God and Creation—Part 15

The Truth about Hell

“The sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.”
—Revelation 20:13

AS A RESULT OF SATAN’S lie to Mother Eve, “Ye shall not surely die” (Gen. 3:4), traditional theology has changed the meaning of death from the absence of life to separation from God in a place of endless and excruciating torture. Accepting the unscriptural theory that there is no death, it was reasoned that the wicked could not be worthy of spending eternity in happiness with the righteous souls. The theory of torture in hell for these seemed an obvious solution.

As this God-dishonoring teaching was taking shape, there were probably very few who enthusiastically espoused it. Therefore the more humane, although equally false, theory of purgatory was perhaps welcomed as mitigating the horrors of endless torture. Those tortured in this humanly conceived place of suffering would eventually escape; for, when their souls were purified by pain, they would, according to this theory, be ushered into heavenly bliss.

But, as we have previously observed, there is no mention of purgatory in the Bible. The Protestant fathers, in their desire to be loyal to the Word of God, and to discard all man-made teachings, especially those emanating from Rome, renounced their belief in purgatory, and eliminated all mention of it in their creeds. They concluded that the Divine plan for all who were not good enough to go to heaven when they died was that they should suffer eternally in a hell of blistering torment.


Those who discarded the purgatory dogma, and retained merely the eternal torture doctrine, found the word hell in both the Old and New Testaments. We are speaking now, of the older English translations of the Bible. In the Old Testament, hell translates the Hebrew word sheol. In the New Testament three Greek words are translated hell; namely, hades, Gehenna, and tartaroo.

The Hebrew word sheol appears in the Old Testament sixty-five times. But it is not always translated hell. Thirty-one times it is translated grave, and three times pit. But thirty-one times it is translated hell in our Common Version English Bibles, and, with the false meaning that has, through misuse, been attached to the word hell in the minds of the not-too-careful students, this helps to support the torture hallucination.

The variation of translation, however, should at once raise a question concerning the real meaning of the Hebrew word sheol. Certainly the meaning of the word does not change to suit the whims of the translators. The fact that it can be translated grave and pit without doing violence to the text in which it is so translated makes one wonder why it should not always be translated by these better understood English words. However, regardless of these variations, the word sheol describes the only hell with which the ancient servants of God were acquainted, and also the only hell God mentioned in his inspired Word for the first four thousand years of human experience. Whatever the nature of this hell might be, it is expressed by the word sheol. Since God is unchangeable, we can rest assured that every thought he conveyed to the minds of his ancient servants through the word sheol is still true today. Bearing out this thought is the fact, as we shall discover, that the hell of the New Testament is the same as the hell of the Old Testament.

Does the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek words in the New Testament describe the traditional hell of the Dark Ages? (1) The traditional hell is a place of endless torture, whereas the Bible teaches that hell is a condition of unconsciousness, the state of death. (2) Tradition has it that hell is a place into which only the wicked go when they die, but the hell of the Bible is a condition into which both the righteous and the wicked go at death. (3) The hell invented in the Dark Ages is a place from which no one will ever return, but the hell of the Bible will give up its dead. Let us examine these points as we find them in the Word of God.


First, we will turn to the Old Testament, where the word sheol is translated hell. We do not need to depend upon a Hebrew scholar’s definition of this word, for the Bible itself reveals its meaning. We find this information in Ecclesiastes 9:10, which reads, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” Here the word ‘grave’ translates sheol, and the text says that there is no ‘knowledge’ in sheol, that it is a condition of unconsciousness. This means that those in hell—the hell of the Bible, that is—do not suffer, are not in torment.


The first time the Hebrew word sheol appears in the Old Testament it is used by the righteous patriarch Jacob. He had been deceived into believing that his son Joseph had been slain by a wild beast. Jacob was heartbroken, and indicated that he would continue to mourn for his son until he died. In expressing his great grief he used the word sheol, saying, “I will go down into the grave [sheol] unto my son mourning.”—Gen. 37:35

Here it is clearly evident that Jacob expected to go to sheol when he died, and sheol, let us remember, describes the only hell of the Old Testament. This statement therefore proves that the righteous go to the Bible hell at death. Later Jacob affirmed his understanding of where he would go when he died. It was when he was protesting against his son Benjamin being taken down to Egypt. He said, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave [sheol, hell].”—Gen. 42:38

Job was another righteous man, a servant of God, who expected to go to sheol when he died. His case is most interesting. God had permitted a very severe trial to come upon him. He was undergoing acute suffering, mentally and physically, so much so that he felt he could no longer endure, so he asked God to let him die. In his prayer for death, Job said to God, “O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave [sheol, hell], that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!”—Job 14:13

This was Job’s way of asking God to let him die. He knew that in death he would be in sheol, the Bible hell. The reason Job prayed to go to sheol, is because he knew that those in sheol are unconscious. Job was suffering almost beyond the point of human endurance, so in his prayer for death he was crying for relief from suffering, which relief he knew he would find in sheol, the Bible hell.


Job, however, did not wish to remain in hell permanently, for in his prayer he asked God to appoint him a ‘set time’ and ‘remember’ him. Then he added, “All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change [from death to life] come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.” (Job 14:14,15) Thus Job expressed his hope of returning from sheol, in the resurrection, which is contrary to the teachings of the Dark Ages relative to the creedal hell.

The word sheol is again translated grave in I Samuel 2:6, which reads, “The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave [sheol, hell], and bringeth up.” The thought of this text is the same as that expressed in a prayer by Moses in which he said to God, “Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.” (Ps. 90:3) This seems to be a reference to the sentence of death that came upon our first parents, a sentence which plunged the whole world into death, destruction, sheol. But God’s plan is to restore the dead to life, which means that those in sheol will not remain there. Hell will give up its dead.


It is proper to inquire why the translators of our Common Version Bible did not in every instance translate the Hebrew word sheol by the same English word. Why did they at times use the word grave and at other times hell? It is obvious that this variation of translation must of necessity make it more difficult for the ordinary reader of the Bible to ascertain the real truth about hell.

In examining the work of the translators it appears that the general rule they seemed to follow was that when the righteous were involved they used the word grave, but when the text referred to the death of wicked persons, sheol was translated hell. To the casual reader this was sure to lead to the erroneous conclusion that the righteous and the wicked go to different places when they die—the righteous into the grave, and the wicked into hell. With the meaning that became attached to the word hell during the Dark Ages, this meant that the wicked go to a place of torture.

Let it be said on behalf of the translators, however, that the English word hell did not always have the thought of torture. Like many other words, it has undergone a complete change of meaning. Originally hell meant simply to conceal, to cover. The British ‘helled’ their potatoes for the winter, which simply meant that they buried them in the ground to protect them from the winter’s frost. We do not know whether or not the translators had this original meaning of the word hell in mind when they used it to translate the Hebrew word sheol, or whether they hoped that the reader would take its attached meaning and reach the conclusion that the wicked go to a place of torment.


Usually the translators employed the word hell in texts that refer to the death of the wicked, and grave when the reference is to the righteous. There are exceptions to this rule, a very noteworthy one being Psalm 16:10. This text reads, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” Here we have a ‘Holy One’ expressing confidence that God would not leave his soul in hell, in sheol.

In the New Testament we learn that the Holy One whose soul was not left in hell was Jesus, the Redeemer and Savior of the world. This is confirmed by the Apostle Peter in the sermon he preached on the Day of Pentecost. At that time there was an outstanding display of Divine power, the Holy Spirit of God. God’s Spirit, or power, which had brought the whole universe into existence in that “beginning” in which “God created the heaven and the earth;” the same Spirit of God which “moved upon the face of the waters,” forming the oceans, regulating the tides, and causing the waters to swarm with fish (Gen. 1:1,2), now had come upon the disciples to accomplish still another aspect of the Divine plan.

In the Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were empowered to speak in various foreign languages; and the enemies of Jesus charged that this unusual conduct of the disciples was merely a case of their being intoxicated by strong drink. The Apostle Peter was quick to answer this charge. First he said, “These are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing that it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel.” (Acts. 2:14-16) Joel had prophesied that God would pour out his Spirit upon his servants and handmaids, and Peter identified what was happening as a fulfillment of this prophecy.

Then Peter continued his sermon, saying, “Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it. For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”—Acts 2:22-27

It will be recognized that the Apostle Peter quotes Psalm 16:10, applying it to the death and resurrection of Jesus. This means that Jesus went into the Bible hell when he died. Hell, as we have seen, is the death condition. We read concerning Jesus, “He hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”—Isa. 53:12

Jesus took the sinner’s place in death. Since, through Adam, all mankind was condemned to death—to the Bible hell—if Jesus were to redeem Adam and his race it was essential that he take this penalty upon himself. For this reason he ‘poured out his soul unto death,’ going into the Bible hell. It was by this means, as Isaiah states, that Jesus bore ‘the sin of many’—that is, of all mankind. Paul wrote, “As by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”—Rom. 5:18


When the Apostle Peter quoted Psalm 16:10, the prophecy which reveals that Jesus’ soul was in the Bible hell from the time of his crucifixion until his resurrection, he used the Greek word hades to translate the Hebrew sheol. Thus, we know, upon the basis of this inspired authority, that hades, which is translated hell ten times in the New Testament, has the same meaning as sheol of the Old Testament; the state, or condition of death.

It is the Greek word hades that is translated “hell” in Matthew 11:23, which is a prophecy by Jesus concerning the destruction of the wicked city of Capernaum. It reads, “Thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell [hades].” From this we see that even a city can go into the Bible hell. It is an historical fact that Capernaum was completely destroyed, that it went into oblivion, into hades.

In Revelation 1:18, we find another very revealing use of the Greek word hades. The resurrected Jesus is here speaking to the Apostle John, and he says, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell [hades] and of death.” Jesus had been dead, in sheol, hades, as a substitute in death for Adam and his race. The result of this is explained by the Apostle Paul who says, “To this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.”—Rom. 14:9

To be ‘Lord’ of the ‘dead and living’ is to have control over them. It is this fact that Jesus symbolizes by ‘keys’—I ‘have the keys of hell and of death’—that is, Jesus, by virtue of his own death and resurrection, now has the authority and power to liberate from death those who are in hades, and to restore to health and life those who are dying. Paul explains the philosophy of this when he says, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”—I Cor. 15:22

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