Do you believe in an actual, literal Hell?
First, the word “Hell” does not appear in the Greek manuscripts of the Bible. I point this out often, but I think the point is missed. “Hell” is a product, in Christianity, of the Medieval Period (around the 8th century), and was adopted from pagan religions. The ideology of “Hell” was made famous by the Italian, Dante Alighieri, in the 14th century when he penned ‘The Comedy’ (later re-named, ‘The Divine Comedy’ – mistakenly called, ‘Dante’s Inferno’, which is one of the three parts of the poem).
However, the word “Hades” is biblical and occurs ten (10) times in the New Testament. It is not found in John’s gospel, it is nowhere in the Pauline corpus (including Hebrews), nor is it in any of the general letters.
Three times Jesus himself uses the term “Hades” – Matthew 11:23, Luke 10:15 (the same account as Matthew’s), and Luke 16:23. The Matthew and Luke 10 accounts use the term figuratively as an allusion to destruction. The Luke 16 account must be taken in and examined, for Jesus uses the term in a literal sense, here.
Twice in the Book of Acts (2:27; 2:31 – quoting Psalm 16:10) is “Hades” used in a literal sense.
And the term “Hades” is used four (4) times in the Book of Revelation (1:18; 6:8; 20:13; 20:14). In at least three of these accounts, the term is in a literal sense. The one in question (6:8) can be taken literally or figuratively.
Incidentally, the New Testament term “Hades” corresponds with the Old Testament term “Sheol,” which occurs fifty-nine (59) times.
In the King James Version, the word “Hell” is rendered for a term in the original manuscripts twelve (12) more times. That term is “Geenna,” which is actually a Hebrew word. Seven (7) times it is used in Matthew (5:22; 5:29; 5:30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; 23:33), three (3) times in Mark (9:43; 9:45; 9:47), once (1) in Luke (12:5), and once (1) in the Letter of James (3:6).
One (1) time a third term is used in the New Testament, “Tartaroo,” only in 2Peter 2:4.
The term “Hades” can be traced back, in a literary context, to the Ancient Greek poets, Homer and Hesiod (8th century B.C.), obviously far before the Christian faith or the historical Jesus Christ. The definition of the term at this time was, “obscure, dark, invisible; the region of departed spirits of the lost.” The term would later be the name of the Greek god of the underworld.
In every New Testament use of the term “Hades” (except for the two figurative accounts above), like its Hebrew counterpart, “Sheol,” it carries with it the association of death; “the place of departed souls.” “Hades,” in the Luke 16 account, has two compartments (‘Abraham’s Bosom’ –a rabbinical term for ‘Paradise’, and ‘Torment’). In most of the accounts in the New Testament, “Hades” is a literal place.
“Geenna,” named after a literal (and notoriously wicked) place on earth, the “Valley of Tophet” (or “Hinnom”), is being defined, “the place or state of the lost.” Often this word is wrongly translated, generically, as “the grave.” The New Testament plainly presents “Geenna” as a place of bodily and spiritual torment, a final punishment, judgment, outer darkness, and where “the worm never dies.” Hades will finally be cast into “Geenna.”
And “Tartaroo,” historically was “the subterranean abyss of Greek mythology where demigods were punished.” In the extra-biblical (pseudepigraphal) Book of Enoch it is “the prison of the fallen angels.”
Thus, Jesus and the disciples (at least those using the term) believed that “Hades,” “Geenna,” and/or “Tartaroo” were literal abodes. Scripture being the “Christian” first principle, I too, therefore, believe in a literal place.
The question yet remaining is whether or not Jesus and the disciples knew what, exactly, they were talking about. First, “Hades” as a counterpart to “Sheol,” the understanding of a literal place of the dead dates back thousands of years. Second, to bring into question the teachings of Jesus and/or His disciples is theological suicide. Where, when, and how does one decide what is reality or not in the Scriptures if we discount any of it without some sort of theological support? Which brings me to my third point: Because the ideology of “Hades” is older than Christianity, because “Geenna” is a Hebrew term, and because “Tartaroo” was developed out of Greek mythology, it does not necessarily follow that “Hades” is not a literal place, that Peter also adapted the theology of the Greeks when he adopted the term “Tartaroo,” or that the Jews were not correct in their theology of the after-life.
I must also mention that the idea that demons and/or the devil are in “Hell” is a belief that is not supported in Scripture (with the exception of “Tartaroo,” which is the place of bound angels according to the Scriptures and ancient Christian tradition). Logic dictates that, if they were in that place, then they would be of no threat to us here on earth.
Also bearing mention is that any such place is in the spiritual realm. In other words, it is outside of the space and time continuum. One cannot enter therein in life, nor can one return from there after death.
The only support for anything like purgatory is in the fact that “Hades” is thrown into “Geenna” at some point. Spirits in “Hades” are there temporarily, only in fact, to be eventually removed to “Geenna.”
I would love to teach something other than the real existence of “a place of departed spirits,” but anything else would be unbiblical. The good news is that the point is null and void if one makes effectual the grace of God in Jesus Christ, for absent from the body is present with the Lord. The bad news, necessary as it is in the logical understanding of justice, can be avoided likewise.