The Bible doctrine of hell is a subject which is much misunderstood. A prevalent false theory is that hell is a place burning with fire and brimstone, where sinners are tortured after they die. According to this view, when the sinner dies, his invisible, immaterial, immortal "soul" goes to this place of unending agony. The sinner, men who teach this theory assert, experiences indescribable pain and misery in hell fire torture during all eternity. This theory is untrue; it is unscriptural.

The doctrine of the endless torture of sinners is based upon the false teaching of the immortality of the soul. Man does not have a conscious, immaterial nature which continues to live after death. Man is unconscious in death. A person must be alive to experience torture and pain. If such a burning hell existed and a dead person were placed in it, he would not know anything about it, because "the dead know not any thing." A living man can experience pain through the function of his nervous system and brain, parts of his body which are buried in the grave after death. The sinner cannot feel any torture if his brain and nervous system do not function.

The Bible mentions "everlasting punishment" (Matt. 25:46), but not "everlasting punishing." The wicked will be destroyed for all eternity in the second death. They will be "punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thess. 1:9).


I. The Bible Hell Is the Grave

Scripturally speaking, hell is the grave. Hell is an English word derived from the Anglo-Saxon word helan, which means "to cover" or "to hide out of sight."

The Old Testament was originally written in the Hebrew language; the New Testament was originally written in the Greek language. In order for the Bible to be read in English, therefore, it was necessary for Bible scholars to translate the Bible from the Hebrew and Greek languages into English.

The English word hell was used by these translators to translate Hebrew and Greek words that were originally used by Bible writers to refer to the grave. The men who originally wrote the Bible, of course, never heard of the word hell, since this is an English word and the English language was not spoken in Bible times. In order to understand the nature of the Bible hell, we must determine the meaning of the words used by Bible writers.

The Hebrew word for grave is sheol. The Greek word for grave is hades. Old Testament writers, like Moses, Job, David, Solomon, and Isaiah, recorded the fact that dead men are buried in sheol. New Testament writers, like Matthew, Luke, Paul, and John, taught that the dead are buried in hades.

The Hebrew sheol and the Greek hades have the same meaning. Both words refer to the grave. One can observe this truth by comparing Acts 2:27-31 and Psalm 16:10. Acts 2:27 is a direct quotation of Psalm 16:10. In Psalm 16:10, the word "hell" is translated from the Hebrew sheol. When this verse is quoted in Acts 2:27, the word is translated from the Greek hades. This fact is proof that the two words have the same meaning.

In the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, the words sheol and hades are not translated; they are carried over into the English Bible. This practice avoids confusion which has resulted from the modern unscriptural meaning which has been associated with the word "hell."

II. The Hebrew Word "Sheol"

The word sheol occurs in the Hebrew scriptures 65 times. In the Authorized Version of the Bible, this one word was translated by three different English words. It was translated "grave" 31 times, "hell" 31 times, and "pit" 3 times.

The verses containing this Hebrew word translated "grave" follow: Gen. 37:35; 42:38; 44:29, 31; 1 Sam. 2:6; 1 Kings 2:6, 9; Job 7:9; 14:13; 17:13; 21:13; 24:19; Psalm 6:5; 30:3; 31:17; 49:14 (twice), 15; 88:3; 89:48; 141:7; Prov. 1:12; 30:16; Eccl. 9:10; Song of Sol. 8:6; Isa. 14:11; 38:10, 18; Ezek. 31:15; Hosea 13:14 (twice).

The verses in which sheol has been translated "hell" are: Deut. 32:22; 2 Samuel 22:6; Job 11:8; 26:6; Psalm 9:17; 16:10; 18:5; 55:15; 86:13; 116:3; 139:8; Proverbs 5:5; 7:27; 9:18; 15:11, 24; 23:14; 27:20; Isaiah 5:14; 14:9, 15; 28:15, 18; 57:9; Ezekiel 31:16,17; 32:21, 27; Amos 9:2; Jonah 2:2; Hab. 2:5.

The three verses in which this word has been translated "pit" are: Num. 16:30, 33; Job 17:16.

By reading these 65 verses, one can readily see that the evident meaning of sheol is the grave.

III. The Greek Word "Hades"

In the Greek scriptures the word hades occurred 11 times. In the Authorized Version of the English Bible this one word was translated by two English words. It was translated "hell" 10 times and "grave" one time. In all eleven verses hades should have been translated "the grave." The eleven occurrences of hades in the New Testament are listed here.

Matthew 11:23


Capernaum brought down to hell

Matthew 16:18


Gates of hell shall not prevail

Luke 10:15


Capernaum thrust down to hell

Luke 16:23


In hell he lifted up his eyes

Acts 2:27


Not leave my soul in hell

Acts 2:31


His soul was not left in hell

1 Corinthians 15:55


O grave, where is thy victory

Revelation 1:18


Have the keys of hell and death

Revelation 6:8


Hell followed with him

Revelation 20:13


Hell delivered up the dead

Revelation 20:14


Death and hell cast into lake

The Greek word tartarus occurs only once in the Bible. (2 Pet. 2:4.) It also is translated "hell."


IV. Some Facts About Hell

1. Who Goes to Hell. Everyone who is dead is in the Bible hell, the grave. He will remain in hell, the grave, until resurrection. The Bible declares that both the righteous and the wicked are in sheol or hades.

Jacob went to hell. He said, "I will go down into the grave (sheol) unto my son mourning" (Gen. 37:35). Job went to hell. He said, " O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave (sheol), that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past" (Job 14:13). He also said, "If I wait, the grave is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness" (Job 17:13). Hezekiah, a godly man, said, "I shall go to the gates of the grave (sheol): I am deprived of the residue of my years" (Isa. 38:10).

Even our Saviour, according to the Bible, went to hell. "Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption" (Acts 2:27, 31).

Jacob, Job, Hezekiah, and Jesus did not go to a burning hell. They died and were buried. They were in the grave, the Bible hell.

2. What Hell Is Like. The fact that the Bible hell is the state of death, or the grave, is evident from descriptions of sheol or hades. After reading the 65 occurrences of sheol in the Old Testament and hades in the New Testament, we observe that hell is down in direction. (Gen. 37:35; Num. 16:33; Isa. 14:15.) It is in the ground (Num. 16:30, 33), and beneath us (Isa. 14:9). Men are described as being able to dig into hell (Amos 9:2).

The bodies of men and animals are in sheol. Certain kings are described as taking their weapons of war with them to hell. (Ezek. 32:27.) All men go to the Bible hell at death. Men in sheol or hades are unconscious. Job prayed for God to hide him in hell, the grave. (Job 14:13.) Man cannot experience suffering while he is dead."There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest" (Job 3:17).

The Bible hell, therefore, is not a place of agony and torture. The righteous as well as the wicked dead are in hell. They are unconscious. They are in their graves waiting for resurrection.

3. Duration of Hell. The grave, the Bible hell, is the temporary resting place of the dead until resurrection. The Bible hell is not eternal. Christians will be raised from the grave at the first resurrection. Sinners will be raised from the grave at the last resurrection. At the last or general resurrection, hell (the grave) will be completely emptied.

"And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works" (Rev. 20:13). Notice that the wicked dead will be judged after they are resurrected out of hell. Does this mean that God tortures sinners in a burning hell for thousands of years and then finally resurrects them so that He can judge them? Hell is simply the grave, or the state of death. Sinners do not receive their eternal punishment at the time of death. They die and are unconscious in the Bible hell until this last resurrection. In this last or general resurrection, sinners return to life in their mortal, physical bodies. After their judgment they will be punished by being destroyed. The wicked will not return to hell or the grave after the final judgment. They will receive their eternal punishment by being destroyed in the lake of fire, the second death. "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:14, 15).


V. Gehenna Fire

Outside the walls of Jerusalem in the day of the apostles was a burning rubbish heap named "the valley of Hinnom," or "Gehenna." Gehenna was the city garbage incinerator for ancient Jerusalem. Rubish, refuse, and dead animals were thrown into this valley to be consumed in the fire. The fire continued burning as long as there was material for it to consume. The rubbish itself was consumed, but the fire continued to burn as it consumed additional rubbish. There is no fire in the valley of Gehenna today. It was extinguished centuries ago. The valley is no longer used as an incinerator.

During our Lord's earthly ministry, criminals who died after crucifixion were cast into this Gehenna fire to be destroyed. It was thought that crucified ones did not deserve a decent burial. Many Bible scholars feel that Jesus would have been cast into this burning rubbish pile to be consumed if Joseph of Arimathea had not gone to Pilate and begged permission to bury the dead Jesus in his own tomb.

Gehenna fire was regarded as symbolic of judgment and destruction. Jesus used Gehenna fire as an illustration of the final destruction of the wicked. Gehenna fire refers to the lake of fire, which is the second death.

"And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:11-15).

The Greek word Gehenna occurs in twelve verses in the New Testament. It was used eleven times by our Lord and once by James. The English translators used the word "hell" to translate the word Gehenna. It is unfortunate that they did so. It has added much confusion to the subject. Sheol and hades translated "hell" refer to the grave. Gehenna, however, does not refer to the grave. It refers to the lake of fire, which will be the agent for the final destruction of the wicked.

Matthew 5:22


Shall be in danger of hell fire

Matthew 5:29


Whole body be cast into hell

Matthew 5:30


Whole body be cast into hell

Matthew 10:28


Destroy soul and body in hell

Matthew 18:9


Two eyes cast into hell fire

Matthew 23:15


Twofold more the child of hell

Matthew 23:33


Escape the damnation of hell

Mark 9:43


Having two hands to go into hell

Mark 9:45


Having two feet cast into hell

Mark 9:47


Two eyes cast into hell fire

Luke 12:5


Hath power to cast into hell

James 3:6


Tongue is set on fire of hell

In all these twelve verses the word "hell" is from the Greek word Gehenna. This word does not refer to a burning hell, to which sinners go today at the time of death. It does not refer to the grave. It refers to the future destruction of the wicked in the lake of fire.

Notice in these verses that man's "whole body," "eyes," "hands," and "feet" are mentioned as being cast into Gehenna fire. Men who believe in the immortality of the soul and the torture of the wicked in a burning hell today cannot use these verses to support their false theory. According to their theory, the sinner's body is buried in the grave, and only his disembodied soul goes to the burning hell.

Gehenna hell fire refers to the future lake of fire, in which sinners in their mortal bodies will be destroyed by being consumed.

VI. Destruction of the Wicked

Contrary to the teaching of the endless torture of the wicked, the Bible clearly teaches that the wicked will be completely destroyed in the lake of fire. Sinners will not experience eternal torture; they will be punished by being destroyed. The Bible hell, sheol and hades, refers to the grave in which both sinners and believers are buried. The lake of fire does not refer to the Bible hell. The Bible hell will be emptied when sinners are restored to life in the final resurrection. If they are judged unworthy of life, sinners will not be returned to the Bible hell or the grave; they will be cast into the lake of fire to be destroyed. The fire of destruction is described as "everlasting" and "unquenchable" because it cannot be extinguished until its work of destruction is completed. Sinners will be consumed in the fire, but the fire itself will continue to burn until it has consumed all of the sinners. No one will be able to put out the fire in order to escape its destruction.

Psalm 37:20


Into smoke shall they consume

Malachi 4:3


Wicked shall be ashes under feet

Psalm 37:38


Transgressors shall be destroyed

Psalm 73:18


Casteth them into destruction

Psalm 92:7


Shall be destroyed forever

Psalm 145:20


The wicked will he destroy

Proverbs 10:29


Destruction workers of iniquity

Isaiah 1:28


Destruction of the transgressors

Matthew 7:13


Way leadeth to destruction

Philippians 3:19


Whose end is destruction

2 Peter 2:12


Shall utterly perish

Matthew 3:12


Will burn up the chaff

Malachi 4:1


Shall burn them up

Obadiah 16


Be as though they had not been

Psalm 37:10


His place shall not be

Proverbs 10:25


So is the wicked no more

The Bible teaches that eternal life will be given only to the redeemed and that the wicked will not live forever. God's Word states repeatedly that the wicked will "perish" (Psa. 1:6; 9:3; 37:20; Prov. 19:9; Luke 13:3; John 3:15, 16; Rom. 2:12; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Thess. 2:10; 2 Pet. 2:12). They will be "consumed" (Psa. 37:20; 59:13; 104:35; Isa. 1:28). They will be "cut off" (Psa. 37:9, 22, 28, 34, 38; Prov. 2:22). They will be "burned up" (Mal. 4:1, 3; Matt. 3:12; 13:42). They will be "destroyed" (Psa. 37:38; 73:18; 92:7; 145:20; Prov. 10:29; 21:15; Isa. 1:28; Matt. 7:13; Rom. 9:22; 1 Cor. 6:13; Phil. 3:19; 2 Thess. 1:9). The wicked will "be as though they had not been" (Obadiah 16). "The wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be" (Psa. 37:10).

Dr. Richard Francis Weymouth (1822-1902), an English Baptist layman and New Testament translator, wrote:

My mind fails to conceive of a grosser misrepresentation of language than when five or six of the strongest words which the Greek tongue possesses signifying destroy or destruction are explained to mean "maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence." To translate black as white is nothing to this. (Cited by Pettingell, The Unspeakable Gift, p. 322.)

John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), one of the founders of the Plymouth Brethren Church in England, wrote in Hopes of the Church:

We would express our conviction that the idea of the immortality of the soul has no source in the Gospel; that it comes, on the contrary, from the Platonists and that it was just when the Coming of Christ was denied in the Church or at least began to be lost sight of, that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul came in to replace that of the resurrection.

Clement Moore Butler (1810-1890), an American Episcopalian, was rector in various churches, chaplain of the U. S. Senate (1849-1853), chaplain of the U. S. embassy at Rome (1861-64), and professor of church history in the Protestant Episcopal Divinity School, Philadelphia (1864-84). He wrote:

Since I have reached and rested in the conclusion that the ultimate doom of the impenitent is death, and not eternal life in agony, a great black cloud seems to have rolled away from the face of God, and I see Him, not only as my loving Father, but as the Father of all His creatures. (Cited by Pettingell, Op. cit., p. 328.)

(Adapted from Systematic Theology, by Alva Huffer, published by Church of God General Conference, Oregon, Illinois 61061, U.S.A.)

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