Is Hell an Eternal Punishment and what gets burned?
"the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes", Luke 16:22-23
The word hell is an old English word meaning to bury or plant. Back in the day of the writing of the King James Bible one might have said they were going to hell some potatoes. The meaning was that they were going to plant some potatoes.
Each time in the King James1 Old Testament the word hell is translated from the Hebrew word: she'owl. Many times it is translated as grave.
H7585. she'owl, sheh-ole'; or she'ol, sheh-ole'; from H7592; hades or the world of the dead (as if a subterranean retreat), includ. its accessories and inmates.2
In the King James New Testament the word hell is translated from the Greek words geenna, haides and one time tartaroo.
G1067. geenna, gheh'-en-nah; of Heb. or [H1516 and H2011]; valley of (the son of) Hinnom; gehenna (or Ge-Hinnom), a valley of Jerususalem.
According to Mr Strong the first word is the most accurate definition. After that the more you see the more radical the definition gets.
Geena or Ge-Hinnom refers to a valley near Jerusalem where the refuse from the city was burned. It was the trash dump. It was where the fires never quit burning. You will note that the word geena was never used when the writer was addressing any group outside of Judea. That is because they would not have understood what he was referring to. In Matthew 5:22 Christ says:
"But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca (worthless), shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire."
Based on the Greek "hell fire" would have been better translated "the fire of Geena" or for those not familiar with the name of the local garbage dump, "garbage dump fire". This is where the dead bodies of executed criminals or the very poor were disposed. Christ was in effect saying that if one continues with the attitude that would allow them to call people fools they may be in danger of ending up as the criminals and very poor in death.
In the case of the Hebrew word she' owl and the Greek word haides the best definition is grave. Notice that the definition above said "subterranean retreat". We have to be careful to not bring with us man made ideas from people like Dante. In the real world what is a subterranean retreat? Think of a cave for instance or a grave. Remember that many of the Patriarchs were buried in a cave purchased by Abraham, Genesis 23:3 and following. In the old testament the word she' owl is four times translated as grave, twice as pit and one time, in a verse with some symbolism, hell.
In the definition for the word tartaroo you will note the phrase, "the deepest abyss of Hades". In other words it was a very deep grave.
What does God say about the idea of burning people alive?
Yahweh God said that the idea of burning people alive never once came into His mind. In all the instances of punishment then in the Old Testament, the person burned was already dead. It is too bad that so many suffered at the hands of evil men pretending to be religious during the Dark Ages by burning people at the stake.
Is hell an eternal punishment? My answer is based on the scriptures dealing with the final judgment and verses that deal with what will happen in the end of the age. First of all we know that we will all be present at a final judgment, Matthew 25:31-46. Second, one of the easiest verses to pick is John 3:16. Please read this short piece to understand why I use that verse. So yes I believe that there will be an eternally lasting punishment. However I do not think the Bible teaches that the lost will fry and cry for eternity. It appears that the meaning is literal when it says in Revelation3 two times "second death". In fact John explains that the lake of fire represents the second death. There is no Dante's Inferno in scripture.
Let us finish now talking about what it is that gets burned at the end. In Matthew 13:38 the Christ gives us a clue we will need,
"The field is the world".
In the parable of the wheat and the tares, Matthew 13:24-43, we can ask the question, "What gets burned?" What gets burned the field (world) or the tares (those who are evil)?
2 Thessalonians 1:7-8
1 The King James Bible is preferred although I have never found any version that was 100% accurate based on it's Hebrew and Greek text.
2 Concordance used is Strong's.
3 The four verses are Revelation 2:11, 20:6, 14 and 21:8.
Feel free to send your helpful comments.