The King James Version translates Hades as ‘hell’ as we have discussed in earlier blog posts. It is simply the abode of the dead. In Acts chapter 2 this is obvious even from the English context,
You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay…he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay.
In James chapter 3, hell is a symbolic reference to the fires of the Valley of Ben Hinnom, which we mentioned previously.
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell (Gehenna).
However, there is another influence on New Testament writers that comes from a rather unexpected place—the book of Enoch.
The book of Enoch was written in the time between the end of the Old Testament and the time of Jesus. Although it was never part of the Bible, it was known by both Jews and Christians. The New Testament book of Jude actually refers to the book of Enoch in regard to the judgment.
The book of Enoch is a significant source for imagery of punishment in a pit of fire. However, this pit was for the army of the rogue angel Azazel as indicated in chapter 54. This translation is from James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, volume 1, Doubleday, 1983.
Then I looked and turned to another face of the earth and saw there a valley, deep and burning with fire. And they were bringing kings and potentates and were throwing them into this deep valley. And my eyes saw there their chains while they were making them into iron fetters of immense weight.
And I asked the angel of peace who was going with me, saying, “For whom are these imprisonments chains being prepared?”
And he said unto me, “These are being prepared for the armies of Azazel, in order that they may take them and cast them into the abyss of complete condemnation, and as the Lord of the Spirits has commanded it, they shall cover their jaws with rocky stones. Then Michael, Raphael, Gabriel, and Phanuel themselves shall seize them on that great day of judgment and cast them into the furnace (of fire) that is burning that day, so that the Lord of the Spirits may take vengeance on them on account of their oppressive deeds which (they performed) as messengers of Satan, leading astray those who dwell upon the earth.”
Of course, we are reminded immediately of the comment in 2 Peter chapter 2,
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment…then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.
Where does the writer of 2 Peter get this idea? It is not from the Old Testament. It is not from teachings of Jesus available to us. Is it by special revelation? More likely it is from this passage in Enoch. It is interesting that the word, here translated ‘hell’, is neither Hades nor Gehenna, but tartarus, not found elsewhere in the Bible, but found in Enoch chapter 20.
None of these writers of the New Testament support an eternal punishment in a burning hell. There is one more New Testament book to consider—the book of Revelation. We will examine it next time.