Two Views of Hell in the Bible: Old Testament vs. New Testament

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The concept of Hell of the Bible has differences between the Old Testament view and the New Testament. However, they aren’t exactly fully dissimilar either. Here’s a look at how the Bible views Hell before and after Jesus.

Hell: The Old Testament View

In the Old Testament, the unrighteous are left in Sheol.

In the Hebrew mind, Sheol is the state of death or abode of the dead. We first find this in the Old Testament in Psalms.

“For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.”

– Psalm 16:10

According to Strong’s Hebrew concordance, the Hebrew word Sheol is a singular noun meaning underworld, the place to which people descend at death.

Sheol is always referred to as a place in which the direction is “down.” It is also referred to in the Old Testament as being “deep” or “lowest” (Psalm 86:13) or the “lowest depths of the pit” (Isaiah 14:15).

There is a mention of “deliver his soul from Sheol” (Proverbs 23:14).

Similarities Between the OT Sheol and the NT Hell

In Proverbs 27:20 is where some translations equate Sheol as being Hell.

There are some things about Sheol that do equate with the New Testament idea of hell in terms of being an eternal situation.

No one escapes Sheol (the grave) unless raised by God. The Old Testament concept of Sheol is that it was eternal. Therefore, any of the unrighteous who aren’t raised from Sheol by God would remain there eternally. Other descriptions of Sheol depicted as a place where bad people, Israel’s enemies, go.

Further, several verses also suggest there is “fire” in Sheol (Proverbs 30:16; Job 31:12).

The take away is that Sheol is a “bad place” where “bad people” go.

Hell: The New Testament View

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”

– Luke 12:4-5

The words of Jesus above warn us that we should be worried about whether we can be cast into a place of eternal punishment called Hell. Scholars disagree as to whether Jesus is warning us to fear God or the devil (Satan) in this verse, as it is ambiguous.

The original Greek translation used the word geennan, which is “of Hebrew origin; valley of Hinnom; ge-henna, a valley of Jerusalem, used as a name for the place of everlasting punishment,” according to Strong’s Greek.

Jesus Spoke of Hell More Than Any Other Person in the Bible

Jesus spoke about hell more than any other person in the Bible, according to the Gospel Coalition. Another source claims, there are 162 references in the New Testament warning of hell, 70 of which were spoken of by Christ, according to GVSU.edu.

It should be noted that English word Hell is often translated from the Greek word Hades, which referred to the underworld or “the unseen world. Properly, unseen, i.e. ‘Hades’ or the place of departed souls,” according to Strong’s Greek.

Jesus warned that we are eternal beings and if we sin or cause others to sin, we will face the eternal punishment and torment of the unquenchable fire of hell (Mark 9:42-48).

In further warnings, Jesus said:

  • Hell was a place of torment (Luke 16:23)
  • A fiery furnace (Matthew 13:42)
  • A place of eternal or unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43)
  • Where the “cursed” will be cast “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41)
  • That people are in agony in a chasm that can’t be crossed over from either side (Luke 16:25-26)

Conclusion: OT vs. NT

Bible scholar Michael Heiser, besides being an expert on ancient languages, is also an expert when it comes to angels and demons. Heiser says that both have a concept of hell, although they aren’t exactly identical.

“It is incorrect to say that the OT does not have any sort of concept of a ‘bad’ afterlife that resembles hell,” Heiser says. “It also goes too far to say that the concepts are identical between the testaments.”

“There is a progression of the ideas from the OT to the NT,” Heiser concludes.