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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Lake of Fire

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That particular conception of future punishment represented as ‘the Lake of Fire’ is found only in the Apocalypse of St. John among the Christian writings of the Apostolic Age. For a fuller account of the early history of the conception see ‘Introductory’ and ‘Christian’ sections of ‘Cosmology and Cosmogony’ in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics , and ‘Hinnom, Valley of,’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) ; and, for the fuller discussion of the general subject, articles Hell and Fire in the present work. It will be sufficient to sum up briefly here the facts concerning the origin of the conception.

Both the Babylonian and the Persian cosmogonies contain the conception of the future destruction of the world by fire, closing an aeon or period in the history of the world. But, while Persian eschatology shows the presence of the conception of penal fire (cf. SBE [Note: BE Sacred Books of the East.] v. 125ff.), there is, according to H. Zimmern (KAT [Note: AT Zimmern-Winckler’s ed. of the preceding (a totally distinct work), 1902-03.] 3 [Note: Zimmern-Winckler’s ed. of the preceding (a totally distinct work), 1902-03.] , 1902-03, p. 643), no trace of the conception in early Babylonian religion. Hence the presence of the idea in Jewish prophetic eschatology is held by many scholars to be due to Persian rather than to Babylonian influence.

1. In Jewish eschatology we find three related conceptions, each possibly a different topographical setting of the same central idea:

(1) The conception of the Valley of Hinnom (נֵּיהִנּוֹם) as a place of fiery torment for the wicked during the Messianic Age; cf. Isaiah 66:23-24, where the proximity of the place of punishment to Jerusalem shows that the Valley of Hinnom is intended.

(2) The conception of a fiery stream issuing from Jahweh, or from His throne; cf. Isaiah 30:33, Daniel 7:10. This form may possibly have links of connexion with the ancient conception of Jahweh as a volcano-god.

(3) The conception of a valley or sea of fire and sulphur; cf. Isaiah 34:9, where the topographical setting is in Edom. This conception goes back to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which again is connected by Gunkel (Schöpfung und Chaos) and Jeremias with the Babylonian cosmology (cf. A. Jeremias, The OT in the Light of the Ancient East, Eng. translation , 1911, ii. 40f.; M. Jastrow, The Rel. of Bab. [Note: Babylonian.] and Assyrian , 1898, p. 507). The whole valley of the Dead Sea is still called by the Arabs Wâdy en-Nâr, ‘Valley of Fire.’

The conception as it appears in the Apocalypse is related rather to the forms (2) and (3) than to the Gehenna conception.

2. In the Apocalypse we have again three distinct conceptions.

(1) Hades (see articles Hades, Hell), an intermediate place or state whose existence ends at the close of the millennial kingdom. Death and Hades are cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14). Hades is not connected distinctly with the idea of punishment in the Apocalypse.

(2) The Abyss (Revelation 20:1), in which the dragon is bound during the millennial reign (cf. Revelation 9:11 and Luke 8:31).

(3) The Lake of Fire, mentioned as existing before the beginning of the millennial kingdom (Revelation 19:20), the place into which the beast and the false prophet are cast after their defeat by the Lamb. It is also the place into which the devil is cast after the defeat of Gog and Magog (Revelation 20:10). Then, at the close of the Final Judgment, death and Hades are cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14); and, lastly, everyone not found written in the Lamb’s Book of Life is cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:15). An additional statement (Revelation 21:8) describes those who have their part in the Lake of Fire; cf. the description of those who are without the city (Revelation 22:15).

3. The relevant passages in the contemporary apocalyptic literature are: 2 Bar. xliv. 15 (‘the dwelling of the rest who are many shall be in the fire,’ in contrast to the blessing of the righteous in the new age [xliv. 12]), xlviii. 39, 43, lix. 2, lxiv. 7 (of Manasseh), lxxxv. 13; 2 Esdras 7:36 (‘the pit of torment’ and ‘the furnace of Gehenna,’ as the abode of the wicked after the 400 years’ Messianic kingdom); Ass. Mos. 10:10 (the enemies of Israel are seen in Gehenna). Hence in the apocalyptic literature contemporary with the Apocalypse the precise form of the conception does not appear.

4. In the same way the passages in the Pauline Epistles, Hebrews, 2 Peter, and the Apostolic Fathers are all vague and general. Fire is one of the accompanying features of the Parousia; it is the real or metaphorical agent of punishment for the wicked, and only in 2 Peter do we find the definite conception of a final conflagration which will destroy the old heavens and earth.

The principal question then arising from the use of the conception in the Apocalypse is as to its relation to the future state.

(1) The Lake of Fire may be regarded as a place of the final annihilation of evil. The force of the expression ‘second death’ determines the writer’s use of the conception. The ‘second death’ is a Jewish theologoumenon, e.g. in the well-known passage in the Jerus. Targum on Deuteronomy 33:6, ‘Let Reuben live in this age and not die the second death.’

In Jewish Rabbinical theology the expression seems to imply a non-participation in the life of the age to come; cf. the discussion in Sanh. 11 as to those who shall share the life of the coming age. Hence the meaning of annihilation is possible. Those who are not raised to the life of the world to come cease to exist. On the other hand, the writer of the Apocalypse holds the doctrine of a general resurrection to judgment at the close of the Messianic Kingdom. Hence it is also possible that he has given the Jewish phrase a new meaning. But for a fuller discussion of this point see article Immortality.

(2) The writer’s conception of the Lake of Fire may be penal. The beast and the false prophet are said to be tormented there day and night, and the unrighteous have ‘their part’ in the Lake of Fire, an expression which is most naturally interpreted in a penal sense. In the light of contemporary apocalyptic literature the penal sense would seem to be the most natural one.

(3) It is possible to maintain a purgative meaning for the conception, but this view finds no support in the NT literature itself.

Literature.-Article ‘Fire’ in Dict. of Christ and the Gospels ; S. D. F. Salmond, The Christian Doctrine of Immortality4, 1901; R. H. Charles, Eschatology: Hebrew, Jewish, and Christian2, 1913; W. O. E. Oesterley, The Doctrine of the Last Things, 1908; C. Clemen, Primitive Christianity and its non-Jewish Sources, Eng. translation , 1912; H. B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John2, 1907; P. Volz, Jüd. Eschatologie von Daniel bis Akiba, 1903.

S. H. Hooke.



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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Lake of Fire'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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