Christianity 201

October 23, 2013

Where are “The Gates of Hell” Located?

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock[b] I will build my church, and the gates of hell[c] shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[d] in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

  1. Matthew 16:18 The Greek words for Peter and rock sound similar
  2. Matthew 16:18 Greek the gates of Hades
  3. Matthew 16:19 Or shall have been bound… shall have been loosed

The question is rhetorical. The Gates of Hell are located at the gates of Hell, or the gates to Hell. Our focus here today is not on the translation of Hell, though we’ll pause for a minute to compare translations:

  • And the gates of hell will not overpower it  (God’s Word translation)
  • and the forces of Hades will not overpower it (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
  • and hades’ gates shall not prevail against it (Darby)
  • and all the powers of hell will not conquer it  (NLT)
  • and not even death will ever be able to overcome it (Good News/TEV)
  • The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it (CEB)

You can check out other translations here.

Instead I want to look at the visual picture that we create when we read the word “gates.”

There is both a literal meaning and a generally accepted interpretation. If you use Strong’s Concordance at you read:

4439 pýlē (a feminine noun) – a large door; an entrance-gate to a city or fortress; a door-gate. 4439 /pýlē (“a door-gate“) typically refers to the exit people go out, i.e. focusing on what proceeds out of it.

[“Gates” in antiquity generally represent authority/power.]

The part in brackets at the bottom is important. Hell will have no authority or power over the church (“…build my church”) that Jesus is instituting here. However, the visual image is the entrance to Hell, not to the church.

In other words, in this picture the powers of Hell are not amassing at the ‘front door’ of The Church in general, or your local church or denomination in particular. The visual image is of The Church amassing at the ‘front door’ of Hell, as expressed in the phrase, ‘storming the gates of Hell.’

Again, to repeat, the church is not in a defensive posture in the imagery of this verse, rather, the church is in an offensive posture.

On that basis, I have to say that I think newly-release The Voice Bible translation is the only one that expresses this:

The church will reign triumphant even at the gates of hell

Again, the visual distinctive here is the word ‘at’ as in ‘at the gates of hell.’

I believe part of the reason we don’t read this verse this way is that we tend to map on other verses’ contexts. For example, this writer assumes the link between Matthew 16 and Revelation 9:

The commentary on the Gospel of Matthew written by W. D. Davies and Dale Allison, The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (vol. 2, pp. 630-32) lists a dozen various interpretations of this phrase “gates of Hades” expressed over the past 2000 years of Christian history.  Davies and Allison suggest that the view I argue for in this post is probably the one held by “most contemporary expositors” (p. 632), but it is not the one they prefer.  They prefer the idea that Hades is not used here as a term to refer to the realm of the dead, inhabited both by the righteous and the wicked, but a term referring to the location of demonic powers who will assault the church in the last days.  They argue, relying upon illustrations from Rev. 9:1-11, that,

  • “One should probably think of the end-time scenario, when the powers of the underworld will be unleashed from below, from the abyss, and rage against the saints. . . . even the full fury of the underworld’s demonic forces” (p. 633).

However, regardless of the visual image, the verse is unmistakably clear in its assurance of victory over the powers of darkness.  I just think we should try to avoid creating mental imagery of the church always in a defensive posture.

Video is static-image, audio-only.

  • Yesterday we marked 1,300 posts here at Christianity 201.  If you’re enjoying this resource, please let us know!


  1. Was it Spurgeon who said something about people wanting to run a mission within the sound of a chapel bell, but he wanted to run a mission outside the gates of hell?

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — October 25, 2013 @ 8:05 pm | Reply

    • Whoever said it, Steve Camp quoted it in a song called Run To The Battle.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — October 25, 2013 @ 9:04 pm | Reply

      • I remember the song from way back (when I had teenage boys at home) but couldn’t recall the name of the song or whether it was Steve Camp or Petra or maybe even Carman. I believe it was Carman who issued the challenging question “Do they know you in hell like they know your Christ?”

        Comment by meetingintheclouds — October 25, 2013 @ 9:28 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: