From time to time I get inquiries from Christians, such as, "Is hell a real place?" or "Don't Hades, Sheol, Gehenna simply mean the grave?" I have received e-mail flatly stating that there is no such thing as hell, or a place of eternal punishment. On this page, I will review the meaning of the words " hades, gehenna, sheol, and hell."
You will note, that I said the meaning of the words hades, sheol, gehenna, & hell. All these words can be simply translated as, 'grave, pit, death, or hell.' However, their meaning is more involved than just a simple translation. We need to consider the meaning of these words to the authors of the original Bible manuscripts to be able to understand the concept they are trying to convey. Because of cultural and language differences reliance on simple word translation is very misleading; and many are using this to mislead others. Using the principles of Effective Bible Study will give a clearer meaning to the use of these words.
- - The concept 'sheol' conveys is the 'the underworld'. The abode of the dead. A place:
of no return;
where there is no praise of God;
where the wicked were sent for punishment.
A place of exile from God.
The righteous are not abandoned to it.
The place of torment, commonly called hell, where devils and damned spirits are; hither the souls of the wicked go immediately upon their departure from their bodies.
- - The word 'hades' (hell) is derived from name 'Pluto' (Hades), who the ancient Romans & Greeks believed was the god of the underworld, the nether world, the realm of the dead. Therefore it conveys a 'dwelling place.'
- - 'Gehenna' is derived from the Hebrew, 'Ge-Hinnom', the valley of Hinnom. A valley of Jerusalem that was used to dump dead animals and waste in. The heaps of refuse were then burned. It was figuratively used to designate 'a place of eternal dwelling and eternal punishment'.
We can see that the words 'gehenna, sheol, hades (hell)' meant more to the authors of the original biblical manuscripts than simply a hole in the ground called a grave. These words signified to all the writers of the manuscripts, 'a dwelling place of eternal punishment'. This was, and is, the concept they meant their readers to envision.
"And in hell (hades) he lifted up his eyes, being in torments,
and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame. "
Several Hebrew & Aramaic words were used to denote 'grave, sepulchre, tomb' by the authors of the original scriptural manuscripts. They are transliterated as: 'qatat, qeber, pathach, beiy, shachath, & qeburah'. The only Greek word, used by the authors of the original Bible manuscripts, to denote the grave, sepulchre, or tomb, was transliterated as, 'mnemeion'. The Hebrew words to signify 'death' were: 'maveth & muth' (the most common); occasionally used were 'mohth; tsalmaveth; & temuthah'. Several Greek words were used by the authors to signify 'death.' They were: 'thanatos & thanatoo' (the most commonly used); occasionally used were 'teleute; echo; anairesis; & anaireo'. As you can see hell, hades, gehenna, and sheol were not used to denote the grave or death.
Further scriptural evidence showing that hades(hell), gehenna, & sheol, represent
'a place' rather than just a grave can be found at