One word, “Hell” conjures up horrific images of unimaginable eternal torment in the mind of most of the world. Yet, there is no place in the Bible that gives this image or doctrine of “eternal physical tortuous punishment”. This picture of a tortuous demonic inspired hell comes to us from two main sources, the writings of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and from Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) who wrote a poem called, The Divine Comedy. The nightmarish visions of eternal torment, written by Dante have come down to us as “Christian” doctrine yet was never Biblical. Dante simply expanded on what Thomas Aquinas had written as a Catholic Priest.
In the Bible, the word “Hell” is translated from four separate words of Hebrew and Greek into the English word, “hell”. It is very unfortunate as these translations skewer the true meanings used in the Bible. Let us look into the four words translated as “hell” and see what the Bible really says about the future of the unbelievers.
- Sheol is the Hebrew word used for hell in the Old Testament. Sheol occurs 31 times and simply means “grave or pit” also “the unseen state”. Some examples of the grave or pit in the Old Testament Hebrew are: Psalms 16:10; 55:15; 86:13. They all refer to being in the grave or pit. No eternal fire and torment is associated with the word Sheol.
- Hades is a Greek word used 11 times in the New Testament. Essentially the word Hades is the same meaning as the Hebrew Sheol, grave or pit. It is likened to a hole in the ground. Hades also does not mention any fiery torment. Some examples of Hades in the New Testament are: Matt. 16:18; Acts 2:27-29, 31 (David still in the pit or hell). Compare to Psalm 16:10. Rev. 1:18; 20:13-14.
- Tartaroo is used once in the New Testament. II Pet.2:4 is translated hell from the Greek word Tartaroo, meaning “a place or condition of restraint”. This is the only time tartaroo is used and it is used to describe the place of restraint of the rebellious angels and Satan after they tried to over throw God. Satan’s rebellion against God (Isa.14:12-14; Rev. 12:4; Luke 10:18 and Ezek. 28:13-17). The rebellious angels are held there until their final judgment (Jude 6 and I Cor. 6:3).
- Gehenna is used 12 times in the New Testament and specifically refers to “Gai Hinnon”. A Hebrew word meaning the “Valley of Hinnom”. Gai Hinnom is a deep ravine located just south and west of Jerusalem. Gehenna was used as the garbage pit of Jerusalem where refuse and condemned criminals were burned into ashes. In ancient times, II Kings 23:10 we see King Josiah put an end to the child sacrifice to Baal which was done in the valley of Hinnom. In the time of the early apostles it was used as the refuse pit for Jerusalem and where dead animals and criminals were burned up. The fire never went out as it was in continuous use. In the New Testament, it always refers to total annihilation and destruction of whatever was thrown into “Gehenna”. It never refers to eternal continuous physical torment of sinners. Some of the usages are: Matt. 10:28; 18:9; Mark 9:43-47.
God is merciful not a vengeful supreme God. He does not nor will he have people live in torment forever in a fiery pit of hell where one does not die. We do not have an immortal soul (See CSCOG7 – Immortal Soul). When humans die (All humans who have ever lived, have died or will die (Heb.9:27 and I Cor. 15:22) we all wait for the judgement spoken of in Rev. 20: all. Both the righteous and the sinner are resurrected to their judgement. The righteous to live forever with God and the sinners to be burned into ashes. Nowhere in the Bible is eternal physical tormenting punishment spoken of for mankind. Only life with God or eternal death (See CSCOG7 – Salvation).