By Michael R. Burch
How often does the word “hell” appear in the original Hebrew Bible, which constitutes the Old Testament of the Christian Bible? As the table below demonstrates, according to the consensus opinion of modern Bible scholars, the word “hell” as a place of eternal suffering was never mentioned, not even a single time, in the entire Old Testament! In fact, the Hebrew language lacks any word that means “hell.” That’s a very curious omission, don’t you think, if an all-wise God gave the Bible to the ancient Hebrew prophets! And while some Christian Bible translations still contain a small handful of cryptic references to “hell” in the New Testament, those references raise a perplexing question: Why does “hell” suddenly pop up in a few stray verses here and there in the later-written books of the Bible, when in earlier biblical chronologies covering thousands of years there had never been any mention of “hell” or any possibility of suffering after death?
According to the consensus opinion of modern Bible scholars, the word “hell” did not appear a single time, not even once, in the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament (OT). And the word “hell” is very hard to find in the New Testament (NT) as well. You can easily confirm this fact yourself, by using an online Bible search tool to scan various Bible translations for the word “hell.” Or you can save time and effort by referring to the table below, which was produced by Gary Amirault, a Bible scholar who has extensively researched and written about the question of “hell” as a biblical teaching. I have added two translations to his original list: the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), sponsored by the famously literal and conservative Southern Baptist Convention, and the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE), produced by more than a hundred Bible scholars working for the Roman Catholic Church.
The word “hell” does not appear in the Bible because:
(1) The Hebrew word Sheol clearly means “the grave,” not “hell.” Everyone went to Sheol when they died, not just the wicked. Sheol was not a place of suffering, because in Job 14:13, a much-beset Job asked to go to Sheol to escape suffering! He clearly meant that if he died, his suffering would end in the grave. Sheol was not a place where God was absent, because King David said in Psalm 139:8 that when he made his bed in Sheol (i.e., when he died and was laid in his grave), God would still be with him. And Sheol was not an eternal inescapable prison, because in Psalm 49:15 the Sons of Korah said that God would redeem them from Sheol, by which they meant that they would be resurrected from the grave to new life.
(2) The Greek word Hades also clearly means “the grave” not “hell.” Everyone went to Hades when they died, not just the wicked. The Greek hell was Tartarus.
(3) The place name Gehenna also does not mean “hell” because Gehenna is a valley in Israel also known in Hebrew as Gehinnom, or the Valley of Hinnom.
Today Gehenna is a lovely park and tourist attraction. Wonderful archaeological discoveries have been made there, such as the healing pool of Siloam and the oldest Bible verses ever discovered, inscribed on small silver amulets. Those verses are the benediction “The LORD bless thee and keep thee; the LORD make his countenance to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee.”
Therefore, a word that is commonly translated as “hell” in the New Testament, “Gehenna” does not in fact refer to a place of burning torture or torment in the afterlife. Instead, the word Gehenna refers to a literal place outside the walls of Jerusalem.
(4) The Greek hell was Tartarus. This is the only word in the Bible that actually means “hell” in either Greek or Hebrew. But the word Tartarus appears only once in the entire Bible, in 2 Peter 2:4. And that verse is about fallen angels awaiting judgment, so it is not eternal and is not for human beings. The only verse in the Bible that contains a word that actually means “hell” is about a place where Satan and other fallen angels will await judgement.
The bottom line is that only one major translation of the Bible, the King James Version, contains the word “hell” in the Old Testament. As you can see below, the New King James Version cuts the number of Old Testament references to “hell” almost in half. But all the remaining OT verses are mistranslations, according to the Bible scholars who produced the other translations. And if there really is a “hell,” how is it possible that none of the Hebrew prophets knew anything about it, and never mentioned any possibility of suffering after death? Why were hell and the possibility of suffering after death never mentioned to Adam, Eve, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Lot, the people of Sodom, Moses, the Pharaoh who defied God repeatedly.
|TIMES THE WORD “HELL” APPEARS IN THE BIBLE||OT||NT||Total|
|“Authorized” King James Version (KJV), based on corrupted texts||31||23||54|
|New King James Version (NKJV), still wrong about Sheol||19||13||32|
|New International Version (NIV) the best-selling English Bible||0||13||13|
|American Standard Version (ASV)||0||13||13|
|New American Standard Bible (NASB)||0||13||13|
|Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) Southern Baptist||0||11||11|
|Revised Standard Version (RSV)||0||12||12|
|New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)||0||12||12|
|Revised English Bible (REB)||0||13||13|
|New Living Translation (NLT)||0||13||13|
|Amplified Bible (AMP)||0||13||13|
|New Century Version (NCV)||0||12||12|
|New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE) Roman Catholic||0||0||0|
|Wesley’s New Testament (1755)||0||0||0|
|Scarlett’s N.T. (1798)||0||0||0|
|The New Testament in Greek and English (Kneeland, 1823)||0||0||0|
|Young’s Literal Translation (1891)||0||0||0|
|Twentieth Century New Testament (1900)||0||0||0|
|Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible (reprinted, 1902)||0||0||0|
|Fenton’s Holy Bible in Modern English (1903)||0||0||0|
|Weymouth’s New Testament in Modern Speech (1903)||0||0||0|
|Jewish Publication Society Bible Old Testament (1917)||0||0||0|
|Panin’s Numeric English New Testament (1914)||0||0||0|
|The People’s New Covenant (Overbury, 1925)||0||0||0|
|Hanson’s New Covenant (1884)||0||0||0|
|Western N.T. (1926)||0||0||0|
|NT of our Lord and Savior Anointed (Tomanek, 1958)||0||0||0|
|Concordant Literal NT (1983)||0||0||0|
|The N.T., A Translation (Clementson, 1938)||0||0||0|
|Emphatic Diaglott, Greek/English Interlinear (Wilson, 1942)||0||0||0|
|New American Bible (1970)||0||0||0|
|Restoration of Original Sacred Name Bible (1976)||0||0||0|
|Tanakh, The Holy Scriptures, Old Testament (1985)||0||0||0|
|The New Testament, A New Translation (Greber, 1980)||0||0||0|
|Christian Bible (1991)||0||0||0|
|World English Bible||0||0||0|
|Orthodox Jewish Brit Chadasha [NT Only]||0||0||0|
|Original Bible Project (Dr. James Tabor)||0||0||0|
|Zondervan Parallel N.T. in Greek and English (1975)||0||0||0|
|Int. NASB-NIV Parallel N.T. in Greek and English (1993)||0||0||0|
|A Critical Paraphrase of the N.T. by Vincent T. Roth (1960)||0||0||0|
Is there any proof of hell in the Bible?
No, none at all. To confirm this, just start reading the Bible from the beginning, and you will see that no one was ever threatened with “hell” or any possibility of suffering after death, in thousands of years of Bible chronologies. If there really was a “hell,” God and the prophets would have warned human beings about such a terrible place, and would have explained how to avoid it.
Our current understanding of hell of being a place of torment for the unrighteous comes from Greek philosophy and not the bible. The only place that has torment is the Lake of Fire and possibly Tartarus which is only mentioned once in 2 Peter 2:4.