In Matt: 16:18

And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Douay-Rheims)

The underlying Greek uses the term hades---which, I surmise, does not mean the same thing as gehenna, which of course, is used elsewhere in the New Testament.

"Hades," like its Old Testament counterpart, sheol, from what I gather, seems to have a double meaning prior to Christ's crucifixion: (i) a place where souls went to after leaving this world (ii) the "limbo of the Fathers" where righteous souls went to await their release by Christ.

"Gehenna" always means: the place where the damned suffer eternal punishment.

So, it seems that the generic term, "hell" has might have three different meanings.

QUESTION: Do we know for sure which "hell" is meant by Our Lord in Matt. 16:18; or, might it have multiple meanings as St. Thomas Aquinas might tell us when trying to interpret Scripture? I am seeking an answer from a Catholic perspective. Thank you.


1 Answer 1


It is hard to know for sure since Jesus spoke Aramaic or Hebrew and if he knew any Greek he would not have used it in this dialogue with Peter. However, we know from other scriptures that Jesus was familiar with the Book of Isaiah (Luke 4:17, Matthew 13:14, Matthew 15:7, etc.) and the term "gates of Sheol" does appear there. It is from the so-called Song of Hezekiah.

Isaiah 38:10-11

In the noontime of life I said, I must depart! To the gates of Sheol I have been consigned for the rest of my years. I said, I shall see the Lord no more in the land of the living. Nor look on any mortals among those who dwell in the world.

Since the OP says he is looking for a Catholic perspective, the NABRE translation (which is published by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops) uses the word "netherworld" for hades. This is closer to the concept of "sheol" than "hell." A footnote adds:

The netherworld (Greek Hadēs, the abode of the dead) is conceived of as a walled city whose gates will not close in upon the church of Jesus, i.e., it will not be overcome by the power of death.

This seems to rule out Sheol as the place where "righteous souls went to await their release by Christ."

Conclusion: Since Jesus was familiar with the Book of Isaiah and the phrase "gates of Sheol" appears there, this is probably the phrase he used rather than "gates of Gehenna." This is confirmed by Catholic scholars who used "netherworld" rather than "hell" in their translation in the NABRE version.

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