The Gates of Hell
by Barry Bickmore
A reader named James referred a mainstream
Christian friend to my article "Upon this Rock", wherein I argue
that Jesus' statement in Matt. 16:18 that "the gates of hell (gr.
hades)" will not "prevail" against His Church says nothing
about whether there was to be a total apostasy. James' friend sent a rebuttal,
and in this article I respond to it. Quotations of the rebuttal are in
italics. - Barry
[James], I checked out your web-sites, thanks for pointing me to
them. Concerning Bickmore essay "Upon This Rock," I don't see
where Bickmore references support his claim concerning "the gates
of hell"? Bickmore claims, "the early Christian literature is
full of allusions to actual "gates of hell (Gr. hades)", which
Christ opened for the faithful." Yet[James], I don't find Bickmore
to offer any references nor even explain what this "early Christian
I apologize if I didn't say so in my article, but there are a bunch
of references in the "Nature of the Spirit World" article down
the page a bit.
If as Bickmore argues, early Christianity fell into apostasy, then
what value are references to such an apostate Christianity's literature?
It seems to me that Bickmore not only fails to reference or explain what
he is talking about but seems to defeat himself by apparently pleading
to the authority of the very writings that he argues are apostate!
Why do anti-LDS types always come up with this one? The LDS view of
the apostasy would imply that after the death of the apostles, Christianity
would have gradually drifted away from the truth. Therefore, in the post-Apostolic
writings we should expect to find that the doctrines presented will show
a gradual trend away from something like Mormonism toward something like
modern mainstream Christianity. I find that this is
exactly the case, and my articles are meant to show this. This serves
to show that LDS claims are PLAUSIBLE - not necessarily proven. That's
all there is to it. It's simply an argument based on history. It cracks
me up that you friend launches this supposed bombshell, and then bases
his arguments on a passage from 3 Macc., which he would consider "apostate"
to some extent. So tell me, is it more valid to decipher Jesus' statement
based on apostate Christian sources from one or two centuries after Christ,
or on apostate Jewish sources from one or two centuries before Christ?
Now a further problem here is that "allusions to" the gates
of hell misses the point. The expression "the gates of hades"
and the similar "the gates of death" does occur in both the Old
Testament and other Jewish literature of the period. It is this literature
that is most pertinent to the early first century Jewish Christ and his
Jewish Apostles. In other words, Jesus' language and that of his Apostles
will reflect Jewish language leading up to the early first century and
not reflect the later language of early Christianity.
Now when it comes to the Old Testament and other pertinent Jewish
literature of the period, I have shown that the Mormon idea of Christ using
"the gates of hades (pulai hadou)" in Mt. 16:18 to speak of the
church being dead isn't really supportable from actual use of "that
gates of hell/death) in the pertinent literature! As I demonstrated in
III Mac. 5:51, Job :, Ps. 9:13 and Ps. 107:18 (106:18, LXX), this expression
denotes death as it threatens the living! Thus, if we allow these most
pertinent parallels to shed light on Christ's use of this expression in
Mt. 16:18, we find that Christ promised that death will not reach up and
grasp his living church. Obviously this language is symbolic, but it is
symbolic of the continuance of Christ's church not being broken. Yet, allow
me to actually support my case from just one of the parallels from the
pertinent literature that I actually reference above!
It seems to me that Mormonism is simply ignoring the evidence even
though it is right there for the whole world to see! Understand that the
same expression "gates of hades" (spelled as pulais hadou) occurs
in III Maccabees 5:51 (LXX). Now even if Jesus and Apostles hadn't read
III Mac, it being written by a Jew about Jewish history would significantly
reflect similar language as that of Christ's and his Apostles'. It is even
possible that Christ and some of his Apostles had read this book or at
least were familiar with some of its narrative.
Now remember that Christ in Mt. 16:18 speaks of his church, which
is the body of God's people. Therefore, Christ speaks of a group of God's
people when he says, "the gates of hades shall not prevail against
it." Now, the question is as follows: does "the gates of hades"
place this group in hades as dead or does it place this group as living
and escaping the gates of hades from closing on it?
Please realize that III Mac. 5:51 also speaks of a group of God's
people just as does Mt. 16:18; and thus, it provides an excellent parallel
for us to consider. The question, then, is as follows: In III Mac. 5:51,
do we have a dead group of God's people struggling to escape death and
hades or do we have a living group struggling against the gates of hades
closing on them and killing them?
Well, in this passage, "pulais hadou" (the gates of hell)
speaks of the threat or power of death trying to kill the living. Here
we read of God's people who are still living but threatened with almost
certain death as crying to God as follows:
"sent up an exceeding great cry, entreating the Lord of all
power to reveal himself, and have mercy upon those who now at the gates
Here "the gates of hades" means death as it reaches up
to snatch the still living. There is really no debate here! The "gates
of hades" in Jewish literature of the period is an expression that
describes death as it threatens the living! This being the case, it seems
that Christ speaks of death as not prevailing against his living church
when in Mt. 16:18, he says, "and the gates of hades shall not prevail
against it." In other words, Christ promise that the continuance of
his church will not be broken.
Perhaps I should clarify my position. There are three questions that
need to be answered in connection with the passage in Matt. 16. 1) What
are the "gates of hades"? 2) What does it mean to have the gates
of hades "prevail against" one? 3) What is the "Church"
that Christ spoke of?
"Hades" is not "hell" at all, as your friend seems
to realize. It is the underworld or "spirit world" where all
of the dead, righteous and unrighteous, reside. Therefore, the "gates
of hades" must be the gates that either admit or keep in the dead.
The reference from 3 Maccabees speaks of "those who [are] now at the
gates of hades", which obviously, as your friend pointed out, is talking
about people who are at the brink of death, or are threatened with death.
The context is obvious! Even nowadays, any average Joe could hear the phrase
"at the gates of death" and understand exactly what is meant.
But that isn't what Jesus said. He spoke of the gates of hades "prevailing
against" the Church. What could that mean? It could either mean that
someone dies, or that the negative effects of death become permanent. I
favor the second definition, because everyone dies, so the first definition
makes no sense in the case of the gates of hell NOT prevailing. Also, the
early Christian sources I CITE in the "spirit world" article
speak of Jesus busting down the gates of hades and leading the saints to
a glorious resurrection. Certainly the "gates of hades" didn't
Now, what is the "church" Jesus spoke of? The word used was
"ekklesia", which simply means "assembly". Now, the
question here is whether the "assembly" spoken of was the Church
as an earthly organization, which includes both Christ's holy ones ("saints")
and sinners, or the "general assembly and Church of the firstborn"
(Heb. 12:23), which is the assembly of all the saints of all ages, both
in heaven and in earth. I'll quote the passage more fully to demonstrate
the existence of this "Church (ekklesia) of the Firstborn": "But
ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly
Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly
and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the
Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect." (Heb.
Now, which Church won't the "gates of hades" prevail against?
Obviously, it makes no sense to say the "gates of hades" won't
prevail against an earthly organization, because the phrase simply means
"physical death". Only PEOPLE can have death prevail against
them. Therefore, Jesus was saying that his faithful saints will not remain
in hades, but will be gloriously resurrected into His kingdom.
Consequently, I don't believe this passage has anything to do with the
survival of the earthly Church.
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