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M. Catherine Thomas
Elder Bruce R. McConkie

by M. Catherine Thomas

The term "hell" as used in the King James Version of the Bible is the English translation of four words in the original biblical languages: Hebrew sheol and Greek hades, geenna (Heb. gehenna), and a noun implied in the verb tartar. These terms generally signify the abode of all the dead, whether righteous or disobedient, although geenna and tartaróo are associated with a place of punishment. The derivation and literal meaning of sheol are unknown, but words in Hebrew derived from it bear the idea of "hollowness."

Latter-day scriptures describe at least three senses of hell: (1) that condition of misery which may attend a person in mortality due to disobedience to divine law; (2) the miserable, but temporary, state of disobedient spirits in the spirit world awaiting the resurrection; (3) the permanent habitation of the sons of perdition, who suffer the second spiritual death and remain in hell even after the resurrection.

Persons experiencing the first type of hell can be rescued from suffering through repentance and obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Savior suffered so that he could deliver everyone from hell (Alma 7:11-13; 33:23). Those who do not repent, however, may experience the pains of hell in this life as well as in the next (D&C 76:104; 1 Ne. 16:2; Alma 40:14). The Prophet Joseph Smith described the true nature of hell: "A man is his own tormentor and his own condemner. Hence the saying, They shall go into the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. The torment of disappointment in the mind of man is as exquisite as a lake burning with fire and brimstone" (TPJS, p. 357). Thus, hell is both a place, a part of the world of spirits where suffering and sorrow occur, and a state of mind associated with remorseful realization of one's own sins (Mosiah 2:38; Alma 36:12-16).

A second type, a temporary hell of the postmortal spirit world, is also spoken of as a spirit prison. Here, in preparation for the Resurrection, unrepentant spirits are cleansed through suffering that would have been obviated by the Atonement of Christ had they repented during mortality (D&C 19:15-20; Alma 40:13-14). At the last resurrection this hell will give up its captive spirits. Many of these spirits will enter into the Telestial Kingdom in their resurrected state (2 Ne. 9:10-12; D&C 76:84-89, 106; Rev. 20:13). References to an everlasting hell for these spirits are interpreted in light of the Doctrine and Covenants, which defines Endless and Eternal as referring not to the length of punishment, but rather referring to God's punishment because he is "endless" and "eternal" (19:4-13). Individual spirits will be cleansed, will cease to experience the fiery torment of mind, and will be resurrected with their physical bodies.

The Savior's reference to the "gates of hell" (Hades, or the spirit world; Matt. 16:18) indicates, among other things, that God's priesthood power will penetrate hell and redeem the repentant spirits there. Many have been, and many more will yet be, delivered from hell through hearing, repenting, and obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ in the spirit world after the death of the body. LDS doctrine emphasizes that after his mortal death Jesus Christ went to the spirit world and organized the teaching of the gospel there (D&C 138; cf. Luke 23:43; 1 Pet. 3:18-20). The Athanasian Creed and some forms of the "Apostles"' Creed state that Christ "descended into hell." LDS teaching is that Jesus entered the spirit world to extend his redemptive mission to those in hell, upon conditions of their repentance (see Salvation of the Dead).

A third meaning of "hell" (second spiritual death) refers to the realm of the devil and his angels, including those known as sons of perdition (2 Pet. 2:4; D&C 29:38; 88:113; Rev. 20:14). It is a place for those who cannot be cleansed by the Atonement because they committed the unforgivable and unpardonable sin (1 Ne. 15:35; D&C 76:30-49). Only this hell continues to operate after the Resurrection and Judgment.


"Descent of Christ into Hell." In Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 395. New York, 1983.

Nibley, Hugh W. "Christ Among the Ruins." Ensign 13 (July 1983):14-19.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Hell

Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

by Elder Bruce R. McConkie

1. That part of the spirit world inhabited by wicked spirits who are awaiting the eventual day of their resurrection is called hell. Between their death and resurrection, these souls of the wicked are cast out into outer darkness, into the gloomy depression of sheol, into the hades of waiting wicked spirits, into hell. There they suffer the torments of the damned; there they welter in the vengeance of eternal fire; there is found weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth; there the fiery indignation of the wrath of God is poured out upon the wicked. (Alma 40:11-14; D. & C. 76:103-106.)

Hell will have an end. Viewing future events, John saw that "death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works." (Rev. 20:13.) Jacob taught that this escape from death and hell meant the bringing of the body out of the grave and the spirit out of hell. "And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death," he said, "shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other." (2 Ne. 9:10-12.) It was in keeping with this principle for David to receive the promise: "Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell." (Ps 16:10; Acts 2:27.)

After their resurrection, the great majority of those who have suffered in hell will pass into the telestial kingdom; the balance, cursed as sons of perdition, will be consigned to partake of endless wo with the devil and his angels. Speaking of the telestial kingdom the Lord says: "These are they who are thrust down to hell. These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work. These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times." (D. & C. 76:84-85, 106.) As to the sons of perdition, the revelation says that after their resurrection "they shall return again to their own place" (D. & C. 88:32, 102), that is, they shall go back to dwell in the lake of fire with Perdition and his other sons. Thus those in hell "are the rest of the dead; and they live not again until the thousand years are ended, neither again, until the end of the earth." (D. & C. 88:101.)

Statements about an everlasting and endless hell (Hela. 6:28; Moro. 8:13), are to be interpreted in the same sense as those about eternal and endless punishment. (D. & C. 19:4-12; 76:44, 105.)

Who will go to hell? This query is abundantly answered in the scriptures. Since those going to a telestial kingdom travel to their destination through the depths of hell and as a result of obedience to telestial law, it follows that all those who live a telestial law will go to hell. Included among these are the carnal, sensual, and devilish -- those who live after the manner of the world. Among them are the sorcerers, adulterers, whoremongers (D. & C. 76:103), false swearers, "those that oppress the hireling in his wages," the proud, "and all that do wickedly." (Mal. 3; 4; 2 Ne. 9:27-39; 26:10.)

Several specific groups of wicked persons are singled out to receive the prophetic curse that their destination is the fires of hell. "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God," David proclaimed. (Ps. 9:17.) Sex sin is rewarded with the torments of hell. (2 Ne. 9:36 Prov. 7:6-27.) "Wo unto all those that discomfort my people, and drive, and murder and testify against them, saith the Lord of Hosts; a generation of vipers shall not escape the damnation of hell." (D. & C. 121:23.) Such also is the fate of liars (2 Ne. 9:34), of "all those who preach false doctrines" (2 Ne. 28:15), of those who believe the damnable doctrine of infant baptism (Moro. 8:14, 21), of the rich who will not help the poor (D. & C. 104:18; Luke 16:19-31), and of those who heap cursings on their fellow men. (Matt. 5:22; 3 Ne. 12:22.) "The sectarian world are going to hell by hundreds, by thousands and by millions," the Prophet said. (History of the Church, vol. 5, p. 554.)

To catch souls in his snares and then drag them down to hell is the plan and program of the devil. (D. & C. 10:26; Alma 30:60.) One of his latter-day wiles is to persuade men that there is neither a devil nor a hell and that the fear of eternal torment is baseless. (2 Ne. 28:21-23.) But Christ, who holds "the keys of hell and of death" (Rev. 1:18), and can therefore control and abolish them, has power to save and redeem men from hell. (2 Ne. 33:6; Alma 19:29; 26:13-14.) This he does on conditions of repentance and obedience to his laws. But the unrepentant "would be more miserable to dwell with a holy and just God, under a consciousness of their "filthiness before him, than" they "would to dwell with the damned souls in hell." (Morm. 9:4.)

2. After death and hell have delivered up the bodies and captive spirits which were in them, then, as John foresaw, "death and hell were cast into the lake of fire." (Rev. 20:14.) This lake of fire, a figure symbolical of eternal anguish and wo, is also called hell, but is a hell reserved exclusively for the devil and his angels which includes the sons of perdition. (D. & C. 29: 38; 88:113; 2 Pet. 2:4.)

Speaking of this hell, and writing of events to take place after the resurrection and the judgment, and thus of a day after those going to a telestial kingdom have come out of their hell, Jacob says: "And assuredly, as the Lord liveth, for the Lord God hath spoken it, and it is his eternal word, which cannot pass away, that they who are righteous shall be righteous still, and they who are filthy shall be filthy still; wherefore, they who are filthy are the devil and his angels; and they shall go away into everlasting fire, prepared for them; and their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever and has no end." (2 Ne. 9:16.)

Thus, for those who are heirs of some salvation, which includes all except the sons of perdition (D. & C. 73:44), hell has an end, but for those who have wholly given themselves over to satanic purposes there is no redemption from the consuming fires and torment of conscience. They go on forever in the hell that is prepared for them.

Mormon Doctrine, p.349-51
Copyright by Bookcraft

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