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 literature" is!

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 of hades..."

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 "prevail" there.

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. 12:22-23)

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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