Gates of Hades


This has always been something of a puzzle to me. In Matthew 16:18, after Jesus has appointed Peter, but before endowing him with the keys, he says that he will build his Church on Peter and:

“the gates of Hades will not prevail against it”.

The suggestion in the word “prevail” is that the Church is on the offensive, storming the gates of the city of Hades (death), and these gates will ultimately fall to the Church. In the light of the Resurrection and Christ’s overcoming death (“O death, where is your sting?” 1 Cor 15:55) and Jesus’ harrowing of the gates of Hades (1 Pet 3:19-20), this makes sense as a reading. This is how it seems to be interpreted in CCC 552.

However, the clause is often presented as if the Church will not be able to be overcome or defeated by Hades, which is the other way around.

So that got me thinking, and I looked into the meaning of the Greek term for “prevail” in this clause, and it is: κατισχύσουσιν. The word can, in fact, mean not only “prevail” but also “overcome” or “get the upper hand against”. These latter expressions would indicate the Church in a more defensive, safeguarded posture.

Nevertheless, I still favour the first interpretation, though I’m sure they’re not mutually exclusive (after all, an offensively successful Church will obviously be defensively sound too).

Any thoughts?


Certainly it can mean both. They don’t call us the “Church militant” for nothing :slight_smile:




I wrote this a while back.

[quote="patrick457, post:9, topic:317856"]
I think that "the gates of Hades" is a contrast to "the living God" of verse 16. Speaking in an OT context, "the gates of death" denotes the place were the dead go (Job 38:17; Psalms 9:13; 107:18), and Isaiah 38:10 the phrase "the gates of Sheol" is used in the same way (cf. Job 17:16 "the bars of Sheol"). "Hades" is the NT equivalent of Sheol, and the same phrase as here is used in this sense in Septuagint Isaiah 38:10 as well as in Wisdom of Solomon 16:13; 3 Maccabees 5:51 and in Psalms of Solomon 16:2. The idea is, that death will not be able to imprison the Church of the living God founded upon the rock.

I said: At the height of my days, in the gates of Hades
I shall leave behind my remaining years.

I said, I shall not see the salvation of God on the earth;
no longer shall I see a man from my kindred.
I have left behind the rest of my life;
it has gone out and departed from me
like the one who having pitched a tent takes it down;
my spirit in me became like the web
of a weaver who approaches to cut it off.
In that day I was given over as to a lion until morning;
thus he broke my bones,
for I was given over from day to night.

  • Isaiah 38:10-13 LXX

For it was neither herb nor poultice that cured them,
but your word, O Lord, that heals all things.
For you have authority over life and death
and you lead down to the gates of Hades and bring back up again.

  • Wisdom of Solomon 16:12-13

As the elephants and the armed force accompanying them were going out around the gate, the Judeans saw both the dust of the passing throng and heard the roaring crowd and, believing this to be their last moment of life, the end of their wretched suspense, gave themselves over to lamentation and wailing and began kissing one another, embracing their relatives, falling upon their necks, parents their children, mothers their daughters and yet others holding newborn infants to the breast as they drew their last milk. Nevertheless, when they considered all the help from heaven that had fallen into their share in the past, they threw themselves prostrate with one accord, parted their newborn from the breasts and called out to the ruler of every power with an exceedingly loud cry, entreating him to show them mercy by making an appearance, they who stood even now at the gates of Hades.

  • 3 Maccabees 5:48-51

When my soul slumbered, away from the Lord, I slipped for a short time,
in the lethargy of those that sleep far from God.
For a short time my soul was poured out to death,
close to the gates of Hades with the sinner,
when my soul separated from the Lord, God of Israel,
except that the Lord helped me with his pity forever.

He pricked me, like a goad for a horse, that I might awaken unto him;
my savior and protector at all times saved me.
I will acknowledge [to] you, O God, for you helped me to salvation,
and you did not count me with sinners for destruction.
Remove not your pity from me, O God,
nor your remembrance from my heart until death.

  • Psalms of Solomon 16:1-6



Thanks Patrick, great stuff! :thumbsup:


I don’t think these interpretations are mutually exclusive, but there is an evident remark on the Church as offensive against the “Gates of Hades:” A stance we often miss.

Sometimes we are just too passive and allow sects to keep growing around us because we don’t assume our role of catechizing others about our faith, or partaking in the New Evangelization (things that should always be done under the umbrella of the Church).


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