash raining down on those who managed to claw their way to the surface. I imagined that the demons ruled this hell lake and mercilessly beat and bruised those souls who were already anguishing in the lake. It was as horrific an image as my childish imagination was capable of producing. But now, now I no longer have that clear of an image in my head. After looking at translations and researching I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t know exactly what hell is, except a Godless land. I have a hazy picture in my mind the only thing I know for certain is that Hell is not somewhere I want to be.