Chapter 16 – Hebrew and Greek words mistranslated to mean Hell

Mistranslations of Sheol, Hades, Tartarus and Gehenna


In Chapter 15, we showed that the concept of ‘eternal punishment in hell’ is an unbiblical pagan doctrine which was embraced and christianised by the Roman Catholic Church in the early centuries of Christianity, and made official when Jerome translated the Bible into Latin in the Latin Vulgate (circa 400 AD).

The doctrine of ‘everlasting punishment in hell’ is founded upon a combination of mistranslations and misinterpretations of the following Hebrew and Greek words:

  • Mistranslations of the Hebrew word sheol, and the Greek words hades, tartarus and gehenna, to mean hell.
  • Mistranslations of the Hebrew word owlam, and the Greek words aion and aionios, to mean forever or everlasting when relating to God’s judgement of unbelievers and fallen angels.

In this chapter, we deal with the mistranslations of sheol, hades, tartarus and gehenna whilst in the next chapter, we deal with the mistranslations of owlam, aion and aionios.

Hell is such an infinitely extreme and dreadfully fearful doctrine with respect to the fate of unbelievers, who are the vast majority of humanity, that surely God would have inspired clear, unambiguous statements about it in the Bible if it were true. Also, one would expect Bible translators, experts in the Hebrew and Greek languages, to be in complete agreement about how many times the word ‘hell’ occurs in the Bible. But the shocking fact is that the opposite is true.

When we examine how often the word ‘hell’ occurs in various versions of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate onwards, we are shocked to see just how widely Bible translators differ in their opinion and understanding of the word ‘hell’.

Let us clearly demonstrate that Bible translators disagree immensely about the number of times hell is mentioned in the Bible by considering the following comparison table.

Number of times the word ‘Hell’ occurs in the following Bible Versions

400 The Latin Vulgate 86 24 110
1611 King James Version 31 23 54
1884 Hanson’s New Covenant n/a 0 0
1891 Young’s Literal Translation 0 0 0
1900 Twentieth Century New Testament n/a 0 0
1901 American Standard Version 0 13 13
1902 Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible 0 0 0
1903 Weymouth’s New Testament n/a 0 0
1917 Jewish Publication Society Bible OT 0 n/a 0
1942 Emphatic Diaglott Greek/English Int. n/a 0 0
1952 Revised Standard Version 0 17 17
1976 Restoration of Original Sacred Name 0 0 0
1978 New International Version 0 14 14
1982 New King James Version 19 13 32
1983 Concordant Literal NT n/a 0 0
1998 Tanakh/The Complete Jewish Bible 0 n/a 0
2004 Holman Christian Standard Bible 0 12 12

Please take time to study this comparison table and note the following shocking facts.

You will note that the Latin Vulgate mentions hell 110 times, which is the highest number of times the word hell occurs when compared to all of the other Bible versions.

All of the popular Protestant Bible versions like the King James Version (KJV), the American Standard Version (ASV), the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New International Version (NIV) and the New King James Version (NKJV) do not agree with the Latin Vulgate, nor even between themselves, as to the number of times the word hell appears in the Bible.

Only in the Latin Vulgate, the KJV and the NKJV does the word hell appear in the Old Testament of the Bible, but even these versions have wide disagreements on the number of times hell occurs in the Old Testament. The Latin Vulgate mentions hell 86 times, whereas the KJV mentions hell 31 times and the NKJV mentions hell only 19 times.

All versions of the Bible except for these three, the Latin Vulgate, the KJV and the NKJV, reject any notion of hell occurring in the original Hebrew Manuscripts of the Old Testament. Also, please especially note from the comparison table that the translators of the Jewish Publication Society Bible and the Tanakh/The Complete Jewish Bible disagree with the Latin Vulgate, the KJV and the NKJV by making no mention of hell whatsoever in their Bibles. If the Jews, who are experts in their own Hebrew language, do not include hell in their Bibles, then this further confirms that there is not a single word that means hell in the Hebrew Manuscripts of the Old Testament.

There are also several Bible versions that reject any notion of hell occurring in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament. Among others, these versions include Young’s Literal Translation, Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible and the Emphatic Diaglott Greek/English Interlinear Bible.

These are amazing and shocking facts that should make any hell-believing Christian stop in his tracks, and start to seriously question the validity of the doctrine of hell. Surely, the just and loving God of the Bible, who desires and wills all men to be saved, would have inspired clear, unambiguous statements in the Word of God about such an extreme doctrine as hell. This is absolutely not the case at all, as we have demonstrated.

The truth of the matter is that there is not one single word in the Hebrew and Greek Manuscripts of the Bible that means hell. As discussed in the previous chapter, hell is a man-invented, pagan, unchristian, heretical belief that was first embraced and christianised by Roman Catholicism, and incorporated into the Bible by Jerome through his Latin Vulgate in the early history of Christianity.

Jerome mistranslated as many as four different words to mean hell. These words are: one Hebrew word sheol, and three Greek words hades, tartarus and gehenna. These words do not mean hell. Let us now clearly explain the true biblical meanings of these words.

Sheol occurs 65 times in the Hebrew Manuscripts of the Old Testament, and it means the grave (the place of the dead) or the pit, as correctly translated in almost all modern versions of the Bible since the KJV.

Hades occurs 11 times in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament and it is the direct equivalent of the Hebrew word sheol; thus, it also means the grave or the pit. This is how most modern versions of the Bible translate hades.

Some Bible dictionaries give an added meaning to hades of ‘the underworld’ or ‘the place or state of departed spirits’. However, this meaning has been influenced by pagan Greek mythology and has no biblical basis.

Tartarus occurs only once in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament in the following verse.

2 Peter 2:4
For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell (tartarus) and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment.

Please note that God cast the angels who sinned down to tartarus and chained them in darkness, to be reserved for judgement.

The truth of the Bible is that Satan and his angels sinned by rebelling against God during the Pre-Adamic Age, when they rose up from the earth to heaven to try to usurp God’s throne. God cast them back down to earth and completely destroyed all Pre-Adamic life on earth. The earth was flooded, thrown into complete darkness and frozen, and God confined Satan and his fallen angels to this dark, chaotic and ruined earth (Genesis 1:2). It was the earth, in this state, which was tartarus, the physical and spiritual prison of darkness for Satan and his fallen angels.

When God renewed the face of the earth and its heaven (earth’s atmosphere) at the beginning of the Adamic Age (Genesis 1:3-31), approximately six thousand years ago, Satan and his fallen angels received a relative degree of physical freedom when they became the spirits of the air, able to roam the earth’s surface to tempt and deceive mankind. However, their movement is still confined to earth and its heaven (earth’s atmosphere) and they remain chained in a prison of spiritual darkness, so, this earth is still their tartarus prison, where they are reserved for final judgement in the Lake of Fire.

Further details about Satan and his fallen angels are given in Chapters 13 and 24.

Gehenna occurs 12 times in the Greek Manuscripts of the New Testament, and each and every time that gehenna occurs, it has been mistranslated to mean hell in versions of the Bible that support the doctrine of hell.

Gehenna takes its name from a valley located in Jerusalem called the Valley of Hinnom. During Jesus’s time on earth, this valley was used as the city dump. A fire was constantly kept alight there to burn up and consume all of the city’s unwanted rubbish.

It is Jesus Christ Himself who uses the Greek word gehenna 11 out of the 12 times that gehenna occurs in the Bible, for example in Matthew 18:9 below.

Matthew 18:9 (NKJV)
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell (gehenna) fire.

All versions of the Bible which support the doctrine of hell mistranslate the Greek word gehenna to mean ‘hell’, as in this verse above taken from the NKJV.

Yes, the Bible is clear that on the Day of Judgement, all resurrected unbelieving humanity will be cast into  gehenna fire for judgement. However, when Jesus Christ uses the term gehenna fire, He does not mean everlasting tormenting hell fire. By the term gehenna fire, Jesus means God’s age-to-come, age-lasting refining Lake of Fire, during the Great White Throne Judgement Age. God’s future Lake of Fire is not for the purpose of eternally tormenting unbelieving humanity as believed by the so-called ‘Christianity’, but it is God’s corrective, refining and merciful judgement for salvation. Please refer to Chapter 12, where under the section, ‘The Lake of Fire’, we have full explained and demonstrated this by using relevant scriptures.

Our Great, merciful and loving God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross to forgive the sins of the whole world, and to save this whole world of fallen sinful men and fallen sinful angels, without a single exception. This is the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The true biblical teaching is neither the traditional ‘Christian’ view of hell nor the view of annihilation. Our great God is neither a great torturer nor a great annihilator, but He is the great Saviour of the world (John 4:42, 1 John 4:14).


Next  – Chapter 17, Translations of Owlam, Aion, and Aionios