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Is There Really A Hell?

Updated on July 20, 2014


(Please refer to the glossary at the end of the article for help with bold, italicized terms.)

The Roman Catholic Church was very particular in allowing the inclusion of certain texts, entire books, and key verses of scripture into their version of the Bible. Bishops altered some phrases on purpose to convert pagans and have a certain level of control over the masses. Evidence of this fact exists in the historical record. More yet may lie in the Church’s archives, which are kept hidden from the public. After all, the ones in power are the ones that write the history books.

The English word Hell, found throughout the King James Version, includes three different translations with three different interpretations. In the original Hebrew Old Testament, one rendition of the English word Hell appears, as Sheol. The English translation of Hell is a generic version of three different Greek words found throughout the original New Testament. One of them is Hades, which is similar to Sheol, but means nothing more than pit or grave.

Hell...Real or Imaginary

Does Hell Exist?

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What is Hell?

According to the Encyclopedia Americana, Hell is “generally understood as the abode of evil spirits; the infernal regions, where the devil rules supreme, and where lost or condemned souls go after death to suffer indescribable torments and eternal punishment either for wickedness inherited from the sin of Adam or for more or less serious infractions of the divine law.”[i] Many Christians still accept this mythological interpretation of Hell, at least to some extent. Where, if not from Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, did such ideas originate? They have nothing to do with the original text and are not mentioned anywhere in the original translations of the Bible.

The Encyclopedia Americana continues with, “The popular idea of Hell as a place of punishment—either redemptive or retributive in character—did not come suddenly and full formed into existence. It is the product of centuries of thinking on the great problem of reward and punishment which, instinctively almost, man associates with human deeds.”

[i] Encyclopedia Americana, 1919. Vol. 14, “Hell,” p. 81.



Hades is the most frequent translation of Hell found in the original Greek text of the New Testament. The English version appears without any distinction between it and the other two Greek words for Hell.

Hades means nothing more than a hole in the ground. Four hundred years ago, English farmers would talk of how they needed to “plant their potatoes in hell for the winter.”

According to Acts 2:31, Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from Hell after he climbed out of his burial tomb. Matthew 12:40 refers to Hell as the grave where Jesus spent three days and nights before his alleged resurrection. It was not as though he made some mythological trek through an infernal Underworld, as often misinterpreted by uneducated fundamentalists. The direct translation is that He was resurrected from his tomb, nothing more.

Hell...As An Eternal Hellfire

What Did God Intend As The True Interpretation of Hell?

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Gehenna is another Greek word replaced with the single English word, Hell. Gehenna was once a place near the Hinnom Valley just outside of Jerusalem. Refuse and the bodies of criminals were burned there throughout history. Because of this, it was associated with the future punishment of the wicked. Gehenna means Valley of Hinnom, not eternal Underworld. The Bible makes reference to this place 12 times in the original Greek version. According to its intended translation, it is a place where the unsaved will perish in an eternal fire when Christ returns, outlined in Revelations 20: 14-15. The definition of perish is, “To die; to wither and decay; to be destroyed; to come to nothing.”[i]

[i] New Webster’s Expanded Dictionary, 2005. “Perish,” p. 206.


Does Purgatory Exist?

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Tartarus is the third Greek translation of Hell found in the New Testament. Tartarus means darkness of the material Universe, dark abyss, or prison. It has nothing to do with the hellfire associated with Gehenna or the infernal Underworld of Christian mythology. Tartarus appears in the New Testament once, in II Peter, 2:4, and is the place where God will cast Satan following Jesus’ return. It refers to the condition or restraint of the fallen angels, having no reference to a container or place for men and women.


"The Divine Comedy"

In the early 1300s, Dante Alighieri wrote a popular play, called The Divine Comedy. It was influential in outlining three misunderstood places or states of mind: Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Alighieri claimed he experienced this journey in the spring of 1300. At the time, many believed his story as gospel. Some continue to believe it today.[i]

According to the story, Dante and the pagan poet Virgil descend into the Underworld after Alighieri becomes lost in a mysterious forest somewhere on the surface of the globe. The original play had such an impact on society that a general belief in Purgatory endures. Purgatory is found nowhere in the Bible. Many Christians attempt to explain what it is, though neither Testament makes reference to it whatsoever.

Alighieri’s diagram of the cosmological structure of the Universe had quite an influence on popular thought. The depiction Alighieri used resembled the original Aristotelian model of the Universe. According to the model, Hell is located at the center of Earth and Heaven is somewhere above the clouds. Perhaps this is the reason many still cling to that mythological interpretation, every bit of it from a single fictional story.

The Bible is an interesting piece of work indeed, but is it the work of men or the divine? No satisfactory answer will ever surface to answer this question, but when compared to the original text, evidence of the King James Version consisting of several errors is verifiable. Would God feel it was okay for His followers to make any changes whatsoever to the original?

[i] Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy. (circa 1306-1321) Venice: Gabriele Giolito de’Ferrari, 1555.

Life After Death

What Happens When You Die?

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Gehenna During biblical times, Gehenna was a place in Jerusalem near the Hinnom Valley where refuse and the bodies of criminals were burned. It is mentioned 12 times throughout the original Greek translation of the Bible and, understandably, was associated as a place of future punishment and torment. Though there are three different interpretations for the single English word, Hell, the King James Version does not differentiate between each one. See Tartarus and Hades for specific descriptions of the remaining two.

Hades One of the three original Greek translations of the single English word Hell. The basic, original interpretation means pit or grave and has nothing to do with fire or brimstone. English farmers would talk of burying their potatoes in hell for the winter. The influence of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy and his mythical trek through the Hades Underworld had a significant influence on popular culture of the time, directly impacting how the King James Bible was translated.

Hell The mythological concept and mistranslated biblical account of where lost souls go after they die. Hell is thought of as an infernal Underworld where the wicked are tormented for eternity. Hell is a generic English term for three separate, distinct Greek translations. None of the three terms—Hades, Tartarus, or Gehenna—have any correlation with an eternal place of torment. That fictional interpretation was inspired by a stage comedy written by Dante Alighieri in 1310. The play was so popular most Christians of the time associated his work with an actual place where Satan resides. Some still believe it today.

Sheol Hebrew for pit or grave. Sheol was substituted for the Greek translation, Hades, in the New Testament.

Tartarus In the Bible, the third and final Greek translation for the single English word, Hell. It appears only once in the New Testament and translates to darkness of the material Universe, dark abyss, or prison. According to II Peter, it is the place where God will cast Satan following Jesus’ return.

Valley of Hinnom A reference for one of the three translations of Hell that appear in the original interpretations of the Bible. The Hinnom Valley is near Gehenna, just outside Jerusalem, and is a place where they burned refuse and the bodies of criminals during biblical times. This was where the confusion of a mistranslated version of Hell with fire and brimstone near the center of Earth arose.


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    • bradmasterOCcal profile image

      bradmasterOCcal 2 years ago from Orange County California

      Neither Heaven or Hell exist.

      Don't look to the bibles to get the answers, they just give more questioons. And the bibles are not self authenticating, so they are just stories.