Hell in the New Testament

Having covered the Old Testament and the Gospels, it’s high time we finish this series on Hell off with a look at what the rest of the New Testament has to say about it. The shocking truth is: not a lot, and following on from what we’ve discussed previously, the Hell we see in the New Testament is certainly not the Hell preached by the fire and brimstone gang. Perhaps more shocking is that Paul never mentions Hell at all… not once. This puts a new spin on the question that has been asked in previous posts: (quoting from another site) if Jesus’s whole mission on Earth was to save sinners from Hell, how can Paul “(who was especially commissioned by God to preach the gospel to the nations) say that he had declared the entire counsel of God (Acts 20:27), when indeed he never warned of “Hell” in any of his letters? If Hell is real, wouldn’t Paul, of all people, warn of it repeatedly?”

The following, according to your point of view, is a list of all the references to Hell in the rest of the New Testament, divided according to the word they contain that is regularly translated as “Hell” with my own comments added.

Gehenna

James 3:6 – “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.”

It doesn’t take a theologian to see that this verse is saying that our mouths can get us in trouble. Gehenna being the always-burning trash dump outside Jerusalem gives context to this verse and simply means that the garbage that comes out of our mouths has a tendency to cause destruction, pain, separation, and every other sort of evil.

Hades

Acts 2:27 – “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.”

Here Peter is preaching and praising God for the fact that he will not be abandoned to death. The reference to the Holy One here means that Peter is claiming that following Jesus results in being spared from the decay of death.

Acts 2:31 – “he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.”

Same as above.

1 Cor. 15:55 – “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

In this instance the translator has taken the liberty of taking the Hell out of Hades. How nice, now we don’t have to do the pesky theological wrestling for ourselves. It also means we don’t realize that Hades can simply mean death and give us questions about the teaching we receive on Hell.

Rev. 1:18 – “and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”

Jesus’s resurrection means he now has authority over both physical and spiritual death.

Rev. 6:8 – “And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.”

During the fever dream that resulted in the Book of Revelation, the author saw the infamous Four Horsemen, anthropomorphized personifications of the death and destruction that takes place in the Last Days. Maybe. It depends on your interpretation of what Revelation is about.

Rev. 20:13 and 14 – “And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.”

If Death and Hades (physical death and spiritual death) are emptied of their dead and then destroyed, it is simple logic to say that those who had resided there were not thrown into the fire. They were not there.

Tartaros

2 Pet. 2:4 – “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.”

This verse is interesting as it seems to refer to the non-canonical Book of Enoch that tells of the rebellion of the Devil and his angels and how they were punished.

That’s it, that is all the New Testament has to say about Hell. The church has spent the last 2,000 years spinning these few verses, and the ones dealt with previously, into a doctrine that has no scriptural leg to stand on. Hell, as we know it, is the result of pre-Christian Jewish syncretism with the Greek ideas it was surrounded by, morphed into the fear-based religion Christianity became after its union with the Roman Empire under Constantine, weaponized by many but perfected in fire of the Great Awakening, and is either ignored for being an embarrassment or used as a bludgeon to keep questions at bay by the modern church. That is the reason I have kept up with this series for so long. I put down my faith several years ago, but one thing still sticks with me: the fear of Hell if I am wrong. I have written this series for myself and others like me, who want to let go of a toxic belief system but find themselves with a lingering worry about the afterlife. It is my hope that these words and ideas can settle those worries once and for all. If the Bible doesn’t teach about Hell, and if the early church didn’t teach it, what have I to fear? If the faith actually taught in the Bible is true, then the only options for an afterlife are Heaven or annihilation, life or death, I’m OK with missing out on the Heaven that is on offer. In short: should I fear Hell? Most resoundingly, no.

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