“Hell” in the Greek Scriptures

When we come to the common English New Testament, three completely different Greek words are used to translate the word “hell.”

Hadēs (hah’-dace, or hades)

Hadēs is the most frequently used Greek word to translate “hell.” The meaning of hadēs is easy to establish. Hadēs is defined by God Himself in the Scriptures.

In the Hebrew Scriptures we read,

For Thou will not leave My soul in hell [she‘ôl]; neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption (Psalm 16:10).

Then in the Greek Scriptures, quoting this passage from the Psalms, we read:

Because Thou wilt not leave My soul in hell [hadēs], neither wilt Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption (Acts 2:27).

Therefore, God defines the Greek word hadēs as the Hebrew word she‘ôl. It is the state of the dead, gravedom, the grave.

Interestingly, just like the Hebrew word she‘ôl, the King James Version also translates the Greek word hadēs as both “grave” and “hell.” Hadēs is translated as “grave” in I Corinthians 15:55:

O death, where is thy sting? O grave [hadēs], where is thy victory?

Is this amazing? If the King James Version was consistent, it would have translated the verses this way,

O death, where is thy sting? O hell, where is thy victory?

That is a good question! Where is “hell’s” victory? Again, we must ask, “Do the two words “grave” and “hell” have the same meaning to the average reader?” There is a major religious and translational problem here.

Geenna (gheh’-en-nah, or gehenna)

It is interesting that geenna is also translated as “hell.” Geenna was actually a historical place. It was the dump outside of Jerusalem where trash was burned. It was typically used metaphorically of the “removal of your trash.”

Tartaroō (tar-tar-o’-o, or tartaroo; English transliteration “tartarus”)

This last of the three Greek words translated “hell” in the King James Version appears only once. Tartaroō has been translated “hell” in II Peter 2:4.

Peter warned,

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who secretly shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction (II Peter 2:1).

Damnable heresies are “heresies of destruction or perdition.”

Concerning these things, E.W. Bullinger has written,

The teaching that the punishment of the unrighteous begins at the moment of death is a very serious blot on the justice of God. If this is the truth, then Cain, who died about six thousand years ago has already endured six millenniums of punishment, while another murderer who dies today begins to suffer today. Therefore Cain will have to suffer six thousand years more for the same crime than the murderer who dies today.

If two men charged with identical crimes and equally guilty were sentenced, one for five years and the other for ten years, all men who love justice would cry out against such a miscarriage of justice. Shall we not also cry out against any teaching that insists that one man suffer six thousand years more than another for the identical crime? It is indeed a fearful travesty of truth to teach that men are tortured for their sins before they ever have their day in court, and that later they do have their day in court merely to receive a sentence that is determined beforehand. Would not this make the justice of the Great White Throne to be of the same character as the justice ordered by a Mexican general who said, “Give the man a fair trial, then shoot him.” Can this be the justice of God? Can this be the teaching of the Word of God? Do you know that it is? Are you sure that it is? Or, can it be that you just do not care?

The contention that God’s holiness is of such nature that His justice can never be satisfied by anything except eternal conscious suffering as the penalty for sins needs to be carefully examined. If this dogma is true, then this is the penalty Christ should have paid when He died for our sins. He paid the debt that we owed to God, but He did not suffer eternally. If the debt we owed was “eternal suffering,” then that debt has never been paid. Jesus Christ suffered just six hours on the Cross. He did not suffer eternally.

If we would know of God’s wrath against sin, we need to look at the Cross. We will learn from this that our God does punish sin, but we will also learn that the wages of sin is death and not eternal conscious torment.[1]

Speaking of the roots of the doctrine of “hell,” Bullinger also writes,

This is a heathen word and comes down to us surrounded with heathen traditions, which had their origin in Babel, and not in the Bible, and have reached us through Judaism and Romanism.[2]

Clyde L. Pilkington, Jr.
The Salvation of All
© 2005-2010


[1]Cited by Otis Q. Sellers, The Study of Human Destiny, 1955, page 17.

[2]E.W. Bullinger, Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament.

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