Hell in the New Testament
What does the word hell mean to you? Most people would define it as a place of eternal torture in fire for wicked people or for those who did not accept Christ as their personal Saviour. The word hell is found in most modern English Bibles. Should that word be in scripture and is it a correct translation from the original Hebrew and Greek texts. Most Christians would say that the word hell, should be in their bibles because it can be found in numerous translations including the popular King James Version and the New International version (NIV). Is this is a place of eternal fiery torment for the wicked when they die? The word hell is translated from the Greek word Hades.
This is very important because unless we know the real meaning of Hades, we will be misled concerning the ultimate destiny of Christians and non-Christians.
Hell never was and never will be a proper translation of the Greek word Hades. There is a solid scriptural case to be made against the idea of Hell. The writers of Hebrew and Greek Scriptures were inspired to write exactly what God told them to write. Unfortunately, no translator was so inspired. Jesus never used the English word hell and He never used any Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic word meaning what most people believe hell means.
Although the King James version and other English versions are generally well translated bibles, they have some words which are poorly translated and have resulted in a serious misunderstanding of God’s work of redemption and plan of salvation. This is especially true of the word hell.
Why is this? Doesn’t God want us to use our popular English translations to grow in spiritual understanding? Yes but we are asked to search the scriptures daily to see whether these things are so, just like the Bereans mentioned in the book of Acts.
Sadly, most Christians are really not taught to study past their own denominational doctrines, and therefore remain uncertain because of seemingly contradictory bible verses. All to many Christians just accept the doctrines of their church or are influenced by a favorite preacher or pastor.
If one were to take the main theological words used in church and study their origins, one would learn much about truth and error. Many people simply can’t be bothered but they should more inquisitive. All churches have articles of faith or statement of beliefs. One typical article of faith from one Christian church reads as follows:
16.2. We believe that glorious and everlasting life is assured to all who savingly believe in, and obediently follow, Jesus Christ our Lord; and that the finally impenitent shall suffer eternally in hell.
The above article of faith is typical of the vast majority of Christian Churches They believe in a literal tormenting fire which burns forever for those who either rejected Christ or never knew Him. That is so sad, because it is NOT TRUE. Does that scenario harmonize with the scriptures that tell us that God is love and Jesus is the Savior of the world? No it does not, so what is the answer?
This brings us to examine the English word Hell. Just a little study into the history of this word should throw up a flashing warning sign. Hell never was and never will be a proper translation of the Greek word hades. The doctrine of hell is an invention of men and is nowhere found in the Hebrew or Greek manuscripts.
Although not a proper translation of hades, the old English word hell did have similarities to the word hades long ago. The old Webster’s Twentieth Century Dictionary has this definition: hell : n. [ME, helle; AS, hell, hell, from helan, to cover, conceal.] Notice this – to cover or conceal.
That definition has at least some similarity to the Greek elements of hades. Hades is more properly defined as UN-PERCEIVED or the UNSEEN or IMPERCEPTIBLE. For proof see Strong’s Concordance G86.
Before the King James Bible, the old Anglo-Saxon word hell simply meant a dark, hidden, concealed, or covered hole in the ground. Doesn’t that remind you of a grave.
Hell never was and never will be a proper translation of the Greek word hades. However, back in the Middle Ages it did have a totally different connotation than today.
Yes, before the King James Bible, the old Anglo-Saxon word simply meant a dark, hidden, concealed, or covered hole in the ground. But now check a modern dictionary and look what we get: Webster’s New World Dictionary: hell (hel), n 1. the place where Christians believe that devils live and wicked people go to be punished after they die. What happened to the original definition of the word hell? So we see that back in the Middle Ages it did have a totally different connotation than today.
This modern definition doesn’t even purport to define the word. It just tells us what Christians believe it is. Do you really want to base a definition of a word on what people think, rather than doing an analysis of its root meaning?
In the Authorized King James Version the word Hell is found 23 times in the New Testament. In the New king James Version it found 13 times and in the New International Version 14 times. Better translations, although not as popular, such as the Concordant Literal Version, Young’s Literal Translation, Fentons Holy Bible in modern English and Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible never use the word hell. The word hell is an English word translated from 3 different Greek words – hades, gehenna and tartaroo. We have already looked at the real meaning of hades. Not one of these three Greek words have a meaning of an ever burning torture chamber for evil people.
The Greek words translated incorrectly by the word hell are these:
Hades (discussed in this article)
Gehenna and Tartaroo will be discussed in a future article. They also have nothing to do with the hell of mainstream Christianity..
In conclusion, the word hell as defined by orthodox Christianity is incorrect. It is derived from the pagan beliefs in the immortality of the soul. The concept of an immortal soul within us that cannot die first became a ‘Christian’ doctrine at the end of the second century AD. Hell had been taught in Greek philosophy long before the time of Jesus, with Plato (427-347 BC) as the important leader in this thinking. At the end of the 2nd century Christianity had begun to blend Greek philosophy and human speculative reasoning, with the teachings of God’s Word. These ideas had come straight from Plato, the Greek philosopher, all those years before Jesus. Other phrases used were ‘the soul to remain by itself immortal’, and ‘an immortal nature’. It was taught that this is how God made us. But this idea derives from philosophy, not divine inspiration. There are no such words regarding man's immortality anywhere in the Bible..
Ask any bible scholar or your pastor if the words grave and hell mean the very same thing in the Bible, and see what they will say. They will tell you, no, that they are not the same, that they are very much different. However, the context will show that grave or its literal meaning of the unseen can be consistently used in the New Testament without jeopardizing or violating the context. That is the truth..
So the teaching, that when wicked people die they go to a place ofe ternal torture in fire is a pagan/heathen belief and doctrine. This teaching far antedates the Christian era, and even the Old Testament knows nothing of a place of eternal torture in fire upon death. Dead people do not go anywhere. Good dead people do not go to heaven and bad dead people do not go to a place called hell to be tortured in fire for all eternity. Dead people are dead and will remain dead until the resurrection from the dead described in scripture (see Eccles. 9:5). That resurrection is yet future. The apostles had consistently taught that death is a sleep, to be followed by resurrection..
When a person dies they are buried in a grave, a place which is unseen. Those who perish in other ways such as in a fire or at sea also come to a condition of the unseen or imperceptible (hades)..
In the next article in this series we will explore what the Old Testament reveals about the condition of dead people. What happens to them when they die??
Here are the 23 verses in the King James version (Authorized Version) where the Greek is incorrectly translated as hell with the Greek word in brackets..
Mat_5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell (Gehenna)a)
Mat_5:29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell ( Gehenna).
Mat_5:30 And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell ( Gehenna).
Mat_10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fearhim which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell ( Gehenna)
Mat_11:23 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell (hades – grave): for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
Mat_16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell (hades – grave) shall not prevail against it.
Mat_18:9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell (Gehenna) fire.
Mat_23:15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell (Gehenna) than yourselves.
Mat_23:33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of 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:
Mar_9:45 And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell (Gehenna), into the fire that never shall be quenched:
Mar_9:47 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell (Gehenna) fire:
Luk_10:15 And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell (hades – grave).
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.
Luk_16:23 And in hell (hades – grave) he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
Act_2:27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (hades – grave), neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
Act_2:31 He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell (hades – grave), neither his flesh did see corruption.
Jas_3:6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell (Gehenna).
2 Pe_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;
Rev_1:18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell (hades – grave) and of death.
Rev_6:8 And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell (hades – grave) followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
Rev_20:13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell (hades – grave) delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
Rev_20:14 And death and hell (hades – grave) were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
The next few articles on Hell in this series will provide more information about the word Hell.Go to Home Page