When Was the Idea of Hell Introduced in the Bible?

It is said that there is no mention at all of Hell in the original Hebrew text of the Torah. The Hebrew word Sheol meant “the place of the dead”, where everyone would go after their life on Earth ended. This included not just the righteous and those that followed God’s rule, but also the wicked.

In the King James translation of the bible, however, Deuteronomy 32:22 contains the first mention of “hell”: For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.

Although some point to Genesis 37:35 as referring to such a place with the word “grave”.  And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him. Although this could obviously just refer to a grave as we know it.

And in The Second General Epistle of Peter, verse 2:4, we find For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment. But this is not known as a place for humans – just fallen angels.

Brimstone, which was historically most likely an alternative name for sulphur, was used as an expression of God’s wrath, as it evoked the odor of a volcano and imagery of the underworld.  And in Daniel 12:2, we find And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt. So here it would seem that this idea of eternal damnation is introduced, as well as in the introduction of the “Bosom of Abraham.” This has come to find much agreement among many traditions as a reference to eternal life, so one could argue there was an eternal place of damnation.

But it isn’t until The Revelation of Saint John, in the last 20 verses of the King James Bible, that we actually find the words “lake of fire”, which ushered in a strong image that many today think of when they imagine Hell.

See also the article on the Definition of Heaven, but it’s safe to say that there was some evolution in the teaching of the word, and that in the New Testament in particular, the image of Hell took on a much more specific definition with the imagery and concept many share to this day.

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