This article deals with four myths, misassociations, or inaccuracies associated with that place of judgment, Hell.
#1 – Hell is ruled by Satan
The one we call “Satan” is more like the chief of rebellion. Hell is the ultimate prison–even including him as a prisoner. To be fair, he is likely to be the most powerful being to be locked there–outside of the other angels who fall to be thrown there as well.
It does not appear Satan is currently bound to Hell but will one day be after the final judgment.
#2 – Satan Looks Like a Red, Pointy-Tailed Satyr
Could he make himself look such a way? Sure he could.
In fact, many of the angels, it is revealed, are said to be able to pass themselves off as humans even leading to the idea that they can change their shape or at least how they appear to others.
However, what we know from examples in Scripture simply does not match.
Satan was the chief of the angels but he rebelled and became fallen. It is often assumed that it was at this point his visage changed but I would argue the only change was in his attitude and behavior. He was now the accuser, the adversary.
What’s more, that satyr-like, demon-esque portrayal of Satan did not become a thing until possibly 1098 AD. It was part of an attempt to associate Satan with the pagan world.
#3 – Merely a Lake of Fire
We are repeatedly indicated that it is a place of agony and torment and we should not doubt there to be a fire there. However, it is not a fire as we know it as it is there for eternal torment rather than a consuming fire that we are so accustomed to. It is a never-ending burning.
There also appear to be degrees of punishment in Hell such that we must wonder if Dante–in his work commonly called “Dante’s Inferno”–was not on to something, at the very least, in his depictions of the torments of Hell.
#4 – “Satan” is Not His Name?
Satan, pronounced more like sah-tahn in Hebrew, isn’t a name but a title or job description in the earlier biblical texts–the Old Testament (OT). It is used in reference to this grand accuser we’ve come to know by the name but not exclusively. In other words, others could be called “Satan” too. This is driven home all the more by the fact that most of the time this title comes up it is accompanied by an article. Proper names do not have articles coming before them in Hebrew. You wouldn’t say “the Satan” for a proper name and yet much of the OT does exactly that.
There is also the fact that at least some of the instances do not seem to be the being we know as Satan but an accuser of some other make (ex. human).
What of the New Testament (NT)?
This becomes a bit more of a mixed bag. The case can be made in the Greek that it remains a title but the argument can also be made that by the time of those books’ writings, the title had become synonymous with the great accuser. It remains true in the NT that the title continued to be used particularly for him so it is an easy thing to fall into thinking it is his name.
There are also two different words used in the NT which include diabolos, which is the Greek translation of satan (accuser), and satanas, a transliteration from Hebrew to Greek.
Further reading and resources