All Bible quotes are from the World English Bible unless otherwise noted.

In most Christian circles the doctrine of “Hell” teaches that wicked, unrepentant people are sentenced to an afterlife of eternal torment and pain. Some people ponder this teaching and ask: Would our Almighty Father torment people for eternity if He really is love? (1 John 4:8) Is that real love, especially coming from a God who tells us to love our enemies? (Matthew 5:44, Romans 12:20-21). And beyond that, does it make sense that God would dish out such a permanent punishment for something those ones did while living in a temporary state?


The Bible reveals that the idea of burning people never came up into God's heart (Jeremiah 7:30-31) and that such activity was viewed as an abhorrent practice in His eyes (Deuteronomy 18:10, 2 Kings 16:3, 17:16-17, 21:6, 23:10). The practice of burnt human sacrifice was prevalent in the land of Canaan and was one of the reasons God commanded the Israelites to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan (Deuteronomy 9:1-6, Deuteronomy 18:9-12).

The Bible also reveals that when a person dies the state of death itself is the consequence for one's sins. (Genesis 2: 16-17, Romans 6: 23) Thus, if death itself is the consequence sin, then it would be unjust for God to force us to continue to suffer further consequences for our sins after having already endured the prescribed consequence for the occasion. It would be a akin to forcing you to continue repaying on a debt that you've already finished repaying. It is neither fair nor just.


So, what about the Biblical references concerning Gehenna, Sheol, Hades, and The Lake of Fire as synonyms for Hell? Let's look at these one at a time:


The entry for “Gehenna” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia is as follows:

Gehenna is a transliteration from the Aramaic form of the Hebrew ge-hinnom, "valley of Hinnom." This latter form, however, is rare in the Old Testament, the prevailing name being "the valley of the son of Hinnom." Septuagint usually translates; where it transliterates the form is different from Gehenna and varies. In the New Testament the correct form is Gee'nna with the accent on the penult, not Ge'enna. There is no reason to assume that Hinnom is other than a plain patronymic, although it has been proposed to find in it the corruption of the name of an idol. In the New Testament (King James Version margin) Gehenna occurs in Matthew 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,15,47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6. In all of these it designates the place of eternal punishment of the wicked, generally in connection with the final judgment. It is associated with fire as the source of torment. Both body and soul are cast into it. This is not to be explained on the principle that the New Testament speaks metaphorically of the state after death in terms of the body; it presupposes the resurrection. In the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) Gehenna is rendered by "hell". That "the valley of Hinnom" became the technical designation for the place of final punishment was due to two causes. In the first place the valley had been the seat of the idolatrous worship of Molech, to whom children were immolated by fire (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6). Secondly, on account of these practices the place was defiled by King Josiah (2 Kings 23:10), and became in consequence associated in prophecy with the judgment to be visited upon the people (Jeremiah 7:32). The fact, also, that the city's offal was collected there may have helped to render the name synonymous with extreme defilement. Topographically the identification of the valley of Hinnom is still uncertain. It has been in turn identified with the depression on the western and southern side of Jerusalem, with the middle valley, and with the valley to the E. Gehenna was a valley outside of Jerusalem.

In short, the real Gehenna was a waste place used for the burning of rubbish. Historians also note that the corpses of animals and criminals were burned there as well. Law abiding citizens received a proper burial whereas criminals were left in the open air for maggots and incineration with the other garbage. This burning of corpses and trash occurred around the clock every day as a matter of basic sanitation, meaning that this incineration was ongoing and the end results were permanent: A corpse that was thrown into Gehenna couldn't be taken back later for a proper for it would be totally destroyed by the fire. A corpse destroyed in Gehenna was forgotten in time as there was no grave marker or tomb to remember the person with. Therefore, not only was the body completely destroyed but the memory of that person was also destroyed. Because of this thoroughness of destruction, in tandem with the continual burning of the waste fire, Gehenna became a symbol of permanent, or endless, destruction.

Some Bible versions correctly use the original word "Gehenna" in places such as at Matthew 5:22, 29-30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 23:33, Mark 9:43,45,47, Luke 12:5, and James 3:6. (Amplified Bible, English Standard Version footnote, Young's Literal Translation, Holman Christian Standard Bible footnote, New Living Translation footnote, New American Standard Version footnote) while others replace "Gehenna" with the word "Hell" (King James Version, New Internatinal Version, Today's New International Version, Darby Translation, American Standard Version). However, if you compare the verses with an interlinear Greek Bible, you will see that the original word should be "Gehenna", the place in which wicked people's corpses were disposed of and forgotten.


The entry for “Sheol” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia is as follows:

According to the This word is often translated in the King James Version "grave" (Genesis 37:35; 1 Samuel 2:6; Job 7:9; 14:13; Psalms 6:5; 49:14; Isaiah 14:11, etc.) or "hell" (Deuteronomy 32:22; Psalms 9:17; 18:5; Isaiah 14:9; Amos 9:2, etc.); in 3 places by "pit" (Numbers 16:30,33; Job 17:16). It means really the unseen world, the state or abode of the dead, and is the equivalent of the Greek Haides, by which word it is translated in Septuagint. The English Revisers have acted somewhat inconsistently in leaving "grave" or "pit" in the historical books and putting "Sheol" in the margin, while substituting "Sheol" in the poetical writings, and putting "grave" in the margin ("hell" is retained in Isaiah 14). Compare their "Preface." The American Revisers more properly use "Sheol" throughout. The etymology of the word is uncertain. A favourite derivation is from sha'al, "to ask" (compare Proverbs 1:12; 27:20; 30:15,16; Isaiah 5:14; Habakkuk 2:5); others prefer the sha'al, "to be hollow." The Babylonians are said to have a similar word Sualu, though this is questioned by some. Into Sheol, when life is ended, the dead are gathered in their tribes and families. Hence, the expression frequently occurring in the Pentateuch, "to be gathered to one's people," "to go to one's fathers," etc. (Genesis 15:15; 25:8,17; 49:33; Numbers 20:24,28; 31:2; Deuteronomy 32:50; 34:5). It is figured as an under-world (Isaiah 44:23; Ezekiel 26:20, etc.), and is described by other terms, as "the pit" (Job 33:24; Psalms 28:1; 30:3; Proverbs 1:12; Isaiah 38:18, etc.), ABADDON (which see) or Destruction (Job 26:6; 28:22; Proverbs 15:11), the place of "silence" (Psalms 94:17; 115:17), "the land of darkness and the shadow of death" (Job 10:21). It is, as the antithesis of the living condition, the synonym for everything that is gloomy, inert, insubstantial (the abode of Rephaim, "shades," Job 26:5; Proverbs 2:18; 21:16; Isaiah 14:9; 26:14). It is a "land of forgetfulness," where God's "wonders" are unknown (Psalms 88:10-12). There is no remembrance or praise of God (Psalms 6:5; 88:12; 115:17, etc.). In its darkness, stillness, powerlessness, lack of knowledge and inactivity, it is a true abode of death (see DEATH); hence, is regarded by the living with shrinking, horror and dismay (Psalms 39:13; Isaiah 38:17-19), though to the weary and troubled it may present the aspect of a welcome rest or sleep (Job 3:17-22; 14:12). The Greek idea of Hades was not dissimilar.

Notably, “Sheol” indicates merely a place for the dead; the common grave. It is usually translated correctly as "grave" (Genesis 37:35, 42:38, Numbers 16:30, 1 Samuel 2:6, 1 Kings 2:6, Job 7:9, Ecclesiastes 9:10, Isaiah 14:11)(King James Version, 21st Century King James Version, New King James Version, New Living Translatin, New Internatinal Version), though many times it remains the original word “Sheol” (Holman Christian Standard Bible, Darby Translation, Young's Literal Translation, Amplified Bible, American Standard Version, English Standard Version, New International Version footnotes). Interestingly, however, in some Bible versions, this very same Hebrew word “Sheol” a.k.a. “Grave” is incorrectly replaced with the word "Hell" (2 Samuel 22:6, Job 11:8, Job 26:6, Psalms 9:17) (21st Century King James Version, New King James Version, King James Version, Amplified Bible, The Message).

Sheol is used in connection with being covered in maggots (Isaiah 14:11) and has a connection of having no consciousness (Ecclesiastes 9:10) (Holman Christian Standard Bible, Darby Translation, American Standard Version, Young's Literal Translatin, English Standard Version, Amplified Bible), supporting its definition of being simply a grave. There is no valid reason to change "Sheol" into "Hell" in any of the cases that some of the translators do so. If you compare the verses in an interlinear Hebrew Bible, you can see this very clearly. (Free online Hebrew Interlinear Bibles are available on the internet). Thus, Sheol is not a formal title for "Hell"; it is simply a reference to the common burial grave.



According to Strong's Greek Lexicon the definition for Hades is as follows:

#86 haides hah'-dace from 1 (as negative particle) and 1492; properly, unseen, i.e. "Hades" or the place (state) of departed souls:--grave, hell.

The word "Hades" comes from Greek, and literally means "underworld" or "place of the dead", without regard to a person's righteousness or wickedness. Basically, it's the grave and is the Greek version of the Hebrew “Sheol”.

"Hades" is also often translated as "Hell" in some Bible versions (Matthew 11:23, 16:18, Luke 10:15, Acts 2:27,31 King James Version, Wycliffe Bible, New International Reader's Version, 21st Century King James Version), and yet is sometimes translated correctly as a general reference for a place of the dead (Today's New International Version, New Century Version, Amplified Bible). Sometimes it remains worded as "Hades" (Matthew 16:18, Revelation 6:7-8, Revelation 20:13-14 New International Version United Kingdom, Holman Christian Standard Bible, Darby Translation, Young's Literal Translation, American Standard Version, New King James Version, English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible), depending on the Bible version you are reading.

One instance in which the original word "Hades" is used is when referring to Christ as having been in Hades after his death (Acts 2:31-- NKJV) Are we to suppose that Christ, who was sinless, deserved to go to a tormenting fiery hell, even for just a brief time? Many people point to the Scripture that state Jesus bore our sins upon himself, (1 Peter 2:24) and believe he had to enter fiery hell for our sins. However, as pointed out earlier, it is death that pays the debt for sin. Since Jesus, a sinless man, DIED, and went into the grave for three days, that was the debt he paid for us, not entrance into a fiery hell.

This is supported at Revelation 6:7-8, which informs us that Hades closely follows the horseman of death. Since burial in a grave always closely follows a person's death, this makes sense. Later, the book of Revelation tells us that both Hades and death are hurled together into the Lake of Fire for destruction (Revelation 20:13-14). Again, this points to Hades being the grave because death and the grave are tied together. Having death and the grave destroyed together goes with God's plan to rid the world of death and mourning (Isaiah 25:8, John 6:58, 1 Corinthians 15:54, Revelation 21:1-4, Psalms 37:29).

So, now, this brings up the next one: The Lake of Fire.


According to the Bible, the Lake of Fire is mentioned only in the book of Revelation:

Revelation 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 (KJV)

In the usual views about "Hell" Satan is the one causing the torment and not the one who is being tormented, so what do we make of this Scripture? It helps to realize that the word "torment" was sometimes used interchangeably for the word "destruction", as shown in the comparison of same account as told between the two Gospel writers Mark and Matthew:

Mark 1:24

saying, “Ha! What do we have to do with you, Jesus, you Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know you who you are: the Holy One of God!” (World English Bible, similar in King James Version)

Matthew 8:29

Behold, they cried out, saying, “What do we have to do with you, Jesus, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time? (World English Bible, similar in King James Version )

The next reference for “The Lake of Fire” is found at Revelation 20:14-15

...Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. If anyone was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire. (World English Bible, the King James Version says "death and hell")

Note that it states that death and Hades (the grave) are cast into the Lake of Fire for destruction, further negating the idea of Hades being an everlasting place of torment. And, since death and the grave are hurled in the Lake of Fire to be destroyed after Satan is hurled into it, we can see that this “torment” is merely symbolism for the literal destruction of all these things in the Lake. Having Satan, Hades/the grave, and death destroyed is mentioned in Scripture, when Jesus Christ destroys all of God's enemies, with the last enemy being death (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). As a result, neither Satan nor death will plague mankind after Christ accomplishes this mission.


The Scripture at Revelation 14:11 says:

"The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever. They have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name. (World English Bible, similar in King James Version)

What are we to make of this?

First of all, note that it's not saying that the torment itself lasts forever; instead it states that the smoke of their torment goes up forever. Since we've seen that this word "torment" could actually mean total destruction this could mean that their death is lasting forever. "Smoke" is the evidence of the "fire" -- hearkening back to the everlasting destruction visualized in the Valley of Hinnom/Gehenna. Since evil will be destroyed the evidence of this destruction will basically be the absence of all wickedness, AND this evidence will be continually noticed, much like the smoke from the endless fire in the valley of Gehenna was continually noticed by the citizens.


Some people point to Jesus Christ's parable about the Rich man and Lazarus, believing it proves that a fiery Hell is actual and real. For those unfamiliar with the parable, here it is straight from Scripture:

Luke 16:19-31

(19) “Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day. (20) A certain beggar, named Lazarus, was laid at his gate, full of sores, (21) and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Yes, even the dogs came and licked his sores. (22) It happened that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried. (23) In Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus at his bosom. (24) He cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue! For I am in anguish in this flame.’ (25) “But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you, in your lifetime, received your good things, and Lazarus, in the same way, bad things. But now here he is comforted and you are in anguish. (26) Besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that those who want to pass from here to you are not able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ (27) “He said, ‘I ask you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house; (28) for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, so they won’t also come into this place of torment.’(29) “But Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ (30) “He said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ (31) “He said to him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead.’” (World English Bible)

Although this passage initially seems to support the doctrine of a fiery hell, we need to look at this entire thing in context.

To begin with, this wasn't Jesus telling a true story, it is common knowledge that this is simply another one of his parables. It is also common knowledge that all of his parables were known to be allegorical stories, not literal. Interestingly enough though, many preach this one single parable as if it actually were literal in spite of the fact that all of his other parables are not treated in the same fashion.

Let me bring this a little closer to home: To take this passage as literal would require also accepting the idea that people in Heaven could see the suffering of those in the fiery Hell -- this would put a serious damper on the joy of being in Heaven! If this parable were literal you would have to accept that a single drop of water could quench the thirst brought on by the fire – not to mention the notion of a drop of water surviving the intense heat of the flame to begin with. Consider also that the Bible states there is no consciousness after death (Ecclesiastes 9:5,10, Psalms 115:17). Also consider that nobody at this time has gone to heaven except for Christ Himself (John 3:13), as the Judgment will not happen until after Christ returns (Matthew 25:31-46, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-12, Revelation 11:18, Revelation 20:12-15) – if Judgment has not yet happened, then it impossible for anyone to have been sent to either Heaven OR Hell!

We cannot pick and choose which parts of this parable we want to be literal and which parts we want to be allegorical; either the parables are allegorical or they or not. They cannot simultaneously be both.



By checking the original language of Biblical writing, we can clearly see that the concept of a literal fiery Hell did not exist in Biblical times. We can also see that the synonyms for "Hell" (Gehenna, Hades, Lake of Fire, and Sheol) are actually synonyms for the grave or burial site, instead of a fiery, painful realm for the wicked.

May our God and Father give you peace on these matters.

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