The English Hell in the New Testament versus the original language Sheol, Hades and Gehenna
Translating from one language to another can cause some confusion. Translating from the translation into another language adds to the potential lack of clarity. When this final translation is not updated with current terminology for several hundred years, the translation issues become compounded further. That’s what you’re dealing with when you read the King James Version of the Bible. The English King James Version of the Bible was translated from a Latin translation of Biblical texts. The translation was done at the bequest of King James of England in the early 1600’s. It is often referred to as the “Authorized Version” because it is the version that was “authorized” by the king.
Does this mean this version of the Bible isn’t trustworthy? No. It just means you must approach reading it with the understanding that there may be some misunderstandings for a reader of today who interprets what he reads based on his understanding of English, instead of the original intent.
In the King James Version (KJV) and some other English versions of the Bible you will find the word ‘hell’ in several scripture verses in both the Old and New Testaments. However, when you look at the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, you’ll find that the translators are applying the English term hell to more than one term in the original language and you’ll find that those original words do not have a singular meaning. They are not necessarily synonyms.
This is a common issue in translation. The word ‘love’ in English is another example. The Greek language has several words that refer to specific types of love. Translators, however, often translated all these different Greek words into the same English word because the English language often depends on context to define the meanings of words like love. The same is the situation with the translation of the word hell.
Here are some examples:
Matthew 10:28 KJV And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Gehenna)
Matthew 18:9 KJV And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hellfire. (Gehenna)
Matthew 23:33 KJV Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? (Gehenna)
Acts 2: 31 KJV He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. (Hades)
Acts 2: 31 CEV David knew this would happen, and so he told us that Christ would be raised to life. He said that God would not leave him in the grave or let his body decay.
Acts 2: 31 Amplified Version He, foreseeing this, spoke [by foreknowledge] of the resurrection of the Christ (the Messiah) that He was not deserted [in death] and left in Hades (the state of departed spirits), nor did His body know decay or see destruction.
As you can see, there is a distinction between Hades and Gehenna, two words that are both translated hell in the English.
Hades is a Greek word for the place of the dead. In is similar in relation to the Old Testament Hebrew word ‘sheol’ which is also often also translated as hell in the English. If you have read Greek mythology you will have seen the use of the word Hades used as the name for the god of “the underworld,” which is why we also speak of hell as being ‘down.’
Gehenna, on the other hand, is not associated with death but with fire. It’s literal reference is to the Valley of Hinnon south of Jerusalem where waste and dead animals were burned. The name Gehenna seems to have been used as a symbolic term related to destruction and/or something worthy of destruction.
You will notice that in Acts 2:31, Jesus is not said to have been in Gehenna (a place of destruction), but in Hades (the place of the dead).
However, in Matthew 23:33, we hear Jesus addressing the Pharisees and stating that they were in danger of, not Hades (the place of death), but Gehenna(the place of destruction).
Understanding this basic difference between the use of the word hell is just a beginning to a proper understanding what the Bible teaches on the subject.
You will also notice that some English versions of the Bible provide easier to understand interpretations than the King James Version. Each has their own issues, but the Amplified Version (as shown above with Acts 2:31) has been helpful for many looking for clearer understanding in their Bible study, without going to the further extent of specific word studies.
I hope this short discussion was helpful to you.
Did it raise any new questions for you?
Are there some additional comments you’d like to add?
Or, perhaps you feel I have misrepresented something myself. It is quite possible, I am simply an amateur theologian with minimal understanding of the original languages.