Defining the term “Hell”

Most Christians including myself have been taught that Hell is the opposite of Heaven. Hell is supposedly a fiery place where “Satan” himself rules, and all evil souls go for punishment after death, as depicted in popular media and taught in mainline Christianity. But is this depiction of “Hell” biblical? What is the true meaning behind the words translated as “Hell” in our English versions of the Bible? For this, we need to return to the original Hebrew and Greek Manuscripts – in search of answers and truth.

Sections covered in this post
Old Testament usage of “Hell”
A. Defining She’ol – the grave
B. Defining Bore – the Pit
New Testament usage of “Hell”

A. Defining Hades – The Grave
– Hades = She’ol = Grave
B. Defining Gehenna – The place of Fire
– Lake of Fire = Gehenna
C. Defining Tartaroo – The Deep Abyss
– Tartaroo = Bottomless Pit
Conclusion

Old Testament usage of “Hell”

A. Defining She’ol – the grave
Throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew word (She’ol) has been used for the abode of the dead. It is interesting to see how this same word has been translated to English as “Hell”, “Grave” & “Pit”.

H7585 – שׁאל    שׁאול – she’ôl  she’ôl – From H7592; hades or the world of the dead (as if a subterranian retreat), including its accessories and inmates: – grave, hell, pit.

H7585 translated as “Hell” – Deu 32:22; 2Sam 22:6; Job 11:8; 26:6; Psa 9:17; 16:10; 18:5; 55:15; 86:13; 116:3; 139:8; Prov 5:5; 7:27; 9:18; 15:11; 15:24; 23:14; 27:20; Isa 5:14; 14:9; 14:15; 28:15; 28:18; 57:9; Ezek 31:16; 31:17; 32:21; 32:27; Amo 9:2; Jon 2:2; Hab 2:5

H7585 translated as “Grave” – Gen 37:35; 42:38; 44:29; 44:31; 1Sam 2:6; 1Kin 2:6; 2:9; Job 7:9; 14:13; 17:13; 21:13; 24:19; Psa 6:5; 30:3; 31:17; 49:14; 49:15; 88:3; 89:48; 141:7; Prov 1:12; 30:16; Ecc 9:10; Son 8:6; Isa 14:11; 38:10; 38:18; Eze 31:15; Hos 13:14

H7585 translated as “Pit” – Num 16:30; 16:33; Job 17:16

A few examples from the above list for inspection
Gen 37:35  And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave(She’ol) unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.
Job 14:13  O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave(She’ol), that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!
Psa 16:10  For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell(She’ol); neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

B. Defining Bore – the Pit
Although the Hebrew word “Bore” which can be translated as a deep pit/dungeon has never been translated as “Hell”, it is used as a deeper/darker place than She’ol in the Old Testament Scriptures.

H953 – בּור – bôr – bore – From H952 (in the sense of H877); a pit hole (especially one used as a cistern or prison): – cistern, dungeon, fountain, pit, well.

Psa 30:3  O LORD, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave(She’ol): thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit(Bore).
Pro 1:12 Let us swallow them up alive as the grave(She’ol); and whole, as those that go down into the pit(Bore):
Isa 14:15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell(she’ol), to the sides of the pit(Bore).
Isa 38:18  For the grave(She’ol) cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit(Bore) cannot hope for thy truth.
Zec 9:11  As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit(Bore) wherein is no water.

Looking at the terminology used in the Old Testament, “She’ol” the word translated in our English Translations as “Hell” means simply the “Grave” which is destined for us all. It simply meant “Death” or a figurative place for the Dead – almost as if they are in stasis. and not a fiery place which is ruled by “Satan”. The pit “Bore” on the other hand has some connotations of being a place which is deeper, but never paints a picture of anything similar to the “Hell”, we are accustomed to.

New Testament usage of “Hell”

In the New Testament, there are 3 Greek words that have been translated to English as “Hell” in our Bible versions.

A. Defining Hades – The Grave
G86 – ᾅδης – hades – hah’-dace – From G1 (as a negative particle) and G1492; properly unseen, that is “Hades” or the place (state) of departed souls: – grave, hell.

G86 translated as “Hell” – Mat 11:23; 16:18; Luk 10:15; 16:23; Act 2:27; 2:31; Rev 1:18; 6:8; 20:13; 20:14

G86 translated as “Grave” – 1Co 15:55

A few examples from the above list for inspection
Luk 16:23  And in hell(hades) he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
1Co 15:55  O death, where is thy sting? O grave(hades), where is thy victory?
Act 2:27  Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell(hades), neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
Rev 20:14  And death and hell(hades) were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

Hades = She’ol = Grave
Out of the above, the most important verse to highlight is Act 2:27. In it Peter quotes Psalm 16:10 directly, making an all important point abundantly clear.
Psa 16:10  For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell(She’ol); neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
Act 2:27  Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell(hades), neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
As per above She’ol = Hades. If She’ol means simply “Grave”, as we have seen above, the word “Hell” in the New Testament should also mean “Grave”. If this is not apparent, 1Cor 15:55 even translates Hades as “Grave” in our English Translations.

 

B. Defining Gehenna – The place of Fire
G1067 – γέεννα – geenna – gheh’-en-nah – Of Hebrew origin ([H1516] and [H2011]); valley of (the son of) Hinnom; gehenna (or Ge-Hinnom), a valley of Jerusalem.

G1067 translated as “Hell” – Mat 5:22; 5:29; 5:30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; 23:33; Mar 9:43; 9:45; 9:47; Luk 12:5; Jas 3:6

A few examples from the above list for inspection
Mat 10:28  And 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(Gehenna).
Mar 9:43  And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell(Gehenna), into the fire that never shall be quenched:
Luk 12:5  But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell(Gehenna); yea, I say unto you, Fear him.

The third and final Greek word which has been translated to English as “Hell”, is of Hebrew origin. “Gehenna” stems from the Hebrew words “Ga’hee – Hinnom” which translates to Valley of Hinnom, a place in Jerusalem.

An 18th-century German illustration of Moloch ("Der Götze Moloch" i.e. The Idol Moloch).The Valley of the Sons of Hinnom was a place which had been used to burn children alive, as sacrifices to Molech – the chief god of the Ammonites (2Kin 23:10). This same place was used by Ahaz & Manasseh – Kings of Judah to burn their own children (2Chr 28:3, 33:6) & by the people of Judah themselves to do the same (Jer 7:31, 19:2, 32:35). A historical account of this practice states “Tophet is Moloch, which was made of brass; and they heated him from his lower parts; and his hands being stretched out, and made hot, they put the child between his hands, and it was burnt; when it vehemently cried out; but the priests beat a drum, that the father might not hear the voice of his son, and his heart might not be moved:” – John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible – Jer 7:31.

Hinnom1God spoke of the place as a place of immense slaughter, and a place where there will be so many carcasses of men with no space to bury them (Jer 7:32, 19:6) – it was also directly connected to the Exile of Judah under Babylon. In the 1st Century, the valley of Hinnom contained tombs and also “Aceldama” – also known as “Potter’s Field” or “field of blood” mentioned in Mat 27:7,8 & Acts 1:19.

With the information above, it should be abundantly clear that the word “Gehenna” is completely different to “Hades”/”She’ol” and “Tartaroo”. Gehinnom is a place of Destruction, fire and immense wickedness. It is not surprising that this physical place was paralleled to a place of destruction beyond this world. One thing is certain – Gehinnom is not the same as Hades/She’ol/Grave and is much more similar to the “lake of fire”.

Lake of Fire = Gehenna
Even though the “Lake of fire” is mentioned as an end times punishment – it is more likely to be connected to “Gehenna”. Most of the verses containing the word “Gehenna” speaks of fire (Mat 5:22, 18:9, Mar 9:47, James 3:6) – and even fire that will not be quenched (Mar 9:43,45).

Burning with Brimstone
Rev 19:20  And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.
Rev 20:10  And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Rev 21:8  But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
Isa 30:33  For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.

In Jer 7:32, The Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) is also called “Tophet” and is referred by Isaiah to be a place prepared with piles of wood and fire which is ignited by God’s breath which is like Brimstone. “Gehenna” or “The Valley of Hinnom” or “Tophet” was the physical place of Fire and Brimstone which would later come to signify the place of fire and destruction at the end times.

“Death” and “Hell”(Hades) cast into the “Lake of Fire”
Another important concept to grasp is that the Book of Revelations specifically says that “Hell” (Hades/She’ol/Grave) will be cast into the lake of fire as well – making it abundantly clear that they are 2 different distinct places.
Rev 20:14  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
From the day that the Grave is destroyed, there will be no more death – but eternal life.


C. Defining Tartaroo – The Deep Abyss
G5020 – ταρταρόω – tartaroo – tar-tar-o’-o – From Τάρταρος Tartaros̄ (the deepest abyss of Hades)

G5020 translated as “Hell” – 2Pe 2:4  For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell(Tartaroo), and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

Seen only once in the whole of the New Testament, “Tartaroo” is mentioned by Peter in connection to the “Angels that sinned”. The mere fact that a different term to “Hades” is used here, should give an indication that it is a different place. Even though it is translated as “Hell” in our English versions, it is a completely different place to “Hades”/”She’ol”/”Grave” and is clearly apparent to be a dungeon of sort containing the Angels who sinned, chained and reserved for judgement. In that case “Tartaroo” should not be mixed up with “Hades”.

Tartaroo = Bottomless Pit
As we saw above, Tartaroo signified a deep abyss where angels were chained up till the time of judgement. This again falls in line with the account of the Book of Revelations. In it, we see the Bottomless Pit(Abyss) being opened(Rev 9:1,2), and from it arising the king of the angels who were held inside named Abaddon(Hebrew for Destroyer) and Apollyon(Greek for Destroyer)(Rev 9:11). A Beast also arises from the same Abyss(Rev 11:7, 17:8). Finally The Great adversary is bound and put into this same pit at the time of the 1000 year reign of Messiah(Rev 20:2) – only to be let out for a while, at the end of the 100 years(Rev 20:3) before he is destroyed in the lake of fire along with death and Hades(Rev 20:10,14).

G12 – ἄβυσσος – abussos – ab’-us-sos – From G1 (as a negative particle) and a variation of G1037; depthless, that is, (specifically), (infernal) “abyss”: – deep, (bottomless) pit.

Rev 9:1,2  And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit(Abusos). And he opened the bottomless pit(Abusos); and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of thepit(Abusos).
Rev 9:11  And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit(Abusos), whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.
Rev 20:1-3 And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit(Abusos) and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit(Abusos), and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.

The Bottomless Pit (Abyss) is different from both “Hades/She’ol/Grave” & “Lake of fire/Gehenna” and is equivalent to Tartaroo – the place where Angels who had sinned were chained up.

Conclusion
The Scriptures speak of 3 distinctly different areas called “Grave”, “Abyss” and “Lake of Fire”. While the Lake of fire is the place of torment and destruction(Rev 20:10), the Grave(She’ol/Hades) merely stands for the abode of the dead. The Abyss(Pit) is different from both other places as the Angels who sinned are the ones held here. Hell as we see depicted in popular media and mainline Christianity merely does not exist, and it is quite beneficial for us to understand that the word “Hell” in our English versions can be quite misleading, as all 3 of these 3 distinct places have been called Hell, even though they are vastly different from each other.

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One thought on “Defining the term “Hell”

  1. Pingback: Lost in Translation – Are our English Bibles accurate? | Bible things in Bible ways

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