“Hell” or “Hades” in Matthew 11:23 et al.?
"And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day." (Matthew 11:23, KJV)
Critics claim that the KJV is wrong for translating two Greek words “αδης (Hadēs)” and “γεεννα (Gehenna)” both as “hell.” These critics claim that Hades is merely a place of the dead, and not a place of torment and fire. However, we must get our understanding of biblical words from the Bible rather than from Pagan lore. The biblical definition of “Hades” indicates that it is a place of fire and torment. Luke 16:23-24 portrays the rich man being “tormented” in the “flame” of Hades. Thus, “hell” is an appropriate translation of “Hades.”
Since “Gehenna” is Hebrew and “Hades” is Greek, it would make sense for the Greek-influenced Hebrews of the New Testament to use the two words interchangeably in referring to hell. Paul, despite referring to Hades numerous times, never uses the word “Gehenna” in all his letters which were addressed to Greek-speaking Gentiles. The only place outside of the Gospels where “Gehenna” is referred to is in James’ epistle (3:6) which was addressed to Jews. We must understand that the Greek of the New Testament is not a uniform dialect. Jesus used a Semitic dialect to Jews in Judea whereas Paul used the standard Greek dialect in his letters to the churches throughout the Roman Empire. "Hades" was the word for hell when the audience may not have understood "Gehenna". Apparently with the Hellenistic influence the word "Hades" was gaining currency even in Judea. But "Hades" was the only word for hell for the Gentiles. Why in the world would a Gentile in Rome understand the Hebrew word "Gehenna"? Common sense must be applied in ascertaining why the Bible uses both "Hades" and "Gehenna". There seems to be no difference between the biblical Gehenna and the biblical Hades. “Gehenna” is the Hebrew word for hell and “Hades” is the Greek word for hell. The KJV, being a translation, translates both words for hell as “hell.”
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