Christian Views On Hades

This article covers Christian Views on Hades.

Hades, according to various Christian denominations, is “the place or state of departed spirits“, also known as Hell, borrowing the name of the Greek god of the underworld.

In New Testament Greek, the Hebrew phrase “לא־תעזב נפשׁי לשׁאול” (you will not abandon my soul to Sheol) in Psalm 16:10 is quoted in Acts 2:27 as “οὐκ ἐγκαταλείψεις τὴν ψυχήν μου εἰς ᾅδου” (you will not abandon my soul to Hades).

In the Textus Receptus version of the New Testament, on which the English King James Version is based, the word “ᾅδης” (Hades), appears 11 times; but critical editions of the text of 1 Corinthians 15:55 have “θάνατος” (death) in place of “ᾅδης”. Except in this verse of 1 Corinthians, where it uses “grave”, the King James Version translates “ᾅδης” as “hell”. Modern translations, for which there are only 10 instances of the word “ᾅδης” in the New Testament, generally transliterate it as “Hades”.

In all appearances but one, “ᾅδης” has little if any relation to afterlife rewards or punishments. The one exception is Luke’s parable of Lazarus and the rich man, in which the rich man finds himself, after death, in Hades, and “in anguish in this flame”, while in contrast the angels take Lazarus to “the bosom of Abraham”, described as a state of comfort.

Death and Hades are repeatedly associated in the Book of Revelation. The word “Hades” appears in Jesus’ promise to Peter: “And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it”, and in the warning to Capernaum: “And thou, Capernaum, shalt thou be exalted unto heaven? thou shalt go down unto Hades.”

This is a folk-art allegorical map based on Matthew 7:13–14 Bible Gateway by the woodcutter Georgin François in 1825.

This is a folk-art allegorical map based on Matthew 7:13–14 Bible Gateway by the woodcutter Georgin François in 1825.

The word “Hades” in Christian usage in English

In English usage the word “Hades” first appears around 1600, as a transliteration of the Greek word “ᾅδης” in the line in the Apostles’ Creed, “He descended into hell”, the place of waiting (the place of “the spirits in prison” 1 Peter 3:19) into which Jesus is there affirmed to have gone after the Crucifixion. Because this descent, known in Old and Middle English as the Harrowing of Hell, needed to be distinguished from what had come to be more usually called “hell”, i.e. the place or state of those finally damned, the word was transliterated and given a differentiated meaning.

This development whereby “hell” came to be used to mean only the “hell of the damned” affected also the Latin word “infernum” and the corresponding words in Latin-derived languages, as in the name “Inferno” given to the first part of Dante’s Divina Commedia. Greek, on the other hand, has kept the original meaning of “ᾅδης” (Hades) and uses the word “κόλασις” (kólasis – literally, “punishment”; cf. Matthew 25:46, which speaks of “everlasting kolasis“) to refer to what nowadays is usually meant by “hell” in English.

Church teachings

Main article: Intermediate state

Lazarus and the Rich Man (illumination from the Codex Aureus of Echternach).

Lazarus and the Rich Man (illumination from the Codex Aureus of Echternach).

The dead as conscious

Most mainstream Christian denominations and churches believe in some form of conscious existence after the death of the body.

Eastern Orthodox

The teaching of the Eastern Orthodox Church is that, “after the soul leaves the body, it journeys to the abode of the dead (Hades). There are exceptions, such as the Theotokos, who was borne by the angels directly into heaven. As for the rest, we must remain in this condition of waiting. Because some have a prevision of the glory to come and others foretaste their suffering, the state of waiting is called “Particular Judgment”. When Christ returns, the soul rejoins its risen body to be judged by Him in the Last judgment. The ‘good and faithful servant’ will inherit eternal life, the unfaithful with the unbeliever will spend eternity in hell. Their sins and their unbelief will torture them as fire.”

The Church of the East, Oriental Orthodoxy, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, hold that a final Universal Judgment will be pronounced on all human beings when soul and body are reunited in the resurrection of the dead. They also believe that the fate of those in the abode of the dead differs, even while awaiting resurrection: “The souls of the righteous are in light and rest, with a foretaste of eternal happiness; but the souls of the wicked are in a state the reverse of this.”

Roman Catholic

The Latin word infernus or infernum (underworld) indicated the abode of the dead and so was used as the equivalent of the Greek word “ᾅδης” (hades). It appears in both the documents quoted above, and pointed more obviously than the Greek word to an existence beneath the earth. Later, the transliteration “hades” of the Greek word ceased to be used in Latin and “infernum” became the normal way of expressing the idea of Hades. Though “infernus” is usually translated into English as “hell”, it did not have the narrow sense that the English word has now acquired. It continued to have the generic meaning of “abode of the dead”. For the modern narrow sense the term “infernum damnatorum” (hell of the damned) was used, as in question 69, article 7 of the Supplement of the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, which distinguishes five states or abodes of the dead: paradise, hell of the damned, limbo of children, purgatory, and limbo of the Fathers: “The soul separated from the body is in the state of receiving good or evil for its merits; so that after death it is either in the state of receiving its final reward, or in the state of being hindered from receiving it. If it is in the state of receiving its final retribution, this happens in two ways: either in the respect of good, and then it is paradise; or in respect of evil, and thus as regards actual sin it is hell, and as regards original sin it is the limbo of children. On the other hand, if it be in the state where it is hindered from receiving its final reward, this is either on account of a defect of the person, and thus we have purgatory where souls are detained from receiving their reward at once on account of the sins they have committed, or else it is on account of a defect of nature, and thus we have the limbo of the Fathers, where the Fathers were detained from obtaining glory on account of the guilt of human nature which could not yet be expiated.”


The Anglican Catechist states that “there is an intermediate state between death and the resurrection, in which the soul does not sleep in unconsciousness, but exists in happiness or misery till the resurrection, when it shall be reunited to the body and receive its final reward.” John Henry Hobart, an Anglican bishop, writes that “Hades, or the place of the dead, is represented as a spacious receptacle with gates, through which the dead enter.” This space is divided into Paradise and Gehenna “but with an impassable gulf between the two”. Souls, with exception of martyrs and saints, remain in Hades until the Final Judgment and “Christians may also improve in holiness after death during the middle state before the final judgment”. As such, many Anglicans pray for the dead.


In the Methodist Church, “hades denotes the intermediate state of souls between death and the general resurrection,” which is divided into Paradise (for the righteous) and Gehenna (for the wicked). After the general judgment, hades will be abolished. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, “made a distinction between hell (the receptacle of the damned) and hades (the receptacle of all separate spirits), and also between paradise (the antechamber of heaven) and heaven itself.” The dead will remain in Hades “until the Day of Judgment when we will all be bodily resurrected and stand before Christ as our Judge. After the Judgment, the Righteous will go to their eternal reward in Heaven and the Accursed will depart to Hell (see Genesis 25).”


John Calvin held that the intermediate state is conscious and that the wicked suffer in hell.

The Fallen Angels Entering Pandemonium, from 'Paradise Lost', Book 1 exhibited 1841 John Martin 1789-1854

The Fallen Angels Entering Pandemonium, from ‘Paradise Lost’, Book 1 exhibited 1841 John Martin 1789-1854

The dead as unconscious

Main article: Christian mortalism

Several groups of Christians believe in Christian mortalism or “soul sleep” and in general judgment (“Last Judgment”) only. Denominations that see the dead in the intermediate state as not having consciousness include early Unitarians, Christian Universalists, Christadelphians, Seventh-day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses. These groups also believe that Christ too was dead, unconscious and “asleep” during his time in the grave.

The views of Lutherans and Anglicans vary. Martin Luther himself appears inconsistent in his views though generally maintained that souls remained asleep until the resurrection whereupon hell awaited the condemned. “I am not so sure what hell is like before the Day of Judgment. The notion that hell is a specific place, now tenanted by the souls of the damned, as artists portray it and the belly servers preach it, I consider of no value… However, on the Last Day this will assume a different aspect. Then hell will be a particular place and the abode of those consigned to it and the eternal wrath of God. But let this suffice. It is not very important whether or not one pictures hell as it is commonly portrayed and described. The fact remains that hell is far worse now—and will be even worse than it is now—than anyone is able to say, depict, or imagine.”

The Church of England has a variety of views on the death state. Some, such as N. T. Wright have proposed a view of the grave which considers Hades to be a place where the dead sleep, and E. W. Bullinger argued for the cessation of the soul between death and resurrection.

Some Christians believe in the soul’s mortality (“Christian mortalism” or “soul sleep”) and general judgment (“Last Judgment”) only. This view is held by some Anglicans such as E. W. Bullinger. Proponents of the mortality of the soul, and general judgment, for example Advent Christians, Conditionalists, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians, and Christian Universalists, argue that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable using the framework of Jewish views of the Bosom of Abraham, and is metaphorical, and is not definitive teaching on the intermediate state for several reasons. After being emptied of the dead, Hades and death are thrown into the lake of fire in Revelation 20:13–14.

Views of some early third-century writers

Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225), making an exception only for the martyrs, argued that the souls of the dead go down beneath the earth, and will go up to the sky (heaven) only at the end of the world: “You must suppose Hades to be a subterranean region, and keep at arm’s length those who are too proud to believe that the souls of the faithful deserve a place in the lower regions … How, indeed, shall the soul mount up to heaven, where Christ is already sitting at the Father’s right hand, when as yet the archangel’s trumpet has not been heard by the command of God, when as yet those whom the coming of the Lord is to find on the earth, have not been caught up into the air to meet Him at His coming, in company with the dead in Christ, who shall be the first to arise? … The sole key to unlock Paradise is your own life’s blood.”.

The variously titled fragment “Against Plato” or “De Universo”, attributed to Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170 – c. 236), has the following: “And this is the passage regarding demons. But now we must speak of Hades, in which the souls both of the righteous and the unrighteous are detained. Hades is a place in the created system, rude, a locality beneath the earth, in which the light of the world does not shine; and as the sun does not shine in this locality, there must necessarily be perpetual darkness there. This locality has been destined to be as it were a guard-house for souls, at which the angels are stationed as guards, distributing according to each one’s deeds the temporary punishments for characters. And in this locality there is a certain place set apart by itself, a lake of unquenchable fire, into which we suppose no one has ever yet been cast; for it is prepared against the day determined by God, in which one sentence of righteous judgment shall be justly applied to all. And the unrighteous, and those who believed not God, who have honoured as God the vain works of the hands of men, idols fashioned, shall be sentenced to this endless punishment. But the righteous shall obtain the incorruptible and un-fading kingdom, who indeed are at present detained in Hades, but not in the same place with the unrighteous.”

In his study, “Hades of Hippolytus or Tartarus of Tertullian? The Authorship of the Fragment De Universo“, C. E. Hill argues that the depiction of the intermediate state of the righteous expounded in this text is radically opposed to that found in the authentic works of Hippolytus and must have been written by Tertullian.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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