The Old English word hell comes from a root word which means to cover or conceal. In the days of King James the word didn't mean what it does today. It meant to cover. For example, the hell potatoes meant to put them underground, like in a cellar, a book heller was a person who put the cover on a book, to hel a house meant to cover a portion of it with tile. This last term is still used in some portions of the New England states.
Then, there are similar words with a similar meaning. Shell, for example. Hull is the covered part of a ship or the covering of a nut. Hall is the part of a building that is covered and used for storage or gathering. Heal is the covering of a wound. Whole is an uncovering, and hill is the level ground covered by earth or stone.
The Hebrew word sheohl and the Greek word haides were accurately translated into the old English word hell in the days of King James because they basically mean the unseen resting place of the dead. The common grave no matter what the form of burial might be. A tomb, burial at sea, or a grave. This is why Jonah called the belly of the fish hell. He thought it would be his grave. And why Jesus was, like Jonah, in hell for parts of 3 days. (Jonah 2:1-2 / Psalms 16:10 / Acts 2:27)
So we are all going to hell, since we all will die and be buried.
Two other Greek words with entirely different meanings are often translated as hell. They are gehenna and tartarus.
Unlike the Hebrew sheohl and the Greek haides, there is really no excuse for mistaking the Greek Geenna (Hebrew Geh Hinnom - English Transliteration Gehenna) with the notion of any hell, either the old English word meaning covered or the pagan hell of today's Christianity.
The Christian Greek Gehenna is a literal place - a valley that lies South and South-West of ancient Jerusalem. It is the modern day Wadi er-Rababi ( Ge Ben Hinnom ), a deep, narrow valley.
Today it is a peaceful and pleasant valley, unlike the surrounding dry and rocky terrain, and most certainly unlike the pagan / apostate Christian hell.
[Image: Photograph of the real gehenna today]
In the days of unfaithful Kings Manasseh and Ahaz idolatrous worship of the pagan god Baal was conducted in the place which was then known as Geh Hinnom, ( the valley of Hinnom ) including human sacrifices to fire. It is ironic that the pagan custom burning in fire would have so clearly infiltrated the Christian teachings, considering that this practice was a detestable thing to Jehovah God, and his prophets spoke of a time when this place would be turned into a defiled and desolate place. ( 2 Chronicles 28:1-3 / 2 Chronicles 33:1-6 / Jeremiah 7:31-32 / Jeremiah 32:35 ).
The prophecy was fulfilled in the days of faithful King Josiah, who had the place, especially the area known as Topeth polluted into a refuse heap. ( 2 Kings 23:10 )
So it was that in the days of Jesus and the early Christian congregations, that the valley was known as a literal place where the carcasses of criminals and animals were thrown, having no hope for resurrection. The refuse there was kept burning with sulphur, which is abundant in the area. When Jesus used Gehenna as a figurative - a symbolic reference to the spiritually dead the people in the area knew what he was talking about.
The Greek Tartarus
The Greek word Tartarus is found only once in scripture, at 2 Peter 2:4. It is often mistranslated as hell. Tartarus in the Christian Greek scriptures refers to a condition of debasement, unlike the pre-Christian pagan tartarus ( Homer's Iliad ) which is a mythological prison.
Peter refers to the angels who in the time of Noah foresook thier original positions and became men in order to have relations with the women of earth. The result was their offspring being giants, the Nephilim, who caused so much trouble God had to bring forth the flood. ( Genesis 6:1-4 / Ephesians 6:10-12 / Jude 1:6 ).
It is interesting that this verse is often mistranslated because when Jesus was resurrected from Sheol / Hades ( Hell in some translations ) on earth, he first went to tartarus - that is to say the disobedient angels whom had been lowered in position - who happened to be in heaven. This means that if you don't understand the mistranslation you would see Jesus go to hell on earth and then hell in heaven.
Since sin equals death, and death is the result of sin, the idea that the wicked are literally punished forever in hell isn't scriptural because,a Paul pointed out, we are acquitted of our sins upon death. (Romans 6:7) Also, since the soul dies (Ezekiel 18:4) the immortal soul can't be literally tormented in hell forever.
Hell ( as is often translated from the Hebrew Sheohl ) can't be a separation from God, since God is in effect there - it is in front of him. He watches sheol for the time when the dead shall be resurrected. ( Proverbs 15:11 / Psalm 139:7-8 / Amos 9:1-2 )
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