Source: The Conversation
The recent dispute over whether Pope Francis denied the existence of hell in an interview attracted wide attention. This isn’t surprising, since the belief in an afterlife, where the virtuous are rewarded with a place in heaven and the wicked are punished in hell, is a core teaching of Christianity.
So what is the Christian idea of hell?
Origins of belief in hell
The Christian belief in hell has developed over the centuries, influenced by both Jewish and Greek ideas of the afterlife.
The earliest parts of the Hebrew Bible, around the eighth century B.C., described the afterlife as Sheol, a shadowy, silent pit where the souls of all the dead lingered in a minimal state of silent existence, forever outside of the presence of God. By the sixth century B.C., Sheol was increasingly viewed as a temporary place, where all the departed awaited a bodily resurrection. The righteous would then dwell in the presence of God, and the wicked would suffer in the fiery torment that came to be called “Gehenna,” described as a cursed place of fire and smoke.