heaven or hellI was listening to a Christian music radio station as I was driving in my car today, and I happened to hear a song that contained the line, “There is just one Heaven, and there is just one Hell.” I started thinking about this, and realized how weak a Biblical foundation such a statement is laid upon. First of all, the Hebrew and Greek words for Heaven are plural almost every time they are used in Scripture (although not every time.) So how can there be only one Heaven? Then there is the statement, ” the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the LORD’s.” (Deuteronomy 10:14, King James Version) How can there be one Heaven if there are Heavens and a Heaven of Heavens?

We will never understand what the Bible means when it uses the word “heaven” until we firmly establish what this word means. In olden times, it was used for the upper part of a stage, and for the ceiling of a room! It basically meant anything that was over and above anything else. It also carries with it the derived meaning of something lifted up or exalted. In English, it is closely related to the word “heave,” as something that is heaven is something which has been “heaved up.”

As far as I can tell from Scripture, there are MANY different things that are referred to as heavens. First is the firmament, which was called a “heaven” because it was lifted up above the water. Then there is the sky, from which we get the birds of the heavens. Then there is the solar system with its many planets, all of which are considered to be lifted up above the earth. Then there is the vast universe with its many galaxies lifted up and “heaven” across the sky. Then, of course, there is that most exalted place where God Himself currently dwells. But then there are times when the word heaven or heavens refers to beings. Daniel spoke of the Most High ruling and Heaven ruling in two consecutive verses in Daniel 4:25-26, both of which are obviously references to God, that Most Exalted of all beings. Then there are the heavens which are the most exalted of all beings which God created, among whom we also will be numbered when in the future we are “seated with Christ among the heavenly.” (Ephesians 2:6) Then there are those who are exalted above men on earth, such as Caesar, who is referred to as a “heaven” in the New Testament (Acts 2:5.) So you see that context is extremely important in identifying what is being talked about when the word “heaven” is used. Not only that, but we are put at a great disadvantage by the fact that the English versions usually give us “heaven” in the singular, so one has no way of knowing as an English reader whether or not the word was plural in the original.

But is there just one Hell? I can list four just from the New Testament. There is Hades, there is Gehenna, there is Tartarus, and there is the lake of fire spoken of in Revelation. Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14,) so it therefore cannot BE the lake of fire. Gehenna was a well-known refuse dump and incinerator in Israel, and, although it may symbolize a future reality when used by Christ, is nevertheless, not that reality. Then there are references to the pit, which may be another place entirely, depending on context. So which of these is the one “Hell,” if there is indeed only one of these? The Scripture certainly seems to list more than one to me!

So where does the word “hell” come from? This one is basically an English word, and does not compare as well with the Greek words used as the word “heaven” does with its Greek equivalent. In olden times, “hell” was the dark place under the stage where actors would wait to pop up unto the stage at appropriate moments. A hell was, in its basic meaning, a dark corner. A tailor would throw his scraps of cloth into a hell, and lovers would play a game where they would hide in a hell and smooch, which was called “helling.” The word itself bears little relation to the common idea of Hell held by the modern Christian, and it likewise bears little resemblance to any of the places mentioned in Scripture that I have listed above.

So is there just one Heaven and just one Hell? In modern doctrine, perhaps. But not in Scripture. And that is the place where I, more than anywhere else, go to find the truth. Let others speak of one Heaven and one Hell if they wish. The Scriptures that I know and love speak of many, and that, not the popular doctrine, is what matters to me, and that is what I will believe.