It’s a word that few really understand, yet most people will go there. It is usually considered the location for the incorrigibly wicked. It might be used to express anger or frustration. It may be used as a destination to assign to those you do not like. However, the hell that is described in the pages of the Bible is a very real place. You may be surprised to learn who goes to that location!
Some Christians believe hell is the place for the souls of the wicked. Others think hell is a state of mind. Some don’t believe hell exists at all. As we’ll see, there are three hells described in the Bible. One of these is hot enough to consume the “soul.” We’ll also see that there is a hell for the fallen angels or demons.
Have you ever attended a funeral and been unsure of where the deceased was headed? Most preachers, out of kindness, do not assign a deceased person to hell. However, many in the audience may wonder about the deceased’s future considering his or her lack of genuine spirituality while alive.
What is hell? In the Bible the word hell is mentioned 54 times. It is translated from four different words. The only one in the Old Testament— sheol in the Hebrew—and one in the New Testament— hades in Greek—have the meaning of the grave, a pit or the abode of the dead. Sheol is the only word in the Old Testament from which hell is translated in the King James Version of the Bible. It is translated “hell” 31 times. Hades is translated “hell” 10 times in the New Testament.
In Psalms 6:5 Psalms 6:5For in death there is no remembrance of you: in the grave who shall give you thanks?
American King James Version×and 30:3 the psalmist speaks of sheol as the grave. Amos the prophet uses sheol to state that one may dig into “hell”—indicating the grave that was in the earth (Amos 9:2 Amos 9:2Though they dig into hell, there shall my hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, there will I bring them down:
American King James Version×, King James Version throughout). When Jonah was in the belly of the great fish (or whale as wrongly translated), he was said to be in “hell” (Jonah 2:2 Jonah 2:2And said, I cried by reason of my affliction to the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and you heard my voice.
American King James Version×). All of those words for hell are translated from the Hebrew word sheol .
We see in 1 Corinthians 15:55 1 Corinthians 15:55O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?
American King James Version×the word grave translated from hades . In the book of Acts, King David is said to have been in “hell.” Since David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14 1 Samuel 13:14But now your kingdom shall not continue: the LORD has sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be captain over his people, because you have not kept that which the LORD commanded you.
American King James Version×) and will rule with God in His Kingdom (Jeremiah 30:9 Jeremiah 30:9But they shall serve the LORD their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up to them.
American King James Version×), he would not have gone to the hell that is traditionally pictured for the incorrigibly wicked. Notice Acts 2:27 Acts 2:27Because you will not leave my soul in hell, neither will you suffer your Holy One to see corruption.
American King James Version×, 29 where David is in “hell” or the grave, but with the promise that he will not remain there forever. He will be resurrected from “hell” (hades) or the grave.
So, the first “hell” we’ve looked at is simply the grave—the place of the dead, both good and evil!
Another “hell” of the Bible is far hotter than the traditional view of hell. The second “hell” is translated from the Greek word gehenna and literally means the Valley of Hinnom, a place outside Jerusalem where trash was burned. Gehenna is also associated with fire and is called hell fire (Matthew 5:22 Matthew 5:22But I say to you, That whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
American King James Version×) or the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15 Revelation 20:15And whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
American King James Version×).
This second “hell” is a place where the incorrigible will be sent as a final punishment after the last judgment. If they have deliberately turned from God, they will be resurrected and cast into gehenna (hell) and burned completely (see Revelation 20:14 Revelation 20:14And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
American King James Version×and Malachi 4:1-3 Malachi 4:1-3 1 For, behold, the day comes, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yes, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, said the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. 2 But to you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and you shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. 3 And you shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, said the LORD of hosts.
American King James Version×, which describes the wicked as ashes under the feet of the righteous). God will destroy all those who deliberately refuse to submit to Him once they know Him.
The third “hell” refers to the restraint of the demons. Tartaroo is used in only one place in the Bible (2 Peter 2:4 2 Peter 2:4For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved to judgment;
American King James Version×) and is used only in reference to the demons being chained or restrained until the time of their judgment by God.
The concept of heaven and hell in traditional Christianity heavily depends on the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Yet, in the Bible, the phrase immortal soul is nowhere to be found.
On the contrary, the word soul is translated from the Hebrew and Greek words nephesh and psuche , which mean “life.” Animals are called nephesh , and nephesh (whether human or animal) can die (see Genesis 1:20 Genesis 1:20And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that has life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
American King James Version×, 24, where nephesh is translated “creature”; Ezekiel 18:4 Ezekiel 18:4Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sins, it shall die.
American King James Version×, 20; 22:27; Psalms 33:19 Psalms 33:19To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.
American King James Version×). The psuche can also die as shown in Matthew 10:28 Matthew 10:28And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
American King James Version×and Revelation 16:3 Revelation 16:3And the second angel poured out his vial on the sea; and it became as the blood of a dead man: and every living soul died in the sea.
American King James Version×.
So, we see that human beings will go to hell (the grave) when they die, but they will be resurrected from the grave. Some will be resurrected to eternal life and others to judgment. Those who have deliberately rejected God and His ways will be burned up in gehenna (hell) fire (Revelation 20:14 Revelation 20:14And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
American King James Version×). The demons await the time of final judgment in yet another “hell”—tartaroo —their condition of imprisonment here on earth, restrained from venting their full fury on mankind and reserved to judgment at the end (Jude 6).
Thank God the day is coming when there will be no more death or sorrow (Revelation 21:4-5 Revelation 21:4-5 4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
5 And he that sat on the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said to me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.
American King James Version×). At that time, there will no longer be a hell—the grave—for human beings.