view that hell is a “place of eternal torment” has
persisted for hundreds of years. Many churches have used this
image to frighten their congregations—no-one wants to
be damned to eternal fiery torment. In this chapter we look
at what the Bible means
by “hell”. You may be surprised!
This passage is part of Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost.
He was quoting from Old Testament prophecies in the Psalms
and using them to show that the death and resurrection of Jesus
was predicted about 1000 years earlier.
1. Why was it impossible for “death to keep its hold
2. Compare the following three translations of verse 27.
NIV because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will
you let your Holy One see decay.
KJV Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt
thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
NASB because thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, nor
allow thy Holy One to undergo decay.
Note that the different translations use “grave”,
“hell” and“Hades” for the same Greek word. Compare any other
translations you have available. Do you think these words
all mean the same thing?
3. Jesus was perfect, yet he went to hell (v27). Is there
anything evil about hell?
Hell is the grave
The Scriptures teach that hell is the grave. All people, whether
good or bad, go there. If it’s that simple, then why
confusion and difference of opinion? There are two main
reasons—translation differences and the influence of
Acts 2:27 is an example of translation differences. Why does
the NIV use “grave”, the KJV use “hell”
and the NASB use“Hades”? To resolve this problem the original
to be examined.
The original words
|Hebrew sheol or Greek hades =
||dwelling place of dead. i.e., grave or tomb.
|Usually translated as
||hell, grave, pit, depths, death.
Some Bibles (such as the NASB and NRSV)
avoid these problems by leaving the word
untranslated as sheol or hades. However,
this means the reader has to understand
Greek and Hebrew. The best option is to use“grave”— the literal meaning of the words.
Influences of ancient Greek mythology
To the superstitious Greeks, Hades meant much more than
the grave. One of the Greek gods was ades; he was thought
to rule and torment departed spirits in the fiery underworld
which they also called Hades. The Greek poet Homer spoke of
Hades in The Iliad written around 700 BC:
Sing, goddess, the wrath of Peleus’ son Achilles, a
wrath which brought upon Acheans myriad woes, and
sent forth to Hades many valiant souls of heroes. . . Hades
is relentless and unyielding.
During the Greek empire, Greek language and culture became
fashionable—it was exciting, different and sophisticated
with the simple Jewish culture. By the time of the New
Testament, the Greek word hades was used by the Jews in
two different ways: first to mean the grave and second to
mean the shadowy underworld in Greek mythology. Obviously,
the New Testament writers did not intend hades to refer to
the underworld ruled by a Greek god. The general biblical
meaning of hades (and sheol) is the grave.
Did you know?
|The Greeks had a significant impact on the Israelites—they influenced their architecture, their
language, their education, their writings and their religion. Today, you can visit several 1600
year old synagogues in Israel and see mosaics with the Greek sun-god Helios and other mythical
creatures right beside the Menorah (lampstand) and Ark of the Law. Imagine how disappointed
God must have felt to see his people corrupted by the other nations around. He had specifically
warned them to keep themselves free of these pagan influences (Deuteronomy 7:1–6).
All people die and go to hell
Death is one of the few certainties in life. David wrote
What man can live and not see death, or save himself from
the power of the grave? (Psalm 89:48)
However, like Jesus, not all people will stay dead. Many people
will be raised for judgement, some to everlasting life and
to everlasting death—the second death. see Chapter 44. Judgement
. . . death and Hades gave up the dead that were
and each person was judged according to what he had
done. (Revelation 20:13)
Imagine . . . your stomach is turning, round and round—the
smell, the smoke, the flies, the heat. You look around this
place and continue to throw dead animals onto the smouldering
mass. The place reeks of death
and destruction. You want to be
sick. . .
This place does exist, although the
fires no longer burn there. It is
called the Hinnom Valley, a deep
valley just south of the Old City
walls of Jerusalem. In Old Testament
times, the valley was used as
a place for child sacrifices to the
god Molech (e.g. Jeremiah 32:35).
Later, the Jews were disgusted by
this evil and used the place as a
dump for city refuse, carcasses and
the bodies of criminals.
Fires burned there continuously to incinerate the waste, and
so the place became associated with death, destruction and
condemnation. The Greek word for the valley was Gehenna.
Gehenna is used 12 times in the New Testament. For example,
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better
for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to
have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where “their
does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”
The Greek word
Gehenna is translated “hell” here.
The NIV and NASB provide a footnote explaining that the original
word is Gehenna. Jesus is using Gehenna as a vivid symbol
of condemnation and destruction—a common figure of speech
at the time.
Sheol or the grave
|Genesis 37:35; Numbers 16:30–33; 1 Samuel 2:6; Psalm 6:5; 16:10;
31:17; 89:48; 139:8; Proverbs 9:18; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Isaiah 38:18.
Hades or the grave
|Matthew 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27,31; Revelation
1:18; 6:8; 20:13–14.
Gehenna or hell fire
|Matthew 5:22,29–30; 23:15,33; James 3:6.
The wicked will perish:
|Psalm 145:20, 37:20; Isaiah 26:13–14; 2 Thessalonians 1:8–9.
Believers will be saved:
|Psalm 9:17–18; John 3:16; 11:25; Revelation 1:18.
Why does Jesus compare heaven and hell?
And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will
you? You shall descend to Hades . . .
(Matthew 11:23 NASB)
As hades is just the Greek word for grave, then why compare
to heaven? Here Jesus is using the words symbolically:
• Heaven represents life, purity and righteousness.
• Hades represents death, impurity and sin.
This is evident in the NIV translation of the same verse:
And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. (Matthew 11:23 NIV)
Because sin leads to death, the grave is associated with sin—
where sinners belong. Romans 5:21; 6:23 This explains why Christ could not be
held by hades (Acts 2:24). He did not sin and so the grave
hades could not “hold him”.
• “Hell” refers to the grave or tomb or
pit—the dwelling place
of the dead. This place is not evil. All people eventually
to the grave/hell.
• The Hebrew word sheol and the Greek word hades both
mean “grave” and are sometimes translated “hell” in the
• Hell fire or Gehenna is a name for the Valley of Hinnom.
This valley was the rubbish dump of Jerusalem and had
fires burning continuously. It became a symbol of death
1. If a friend says “Go to hell”, how could you
opportunity to talk to him/her about your faith?
2. Read Matthew 10:28–31. Who is “the one” in verse 28?
What does this passage mean?
3. When trying to explain to people what hell is, where would
you start? How could you do this without a concordance?
4. Read Luke 16:19–31. The parable of the rich man and
Lazarus is often used to prove that hell is an evil place.
How would you explain this parable?
1. Re-read Acts 2:22–28 and Psalm 16:8–11. In
the word translated grave/hell is the Hebrew word sheol.
Does this mean that sheol and hades mean the same
thing? Use a concordance to prove/disprove this.
2. Write a half-page summary of the three words translated
hell and what they mean. Use a concordance and a Bible
dictionary. Can you find a fourth word translated “hell”?
• BB Study 4.9
• Studies in the gospels by Harry Whittaker (published
Biblia). Chapter 139: The rich man and Lazarus. 5 pages.
• Wrested scriptures by Ron Abel (published by The Christadelphians,
Pasadena). Pages 131–135 deal with passages
about hell that are frequently misinterpreted.
24. The Devil and Satan: Old Testament
25. The Devil and Satan: New Testament