Words Rendered “Hell” in the King James Version

Picture of Fire and Darkness


The purpose of this essay is to help folks understand the reality of Hell.

We understand that Hell is a place of torment as we see from the passage about Lazarus and the Rich man in Luke 16:19-31. We note from various scriptures that Hell is a place of death (2 Sam 22:6), sorrow (2 Sam 22:6), destruction (not annihilation) (Job 26:6; Prov 15:11), pains (Psa 116:3), scourge (Isa 28:15; 18), affliction (Jon 2:2), unquenchable fire (Mar 9:43), damnation (Mat 23:33), torment (Luk 16:23), agony (Luk 16:24), corruption (Act 2:27), darkness (2 Pet 2:4), etc.

Some of our modern concept of Hell as a place of different levels and of eternal torture comes from Dante’s Inferno. Dante, in his Thirteenth Century epic poem, Inferno, describes several levels of Hell and the punishments there depend on the sins of the person in his or her lifetime.

The paragraph in the box below was included in the original posting. The information in that paragraph is completely incorrect.  It remains here for those who have read this post in  the past and are wondering what may have happened. 

Our concept of the fires burning in Hell comes from Christ’s own words describing Hell fire, and His use of Gehenna, which is the Greek word for the modern day Hinnom Valley on Jerusalem’s southwest side. According to the writings of Rabbi Kimchi (1160–1235) it was used as a garbage dump in ancient Israel. Kimchi also wrote that the bodies of executed criminals and dead animals were dumped there where the fires burned continually, the smoke was ever present, and the worms, or maggots, were always in view, giving the effect of never dying.

 The text below explains:

The idea, or myth, if you will, that the Hinnom Valley (Hebrew: גיא בן הינום‎, Gei Ben-Hinnom; Mishnaic Hebrew: גהנום‬/גהנם‬, Gehinnam/Gehinnom) became a trash dump where even the bodies of executed criminals were discarded and that was burning continually has only one source. That source is a commentary on Psalm 27, written in the Thirteenth Century AD by Rabbi David Kimchi (or Kimhi). He wrote, “Gehenna is a repugnant place, into which filth and cadavers are thrown, and in which fires perpetually burn in order to consume the filth and bones; on which account, by analogy, the judgement of the wicked is called ‘Gehenna.’” This is the only provenance for the narrative that the Hinnom Valley ever contained a perpetually burning garbage dump containing the human cadavers of criminals.

There is no archaeological or Biblical support or evidence for this statement. There are, however both Biblical and archeological support for a trash dump or dumps in the Kidron Valley. Nehemiah mentions the Dung Gate or Refuse Gate in Neh 2:133:13-1412:31. The name of the gate suggests that the city’s refuse was carried out through that gate, which opens onto the Kidron Valley. Josiah had the vessels made for Baal brought out of the Temple and he burned them to ashes in the Kidron valley (2 Kin 23:4) and took those ashes to Bethel to defile the pagan altar there. He also took the Asherah idol out of the Temple and burned it in the Kidron valley and spread its ashes over the graves of the worshippers of idols there (2 Kin 33:6 & 2 Chr 34:4). But this does nothing to prove any such dump in the Hinnom Valley.

In rabbinic texts Gehenna, or the Hebrew Gehinnom, is a place where unrighteous souls are punished. This line of thought is found in rabbinic texts beginning in the Sixth Century BC, the same century in which Josiah reigned. Edward Robinson, considered the father of Biblical Archeology, did extensive research of scriptural works from ancient languages and explored Palestine for his magnum opus, Biblical Researches in Palestine. About Gehenna, he wrote,

“In these gardens, lying partly within the mouth of Hinnom and partly in the Valley of Jehoshaphat [or the Kidron Valley], and irrigated by the waters of Siloam, Jerome assigns the place of Tophet; where the Jews practised the horrid rites of Baal and Moloch, and ‘burned their sons and their daughters in the fire.’ It was probably in allusion to this detested and abominable fire, that the later Jews applied the name of this valley (Gehenna), to denote the place of future punishment or the fires of hell. At least there is no evidence of any other fires having been kept up in the valley; as has sometimes been supposed” 1. See Passing Through the Fire.

I am not sure what exactly Hell is like, but I know it is a very unpleasant place that never ends, that is, it is eternal. I do not want to go there nor do I want any friends or relatives to go there. The Lord God Almighty does not want anyone at all to go there either (see 2 Pet 3:9).

Some near death experiences (NDE) have been of Hell where there is much smoke and fire and screams of torture and it was terrifying to the individual having the NDE. Some say the torture in Hell is because of the separation from the comforts of Heaven.

C.S. Lewis, in his The Great Divorce, describes Hell as a place where people go because they want to continue in their sins and God allows them to do so. I admit that I wish that C.S. Lewis was correct because his description in his work seems far less terrifying than the actuality of Hell. Unfortunately, the scripture is decidedly more severe in the depiction of Hell than in Lewis’ work.

You can read Dante’s Inferno for his take. You may also read C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce. That will give you two human opinions of Hell. Dante is not an easy read. Lewis is much easier.

I have chosen to use the King James Version because more modern versions do not always use the word ‘Hell’ in all the places the KJV does. Those versions use the actual Greek or Hebrew words from the manuscripts that concern the place of the everlasting punishment of unrepentant sinners. Perhaps some folks feel that the KJV gives us a better concept of the reality of Hell than many other versions.

The words rendered “Hell” in the King James Version are:

Old Testament

BDB Definition:

Sheol-שׁאול, sheol (sheh’-ole)-the OT designation for the abode of the dead

· New Testament Place of no return

· Without praise of god

· Wicked sent there for punishment

· Righteous not abandoned to it

· Of the place of exile (figuratively)

· Of extreme degradation in sin

New Testament

Thayer Definitions:

Gehenna-γέεννα geenna

· Hell is the place of the future punishment call “Gehenna” or “Gehenna of fire”. This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the  where babies and children were sacrificed to the Canaanite god Moloch (also spelled Molech). The victims were burned alive as a sacrifice to Moloch. That is why the Israelites later used the name Gehenna to refer to the fires of hell where the wicked dead will be punished.

Hades-ᾅδης, hadēs (hah-dace’) 

· The name Hades or Pluto, the god of the lower regions

· Orcus, the nether world, the realm of the dead

· Later use of this word: the grave, death, Hell

Tartarus-ταρταρόω, tartaroō (tar-tar-rah’-oh) 

· The name of the subterranean region, doleful and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds; it answers to Gehenna of the Jews

· To thrust down to Tartarus, to hold captive in Tartarus

As you can see from these definitions that the King James Version renders several Greek and Hebrew words as “Hell.” Here are some bullets:

Sheol (Translated Hell, grave, or pit in many versions):

· The words can be used simply as the grave where dead bodies are interred. It can also simply mean the abode of the dead, that is, the place where the spirits or souls of the dead are kept.

· To “go down to Sheol” simply means to die (e.g. Gen 42:38).

· Apparently God will send wicked people to the abode of the dead and will raise His faithful ones up (Hannah’s prayer: 1 Samuel 2:1-10; 6 specifically).

· When a person dies he is said to go to Sheol which is a place where one shall never naturally rise again. That means his body will not naturally return from the grave. At the resurrection, however, all will be raised supernaturally; some to judgment and some to eternal life (Dan 12:2; Job 7:9).

· Some will go down to Sheol in peace (e.g. 1 Kings 2:6).

· In Job 26:6 Sheol is described as the place of destruction.

· Psalm 9:17 tells us that the wicked will go to Sheol

· Psalm 31:17 says the wicked will be disgraced and will be silent in Sheol

· Psalm 139:8 distinguishes between Sheol and Heaven

· Unrighteousness (called a “strange woman” in Proverbs) leads to Sheol (Prov 7:27).

· Lucifer was cast down to Sheol “down to its lowest depths” (Isa 14:15)

· Sheol brings terrors and plagues to the guilty (Hos 13:11-14).

Gehenna (Translated Hell in many versions)

· Jesus mentions the fires of Gehenna (Mat 5:22).

· It is better the lose a part of your body (a hand, a foot, an eye, etc.) than to go into Gehenna (Mat 5:29)

· God can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna (Mat 10:28)

· Gehenna is a place of judgment (Mat 23:33)

· Gehenna is a place to fear (Luk 12:5)

Hades (Translated Hell in many versions)

· Hell figuratively has gates, which means that the grave will not prevail against Christ’s church. In other words, those saved by Christ will escape death (Mat 16:18).

· The rich man (Neves according to tradition) is in Hades in Luk 16:24, and is tormented by a flame. The Greek word translated ‘tormented’ is a word that means to be in physical or mental pain or anguish. The Greek word is not the word for fire in general, but specifically means a flame. Is he tormented by a real flame or is the word used figuratively to show his torment for seeing himself eternally separated from God? In Luk 16:23 where we see the rich man in Hell he is being in torments. The Greek word there means to be tested or tried to determine the truth; it is like using a medieval rack to extract a confession from someone. It is literally a touchstone, which is a black basalt stone used to test the purity of metals like silver and gold. So this passage does not necessarily mean continued physical torture, though it could. Additionally, the flame does not necessarily mean eternal roasting in fire, though it could.

· Acts 2:27 is a quote of Psalm 16:10. In this passage David prophesied of Christ and Luke applied it to Christ. It says the God would not leave Jesus Christ in Hades or allow His soul to die there (as Luke explained in Acts 2:31).

· Hades has no victory over those who are saved and raised in incorruptible bodies (1 Cor 15:55).

· Christ has the keys to Hades and death (Rev 1:18).

· Hades follows the Antichrist (Rev 6:8).

· Hades will deliver up the dead, which are in it, up to judgment at the Great White Throne (Rev 20:13); then Hades and death will be cast into the lake of fire.

Tartarus (Translated Hell in most translations)

· When Peter wrote of Tartarus (2 Pet 2:4), he was speaking of the angels who sinned. They were cast into Tartarus, the deepest place in Hades, a place the Greek concept of Hades that was reserved for those who were evil in life. By contrast, the Greeks believed the dead who were good people in life were in the Elysian Fields, the place of comfort in Hades for the dead who were good. Peter used it to mean the deepest, darkest place in the place of the dead.

Hell is a very real place and all of the above words combine to give the Biblical description of Hell. All human beings sin and all sins are mortal or deadly. By that I mean if you die without God’s forgiveness of your sins, you will be in Hell as described in this essay.

Thus you must have your sins forgiven by Yahweh God, the Creator of the universe, or you will be in Hell after the death of your body. Your soul lives on after death with all your memories, and your ability to feel intact.

Yahweh God, the Creator of the universe, Who is sovereign and Who makes all the rules, decreed that there must be the shedding of blood in order for sin to be forgiven. Before the coming of Jesus Christ, animals were sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins but that was only temporary and had to be repeated annually. The animals had to be perfect with no defect or they would not be an acceptable sacrifice. Purity of the sacrificial animal was all important in order for sins to be forgiven.

Accordingly, Jesus Christ came to earth to become a perfect and eternal sacrifice. He was born of a virgin, lived his entire thirty three year life and never sinned, not even once. Consequently He was not tainted by any sin and therefore was perfect and without defect. His blood was shed as he was executed in the Roman style with scourging and then crucifixion.

He died and His death was certified by the Roman soldiers who, through experience as executioners, knew when person was dead. He was buried, and God raised Him from the dead three days later. Three days wait was the final way to prove that a person was dead. If a person had not revived with the three days, the person was considered to be completely dead and not just unconscious, hence the resurrection of Lazarus after four days (Joh 11:17; 39; 43; 44 ). After He was raised from the dead, he was seen by over 500 witnesses (1 Cor 15:6) who knew He had died and thus knew He had been resurrected (1 Cor 15:5-8).

In order to have your sins forgiven you must “confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). When you confess Him as Lord, you are saying you will be His servant and He will be your master. This is how you are saved, that is, you are forgiven of your sins and will no longer be Hell-bound.

**For a more in-depth look at the words rendered hell see New Testament Use of the Word Hell In English Versions. 

Do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior? He is going to return to the world soon. Are you ready? When He does if you do not know Him as your Savior, you will join all those who do not know Him in “Outer Darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mat 22:13-14).

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Mark  Oaks
Updated January 19, 2023


  1. Biblical Researches, vol. 1, John Murray Publishers, Albemarle Street, London, 1841, 437-8
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