Oh. Hell? New Testament meaning and questions

In addition to gehenna, James Leo Garrett (James Leo Garrett,‚ Systematic Theology: Biblical Historical and Evangelical (Vol 2), 788-789)‚ notes four other words that express hell, or its meaning therein. Let’s take a look at these words and then correlate meaning and questions the texts offer.

The first word references the “outer darkness.” Three times in the sayings of Jesus in Matthew the term “the outer darkness” (to skotos to exoteron) is used to describe a place of judgment (Matt. 22:11-13; 8:12; 25:30).

Five times in the book of Revelation (20:10, 14, 15; 21:8) the term “the lake of fire” (he limne tou pyros) is used to reference eternal punishment. Those thrown into the lake of fire include the devil, the beast, and the false prophet (20:10), “Death and Hades” (20:14), anyone “whose name could not be found written in the book of life” (20:15), and “the cowardly, the faithless…the vile, murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolators, and liars of every kind” (21:8). The lake of fire is also synonymous with “the second death” (ho thanatos ho deuteros) in 20:14 and 21:8.

In the sheep-goats judgment scene in Matthew 25, the goats are seen as departing into “the eternal fire” (to pyr to aionion) “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:31) and as going away to “eternal punishment” (kolasin aionion (25:45).

The sinning angels are being kept in Tartarus (tartarosas) – “hell” – with its gloomy dungeons until the day of judgment (2 Peter 2:4). God is keeping them “in” or “with” “eternal chains” (desmois aidiois) “in darkness” (hypo zophon) according to Jude 6.

Many questions come to mind now that we attempt to interpret the New Testament texts concerning hell:

1. Should the fire in the “lake of fire” be interpreted literally or figuratively? Is the fire in hell or on the earth?
2. How should this fire be related to the “outer darkness” or the “nether gloom”? Are they two distinct metaphors whose meanings are valid despite the usage of the other?
3. Will eternal punishment be proportionate to guilt? Jesus’s contrast of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernuam, cities that he had visited, with the ancient cities of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 11:20-24) would seem to support different degrees or types of punishment following final judgment.
4. Will the separation from God and the punishment that characterize hell be eternal and irrevocable so that hell is a fixed condition or destiny? The double use of “eternal” in reference to both “punishment” and “life” in Matthew 25:46 and the “great chasm” mentioned in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:26) clearly point to such eternality.

In the next post, I will look at Stanley Grenz’s idea that hell is eternal exclusion, failure and isolation.

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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