“The Gates Of Hell Shall Not Prevail Against It” (Matt 16:18): A Study Of The History Of Interpretation -- By: Jack P. Lewis

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 38:3 (Sep 1995)
Article: “The Gates Of Hell Shall Not Prevail Against It” (Matt 16:18): A Study Of The History Of Interpretation
Author: Jack P. Lewis


“The Gates Of Hell Shall Not Prevail Against It”
(Matt 16:18):
A Study Of The History Of Interpretation

Jack P. Lewis*

After mentioning the building of his Church, Jesus stated to Peter (as translated in the KJV) that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). The statement, found only in Matthew’s account of the gospel, has the crucial words pylai hadou, the negated verb katischyein, and the object pronoun autēs (whose antecedent is uncertain).

I. Classical Usage

Entering the gates of Hades as a metaphor for the experience of death begins in classical writers with Homer who describes dying as passing the gates of Hades 1 and who speaks of the behavior of certain men as more hateful to him than the gates of Hades. 2 Tartarus has gates of iron and a threshold of bronze. 3 Plato writes of the propylea of the way to Pluto (god of the underworld) with iron bars and key, 4 and a pseudonymous Orphic poem speaks of the unbroken gates of Hades. 5 According to a late quotation (third century AD) Aristotle suggested that beans were like the gates of Hades. 6

The gates of Hades as the experience of death are also used by Aeschylus, 7 while Euripides describes a phantom from the gates of darkness (skotou pylas) where Hades dwells. 8 He also has the dying person beholding the gates of death. 9 Theocritus addressed Artemas as one who moves the adamant at the door of Hades. 10

Roman writers reflect a related concept. Vergil has Aeneas see a castle with a triple wall in front of which is a huge gate and pillars of solid adamant that no might of man can uproot. Over it without sleeping Tisisphone

* Jack Lewis is professor of Bible at Harding Graduate School of Religion, 1000 Cherry Road, Memphis, TN 38117.

sits guard day and night. 11 Ovid describes closed doors of adamant before the accursed Place. 12 Propertius informs us that no prayers can open the gates of darkness once the dead have passed beneath ...

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