Was Paradise Ever In Hell?

Question: “Was Paradise ever in hell or was there even any reason for Paradise to have been in hell?”

Bible Answers

Death after Christ’s crucifixion is pretty straightforward. The body goes to the grave, the spirit returns to God, and the soul goes to heaven or hell to await the final judgment, our eternal body, and ends with eternity in heaven or the lake of fire.  But what about saints before Christ’s crucifixion?  This solicits more controversy. Were the OT saints sent to a holding place in hell to wait until Christ appeared or did the OT saints go straight to heaven like today?  

Paradise and heaven are the same

Note that Paul repeats himself, first saying heaven, and then saying paradise for the same location.

I knew a man in Christ … such an one caught up to the third heaven.  And I knew such a man … How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter (2 Cor. 12:2-4). Clearly, Paul was saying that heaven and paradise are one and the same or at least in the same location.

Hell, Hades, and Sheol are the same  

The NIV uses Hades and the JKV uses hell.  When the English translators in the late 1500s were looking for a word for Hades, they selected Hell. Then Hell meant hole, pit, and a place in the ground to store potatoes. Hades is a word from the Greek beliefs referring to the Greek underworld. It was used in the New Testament in place of Sheol. Sheol is an Old Testament Hebrew word and meant grave or place of the dead.  Hell, Hades, and Sheol are all defined by scriptures as an eternal place of fire and torture.

Hell and the lake of fire are not the same

Hell (Hades, and Sheol) and the lake of fire are not the same since Hell is thrown into the Lake of Fire. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14).

Reasons often given to prove that Paradise was in Hell.

The belief that Paradise was in Hell is based primarily on the following three concepts:

  1. Unforgiveness.  The OT saints could not be forgiven because Christ had not been crucified.  As such, the OT saints had to be held some place until Christ was crucified.
  2. Since the rich man was in Hell and was able to talk with Abraham, then Abraham must be in very close proximity but not in Hell itself.  Since it is unacceptable to believe that God would put Heaven in Hell, then the holding place for OT saints had to be in Paradise and Paradise had to be in Hell.
  3. That Christ led these captive saints to heaven after His crucifixion and on leaving Hell.

Let’s examine these three concepts.

1.  Did Forgiveness Exist Before Christ

If one believes that OT saints could not be forgiven, then some place had to be provided to hold or contain these old saints until the forgiveness of Christ had been completed. However, if the old saints could be forgiven before Christ’s crucifixion, then they would go straight to heaven and there would be no need for a holding place.  The question is, could sin be forgiven before Christ.

“Forgiveness” is seen 59 times in the OT.  In this way the priest will make atonement for him, and he will be forgiven (Leviticus 4:31).  Forgiveness in the OT is everywhere taken for granted, Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered (Psalm 32:1).  Moses asks God to forgive Israel (Exodus 32:11-14) and Israel sang their prayers for forgiveness as well as singing their thanks for forgiveness received.  Job offered burnt offerings for his children in case they had “sinned” (1:5). And the concept of “forgiveness,” needed even in the disputes among men (Genesis 50:17), assuredly implies a pardon that must occur if one is to stand before the holy God (Habakkuk 1:13).  …who forgives all your sins. But with you there is forgiveness (Psalm 103:3-4).

The concept of “forgiveness” comes into full vision under the Mosaic regime. For instance, in the early portion of Leviticus, regarding various sacrifices, Moses records that these offerings were a “sweet savor” to the Lord.  As defined:  The priest shall burn [the sacrifice] upon the altar for a sweet savor unto Jehovah; and the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34).  

Atone and atonement are mentioned 70 in the King James and can be defined as: To make us one with God by the taking away our sins.  The Old Testament saints sins where forgiven through ceremonial atonement.

Salvation is mentioned 109 times in the OT and only 49 times in the NT.  …he crowns the humble with salvation (Psalm 149:4).  Isaiah 43:25 said, I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.  Forgiveness and salvation existed before Christ, and are based on what Christ was about to accomplish.  

Forgiveness was obtainable under the ministry of John the Baptist before Christ’s crucifixion.  John came, who baptized in the wilderness and preached the baptism of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4).

Before Jesus death, Jesus also forgave sins. When a lame man was brought into the house where Jesus was, the Lord said to him,  Son, your sins are forgiven (Mark 2:5). In Mark 2:10, Christ said, “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Christ operated not as the Son of God while on earth, but as the son of man. All the power and authority Jesus exhibited, including forgiving sins, was from the Holy Spirit.  

So sins were forgiven before Christ’s death and they were forgiven based on God’s free grace. The coming cross of Christ vindicated God's extending grace to sinners in the OT. The forgiveness was predicated on the future occurrence and sacrifice of Christ by God’s divine for knowledge. They had faith in a savior whose name they did not know just as we have faith in the same savior whose name we do know.

The notion that people were not forgiven prior to the coming of Christ is clearly shown to be incorrect and that OT saint’s sins were forgiven is clearly supported by scripture. If the sins of OT saints were forgiven by God, then the OT saints would have gone straight to Heaven just like NT saints go straight to Heaven today and there would have been no need or reason for Paradise to have ever been in Hell.

God foreknew that the death of His Son was certain. And on this certainty and His own fidelity to keep his promise of redemption, He could, and did, grant forgiveness to the OT saints of those previous ages.

Clearly the OT saints received forgiveness of sins before Christ just as the NT saints enjoyed forgiveness after Christ. As such, there was no need for a place to hold the OT saints as they were in heaven, and there was no reason to assume that Paradise had to be in Hell.

2.  Was Paradise in Hell

The belief that Paradise had to be in Hell is based on the single scripture: The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away (afar, from a long distance, and a far-place) with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire’ (Luke 16:22-23).

Since we know that the rich man was in hell, and that God would not put Heaven with His throne in hell, it is assumed that Abraham had to be close to hell, and the only remaining possibility left was Paradise.  The logic is that if the rich man was in hell and he could communicate with Abraham, that Abraham must be in Paradise because they cannot accept that heaven would be in hell.  This sounds logical until we examine the logic with scripture, as we always should.

While verse 23 says that the rich man was in hell, it gives no indication where Abraham was located. All we know for sure is that Abraham was "far away or afar off."  

Paradise is derived from the Greek word paradeisos, which meant a wooded park.  Paradise is not mentioned in the OT and is mentioned only three times in the NT.

  1. Luke 23:43, Christ would meet the criminal on the  cross in Paradise.
  2. 2 Cor. 12:4, Paul was caught up to Paradise. He heard  inexpressible things,
  3. Rev. 2:7, To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God. Since Revelation 22:1-2 tells us that the tree of life must be in heaven with God, as such, Paradise must be in heaven. Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. As such, the tree of life is in Paradise and Paradise is in heaven.


Some say that paradise contains two sections, one section for those waiting for judgment and hell and one section for those waiting for heaven and that they are separated by a large distance, a “far away” distance. However, if this is true, we have a false statement.  For Jesus did not go to judge the righteous (the Paradise side), but He went and preached to the spirits in prison [hell] who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently (1 Peter 3:19-20) and to regain the keys to hell and death (the Hell side, Rev. 1:18). As such, He would not have been on the paradise side at all, but on the hell side and His statement today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43), would have been false. Furthermore, there is absolutely no scripture supporting the hypothesis that paradise has two sides.  

Communication between Abraham and the Rich Man

If Abraham was in Paradise/Heaven, then how could he see and communicate with the rich man in hell?  We humans have a tendency to always look at everything from a physical world perspective.  Both Abraham and the rich man were in a “spiritual” state.  In the spiritual world, could they have communicated between hell and heaven? Just before Stephen was martyred, God opened his spiritual eyes and he was able to see from earth to heaven and to see the glory of God in heaven. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55).  If God gave Stephen spiritual eyes, what precludes the rich man and Abraham, being in the spiritual world, from communicating and seeing in the spirit world between hell and heaven, being “far away”?

Revelation 14:10 tells us that he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence [before] of the holy angels, and the Lamb. Apparently, in the spiritual world, the angels and the Lamb can see from heaven into hell.

Another example would be John who saw into heaven from earth and heard a voice from heaven (Rev. 4:1).   

Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven (Mark 1:10-11). In John 1:51, Jesus told Nathanael that we would see heaven open.  He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” That Nathanael would be able to see from earth to heaven would appear that communicating and seeing in the spirit world between hell and heaven is quite possible.

In the physical world, to talk, people need to be within about 100 feet, but scripture says they were “afar off.” One hundred feet would be an uncomfortable separation between the fire of hell and Paradise.  And since 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 says that Paradise and Heaven are the same, it is hard to accept that God would put His Heaven in Hell for thousands of years.  Furthermore, nowhere in the Bible does it say that Heaven/Paradise were ever intended or destined to be in hell; placing God and His holy throne in hell for thousands of years.  It is neither scriptural nor logical to so limit God and the spiritual world by assuming that Heaven/Paradise had to be in hell so that Abraham can communicate with the rich man, as men do on earth.

In an attempt to explain Luke 16:23, it appears quite possible that some have painted the wrong picture, based on man’s perspective. Man’s great desire to understand has often led him to the wrong conclusions. Rather than Paradise being manifested in Hell, it would be more plausible that Parade always was in Heaven and that distance is not a constraint for God or those in the spirit world.

3.  Who were the captives that Christ led out of Hell

Therefore it is said, When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive [He led a train of vanquished foes] and He bestowed gifts on men (Ephesians 4:8).  

Some claim that this refers to saints that were held captive in hell being led out of hell.  However this is contradictory to the rest of the theory that the OT saints were held in Paradise, not Hell.  If the OT saints were in Paradise and Paradise was in heaven, then Christ would not have been able to lead them out of hell.  This verse also says that Christ led “captive”, but if the saints were held in Paradise, they would not have been captives. Most authoritative commentaries say the captives of Ephesians 4:8 are referring to sin, the devil, and death.

Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Holy Bible: “He conquered those who had conquered us—such as sin, Satin, and death.”

The Treasures of David  

The expression is emphatic. He has conquered and triumphed over all the powers, which held us in captivity, so that captivity itself is taken captive. The spirit and force of it is destroyed; and His people, when released by Him, and walking in His ways, have no more to apprehend from those whose captives they were (sin and death).

Harold W. Hoehner Commentary. In Ephesians some have interpreted the captives:  as the enemies of Christ, namely, Satan, sin, and death.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Captivity--that is, a band of captives. In the antitypical meaning, the foes of Christ the Son of David, the devil, death, the curse, and sin, led as it were in triumphal procession as a sign of the destruction of the foe.  

Wesley's Explanatory Notes.  Having ascended on high, he led captivity captive - He triumphed over all his enemies, Satan, sin, and death, which had before enslaved all the world: eluding to the custom of ancient conquerors, who led those they had conquered in chains after them. And, as they also used to give donations to the people, at their return from victory, so he gave gifts to men - Both the ordinary and extraordinary gifts of the Spirit.

Summary reasons why Paradise was not in Hell.

  1. The apostle Paul used the words Heaven and Paradise interchangeably.
  2. God would not put His Heaven/Paradise in or next to hell.
  3. If Stephen could see God’s throne from earth in the spirit, then why couldn’t the rich man and Abraham, in the spirit, see and communicate between Hell and Paradise/Heaven.
  4. Revelation 2:7 says, To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. Would God put the Tree of Life and Paradise/Heaven in hell for thousands of years?
  5. Scripture gives many examples of OT saints being forgiven.
  6. The need to hold OT saints until after Christ’s crucifixion is an assumption that cannot be supported by scripture.
  7. God gives many promises and blessing for the OT saints. These promises indicate that the saints would go to Heaven rather than spending thousands of years in Hell.
  8. The theory of Paradise in Hell as a holding place for OT saints was developed by those who believe that OT saints could not be forgiven for their sins until after Christ’s resurrection, but as demonstrated above, God provided a way to forgive the OT saints so that they could go directly to Heaven, this then removes the unsupported need for Paradise to be in Hell.

It would appear that the assumption that Paradise was in Hell is unsupported by scripture and based on man’s false assumptions. I recognize that some may disagree as the logic of this presentation is contrary to tradition, but it appears to me to be more logical than what tradition offers.  

It appears that Paradise was never in Hell nor needed to be in Hell to hold the OT saints as the OT saints were forgiven of their sins, and having been forgiven of their sins, immediately entered heaven.

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