This is a brief historical trace of the terms: ‘heaven’, ‘hell’, ‘satan’, and ‘devil’.
Traditional Christianity evolved over the past 2000 years and drew from the religious vocabularies of each succeeding geohistory. From its early beginnings as a sect of Roman Palestinian Jewish religions, Jesus-Followers and other God-fearers of the second century Roman world began to depart from post exilic rabbinic Judaisms. By the 4th century, Christians established themselves as a People of a (new) Book, not the Hebrew Bible. Under the protection of Emperor Constantine, the Christian Bible came to be regarded as scripture and comprises a selection of the Hebrew scriptures and collections of Greek writings later known as the New Testament. Although our modern Protestant Bible of 66 books took many hundreds of years to take root as the official collection, fresh ways of describing theological truths were adopted to adapt to changing linguistic norms in a prescientific understanding of the world. In today’s scientific world, the vocabularies of the Bible need to be re-interpreted to reflect the spiritual meanings from the vocabularies available at their times.
1. Heaven is attested to the earliest manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. It was used in several ways, sometimes as a singular and sometimes in the plural form. It is sometimes used as a noun and sometimes an adjective, sometimes as a euphemism and sometimes to describe a geohistorical reality.
2. Hell was introduced as a variation of Sheol (a Hebrew concept) and the later Hades (a Greek concept) where the dead went, not a place of punishment or a dreadful location. In the New Testament, it was a place of abandonment. It took on evil manifestations during the medieval period and by the 16th century, was seen as a geographical location, probably inside volcanic magma chambers and became the abode of the Devil/Satan.
3. Satan was derived from a pre-Hebraic word that meant ‘enemy.’ Indeed, the book of Job described Satan as a member of God’s Heavenly Council. David was considered a ‘satan’ by the Philistines and Solomon mentioned that he did not face any ‘satans’. By the time of the New Testament, he had taken on a more sinister role in the imagination of the New Testament writers and became associated with the political powers of Rome.
4. Devil is a Greek word that derived from earlier manifestations of spiritual beings that roamed the Greek mythological imagination as daemons. The New Testament writers, mostly Jews writing in the rough hewn Koine Greek, adopted the Greek vocabulary of spiritual beings and adapted it to convey wickedness personified. By the Medieval Ages, the Hebraic Old Testament Satan was conflated with the Greek New Testament Devil. In this confusion, they were seen as one and the same.
The answer to the question “What the Devil is Satan Doing in Hell?” is that the Satan is a literary device used to refer to an enemy and later, transmogrified into God’s enemy, even personified into actual persons such as the pope, Hitler, Saddam Hussien and recently, even our recent presidents. And hell is not a geographical location. Therefore, Satan is not in Hell.
In the light of this geohistorical knowledge, how would you now answer these common questions?
What are the heavens and is heaven where God lives?
Where or what is biblical hell and how can we avoid it?
Who was/is Satan and should we be afraid of it?
Should Christians live in anxiety and fear that the Devil will hurt us biochemically, cause us harm physically or confused us cognitively?