We all know the word “hell”, but few of us know this concept in depth. Join us to know the meaning of this controversial word, to understand what it means according to the Bible.
What is hell like according to the Bible?
If one word can provoke sadness, fear and also doubt at the same time, it is undoubtedly the word “hell”.
For many, a place of eternal suffering dominated by Satan and arrived at after a life of sin. For others, something that cannot even exist because God’s infinite love cannot allow such a place to exist.
There is much debate about the existence and interpretation of hell in both Christianity and other world religions, and no consensus has ever been reached. In this article of Your Online Bible we want to give you as much information as possible so that you can better understand and interpret hell, taking information directly from biblical quotations .
We will begin by looking at the origin of the word hell and the meaning this concept had in ancient religions. We will then look at all the Biblical references to hell and finish by looking at representations of hell in art.
Do you feel like clearing up your doubts about hell? Let’s not wait any longer and let’s go!
Where is hell according to the King James Bible?
According to the passages that we can find in the King James Bible, we find a common thread where many people cite that hell is located under the earth, in the center of the earth.
“And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto the heavens, shalt be brought down to Hades” Luke 10-15.
“And that that he ascended, what is it, but that he had also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?” Ephesians 4:9
“Though they dig down to Sheol, from thence will my hand take them; and though they ascend up to heaven, from thence will I bring them down.” Amos 9:2
The origin of hell
Thanks to archaeological finds of texts from early civilizations and samples of their art, we have evidence that hell was a primitive idea, and already present at that time. The Greeks named it hades, the same as the God of death and the Hebrews Seol.
These two words appeared in the original Bible and in some translations were translated as hell or grave, among other words. The best known and most famous version of the Bible, from which we draw all the texts on our website, uses the two original terms to designate hell. The word Sheol appears 65 times in the Old Testament and Hades 10 times in the New Testament.
In its beginnings, the word hell was not directly related to fire and heat. Its initial meaning was “inferior” and hence its resemblance to this word. This is also why, as opposed to heaven, hell is associated with the depths. Perhaps the eruption of lava from volcanoes led the ancients to think that inside the Earth, everything burned, so that in hell as well.
Today, the idea of hell has evolved and, although for some religions it is still a physical place of eternal suffering, most religions consider hell to be a state of the soul after death.
Hell mentioned in the bible
As you can imagine, the Bible contains a multitude of references to hell to educate believers and give some information about this idea.
The first reference is found in the first book of the Bible and the Old Testament: Genesis. It is chapter 37 in which Joseph is sold by his brothers to Egypt because of their jealousy of him. His father, Jacob, mourns his loss thinking that someone had killed his son as we see in the verse:
“And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he would not be comforted, and said, I will go down mourning for my son to Sheol. And his father mourned for him.”
As we can see, this reference does not give us much information about the interpretation of hell, although we can see this ancient idea of hell as a place to which one goes.
There are other references in the books which, like Genesis, were written by Moses, but no more significance is given to it than in the one mentioned in the previous verse. The first significant reference to hell can be seen in the first book of Samuel:
“Jehovah kills, and he gives life;
He bringeth down to Sheol, and bringeth up.”
(1 Samuel 2:6)
In this verse, we can see how God has the power to give life to people and also to take it away, as well as to decide whether a person deserves heaven or hell.
Although this conception of a God who takes and gives life to people according to His will has become a bit backward, we should not forget that God, as the infinite being that He is, has such power, and we have to be grateful for Him.
In the Book of Psalms we also find some references to Sheol, almost always being King David, author of the texts, who asks God to take him away from hell and give him life to continue proclaiming his word. At other times, as we will see below, a lesson on hell is given:
“The wicked will be translated to Sheol,
All people who forget God.”
Here again we find the idea of hell as a physical place, although it begins to acquire the modern connotation that a life away from God and his way is already like living in hell.
There are also some proverbs that mention hell. Proverbs is a book of the Old Testament that contains different poems intended to educate the population according to God’s rules. Although the references we found are not very relevant, as a curiosity, we bring you this one that talks about the sin of vice, being a kind of lesson for women of the time:
“And they don’t know that the dead are there;
That his guests are in the depths of Sheol.”
Although there are many more references to hell in the Old Testament books, most are not relevant to understanding the concept or are far removed from the new ideas that Jesus brought to the world and that were reflected in the New Testament.
A modern reference to hell is found in one of the best known verses of the Gospels and very important for the church as a community. It is the following verse:
“And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”
As we can see, here Jesus gives Peter the mission to create the church as a community to take the Word of God to the whole world. As Jesus says, hell and evil will never affect the faithful who belong to this community, the way of God being the only one that leads to salvation.
Another reference of Jesus to hell is found in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Here Jesus wants to exemplify how a life full of material and non-spiritual riches condemns you to Hades and on the other hand, a life of misery with a little love leads you to heaven.
“And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”
Finally, and unsurprisingly, there are references to hell in the book of Revelation.
To put you in the situation, the fragment in which we find these references speaks of how all the dead who are in hell or who have not been buried, are judged again and in this Final Judgment, hell and death are eliminated forever:
“And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:14)
Hell in Christian art
Throughout the centuries, artists have wanted to reflect their vision of hell in their canvases and works, some to scare people and others only for artistic purposes.
The Last Judgment is a biblical chapter that impacts anyone who reads and reflects on it. The same thing happened to Bosch, a Dutch painter who captured this scene of the Apocalypse in a painting of great beauty and darkness that he called “The Last Judgment”. In the painting you can appreciate hell as a place full of weapons, dragons and tortures, very different from the light that surrounds heaven and God.
The great medieval philosopher and thinker St. Augustine also depicted hell in an illustration in his book “The City of God”. You can contemplate the image of the cauldron, a symbol in popular culture, and also the horns of demons. Surely, part of the beliefs people have about hell come from this illustration.
On the other hand, Dante’s incomparable work entitled “The Divine Comedy” also offers a vision of hell. This work meant a total change in the paradigm of the time, probably being a pioneer of the Renaissance and it is not strange that it is considered one of the greatest works of world literature.
It is a poem dedicated to Christianity as a whole. Although you may not like his style, we recommend you to look for fragments of this marvel of knowledge.
And if you liked “The Divine Comedy”, we share with you a musical piece based on this work:
After reading this article, you probably already have a more formed opinion of what hell means and how it affects you. If you want to know more, do not hesitate to search the Internet for other sources of information that may be useful to you, but make sure they are reliable sources.
We want to tell you that, if you lead a life in accordance with the word of the Lord, love and collaborate in society and pray for your loved ones, you need never fear hell, because God’s love will save you.
And that’s all for today, we hope you have learned many things and, if you want to learn more about the dichotomy between heaven and hell, we recommend you to read our article “What is heaven according to the Bible“.
See you next time!