In the fourth verse of the popular modern hymn, “In Christ Alone” by the Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, we hear this line that poses Hell as our enemy: “No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man, Can ever pluck me from His hand.” My ear has been catching a similar idea of Hell as a powerful enemy in several other contemporary worship songs. My guess is that songwriters are (perhaps) unwittingly drawing on Jesus’ statement in Matthew 16:18, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (NASB[1], NIV, NKJV). Other translations give “the gates of hell” (ESV, NLT, KJV; the Greek text has "Hades" not "Gehenna")). I prefer the RSV and NET that give “the powers of death” by interpreting the usage of Hades in line with Sheol of the OT, referring to the place of the dead, particularly for the wicked. The slip of meaning from “Hades” to “Hell” is understandable, but this causes a problem theologically that we need to pause and consider more closely.

Perhaps some influence on the (mis)translation of “Hell” in Matthew 16:18 comes from 1 Corinthians 15:55, where Paul celebrates the bodily resurrection as a triumph over death: “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” This quotation draws from Hosea 13:14, where God speaks of ransoming his people “from the power [lit. hand] of Sheol.” Death and the grave are enemies of God’s people, and God defeats these to redeem his people for life.

Despite what some Christians may think, Sheol and Hades are similar (both referring to the place of the dead according to Hebrew and Greek eschatology), but Hades and Hell (Gehenna) are not the same thing. The mistaken identification of Hades (and Sheol as the grave and the hand of death) with Hell leads to thinking that, since death is an enemy (cf. 1 Cor 15:26 “The last enemy that will be abolished is death”), and since the devil is stated as somehow possessing the power of death (as in Heb 2:14), then Hell is the enemy of the Christian and God’s purposes. Worse still, Hell is often viewed (mistakenly) as Satan’s possession and kingdom.

Nope. I do not think we should sing or say that Hell is our enemy or God’s enemy because that is not what the Bible says. The imagery of saying what the Bible does not is rich for a song since we view Hell as the place of suffering and punishment. Scripture is clear that God is in charge of Hell. The devil and demons are headed for Hell in connection with Jesus’ return, when the King brings justice for all, and forever. Hell is God’s justice against evil. Hell is not a problem for God, or an opponent of the good or Christians in any sense. If Hell is the enemy of anyone, then I think the devil is at the top of the list of those who should fear Hell as God’s wrath against evildoers.

As for death, the Christian fear of death is minimized by the promise of resurrection and the heavy progress of sanctification that God works in us as we suffer into death, but Jesus removed the sting of death to himself.

Here is an opportunity to substitute “power of death” in all the worship songs that currently swell with “pow’r of hell” or some similar idea of using the term Hell as the forces of evil arrayed against God’s purposes and the Christian.


[1] Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of the Bible are NASB.