Question 31: Is there a difference between the lake of fire and hell?

Answer:  The term “lake of fire” is found in four passages of Scripture, all of which are in Revelation: The beast and the false prophet are cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20); Satan is thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10); death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14); and the lake of fire is called “the second death” (Rev. 21:8).

From these four references, one can make four deductions:

  1. The lake of fire is the eternal abode of all those who are lost, both angels and men.
  2. The punishment includes both the soul and the body. Both death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire. Death refers to the material part of man, the body; Hades refers to the immaterial part of man, the soul and spirit. The lake of fire is a punishment for both of these.
  3. The lake of fire is associated with fire and brimstone and is the source of torment.
  4. The lake of fire is the same as Gehenna: Gehenna is the proper name, and the lake of fire is a descriptive name.

Although the term “Gehenna” is Greek, the concept originates from two Hebrew words. The first word is Gei, and the second word is Hinnom. Gei Hinnom means “the Valley of Hinnom.” This valley surrounds Jerusalem’s Old City, including Mount Zion, from the west and south, where it meets and merges with the Kidron Valley, the other principal valley at the southeastern corner of the city.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Valley of Hinnom was a place where some of the wicked kings of Israel practiced human sacrifice, specifically sacrificing their children by burning them alive. This physical burning of humans is the basis for the New Testament concept of Gehenna. The term describes a part of the unseen world where the bodies and souls of lost humans will experience eternal torment from fire.

Unfortunately, in some of our English Bibles, the word “Gehenna” is translated as “hell,” but Gehenna and hell are not the same place. The root word for “hell” comes from the Proto-Germanic word haljo, which has the connotation of “hiding” or “covering.” Therefore, “hell” literally means “concealed place.” In the Hebrew or Greek Scriptures, there is no one word for the concept of hell. Nevertheless, it is a biblical concept referring to what the Old Testament calls “the unrighteous side of Sheol,” a temporary place of confinement for lost souls. Gehenna is the eternal abode of the lost, both angels and humans. The punishment in Gehenna includes both soul and body. That is why Gehenna must neither be translated as “hell,” nor should it be equated with hell. Hell is a temporary place, and it is for the soul only; but Gehenna is an eternal place, and it includes both the soul and the body. Furthermore, Gehenna is the place of eternal torment and is associated with fire, which is the source of torment.

Summary: Hell is the temporary abode of dead unbelievers where their soul is tormented. After the messianic kingdom, all unbelievers will be resurrected and the soul and body will be reunited. They will then stand in judgment before the great white throne and be cast alive, both soul and body, into the lake of fire, the eternal abode of unsaved humans. The eternal abode will be worse because hell is torment for the soul only, while the lake of fire is torment for both soul and body forever.

If you would like more details on these issues, read MBS 107 ‘The Place of the Dead.’

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Arnold Answers is a bi-weekly Q & A with founder and director of Ariel Ministries, Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum.